Saturday, 30 April 2011

What's in a name?

Scanning newspapers, English and Spanish, on-line this morning, I discovered that a young couple called by El Faro de Vigo Guillermo y Catalina had set off on honeymoon in a helicopter. I don't think they intended to use the helicopter for the whole of their journey. Their aim was to avoid the news-hounds who would follow their every move if they used a more conventional means of transport. I wonder if Guillermo was at the controls of said helicopter. For he is, of course, our own Prince William and I understand that helicopter flying is one of the skills he has perfected up in recent years.

What interested me was the fact that William and Kate/Catherine had become Guillermo y Catalina. It's one of those odd but interesting facts that the Spanish media always translate our royal family's names in
to Spanish while the English speaking press leave Spanish names in the original. You never see the king and queen of Spain being referred to as John Charles and Sophie. Prince Felipe and Letizia do not change into Philip and Letitia.

It is something that we must have done in the past. Our history books talk about the Catholic Monarchs (Los Reyes Católicos) as Ferdinand a
nd Isabella, the anglicised form of Fernando e Isabel. When you look at place names, cities and regions which were known long long ago have anglicised names. Just as the Spanish call London Londres, so we say Seville for Sevilla and historically Saragossa for Zaragoza, but I suspect that tourist guide books now use the Spanish version for that city.

Really, of course, we should go back to their own-language version for all place names if we are to be truly modern. After all we no longer talk about Peking and Bombay but Beijing and Mumbai. So maybe we are just being very modern in not giving the Spanish royal family English versions of their names.

Of course, we do still use English versions of nam
es of popes but I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that an institution steeped in tradition keeps to traditional ways of doing things, with a slightly different version of the Pope's name for each country he visits.

As for Guillermo and Catalina, well, I must be among the few who did not see the wedding as it took place.
We went to a friend's party yesterday evening – to celebrate his return from a round the world cruise, I hasten to add, NOT to celebrate the royal nuptials – and one of the guests was telling everyone how she had got up at SIX in the morning to watch the television coverage!!!

We avoided the fuss altogether during the dayby trotting off to Chester Zoo to celebrate our
grandson's birthday. So instead of admiring frothy frocks and big hats, we oohed and aahed over red pandas and elephants' bath time. There were rather more people there than we had expected. Other people obviously had the same ideas as we did. And there were a lot of caravans on the road: people off for a long bank holiday weekend.

But now that the big event is all over and the rubbish has been swept up off the stree
ts of London, what ARE the media going to find to prattle on about?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

And W is for …?

I don’t know about anyone else but I rather want to get Friday out of the way, over and done with, gone. In case it’s not obvious, I am heartily sick of the ROYAL WEDDING which, if it doesn’t dominate the news, certainly features in just about every broadcast one way or another.

The weekend newspaper supplements had poems written by a collection of poets, suggesting delightful wedding vows for the young couple to use on the day.

There have been all sorts of fashion features concentrating on guessing what THE DRESS will be like. Errmm … probably white, possibly frothy, almost certainly long (but you never know) and elegant! It’s a wedding dress after all!

In Waterstone's bookshop in Manchester yesterday I saw a range of books with titles along the lines of “
William and Kate”; how original is that for a title?

Just about every shop is selling memorabilia of some kind; even the charity shops have some. Now who has been able to donate commemorative tat from an even that has not yet happened? Hmmm!

The small cafe in our village has a positively sick-making patriotic display in the window and one of the local pubs has a life-size cardboard cut-out of William and What’s-her-name just outside its door.

Union Jack bunting is going up everywhere. Somebody must be organising parties after all.
My grandson’s primary school class is having a party on Thursday to celebrate the event. They can’t do it on Friday because they have the day off. As it’s the little chap’s sixth birthday on Friday, he did think for a while that the
day off was in his honour. He now knows, however, that Friday is the day of what he calls the Woyal Wedding.

Finally, in today’s Guardian online I came across a headline “Royal Wedding: Knit your own Corgi”. Now, I had been toying with the idea of knitting some kind of animal for the aforementioned grandson’s birthday. When it was his sister’s birthday I k
nitted dolls, complete with a change of clothes. But I hadn’t come up with anything for him and I rather fancied giving him something a bit unusual alongside the remote controlled car I mentioned in my last blogpost. So little woolly dogs, not very corgi-like in my version, were the perfect thing. I’ve got a day and a bit to knit a small pack of the things.

