Thursday, 28 July 2011

Finding things to do.

Accompanying my daughter to collect her two youngest from school (they break up today, later than many other schools) I overheard parents wondering what they were going to do with the children for 6 weeks. I refrained from pointing out that Spanish children have already had a month of holidays; I don’t think they would have appreciated it.

The debate about school holidays has come up again as Mr G
ove has been suggesting that the school year should be restructured to reduce this long break when, apparently, children from a disadvantaged background fall behind because they don’t get to do the stimulating activities more privileged youngsters are presented with. I can see the arguments for both sides but I still come down on the side of the pro-long(ish) summer holiday lobby. I always enjoyed the sense of a demarcation line between one year and the next.

Having said all that, on Monday I received a whole series of text messages from our
eldest granddaughter to the effect that she was bored and that there was nothing to do. Her school finished for summer last Friday, the school where her mother works finished on Tuesday of this week and the smaller siblings’ school finishes today. As a result she was home alone and had not organised any activities for herself. (She had had a friend to stay over the weekend so she couldn’t be said to be deprived of company but that’s teenagers for you, I suppose.) My suggestions that she should walk the dog, tidy her room, read a book and so on did not go down well.

However, later on Monday I suggested to her that we might take a trip to Liverpool on Tuesday as the Tate Gallery is currently hosting a Magritte exhibition. This turned out to be the just what she n
eeded. She is starting a GCSE Art course in September and has a homework task sheet (so much for six weeks of freedom and nothing to do!!) which includes, if possible, going to the Magritte exhibition and then doing some follow-up work. So off we went.

The plan was that I would get on the tr
ain at our nearest station – Greenfield – and she would get on the same train at her nearest station – Mossley. It was a brilliant plan except that either her mother had not told her or she had not been listening. Whatever the reason, she was not at the station but at her house when my train arrived at Mossley. Most annoying! I had to hop off the train and go and find her.

Eventually, armed with task sheet, sketchbook, camera, almost everything but the kitch
en sink, we caught the next train an hour later and still managed to reach Liverpool in the very early afternoon.

The sun was shining, it was quite summerlike and Liverpool looked very good. They have done a lot of work on making the centre of the city pedestrian – shopper- tourist friendly and the result is good.

So we made our
way down to the Albert Dock and into the Tate Gallery where we spent a happy hour or three looking at Magritte paintings, discussing them, taking notes, sketching bits and pieces and generally being very studious. Not a moan at all about this being too much like a school visit. The only (very minor) complaint was when I ran into an old friend I’d not seen for about 10 years and we spent too long catching up.

Having “
done” Magritte, we made our way down through the rest of the gallery, happily discussing whether a pile of concrete bricks in a supermarket trolley or a heap of old clothes in a corner of a room really constitute a work of art. But we also got to see a Picasso, an Andy Warhol, a Mondrian, a Henry Moore and a load of other good stuff. There was some question, though, about why a Campbell’s soup tin was a good subject for a painting!

Finally, having expended a lot of energy in art appreciation the teenager needed sus
tenance so we stopped at Prêt à Manger on our way back to the station and found her something to eat. Then it was back to the station through the Liverpool sunshine, a final dash for a train which was leaving in two minutes time and which allowed us to make our connection back to our neck of the woods.

A successful
expedition. She was very good company.

I suppose this means that she is now one of the privileged youngsters who are taken out to do stimulating activities. Only another 6 weeks to go.

Monday, 25 July 2011

What to do next.

Well, that’s the Tour de France over with for another year. And what an exciting last few days we had of it. They went into the mountains with Frances Thomas Voeckler (what kind of French name is that?) still wearing the yellow jersey but declaring along the way that he did not think he could win the Tour. The French people had other ideas and were rooting for him all the way but in the end he was right. I seriously thought he was going to have a heart attack at the top of the Col du Galibier.

The Norwegians were out in force to cheer on Thor Hushvold and Edvald Boasson Hagen who won quite a number of stages between them even if they didn’t make it to the podium in Paris.

