High Mountains, Small Dragons and other Wonders of Greece

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It`s obvious that Greece is central to western culture. It started us all on drama, philosophy, sculpture, democracy, mathematics, medicine and history. Whilst this is not absolutely true it is not far from the reality. Visiting it is strange then because it doesn`t always feel at all like part of western civilisation. Maybe that`s because the Ottoman Turks, not waiting for an invitation, occupied it for four hundred years, effectively arresting the country`s development for that time. However, it certainly doesn`t feel like part of Turkey or the Orient either. Ancient Greece has made its impact largely because it was so individual. In many ways it still is. I wrote Coffee with the Colossus to record some of my visits to the mountains and the islands of Greece. I don`t pretend to know more about the country than lots of other people, but I am an expert on my own very personal experiences. Some of them were astonishment at what I was seeing. Some were the immense pleasure of having a beer with friends by the warm sunshine over the blue Aegean. Some were hilarious encounters with monks or waiters or bus conductors. Some were sailing to islands like the astonishing Santorini, now a beauty visited by millions but the site, over three thousand years ago, of the most devastating explosion in history.
I wrote the book to enable me to relive these great experiences but I published it in the hope that some others can have a share of the delight, interest and wonder these travels have afforded me. The book is available from Amazon as print book or e-book and from some other retailers. The Amazon page can be found by clicking on the title or the image of COFFEE WITH THE COLOSSUS

You can read more about my books and travels at http://www.rngnovels.co.uk

The Coming of Belvedere

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I am delighted to announce that I have signed a contract with the commercial publisher, Belvedere Publishing, for my latest murder story set in Spain, The Moves of Murder. I published this myself a few months ago but the advent of Belvedere offers a much wider range of outlets for my work which, so far, has mainly been available only through Amazon. Amazon is of course the largest outlet for books nowadays and is still likely to be the principal source, but others are making progress. It will also be much easier for Bookshops to obtain and stock the title. It will of course be published both as print book and e-book.
At present my other books will still be available with my own company as publisher. That may or may not change. It is early days. Self-publishing has definite advantages and allows a writer to be more independent of the quite restrictive demands, at times, of the major publishers. Belvedere appears to have adapted its service very well to the modern world where a writer does not have to submit to the difficult world of major publishers and agents. Of course I`ll announce when the book is again available which should be very soon.

THE MOVES OF MURDER

THE PLAYER IN THE SHADOWS

An attractive journalist is found dead in a flat in Málaga. A powerful French politician is arrested in London for attempted sexual assault. A brilliant Ukrainian chess master inexplicably loses an important match in the sunshine of Portugal. A respected Spanish priest falls from grace and hints at murder. What dark forces of modern European politics lie behind these apparently unconnected events? The legendary Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas sees disturbing, unexpected connections. The powerful French politician has a very dark side. The journalist in Málaga attracted interesting men but some were more sinister than she knew. Her friend, the Ukrainian journalist, Kristina Rigachev is, Rojas realises, connected with all of these events.  She is in the greatest danger. Then there is Rojas` old friend, the priest of a revered church in Toledo. A forbidden passion has drawn him inexorably into this vortex of menace. Most puzzling, however, is the legendary detective`s realisation that a figure is moving in the shadows of this case. The figure is skilled and resourceful. But is this a figure to be welcomed or to fear?As before, Rojas uses his strange insight and his network of contacts, some more savoury than others. Politics and ruthless crime are all too close in modern Europe.

