Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Water, education and isolation.

Yesterday morning there was plenty of water falling from the sky but none coming through the taps in our house. I popped out to see if the neighbours were having the same problem. If it was a localised to us problem we would have to take some us-specific action. Hardly was I out of the door when I spotted a van from what I still refer to as the water board. So I went and asked the engineer if he was responsible for our having no water. Not personally, he told me; it was actually to do with the leak which I could see fountaining up nicely down at the corner.

All being well, he should be able to put it right in about an hour, he went on to tell me, but life, and his job, was being made difficult because the local council doing resurfacing work had happily resurfaced over all the access points to water pipes. Surely there are maps and diagrams intended to avoid such things happening. It’s great when two departments that should be ale to cooperate just get in each other’s way!

We were fortunate; the water supply resumed mid- to late-morning. I heard that some people in other parts of the village had no water until very late in the afternoon. And, sensible people that we are, we always have a jug of water in the fridge and so were able to make coffee for breakfast as usual. In fact the only true disruption was to the washing up which had to be put off for a while.

This morning I read an article based on a book called “Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes” by Diane Reay. As the title suggests, it was all about the disadvantaged lower orders. Children receiving free school meals and pupil premium (a special funding to the school intended to provide extra help for disadvantaged pupils) are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C. Half of these free school meals children are concentrated in just one fifth of the schools in the country.

Similarly four-fifths of children from working-class minority ethnic families are taught in schools with high concentrations of other immigrant or disadvantaged students – the highest proportion in the developed world, according to a by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. More statistics were given but the basic message was that things have mot really improved in anything like the way we thought they would or indeed in the way that fought for back in the 1970s.

Some of the comments were interesting, especially this one from someone who called himself Sir Someone or Other:

“Perhaps if the schools paid more attention to basic academic rigour in English and Maths starting in primary schools say at age 6 onwards we would see better standards. Of course it's fun learning about history etc. but no good if you have no grasp of the basics. Only an hour a day day. Schools can use material used as lead up to the 11+.”

I suppose that if you have, or give yourself, the title “Sir” you might think that way. I wonder if he has been in a primary school to see how much time actually does go on English and Maths and how hard it is to squeeze in the other stuff. Oddly enough I can remember a time when head teachers used to tell us that we were all teachers of English, no matter what our subject specialism.

Oddly enough again, I read recently about a primary school where the head had decided that all the children would learn to play a musical instrument and that all would be involved in choirs. Art was given enhanced importance as well. All lessons in all subjects would involve arts and music, even Maths and Science. Astonishingly, that school did really well in SATs!

As we plan to pay out large sums of money to leave the EU, I wonder if any will be left to fund education at all. Meanwhile, I have a sense of shutters coming down on the UK, isolating us from all sorts of things. The European Medicine Agency is planning to move to Amsterdam post-Brexit and the European Banking Authority to Paris.

Interestingly, a Spanish friend of mine, someone who opposes Catalan separatism and wants her country to stay united, has been posting stuff from a forum called España que bonita eres to the effect that the Catalan Nationalists lost Barcelona the chance of becoming home of the European Medicine Agency.

 So it goes!

Monday, 20 November 2017

They’re (almost) all mad!

The world continues to be rather crazy.

There’s Robert Mugabe, at 93 years old, desperately hanging on to power in Zimbabwe. Surely it’s time to go with dignity.

Our own nonagenarian head of state is celebrating seventy years of being married to the same bloke, in itself quite an achievement. She’s also doing a fair job of hanging onto her position. If I were a royalist, I could feel quite sorry for poor Charles, almost my own age and still waiting!

Angela Merkel is having a tough time of it. And as for our Theresa, well, what can we say?

It’s all almost enough to have us believing that the gods are punishing us, especially when you read what the scientists have to say. They are warning that 2018 could well see an increase in the number of devastating earthquakes around the world. This is apparently because of variations in the speed of the earth’s rotation which might trigger intense seismic activity.

Good grief! Is the earth’s motor broken? Do we need a new fan belt? It’s bad enough when they forecast unusually heavy snowfall without giving us earthquake warnings to boot. Surely we have had enough extreme weather with all the named storms and hurricanes and such!

Not all is craziness though. Denise Gough, actress, interviewed in Sunday’s Observer, was asked why she prefers to be called an actress and not an actor, replied, “We fought to be on the stage. We should reclaim that word: I don’t know where it came from, this fucking notion that putting “ess” on the end makes us weak. I would be no less afraid of a lioness than a lion”. Oh, well said!!! At last, a kindred spirit.

But, back on the crazy radar, here are some odd laws from certain American states, researched and publish by a photographer called Olivia Locher:-

In Illinois a hatpin can be considered a concealed weapon. Fair enough! my grandmother had a formidable and dangerous-looking collection of hatpins. We used to borrow them to pick out and eat individual pomegranate seeds. But does anyone still wear hatpins now?

In Utah no-one may walk down the street carrying a paper bag containing a violin. Golly gosh! Where did that come from and how is it a threat of any kind.

In Michigan it’s illegal to paint sparrows to sell them as parakeets. That smacks of desperation measures in trying to earn a living. Imagine the effort involved in catching sparrows, then making them keep still while you paint them. And finally, you have to persuade the purchaser that this small, remarkably un-parakeet-shaped bird is really a parakeet. Amazing!

In Kansas it’s forbidden by law to serve wine in teacups. Does this one date back to the prohibition era? Possibly I suppose!

Here is a link to more such oddities, with photos to illustrate them.

Did you know that there are still people around who believe the earth is flat. Someone called Mark Sargent has 43,415 subscribers to his “Flat Earth” YouTube channel. Thus is not a huge number, of course, and maybe they are all cranks and conspiracy theorists who think that the photographs of the world as seen from space have been created specially to deceive us all. I particularly like the lady who said, “I went down to the seashore, down New Jersey, and did my own testing... ypu take a straight edge and you go from one end and you follow the horizon of the ocean... it’s flat.”

I am so glad we got that sorted out!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Changing times!

Well, we probably should cancel Christmas right now. Aled Jones has been accused of sexual impropriety or sexual harassment or something of that nature. Every Christmas since I can’t remember when the cartoon film “The Snowman”, featuring that terrible man singing “I’m walking in the air”, has been on television during the festive season. Since Kevin Spacey was accused, it seems to be generally accept that we should no longer watch his films or consider him a good actor. So by the same standards, we should not have any truck with Aled Jones and his fine voice. Okay, he was only a boy when he recorded the song but they do say the child is father to the man.

The whole thing has got a little out of hand!

In today’s paper I have come across two items about the difficulty of ending relationships. Breaking up, it seems, is harder than ever to do. It used to be that some of your friends wouldn’t speak to you after you finished with someone, although quite what it had to do with them I never really understood. In an extreme case, an ex-boyfriend’s mother cut my mother dead on the street as a result of our break-up. Ridiculous! But now you have all the bother of twitter accounts and shared photos on social media to deal with as well.

Someone has even set up a Museum of Broken Relationships, which began as an installation in an arts festival. People sent them items, such as the silk dress one lady was married in, crushed into a jar and thus converted into a thing of beauty once more instead of hanging limply in her wardrobe reminding her of the failed marriage. Clearly it was not a meringue-style wedding dress!

I wonder who goes to such an exhibition!

But we can’t go back to simpler times. That’s just how it is.

My Italian friend was reminiscing the other day about when she used to bring huge great containers of olive oil from Italy to the UK because she could not find it here and could not cook without it. This was, of course, before there were restrictions on the quantity of liquids you could carry from one country to another. We pointed out that it was always possible to buy olive oil here; it was just that you had to purchase it in tiny little bottles from the chemist. Perfume-sized bottles (although now even the perfume comes in bigger bottles) and almost as expensive.

