Wednesday, 22 March 2017

What day is it?

According to some people yesterday was the first day of Spring. Others would have it that it is today and still others that it was Monday. In my family we always said it was today, 22nd of March, which we could all remember without too much difficulty as it is also my elder sister's birthday. Birthdays were always occasions to be remembered. I am not so sure that she feels the same now. Such are the consequences of the passing of time.

I have been fairly reliably informed that yesterday was also International Poetry Day. I have this from English and Italian sources so it has every chance of being true. Here are a few selections offered by poetry enthusiasts yesterday:

they speak whatever’s on their mind / they do whatever’s in their pants / the boys i mean are not refined / they shake the mountains when they dance 
'
the boys i mean are not refined',
E. E. Cummings

Tree you are, / Moss you are, / You are violets with wind above them. / A child - so high - you are, / And all this is folly to the world
'A Girl',
Ezra Pound

(So even poets see boys and girls differently - a bit of gender stereotyping there.)

This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper

'The Hollow Men',
T.S Eliot

Reflecting that last quotation, here is something a friend of mine posted regarding the end of the UK's EU membership:

UK: We want a rebate on the fees.
EU: OK.
UK: We don't want to be in the Euro.
EU: OK.
UK: We don't want to be in Shengen.
EU: OK.
UK: We want a restriction on benefits until people have worked here for some time.
EU: OK.
UK: We want to stop child benefit being paid for children who aren't in the UK.
EU: OK.
UK: We want to kick out people who come here and don't work and can't afford to support themselves.
EU: That's fine, you already can.
UK: We want loads of preferential treatment that other countries don't get.
EU. Err, can't really give that without everyone agreeing.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave.
EU: That's a bit of an over reaction, but your choice.
UK: OK, we're leaving.
EU: Bye then.
UK: Now we're leaving, we want all the things we had before.
EU: Err, it doesn't work like that.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave with nothing.
EU: (Scratches head) OK, umm, well, yeah.
UK. We're serious, we'll walk away with nothing, to teach you a lesson.
EU: Bye (again).

That seems to be the way negotiations are set to go. We shall see.

Last night we popped out for a drink and to check our email in the Mid Century café bar where the music (mid 20th century music) is always good. Last night it was very hard to hear it. I know some people complain about ambient music in bars and restaurants and I understand their complaints, especially when the music is bland. However, if I don't want background music to prevent me from hearing the conversation around the table where I am sitting, neither do I want the conversation from the next table to prevent me from hearing my own conversation AND the perfectly decent background music.

This was a tableful of young women - anywhere from there mid twenties to mid to late thirties. Now, if a table of young women gets as noisy as that one in a bar in the UK the women concerned have usually had a lot to drink and are getting loud and giggly. This was a bunch of serious young Spanish women, drinking coffee, infusions, and soft drinks, and taking seriously about the state of the world, the state of Spain, and the state of Galicia. At the top of their voices! A kind of statement about being young women with opinions!?

As often happens with such groups, there was a dominant female: this time with a mass of shoulder-length tightly curled hair (one of today's statement hairstyles that says "Look at me! I am an independent female and I don't need to spend time making my hair sleek and smooth!") and the loudest voice of the group. She spent a good deal of time pontificating to the rest of the group who sometimes found it difficult to get a word in edgewise.

It was quite a relief when they finally gathered their stuff together and left.

At which point María, who runs the bar, came and had a chat about how sad she was to hear of the demise of Chuck Berry, although it did take a minute or so for us to decipher the Spanish pronunciation of his name. She can probably sing along to any number of English-language songs but still has difficulty pronouncing names of performers.

Rather like a friend of ours long ago who greatly admired the writing -in translation - of the Frenchman Albert Camus, or as he called him Albert (English pronunciation) Came -Uss.

We can't all be perfect!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Smart cars, smart phones, smart stuff in Vigo

Travelling from Portugal to Spain yesterday evening, I noticed that we passed quite a few of those tiny little Smart cars. They look very nippy but yet I am not sure I would want to drive one on a motorway. Mind you, motorways around here are a good deal less busy than the M60 around Greater Manchester.

You get quite a good view into the driver's seat of a little car from an AUTNA bus and so I was able to observe at least five of the Smart car drivers busy with their phones while driving. One was in a conversation, phone to his ear, three seemed to be consulting satnav on their phone screens and one was busy texting, no hands on the wheel. I suppose that conceivably hers was a driverless car and she was just sitting in the driver's seat but not actually driving. However, I think that is very unlikely. So not only was she driving something that resembles a sardine can on an admittedly not very busy motorway but also she was not really controlling the thing in a very conscious manner. The madness / carelessness / death wish of some people amazes me.