We had great drama as Andy Schleck attacked on the Col du Galibier and then our old friend Contador attacked on the Alpe d’Huez. And both of them were finally eclipsed by a smiling Australian, Cadel Eva
ns, who just kept up with them all and in the end overtook them and stood on the podium in Paris with the Schleck brothers in 2nd and third places. A lot has been made of his being the oldest Tour winner in post war years. At 34 years and five months he is an OLD cyclist. Poor thing!!! But he showed them!

The ITV 4 presenters were possibly more excited about our own UK success than about the final overall result. Having
lost the great UK hope Bradley Wiggins to a broken collar bone early on in the race, everyone’s eyes were on Mark Cavendish, a sprinter from the Isle of Mann going for the Green Jersey for the best sprinter.

He almost didn’t make it as he found the mountains very hard and kept being docked points for not quite getting home within the time limit. On the Alpe d’Huez he was lucky not to be eliminated but they would have had to eliminate about half the riders and so he got away with it. And then in the final stage in Paris, he almost lost it
when he had bike problems and had to swop machines and catch up with everyone. But he made it in the end: dramatic stage win on the Champs Élysées AND confirmation of winning the Green Jersey. Oh, he was a happy boy!

Another North of England boy shone in the final stage, making a breakaway rather nicely and showing what he could do even if he didn’t win the stage. As he was interviewed later we thought we heard a slight Manchester accent there so I Googled him. Born in Rotherham, Yorkshire, he started riding for Mossley CRT, a cycling club just down the road from us which is noted apparently for helping young cyclists to develop their skills. Small world, isn’t it?

But what happened to Alberto Contador? We mustn’t forget that he worked his way up from 75th on day one to 5th on the final stage, which is pretty impressive.

Maybe he was too ambitious; apparently he wanted to try and win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Possibly that was a mistake.

Then, he seemed to be dogged by bad luck. On day one he was held up by the big crash and it does seem that if you don’t get a good start it’s hard to catch up later. He had a couple of falls himself and injured his knee, which can’t have done him any good.

He and his team manger Bjarne Riis also reckoned that the team was not as good as they would have liked. And certainly he wasn’t getting the organised support that Andy Schleck and Mark Cavendish got from their teams.

He reckons that he knew he’d finally lost it when Andy Schleck made his very successful attack going up the Col du Galibier. After that, despite doing well on the Alpe d’Huez and on the team trial he appeared to just settle down and enjoy his cycling. After all, there’s always ne
xt year.

In the meantime, I now need to find another obsession to occupy some of my time. No more Tour de France on ITV 4 in the afternoon. Maybe, as French philosopher Voltaire said, it’s time to “cultiver notre jardin”. The tomato plants are doing quite nicely thank you.

And finally, here’s a nice little alphabet of the tour from El País.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The rain in ...

We’ve all been moaning about the rain. It just keeps falling and falling. Last Thursday I went into Manchester to a friend’s retirement party where we sat outside and chatted in the sunshine.

En route I s
napped a photo of a Red Bull Cavalcade on Deansgate, Manchester – a very strange sight!

Since that delightfully sunny occasion, summer seems to have done a bunk, gone awol or turned itself into a premature autumn. Friday was just dull and showery but Saturday, Sunday and Monday were just a washout with torrential downpours almost all the time.

Still, I suppose it could be worse; you could be hurtling down a steep mountainside in the rain in the Tour de France. Quite how they keep going at
those speeds on wet roads I do not know. My Spanish hero, Albeeeerto Contadoooor, has moved himself up to 7th place (not bad from 75th on day one) but he is still 4 minutes behind the leader and needs to do some serious catching up in the stages in the Alps, starting today, if he is going to make it onto the podium in Paris. I notice that the newspaper, Faro de Vigo, advertising its online coverage of the Tour, still talks about Alberto Contador’s chances of winning once again. There’s still almost a week to go, however, so anything is possible. Our almost local boy, Manxman Mark Cavendish (well, the Isle of Mann is off the coast of the Northwest of England), is doing well. He’s not a contender for the big prize but he may walk away with the green jersey for best sprinter.

