Monday, 31 December 2012

Another year over!

Here we are, rushing towards the soggy (around here anyway) end of 2012. In rather less than 12 hours' time it will be 2013; indeed, in some parts of the world it already is 2013. We are rather hoping that the weather lady who promised on TV last night that the rain should stop before midnight is correct. Following one of our traditions, we are off to a friend’s birthday party tonight and plan to walk home in the small hours of the morning. Experience proves that even when you book a taxi for one or two o’ clock on New Year’s morning it’s impossible to get one. Besides, strolling home means we walk off the alcohol and avoid starting the New Year with a huge hangover. Hence our hope that the rain will have gone by then. 

Anyway, Christmas has come and almost gone, although a friend of mine still has to celebrate it next Monday as she is married to a Ukrainian. But we have done most of the traditional visits and lunches out with various members of the family. The usual suspects have come to stay and I have cooked inordinate amounts of food. After tonight’s no doubt excellent party meal, soup, poached eggs, beans on toast and other such things should be the order of the day for the rest of the week. And then maybe I’ll think about other meals and tackle the supermarket once again. 

One tradition I didn’t join in with was the Boxing Day Sales madness, which by all accounts excelled itself this year. People started queuing not long after midnight on Christmas Day to get into stores like John Lewis in London. What an unbelievably strange way to end Christmas Day: eat a large meal, pull crackers, watch a bit of Christmas telly and then go and sit in the cold for hours in order to bag a bargain. I know that some of those bargain-hunters were folk who don’t celebrate Christmas but not all of them. Many shoppers were boasting about buying stuff ready for NEXT Christmas, for goodness sake!!!! 

Meanwhile, in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia yesterday they celebrated the “Traslación de los Restos del Apóstolo”, something that they do every year on December 30th by all accounts. I wondered if they actually moved the saint’s bones around so I did a bit of research. And the answer is no. This is the celebration of his remains arriving in Spain. Legend has it that after Pentecost, when the disciples were given the gift of tongues and went out to spread the word, good old James (for the uninformed, Santiago = Saint James) and a few of his followers went to Spain, particularly Galicia, to preach. So when he was beheaded it was logical that his followers should steal his remains and take them to Galicia. After finding a nice grotto to put him in, some of the chaps went back to the Holy Land while others stayed on in Spain to do some more preaching. 

Whether you believe all that is up to you, of course, but the Spanish do know how to celebrate such legends in a big way. The Presidenta del Parlamento de Galicia, Pilar Rojo, stood in for the king at this ceremony and asked the Apostle Santiago to please intervene and help sort out the crisis in Spain. 

Goodness knows it needs sorting out. I’ve read that prices of flats in Galicia are down to 2001 levels. People are still unable to buy many of them because the banks will only give loans for the purchase of properties owned by them. So it goes. Here’s a link to an album of photos of the crisis in 2012 from the newspaper La Voz de Galicia .

 As I run, walk, drive around our rather grey and damp area of the northwest of England, I still see loads of houses and gardens festooned with brightly lit Christmas decorations. Either the people who live in those houses are not affected by the crisis or they are making a last-ditch attempt to cheer themselves through it. 

This has led me to reflect on the Christmas decorations of my childhood, including paper streamers which stayed up until my brother and I had had our birthday parties in January. Our Christmas tree was always in the front room. (Do you remember “front rooms”? The room where the “best” furniture was almost only used for show. In the days before every household had a TV set you only went in the front room for special occasions or when Grandma came for Sunday tea.) We didn’t have plug in electric tree lights but candles which clipped onto the branches of the tree. Consequently, the tree could only be illuminated under supervision and over the Christmas period we made extra use of the front room as we had a kind of ritual lighting of the candles and would all admire the tree in its glory for a while. The candles were then extinguished to avoid danger of setting the paper garlands (and eventually the house) on fire. 

Now, my mother rather looked down on those who put up their tree actually IN the window, in a position where then the curtains were drawn the only people who could see the tree were passers-by. Partly she couldn’t see the point of depriving yourselves of the tree after drawing the curtains but also she regarded it as rather “common”. And the last thing you wanted to be at that time was “common”. 

I rather suspect she would have something to say about the people who decorate the outside of their houses with glowing inflated Santas and reindeer!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Stuff.

Well, we got through Christmas Day. 

Santa came, as expected and left presents under the tree. We all ate far too much as usual but amazingly, also as usual, there seems to be almost as much turkey meat left as we started with. 

We were promised a band of rain moving across the country today so when we got up this morning and saw some blue sky we set off for a walk early. Relatively early anyway. Mid to end of the morning instead of mid to end of the afternoon. And the promised band of rain did arrive. By three o’clock I had drawn the curtains to shut out the dull and dismal end of the daylight. We’re past the winter solstice and the days are supposed to get longer now but it’s still too soon to see a noticeable difference. 

 It could be worse though. Scanning Spanish newspapers online I came across a photo of someone cycling in Amsterdam ... under an umbrella. The writer of the article talked about an average of 190 to 210 rainy days per year in Amsterdam. That’s 18 days per month. No wonder they need legalised drugs to help cheer them up. I shall stop moaning about the weather forthwith. Well, for a while anyway. 

I also read about an unusual kind of protest that has taken place in Santiago de Compostela. Recently lots of people in Spain, as in the UK, have been made homeless because the banks have foreclosed on their mortgages and reclaimed the houses. To draw attention to this a group calling themselves FARTAS (Fomos Armala Raptando Temporalmente Ao Susiño) stole/kidnapped the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene in the Obradoiro in the centre of Santiago. They then shut him up in the doorway of a bank, one of those where you can go in and use he ATM machine. All of this was made into a video which they put on Youtube so that people would know what was going on. 

At least they didn’t leave him out in the cold. Eventually he was found by bank workers and rescued. Much to the relief of those who care look after the Nativity scene and to the interest and amusement of tourists to the cathedral precinct, baby Jesus was reunited with Mary and Joseph early this morning. 
  
