Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Waiting. WIldlife. And words.

Well, Prince Charles is 70. It comes to us all. And he’s still waiting to see whether he will make it to king.

And Theresa May has got some kind of Brexit deal together. And she is still waiting to see if she can make it work.

And we are still waiting to see what the future of our country is going to be.

And EU citizens living in the UK are still waiting to see what kind of status they will have, and what kind of hoops they need to jump through in order to keep their mixed European families together.

We live in uncertain times.

Mind you, I suppose it could be worse. When we were in Portugal we met up with a Canadian friend who told us about seeing bears in his garden and at the end of his street. I assume these were brown bears. He said they were young ones, quite big but not too big! Today I read that one of the consequences of global warming, climate change, and melting icecaps is that polar bears are being seen more frequently close to Inuit communities.

A little too close for comfort I should think.

Interestingly the Inuit and the scientists who study polar bears have differing views about how many bears there are and where they hunt for food. The Inuit claim a kind of almost genetic understanding of bear behaviour - after all they have been living alongside them for a long time - and say that the scientists miss stuff because they cannot do observations from planes on cloudy, misty days, precisely the days when the bears come out to hunt.

Perhaps so. Personally I am quite relieved to live close to wildlife no fiercer than squirrels and hedgehogs and the occasional fox!

Now here’s a linguistic thing. A friend of mine sent me a selection of English words that have different meanings in Britain and America. Here are a few examples:-              

A jumper
UK: A woollen pullover worn in the winter
US: Someone who commits suicide by leaping from a building or bridge

The first floor
UK: The floor above the ground floor
US: The ground floor of a building

UK: Flaps attached to a race horse's face to restrict its vision
US: Indicators on a car

Fancy dress
UK: Informal party wear, dressing up as a well-known character
US: Formal party wear, including ball gowns and black tie

A flapjack
UK: A flat oatmeal snack
US: A type of pancake

(By the way, since Costa Coffee opened up in the airport at Porto, it is now possible to buy flapjack, the English snack, there. I find it completely strange to see the list of coffees and snack available, exactly the same as in Costa on Market street in Manchester!)

A geezer
UK: A gang member, tough guy
US: An old man

This last one puzzled me. I thought a geezer in British English just meant a bloke, a chap, a man. Internet research tells me that since the Kray twins a geezer has a specific meaning in Cockney slang, referring to a respected gang member, or even gang leader.

There you go!

This list could go on and on, but I think thats enough. Except for this one:

UK: Slightly hungry
US: Irritable or angry

That’s all.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Comsumer problems!

On Saturday I went into Manchester to have my hair done and to have my eyebrows threaded. The hair bit is quite relaxing, as my hairdresser knows by now what I expect. And part of that involves relaxing head massage. I could quite happily go in every day and have my hair done just for the head massage.

Having my eyebrows tidied up is a different kettle of fish. When I was younger I just ignored my eyebrows. They were quite acceptable as they were. As in fact were my legs. I am not sure if this is the case for all redheads but I only ever grew very fine blonde hairs on my legs and could ignore them. Old(ish) age and (relative) decrepitude has put a stop to that. The blonde hairs on my legs have turned darker and need removing. As for the eyebrows, well they seem to have grown, thicker and coarser and have developed a tendency for one or two to grow longer than is at all acceptable. And then there are the occasional pure white ones! So something has had to be done in recent years.

Each time I go and have my eyebrows threaded - a procedure involving a young lady holding a thread in her teeth and round one hand and tweaking hairs out - I am told off by the young lady in question. The procedure is quite quick and more uncomfortable than painful, but it is necessary for the victim to hold the eye shut and stretch the eyebrow skin to ensure a quick extraction of hairs. The young lady accuses me, with some justification, of using tweezers between visits - “tweezing” she calls it x and tells me it makes the threading more painful.

She tells me I should visit her “brow bar” every month. This may be true but who has the time, or the inclination, to go and do thus every month? Besides, I suspect it is a ploy to boost custom!

Around and in between the beauty treatments I fit in a bit of shopping. One of the things I did on Saturday was visit the new Gap store in the Arndale Centre. Not radically different from the old store off St Ann’s Square, except that it has a wider range than the old store had during the time it was winding down, it is nonetheless quite bright and glitzy.

