Friday, 27 February 2015

On the road again. Or in the airport again.

The weather witch's mother asked why I was up early yesterday - ¿Por qué madrugas tanto? Isn't it good to be able to put the idea of being up early or getting up early into one word: madrugar. Which, incidentally, can also be used for to stay up late into the small hours. Two o'clock in the morning is "las dos de la madrugada", never "de la mañana" since two o'clock patently is not yet morning. 

 So, I was up and about and down to the breadshop in the dark so that I could get to the bus station for the nine o' clock bus to Portugal. It's a little crazy to arrive at the airport at 9.45 (Portuguese time - 10.45 Spanish time) when the plane does not leave until 12.20 but the next one would not get there until fifteen minutes after the plane left. So it goes. 

A mildly annoying bus ride in the end. A family moved in behind me at Valença, with a whinging small girl. The parents spoke to each other and mostly to the son in Portuguese but the little girl only spoke to them in French, perfectly accented French. The mother, in contrast, spoke French with a Portuguese accent. Odd! And the small girl managed to have ear-ache, a head-ache and back-ache in the course of the journey. I suspect this may have been an attention-seeking ploy as she got very cross with her mother for not listening to her at one point. Good job I had my iPod so that Springsteen could go some way to blotting out the whining. 

Coffee and an almond cake (un queique de almendoa) for €3.35 in the airport. Someone should tell British airports how to price their snacks! And then a couple of hours hanging around. 

It's very strange to go from a tiny, although seemingly growing, airport like Porto's Sa Carneiro to London Gatwick. You arrive, get off the plane and walk miles and miles to passport control. Because there is improvement work going on at the airport, notices advise you to use the loos on this side of the passport control as there are very limited facilities beyond that point. So you follow their advice and then wait in the queue for ten minutes. Thank goodness you didn't accept the offer at Porto airport to have your bag put in the hold for free. Eventually, you get through passport control, walk rather further to find the exit and then several miles more to get to the shuttle to South Terminal where the railway station is. Phew! What a palaver! 

Having negotiated all that and being aware of the time going past, when I finally reached the railway station I didn't bother being independent-minded about what they call my "onward journey". No, I just went straight to Information, smiled sweetly at the chap behind the counter and told him I wanted to go to London Bridge station. So he helped me buy my ticket from the automatic machine and pointed me in the direction of the right platform for the train that was due to leave in four minutes time. Left to my own devices, I would probably have missed it. 

After that, dealing with the underground system was a doddle. Eventually I reached my son's house. Door to door - I left the flat in Vigo not long before 8.30 am Spanish time and arrived at my son's house in Chesham not long before 5.00 pm. 

There was a lot of sitting around involved in yesterday's travel.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Communication problems. And solar eclipse.

Obviously Tuesday was not my day for using electronic media. First of all I tried to email a friend and managed 1) to send him an empty message and 2) to send the message intended for him to myself ... twice. I still have not worked out quite HOW I managed that. I could blame the new(ish) laptop which is super sensitive. The curser only has to hover briefly over something for the computer to think you want it do something with that. I have to be extra careful not to delete important stuff all the time. Then there's the fact that I rarely use it to send email, usually because the machine is being used by Phil and consequently I use my iPad. But all of that is just excuses and the result remains a mystery. 

Then there is my Spanish phone. To contact family and friends in the UK I use my iphone, which is fine. But it's useful to have a Spanish mobile as well. So when we first moved out here, we bought a couple of absolutely basic mobiles for a bargain price of something like €40 - and that was for the two of them together. Recently, though, my little Spanish phone has been playing up. You charge the battery, make one phone call and then it beeps to tell you it needs charging again. Or you don't use it at all during the course of the day and the battery quietly discharges itself. So finally I decided to replace it. 

