Hello again to all of you and if you are still here in this series, you deserve a medal!
First things first so I would like ot take this opportunity to wish you all a happy, prosperous and, most importantly, healthy New Year. I hope you managed to see it in in reasonable style under whatever restrictions you may be experiencing wherever you are.
Of course, with the global nature of the mighty internet I realise this is not the new year for all of you so I shall attempt to remember to write the appropriate words when the lunar New Year of the Ox rolls around in a few weeks. It is said to be a lucky year so lets hope so.
I promise you I shall get to the end of Madeira pretty soon, it is only another four days to go. I bet you all feel like Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest passage now, don’t you? You have signed up, you feel as if you cannot leave this ill-advised little venture of writing up a trip where I did so little but the end really is in sight. Let’s hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is not an oncoming train!
Day 10 – 10th December 2015.
After my brief exploration of the previous day I thought I would take another stroll round Funchal as I found it a most agreeable place. One of the many joys of Funchal is that it is relatively compact and you do not really need to use public transport. In hindsight I regret not seeing more of this wonderful island which would have been relatively easy as there are many organised daytrips even if I had decided not to use the local bus system which is always much more fun anyway. I love riding on local buses and trains.
The first thing that caught my eye was what you can see in the image which just tickled me and I am now officially issuing my first “digression alert” of the day as you are going to get a potted history of the post box here. Yes, I know that sounds odd but it is just the way my mind works. In truth, it is not the first time I have researched this as I did so some time ago whilst writing another piece on another website about Broadstairs in Kent (UK). Funchal and Broadstairs are both delightful seaside holiday resorts that I love but postboxes? Don’t tell me, you are right, I probably should seek professional help!
Being British I was brought up with the traditional post / pillarbox (the latter is a more archaic word not so much used nowadays like the item for which it was coined) and it was always a particular shade of red. So distinctive was this particular shade that it has now even entered the English language with the term “pillarbox red”. I had never seen a blue postbox before and even my rudimentary Portuguese, all ten words of it, worked out that Correio Azul meant Blue Mail which turns out to be the case. It is a priority system, presumably involving aircraft in these modern times.
Back to UK and our little history lesson. Before researching this, if I had been asked where the first postbox in the UK and when, I would have guessed at London, purely because it is the centre of just about everything and dating the event would have flummoxed me totally. The truth is that the first boxes in the UK were not even on the mainland but on the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey and the year was 1852.
The Secretary of the Post Office Sir Rowland Hill was concerned about the erratic delivery of mail from the islands and sent the noted novelist Anthony Trollope to investigate. Why would you send a novelist to do this? OK, I am teasing you. When he was not writing his “Chronicles of Barsetshire” his day job was as Surveyor for the Western District of the UK.
Trollope duly reported and suggested a system of “letter-receiving pillars” similar to those he had seen in use in Paris, so it appears the iconic British postbox is actually a French idea. Oh dear. The Portuguese were early adopters of the British design which accounts for the similarities here and my home although it is perhaps not surprising when you consider that Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally. Before you ask, Treaty of Windsor in 1386, don’t say I don’t do the legwork for you, dear readers!
History is never far away in Funchal, be it vintage looking pillarboxes or the much more numerous old ecclesiastical buildings, the first of which you can see in the image above which is the rather magnificent Igreja de São João Evangelista or Church of St. John the Evangelist if you prefer it in English.
It is impressive today and must have been even more so when it was built in the early 17th century as it was the largest building on the island until the 19th century. Almost as impressive as the façade is the number of names the building has of which possibly the most apposite is Igreja do Colegio Sao Joao Evangelista reflecting it’s original purpose as a seat of learning for the Jesuit order of priests and it retains that function to this day as it is now home to the University of Madeira. I am sure the brothers of the S.J. who originally ordered the construction of this fine building would be pleased with that.
For reasons last in the mists of time (or at least in the fog of my increasingly forgetful old brain) I did not go into the church which is surprising but contented myself with the image you see. I did not have far to go to come upon another old and much less grandiose religious building which, in some ways, I found even more pleasing on the eye and which you can see above. It is the Church of St. Luis of Tolosa and in many ways it is very similar to it’s grander neighbour in that it was built in 1600 as the chapel for a seminary / college. It was constructed on the orders of Don Luis de Figuereido of Lemos whose coat of arms adorn the front of the building.
