Friday, 22 August 2014

Books and Customer service.

I took my library books back on Wednesday. They were overdue. I had had a couple of reminders via email, telling me the books were overdue. Just in case I still wasn't aware of it the librarian looked at me sadly and severely over the top of his glasses and told me they were late back. I apologised and invented a story of how I had had to dash off somewhere "urgentemente", forgetting all about my library books. 

This was partly true. I had been to Pontevedra for chess events and general socialising and tourism. My original intention was to take the books with me and either return them to the library in Ponters or phone up the Vigo branch and renew them. In the event, however, my suitcase was full and I really couldn't be bothered adding more weight to it. So I left them in Vigo and eventually returned them on Wednesday, as I have said already. 

The sad, severe librarian shook his head and told me I was "sancionada" until September 17th. He was sorry about it but that's the way the system works. In other words, I cannot take any more books out until that date, not a great hardship because, as I may have mentioned before, the cataloging system there drives me crazy. I need to pre-select some reading matter before I go again. A little research is needed and then I will cross my fingers that they have the books I am looking for. 

I neglected to tell the sad, severe librarian that in the UK they would have fined me: a smallish sum of money but a fine nonetheless. Maybe I had better not suggest that to them. In the meantime I shall return to my trusty kindle for reading matter. 

I wonder why it is that some people, when put into a position of small responsibility such as checking books in and out of a public library, feel that they can adopt a morally superior tone when dealing with their customers. 

Before going to the library I had seen a perfect example of excellent customer service from a young man at the Vodaphone shop in the town centre. The SIM card we had bought on Monday to give us access to the internet on our laptop was clearly not working. It connected to the Internet fine but then dropped the connection if you stayed online for more than two minutes. So we took it back to shop and explained the problem to the young man who had served us originally. He tried various things, all to no avail, until eventually he exchanged our SIM card for a new one and checked that it worked fine. Good stuff! 

 Oddly enough, all of this process - the purchase of the original SIM card and the replacement with a new one - required Phil to show his passport. Before the SIM card could be activated, the young man had to enter the passport number into the system. To The British this obsession with identification seems somewhat over the top. To the Spanish, our casual disregard for identification systems seems extremely lackadaisical. Different strokes for different folks, as they say! 

 Yesterday was GCSE results day in the UK. There has already been controversy as some schools protest that the goalposts have been shifted once again and it has been made harder for students to achieve pass grades in Maths and English. They keep on fiddling around with the grade boundaries, the marks at which certain grades are awarded, which change each year anyway, thus making it hard to predict how students will perform. Maybe on last year's criteria our granddaughter would have achieved A* for English instead of simply A. How strange to dismiss grade A as not quite good enough!! 

I have been reading a book about Australia and how the penal colonies were set up there. Interestingly enough, at one point the British government, desperately seeking a solution to the prison overcrowding problem, considered setting up a prison settlement in Madagascar. Had they done so, I wonder how much of that island's unique flora and fauna would have survived to be wondered at in the modern age. Perhaps a fortunate accident of history? 

The history of the settling of Australia incidentally gives some insight into the prison system of the 18th century. You had to pay when you went into prison and there were charges for all sorts of things, including food and bedding. A wealthy man going into prison, undoubtedly a minority, could have quite a comfortable time of it. A poor man risked dying of starvation. And of course, it was also a kind of finishing school for crooks, offering the possibility to learn the tricks of the trade from more hardened criminals. Mind you, that might still be true today! 

 On the subject of crooks and evil-doers, we still do not know what the afar was all about outside our flats the other afternoon. when Phil went out in the early evening there were lots of police around but no indication of what had gone on. An unimportant (to us anyway) little mystery of life.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Weather, etiquette and such.

This year Galicia's summer has been described in some newspapers I have read as "un verano irlandés": an Irish summer, unusually rainy. Clearly Ireland is seen generally as the place where it rains all the time. While it's true that the summer has not been a 100% success while we've been here - there have been some dull days and there has been rain - it seems fine to me. Of course, I am looking at it from the perspective of someone whose country goes on heat wave alert if they predict more that 22 degrees temperature. The locals here want it to be around 30 degrees if they are going to call it a "proper" summer. 

On the plus side, and this even for those who complain about the lack of a "proper" summer, there have been no major forest fires around here. Last year the fire-fighting planes were out scooping up water from the bay at the end of June and the fires continued on and off throughout July and August. 

