Monday, 22 January 2018

Shorts bulletin

Not much to report about yesterday - a lazy day, with lunch on the beach back at the shanty-town of El Remo.
The only other things of note are that there is a perpetual show of German hippy beggars outside the local Spar supermarket, and that if you want to buy some shorts it’s worth persevering - going into all the tat shops till you find one which sells a less dispiriting range of sizes. You do not have to take one labelled XXXL. L is perfectly achievable if you go on looking, and turns out to be more commodious than the humiliatingly sized ones.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Leaving a record

Los Llanos is a pleasant town scattered above the desirable Aridane valley, and we called in to visit the fruitmarket (smaller than we expected) and the archaeology museum.

That turned out to be a marvellous drum-shaped building with a gentle ramp spiralling up to the main display on the first floor - like so many of the museums and cultural shrines in Spain that we have seen, it is beautifully designed and managed.

The abiding mystery about these so-called Canary Islands (not named for a little song bird but for the dogs which the aboriginal inhabitants brought with them from North Africa), is who got here first, when and how on earth did they survive.

Each island has its own story. On Tenerife they were the Guanchos, and here they were Benahoaristes. Priests and explorers jotted down a very few remarks about them - their language and ways of living, but these are very sketchy.

It seems the ancients (Pliny) knew of the islands. Settlement from the African continent happened about 300BC, and again a few hundred years later.  The immigrants arrived in a desperately hard place. Later, sailors would report that the fragrance of the pine woods and forests wafted far out to sea, but the reality on the land itself is the heat, the drought, the steep incline of the slopes, the harsh painful ceramic quality of the rocks.

The people had only stone to work with. No metal. Wood was in short supply - for even if they felled some of the trees, how were they to move the timber? They cannot have been very numerous, to organise labour-gangs. They made pottery. They fished and herded goats and sheep. They could use the plants for medicine and to brew some kinds of festive drinks. They had a random sort of agriculture but seem to have been mostly nomadic. They found and cherished springs up in the mountains. And they were astronomers.

In the museum is a small dark bowl - about the size of a bowling-ball.  It is displayed 'upside down', and we can see various marks inscribed on it. These have been analysed and interpreted - there are exactly 365 little lines (a solar calendar) arranged into groups which can also predict lunar cycles and phases - synchronising the two systems.

They also made a series of carvings into rock faces all over the island, in a very systematic distribution. These carvings - some of which are still in place (some are in the museum) consist of series of whorls or spirals, not unlike fingerprints. They are usually about 12-15" wide, channelled out or incised, though it's not clear exactly how they were made.  Rock on rock? We went to see some of them in situ at a place called la Zara y la Zarica.

The island only covers about 200 sq miles, but to drive anywhere is to subject yourself to a million zigzags - 30 miles by road = about 10 by crow (if only). La Zarza is quite high up, in a landscape quite different from the area where we are staying - a soft laurel forest, damp, quiet, dark. You park, pay your entry and set off up a watery stony path. Immediately you see a fine spring, with an ochrus origin, and water dripping and splishing.  There are said to be three spiral carvings there but we couldn't see them, and felt a bit disconsolate.  

However, the path takes you on and up, alongside the stream with its huge black boulders and you can hear blackbirds singing.  Then, at outcrop after outcrop, you begin to see these marks. They are mute, rather humble. One of the many helpful notice boards says 'these are the Sistine Chapel of the aboriginal art on the island', and - given the very limited nature of the makers' resources, you can understand it.  The interpretations show men making these carvings, sometimes on rough scaffolding. The carvings are said to be astrophyical in meaning, but to me they look intensely female and mandala-like, taking you into mysteries and deep dark spaces (like the valley or the precious water-courses themselves).  I am sure these are fertility marks.

One or two people in history mentioned some of the marks but these up in the high valley were not 'discovered' till 1941. (It reminds me of Stonehenge not being 'discovered' till the 16th century. Nobody noticed it, or perhaps nobody took any notice of it).

The notice boards say that in 1994 excavations were made along this valley and various animal bones were found, and some human remains (a male between 17 and 25).  They say that various tracks from the area all led to this place - so it was maybe a watering-place for the herds, and a place for feasting... But to me, the depth of the valley, the coolness, the dark, the birdsong - all these suggests something much more contemplative.  The marks are spirals, meanderings, circles... really more like fingerprints, as I said. So I think this was a place where women came and made their marks, hoping for children and safe delivery, in this place so far from their irretrievable homelands in the Atlas Mountains.

