Sunday, 30 August 2015

Communication and insects.

Yesterday morning, when I set out for my run, I went past a young woman pushing a pram one handed as she used he other to keep her phone to her ear, deep in conversation. Twenty minutes later, after I had run up the hill, round the back roads and back down again, I came across her once more, still deep in what I presume might have been the same conversation. It's a good job the child in the pram was sleeping. No chance of conversation for him from the pram-pusher! 

Some people's ability to talk on the phone is astounding. I remember organising to receive itemised bills from the phone company, back in the time before mobiles, because our daughter spent hours talking to her best friend on the phone. The best friend only lived across the road. It would have made more sense to go across and talk directly but somehow that would have broken the magic of the phone conversation! 

At least theirs was a private conversation. Nowadays, people live their lives in public more and more often. You hear details of divorce and more at top volume in mobile conversations carried out by people who have not realised that shouting does not make the phone call any clearer! Of course, not everyone needs a mobile phone to wash their dirty linen on public. The other day I walked behind a couple having a loud argument about some object that had been lost in the course of the afternoon. Although only a yard or so apart, both were shouting at the top of their voices. The small boy who was with them sensibly walked increasingly further ahead of them, disassociating himself from the row! 

We have managed to avoid a row with the Vodafone shop. In fact, we were extremely reasonable throughout our visit there and the Vodafone shop assistants were models of excellent customer service. For the most part we use internet cafes for our internet access but we have a mobile dongle, purchased fro Vodafone some years ago, which we use to check email in the flat and do things like check the bank accounts and order stuff online, the kind of transactions you don't want to do on a public wifi. This gadget has served us well for a few years now. We renew it whenever we are here, taking advantage of whatever offers the company has available this summer there has been a special offer, clearly aimed at holiday makers, a fair amount of internet time for €15 over a three month period. 

This was fine until we returned from our stay in Pontevedra, where we had not used the dongle at all, and discovered that it would not connect. In the shop, they contacted their customer service who said that, despite what our laptop showed, we had used up all our allowance. Somewhat sceptical about this, we nonetheless paid another €15 for a recharge. Within a week we had a repeat performance. Back to the shop we went! The young man who had sorted things last time was mystified and spent a good deal of time arguing the toss with customer service. Then light dawned. Nobody had told him to put in a special code when he last did the recharge. Consequently we had been charged at a different, faster, more expensive rate and our €15 had been consumed in double quick time. Contrite and a little embarrassed, despite it not being totally his fault, the young man sought, and got, permission from his manager to recharge our dongle at the shop's expense. 

Now, that is what I call customer service? 

I mentioned giant spiders the other day. Now, how about giant wasps? There I was, quietly going about my business, thinking about making a start on getting lunch organised yesterday when I spotted it: a huge, really HUGE, wasp. It must have been well over an inch in length. Its wingspan alone was almost an inch. It was the kind of thing to really give the heeby jeebies to an avispaphobe, or whatever you call someone with a pathological fear of wasps. 

Fortunately it was just flying around, without obvious signs of aggression. So I opened every possible window, hoping that the silly thing would leave of its own accord. No such luck! Instead it managed to fly between to two layers of double glazing and buzzed around there, having no idea how to get out. Neither did we have a clear idea of how to get him out. 

Summoning up all our bravery, eventually we had a go at sliding open the various bits of window, still trying to persuade him that a sharp exit was what was called for. But wasps must have extremely small brains for he remained there. Large, slim-waisted, black and yellow in colour. But mostly LARGE! 

Eventually he reached a position where all we could do was slide a section of window closed on him, pinning him against the frame. With much trepidation we investigated later and a still twitching form fell into the bottom of the window frame. Taking care not to be accidentally stung, I scooped him into a piece of kitchen roll and flushed him down the loo. Not very kind to the poor insect, I accept, but I have been stung by wasps of normal size and did not fancy taking my chances with this big fellow. 

I just hope none of his brothers and sisters come looking for him!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

El clima and where to live!

Winter is coming! Or so say the Stark family in Game of Thrones. 

Winter has arrived! or so says María who runs the Midcentury Cafe here in Vigo. 

