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One foot from the Algarve

2014 April 1
tags: ,
by Passer over Perilous Ways

Scoffing a Full-English in a café full of the English is not what I travel for.
For many though it seems home-only-hotter is what makes a holiday

One Foot in the Algarve stillIn the 1993 Christmas special of classic nineties sit-com One Foot in the Grave the Meldrews and their long-suffering shrew of a family friend Mrs Warboys head off to a villa in Portugal’s Algarve for a relaxing holiday; one which they predictably do not get.

This is a world I do not inhabit. Package holidays and budget carrier deals to popular tourist flytraps have never been my thing. In fact, their role as stereotype and sit-com fodder is about as much as I know of them – the holidaymaker who doesn’t know which country their resort is in let alone are able to point it out on a map, the bringers of tea-bags and chocolate digestives because they can’t imagine life without them and the ones whose only tales of their trip are from the all-inclusive hotel they never set foot from.

Stereotypes exist for a reason of course and so finding myself in the Algarve recently I was expecting to see at least a few well-worn clichés to provide some light relief from time to time. But even with that expectation I was surprised by both the scale of their numbers and the scale to which this part of Portugal has been subverted in pursuit of their tourist Euros.

These holidaymakers aren’t one foot in the Algarve, they are one foot away from it. A step very few of them seem remotely interested in taking.


Ventnor, not Vilamoura

Expansive multi-storey hotels line the shore at Vilamoura and those not lucky enough (or who haven’t paid the extra) to have a sea-view may be able to console themselves with a view of the marina at the heart of the town, around which are probably more bars and restaurants than those hotels could fill.

Walking around that marina two rather odd things increasingly struck me. First of all the restaurant pimps drumming up trade never failed to greet us in English as their first choice of language. Secondly there didn’t seem to be a Portuguese menu to be found. Curry, steak and chips, pizza or maybe a cheeky chinky? They’ve got you covered. Something local? Hmm, tricky!

It felt like the seafront at Blackpool, a view which was reinforced when we stepped into a marina-side bar and found the evening’s entertainment; a crooner working his way through a succession of rat-pack classics surely all instantly recognisable to the Radio Two brigade eating and drinking in there. English was the only tongue I heard from the singer and the only tongue seemingly spoken by the patrons.

I suspect holding that camcorder was the only thing stopping him hand-jiving  along to it
Behind my friends sat an archetype of the British gray-pound that seemed to be propping-up this out-of-season seaside town. Taking breaks to sip his crème-de-menthe on ice he occupied his time videoing the singer on a camcorder possibly older than he was. I suspect holding that camcorder was the only thing stopping him hand-jiving along to it. Is this really a memory of a Portuguese holiday worth recording? Is it really something to share with your friends and neighbours when you get back home, English songs sung in an English bar?

On my post-pint trip to the gents I found the sign on the door was also in English, neither as a helpful translation nor to accompany the usual little man icon,  ”Gentlemen” was the only sign this bog-door bore.


Albion, not Albufeira

I’m in Portugal but where the bloody hell is Portugal?
Seemingly surreal but far from unique since the Anglicisation of the Algarve turns out to be rife and Vilamoura far from its extreme. In Albufeira for example a charming and historic town square sports a veritable marathon of Brit-friendly bars and restaurants, each with an in-your-face and occasionally inventive tavern-tout to drag you in, again never failing to pitch primarily in English. I’m told that in the summer, especially at weekends, this quaint little town-square is rife with Ryanair’s best selection of shirtless, stag-weekending Brits boozed-up to buggery. Or how about the beachfront boardwalk at Portimão, where you’re never more than a few minutes away from a café hawking a Full English to a crowd full of the English.

I’m in Portugal but where the bloody hell is Portugal?


Quintessential not essential

Tourists are lazy, a fact I’ve long celebrated whenever I’ve found myself amongst them because it’s seldom more than a five-minute walk to get the hell away from them. A happy consequence of this in the Algarve is that the real Portugal, or at least a comparatively uncontaminated approximation of it, is always just around a corner or two.

Package-tourists and cheap flights may have bombed bits of the Algarve out of existence but at least they’ve kept the blast zones small
Quiet warrens of village back-streets, towns full of real Portuguese people living real Portuguese lives; produce markets, fish markets and fishing harbours, cafes where English small-talk doesn’t clog the air, where people-watching is fresh sport once more and where ordering is a mixture of pidgin and pointing always rewarded with good-natured smiles, friendly understanding and the taste of something new. It is so little effort to find it yet so few bother to make that effort, a fact at once both sad and a salvation.