I do actually remember why I didn’t go into this church, it was shut, at least the door I tried was. Perhaps there is a side door somewhere for the faithful but I didn’t find it. I cannot believe that the church was shut for reasons of fear of theft, vandalism or misuse as so many British churches regrettably are these days. I have to say that Funchal is a very peaceful place and I never felt in the slightest worried about walking anywhere even in the dead of night.
You would see the odd police vehicle about but nothing as heavy as you might see in a mainland Portuguese resort in the summer season when the hordes descend. It is a thoroughly relaxing and peaceful place to be and I do recommend it highly. No, I am not being paid by the Funchal tourist board.
This was now getting a bit serious, two churches and I had not been in one yet. Best keep walking I suppose and everywhere I looked there were busy preparations going on fo Xmas as evidenced in the scene above which is a fairly typical street scene of that time of year in Funchal.
The guy in the little orange cart to the right of the image was festooning the trees with decorative lights and I have to say that he was working with an alacrity that would have shamed most British council workers and had them running for the local shop steward. Perhaps when he had done his allotted quota of lights he could knock off early and get to the bar for a glass of poncho, a bowl of the local excellent soup and an equally delicious sandwich, who knows?
I was so glad to see that it was the 10th of December and they were still getting ready for the festive season. In my country I have seen Xmas decorations in shops before Hallowe’en and the Christmas festival seems to start about early October which just seems to me to dilute the whole experience I remember as a child. Perhaps that is just a case of rose-tinted speactacles but Xmas seemed to be approaching and gone in a flash when I was six or seven and then such a long, long time away.
If you look closely you can see it was lovely weather as evidenced by the guy in shorts, T-shirt and sunglasses at the little coffee truck in the centre of the image. I had gone to Funchal, primarily to meet my mate Claus but also in order to find a little sun and avoid a dismal London winter and it had certainly delivered on that front (there was no pun intended in that vaguely meteorological term). It was not ludicrously hot but it was pleasant enough like an unexpected good Spring morning in UK.
I think I have mentioned previously that Madeira has no train system. I only think I have mentioned it as this little series of entries has taken me so long to get together that I really cannot remember half of what I have written but the statement, whilst true in the accepted sense, is actually not completely accurate as the image above shows.
OK, it is not the “iron rail” or “chemin de fer” as the French would have it but it is a train of sorts and rather an attractively decked out one as you can see. I never actually saw it in use so maybe it was still a work in progress like the lights and only available for a limited period. I did wonder if it also served as a tourist attraction in the high season as I cannot believe the local authority would have this expensive piece of kit, which would take up a lot of room, just sitting about for nine tenths of the year. I do hope the cow-catcher was purely decorative!
Christmas was very definitely in the air and if any further proof was required then you need look no further than the image above, possibly the largest Santa I have ever seen. The lady in the image was not particularly small so it gives a lovely sense of scale. Dear old St. Nick had reindeered his way down from the North Pole (to mix cultural concepts a little as opposed to metaphors as I usually do) and was sitting in all his glory in the centre of Funchal. He was bloody huge.
I dread to think of how any little boy or girl would have sat on his knee without the aid of a cherry picker or ladder and an adult but there he was. I don’t celebrate Xmas and I don’t particularly like it but this did make me smile although no passerby would have known I was smiling as such a facial expression would have been completely masked behind the rather extensive “facial fungus” that others call my beard.
I am a proud member of the British Beard Club and I would love Santa here to attend one of our meetings, if we are ever allowed to have such social events again and if he could fit into one of the pubs we meet in. We are a small but harmless group, typical British eccentrics bound together merely by our dislike of shaving which has led us to a “social network” as I believe the modern term is.
I have included an image above to give you an idea and to show that even Santa here would have been embarrassed about his hirsute efforts when faced, or should that be bearded, by some of my mates. Honestly, I feel like a bare-faced youth compared to some of those guys. If you haven’t guessed and don’t know me, I am the tall ugly one on the extreme left of the shot.
