Saturday, June 25, 2022

Painful prices at the petrol pumps


  Drivers in Portugal are feeling not just the pinch but the pain of soaring petrol and diesel prices due to the war in Ukraine.

  Transport fuel prices are now more than €2 a litre, much the same as in most other European countries. Diesel in Portugal rose from €1.78 per litre on 28 May to €2.08 by 22nd June. Petrol (octane 95) went up from €1.88 in early May to €2.17 in mid-June. Octane 98 is more expensive and not all petrol stations sell it.

  An average car drive from Lisbon to Faro will cost just over €76 one way. It’s about 277 km via the A2. Lisbon to Porto -  341 km via the A1 -  costs about €85.75. Elsewhere in the world some prices are higher, more are lower. The average price of petrol per litre in the world recently has been €1.89.

  Crude oil, the fossil fuel from which petrol and diesel are refined, is imported by Portugal from Angola, Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Natural gas, the fuel used for heating and creating electricity, is imported from Nigeria and the United States. Crude oil and natural gas are shipped into the deep-water port of Sines, south of Lisbon, the closest major European port to the U.S.

  Portugal itself has both onshore and offshore areas containing oil and a number of years ago the government granted concession contracts to several large oil companies. The concessions in the Algarve and Peniche offshore areas – highly contentious among environmentalists – were terminated by the government in 2017. There is still no clear evidence as to whether Portugal has sufficiently large quantities of hidden oil to consider commercial extraction.

  That aside, Environment and Energy Transition Minister João Matos Fernandes has said that Portugal has strategic reserves of petrol and diesel that guarantee the country’s consumption for 90 days, plus the reserves that energy companies themselves have. The reserves of natural gas are also at very comfortable levels, exceeding 80% of the country’s total storage capacity. Fernandes has said he considers it crucial to increase Iberia’s gas pipeline connections to the rest of Europe as there is only one running from Spain to France.

  According to the World Bank, the war in Ukraine could keep oil and natural gas prices at historically high levels through the end of 2024.It expects energy prices to rise more than 50% in 2022 before easing in 2023 and 2024. In the event of a prolonged war, or additional sanctions on Russia, prices could be even higher and more volatile than currently projected.

  European and other countries placed hard sanctions on Russian imports to try and stop the Kremlin funding their outrageous aggression. It has backfired in the sense that stopping imports of Russia’s main export commodities – oil and gas – has harmed the West as well as Russia. Germany is particularly concerned that Russia’s moves to slash Europe’s natural gas supplies risked sparking a collapse in energy markets and a situation similar to the 2008 global financial crisis.

  Russia is meanwhile benefitting by selling vast amounts of oil at discounted prices to China and India. This surge in demand from Asia is making up for the significantly lower number of barrels being sold to Europe.

  China’s imports of Russian oil rose 28% in May this year from the previous month, while India has gone from taking in almost no Russian oil to buying more than 760,000 barrels a day.

  The oil is being sold at a steep discount because of the risks associated with sanctions imposed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Still, soaring energy prices have led to an advance in oil revenue for Russia, which reaped in $1.7 billion more last month than it did in April.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Conning on the cost of living

The soaring cost of living because of record-breaking inflation rates is bad enough in itself, but there are a couple of other rather sneaky economic things to worry about too.

The annual inflation rate in Portugal hit 8% in May, up from 7.2% in April and the highest since February 1993. It has pushed up the prices of fuel, food and much else.

The latest statistics confirm that the annual rise across the Eurozone was a record 8.1%, four times higher than a year ago. In the United States the rise was 8.6% in May, up from 7% in April. In the United Kingdom it is already at a 40-year high and predicted to peak at 15% and remain very high into 2023.

Inflation and the cost of living are causing a global crisis that is expected to get worse, perhaps much worse, just about everywhere. It is being exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and the breakdown in economic relations between Russia most European countries and elsewhere in the Western world.

The economic crisis has prompted some companies into a neat way of deceiving consumers. The name of the game is 'shrinkflation'. The trick is to reduce the quantity of a product while keeping the same price. It’s happening mainly in the food and beverage sector and it’s a way for companies to maintain or boost profits while combating rising import and processing costs.

