Thursday, 22 June 2017

The solstice.

So yesterday was the summer solstice, which won't be celebrated here for a few days yet as they celebrate it with bonfires on the eve of St John's day. The longest day has been and gone. You might say thatvit's all down hill from now on and the days will start to get shorter. However I don't think we'll notice it just yet.

In the southern hemisphere, of course, it was the winter solstice. I read about a place in Australia where they celebrate the midwinter day by having a swim in the cold water of the ocean. SOme places do this on New Year's Day. Anyway this place in Australia had so many participants signed up for it this year, and so manybwho actually turned up on the date - as a rule more register than turn up -  that they ran out of towels and some people had to stand and shiver after they got out of the water. If only all the world's problems were so easily.

So here, to celebrate the summer solstice, are some pictures of our visit to Sanxenxo.

   









Wednesday, 21 June 2017

What to wear?

Fashion is a curious thing. It even finds its way into leisure pursuits and exercise routines. Long ago, when Jane Fonda's Workout was the go-to book for keeping yourself young and lithe and beautiful, I used to go to aerobics classes. I would turn up in my basic black leotard and basic black tights. Other ladies had a veritable rainbow collection of leisure wear. I swear some of them wore a different set each week. And I would hear the same question repeated again and again: "That's a lovely leotard; where did you get it?" As a rule I was astounded at how much some women were prepared to spend on stuff to get her hot and sweaty in!

Down at the pool I see a similar phenomenon. Some women must fill their suitcases with swimsuits and bikinis in a range of styles and colours. To do them justice, however, I think a lot of them buy extra swimwear from the Chinese shop across the road, where they have a fine selection of bikinis and cover-ups in many colours and all at reasonable prices. And you really need two swimsuits, of whatever style, just in case you swim in the morning and your suit is not yet dry when you want to swim again in the afternoon. Which often happens. Pulling on a wet swimsuit is not the most pleasant experience.

The other fashion trend this summer is probably a bit morepricey than Chinese shop swimsuits. Back in the 1960s there was a trend for baby-doll nightdresses: frothy and frilly, slightly off the shoulder and stopping midway between hip and knee. Well, the baby-doll look appears to have returned in the form of a dress. I keep seeing them around. They are fine on young women with a slender, model-girl figure. On anyone beyond a certain age, they just look silly. And any girl endowed with a large bust, no matter how slim the rest of her, looks as though she is pregnant. (Although nowadays women no longer where clothes which disguise their pregnancy or hide it behind a loose, drapey frock. The thing to do is wear something clingy which outlines the bump nicely, or even reveals an expanse of swelling baby-belly!) As ever, fashion trends are not meant for the woman in the street but for the skinny model on the catwalk!

Today it seemed likely that few would be showing off their bikinis at the pool. The day began overcast and rather cooler than yesterday. This should not prevent people from swimming but it probably will. And the sun worshippers would have to find another occupation. By lunchtime the sun had come out. So maybe the pool will fill up later. Before lunch there were only five of us down there.

Yesterday the temperatures reached silly heights. A friend told me that one of the girls cleaning and sorting rooms at her hotel collapsed with heat exhaustion and had to be taken to hospital. The UK had crazy temperatures as well. A school in Hull reportedly sent pupils home. Not all of them because of the excessive heat, which would have been quite sensible. No, a small group apparently rebelled at having to wear their blazers in the classroom in 30-degree heat and were suspended. The headteacher said "no students were sent home as a direct result of not wearing their blazer" but because of "rude behaviour". However, if the rude behaviour was provoked by having to wear blazers in hot clasrooms, what more is there to say?

Our two middle grandchildren, aged 14 and 12, attend a school where they have to wear their blazers all the time. The uniform is very smart, grey trousers, grey blazer for the boys, purple blazers for the girls. This is meant to give a good corporate image to school and make everyone feel great pride in the establishment. And the blazers stay on at all times, except for PE lessons. This must make writing awkward and practical lessons such as science and art and technology uncomfortable. Presumably there is also a dress code for staff as well. And presumably all of the staff have to agree to enforce the rules.

The whole idea that such insistence on uniform is good for discipline and makes everyone learn more effectively has always struck me as crazy. The Germans manage without it; in fact a German friend of ours once told us that they had had enough of uniforms in their past. In France and Spain uniform is the preserve if the private sector. I am pretty sure that Scandinavian countries don't impose uniform on their schoolchildren.

It's a particularly British madness!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Here and there.

This morning we saw a strange sight: two young men wheeling bicycles along the pavement. They could not ride on the road because it was a one way street in the opposite direction. What the majority of people seem to do in such circumstances is simply ride at full speed down the pavement. Our friend Colin from Poio, Pontevedra, gets very agitated about cyclists on the pavement. Yesterday I came across spme statistics regarding cycling in Pontevedra. The Faro de Vigo newspaper reported on a survey by an assoc called Pedaladas, which found that in Ponters, despite a 30kph speed limit, which is not very fast, most cyclists, 71% of those surveyed, do not feel safe on the road and prefer the pavement!! 20% of the, never wear a helmet, and another 24% only occasionally use one. Perhaps if they took some safety precautions themselves - helmets, lights, bells, a bit of road safety training - they might manage to leave the pavements to the pedestrians.

Here's another bit of statistical information: in Galicia 10 accidents occur per day because of loose snimals - deer, wild boar, etc. This is 30% more than 5 years ago. Does this mean that there are more animals (in the case of wild boar, probably yes) or more cars on the road? Last year there were 400 injuries and 9 people died. Meanwhile, temperatures soar and forest fires rage in Portugal with huge loss of life and property.

 And in the UK they are still counting the cost of the tower block fire. Here is a link to fireman's account of his experience fighting that fire. And the stories keep coming in about people who still go around barefoot and in the clothes they managed to escape in; about people being told that if they refuse to be rehoused in places like Preston (only the other end of the country); about donations of food and other goods to the survivors being left to rot on the streets because the local council has not got organised to distribute it.

And Brexit negotiations are supposedly going on - how well remains to be seen.

The Queen's speech will finally take place tomorrow.

How long all of this will last remains to be seen.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Very Galician problems! Still in my bubble!

Yesterday there seemed to be a prodigious amount of noise around the town, small explosions, cannons being fired, perhaps, or fireworks being let off. What on earth was going on? Is there no such thing as a noise abatement society around here? Did they really have to provoke all the local dogs in that fashion?

Then, at some point in the evening I discovered that yesterday was Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic feast which "emphasizes the joy of the Eucharist being the body and blood of Jesus Christ". Having been brought up in a Church of England and Methodist mix, I did not consciously know about this. There will have been flower patterns on the street leading to the church. I did not get to see them.

I read that back in 1972 there was a big kerfuffle about trade guilds taking part in Corpus Christi processions and carrying their trades' banners and symbols with them. The bishop of Pontevedra had to intervene. However I have no idea what he decided as I lost the will to carry on reading the article, which had very small print.

One of the delights of coming to the Sanxenxo chess event is meeting groups of people who over the year have become friends in a way. Not the kind of friends you send Christmas cards to necessarily or would invite to your retirement party. Just people it's nice to see once again and catch up with what they have been doing since this time last year.

And so I found myself talking to the parents of a young chess player. We first met this young man a few years back when we got involved with organising a kind of chess exchange for youngsters from their chess club here and from the one that Phil helps run in the UK. This year that young man has just done "selectividad", the end of secondary schooling exam which decides what level of university course you qualify for. How did he get to be so old? Mind you, most of the young English chess players who came here on that exchange are now studying at university or in the process of taking A Level exams. Time has been flying past once again!

Anyway, this particular young man has done quite well in his selectividad exams and will undoubtedly qualify for the optometry course or whatever else he decides to do - there not being a truly viable option for a university course in chess, unfortunately. However he is asking for a re-mark on the paper testing his Gallego, ie knowledge and use of the regional language, on which he scored an extremely disappointing 3. (The paper he was really worried about, Maths, got a high score!) All his friends and their parents agree that the marking on Gallego is extremely harsh. They sense a hidden agenda in there! Quite what knowledge and use of the local regional language has to do with one's suitability to study something like optometry remains a mystery.