As yet another aside and whilst writing about Xmas and the holiday period this image was taken at our Xmas meet in 2019 when the world was still relatively normal and was the last meeting I was able to attend. Given the way things are going I fear it is the last one I shall ever be able to attend.
I should mention in these politically correct days that we are completely socially inclusive and we have lady associate members. We also even have members who still shave (poor deluded fools) but who are “considering growing beards”. I have to say that I cannot wait for the day when a “bearded lady” turns up at a meeting. Do you remember them? They were one “attraction” in the indescribably cruel freak shows that circuses used to turn out a century ago.
I should really have issued another digression warning above so sorry if you got sucked into my ramblings about all sorts of matters totally unrelated to Funchal and so back there now.
The image above again illustrates several of the points I have made above and in previous posts. This was the Xmas market which was still being set up. I know some Xmas markets in UK start in November (why, other than commercial greed?) and I have been to perhaps the best one in UK in Manchester which is a massive event, set over various sites in the city centre and is actually quite fun despite my completely Scrooge attitude towards the whole thing. Let’s be honest, mulled wine and a genuine German bratwurst cannot be all bad.
I might as well take this opportunity to gratuitously post some more images which are totally irrelevant to what I was supposed to be writing about. This is the afore-mentioned (I love that word, it ranks with heretofore and previously-aforesaid for me) Manchester market which my dear friend dragged me to some years ago. Thanks mate, you know who you are.
I strongly suspect this totally scattergun approach to writing is a complete reaction against my previous occupation where I was required to precis large amounts of information into bite-size chunks that bosses too lazy to do it themselves could understand. At this point I should let loose a melodramatic cry of “Hahaha, revenge is mine, fools” á la some Hammer horror film star of the 1940’s but I shall refrain.
The other thing to note in the market image, so many paragraphs ago, is the small group of tourists in the foreground who had obviously “escaped” from one of the cruise ships in the harbour and the disgustingly over-priced shore excursions that Fred Olsen et al offer. Good for them.
I was in a walking mood that day, presumably fuelled by my intrinsic desire to explore and my awareness of the fact that I had done precisely bugger all (please pardon my fruity language) for over a week. This is so totally uncharacteristic for me. I strolled on in the sunshine for no more than a few hundred yards and was rewarded with the site of the combined palace and fort of São Lourenço who is presumably St. Lawrence in English although whose origin and what his association to the island is completely defeats even my obsessive desire to learn.
History has shown me that lands are “discovered” or won, empires are built (and lost) at the hands of the military but somewhere close behind you will find the disgrace of organised religion seeking wealth, power and intellectual governance of the indigenous populace, it was ever thus and such is the case here.
Whilst there is no evidence of previous occupation of this rock stuck in the middle of the Atlantic, the principle remains the same. By virtue of a chance storm which blew Zarco and his tiny fleet ashore here there would have been no settlement (at least not then) in this far-flung corner of the world. There is no archeological evidence of habitation prior to 1419. Seeing their chance the Church quickly moved in to establish dominance and “tax” the newly arrived settlers. That is what organised religion does, it enriches already rich and educated men (yes, predominantly men) at the expense of poor, ill-educated peasants.
What do you do when you “invade” a country or land hitherto undiscovered? A strange question perhaps but you can look back to the empires of ancient history for the answer. You build a defensive structure. You have found this place so you want to defend it against all-comers. When Zarco was blown ashore here he need not have feared the British with the mightiest navy in the world.
The British were allies as we have seen but the much more nearby Spanish, traditionally an enemy of their neighbours and rivals in the post-Moorish days, were a threat with a powerful navy of their own. Therefore, in the best traditions of military conquest (even if there was nobody there to conquer) you build something like this.
It is today a wonderful structure, kept pristine as a symbol of the “conquest” of an uninhabited piece of basalt by the Portuguese but it is mightily impressive even if it represents nothing more than a maritime mishap which turned out to be very lucky for the Portuguese. It took no time for the Portuguese authorities to realise what they had gained by “act of god” (as insurers nullify your hard funded contracts with) and they installed a “Governor” whose official residence was here.