In our turn, we reminisced about how it was used medicinally, a little warm olive oil on cotton wool to cure ear ache. And my mother used to warm her hands at the fire, put a drop of the precious olive oil on her hands and then rub our backs and chests when we had a chesty cold and cough. The smell of olive oil warming in a frying pan still has the Proustian power to send me back to childhood!

There is nothing like a bit of good old nostalgia!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Doing the rounds!

Out and about this morning, I ran into one of the old gentlemen with whom I have a nodding acquaintance in the village. The collection has become quite large, I have to confess. They range from my age upwards. I tend to come across them early in the morning. I wonder what their wives do, assuming they have wives. In fact I am well aware that some of them have wives. So what do these ladies do? Are they all proper housewives, unlike me! Are they busy doing the daily dusting and vacuuming? I admit that I have a tendency to do housework only as and when necessary.

Some of these gentlemen have a nodding, or even a stopping-and-chatting relationship with most of the women around the village. The other day, as I walked to Tesco, I met Mike, one of the younger of the gentlemen, who walks his dog, a rescue dog, for miles and miles every day. We put the world to rights as usual.

At the bus stop later, after completing my shopping, I was chatting to another lady shopper on her way back to Delph and mentioned that I had been talking to Mike and his dog. “Oh, you mean Patrick!” she said to me. We swopped notes and decided that we were indeed talking about the same person, the one who lives alone apart from his little dog, in the basement flat behind the post office. It seems he is known by different names to different people. Maybe he leads a double life! Are his long walks nothing to do with the dog needing exercise but in fact part of a spy mission? Who knows? Next time I see him, I must clarify the name situation!

Anyway, getting back to the gentleman I ran into this morning. An elderly chap, he is one of those very gentlemanly gentlemen. You greet him and ask how he is and his stock reply is always, “All the better for seeing you, young lady!” And this even when, like this morning, I am in my most inelegant running gear.

When I first got to know him, this old gent had his arm in a sling. He told me then that he had dislocated his shoulder on a deep sea fishing trip. The fish he caught was so big and strong that it wrenched his arm around and put his shoulder out! He was waiting for surgeons to put a metal plate in his shoulder and then everything would be fine.

And there I was thinking that fishing was a fairly sedentary kind of sport!

So today, six or eight months on, I asked him how his arm was. Big mistake. His eyes filled with tears. The latest scan had shown possibly irreversible tissue damage and there was a big chance he might lose his arm. Good grief! That fish had a lot to answer for! However, he went on, “And the chap who caused the problem has not even apologised!”

I was puzzled. I thought the culprit was a fish! Before I could even ask he began to tell me a rambling tale of a former friend, someone who had worked alongside him on the allotments. At some point recently he had asked this “friend” to help him with something. The friend had refused and a bit of an argument had ensued about favours being done or not done and lack of reciprocity and stuff of that kind. In the end my old gent had turned to walk away. His “friend” growled at him not to walk away from him and grabbed him by the shoulder, the bad shoulder, the one with the metal plate. And because of the metal plate his grip caused damage. So that’s another supposedly peaceful occupation, gardening, which has led to physical harm! Whatever next?

 Did the “friend” know about the metal plate? Quite probably. Most of the village seems to know the medical history. Does he know the recent damage he has caused? Again, most likely as my old gentleman is not backward in sharing his tale of woe with one and all.

 You don’t need to follow soap operas around here. Village life is quite enough!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Going on a bit about stuff!

Is it just me, or is there a certain amount if infantilisation going on?

Everyone seems to be talking about films about Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear. Now, both if these are delightful characters in their way - if you are a small child! Both our children enjoyed the stories. But really, do we need such a lot of hype about films that are essentially intended for children? Maybe, like Shrek, they have a subtext that makes them highly amusing for adults as well.

Then there are the Christmas adverts. Apparently the John Lewis advert, which tells a story about a little boy with a monster under his bed, has made some people cry. I confess that I have only seen it without the sound. I wasn’t sure I could stand stand listening to it as well as seeing the pictures in a small screen segment of Facebook. My hairdresser yesterday said that she could not understand what it was all,about. Maybe, like me, she has only watched it without the sound.

Tesco’s contribution has been making some people indignant because it includes muslims celebrating Christmas. I wonder how many of those people are actually practising Christians who get up and go to church on Christmas morning. Besides, Christmas has become such a commercial feast that I can quite understand anyone at all, believers or nonbelievers of all or no faiths, making it an excuse to get together, have a bit of a party and give each other presents. Back when I was a child nobody questioned the fact that the Jewish kids at school used to send everyone Christmas cards through the school’s internal Christmas post service!

Marks and Spencer’s advert apparently features Paddington Bear. That bear is getting altogether too much media coverage if you ask me. Before we know it he will be on Question Time and then he will end up as Prime Minister. Maybe not such a bad idea! 

I copied this off a link to the Waitrose advert:

 “Christmas is the perfect time of year to gather round and enjoy delicious food but most importantly to spend #ChristmasTogether.”

The thing is that the original layout on the page where I first saw it put “#Christmas together” on a separate line. Consequently I read it initially as “... but most importantly to spend”. I thought this was a refreshingly honest bit if advertising, until I looked at it again! Such a disappointment!

Everywhere I go, pubs and restaurants are urging us to book now for Christmas. Manchester is full to bursting with Christmas markets, all sparklingly lit up by Christmas lights. Oldham town centre has not yet switched on its Christmas lights but they are ready and waiting, with a huge sign across the High Street which does not wish everyone Merry Christmas but incongruously declares, “OLDHAM LIGHTS”. Presumably this is just in case you though you had reached Blackpool Illuminations! 

That’s enough ranting. Here is a link to two of my favourite female singers, K.D. Lang and Carole King, doing a song called "An Uncommon Love".

Monday, 13 November 2017

Things that disappear!

Sometimes when we travel from Vigo to Porto airport, or the other way around, on the AUTNA bus, we like to sit in a position where we can keep an eye on what goes on around the luggage hold of the bus when it stops at various places. Quite what we would do if one of us noticed someone walking off with my spotty suitcase or Phil’s more sober dark blue one remains a mystery. Perhaps we would rush down the length of the bus shouting and creating mayhem? But it has never arisen and besides, there is rarely anything of great value in the suitcases. It would be purely the nuisance factor of our clothes disappearing. Oh, and the cables for recharging the laptop, the iPads and iPhones. The valuable stuff stays with us inside the bus.

I mention this because I have just read about a jewellery dealer whose suitcase disappeared from the train on which he was travelling. In his case he had gems worth more than a million pounds. He confidently put the case on the luggage rack and when he got to Rugby realised it was no longer there. Good grief! First of all, imagine travelling around with that much valuable stuff in your case. And then, as cool as you like, to place the bag on the luggage rack and ignore it for most of your journey. I would have to have it chained to my wrist somehow, discreetly so that it was not too obvious that I was seriously attached to the contents! Does travel insurance cover such incidents? 

What a cavalier attitude to transporting wealth around. I get paranoid enough when travelling, making sure I have not lost our passports, our boarding cards, the purse of Spanish money, the purse of English money, my card wallet and anything else of value. It’s a good job I am not rich; I couldn’t deal with the stress!

The police report that around here a number of cars have been stolen by gangs who approach the driver as he pulls up, threaten the driver with axes, insist on being given the car keys and then drive off. These are usually pretty posh cars, BMWs and Range Rovers and the like. My daughter and I have agreed that if anyone were to threaten her, she would grab the baby and hand over the car keys. In the end, it’s only property!

I was talking about this with our next door neighbour this morning before I set off for my run. He is a builder and apologised for not having yet been able to do the contracted work on our roof, fitting a cage to the chimney pots so that suicidal birds cannot fly down and perish in the fireplace behind the fitted fire. His ladders have been stolen from the roof of his van - for the second time! He hopes to replace them, again, this week. He can no longer get insurance cover for keeping tools in his van, ever since thieves cut through the side of his van and stole £4000 worth of equipment.