I have known large numbers of students who were very good at sciences, technology and all things mathematical but quite hopeless at learning languages. I do, however, feel that a good, all round bright and clever candidate should be able to deal with a bit of foreign language but that is a different matter. And I have helped candidates applying for Oxford or Cambridge to achieve the required GCSE pass in a foreign language but there we are talking about applying to the top universities. And I am a little out of touch and could not really say if that restriction still applies. So it goes.

I have just been reminded that Brexit negotiations start today. And there has been another terrorist incident in London, another kind of terrorist! And so I shall have to come put of my escapist bubble again soon.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A little more escapism!

Back in my escapist bubble for the moment, I am ignoring any stuff about the Queen's speech and Theresa May's machinations to stay in power. I shall only say that perhaps she and her handholding friend across the ocean could perhaps retire into the sunset together at some point.

This morning, as is my wont, I was up bright and early, running along the paseo marítimo and then along to the lighthouse and back along the beach, dabbling my feet in the sea. Other early risers were also up and about, doing the sensible thing and getting some exercise before it got too hot. At least two groups of younger people were also up and about, in their case still up and about rather than already up and about.

Revellers extending Saturday night into Sunday morning, one group of young men seemed to be debating whether they could go into a cafe for breakfast while still holding half-full bottles of beer. Another group were mostly young women, dressed in matching outfits of black top and long shorts, topped with bright yellow net skirts of the kind that our three year old granddaughter would love to possess for dressing up purposes. These young women's fancy dress was finished off with black pussy cat ears. So they were not after all dressed as bees in sympathy with Manchester. One possibility is that they were a hen party, despite the fact that they seemed to have collected a few men en route. They all sat on the sea wall, chatting happily and finishing off glasses of wine and beer.

In Spanish there is a verb, "madrugar", which has different possible meanings, depending on the angle from which you approach it. Those of us who were out and about for exercise were "madrugando" in its sense of "getting up early". Those young people who were still socialising were "madrugando" in its sense of "staying up unreasonably late". We could do with such a verb in English but all we have is the expression about burning the candle at both ends when we try to "madrugar" in both senses at once.

On the subject of words, I have been noting odd uses of English once again. There is a shop here that sells sailing gear which persists, even after several years, in having the slogan "At anytime and to any weather". Surely someone must have told them by now. As my students used to tell me, it's the little words (prepositions, as any primary school child in the UK could now tell you) that make life difficult. A company called ServiNauta, hedges its bets by advertising "Yatch service" on one bit of their van and "Yachting service" on another! And in Porto Novo I spotted a boutique that calls itself "Woman Chic" - possible considered a very trendy name but not really English!

Some things just don't translate, of course, as my friend Colin has been saying about the menu item "huevos rotos", literally broken eggs. Impossible to translate because eggs with their yolks broken and then fried would just not appear on any menu in the UK, even if the Spanish appreciate them. I wonder how the Spanish translate the American "sunny side up" fried eggs!

I had a chat this morning with a small girl on the next door terrace in our hotel. She spotted me through the dividing greenery and told me she was going to pool later. When I replied that I too would be there but that I had not yet had breakfast, she told me "Ni yo tampoco" - neither have I. Then, at the tender age of no more than four, she demonstrated perfect mastery of the subjunctive mood, telling me, "Mi madre me dice que vaya adentro ahora", more or less "mum is telling me to go inside now". Aren't children amazing?

Of course, she had to do as she was told, for as I heard a young mother telling her daughter that she HAD to rinse the pool water out of her hair, "las cosas que dicen las mamás, hay que hacerlas". The things that mums tell you to do, you have to do them!

But of course!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reality check!

Well, I think I have sat in my escapist bubble for long enough now. I shall probably get back into my escapist bubble before long but in the meantime her are some thoughts. I have been avoiding making any kind of comment about the tower block fire in London by writing about the weather and odd things that I have noticed about life in Spain.

And all the time I have been reading reports, first about how awful the fire was and then the reports of all the things that were wrong with that tower block: the external cladding which probably let the fire spread, and the use of which is banned in so many other countries; the cost cutting that meant that sprinkler systems and other fire-safety measures were ignored; the ignoring of regulations that said they should be installed; the lack of an adequate escape route in the event of a fire; and on and on. And then the reports that tried to put the blame on residents for not installing sprinklers and even one resident in particular whose faulty fridge may or may not have stated the fire.

Then last night our son sent us a long email, in which he talked about sitting up and watching the election results come in last Thursday night to Friday morning (is it really only just over a week ago?), about the London Bridge attacks and most of all about having to go into work on an early train on Tuesday morning and being able to see the tower block fire from his train. What a terrifying sight!

"And now," he wrote, "London enters a hot weekend as a tinder box. Justifiable anger, but the police tired and stretched. First London Bridge then this. Police who in some cases have done two weeks with no break. Angry, rightly angry, people. But all it needs is one tired, provoked, police to over-react and be caught by a smart phone doing something unacceptably brutal and it could so easily erupt now.

 Summer 2011 - I walked home from Mike's flat to the flat Emma and I had in Tooting after watching a box set (probably Treme, appropriately enough). We turned the news on before I left and I realised that all over London shops, flats, were being burnt. I walked (just five minutes) down empty streets realising that if i needed help, if I dialled 999 for a whole long-weekend no-one would come because every police, every fire-fighter was committed. Hopefully this weekend will be peaceful, but it's on a knife edge. I sit far away on my hill in Buckinghamshire, but I worry for my city."

He moved to London with a bunch of friends after university and it became "his" city in a way that Greater Manchester, where he was born never was. Even though he no longer lives in the city itself, he travels in daily from the end of the Metropolitan line to work in the city centre.

And I understand his feelings because it's what we have felt when Manchester, London, Paris, Nice have been threatened in whatever way. And we felt it when riots took place years ago in Oldham, where we live on the privileged edge of town. Our home in Saddleworth was never threatened by those riots like the centre of town was. And we feel almost guilty to live in such a secure place.

And we feel privileged, and yes, again guilty, to be able to take ourselves away to places like where we are now for a chess tournament (for Phil) and a week of pampering and using the wonderful pool (for me). And I think our son feels some of the same, safe on his "hill in Buckinghamshire". I think back to dystopian novels I have read by Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, J. G. Ballard and others, stories of a future where the rich live in gated, indeed fortified, communities with security forces to keep out the rampaging, starving poor and reflect on how they might be coming true.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Getting around again!

So, here we are in Sanxenxo once again for the chess tournament. We had fun organising our travel. We wanted to check up times of trains from Vigo to Pontevedra, to coincide with buses from there to Sanxenxo. Vigo has two train stations: Urzáiz in the centre, the refurbished original train station, and Guixar, out on the edge of town, which we thought was just a temporary measure while the refurbishment work went on, but which remains open. Trains from Guixar to Pontevedra take about half an hour to do the journey. Trains from Urzáiz, on the other hand, do the run in ten to fifteen minutes. Some of the information websites only gave us trains from one station. Others gave all stations but neglected to state which station individual trains left from. We could make a fairly well informed guess from the arrival times in Pontevedra but to the uninformed that site was less than useful! And there would be little point in turning up at one station for a train and hoping that you could make it quickly to the other if you were in the wrong place. Crazy stuff!

We made it in the end, however, despite the bus to Urzáiz railway station arriving late and then our being held up while we had to put our luggage through the security scan system at the station. Vigo Urzáz station clearly has aspirations of grandeur. But then so does Pontevedra station. I suppose you can't be too careful these days!

Anyway, we got here and trundled our bags down the hill from Sanxenxo bus station to the hotel, reflecting that it was quite hot but not as hot as it has been some years on our arrival. We usually have a heatwave for the tournament. There is time yet!


Last night, as we checked train times for the umpteenth time in one of our local wifi-providing bars, I noticed that the football team on the TV was dressed in yellow. The Cádiz canaries. As they scored a goal I sent a message to my sister, who lives just across the bay from Cádiz and supports the canaries. It turns put that she and her son were there - on the front row too! Needless to say, I did not notice them!