As we walked back down out of the woods, the sun gradually reappeared through the blanket clouds and it warmed up quite considerably - from about 10 degrees to about 15 or 16.  It is a place where you do have to be quiet and patient - no wariness, but just a sense of acceptance of an 'other' place.  It's really quite a contrast with the heat and light lower down the mountain, black/white, cold/hot, wet/dry, life/death?

There are suggestions of 'worship' in the notes which early anthropologists made - a deity and a devil, and a festival involving the piling-up of stones, and of chiefs ruling different bits of the island - all rather masculine.

Competent cultures with advanced navigation techniques did get here and home again, but the settlers here were stuck. I suppose they may have been quite young. It's hard to see how anyone lived much beyond 30 or so, given the conditions.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Dreams of escape

We ventured into the hotel on the next headland - to explore and try their coffee. It's only 150 metres away across the little bay and accessed by car down another of these tunnels which slot down between the dark high walls surrounding the banana plantations.
The hotel is, as expected, just a balconied box with a smudge of palmery-greenery around it which is only kept alive with sprinklers.  An air-conditioning unit under part of the building is making a tremendous noise - unbearable.  Everything is groomed, glossy. It's like being a brochure photograph.  Not a blade of grass out of place. Everything shining and clean. It's all very 1980s.
We can look back across the bay to our apartment - a novel view. Our building looks quite small from here, more like the 1960s.
The hotel's clientele at the moment is a mass of German retirees, who create a kind of fleshy fringe along the gardens, lying on a double-border of sun-loungers. They are quiet, well-behaved, taking their silent rest after the exertions of a lifetime, and in various stages of nakedness or leatheriness. None of them speak to each other. We thought, if this was the English there would be catcalls, shouts, jokes, drinking.... But the Germans are really quiet. The swimming-pools are empty. The cafe is open but not able to serve coffee or even orange juice as the electricity is off.
We wander back and head off down the coast road to the tiny village of el Remo, which could not present a greater contrast.....
We have approached through these fortified banana fields with their tall dull grey and black walls and fencing. The walls are made with huge black boulders at ground level, up to about 15 or 20 feet, and then topped with either pierced concrete-block walls or the wind-defence mesh. These structures line all the roads near sea level and make for a grim and prison-like landscape; they go on for miles. Suddenly the highway comes to an abrupt end with a massive volcanic wall of rock. The road veers off to the right onto a bumpy track down towards the beach and then we are in a forgotten lost world.  Stretching for about a mile, between the bananas and the crashing sea is a straggling hamlet or shanty town, old and poor. Most of the buildings are single-storey concrete houses, some with little verandas. Some are derelict, some have been rebuilt by architects. Some have greenery, most do not.  Some are clearly lived in - by old people, and some are presumably weekend cottage or holiday lets. It reminds us of Mersea Island, Jaywick, Winchelsea Beach or even Whitstable. A few small dogs sit in the sun. A deep pond is proclaimed to be a nature-reserve. There are two or three rotting boats well up inside the village - how anyone ever launched them from the hard black lava cliffs is a mystery, and in any case nowadays the sea in front of the village is a strictly controlled marine nature reserve with no fishing or diving. Leatherback turtles used to come here and a certain dolphin - the authorities hope to lure them back.  It is a place on the edge of the world, small, dusty, un-made, rough, workaday.
We wander right up to the end of the village and back again. We have lunch in a tall designer-shack overlooking the rocks and the glittering ocean, thinking we might have done better in the less swanky one near the pond.  The whole place is magic - no doubt with its own cares and arguments but - for today - looking idyllic and full of potential.  The girl in the older cafe says her name is Wendy, and gives us the phone number of an estate agent.  She and the waitress in our lunch cafe are both stunningly beautiful and made up like Hollywood stars. Their dreams are of escape, like ours, but travelling in exactly opposite directions.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Black rock, white salt

This island could be called Germany-on-sea. Almost everyone we meet or overhear is German. And like us they are mostly retired. Some of the women are notable - solo, sturdy, a bit dumpy and frowsty, faintly aggressive. This last quality often turns out to be shyness, as they will usually return a smile after a moment or two of uncertainty. It all makes me feel I should go back to school and learn to speak German a bit more fluently instead of my very limited shruggy apologies for not being able to chat with them.