And ours is supposed to be a nice area!

I was reminded of the period, more than ten years ago now, when I began to think someone was building a VW Golf out of mine. On two occasions I went out in the morning to find that someone had stolen the windscreen, simply cutting the rubber surround and walking off with the glassware! Most spectacular was when the thieves detached the radiator grill and headlights. You can understand my slight paranoia, I am sure!

Apart from discouraging news about thieves and rascals, today has not been bad, although very different from yesterday. There was frost everywhere first thing. Also the blue sky had gone, replaced by grey clouds and a rather damp chill in the air, in contrast to Sunday’s crisp cold.

So it goes!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Frozen memories, coincidences and stuff to do on fine autumn days.

It’s funny how people are sometimes set in our memories, like flies in amber.

Nadia Comaneci, the gymnast, is 56 today! I found it in one of those lists of famous folk’s birthdays in the newspaper. But how can that be? She is forever a diminutive 14 year old, looking even younger than her years, doing amazing gymnastics routines at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Of course I have seen her in reports and documentaries since then but she will forever be that very young girl who scored a perfect 10.

Similarly Jackie Coogan is forever a scruffy little boy in a cap, peering round a doorway with Charlie Chaplin, in a scene from “The Kid” which we had in a framed poster hanging from our wall for years and years. In fact the poster is still around somewhere in the house. Checking details of this, I discovered that he gained renewed fame in the 1960s palying Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family”. Who knew? And not much resemblance!

I have been re-reading Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent novel “The Lacuna”, the story, fiction I hasten to add, of Harrison Shepherd, a writer who worked for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and through them as secretary to Leon Trotsky. Harrison Shepherd, in the novel, shares his birthday with Frida Kahlo: July 6th. This is also the birthday of my son and my oldest granddaughter as well as that of at least three other friends or acquaintances. Clearly a good date for a birthday!

That’s enough about famous people and birthdays.

Today the promised cold front (aka ola de frío) brought us one of those fantastic autumn days of blue sky and sunshine and very low temperatures. I was out and about at around 8.00 am looking for supplies of Trebor mints for my chessplaying husband who was off to play in an important league match. So while he sorted himself out I popped to the local co-op for supplies. What a beautiful day! Too good to stay indoors!
And when the chessplayers had departed, I put everything on hold and set off for the bus stop to catch the bus to one of the local beauty spots, which I have not visited for a while.

Autumn was out in force along the route and by 10.30 I was stomping round Dovestone Reservoir, still fairly quiet at that time.

I discovered that my usual circular route was not possible. They are busy “improving” the walks round the park so I sought out an alternative. This proved easy to find as I soon came across a newly opened path through a previously inaccessible bit of woodland.

There was a sign warning me that it was likely to be muddy. This turned out to be very true. I have very muddy light-weight walking shoes to prove it. But it was an interesting diversion.

By the time I was leaving at 12.30, the queue of cars trying to get onto the carpark was out of control. How glad I was not to have a vehicle on the carpark. So I made my way out by the path that declared itself a private road but which I have used for years. And the sun was still shining!

A quick stop-off for a couple of items from the local Tesco and I was back home by early afternoon to complete the chores abandoned earlier and even to read the newspaper.

The weatherman promises us a very cold night tonight! We shall see!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Changing times!

It’s official: the UK is the most obese nation in western Europe, according to figures released by the OECD. Obesity here has gone up by 92% since the 1990s. And all of this despite our becoming more and more of a nanny state.

There’s a bit of me that says the state as such should not really be held responsible for people growing fatter. Oh, I know the government is in charge of education, but I don’t remember vast amounts of time being spent on learning how to be healthy when I was in school. Education was about Maths and English and History and Geography and Modern Foreign Languages and Music and the like.

But of course, the government must be seen to be doing something to counteract an “epidemic” which is affecting so many people and costing the health service money (if, that is, the health service continues to exist. Have we grown more tolerant - possible not the correct word, accepting might be better - of people being fatter? I am reminded of someone I knew, back in 1990s, whose husband would not complain or criticise her for putting on weight; he simply said that she should buy bigger clothes. Has our growing on average fatter been seen as a sign that the nation is being well fed? And then suddenly, it no longer means being well fed but wrongly fed!

I also read today about a mysterious radioactive cloud over Europe, released from some unknown origin during the last week in September. The last week in September!?! And I am just reading about it now!?! I know I have been away from TV news broadcasts for a couple of weeks but even so, I would have expected to hear about it before now. And they are trying to reassure me that this has not been harmful. Radioactive clouds are bad news in my opinion.

Pretty soon I’ll be siding with the conspiracy theorists.

The clouds today all looked remarkably harmless. A fine autumn day, in fact. Mind you, I would not recognise a radioactive cloud if it came and tapped me on the shoulder.

So I have been out and about in this fine, albeit rather chilly, autumn weather. I was on a mission to find fabric. My oldest grandchild has a project - she does this mind of thing at this time of year - to sew a rag doll for her boyfriend’s small niece, who has complained that all the dolls in the shops are the wrong colour for her, a mixed race child. The creative granddaughter was supposed to have located fabric so that we could make a start on the project this weekend. Not a thing has she done! Empty promises!

I was uncertain about finding fabric on sale around here. Back in the 1970s, when I made a lot of my own clothes, fabric shops were all over the place. Like wool shops and haberdashers, they have become elusive. In Spain, I still see them all over the place. For how long? i wonder! The local market seemed like a good place to start. I asked at the wool stall there, not expecting much joy. “The outdoor market”, the stall holder told me, “is full of fabric sellers on a Saturday!”

And so it was. I took a good look around and then joined the serried ranks of ladies buying fabric. It was a strange experience: I swear I was the only non-Asian customer at the stalls I visited.

Does nobody else get their sewing machines out these days? Apart from my granddaughter and me, that is. 

My oldest granddaughter, by the way, was most impressed with my purchases: suitable-coloured fabric for the body and a collection of odds and ends of patterned stuff to create a wardrobe for the doll. Now I just need to pin her down to find a date and time to begin Project Doll in earnest!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Theories of relativity!

Ay! Qué frío! One after another people came into María’s cafe in Vigo last night exclaiming about bow cold it was. Well, okay, it wasn’t baking hot but the temperature charts were still saying 12 degrees, which is fairly mild. Hardly the kind of temperature that has you reaching for your biggest jumper, your wooly hat and scarf and mittens. Even María was at it, expressing surprise that we ordered beer, “in spite of the cold weather”. Although that might have been because on the two previous evenings, albeit rather earlier in the evening than last night, we had ordered coffee or fruit tea infusions. Everything is relative!

This morning we walked to the bus station in the crisp, bright sunshine. One of the signs read 16 degrees. Good grief! That’s almost a balmy English summer’s day! I ended up carrying my jacket; it’s warm work pulling your suitcase through the streets of the city.

We arrived at the bus station in plenty of time for the 12.00 bus to Porto but the bus was already there and already quite full. A bit of a change from the days when it might turn up at 12.15!

We have often commented on the ability of Spanish women to talk the hind leg off a donkey but now I think the award should go to German speaking women. There were three of them, young women in their twenties, possibly German, possibly Austrian who kept up a running chat show for the hour and three quarters that the journey to the airport lasted. To be fair, one of them slept a good deal of the time and most of the talking was done by one of the other two, the third just chipping in her twopenn’orth whenever she got half a chance.

As we were waiting to board the bus a young woman arrived in a bit of a fluster, clearly on the last minute. She asked if anyone knew which side of the bus you needed to put luggage if you were going to the airport. So we put her wise. When we arrived at Porto airport, I saw this same young lady alight from the bus and stride off confidently and nonchalantly towards the entrance, only to rush back a minute or so later to scuttle round to the other side of the bus to collect her suitcase. Maybe she travels a lot on Galician trains where the PA system reminds you as you approach each station in turn not to forget your personal belongings! Imagine the consequences or realing this after the bus had set off to continue its journey to Porto city centre.