Humpty Dumpty`s View of the Referendum

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Humpty Dumpty

Those scholarly enough to recall Alice in Wonderland will recall Humpty Dumpty`s view that `a word means whatever I want it to mean`( or words to that effect-I`m not scholarly enough to recall it verbatim). This is often taken to be one of the amusing aspects of that great work which, however, one will outgrow as maturity comes along (`shades of the prison-house` in Wordsworth`s great line, just to show I`ve read him as well). In reality Humpty Dumpty (hereafter to be known as H.D.) was expressing an insight which would have transformed all political debate since then if it had been understood. George Orwell`s `double-think` and `double-speak` are similar insights although they refer to deliberate manipulation of the language rather than vague thinking. Let me explain further.
The Scottish referendum, like much political debate, threw up frequent uses of terms such as `left-wing`, `right-wing` or `fascist`(almost uniquely used nowadays as a term of abuse). All of these terms confuse a simple fellow like me. What is a left-winger (when not on the football pitch that is)? When I complain to people who use the term that this summons up in my mind a range of views from those of Josef Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot to Tony Blair or even Barrack Obama I am usually met with exasperated complaints that `of course` they did not mean any of these. One characteristic of much `left-wing` thinking appears to be a much greater role for the state (e.g. Gordon Brown, Francois Hollande, Josef Stalin). How do they reconcile that with Marxist Dialectical Materialism which argued that through an inevitable historical process the state would wither away and that capitalism would crumble from its own contradictions? Would this question elicit more exasperated complaint?
I have the same problem with `right-wing`. This would range from General Franco, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini through Ronald Reagan and George Bush (father or son) to David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy. Full marks (and a course of either history or therapy) allotted to anyone who can spot reasons to prefer the `left-wing` policies of Pol Pot to the `right-wing` ones of Adolf Hitler or vice versa. It is almost mandatory in the list of right-wingers to cite Attila the Hun. Those who have read the Middle High German epic The Nibelungenlied where he appears as Etzli will see him as a benign, progressive redistributionist, almost in the modern Scandinavian mould. If you read the old Icelandic Atlikvida you`ll put him in the Pol Pot box. It depends whose history you read. The other name which tradition demands you cite and vilify as `fascist` is Rupert Murdoch. I don`t know much about Rupert Murdoch but I do know he is far from being fascist. The characteristics of fascism are: nationalism, high levels of state control, restriction of free speech and free press, economic protectionism and the right of powerful nations to occupy weaker ones. Rupert Murdoch does not fit any on these. He may or may not be a nice man but he believes strongly in personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, free trade across borders and the widening of democracy. One man who satisfies most of the requirements of fascism is Alex Salmond and, of course, the man he greatly admires, Vladimir Putin.
In the Scottish referendum debate it was normally sufficient for a speaker to condemn Toryism and Thatcherism to get rousing cheers. The reality is that Scotland`s GDP began to grow rapidly under the Thatcher Government, getting new industries like electronics and avionics and a huge expansion of its financial services industry. I grew up in one of the poorest, most deprived areas of Glasgow where old-fashioned `left-wing`, heavily unionised, benefit -dependent communities ritually condemned Tories ( including more intelligent and realistic Labour figures such as Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Dennis Healey) and perpetuated their deprived status for the next generation. However, regardless of the truth of that, I think cynical and/or ignorant campaigners will continue in Scotland to use these emotive terms to discourage people from actually thinking.
So, this is why, like Humpty Dumpty, I sit on a wall. Up here, I like to think we have some clarity, away from the tangled weeds used for their own ends by either left or right who do not believe in personal freedom, open, sane debate, democracy and international friendship. Mercifully, I think most of the UK takes a similar view and relatively centrist politics tends to triumph. This is not, sadly, because most of the UK has a clear grasp of political or economic issues. In that wonderful American series `The West Wing` President Bartlett laments `the strongest argument against democracy is five minutes spent with the average voter`. If you listen to a phone-in programme on the BBC you will readily agree. Mercifully, the economically innocent and politically misguided on either side tend to cancel each other out. When that no longer holds true then Humpty Dumpty and I will have a great fall.