We made two main expeditions yesterday - one to the very new volcano of St Antony, which appeared near the southern tip of the island in 1977. The crater is about 300m across and already - astonishingly - has a grove of young Canary pines growing in it, probably where water congregates. I love these trees, and have failed many times to germinate them at home. They form the most beautiful shapes, have long elegant and rather jaunty needles which are blueish in youth, turning to a dark fragrant green in maturity. The wood is strong and is somewhat fire-resistant - a handy quality when you grow on the flanks of active volcanoes.

The rim of the volcano is formed into a clinker path, with the mysterious terrifying vent down to your left and a stupendous view sweeping right up the west coast to your right. It's all quiet now. No heat just there, though a hot spring was rediscovered in 2005 down by the sea. We were lucky that the clouds were above us and the sky was clear.  Hang-gliders swooped over us.  Beneath the hill, vineyards with tiny ground-hugging twiggy vines are spread out (Malmsey wine), and then the banana fields swathed in their coverings of tightly-stretched taupe-coloured mesh, which protect them from the damaging wind.  It's absolutely clear how effective these meshes are - the plants under cover have huge undamaged leaves, as big as - what? - duvet covers, maybe, while the groves outside have their leaves all shredded into fingers and tatters. These tears all set back the growth of the fruits which are really quite delicate despite their robust appearance. Every penny, every blemish counts.

Walking along the path, we found that although sandals are perfectly adequate to manage the surface, the dust and cinders quickly insinuate themselves under your feet and you have keep stopping to shake your shoes out.

We met a couple of women along the path who struck up conversation having seen us somewhere else. They could have been sisters but one was Gerrman and the other from Ipswich, and they live in Düsseldorf. They drove from Germany down to the south of Spain, took the ferry to Tenerife and are on a 3-month stay, and wondered at our brief one-week visit.

Back up at the pretty little town of Fuencaliente (Hotspring), we queued for lunch in a working cafe and there met another German lady - not really to speak to, you understand, but to nod with and smile.   The press of people round the bar was exciting. The man serving paella and cleaning up made a couple of spectacular drinks called 'paraquitos' for someone, layered coffee+liqueur drinks in glass cups, handed gently to the customer who wobbled away to take them to his table outside.

Then for our second expedition we took the road down towards the real tip of the island, seemingly driving forever through the newest lavafields with their huge blackened apocalyptic contortions and massive gritty horror, down to las Salinas, where some enterprising character decided to set up a salt-works. This - and the two adjoining lighthouses - were quite miraculously spared from the lava which rolled past them within a few inches in some cases. The salt is dried in a series of about fifty or sixty rectangular pans, about the size of your average front garden. Here over a few weeks the sun and wind takes the water away and the pure white salt is scraped and piled and then packed and taken away.  Amazingly, in this ferociously hostile environment, two primitive bacteria like to live, Cyanobacteria and Archaeobacteria, and a goofy 'portrait' of one of these is made into keyrings and badges and stickers and sold in the shop.  More interesting was watching the two taciturn men shovelling the salt in the packing house, seeing it augered up into a small hopper, and then filled into kilo bags... One shovelled and one packed the bags into bigger packs and then stacking these on a pallet. They do 600 tonnes a year.

The drive back was along the coast road again, where they are straightening the road out in a series of chops and relevelling operations. At each section of the works two men wielding a circular blue/red table-tennis bat control the flow of traffic, and this goes on for some miles, smoothly enough. It gives you enough time to admire the delicacy and accuracy of the engineering, the beauty of their new stone retaining wall, and to try to see new baby Canary-pine tree seedlings which have propagated themselves in the hard sloping gritty dusty soil.   Why oh why cannot I get them to do this at home?