In the queue to board the plane, we were marshalling our arguments to prevent the check-in staff insisting on our hand luggage going into the hold. Just ahead of us were a couple from Liverpool, brother and sister as it turned out. They went one each side of the check-in desk. He was invited to check his hand luggage into the hold for free, and accepted, but she was not. Phil and I had the same experience but Phil turned down the offer; the big advantage of travelling hand luggage only is making a quick get-away on arrival without waiting for the suitcase from the carrousel.

Anyway, the gentlemen just ahead of us commented to his sister that his little suitcase was going in the hold for free. He was very pleased; now he did not need to hoist it up into the locker on the plane. A little miffed, his companion said she would like her bag to go in the hold as well if they were going to have to wait anyway. “Go back to the desk,” the gentleman said, “and tell them that your brother is going in the hold and that you would like to as well.” A little bit of dialogue worthy of comedy script writers. Well, we thought so anyway!

So eventually we flew back to the UK, arriving at a rather damp and distinctly cooler Liverpool. Cries of “Ay! Qué frío!” were heard from the Spanish and Portuguese descending the steps from the plane! About 5 degrees! All is relative!

Post script: the latest update on my iPad seems to have eliminated the possibility of typing upside-down question marks and exclamation marks, an essential bit of punctuation if you want to include something Spanish. It used to be so easy: simply hold your finger on the ? or ! And you got the option of an inverted version. Simply gone! I am mystified!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Festive times are coming!

Well, everyone here seems to have agreed that summer is finally over. I swear I saw in a television news broadcast yesterday something about snow up in San Sebastián. A cold front was sweeping down, the weatherman said.

It’s funny that in English we have heat waves but cold fronts whereas in Spanish they have heat and cold waves: you can have an ola de calor and an ola de frío. Well, I find in interesting anyway.

Whatever the linguistic niceties, the colder weather - and it is all relative - temperatures are still in the low teens rather than down to 4 or 5 degrees - only the hardiest of smokers are sitting outside on the terrazas of the cafes in the evening. And the bread shop lady asked if I was not cold when I popped into the shop in my running gear this morning.

Christmas is coming on apace as well. Christmas decorations are going up in all the streets and the supermarkets are filling up with displays of turrón and polvorones and, oddly enough, boxes of Cadbury’s chocolates! It must be a dieter’s nightmare season! Temptation wherever you look!

Back in the UK, mince pies have been on sale since September and in Manchester they switched on the Christmas lights last weekend. The elegant town hall is rather tastelessly adorned once more with a huge inflatable Santa. But I suppose that if you are going to have Christmas Markets, which cover a bigger and bigger area of the city centre every year, then you need them to operate for a fair few weeks to make the effort worthwhile.

But the sun has still been shining here today and so we took a stroll along the coastal path this afternoon.

We travel back to the UK tomorrow. Time to buy a Christmas tree and start making plans

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


We had been in the flat in Vigo maybe no more than half an hour when there was a knock on the door? Odd! Nobody knew we were here! I opened the door to be confronted by a huge great teenage girl, a good six inches taller than I am. She smiled and told me she was collecting for the end of term party, the fiesta de fin de curso. Well, strictly speaking I suppose that fin de curso should mean end of year rather than end of term but as it’s still rather a long way from the end of the school year, I assumed she meant end of term. Either way, I had no supplies of biscuits, cakes, do-nuts, sweets or other tooth-rotting delicacies to offer so I sent her on her way!

I am always amazed when that happens. Why do adolescents here in Spain think that the whole artificial community of people who live in the block of flats, many if not most of whom have no real acquaintance with each other, might want or feel obliged to give them stuff to have a party at school? Do their parents know they do this? Maybe their parents encourage it. One of life’s minor mysteries! 

Here is another: why do driving school cars in Spain sport a large L on the top? What is L supposed to mean here? Lento? It certainly doesn’t mean “learner”. Would not A for “aprendiendo” be more appropriate? It must be a bit like the international STOP sign.

In Portugal one day last week we had a choice on a dinner ticket menu between a chicken dish and something much more red meat based. The chicken came with “carril”. So I politely asked the waiter “o que è carril?” in an attempt to discover what we might end up eating. He leant in and said, “Carril, carril!” as if that provided all the explanation necessary! In for a penny, in for a pound, we went for the chicken adventure.

When it arrived it was in a mild curry sauce: carril! Obviously the word was a victim to southern british pronunciation, the one that has people drinking “caps” of tea! Very good carril it was too. So much for the Portuguese being really good at languages though!

Today we set off for Pontevedra for lunch with our friend Colin. Our timetable misinformed us and we had been led to believe there was a train from the Urzáiz station at 12.06. Except that there wasn’t any such train. The next was at 14.40. There was, however, a train at 12.10, and another at 12.20, from the other station, Guixar.

Off we went in a taxi, getting to Guixar two minutes before the 12.10 was due to leave. The queue was long so we risked getting on without tickets, as they were announcing its imminent departure. The departure took place five minutes later. We could have bought our tickets and spared ourselves the lecture we got from the grumpy old git ticket man on the train!

So it goes!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Leaving Figueira.

On Sunday, while Phil was finishing off what everyone assured me was a won chess game, I went walkabout with a friend of ours, stopping for a refreshment along the way. As we strolled down one of the cobbled back streets, not too far away from the promenade, I side-stepped round what looked like a patch of blood on the pavement. Indeed, my friend assured me, it was a bloodstain.

On the Saturday evening, after he had left us, he had gone in search of a live music venue. Which he found and where he enjoyed the music. After an hour or so, in other words at about 1.30 in the morning, he had left there to go in search of another such venue when he had come across a group of young men having a fight. In fact, you could not really call it a proper fight. Four young men were kicking and beating up a fifth young man who was on the ground. and they weren't even gypsies, he said, as if that would make it more normal, just ordinary lads on a night out. What a way to have fun! He had been prepared to intervene, as were several other people, when the police turned up.

So he went on his way, found another music venue and finally made it to bed at 4.00 or 5.00 am, when others were probably considering getting up. Okay, I exaggerate but since he was due to play chess at 10.00 on Saturday morning, this did seem a little reckless. I think he went on to win his game! Late nights must suit him.

After Phil finished his game, which he drew, we went off to O Tuberão da Bebé, Bebé’s Shark, a restaurant that was recommended to us. Not only was it recommended but we had dinner tickets, a system by which the organisers of the tournament sold us tickets at a reasonable price, which could then be redeemed against a menú do día at the restaurant named on the ticket. We had a good soup to start with, followed by a choice of a pork dish or cod in cream, a speciality of Portugal not unlike fish pie, but without the mashed potato. We chose the fish, a tasty enough dish, but rather too copious. We could have done with smaller portions and maybe some salad to go with it. So it goes!

After this large lunch we might all have enjoyed a stroll along the beach, to help the digestion. I had already taken a long walk in the morning while the chess games went on but most of our party had been slaving over a hot chess board all morning. However we had been told that the prize-giving cum closing ceremony was to be at 4.00 pm so we returned to the venue and waited.

And waited and waited and waited. Eventually at around 5.00, or perhaps later, things began to happen. Speeches were made., of which we understood little. We all clapped when everyone else did. Prizes were presented. Drinks and nibbles were consumed and goodbyes were said.

On Monday morning we breakfasted early and waited for a lift to Porto, courtesy of the organiser, who felt that it was only right for him to provide such a service. How very civilised!

