Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Why would you?

Zipping through newspapers online yesterday I came across this headline: Glenn Close to portray Britain’s Got Talent start, Susan Boyle, in bio-pic.

All I can say is, WHY?

First of all why do we need a bio-pic of Susan Boyle? It’s not as though she had died. It’s not as though she had a terribly interesting life before she won a TV talent show. Yes, she might have a good voice but she’s not exactly writing all her own songs and expressing new and exciting ideas. Or have I missed something? OK, so she sang for the Pope on his visit to the UK but do we really need to see her otherwise rather humdrum life portrayed in the cinema?

And then, these famous actors wanting to play her. It is rumoured that Catherine Zeta Jones was attracted to the role. Why? So, apparently, was Robin Williams. Did he want to resurrect Mrs Doubtfire?

I’m afraid I just don’t get it. Am I alone in this?

I can understand bio-pics of singers and other famous people who have almost become national treasures. Edith Piaf springs to mind. And THAT (La Vie en Rose) was a tremendous film. Coco Chanel also provided interesting material but do we really need the details of the lives of everyone who becomes famous for five minutes? Or famous for becoming the oldest person to hit the charts with a debut album (Susan Boyle)?

Mind you, she’s not the only one. After all, they made a film about Aron Ralston, the mountaineer who cut his own arm off when he got trapped up a mountain. Yes, it’s a great story of personal courage and all that but no-one made him go up the mountain and get stuck. And besides, I really have no desire to see someone pretending to be him cutting his arm off.

When I googled “man cuts his own arm off” to remind myself of his name I found out about other people who have done the same thing. Some time last summer someone called Sampson Parker got his arm stuck in an agricultural machine and had to chop his arm off to free himself. And just last week Jonathan Metz did the same thing when his had got trapped while fixing a furnace in his basement. And they are not the only ones. I just hope they don’t feel the need to make films about all these incidents as well. Chopping off your own limbs could replace vampire movies in the gruesome and horrific stakes. However, it may be that unless you do it in a wild and rugged setting like the mountains of Utah AND you’re already a famous mountaineer and photographer the cinematographers won’t be interested.

It’s just another aspect of our fascination with the trivia of the lives of others. Hence the success of all the “reality” TV shows. We even had the example of a real-life drama turning into a “reality” TV show when the Chilean miners were trapped in their mine and the world watched the rescue stage by breathtaking stage. AND they have made a film of that too!

All in all, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised
then to hear an item on the radio news later yesterday about the happy young couple who are to be married in style in March, with close on 2000 guests. It is now possible, according to the news report, to go on coach tours of “Kate Country”. A tour company did it as a one off and then had lots of requests for repeats ... from all over the world.

Yes, just like Hardy’s Wessex and Wordsworth’s Lake District there is now Kate Middleton’s Berkshire. You can go and gawp at Kate’s childhood homes, her former schools, the church where she was baptised and the Old Boot Inn where she and William have been for drinks on occasion.

But in the end, why would you?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Transport matters … and other stuff.

Yesterday I looked out of the window and saw snow on the hilltops. Later I saw a number of cars drive past with snow on their roofs. So the weathermen were right again; well, at least partially. Lower down where we live there was no snow, just a chill wind and some general dampness, not picturesque at all. But at least we have not had the storms which I understand have been battering parts of Galicia.

Once again I have been reminded by a yo
ung friend that I have been neglecting my blog. It must be something to do with the routine, mundane sameness of my life at the moment. Little of note has been going on to merit a great deal of comment. I could go on at length about the public transport system here but I will keep it fairly short. Every Thursday I go to a Portuguese class (where, coincidentally, our topic for the last two weeks has been transport) which finishes just before nine in the evening. I then rush across Manchester (there are quite possibly people who regularly see me coming and leap out of my way) to catch a bus to Oldham. I have to rush because my connecting bus to Delph leaves at 9.50 and if I miss it there is not another for an hour. (You can see why public transport might have me ranting at length!)

Last Thursday I arrived at the windy bus station in Oldham at precisely 9.50. However, there were people waiting at the relevant bus bay so I asked if my bus had already left. Not at all; these people were waiting for th
e same bus and had been there for ten minutes already. Some fifteen minutes later when the bus had still not shown up we decided that the timetable was just a notional thing. Possibly there is a general transport regulation which states that bus services need timetables but there seems to be no suggestion that it is necessary to try to keep to them. Certainly our bus appears to come and go according to the whim of the driver and on Thursday finally showed up twenty minutes late!