The cunning ways being used in shrinkflation include reducing the content of toilet rolls by shrinking the size or thickness of each sheet, or cutting the number of sheets per roll. Would you really notice the difference?

One way of cutting the quantity but not the price of a non-alcoholic liquid in a plastic bottle is by curving the centre of the bottle inwards so it has a slimmer waist and is easier to hold. Some coloured bottles of cleaning liquid are perhaps unnoticeably just not topped up as before.

These sorts of tactics make it less obvious to consumers than simply bumping up prices and apparently they are perfectly legal if the correct information is included in the small print on the bottle or package.

No-one can get away with this when selling a kilo of potatoes of course, but shrinkflation is seen by producers as a method of reducing the risk of affecting the reputation of brands. It has been around quietly for a few years, supposedly far less so in Portugal than elsewhere, though it is difficult to monitor and little talked about.

A nastier con trick among some companies passing rising costs along to consumers is the so-called practise of ‘drip-pricing’. The way it works is that online retailers of goods and services offer an attractive price that lures buyers into a purchase process, only to be told at the last minute that a fee, tax or surcharge has been tacked on. 

It’s all rather grim, but so is most of the news nowadays. However, the world’s wealthiest billionaire, Elon Musk, has a positive tip if you happen to have money and aren’t quite sure what to do with it. He suggests putting it into real estate. House prices are high but buying one can be a solid investment. Looking at it another way, it’s currently a seller’s market and there’s a serious demand for homes, so if you sell one you might make a solid profit.

Musk was talking from an American perspective, but it probably applies here in Portugal too.

As one specialist company put it: “Buying a property in Portugal is becoming more expensive and the pace of increases shows no signs of slowing down.” A year-on-year increase of more than 15% has been recorded. To heck with inflation, both Mr Musk and you might be tempted.


Monday, June 13, 2022

Extreme weather becoming the norm


Summer has arrived with a vengeance. On top of the drought during our normally wet winter, Portugal has been unusually hot, and both the drought and the recent heat seem set to worsen.

The drought began in November 2021. The resulting low levels in the reservoirs have severely impeded hydroelectric power generation and limited supplies of irrigation water to farmers. 

A systematic increase in summer temperatures is forecast with an increasing frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves in continental Portugal. Conditions are expected to be more moderate in the Azores and Madeira. 

Extreme conditions are increasingly becoming the norm all across the world at all times of the year. For example, in January, fierce storms in northern Europe, including Germany, forced public transport to shut down, markets were flooded, and authorities told residents to stay at home. A town in Western Australia registered a mighty 50.7ºC.

In February, parts the United States, from New Mexico to New England, were pounded with so much snow and ice that schools had to close and thousands of flights had to be cancelled. It was one of the coldest events in the southern state of Texas in several decades. 

March was the hottest month in India in 122 years. A tropical cyclone killed at least 50 people in Mozambique. Amazingly, a heat wave hit the Antarctic, spiralling temperatures from around minus 50ºC to 17.7ºC, albeit only for a few days. It shocked scientists who described the spike as unprecedented in the coldest region on the planet.   

In April, winds ripped through the Philippines killing 120 people. By mid-April, the state of Alabama had received 115 tornado warnings, Mississippi 110 and Texas 104. 

The month of May brought record-breaking blasts of hot air to Portugal and Spain.  Some temperatures topped 40ºC and were the highest May figures for Portugal since records began in 1931. France also experienced the hottest temperatures ever for May, as did Morocco with 45.7ºC recorded in the northwest of the country. A rare subtropical cyclone swept through Uruguay and Brazil.

So far in June, many temperatures in the Algarve have been 10 degrees hotter than normal, meaning it has felt more like July or August. And with almost all of the country now suffering severe drought, no rain is expected until the autumn. 

Climatologists say all this emphasises the reality of climate change due to human activity. In a world engulfed with massive problems such as war, soaring fuel and food prices, poverty and hunger, it is hard to stay focused on the climate crisis, but there is an ever increasing need to do so and instigate more urgent action to curtail global warming.

