Thursday, 31 December 2015

Out with the old.

2015 comes to a rather soggy end. It's wet and windy around here at the moment, although it started quite nicely. Blue sky at 9.30 this morning. The weatherman has promised us that it will clear by midnight, so that we can all see the fireworks being set off all around the area. How very thoughtful of the weather! 

Of course, the fireworks may be cancelled. Lots of big cities are being very cautious and doing all kinds of security checks around their big firework displays. In some places they have cancelled fireworks because of the large numbers of refugees they have taken in and they fear that fireworks might traumatise them further. I don't think we have that problem here. 

Back to the weather. On the REALLY soggy front, here is something that I have been told was said by our Environment Secretary: "Our flood defences worked really well right up to the point at which they failed." It's on a par with something I once heard a teacher say about his class's poor exam results: "I taught them but they didn't learn." You couldn't make it up! 

Over in Japan, a technology wizard called Hiroshi Ishiguro is leading a team at Osaka University working on artificial intelligence. This is all pretty advanced stuff. Nome of your clunky robots with metallic skin. No, his are humanoid robots. Which are growing more and more lifelike with each new one he creates. His third attempt, the lovely Erica might not yet be able to move independently but she has facial expressions and looks very convincing. 

The Japanese seem to be taking all of this very seriously. During the summer, a hotel staffed almost entirely by robots - including receptionists, concierges and cloakroom staff - opened at a theme park near Nagasaki, they did have proper human staff on hand to help if there should be any difficulty. Here's a link to a bit more information on that.  It's all well and good doing this sort of thing but I just hope that the people coordinating it all have seem the films, the ones where things go horribly wrong with the control of the robots and they start to feel superior and aim to take over the world! 

Mr Ishiguro apparently is not really phased by this possibility. He says that the robots need to resemble humans both in their physical appearance and in their conversation. This will make it easier for us to overcome our phobias, exploited to dramatic effect by countless sci-fi movies. He says, "They will have to be able to guess a human’s intentions and desires, then refer to an internal system in order to partly or wholly match those intentions and desires in their response." Then he wonders if that could alter the dynamics of the robot-human relationship. It is a rhetorical question: “It means,” he says, “that one day, humans and robots will be able to love each other.” 

Fortunately the technology needs a few more years work before we. Need to worry about the robots taking over the world.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Time marches on.

I realised this morning that we have been back in Greater Manchester for precisely three weeks since our last trip to Portugal and Spain. It feels like much longer. Time is very strange, the way it plays tricks on you, speeding up and slowing down at will - at time's will, never at yours! 

Some of this is because since we came back I seem not to have stopped. And I have, of course, organised and hosted Christmas during that time. And there it is, another Christmas over and done with. Lots of family get-togethers have taken place and copious amounts of eating and drinking has gone on. Some of the best meals have been those where everyone turned up with a contribution to the feast. Apart from a serious superfluity of hummus last night, this has worked very well. But now I think it is time for a little abstinence ... once we get New Year's Eve out of the way. 

Our son and his little family set off at the crack of dawn this morning to return to London, hoping to get underway before the latest storm hits. Frank is the name of this one. I am not sure why they suddenly feel the need to name storms but the custom seems to be established now. So far, mid morning, we have had lots of wind but no more rain as yet. Rain there has been aplenty in the last week or so. Our bit of the river Tame was overflowing the other day, lapping at the doors of one of the pubs and flooding the band club. 



And yet, we have got off lightly. Places like Rochdale, not very far from here, have had far greater problems. This has not prevented television news reporting our village as flooded. The other morning I posted one of my blue-sky pictures after my run and a friend commented on the lack of flood. He had heard it on the news and thought we were under water. 

According to the writer and environmental activist George Monbiot, no-one should be surprised at the flooding that has taken place and is continuing to take place. Here is a link to one of his excellent rants, not just about how flooding could be prevented, or at least minimised, but also about how farmers have actually received subsidies to carry out the kind of drainage work that makes flooding more likely. 

The worst of the weather continues to threaten the north of the British Isles. This does not prevent the tiny island of Easdale, in the Inner Hebrides, from advertising for people to go and live there. They really want settlers to help enlarge their little community. Here is a link to a video about the island. I am sure it is a lovely place to live ... when the weather is good, or even when the weather is simply acceptable and it is not suffering the effects of Storm Eva or Storm Frank or whichever one follows them. However, I think we will choose to remain in places where the weather is not quite so extreme. 

 One of the gifts I received for Christmas was a book called "The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren". My copy was printed in 1960 and was sold at the time for 35 shillings, rather a lot of money back then. It is, as the title suggests, an investigation into the games children play and the things children say, including their belief that they could charm warts away and could levitate their schoolmates. The writers at the time suspected that children were discarding some of their traditional games in favour radio, television and cinema. I wonder what they would make of today's children with their iPods, iPads, computer game systems and so on! But this book is a study of my childhood and full of fascinating stuff. 

Here's one example. A friend of mine on Facebook always posts "Pinch, punch!" on the first of every month. My book tells me that the full version is, "A pinch and a punch for the first of the month". Done in person, rather than digitally, it is accompanied by a pinch and a punch. Well, of course! The correct response is, "A pinch and a kick for being so quick". I must remember this on New Year's morning. 

Even better is the matter of blowing raspberries, a favourite occupation of our smallest grandchild. Apparently it started off as a "raspberry tart", rhyming slang for breaking wind. (Work it out!!!) The tart has disappeared, as has the association with bad smells but we continue to blow raspberries. 

There you go!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Doing things the traditional way.

Yesterday I noticed a strange thing on Facebook. Friends with smallish children were posting stuff about Christmas pjs?!?! Even our daughter posted photos of her brood in their NEW Christmas pyjamas. Now, I knew that she bought them new pyjamas every Christmas. It has been part of her Christmas routine for a while. I thought, however, that it was just one of HER little quirks, a little tradition that she had created for herself. But apparently lots of other young mums do the same. 

I even googled it and found that someone had asked, "Does anyone else buy new pjs for their children every Christmas?" The response was quite overwhelming. In some cases it was what they had been doing for years. In others it was a case of jumping onto a bandwagon and deciding that it was such a good idea that they wanted to do it too. Who knew? 

Apparently, the proper thing to do is get everyone in their new pyjamas and then all settle down to watch a Christmas movie together. Well, apart from the fact that I find most Christmas movies so sentimental that they drive me insane, when our children were small I was always too busy on Christmas eve to think about sitting down to watch a film on tv. 