On the subject of the driver’s whim
, on one occasion the driver, chatting to a friend, missed his turning and carried on to the next turn to get back onto his route, thus missing out two bus stops on the way. Heaven help the poor people who might have been waiting at those stops! This is the kind of thing we have to put with!!

Today began dull and grey but I decided that I was
going for a long walk anyway. Not for the first time I was struck by certain similarities between the Saddleworth area where I currently live and the countryside of Galicia, certainly in the Pontevedra region. I have photos of the hills behind Pontevedra which could be pictures of some of our favourite walks here. It has to be said that those photos do not feature the eucalyptus trees which have adopted Galicia as their natural homeland, despite the protests of traditionalists.

However, Galicia does not yet appear to suffer from the ubiquitous Saddleworth
“green”. It must be the extra damp in the air here but trees can be green all year round, even when their leaves have fallen. Even the stones turn green eventually!

And then I saw something in the garden of a big house which reminded me again of Galicia. On some of my first visits to that delightful province I saw what looked at first like small family tombs in the gardens, little stone buildings raised up on stilts. Surely the gallegos
didn’t keep their dear departed in a kind of garden shed? No, of course not. This was the famous hórreo, a kind of storage place for any kind of produce you want to keep out of the way of rats, hence the stilts. I have been hunting through my photos for an example but cannot find one so you will have to take my word for it that the wood store which I saw in a Saddleworth garden does just about resemble the poor relation of the hórreo.

And finally, proof that there is justice in the modern sporting world after all. My cycling hero, the Madrileño Alberto Contador, should very likely be back in the Tour de France this year defending his title once again. He had been suspended because of dodgy drugs test results from last year’s Tour. However, his appeal has been successful and the ban has been lifted. Alberto is back on his bike!!!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Coffee, anyone?

I’ve been going to Portuguese classes and have been finding the various names for coffee just a little confusing. It’s all right when you’re in the country and get used to ordering a particular type of coffee on a regular basis but learning it from a list is a different matter. And besides, they have different names according to whether you speak Portuguese Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese. And then I was reminded that in fact the Portuguese terminology is not too bad; at least they use their own language which cannot be said for English which uses a confusing mixture of other languages.

We set off on Friday for a weekend in Newcastle visiting friends. We were travelling by train and had allowed ourselves plenty of time to collect our pre-purchased tickets from the machine at Manchester’s Piccadilly station. We were rather pessimistic and perhaps a little over-cautious after our experiences with Virgin’s ticket machine in London in November when we almost lost our tickets and had something of an argument with officials there. This time, by contrast, all went very smoothly and, with time in hand, we decided to treat ourselves to a cup of coffee before departure.

Now, Manchester Piccadilly station these days is like an airport with its array of shopping opportunities and variety of coffee sellers. So we spent a good few minutes walking around seeking a coffee outlet to suit our requirements. Some places were discounted because they produce a strange milky brown liquid which is not truly coffee as we know it. Others were rejected, despite making good coffee, because they only sold it in paper cups. Eventually we found a place that served coffee in proper cups, provided you stayed in the premises; how quaint and civilised. They even had spoons with which to stir your coffee, even if they were only plastic ones! Oh, and a range of cup sizes, something which does not usually happen with the plastic cup brigade.

And then came the choices!! First something called a “flat white”; what exactly is that? (According to one definition it a white coffee that is not made with espresso coffee. Another says it is made by pouring foamed milk over espresso coffee; so how does it differ from latte? Apparently it originated in Australia or New Zealand.) And why is it FLAT?

Then there was cappuccino, easy enough but note that it has an Italian name and can also come as a caramel cappuccino. (I’m sure they don’t do that in Italy.) Similarly latte. Also on offer, has become quite comprehensible although why it can’t just be called white coffee is beyond me. These two, like the Americano (why does adding hot water to espresso coffee make it American?), came in small, medium and large. I have never understood how anyone ever manages to drink “large” coffees, a cup size far bigger than anything considered normal in the coffee drinking countries of mainland Europe.

Finally the list offered macchiato and cortado. Surely these two are the same drink with an Italian name or a Spanish name? They certainly are when I ask for them in Italy or Spain.

What I really wanted was a small white coffee or a slightly larger than usual macchiato/cortado in what this establishment called a medium cup, almost exactly the size that the Spanish serve a small white coffee in. So I engaged in a bit of friendly discussion with the staff. Well, it transpires that a macchiato is an espresso with a little milk foam while a cortado is an espresso with a little milk. Doh!!! I’m still confused!!!