En route to Porto I noticed far more areas of burnt forest than I had spotted on our way to Figueira a week previously. Maybe the morning sun made it all clearer. The closer we got to Porto, the less of this we saw. There was also surprisingly little to be seen from the bus as we travelled later from Porto to Vigo. And yet we know that there were fires. Presumably just not along our bus route.

Porto was bright and sunny. We had time while waiting for the bus to go and have some lunch. Our joint memory told us of a particular restaurant that we had enjoyed in the past, somewhere close to Avenida dos Aliados. So off we went, trailing our suitcases, in search of a Proustian moment!

Almost half an hour later and after much wandering around, we found it. At least we think it was the same one: O Marinheiro, a family run restaurant where we had an excellent sopa de peixe followed by robalo, sea bass, washed down with a fine glass of wine. We even treated ourselves to icecream for dessert. And then off to catch the bus.

A fine end to another week’s adventuring!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Getting things right!

On Friday evening, determined to download some photos to post on my blog, I sat down to use the laptop while Phil was playing chess. Of course, the laptop belongs to both of us but mostly I am quite happy to use my iPad and let Phil get on with stuff on the laptop. Before anyone gets all equal opps about this, I repeat that the situation suits me fine. But my iPad refuses to post pictures into the blog for me, so from time to time I have to demand my share of laptop time.

So on Friday evening, I did just that and I was being clever, checking ways to highlight a whole bunch of photos and download them all at once, when everything went haywire. Goodness knows what combination of keys I pressed but the whole screen turned upside down. I tried the undo key - to no avail. I tried various combinations of key controls - still to no avail. I even turned the damn thing off completely and rebooted, hoping it would go back to a default setting. Still to no avail. I completed my tasks using the upside down screen. How talented am I? And then I switched the thing off and waited until the chess match was over.

It turned out that I had accidentally put the laptop into tablet mode. That laptop is too clever for its own good. You can switch to tablet mode, fold the screen over, ignore the keyboard and use the touchscreen. We NEVER do that. Even Phil had to hunt for instructions to get it back to ordinary laptop mode.

As I said, too clever by half! I shall stick to my iPad! Except that, as the chess tournament comes to an end, I wanted to add a picture of the venue. Here it is:-

I have come across another odd use of English here in Portugal. A furniture shop advertises a service they call “room staging”. What does that mean? It is not a term I have come across in use in England. 

The French Académie have been getting a little stressed about their language too. I spent many years as a Modern Foreign Languages teacher explaining to recalcitrant, or possibly just dim, students, that the gender business in French and Spanish has nothing to do with sex. It’s purely a linguistic convention that says that some words are masculine and others feminine. Okay, it’s a little anomalous that you can have 999 women and 1 man in a group and you have to refer to them using a masculine plural pronoun but is it really worth getting worked up about?

Now it seems that politicians are beginning to address crowds as “Chers français at chères françaises” to placate the equal opportunities folk, instead of the old use of just “Chers français”. My sister told me some time ago about receiving letters from her children’s school addressed to “Queridos padres y queridas madres”: whereas in the past it was understood that “padres” covered both parents! And I have been known to grumble at the use of actors i stead of actresses. The gender-specific “actress”is deemed to be demeaning! No! I would never have wanted anyone to refer to me as a school master!

Well, the French are jumping on that same bandwagon and trying to invent a way of writing dual-gender terms.instead of “étudiants at étudiantes”, some people want to write “étudiant.e.s” and to refer to mixed groups of actors as “acteur.trice.es”. Goodness only knows how anyone is supposed to pronounce such terminology. Political correctness gone mad! Again! The Académie is having none of it.

And while I am getting indignant about stuff, here’s another matter. Facebook is full of reminders that November 11, Remembrance Day, is approaching. Some are reminding us to buy our poppies from a legitimate source and to avoid accidentally supporting a right wing nasty group. All well and good. Then yesterday I found this:-

 “It's 99 years ago today that Wilfred Owen was killed on 4th November 1918. Could he have known that he would not last the War? He was killed exactly a week before it ended, and his mother received the fateful telegram on Armistice Day.”

 Nothing at all wrong with that, you might say. Unfortunately it went on:

“Tea towel available here: bit.ly/2hGiKnP”.

Somehow that seemed wrong!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Weathering the tournament.

There are two very small Chinese boys playing in the chess tournament here. Brothers, they look as though they are no more than six or seven years old. The organiser of the tournament assures me that they are older, probably nine and ten. However, because they are of very slight build they look considerably younger.

Parents of other, older children ruffle their hair as they pass, in that continental European way that accepts that children belong to everyone and deserve love from us all. Not the British way at all. No doubt somebody would be asking for parental permission before any hair ruffling could take place.

Apparently their parents have brought them from Lisbon to spend the week playing in the tournament here. The organiser questions their readiness to play a tournament like this one, which has some very strong players. He says that they are losing just about every game and he usually finds one or other of them, if not both, being comforted by their mother at the end of the evening as they dissolve into floods of tears. Is this part if some rigourous training routine to toughen them up for future tournaments? If so, there is clearly some way to go.

Perhaps Phil should consider himself fortunate not to have had to play either of these small boys. At least one of his opponents was not a great deal older. That young boy’s English was impressively good. Something must be going right in the Portuguese education system.

As the week has progressed, the fine and sunny weather of earlier in the week has disappeared and we have regressed into more normal November weather: wet and blustery and a little on the cold side. It’s just as well I managed walks out to the lighthouse and along the beach on finer days. Here are some photos to remind me of the blue skies of just a few days ago:-

And later in the week:-

My favourite graffiti girl:-

And the sign outside Fifty's Tavern:-

Friday, 3 November 2017

Out and about in the world.

The beach here at Figueira da Foz is well provided with boardwalks. The beach is extensive and I imagine that in summer the sand gets very hot so the boardwalks are very necessary. In the evening they are eerily lit from underneath. Anyone arriving here for the first time after dark must seriously wonder what it is all all about.

As well as the boardwalks there is a dual path, one half for walkers and one one for cyclists, stretching from the end of the beach where the causeway to the lighthouse begins all the way along to nearby Buarcos. Both are generally well used.

Running along the path this morning I spotted a couple pushing what looked like an oversized baby-buggy. As I got closer I saw that instead of an oversized baby, the buggy contained a large black Labrador dog. Presumably the dog has some problem with its legs but the owners still take it for walks along the beach path. Excellent idea! I have seen people using actual baby buggies to carry smaller dogs such as Pomeranians but never a specialised one for larger dogs.

In general the Portuguese are pretty good at learning foreign languages, well English at any rate. This is often explained as being the result of watching foreign films in the original version with Portuguese subtitles, rather than dubbed into the local language, which is what happens in Spain. Good at speaking they may be but they are as bad as the English in the mis-use of apostrophes. We have seen the “Gin’s and cocktails” bar and the “Fifty’s Tavern”, to name but a couple.

As a rule, however, their use of English is accurate, even idiomatic. And then I picked up a leaflet for the gum at the hotel next door. It advertises itself as a “Fitting Point”. Oh dear, yet another misused ...ing!

Out in the wider world, I see that the sexual harassment accusations continue apace. Now it is Dustin Hoffman’s turn. Who will be next? It begins to sound as though more than half of the MPs in Westminster have a dodgy past. Parliament always seemed a bastion of male privilege but really, all this sexist stuff is rather over the top. Did they ever think about the job instead of watching and lording it over the few females who worked there?

And some joker cancelled Donald Trumps Twitter account. He was a Twitter employee on the last day of his job with them and as a parting shot he closed down the president’s account. The blackout may have only lasted a little over ten minutes but, oh,  how satisfying it must have been to feel that power!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Old traditions.

At the restaurant at lunchtime yesterday I saw an item on the television news involving children going from house to house asking for not just sweets but bread and fruit and whatever people wanted to give. The children were dressed in their ordinary clothes. No Hallowele”en costumes and masks. No gruesome make-up. And some of the grown-ups were out on the street with tables offering specially baked bread with chorizo inside.