You can read more from me by visiting my website; http://www.rngnovels.co.uk

The Tragic Loss of Nessie

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This week the Press reported the remarkable and tragic news that Nessie, The Loch Ness Monster, had left Scotland and had been spotted cavorting in a lake in the north of England. I am now in a position to reveal the circumstances that led to this terrible tragedy for our nation.
One fine morning Nicola was ushered into the presence of the Great McSalmond for their daily strategy meeting to see the great man looking more than usually pleased with himself. The Dear Leader explained.
Nicola, or can I call you Nicky?
“Naw ye cannae. That`s a fella`s name.”
“Oh right, well Nicola last night I was riding home with wee McSwinney and my faithful Rottweiler, McSillars. Suddenly we saw three old women dancing around a camp fire.”
“Whit, in St.Andrew Square?”
“Verily. And they said to me: `Hail McSalmond, MP fur somewhere up north`- quite true you know. Then `Hail McSalmond, the Nero of our times`- he wis Emperor of Rome you know, a powerful man. Then `Hail McSalmond, the Modern Midas.`
“What, the man that turned everything he touched into gold?”
“The very one, but you see, it`s now got a specially Scottish slant because I can now turn everything I touch into black pudding.”
Perhaps the first flicker of doubt appeared in Nicola`s eyes as she moved a noticeable distance back from the great man.
“But Eck, whit good is that when we`ve got to worry aboot whit we`ll dae when the oil runs oot and we cannae pay our bills.”
A look of triumph crossed McSalmond`s finely rounded features.
“But, that`s the point, Nicola. If you mash up a black pudding it looks just like oil- and it burns.”
They were interrupted by McSalmond`s manservant Grumpy McRussell.
“Eck you have an important lady visitor.”
“Well show her in,man. Is it the Queen saying how much she likes the `yes` campaign.”
“No, sir, a rather larger visitor. So large you`ll have to go down to the garden to see her.”
McSalmond did so to be astonished at the colossal form of Nessie who did not look amused. To cheer her up McSalmond explained his new black pudding strategy. Onlookers swore Nessie developed yet another hump.
“That settles it, McSalmond. I came to complain that I have had thousands of years of being the biggest monster in Scotland. Your lie about the NHS has changed all that. It`s a monster I can`t compete with. I`ve made arrangements with The English Tourist Board to take up residence in The Lake District.”
As Nessie`s vast,stately bulk disappeared down the driveway an increasingly anxious-looking Nicola turned to the Dear Leader .
“Eck, you realise that Nero was famous for fiddling while Rome burned. Is that why you`ve been practising the penny whistle lately?”

Scaremongering Debt

Scottish Debt

I note that Nicola Sturgeon is outraged that the UK Government will not negotiate about a currency union. Just because they`ll be a foreign country is no excuse. I gather the SNP now have secret plans to ask Mozambique or Peru to underwrite Scottish debt. First signs are encouraging. Both sets of Finance Ministers were obviously happy with the idea since they couldn`t stop laughing. All this will change of course when Saudi Arabia agrees to take massive imports of Scotch whisky. Their initial refusal to do so of course is obviously bluffing. Then there is the tricky issue of Nato membership. If NATO won`t negotiate about the removal of nuclear weapons we`ll find someone who will. Mr. Salmond`s much-admired old friend, Vladimir Putin, who is an eager supporter of the `yes` campaign will happily take our nuclear weapons away.
We know that Standard Life, RBS and other major financial institutions will have to leave Edinburgh after a `yes` vote. At first sight this may seem like a lot of jobs to lose, especially when you consider all the painters, plumbers and other trades folk who will lose their livelihoods as a result. That is really not a problem. There is work to do collecting up all the `yes` posters stuck around the country. This may not seem economically productive but we have to find some way of using up all the oil money. Just because that fell £3.7 billion short of forecasts last year is no reason to believe it will not dramatically exceed expectations in every possible future year. The other job they could usefully do would be to count the number of terrorist groups arriving in the country now that the British army is not there to deter them. The Irish republicans have already indicated how much they are looking forward to a `yes` vote. It will all be fine.