Today the fort / palace is home to a fine military museum which I shall come to in due course (i.e. another post) although I did not visit it this day but I noted the sign for it. Trust me, it is a beauty and worth waiting for, but I had my walking head on and wanted to have a look round Funchal. I had not really gone more than about 500 yards from my front door prior to this which is an appalling situation for me. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a lovely and hugely relaxing time but I needed to see and do something other than the interior of the wonderful Snack bar Pao-de-Lo, superb as that was.
I decided I would go “the other way” for a change. My limited wanderings had taken me basically South and West in Funchal so I decided that North and East was the order of the day and off I took.
My next few images demonstrate something that became very apparent to me and which is that the Portuguese / Madeirans / Funchalese (is that the correct word?) do like a bit of sculpture. There are statues everywhere, both modern and not so modern. They also go in for a huge amount of “street art” of which more shortly but they seem to have a great love of public aesthetics. I hope the images above give an idea.
I am an artistic Philistine but I got the idea. Some of them I liked, some left me cold, but isn’t that what art is meant to do, provoke you? Perhaps I have got that completely wrong, I usually do in matters artistic despite having appeared in an “installation” which gained a friend of mine a place in a prestigious art college in London. Now that is a story and I might even tell you it some time.
Some of them were fairly self-explanatory, some more esoteric but all attractive in their way. I should mention that I was not drunk when I took the image of the crucifix whic commemorates the quincentenary of the founding of the bishopric of Funchal, it is atually tilted slightly like that. I have never discovered why.
I have to say that I was instantly reminded of a brilliant song by my old mate Fish who had a song called “Tilted Cross” on a wonderful album called “Raingods with Zippos” and I seem to remember humming it when I saw the tilted cross.
Fish also did a live version of it on his “Communion” album that I was lucky enough to do some of the CD cover photography for. I hope that my dear readers know by now that I am a boastful man but I am rather proud of that, it was one of my few finest hours and I give you fair warning that I am going to boast again later on in this post but I assure you that it will not become a habit.
I had absolutely no idea where I was going which is much my preferred mode of walking and I was very much in uncharted waters here but I had a back-up. I knew the local bus ran along the coast road so if required I would just jump on one, look out for the landmarks of the Cahedral or the gate and I knew I would be OK.
This is another travel or navigational tip for you amongst the flotsam and jetsam of my ramblings. If you are, as I was in his case, devoid of map, compass and bearings then note landmarks, whatever they might be. Churh, lighthouse, the bar with the garish blue neon sign, whatever. In a worst case scenario (more modern speak I dislike) then you can always retrace your steps. OK, it is boring and it is much more fun to go a different route home but at least you’ll get there eventually.
I was walking in a totally unthreatening environment in some half decent weather, what else could I want? Well, a Museum that had not been closed and re-located may have been nice but it was not to be.
I had seen the wonderful yellow building you can see above and I thought I would head up there as it seemed almost bound to provide something of interest which it eventually did but to a very limited extent.
The quite magnificent structure you see above, overlooking the sea in it’s defensive position, is the Santiago (St. James) Fortress, again built shortly after 1600 on the order of Jeromino Jorge to protect that end of the valuable harbour. It never saw any significant action because at the time it was built the Spanish enemy who I mentioned above did not even think of invading. The greatest threat was from Algerian pirates, or cosairs as they were known, who decided to give the island a miss. Fools.
I find the failure of the corsairs to invade this wonderful place as ranking alongside Britain’s sending men to Australia as a punishment in the annals of lack of forward thinking. I shall say no more on that subject.
I walked my way to the big yellow fort and I can even remember, in a slightly scewed train of thought here, that I was humming Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. Random songs do seem to pop into my head when I see things. The imagery is obvious but what astounds me is that I can remember that inconsequential fact after five years when I cannot even remember my sole nephew’s birthday. I told you my mind works in a strange way.
After a most pleasant walk along a very calm Atlantic Ocean, I got to the yellow fort and I should say at this point that I had not a clue what it was, I had not looked it up in a guidebook or online but it just looked like an interesting place to go. It was totally deserted, like a ghost town from an old Western film. The travellers from the numerous cruise ships where not there that day and I was alone which only added to the mystique of exploring such a place although many of my hopes were to be dashed.