The knitting pattern apparently is an extract from a book called “Knit Your Own Royal Wedding” by Fiona Goble. I’ve not seen the rest of the contents, obviously, as I have no intention of paying even the Guardian’s special offer reduced price of £7.99 for the book. It does sound like a clever idea though and I hope Fiona makes some money out of it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Out and about in Manchester

Wandering about in Manchester midmorning yesterday I took this photo of a reflection in a window.

There it was: the old and the new, ancient and modern reflected in the glass.

The curved-roofed building is the old Manchester Central Station, now an exhibition hall called the GMex centre, for a while anyway; it may have chan
ged its name recently. They do these changes to keep us on our toes. The other is the Hilton Tower, hotel, apartment and office building, the tallest in the North West of England by all accounts and certainly visible from miles around. It may be a marvel of modern architecture but it’s not really very elegant or beautiful, not to my way of looking at things at least. And when it’s very windy, the top of the tower gives off a strangely haunting siren noise. The first time I heard it, I wondered if we were under attack from aliens!

Midmorning Manchester yesterday was very pleasant. As it was Easter Monday Bank Holiday the place was remarkably quiet. Later on in the day there were lots of shoppers around but there was very little traffic. It was possible to stroll across major roads without any problems. The sun was shining and the air was amazingly clear.

In the sunshine, Manchester is a fine city. You have to ignore the ground floor of most buildings as they have been made anonymous by having brand-name shop windows and their displays imposed on them, making Market Street look exactly the same as any shopping street in any town in England. However, if you lift your eyes up from ground level, the buildings are worth a second look.

I won’t comment on the horrors of “refurbishment” that have been visited on Pic
cadilly Gardens but Albert Square, where the rather majestic town hall is situated, is splendid.

I had gone to Manchester to meet an old friend, someone I worked with for a good few years. We were both impressed with how nice Manchester is when it’s quiet. Because this is England in the 21st century, all the shops were open despite it being a Bank Holiday so we took a look around various places, ostensibly looking for an outfit for my friend to wear to her daughter’s wedding but not finding anything suitable and really taking the opportunity just to natter and catch up withhold gossip.

At lunchtime we unsuccessfully looked for a restaurant where my friend remembered having enjoyed the food. Could we find? Not at all. So we finished up in a Pizza Express where we ate a very satisfactory fancy salad and carried on gossiping.

Lunch over, we eventually went our separate ways, my friend to Victoria Station while I set off to trek across Manchester city centre to Toys ‘r’ Us in one of those retail parks just outside the main shopping areas. I needed to look for a present for my grandson who will be six on Friday and Toys ‘r’ Us was the only place to go.

They call themselves a toyshop but I really loathe the idea of taking a child in there. First of all because it is such a toy-supermarket of a place, aisles and aisles of toys stacked up to the ceiling, encouraging children to want one of everything. And then the displays which are set up to show what the toys look like, few and far between, usually displays of garden swings and other large ride-on toys, are all labelled “Do not touch” or “Do not allow children to play on these”. Definitely not a toyshop, it’s just a warehouse where you can buy toys but which destroys all the magic of playtime. There should be a notice on the door saying, “Adults Only!!”

Be that as it may, I managed to find the remote-controlled car I was looking for at a reasonable price and made my way homewards. This took me longer than I expected as the buses were running on Sunday-service. This meant that instead of there being a bus every half hour for the last stage of my journey, there was only one every hour. So I had a long wait.

But the sun, which had disappeared earlier in the afternoon, had come back to make even sitting a bus stop with a book and an iPod enjoyable. First rule of the public transport user: always have your book and possibly some music with you!!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Reasons to be cheerful

On the whole I am an easygoing, good-tempered sort of person. Even though I am known to rant about things on occasion, few things work me up into a serious rage. However, one of the things I do object to is being forced to share other people’s bad choice of music.

I can just about cope with the kind of muzak you get in lifts and in big department stores. You can usually tune that out and just get on with going wherever you are going. That’s not a problem.

No, what I object to is having t
o listen to doomph – doomph – doomph coming at top volume from some car stopped at traffic lights. The driver has to turn the volume up to the max as he is driving with his windows open because he’s smoking or, even better, because he’s got the roof down on his convertible and can’t hear his so-called music when he’s on the move unless it’s turned up really high. And with the rather pleasant sunny weather we have been having it seems as though every convertible owner is driving around the roads of Saddleworth with the roof down.