In my friend Colin's blog yesterday he put a link to advice on keeping cool in the heat of (especially southern) Spain. This included standing near or even in fountains. I now read that such activity might get you into trouble in Italy.

"Rome is cracking down on anyone hoping to recreate Anita Ekberg’s dip in the Trevi fountain in the film La Dolce Vita, imposing fines for bad behaviour in and around the city’s watery wonders. One of Italy’s most visited cities, Rome has long struggled to protect treasures such as the Colosseum and prevent tourists paddling in its sculpted fountains."

Apparently some fountains have been badly damaged by tourists paddling in them. Some people even take a naked dip in them. No respect!

The worst offenders are often football fans.

 However, a friend of ours, a fan of both Manchester United and Celta de Vigo said he was most impressed by the Manchester fans who turned up in Vigo to watch the recent match between the two teams.

Mancunians are pretty good! Well, most of them!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Some oddities!

When you look back to the times when you spent an evening having a few drinks with friends and then had to wash your hair because it smelt of cigarette smoke, not to mention how the smell got into all your clothes as well, it makes you wonder how it took them so long to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. And then you stop and reflect and realise that it still hasn't really been sorted? Much of the delight of sitting on the terrace of a bar or even eating outside has largely disappeared because that is where ALL the smokers now congregate. And you find yourself checking which direction the wind is blowing before you finally choose a table outdoors.

I have been moved to rant about the smokers because of our experience the other day, when it rained, and we popped into one of our local bars with wifi to check our mail and other such stuff. The bar in question, like many hereabouts, has a kind of enclosed terrace separate from the main bar, where the tobacco addicts go when they don't want to be actually out in the street. You have to take a deep breath and rush through there to the inner, smoke-free area. This is the equivalent of the pubs in the UK where the smokers congregate around the main door, creating a cloud through which you have to pass.

Anyway, on that particular rainy day, probably because the temperature had dropped from 27 to a mere 21 degrees, the outer door to the smokers's area was closed. Presumably the smokers were feeling a little chilly in the draught from the open door and had closed it. This would have been fine but for the fact that the inner door, intended to keep the inner area smoke free, was not just occasionally left open but was actually wedged open! Where was the logic in that? Needless to say, we did not stay too long!

It was an example of a very Spanish thing, a kind of nod towards the letter of the law - after all, they did have a designated smoking area - while kind of thumbing their nose at the real intention of such a law.

Here's another example. I stood the other day at a pedestrian crossing, waiting with a fairly large group of people for the lights to change. Suddenly I became aware of a large motorcycle that had stopped on the crossing, even though the lights had not changed. Finally it dawned on us all that the motorcyclist was waiting for us to move out of his way so that he could get onto the pavement and ride his motorbike a hundred yards or so along the pavement to where he wanted to park it. Now, I am pretty sure it is is against the law to ride a motorbike on the pavement but motorcyclists appear to believe they are not actually riding on the pavement if they are intending to park, even if it's quite some distance up the road. (The motorcycling equivalent of a cardriver parking in an illegal spot but turning on his hazard lights, thus indicating "I am not really here".) A chap standing next to me went into an extended rant about never having known a place like Vigo for motorcyclists who ride on the pavement, a rant which went on as the lights changed and we all crossed the road. He was still chuntering as he continued up the street!

As regards parking, well, I could go on and on, rather like the crossing man, about parking on corners, about double parking, which I saw a police van do this morning so the driver could stop and greet a friend, about quite legal parking right next to pedestrian crossings obscuring everyone's view of the road, about the marked parking places that extend into road junctions and many more. Probably the best I have seen recently was a large van parked with two of his wheels on the pavement halfway round a roundabout! As if roundabouts in Spain were not complicated enough!

These are just a few oddities noticed in the last week!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Free stuff, words and such.

Last night a curious thing happened in one of the bars we frequent. This is a place that is generous in the tapas they provide for free along with your drink. Cake with your coffee or tea. But a whole range of stuff with your beer: slices of cheese and ham with bread, olives and pickles, mini-toasties, bowls of crisps and whatever other savoury bits and pieces it occurs to them to serve up.

And then last night, along with all the savoury stuff, a small bowl of sweets - those jelly sweets amusingly shaped like dummies and false teeth and the like, all coated in sugar! Just what exactly was that about? Who eats sweets with a glass of beer? Just conceivably with a Cocacola or a Fanta, maybe, if you have a really sweet tooth. Or possibly with an alcopop of some kind. But with beer or wine? I don't think so! We hope this is not a trend!

Here's another Spanish word which might, or then again might not, be a corruption of something English: "postín". I came across it while reading Ruiz Zafón's latest book in the Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados series. A character talked about the type of clothes that you see in "los escparates de postín", which context suggested meant "classy shop windows". So I finally got around to checking it. "De postín" = "posh". I couldn't find any etymological information however. It would be interesting to find lut where the expression comes from.

In yesterday's paper a language expert from Vigo university, Fernando Ramallo, was complaining that too much money goes on grants to allow young people to improve their English. There is a programme called "Vigo en Inglés" which has a budget of €1.6 million for 2017. This will make it possible for 650+ secondary school pupils to go and spend three weeks in England improving their know.edge of and proficiency in the language. Mr Ramallo says this is not a "programa educacional" but "vacacional". In other words, these youngsters will be getting free holidays!

His major gripe is that this money could, in his opinion shpuld, be spent promoting Gallego, the regional version of Spanish, which he says is losing ground. Older people in the city speak it but young people are not really interested on the whole. Now, there's a surprise! If you were looking towards the future and thinking about possible employment, I suspect that knowledge of English might offer more possibilities than knowledge of gallego. It's a hard one.

The time is probably bad for all the minority languages. I bet speakers of Walloon in Belgium feel equally under threat. And Welsh speakers, although their education programme seems to work quite well at creating a bunch of bilingual kids. But the argument still holds; what real use is it to speak Welsh, Gallego, Catalan, Walloon or Lanky Twang unless you plan on living and working all your life in Wales, Galicia, Catalonia, Belgium or deepest Lancashire?

And I say all that as a dedicated linguist, as a person who has always enjoyed learning, and teaching, different languages. I am all in favour of everyone learning as many languages as possible and of keeping minority languages going but not at the cost of reducing the employment opportunities of young people.

Meanwhile, everyone will have been busy practising their English in the shops of Vigo today. The tourist industry keeps itself nicely afloat. A cruise boat the size of a small town was in the harbour when I woke this morning, dwarfing all around it. They even had to move the Rumanian navy training ship, a much smaller, and considerably more elegant, three master vessel, out of the way. This latter vessel has been in the port for a few days, manned apparently by trainee Rumanian sailors and a few additional cadets from places like Bulgaria.

Presumably such training programmes, with visits to other countries, are part and parcel of the advantages being a member of the European Union.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Things you, or at least I read in the news.💻🔮

Yesterday I went to the hairdressers. Usually as I sit there waiting for the latest batch of colour to take effect I leaf my way through a pile of gossip magazines: celebrity romances, weddings, infidelities, divorces and, of course, pregnancies at various stages of that cycle. On this occasion, however, I read a local newspaper instead. Most unusual! I wonder who left it there.

Here are some of the fruits of my reading.

I read about the heatwave which has been making its way up from southern Spain and which is expected to continue until the weekend at least. (Today, just to be difficult and different, the sky is covered in cloud and it has been raining. Not that this has affected temperatures much.) Vigo and Pontevedra are expected to get as hot as Orense, which is one of those inland places that has extremes of heat in summer and cold in winter.

Curiously the newspaper referred to the weekend just gone as the "penultimate weekend of summer". Well, it might be the next to last weekend before the summer solstice but I alway understood the solstice to mark midsummer not the end of summer. Even Shakespeare would back me up on that.