The Great McSalmond

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It was so inspiring to read of the great chieftain of the McSalmond clan giving a typically hairy-chested response to `a` thae English an ither foreigners tellin` us we cannae ignore the debt` `Whit ur they gonnae dae? Invade us?` he replied with the matchless intellectual analysis for which he is famed in Invercockaleekie. Nicola`s adoring eyes rested on his finely rounded physique as she replied “Aye, they a` think we`re zipped up the back up here.” McSalmond`s noble face took on a puzzled expression. “Nicola, whit the f*** dis that mean. Ye keep sayin` it an` naebody understands it.” “But that`s the point, McSalmond. That way naebody can prove us wrang. Ye`ve strayed frae the true path by tellin` them facts like yer Plan A cos` it disnae work.” “It disnae huv tae work as lang as it wins us the vote.”
This meeting of great intellects scarcely matched in history since the Periclean Athens of Socrates and Plato was interrupted by a messenger blusterin` in from England on his famed steed Scaremonger.
“Hail o great McSalmond, I have to tell you that if you refuse the debt no one will invade. The problem is that Scotland will never be able to borrow again. Even Greece can borrow and they are broke. This would amount, in the technical terms used in your great paper on Economics for Dummies written by McDummies as `gauin` doon the plughole ` or even `comin` up the Clyde on a wheelbarra`. Neither is thought to position us at the top table of economic power.
“But did ye no tell them we`re the richest country in the world cos` we`ve got oil.”
“Yes, o great McSalmond, but they googled it and found we were 43d and likely to fall.”
“ O right,” said McSalmond peering in his sporran for inspiration. “Jis` tell them we`re no zipped up the back up here.”

Mr. Salmond`s Great Discovery

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Discovery!!

I believe Mr. Salmond is about to reveal that he has discovered Father Xmas (yes Santa Claus himself!) imprisoned in Westminster by the notorious “Old Etonian Snobs” gang. “They tied me up with facts and reality and other cruel stuff” complained the old man to the sympathetic First Minister. “I`d never let that happen” explained Mr. Salmond as he assured him he would find a place in the Fact Free Zone that will be the new Scotland. He could be in charge of The National Mint where the money would be made of real mint chocolate. “Them English don`t even use real mint for their money”, he explained. It could have a nice chocolate coating and be wrapped in gold leaf. We`d call it the pound because it would be our pound as much as England`s pound. Each pound would be divided into 100 Desperate Dans. Of course everyone would accept it because it`s our pound as much as England`s pound. Anyone who tells you it will just melt away is being negative and probably blustering as well. He would even offer Santa a political career. “In the New Scotland all the turkeys will vote for you and we`ll have a lot of them. That`s another of my miracles. I`ll turn all these capitalist businesses into turkeys in days. We don`t need them. We`ve got any amount of oil.” He might even get a job producing the New Separate Scotland Dictionary. An example of that would be, for example, the definition of `bullying` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much` or `bluffing` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much.` or `scaremongering` as `facts we`d rather not hear thankyou very much`.  Everyone will live in gingerbread houses and there will be a government subsidy to provide them with chimneys which Santa can slide down. This will be paid for by the great saving that will be made on history books. These will be very short books with three chapters. Chapter One will be the Battle of Bannockburn. Chapter Two will be “Bad things them English and ither scaremongerers did tae us” Chapter Three will be “The Fact Free Zone”. Santa, with a tear glistening in his old eye asked “And will my reindeers be able to fly”. “Of course,” replied The First Minister.” This will be a democratic country. If pigs can fly we`ll no stop yer reindeer”

THE MOVES OF MURDER

Presentation2

I have just published the latest detective thriller from the Rojas Casebook. Again it features the strange, legendary, scarcely human, Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas. Rojas is always courteous and patient yet he has an uncanny ability to terrify even the most hardened criminal. Suspects who sneer at other interrogators crumble before his unnerving gaze. Louise has caught some of that in her cover design for the book.

THE MOVES OF MURDER
THE PLAYER IN THE SHADOWS

An attractive journalist is found dead in a flat in Málaga. A powerful French politician is arrested in London for attempted sexual assault. A brilliant Ukrainian chess master inexplicably loses an important match in the sunshine of Portugal. A respected Spanish priest falls from grace and hints at murder. What dark forces of modern European politics lie behind these apparently unconnected events?
The legendary Chief Inspector Miguel Rojas of the Spanish National Guard begins to see strange, unexpected connections. The powerful French politician is dangerous. The journalist in Málaga attracted interesting men but some were more dangerous than she knew. Her friend, the Ukrainian journalist, Kristina Rigachev is, Rojas realises, connected with all of these events. As a result she too may be in the greatest danger. So too is Rojas` old friend, the priest of a revered church in Toledo. Most puzzling, however, is the legendary detective`s realisation that a figure is moving in the shadows of this case. The figure is skilled and resourceful. But is this a figure to be welcomed or to fear.
As before, Rojas, uses his strange insight and his network of contacts, some more savoury than others, as he sees once more that politics and ruthless crime are all too close in modern Europe.