Off I went to the Telefonica shop on Rosalía de Castro. Getting to the shop was an adventure in itself. There is a maze of roadworks to negotiate and finally you arrive at the right place!!! The charming and helpful assistant tried to persuade me to take out a contract and get a very clever and quite expensive phone free. Not what I wanted, so reluctantly she found a more reasonably priced device on which I shall put a bit of pay-as-you-go credit from time to time and over a year it will cost me less than the contract, even taking into account the handset. My Sim was transferred and Bob should have been my Uncle. Except that I had the devil's own job working out how to send messages without having to scroll through options for each letter I wanted to type. And then I kept sending one-word messages to a friend by mistake. Wonderful! In addition, for each letter typed, the handset delivered a resounding beeeeeeeep! But I sorted it eventually. 

What's more, serendipity came into play. As I negotiated the roadworks maze, I recognised the chap at the other end of one of those metal walk-ways they put over holes in the road. "¡Hombre! ¡La inglesa!" he exclaimed. (I love the Spanish use of ¡hombre! To express surprise, even when addressing women and even when it's women addressing women.) It was Isaac, one of the first people I got to know in Vigo when I was trying to learn Gallego. We met at the Asociación de Vecinos Canto do Gallo, where there was a Gallego workshop, and he then got me to go the yoga class there. These local neighbourhood groups are wonderful, community action at its best. So we exchanged news and I promised to call in at the Asociación de Vecinos when I am back in Vigo. 

Something else: there is going to be a solar eclipse in March. The last major one was in 1999. I missed it completely because I was in a shopping centre in Andalucía with my sister and her teenage daughter who went from shop to shop, unable to decide what to buy. Maybe I will be more aware of this next one on March 20th, starting at 8.45 am UK time and reaching its maximum at about 9.40. It'll all be over by around 10.40. 

Authorities are in a bit of a tizz about it because we have a lot more solar energy than we used to have and so they expect the country to go into blackout. This will be even more the case in other countries of Europe where they are more Eco-savvy. Shock! Horror! Whatever will we do? 

 At least they are not predicting the end of the world.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Noise, actresses and educational matters!

It's very noisy on our street at the moment. A huge machine is digging up the centre of the road, chewing up the tarmac surface and spitting it out into a lorry that goes along in front of it. I didn't know you could get tarmac-crunching machines similar to the tree-eating machines you see around eating old Christmas trees in early January. It just goes to show that you can see something new wherever you go. 

Anyway, this tarmac-eating contraption is apparently preparing the surface so that they can install a central island all along our street, complete with bushes and flower beds and the like. Is this the gentrification of our end of Calle Aragón? Further along the street, closer to the Calvario end of town this process has already been completed and very nice it looks too, complete with smart new pavements and everything. 

Now, that is where the bone of contention lies. My weather-witch bread lady is up in arms. They are doing all this stuff to the centre of the roadway, making it too narrow in her opinion, but they have no intention of replacing our pavements. And it has to be said, our pavements are in a pitiable state. However, for lack of budget, all the council plans to do is patch up the worst bits of the pavement. So, only partial gentrification, it would seem!!!! 

Further to my comments about older ladies and their charms, I was interested to read about Monica Bellucci, described in the newspaper as an actor. She's an actress, for goodness sake. But that is not the argument here. Ms Bellucci was approached with an offer to play a part in a James Bond film. She thought they wanted her to to replace Judi Dench as M in the new James Bond film, Spectre, but in fact they were asking her to play the oldest Bond girl so far. 

When she expressed her doubts to director Sam Mendes, he is reported to have laughed and said: “For the first time in history, James Bond is going to have a story with a mature woman. The concept is revolutionary.” 

The 50 year-old actress commented, “Many 50-year-old women feel invisible to men, but it doesn’t have to be that way." 

So there you go; it's recognised by some that older doesn't always mean less attractive. 

Onto other matters. I have been a little disturbed to read that the Spanish Secretary of State for Education, Vocational Training and Universities, Montserrat Gomendio, has been making noises about who pays for university education. I do hope this is not the start of a movement to introduce the kind of huge fees for university education we have in the UK! 