In the UK I have known people be fined for dropping cigarette ends in the street. However, that's usually because they don't want you to litter the streets. And I believe it's an anti-littering bye-law that is applied. Here in Galicia, if you travel on the roads you see signs reminding you that there are fines for throwing cigarette ends out of the car window! Not litter this time but the chance that you might set fire to the countryside. 

 We may be having lots of sunshine here but my friend Isabel's Portuguese friend complained yesterday that it was cold when she left Oporto in the morning: 12 degrees and fog until she crossed into Galicia. Then the sky was suddenly clear and the temperature went up. 

That fog can be tricky. There are reports of a section of road in the hills (only recently opened) having to be closed in some places because of accidents caused by fog. Now, I suspect that the road makers should have thought twice about building a fast road up there as it is well known that they get fog frequently. 

We have had sea mist drifting backwards and forwards up the estuary since quite early this morning. So far it hasn't reached us. It has to get really thick and heavy to affect our bit of Vigo. 

I hear that Merkel and Rajoy plan to walk some of the camino. Maybe they expect some divine guidance in running their countries. I hope they don't get lost like the young lady from Frankfort who got lost close to Finisterre and nearly fell of a cliff. She had to be rescued by emergency services. 

And now here's a bit of nonsense from France? A certain Nadine Murano, formerly Minister for Families in Mr Sarkozy's government, I believe, has been saying that it is a French woman’s duty to wear a bikini on a beach. 

 I didn't know a woman's patriotism was judged according to her beach wear. If so, there are some very patriotic Spanish women, bravely baring bodies that no longer look their best in bikinis. But maybe it only applies to French women. 

Seriously though, Ms Morano has provoked a political row by complaining that she had seen a Muslim woman sitting on a French beach in headscarf, long-sleeved tunic and trousers while her husband stripped off and bathed in the sea. 

 It seems she wrote on Facebook, “When you choose to come to a country of secular laws like France, you have an obligation to respect our culture and the liberty of women. Or you go somewhere else,” 

Equally seriously, I don't think it's anyone's business how someone else dresses on the beach. surely everyone is free to dress as they choose. If I were to appear on a beach in France in my one-piece swimsuit would I be considered culturally offensive? 

 Talking about culturally offensive, our ears continue to be assaulted by women who talk loudly, and I say this as a woman who can natter with the best of them. There was a bunch of them in a cafe where we stopped late this morning. All of them talked at once - no surprise there - but one in particular had that kind of fast-speaking, harsh-toned style that simply grates on the ears. They need a special zone in the cafe. 

As do the smokers. Hopefully, the laws regarding smoking in bars will be adapted some time in the future to insist on a section of the terrace reserved for them. The presence of hardened chain smokers can take away all the pleasure of sipping a drink on the terrace. 

And then there are the men who shout on the street. This afternoon we were treated to a full-scale row down on the street in front of our flats. We are too high to hear what they were arguing about but it was pretty fierce. Sticks and car repair tools of various kinds were wielded. A good deal of pushing and chasing was involved. One man kind of strolled around the bunch with a fierce-looking dog. But unless it appears in the paper and I accidentally come across it, we'll never know what it was all about. 

All is quiet again now, thank goodness.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

IT triumphs and tribulations. Other stuff.

As if I had not spent enough time in Pontevedra recently, today I went back there to have lunch with a friend. Walking around the old quarter, inevitably we ran into my friend Colin in Plaza de Verdura. Where else would he be? He was accompanied by a collection of young visitors. We had a little comment on the smallness of the world; you turn a corner on Pontevedra and come across someone you know. 

Apart from that my visit to Pontevedra was pretty much without incident. We ate in an Italian restaurant which, in my opinion, was slightly overpriced for the rather ordinary fare they offered. A nice enough risotto but I have eaten better food in Pontevedra. 

 It was quite pleasing, however, that before lunch, as we sat in the Savoy Café having a little refresco, my phone chirruped to let me know it had connected automatically to the cafe's wifi. It's always good when technology works. 

Yesterday we tried to make our technology work again, in other words our mobile internet connection. We wanted to do this on Saturday after returning to Vigo on the Friday. We were prevented from doing so by the bank holiday "puente". 

So off we went on Monday, hoping to get it sorted before the day grew too hot. Fat chance. Our intention was to recharge our "dongle" in the usual way with one giga for one month for €25 (IVA / VAT included) but when we got to the shop we found an advert for a new special offer system that would give us 1.5 giga for three months for €15. Who could resist it? So we asked about it. It was a matter of getting a new SIM card and putting it in our gadget. 