 I wonder if it will make any difference to the homeless.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ready for Christmas

Well, I’ve wrapped the presents, peeled the sprouts, chopped a range of other vegetables and baked a variety of cakes and puddings. All I need to do tomorrow is pot the turkey into the oven and let everything cook nicely. Mind you, it’s not a full turkey; it’s one of those strange things they call a “turkey crown”, in other words a sort of turkey body without wings or legs. Why is it called a “crown”? Whose decision was that? 

It’s that time of year when you field a whole string of questions along the lines of “What can I get for X for Christmas?” Even this morning as I jogged along the local bridle path my phone pinged. It was my son with yet another demand for inspiration. Goodness! It’s hard enough for ME to decide what to buy for some people. And then there’s television. 

Why is it that Christmas makes the programmers believe that we are all brainless idiots who need lots of nonsense like “The Spice Girls’ Story”? Oh, I do know that there is some decent stuff on as well (and that TV as a rule can be pretty mind-numbing) but there is definitely a move to put on stuff that needs little thought. 

As I type this I am listening to reports of further heavy rain about to fall on many parts of the UK. I’m very glad not to be one of the many who are trying to travel around the country and finding that floods have got in their way. And of course there are loads of people trying to do just that: travel to wherever their family is to spend the holiday with them. All this to celebrate the birth of a baby! 

I did hear a man of the church explain on the radio this afternoon that in the early days of Christianity they didn’t really celebrate Christmas at all. Easter, as you might expect, was the important celebration. However, gradually Christmas crept in, replacing the old Roman mid-winter saturnalia. Of course, we’ve known for a while that the timing of Christmas was shifted to match the winter solstice celebrations but the presenter of the programme was a little surprised to hear a man of the cloth state that. He had asked his what Christmas was all about, expecting a lot of stuff about the birth of the baby Jesus and got a rather different answer. 

 Finally, I’ve just read an article in La Voz de Galicia about the Cuadrado family in Ferrol. One of an amazing 40,000 “familias numerosas” in Galicia (what happened to the falling birth rate?), the Cuadrados have 10 children and another on the way. Mar, the mother of this amazing brood who range from 14 years old to twelve months of age, seems remarkably calm about having another on the way. Apparently she always wanted a large family but had thought of five and then just carried on having more! It’s quite daunting to think of being pregnant on and off for about 15 years. The father of the gang is a university professor so we can’t put it down to simple ignorance. 

I bet they have a busy Christmas!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Justice?

This week I’ve read two reports of people being sentenced for abuse of social media. 

There’s a chap from Portonovo, Sanxenxo, who was a little peeved that his girl finished with him and took his revenge by posting photos of her semi-naked on the web. He was sentenced to a year in prison. 

Then there’s the bloke who hacked into the accounts of various Hollywood such as Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson and stole photos of them. Among other images he posted photos of Miss Johansson, also semi-naked. He’s been sentenced to 10 years! 

Miss Scarlett has apparently declared herself to be feeling “humiliated and ashamed”. I expect the young lady from Sanxenxo felt the same way. Unfortunately for her, she is not a big name star and so she only feels one year’s worth of humiliation and shame. I wonder why this is. Clearly if you are someone who might get her kit off in a film or in a music video and get paid for it, having your photos posted on the web without your permission merits a much bigger sentence for the perpetrator. 

Of course, all of this will be immaterial if the world does in fact end tomorrow as the Mayan calendar predicts. I understand that the shopkeepers of Príncipe, one of Vigo’s main shopping streets, are using the end of the world as an excuse to stay open until midnight tonight. End-of-the-worlders can depart having spent plenty of money. And then they say that you can’t take it with you! 

Apparently they are putting out a red carpet on Príncipe for the shoppers so I hope that the rain keeps off. For some parts of the Galicia coast have been on yellow alert for storms and high tides. Mussel beds off Cambados have been destroyed by the bad weather.The picture looks more like a plane crash than anything else.

So it’s not just the UK that’s been having perhaps more than its quota of rain and stormy weather. Around here, the scenery which was looking like a Christmas card in the recent cold spell has withdrawn once again into general greyness. And tonight there are more than 50 flood warnings around the UK.

It’s a good job we’ve got the festival of overindulgence to look forward to … provided the world doesn’t end tomorrow after all!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Languages.

Half-listening to the radio this morning I caught the tail end of a programme where a Dr Mark Turin talked to some people in New York who are working to preserve the minority languages of America. They had discovered that it was quite possible to investigate the minority languages of South America in New York City, without expensive field trips to other places, because their are so many languages spoken in New York itself, some 800 or so. They also made use of someone broadcasting in one of the South American languages who asked his listeners to contact the academics if they spoke an unusual language. And so they made contact with speakers of a whole range of odd and probably rapidly disappearing languages. 

One of the interesting things they mentioned was the fall and rise of Yiddish. Apparently there were flourishing Jewish communities in and around New York at the end of the 19th century where most people spoke Yiddish all the time. As the members of these communities became more affluent and spread out into other areas the use of Yiddish diminished but academic interest has led to a kind of rebirth. People are going to classes to learn the language. One of the teachers they interviewed spoke about taking his students to visit a Hassidic Jewish community who still use Yiddish among themselves. There they found that modern vocabulary has been borrowed from English and incorporated into the old language. This is all part of language NOT being set in stone but being a living entity.

One of their interviewees had spent a good part of her life in education, often teaching immigrant children to speak English. In the past she had been involved in movements to educate children of immigrants in their mother tongue. At the time she had been very much in favour of this; Spanish-speaking children were educated in Spanish, Chinese-speakers in Chinese and so on. Now, however, she was very much an advocate of educating them all in English so that they all had a greater chance of equal opportunities in later life when seeking employment. (I wonder if the advocates of education in Basque, Catalan and Gallego have considered this factor.) Interestingly she was not totally convinced about the arguments in favour of the United States having only one official language: English. 

It would probably be possible to do a similar study of language use in Greater Manchester. According to something I read this weekend Manchester has one of the largest ranges of languages spoken in the United Kingdom. Although nowhere near as big a London, Manchester compares very well with the capital in terms of diversity. It’s one of the things that give the city a buzz as you walk around: a linguistically colourful place.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

On water, milk and alcohol – with a little politics thrown in.

