Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Somebody is trying to steal my music" (Part 1 of a long story). Here follows an account of an eventful weekend. It all began on Friday night. Half our house didn't have electricity (another story), but we are all safely tucked up in bed when the doorball rang at 2am. Lots of commotion and the Police outside. I stumbled downstairs after Rach to find half a dozen neighbours fussing about, two policemen and a small whispery old man who kept tapping me on the shoulder to tell me something about "o telefone". Amy's car had been broken into and the radio taken out. The Police had been quick to arrive thanks to the phone call made by the small whispery man. The crook in question was obviously an expert as he silently popped a back window without breaking anything. (In fact, the complete glass has already been replaced). Strangely, the radio was still there on the seat - the thief having bolted quickly without his prize when the cops showed up. And so Amy secured the car and parked the car inside our walls. The end of the story... or so we thought.

In the morning when we were more awake we went to sort out the car but, astonishingly, the radio itself had gone missing. Amy remembers it was still on the passenger seat when she brought it in. So, donning our best CSI caps we can only conclude that our thief (or the Police?) returned in the night, scaled our wall, climbed through the popped window and made off with the system back over the wall. This criminal, we were discovering, was cunning, bold and probably athletic. When we have Kanu the Schnauzer here I think this won't be possible - too much barking. Anyway, this wasn't too discouraging - the same sort of thing would happen to us in Surtees Street in York from time to time. The radio was old so Amy was not too upset. And we will heed our neighbours warnings and park our cars inside at night. But...

"Somebody is trying to steal my music" (Part 2 of a long story). On Sunday morning an electrician came to look at our poor wiring and try to get a handle on why only half the house was lit up. (Extension leads are running everywhere, including up the stairs to keep a fan on in Nelsinho`s room). This electrician was recommended by the estate agent and he had done work in our house before. He pottered about for an hour and said the wiring in the house was very bad and would need a whole day to mend. So we arranged for him to come back later in the week. He left, Rachel and I went out to church and when we came back we all got ready to go to the beach for a day - Mark's choice of activity as he leaves in a few weeks. However, Amy's Pink IPod was missing! We all scouted about for it but Rach was sure she put it down in a specific place. We were all certain of where it should be and it evidently wasn't there - so we suspected the electrician must have taken it! As Amy said: "Somebody is trying to take away all my music, first from the car and now from my Ipod!".

Here is where my wonderful wife came to the fore. We thought very carefully about calling said Electrical man and planned what to say. (We didn't want to embarrass or accuse, we just wanted to give him every opportunity to return the Ipod). So, Rach rang him on his cellphone and asked him if he had seen a pink machine for music which had gone missing. She also mentioned we had gone to church - this was savvy, people don't like stealing from Christians especially when they think they are good Christians too! No, he said he hadn't seen anything. He then quickly changed the subject about the work still to be done. At this point Rach was very calm but clear - she didn't trust him around the house and she would find another person to do the work. They finished the call, but 10 minutes later the electrician called back. Oh, yes, he had found a pink music machine in his bag - it must have fallen in! We were not to think badly of him - he was a Christian too, and he didn't want to do anything against Jesus!

So, I think he realised that he would lose business not just from us, but from the estate agent if we reported him. So he is coming back with the ipod and we will hide out valuables and keep an eye on him. I don't think he will try anything a second time. But its a lesson for us to be more careful looking after the things we have. Another lesson I think is that we should keep living minimally with less stuff. The less stuff you have, the less there is for people to nick.

Epilogue: "Now that's what I call neighbourhood watch". An impressive part of all this is the way our neighbours rallied to our aid. We really feel a part of a local community in a way we didn't in York. This experience has allowed us to get to know everybody better. The lady across the road said that if her sons and seen the guy who stole the radio they would have given him a good beating. Apparently, these chaps have a habit of doing over any riff raff who come down our street. (Perhaps, for our crook's sake it's good he got away!).

Another form of self-appointed security comes from a man who rides a tin-pot motorbike up and down the streets of our estate at night. He has an alarm which makes a sort of "aliens are landing" bleepy noise. He keeps an eye out for any dodgy stuff. At first, it was quite annoying having him go by every hour of the night with his siren but now we ignore it, sleep through it, and actually find it quite endearing. Sadly, I fear with him there is a discrepancy between appearances and effectiveness: he didn't get anywhere near the scallywag who took Amy's radio.

Friday, May 25, 2007

My life is a full moon, and I'm a lonely wolf barking at the life [the full moon]. That's taken from a contribution made by one of Mev's students in a recent exam. We think it very profound, if a little surreal.

Things I miss about England #9: Curry. Brazilians don't like spicy food and I have yet to see an Indian restaurant anywhere in Natal or Recife. The local shopping centre has a Thai restaurant - I went there last week, my taste buds ready for a sizzlingly hot party. Sadly, all I found was a buffet with Chinese and Brazilian food on offer. Somebody told me that the owner is a bone fide Thai gentleman and barely speaks Portuguese. However, after a few months of no business with real Thai cuisine he changed his menu to beans and noodles.

I've found I can make a poor-mans equivalent in Brazil with something labelled as "curry" powder bought from the supermarket. You have to use almost the whole packet, mixed in with some coriander, cocunut milk, salt and pepper and you have the makings of a mild korma. Oh, but for a full on tasty Chenab's Afghan Lamb with Peshwari Naan...