Of course, the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, a public holiday in many places in Europe, a day for visiting the family graves and tidying them up, as at the start of Almodóvar’s film “Volver”. I read that in Mexico they have parties in the cemeteries to include the dead family members in the celebrations. In Italy they take two days holiday: November 1st is Ognisanti, All Saints’ Day, and November 2nd is il Giorno dei Morti, the Day of the Dead, for visiting the graveyard. In some parts of Italy, children receive gifts from their dead relatives. Nice but a bit spooky!

In the UK we just forget about the dead, it seems to me. And October 31st, Hallowe’en, seems to be taking over, American style, in many countries.

Anyway, tradition still holds in parts of Portugal, in small villages at least. The tradition is called Pão por Deus, Bread for God. In some places it is called Dia do Bolinho, The Day of Cake. Children up to the age of about ten go round receiving gifts of food stuff. Bakers give bread, fruit shops give fruit or chestnuts. Some people give sweets or money.

There is a rhyme that goes with the day:-

Bolinhos e bolinhós
Para mim e para vós
Para dar aos finados
Que estão mortos e enterrados
À porta de vera cruz,
truz, truz
A senhora está lá dentro
Assentada numa banquinha
Faz favor de vir cá fora
P’ra nos dar um tosttãozinho, ou um bolinho

Bolihnos e bolinhós (cakes and buns)
For me and you,
To give to the deceased
Who are dead and buried
At the beautiful, beautiful cross
Knock, knock
The lady who is inside
Sitting on a stool
Please get up
To come and give us a penny or a little bun

The children go around from quite early in the morning and greet the people who open their doors to them with “Pão por Deus”. In the Azores, people give them a cake shaped like a skull (just as in Spain you can buy “huesos de santos” or saints’ bones made from marzipan, with realistic looking marrow!).

There are records that date this tradition going back to the 15th century. Pretty impressive! One suggestion is that it was reinforced back in 1755 when the great Lisbon earthquake took place on All Saints’ Day. The vast majority of the city’s residents lost everything and the survivors had to ask for bread in neighbouring towns.

And here is a link to a clip about some children at a nursery school preparing for Pão por Deus.

My small granddaughter’s nursery, bu contrast, put on a Hallowe’en Party with children too small to know what was going on dressed up as skeletons and other such strange things!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Pagan celebrations!

Okay, that’s Hallowe’en out of the way-and now shops can concentrate properly on getting ready for Christmas.

I think I first came across Trick or Treating in the UK 25 or more years ago. If it’s really that long, I suppose we can almost call it a tradition. Anyway, the “tradition” had not really established itself. You couldn’t buy cute costumes for little kids in the supermarkets. Yummy mummies did not yet escort their charming little vampires and ghouls from house to house getting a sugar high. Bigger kids mostly still concentrated on preparing for the celebration of burning Catholics that is November 5th, Bonfire Night.

However, we had heard that some youngsters were going around our area Trick or Treating and I was half prepared to hand over some sweets when the knock came at the door. When I opened it, however, the Trick or Treater was a huge great 15 year old girl, not even dressed up, and more often seen hanging around outside the local off license asking people to go in and buy her bottles of cider. I was rather busy and more than a little impatient and told her in no uncertain terms that thought she was too old to be getting involved in that nonsense. And I shut the door and forgot about it.

Next morning, I opened the door, a door with black surrounds and white panels, to find that the white panels had been inscribed in permanent marker: “F*** OFF!” It may be one reason why I feel disinclined to celebrate Hallowe’en, especially now that it has become so commercial. What I would like to know is when we actually started wishing people “Happy Hallowe’en” and even buying and sending cards to that effect.

Here in Portugal, we had other things in our mind. In Phil’s case this involved preparing for his third chess match. Monday night’s, against his unfavourite kind of opponent, a 12 year old girl, was a draw. Last night’s was another junior. A friend of ours commented that he should be thankful for small mercies: at least it was a boy this time.

As for me, I went walkabout in the sunshine, photographing local bits of beauty

 and noticing that Rapunzel’s house appears to be being refurbished. It’s actually the Castelo Engegneiro Silva, built in the 1950s by António da Silva Guimarães, a merchant marine, entrepreneur and explorer.

I have long admired its fairytale look.

I also admire the tilework at the tops of widows on the building next door to the Castelo.

At lunchtime we set out for a light salad at the Caçarola 2 restaurant only to discover that it was closed to give staff a day off. So we ended up at a place called O Picadeiro, a bit further up the road. We were unsure of the size of portions at this place and our light lunch ended up looking like this.

So it goes.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Modern day problems!

Oh boy! So now someone has come out and accused Kevin Spacey of sexually abusing him thirty years back. This took place at a party in Spacey’s hotel room. Spacey was in this 20s and the young man was a 14 year old impressionable adolescent actor. Kevin Spacey says he doesn’t remember, it was a long time ago, he might have made a pass at him when he was drunk and if he did so he apologises. He has had relationships with both genders and now declares himself properly gay. This brings the gay lobby down on him for bringing them into disrepute, by suggesting that that somehow excuses bad behaviour. Of course it doesn’t, but I do wonder what bandwagons are being jumped on. And maybe I am doing the now not so young actor an injustice. He may well have been truly traumatised by the whole business!

It makes me glad I never wanted to get into show-business!

By contrast, the actress (I still like to call female actors actresses, by the way) Claire Foy seems to be taking a fairly sensible view of things. She has been on the Graham Norton chat show and Adam Sandler repeatedly put his hand her knee while telling an anecdote during the performance. She gestured to him to remove his hand, he did so but then forgot and put it back. So she had to tell him again. A spokesperson for Ms Foy said:"We don't believe anything was intended by Adam's gesture and it has caused no offence to Claire." Thank goodness somebody can be sensible. I would have thought that over the top, extravagant touchy-feely stuff would be expected on the Graham Norton Show!

Meanwhile Theresa May is apparently planning to take measures to crack down on all the sexual harassment in parliamentary circle. It really does seem as though all the predators are crawling out of the woodwork. More and more of them are being revealed every day. Is it an epidemic? Is it taking her attention away from Brexit?

The men I know are not all sexual predators, at least as far as I know. But perhaps they all have secret lives and nasty secrets will be revealed any day now. Or maybe the men I know are not powerful enough to get involved in such activities. But truly I begin to despair of men in public office.

I wonder as well how soon it will be before they start to find a similar stick to beat powerful women with. Oh, no, that’s not necessary. It already happens with nasty tweets.

And now, here are some comments from people who have smart phones, from an article about smart phone use:-

 Tom 28

Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and I’ll end up not even watching it because I’m too busy on my phone. It takes up a lot of my time, just scrolling through Facebook and stuff. I’ve thought about having a year off, deactivating Facebook and not looking at my phone that much.

 Freya 30

I’ve got friends who ban phones on a night out or when we’re having dinner because everyone is obsessed with using social media. I was even at a wedding recently where the bride banned people from uploading photos before the end of the ceremony. I climbed Kilimanjaro recently and I was looking forward to not having my phone for a week. It was so nice because it meant I had conversations with the people I was with. When I came back, I wasn’t that bothered about using my phone but then it slowly crept back in again.

Maria 69

I only use my phone for practical things or to call people. I don’t just watch what’s happening on there, so I don’t see any need to cut down.

 Shashi 32

I use my phone quite a bit – it’s in my hand right now. I use it for emails, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. I have tried to cut down but I can’t because I get emails constantly. Some days I don’t carry it, but then the work piles up.

It seems to me that a little more self control is needed in the modern world!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Talking about food!

I decided it was time to talk about food again.