This was confirmed by my panadera weather witch who was complaining bitterly about the climate here this morning. All the damp and mist and clouds aggravate her arthritis. This is what happens when you have a bad final week in August! Temperatures are still around 20, 21 degrees first thing in the morning, by the way. It's a good job my panadera does not live in Wales, that's all I can say. 

I came across some statistics about the best place to bring up children. The UK didn't make it into the top 20! The writer of the article tried to console us by saying that 22nd out of 41 is not bad but ... even so! It would seem that Mexico and Costa Rica are better places to raise a family. A German friend of mine was astounded to find her country in 7th place. Spain came 12th. 

The winning country was Austria, labelled as the best country for families because of a combination of children’s health and safety, children’s general wellbeing, a wide range of leisure activities for kids and family life in general. 

Finland ranked second and also topped a sub-category in the poll thanks to its quality of education. In fact, Scandinavian countries on the whole did well. 

You can see the full list below… 

1. Austria 
2. Finland 
3. Sweden 
4. Israel 
5. New Zealand 
6. Singapore 
7. Germany 
8. France 
9. Australia 
10. Luxembourg 
11. Denmark 
12. Spain 
13. Poland 
14. Philippines 
15. Mexico 
16. Canada 
17. Norway 
18. South Africa 
19. Bahrain 
20. Costa Rica 

Most people, of course, don't really have an awful lot of say in where they bring their children up. In theory, anyone can choose to go and live in a place that suits their beliefs and ideas but the practicalities of such a decision are not always easy. 

Meanwhile In the UK, mayhem continues regarding elections for leadership of the Labour Party. Friends keep telling me horror stories about people they know being barred from voting, despite becoming members or supporters of the party, for a variety of reasons, some being too left wing and some too right wing. Yesterday I found this in a piece by Tim Dowling, someone I enjoy reading in the Guardian: 

"My middle son received an email from the local Labour party, regarding the scrutiny of new membership applications. It’s not about his application – he joined six months ago, and appears to be considered something of a senior figure in the party – but about those of two boys in his year at school. One, the party suspects, is actually a Conservative supporter, and therefore faces expulsion “under clause 2.I.4.B of the Labour party rules”. The other, well, they’re just suspicious. Could my son please confirm that his classmate is a secret Tory, or provide assurances that his other classmate is as Labour as he claims?" 

Big brother is watching us; well, watching the Labour Party anyway. 

Maybe this is one of the reasons why the UK is not the best place to raise children!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Historical stuff

Waiting for the train from Pontevedra to Vigo yesterday afternoon (having had absolutely NO problems buying our tickets), we spotted a plaque on inner the wall of station, on platform 3. Platforms 1 and 2 remain as elusive as ever by the way. 

It was put up in July 1999. Maybe it has always been there and we have just never noticed it before. Perhaps it used to be situated elsewhere and has been moved to the station as part of recent refurbishments. Whatever the case, it celebrates the centenary of the extension of the railway line to Pontevedra in July 1899. Interestingly, the first railway company in Galicia appears to have been British, The West Galicia Railway Company Limited. So there has been a connection between Britain and Galicia for a good while. 

Of course, we already knew about the veneration for Sir John Moore in La Coruña, where he died in 1809 helping them fight against the French. In fact, no visit to that city is complete without a look at his tomb. But we had not heard about the railway connection. And where exactly is the John Trulock railway museum? And who was John Trulock anyway? 

A little bit of Internet detective work followed. 

I found out that there is a Museo do Ferrocarril de Galicia is in Monforte de Lemos and comprises a maintenance and restoration workshop for its collection of trains, and is the home of the tourist train, the "Galaico Expreso", which is a grand and beautiful exhibition Visitors can learn about the history of the railway in Galicia via the various kinds of traction vehicles, coaches and wagons that travelled on its railway tracks. There are guided tours and it's even possible to hire the tourist train to travel through Galicia pulled by steam locomotive. Well, there you go. 

But then I also found out about the Fundación Camilo José Cela, which exhibits objects related to the life and work of that writer. This seems to be in Padrón, where the little green peppers come from, not too far from here. And, incidentally, where the writer came from. It seems that in the same venue is the Railway Museum “John Trulock”. Trulock, Cela’s grandfather, was the manager of the West Galicia enterprise that installed the first railway line between Santiago de Compostela and Carril. The museum shows uniforms, personal and railway-related objects, even the steam locomotive called “Sestao”, placed in the gardens of the Foundation. 