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A Love Affair with Italy

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A Love Affair with Italy

My rambles around Italy were published at the end of March and already it has become the best launch of a book I have done. Coffee,Chianti and Caravaggio is available from Amazon both as a print book and as an e-book. The sales of the print version have moved much faster than that for any of my previous books, perhaps because of the great artwork done by Louise Macdonald for the cover and the brilliance of Kris Krug in preparing a pdf from that. Preparing a pdf, especially with the amount of detail in this cover is not an easy task and I could not have done it without Kris.
I am glad to say the text has also had excellent reactions from as far afield as California, Boston, Melbourne and Penang.
You can read more about this and my other books on http://www.rngnovels.co.uk

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Italian Passions – Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio

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Italian Passions - Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio

Well, I`ve had a break from blogging. I did a lot of travelling and got involved in two big writing projects. Since my request to have more than 24 hours in my day was refused something had to give.
The image above is the one created by Louise Macdonald for my next travel book which should be available in less than a month. It is called “Coffee, Chianti and Caravaggio”. Some of the little subtleties Louise has incorporated will be much clearer in the physical print book that will be produced. The striped effect with its colours comes from the flag of Italy. The dissolute image in the top right is an excellent reproduction of Caravaggio`s famous painting of Bacchus,the god of wine. In that way she has captured both the wine and artist references in the title. Elsewhere she is showing images of the Amalfi coast, Venice, Liguria and, in the centre panel the roads that lead to Rome. The advance interest is encouraging and suggests it may have an even better launch than my last travel book “Coffee, Castanets and Don Quixote” about four great cities of Spain.
This book is not a travelogue or substitute for a Lonely Planet guide. As far as possible I wanted to create for the reader the experience of looking from a balcony over the blue sea of the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius, driving past the sulphurous, bubbling and hissing gate to the Underworld at Campi Flegri, eating exquisitely fresh dorada in a beach restaurant in Portofino and the many interesting and entertaining encounters you get visiting cafes in Florence, Rome or tiny Alassio.

Here are two excerpts from the book. The first one comes from the chapter Tuscany, describing my first visit to Italy with my teenage son, Malcolm

` We did not for a moment think we had “done” Florence but we had already had a full day and wanted to get back to our peaceful estate and perhaps a game of tennis. On driving out of the covered car park I looked both ways and pulled into the street, suddenly noticing as I did so a young woman on a scooter whom I had come close to hitting. I don`t know yet whether she had suddenly pulled out from somewhere, whether she was in a blind spot or what, but she yelled at me and waved a fist as I turned. The incident shook me and restored the total caution and alertness of my first day in the country.
We headed back but somewhere took a wrong turning and found ourselves in a small town we had not expected to be in. We could find no signs either that told us where we were or how to get back to anywhere we recognized. I stopped the car in a quiet street and looked at the map with Malcolm to try to identify where we could have gone wrong. Malcolm noticed a woman coming along the street with her shopping and suggested we ask her. I agreed that was a good plan as long as she spoke English. Malcolm delicately asked if all my years of interest in Italian opera had taught me nothing that could be of any use. I wondered. I knew how to say “your tiny hand is frozen” and “women are fickle”. Neither seemed helpful. I thought further. I could manage “when the stars were brightly shining”, “on with the motley” and “no, I am not a clown.” Malcolm looked unimpressed and the lady was coming closer. Suddenly I remembered “dove sono” from Mozart`s Marriage of Figaro. That means “where am I?” That was better. From Rigoletto I recalled “pari siamo” meaning “we are the same.” I leaned out of the window and established she did not speak English. I said “dove siamo?” She gave us a name which we could not immediately find on the map. From somewhere else I remembered “ah, che voglio” which was something about “I want”. I said “voglio Pontassieve” since we knew how to navigate from there. She smiled, nodded and then burst into floods of Italian for which my operatic knowledge was no help at all. We caught “rivoltare”, ”sinistra” and what sounded like “semaforo”. That was accompanied by typically extravagant hand gestures. We nodded and said “grazie”, each of us hoping the other had grasped a little more than we knew we had. We decided “rivoltare” did not mean she was revolted by us since she kept smiling. More like a suggestion to turn round. “Sinistra”,I felt sure meant left or on the left. The word “semaforo” puzzled us. We felt it unlikely that anyone was practicing semaphore signalling in the main street of wherever we were. Malcolm wondered if it could mean some other kind of signal like a traffic light. This was such a good idea that I felt sure we had to turn round, go to the traffic lights and turn left. I turned the car and drove in the direction she had pointed. We prayed for traffic lights and, there they were. We turned left and noticed a sign ahead. We approached it and, sure enough, we were on our way to Pontassieve. “Maybe opera`s not so useless after all,” Malcolm generously admitted.
*
The second passage comes from the chapter The Company in Venice, describing my first visit to the city, this time travelling alone.