Still on matters educational, I have been having a bit of a discussion on Facebook with my daughter and a friend about parents taking their children out of school during term time. It happens far too often in the UK, when parents find a bargain-priced holiday in the sun. They quoted a newspaper report that said, "The battle between parents and the UK government over term-time holidays has flared again after the Department for Education claimed that even short breaks from lessons can reduce a child’s chances of doing well at school by as much as a quarter". 

And it claims the same pattern can be seen at primary school level, where pupils missing up to 14 days of school in key stage 2 (ages seven to 11) are a quarter less likely to achieve level five or above in reading, writing or maths tests than those with no absence." 

They both. my daughter and the friend, were protesting about people who had been fined for taking their children to Crete, I think it was, for a week during the school term. They felt this was unfair, that there were special circumstances that should be taken into account, that visits to foreign countries are educational and enriching and so on and so on. OK, yes, I can see that argument but ... and it's a big but ... most UK parents who take holidays during term time do so because they can get a bargain break, not because they are going to show their offspring the wonders of an ancient civilisation! 

In most mainland European countries they are really strict about children having time off school during term time. And as a rule parents accept this and don't need to be threatened with fines to make them keep to the rules. When I wanted to arrange educational exchanges, really valuable for students of foreign languages, I always had real difficulties finding a time when we could do so because of this attitude. And we have had the same problem with the chess exchange we have been working on. And basically I agree with that attitude. It plays havoc with your teaching if you keep having to play catch-up for pupils who have been to Benidorm for a fortnight! 

When did it become essential for everyone to have holidays abroad? And if it really is essential, maybe the government should also think about some kind of legislation that prevents travel companies putting up their prices in school holiday periods. Oh, I know there has always been a difference in price for "high season" and "low season" but when you see prices go up for the October half term period, the Easter Break and even for the February half term break, it really is a bit much. 

Time to rethink values, I feel!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Stuff to think about!

Someone who writes as Stella Grey, although that is not her actual name, in an article the other day was bemoaning the fact that men in their fifties prefer women half their age. She writes: 

 "There seems to be a gender imbalance, vis-a-vis the packaging thing. All the women I know are tolerant of middle age showing itself in a chap. We quite like a late flowering, in fact: the silvering, the smile lines, the coming of bodily sturdiness. We read these as signs that life has been lived and enjoyed. We read them as indicators of substance, of being substantial. In general, men don’t seem to grant us the same courtesy, at least not the men I meet online. They are highly focused on the packaging. It’s disheartening." 

It was not clear how much statistical evidence there was for this but she maintained that this is the case. It could, of course, just be men you meet on the Internet, although one she met in the flesh, as it were, did comment that she should consider wearing brighter colours ( and losing some weight!). There really is, after all, nothing to say that women of 50 +, or indeed 65+, should only wear dull colours. And I, for one, don't! 

However, I do agree with her when she points out that older men being attracted to women who could be their daughters is a little disturbing, to say the least. 

But then, as regards the presentation of self as an older women, she needs to remember that "letting yourself go" (there's a delightful expression) applies to both genders. She should perhaps ask herself is she would find the older man with his silver hair and distinguished lines around his eyes so attractive if "the coming of bodily sturdiness" meant he also had a large beer belly! Just commenting! 

I have no personal experience of Internet dating and, although I have a friend who found it a very positive way of restoring her self esteem after a divorce, on the whole I am pretty grateful for that. From what I read, however, more and more people make use of it as a way of meeting possible life partners. What happened to people you meet at work or, indeed, your friends setting up blind dates for you? And one young journalist wrote recently about her disgust at finding the boyfriend of one of her friends responding to her posting on a dating website. Challenged about it, he admitted that he and a number of his friends frequently looked for one night stands this way. New and interesting modern ways to be unfaithful! 