While we’ve been having floods in the UK and continue to have precipitation of one kind or another (rain, sleet, snow) far more frequently than is really necessary in the Orense province of Galicia a village has reappeared after being drowned under an artificial since 1992. The dam generates electricity for a Portuguese company and all they say about the reappearance of Aceredo is that it’s the result of low rainfall. Whatever the reason it’s generating lots of interest among tourists and former residents of the old village, looking with nostalgia at the place where they grew up. 


Something else, or rather someone else, popping up again, this time in Italy is Berlusconi. The tax evader and risqué party organiser has declared his intention to stand as a candidate in next year’s presidential elections. Cynics say that he wants to protect his business interests but he maintains he is standing out of a sense of responsibility and the desire to serve his country once more. Now doubt my Italian teacher will be tearing her hair out with this news. 

I have been known to speculate on the reason why it is sometime difficult to find fresh milk in Spanish supermarkets. Litres and litres of the sterilised (uperizada) stuff are always available but you have to go out of your way to find a source of proper fresh milk. Eroski and Froiz are usually a good bet but I’ve never found it in Día or some of the other supermarkets. Today I read that 70% of Galician-produced milk leaves the area, much of it going into the hands (or possibly tanks) of French or Swiss companies. Why?? Time for a campaign to keep more of that Galician milk in Galicia perhaps. 

Meanwhile in the UK a different kind of drinking is rumoured to be on the decline. New studies maintain that binge-drinking among the young, especially among students, is reducing. Maybe the students have finally decided that with university costs being so high they can’t afford to carry on drinking to excess. Somebody from Warwick University said that students are staying in more. “Social media now accounts for a lot of students’ leisure time. When going out, they are finding other ways to socialise.” Maybe those science fiction predictions of a society where people stay in their own little pods, communicating electronically but never leaving their own space, are coming true. 

It’s an interesting idea but I’ll reserve judgement on that one, I think.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

More odds and ends.

A few posts ago I talked about the possibility of Cataluña becoming n independent state. Now it seems that there have been demonstrations in Barcelona in favour of remaining Spanish. 

Under the banner “España somos todos” (We are all Spain) around 7000 people marched through the city and eventually spread out a giant flag of Spain in Plaza de Sant Jaume in front of the Palau de la Generalitat. Maybe Spain can remain one country after all and maybe come out of the economic hole it has sunk into. 

Princesses have been in news both in Spain and in the UK. In the Spanish press I found an article saying that, contrary to rumours, no-one is putting pressure on the Infanta Cristina to stop being an Infanta (I always thought that just meant she was daughter of the King of Spain and so I wonder if it’s possible to stop being one.) and/or to divorce her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín. He has been in the news for economic shenanigans but, despite the seriousness of that, it may not be grounds for divorce. 

The other princess is our Kate (Catalina to the Spanish) who is now safely out of hospital. Apparently they announced the pregnancy so early because they wanted to be the ones who made it public instead of having it leak out through tweets and twitters. Living in the public eye must be hard. 

Here in the semi-frozen North of England the cold and damp continue but I notice that inland parts of Galicia have already been having snow. White Christmas is clearly on its way. 

Having avoided the switching on of the Christmas lights in our village centre last weekend, I have now found photos of that same ceremony going on in Pontevedra. We are fast approaching the day when Christmas is the same everywhere. One aspect of this is the way people from all sorts of places, including other parts of Europe, flock to Manchester to visit the Christmas markets – that is the GERMAN Christmas markets! So it goes. 


 Looking further south, I understand that the Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba has been declared “patrimonio inmaterial de la humanidad”. This translates more or less as “intangible heritage”. So it’s not the patios themselves, pretty as they are, but the fiesta. It’s not the buildings that matter so much as what people do to celebrate them. 

I think that’s rather a fine idea.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

This and that.

Weather extremes are getting closer to home. 

There was a knock on our door yesterday. The tenant of the basement flat next door was just checking we weren’t having problems with our basement kitchen. She had woken up to several inches of water in her bathroom. Our houses are built in such a way that you go in through the front door and then go downstairs to what should be a cellar but opens onto the back garden. When we moved in we made the basement area into the kitchen/dining room. When the old lady who lived next door moved out a few years ago the basement was converted into a separate flat. However, the damp proof course they put in appears to have been defective or at least unable to withstand the downpours of recent months and the current tenant has had to move out while things are sorted out. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t suffer a similar fate. 

I talked about downpours but in fact over the last few days we have had some brilliant sunny days in between the grey and wet. It has meant some very cold weather so that on Saturday morning my run almost turned into a skating session. It’s quite disturbing to turn a corner and find yourself running on black ice! Not my idea of fun! 

Then on Sunday we went out with a friend of ours for what was meant to be a shortish walk. Three hours later we got back home, having picked our way over frozen paths and trying hard not to fall over. 


The views were magnificent as usual on such a clear day. And we came across some very odd “standing stones”: rather like a mini version of Carnac in Brittany. 

On Monday the rain returned but we were not bothered. We were off to Manchester for lunch with an old friend. He works for one of the TV news programmes and as we got to the end of our meal he received a phone call asking him to go and present a breaking-news story which he had to decline, having helped us consume a couple of bottles of wine. Besides, I suspect he probably should have been in London to do it. 

The story turned out to be the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge, a story that I’m already heartily fed up of. The prospect of almost eight months of up-dates on her condition, speculation about the gender of the baby and what s/he will look like and numerous articles about the whole business is more than daunting. We’ve already had a lot of hoo-ha about where this tadpole will be in the queue for the throne: so much talk about the fact that a girl could inherit even if she were to have a little brother later that it will almost be a disappointment if we discover that the child is male after all. 

And today came the news that an Australian radio show managed to telephone the hospital where poor Kate is busy being sick and managed to convince someone that the person phone was Her Majesty. (Have they not heard all the reports and discussion of press intrusion down there in the antipodes?) Someone is going to be in trouble on the switchboard of that hospital!! 