Besides, I never quite got into that "lets get some popcorn and watch this soppy film" mode. Not that we didn't watch films together as a family at other times. We once sneaked our 11 year old into the cinema to watch "Dances with Wolves", a 12+ film. And if you get them to watch films with subtitles, such as "The Seven Samurai", nobody can eat popcorn as you need to concentrate. 

Who decided that you need to eat your way through films anyway? A daft idea, if you ask me! 

 Our daughter has invented a new tradition for her family this year. She has decided on a theme for everyone: something to wear, something to read, something they want and something they need. 

An interesting idea!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

May the force be with you!

Everything and everyone appears to have gone mad for the new Star Wars film. Our granddaughter was invited by her "he's not my boyfriend" to a special first night showing in Rochdale (you can't really call it a premiere in Rochdale, can you?) where there was even free food! Our daughter and her fiancé have seen it and since then her fiancé has taken to calling their little dog Chewbacca! (Even the spell check on my iPad is aware of Star Wars; it just corrected my spelling of Chewbacca. This is amazing as usually such a random collection of letter would have received the notice "no replacements found".) 

I have not seen any of the new Star Wars films, let alone this latest one. Long ago I had videos of the original three but made the mistake of lending them to a friend of our daughter and never saw them again! There has even been a series on the radio called "I've never seen Star Wars". They put celebrities through experiences they have never had before and ask them to rate them out of ten. And, of course, the first was about someone who had never seen the Star Wars films. 

Anyway, the new film has been causing some furore and people have been dressing up in Star Wars outfits and queuing to see it. Here is a crazy story I found about what happened outside a cinema in the USA: 

 "BAKERSFIELD, CA – A 20-year-old man named Raymond Chatfield walked out of a premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ on Thursday night and shouted out a major spoiler, which was heard by almost a hundred people waiting on line in the lobby.

“I was waiting on line to see the 10pm showing,” said witness Robert Selvidge. “Then this snot-nose kid walks past the line, shouts out the ending and starts laughing. He totally ruined the movie for everyone...what a jerk!” 

Chatfield was immediately assaulted by a Wookie, a Stormtrooper and Boba Fett. 

“I saw it all. This guy shouts out the spoiler right? Within 15 seconds he was on the ground getting his ass stomped,” said another witness, who asked to remain anonymous. “At first the crowd was cheering them on, and I think that made it worse. They beat him up for a solid 5 minutes, kicking him in the balls, punching him in the gut, bitch-slapping him...eventually people got quiet. Even I was like, okay...enough yo.” 

The Wookie, the Stormtrooper and Boba Fett were not only not arrested by police, they were even allowed to watch the movie as planned. “We view this as justifiable assault,” said police chief Greg Richardson. “May the Force be with you.” 

The spoiler Raymond Chatfield is currently listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit at Mercy Hospital." 

You couldn't make it up! 

I also read somewhere that more money was made out of the merchandising of Star Wars stuff than from the original films themselves. I can believe this. In the spoof film, "Space Balls", they even have a kind of cut-out section in the middle if the movie to advertise the merchandising. Absolutely wonderful! 

And someone posted on Facebook a photo of a London Underground station service update board which read: "ATTENTION, Anyone caught traveling without a valid ticket or Oyster will be told the ending the of the new Star Wars. (And also get a penalty fare.)" 

But I have not seen it and doubt that I will until it appears finally on television at some point in the future. I have, however, been out trying to get our Christmas organised. Presents, of one kind and another, have been bought. A list of food items has been made and I need to raid the supermarket again. All will be sorted. 

During one of my sorties, I came across a do-it-yourself advent calendar kit which declared that it had instruction in several languages: English instructions, French Instructions and so on. This made it sound as though the instructions were vaguely different in each country, perhaps reflecting cultural differences! What struck me though was that for Spain it said "Instrucciones Español" - no adjective agreement, not even, more correctly, "en español! 

The grammar police were not impressed!

Friday, 18 December 2015

Getting what you expect.

Just when you thought you were a rational being who made your political choices in a reasoned manner, along comes someone who does a study which says it's not necessarily so. It's not even necessarily down to your upbringing and your education. No, it's largely down to the configuration of your brain and whereabouts the various brain cells collect together. The test the researchers use is a sort of wonky circle for you to look at. If you see it as more of a circle than a square then you are probably quite a liberal, open-minded, even left-wing kind of person. If, on the other hand, you see it as a square then you are more rigid in your views and are more likely to be conservative, with large or small c, and tend towards the right-wing. Here's a link to an article about it but you need to be able to read Spanish to understand it. 

Phil and I have commented to each other recently on how many more students these days seem to leave university with a first class degree than used to be the case. Out of our cohort of around a hundred students reading French nobody was awarded a first and we considered ourselves to be a pretty good group. But forty odd years on it seems much more usual for lots of students in one cohort to achieve the highest accolade. There is a sneaky bit of us that wonders if there is an element of target-meeting coming into play here. Is someone saying that a certain percentage of students need to be achieving first class degrees? Or is it just old age and cynicism making us grumpy again? 

Anyway, this came to mind again this morning when I read something with the by-line "anonymous academic"- rather like the series of article written by the "secret teacher". The article began with comments about a flyer campaign; stuck to doors and notice boards around the university campus were notices which read, "All I am asking is a little respect seeing as I pay you £9,000 a year." 

This prompted the writer to think about his/her students and their expectation that they should be chased after and granted extensions to ensure that they met assignment deadlines, something that never used to happen, not even in sixth form, let alone at undergraduate level. The writer discussed it with colleagues. A series of stories emerged about students who regarded themselves as consumers rather than students, although they would probably nor admit this. 

One student suggested that his lecturer "owed" him £160 worth of teaching because he had cancelled a couple lectures through illness. Another asked to a tutorial to be rearranged for 8 in the morning instead of the suggested tutorial times of between 9 and 11. The times were inconvenient to the student and, as he was effectively paying the tutor, he felt he had the right to demand a more convenient time. Another objected to the grade given for a piece of work; he said he was disappointed with his low grade because he had “paid so much money”. The Idea of actually working for a grade seemed alien. Another student said the grade must be incorrect because he had turned up to all the lectures – as if simply regurgitating what he had been taught deserved a 70+ grade. 

As one lecturer commented, "They seem to think they are buying a degree, rather than working for it." 

 I have every sympathy with students today who have to pay such huge fees to go to university but I still find the attitude rather disturbing. Even if you pay for a service (which is how education now seems to be regarded in this current model) surely you should still expect to make some effort to benefit from that service. I wonder if any of them also pay for gym membership. If they go along to the gym but only half-heartedly complete the exercises, do they blame the gym for the fact that their fitness has not improved? 