When we arrived here on Friday and the heat knocked us put, we almost forgot about food and only into the evening did it dawn on us that we had not eaten since breakfast. We were rather looking forward to revisiting an old favourite place here, A Caçarola, a restaurant whose name I totally misread first time around and assumed it mean The Snail. In fact it means The Saucepan, The Stewpot, The Casserole. They do an amazingly good fish soup. Imagine our consternation when we discovered that it was shut, not only for the weekend but for holidays. It would not re-open until November 7th. We will be gone by then.

What to do?

Well, go to Caçarola 2, of course.

This is it’s posher cousin round the corner, refurbished last year and bow doing quite splendidly. It might appear a little posher but the prices are still very reasonable. Phil had the fish soup. I had a cream of shellfish soup followed by fanecas, small fish which I also eat in Spain but whose English name I never can remember. Phil ordered squid to follow his soup. Then came a question: would he like his squid grilled, or stuffed with mashed potato? What? Stuffed with mashed potato? Is that even something you do to squid? So he opted for grilled, not being a mashed potato man at the best of times.

The squid, when they arrived, were enormous. No wonder they could be stuffed! Quite tasty but a prodigious amount of squid! The fanecas were also tasty but fiddly, a little dry, a lot of effort for little reward. So it goes.

On Saturday I rose early in order to have time to wash and dry my hair before breakfast. Then we went shopping for the items on the list we had made the previous evening: chocolate (for the chessplayer to take to his games), fruit, toothpaste, toothbrushes (Phil had left his at home), deodorant (I had left mine at home), bottle of water, suntan lotion (29 degrees out there!) and mugs (our room has a kettle but only expanded polystyrene beakers to drink out of). We also acquired sunhats - not on the list. The last of the big spendsrs.

At lunchtime we went to a little place called Buzio, located in a back street. We had come across it accidentally a few years ago, spotted it had a menu do dia, tried it out and found it good and gone back several times. We had a soup made with unidentified vegetables and containing floating strands of grelos, the ubiquitous greens that crop up in so many northern Iberian dishes. Very good! Then came bifes de frango, chicken steaks (maybe bife comes from French biftek which comes from English beefsteak!) served with chips AND rice. Very good too.

Very good except that I was feeling odd. Not quite in my plate, as the French say. I did not finish my wine; I gave it to Phil. I thought a fruit salad might refresh me. It did. It was a good fruit salad. We ordered coffee. Just the smell put me off. I gave it to Phil as well.

The bill arrived and we had a small but amicable disagreement with the waiter. We had been charged for olives and a tomato salad which we had not consumed. He went off and changed the bill. Then we were consumed with guilt as we realise that we had not been charged for the unidentified vegetable soup! It was a small items, only €1.50 or so but we felt churlish, having quibbled over olives and tomato salad!

And so we set off back to the hotel but I was definitely not right. We took the lift instead of the stairs - a sure sign that something was wrong. I made it to the room and promptly threw up my lunch and slept the rest of the afternoon. What a waste! I wondered of I had suffered from a mild heat stroke and dehydration from the travelling!

By the time Sunday came around, with an extra hour’s sleep, courtesy of the clocks going back, I seemed to be recovered and ran down the promenade as usual. At lunchtime we planned to go to A Caçarola 2 again but the queue was immense: victims of their success. So we went back to Buzio. It was just as well that I was sure it was me and not their food that was wonky on Saturday.

I had a fine salada de camarões with grilled prawns and pineapple. Phil manfully tackled a huge fish, robalo, and an enormous plate of chips. No wine, only water, as the chess games were beginning that evening. Nothing untoward ensued! Hurray!

And the chess tournament started.

And Phil lost his first game against a stronger player.

To begin woth a win would have been nice but today, to misquote Scarlett O’Hara, is another day!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Protests and reading matter - food for thought!

It would seem that even as I write this, 11.45 am Portuguese time, a big anti-independence rally is going on in Barcelona. Carles Puigdemont is reported to be pretending that nothing is happening apart from lunch with family and friends in Girona. Goodness knows where it will all end.

I also read that a small part of Catalonia is talking about bidding for independence from Catalonia. We should perhaps revert to city states everywhere. Maybe we could even declare our house an independent state!

The reading group I attend when in the UK meets on Monday or Tuesday of this week. It does not matter which evening as I shall not be there, being happily ensconced in Portugal, which continues to be fine and sunny.

The book chosen for discussion is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, set in the American south and dealing with questions of racism. Curiously enough, I read yesterday that a junior high school in Biloxi, Mississippi, removed the book from an eighth-grade lesson plan recently because the language in the book “makes people uncomfortable”.

Eighth-grade is for 12-13 year olds, I think. Our 12-13 year old grandson can hold quite sensible conversations about topics like racism, gender equality and fairness in general. Of course, it is possible that he is a genius but mostly he seems like a reasonably normal child of that age.

If youngsters are “protected” from controversial topics than they will never learn to think about them rationally at all. Well, that’s what I think anyway.

In the end it was decided that junior high school students will be allowed to study “To Kill a Mockingbird” after all, but their parents need to give permission. I wonder if anyone has considered asking for parental permission for Hallowe’en parties!

I have been reading David Nobbs’ autobiography. Interesting stuff. At various points he talks about who he considered to be the best writer in the world at various stages of his childhood and youth. The “Biggles” books were firm favourites for a good while, only to be replaced by “Swallows and Amazons”, supplanted in his late teens by the works of Thomas Hardy.

I too read lots of Hardy in the sixth form: not a writer to read of you are at all depressed as fate will always get you in the end.

In his childhood, our son was a great reader of the “Swallows and Amazons” books. Do smallish boys still read books about fairly privileged children messing about in boats in the summer? I wonder. Or is there too much description and not enough modern technology in them.  

Maybe they should be set texts, studied to remind today’s youngsters that there was a time when mobile phones and their apps did not exist.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Some odd things in the 21st century!

Despite what their president might say about climate change being a myth. US scientists and weather monitoring experts say that winter has grown shorter by one whole month in the last hundred years. The first frost of the winter comes gradually later and later.

I suppose that tallies with the reduced snowfall we have seen in our bit of the Northwest of England where we used to get snowed in back in the 1970s, something that simply does not happen now. This does not prevent everything grinding to a halt when it snows but the snow rarely stays on the ground for 12, let alone 24, hours.

And here in the Iberian peninsula, even though this year some people complained that the summer in Galicia did not get going until later than usual, the good weather seems to be lingering on and on. With blue sky and sunshine and temperatures in the top 20s, we have just bought sun hats and suntan lotion! No doubt this will provoke a rapid meteorological change! Fine weather we certainly hoped for, but we are seeing people wandering about in short shorts and vest tops. I clearly should have packed sun dresses.

In the 1960s, when I was a grammar school girl - yes, one of the privileged, upwardly mobile! - my school had a strict uniform code. Bottle green almost everything, including knickers but you really only had to worry about that on days when you PE, and prefects strategically placed along everyone’s route home to make sure you were wearing your bottle green beret correctly and did not pop into the sweet shop for a snack along the way. Heaven forfend that we should let the headmistress down by being seen eating on the streets and in uniform. She would spin in her grave to see our local high school kids queueing outside the baker’s or walking along with a portion of chips!

I mention all this because I heard about a school in Japan which excludes not only pupils who dye their hair a funny colour but also those who happen to be born with brown rather than black hair who neglect to dye it properly black! One poor girl has had to miss school because of an allergic reaction to the hair dye. She is sueing the school for compensation. What a topsy turvy situation!

That school may be extreme but it is not alone. “This year a survey of high schools in Tokyo found that almost 60% asked students with lighter hair for proof that it was naturally that colour. Ninety of the 170 schools surveyed by the Asahi newspaper said they asked students to provide photographs of themselves taken when they were infants or attending junior school to prove they had not coloured their hair.”