The building itself was superb and proved to be very historical as I suspected it would be but the sign in the image above tells it’s own sad story. Well, sad for me but presumably for the better or at least for the better of the tourist industry on Madeira whose magnates could now generate more tourist revenue from the use of their buses. Cynical? Me? Oh no, not at all. €10 a pop sounds like a handsome profit to me and explains much of what Claus was to tell me about the governance of the island as an “Autonomous Region”.
There was no Museum to see but I had wandered out this way so I might as well have a look at the exterior they had so graciously left open to the public and that in itself justified the walk. I was completely alone after having spoken briefly and without a word of a common llanguage to an old guy that materialised like a ghost beside me when I walked into the courtyard. Again, my old international friend the mime came into play and he responded in kind, gesturing expansively for me to come in and have a look round. In hindsight he may have been telling me to climb to the tallest tower and throw myself to my doom on the rocks below but I tend to look on the bright side.
If you look at the images in the slideshow above you will see in one of them, if you look closely, the reason why this place was chosen for a defensive position. In the far distance you can just see the cruise ships lying at anchor in the harbour and this fort commands a fine view over what was historically the only gateway to the rest of the world for the island.
If you are wondering about the bare room / corridor in one of the images, that used to be the town jail. I can think of a lot worse places to be incarcarated.
I have deliberately kept this image out of the slideshow above as I think it merits it’s own place. As I have mentioned, the Museum had gone but there were a couple of old museum pieces sitting in the courtyard, obviously beautifully looked after and gleaming in the sun. I am no “petrolhead” so I have no idea what they are, although the one on the right is clearly an Opel. Perhaps my kid brother who spent his working life as a motor mechanic, owns four high-powered motorbikes and is a complete “petrolhead”, can assist me here as I know he reads this rubbish. Kid, where are you when I need you?!
The old fort was one of those swings and roundabouts situations that seem to present themselves so often when I travel. Apart from the old man, who disappeared as silently and completely as he appeared, I think I saw one other couple entering as I was leaving. You may notice them in one of the images cuddling outside down by the sea.
To this day, if someone told me the old man was a ghost I would not disbelieve them because when I was in the Forces I learned how to move silently but that old guy had it down to an art. I would have taken an image but I’ll guarantee that by the time I had got the camera to my eye he would have disappeared. Perhaps he had just mastered the art of avoiding busloads of poncho fuelled noisy tourists.
With the Museum gone I was spared the horror of three coachloads of elderly cruise ship senior citizens and had the place to myself with my thoughts. I was thinking about what it must have been like to have been a Portuguese soldier “on stag” (sentry duty) here four hundred years ago. I can think of worse postings.
As some of the images show, the clouds were closing in, a meteorogical event that seemed to take only minutes, so I decided it was time to head off back towards home before the heavens opened but not before a beer in a local hostelry obviously. The old fort does boast a restaurant and the views over the town and harbour are indeed spectacular but, for some reason, it was shut. Still, the local bar was more than sufficient for my needs. Don’t forget, as I mentioned so long ago, I had my backup plan and I knew that in case of a downpour a spell in a covered bus stop would provide me a bus back to my apartment or, more correctly, my favourite bar.
On the way back I decided to head inland a bit as I had walked the esplanade on the way out and what a good idea that turned out to be. I discovered some of Madeira’s hidden gems, not historical like so many but which gave rise to my being internationally syndicated in newspapers all over the world, if you can believe that. I did warn you there was another boast coming.
Again we are back to the wonderful and needlessly murdered Virtual Tourist website. The last CEO of that site was the wonderful XXXX? Kimberley, a good friend, whose background was in PR and marketing and PR. As such she managed to get syndications for items such as “Ten best Churches in the world to see”, “Five best places to drink on the Beach”, that sort of thing. I am sure you have seen them in the weekend travel supplements of your local newspaper. Well, I say that but does any newspaper even have a travel supplement any more given that nobody is allowed to travel anywhere and will not be allowed to for years?
Walking through an area of Funchal I had not previously discovered and far removed from the historical old city where I had been exclusively hanging out previously I discovered some of the most wonderful street art I have ever seen.
I have to say at this point that I find what is called street art but is mostly just random vandalism and narcissism in “tagging” utterly disgusting, especially where I live where there isn’t a spare inch of space left unsullied by some teenage thug with a spray can but it has now become an art form and it can be utterly delightful. Never let it said that my mind is closed.
