Thursday, 26 August 2010

It's not the same .... and yet it is, in a way!

Isn’t it amazing how quickly one adapts? Here we are, two weeks to the day since we returned from Galicia to the UK and I’ve got used to wearing layers of clothes so that I can adjust my dress according to the vagaries of northern English weather: three, occasionally four seasons all in the space of 24 hours. It must be an example of the two/three/four for the price of one offers that you see all over the place.

I have been taking advantage of my free bus-pass to get around, making several trips into Manchester city centre. Now, if you visit the Arndale Centre, a much improved place since they re-built it after the bomb that blew most of it up all those years ago, you will find that English shoppers suffer from all the faults that my friend Colin and I have noticed in Spanish shoppers. They stop and congregate in major thoroughfares for a chat, regardless of how many people might want to go past them. They drift or occasionally charge out of shop doorways without so much as a passing glance for folk going past. They don’t just stop to admire friends’ babies in new shiny buggies; they barge onto you with the new shiny buggies. When their mobile phone rings they come to a halt wherever they are to answer it: in a shop doorway, just outside a lift, wherever is the most inconvenient place for everyone else.

This behaviour, so similar to that of their Spanish counterparts, occurs far less frequently in ordinary shopping streets. Maybe it’s a question of climate. Inside an indoor shopping centre they don’t have to be concerned about the weather and so they can come to a halt whenever they want without fear of freezing to the spot on an August day.

As we have a family wedding coming up I have spent some time helping my daughter find outfits for herself and her children. (I myself have been very organised and bought my posh frock on my last visit to the UK.) In the process of doing this I have discovered something new in Kendal’s store in Manchester which has “outlets” for a whole range of fashion shops. Mango is there but Zara is not. (Interestingly enough I have never spotted a Zara “outlet” in any of the Spanish stores. Inditex must like to keep their independence.) All the usual suspects from the British high street are there, of course, but what got me just a little excited was discovering that Desigual has an “outlet”. That’s nice because I can go and look at their brightly coloured designs and pretend that I’m back in Vigo.

The shops here, as in Spain, are full of BACK TO SCHOOL notices. School uniform features in window displays and the bargain offers are there for all to see. The big difference is that BACK TO SCHOOL is seriously close here. GCSE results came out this Tuesday, two days earlier than usual, and as a result all my former colleagues at the sixth form college are back at work, busily enrolling this year’s students. Some of the primary schools begin the new term in the middle of next week.

I guess that’s the summer over and done with. That’s usually a sign for the weather to perk up and give us some sunshine in September. I’m not holding my breath and just in case the Indian summer does not materialise her we have already booked ourselves a couple of weeks in Mallorca in October. Time to go on our travels again, methinks!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Thoughts from the moderately sunny Northwest of England.

According to comments of friends of mine on Facebook, we might have had better weather today in Greater Manchester than in Vigo. They woke up to mist and damp whereas we woke up to sunny periods which continued all day, making it a perfect day for sorting out the garden shed. We are adapting gradually to the vagaries of the English summer, learning once again to dress in layers. You have to have layers of clothing you can remove when the cloud shifts and suddenly the temperature goes up by several degrees. It is a bit if a bind though having to remember to take your raincoat out all the time, just in case.

However, we do miss the convenience of a pool available every day. I have found the necessary information for getting a leisure card so that I can go and swim at the local pool but it’s not the same. For one thing, I have to travel to and from the pool. And then, it’s not an outdoor pool – such a thing here would have us all turning blue instead of brown. You lose the social aspect of chatting round the pool in the early evening, swapping comments on the weather and so on.

I’m also missing my panadera and her homespun philosophy. There is a bakery not too far away which makes a rye loaf almost as good as the bolla de la abuela but it’s not just round the corner; it’s a good half hour’s w
alk away and the chat isn’t anywhere near as good. Still you can’t have everything. I do have proper Bramley baking apples here and real blackcurrant jam. The blueberry jam they sell in Spain is good but lacks the tang of a good British blackberry. Mind you, my daughter tells me that in her opinion the orange marmalade sold here doesn’t bear comparison with the one they sell in Eroski. Swings and roundabouts, you see, swings and roundabouts!