After all, they have paid a lot of money to be allowed to use the facilities.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Remodelling.

In our village a building that proudly declares itself to be the Methodist Sunday School is in fact divided into flats. What used to be the vicarage just a short distance up the road from our house was long ago sold off for private housing and an extension was built so that it could become two decent -sized dwellings. In the other direction, just over a mile away a former church has become a conference centre. 

This sort of thing is happening all over the country. Congregations are melting away and churches are standing empty, often for so long that they begin to fall apart at the seams. I have no right to protest about this as I am one of the great multitude who do not set foot inside a church from one year to the next unless, in my case, the building is particularly interesting. But even though I no longer believe in the central ideas of the Church, I still feel it is a shame when a fine old church is left to crumble into dust. So we should feel glad about the ones the ones that are converted into a different kind of building for a new purpose altogether. 

For some reason I thought this problem of the abandoned churches was a singularly British one but I seem to be mistaken. It also exists in a catholic country like Spain. 

The small town of Llanera, not far from Madrid has a church which dates back 100 years. It was built in 1912 when the vast majority of the men of the town worked in a nearby munitions factory. As you would expect of that period, the church was central to the life of the community. Then at the end of the Spanish Civil War, in 1939, the munitions factory closed, people found other occupations, probably moved away and the church fell onto disuse. For decades it stood empty. 

Then along came a chap called Ernesto Fernández Rey, who wanted to set up business in the premises. "La crisis" put paid to that idea. It was just not the time for new enterprises. Eventually he decided he might use the place to indulge his love of skateboarding and make a kind of indoor park. Together with some friends he set to work raising funds and for five years now the church has been an indoor skateboarding park. 

Then a Madrid street artist Okuda San Miguel found out about it, saw a photo and decided he wanted to do something more with the building. So he asked if he could paint murals in the building. And this is the result. 


"It's like my personal Sistine Chapel," he said. And who knows, if the Sistine Chapel were being painted now, whether it might not end up a little bit like this. 

Still in Madrid, an organisation has persuaded a church to change the figures of Mary Joseph and Jesus in the nativity scene they have set up this year. Baby Jesus was based on the figure of the little Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a beach and Mary and Joseph on his parents. Here is a link to a short article about it.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

What a card!

Suddenly the mantelpiece is full of Christmas cards. To begin with it was just the regular early senders: my sister in law, Phil's chess playing friend Jim, my cousin Rosemary and her husband who is another Jim (for a while, and to their bewilderment, people used to send them cards with pictures of the rag dolls, Rosie and Jim, from a children's television series) and Phil's Auntie Doreen. But now they are streaming in from all over the place. 

And I have not written a single one. Indeed, it was only yesterday that I decided I needed to buy some. Now at least I can write some to give to the friends we will meet for lunch tomorrow. 

Christmas cards have led Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's much criticised leader, into another little controversy. He has broken with tradition and opted for an official Christmas card that does not include a photograph of himself or his family. What a shock! I am not sure if I can recover from such a horrifying action on the part of a politician. While David Cameron is sending out pictures of himself and Samantha standing outside Number 10, Downing Street, and other politicians opt for stylised pictures of the happy family group next to the Christmas tree, our Jeremy has chosen to send out a picture of a bicycle leaning on an old, traditional, red telephone box, both of them covered in snow. 

This has led to all sorts of speculation about the message being sent - apart from the obvious Merry Christmas. Some say that the snow reveals a leaning towards Moscow and the Russians, since there has not been much snow around here for a few years, while Russian snow is guaranteed. The use of the colour red is not interpreted as a seasonal touch (as is the case with red holly berries, Santa's red suit and so on) but as an indication that he is a true socialist, if not communist, kind of Labour Party man, a proper left-winger, a rabis red in fact. The traditional telephone box harks back to good old traditional Labour Party values while the bicycle demonstrates an ecologically sound approach to the world! Wow! 

What a lot of hot air a simple Christmas card can generate! The people who have written all this twaddle-filled analysis would have been really good at casting runes and reading the future in the entrails of a chicken! 

Now, if I were the sort of person who received Christmas cards from politicians, I know which kind of card I would prefer. Who really wants a photo of David Cameron or Nick Clegg or Tony Blair propped up next to the clock on the mantelpiece? It could quite put you off your mince pies! 

This family-photo-on-a-card business is only just acceptable when friends do it and even then it looks a little odd up there with all the robins and deer and Christmas puddings and Santa with his sleigh and camels trudging towards Bethlehem. However, as many of us only stay in touch via Christmas cards (fewer than used to be the case now that mass media keeps us up to date with almost everyone) such photos serve to let us know what friends' families are up to, without having recourse to a round robin letter. 

And just don't get me started on round robins! No time for more ranting. I have cards to write!

Monday, 14 December 2015

Scientific stuff and nonsense.

Earlier this autumn, sometime at the end of September or beginning of October, a friend of mine went on at great length about solar energy. She had recently retired from teaching and was spending some of her lump sum on having solar panels installed on the roof of her house. She was delighted with the results, especially as the sun kept shining and she was generating lots of energy. I don't suppose her panels are doing much at the moment but no doubt the sun will shine again one day soon. She is still very enthusiastic.

In North Carolina, USA, on the other hand, where I suspect they have rather more days of sunshine than we have here in Greater Manchester, a small town has recently rejected a proposal to allow a solar energy company to build a solar farm off Highway 259. Now I know that a solar farm is a bit different from a few solar panels on your roof. And I know that some people think that such a development could be a bit of an eyesore. But the reasons for rejecting the solar farm are quite different, indeed surprisingly different. 

At a council meeting to discuss the proposal, a local businessman said that solar farms would suck all the energy out of the sun and as a result businesses would not want to set up in their town. Wow! 

Then another person said she was worried that the panels would prevent plants in the area from photosynthesising, thus stopping them from growing. She said she had seen areas near solar panels where plants had turned brown and dead because they did not get enough sunshine? 

So this one is offering evidence from observation. This is just what you might expect as she is ... wait for it ... a retired science teacher. 

 Yes, there we have a retired science teacher, who presumably has studied science to a high level, degree level, endorsing the idea that solar panels suck all the energy from the sun and make plants die!!! 

What kind of science teachers do they have in the United States?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Drinking coffee.

 I was reading about something that researchers, in their wisdom, have chosen to call "caffeine use disorder". Reading between the lines, this simply means drinking too much coffee? And, of course, because the researchers concerned are working at an American university that also means that those who suffer from "caffeine use disorder" need therapy. 