But apart from that I have found very little stuff directly related to the West Galicia Railway Company and so I gave up on that topic. 

However, while we are on things historical, I came across an article about the horse ridden by the Duke of Wellington in the Battles of Waterloo. The owner of a stately home in Devon was having a clear out and came across a lock of hair from the horse's mane. Said lock of hair is going for sale by auction and is expected to fetch £5000!!! The horse was called Copenhagen. The good lady who was so excited to find the lock said, "Copenhagen’s colour was liver chestnut and, apart from the odd white hair, the colour of this piece of his mane is as vibrant as it was 200 years ago.” 

 I am reminded of people purchasing holy relics, saints' bones and the like! Are we sure this is the 21st century?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


I fully expected to write that we had managed to travel to Pontevedra this morning without problems. Not so. Our plan was to catch the 12.10 train to Pontevedra to meet our friend Colin for lunch. The last few times I have travelled from Vigo Guixar station, the queue for tickets has been interminable and the service slow. So I set off in plenty of time, leaving Phil finishing off this and that, planning to join me at the station in time for the train. Setting off early was more of an insurance policy than anything else. A little like carrying a just-in-case umbrella to ward off rain. 

I reached the station a good twenty minutes before the train was due to leave. Just as well I did! The queue was around 10 to 15 people long. Ten minutes later Phil joined me. I was still in the queue. There had been little forward movement. Shortly it became apparent that another taquilla was about to open, this time for "salida inmediata", in other words, immediate departure. We were first at the ticket window. The clerk proceeded to huff and puff and curse and swear at her computer, trying to make it cough up two tickets to Pontevedra with old biddies' discount gold cards. 

Meanwhile at the head of the other queue a small row was starting up. An Asian gentleman who had been there for at least ten minutes was getting more and more agitated. He began to say things in English, clearly not understanding what the ticket clerk was saying to him in Spanish. Within minutes both of them, clerk and customer, were shouting at each other, one in Spanish and the other in English. A classic communication breakdown situation. My nosy-parker instinct kicked in and I moved across and asked, in both languages, if I could help. Simple! The ticket clerk needed to see the credit card with which the original internet booking had been made. The customer thought he was asking to see his ticket, not his card, and was getting irate because he had shown all he thought he needed to show. Problem solved, neither party bothered to thank me! 

Meanwhile, our angry, cursing ticket lady had indicated we should move over to the window at the other end of the counter. By now we had less than five minutes before the train left. We offered to buy without the gold card, if that would speed things. Or indeed, to pay on the train. But no, she insisted that we had time and went on to punch our gold card numbers slowly into her computer and eventually to give us the tickets, for a grand total of €3.80. 

We dashed off to platform 15. The Asian gentleman was still busy at the other ticket window. 

We caught the train. It set off about five minutes late! 

 Now, Vigo Guixar is a modern station. It has only been open for the last three years, built as a stop gap while work began on the new station on Urzáiz. You would think that such a new station could operate without all these difficulties, especially as now the new station on Urzáiz is also working. Maybe they just put all the old computers in the Guixar station! Maybe they just put all the incompetent staff in the Guixar station! One of life's mysteries! 

We arrived at Ponters to find a message from Colin to meet him at 2.10 for lunch. We had an hour to kill. So off we went to the Sanfranciso, the "pijo" cafe with good wifi. On a whim I ordered iced mint tea. It came in the following form: a mini teapot full of hot water, a teabag in a neat little box, like the ones you get showercaps in when you stay in posh hotels, and a glass of ice cubes. As a rule when you order iced tea you get a little teapot, with the teabag already infusing as well as it can do in this country that truly has no idea how to make tea, and your glass of ice cubes. It works fine. But this time I had to put my teabag in the already cooling hot water and hope there would still be some kind of infusion. As if in consolation, it came with a tiny square of chocolate, nicely chilled! 

Perhaps I should just have ordered a locally made beer. I say this, tongue in cheek, so that I can comment on something I found as a headline the other evening in a local paper. "El bum de la cerveza artesana desata una fiebre emprendedora." loosely translated: the boom for microbreweries is taking off at a feverish rate. I love the Spanish version of boom! 