Flicking through news channels the other day I came across a brief item about a bullfight in an unnamed town in the north of Spain where the bull leapt over the barrier into the crowd, causing havoc all round and injuring quite a large number of spectators. Clearly no-one had told him the rules of the game or maybe they had and he had decided to take matters into his own hands instead of waiting for protestors to do it for him.

Meanwhile in Bilbao the protestors HAVE been at work. This morning, apparently, some 125 activistas semidesnudos painted themselves red or black and made a living picture of a bull outside the Guggenheim museum. They want the Basque country to follow the example of Cataluña and ban bullfighting altogether – using art to protest against what I am given to understand is not a sport but another art form!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Back in the UK once again!

Back in the UK once again! Last Wednesday, after the Last Vigo Post, the mist came down in the evening and deprived us if our last spectacular Vigo sunset. Our landlady, who was going to visit us during the evening to finalise accounts, got stuck on a train outside O(u)rense, unable to get any further because a forest fire was preventing trains from getting any further. The poor thing had been travelling from Bilbao since about 9 in the morning and the last we heard was that she expected to reach Vigo at about midnight!!! Quite a journey!! Why, I wonder, did she not fly?

Anyway, we ended up doing our final reckonings and saying our goodbyes by mobile phone
. Because we had been waiting to receive a possible late email from our landlady we put off making our last phone call to hat colourful mobile phone company regarding the mobile internet connection until too late. When I finally got through to the relevant department, that office had just closed for the night. Ring again tomorrow after 8 o’ clock. The helpful person who told me to do that assured me that it would be a straightforward matter so I decided to call when we got to the bus station on Thursday morning.

Is anything ever really straightforward?
The supposedly direct number I had
been given on Wednesday evening was not recognised so once again I went through the rigmarole of typing in our number, confirming, pressing certain numbers, getting new options, pressing more numbers and eventually getting a human being on the end of the line.

Well, I really wish I hadn’t bothered. First she went on about the number of
points we had accumulated in our almost 2 years’ use of the mobile broadband. Did we not want to cash them in? We would love to but it meant signing up for a new contract and we were leaving Spain that day, not knowing when we would return. Why didn’t we arrange not to pay anything for 6 months and then start up again? Because we were leaving Spain that day, not knowing when we would return. Did we not want to take up yet another of their wonderful offers? No, because we were leaving Spain that day, not knowing when we would return. Finally she said that there were bits of paperwork to be completed which would take 48 hours. Well, I exploded down the phone. When I tried to cancel in advance I was told it was not possible, I told her, and now she was producing this nonsense about 48 hours!!! There was steam coming out of my ears – and probably out of hers when the words reached her at the other end. Which bit of WE ARE LEAVING TODAY did she not understand? All I wanted was to be disconnected. And eventually she told me that we had been in fact disconnected. Hooray!

It’s a
wonder we caught our bus to Oporto airport!! So much for a fond farewell to Vigo! After that, even getting stuck on the M62 near Manchester because of a traffic accident somewhere ahead seemed relatively stress-free. All right, I exaggerate but you know what I mean.

And so we made it back to Greater Manchester,
through thunderstorms and torrential rain, even though it had been quite sunny when we arrived in Liverpool. By Friday morning we were seriously missing the blue sky and sunshine of this summer’s Galicia. But the weekend brought some sunshine and Saddleworth, our bit of Greater Manchester, looked rather fine.

Uppermill, the main village, now officially classified as a town was busy when I walked in on Saturday. (How do they decide that somewhere is a town? Is there a population qualification? Or is it the fact that the place has a Big Issue seller outside the local Co-op store?) There were World War II American army jeeps whizzing around, “chaps” in World War II army uniform, ladies in 1940s pinafores with headscarves covering their curlers and others very smartly dressed but in the style of a previous age. A café offered beef and spitfire ale stew on its menu.

What was going on?
Now there is a possibility that this was a
regular yearly celebration of the end of the war in Japan some 65 years ago. However, there is also a theory that it’s all to do with commemorating the filming of part of the movie “Yanks” in one of the local village centres about 30 years ago.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Last post from Vigo – for a while anyway!

Well, today what began as THE IDEA one sunny day about three years ago comes to an end. Tomorrow we get on a bus to Oporto and then a plane to Liverpool. The year in Vigo we planned on a train returning from Vigo to Pontevedra while on holiday in Galicia spread into two but now it’s time to head back to the UK to sort out the rest of our lives, decide what to do next and plan our return.