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Black sand

This island was discovered in September 1492, at about the same time that Colon 'found' what we now call America, though I do wonder if the Canaries were a more exciting find for Europeans at that time.  So accessible.....
The original volcanic bedrock of La Palma was pushed up from the ocean floor by the force of swelling magma, and then subjected to eruptions which covered the land-mass like a stack of pancakes, and the centre of these upwellings was more or less in the north or centre of the island.  Eventually, about 700,000 years ago, a huge chunk of this duvet of rocky coverings simply slid off the underlying mound in a southerly direction, leaving a massive horse-shoe shaped gash. The lightening of the load in that area encouraged new volcanoes to grow up in the south, and there are two peaks as a result, with a caldera between them and the old central heights.
We found all this in the enticing Banana Museum in Tazacorte, the next town up the coast, which we visited in the afternoon.  Our morning was spent lounging around - and we discovered the reason for the wild booming noises at night. Our terrace is actually a shelf over a deep cave - we are sleeping on air! The waves punch into this hole to create this powerful noise.
We drove up the coast to see if we could see the fishing fleet at Tazacorte, but then went on to what's called the Puerto de Tazacorte. That is really just a little tourist destination, with two broad black sandy beaches, some restaurants, council housing, tat shops and a deep and attractive valley cutting up into the interior.  The valley sides are steep and black, ending in ferocious cliffs with distressed faces, one interleaved with red streaks like Roman stonework, the other a mass of boulders and clinkers like the ash from an anthracite fire.
Use of that valley, like any other flattish land on the island, was grabbed by rich and powerful families who tried a succession of enterprises to make their fortunes - sugar, tobacco, slavery and most recently bananas. The kings of Spain always backed them. A very surprising trade in the 19th century was the farming of cochineal, that red dye-stuff which comes from beetles. That lasted about 40 years, till chemicals took over.
The labour was unimaginably hard - backbreaking - with nothing more than picks and shovels to scrape into the unforgiving rock to make terraces for the crops and water-courses. Time and again the poor tried to wrest some sort of control from their landlords, but it was useless. The church was nominally at least on their side, but had its own objectives. One shipload of missionaries headed out to South America, but was immediately forestalled by French privateers who (being Protestant, amazingly) murdered the lot of them. The French have a long history of attacking La Palma - one called Jambe Le Bois (Pegleg) attacked and burned Santa Cruz on the east side of the island in 1553.  The struggles for the poor went on, right through Franco's dictatorship.
It was the British who brought bananas - Mr Ffyffe being the foremost and the battle to grow them was then matched by the struggle to ship them and market them.  The cultivation of bananas is hard enough, but the picking and transportation and preservation of the crop is a whole science, not to mention the diseases and pests which assail the crop, and the ferocious competition between different colonial and emerging countries which also grow them.  Of course the Canary bananas are the sweetest and most flavoursome, and were identified by the famous little blue paper label which I remember from years ago.
The Banana Museum where we learned all this is in a pretty house at Tazacorte, and it consists of more or less nothing other than a set of huge display panels, like the pages of a book, laid out in two rooms. There are a few objects such as shears, weighing scales and push-along trolleys, very like what you'd see in your own garden shed but a bit bigger. This was both hilarious and poignant.  What else can they do but tell their story? But it’s a very dry presentation. The windows - as we saw in Tenerife a few yeaes ago - are a 17th century English invention: sliding sashes which allow for circulation of air in the summer heat.
Now it's all tourism. Joining the EU led (unbelievably) to a decline in trade for bananas, and the Ffyffes company ended up being traded in and out of various fruit conglomerate corporations ending up in Ireland. Outside on the hillsides, the bananas are grown immaculately, each fruiting stalk clothed in blue plastic (not explained in the museum whose information has not really been upgraded since the early 2000s. The terracing is superb. We saw lorries trundling along with their harvest loads. Modern packaging has helped - but the Canaries face increasing competition from Africa where the fruits are maybe 30cm long.  Bananas are only rivalled by oranges in the world of fruit consumption, and are a major foodstuff for most of its consumers - only in the pampered West do we eat them as a dessert.
Back to the beach. The sand is softly gritty, and a marvellous charcoals black colour and filled with  really tiny sparkles from the edges of the grains.  It is delightful.  I was reminded of the floor I hate so much at the airport, with its menacing sparkles in those glossy black tiles.... I find on my travels so many points of connection and coincidence.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018


We left home in the cold and dark. After five minutes I had to run back to collect my phone... I'd left it charging as the battery (once again, and too soon thank you for nothing Apple) fades quite fast.  The trains got us to Gatwick smoothly enough, but I was resenting lugging my bag along. Wheels next time.