The mint tea, while not really fully brewed, was nonetheless quite refreshing.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Flies and spiders

As I shooed a small fly away from the breakfast table this morning Phil commented on the unusually large number of flies in the playing room at the chess tournament in Mondariz. Now, this was in a smart hotel. My experience in recent years is that there are remarkably few flies in smart hotels. What do they do to keep them out? 

In fact, there are fewer flies around in general than there used to be. Modern insecticides must have done for them. I can remember being on holiday in the 1970s in the French Pyrenees and flies being an almost expected part of the holiday. The farmhouse where we stayed had long (rather gruesome) strings of flypaper hanging from the ceiling in the main room on the ground floor. From the moment the sun came up, the flies woke up, flew around like idiots and were stuck on the fly paper! I wonder if they still have all those flies there. I suspect not. 

Then there are spiders, of which there are far more than I ever remember in my childhood, despite the greater number of flies for them to feed on. In our house in the UK, we regularly catch large spiders and throw them out of the window. Here in the flat in Vigo, I have not seen a single spider! Can they not climb up seven floors? Are lower floors infested with spiders? Do you find spiders in the "bajos", down at street level where spiders do not have to climb stairs to get in? Are there more spiders in British homes because more of us live in houses? 

I tried researching it on the internet and found all sorts of stuff about the kinds of spiders you can find in Spain but nothing about the frequency of house spiders. 

Now, I do know Spaniards who would say that it is because English houses are dirty. This is partly because they disapprove of the English habit of carpeting everywhere, including kitchens and bathrooms, a strange custom I have never understood. But on the whole it is one of those incomprehensible misconceptions. Almost every nation considers others less meticulous than themselves in cleaning habits. 

I have also heard puzzlement about the lack of mixer taps in English homes, not to mention showers (less so nowadays, although some English homes with older plumbing systems still only have bathtubs) and bidets. 

But I can imagine hoards of British housewives who dust and vacuum daily, if not more frequently, being very insulted at the idea that their homes are not clean! 

The fact remains, however, that spiders do invade English homes. And this year warnings are going out about large house spiders, affectionately referred to by one expert as the “golden retrievers” of the spider world, making their way indoors. The explanation is the warm weather enjoyed across the UK in the past months. Truly, that is what the article in the newspaper said! I am sure that many Spaniards of my acquaintance would hold their hands up in amazement. A German friend of mine , resident in Greater Manchester, who has complained about needing the heating on in recent "summer" months would agree with them. But there it is. 

Experts say that the "warm weather" has contributed to an accelerated growth of the house spiders, who despite their name, usually live outdoors. The male spiders migrate indoors at the end of the summer looking for a mate. Foolish males! Don't they know that female spiders are said to eat their mates after having their wicked way with them? 

These spiders can grow to be a large as 12 centimetres wide. For those of us who were not brought up in the metric system, that's about 4.5 inches. THAT IS HUGE!! 

A spider expert warned that the spiders' bite (yes, their BITE!) can be similar to a bee sting if the skin was pierced. She went on to say that this was unlikely to happen as long as people did not antagonise the insects and treated them sensibly. Should we really have to worry about "antagonising" spiders. If I saw one 12 centimetres wide I would be more concerned it might antagonise me! Goodness knows how our grandson will react of he finds out. We have enough trouble with his almost pathological fear of wasps. 

The arachnid expert went on to say, “The best thing is to put a container over them and scoop them up with a postcard and escort them out. The risk of a bite even inadvertently if you're in the garden is very small." Well, that's reassuring, isn't it? 

It's also quite good to know that my method of dealing with invading spiders is approved of by the experts. 

Though quite where one finds a container and a postcard of the dimensions to trap a 4.5 inch spider, without crushing its legs, let alone risking antagonising it, is another matter altogether.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Things you learn from reading packaging.

Basque is a strange language. I have been aware of this for a long time but whenever I come across it I am struck afresh by its strangeness. I probably became aware of it for the first time when I watched a documentary programme about ETA, years ago when they were still seriously blowing people and places up. I had seen Catalan written down and could work out a fair amount of it. I could even understand bits of it spoken. 