We opted for macchiato in the end – only available in small cups – and it was quite acceptable but who would have thought that it could be so hard to get a simple cup of coffee?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

On babies, marriage and gender equality!

This blog has been rather neglected of late. I would say I had been too busy but that’s a bit of a lame excuse for a retired lady who can choose more or less what to do with her time. However, what I have lacked has been the peace and quiet to sit down and write rambling accounts of what I think about things in the world. Things have conspired to keep me occupied.

There has been a trip to the Trafford Centre, that temple to consumerism which covers the ground area of a small town. Granddaughter number one had been given vouchers specifically for the Trafford Centre as Christmas presents and had been itching for an opportunity to go and buy new clothes. (You know how it is when you are thirteen and female.) So off we went on a Sunday recently and joined the throngs going from shop to shop, in our case from clothes shop to clothes shop. I was surprised not to meet ex-students of mine there as the shopping centre was a major employer of our students when I was a sixth form teacher and I know that many of them kept up their contracts while studying at local universities. Not one did we see but, on reflection, many of them are doing languages degrees and are currently spending a year abroad in France, Spain, Germany, Morocco and even China or South America.

In the midst of our hunt for fashionable items such as ponchos – it’s amazing how styles come round again and again and again and it’s equally amazing how hard it is to find exactly the right item – hunger struck and we ended up in what looks like a cross between a film set and one of the circles of Hell. A huge section of the place is dedicated to eating with a range of different cuisines and a matching range of different decors. Our choice was a fairly plain looking bit called Giraffe where the staff was very child friendly (almost all Mediterranean or Eastern European) and the gimmick was to give all the children small brightly coloured model giraffes. It kept the smaller members of our party happy.

There then followed a week of running around on a series of errands: find the ingredients for a Home Economics lesson for granddaughter number one and take them round to her; later in the week, call in on the same granddaughter who had developed some kind of illness; still later accompany the same granddaughter to the doctors; and so it went on and on.

In the meantime events have been going on in other parts of the world. No, I’m not going to go on at length about the turmoil affecting places like Egypt at the moment! However, I have noticed that Spain’s history has been bobbing up to the surface again with stories of babies who were stolen from their mothers at birth, many of whom (the babies that is) have just recently discovered that this was so. The mothers were told that their babies had died and the “adoptive” parents registered the children as their own. In some cases in the early post-Civil War years they were babies of Republican mothers who were passed on to “better” families. Some were single mothers who were deemed unfit and immoral. In some cases it was a kind of baby factory enabling rich childless couples to feign a pregnancy and then buy a baby. One man discovered that he had been bought for 200,000 pesetas. Now, you could almost believe, but still not condone, this happening in the aftermath of the Civil War with the backlash against the Republican supporters but apparently this practise went on until the 1970s and 1980s: rather disturbing to say the least!

Then I saw a rather odd headline in today’s El País: El Gobierno estudia elevar de los 14 a los 16 años la edad minima para casarse. So, according to that headline the Spanish government is just getting round to raising the age at which you can get married in line with European legislation??? Of course, when you look at it more closely, you discover that you can only get married at 14 in Spain at the moment if you have special permission from a judge. And then, in the first half of last year only four girls and one boy under 15 got married and in the under 17 age group only sixty four girls and four boys tied the knot. So the teenyboppers are not exactly rushing to the altar or the register office and really it’s just a case of the law catching up with reality. In practise it’s just like here where you can marry with your parents’ permission at 16 and whether they agree or not at 18. Mind you, I also discovered that it was only in 20o5 that France raised the legal marrying age for girls from 15 to 18, establishing parity between the genders.

On the subject of gender equality, the Archbishop of Seville is apparently obliging the Hermandades, the “brotherhoods” or organisations which organise the Holy Week processions, to accept women into their groups. The archbishop wants to establish "plena igualdad de derechos", without any chance of discrimination. Well, if "completely equal rights" means that the women of Seville get to carry huge statues through the streets in the Easter processions, all I can say is, “Good luck to them! More power to their elbow!” But I don't want to help.

One final bit of news springs to mind as we talk about babies and gender and so on; Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem became parents last week. Despite earlier talk of returning to Spain for the child to be born in Madrid, they finally opted for a Los Angeles clinic, this giving little Bardem Cruz the chance for dual nationality. In December an article appeared in one gossip magazine reporting that Pé had given birth to twins, Penelope and Javier, but this proved to be a work of fiction. The latest report seems to be the real deal but so far Pé has not revealed whether this child is male or female and Mr and Mrs Bardem are not selling their story to the press; another reason for choosing the Los Angeles clinic was its reputation for security from unwanted media attention.