Saturday, 1 August 2015

Things to share.

Last night, so I have heard, there was a blue moon. I didn't see it. Having heard about it, I did a bit of research and discovered that it was not actually blue. Now, that would have been something to see. No, what happens is that they give this title to the second full moon of a calendar month, a rare occurrence. Hence the expression "once in a blue moon". The next one after last night's will be on January 13th 2018. There you go. To see an actual BLUE moon, you have to see the moon through volcanic ash, apparently. It's something to do with the particles of ash suspended in the air making the moon appear blue. I doubt if I have much chance of seeing one of those either. 

Something that does not happen only once is a blue moon is the feria that is currently going on at A Guía, the promontory with its lighthouse chapel on the top that we can see from our window. Every year at this time they a set up a fair and we are regaled with people trying to sing flamenco. Someone must like it, I suppose, but from here it just sounds rather mournful. There is other fair- related noise as well, of course. What is annoying is that the noise goes on well into the night, disturbing my rest, especially as it is a little warm to sleep with the windows wide open. 

Thinking about open windows last night as I tried to get sleep, I had one of those very physical memories that happen from time to time. We once had to spend a night in Oviedo because of our travel arrangements. Our evening meal had been strange, mainly because the white wine we had ordered was decidedly odd. Rather than white, it was a very strong yellow in colour and tasted strange too. We sent it back and they brought us another just the same! When we retired to our hotel for the night we found it so hot in the room, which had no air conditioning, that we had to open all the windows and blinds to let some air in. The street lights outside were unforgiving and it was that bright hot room that came back so vividly to my memory last night. Memory is an odd thing! Proust would understand this! 

I was reading something the other day about the modern tendency to "share" every aspect of life. I know people who do it all the time on Facebook, of course. You know the kind of thing: "just made a cake" or "been gardening all afternoon" or "tired now, off to bed". I enjoy seeing photos of what friends are up to but, really, inane comments about stuff are simply not interesting. 

Anyway, a survey reveals that the twentysomethings' appetite for sharing every aspect of their lives has made it onto the maternity ward, with eight family members or friends in attendance at each birth. They want to share their birth experience. My reaction was very much a strongly felt "ugh, no, thank you!" There are some things you do not need an audience for and giving birth is one. 

The article led to all sorts of comments including one from a fan of home birth - in her living room - why not the bedroom? This lady had about fifteen people in her house to celebrate her birth-giving moment but she banished them all to the stairs except for her husband, the midwife and her "doula". Just think, if she had given birth in the bedroom, all her celebrating friends and family could have sat in the living room. 

What is a "doula"? Good question. Someone called Dana Raphael introduced the term in 1969 in an anthropological study she completed. Her research led her to believe that it was a widespread practice that a female of the same species be part of childbirth, and in human societies this was traditionally a role occupied by a family member or friend whose presence contributed to successful long-term breastfeeding. There you go. She reckoned that the term came from the time of Aristotle when it meant simple "female slave" and somewhere along the way someone decided to use it to mean a person, not the midwife, giving labour support. It seems to me that "friend" is a perfectly good term but you can train to be a "doula" whereas nobody seems to think you need to train to be a friend. 

I just thought I should share that with everyone out there.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Libraries, book stores and such like.

A few weeks ago I bought a book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, "El Prisionero del Cielo". The book promised to take me back to the Barcelona he had described in the book that made his name some years back, "La Sombra del Viento", set in post-Civil War Barcelona. I had enjoyed reading that book, now translated into umpteen languages and probably making Mr Ruiz Zafón into a wealthy man (I hope), so I decided to give this one a go. As a result, I decided I wanted to reread "La Sombra del Viento". I lent my copy to a young friend last year and doubt whether I will ever see it again. So we have now bought both "La Sombra del Viento" and its sequel "El Juego del Ángel" for the kindle. 

In "La Sombra del Viento" we are introduced to a place referred to as "El Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados" - the cemetery of forgotten books. Books that are no longer read have a place there. Those who are introduced to its labyrinthine corridors must choose a book, or let a book choose them, which they will vow to preserve and protect. (Hence the title of the novel, for the protagonist selects "La Sombra del Viento" and opens a can of worms when he tries to find out more about the author and why he can find no more of his books anywhere.) It's an interesting concept. 