That’ll do for now. Time to get back to making those lists of stuff I need to do before the man in the red suits is due to come ho-ho-ho-ing down the chimney.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Border Matters

So Catalonia might be getting a step closer to leaving Spain, or at least a step closer to a referendum on leaving Spain. I continue to be amazed at this obsession with separatism. Why do places like Catalonia and Scotland want to go it alone? Will life really be better for them if they are a small stand-alone unit instead of part of a bigger, possibly supportive, entity? Oh, I understand the identity issue. Almost everyone wants to feel part of a group of some kind. But surely it’s possible to be Scots AND British, Catalan AND Spanish. I personally feel quite Mancunian even though I wasn’t born in this area. Our son, born in Saddleworth (Oldham, Greater Manchester) got very distressed during the riots of summer 2011 because of what they were doing to HIS city: London! Nationality, like city-loyalty, is a relative thing. And as a matter of fact I usually feel more European than anything else. 

And then there is the question of who gets to vote. Do Scots (i.e. born in Scotland to longstanding Scots families) who live in other parts of the UK or Catalans (same criteria) who live in other parts of Spain have the right to vote in a referendum about separation from the rest of their “country”? What about all those Andalusians who have emigrated to Catalonia in search of work (Catalonia has been referred to as the ninth province of Andalucía) and stayed there? Do they get to take part in the decision-making? I’ve not even begun to get my head round the question of whether the rest of us should have some say in a bit of our country splitting off. Just working out who votes is going to be hard enough. 

 Borders seem to be cropping up in news stories in other forms as well. There is Saudi Arabia where apparently they send text messages to husbands when women leave the country – or probably before they actually leave. Surely the husbands know already as they have to give permission for their women to travel! I like the way they make use of the trappings of modern life to maintain attitudes which are positively medieval. 

I read today about someone who was questioned about her relationship with the child travelling with her (her one-year-old daughter) because they had different surnames. This was the UK Border Agency being over zealous in checking passengers on the Eurostar. She was asked to prove that this was her daughter and was advised to carry her marriage certificate or the child’s birth certificate with her in future. I wonder how the UK Border Agency has coped all these years with Spanish mothers whose surnames are different form those of their children. 

While we are on the subject of travelling, it seems that some UK universities are now offering free classes in foreign languages – European and non-European – to students on other courses. The take-up has surprised them and they have had to increase the number of classes available. It might be the fact that these classes cost nothing and students feel that as they have paid such extortionate fees to go to university they might as well get something extra back. Or maybe it’s bit of maturity; UK students are finally realising that having the ability to speak another language is an asset. Whatever the reason, it’s good to see people learning languages. 

I even have personal evidence of this trend towards language learning. I am Facebook friends with a number of ex-students. The majority of these are students who took a foreign language for A-Level but some are ex-members of tutor groups. Now, among the latter group an increasing number have decided, often having completed degree courses in something scientific, to go and spend a year as an au pair in order to convert their GCSE French/German/Spanish into something more fluent. Most of them at sixth form college would have run a mile rather than continue with their language studies. (Is it something wrong with the GCSE courses that puts them off?) 

Of course, it may be simply that they are putting off the eventual search for a “proper job” but I like to think it’s the desire to get to know another culture through learning its language properly.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sunshine.

For the last few days we have been playing “chase the sun”. This involves choosing the moment between torrential rainstorms to go out for a walk and catch whatever sunshine there is around before it sets behind a hill. One of the disadvantages of living where we do is that the sun disappears very quickly once it decides to go down. Too many hills! 

 One of the advantages is that we are far enough up one of the hills to avoid any possible flooding, thank goodness! We are very much aware that other parts of the country have had much worse weather than we have. It does not, of course, stop us moaning. 

But yes, we have come off lightly. A fair few mud puddles around but otherwise this is the worst flooding we seem to have around here. 

However, we are not too successful in the game of “chase the sun” as it usually shines on the hill some distance away from where we happen to be walking. 

Today, though, we doubled back, going past the rather pretty church at Dobcross – church which always looks as though it belongs in some other country – and got to the top road in time to catch some rays. 

It’s that time of year, you see, when Phil wants to catch the rays instead of dodging them which is what he tries to do for most of the summer months. 

All this sun chasing reminded me of the article I read about San Francisco where they have had to introduce a new by-law to prevent people from walking around naked. One chap pictured in the paper likes to make his way to a local square with his folding chair, take his clothes off and sit in the sunshine to read. Others just like to stroll around in their birthday suits, getting all the healthy vitamin D from the sunshine. That’s all very nice but why can’t they do it in their own gardens? Or go to a nudist beach? And what’s wrong with a pair of shorts, for goodness sake? And is it only the men who indulge in this habit? Or do the ladies of San Francisco insist on equality and show off their golden bodies to all and sundry? I wonder!!! 

This led me on to reflecting about the naked rambler, a gentleman who likes to roam the highways and by-ways, bridle paths and hiking trails of the UK with nothing but his boots and a sunhat. Why would you? It just sounds silly to me. I notice that we don’t hear much of him at this time of year. Sensible chap 

 Maybe he winters in California.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Falls.

When my alarm rang this morning I got out of bed, opened the curtains, saw the rain coming down, closed the window and got back into bed to watch the rain. Yesterday I got up and did my usual run along the Donkey Line, one of our local bridle paths, and came back rather mud-splattered. And that was before yesterday’s rain got going properly. The prospect of even more mud, and rain still falling, put me off this morning. 

On Monday mornings, as I have explained before now, I get up at the crack of dawn to drive to my daughter’s house. Every time, almost without fail, I see early morning joggers. Usually they are running on the road. Now, I have seen the pavements that they don’t run on and they are in an appalling state. So I can quite understand that running in the road is a less dangerous option than running on the pavement with the risk of falling into the road after turning your ankle on the bad pavement surface. 

All the same, running in the dark in the rain at 6.00 in the morning smacks of obsession. I have lots of admiration for them but this jogger/blogger is not joining in that game. Besides, I am in the privileged position of being able to run later in the day if I so choose. 