So today has been so far and will no doubt continue to be a series of last this and last that.

There was the last visit to the bread shop and the last purchase of una bolla de la abuela, the wonderful rye bread they sell there. My last conversation with my panadera had her telling me about her grandparents’ house in their pueblo. In the garden is a nogal, a walnut tree I believe, so big and old that it is a protected tree. No one can touch it without permission from the conservation police. Many years ago, well before the preservation order, they had a branch cut off as it was encroaching on the house. This branch was so huge that a carpenter made planks of it, treated the wood and made new window frames for the old stone house. So in a way the house belongs to the tree.

With that bread we had our last relaxed breakfast looking out over Vigo bay. Tomorrow’s will be all in a rush as we leave bright and early.

Out and about I had my last serendipitous meeting on the street with my friend María this morning. And over the last couple of weeks we’ve had a series of farewell lunches with groups of friends. That was, of course, just another excuse to benefit from excellent menús del día.

I’ve had my last swim in the pool. Just as well really as my swimsuit is definitely on its last legs and will need replacing.

We’ve already consumed the last bit of the last batch of Galician gazpacho (yes, I know it's not a Galician recipe but I made it in Galicia) I made the other day. I’ve used the last of my good Galician potatoes – las mejores patatas del mundo, don’t forget!!! – to make a final tortilla de patatas.

Later we’ll pay our last visit to Xadrez Galego, the chess club to say our farewells there.

I will make my last phone call, I hope, to the mobile phone company who provide our internet connection, not to complain about the poor service – I made the last of those a couple of weeks ago – but to ask them for the second time to disconnect us.

And tonight I expect we’ll see our last spectacular sunset over the Vigo estuary.

But though this may be the last post from Vigo for a while, we’ll almost certainly be back. It’s not really adiós, just hasta la vista. Watch this space for further developments.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Here we go again – that feeling of déjà vu!

Recently my friend Colin Davies has commented in his blog on the frustration of trying to persuade one of Spain’s biggest banks to let a friend of his get his hands on his own money. Apparently his passport wasn’t sufficient proof of who he was; they also wanted, and claimed not to have, some document with his signature on it. I too have expressed my annoyance with the same big bank because of their inability to cancel a standing order in advance, involving me in unnecessary extra visits to said bank.

Now I’ve come across the same little problem in another area of life in Spain. For almost two years we have been connected to internet via a mobile dongle, paying a monthly sum via the annoying bank to a phone company with a colourful name. On Thursday we fly back to the UK for an as yet unspecified length of time. Consequently we won’t be using the mobile internet connection any more; to use it outside of Spain you have to pay extortionate amounts of money! We know this because we once naively or thoughtlessly connected in Portugal and had to pay a huge bill before they reconnected us.

Anyway, I wanted to let the company know in advance; it was one of the things on my list of jobs to do. So I called them up the other day, and communicated for a while with the annoying automatic system. You know the sort of thing where you receive a series of instructions:-

First you are told to enter the number of the phone about which you want to consult them.
The system reads back the number and tells you to press 1 if this is correct.
Next it tells you press 1 if your consultation is about a mobile phone or internet connection.
Then you are offered a range of options, calling for a vocal response, the final one being “otra consulta”.
Within “otra consulta” you receive ANOTHER range of options, again ending with “otra consulta”.
On and on and on it goes.

You can tell that I really appreciate automated systems. Eventually I got through to a human being, supposedly alive and awake on the end of the line. So I explained the situation, gave her our number AGAIN, confirmed my ID and that of the contract holder, my husband. She ummed and aahed about whether she needed to speak to him and then, I don’t know how much time later, revealed that I can’t actually ask them to disconnect on advance. Well, I can ask but they won’t take any notice. I need to phone them on the day that we use the mobile connection for the last time. And it has to be Monday to Saturday as they won’t do anything with it on a Sunday. So it’s a good job we aren’t flying on a Monday and want to use the connection for the last time on a Sunday then.

How hard is it to pre-programme a computer to disconnect us? Failing that, how hard is it to give some minion an instruction to disconnect a certain number on a certain future date? Good grief, I can pre-programme my oven to stop and start at various times. I can set the thermostat for the heating – well, not actually me personally but I do know that it can be done. So why can’t big, international, supposedly modern and sophisticated banks and phone companies not programme advance booking of actions?

