Aldi stores in some UK cities are now fully self-automated. Here in Mallorca we still have a way to go. | EL ECONOMICO


I was alarmed to learn that Aldi stores in some UK cities are now fully self-automated. Customers need to show a QR code on their Smart phones to enter via electronic gates. If they don’t possess a Smart phone and said code, they can’t enter. A foreign visitor to London raised the issue on Twitter, explaining how unfair the new system was, especially for the elderly, many of whom would be bewildered by the lack of staff and the digital environment. He also opined that foreigners would find it hard to get the hang of the system. Those who manage to get past the gates, do their shopping and pay via their Smart phones and cards. If the automated system is in accord with the final tally, shoppers can leave the store but if not, you’re stuck until someone somewhere frees you up.

This is my idea of a complete nightmare. I hate being a slave to the digital world and the concept of shopping in such a soulless and staff-free place fills me with horror. As a digital dinosaur, I still like to use cash as well as cards. I always feel more in control when I hand over notes and coins. Frankly, I would take my shopping elsewhere, preferably to a friendly Waitrose, even if it cost a little more.
Of course, when Covid raised its evil head, supermarkets in destinations such as Dubai required customers to show codes on their Smart phones to prove that they were covid free and also tested.

Anyone failing to do so could not enter through the electronic barriers to buy groceries. Again, a terrible infringement on human rights. Any person, particularly an elderly citizen without a Smart phone, would simply have been left to starve. But isn’t this really just about state control? It starts in small ways and soon, before we know it, everything will require digital ID, passwords, QR codes and other bureaucratic paraphernalia. Real money will gradually be phased out over the next decade or so and although I appreciate that cards are a practical way to pay, I shall sorely miss the old monetary system.

Thankfully, we live in rural Mallorca, and it will take some time for all the hicks in the hills to fall into line. I’ll be one of them and in solidarity with my Mallorcan neighbours, holding tightly onto my euro notes right until the bitter end.

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi dies

Bye Bye Berlusconi, King of Bunga Bunga

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s indefatigable and outrageous billionaire media tycoon, might well have been the bad boy of politics, but gosh, he never failed to entertain. In the current grey and boring world of faceless politicians, Berlusconi was a ray of shocking sunshine who both appalled and amused simultaneously. He wangled his way to being Italy’s prime minister no fewer than three times but given that he controlled the country’s media and just about everything else, it hardly came as a surprise. Who could forget his notorious Bunga Bunga sex parties, his irreverent and distasteful sexual remarks to pretty female interviewers and his lascivious leering at anything that crossed his vision in heels and a crop top? And, yet, how he cheered up the world of politics and made us, at least out of Italy, laugh like drains. There is a priceless video on YouTube entitled, ‘the Best of Berlusconi’. If you have a spare moment, do watch it. It’s well worth it for the laughs.

Children found alive in jungle weeks after plane crash, arrive at Bogota

Lost in the jungle

How extraordinary was the news story about the four Colombian children from the Huitoto indigenous community in Colombia, lost for 40 days in the Amazonian jungle. Sadly, their mother was killed along with the other adults in a plane crash that left the children stranded. Most certainly, if Western children aged 13, nine, five and one, had found themselves in the same predicament, they’d have barely lasted a night, but jungle children are different. Having spent time with indigenous communities in the Amazon over the years, I have always been astonished by the children’s savvy knowhow. The majority run around the jungle floor in bare feet, hardened to the terrain, and know exactly how to avoid snakes and wee beasties.

The first time I went on an expedition to assist the Wai Wai, a small Amerindian community in a vast Amazonian settlement, I remember watching, mesmerised, as a three-year-old split towering reeds with an enormous, glinting knife. Explorer, Colonel Blashford-Snell, who was leading the expedition explained that tiny tots were taught survival methods early on.

On another occasion, a small group of us touched down on a wild strip in the middle of jungle and needed more manpower to carry a grand piano (another story!) to the community. I went ahead to the settlement for help. I had a reasonably good idea of the direction having been before, but jungles are confusing places, and it never pays to get lost. As I walked along in the scorching heat, a naked little child hopped out on the path in front of me and wordlessly, led me through bogs and over rivers to the encampment.

Dennis Paul, the Amerindian teacher of the tiny mud hut school where I taught for a month, told me a riveting story. At the end of each term, he’d take children from faraway indigenous communities back to their families in a canoe. The journey down river took about three days and they would camp by night. On one return journey, with three small children under the age of ten with him, Dennis was bitten by a Bushmaster snake hiding under a log. He knew this meant death and so he somehow stumbled back to the canoe to warn the children. In the canoe he had a sack of salt and began packing it around the wound and eating mouthfuls. He had no idea why he did this instinctively but as it transpires, it saved his life.

Dennis collapsed and only regained consciousness a week later. The children had carried him into the canoe, covered him and kept watch over him, hunted for food, set up camps each night and steered the canoe down river for several days until they got to the first community stop. The eldest ran for a day to the settlement through deep jungle to get help and Dennis was carried there and nursed back to health with herbal medicines.

Witnessing the brilliance of these indigenous communities has always made me think how impotent and useless we are in the West. We have simply lost the ability to survive. Hopefully, one day we won’t have to learn again.