Here's a sample of what I read: "Like many psychoactive substances, coffee will induce withdrawal symptoms if you stop consuming it. The researchers suggest that the resulting “headache, fatigue and flu-like symptoms” as well as the “anxiety, jitteriness, upset stomach and tense mood” are best dealt with using cognitive behavioural therapy. Patients on the “caffeine fading” programme that resulted from the research are given time with a trained therapist and sent home with a booklet of helpful hints." 

Years ago, back when our children were small, a friend of mine who worked from home, used to make a pot of coffee at the start of the day and consume it as she went through the various tasks she had to complete. Like many of us trendy young things at that time, she thought she was very sophisticated to be drinking "real" coffee instead if the horrid instant stuff. Gradually she found herself needing to make a second pot halfway through the day. Then one day she ran out of coffee. By mid afternoon she was feeling very much on edge and had the beginnings of a headache. Withdrawal symptoms! 

She decided that going cold turkey might be too drastic - she had a small child to look after as well - and opted to cut down her coffee consumption a little every day. Amazingly she did not need a trained therapist to advise her in her "caffeine fading" programme. 

I thought of this yesterday evening as I drank a second cup of coffee with my daughter while we caught up on the gossip, not having had a chance to do so recently. It went through my head that I should make that my last coffee of the day if I wanted to get a good night's sleep. But isn't it strange that our society seems to need someone to put labels on ordinary events of life and that there are people who can't choose the common sense option without an expert telling them what to do. 

I think the writer of the original article about "caffeine use disorder" agreed with me as she went on to say, "Is jitteriness a symptom, or just a descriptor of modern life? And fatigue? I don’t know much about the working life of an American medical academic, but if they have kids and mortgages, then fatigue is also pretty much a given constant. This isn’t withdrawal, it’s what happens when you don’t drink enough lovely, delicious coffee. Coffee, the simple, natural beverage that perks you up, delights your tastebuds and reinvigorates your mind." 

So it goes.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Adventures in the rain.

Slowly, inexorably, our back garden is turning into a lake. Earlier in the day it was a collection of puddles but by late afternoon the puddles had joined and a lake was definitely forming. I don't think there is any danger of flooding: it would need to be several inches deep all over the garden before it could get over the step and under the back door. What's more, there is a bit of a slope so it would have to be very deep at the bottom of the garden. However, the situation probably needs monitoring. 

It has rained all day. First thing this morning, I looked out and it seemed to be simply damp. So I donned my running gear and ventured forth, only to discover that a fine rain was indeed falling. But I was out by then and continued on my way. I almost certainly should have retreated indoors at once. Certainly, I should not have shut the door behind me. For when I returned, having run round the village, avoiding the path by the old millpond as it was already very muddy on Tuesday, I found that I had not taken my keys with me. I had a small key ring with Tesco card, a library card and a Go Outdoors card, all small size, and a couple of keys for unlocking bike locks. This is the keyring which usually has my house keys attached. So what had happened? It remains a mystery. 

 As a result I spent five minutes standing on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell, hammering on the door, ringing the house phone and Phil's mobile again and again and again until eventually I woke the sleeping man and he came and let me in. Ridiculous! 

Neither of us has ventured out since then as the rain became heavier and there seemed little point in going out to get wet! It's been considerably worse than yesterday when I walked in the gloom of the grey sky day to meet our granddaughter at the local garden centre. En route, I had to take my life in my hands and walk in the road as the thoughtful car drivers who usually park with two wheels on the pavement had parked so close to the wall that it was impossible to pass by on the pavement! Wonderful! 

Anyway, I met the granddaughter as planned and we walked through the park to the garden centre. The object of our expedition was to look for a small Christmas tree. I had seen the ideal one in Manchester a few weeks ago but had not bought it because of the difficulty of carrying it across Manchester to my Italian class and back. As a rule I end up buying something much bigger than I really want but I was determined to get something small enough this year to pop into a little corner and not take up too much space. This year the smallest granddaughter will be running around and we want to minimise the possibility of a confrontation with a tree twice her size. 

So we found a tiny tree, which no doubt will cause great amusement to a good friend of ours, but which perfectly meets my requirements. Then we decided to go for coffee. Unfortunately my granddaughter had her small dog with her and the garden centre cafe had a no dogs policy. A short walk up the road, however, took us to local nature study centre which also has a cafe. So off we went and installed ourselves on their little terrace. There were heaters, and blankets on the chairs, so we felt we would be fine there. 

And so we were, until five minutes after our coffee and snacks arrived. At that point the wind picked up and an automatic mechanism began to retract the awning to prevent it being blown away. Unfortunately this left us exposed to the elements: mostly wind but also occasional squalls of drizzly rain! 

This is why cafe terrace culture is less developed in the UK than in other parts of Europe, less developed in the Northwest of England than in other parts of the country and less developed in Saddleworth than in other parts of Greater Manchester. 

But we survived, lived to tell the tale and successfully brought the tiny tree back to my house.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Real life can be stranger than science fiction.

My daughter some time ago started to use "Jesus God" as an expression of surprise, astonishment and a little bit of mild reprimand. It was a surprising thing for her to say, she who has never been to Sunday School and has had her religious education, if such it can be called, through school, reading and general conversation with us. It's not an expression I have heard anyone else use. At least that was the case until today. 

I suppose it still is the case because technically I did not hear someone say it. A character in a Ray Bradbury short story used it. So I read it rather than heard it. But, of course, that is just nit-picking. 

The short story, called "The Murderer" is about a man explaining to a psychologist that he had "murdered" all the electronic appliances in his house, his workplace, his whole life. Well, not so much the electrical appliances like washing machines and other such useful gadgets, rather the communication and surveillance devices. He pours drinks into such systems, clogs them up with ice cream, stamps them to pieces and crushes them. Even on public transport he uses a gadget to stop other people's technologies from working. This is what leads to his being arrested. 

In many of Ray Bradbury's short stories he describes a future world where houses are computerised and are run digitally. Sometimes the technology starts to get too big for its boots and begins to have independent thoughts and tries to boss its people around, rather like the computer in "2001, space odyssey". In this story the protagonist feels too observed, too closely monitored and is trying to get away from the electronic hurly-burly. By messing up the system. 

What is really interesting is that the story was written in 1953. In other words well before we had CCTV cameras all over the show. Mobile phones were not around but all the characters in the story wear a wrist radio so that they are contactable everywhere. Even cars have gadgets which communicate with their drivers, not just the kind of things that we have such as lights that go on to tell you that a door is not dully closed and reminding you to fasten your seat belt, but telling the driver to get a move on if he is too slow returning from paying for fuel at the petrol station.