I purchased a few items as Christmas presents, it having become a kind of tradition that I buy articles of clothing for the grandchildren. At the checkout I discussed the various discounts that were available to me - quite a good range in fact. Then I remembered that I might need “gift receipts”, in case the parents of the grandchildren needed to return them to the store for one reason or other. The poor cashier got very flustered and in the end I gave up,on fancy receipts, paid my bill, packed up the goods and left.

As I exited from the store, something “pinged”. Was that me, I asked, only to be told by another shop assistant that they were doing something that was causing the ping.

And at the entrance of every other shop I visited, something “pinged”.


I went on my way.

At home, later in the evening, I sorted my purchases and discovered three items that still bore their security tags - impossible to remove! The cause of the pings. So today, when I went to Italian conversation, I had to take the stuff with me and get the tags removed!

 Very annoying but still, it could have been worse. It could have been Christmas Eve when I began wrapping parcels and discovered the inconvenient tags.

 Always look on the bright side!

Monday, 12 November 2018

Words and pictures!

I have expressed my amusement before on discovering that a mystery dish in Portugal called “frango com carril” turned out to be chicken curry. On that first occasion, I tried to get the waiter to explain what “carril” was, only to have him lean over the table and say slowly and clearly, “Carril! Carril!”. For all the world, it was like an English person repeating an English expression loudly and clearly as if that made the meaning clear.

This year, as I tucked into “frango com carril” once again, we reflected on the likelihood that the Portuguese took the word direct from their own colonies in the Indian subcontinent.

And now, in the weekend’s “Feast”, the Guardian’s food magazine section, I found Yotam Ottolenghi telling me that the word “curry” derives from the Tamil word “kari”, meaning sauce. So it could well be that the Portuguese version is closer to the original than the English one! Interesting stuff!

This does not explain to me how the Portuguese make “lanch”, quite obviously derived from the English “lunch” (but pronounced posh-wise, not Northwest of England-wise), mean a snack!

So it goes.

Last Wednesday, when we had lunch in Pontevedra with a young friend, we found ourselves with a bit of spare time before we had to go for a train and our young friend had to go to work teaching English. So we popped into the Pontevedra museum to have another look at the Castelao collection. This Galician artist, painter, cartoonist, is one of my favourites. We like to go back and look at his work again and again: caricature-style cartoons, pencil drawings of typical Galician faces, social commentary and colourful, playful representations of aspects of Galician life. Always worth another look!

 Here is a selection:-

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Force of nature!

Wild fire is no respecter of class or wealth.

“In southern California, fires tore through Malibu mansions and working-class suburban homes. State officials put the number of people forced from their homes statewide at more than 200,000. Evacuations included the city of Malibu, home to some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.”

One old man from a place called Paradise, a place where he lived for more than 80 years, went back to see what was left of his home. Basically nothing but a bit of twisted metal.

Imagine living in a place called Paradise and seeing it turn into a living hell.

 “We knew Paradise was a prime target for forest fire over the years,” he said. “We’ve had ‘em come right up to the city limits, oh yeah, but nothing like this.”

And we, human beings, have always done this. We build homes in places we know might be vulnerable to fire or flood, even earthquake and volcanic eruption. And we trust to fate and to whatever gods we believe on to keep us safe. Sometimes we erect flood defences and make firebreaks, hoping our science will help us.

And I suppose it does, to a certain extent. But at present it seems that everything is going to extremes.

What will happen, I wonder, to all those people whose homes have been destroyed. And not just their homes, but the possessions and keepsakes that had to be left behind, the vehicles they tried to flee in, and for some of them, members of their family who could not get out in time.

Will it make them more sympathetic to refugees trying to escape from disasters of one kind or another?

Will it change the mind of climate-change deniers?

That remains to be seen.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Wild and wooly weather - with a sunny interlude - and some linguistic oddities.

So the whole blog-posting this went a bit haywire over the last couple of days.

(Linguistic aside: why do we say that things go haywire? I looked it up. Hay wire, as I suspected is the thin wire used to fasten up bales of hay - before bales of hay were wrapped in plastic in a range of lurid colours! Early in the 20th century apparently they began talking about “haywire companies” in the USA, describing companies not properly set up and referring back flimsy repairs done with haywire.
But the page I found this on went on to say that it is more likely to refer to the fact that hay wire, being thin and a bit bouncy, has a tendency to get into a tangle. That seems more like it to me!)

