Friday, January 28, 2011

Home again, home again...

To market, to market
To buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again,
Jiggedy jig.

Actually, we didn't buy a pig, but on our recent trip back to Europe, we bought pretty much everything else. Our shopping list was three pages long and we bought the lot, as well as plenty of things that never even made it onto the list in the first place. A lot of it was the obvious stuff - more summer clothes for Helen, more summer clothes for the children, more smart clothes for me - and more books than the average library.

The children seemed to do particularly well. As it was Christmas and as we visited both sets of grandparents, they basically had money and toys constantly thrown at them for two weeks (whenever they weren't throwing toys at each other) and as far as I'm concerned, that's all they're getting now until their birthdays. Sadly, the first of those will be with us in just a few short weeks' time so I ought to give some thought to the unenviable task of arranging a party of some sort.

Maybe later. In the meantime I'm busy enjoying playing with my own purchases - not the smart clothes, they're for emergencies only, but the electronics. The first item is a very uninspiring-looking black box which is so wonderful I want to tell the whole world about it - except for all those people who will never need such a thing in the first place, or have known about it for years already. It's called an AVT-1660 Standards Converter and what it does for me is convert the PAL signal coming out of my Wii to NTSC so my (landlord's) fabulous wall-mounted HD TV can now display all my games in glorious, unflickering colour.

And the really good thing is it works for the DVD player as well. Up till now the only way for us to watch all our UK DVDs was on a laptop displaying as a tiny square on the aforementioned TV. Not any more. Now it's as good as it ever was - though I should point out that I had to pick up the right cables for this job. For the Wii all I needed was the cable which comes with the converter.

And if all that was not enough, I also took the opportunity to add a couple of extra gadgets to my collection of Apple toys. I didn't actually need them, but those shops are just so damned inviting and Helen was off buying clothes so there was no one to hold me back. Now I'm able to download films onto my computer, use my iPod touch as a remote control and stream them to my Apple TV box and watch them on my (landlord's) fabulous wall-mounted HD TV. Or watch YouTube on the TV, which is kind of unnecessary but believe me, "Charlie bit my finger - again" has never looked so good.

The rest of our bags were filled with an odd assortment of bits and pieces that are just much easier or substantially cheaper to pick up in England than in Brazil. Calpol, Stabilo pens, Lego, school uniforms, flippers and snorkels. And as bringing any sort of food or drink into the country is strictly prohibited, we definitely did not bring in any PG Tips, Maltesers, Cadbury's Cream Eggs or Marmite!

 So here we are, back home with all our new pressies and ready to get back on with our lives. Helen went back to work on Monday, the kids started school on Wednesday and I've begun the slow process of sorting everything out, tidying up, restocking the kitchen and (finally, after leaving them sitting in a corner for six months) putting up our pictures. Soon, very soon, I might even get back to doing some writing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Year in Pictures

Happy 2011. Here are a few photos from the past year that, for one reason or another, never made it into the blog.

"Snow... last time I'll be seeing this for a while, eh?"
"What do you mean, I won't be able to bring it on the plane?"
Nene Valley Railway - full steam ahead!
IWM Duxford - David's first day of chicken pox but before anyone noticed.
Weekend in Paris just before leaving for Brazil.
Bye bye Cambridge.
"Uniform? No one told me anything about a uniform!"
"Arrr, me hearties!"

Yes, of course it's always this tidy.
Brazil - famous for its dangerous drivers.
First one to the finish gets extra computer time...
...or maybe just a medal instead.
"Are you sure this is my new classroom?" 
Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.
Off on his first field trip - three whole days away from the nagging parents. 
"Wooooo! Happy Halloween."
"A one, a two, a one, two three four..."
"I'm in this one, right?"
Well, we survived 2010, now let's see about the next one.

The kindness of Strangers

Brazilians are generous and accommodating people. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for them. They are happy to help you out whenever possible and their hospitality is both spontaneously offered and lavishly provided. And speaking as an often-confused and linguistically-challenged foreigner frequently splashing around out of his depth in a life he doesn't fully understand, this is a most reassuring and pleasing character trait.

But foreigners be warned. A Brazilian's generosity is a subtle thing that must not always be taken at face value. It may well be that an offer is being made more from the need to be seen to be generous, than from any real desire to do whatever it is that's being offered. For example, if someone you've only just met invites you for a coffee the following afternoon, they probably mean it. But if he invites you to spend the weekend with him and his family at their country house, it's fairly safe to assume he's merely demonstrating his generosity in the safe knowledge that you'll be impressed and touched but never actually take him up on the offer.

Sadly, not all foreigners possess the mental agility to successfully weave their way through the various subtle layers of Brazilian social etiquette and I have been told several entertaining stories of Brazilians hoist with their own petard after being too spontaneously generous with foreigners who have taken them at their word. And believe me, being on the receiving end is little better. I can, rather embarrassingly, think of two occasions where I've accepted invitations which, on hindsight, were clearly not intended to be accepted. I may be socially useless, but even I can tell when I've turned up somewhere I'm not really wanted.

All of which will hopefully explain why Helen and I were somewhat cautious in our acceptance of the various invitations we were presented with over the past few weeks. However, I'm pleased to report that all invitations were completely sincere, all events were lovely and friendly and thoroughly enjoyable and I'm fairly certain that no welcomes were outstayed.

We ended up being invited out to supper on Christmas Eve, lunch on Christmas Day and dinner on New Year's Eve. We were treated to a children's talent show - featuring our own, as well as our neighbour's children and their cousins singing, playing guitar and recorder, as well as performing a fabulous mime in costume, wigs and makeup to Lady Gaga's Poker Face. We were given some thoughtful and most-unexpected presents. We were able to watch the New Year fireworks from a ninth-storey balcony with a view over half the city. We met a lot of really nice people, ate a lot of really nice food and forced our children to wear a lot of really nice clothes and now we really, really have a lot of reciprocal hospitality to arrange.

Just as well we're running off back to Ireland and England in a few days!