But Basque was a different kettle of fish altogether. I already knew it was one of the oldest languages in the world, surviving the Romans and other waves of invaders unchanged. But the harsh sounds amazed me. And then we visited the Basque Country and I came across a bunch of people who didn't say hello when they answered their mobile phones. Instead they appeared to say bye, more probably written as "bai", which I suspect means yes. I also learnt to say "agur" for goodbye. And hearing it on the streets, it didn't sound as harsh as it had when spoken by the lady in the documentary I saw. Perhaps she was the Basque equivalent of those Castilian-Spanish-speaking women, so many of them, who have a harsh, abrasive tone when they speak. 

So, what got me onto the strangeness of the Basque language? I went out in the pouring rain yesterday to buy coffee and gave in to the temptation to buy cookies. Although some people think that cookies and biscuits are the same, this is not so. Cookies are biscuits, yes, but not all biscuits are cookies. In the same way, people are mammals but not all mammals are people. 

Anyway, I bought cookies from Eroski, the supermarket that labels all its own brand goods in four Spanish languages: Castilian, Basque, Catalan and Galician. Cookies, a word that has been absorbed into the Spanish languages, although not properly hispanified (will it eventually become "cúqui" in the way "croissant" has become "curasán?), has become "cookieak" in Basque. Many plurals seem to be formed with that ... ak ending. "Ingredients" are "osagaiak". Maybe if I bought enough Eroski products and studied the packaging, I could learn a whole lot of Basque vocabulary! 

 Perhaps I should start looking for a teach yourself Basque series. A new project.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Reflections on the temperature. Again!

In yesterday's Voz de Galicia I read that the weather was going to deteriorate. Sure enough, this morning the cloud came down. Looking from our balcony, in one direction I could just make out the top of the Rande Bridge poking up out of the mist. In the other direction, the Islas Cíes had disappeared. Once again my weather witch bread lady had been right. She has been telling me all week, "Hay que aprovechar." A bit like carpe diem, you have to take advantage of it (the sunshine) while it's here. 

 The weather report also said the temperatures would go down. A maximum of 19 degrees in A Coruña and 30 in Orense. I don't think they'll be needing big sweaters and fur coats in Orense then. The temperature sign down at the roundabout was still showing 18 at 9.00 this morning. But it was cloudy and so the lady who walks her dog every morning and with whom I now have a nodding acquaintance, was wrapped up in her anorak, buttoned up to the neck. And there I was in shorts and a running vest! 

Last night I was strolling around in a sundress. This week Phil has been playing chess in Mondariz. Play starts at 5.00pm and he usually gets back to Vigo in the middle evening. So I go and meet him at the Midcentury cafe for a beer and a snack on his return. For the last few evenings at the same time there has been a group of women with a toddler: young mother, grandmother, another woman the grandmother's age, all giving attention to the curly blond cherub. Yesterday evening at about 9.30, with the temperature still registering 25 degrees, the grandmother was preparing to take the child outside. He wore a little denim jacket and was getting fidgety as she wrapped him up further in a denim shirt belonging to one of the ladies. She admonished little Mr Fidget, "¡Espera! Que hace frío. (Hold on! It's cold out there.)." 

I know that everything is relative and that even I felt the need to throw a wrap round my shoulders later as we walked home, but it was hardly cold! And besides, that child rushed about so much that he undoubtedly created his own central heating system. Earlier, returning from the counter in the cafe, where the owner María had been giving him a little cake, he spotted the open door and did a runner. Fortunately the ladies were not busy on their mobile phones or deep in conversation and were able to race after him. Much finger-wagging ensued and a lot of explaining about how dangerous it is to run away but the little cherub just gave me a wicked grin. 

After they had left, the Midcentury pretty much emptied. There was just me and a little group of people chatting to María at the bar. She was looking exceptionally in tune with her fifties music selection, hair up in a pony tail, quite full skirt cinched in at the waist, leaning over the counter to chat. She would have fitted in quite nicely to one of those films involving souped-up cars racing down the main street of a small American town. I wonder which came first, her look, her husband's selection of music ( for he seems to be her DJ) or the name of the cafe. 

Phil arrived too late to benefit from the music last night. The Midcentury closes at 10.00 and his group had been delayed by one of their number having a chess game go on and on and on. So I left the cafe and went to meet him along the way, still not yet feeling the need for an extra layer of clothing. 

That only came at the very end of the evening after a beer in a different cafe with a later closing time.