We woke this morning to rain but by 9:30 it had gone and we had blue sky and sunshine. Long may it last!

Our street is very noisy. They seem to be laying cables or doing something to the gas supply and possibly relaying the pavement, renewing parking bays and separating them with little islands where no doubt they will plant flowers and bushes. It has to be said that they are very good at that sort of thing here in Vigo. The other end of our street was beautified last year but our section remained scruffy and just a little dangerous - with minor potholes that you could turn your ankle in, not with hoodlums who might jump out and attack you, I hasten to add.

This is Vigo, after all, not Barcelona. Our gypsies tend to beg rather than attack. This does not mean that they don't steal but I have no evidence either way.

The bad reputation of the gypsies follows them around. My daughter was telling me about the latest scam by probably Romanian gypsy families (and, yes, I am aware that we are stereotyping here and that there are far more perfectly fine, upstanding, honest Romanians in the Uk than there are gypsies or those selling the Big Issue) in Oldham and Ashton. This is what happens: a woman rushes up to a shopper with a baby in her arms, screaming that her baby is really ill and she needs to know what to do and how to get to a hospital or at least a first aid post. The shopper puts down her bags in a natural movement to be able to help and comfort the agitated mother. While she is talking to the agitated mother, the agitated mother's companions walk past and pick up the bags and make off down the street.

Cunning plans!

I've heard of similar groups outside railway stations in Madrid or Rome, offering to help tourists, showing them maps and giving them directions, with a lot of touchy-feely patting of shoulders and the like. Meanwhile one of the gang is busy picking pockets, rifling rucksacks and relieving the hapless tourist of valuable stuff. Isn't the world a splendid place! Fortunately we see little of this around here in Vigo. Our experience has been very positive on the whole. People are on the whole friendly and genuinely helpful. So long as all we have to worry about are kamikaze Smart car drivers, then all will be well. Especially as I am not driving while we ate here.

Out and about later:

There is a dinosaur down by the port.

And here are some of the disturbing cartoons from yesterday in Porto.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Back in Vigo.

So here we are finally, back in Galicia. We left Saddleworth in the pouring rain, with a much appreciated lift to the airport in our daughter's car. She had to drop the baby off while we finished gathering our stuff together and go and park round the corner because double yellow lines have been helpfully painted outside our house.

A new estate has been built more or less behind our houses and the residents claim they cannot see proper.y to get out of the estate onto the main road. Funnily enough, then there was a factory there lorries managed to come and go without problems!

We knew the yellow lines were coming and all of us wrote letters of protest, all to no avail.

On the day after the yellow lines appeared, for the first time in the thirty years we have lived in that house, there was a bobby on the beat patrolling the area. Is this a coincidence?

Anyway, we set off in the rain but by the time we reached Liverpool it had eased off some. By the time we were boarding, the sun was trying to come out. It wasn't exactly sunny when we reached Oporto but it was a lot drier than Greater Manchester has been for the last few days. In fairness to the North West of England, our daughter told us that the day had improved considerably.

We had a longish wait for the AUTNA bus to Vigo, during which time I examined a rathervdisturbing display of "cartoons" in the airport. All of them looked at glance qitebinnocent but had a disturbing element. There was a skateboard park built on top of abandoned crashed cars. A sort of Picasso "Guernica" spin off showed a couple escaping from the rubble, but they were followed by a suicide bomber. All very strange stuff.

however, the bus arrived without too  uch delay and all was good, despite the rather smelly couple who got in at Cerveira and sat in front of us. Such things cannot be legislated for.

We reached the flat just in time for a quick dash into the Mercadona supermarket before it closed. Everything in order at the flat, we headed out for As Cobas, one of our favourite wifi bars to catch up with stuff. Little seems to have changed around here. There are still a lot of empty 'bajos', the ground floor premises intended to be shops and cafes and so on. One of the local hairdressers has changed its name. But our favourite bars appear to have survived in our absence, which is reassuring.

The bar we are in at the moment had changed its wifi password - how inconsiderate! But as the password includes the year and the year has moved on, we can probably forgive them!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Moving along!

Looking put of the window and watching swathes of rain blow across, I am putting off finalising my packing ready to go to Galicia tomorrow. So I decided to look up the weather forecast for Vigo: nice and sunny at the moment, the sun might still be there when we arrive tomorrow but it will be on its way down and for the rest of the week they forecast rain showers, light rain, rain with a bit of thunder. Still it could be worse: here they are forecasting the possibility of snow. We shall see!

