Thursday, 20 January 2011

Going up in smoke.

It’s been fairly quiet around here lately. Well, not necessarily in my house which is regularly invade by grandchildren but in our village/small township. We had our moment of media glory (or infamy depending on your point of view) when we had a by-election recently. Our local MP was defrocked or whatever it is they do to MPs who are discovered to have included slanderous lies about their opponents in their election leaflets. Whatever the correct term is he was out of a job and we were unrepresented in parliament.

As the by-election day drew closer we were bombarded with electioneering pamphlets, newspapers, newsletter, personalised letters implying that the candidates knew us intimate
ly, even Christmas cards signed by the candidates. It was serious overkill and resulted in our not even looking at the mountain of stuff that came through the letter box but putting it straight in the paper and cardboard recycling bin. Another consequence was my losing my temper slightly with and being rather rude to telephone callers and canvassers who, on voting day itself, one after another, wanted to know had I voted yet and who was I voting for. None of their business, as far as I was concerned, so I just told them so and asked them to leave.

Anyway, the election took place, the Labour candidate won and her party has claimed it as the start of a great come-back. We shall see. But since then it has all been rather quiet.

Meanwhile, in the Spanish parliament I understand that there has been, and probably still is ongoing, a bit of a kerfuffle about languages. This business of the official minority languages keeps on popping up. Apparently members of parliament who choose to make their speeches and contribution to debates in their own regional language – Basque, Catalan, Gallego or Valenciano (I thought that one was a var
iation on Catalan; I do remember being told many years ago that it was Catalan in its “purest” form!) – have a perfect right to do so and interpreters are employed to turn it into Castilian Spanish for the rest of the parliament. All this at an estimated cost of €12,000 (£10,000) per day. As Spain is going through a rather bad recession this is coming in for accusations of profligacy to say the least, especially as they can all communicate perfectly well with each other in Castellano. Yes, yes, I know all the arguments about regional identity and freedom of speech and so on but this seems a rather expensive way of expressing those things. Money going up in smoke!!

Smoke has been going up in the centre of Vigo as well. Around 200 people gathered in the Plaza de la Constitución the other day to have a mass cannabis smoke-in, organised by the Asociación de Estudios de la Marihuana, demanding the right to smoke marihuana for therapeutic and leisure purposes. They think that being fined is an injustice.

Other smokers wishing to put right what they regard as an unjustice are the group of people who dressed themselves up as cigarettes and suceeded in closing the Avenida de Castrelos with their protest against the Ley Antibaco. Only in Spain!! I rather wish I was there to see it happening.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Odds and ends in the news.

One of my favourite Spanish clothes shops is Desigual. Well, I say “Spanish” but it was apparently started by a Swiss national. However it has its main headquarters in Barcelona so that sounds Spanish enough for me. Its trademark look is a kind of patchwork effect with lots of swirls of different colours and quite often with sleeves of different colours in one garment.

The name means “unequal” or “unbalanced”, which makes sense, and its logo is “No es lo mismo” – “It’s not the same”. It’s certainly different form other stuff, that’s for sure.
Desigual has been in the news recently because, like almost every other shop, they have been having sales. What they have done in a number of Spanish town
s is advertise that anyone turning up to shop in their underwear had a very good chance of getting a free outfit to leave the shop in. Now, their clothes are quite pricey, evening the sales, so loads of people turned up in their undies to try their luck.

They have what is called an “outlet” – isn’t that a ridiculous term? – in Kendall’s, the would-be very classy store on Deansgate in Manchester. When I feel nostalgic for my strolls up and down Principe, the main shopping street in Vigo, I pop in and have a look at the clothes. Nobody offered you free clothes in the Kendall’s “outlet” if you turned up in your underwear though. Too much English restraint, I expect.

There’s a bit of me that is trying to avoid the sales if possible, which practically means not going to the shops. It ends up really boring with rows of shoes lined up by size, racks of dresses, trousers, blouses all in a jumble, untidy piles of jumpers that have been pawed over by all and sundry. You’re lucky of you can see what anything looks like, let alone find a real bargain. But then, when you do find a bargain you feel quite pleased with yourself. And I suppose it gives people something to do in the gloomy grey of the North of England winter, now that the snow has gone.

My daughter and I are keeping ourselves busy on our get-fit-after-Christmas campaign. One of our activities is swimming, ploughing up and down the local pool as many times as possible in an hour, making me nostalgic for open air pools and sunny days. While we do this my husband earns his keep as babysitting grandad, inventing ingenious games of “who can throw the tennis ball in the kitchen bin?”

Someone else who seems to have been taking his grandfather role to heart is King Juan Carlos. It seems that his mobile telephone ringtone is a laughing baby! This has been reported because his phone rang in the middle of a reception for new ambassadors. He hastily switched his phone off and apologised to everyone. Now that’s the kind of king I like. I wonder of our queen has a mobile phone.

The future queen of Spain has also been getting in touch with the people. On a walkabout with Prince Felipe in Medina del Campo she came across two little girls crying and discovered that they had been having one of those little girl fights that often end on tears. So she sorted them out with a quick, “Who started it? Now, say you’re sorry!”

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Getting back to normal and applying the normas.

We woke up yesterday to more snow but by evening it had gone so the start of 2011 is (so far) not as fiercely cold as the end or even the start of 2010.

Anyway I set off trudging through the snow to the bus sto
p for the last of the Christmas meals for this season. I had planned to meet some old friends for lunch and it was easier finding a day and time at the end of the Christmas season than at the beginning. We went to a place called Croma in Manchester where they do a very nice range of pizzas and pasta dishes. In addition, I had a voucher from the last time I went there entitling us to a free bottle of wine. No complaints there then. The ladies who lunch had a very good natter and we set the world to rights in our inimitable fashion.