All the advertising for the Islas Cíes must have been working as they have been having large numbers of visitors. Low tides have been causing disembarkation problems though. The water was so low one day this last weekend that the 200 or so passengers on one boat reportedly had to walk up a very sloping and precarious gangplank. It is to be hoped none of them was in a wheelchair then! Because of the low water conditions the boat was bounced around quite a lot against the wharf, causing quite a lot of seasickness and general vomiting. The boat companies take all this in their stride and say that the vomiting is quite normal and happens quite a lot. Not the nicest way to begin your day out on the islands however!

Record numbers of visitors are expected in the hotels and restaurants of this fair city, bringing with them the problem of those who depart without paying. There is a Spanish term for this. A "sinpa" is someone who leaves "sin pagar", without paying. In some cases large sums of money are involved. One hotel last season had someone depart leaving behind an unpaid bill of €1,800! Reluctantly, Vigo hoteliers are apparently beginning to think they must adopt the habit of hoteliers in other parts of Europe and ask for details of credit cards when a guest signs in. Are local hoteliers so polite and gentlemanly that they have avoided doing so until now? Somehow I doubt it.

I also read a bit of political stuff. As Mariano Rajoy faces a motion of censure in his government, today I think, the newspaper reminded us that forty years ago, on June 15th, Spain had its first free elections since the time of the Republic. During four decades of Franco's dictatorship elections that took place were hardly free and fair. And then, forty years ago now, Adolfo Suárez insisted on free and fair elections to reestablish democracy in the country. The article I read suggested that Rajoy should use the motion of censure debate to create an opportunity to re-examine the state of the nation and once more re-establish true democracy.

Well! Why not? We have Macron stirring things up in France, Corbyn surprising lots of people in the UK and some Americans calling for their president to be removed.

Things could get even more interesting.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Words!

The Spanish have long had a habit of borrowing, or rather inventing or at least changing the nature of, English words ending in "...ing". To my knowledge the ones that have been around longest are "el camping" for a campsite, also used by the French, and "el parking" for a car park. Then along came the rather ridiculous term for jogging, "el footing". Who decided that that was anything like a word, goodness only knows. In beauty circles you can have "un lifting", a facelift. (Incidentally, I was once told that a "Salford facelift" is when women in Salford pull their hair into such a tight ponytail that the skin of the face is stretched up and back, just as if they had had cosmetic surgery, but at far less cost!) and then there is "un peeling", which I assume is exfoliation, a process of removing a layer of skin, something which has always struck me as quite barbaric!

And now I have come across a new borrowing: "el manspreading". At least his time they have borrowed a term, albeit a relative neologism, actually used in English. Some men, when using public transport, have a tendency to spread their knees wide apart, thus encroaching on the space which would normally be occupied by the person sitting in the seat next to them. The standard, very British, reaction is for the person whose territory is being invaded to swivel their legs away from the encroaching knee and huddle into the remaining space without making a fuss, other than perhaps a resigned sigh. Madrid's transport people are, however, not putting up with it and have invented a new sign to go in their buses, advising against "el manspreading". Now we just need one advising against "el showing everyone what colour your underpants are", to remind young man to please pull their trousers up properly!

Someone who seemingly knows how to do things in a manly fashion is Vladimir Putin. Interviewed recently by the film-maker Oliver Stone, he replied, “I am not a woman, so I don’t have bad days. I am not trying to insult anyone. That’s just the nature of things. There are certain natural cycles.” And at the gym he would apparently prefer not to shower next to a gay man as would not want to "provoke him". How wonderful to feel so confident in oneself!

It's funny the sorts of things that come out in interviews like that. During the recent election campaign, in a television interviewTheresa May was asked if she had ever done anything really naughty, presumably as a child, whereupon she confessed to having run through fields of wheat with some friends. How shocking! I guess she has made up for it since, buying expensive shoes and leather trousers, not to mention being responsible for some bad policies.

And now Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem about her:

Published on Saturday 10 June 2017

In which her body was a question-mark
querying her lies; her mouth a ballot-box that bit the hand that fed. Her
eyes? They swivelled for a jackpot win. Her heart was a stolen purse;
her rhetoric an empty vicarage, the windows smashed.
Then her feet grew sharp stilettos, awkward.
Then she had balls, believe it.
When she woke,
her nose was bloody, difficult.
The furious young
ran towards her through the fields of wheat.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Different points of view!

Once again I say, what a difference a day makes! Yesterday's news reports had senior Labour Party figures admitting publicly that they has been mistaken in their assessment of their leader. After all, Labour had won seats in Thursday's election in places which had been Tory for centuries, palcex like Bedford, Portsmouth and Canterbury.

Owen Smith, who once lost a leadership challenge against Corbyn, said: “I was clearly wrong in feeling that Jeremy was unable to do this well and I think he’s proved me wrong and lots of people wrong and I take my hat off to him.” He went on, "I don’t know what Jeremy’s got but if we could bottle it and drink it we’d all be doing very well. We were hearing people who hadn’t voted for a long while voting Labour yesterday evening, who were inspired by the policies – and, it has to be said, by Jeremy – to vote Labour last night.” The cynic in me asks if they are vying for a place in the shadow cabinet. Or an eventual actual cabinet.

Meanwhile, in the other camp, everything is up in the air. There is pressure for Theresa May to resign but she appears to be hanging on in there, at least for the time being. Policies at home and on Brexit will need to be rethought. Some are saying that the single market and freedom of movement decisions are back in play, despite opposition from the Eurosceptics. Interesting times!

Interesting times for Spain too, as Catalonia has set a date on its referendum on independence: October 1. The Spanish government opposes the idea of secession but the Catalans have long considered themselves different from the rest of Spain. As with Scotland, I find myself wondering about the people who have moved there from other parts of the country, even if it was their family who did so a generation or two back. Do they consider themselves Catalan or Andalusian, for example? I use this example as many Andalusians have traditionally sought work and eventually settled in Catalonia? And do people of Catalan origin but now living in other parts of the country still consider themselves Catalan? After all, I know Scots and Welsh people, and especially Irish folk, who still insist on their Scotsness, Welshness and Irishness, even generations after the accent has long since been lost. Do those people still feel they have a right to a say in the decision on the independence or otherwise of the region?

How complicated life can be. This is perhaps why we should all consider ourselves European or, better still, citizens of the world! 


Friday, 9 June 2017

And now, June 9th! Consequences of June 8th.

What a difference a day, or indeed in this case a night, makes.

I went to bed last night feeling rather gloomy. The papers I had read online in the cafe during the evening all suggested that the Conservatives were in line for a landslide victory. The much talked about young voters were regarded as unreliable. Few of them would turn out to vote was the general consensus. And here we are this morning with a hung parliament and calls for Theresa May to resign.

From various Scandinavian political series we have watched on TV, we are aware that coalitions are an accepted form of government in some countries but they don't often happen in the UK. And the last one was not a great success, doing huge damage to the Liberal Democrats in the process. Poor old Nick Clegg has lost his seat this time around. Were it not for his having brought a lot of his troubles on himself by getting into bed with the Tories, I could almost feel sorry for him. Basically he is not a bad bloke. He must be wondering now how differently things might have turned out if he had made another decision back in 2010. So it goes.

I also find myself wondering how differently things might have turned out this time if the Parliamentary Labour Party had given their party leader their wholehearted support. And, for that matter, if the media had been somewhat less biased in their reporting. However, it is idealistic to expect the media to be truly unbiased or to avoid the sensational. Simple reporting of facts does not sell newspapers and so a "twist" is required.

I was rather gratified to read that UKIP had won no seats - unless they sneak in among the last few to be declared - and more than pleased to see that Caroline Lucas had retained her seat, even though she is the only Green MP. There is still a part of me that wonders how the Greens would have got on if they had had the same level of media coverage as UKIP. The latter always seemed to me to receive an inordinate amount of attention, especially in the early days when they appeared to be something of a joke, one step up from the Monster Raving Loony Party. Okay, so that is a bit of an exaggeration but it cannot be denied that they had a lot of free publicity which resulted in a larger fanbase than they might otherwise have had. But the Greens were too sensible and not sensational enough to receive the same. Once again, so it goes!