 So, anyway, I stayed in bed a little longer, got up and did some indoor exercises and then had a leisurely breakfast, starting to read a new book as I did so. This is “Transition” by Iain Banks. In his prologue he describes a period of time as “that golden age which nobody noticed at the time, I mean the long decade between the fall of the Wall and the fall of the Towers”. He goes on to clarify a little: “One event symbolised the lifted threat of worldwide nuclear holocaust, something which had been hanging over humanity for nearly forty years, and so ended an age of idiocy. The other ushered in a new one.” 

Sometimes writers manage to express what you feel with some accuracy. I suppose that’s why they are successful writers. 

Mr Banks also talks about “the third Fall, the fall of Wall Street and the City, the fall of the banks, the fall of the Markets, beginning on September 15th, 2008”. We are still feeling the effects of the last two “falls” he talks about. 

Whenever I go into our local town centre and see Muslim women covered head to toe, I know it’s one of the effects of the fall of the Two Towers. As is the fact that I have to go through the rigmarole of putting liquids in a little plastic bag to show in the airport whenever I travel. 

And then the effects of the fall of the banks are all around us, both here and in our other home in Spain: closed shops – many replaced by loan shops or the suddenly ubiquitous “We Buy Your Gold”/ “Compro Oro” shops – rising unemployment and in Spain demonstrators on the streets. 

Which brings me to an Asturian actor by the name of Arturo Fernández. He featured in La Voz de Galica because of his comments in a TV chat show called “El Gato al Agua”. Talking about demonstrators he said, “Cuando se sale a la calle, se sale con gente guapa. En las manifestaciones... yo en mi vida he visto gente tan fea, ..., ¡pero cómo es posible! A estos no los veo por la calle, deben de tenerlos en campos de concentración, porque no lo puedo entender.” Loosely translated: “When you go out on the street, you go out with good looking people. In demonstrations ... I have never seen such ugly people in my life, ..., how can that be possible! I don’t see those people on the street, they must keep them in concentration camps, because I don’t understand it.” 

He claimed to be concerned about the image of Spain given to foreigners who see the demonstrators on TV reports. His concern was not about violence or about the rights and wrongs of their politics but, quite simply, the appearance of the demonstrators. All demonstrators should be young and beautiful perhaps? Apparently the audience were open-mouthed (with surprise? horror? who knows) and his fellow guests falling about laughing. 

Not very politically correct Mr Fernández!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Buildings and things.

According to an article in El País online, the architect Gaudí’s famous Casa Milá (aka La Pedrera) in Barcelona is unfinished – it should have a huge bronze statue of the Madonna on top apparently – and very nearly had to be demolished as it is really too tall to meet building regulations. In 1909 the local authority imposed a fine of 100 000 pesetas (however much that is in Euros) before letting construction continue. Somehow that sounds so very Spanish! 



Well, it’s been standing for 100 years now but if anyone wants more facts about it here’s the article. 

While we’re on the subject of building I’ve been reading about a suggested solution to the number of houses standing empty and simply not selling in Spain. The Spanish government proposes offering “residencia”, the right to live and work in Spain, to foreigners who purchase houses to the value of €160 000 or more. The measure is said to be targeting potential Chinese and Russian buyers. Sceptics regard it as a patch and not a complete solution but the government claims it has been introduced in Ireland and Portugal already. 

I wonder what kind of resentment it might spark in those who are being thrown out of their homes as the banks reclaim them when they fail to make their mortgage payments. People are protesting about that. 

Meanwhile here in the UK there are increasingly common stories about families who have had to sell up when their mortgage payments have gone up and who still simply can’t manage to feed their families. Careful budgeting goes only so far, especially when food prices keep on rising. 

However, according to something I read in the Metro, the free paper, one thing that remains cheap is alcohol. The headline annoyed me somewhat: “Children say cut-price booze has put Britain top of the drinking league”. I have no argument with the statistics that say that too many people in the UK drink simply to get drunk or that a litre bottle of cider is cheaper than a couple of cinema tickets. These are long-standing problems in the UK. 

I do, however, take issue with the term “children”, especially when closer reading reveals that they mean the 16 to 24 year olds who were surveyed. I know that legally 16 year olds are still children and, yes, I know that legally they can’t be served in pubs I also know that many 13 year olds have already been drunk. But when I see a headline like that, it sounds as though they’ve been talking to a bunch of 8 to 10 year olds. 

It’s misleading and I don’t like the emotional blackmail so often used by headline writers or by news reporters in general.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Great Expectations

Waiting for a tram in Manchester the other day I snapped this strange building in progress. 

Now, at every bus/tram stop or railway station platform there is bound to be a know-it-all and this was true on that occasion. A gentleman, who had already informed me that my tram would certainly be along in a moment (as if I had some doubt about this), told me that this was going to be another multi-story office block or possibly residential block – clearly he didn’t really know everything after all. What we could see was the central lift shafts. And once he said that you could see that this was so. They were working from the inner core to the outside skin. But in the meantime it looked rather like some strange fortified tower. 

 It was a beautiful day when I admired the lift-shafts-in-progress and I hoped the same would be true of the following day. We had planned a walk over the hill with my brother in law. We do this several times a year, walking, as I said, over a local hill and paying a ritual visit to Diggle chippie. This could possibly be the best fish and chip shop in the world or maybe it’s just that whenever you eat fish and chips in the open air they always taste good. Anyway, the day started fine and bright and rapidly grew greyer and greyer. 

By the time my brother in law arrived, almost lunchtime, it was very dull indeed. Nothing daunted, we set off, in rather a hurry as we only just had time to get there before the chippie closed. As it was, they had run out of fish by the time we got there and we had to make do with pies. Not quite what we had planned but the chips were as good as ever. So we ate al fresco, beside the duck pond, and then headed for home along the canal. And the rain kept off until later in the day so we avoided a wetting. All’s well that ends well!! 
 
I’ve been reading about a chap who believes he is the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret. Apparently he always felt that his parents were much more affectionate towards his younger siblings and so convinced himself that he was adopted. Finding no evidence of adoption certificates around he convinced himself that his mother, who worked in some capacity for Princess Margaret’s household, had been persuaded to register him as her own child, thus saving royal face. As might be expected, the royal family is not very forthcoming with DNA samples to allow him to prove (or not) that he is somewhere inline for the throne. Lots of people persuade themselves that they are adopted but most usually grow out of it. This sounds like delusions of grandeur to me. 