How prescient! 

Back in 1953 Ray Bradbury foresaw our 2015 world with its talking lifts ("Going up! Doors closing!"), its constant safety reminders ("Stand away from the doors! Mind the gap!"), its overuse of security cameras and, of course, the ubiquitous communication devices. He even foresaw the characters who might object to that constant presence. 

In the published story the psychologist just goes back into the noise-filled world and almost dismisses the "murderer" as a crank but when Ray Bradbury re-worked this story for his TV program Ray Bradbury Theater, in the 1980s, he changed the ending. In the revised version, the psychologist returns to his office and, barraged by noise and electronics, destroys his newly replaced "lapel phone" and asks his secretary for a chocolate milkshake (to pour into his fax machine). 

I wonder what he would make of the current situation, where you sit on a bus or a train and every third person is busy with a phone, an iPod, an iPad or a laptop. This is a world where even what you are doing on your busy mobile devices is judged by those around you. Just this morning I read about a young man who was forced off a tube train because he closed his iPad when he realised that someone was reading what he was typing. The iPad user was Moslem, looked different, possibly Arab, which apparently explains the suspicion (perhaps, although I am not convinced) but does not excuse the action. I would object to someone reading what I was typing. I HAVE objected to someone commenting on my neat writing as I made notes in a notebook on a tram one day. 

Who gave us the right to oversee the actions of our fellow travellers to such an extent? Fear makes bullies of us all!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Today.

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I know this because my Italoan friend/teacher commented on it a few weeks ago when she realised I was going to miss the final class of the term and, as a result, the Christmas "party". She promised to take a picture and put it on Facebook. I'll check later. 

Of course, if the conception took place on early December something went awry on the chronology front if the baby was born on the 25th. Of course I know that the date was changed so that Christmas could be kind of overlaid on an older religious celebration, probably the winter equinox. 

Because of the Immaculate Conception in Spain it's a public holiday. I noticed a number of places planning to be closed yesterday: that Spanish thing of "making a bridge". And on Sunday we came across a gaita band in procession down the pedestrian bit of Urzáiz in Calvario, Vigo. We had walked up to the Castro to catch some December sunshine and came across the band on our way back. 


It may be December but some of the trees still seemed to think it was mid-September, judging by the colours and the amount of foliage left on them. 

We left the Iberian peninsula in the rain yesterday and travelled back to the UK, where the far Northwest has had flooding, serious flooding. Some people have been washed out of their homes for the second time in just a few years. Not a good situation. 

Today I woke to rain on the windows of our son's house in Chesham but by 9.00 it had stopped and by late morning the day was clear and sunny. The weather is doing wierd stuff all around. We were surprised by the number of flowers still out in Portugal and Northwest of Spain but here in Chesham there are trees in blossom as well. 

The world's weather patterns are seriously disrupted!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Things people say.

I was sitting in the Mid Century cafe the other evening, trying not to listen to the woman at the next table. She had one of those grating Spanish voices that some women seem to have. This was overlaid with strident feminism, an international characteristic. I knew she was going to annoying as soon as I had heard her say, at least five times, "¡Yo siempre hablo en serio!" (I am always serious when I speak.) 

Her voice was always just loud enough to impinge on whatever you were doing. Often she would start off in a reasonably normal voice but grew louder and shriller as she became more excited and involved in her topic. She talked about stress at work, women's rights, abortion and goodness knows what else, sharing her views with all and sundry, whether they wanted to or not. She even touched on the Paris attacks at one point, launching into a quite decent bit of French, just to impress us all. 

I kept waiting to hear what her companion had to say, indeed what her companion sounded like. The poor woman did not have a chance to get a word in edgewise. Presumably she must have nodded from time to time or murmured some kind of agreement or encouragement as her assertive friend just went on and on. 

I had to sneak a look - I did not want to attract her attention but I was curious - and found that, as I had suspected, she was one of those quite large, fierce-looking women, the sort you get in all nationalities. I have no intention to be looks-ist here but there is a type. A strident feminist type! In the Sopranos, the TV series, Tony Soprano's sister Janice adopts it when she is in her feminist mode. 

No doubt she has a heart of gold but she really was not what I needed to have ranting at the table next to mine! Between that and the cute Christmas songs, we really had to get out of there. Which was rather a pity as María, who runs the place, is very nice and friendly. So it goes. 

Someone else who has clearly grown tired of Christmas songs already must work for one of Norway's biggest national newspapers which has apologised after publishing funeral details for Father Christmas. The newspaper said: “An error in Aftenposten’s internal procedures led to a fictional obituary of Santa Claus [being] published in our digital systems.” It said it would investigate how the error occurred. 

Apparently the death announcement followed a normal pattern, featuring a picture of a cross and giving the age of the deceased. In this case it gave Santa’s age as 227. It read: “Our dear Father Christmas, born 12 December 1788 … died on 3 December in Nordkapp,” which is the country’s northernmost point. The funeral was said to be scheduled for the 28th of December and would be held at the North Pole Chapel. No cause of death – an overdose of mince pies or otherwise – was given. Does any country other than the UK eat mince pies at Christmas time? 

The notice was removed from their digital obituary pages as soon as they became aware of it but the damage may have been done. Some people might already be broken hearted.

Friday, 4 December 2015

A few language things!

Yesterday we travelled on the slow train to Pontevedra, a tiny little train that only went as far as Pontevedra. At any rate it felt like a slow train, quietly chugging along, sometimes giving the impression that we could have walked faster. However, it took no longer to get there than the usual Regional train between Vigo and A Coruña. Of course it took twice as long as the faster train running from Vigo Urzáiz station but the times of the faster trains were not so convenient for us. 

Walking up from Pontevedra station I spotted a florist that called itself "Mouguet", obviously intended to be the French for "lily of the valley" since it had a picture of that flower alongside its name. Unfortunately the correct French should be "Muguet". Clearly the Spanish are no better at French names than they are at English ones. No better than pretentious English florists who give their shops French names either! 

We met our friend Colin for Lunch at the Meigas Fora restaurant, where we did not have "gambas con erizos", "prawns with sea urchins", mistranslated on the menu as "prawns with hedgehogs". I have been told that gipsies eat, or used to eat, hedgehogs, rolling them in mud and baking them so that when you broke the baked mud shell the spines came off and the meat could be eaten. I don't think they ate them with prawns though and besides that was not what the menu intended to convey. Fortunately, Colin was already proofreading their translation for them and putting things right. 
 