And so, as I read that Theresa May has struck a deal with the DUP, we wait to see what the true fallout from yesterday's election will finally be.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

June 8th at last!

Well, polling day has come around at last in the UK. It's not been a very pleasant campaign on the whole. Yesterday certain newspapers were once more trying to convince their readers that Labour party people supported terrorists. However, strong winds apparently blew over a van or lorry extolling the Conservatives once again as the strong and stable party. Is there a message in there? Is that karma? I wonder!

Looking through some old notebooks I came across a quote from somewhere, something I copied down at the time of the last general election: "Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice - stability and strong government with the Conservatives or major chaos with Ed Miliband". That has a familiar ring to it. And there was poor old Theresa May thinking she had come up with an original soundbite! 

A lot has changed in the political world since then.

But we have just another day to wait and see what kind of chaos is in store for us. For I suspect that whoever ends up in 10 Downing Street is not going to have an easy time of it.

If the stormy weather of the last few days continues over there, will that affect turnout? Traditionally the right have been more efficient at getting their voters out in bad weather. Forget about the influence of Russia on elections; weather is bad enough! We shall see!

Polls suggest Monsieur Macron, président de la France, might be about to get a lot of his new party elected. That will be another interesting ingredient in the political mix!

Here in Vigo, we continue quietly. Despite news reports last time we were here that fewer tourist cruise boats were going to be calling in at this fair city, both yesterday and the day before there were huge boats docked at the estación marítima. We had to go down to the A Laxe shopping centre to visit Mediamarkt. Big mistake! The centre of town was full of bewildered Brits. (Have they all organised postal votes? Does it matter since many of them may well be Tory voters? Am I guilty of stereotyping?) The young man who served us in Mediamarkt insisted on trying out his quite good English on us. We persisted in answering him in Spanish and eventually convinced him that that was the best option. However, Phil has vowed never again to go to town when there is a cruise ship in the harbour. He resents being mistaken for a tourist!

I have a different problem on my hands. Yesterday I went down to the gardens intending to have a swim. The pool was not just closed but empty! Not a drop of water! And no notices about it! And nobody around to ask for information!

The pool and the view across the bay are the major perks of renting this flat! What is going on?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Nuisances of various kinds.

As we disembarked in Porto in the rain on Monday, I heard a young lady ahead of me on the steps of the plane complain, "We must have gone back to Liverpool. This cannot be Portugal!" And indeed, the weather seemed to be exactly the same as what we had left behind in the North West of England. Yesterday and today, on the other hand, we have woken to sunshine. My brother-in-law sent me a message from the Isle of Man wishing us better weather than he was experiencing. It was so bad there yesterday apparently that they cancelled the day's motorcycle race.

It's just as well the sun shone for us yesterday as we had to make an unscheduled trip to Pontevedra because I had inexplicably managed to drop the keys to my suitcase in a friend's car. I am afraid I got rather grumpy on Monday night at the prospect of everything in my suitcase having another day of being crumpled but at least we did not have to try to break into the case, something which at one point appeared likely.

Serendipitously we found a very good menu del día for €12 in Pontevedra, so the trip was not at all unpleasant. As we sat in the Plaza de Verduras we watched a chap at another table trying to coax pigeons to perch on his hand while he fed them crumbs. Truly, some people have very little sense. By contrast we spent our time batting at the pests with rolled up magazines. There are far too many of these annoying creatures around and those who persist in feeding them just encourage them to land on cafe and restaurant tables and make a nuisance of themselves.

They are not even as appealing as grey squirrels and some people set about hunting them down. Here is a link to an article about grey squirrel hunters on the UK. Of course I am aware that they are not native to the British Isles and that carry a kind of squirrel disease to which they are immune but which has decimated the native squirrels. But it's not their fault. Nobody asked them if they wanted to move to the UK. They may not be quite as cute and pretty as the red squirrels but the one that comes and sits on our kitchen window ledge is rather appealing. So are his antics stealing nuts from a neighbour's bird feeder and burying them all over the garden. I remain convinced that it was a squirrel that planted the bluebells in our garden. It certainly had nothing to do with me.

While we are on the subject of birds and animals being pests, here is a link to some pictures of grey herons which have become urban birds in Amsterdam, rather as seagulls have become urban birds in many cities around the world.

And here is a link to something about a man with a healthy disregard for bad weather, manfully mowing his lawn with a tornado behind him. Canadians are obviously the best kind of North Americans.

I am trying to think and say as little as possible about another North American whose advisers are said to be seriously rethinking his visit to the UK in the light of the London terrorist attack.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

More madness!

The madness continues. Late yesterday evening a breaking news message flashed across the television screen, interrupting the programme we had not quite decided to watch. And so we flipped over to BBC news to discover that some crazy people in a van had mowed down Saturday evening strollers on London Bridge and then set about anyone they could reach with knives. I watched for a while and then, having checked that our London inhabiting son was safely home in bed, I gave up and went to bed myself.

This morning Theresa May says we must stop being too tolerant of terrorists. What does that mean? This from a woman who appears to think it is all right to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. No, more than all right; it is good for the economy and helps to keep Britain safe!

Before he even knew whether this was in fact a terrorist attack, President Trump was tweeting the need to bring his travel ban into effect to ensure the security of his country. This despite the fact that our recent terrorists have not actually flown in but were here already.

But this is the modern world and America is the country where a New Hampshire Republican politician recently reacted to a campaign to raise the age limit for marriage in the state, where girls can still marry at 13 and boys at 14, by saying:

"We're asking the legislature to repeal law that's been on the books for over a century, that's been working without difficulty."

Isn't that the point of changing the law? Is he aware that in some states it is still on the statute books that a woman can only drive a car if a man walks in front with a flag to let people know she is coming?

I had some further thoughts about having lots of stuff. Not just shoes and bags. We all tend to amass stuff. Phil has chess books. Too many to count. A friend of mine once counted up and found that she have over sixty coats. Just a little excessive! I still wonder where she kept them all. Did she have a spare room just for coats? This would be like a young lady I once worked with whose fiance told her they would need an extra bedroom in the house they proposed to buy, just to accommodate her bags and shoes!

And the other night we watched a BBC Arena programme about Loretta Lynn. As well as being able to visit her dude ranch (yes, her dude ranch!), you can go to the Loretta Lynn museum. This is extremely well stocked with just about all the outfits she ever wore on stage, including some astoundingly dreadful frocks, because, according to the curator of the place, she never threw anything away. Having grown up in austerity, she simply kept everything!

Madness!

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Collectables!

From time to time my husband makes rather rude comments about my shoes, usually along the line of my middle name being Imelda. Yes, I have quite a few pairs of shoes - not as many, however, as some people I know - but mostly it's because I look after them. It seems silly to throw something out when you might make use of it again. Which I do. I like to ring the changes. And when I have decided that there is no likelihood of my ever wearing certain shoes again, I take them along to one of those shoe-banks so that someone else can make use of them.

At least I don't have umpteen pairs of almost identical brown boots lining the hall!

Then there are the handbags, once again amassed over years. Some people buy a new bag and use it ALL the time, until it is thoroughly worn out or until they have grown so heartily sick of it that they never ever want to see it again. Me, I prefer to have different bags for different outfits, different colours and styles, large bags for the days when I need to carry a load of stuff around and small, neat bags for days when I need little more than my keys, my purse and my mobile phone.

However, perhaps I should have a new philosophy towards handbags. It would seem that handbags should be regarded as an investment. Christie's auction house has been holding a handbag sale. None of your bargain-basement stuff here. We are talking about bags expected to sell for £100,000 to £150,000. And that's for secondhand bags!

There is an auction catalogue where each bag is described in detail and graded. A grade 1 bag shows "no signs of use or wear" and comes in its original packaging. (My handbags' original packaging would usually be a plastic carrier bag, which I don't think would add much to the value!) A grade 6 bag is damaged and requires repair but is still "considered in fair condition". Of course these are bags with trimmings such as white gold and diamond clasps. (I wonder if my Kipling bags would retain their value because they still come along with the original Kipling monkey.)