Anyway, on Thursday morning I looked out and saw dry(ish) pavements and people walking along without umbrellas. Consequently I decided it was fit weather for running and off I went. In the time it took to don my running gear and get down from the seventh floor to ground level the rain had started. And with a vengeance! Too late! I was out in it! I got soaked. The rain was set in for the day, we did not leave the flat all day. As we have no internet in the flat, that was that. ny essential emailing was done by iPhone.

Then yesterday we just travelled. And the weather was foul once more. Our plane was buffeted all the way and when we arrived at Liverpool we were all warned, more than usual, to hold on to the rails as we descended from the aircraft - howling gale in Liverpool!

No doubt Ryanair gave extra warning to avoid possible lawsuits.

In contrast, last Wednesday was beautiful. Blue sky and sunshine. Positively balmy! Which was nice because on Wednesday we went to Pontevedra to meet a young friend, one of Phil’s chess-playing protegés, for lunch. He is coming to the end of stay in Pontevedra, part of the year abroad requirement on the Modern Languages course he is doing at university. As he is off to Jordon soon for the second stage of his year abroad, we decided to catch up with him while we were in Galicia. 

We thought we might eat at Estrella, a restaurant run and owned by another acquaintance - no, a friend by now - of ours but he was closed. I got the impression he always closes on a Wednesday but he said he had a lot of work to do clearing up after Tuesday’s stormy weather. By the sounds of it, Pontevedra had more wind and heavier rain than Vigo. And Vigo was bad enough! So we went off to Ruas, usually reliably good.

As we decided what to eat, and Phil was considering “un revuelto de setas con jamón”, a scrambled egg dish, our young friend asked how we would translate “setas”. Well, “mushrooms”, of course. So what about “champiñones”? Also mushrooms. He has been staying with a Spanish family, where the parents speak good English, and so he has been able to practise his Spanish and also have difficulties explained. He had suggested to his hostess that “setas” and “champiñones” were just two words for the same thing. Not at all, she had told him, quite different things! But no further elucidation had been available. I told him that I understood that “champiñones” are what we call “button mushrooms” while “setas” are a more wild variety, longer, less “pretty”.

At that point the owner / chief cook and bottle-washer of the restaurant came out, all apologetic, to say that they had run out of “setas”. Would Phil mind having “champiñones” in his scrambled eggs instead. We laughed and explained that we had just been talking about that very topic. She confirmed that I was correct. And we assured our young friend that “setas” are just as edible as “champiñones”. Nothing odd about them. Mushrooms are mushrooms as far as I am concerned.

However, I am not surprised to find different names for different varieties. After all, you get eating oranges, “naranjas de mesa” and juicing oranges, “naranjas de zumo”. And then there are all the fish that are available in Spain that we never come across in the UK. Varieties of apples abound, after all: “las golden”, “las pink (lady)”, “las Granny Smith” but no baking apples!

What surprises me in that potatoes are just potatoes. Our local Tesco, in Saddleworth, has a whole range of different spuds, my preferred variety being “Charlotte”. In the Mercadona supermarket, next door to,our block of flats, there are just ”patatas”. Maybe it’s because Galician potatoes are simply the best in the world and there is no call for any other kind!

Anyway, we had a fine lunch. I had yet another salad, this time a good Spanish “ensalada mixta” with all the necessary ingredients. Huge, with a large dollop of tuna fish. Final comment on the weather: late last night I saw a weather report on the television. A view of Europe showed a huge bank of cloud from earlier in the day swirling up the west side of the Iberian peninsula, across the Bay of Biscay and most of France and then on onto the UK. That is what our bus had driven through from Vigo to Porto. That is what had buffeted our plane. That is what had almost blown us off the plane steps as we got off. And that is what we drove home through with our daughter who kindly collected us from Liverpool airport.

Wild and wooly weather!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

In Vigo. And hostility in England!

Well, here we are in Vigo. Just about everyone keeps telling us that up to about two weeks ago they had beautiful sunny weather. The “verano de San Martín” just went on and on. But yesterday we had rain and wind and almost got blown away. It was not bad when I went for a run first thing, just a bit damp, but the day seriously deteriorated after that.

This did not deter us from going down into town where Phil subjected himself to a haircut and conversation with the barber. As with my conversation with the Portuguese driver, Phil always finds that the barber forgets he is a foreign national and goes into overdrive - top speed comments on everything under the sun!

At one point the barber commented on the Christmas decorations that are going up all over town. Apparently the mayor, still Abel Caballero as far as I know, has been criticised for spending too much on Christmas lights and stuff. He defends his spending, saying that people come from far and wide to see the lights. There are excursions. People come for two or three day visits. The hotels fill up. And they spend money in the shops, restaurants, and bars. Who’d have thought it?