In ordinary terms, it’s wise to keep sun cream and a brimmed hat handy when about to venture outside, and have a brolly on the beach.

Meanwhile, there continues to be the ever-present danger of wildfires in Portugal, the fourth most affected country in the world when it comes to economic damage, especially in forested and well vegetated rural areas. 

In winter this year, 1,741 wildfires had broken out and destroyed 7,000 hectares before the end of February. That was more than enough to warn us all of the great care that needs to be taken this summer and into autumn.  

The Portuguese fire prevention and firefighting authorities all over the country are well prepared, but there is no way of being certain that wildfires will not again devastate large areas of the natural environment, destroying homes, killing residents and causing evacuations in the process. This is particularly egregious because most wildfires are caused by arsonists, or people carelessly lighting campfires or barbecues, or simply throwing cigarette butts away in the wrong places. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Algarve celebrities at Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations


Welsh singing star and long-time Algarve homeowner Bonnie Tyler had a busy weekend in the celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday and Platinum Jubilee.

In her birthday honours list, the Queen awarded Bonnie Tyler with an MBE in recognition of her services to music and to various charities.

Bonnie said she felt “truly honoured” by the award, adding that it was all the more special because of its timing on such a jubilant occasion.

“This honour just goes to show that anyone from any background can become a success and be recognised by our wonderful country if they put their minds and efforts into what they do,” she said.

 “I hope that my honour may in some way motivate others to give their best. You really never know what wonderful things may come to you if you do.”

As genuinely humble as ever, she continued: “I’m just a girl from a small town in Wales who just loves to sing, so to be recognised for that in this way is very significant to me and my family and friends.”

The  Queen’s symbolic lighting of a beacon in Windsor Castle on Friday night coincided with the lighting of about 3,500 beacons all around the UK and the Commonwealth, including one by Bonnie Tyler at Oystermouth Castle, a 12th century Norman fortress overlooking Swansea Bay.

On Saturday, she met with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their two children before performing with an orchestra rather than her usual band at a jubilee concert in Cardiff Castle.

Bonnie first visited the Algarve in 1976 as a guest of her then manager, Ronnie Scott, who had a recording studio in his home in Vilamoura. She later said: “I fell in love with the Algarve straight away.”

 Her first album, The World Starts Tonight, was released in 1977. The following year one of her most popular singles, It’s just a Heartache was released. That was when she and her husband decided to buy a home in Albufeira.

Back in 1973 she had married Robert Sullivan, a judo champion who took part in the 1972 summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. She was well on her way to stardom as a rock legend when she and her husband, a property developer lived in a marina apartment while they had their Albufeira villa completely rebuilt.

In summer they enjoyed power boating, lunching on clams or prawns with piri-piri chicken and a nice bottle of white wine, then spending the afternoon on the beach. Bonnie said she would have spent “99% of my time here” had it not been for the demands of her singing career.

Between performing in concerts around the world, Bonnie liked to return to the Algarve because, she said in a local radio interview, “it’s really like coming home.”  In that regard she was a bit like another Algarve legendary homeowner, Cliff Richard, whom she came to know and meet here when neither was on tour.

Sir Cliff has owned homes in the Albufeira area since first holidaying there in 1961. He was the co-founder and for many years deeply involved in the running of the Adega do Cantor winery. As he had performed at both the Queen’s 2002 Golden Jubilee and 2012’s Diamond Jubilee he expressed disappointment that he was not asked to perform at the glittering jubilee show outside Buckingham Palace last Saturday night

On Sunday, however, he was among the 100 ‘national treasures’ who rode on open-topped buses around London, with each bus representing a different decade of Her Majesty’s reign. Cheering crowds of many thousands watched the pageant from the roadsides and millions of others watched live on television.

Despite their advancing ages, neither Bonnie nor Sir Cliff show any signs of giving up show business. With her remarkably strong, husky voice, Bonnie’s best-known chart-topping song Eclipse of the Heart came with her fifth album in 1983, but the international action certainly did not end there. She represented the UK in the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. In 2019 she had been touring until August when she gave a concert on a crowded Albufeira beach. Bonnie’s many hits will again be included in her extensive concert tours lined up to the end of 2023.