Package-tourists and cheap flights may have bombed bits of the Algarve out of existence but at least they’ve kept the blast zones small.


Pontins to Portugal

None of what goes before is a judgement but merely an observation. Each to their own after all; just because I choose to travel for work or to broaden my mind and challenge my preconceptions, choose to travel for new experiences rather than slightly warmer old ones in no-way means other people should be doing the same thing too.

Nonetheless it still seems a somewhat sorry state of affairs to see so many of my countrymen travelling abroad to seek nothing other than home with a hotter climate and to hear so many of them viewing anything un-British and natively Portuguese about their trip as cause for complaint rather than celebration. It also seems a little sorry to see a proud and rich culture capitulate so readily to it.

And to be judgemental would be, I must admit, just the tiniest bit hypocritical. My night in Vilamoura did centre round a curry and a few beers after all. What could be more quintessentially British than that?

But then, when you might as well be in Rome, you might as well do as the Romans do.


The want of a wife

2014 March 28
by Passer over Perilous Ways

Do only civilised men get women,
Or do women civilise a man?

Captain CavemanTo describe myself as one of the long-term lovelorn is a little unfair as I’m actually quite happy with the total absence of requited love in my life. This is fortunate however as I suspect requiting it would be more than a bit of a challenge.

A sailing buddy of mine says he always likes to have at least one woman along on a trip as they “civilise” a boat. In this sense of being civilised; in the sense of being tame, tidy, domesticated and comfortably social I admit to being something of the polar opposite. I’m not full of cuddly anecdotes, I’m crap at small talk, I tend to clean things only when they absolutely need it and my culinary skills are perhaps better described as reluctant reheating skills.

I have absolutely no game. And by far the simplest solution to being hopeless with women is to be entirely happy without them.
I admire and respect the ease with which my courting and cohabiting friends get along with the opposite sex and freely acknowledge that this particular life-skill is one I do not share. In a nutshell I have absolutely no game. And by far the simplest solution to being hopeless with women is to be entirely happy without them.

I suspect many hopeless cavemen like myself feel they’re loveless for much the same reasons; it’s not the way we’re made and we’re just not cut out for it. Unfortunately though most of them struggle to be happy with it and go to embarrassing, cringe-making extremes to try and get a little love back in their lives.


The anatomy of despair

While I’d hate to lose the comedy value these guys provide I think I might have a solution for them. Because I’m starting to think that we’re looking at the cause-and-effect of this situation from totally the wrong end. It’s easy for clueless chaps like me to presume there’s just something wrong with us and that we’re simply not cut out for relationships but I’m not so sure we are the genetic cul-de-sacs we think we are after all. Could it be the other way round? It’s not that only civilised men get women but that the presence of a women in a man’s life simply makes him more civilised, in much the same way my sailing bud feels his boat is civilised by them.

I’ve been around long enough to see my mates at both ends of the relationship spectrum, from being beer swilling, pot-bellied, football and car obsessed troglodytes right through to being contented, or even occasionally happy husbands and fathers. Some of the most scarily hopeless, unkempt and malodorous specimens I’ve had the misfortune to share a confined space with have become suburban superstars, comfortable in equal measure at a church-fete or rotary club dinner. It’s the same man, but it isn’t.

I’m not so sure we are the genetic cul-de-sacs we think we are after all
Compare the anecdotes of the partnered and players you know with those of the tottyless tools amongst us. Notice the softer relationship stories they share, the more considerate way they act towards other people and the little domestic touches they’re so much more comfortable with. It seems to me the same phenomenon observed across a group of people at a single point in time rather than an individual person over a period of time.

If you start your journey in the world of relationships as a rounded, female-friendly guy you’re lucky. For the unselfconsciously scratching slobs amongst us it seems that having women in our lives tames our excesses and brings us into the social mainstream more; being in a relationship makes us much more suitable to be in a relationship. For us it’s just like going to the gym; keep at it and you stay fit, stop for a while and you run back to saggy, unappealing fat. Take away the civilising influence of a partner we revert to type and become far less likely to get another.

Having a woman in your life changes your life, it changes your outlook, your anecdotes and your manner. Not having a woman in your life changes your life back, and the longer you leave it the longer the haul back to civilisation.


The audacity of hope

So, perhaps Jane Austen was right all along in opening Pride and Prejudice with “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” There’s actually nothing wrong with us that a good woman wouldn’t cure, and therefore if you’re a bit of a Captain Caveman like I am all hope is not lost. Though I admit my cunning plan does have a rather obvious flaw. In order to become more civilised and therefore get a woman in your life, you need a woman in your life.

Tricky one that!