Even my friend Colin in Pontevedra has been complaining about the weather. Reading between the lines, I think someone pinched his umbrella. You wouldn’t think you would need to do that in Galicia as there are usually umbrellas on sale EVEYWHERE!!!

I looked up the weather forecast for Vigo and Pontevedra – I like to know what I’m missing but also if the forecast if for cloudy sun with temperatures of 15° to 20° like today it makes me feel slightly less bad about our delightful British summer.

Scanning the Galicia newspapers, I discovered that the rain had also got in the way of the Festival de la Virgen del Carmen on Sunday. Now, most people associate adoration of the Virgin with the south of Spain but in fact the Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of fishermen and so it’s logical that the Bouzas district of Vigo should have a procession for her.

Normally her statue is taken out to sea in a fishing boat, accompanied by a number of other boats all finely decorated in honour of the Virgin. Julio Vazquez had his boat Rebeca all organised to take her out but in the end the sea was running so high and the rain was lashing down so hard that they had to cancel the boat trip until next year.

They had to limit the celebration to
a short precession through the streets with the faithful under their umbrellas. Better luck next year!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Home again! Home again!

Here we are: Wednesday already!! Time seems to have flown since we returned from Spain last Thursday. We arrived late in the evening to find that obras had followed us home and were making progress slow on the motorway homewards. We made it eventually, of course, and woke next morning to rain, slow and steady to start with and then torrential with quiet bits in between downpours. And the gallegos say it rains a lot in Galicia. They don’t know the half of it.

We were back home with a vengeance: rain AND babysitting!!

On Saturday, after the rain stopped, I went exploring old haunts to see that all was well. For several months now I have been getting up and jogging along the Delph Donkey Line. This used to be a branch line of a rail system going through Uppermill on its way from Manchester to Yorkshire. Some time in the fifties the line fell out of use and was eventually closed, along with many others throughout the country. I suppose that back then no-one could have foreseen that now it would be an ideal commuter line from here to Manchester. So it goes; what we have instead is a very pleasant leafy walk along the former railway track. Anyway, some time in May a notice appeared warning of an imminent temporary closure of a central stretch of the walk so that they could do some repairs to the dry stone walls. Of course the work was late starting because the rain got in the way. So they began a couple of weeks before I went away and on my return the path is now a muddy mess with mounds of earth, muddy puddles and messy machinery all over the place.

Sunday came along and Grandma’s Girls set off in the sunshine to do the Race
for Life in Heaton Park, a huge park in another part of Greater Manchester. By the time we were half way there, the heavens opened. We sat for about a quarter of an hour before we left the car in the car park. It stopped raining pretty well for the waiting – and there was quite a lot of it with ladies in crazy pink wigs – and the warm-up, which was quite a sight to see with masses of pink clad ladies jumping up and down in unison. Anyway, we did the race: 5 kilometres in around 45 minutes, a mix of fast walking and jogging. And it rained on us. But between us we raised some £500.

On Monday I did the “Ladies Who Lunch” thing with a couple of old friends, managing to sit outside in the sunshine after lunch and after a walk round the sales. In the middle of all this I had a text message saying that grandchild number three had been delivered to our house as had been sick at school. What
a lucky escape I had, especially as I was not going straight home. After my day out I was going to watch grandchild number two in her school play. This was an entertaining look at education called School Daze. Grandchild number two was in the chorus as the main roles go to the children about to leave primary school to go to high school.

To follow this Tuesday morning saw me babysitting grandchild number two who was not allowed back to school until he had gone 24 hours without sickness.

And finally, today, Wednesday, I was out for a run when my phone rang. It was my daughter once again, telling me she was on the way to my house with grandchild number one who had clearly caught the summer vomiting bug from her small brother and was on the way to my house so that mummy could go back to work.

Maybe it’s time to run away to Spain again before they give it to me!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

On the road again

Yesterday we left Pontevedra and made our way back to Vigo once again where we are staying a couple of nights with some friends. One of the first things the chess player did on arriving was to get out the chess set and teach our friends’ two small sons how to set it up. Moving the pieces around will come another day. For the time being they are happy to move them around and enjoy the feel of them.