Sir Cliff, now 81, who so far has sold more than 250 million albums worldwide in his six-decade singing career, has many more performances scheduled. Meanwhile, all the action for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and 96th birthday has been an exciting build-up for Bonnie’s own birthday. She is 71 on Wednesday June 8.



Saturday, May 14, 2022

Portuguese diplomat helping solve the Northern Ireland protocol problem

João Vale de Almeida, the distinguished Portuguese diplomat currently serving as the European Ambassador to the United Kingdom, is facing the extremely challenging task of trying to reconcile all sides to the bitterly divisive Northern Ireland protocol.

Born in Lisbon, he graduated from Lisbon University with a degree in history and then spent seven years training and working as a journalist in several foreign countries before joining the European Commission in 1982. He held a number of senior positions, including director general of external relations of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. He was assigned to Washington from 2010 to 2014 as EU ambassador to the United States and then from 2015 to 2019 as the ambassador to the United Nations.

He became the EU’s first post-Brexit ambassador in London at the beginning of 2020 just as Britain was about to formally leave the union. Now aged 65, he is married with two children and has recently become a grandfather.

The outcome of the highly controversial Brexit referendum saw the ‘leavers’ win with a small majority, 51.9% to 48.1%. The most significant areas in which citizens voted to remain were Scotland, 62% against 38%, and Northern Ireland, 55.8% against 44.2%.  These results are echoed in current wishes among many in Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom.

That aside, while the UK officially left the EU in January 2020, a period of transition was completed at the end of that year with the signing of a Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It contained a legally-binding understanding that there would be no border checks between the North and the Republic of Ireland lest they endanger the Good Friday Peace Agreement signed by the Irish and British governments in 1998. It was believed such checks would likely have led to more sectarian violence as in ‘the Troubles.’

So what’s all the fuss about now? you may ask. In simple terms, the Brexit agreement included replacing the land border between the north and south of Ireland with a virtual border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to impose certain restrictions on trade.

The Democratic Unionist Party, long the most popular party in Northern Ireland, totally rejects being separated from Britain in this way. Under DUP pressure, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who signed the 2020 treaty but has since made conflicting statements about the protocol, has indicated he may try and scrap the protocol altogether.

The situation has become more complicated because of the outcome of this month’s Northern Ireland Assembly election. For the first time, Sinn Fein, the republican, pro-Irish unity party won with 29% of the votes, placing the DUP second with 21.3%, a substantial loss.  The result made Sinn Fein’s leader, Michelle O’Neill, eligible to become first minister and the DUP’s Sir Jeffrey Donaldson second minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.

Sir Jeffrey has dug his heels in and adamantly refused any such power sharing until the protocol is done away with. Last Saturday, he said promises about the protocol should have been delivered sixteen months ago. In denouncing the DUP’s attitude, Michelle O’Neill said the opposition party’s refusal to allow a functioning assembly would “punish the public”. The assembly will remain in limbo unless and until London and Brussels come up with a solution.

Ambassador Vale de Almeida made the EU’s position clear by insisting that the UK had failed to come up with any credible alternative to the agreed protocol. He has called upon unionists to make the protocol work rather than fighting against it. He has pledged Brussels’ commitment to flexibility on the implementation of the protocol if the British government demonstrated good faith.

He and his team have   long been working on the problem and will now be all the busier because there seems little let-up up in what has developed into very much more than an international squabble.

Various senior lawyers have scorned UK’s Foreign Minister Liz Truss’ claim that the protocol can be scrapped because the UK can dump parts of the Brexit treaty without the EU’s agreement. Liz Truss’ opinion is reportedly based on that of Britain’s attorney general, Suella Braverman, who believes the protocol is being unfairly enforced by the EU.

Ambassador Vale de Almeida will presumably be concentrating on understanding and explaining  in detail both  sides of the agreement, including that of EU leaders who have recently warned Britain to back away from its threats to override the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.