My only quibble is that one of the characters in the novel selects "Tess of the d'Urbevilles", not really a forgotten book! But that is by the by. We are told that whenever a library or bookshop closes, its contents find a home in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Now, the Cemetery must be getting very full of English libraries, which have been closng at a furious rate of knots in the last few years! And I have never found out who, if anyone, pays the chap who works as a kind of curator of the place. Its existence appears to be unknown to the general public and only certain selected people are told of its whereabouts and initiated into its mysteries! These are the kind of things you have to accept in novels at times. 

I have moved on now to "El Juego del Ángel" where I came across an interesting expression. "Un señorito de cierto postín" seems to be a young gentleman of a certain class, of some standing. I found myself wondering if that word "postín" started life as one of those falsely created "English" words, in this case "posting". It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, especially as it could then have been "hispanified" into "postín". I must google it to confirm my suspicions. 

 Talking of libraries (well, I was a little earlier), I took some books back to Vigo library yesterday. They were overdue! One of the things I meant to do this time last week was phone the library and renew them but time slipped away and that task slipped my mind. So yesterday evening, I walked into town with the books, fully expecting the library to be closed. It usually operates a mornings-only schedule in the summer time. To my surprise the doors were open and people were going in and out. Ah, well, I thought, perhaps I should go in and return the books properly, facing the librarian's lecture about how I would now be banned from borrowing books for the next two weeks, and so and so forth. However, although I could get into the building, the inner door to the library itself was firmly closed. So I avoided the walk of shame and posted the books into the external letterbox labelled "buzón de devueltas". 

This is a splendid idea. All libraries should have such a letter box so that people too ashamed to return long overdue books could just post them anonymously! 

Post-script: I just looked up "postín" in an online dictionary. It gives me this: postín = elegance; de postín = posh; darse postín = to sow off, as in "se da mucho postín de que su padre es ministro" = he boasts about his father being a minister. 

There you go! No joy on the etymology front though.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A bit of plumber philosophy and politics. A bit of drama.

On Tuesday the boiler in our flat was finally repaired. We now have hot water once more without having to clamber on a chair and reach behind the fridge to switch the mechanism on and off. The wonders of modern living! 

After I had talked to the plumber for some time about boilers and followed his instructions to switch taps on her and there or to please let him have a drink of water and so on (each time being told, "Muchas gracias. Muy amable.") he eventually twigged that I was not Spanish. Or at least, not Galician. "¿No eres de aquí?" he asked and I confessed my Englishness. 

And the next question was ... ¿De Londres? That often happens. Someone discovers you are English and assumes that you are from London. Now, me, I ask Spaniards where they are from. Rarely do I assume that they come from Madrid. Or that French people come from Paris. Spaniards almost always ask if I come from London. Curious! Maybe London is the only place they know of in the UK. Although, having said that, conversation revealed that my plumber was reasonably well acquainted with the geography of the UK. 

The next assumption that I hear a lot, as well as the old chestnut about our drinking tea at four o' clock, is that England, and especially London is foggy. This is a common misapprehension, despite the fogs of my childhood having long since largely disappeared. And it's not just the Spanish who do it. I read the other day that Tom Cruise included this comment in the production notes to the new Mission: Impossible movie, talking about a chase through a misty bit of London, "It’s a city that I love and we get to create a bit of a love letter to London in this chase: you get the cobblestone streets, the fog, the Tower of London.” 

My plumber did not fall into that trap. Oh, no! Instead we had a long discussion about Europe, the EU, the state of Greece, unemployment in Spain, government by the wealthy for the wealthy and much, much more. Apart from his insistence that Turkey has been a member of the EU since 2005 (?!?), he seemed very well informed and certainly opinionated. 

After the plumber had left, I walked out to meet Phil at the chess club and we called in at the Midcentury cafe for a beer. There we witnessed a little bit of drama. A group of people sat a table near ours, a group of thirty-somethings with the small child of two of them. This child seemed to be being brought up bilingual; her mother spoke to her in both English and Spanish and the child responded accordingly each time. I wasn't sure if the child's aunt was English. She certainly looked English but also spoke very good Spanish. (I really should stop eavesdropping on other people's chat!) Amazingly, this child was frequently reminded not to shout and was not allowed to interrupt the adults' conversation. That, however, was not the drama I was talking about. 