And then there are the leaky earphones on the bus. Presumably the owners of these malfunctioning headphones must be at least partially deaf as they need to turn the volume on their portable music system up as high as possible. Tinny doomph – doomph – doomph is a special delight.

I came across the best form of obligatory music sharing though just the other day. We got on the bus to return from Oldham. The only empty seats were near the back of the bus and,
annoyingly, they were facing towards the back of the bus. (There is something very disconcerting about travelling backwards on a bus; it’s bad enough on a train!) It soon became clear why those seats were free. At the very back sat a group of four young ladies, aged somewhere between 16 and 19 by the look of them. They occupied the whole of the back seat: that’s four people using the space of seven. Not only that but they also had their feet on the seats facing theirs. Now, I know countries where you can get quite a hefty fine for doing just that. So there they were, nicely dressed bright young things but somewhat antisocial.

But most antisocial of all was the fact that one of them had her music player (iPod, iPhone, MP3 player, whatever) plugged into a portable speaker and was sharing her music with her friends … and with everyone else on the bus. Even putting my own headphones on and listening to my own iPod did not work. Their “music” drowned out even Springsteen unless I turned my volume up to a level which might damage my hearing.

I almost got around to asking them to turn their volume down so I could hear my own music. I almost remonstrated with them for their anti-social behav
iour and selfish attitude in making the seats grubby for the next people who would sit there. When I recognised one of the tracks they listened to as a French rap artiste, I almost asked them condescendingly if they actually understood what they were listening to. I almost did all those things but in the end I wasn’t in the mood for confrontation. It was a lovely sunny day, too nice for an argument. And then the noisy bunch got off the bus anyway so all was peaceful once more.

We have been having an astonishing number of fine sunny days, unseasonably warm as well. Looking at the weather chart for Europe last weekend, I noticed that almost all of Spain appeared to be having temperatures around or even above 30°. I wonder if they will open the pool early in the gardens of the flats where we lived in Vigo. 30° is quite hard to manage of you can’t have a dip!

Here we aren’t
quite up to that level but we’ve done a good deal of sitting out in the garden or going for walks in the sunshine. Most pleasant! The summer wardrobes are coming out early and strappy tops are to be seen everywhere. People are sitting outside the pubs – and not just the smokers! I was very gratified this evening to see drinkers outside one of our local pubs, the Swan at Dobcross, which I had been told had been forced to close. It’s always a shame when a village loses its local so it was good to see people there.

As I walked around admiring the blossom trees, which are very fine at present, reflecting on the summer clothes which have appeared almost overnight, I was reminded of the old saying, “Don’t cast a clout ‘til May is out.” I never did find a reasonable explanation for a “clout” as an item of clothing instead of a clip round the ear but I have always understood the saying to mean that you shouldn’t be too hasty in putting your winter clothes away.

Some people
argue that May means the month; others say it means the May blossom, in other words hawthorn blossom. Well if the latter group are correct then May is almost out. The hawthorn bushes and trees are in bud and in the next few days they will be in full bloom.

Time to start casting clouts everyone!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Getting lost

Some time ago I read a novel by a Spanish author, Rosa Montero, possibly one of my favourite writers. The story begins in an airport where the female narrator is waiting for her husband to emerge from the gents’ toilet. Time passes and he does not appear. Their flight is called for boarding and he does not appear. The airport staff search the gents’ and there is no sign of him. The rest of the story is not important here. I wouldn’t like to spoil it for you in case you ever get around to reading it. Ever since I read it, however, I have been on tenterhooks whenever we are in an airport departures lounge and my Phil disappears into the gents’, especially if it is close to the departure time for our plane. I mention this because last Sunday I thought I was going through a slightly different version of that scenario.

We had gone to the Victoria and Albert Museum, a place definitely worth visiting. When we reached the point of feeling quite “museumed out”, we decided to find the café for some refreshments. En route we took a stop off to go to the loo, ladies’ to the left, gents’ to the right. A few minutes later I returned to the point where we had gone our separate ways and waited … and waited … and waited. I began to have a feeling of déjà vu or maybe that should be “déjà lu”. Finally, some fifteen minutes later my wandering husband returned. He had missed the very small sign half way down a staircase and had ended up in the depths of the museum: lost!