We've been putting off our departure because of translation commitments, meetings one or other or both of us had to go to, getting the all clear after Phil's cataract operation, and stuff like that. And now we are timing our return to coincide with an operation on the other eye. After which Phil expects to see better than he has done since he was about seven! The wonders of modern medicine!

Don't you just love pedants. Last week's Saturday Guardian magazine had an article about Scandinavia. This week's has this letter:

"Morwenna Ferrier's article (You What? 11 March) claims "Scandinavia, of course, is a sum of its snowy parts - Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland". Scandinavia proper does not include Finland. If Finland is to be included, the term should be "Nordic countries".

Mr. Pedantic Reader." (Not his actual sign off!)

 Really? Does it matter? This was an article about words they have in the Nordic Countries for odd things. Finland needed to be included. There is no need to get picky about it. There are more important problems in the world!

 And what is going on with the chap Martin Sheen describes as "Our current commander in chief, Yellow Hair"? If Martin Sheen (aka President Bartlett in The West Wing) is not careful there will be tweets calling him a so-called actor! But seriously, why did President Trump not want to shake Angela Merkel's hand. The press were calling for a handshake, Mrs Merkel asked did he want to do a handshake but Mr Trump just sat and looked at his feet. Does he think germs come from Germany? I am sure Mrs Merkel could put him right on that; she seems to have taken on the task of informing him about all sorts of things.

Meanwhile, the world goes on its way. Chuck Berry has gone off to join others in the Tower of Song. So it goes!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Professional progression.

If I were a journalist and I had begun the old fashioned way, writing reports on weddings and funerals and flower and produce shows for some small newspaper, gradually progressing to something more prestigious, maybe going on to be in charge of a particular set of features, and eventually thinking about setting my sights on sub-editor jobs or even editor positions, I would be more than a little annoyed at the moment. Imagine having done all that training work and then you see someone with no real journalist experience being given the job of editor or a London paper. And probably being offered an inflated salary to do so.

I may be doing George Osborne a disservice, of course. I did read somewhere that he had journalistic ambitions in his youth. No doubt he can craft a fine article. He is an educated man, after all, and should be able to write with a good level of literacy. For all I know, he may have been the editor of magazines and periodicals at school and at university. But by his own admittance he has never run a newspaper.

So why is he uniquely qualified for the job if editor of the Evening Standard? As I say, those who have done all the training must be asking something like that, surely!

Besides, has he not got enough to do already? And does he not earn enough money already?

He is reportedly already paid £650,000 a year for one day’s work a week for fund manager BlackRock. One day a week?! And he had 15 speaking engagements in the last year, earning him £800,000. That's an awful lot money for each time he stood up to speak. His words must be made of spun gold or something. And a US thinktank give him a stipend (just how is that different from a salary?) of £120,000 a year. Then there is a book deal on top of that. Wow!

An ordinary MP earns £75,000, which admittedly may not be huge by London standards but is considerably more than an ordinary teacher earns, even with London weighting. And I bet no teachers have time to take on extra jobs to supplement their salary. There are MPs who say that representing their constituency is a full time job and that even though they are allowed to take on other commitments they would find it hard.

So George Osborne must be very clever at getting things done very quickly. Or perhaps he gets bored if he doesn't have high pressured stuff to be doing all the time.

However, the spoilsports are getting to work.

Some are asking for the Cabinet Office to investigate because he accepted the job of editor without the approval of the watchdog on former ministerial appointments.

Then there is Ryan Shorthouse, the director of Bright Blue, a Tory thinktank, who said he expected Osborne to stand down as an MP. “A free press, which holds power to account, is a fundamental part of a liberal democracy,” he said. “A sitting MP, especially of the governing party, cannot also be an editor of an influential and national newspaper. It is a significant conflict of interest and unethical. The [former] chancellor has spoken eloquently about the importance and goodness of liberal democracies. So, if he is to be editor of the London Evening Standard, he must – and I suspect will – resign as an MP.”

And there are jealous people (how shocking) who must feel betrayed because there are rumours that the former chancellor only decided to apply for the editor’s job at the Evening Standard after friends contacted him to ask for advice on whether they should apply for the role. Really? Is that the action of a friend? Or is it all sour grapes on their part?

 But when does he ever find time to spend all that money? That's what I would like to know!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Sorting out the electronic media stuff.

Today we are on grandparental duty. Our daughter is doing some training prior to going back to work after maternity leave. She has a couple of months to go yet but they want her to do the training and I think they might even pay her for turning up. Which is not at all bad.

So here I am, having walked the baby in the rain, snatching a little time while she sleeps in her pram.