Clearly what you see on your computer screen needs to be treated with some caution. This should be explained to an American YouTube vlogger (that was the term used in the news report where I found this - is there a difference between a blogger and a vlogger?) who has been watching EastEnders. It seems that he believed the soap opera was a reality show and could not understand why the producers had not called the police to arrest the culprit for the murder of Lucy Beale. Oh dear! Too much reality TV does weird things to your brain and you lose your hold on actual reality. He should get out more! 

He is not, however, the only one with a tenuous grasp on reality. Russell Brand has been in the news a lot recently for his outspoken statements on all sorts of things regarding the state of the modern world. He has even produced (I hesitate to say written) books. Now I discover that Prospect Magazine has shortlisted him as being among the world's top thinkers, on the same shortlist as Henry Kissinger and Hilary Mantel. 

I am simply amazed! Thought provoking he may be but ... a great thinker?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A lost day!

After running in the rain to the bread shop first thing in the morning, I cancelled yesterday. The outside world had disappeared once more under the clouds and the rain persisted all day. What else was there to do but stay indoors and put almost everything on hold? 

So I rattled through a lightweight French novel, lent to me by a friend with the instruction that've should read it by Monday in order to be able to discuss it at the book club meeting at the Alliance Française. A kind of modern fairytale in which everyone, or almost everyone, discoveries the benefits of helping each other out and cooperating to make the world a better place for all, it was indeed a lightweight, easy read. And I learnt a bit of modern French slang as well, although that will probably have gone out of date by now, such is the nature of slang! I was amused to come across the French for the Web (the Internet Web, that is) as "le oueb". Adaptations of English words into other languages always interest me. 

Staying indoors also allowed Phil to finish off the translation work he has been doing, without feeling that he was missing the opportunity for a walk in the sunshine. I can now stop proofreading for him as well. So we are hoping that the weather witch is correct and that the weather is indeed going to brighten up over the next few days. Although we have walked around quite a lot, we have not yet made it up to any our usual vantage viewing spots such as the Castro Park or A Guía. 

Maybe tomorrow. Today we were down at the port for Phil to play chess in the prestigious setting of the Real cLub Náutico de Vigo, while I just strolled around the old quarter.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Enterprising beggars!?

"¡Oiga, Señora!" So it begins. Our regular supermarket beggar, after greeting me with her enthusiastic smile, almost paws me as she gets up close to tell me her tale of woe. She has an electricity bill outstanding: €20. She doesn't have twenty euros. What's more, she has had a warning letter. If she doesn't pay, they will cut her electricity off. Can I not spare her €20? I am very sympathetic and give her some small change but my €20 notes remain in my purse. 

Usually it's the story of the empty bombona, the gas canister. She is unable to cook for her little boy as she has no gas. I feel as if I should magically produce a bombona out of my Mary Poppins hold-all. Except that I am not Mary Poppins. But, seriously, this is a new step in begging, asking for quite specific amounts to pay bills. When the homeless in Manchester ask for money so they can get into a shelter, it's usually along the lines of "I just need a little more to get into a shelter tonight. Can you spare me some change?" Maybe "Soy-muy-pobre" has been on a course of assertiveness training or possibly "How to Beg Effectively". 

As we sat in the sunshine in Pontevedra yesterday, sipping Albariño wine and eating tortilla and calamares (it really is a hard life this retirement business) we were approached by several beggars, in all shapes and sizes. There was an almost portly man, just holding his hand out and asking for a little money. Another stood stubbornly waiting, maybe trying to shame us into giving him something. It didn't work; he has clearly not studied "How to Beg Effectively". He did however leave us with "¡que aprovechen!" - enjoy your meal. So at least he had been brought up with manners. Oddest, to me anyway, was the rat faced, skinny almost to point of emaciation woman. I almost said old woman, but she might well have been only in her forties. She went with nervous, bird like movements from table to table, barely stopping at each one. Not much of a life! 