After the barber’s, we went for lunch at the Rosalía Castro restaurant. We don’t really need to order. They know we want chipirones encebollados - baby squid with caramelised onions. Delicious as ever!

By the way, the barber recommends we go across to Moaña, on the other side of the bay, where there is a place near the ferry port which serves the best chipirones. They actually serve baby squid that are really too small to be fished but as they catch them locally they get around the regulations. Naughty! Naughty!

On a more serious note, here is something from the Forum for EU Citizens on Facebook, posted by a Finn yesterday:-

“A fellow Finn, who's been living in Scotland for the past 2,5 years, moved to England today. This is her experience on arrival (shared with her permission; she's not in this group):

 "And welcome to England! Just got a small taster of the Brexit culture (which is totally non-existent in Scotland IMHO) while going through the border control in Manchester airport. This conversation took place between me and the border control officer (bco) and had there been any humor in his voice or kindness in his eyes, this could have actually been a jovial, funny conversation. But no.

Me: Hello
 Bco: Hi. Are you here for business?
Me: No, we are actually just moving to Chester so...
 Bco interrupts me: And who gave you the permission to do that?
Me: ?!? Ehhhmm, I guess your government still kind of allows it, ehhh...*awkward laughing and mumbling*
Bco: Well good luck with THAT! *slamming my passport back to me*

 I was so taken aback by his rude demeanor and comments I couldn’t even think of anything smart to come back at him! Fingers crossed I just caught him on his bad day and he’s not like this with every foreigner he meets because boy, has he chosen the wrong profession to be in! I’m also hoping this will not be the prevailing attitude here or it will be a long 2-3 years..."”

 This is what my country has become! I feel ashamed!

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Language skills. Moving on.

Our friendly driver, the one who collected us from Porto airport on our arrival, turned up at our hotel yesterday at 9.00 to drive a group of us back to Porto - service above and beyond the call of many tournament organisers!

I managed to keep up a kind of conversation in a kind of Portuguese most of the way. They sat me in the front seat as nobody else in the group even tried Portuguese. Behind me conversation went on in Spanish, Italian and English, with intermissions while people snoozed.

Meanwhile the driver and I went through football (Manchester United or Manchester City?), travel, nice places to go in France, memorable cities in Spain, regional languages. Occasionally he would forget that my Portuguese is rudimentary to say the least and launch into some quite lengthy explanation. A nod and a smile works wonders. Goodness knows what I agreed with!

I have often heard people maintain that language skills develop in a certain order: reading comprehension, listening comprehension, spoken expression, written expression. My Portuguese is not following that pattern at all. My reading skills are greatly assisted by my prior knowledge of Spanish and French. I can put together reasonable spoken sentences; my awareness of how words change from Spanish to Gallego helps me turn Spanish vocabulary into some kind of Portuguese. I haven’t tested my written Portuguese in a while but I know for a fact that my listening skills are abysmal! After a few words the language turns into a flow of shushing and zhuzhing and liquid ls! More practice needed! Maybe I need to travel around more with our Portuguese driver.

By the time we reached Porto the rain had let up and we had some blue sky and sunshine. Despite our having been told that we would be dropped at the airport, our driver volunteered to take us into Porto centre. There we successfully located a restaurant where we have eaten before: cheap and cheerful - fish soup, grilled sole with chips and salad, a bit of bread, a glass of wine and a coffee - all for less that €20!

Then we went and stood on Avenida dos Aliados, outside the posh McDonalds to wait for the bus to Vigo. There was the usual huddle of confused people who had been told that the bus left from there but were unable to find a bus stop. That would be because there isn’t one! You just need to know where it stops. It’s a matter of faith. Lots of open-top tourist buses came and went before eventually the AUTNA bus arrived.

When we got on, we found that AUTNA appears to have upgraded their buses. Plush leather seats and plenty of leg-room. Possible fewer seats that on the old buses, with ranks of twos on one side of the bus and single seats on the other. The seat belts were still rubbish though: difficult to fasten and then very restrictive of movement. Of course, almost nobody but us bothered to try to use them. Which probably explains their parlous state, even in fancy new buses.

Are all AUTNA buses on the new kind? We shall find out on Friday when we make our way back to Porto to catch a plane home to the UK.

Another adventure almost over!