The only problem was that the shop we were in had run out of the SIM card packs. "Estamos rodeados de extranjeros" (We are surrounded by foreigners - more like overrun or overwhelmed!!) the shop assistant told us. And everyone tells us that foreign tourists don't often come to Vigo! 

 He suggested we should go to The Phone House, a mobile phone shop, in the A Laxe shopping centre. They were almost sure to have one. No, they didn't. They had never had them but suggested that we should try in the MediaMarkt store where there was a "stand de Vodaphone". (Note the use of "stand" creeping into everyday Spanish.) 

But they couldn't help either because they don't have the right kind of license. I think they could only sell Vodaphone accessories. For anything else you need a proper Vodaphone shop. 

They sent us to the town centre. So off we went, hoping against hope that there was one on Príncipe. Well, not quite but there was one on one of the side roads off the shopping street. Hooray!! We queued for a while and eventually purchased a new SIM card. Mind you, it's not yet working perfectly. It connects us to the internet just long enough to check your email but not quite long enough to reply to everything. If we don't find a solution soon, we'll be taking it back. 

Such a lot of running around for precious little result! And by the time we had stopped off in the Nuevo Derby to check our email using their wifi, we ended up walking home in the heat of the day. Not our plan at all. 

Other stuff. 

A volcano in Iceland, with the preposterous name of Bárðarbunga is said to be about to erupt, prompting fears of a repeat of the ash cloud crisis of 2010!! Most Icelandic volcanoes seem to have odd names but this one could have been chosen by Berlusconi. 

An old chap in California, backing into or out of his garage, drove his car into his swimming pool. He managed to get out of the vehicle and there was no-one in the pool. Good result! This is what happens when you try to drive in flip flops. Maybe he should give up driving. 

Another elderly man, Pope Francis, is talking about the possibility of retiring if he finds he can't do the job properly. Goodness! he's not been in the job five minutes and he's talking of giving up. OK, so he is talking about his deteriorating health but even so! He seemed to be doing very well. I blame it all on his predecessor, a certain Benedict who has been going round setting precedents! 

Whatever next?

Monday, 18 August 2014

After the event.

It's very quiet at our place now. We packed the boys off to Oporto yesterday to catch their plane back to the UK, after a flurry of suitcase weighing and adjustment of what was being carried where. 

 Coming back from the bus station where we saw them off, we stopped at what has been one of our regular wifi cafés for a long time, only to find that its wifi is still not working. That's at least a month now that they have been disconnected. Not good enough. Must try harder. So we read the newspapers, proper printed-on-paper newspapers, instead. 

La Voz de Galicia had a report about the plague of wasps that is afflicting the region. In a place called Cuntis an 80 year old woman died from stings from these nasty insects. Apparently they are not ordinary wasps but "avispas asiáticas", although I am not sure how you tell the difference. Perhaps these immigrant wasps are extra aggressive. Who knows? Whatever the truth of the matter, I got off lightly with my wasp sting in Pontevedra. 

There are also problems on the Rande Bridge, already acknowledged to be too narrow for the amount of traffic using it nowadays, and on the road to the seaside resort of Sanxenxo. A bridge and a beach too far? Or at least too many people using the bridge to get to the beach. 

I note that President Rajoy is promoting exercise and a healthy life style by running on the Ruta da Pedra e da Auga, near to where he is spending his holiday, accompanied by triathlete José Ramón Lete Lasa, accompanied on his run not his holiday, that is. I hope he manages to keep up with the triathlete. I also hope he runs at a sensible time of day, such as the early morning before it gets too hot. I am still surprised to see occasional runners at the hottest point of the day. It must be rather dangerous to run in temperatures close to 30 degrees!!! 

That's the end of the news round-up for today. 

 As usual I could be found cooling off down in the pool early yesterday evening. The officious pool "supervisor" was at his most efficient then, clipboard, at the ready, taking note of which flat everyone came from. Perhaps he wanted to impress as there were quite a few people there. On Saturday when I went down to the pool with the chess boys he merely waved us through, only checking that they were with me. But there were very few people there so, obviously, there was less call to impress. That's my current theory anyway. Or, of course, when I went down yesterday it was later and he had had time to get bored. So perhaps he just needed to give himself something to do. 