We did have "arroz con guisantes", correctly translated as the most unappetising-sounding "rice with peas". The waitress told us it got its name from a Galician song, "arroz con chícharos". She even sang a little bit of it for us. It 's actually quite a nice dish with red cabbage, done in a sort of omelette and accompanied by rice cakes and pureed peas. It's nothing at all like the recipe they print on line but there you go. 

On the language front, later I read in a local paper about some car parks being opened in Vigo. The content was unimportant. What struck me was the article talked about "un parquin", not "un parking", which is what the Spanish have called a car park for years and years. Obviously it has finally been given the Spanish treatment. It even has a correctly formed plural: "los párquines". Progress! 

Today the weather had been was positively balmy! So we walked out towards A Guía and strolled around the coastal path, paid for by EU money and opened in 2010. The views were rather fine. 

 
 

On our way back we stopped for refreshments at the Café Crem', the cafe next to Teis market. The girl who served us asked me at one point , "Are you England?" "Yes," I told her, "we are English." She went on, "I am study England at the ... er ... um .. Escuela de Idiomas." The official language school in Vigo. She's in her second year. Needs a bit of practice but I congratulated her on her progress so far. 

If she works hard she can progress to mistranslating the cafe's menu! 

Here's a picture of Etna in Sicily erupting the other day. I've seen it erupting but never quite so spectacularly as this: brief but bright apparently and with a huge ash cloud. I include that picture just because it impressed me. 

And here's a picture of tonight's sunset. Pretty spectacular too!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Facts and Figures.

In the United States another crazy gunman has opened fire on a centre for handicapped people. At least, I think that's what it was. Why? When one of the Planned Parenthood places was attacked last week, someone commented that it would be possible to go some way towards solving the problem of such attacks by having more stringent controls over the sale of guns. Apparently you can buy a gun with minimum security checks. It's possible to walk into a shop and come out five minutes later armed to the teeth. OK! Perhaps I exaggerate a little. Maybe you can't come out with a huge arsenal but you can certainly get a gun more easily than you can get a bank loan! With fewer security checks! Crazy! 

We all have our own crazies, of course. Some of them have a lot of power. In the UK we have a prime minister who goes around calling people who don't want to bomb Syria terrorists or, at best, terrorist sympathisers. There's a desperate urge to be seen to be doing something. Why is stopping to reflect seen as a weakness. 

A French journalist who was held hostage by Islamic State for 10 months, has been asking government leaders not to bomb Syria, saying it was a trap that would only benefit Isis. He maintains that bombing the country is what Isis because it will lead to resentment against the bombers and increase support for them. He says that Isis have set a trap and the governments of the world are falling into it. 

Here is part of what he said: 

“At the moment, with the bombings, we are more likely pushing the people into the hands of Isis. What we have to do, and this is really key, we have to engage the local people. As soon as the people have hope in the political solution, then Islamic State will just collapse. It will have no ground any more. It will collapse.” 

Is anyone listening? 

Mind you, it's hardly surprising that we can't understand other countries and how they work. According to a recent international survey, we all have misconceptions about our own countries. Here are a few: 

In Britain, we think the top 1% wealthiest households own 59% of our country’s wealth, when they actually “only” own 23%. (That's still almost a quarter of the country's wealth!!!) 

Americans think that 33% of their population are immigrants, when in fact it is only 14%. (Unless you count all except the Native American Indians as immigrants!) 

Brazilians think the average age in their country is 56, when it is only 31. 

Russians think that 31% of their politicians are women, when it is only 14%. 

In Britain, we think that an extraordinary 43% of young adults aged 25-34 still live at home with their parents, rather than the actual 14%. 

In India, the online population think 60% of the whole country also has internet access, when in fact only 19% do. 

It seems that these misconceptions are a result of what the psychologists call "emotional innumeracy". And, of course, we also suffer from newspapers exaggerating things (numbers of immigrants flooding in) and our own desire for things to be better than they are (so people in Britain think that 44% of the population is overweight or obese when in fact it is 62%!). 

Will we ever get it right?

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

In Vigo.

My panadera was somewhat disgruntled this morning. This was because the day began very grey and damp. It had clearly rained in the night. Or else there had been a very heavy dew. The pavements were wet, well, damp anyway, and the grey clouds hung low in the sky. "This is not what they promised us," she complained. That's life! What can you do about it? 

The day improved later. The skies may not be as delightfully blue as they have been recently but at least some of the cloud shifted and the sun came out. Even when it is out, it doesn't warm the streets of Vigo quite as well as it did the streets of Figueira da Foz. No doubt, the banks of high rise buildings here make the streets into gullies that the low winter sun doesn't quite reach and where the cold air lingers. But it is December after all. Vigo has the street decorations to prove it. 

We are frustratingly without internet at the moment. We had hoped that there might be a few days left on our mobile internet dingle. We charged it up on a three month deal just before we headed back to the UK in September so there was an outside chance that we could still be within that period. But nothing is working and it is hardly worth trekking down to the Vodaphone shop to set up something for just a few days. So we are relying on wifi connections in the chess club and in the various cafes we frequent. 

Last night we called into Mid Century, not just to check our mail but to say hello to the friendly María who runs the place. Normally we connect automatically when we go there but last night this was not happening. It turned out that María had had to change the password because her internet bill had been spiralling out of control. Her partner checked in their building and discovered that he could connect to internet as far up as the third floor. Clearly someone in the building was using María's wifi to download films, music, all sorts of games and programmes. She could even predict certain times of day when the demand for access surged. Someone was coming home from work or school and getting entertainment at her expense. So a new password and an extra vigilant check from now on! 

María usually plays very good music in her little cafe. Last night it was all very schmaltzy Christmas songs, old ones but still over-sentimental. Personally, I don't think any artist should ever record "Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer". It should be the preserve of small children and playgroups. Definitely not for adult consumption, no matter how clever or jazzy the accompaniment! No doubt María will tire of the gooey songs before long and begin to intersperse them with other stuff! 

Like all establishments, María's cafe has to display the Christmas spirit, I suppose. And we still have a good few weeks of humbug left! I say all this tongue in cheek as one of the first things I will do when we get back to Blighty will undoubtedly be to purchase a small Christmas tree! So it goes!

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Leaving Figueira.

