Taking this, taking that – and taking the other!

news: Taking this, taking that – and taking the other!

Have you ever travelled by train to Lisbon or Porto or any other major cities here in Portugal? I have and I enjoy it. The trains are on time, they are comfortable, and invariably clean and tidy, even at the end of the day. The staff always seem to manage a smile and the food that is served is fresh and hot. Normally, apart from the normal conversations of people travelling together, everything is very peaceful, giving passengers time to enjoy the view, catch up with reading or just think without any interruptions. Ah yes, interruptions. The dreaded mobile phone. When I came back from Porto last week a young Portuguese man felt obliged (it seemed) to share his recent experiences not only with his friend on the end of the phone but with everyone else in the carriage. Going up to Porto, my travelling companion commented on the cleanliness of the carriages. On the Lisbon to Porto journey was a group of four Newcastle FC supporters, presumably in Lisbon for the UEFA match the night before. When we left the train, the whole compartment was spotless – except for their section, which was littered with newspapers, crisp packets and so on. Once again the 50% of me that is English cringed.

I guess that is one disadvantage of the train – you cannot choose your company – but for me the advantages outweigh them by far. Travelling by train is more economical than by car: a first class return from Loulé, my local station, to Lisbon, is around 36¤ – well, you pay around 35¤ in tolls there and back, without the petrol, or wear and tear on the car and driver! The Lisbon journey is just under three hours – yes, you can do it quicker by car if you put your foot down, but the train is certainly far more relaxing, and even if the Alentejo is covered in fog or ice – as it was before Christmas – the train speeds through it all. And – even better – you don’t have to find somewhere to park the other end! If you have not ventured onto these new Alfa Pendular trains, then give them a try, they are well worth it.

If train travel is good value for money, so are taxis – at least in the big cities. In Lisbon, it seems to me, you can go anywhere to anywhere in the city for not much more than six euros. In Porto, a much bigger city, I rarely handed over more than ten euros – and that included the extremities of the city. Shame the same cannot be said for taxis in the Algarve. I have been horrified on the few occasions I’ve taken taxis, and embarrassed when I have to ask friends or clients to take a cab from the airport, or from their hotel to somewhere. When I lived between Almancil and Vilamoura, either were about five minutes by car: Almancil was ten euros and Vilamoura marina twelve minimum – and more if it was evident that the passenger was a tourist. Is there one price list for locals and another for tourists? There must be, because I cannot see the typical Algarvean family paying those prices to go to the shops and back again.

That’s my moan for the week – let’s move onto something much more positive. Do you remember me telling you a few weeks ago about the appeal against the EU Food Supplements Directive, designed to tighten controls on natural remedies, vitamin supplements and the like? I said at that time that the Advocate General would give his opinion early in April, and then the European Court has to make the final decision. Well, the European Court of Justice Advocate General, Leendert Geelhoed, has said that – in his opinion – the EU Directive infringes the principle of proportionality because basic principles of Community law, such as the requirements of legal protection, of legal certainty and of sound administration, have not been properly taken into account.

The organisations that have led the fight against the legislation which, if passed, could affect thousands of products and ingredients, were cautiously optimistic after the verdict of the Advocate General. Whilst the Court does not have to listen, it would be most unusual for it not to take the comments into account. Watch this space!

Someone recently gave me a series of articles published in the Daily Mail on the theme “Do you really know what you are eating?” Various types of food were dissected – and it was not very appetising, I can tell you. We are what we eat, and if we eat a toxic cocktail, then our bodies are going to react at physical, mental and emotional levels. One school involved in the programme where a “super chef” attempted to introduce healthy school dinners reported that three months after the introduction of healthy meals, the behaviour of the children improved enormously. No more hyper-activity, increased concentration, more energy – well, what a surprise! The headmaster said, quite logically, that if it could happen at his school, it could happen at all the others in the country. Ten out of ten, sir. If we stop feeding children sugar, salt and chemicals, and start feeding them natural proteins, vitamins and the rest – which is what happened in ‘the good old days’ – perhaps we would see a positive improvement in behaviour, in school and out. Now that’s something to chew on!