Back in Saddleworth, UK, it's not the beggars but the sheep rustlers that are causing a problem, apparently. Phil is on a mailing list with the local police, who warn him about things that are going on: a spate of burglaries in a particular area, cartoon types of cars being targets for theft and so on. The latest communication, along with a reminder to people to keep their dogs on a lead during lambing season, contains this plea: 
"We have recently received an e-mail from a local farmer asking for assistance during the next few months. At this time of year it is easier to steal ewes as they are heavy with lambs. If you see anything suspicious near to farm land or any vans parked up in field gateways that you may not recognise please could you note the registration number and then call 101." 

 Who knew that sheep stealing was a regular feature of our area? There was also a reminder that farmers are within sir rights to shoot any dog discovered worrying their sheep. 

Goodness me! It's like being in the middle of an episode of The Archers.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Points of view.

How nice to look out at blue sky once again. For most of the weekend our horizons were very limited. The cloud had come down again and hidden everything. However, my weather witch bread lady assured me the weather would improve during this week. For today and yesterday at least that seems to be the case. 

On Saturday, the bread lady informed me, they even had to cancel the "entroido" procession in the town centre as the weather was so bad. There were a few people around in fancy dress on Monday so clearly something was going on somewhere but apart from that I have seen very little this year. Having stood on chilly, windswept street corners watching the procession in the past, I have reflected before now that the Vigo climate, indeed the Galician climate, does not really lend itself to a Caribbean style carnival parade with girls in skimpy costumes. Floats with Sponge Bob Square Pants lookalikes are one thing but girls in sparkly bikinis and feather headdresses are something else again; the poor things must freeze. The Atlantic blanket that came down on Saturday was just too much for the "entroido" procession this year. No one would want to turn out and watch, let alone take part in, a soggy parade. Presumably yesterday they were able to bury the sardine without hindrance from the weather. 

Maybe we should just work on converting the Galicians to simply having pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Not so colourful, but decidedly warmer. I am sure that they could arrange some colourful pancake tossing competitions. They are good at making fiestas out of any occasion after all. And fresh pancakes are much more appetising than the "orejas", weird, vaguely ear-shaped stiff batter concoctions on sale in all he breadshops at the moment. 

We had free pancakes last night at the Pitillo restaurant in Pontevedra. We are visiting our friend Colin and when he asked where I fancied going for tapas in the evening, that was my first choice. So to the Pitillo we went, despite his having already been there for lunch earlier in the day. They were surprised but very pleased to see him again. And after we had eaten little fish, calamares and zamburiñas, they gave us free pancakes along with the usual free "chupito"! Like Vigo, Pontevedra is all decked out for carnaval/entroido. 

Unlike Vigo, the street decoration is properly carnival themed. And there are pirates and pirate ships all over the place. There were even pirates dining in the restaurant while we were there. I hope they paid for their food and didn't behave like old style marauding pirates. 

Having commented on cold carnivals in Galicia, I found this picture of celebrations in the Czech Republic to mark the end of winter and the start of lent. It's not just the Spanish who dress up in brightly coloured costumes then. 

Meanwhile, I read an odd story the other day about a woman who was stung on the hand by a scorpion just before her flight from Los Angeles took off. They stopped the take off, took the plane back to the gate and had the woman checked by medical staff. Understandably, she decided not to get back on the plane. The flight attendants killed the scorpion and checked that there were no more non-paying passengers before the plane took off an hour late. Nobody knows for sure how the got on but the flight originated in Los Cabos, Mexico - illegal immigrant, obviously. You can't be too careful! The Oregon State University men's basketball team was on the flight and their coach commented, “The woman was a real champ. She acted like it was a mosquito bite. They got it off her, but the needle was stuck.” I think I might have been a bit more upset. 

Obviously there are more dangerous places than sometimes cloudy Vigo.