And we’ve just started watching the third and final series of the Scandinavian police drama “The Killing”. Ten minutes in and we were already on tenterhooks. The tension mounts with every new scene. I’m surprised we can sit still while we watch. Anyway, at one point a local bigwig industrialist’s child is kidnapped and the head honcho policeman warns our heroine, Sarah Lund (wearing this season’s must-have fluffy sweater), not to mess up because this family is on a par with royalty. Uh oh! I could feel my hackles rising. Does this mean that the child of some less wealthy family, from some family of lower social standing, would not be such a priority case? 

Maybe that’s why the other chappie wants to be part of the royal family: extra special treatment!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Putting things in perspective

From time to time I have a little whinge about the weather. It’s normal. Most of us prefer to be able to get out and about without having to be completely waterproofed first. But at least where I live we don’t suffer from the kind of flooding which has hit many parts of Italy over the weekend. 

Pictures of people walking down streets turned into shallow canals in Venice ... 


 or sitting in the water drinking coffee in Saint Mark’s Square ... 






or even swimming in Saint Mark’s Square (is it really warm enough to do that even in mid-November?) don’t give any idea of the misery of being flooded. 

At least in Venice, where water levels rose by 1.5 metres on Sunday, they are used to high water. I’ve been there with “acqua alta”, although not so high that I had to wade through waist deep water carrying my suitcase. The sirens sound, the walkways are erected and people get on with life. Apparently all the art galleries and museums make sure that their exhibits are all on the first floor, well above even the highest water. 

In other parts of Italy they have suffered as people always do with water pouring into homes and causing havoc, just as it has done in New York State and other parts of America. The power of uncontrolled water is quite astounding and very frightening. 

We’ve just finished watching the second series of “Treme”, an American TV series by the team who gave us “The Wire”, telling the story of a New Orleans community trying desperately to pick up the threads of their lives after Katrina. Years on from the flooding, they are still fighting bureaucracy and the prevarications of those who hope to profit from the disaster. 

Many of the characters are involved one way or another with music. It’s worth watching the series for the music alone but the whole thing is wonderfully put together.

Go and watch it as soon as possible.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Travel problems.

At the moment it seems that the best part of the day is early in the morning. Oversleep and you miss it. On a number of occasions I have been out and about early, off for a run or making my way somewhere, and let myself be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that we were set fair for a good day. However, a good number of these days that start so promisingly end up grey and damp and drizzly. Such a disappointment! 

Today was a case in point, although it has to be said that there were other annoyances today as well. On Monday I get up at the crack of dawn – serious crack of dawn stuff, still dark outside and last Monday with frost everywhere to boot – and drive to my daughter’s house. There I hand the car over so that she can drive away for a day at university while I get the small people up and organised for school. The car is left at my house on Sunday evening so that we can do this as there is no public transport at that time of day. After I have dropped the small people off at school, sometimes involving a game of tig in the playground before they go in, I stroll along to Stalybridge railway station, about 25 minutes walk, and catch the train home. 

This morning it was fairly grey but not raining as I walked to the railway station: although a little chilly, not unpleasant. By the time I reached the railway station it was starting to drizzle. It was at this point that the day started to go a little pear-shaped. 

 First of all, the train I planned to catch had been cancelled. No problem, thought I. I would just catch the next train in the opposite direction, get off at Ashton Under Lyne and pop into IKEA before catching a bus home. According to the station electronic display, that train should leave from platform 5. 

Now, the Stalybridge station I have known for some time has always had only two platforms, the usual sort of arrangement with one platform on either side of the tracks. So where had platform 5 appeared from? There has been some re-vamping of the station and there are now sidings which are pretending to be platforms. What used to be platform 1 now comprises platforms 1, 2 and 3 while the former platform 2 is now platforms 4 and 5, depending on where you stand. Anyway, I found platform 5 ... eventually. 

The due time for the train’s departure approached but the train did not. Several other prospective passengers and I enquired about this and were told that we would be better heading for platform 3 (formerly known as platform 1) to catch a delayed Huddersfield to Manchester train. Just as we were about to trudge through the tunnel to do this, a train pulled in to platform 5. We were pleased, briefly. A host of angry people got off the train; they were supposed to be going to Huddersfield but had just been told that the train was terminating its journey at Stalybridge. We asked the driver. He had no idea; until a few minutes earlier he had thought he was going to Huddersfield. So we went through the tunnel and eventually caught a train. 

Apparently all this chaos was caused by signal failure somewhere on the way to Huddersfield, resulting in trains being delayed, cancelled, restarted and generally mixed up. Trains were in the wrong places. It was beginning to be like one of those children’s games you used to get with a load of letters in a square frame to push around until they made words. Somehow they had to get the trains to the right places to get the schedule back on track. Very frustrating for the travelling public. I was very glad not to be commuting to work or heading for an important meeting. I kept overhearing mobile phone conversations along the lines of, “Well, my train’s been cancelled. I won’t make it to the meeting on time. Expect me when you see me.” 

Mind you, from the travel news I had heard on the radio earlier, it was no better on the roads in the Greater Manchester area! 

Then I walked through the drizzle to IKEA with the idea that I was going to buy some more of a certain fabric I had found there to make cushion covers for chairs in my kitchen. I knew exactly what I was looking for but the textiles department appeared to have disappeared. That too is being re-vamped and will be re-established, bigger and better, in a week or so. How very frustrating! What’s more, the drizzle was now turning into rain! 

So I picked up some essential supplies from a nearby supermarket and headed for home, rather later than planned and less than pleased with my morning! 

Not all days are grey, however. On Saturday I went into Manchester with our eldest granddaughter and found the city centre crisp and bright, looking its best. 

We were heading for the Whitworth Art Gallery to look at some pictures. We saw some Hogarth and some Hockney, the latter echoing the former’s Rake’s Progress with a series of drawings from his early days in New York. Most interesting! 

What we really wanted to do, though, was take a photo of the view from the huge picture window on the ground floor which framed the trees in the Whitworth Park beautifully. However, there were “No Photographs” notices all over the place. And then, by the time we came out the sun had either moved or gone behind a cloud and the park looked much more ordinary and less photogenic. So we headed homewards.