The protocol has become a war of words. Ambassador Vale de Almeida would probably like to focus much more on joint action by the EU and the UK on the real war in Ukraine.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Fatima prayers for peace in Ukraine


Pilgrims  in front of the Basilica in the Sanctuary of Fatima 

Catholic pilgrims from around the world will gatherer in the Sanctuary of Fatima in central Portugal next Friday for the 105th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported by three shepherd children.

Prior to the COVID interruptions of the Fatima gatherings, several million pilgrims travelled to the shrine each year. The celebrations are held on the 13th of each month, May to October. They will be all the more notable this year because the Virgin Mary is said to have told the young visionaries that without prayer and “the consecration of Russia to my immaculate heart,” Russia would spread its “errors throughout the entire world, fermenting wars and persecution of the Church.”

The apparitions have long been accepted as authentic by the Vatican and a number of popes are said to have carried out the act of consecration.

The majority of religious citizens in Russia and Ukraine adhere to the Orthodox Christian Church that split from the Catholic Church in the 10th century. The first formal meeting between Catholic and Orthodox leaders in a thousand years did not occur until 2016 when Pope Francis met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Cuba.

Pope Francis has appealed for peace in Russia’s war against Ukraine, but without success. He had hoped to visit Moscow and meet the Russian patriarch again - perhaps even President Putin too - but that was cancelled. He called for an Easter truce in Ukraine, but was ignored.

Francis has continued his calls for peace while being careful to maintain a neutral stance between the two warring factions. His diplomatic approach is supported by the Vatican, but criticised by those in both the Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches who feel he should openly declare that Putin is the aggressor and must be held to account for war crimes, including atrocities involving the brutal killing of many women and children.

While Pope Francis has stopped short of directly naming or blaming Russia or Putin, the war has a strong, underlying religious element in that Patriarch Kirill fully supports Russia’s so-called ‘special military operation’ that is openly deplored by Ukrainian and international Orthodox patriarchs. Francis also dep0lores the war and his diplomatic approach has been described by observers as “a political and spiritual tightrope.”

There will almost certainly be prayers for peace at the Fatima Sanctuary on Friday, four days after Russia’s Victory Day commemoration of its defeat of the Nazis in the Second World War.

 The sanctuary with its iconic shrine was visited by Pope Francis in May 2017, the centenary year of the apparitions. Friday’s prayers will be overseen by the Vatican’s Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra.

The number of pilgrims present cannot be accurately estimated, but a Fatima spokesperson has told us that groups from 19 mostly European countries - but also from as far away as Canada, the United States, Mexico and El Salvador - have registered to be present.

A great many individual pilgrims do not register and simply turn up. Those who have come a long way on foot, or who arrive in the hope of healing, will be especially welcome.   

Pope Francis praying at the Fatima Shrine in 2017

Friday, May 6, 2022

A very special birthday on Monday

May 9 is the birthday of a delightful foreign resident who has lived in the Algarve for six decades. Today, Monday, Dorothy Boulter has turned 104!

Dorothy has long been greatly admired by many people for her kindness, relaxed attitude to life and warm smile for everyone she meets. Quick-witted, she has been able to cope with and even make fun of her total deafness.

Well-known artist BJ Boulter, says her mother is still “strong and healthy, but now wheelchair-bound and reliant on professional carers.” However, that constant smile “is as lovely as ever.”  It is there in BJ’s latest portrait (pictured above) that will be on show at a special exhibition opening next month in Faro.

On coming to the Algarve in 1962 via Malta, Ismailia, Bombay, the UK and Tanganyika, Dorothy and her late husband Royston bought and ran the beautifully situated Solar Penguin public bar and guest house in Praia da Rocha. She ran it efficiently for 45 years before retiring and moving close to BJ in Estombar, Lagoa. She has lived there ever since, able to look after herself until just a few years ago.

Dorothy’s portrait will be on show with works by various members of the Algarve Artists’ Network (AAN). After a two-year break due to the COVID pandemic, the theme of the AAN’s next exhibition is “Artists for Hope”.  It will be held in the Museu Municipal de Faro from June 11 to August 28. Open Tue-Fri 10-18hrs, Sat-Sun 10-17hrs, closed Mondays.