This was not the first, nor indeed the last, time we had managed to get lost during our visit to London. Catching a bus to the tube station one day we had misread the information at the bus stop and convinced ourselves that the bus we were about to catch would take us all the
way to Victoria Station. It would make a nice change, we thought, to travel into central London by bus. We could see the sights from the top deck. It was a fine if rather cloudy day and we were in no hurry. Besides, it would be free as we could travel on our Greater Manchester bus passes. So far so good. And then a few stops after the tube station the bus came to a stop and the driver announced that this was the terminus. After wandering around for a while we concluded that we were in fact heading away from central London! Oh for a compass in a situation like this!!

Then a few days later we did it again. In search of South Kensington tube station to begin our journey home after leaving the Victoria and Albert I misread the map and marched us well out of our way so that we had to retrace our steps to find a tube station to begin our journey home. W
e had had no trouble going from the tube station to the V & A because we had gone through the long, long tunnel system connecting directly to the museum. So I had us temporarily lost in London. But were we downhearted? Not one bit. It’s all part of the adventure. And our overground route took us past the Natural History Museum, a building well worth seeing even if you’ve run out of time and energy to visit it.

And finally I found something I had mislaid. A while ago I decided I wanted re-read a book by Cormac McCarthy, “All the Pretty Horses”. When I looked on our bookshelves there was no sign of it. The other two books in the trilogy were there no Pretty Horses at all. I remembered lending it to a friend but he declared that he had returned it long ago. Not being an argumentative soul, I kept to myself observations about people who borrow books and lose them for you. Well, during our visit to London, looking for something to read on our son’s bookshelves I came across a copy of All the Pretty Horses with our name in it. Hmmm, so now we know who the non-returner is. I wonder how many more of our books he has on his shelves!

Friday, 1 April 2011

On the road again!

I have gone on at length before now about the advantages and disadvantages of public transport in the UK. Well, here I go again with another little rant. We are spending a long weekend in London, cat-sitting and flat-sitting while our son and his wife are away. So late morning yesterday we set off for the bus stop at the crossroads near our house, aiming for the number 350 bus at 11.53. This would connect us nicely with a bus from Oldham bus station and eventually to a train from Manchester Piccadilly.

Step one was fine. The bus arrived more or less on time, set off with a lurch as usual just before anyone had time to reach their seat and shuddered to a stop at every bus stop, throwing passengers around. This is all par for the course.
Then we arrived at Oldham bus station. This is one of those modern structures made of tubular metal and lots of perspex, noisy and cold because the whole place rattles whenever the wind blows, which happens frequently as the sliding doors open and close automatically every time anyone walks past. It is made up of two sections: the main bus station and a kind of annex just around the corner. The main section has a delightful public address system which reminds you in condescendingly dulcet tones of a variety of things: “These floors can be slippery when wet.” “Pickpockets operate in this bus station; always keep your belongings close to you.” “It is against the law to smoke in this bus station; please do not smoke” (There is a small, possibly anarchist, minority who ignore this last one.) “This bus station is patrolled by GMPTE police.” (Now why are they never around to tell the anarchist smokers to go outside? That’s what I want to know.)

Anyway, our bus arrived at the main bus station and sailed through without stopping until it reached the annex. We could see our connecting bus to Manchester but by the time our 350 bus had come to a juddering halt that connecting bus was setting off. So we had to wait for the next one, fortunately only a matter of 5 to 10 minutes but that is not the point. Had the 350 bus stopped to allow passengers to alight in the main section, we would have caught the connecting bus. So we asked the driver why he had not stopped. Well, it seems that his bus changes from a 350 to 183 on reaching the bus station and the 183 stop is in the annex. Yes, but would it not make sense to allow the people who caught the 350, not the 183, to get off first? Oh, no, that never happens. Now, that is simply not true. I use that service frequently enough to know that many more co-operative and passenger-friendly drivers do just that.

We WILL complain!!

The rest of our journey, you will be pleased to hear, went according to plan. We did have to remind a phone user that she should not be having her conversation in the quiet zone but she was quite amenable to stopping. And there were rather a lot of announcements from the train staff, also disturbing the quiet zone, but you can’t have everything.

So we reached our destination without further mishap, settled ourselves in, took ourselves out for a rather nice Italian meal and came back and fed the cat.

This morning the cat came and woke us up at around quarter to eight, demanding to fed once again. When we baby-sit, the grandchildren feel perfectly within their rights to demand breakfast at any time from six o’ clock onwards. So on the whole cat-sitting gives me more sleeping time. And Audrey the cat does not ask for just another five minutes before bed and just one more story before going to sleep.

Now, we have our Oyster cards and our bus passes; time to get this London tourist thing underway.