 And Saturday’s travel turned into a kind of pre-cursor of today’s problems. We waited for our train, watched it pull in to stop at the platform and then saw the announcement change from “On Time” to “Cancelled”. We were not the only ones to give voice to cries of “What?” and “You can’t just cancel a train, just like that!!!!” A station employee explained to us that the driver was perfectly prepared to take the train out but they had no guard. In a time of high unemployment they can’t find people willing to work as guards on trains! Unbelievable! 

We discovered a train going part way to our destination, to Ashton Under Lyne in fact, from where we could catch a bus. So off we trotted, out through the barrier, in through another, up some stairs and over a bridge. And then came the announcement that the previously cancelled train was now running and ready to depart. So back over the bridge, down the stairs, out of one barrier and in through another we went. And we sat in the train for ten minutes before it finally departed! And it was so crowded that we never saw the guard! 

It’s exhausting getting around by train!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Contrasts and comparisons

I’ve always been rather fond of the Spanish ¿ and ¡. My Spanish teacher of long ago – a splendidly eccentric lady who once told us she had been trapped in the Alhambra Palace gardens by a guide who wanted to have his wicked way with her – always used to say that the upside down question mark or exclamation mark was intended to give advance warning of a question or exclamation on the way, just around the corner as it were. It always sounded good to me. 

(Needless to say, she resisted the guide’s attempted seduction and escaped with her virtue intact and her ego rather flattered. She was also prone to tell us girls that we were noisy but lovable; I try to imagine a teacher in a modern school saying such a preposterous thing to a class of 14 year olds. On another occasion, when a friend of mine had piled her long hair in curls on top of her head, a style fashionable for a while in the 1960s, our Miss Brown was heard to ask her if she really felt old enough to “put her hair up”. Was 17 not still a little young for such adult hairdos?)

Anyway, I was amused to see the upside down exclamation mark transferred into English punctuation by whoever did the translation work for MediaMarkt in the A Laxe shopping centre, inviting customers, in English: ¡¡¡Look at our prices!!!! Wonderful!!! 

Well, yesterday we said goodbye to Galicia for a while. Conscious that we were going to spend a good deal of time sitting around Oporto airport and then sitting in a plane, we were glad to be able to walk to Vigo bus station to catch the bus to the airport. Trundling our suitcases along pavements which appeared to have been deliberately laid for maximum noise from suitcase wheels we felt rather sorry for anyone hoping to have a quiet Sunday morning lie-in! 

En route we went past a cafe in the Calvario district of Vigo which had a large laminated cardboard owl fixed to the top of its awning. Clearly another attempt to scare off the pigeons and seagulls that try to scavenge scraps form terraza tables. Usually they are large plastic models rather than a cardboard cut-out or more-than-life-size photograph. Our friend Colin  has one he sometimes carries down to Pontevedra to give him some peace as he sits outside a cafe. If a cardboard cut-out works, maybe this would be a more portable solution for him. 

In the airport I took this photo of a cup of coffee. Why? Because this was described as “grande”. For the Portuguese, a coffee this size – comparing it with the Kitkat alongside the cup, you can see that it is not huge – is large. In the UK, in almost any coffee-vending establishment, this would be considered small, if not very small. That is one of the differences between the UK and most of continental Europe as far as I can see. 

 I have also been doing some price comparison: prices of stuff that you buy all the time to stock your kitchen. As far as I can tell, milk – proper fresh milk, not the nasty sterilised stuff – is cheaper in the UK; in Vigo I paid 82 céntimos for a litre while here I pay just a little more for a 2-pint bottle. Maybe this is because in this country people actually use more of the real stuff whereas in Spain many people seem quite happy to use the inferior sterilised kind. 

On the other hand most fruit and quite a lot of veg is cheaper in Spain. Then there’s the way it’s sold. Here you buy individual oranges, grapefruit, avocados and so on, same price per item no matter that one orange, for example, may be bigger or smaller than another. In Spain you pay for fruit by weight: three oranges in a bag and the price is sorted according to weight. This even applies to garlic. A much better system if you ask me! I’ll look out for other price comparisons. 

Final contrast; we have had a day of crisp, cold sunshine while my Vigo friends on Facebook tell me they have had miserable rain. So it goes.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The stress of getting in touch.

Before we head back for the UK on Sunday, we wanted to have lunch with an old friend. Would that be possible? Yes. Could we maybe find a time when his wife was also free? (Last time we came she was always busy working and we saw very little of her.) Well, it turned out that her place of work was “making a bridge” – a Spanish expression for extending a public holiday (yesterday was All Saints) to make a long weekend. So Friday – today – looked good. Would the children be along too? Yes, their school was also making a bridge. 

As a result we decided to see if another friend would like to join us. He is back working in Vigo and his wife and children have been visiting this week as it’s half term back in Ireland. We thought it would be good for the children to get together. 

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to organise things like this. The so-called “social media” are supposed to make it all easy. Young people manage to organise botellón and gate-crashing parties with ease. I however was having problems. 

At various points both friends’ phones sent me to “Buzón Movistar”, the answering service, telling me that “mobile number xxxxxxxxx was switched off or out of service” and asking me to leave a message. I left messages ... to no avail. 

I also sent emails and sent messages on Facebook. Oh, yes, and texts asking them to read their messages. 

Eventually all parties got in touch but, boy, was it hard work! Am I getting too old for social media? No, surely not! 

In the end we had lunch just with the first friend and his family as the second had work commitments which kept him and his gang away. This was a shame as we went to the Cata & Come restaurant in Bouzas where there is a nice safe space for small people to run around and play. And, what’s more, the sun shone! At least over lunchtime. 

On our way home we saw the cruise liner “Independence of the Seas” towering over the A Laxe shopping centre: truly an amazing thing! Two monstrosities together! 

We popped into the shopping centre to look at electrical good in MediaMarkt and serendipitously missed the rainstorm. 

We came out in time for the rainbow. 
 
That was fine! Who needs a pot of gold when you’ve got the rainbow?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The traditional view of things.