Apparently the most expensive and most sought after is the Hermès Birkin, named for singer, actress, all round famous Jane Birkin. They cost £5000 new but there is a waiting list for them and they are picky about who goes in their waiting list. Presumably they increase in value over time, for most of the rich women buying such bags on the auction circuit do so for the investment value. As with works of art, they end up spending most of their time locked away somewhere. How sad!

The whole things becomes rather weird and silly. Christie's auction house has a "head of handbags". Who knew that such a profession could exist? I wonder if the gentleman concerned ever thought when he was a child growing up that he might one day have such a job. I also wonder how much he is paid to sell secondhand bags.

How the other half lives!

The people who buy such bags live in a level of society that doesn't need to be concerned about education cuts, NHS spending, food banks or the rights and wrongs of spending money on nuclear defence systems. They clearly have more money than anyone can possibly need and should be paying more taxes!

Friday, 2 June 2017

It's all about me, me, me!

We seem to live in an ever more me-centred world. Last night I watched President Trump talking about his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement. His reasoning ran along these lines:
  • Back in 2015 when America signed the agreement all the other countries of the world cheered. 
  • They were really happy because they knew that this agreement would put America at a disadvantage. 
  • They were all secretly laughing at America. 
  •  Now he is putting all of this right. 
  • Nobody can laugh at America ever again. 
Rather disturbingly, his audience clapped and cheered.

Large parts of his country suffer from the problems of climate change. Even his own place at Mar A Lago suffers from flooding because of climate change.

His own states are combining against him over this. One of the residents of Florida expressed his amazement that their "so-called president" (his words, not mine) was working against the good of the country.

But the whole climate change thing is apparently something dreamed up by others, such as the Chinese, so that they can beat the USA. And the president said he wanted to put America first. Clearly the reason why the nations of the world want to fight climate change and why Mr Trump denies it is all about America being first as well. What a man!

Meanwhile, another president, Monsieur Macron of France, is asking everyone to "make the world great again". I wonder where he got that slogan.

The whole business of denying scientific fact is hard to understand. Does it take a special mindset to look at all the evidence and simply deny it? It may be, however, that in some areas of knowledge this blinkered approach might be about to change. The Pope has made a judgement about evolution and the big bang theory. He says that belief on both of these bits of science can be considered quite compatible with a belief on a supreme being. God, he said, is not some kind of magician who could wave a wand and make stuff happen. So why not accept evolution. God still needed to create the original beings which were then going to evolve. Similarly for a big bang to take place God had to create the necessary conditions.

He has not so far explained where God came from in the first place! But his declaration might change some attitudes to education in some parts of the world.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Listening to the views of others!

Last night I watched the television debate between the various party leaders. All but one, of course, as Theresa May, amazingly stable in her decision for once, did not turn up but sent Amber Rudd to speak for her. Amber Rudd seemed to have adopted that physical stance so popular among some politicians at the moment: feet apart, legs sturdy, not quite arms akimbo but looking very determined. She received some opposition from the audience when she suggested that selling arms to Saudi Arabia was really good for the British economy. She also got a lot of stick for the absence of her leader. So it goes!

Zoe Williams, writing about the debate, expresses the view that Jeremy Corbyn did quite well. She then goes on to say this in today's Guardian:

"Let me do you the giant disservice of casting your mind back to the televised election debates of 2010. Nick Clegg did brilliantly, remember: everyone agreed with Nick. He seemed so plausible and so nice, so far removed from the to and fro, the rough and tumble. This gave us two data points: one, that he didn’t get any seats from it; two, that he ended up in a coalition that made him the enemy of every value he’d espoused. I don’t want to get excited about a TV debate ever again."

So we shall have to wait and see but some people are getting quite excited.

On the whole, UKIP's Paul Nuttall came off worst, ranting a little like a comedy politician. The one who came across best - collected, rational, warm and courteous, and truly passionate - was Caroline Lucas, joint leader of the Green Party. It's a pity hers isn't a bigger party.

Meanwhile, over the pond, Donald Trump is about to pull the USA out of the Paris agreement on climate change. Will it make any difference if all the other presidents and prime ministers tell him he is wrong? Probably not! Tolerance of other people's opinions is not his strong suit.

Across the oceans in another direction, over in Australia, a row is building up in tennis circles. Margaret Court, once one of Australia's top tennis players and now, at 74, a pastor in the Victory Life church, has been declaring her intolerance of gays, gay marriage, gays having children, and almost anything at all to do with transgender people. Apparently it all started when someone threw a pie in the face of the gay chairman of Qantas, because of his support of same-sex marriage. Margaret Court then decided she would boycott the airline and now some tennis players want to boycott her and her arena in Melbourne. She has now said that tennis is “full of lesbians” and that transgender children were the work of “the devil”. Oh, dear!

Lots of big-name tennis people have got involved; even our own Andy Murray has had his say.

One suggestion is that the Margaret Court Arena should be renamed the Evonne Goolagong Arena, which sounds to me like a really good name, celebrating Australia's indigenous people.

A little tolerance would be a very good idea.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Election matters!

The general election day creeps closer and closer. As we won't be in the country on the fateful day, we have organised our postal vote and just need to pop the envelopes in the postbox. A friend of ours says she has always used the postal vote system. Maybe she doesn't want to walk to the nearest polling station. Possibly it was more convenient when she was working full time and she has just continued with the same old same old. One of her sons is unable to vote as he is in New Zealand. She tried to get a postal vote on his behalf but as he was not around to sign the form it was not possible. Presumably this is a measure to try to prevent the head of a household voting for the whole family. I wonder, however, if the young man in New Zealand could not have organised himself sooner and had his postal vote sent out to him. This is what happens when you rely on mum to do everything for you.

When the elections for mayor of Greater Manchester took place recently, we were momentarily concerned that we might have been disenfranchised. Polling day drew near and we had no voting cards. And yet we knew we were registered voters. So on the day itself, we went along to the polling station, equipped with various forms of i.d. and prepared to fight for our right to vote. In the event the people manning the booths, who did not know us from Adam, simply asked for our names and address and issued us with voting slips. Most irregular, in our opinion. Any unknown couple could have turned up there saying they were us and stealing our vote!

There are rumblings about introducing legislation denying people the right to vote if they do not have photo i.d. with them. I have mixed feelings about that. In cases like ours in the mayoral elections I think someone should have asked for proof of who we are but as a rule, if you have your polling card that should be enough. On the other hand .... Oh, that lack of trust is just not British, some might say. Bring on the i.d. cards, say I. Somehow I think that younger people, many of whom carry some form of i.d. around with them anyway so that they can purchase alcohol or get into clubs, might not object as much as older people.

As regards the missing polling cards for the mayoral elections, an odd thing happened. One day last week or perhaps the week before, in any case after we had received polling cards for the upcoming general election, what should pop through our letterbox but the missing mayoral election polling cards! Where had they been in the meantime? Who had been hanging on to them? Why? And why had they been delivered now, so long after their use-by date? Another little mystery which will most likely never be solved!

Things are getting tense with the elections. Theresa May has reverted to talking about Brexit, which after all was ostensibly her excuse for calling the thing in the first place. She says that if we should be daft enough to elect Jeremy Corbyn as PM, he would go "naked into the negotiating chamber". She went on to make a rather nasty little sexist joke about what an unpleasant image that conjured up. When we heard her say that we wondered if a male politician would have got away with such a remark about a female opponent. However, that section of her speech seems to have been airbrushed out of subsequent news reports. How strange!

It does go along with a general trend though. Labour Party gaffs are top news while Tory Party gaffs are swept under the media carpet. Even David Dimbleby, not the most unbiased of chairmen of discussion programmes, has been shouting about the media bias against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. And Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor, has been a teensy bit more biting in her questions to the PM. So maybe belatedly the tide of bias is turning. It does make one wonder where we would now stand if Corbyn had consistently received as much coverage as Nigel Farage had.

This topic is already the subject of academic studies and will provide material for Media Studies courses for years to come.

Meanwhile, we have just over a week to wait and see what will come of it all!

