UNFAIR though it may seem, your hotel is only as good as your snootiest receptionist, your cafe as clean as your dirtiest waiter.
Here in sunny Portugal I have just calmed down and suspended judgement on the whole nation because of one taxi driver. Truth to tell, I didn't really "calm up" in the first place but it was a close thing.
At Faro airport a charming young man in blue overalls helped load the baggage (how many variations of weather do women cater for over two brief weeks?) and trundled towards the taxi rank before I could catch him.
Never mind — a taxi in hand is worth two in the rank. Having had no time to get any idea of small change, I tipped the young man lavishly in full view of the smiling taximan who would know that here was no small time tourist piker. Even better things might be to come for him.
"Hold on please. I have a telephone call to make". The smile vanished. The luggage was already stowed. "You have telephone first, then taxi!" "Sorry about that. I'll just be a couple of minutes."
"Cannot wait. Cannot park. Police."
All he had to do was move forward a couple of feet to release the taxi behind. A distant policeman seemed happy in his work. We were early. I just wanted to make sure our friends were in to give us the key to our new abode.
I started to explain this, when my wife, hissing in my ear without even her lips moving and smiling all the while, wanted to know why no matter what part of the world we went to I always wanted to change the system?
I felt like a soldier marching his troops up a hill only to turn round at the top to find they were still at the bottom. I surrendered.
In the event, the keys were there, we went out to our new house — or villa as the brochures say — and unloaded the luggage. We were all smiles again now.
The supermarket was a few hundred yards down the road. Would he take us there to collect a few items of foodstuff? "But of course."
By now I was seated in the front. Wife in the back. As soon as we arrived she leapt out and disappeared into the shop. I opened my door to follow leisurely in case assistance would be required. My door swung open.
"How nice," I said with no' touch of irony, "no police to bother you here." Before you could say Jekyll or Hyde the airport scowl was back. "No. No. I don't take you back. You pay me now." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You . . . mean you will . . . not . . . take us back . . . to the villa."
That was what he did mean, he didn't care if there were no other taxis around. He was not permitted to do business in this area. I told him to stick around. I was going in for my wife, no doubt by now loaded to the gills with goodies. My right foot had barely touched the ground than he accelerated in reverse, the door swinging towards me like a battering ram. "I take you to the police!" "But my wife's inside!" he started to accelerate forward, "stop!"
For the second time in one hour, I surrendered. No darling, I didn't want to change the systent Just get home. Which we did — eventually.
Of course, the place soon got back to its natural gracious self. A few days later • a perfect example. A waiter we knew at one restaurant in Almansil recommended another — his friend Jose who had just opened.
We went along next day and had a fine self-indulgent lunch — an aperitif, fresh tender asparagus each, sole "tropical" and succulent sea bass while yours truly sank into strawberries and cream.
All the meanwhile a bottle of happy white wine serenading the grub. Would we have coffee and liquers? No thank you just the bill please which came to just over £25 — and I don't mean per head.
I pushed over one of those pieces of plastic that are supposed to make them tumble over in any part of the world all the while telling you how nicely it will do or have them summon servants to grant your every wish "no cards, sir" said the young woman.
We hadn't an escudo in cash between us. Jose was summoned. My back tensed for the lash. We were strangers.
"No problem sir. Tomorrow. Anytime, no time". And he smiled, something not many Portugese males do. My pathetic peasant relief was obvious. "Now" said Jose, "will you have that drink?"
I WATCHED Brazil beat England one-nil, and of course Scotland were to lose two-nil. Little old Ireland actually won by a goal against those legendary soccer wizards. But where were those Irish soccer fans. Out here I read only 18,000 turned up. The weather was very cold, the reporter said was it, I wonder, a case of weather or feet?