Another fine and sunny day dawned yesterday in Figueira, with rollers crashing in beyond the lighthouse, and we got up, not quite a the crack of dawn but in time to have breakfast, check out and get to the railway station in time for a train at 9.58. We did a fair amount of careful train timetable checking last night to coordinate our journey, hoping to arrive in Vigo before dark. We could have caught a later train from Figueira but we would have arrived at Oporto, after changing at Coimbra B, probably just too late for lunch but with a long wait for the next bus from Oporto to Vigo. 

So we got ourselves organised and marched off to the station with our suitcases. A small amount of confusion ensued at our departure. I thought Phil had persuaded me that we should walk to the station. He thought I had persuaded him to take a taxi. We walked. And we arrived in plenty of time. We had to show our passports at the station so that we could claim a discount for being over 65. As a result our journey from Figueira to Oporto cost us €8.35 each. The bus ride from Oporto to Vigo is more expensive than that. And as for travelling in the Greater Manchester area, well, those who have to pay for their travel around that district would be hard pressed to get from Saddleworth to central Manchester for that price! 


Arriving at Oporto Campanhá station, we briefly contemplated working out the metro system once again (it's quite straightforward when you are used to it but eminently forgettable if you only use it once in a while) in order to get to Avenida Aliados so that we could wait outside the MacDonald's for the bus to Vigo. We chickened out and took a taxi. It may have lacked bravery but it gave us time to have a coffee and a bun before catching the bus, not to mention using the loo at the cafe. 

We discovered that it is no longer possible to buy tickets for the Alsa bus from the lottery sellers on Aliados. Instead we had to keep our fingers crossed that the bus would not be full when it arrived. Just occasionally there are crowds of pilgrims. No problem, although it did fill up somewhat at the airport stop. We succeeded in getting old biddies' discount on the bus too, which to some extent made up for messing around about not being able to buy tickets in advance. 

And so, finally, we made it Vigo in time to see the sun go down. Throughout the summer, the sun went down behind the other side of the estuary, directly opposite our flats. When we left in September it was setting behind the Islas Cíes. Yesterday it was setting behind the Castro park. In fact, slightly to the left of the Castro Park. 


Time marches on unforgivingly!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Events, food, art and life being odder than art!

Sitting in the Centro de Artes e Espectáculos in Figueira today waiting for a Rapidplay Chess competition to begin, I spotted a lady knitting. Presumably she too had accompanied someone there to play chess and had brought her knitting along. No point in wasting time, after all. It's years since I saw anyone knitting at a chess event but then I don't often sit around at chess events these day. As a rule I go walkabout and leave Phil to it. 

The centre is very pleasant, a light and airy modern building. Lots of glass and exposed girders. Art works displayed all over the place. One mother was entertaining her children by doing numerous journeys up to the next floor in the glass lift, all of them waving to friends as they went. I must admit to being tempted to join them. Glass lifts are always very impressive in my opinion. In the Football Museum in Manchester, the lift is like a cable car. But probably my favourite glass lift is the one that goes up the outside of the Reina Sofía art gallery in Madrid. 

Upstairs at the Centro de Artes e Espectáculos there is an exhibition of work by Fernando Dereito, who is an artist who lives and works in Lisbon. I googled him but did not find much information apart from the fact that he was born in 1944 and began his career in Mozambique. Here are some examples of his work displayed here in Figueira. 




Here's a picture of a splendid old cine camera which you can see on the first floor. 

There is a large auditorium up there as well where presumably they have concerts from time to time. Who knew that all this was there? We have walked past this building many times and assumed it was a school, which is why we have never visited it before. 

Yesterday afternoon was the last round of the main chess event here. After the prize giving ceremony, an affair of lengthy speeches in Portuguese, thanking all the local gentry and hoteliers and so on who had made the whole thing possible, we went off for something to eat at the Caçarola restaurant again. We had their truly excellent fish soup, followed by "robalinho", small sea bass. We probably should have had one of these between the two of us as there was just so much to eat. 

One of our party, a young man with no Portuguese whatsoever, apart from "olá", managed to order, or possible was persuaded to try, a local speciality dish, a kind of fish stew with lots of rice in it. Whether it was intended for him to share with companions we never found out but it came in a huge white ceramic dish, which one of our friends compared to a chamberpot. The young man spent a good deal of time selecting pieces of fish and occasional vegetables, all of which he ate with relish. After some time he declared that it was a shame he did not really like rice! When we left he was still gamely making his way through the dish. 

There are some things which you simply could not make up!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Same old same old.

Walking along the road the other day, we spotted a chap leaning on the corner of a building. "Watch out!" said Phil, "That beggar is about to jump out at us." And, lo and behold, he did so, just like the jester in the closing credits fro Blackadder. The next moment he was there in front of us, hand outstretched and whiney voice going into an incomprehensible litany. At least he took no for an answer. There is another one who follows you down the street, continuing his whine. I saw him again his morning, bumming a cigarette of a man on the street. Having got his cigarette, he then asked if he didn't have a bit of spare change as well. And, of course, there are also the parking beggars, ushering drivers into parking spaces that they can access quite well on their own. As in Spain, then, so in Portugal. 

One difference I have noticed concerns talking about money. When something costs, for example, €2.50, they are quite likely to say "two and a half", "dois e meia", rather than "two euros fifty". 

Today is the last day of the chess tournament here. Today's round begins at 2.00pm instead of 7.00pm, presumably to allow time for prize giving? There was a suggestion earlier in the week that they might start this round at 10.00am. Apart from one chap who suggested 11.00am, nobody was brave enough to say that 10.00 was too early. Fortunately there was a young man who came in from somewhere outlying by public transport every day and he pointed out that he could simply not arrive in time. So back to 2.00pm they went. Phew! My chess player was relieved! 

There is some kind of event going on in our hotel today: lots of people in smart business clothes. There are no fancy frocks or hats or fascinators so I don't think it's a wedding. They were all gathered noisily at breakfast time this morning and as I came back from the station at around midday they seemed to be having drinks and snacks in the ground floor reception area. Still noisy! 

I went to the station to ask about trains to Oporto on Monday and came away armed with timetables for the slow train from here to Coimbra B and for the fast trains from Coimbra B to Oporto. The train station is in a state of chaos; major renovation work is going onto the old station building and all information giving and ticket sales are taking place in a kind of hut on the station forecourt. 

The bus station is just next to the train station. There an oldish, partially-sighted man was being helped to find a bench by a lady who had dumped her basket of shopping at the corner of the street. I swear the same man was being assisted in exactly the same way when last I went to the station for information. And that was a year ago. It was a curious mind of déjà vu! 

Perhaps he just finds a spot there to sit in the sunshine every day! And why not?

Friday, 27 November 2015

Getting away from it all.