Ah well, never mind. I’ve finally managed to cancel to payment at the bank so they won’t be getting any more money from us anyway!!

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Coming and going – going and coming

Well, today I made what I expect will be my last Galician gazpacho for a while. We’re off to the UK at the end of next week with so many things to do there that we don’t have any clear idea of when we’ll be back. And as the hot weather continues and looks set to do so all over the weekend and into next week, it was time to make gazpacho again. No doubt I will do so back in the UK but it’s unlikely that we’ll really have the weather for it. Still, we are not downhearted; after all, you never know. The UK has had hot summers before. It just doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment by all accounts.

We seem to be spending every spare moment trying to get our belongings into bags and boxes, which is a nightmare so we keep sneaking time off to go and have farewell lunches with friends and, of course, a cooling swim in the pool.

And as we are about to disappear other, more famous, characters are arriving. Yesterday saw the arrival of a yellow character with a square head at Samil. Bob Esponja, aka Sponge Bob Square Pants, was appearing in his own show. Well, at Carnaval I saw a whole lot of small Bob Esponjas so I suppose it’s about time the real one turned up.

Two lucky families had the chance to get themselves covered slime during the performance. How good is that? You pay money to see a show at the seaside and then you go home covered in gooey, sticky stuff. Oh, I’m so glad my children are grown up!!

Perhaps a more serious appearance is the forthcoming one of the Pope in Santiago de Compostela. Because this is an año santo it was felt appropriate that he should visit but security was apparently an issue for the feast of Saint James in July and so they put off the papal visit. He’s not due to arrive until early November but a number of hotels are already full. Personally I think I’ll give it a miss because the hotels have put their prices up considerably according to reports in the papers. Some 4* hotels are charging up to 300€ a night and insisting on a stay of at least 2 nights. No chance of an overnight stop then?

This is what the papers describe as explotar al máximo la cruda ley de la oferta y la demanda. I don’t think we’ll be going even if we are back in Galicia.!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Sometimes you just don't see them.

Yesterday I was up bright and early and down at the harbour waiting outside the A Laxe shopping centre for a group of Americans. They were arriving on the Disney Magic, a bit of a Mickey Mouse ship maybe, certainly with M.M. Ears painted on the funnel, and I was due to show them around Vigo. They duly arrived. We made it up to the top of the hill to the Castro Park, along to the top of Gran Vía to admire the crazy horses statue, down to the bottom to admire the fishermen statue, along past the shops of Urzáiz, a quick run down Colón to the Plaza de Compostela and finally to La Pedra for oysters, a glass of Albariño wine and a few tapas to sample. Considering that one of them was in a wheelchair – although we did cheat and send her and a companion up to the Castro by taxi – I think we did very well.

Apparently at
some point in the morning Mickey Mouse himself, together with Goofy, Donald Duck and goodness knows which other Disney characters also disembarked. Because they are such important people the president of the Autoridad Portuaria, Corina Porro, welcomed them ashore herself and showed them around the port area. I do hope the actors inside the costumes enjoyed themselves. It must have been rather warm inside those suits. Still, it could have been today which has proved to be considerably hotter than yesterday. They then went on to visit sick children in the Hospital Xeral which is probably an activity more appropriate to cartoon characters.

Be that as it may, I missed them. By the time they stepped ashore I was undoubtedly busy elsewhere in Vigo.

Later on yesterday I headed down to Plaza de la Constitución for a drink and a chat with friends. As I went through Puerta del Sol I came across a kind of whale-girl floating around in the air, suspended from a crane and doing some kind of aerial ballet. A new companion for the swimmer/merman up at the top of his pole perhaps!

Towards the end of the evening this was partly explained to me but the fina
l explanation only came this morning when I read the paper. Shortly after 9 o'clock last night we had to give up the idea of chatting any longer in Plaza de la Constitución as it just became too noisy. A brass band was playing at the top of its lungs. A crowd of people was piling into the square and a public address system was being set up with the usual mixture of squeals and ear-splitting feedback. So we gave up, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Puerta del Sol was by now full of stalls selling a range of stuff, a giant size barbecue was grilling sausages and who knows what else in the middle of Plaza de la Princesa and a girl was belly-dancing to a noisy drum accompaniment. Another typical Galicia summer fiesta then!