By the time I returned the snow had all but disappeared and this morning we could hear rain beating down on the roof. Maybe the weather is getting back to normal then.

I understand that they have been having a fair bit of rain in the Pontevedra region of Galicia. The tromba has flooded parts of Cangas and there is even some doubt about continuing with the traditional reyes procession in Vigo if the weather is too bad. What? No chance for the children of Vigo to stand in the cold with carrier bags to fill with the sweets that the kings throw at them? Whatever are things coming to?

Here I have taken the decorations off the tree this
morning and am waiting for my strong man to carry it outside and park it in the garden. It is SUPPOSED to be a living tree so it has some chance of surviving until next year but they rarely do. Most successful has been the one which was a tiny little tree when our son was 6 months old. It came in and out every Christmas for years, was re-potted several times, moved house with us and eventually was planted in the garden where it stands to this day.

So that’s Christmas out of the way for another year and maybe like the weather I can get back to something like norma
lity and return to my round of various activities.

Meanwhile I have been reading with interest about the progress of the anti-smoking measures which came into effect on Spain on the 2nd of January. In some places it seems that on the stroke of midnight on January 1st waiters asked smokers to take their cigarettes outside. How’s that for keeping to the letter of the law?

There have been occasional violent incidents like the owner of a bolera in Caceres who was attacked by a customer when he asked him not to smoke and ended up with stitches in his head. For the most part though people seem to be accepting the ide
a of not smoking in bars and restaurants but find it harder in outdoor places like children’s playgrounds. But the inspectors are out. Photographs are being taken. Denuncias are being made.

There is even a website you can visit to report people who smoke in the wrong place.
The organisation in charge of this website is encouraging people to report bars that continue to allow smoking, waiters who continue to smoke while serving customers, people who smoke in children’s playgrounds, hotels that don’t keep their permitted 30% of “smoking” rooms properly separate from the rest and even TV programmes where the presenter or guest in smoking.

It sounds as if Big Brother is seriously watching you, a perfect opportunity to take out and polish up those long held grudges against your neighbour. They have had about 1000 denuncias so far apparently.

All this watching and inspecting may have a positive side, however. It could be a job-creation opportunity. The reported 2000 inspectors to keep an eye on illicit smoking may not make much of a dent in the unemployment statistics but it’s a start!!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Beginnings and endings.

2010 began for us with a long walk home from a friend’s house. Every year for the past 10 years we have celebrated New Year’s Eve at our friend Chris’s house, combining it with his birthday party. And after having been let down a couple of times by taxis that didn’t show up, we have frequently walked home through a crisp early New Year’s morning in the moonlight. It’s a great way of walking off the excess food and drink that such a celebration entails. In 2010 we cheated a little and had a lift to the top of the hill and then walk down the hill through quite deep snow to our village.

2010 ended for us with another long walk home from the same friend’s house. He’s been unwell and finally decided he had to cancel the usual party, probably putting it off for a few weeks until he feels better. So we decided to pop round in the late afterno
on to say hello and deliver his present. Currently carless we caught a bus part way there (the wonders of the over-60s bus pass) and then walked the rest, thinking that we could do the same in reverse. No chance! We got to the bus stop for one of the infrequent buses to our village; it didn’t arrive but there was always the possibility that it had gone early, something that happens with alarming regularity. The next bus along would take us a bit further up the road but not all the way. So we got on it anyway, fully expecting to be able to walk a bit further after alighting and eventually catch the next of the buses which go all the way to our village. A good plan but ultimately unsuccessful because the next bus failed to turn up either. It would seem that our bus service must have stopped at around 6 in the evening, although there were no notices to that effect in the bus shelters. Ah, well, at least it wasn’t raining or snowing or blowing a gale and we had been saying that we hadn’t had enough exercise over the Christmas period.

(The vagaries of t
he bus service hit us again today. We had wanted to take advantage of the sales, which have been underway since Boxing Day, to buy boots and running shoes. We knew that all the shops were open and so off we went only to discover that once again there seemed to be no buses. Our local bus shelter gives a number to text to find out the time of the next bus due there: 09.12 tomorrow morning!!)

2010 also began with snow and transport chaos, further enhanced by the presence of the looming ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano. And 2010 almost ended with similar chaos because of the snow. There is now wonderful talk of possible fines in the future for airports which fail to take the necessary precautions and preventive measures just in case it snows. Now, I know it’s not good to be stranded at an airport but I think I’d rather that than h
ave my plane skid and crash on take-off!

So there seems to have been a certain symmetry to 2010, further confirmed by what I read about Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. At the start of 2010 the Puerta Santa, the Holy Door, to the cathedral was revealed and opened up to allow entry of pilgrims into the cathedral. This door is normally locked and bricked up, only opened up in an Año Santo, a Holy Year, when Saint James’s day, 25th July, falls on a Sunday, which it did in 2010. Record numbers of pilgrims visited the city during the year. Even the Pope went there. Anyway, 2010 ended with the archbishop of Santiago locking the door and presiding over the closing ceremony. It won’t be opened again until the 31st December 2020 in readiness for the next Año Santo!

In the meantime, let’s do our best to make 2011 as good as possible. In Vilagarcia they got started on 2011 a little early, eating their 12 New Year’s grapes of good fortune as the clock struck 12 midday instead of 12 midnight, something they have been doing for a few years apparently. Here’s a link to a video clip of their celebrations. It’s not every day you get to see a square full of people eating grapes.

Happy New Year everyone!