Suddenly one of the men in the group spoke quietly but firmly to a woman sitting on the table directly behind theirs and demanded that she hand over a purse that was in the top of her bag of shopping. From what I could gather (there's that eavesdropping again) she had calmly dipped her hand into the bag of the English-looking aunt and lifted the purse out. She then took a look inside and slipped it into her own shopping bag. After which she quietly got on with her beer, as if nothing had happened. Admonished by the young man from the group, she simple ignored him and carried on drinking her beer, not responding to anything he or María, the cafe owner, said to her. Only after she had finished her beer did she pick up her shopping bag and walk out, still without a word to anyone and without looking anyone in the eye. Odd! 

Now, this woman did not look like a drug addict or a beggar or a vagrant but I overheard María say something about her having a pill on the table next to her beer. So perhaps she was on medication for something. That could explain her behaviour and her oddly detached attitude. Certainly the group around the table recognised something unusual about her. They admonished as if she were a naughty child who did not quite understand what she was doing. Having established that the contents of the purse were all there, nobody suggested calling the police. But the young man who had told her off to begin with warned her that he would be looking out for her on the street from now on. 

Care in the community?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Travel and stuff!

Well, I made it back to Spain without any delays this morning. Unless, that is, you count the fact that the Autna bus from Oporto airport, due at 10.45, did not arrive until almost 11.00. That, however, is par for the course. I am quite surprised it ever manages to arrive in time. 

I was up at the crack of dawn: 4:45 English time, which is still early even if you adjust to 5:45 Spanish time. So I was at Manchester's Terminal 1 just after six. Just as well, for there was a huge queue at security. Airport employees were running around calling out for anyone with flights leaving 6.30 or even earlier to make their way to the front of the queue so that they could be processed in time to catch their planes. Mind you, most schools in the UK broke up for summer holidays last weekend and so this week there will be masses of people going off on holiday. 

And then, they slow down the process of getting through security with extra checks. Nowadays you don't just have to show your computers and iPads as you go through security but also get out of your suitcase any electrical gadgets above really small size. So all the hairdryers and straighteners have to be removed, just in case the scanner thinks you are carrying strange weapons onto the plane. 

My bag was even picked out for a random swab test. They rub a swab all over your bag and then subject it to rapid analysis to make sure it has not been contaminated with unwanted substances. This is the second time this has happened to me. I would start to feel quite paranoid about were it not for the fact that the plastic box selected for swabbing its contents ahead of mine contained nothing but a straw hat and a small boy's hoodie! I think it really is completely random. 

The first time it happened, I asked the chap with the swab what he was looking for. "Anything that should not be there!" he growled at me. No, I shouldn't have given in to the temptation. Curiosity got the better of me! I really should have known better. 

 The security thing has become a little extreme however. Not only do you need to take off boots and high-heeled shoes but you must remove your watch! And on one occasion I beeped as I went through the body scanner and the only cause we could find was a hair slide!

So it goes! So here I am, back in Vigo, after a weekend of family get-togethers. It was quite chilly and distinctly rainy when I left Manchester. The sun shone in Oporto. Blue sky and everything. The nearer I got to Vigo, the more cloud there was. And once I arrived here, it was positively muggy. There's probably nothing quite so wearing as a steamy heat! Except perhaps, riding over cobbles in the rain! 

I mention the cobbles in the rain because I finally got to watch some Tour de France this weekend, including the final stage, into and round and round and round Paris. Last year and this year they organised a women's cycle race around the centre of Paris, doing the circuit that the Tour riders do when they get to the centre of the French capital. I suppose it gives the spectators waiting for the Tour proper to arrive something to watch and goes some way, albeit a very small way, to making up for the fact that women are not allowed to compete in the Tour itself. 

I don't know how many times the women rode around the circuit but it was enough for one corner to establish itself as the place for crashes. Riding on cobbles is bad at the best of times but then the rain is coming steadily down and the surface is not just bumpy but also slick they are absolutely treacherous. We saw some spectacular crashes. How nobody was killed remains a mystery. And the winner was quite filthy when she finished the race. 

Having got the women's race out of the way, the men finally turned up. They gave all the riders their final time at the end of the first circuit of the capital. Have they always done this I wonder? I'm sure there have been years when the top riders needed to complete the Paris stage to actually decide who had finally won. Maybe it was because Froome had quite a good lead. Whatever the reason, there it was. The leaders had their times and we all knew Froome was the winner well before the end. So the race round the capital was really just to decide who would be the stage winner: André Greipel, a future Tour winner no doubt. 