Almost everything about Venice is hard to believe. The approach to it alone is unlike that to any other place I have ever visited. I arrived at the airport from which a water taxi awaits to take you to your destination. You step in and all around are the waters of the lagoon, the broad natural inlet from the Gulf of Venice, protected by the narrow necks of land known as littorale. I looked around in vain to see any sign of the legendary home of Titian, Tintoretto and the empire that had ruled the Mediterranean. The crossing of the lagoon on the map had looked so short that I had expected it to be not much more than a long paddle. But as the water taxi got under way no buildings were in view. We set off on this great ocean, as it seemed, as if saying goodbye to reality. That sensation grew as in the distance I saw the first towers of San Marco, Santa Maria della Salute and The Campanile rise hazily, shimmeringly, from the water. They looked insubstantial, unsteady mirages rather than buildings of stone. Gradually more detail appeared as if Titian were painting it in as we approached. Eventually, within sight of the landing by the Doge`s Palace it almost resembled a city in which people could live, but far more ornate, colourful and imaginative than any real settlement. It was quite late and I wanted to check into my hotel but first I took one stroll past the Doge`s Palace into Piazza San Marco, St. Mark`s Square, to see the renowned basilica. In the broad square in front of it were the expected crowds of pigeons and on the far side the long line of porticoes leading to shops selling every item of fashionable living. The Basilica San Marco itself is so dreamlike that the sense of the unreal that had come over me on the lagoon appeared to be confirmed. Set in a great western city it speaks of the orient as do spices and perfumes or the poetry of Omar Khayyam or the music of Scheherezade. That, of course, is appropriate since St. Mark, the city`s patron saint, was from the Middle East. Legend has it that he replaced the original patron, St. Theodore, when in 832 Venetian sailors brought the Apostle`s bones from Alexandria in Egypt. The great empire once ruled from The Doge`s Palace beside the Basilica stretched far into the Levant where the navy of this small city could deter even the might of Turkey under the sultans. Needing some reassurance that at least my hotel room was a reality I took another vaporetto to the Lido where reality was in plentiful, maybe even excessive, supply. My room was huge with two functional beds that looked more like army surplus than art nouveau. There was no bedding when I went in. There was a mattress on each, both of which looked as if children had used them as trampoline practice and one appeared to have been chewed by some creature. I was not wholly convinced the creature was not now inside it, bedding down to start a family. The porter appeared to visibly stagger when I told him I thought this was a dump and wanted a better room. His mind was suddenly wiped clean of the moderate command of English he had shown and he resorted to Italian exclamations with hand gestures which suggested that any tether he had ever had had reached its end long ago. Tasks such as finding another room in this fairly small hotel could not be expected of him. I suspected he was in line for a substantial bonus if he could persuade anyone to occupy this slum. I went down to reception where the perfectly pleasant young woman appeared to be fully ready for my request. In fact, there were rooms in the adjoining hotel which was also owned by the management and within seconds she gave me another room key, assuring me that the porter would bring my luggage. I found my way round to it and thought it quite acceptable. My luggage quickly followed, delivered by the same porter who now greeted me with smiles and a return of his mastery of English, entirely restored by his expectation of a tip which did not materialise.

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