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Educational conundrums!

In the weekend paper there was an article about revisiting Baltimore fifteen years after "The Wire" was first filmed there. The various series looked at drugs, crime, corruption, politics, unions, education - practically an election campaign all on its own.

By a curious coincidence I have just read "A Spool of Blue Thread" by Ann Tyler, also set in Baltimore, but a very different Baltimore. Hers was a very white, mostly middle class Baltimore. How curious!

In the newspaper feature one person commented that you could remake "The Wire" today or in another fifteen years' time and it would not be substantially different. What a sad situation!

The school that was used in the series on education was portrayed as a busy, bustling state secondary school, overcrowded, full of social problems, with teachers striving to do their best for the children of their district. The school building stood empty for some time after the TV people left but now houses a Montessori school with about 450 pupils and its ideals of guided freedom of learning, learning through discovery, and mixed ages in the classrooms. Parents all over the city want to send their children there and there is a waiting list of about 1200! Some small boys who live near the school missed out on the lottery for places and have to attend a different, larger, more traditional state school. They commented that they would like to go to the Montessori school as they have heard that the teachers don't shout at you all the time.

If only funding could make every school, if not a Montessori school for after all some people don't believe in those ideals, than at least a smaller unit where staff can know and nurture all their pupils properly.

This article about education cuts points out that every pound a government invests in education is pounds upon pounds it won’t have to spend later on hospitals, welfare and criminal justice. We should be able to teach our children how to live healthily and thus save money on healthcare and hospitals. We should be able to teach them right from wrong in a meaningful way, with the support to keep them out of prison and possibly in work.

Instead we have a situation where a primary school in Wandsworth is asking their top juniors to vacuum the classrooms at the end of the day as the cutbacks mean they can't afford to replace the cleaner who just left. The headteacher's husband does the school 's plumbing repairs for free. Parents order educational supplies from Amazon and bring them to the school.

If someone put it in a TV series, you might think it was a little over the top. The truth is stranger than fiction!

Monday, 29 May 2017

We're not all the same

It's a rather dull and damp bank holiday here in the North West of England. It's a good job we hadn't planned a picnic or an outdoor activity.

It may be a bank holiday and the post office may be closed but Amazon still deliver. There was a tap tap at our door - very few delivery men seem to understand that a doorbell is a device that is usually more likely to be heard throughout the house - and there was the Amazon man with a parcel, which Phil insisted I should open. So, not yet another chess book then!

No, this was a dictionary of English Usage, the perfect book for a pair of grammar nerds. Ammunition for arguments about the correct part of speech to use in all situations. Hours of fun for all the geeks in the family. It will probably also give us further insight into differences between English usage and American usage. Although most of the things which we believe they say "wrongly" are just an older form of the language. If Shakespeare said it that way, it should be good enough for all of us!

Which brings me on to an oddity I came across while skimming the stuff that friends post on social media. Back in Shakespeare's time it was quite usual for a girl to marry young. Juliet was, after all, only 13 when she got involved in all that mess with Romeo. I mention this because I read somewhere that as recently as March of this year, the state of Pennsylvania introduced a bill to end child marriage in their state, raising the age of legal marriage to 18. It turns out that in most states of the USA it is still possible for girls to be married off at age 14, provided they have their parents permission of course. If it was good enough for Shakespeare ....

Here is an excerpt from something I read:-

"In fact, more than 167,000 young people age 17 and under married in 38 states between 2000 and 2010, according to a search of available marriage license data by a group called Unchained at Last, which aims to ban child marriage. The search turned up cases of 12-year-old girls married in Alaska, Louisiana and South Carolina, while other states simply had categories of “14 and younger.”

Unchained at Last was not able to get data for the other states. But it extrapolated that in the entire country, there were almost 250,000 child marriages between 2000 and 2010. Some backing for that estimate comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, which says that at least 57,800 Americans age 15 to 17 reported being in marriages in 2014. Among the states with the highest rates of child marriages were Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky.

The number of child marriages has been falling, but every state in America still allows underage girls to marry, typically with the consent of parents, a judge or both. Twenty-seven states do not even set a minimum age by statute, according to the Tahirih Justice Center’s Forced Marriage Initiative.

A great majority of the child marriages involve girls and adult men. Such a sexual relationship would often violate statutory rape laws, but marriage sometimes makes it legal."

Unchained at Last is an organisation fighting to change the legislation and prevent forced marriage, which is a thing we associate with third world countries or at the very least places which are radically different from ours. Somehow you don't expect suchbthjngs to be going on in the USA.

And then you remember that even the language we share with the United States can often be spoken very differently in our two countries!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

A bit of a mystery!

Yesterday when we went off for our walk along the banks of the Tyne, we got off a bus near the start of the walk and at that point it began to rain. Fortunately we quickly spotted a landing protected by a perspex roof/awning, at the top of a flight of steps. So up the steps we went, together with a pair of tourists, possibly Japanese, equipped with maps and rucksacks and such like equipment.

As we stood and chatted about an art installation that used to be on the grassy bank opposite, but which had been removed to make way for the building of a Hilton Hotel, we spotted a young woman walking, or rather shuffling down the slope. I was struck by her clothing. At first I thought she was wearing one of those long, open-front cardigans that are in fashion at present, the ones that look like dressing gowns. On closer inspection, it was clear that this was, in fact, a lightweight terry dressing gown, over a long t-shirt style nightdress. On her feet she wore slippers, hence the shuffling walk. What was a young woman doing shuffling down the road in her nightwear in the pouring rain on a Sunday lunchtime?

As she prepared to cross the road, a sleek black car drove up to the crossroads. She seemed to be making ready to cross behind it but changed her mind at the last minute and sidled up towards the front of that car. At that moment a hand appeared from the driver's window and gave her a mobile phone. The car drove away, the girl started to make calls and, to our frustration, disappeared out of view around the corner.

Five of us, we three and the tourist couple, looked at each other, raised our eyebrows and got on with watching the rain.

Some five or ten minutes later another car drove up, turned the corner, turned round and came back, eventually stopping at the foot of our flight of steps. The driver switched on his hazard lights, got out and walked around the corner. Had he come to collect the girl in her nightwear?

Apparently, yes! For he reappeared, followed by the girl, frail and tearful. They seemed not to be speaking to each other. With little sign of emotion of any kind, he ushered her into the car and set off. What was all that about? Was she a sleep walker? Was this the result of a domestic argument of some kind? Was there some soliciting or people trafficking going on?

We shall probably never know, unless something appears in Newcastle or Gateshead newspapers. In which case, our friend, who made a note of the second car's registration number, Miss Marple fashion, will be able to offer her witness statement.

 A novel, or at the very least a short story, hides behind these events. Our nosey instincts were alerted. These are things you get up to on wet Sunday lunchtimes.

And then the rain cleared and we got on with the rest of our day.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Coincidence and likely stories and other nonsense

Today is my younger sister's birthday. She was born on our mother's birthday. Doing so, she started a kind of family tradition, maintained through the next two generations so far. My daughter was born on her grandfather's birthday. And her daughter, my eldest granddaughter, was born on my son's birthday. This bit of nonsense has always pleased us in the family. We can go a step further; today is also the birthday of my daughter's almost-mother-in-law. So who else shares a birthday with my sister? Today's Guardian newspaper gives me an answer: among others (most of whom mean little to me), they name Paul Gascoigne, footballer, 50; Duncan Goodhew, swimmer, 60; Henry Kissinger, US statesman, 94 (almost as old as my mother would have been today if she were still alive); Jamie Oliver, chef, 42; and Siouxsie Sioux, singer, 60.

My daughter, ever the sentimentalist, put on Facebook this morning birthday greetings to her aunt (Patricia May), her almost-mother-in-law (Silvia Mei) and her late grandmother (Phyllis May), delighting in the coincidence of names, even if the spelling (May - Mei) varies. My daughter does love a bit of soppiness!