And Froome and his team were able to do their little bit of theatre, riding along stung out across the road, arms across each others' shoulders. Big boys showing off their skill at riding no-hands, if you ask me. But no, it was all good. And Froome made a nice little speech when he received his trophy, thanking his team, his family and so on and talking about how much he respects the yellow jersey and how he will never do anything to dishonour it. Hmm! I wonder who that was aimed at! He even managed some of his speech in reasonable French. Good for him! 

Not a bad weekend on the whole?

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Things go in threes.

Well, there it goes, three in a row. My mother always said things run in threes. On Friday night, I travelled back to the UK to see my family. For the third time on the run, the third time in a month, the plane I was due to travel on was delayed. How can that happen? I reckon I have had enough delayed flights to last me for a good while now. Either the plane was late setting off from France to come to Oporto to pick us up or air traffic controllers caused problems for planes passing through their airspace. Whatever the cause, the outcome was that the plane which should have set off at 8.40 in the evening did not even arrive until well after 9.20! 

We finally arrived at Liverpool at well past midnight and then had to negotiate roadworks on the motorway homewards. So much for plans to be asleep not long after midnight and up bright and early on Saturday morning. 

All in all it was quite an odd journey. First the Autna bus was full to the gills. This bus which usually travels at least half empty to Oporto had no empty seats. A whole host of people had successfully booked tickets online. How did they do that? The last few times we tried to do that we had immense problems and have more or less stopped trying. In view of the crowding on Friday's bus, maybe we should pre-book in future. Foreign travelers (in other words, not Spanish) wandered up and down the bus insisting that they should have the seat their ticket indicated. Spanish travelers regarded them with bemused amazement. Clearly these people were unaware that Spanish custom says that you ignore the numbers and just sit wherever you like! 

When I arrived at the airport, I had a mission to complete before going through security. Our daughter and family will travel to Spain, via Oporto, next Sunday, arriving just in time for the 10.45 Autna bus to Vigo. Last time I travelled that way I had to race through the airport to catch the bus as the plane was slightly delayed. If the same happens next Sunday, our daughter and three kids will have to negotiate an unfamiliar airport and could well miss the bus. Because it is Sunday, there will be no more Autna buses until the evening. Very annoying. However, there is an Alsa bus at 1.00. So that's OK? Except that you HAVE to buy tickets for Alsa buses in advance. Impossible to buy on the bus as with the more user friendly Autna. 

At one time you could buy these tickets from an information desk in the arrivals hall but for the last couple of years there seems to have been no such facility. So, my mission was to find out what to do. I located a tourist information desk and explained the problem. The girl at the desk totally denied that it had EVER been possible to buy such tickets on the ground floor of the building. No, not possible at all, ever! Clearly I was suffering from false memory syndrome. What I should do was go upstairs to departures and seek out a particular travel agency there; they could sell me tickets. So up I went. 

In the aforementioned travel agency, the smiling young lady first of all told me I needed to go to the arrivals hall!!!! NO!!!! They had me sent me up to departures! So she passed me on to a colleague. This one told me she had never heard of Alsa buses. The situation was turning a little Kafkaesque! So I tried another tack. Did she sell tickets for buses to Vigo? Oh, yes, with Internauta - another name for Alsa. Jolly good! I made sure that there was a bus at 1.00pm on Sunday and that the travel agents would be open and went on my way. 

Now, I struggle see the logic in having the office that sells tickets for onward travel (I think that is the term they use in the trade) in the departures hall instead of the arrivals hall. You arrive at Oporto, coming out onto the ground floor. You need to buy a ticket for a bus that might be leaving very shortly. So you have to go back up two floors to departures to buy your bus ticket! And nothing is clearly signposted! 

(Once you have gone through the security checks and into the bit of the airport from which budget airline flights depart, on the other hand, you will find a nice little desk selling you tickets for Terravision buses for your onward journey from Liverpool to Manchester.) 

Life is full of odd contradictions.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Getting things done.