We'd booked for the first time into Bloc, the Japanese-style minimalist hotel which is so conveniently right in the terminal building. The room looks fab - suede walls, nice lighting, very chic, but there are no window and the aircon is quite noisy, and the bathroom is a wet room. That means if you take a shower straight away, the whole floor is really wet and subsequent trips to the basin to clean your teeth mean you must either dry the floor with a towel or get very wet socks.

For the first time that I can remember we weren't asked to go through a passport control, but the usual chicane of baggage screening always seems to result in delays and questions which create frustration and anxiety. Not that we were short of time, but - surely they can see we are not terrorists. I feel we should be waved through - with an airy 'Ah, hallo Mr and Mrs Mussett - how nice to see you again - do come in...'

I think that winding pathway which connects from the security zone to the waiting area must be a practice run for the entry to hell. Its black marble floor tiles are sprinkled with alarming sparkles. The air is scented with - what? - the dying agony of musk whales and chemicals.  Slender young people want you to wander into their expensive areas of retail.... It's hateful, nasty.  No doubt it's all this retail which subsidises the costs of the airports, but we have to factor in a profit-margin for shareholders. I remember when Heathrow was an airfield off the A4, and the departures hall was basically a barn where you waited. It had nice floor tiles in a design made by an artist. (Who?)

We bought the most delicious croissants since our visit to Sceaux in December, from Pret, and sat with coffee and fruit salad and feeling as if our holiday was at last beginning. The masses and hordes of people are terrifying. The sheer numbers.  We are so many on the planet. But each is a universe, a dreamer, a family-person. This is one of the great conundrums which we face.

Then we waited and walked to our gate and had a scuffle with the EasyJet employee who said only Speedy-Boarding passengers may keep their handbags outside their cabin bags. So I stuffed my two carriers into one lump and held up the queue.... Again, the shareholders' profits come before the care of customers... Squeezyjet makes you pay for everything. I remember when I used to be a person, someone. Now I am just a number, a blob of data, and they see my bank account rather than my self.

Walking onto the tarmac into the bright cold air we stood and marvelled as a Virgin Airbus taxied past - this giant, gleaming metal thing, huge and dominant. How do they do it? How has man made these enormous things which can rise up into the air, carrying souls and cargoes? How? It is miraculous.

Our own plane was smaller but not full - and that is a relief. The cabin crew not so stressed, room to move about.  I met a woman whose sister is dying of cancer in the Midlands. We did a bit of yoga together at the back of the plane.

The touchdown at La Palma was miraculous,  light as a feather and fifty minutes early.  We could see those typically Canarian volcanic rocks - black and crumbly-looking, as if they had spewed out of the ground only last week - but perhaps those flows were a hundred years ago or more.  To see it, the rock looks like cake. To touch, it's as hard as the hardest thing you ever touched, or shrank away from.

Our car - a Fiat 500 - is spot new and reminds me of the tiny space I was used to until I swapped my own 500 for a Fiat Doblo earlier this year.... We set off, trying to get the phone satnav to give us a signal, to see where our turning is, to look at the surroundings....

Eventually we're on the right road, zigzagging over the central mountain. Down by the coast are swathes of banana fields, like they have on Tenerife but looking in better condition and tightly fenced in. The houses are surrounded by flowers, everything looks bright, and there are so many plants I have never seen before along the roadsides - dragon trees, euphorbias, some deciduous woods....

We cross over a strip of land which the satnav calls Alter Flugenzahn or something - an airstrip, and surprisingly (to me) labelled in German.  Then over the ridge, and into a different landscape - pine forests and broader valleys.  We drift down to the western coast, through El Paso, and turning south to find Puerto Naos.  We have to ring the owner of the apartment to find out where it is, evidently not in the town at all.

He meets us at 'the roundabout' and leads us along between banana plantations with their high dark stone walls, and turns sharply into a tiny narrow alley between two fields, like a canyon. The road is rough stones and dust, with deep pits. Will our little 500 make it?  At the end, by the sea, is a black dusty carpark with a few cars and then a wall and a terrifying descent of these hard black rocks and a swirling mass of waves thundering and booming below. To our right is a gate and then a building.... Our guide - who is German - says 'I am Oliver'.  That's about all he says.  But, our apartment is right on the terrace. Not quite ready for us but two women are cheerfully cleaning it out for us. They bring us mint tea as we wait under a real palmtree umbrella sunshade, sheltering from the wind and enjoying the sun.  On the headland behind us is an hotel - a bit nearer to the town. We can piggyback on its wifi.