I read an article recently about a primary school which put up a notice asking parents to greet their offspring with a smile and a proper greeting instead of continuing their mobile phone business at the school gate. The writer was a little indignant about this, declaring that the school had no right to tell him how to meet and greet his child. But how hard is it to put your phone away and have a proper conversation with a child at the end of the school day? If you tell him that your electronic media is the most important thing then it's hardly surprising if all he wants to do when he gets home is play on the X Box.

By the time they reach secondary school, of course, most children have a phone of their own, ostensibly so that they can contact busy parents when necessary, but also with an element of keeping up with the Joneses. And then the schools have to police what goes on and make sure that phones are switched off during school hours.

The schools also make use of the technology themselves and not just in the classrooms. Our grandchildren's secondary school contacts parents by text for a variety of reasons. Newsletters are sent out by email instead of on paper. If there is a problem of a child taken ill or, heaven forbid, misbehaving and being put into detention, parents are incormed by text and asked tomcontact the school. Nowadays they give detention fancy new names; in our grandchildren's school they call it a "New Hope" but I'm pretty sure everyone knows what it really is. At one time schools had to give 24 hours' notice but mobile phone technology means that misdemeanours can be dealt with on the spot. 

Someone else who seems to be up to date on modern technology is Mr Trump's senior advisor Kelly Conway. The question of the rumoured wire-tapping of Trump Tower rumbles on. Britain has been accused of being involved, something which a GCHQ official has described as nonsense. But Kelly Conway apparently knows that surveillance in the modern world can take many forms. This is what I read yesterday:

 * ITV REPORT 13 March 2017 at 2:57pm Obama could have spied on Trump using a microwave, Trump aide claims without offering evidence.

Donald Trump's senior adviser has suggested Barack Obama could have spied on the President using a microwave. Kellyanne Conway says she has no evidence to support Mr Trump's claim that the former president "wiretapped" Trump Tower phone lines during the election.

She pointed to recent revelations about government surveillance to suggest it was possible Obama used a different technique.

Speaking to US newspaper The Record, she said: "What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately, including microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.

"So we know that that is just a fact of modern life."

                                 ***

So there we are. It's good to know that everyone is so up to date.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

More about planning!

In this morning's Guardian online I came across a long article all about "Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death". She is getting on a bit so I suppose that there must be contingency plans. The queen’s last three prime ministers were all born after she came to the throne. That's quite disturbing really. (One of my earliest, vaguest memories is sitting on the grass at a Coronation Party in a park. Somewhere I still have a coronation mug and a commemorative book with pictures of a very young queen and her husband. His pictures I always thought were pictures of my uncle and I was very confused about what he was doing in the book at all.)

Apparently when George VI was dying they agreed on a coded message to send when the royal doctor had "injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine – enough to kill him twice over – in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight", as the article put it. (Is that not assisted suicide?) The code was "Hyde Park Corner", a cryptic message so that the prime minister and other important folk could be informed of the death but the telephone operators would not know before the rest of the nation. The code agreed for Elizabeth is "London Bridge is down". Surely they will have to change that now as everyone who has skim read the article knows what it is. And if anything actually happens to London Bridge they will have to be very careful how they word the reports in case the wrong message is sent and we all go into mourning ahead of time.

It is, however, reassuring to know that some things are planned. Maybe the people who do this kind of planning for the royal household should be invited to join the Brexit committee.

The mass media have plans as well. The Guardian has a list of prepared stories pinned to the deputy editor's wall and ITN is said to have rehearsed the death of the queen, substituting the name "Mrs Robinson". Royal correspondents are lined up ready for the off. This is clearly another bunch of people who should be helping to make plans for what the Uk should do if we get no deal with the EU?

The code names thing is quite amusing. So Her Majesty is known as London Bridge and Mrs Robinson. I wonder what code names exist for other members of the royal family. And for politicians for that matter. In the utopian White House world of "The West Wing" all the major players have security code names. The press secretary CJ is most upset to discover that hers is Flamingo. No amount of reassuring her that a flamingo is a beautiful bird helps; she obviously just sees the lanky and ungainly aspects of it.

Anyway, getting back to mortality matters, there are contingency plans according to where the royal lady dies. Ideally she would die in Buckingham Palace and save everyone a lot of bother but she could be in Balmoral, her holiday home in Scotland. There is a whole protocol for getting her back to London. This is fine at the moment but what happens, I ask myself, if Scotland has gone independent by then? Will the queen even be able to holiday in Balmoral, let alone die there? And will we need some kind of special permit to bring her through the customs post in the newly fortified Hadrian's Wall?

The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that this long read article was included just to take our minds off other stuff that is going on (planned or unplanned) in the world!