In the evening while the chess player went off to catch up with the goings-on at Xadrez Galego, the chess club here, I went for a drink and a chat with my friend Carmen. She will pass on my greetings to all the ladies from the Club de Lectura Francés.

We finished the evening with a few beers and some free tapas at a couple of bars near our friends’ flat. Very pleasant!

Vigo appears to remain much the same as ever. Some of the obras have been finished an others have been started. So, there are still traffic cones here and there. I understand that work on the AVE, the high speed train, continue very slowly. I found this cartoon in a local paper.

One man says, “We Jews have been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to come. What are you Gallegos waiting for?” “The AVE,” comes the reply. (So work here is going more slowly than work on the trams in Greater Manchester. We were promised a link from Oldham to the Manchester City Centre for 2012 but now all the signs say it will be open in the autumn. We shall see.)

There’s some protest going on about the train service between Vigo and Porto coming to an end, planned for this Sunday in fact. This service currently runs at 7.45 am and 7.45 pm, taking about three hours to complete a journey which is rather shorter by car or bus. It has the advantage of arriving at the rather fine Oporto station but this doesn’t make up for the slow journey for some people by all accounts.

However, some businessmen have started complaining and protests are underway. When it was first planned at the end of the 19th century, the rail link as regarded as an international project and an international bridge was commissioned to cross the River Miño, the border between Spain and Portugal. This was tested in 1885 to see if it could bear the weight of a train and the service was inaugurated in March 1886.

And now international cooperation is underway again as the mayors of Tui on the Spanish side and Valença on the Portuguese are joining forces to oppose the closing of the line.

Meanwhile in France, Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador has faced protests of a different kind. Some people felt he should not be allowed to take part in the Tour de France this year as there are still matters pending from an investigation about drugs from last year. Poor thing, he’s having a rough time of it so far. On day one, an opening stage with rather a high number of crashes including a spectacular multiple pile-up which delayed Contador and several other top-end contenders, he finished in 75th place, not at all to his liking. Day two, a team time trial, saw him moving up to 66th place, not a great deal better. Yesterday he almost won the stage but was pipped to the post by Cadel Evans who beat him by ⅓ of a wheel length. So he began today in 41st position.

This did not prevent the newspaper El País from headlining its report with this optimistic comment: “Contador empieza ya a ganar el Tour”. Well, I suppose it could be the start of a win. After all, our boys David Millar (currently in 4th place) and Bradley Wiggins (6th) have started among the leaders on other occasions and have ended up sliding down the ratings.

So maybe our hero can make up for Rafa Nadal being pushed into the runner-up place in Wimbledon.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Hasta la Vista, Sanxenxo

Yesterday we said farewell to Sanxenxo. As the chess player played his final round I packed our bags, settled up with the hotel, put the bags in their store room and went for a last walk along the paseo marítimo. It was one of those dull and cloudy mornings where the world seems to disappear under mist.

Down at the harbour something had been going on with those water scooter things but it was obviously all over by the time I got there as they were loading them onto trailers, washing the salt water off them and taking them away. I clearly should have got up and about earlier.

So I said goodbye to the sunbather and to the surfboarding statue with the odd name of La Madama. I find it interesting that Vigo, a working port, has its swimmer statutes, vigorous and purposeful (perhaps?) while the seaside resort of Sanxenxo has a sunbather and La Madama engaged in leisure activities.

Back at the hotel I took the chess player an energising cup of coffee and before
we knew it he had won his final round. Does coffee count as an artificial stimulant I wonder! Then we sat around for a while waiting for things to come to an end and the prize giving ceremony to be announced.

Great was my chess player’s surprise when he discovered tha
t he had won a prize after all, for he had convinced himself that he was quite out of the running even for the “veterans’ prize”. But that is what he got: €100 for being the highest scoring player born before 1956. Age has its privileges after all!