The girls leave, and we explore our new quarters - all very practical and though not new, comfortable and bright. The waves are crashing below the terrace.

We drive the mile or so back into town to walk around and get some supplies.  There the promenade lies like a harlot waiting for customers - glammed up, easy, complacent. Everyone around us is German. One beach shop is owned by a Mr Wong. Our waiter (local) explains that a Nao was large ship or boat, not for fishing but for trade.  Hence Puerto Naos. The way he says it, it sounds more Portuguese than Spanish and I wonder if the word comes from 'navo'?  The only boats in the port now are for tourists, though there is still a working fishing fleet at the next town ip the coast - Tazacorte.

We eat - my favourite Canarian dish of prawns in garlic, and salad, and I drink some local wine which is delicious.  We shop - at Spar, that successful retail brand which appears round the whole of Europe, selling what people really want, it seems, instead of that vaporous stuff at the airports.  We come 'home', fall into bed.  The waves crash and crash outside. The deep booming noise every few seconds keeps me awake. I have strange dreams - of powerlessness, anger, invasion.

Friday, 22 December 2017

How welcome do you feel?

As an addendum to yesterday's report....

To get to the famous Cliffs of Moher, which are hard to see because of their remoteness, you do have to drive really quite a long way, through the Burren landscape which is pretty empty. On a drear day, with clouds barely higher than the stunted trees, and with rain pelting at your windscreen, and a winter solstice gloom cloaking round you as you press on into the bogs, it's a mournful ride.

But the enticement, the excitement is, that you will at last see these famous cliffs - a massive dark barricade which rises up to face the unrelenting battering of the Atlantic. It's odd to think that (as far as we know) people have only been to see such awe-inspiring places for pleasure since the 18th century. The Romantics who trekked up to Scotland and the Lake District, or into Germany, were deeply moved by the silent and dramatic power of the mountains and chasms, and their enthusiasm helped spark off the whole of modern tourism. People - peasants and their landlords - who had previously lived in blissful unawareness of the rich opportunities locked up in the rockfaces, came to realise they could get money out of other people's pockets in return for lodgings, food, and a nice place to stand and look.

Thus it was that our long drive out to the Cliffs of Moher, through lonely hills and winding lanes, between endless stone walls, past ancient farmsteads and ruins, splashing mud as we went, silent as we progressed towards one of Nature's great marvels, ended with a truly horrible experience.

We could - just - see the Cliffs as we wound our way along the coast road.....

Double yellow lines appeared on either side of the empty road - for a long way.   In the distance, we saw a set of barricades and a huge carpark - once a whole green field - with huts, fencing, lines marked out, ominous signs and control barriers, some sort of traffic light system on the pedestrian crossing.   There were about five men, maybe six, wearing high-viz jackets which shone out of the gloom like traffic lights. It looked like the entrance of a concentration camp, or a toxic industrial plant.   It is quite clear. If you want to see the Cliffs of Moher (from the top) you have not only to brave the elements in the middle of nowhere - the blistering wind, the soaking rain, the mud on the path - but you also have to park in this place which represents the worst possible aspects of human life. Greed, control, power, concrete everywhere, domination. Here, where Nature has mutely offered up one of the wonders of the world - a spiritual place, historic, inspiring, memorable - Clare County Council has stepped in with its jackboots on. The cost is €6 per person, from which, we learned, they derive €7m a year.  Good for them.

I cannot believe this is the way to do it. Having been through the whole of France, the Pyrenees and Northern Spain earlier this year, where there are similar landscape marvels to see, somehow the authorities have devised ways of accessing these places without this brutal harrumph, this handbagging.  It's almost unbelievable. It's the most inhospitable thing I've seen in Ireland.

We didn't get out of the car.  We certainly did not go into their brutal naked horrible carpark. It made me think of gas-chambers to be honest.  The weather didn't help, and yes, I know it's the darkest time of year - but surely, this can be managed better.   The Clare Museum in Ennis (by contrast) is welcoming and fully textured with great displays and good information. And the shops are marvellous.