Things I love about Brazil #4: Seafood. The so-called best restaurant in York for seafood - the famous "Blue Bicycle", known also for burning a hole in your pocket, has nowhere near as nice fish as an average Brazilian seafood restaurant. A Natalese chain of restaurants called "Camaroes" (literally, "Prawns") serves jaw-droppingly delicious food. It's pricey (and yet still half the price of the Blue Bicycle) but it's well worth it for special occasions. Salvador has great seafood as does Ilha Grande which we visited over Christmas.

Small language note: don't confuse "Camoroes" with "Caminhoes" as I often do. The latter means trucks. Whilst driving, I still get confused seeing signs for "Overnight Parking for Prawns".

Small medical note: be careful when eating prawns in Brazil. Make sure you have no seafood allergies, of course. If in doubt, avoid cheap restaurants that may not wash their prawns well. And avoid palm oil. Mev found this out the hard way on two occasions recently. Hence, his nickname round these parts: Rash Boy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Random things round our way: Christ the King drugstore. In our neighbourhood there are about half a dozen churches and right up our street is a huge and very active Catholic Centre. Actually, many things are touched by Christian symbolism - this being the world's most populace Catholic nation (and with 15% Evangelicals too) slogans and signs dot every street corner and every other car has a sticker of the virgin Mary on the back. And here, 2 mins walk from our house is the Christ the King drugstore. Perhaps they offer supernatural as well as natural healing solutions. Prayers and pills available, health for this life and the next, that sort of thing.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Random things round our way: the sign to Rio. First of an occasional series today - random pics from Mirassol, our neighbourhood in Natal. Today, a sign on the main road telling motorists how far it is to Rio. Now, it takes 4 hours to get to Recife by car - so I estimate driving to Rio might take 5 days or so. You'd be a loony to try it. I find it amusing that this sign is here. It's like joining the A64 outside York and finding a road sign with London, Calais, Paris and Rome listed on it. Brazil is a big, big place it seems.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

English problem solved more or less. Thanks to those who looked at the taxing English I put in my last blog. Mariano was right to mention the different meanings a verb can take when it is immediately preceded by another verb (ie. He stopped to play football / he stopped playing football). Danny in his comment was almost certainly correct. And well done Aunty Betty for looking up the grammar in a book.

Anyway, when the first verb is try there is apparently a subtle difference in meaning related to the form of the following verb - so subtle I had to learn it for myself, and I'm a native speaker!

Try + -ing = "experiment with"
A better example is: This soup is bland. Try adding more salt.

Try + to infinitive = "attempt"
A better example is: I tried to do my homework, but it was too hard.

The distinction seems clearer in the past - in the present both can sometimes be used interchangably I think. Any more thoughts, anyone?

Facebook. Hello to everyone who is checking this from the facebook link... thanks for viewing my blog.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Very funny video. Cultura Inglesa language schools pride themselves on offering high class English teaching with modern techniques, use of multimedia and backed up by the latest linguistic theory. Nothing we do even comes close, however, to this style of English Teaching...
Brazilian Mother`s Day. Brazilians really know how to celebrate this one. Everything, everywhere is covered in decor for this special day which is tomorrow. Rach has asked for a lie in as a present. Our problem is trying to please Mum, GrandMum, 2 GreatGrand Mums and a Great Great GrandMum. Somebody is bound to be upset that Nelson didn`t visit them this weekend.

English puzzle. This week I gave a lesson which completely bombed. I put it down to not knowing English myself. My task for you is this: look at the sentences below and tell me the difference (my textbook says there is one!) between the two examples and then tell me how to teach this grammar to a dozen bored Brazilian teenagers who would rather be at the beach. (Current English teachers are banned from replying!).

She tried using a camcorder to record the event
She tried to use a camcorder to record the event

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Things I miss about England #59: Knowing why you are in trouble. In the space of a few weeks Mark and I have both picked up driving fines for things we didn't know about. Mev did a u-turn in a quiet road with no road markings or sign posts. A policeman on a motorbike gave him a ticket for driving the wrong way up a one way street (...or that's what we thought he was saying).

As for me, the other day we had to take Nelsinho to the hospital and so we pulled up outside. I was well chuffed on account of having found a space right opposite the entrance. I parallel parked inbetween two cars. Two hours later I popped out to discover I had a ticket. I was baffled - no signs saying "Nao estacionamento" and a row of other cars parked in the same place. It turns out I committed a classic school boy error - parking with everybody else does not guarantee legitimacy. They all had tickets too. I can only put it down to the yellowish paint on some of the paving stones near to the car... this was perhaps my clue that I was in the wrong. Worryingly, the ticket on my car gave no indication of how much or to who I was to pay. I am expecting a knock at the door from the men in black any day now...

Things I love about Brazil #20: 12 bank holidays a year. Brazilian populist Politicians of the past have pandered to the worker vote by sticking more and more national holidays into the calender. The present total of 12 is already a drastically reduced number in comparison to how it has been in the past. The advantage for us teachers is that just when you`re having a stressful and busy week and you could do with a break - you get one! Sometimes the holiday lands on Tuesday, and people take Monday off as well...

Employers and management are unimpressed, however. Not only do they have to pay salaries on these days, on top of extortionate taxes and the bizarre "13th month" Christmas bonus, but this many holidays disrupts productivity and is, in short, bad for the economy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Safe Electrics revisted. See blog entry for February 2nd. This is how we power internet at home. Note the hole in the wall on the left where a socket should be. And then, from the socket on the right a UK adaptor (the only one thing that fits this plug), followed by another adaptor converting it back into Brazilian sockets, with a split coming out of it (one for the Modem) and then another UK adaptor for my laptop. It`s a bit precarious to say the least. Natal also suffers from power cuts and surges so we have to make sure we unplug everything...