But then most worthwhile things in life don’t come easy and the hard work you’ll be putting in over the early days of getting your game back will yield plenty of that comedy value your mates and non-combatants like myself so prize and adore. Unlike most worthwhile things in life then, in this case it looks like everyone can be a winner.


Outsourcing responsibility

2014 February 16
by Passer over Perilous Ways

Outsourcing compliance makes it easier for businesses to manage the burden of exploding regulations.
It also makes it easier for them to not follow them properly.

Red tape outside the front doorBeing something of a flighty freelancer, PPW finds himself “onboarding” with new clients, or back with previous clients, on a fairly regular basis. Being something of a work/life balance motivated (i.e. lazy) freelancer, PPW also often finds himself having to account for the gaps in his work history when he does.

When you combine our ever-increasing nanny state cosseted world with the populist disdain for big business, especially big financials, it should come as no surprise that over the last few years the background checks for new and returning bodies have grown ever more onerous.

I anticipate the day not too far off when a sperm sample and DNA screening will be required before they let me through the door
The last time I went through it was the first time I’ve had to dig out and dust off my degree certificate in the 20 years since I earned it, as they now want proof of my qualifications in addition to proof of the two decades of professional history that render them completely useless. Along with my passport, utility bills and bank statements I anticipate the day not too far off when a sperm sample and DNA screening will be required before they let me through the door.

The out-of-control expansion of bureaucracy and personal intrusion has little power to shock these days. The half-assed way it’s done though can occasionally raise an eyebrow or two.


Driving a bus through the business

Apparently, the point of scrutinising career gaps is to ensure you weren’t hired-and-fired by someone else, dealing with materially relevant ill health or perhaps detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure over that time, and are trying to hide it from your future mortgage-payer.

This is, of course, symptomatic of the growth in the “presumption of guilt until proven innocent” mentality, which either because we don’t care enough or we are too wearied by it, we no longer seem to fight back against. Fair enough, it is what it is, but it does throw up a few challenges for the accused. I can prove a positive, but how do I prove a negative? How do I establish I was just sitting on my ass or playing with my boat for a few months while the money from my last gig was running down?

My screeners are an outsourced bunch used by a growing number of large UK financials. And, since they specialise in managing this sort of complexity for multiple clients, they’ve come across this situation many times before (several times just with me). So they are at least prepared with a couple of “if all else fails” solutions to my plight.

My choices are either to send them copies of my bank statements covering the period in question (establishing that I didn’t have any income or curious expenditure), or to visit a solicitor and swear an oath accounting for what I was doing over that time.

I’d offer you a minute to think about those two options for catching the criminal mastermind in the act, but I doubt you need one!

Taking the first, aside from being a piss-taking intrusion into my private life, like many people I have multiple bank accounts (less I suspect than most criminals do though) so I could just give them statements from a clean one.

As to the second, well if I were the dodgy type I’d hardly turn a hair at lying on oath.

They’re all so far removed from the idiots who orchestrate this sort of thing to either care or to do anything about it if they did
Point out how totally useless these checks are to the desk-monkey running them (and increasingly bored with yours) and you’ll get a response ranging from a disinterested grunt of agreement through to positive encouragement to just do what it takes to get the box ticked (whatever your nefarious motives may be and whatever subterfuge you employ to do it).  Point it out to your hiring manager when you turn up on site and you’ll get a response ranging from a giggle to a guffaw. It’s all “as per” after all. They’re all so far removed from the idiots who orchestrate this sort of thing to either care or to do anything about it if they did.

Which makes me wonder about the idiots who orchestrate this sort of thing in the first place. I rather think they wouldn’t care either. In fact, I rather think they’re not all that dumb after all.


The driver of the bus

Both in their volume and in their velocity of change, regulations are an exploding burden on big business and so is the burden of complying with them. Outsourcing compliance to a specialist third-party leverages shared expertise, spreads the cost and lightens the load of keeping on top of it going forwards.

It makes perfect business sense.

But the benefits don’t stop there. In our 24/7 news culture with its frenzied passion for beating down popular whipping boys, big businesses and especially big financials fear the reputational damage of getting it wrong like never before. If you’ve outsourced the responsibility in good faith not only have you bought yourself a cheaper deal but you’ve bought yourself a pass if it all goes wrong as well.

You’ve someone else to throw under the bus if it all goes wrong
And so it seems to me that it doesn’t really matter if you can drive a bus through the checks and balances being run on your behalf, because you’ve someone else to throw under the bus if it all goes wrong.

A crumb of comfort perhaps for our beleaguered big businesses, though perhaps not so much for the man in the street who may one day become its victim.