We have been delighting in the sunshine (except for a rainshower not long after midday, just as we got off a bus) up here in the North-East of England by taking a walk along the Banks of the Tyne to have a light lunch at the Staiths cafe. And we admired the "staiths" for which the cafe is named. What, you may ask are "staiths"? Here is an answer:
 
"Dunston Staiths, on the River Tyne, is believed to be the largest timber structure in Europe. It is a Grade II listed monument, appears on English Heritage's At Risk register and is owned by registered charity the Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT).
Opened in 1893 by the North East Railway Company, it was built to allow large quantities of coal arriving by rail from the Durham Coalfields to be loaded directly onto waiting colliers (or coal ships) ready for the onward journey to customers in London and abroad. At the coal industry's peak around 5.5 million tons of coal was moved this way each year.
As the coal industry declined during the latter part of last century so too did Dunston Staiths, eventually falling into serious disrepair. Some reprieve came from the National Garden Festival held in Gateshead in 1990, which saw extensive restoration work carried out with the Staiths taking a leading role as a key installation with performance space and an art gallery.
Sadly, the landmark structure's luck didn't hold. A serious fire in 2003 inflicted extensive damage putting the Staiths on English Heritage's At Risk register. Fortnately, TWBPT succeeded in raising the funds required to kick start the ongoing restoration which has seen it transformed into an exciting and sustainable visitor attraction."

I have some doubts about the " exciting and sustainable visitor" attraction bit of it as it did not look very visitable as far as I could see. Nonetheless, here and here are a couple of links to info about it. 

With lunch Phil has a glass of Blaydon Brick ale. This ale, we learned, is lovally brewed at the delightfully named Firebrick Breweries. The ale is so called because Blaydon Brick was the nickname of a "popular cloth-capped 19th century MP for Newcastle, Joseph Cowen Jnr. A son of Blaydon; he was a friend of Garibaldi, Mazzini, the working man, amd anyone at that time whose rights were repressed."

Isn't it amazing what you can learn rom a beer bottle. The beer itself is described as a "well-rounded golden ale; toffee and fresh hop on the nose; biscuity with some spice in the taste and very refreshing."

Clearly beer is subject to the same nonsense as wine when being described!

I wonder if it gets its "biscuity" taste from Joseph Cowen's friendship with Garibaldi.

Quite enough nonsense for one day!

Friday, 26 May 2017

Unforeseen consequences!

Sometimes life gets complicated.

We have been planning for a while to go and see an old friend in the North-East. We planned this originally for just after Christmas, had our train tickets booked and everything. Then our friend came down with flu and cancelled. The train company gave us a voucher when we contacted them to say we had changed our mind about travelling. I thought this was quite good considering that it was not their fault that we were not travelling.

So after a period of forgetting to phone until was really too late in the evening, eventually I contacted our friend and arranged to head up north. We thought we might go last weekend but we had left our booking too late and the only possibilities left involved changing trains umpteen times along the way. So we opted for this weekend and duly booked our tickets. The tickets arrived by post. Just as well, as things turned out.

A lot can happen in a week. And on Monday, as has been all over the news, a crazy fanatic blew himself up at a pop concert largely attended by 8 - 18 year old girls. The Manchester Arena, where this horrible event took place, is not just next door to but directly connected to Manchester Victoria Station. Since Monday evening the station has been closed. Our train to Newcastle was supposed to depart from that station. Had we opted to collect our tickets from one of those machines at the station we would have ticketless.

As it was, we had our tickets and the train was now scheduled to leave from Manchester Piccadilly. So far so good. But ... how to get to Piccadilly? Our normal route would be bus to Oldham and then tram. Our tram, however, goes through Victoria. Or rather, at the moment it doesn't go through Victoria. At our end of the Rochdale to East Didsbury line it currently stops at Monsall, part way into Manchester, and at the other end it chugs between East Didsbury and Deansgate-Castlefield, omitting the central bit. Quite why a tram passing through Victorias but not stopping there would compromise the crime scene rather defeats me but I am prepared to respect the feelings of all concerned.

Getting to Piccadilly by bus is doable but lengthy and so we explored other possibilities. Our best option, we decided, was a train to Stalybridge, and another to Huddersfield where we could pick up the originally booked train. Easy! But no! Not so easy after all! Arriving at the local station we discovered that the Stalybridge train was cancelled. Quick panic! All was well though, as there was a train to Huddersfield in a few minutes. Phil had rejected this option in the first place because it involved a long wait in Huddersfield. But in the end, this was the best choice ... except that the train was then delayed arriving at Huddersfield.

It might be easier to fly to Australia!

As I said, life sometimes gets complicated.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Serendipity!

It's been a while since I posted any photos. This is largely because I have been posting from my iPad and for some strange reason it does not allow me to download pictures from my photos or from my Facebook account onto my blogpost. No doubt there is a simple way to this but I have so far been unable to fathom it. So today I snatched a few minutes computer time before my computer-hogging husband got his hands on it and took the photos I wanted and put them on this post, returning to it later to add the text. Sometimes life is strangely complicated. So here goes nothing!

Yesterday we set out for a walk in the late afternoon. It was a beautiful day. This is probably Delph's summer and we should be grateful that it has happened before we go away to Spain at the start of next month. Our plan was to walk the length of the Donkey Line, the former railway track converted long since into a bridle path, and then make our way home by a different route. At the halfway point along the Donkey Line a group of people on horses joined the track. It is, after all, a bridle path. 

However it was not our plan to walk along breathing in the delightful (to some) aroma of horses. And so we took a detour and decided to walk along a footpath we have not used for a long time. 

When we first moved here, our son, then aged eight, dubbed this path "the secret way" because it went mysteriously off the makn road, up and down hills, alongside the river and finally came out further along the road. We found it full of bluebells. Here are the photos:-

















Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A little nostalgia for a simpler time!

We watched a documentary the other evening about the birth of pop music, all about the enthusiasts who went around the USA collecting recordings of unknown people singing songs that had not been heard out in the wider world. It wasn't all altruistic, of course; they wanted to sell records to a new audience, not just to the wealthier end of society. But people travelled huge distances to record their songs, caught ip in the magic of an idea advertised in a newspaper.

The Carter Family was one of the main examples butbthere were scores of other families in the Appalachians and other sparsely populated bits of the USA i the early 20th century who sang and played music to entertain their families and neighbours. Everyone in a district knew who were the good singers and the good musicians. The amazing thing is that there were so many of them. Presumably in a small place there was little else to do by way of entertainment and they made their own amusement.

Having watched that, I embarked on my super-rapid read, in preparation for the Winston Smith Reading Group, of Notes from a Small Island, in which Bill Bryson visits as many places as possible in Great Britain over a period of a few weeks. Someone described it as a love letter to Britain. I can just about agree with that but it is very much a case of "I love you, warts and all" for he is prepared to be amusingly and affectionately sarcastic about aspects of life here.

I mention Notes from a Small island because one of the places old Bill visited was Ashington in the North East of England. He went there to find out about some people called the Ashington Group, an association of miners turned amateur painters in their spare time. Dressed smartly, they got together and produced works of art and became quite famous for doing so.

The thing is that Bryson describes a thriving community from early in the 20th century who had thespian societies, operatic societies, a workers' education society, a philosophical society, reading rooms, cycling clubs, athletics clubs. You name it, they had a society for it. And as the century moved on all of these societies pretty well disappeared. All gone! The Ashington Group hung in in there until 1983, at which point the rent on the shed which served as a studio was going up quite considerably, miners were a disappearing species and fewer young men wanted to dress up in a suit and paint. So they closed their doors and that was that!

The point is that you can find references to this sort of thing all over the place. In D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, young men who are largely destined to go down the pit still have cultural activities going on in their village. In Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, the family is scraping along with little money but they have a piano and Lol has his violin.

Where did all of that go? Did it start to disappear when radio made its appearance? Did the same innovation that transmitted the music to people's home begin the end of creativity? And then along came television, now available 24 hours if you want it, and with the possibility of catching up on all the stuff you missed first time around. Add to that the internet, streaming, tweeting and twittering and the rest is history!

I'm surprised anyone has the time to create music, paint pictures, write books and all the other stuff at all nowadays.