His chess playing mate Rafa from Vigo won best Galician player and a bunch of Cubans walked away with a whole load of prizes. The top winner, a
certain Dragan Paunovic, won a boat. No, not a proper, sea-going boat. Chess players don’t win at that level, unlike the Wimbledon champion who, I understand, won 1.1million pounds yesterday!!! Mr Paunovic was quite happy; this was his third boat and anyway he did win some money as well.

And so we set off for the bus station where we lunched on a “Monbus Extra” sandwich, basically a ham salad sandwich with everything possible in it. We were joined at our table by an extremely garrulous chess player from O Grove, also waiting for his bus home.

Eventually we m
et up with our friend Colin and headed briefly for the hills, well, for a glass of wine on the terrace of his house in the hills. Lovely views from there over the ría.

We ended the evening in an Asian buffet restaurant, one of those all you can eat places, where Colin introduced us to a couple of friends, also coincidentally from the Manchester area. It turned out that one of them had been a pupil at the very first school I ever taught at. And so we had a little reminisce, finding that the senior staff who had been the bane of my life as a young teacher were the very ones she remembered with some horror. It’s a small world once again!!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

If only everything were as reliable....

It’s reassuring to find that things don’t change too much.

You go away for a while and come back to discover that
people still stop and talk at will, blocking the pavement without a care, even if they are a group in wheelchairs like this morning when I was out for a run.

Cars are still parked in bus bays and get towed away. You still hear the expletive JODER!!! when someone gets back to their quite legally parked cars only to find that they are completely blocked in with the cars in front and behind absolutely bumper to bumper. Well, it was probably the only way the other drivers could fit in, after all. The lady I overheard this lunchtime should be glad her car was not concertinaed between the other two.

And then, of course, there is still cocido. I was so pleased to see this sign outside a restaurant on the sea front.

Our hotel continues to overfeed us. Their problem is that they are so proud of the dishes made on the premises that they want you to have them
all. We have persuaded them that we CAN survive on only two courses at lunchtime: an entrante + one other plato. So they tell us what the three courses are and we choose accordingly. Today we had decided to go for the entrante – vol au vent de mariscos – very nice – and the last course which was pork chop with rice. The middle course was empanadillas, not my favourite and so one that I was happy to miss. However, the waiter was really insistent that we had to try the. They make them on the premises and they are very good, we were assured. He went on so much that we agreed to let him put a couple of empanadillas on the plate with the pork chop. If we wanted more, we could ask for more. Ok. Fine. We went along with it and the empanadillas were OK but we’re not big fans of little mini pasties and so we didn’t ask for more.

Now, on Thursday evening, at the cena especial organised by the chess people, we had some very nice empanada, one of the best I’ve eaten, followed by some equally good pulpo. Finally the promised arroz con bogavante arrived. Bogavante never fails to amaze me. Is it just me or is it really an awful lot of fiddling around to get very little out of the claws of the creature? Still the flavour is good and the rice they serve it up with is excellent. I thought I’d got away with a small portion until my plat was whisked away and refilled, coming back with about three times as much as first time round. Ooooof!!!! The following day I heard one of the Spaniards turning away food at lunchtime with the excuse, “Anoche comimos mucho arroz con bogavante”. So, even the natives find it overwhelming. I have to say, though, that the seafood has been very good this week. I’ll be back for more.

At our cena especial we had the company of two delightful young ladies, the ten year old twin daughters of one of the chess players. The parents are Catalans of Andalusian descent and the mother is one of those tall, proud Andalusian women with long dark hair and striking features. The little girls are just clones of Mamá. The best thing about them was that they were so polite and pleasant, joining in the adult conversation when necessary and otherwise just getting on with things. Even our friend Colin from Pontevedra who had popped over for a glass or two of wine was impressed.

The little girls are being educated in Castellano, Catalán and English. The parents told us, in rather bemused tones, that they (the parents) speak to each other on Castellano but to the girls in Catalán. Very strange. But they are very happy with their daughters’ progress. So bilingual or even trilingual education can work, apparently. I’ll be interested to see what their opinion is if / when the girls change schools as they get older.