Down at the pool this morning I watched pool technicians at work. Well, I suppose you could call them pool technicians. First there was a young woman with what looked like a long-handled fishing net. I have seen her before. She kind of trawls the floor of the pool catching odds and ends of stuff that might be lying there. The front of the net has a lip, similar to the edge of a dustpan, to catch and pick up bits. The net also serves to collect floaters from the surface. She also checks the chlorine levels in the water and, presumably, adjusts things accordingly. Another aspect of her job appears to be scrubbing the white tiles at the waterline, removing any collected grime. I can't say I would fancy scrubbing a bathtub the size of a swimming pool but someone has to do it. 

Today she was accompanied by a chap in a wetsuit, a kind of mini wetsuit anyway. He put on goggles and his snorkel tube and went down to look at a patch on the floor of the pool where the little blue tiles have come off. He appeared to have some difficulty staying down as at one point his lady workmate selected a huge chunk of stone, washed it and stuffed it down between his wetsuit and a kind of weighted jacket affair. Suitably heavier, he seemed to have no more problems and spent quite a long time bobbing in and out of the water, sticking pre-prepared sheets of little tiles in place. Who would have thought at you could do such repairs without having to drain the pool? 

So now we have a reasonably well-maintained pool once more. 

And soon we will have a well-maintained, or at least working, hot water boiler again. Our landlady has finally organised for repairs to take place on Tuesday of next week. Just a few more days of clambering on chairs to switch the mechanism on and off every time we need hot water. Hurray! 

This is clearly a day for getting things organised. When we took on the tenancy of this flat, it came with a parking space in the underground garage. This is the same one which we discovered some rascal was using without permission when we wanted a parking space for our son's hired car during his visit. Well, our landlady has just rung to let me know that I should expect a visit from a young man called Dany who is now renting her other flat in this building and is interested in renting the parking space. 

Now, do I need to come up with a fancy contract for this arrangement?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Cycling, sexism and seagulls!

Apart from very briefly, while paying for coffees in the Maracaibo, seeing footage of cyclists slogging up hills in the sunshine, we have seen nothing of the Tour de France this year. Years ago we used to watch a summary of the day's activity every afternoon at around 4.30, courtesy of Channel 4 I believe. One year when it was perfectly clear who was going to win - one of Induráin's successes I think - we set off on a family camping holiday just before the final weekend and spent the first few days of our holiday trying to find someone in Brittany who could tell us who came second. Last year, on my son's birthday, we sat on a hillside above Holmfirth, a shortish drive from our house, and watched stage three of the Tour go through that bit of Yorkshire. But this year, nothing! No TV in our flat here, and we just haven't been in a bar with sport on the TV at the right time. 

I have felt quite sorry for the Madrileño, Contador, hoping for success this year and just not finding his form. You see, we have been reading the reports in the newspapers. He is up there in the top ten or so but not quite managing to be in among the real leaders. It seems he found the mountains in France very hard and had some difficulty breathing with the heat on the way up. 

Our boy Froome has a nice lead and may well, barring nasty accidents, make it all the way to Paris in the yellow jersey. Tour followers have not all been kind to him though. Apparently he has had had urine thrown at him by cycling fans who believe he may have been taking drugs. They are all tested over and over again but, of course, it's hard to be certain about the innocence of riders. However. I don't think it's down to the fans to judge them. It must be particularly unpleasant to be slogging away, riding all out (with or without drugs) and suddenly find someone throwing pee in your face! I could quite understand his swearing at the fans, although I really don't know whether he reacted that way or not. 

Someone who did swear was one of the candidates for the Labour Party leadership. She is slender, has a good figure, goes running to keep fit and so on. None of this has anything to do with her politics. And yet a journalist felt the need to comment on this when interviewing her, going so far as to speculate about her weight. Was she not perhaps about the same weight as the Duchess of Cambridge? She told the reporter to **** off! Quite understandable! 

Reporters tend not to ask male politicians such questions, although I can quite see that day coming. More and more attention is paid nowadays to their image. Perhaps we should only ever be governed by the beautiful and extra-presentable. Surely it is more important that they have policies and opinions about crucial matters of the day. Such as seagulls! 

Yes, seagulls! A Cornish MP has appealed to the environment secretary for something to be done about seagulls. Culling them perhaps! It seems they have been attacking people's pets, even overturning someone's pet tortoise and pecking it to death! David Cameron says it needs careful thought! Well, yes! 

Seagulls are quite frightening birds, large and often very aggressive. I have seen what they do to stuff left on cafe tables, sometimes while the occupants of the tables are still there. I reckon Hitchcock must have seen some thing similar before he made "The Birds"!