On Monday I came out of retirement briefly and became a teacher again for the day, standing in for a friend of ours who couldn’t manage his classes that day. It was quite fun for a change but I can’t say I’m seeking full time employment. I’ve always said I wasn’t going to doso unless I began to feel hard up and that hasn’t happened yet, fortunately. I only did it on Monday as a favour. 

One of the things I did during my lessons was ask some of the students about Hallowe’en, a festival I have commented on before now and which has been introduced into Spain, probably from the USA, rather like Starbucks. One of the students told me that he preferred the more traditional Galician “Samaín”. Now, I’ve seen posters up around San Joan do Monte, close to our flat in Vigo, advertising a “Samaín” party so I decided to Google it. This is what I found: 

“Samaín is the most important Celtic origin festival of the pagan period, which dominated Europe until its conversion to Christianism. It's celebrated on the night of October 31st and November 1st as the end of the harvest season and it was considered as the Celtic New Year and the beginning of the dark season. 

Etymologically, the word Samaín means the end of summer. The person who rediscovered this tradition in Galicia was a primary school teacher from Cedeira (A Coruña), Rafael López Loureiro. He realised that this tradition still existed all over Galicia less than thirty years ago. 

He also discovered its survival in areas of Caceres, Zamora and Leon, where Galician language and traditions are alive. He also studied the relationship between the pumpkin tradition and the death festivities similar to British traditions. He even discovered some peculiar things, like in Quiroga (Lugo), where the emptied pumpkins are left to dry and kept to be used as masks at Carnival (Entroido). 

Nowadays, Samaíin is still celebrated year after year in many cities and villages in Galicia, such as A Coruña, Ferrol, Cedeira... The village of Ribadavia (Ourense) celebrates the "noite meiga" (the witches' night), when the village gets full of ghosts, witches, vampires and Ribadavia's castle is the perfect setting for this terrifying landscape.”

 So there you go. Now we know. 

However, the fact is that everywhere is selling Hallowe’en costumes and banners wishing people Happy Hallowe’en. And there are a lot of very strangely dressed people around this evening. At least it’s not raining on the trick or treating, which I understand is happening back in Saddleworth. 

I suppose all the Hallowe’en stuff means that the people off the cruise ships will feel at home. And today there were two of them, not the biggest I’ve ever seen but still pretty large. 

This reminded me of an item I saw in one of the newspapers on-line about Venice where quite a controversy has sprung up because cruise liners are sailing twice a day up the Giudeca canal. Passengers on the boats get a wonderful view of the Piazza San Marco and other sites which must be lovely for them. It must come as a bit of a shock to other tourists who are strolling round the city. 
 
Venice is one of those places where each corner you go round gives you another spectacular view, another photo opportunity. Imagine what it’s like to turn one of those corners and come across a floating city towering over the place and overshadowing your view! 

And then there’s the conservation angle. Venice is having enough difficulty maintaining its heritage, beautiful buildings mostly perching on stilts. Having a whopping great boat going through, even very slowly, must make a lot of waves, undermining the eco-system. Why can’t the boats dock outside the city and disgorge their passengers, like they do in every other place they visit? That way the tourists could spend money in shops and cafes and maybe the city could survive a bit longer for future generations of tourists. 

On the other side of the world they’re having their own eco-problems as Hurricane Sandy is still causing havoc. A friend of ours posted a video on Facebook of the trees in her garden waving around and threatening to fall at any moment. 

And then I read that the replica ship The Bounty, built for the film Mutiny on the Bounty back in 1962, has been sunk by the storm. It seems the captain and crew decided it was better to head out for sea and try to avoid the approaching storm on the basis that a ship is safer at sea than in dock in such a situation. 

This time, though, the scope of the storm was greater than anyone expected and they didn’t manage to outrun the danger. All bar one of the crew was saved but the ship went down. What the mutiny couldn’t do, Hurricane Sandy managed. 


 What a shame! I don’t imagine they’ll ever rebuild it. If they need such a ship for a film in the future, they’ll do it with computer generated images. Clever technology but not the same thing at all. After all, you can’t go and stand on a computer generated image.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunny weekend

At the weekend the small boats come out onto the estuary: really small boats and lots of them. You see them sidle out of the harbour in single file like a very long line of ducklings and later you see them make their way back in, all in an orderly manner. In between times they bob about all over the place, presumably learning to manoeuvre properly. On Saturday they seem to stay out until late afternoon but on Sunday they all head back into port in plenty of time for family lunch, or at least I imagine that is their destination. Yesterday was very windy and I watched a number of them appear to tip right over. As they righted themselves after a few minutes and continued sailing, I assume that no lives were lost. 

The wind became so strong during the night that I had to get up and shut windows as the moaning howl was keeping me awake: one of the disadvantages of living on the seventh floor of a building already on a high point of the city. This morning, though, the wind had practically gone and the estuary was like a mill pond. 
 
In yesterday’s wind we walked up to the top of the Castro Park; we can’t visit Vigo without going there at least once. The autumn colours are getting along nicely and the wind blew the fountains around, creating mini-rainbows which I tried to capture with my camera. 

Earlier in the day there had been a knock on the door. On opening it, I saw two teenage girls who told me politely that they were organising the “Fiesta de Fin de Curso” – end of year party – for their school and would I like to contribute? Well, actually, no, I didn’t feel like contributing. Ten out of ten for effort and all that but shouldn’t they do a little more than go round begging from the neighbours? I didn’t get round to asking when this party was to be but the end of the year seems a long way off to me. And why should I pay for their fun? Isn’t that what parents are for? Maybe I’m turning into a grumpy old woman. 
 
Anyway, I didn’t let it spoil my weekend which has been pretty good on the whole. I suppose you could say it started on Wednesday really when we went to stay with a friend in Pontevedra for a couple of days, which was very nice. On Friday we brought him back with us to Vigo and we had a reunion lunch with some other old friends at El Puerto restaurant where the fish was excellent. Yesterday we had our walk in the wind and today we strolled in the sunshine on the coastal path round A Guía, paid for by EU funding, according to notices along the way. 
 
Nothing to complain about today then!