Friday, 5 November 2021

Cheeky young chess players tricking their elders. Trees that talk. Out of touch politicians. And nice food.

Sitting waiting for Phil to finish playing his game against yet another junior the other evening (a game he drew … again!) I was approached by another player who wanted to vent his annoyance at how clever “these juniors” have become during lockdown. 15- and 16-year-olds who have spent hours playing chess on the computer and actually studying so that they are much better than their official ratings! They’re creating havoc amongst the older players. Who, by the way, have had the same opportunities to spend  hours playing chess on the computer and actually studying but have maybe had other things on their mind, such as earning a living. I had never spoken to this chess player before. Maybe I just looked like a sympathetic ear!

Anyway, annoyance vented, he went on to talk about other things. He is from Lisbon but now lives in a place in the middle of a forest, at least I think it’s in the middle of a forest. He sold his Lisbon house and now has a smallholding and keeps chickens there but, being a city-bred person, he can’t bring himself to wring their necks and so just has lots of eggs! I can sympathise with that. 

He told me he is a crime investigator. Private detective? I wondered. How exotic! In fact he investigates the causes of forest fires, working out who, if anyone, is responsible. And Portugal has long had its share of forest fires. One problem, he told me, is  that forests in Europe are mostly too young and not sufficiently diverse. As we have cut trees down we have replanted vast areas with single varieties of trees, all for commercial reasons. These are more prone to burn easily. 

Left to themselves, he said, trees communicate with each other through their root systems using electromagnetic impulses. That was the gist of it. In some of the oldest forests in the world, if a tree is attacked by a virulent beetle which will eventually kill it, the tree under attack “warns” others in the area, prompting the other trees to send a kind of less attractive sap up into their leaves. This puts the beetles off eating the leaves. Brilliant! We need it to work against the various ailments that attack our tree population. 

In similar fashion, the reason giraffes eat the leaves off one tree and then walk a hundred yards or so before stripping the leaves off another is because the eaten tree “warns” others in close proximity. Unfortunately they should extend the warning a little further. But hey, giraffes need to eat too!

So when Tolkien wrote about ents, trees that were “awake” and could communicate and move around, even if it took them a while to get sufficiently roused to take action, his ideas were not too farfetched. 

The problem is that it takes hundreds of years for forests to establish their communication system properly. Most European forests are two or three hundred years old at the most, usually much less, because we’ve been cutting down forests for ever - to build houses, to create agricultural spaces, to make roads. And we’re still doing it. As a consequence our forests are mere toddlers who have not learnt to communicate properly yet! But, my forest-fire-detective lamented, even if we manage to tell the politicians that, and even if they believe it, they don’t take action because it’s not commercially or financially viable. 

So much for COP 26!!

But it’s amazing  what you can learn sitting around waiting for games to finish!

Meanwhile some of our politicians continue to live in a different world from the rest of us. Stupid Rees-Mogg, talking about fishing problems I suppose, suggests French are grumpy in October because “We have Trafalgar Day on the 21st, Agincourt Day on the 25th and the French are always a bit touchy at the end of October and get upset about things.”. Really!? I have never known us to celebrate those dates in any special way, barely a mention on a BBC Radio 4 broadcast and that rarely if at all. I bet many people would not even know what Trafalgar and Agincourt were all about, let alone when their “days” are!!

But enough of that. The sun shone on us again yesterday. We strolled out at lunchtime for another fishy meal at Caçarola Dois: mixed grilled fish with chips for Phil and a “feijoada de búzio” for me. I knew that “feijoada” was a bean stew and worked out that “búzio” was some kind of shellfish, but it was unrecognisable when it arrived. It wasn’t in my menu-finder notebook so I had to look it up later: whelks. Hmm, not a shellfish I am familiar with and not a dish I would go out of my way to eat again: nourishing, no doubt but a bit bland and the whelks were chewy, as sometimes happens with fish in stews in my experience. (Mind you I do make a nice fish chowder.) But I managed not to spill my wine. And the dessert was pleasing once again.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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