Another excellent lunch has been consumed. We took a friend along to the Núcleo Sportinguista, hoping for a repeat of the grilled sea bass that we had the other day. Unfortunately they were all out of sea bass so we had to make do with a different grilled fish. Not quite so tasty as the sea bass but still very good. 
 

It makes up for the rather indifferent unidentified fish we ate yesterday at a different restaurant. That seriously needed a sauce of some kind to liven it up. But really we cannot complain about the eating here. It has been very good on the whole. Quite how it would have been if we did not like fish so much is a different matter. 

Nor can we complain about the weather. Today has been t-shirt weather. I even saw some people in shorts but I did feel that they were exaggerating a little. And it does get just a little chilly in the evening, especially when the smokers leave the door to the terrace open while I wait for the chess player to finish his game. 

This morning I walked along the shoreline. Anglers were out. I often wonder what they do while they wait for a fish to bite. Maybe it's a Zen thing and they all get into a little meditation. Who knows? Anyway, I walked along the shoreline and saw some people walking barefoot in the sand. Perhaps that would have been a better option than having to empty sand out of my boots when I got back up to the promenade. 

As I left the beach, I came across this rather fine example of graffiti. This definitely beats the usual tagging that you see in most places. 

Today is Black Friday, which I have commented on before: another American tradition brought across the Atlantic. Even here in little Figueira da Foz there are shops telling us that it is Black Friday! Why do shops need a further excuse to have an instant sale? Can they not do so without having to put a silly label on it? All so that we will go out and spend, spend, spend! 

I was reading something by a journalist who has decided to have her own protest against Black Friday by vowing not buy anything but essentials for the next year: no new clothes, no cinema tickets, no concert tickets, no holiday bookings. She even plans to cycle to work so that she will not have to buy bus/train/tube tickets! And she has given up buying take-out coffee for the duration. Some aspects of this I can go along with and no doubt she will save money but it does seem a bit extreme. 

I think we'll just carry on booking flights to places where we can eat nice food and escape from the nastier realities of life!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Nativity stories and other stuff.

Amongst all the other things that are going on in the world, here's a "heart-warming story". It's getting close to Christmas, a time when everyone does their best to forget it's all about the story of a baby being born in unusual circumstances. So here's another baby story. In New York a women abandoned her newborn baby son in the manger of the nativity scene in a church in the city. He was brand new, umbilical cord still attached. His mother wrapped him in a towel and left him in what she considered to be a warm, safe place. After all the church is supposed to be a haven. 

What struck me though is that, having identified the mother of the child, the authorities in their wisdom have decided not to prosecute her. Surely a women desperate enough to leave her baby in a church for someone to find needs help not prosecution! Of course, that's probably just me being a bit idealistic and liberal in my thinking. 

Meanwhile some are waxing sentimental about it. One of the priests at the church said, "The beautiful thing is that this woman found in this church – which is supposed to be a home for those in need – this home for her child. A young couple in our parish would love to adopt this child and keep this gift in our community. It would make a great Christmas miracle.” Well, yes, very nice and all that but really a miracle?? It's a good job they found the mother though. That little boy might want to find her again some time in the future. 

Somewhere in my wanderings through online newspapers I discovered that we have missed International Men's Day. This was November 19th and it has been around since 1992. Who knew? I certainly didn't. Apparently the intention was to highlight men's health problems and matters such as discrimination against men. Does that exist outside of certain women's organisations? Or was it discrimination that there is was a Women's Day first. Anyway, I'm just surprised that the card manufacturers have not latched onto it. Think of the income generation from all the cards they could produce! 

Here in Figueira da Foz, the sun continues to shine. My chess player took a day off yesterday to try to shake off a dose of man-flu. Today, however, is another day. Another game to play. Another player with an impossibly long name to investigate, if the hotel's internet will allow that to happen. 

Most hotels we have stayed at recently have simply given us a password and we have then connected automatically, as we do with the numerous wifi cafe we frequent. This one asked us how many "devices" we had and gave us three separate slips of paper with three different user names and passwords. In theory this gave us one week's internet access. So we expected it to run out on Friday some time. But no, since yesterday we have had to log in afresh almost every time we use one of our "devices". 

Extremely annoying!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Corrections, information and the price of fish soup!

Yesterday I wrote about the Castello Engenheiro Souza. That should have been Engenheiro Silva. That's who I googled. My fingers just typed Souza, a common name, instead of Silva, another common name. What can you do when your fingers have a mind of their own? 

Francisco Maria Pereira da Silva, to give him his full name, had the place built for his own residence. It was one of the first buildings in that section of the Barrio Novo, which Francisco Maria Pereira da Silva (1814 - 1891) was responsible for constructing. Originally it had only one floor and a few turrets but when he added further floors it was given the name of Castello. Amazing what you can find out from plaques on the wall! 

(This business of names is interesting. Phil was looking up one of his chess opponents in a database. Most chess players have some, if not most, of the games they have played in tournaments stored in a database somewhere. In this case he could not find a single one. Odd! When they came to play, his opponent put a slightly different name on the score sheet: same surname but a different first name. Another chess playing friend commented that the problem is that the Portuguese, like the Spanish, tend to have a lot of names. It may not have been conscious trickery at all. More likely it was a mistake on the part of the database organiser!) 

Here are a couple of examples of the fancy tilework on the building next door to Francisco Maria Pereira da Silva's castle. 


 Lovely stuff. 


Anyway, Engenheiro Silva seems to have been a big wheel around here back in the 19th century. Streets are named after him. Even the market hall is named after him, and that place gets reviews on Trip Advisor! 

I called in at the pottery shop there this morning. It's full of that brightly coloured earthenware pottery that they do around here. 

And, this being Portugal, there are lots of cockerels. 


Best of all, today anyway, was this pottery  basket of Baby Jesuses! (Is that the correct plural for Jesus?) 


The games in the chess tournament here begin at seven in the evening. This is great as it gives you plenty of time to have lunch and digest it or sleep it off or whatever. However, it is not good when games go on and on. Phil's game last night did not finish until 10.30 or just a little later. We then waited around for a couple of friends to finish so that we could go and have a beer together. When we finally left the playing venue at almost 11.30 one of our friends was STILL finishing off a game. 

 We left him to it and went off to the Caçarola restaurant. Our Canadian friend had not eaten since a late breakfast and needed to have some food. We planned on having only a beer but the fish soup he was served looked so good that we decided to have some as well. 

Two bowls of very good fish soup, a bit of bread and two beers for €8.45!! You would be lucky to get a pint for that price in the UK!