And finally, here’s a link to an article about a judge in Canada who suggested that the victim in a sexual assault case might have been “flattered” by the advances of her aggressor. Although she had a pretty face, the 17 year old was a bit plump, he suggested, and so might have welcomed the attention! The man in question was a 49-year-old, who the judge said “looks good and doesn’t seem his age”. 

This is still the 21st century, is it not? And we have had a lot of stuff about sexual predators in the news lately, have we not? The mind boggles!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Getting to Figueira.

When I stuck my head out this morning, it was fine and sunny with a beautiful blue sky, but rather chilly. A perfectly good October day in fact!

We set off for Liverpool airport midmorning with the sun still shining and our daughter’s car registering a temperature of 6 degrees.

At around 2.30 this afternoon we landed at Porto where the temperature was 28 degrees. Talk about a shock to the system! It’s lovely, to be sure, but it’s not natural. Even the locals agree with us. I wasn’t surprised. A friend in Vigo had already broadcast a temperature of 27 degrees yesterday. She was wondering when the rain would arrive. Well, as we are heading there next week, it’s quite likely that we will make the rain turn up.

We arrived at the airport, expecting to be collected and driven to Figueira da Foz, where Phil is playing chess over the coming week. We hung around and hung around, trying to look conspicuous but nobody showed.

A terribly elegant lady in killer heels came over and asked if my name was Elena. She must have been getting desperate. I had already walked past her several times, noted her sign saying “ELENA” and ignored her. Surely she had noticed that. Besides, she was so elegant that she must have been expecting someone more suave and sophisticated looking that me in my travelling best with a little backpack!

Eventually we phoned got through to the chess organiser, who assure dus that we had not been forgotten. Our driver was about to arrive. And sure enough, he did. He had been stuck in traffic because of an accident.

And off we went, speaking a mix of my bad Portuguese and his better, but not perfect, English. I did try. I managed to say a fair few things but his replies were incomprehensible! Not to self: must try harder.

We drive through a few places that had had fires recently, at the time that Galicia and Northern Portugal had seemed to be burning up completely. Maybe this is just a little further south but the devastation did not seem as great as I had expected. Maybe we just did not get close enough. Our driver told us that Figueira itself had had problems over about four days with fires raging. As I go exploring, I shall see what I can discover.

We arrived at our hotel to find that they had no record of our booking. This was not a problem, the receptionist assured us, he could find us a room. But we did not want to book just in case it turned out that our driver had made a mistake and brought us to the wrong one of several hotels patronised by the chess organiser. So, back to the phone we went. All is well. Thank goodness for modern technology.

Meanwhile, in the wider world, Catalonia has had a go at declaring independence and Spain has taken over. Direct rule from Madrid. It never did look as though it was going to end well. Now we shall have to wait for further developments! Simon Jenkins in the Guardian says it”s a problem for all of Europe. 

And Alistair Campbell is writing fantasy speeches in which Jeremy Corbyn turns around and pulls the UK out of Brexit.

A world gone mad! Or perhaps not!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ain’t that a shame!

Fats Domino has died aged 89. There goes another legend. Last night on the news they showed film footage dating back to 1956 when the “King of Rock’n’Roll” was only 28. A round-faced, fresh-faced very cheerfully enthusiastic looking Fats Domino sang “Ain’t that a shame! My tears fell like rain”, bouncing all over his piano and looking as far from tears as it is possible to look. An audience of equally cheerfully enthusiastic looking teenagers clapped in time to the music. They were all white teenagers, of course, since black and white audiences could not mix. Ain’t that a shame!

It was going to be a fair few more years before the Beatles went along and insisted that they would not sing to segregated audiences in the USA.

And still now black sportsmen are “taking the knee” instead of standing to the national anthem in protest at police brutality towards African Americans. Ain’t that also a shame!

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not sports events are the place for socio-political protest. But so many people watch American football that itvseems the ideal place to get a point across.

Then I read today about African Americans being advised to boycott American Airlines in protest against their racist treatment of African American passengers.

But, of course, that is happening in America. Surely such things could not happen here, or could they?

It’s enough to stress anybody out.

Stress is in the news too. And this time it is not just stress for drivers going past roadworks. MP Tim Loughton is co-chair of a cross-party parliamentary group on mindfulness. Yes, I am as surprised as anyone but this seems to be a real thing - is this really what MPs are paid for? Anyway, he says he considers showers to be “one of the greatest causes of stress”. He starts the day with a good, long bath, reading the newspapers and composing his thoughts. Lucky him! Back when I was a full-time working lady I would have had to get up at silly o’clock to have time for a bath before setting off into the cross-Manchester traffic!

Then there are new rules being proposed to make house buying, always seen as a major cause of stress, “cheaper, faster and less stressful”. Gazumping is one of the things they want to sort out. 

Maybe the cross-party parliamentary group on mindfulness could join in the discussions.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Words and spellings and grammar and understanding!

I have been reading John Humphrys’ book “Lost for Words”, a kind of book long rant about all the things that intrigue, fascinate and/or annoy him about the English language as she is spoken. Perhaps I enjoy it because I mostly agree with what he says. I wanted to take issue with his wondering when “daily” changed from an adverb into an adjective. His particular example was to the use of “on a daily basis”, instead of simply saying “daily”. And yet, I found myself thinking, what about the Lord’s Prayer and “give us this day our daily bread”?

At one point I wanted to give him a bit of possibly helpful information. He was going on a bit about people saying things like “if I would have known” instead of the simpler, and probably more grammatically correct, “if I had known”. Phil and I are pretty sure that this phenomenon has arisen from speakers of Spanish, Italian and perhaps German or Yiddish, although I cannot claim knowledge of the grammar of the last two, translating directly from their first language when learning English. And so, we hypothesise, the structure slid into American English. In Spanish, for example, you would say, “si hubiera sabido”, using a pluperfect subjunctive. Technical terms - you have to love them. We have decided that this bit of English should be called the New York subjunctive.

At the moment I have reached a point in the book where the good Mr Humphrys is talking about ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. When we were children in school this was not heard of. Some children just could not sit still and pay attention. They were just cinsidered “naughty”.Then in 1991 the syndrome was identified and since then masses of children have been diagnosed as suffering from it and can be prescribed drugs from quite an early age. I once had a boy in a tutor group who had been so diagnosed. It was evident from the word go that he had difficulty simply staying in his seat. And he was seventeen and, you might think, quite old enough to know better. He used to apologise on days when he was really twitchy, telling me, “I’ve not taken my Ritalin today”. He didn’t like taking it; it dulled his senses.

John Humphrys comments, “Many of the greatest men in history showed all the symptoms of ADHD. We might wonder what would have become of them had they been treated with drugs to “cure” their symptoms. Among them were Beethoven, Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Picasso and Thomas Edison.” Precisely!

With words and spellings in mind, here is a link to a prize-winning short story. For those who can’t be bothered to follow the link, here is an extract:-

“Deer Reeder:

First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I lerned to rite and spel as gud as I do!

One day, walking neer one of your Yuman houses, smelling all the interest with snout, I herd, from inside, the most amazing sound. Turns out, what that sound is, was: the Yuman voice, making werds. They sounded grate! They sounded like prety music! I listened to those music werds until the sun went down, when all of the suden I woslike: Fox 8, crazy nut, when sun goes down, werld goes dark, skedaddle home, or else there can be danjer!

But I was fast and nated by those music werds, and desired to understand them total lee.

So came bak nite upon nite, seeted upon that window, trying to lern. And in time, so many werds came threw my ears and into my brane, that, if I thought upon them, cud understand Yuman prety gud, if I heer it!”

The spelling is, as the opening paragraph warns us, idiosyncratic. It helps if you read it aloud, as I used to do when I first started to read in Italian. Also I was reminded of those posts that people put on social media along the lines of “If yoo caen reed this then yoo had a gud Inglish teecher”.

It is, by the way, worth reading the whole short story for its environmental message.