Today we get back to something like normal, after a few weeks of being busy with organising stuff. Whatever will we do to fill our time?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bridges

Towards lunchtime on Friday we went along to see what was happening at the chess simultaneous display just near the cathedral in Pontevedra. Coincidentally and simultaneously we almost got involved in a procession from the cathedral. It was a curious affair, vaguely reminiscent of the Whit Friday Sunday school processions back home in Saddleworth, with people marching behind large banners. The difference was that they also had a statue from the church which was paraded around. Small girls in their first communion dresses and small boys in their first communion sailor suits walked in stately fashion, accompanied by proud parents, all dressed up to the nines. 

Curiously, they came out of the cathedral, marched round the square where our boys were playing chess and then went back into the cathedral. Compared with our Whit Walks, it was a very short procession. Compared with the Easter processions in places such as Seville and Salamanca, it was a very short walk indeed. But they did have a marching gaita band, with the gaita players in traditional Galician dress, complete with silly hats. 

Some of the ladies wore very high heels, which looked far too uncomfortable to walk any distance in. (Maybe the procession was short in consideration of these ladies' feet!)
One lady in particular looked almost inappropriately dressed for a church affair: wearing a very chic off the shoulder number, as if she were off to a party. Maybe she was off to a party after the procession. Phil wondered aloud what high heels had to do with religion. I replied that perhaps the wearers of these monstrously high heels felt a little closer to Heaven! 

When processions and chess were over and done with, we were given a lift up to the Mercantil sports facilities where the tournament had taken place. There we partook of a "churrascada", basically a kind of barbecue, lots of cooked meat and chorizo eaten on stone tables in the barbecue area of the Mercantil premises. It was excellent apart from the huge number of wasps who wanted to join in the fun. The insect-bite cream that I have been carrying around for the last week or so came Into its own once more when a small Spanish boy, helping to clear up, was stung by one of these angry insects. Suddenly this very competent little chess player was just a very hurt little boy. So I administered cream and did my bit to further consolidate Anglo-Galician relations!! 

 Then it was off to the station with the boys: a happy bunch of English with our wheelie suitcases. We wanted to get back in time to go to the bus station to buy tickets from Vigo to Oporto for the boys for Sunday when they return to the UK. 

Having discovered that the supermarket next door to our flats was closed, I was afraid that the Alsa office might also be closed. All was well, however, and we successfully bought tickets. All good. 

On our way back I even managed to find a bread shop which sold milk. This was a relief because otherwise a very English cup of tea might have been an impossibility. 

Later, we marched the boys into town to have some tapas at the Porchaba. We HAD to have tortilla but we also introduced them to "setas con jamón" - oyster mushrooms with Iberian ham. A great success. 

This morning the supermarket was still closed. Of course, this a "puente"' a bank holiday weekend. I have no idea why this is a bank holiday weekend. possibly on Friday was an actual holiday and the Spanish have done that thing of "making a bridge (un puente)" and adding Saturday to it, thus making a long weekend. If we were in Italy this would be the "ferragosto", the annual August holiday. Does the same apply in Spain? 

 Whatever the reason, the supermarket is closed and we will be forced to go out to lunch once again. It's such a hard life!!!

Friday, 15 August 2014

When you come to the end of a ...

And so we come to the end of another chess tournament. As I type, our boys are playing in a simultaneous exhibition in the sunshine in front of the cathedral here in Pontevedra. A couple of chess bigwigs, one Grand Master and one Spanish junior star, play all comers, all at the same time, moving from board to board. It's a special kind of chess showing-off. 

The tournament, though, is over. Phil won the veteran's prize once again. He now has two trophies. We have decided that he can use them as book-ends. 

(Sitting here in a wifi cafe, Phil has just asked me if I am logged on. Not at all. I wondered if he was having a slow connection and thought that I was interfering with his logged-on-ness. From now on, that is his title: His Logged-on-ness Philip Adams. To be addressed formally as "Your Logged-on-ness".) 

The chess boys were in a state of nervousness last night, having heard stories of tricks played on sleepers (or even non-sleepers) in the bunkhouse. I hesitate to call it a dormitory as it really is rather barracks-like. There was talk of people being smeared with toothpaste in previous years apparently. They have not reported anything involving toothpaste but one of the boys did wake up to find sunflower seeds around his suitcase. On opening it, he found his suitcase "full" - probably an exaggeration - of sunflower seeds. This could be just what is needed to tip his suitcase over beyond the 10 kilo limit imposed by Ryanair. One of his young compatriots smiled innocently at the suggestion that he might be responsible. Boys will be boys, and all that sort of thing. 