There was one particular street I walked along that was just filled with such art. I did read later that the reason for this was that this was a very deprived part of town, well off the tourist / cruise ship bus beat and that most of the specialist shops were closed under competition from supermarkets and because of their locality so the local artists had sort of taken it over and produced what I have to say, contrary as it is to all my usual feelings, some wonderful art just spray painted on the doors of abandoned commercial dwellings and currently occupied residential premises.
The whole area reminded me in many ways of the self-proclaimed “Artists Rebublic” in Vilnius in Lithuania which I stayed in once and loved. Like it’s Lithuanian counterpart, this was a place which was shunned by the rich and upwardly mobile and populaced instead by creative , artistic types. I can live with that and I hope that with our collective effort which was read by more people than any of our individual blogs, specifically mine, may have done a little good for this beautiful area of an equally beautiful city.
A dear friend of mine is a trained artist and we used to have some pretty heated discussions about what did and did not constitute art. Admittedly, these discussions were mostly after hours in the East end pub where she worked as most artists (and “resting” actors) do but they were honest and we are back to my old idea here of everything going round in circles.
Nadean, my artist friend, was from Londonderry / Derry / Doire, depending on your political viewpoint, and tried to teach me about art but I was, as always, a most unreceptive pupil. I think in the end we agreed to disagree and I said I would stick to things that looked like what they were whilst she thought that a Tracy Emin bed festooned with used condoms, vodka bottles etc. was art. As always I shall leave it to my readers to decide. I am a pre-Raphaelite man myself!
One time her parents had come over to London to visit her and were in the bar where I used to drink (the bar Ronnie Kray shot Georgie Cornell in, incidentally) and of course we got to talking. It transpired that her Father was a big rugby man and some sort of a big noise in City of Derry Rugby Club, the very club my Father had captained to the Towns Cup back in the early 60’s. I was virtually brought up in the old Branch Road clubhouse. Circles, my dear readers circles and here is another one.
Having been apparently insufficiently provocative and self-promoting to be a 21st century artist, dear Nadean took to what she did best, running a bar, my kind of girl. A few years back I was playing one of our random sessions in the 39 steps pub in Broadstairs during the wonderful Broadstairs Folk Week. I was head down over the guitar as I usually am when trying to keep up with my mate Paul on the banjo. Paul only plays at three speeds, fast, faster and GO! At the end of one particularly lunatic set of tunes I heard a very familiar voice saying something along the lines of, “Fergy, you bastard, I haven’t seen you for years and you didn’t tell me you were playing here”.
In my defence I must ask how the Hell I would have told her as I had no means of contacting her, having lost my ‘phone and all it’s numbers years before. How could I have known that she was now running a pub in Margate not four miles from where we were? How was I to know she was now married and I was introduced to her husband, a lovely man? Her pub was not a mile from the Turner so-called art gallery in Margate which was much instigated by the vastly over-rated (in my view) Tracy Emin and which has done so much to re-generate a very fading English seaside town. Circles, my dear readers, everything goes in circles, finding what the circles are is the trick.
The images I have provided above are merely a taster, an “amuse bouche” if you want to get cheffy, of the entire effect and they are all of apparently house doors but I hope you get the idea. The little backstreet itself was not too shabby as this images shows and much of the “urban regeneration”, if you can use such a term in 2015 Funchal, is down to this street art. Thanks, Banksy.
After my small return trip courtesy of the excellent street artists of Funchal, it was a trip back to my favoured Snack Bar do Pao Lo for a few beers and a bite to eat before bed. No Dino (my nickname for the wonderful Nadean) you have not convinced me, modern art is still pretentious shit designed to fool the gullible. Modern art is the art of glib talking. Maybe I should give it a go, I think I would be good at it as I can talk “you know what” on an Olympic scale as you poor readers have just witnessed.
This started out being a post hopefully bringing to a merciful conclusion my trip to Madeira and look what happened. I am going to sign off now because this entry has got totally out of hand. I am not even going to make a prediction about my next missive because I thought I was going to knock this off quickly and look what happened. One way or another this has taken me over three days but it is not as if I have anything else to do whilst under house arrest.
If you do want to see what happens, as always, stay tuned and spread the word.