This morning I read in El Faro de Vigo that all this was the start of the Semana Grande de Fiestas de Vigo, a week of fun and games. The whole thing was started by an actor I must confess I have never heard of, Luis Zahera, who made a speech from a balcony overlooking Plaza de la Constitución telling ev
eryone what a great, welcoming place Vigo is and how Semana Grande will help us all deal with la crisis. That's all right then!

He was accompanied by an actor I have heard of and one I rather like, Luis Tosar. It appears that this gentleman was recently made ambassador for the Casco Vello. I didn't even know the old quarter had an ambassador but had I know who it was and that he was going to be there last night I might have hung around to see him But there you go, you blink and miss things.

Semana Grande came along to disrupt this morning for me as well. I had some business to finish off at the bank and set off late morning to do so, arriving at the bank at around 12.45. As the bank usually closes at 2.00pm I was surprised to find the door locked. Looking more closely at the notices I saw one that said that this week the bank will only see customers from 8.30 to 12.30. Well, it's Semana Grande, isn't it?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Fun and fiestas and safety considerations!

Oh, the Spanish are very mixed up. A report in today’s El País newspaper tells us that although 60% of Spaniards say they don’t like bullfights and only 37 % actually say they like them, 52% of the nation think they should be maintained. Clearly they don’t dislike them enough. Some 57% say they disagree with the Catalan government’s decision to ban bullfighting. Of course, some of that is because they think the Catalans have only banned it because it is seen as the Spanish national sport. So they might not really disapprove of the new ruling just the reasons for it’s being made. How complicated do you need to make your thinking?

The newspaper had a rather nice cartoon demonstrating the mixed, and mixed-up, feelings the anti-bullfighting legislation has stirred up.

Other fiestas go on apace and the G
alicia police are promising to be out in force to catch drunk drivers. Because most fiestas are related to food and drink, alcohol consumption is almost inevitable, it seems. Another factor is that many of them take place in small places out in the country, a kind of village party, which means it’s almost impossible to get there without a car. The idea of having a named driver who opts not to drink seems rather a foreign notion. Younger drivers, however, appear to be more open to this new-fangled idea; numbers of 18 – 25 year olds convicted of drink-driving are going down while middle-aged men remain the worst offenders. Numbers of women convicted are apparently on the increase though: some strange declaration of equality I expect!

According to José Hermida, someone fairly important in the Guardia Civil de Tráfico the problem is that «En Galicia la gente está acostumbrada a beber y cuesta desterrar muchos hábitos arraigados». Well, it’s all very well saying that it’s hard to get rid of long established habits; you’ve got to take action but that seems to be what the Galicia police are planning. As Pontevedra province has some of the worst statistics, they’re starting the concerted effort here. So, if you’re heading for a fiesta, be warned!

Someone else who has been caught breaking some traffic laws is the leader of the Partido Popular, Mr Rajoy. This gentleman, leader of the opposition in Las Cortes and frequent critic of Mr Zapatero, is spending some holiday time in Galicia. I do hope he’s enjoying the hot and sunny weather conditions. Now someone on his team decided it would be a brilliant idea if Mr Rajoy was to send a message from his car to his followers on Facebook. Excellent notion! A bit of positive publicity! Just what every politician needs!

The trouble is that the excellent footage which appeared of Mr Rajoy sitting in the back of a car, smiling and chatting away, explaining how he was having a few relaxing days in Galicia, also showed quite clearly that he was not wearing a seatbelt. And neither was the member of his team sitting next to him.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised as I have been told on many occasions not to worry looking for the seat belt in the back of whichever car I’m travelling in on the basis that no-one bothers to check up on you or that you don’t see many police on the route we are following. So it would seem that the most important thing is not so much actually obeying the law but not getting caught disobeying it!

Well, this time Mr Rajoy has been caught on camera. I wonder if he’ll get a fine. A spokesman for the Partido Popular has published an apology on his behalf, saying that it was a mistake and one that that neither Mariano Rajoy nor anyone else should make. He hastened to add that Mr Rajoy is usually very careful about such things and recognises that everyone should be. The life of every Spanish citizen, including the leader of the opposition is too valuable to be put at risk!!!

I wonder of this bit of publicity will make any difference!!!