There was a procession of giants making its way past our hotel as we checked out this morning. Quite delightful! I have yet to hear of such a thing going on in the UK. No doubt someone will tell me I am wrong about this. Liverpool had to resort to importing giant puppeteers from France, I think, when they wanted to organise a fantastic parade through the city recently. We do have Morris dancers, I suppose. Does that make up for the lack? I remain unconvinced, although they try to put to on a good show. The dance they do where they end up with woven swords is rather impressive, after all. 

In our hotel there was a collection of books, presumably left behind by other guests, which you could borrow if you wanted a change from watching processions and mad marching bands. I have been perusing one of Stephen Fry's autobiographies. I understand he has written several. This one was about his childhood. At one point he talked about "hello", which before the 1890s was only used as an expression of surprise, à la Bertie Wooster. This is what I learned from Mr Fry: 

"The very word 'Hello' only earned its sense of a greeting after the American phone companies hunted about for a new word with which telephone conversations could politely, unsuggestively and neutrally be initiated, much as the BBC in the 1930s threw open the debate as to what someone who watched television might be called. The wireless had listeners; should television have watchers?" 

 I have some doubts about "unsuggestively". We have a friend who can make "hello" sound extremely suggestive. 

Another odd Fry fact: Alexander Graham Bell is reported to have said he believed that there would be a time when every major town in America would have a telephone. Not very town, just every major town! I wonder what he would think about today's situation, with mobiles everywhere. 

The Apeles charanga band has just marched enthusiastically, rhythmically and loudly (but still rather out of tune) past the cafe. I wonder what they do for the rest of the year!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dancing, eating and making merry!

Yesterday there was dancing in the streets of Pontevedra. I was on walkabout and heard the music. Along the street came a sort of procession with a band and a bunch of people in traditional costume. They stopped, the band lined up at one end of a square, the procession formed into a circle and then it all started. 

The music began again and the circle people began to dance. White van man tried to run them over at one point but they just ignored him and he managed to manoeuvre himself around them. There was some tutting from the crowd of onlookers. A pretty good spectacle. After that they moved on and, presumably, did the same in another square of the town. 


Later in the day I saw another band who from a distance looked as though they were dressed up as elves. However, when I got close enough to see their headdresses properly I realised that they were In fact dressed as chickens!!! 

I missed the Batalla de las Flores which was scheduled for later in the day, as we went up to the chess venue where I made good use of the pool once more while Phil worked on consolidating his lead for the prize for highest scoring veteran. All I saw of the Batalla de las Flores was lots of confetti on the pavement later. We had arranged to take our boys into Pontevedra to eat in the evening. It seemed a shame for them to be here without having a chance to sample some genuine Galician tapas and to see the town a little. So our friend Colin had booked us a table at El Pitillo restaurant and we planned to meet him there at 8.30. 

Of course, Sod's Law came into play, didn't it? On Monday and Tuesday all the boys and Phil had finished playing by 8. Yesterday at 8.20 Phil and two of the boys were still slaving over a hot chessboard. So I has to contact Colin and tell him about the delay, hoping to get everyone there for 9 at the latest. 

Now, El Pitillo has become a very popular restaurant. Tables are in demand. So poor Colin was in danger of being lynched sitting at a table, in fact two tables together, just quietly waiting while people queued. However, he stoically put up with the black looks and eventually we all joined him and tucked into tortilla, calamares, pescaditos fritos, croquetas, pimientos de Padrón and a very frightening chorizo al infierno. 

This last was a spicy chorizo sausage on a skewer, balanced over a dish of burning oil. A little bit scary, especially as none of us really know how to put the flames out. But we coped. We are British, after all. And I am told that the chorizo was very tasty. It's not really my thing. I have no objection others eating it but I don't do so as a rule. 

So we had a pleasant evening. Everyone was grateful to Colin for his bravery in facing the other customers while waiting for us and to Cris, waitress and owner's daughter at the restaurant, for being her friendly charming self. 

Eventually we put the boys in a taxi and sent them back to the "campamento". As they set off, I phoned the chess camp monitor so that he could go and open the gate for them I assume his went as planned as we have not had frantic phone calls from boys who had to sleep in the road. 

 Today is the last day of the tournament. The moment of truth approaches. Will any of them qualify for prizes or trophies. I wait with bated breath. 

Well, no, not really. I'll be in the pool again.