Thursday, 26 April 2012


 Seventy five years ago today Franco permitted the German air force to bomb the Basque town of Guernika. It was market day; lots of people came in from outside of town for the day

Apparently there had been warnings about the possibility of this happening but the town council decided to go ahead anyway. After all you can’t put your life on hold because of threats from an enemy. Besides the town had a fair number of air raid shelters and the people where accustomed to using them. Many people had already fled the town for fear of air raids however. It was thanks to that that no more than around 150 people were killed. 

5,771 bombs were dropped on the town. That’s almost one per inhabitant: the 1937 population of Guernika was 6,000. Around three quarters of the town was destroyed but, ironically enough, the armaments factories in the outskirts escaped unscathed. This, of course, may have been because the main aim was to frighten the Republicans who were resisting Franco’s forces, not just in Guernika but in the whole of the Basque country. 

It was the first time that civilian targets had been attacked in that way. Some say that it was a kind of training for the German airforce for what was to come only a few years later. 

We visited the town a few years ago. The tourist office provides a map showing which buildings were destroyed, a scary-looking document. The old part of the town had been rebuilt as it was before the raid, largely, I understand, with money provided by a German benefactor. 

The museum of the town is worth a visit: lots of photos and an interactive room where you can “experience” the air raid. Otherwise, Guernika is just an ordinary small town in the Basque Country. 

Today there are ceremonies in the town to remember that fateful day. Survivors of the raid, old people who were only children when it happened, will be there. They say that they don’t want the event to be forgotten.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Let’s have a party.

I read today about the village of Candeleda in the Ávila region of Spain which is taking steps to boost its population. There are fewer than 6000 inhabitants in this place and they are concerned that if the exodus continues the village will disappear altogether. As there are cave paintings around there suggesting that the place has been inhabited for a good while it would be shame for it to just fade away. So they have organised for a coach load of ladies from Madrid to visit the village and have a kind of dating party. 
It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. There is an organisation called Asocamu which makes all the arrangements and romance and eventual marriage has been known to result from it. 

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic they are having parties for other reasons. All the rage amongst young parents-to-be at the moment are what they called “Gender Reveal Parties”. Apparently when the couple go to the hospital for a scan which reveals the gender of the baby they don’t look at the result immediately. Oh, no, nothing so simple. They are given a sealed envelope with the results in. They take this along to a cake shop which specialises in fancy cakes for events such as this. The baker then makes a cake according to the info in the envelope. At the “Gender Reveal Party” the couple cut the cake. If the interior is blue, they are expecting a boy; if it’s pink a little girl is on the way. So twee it makes me feel quite ill!! I suppose that then you follow this with a “baby shower” so that all your friends bring you appropriately coloured outfits for you gender-revealed baby. 

What is wrong with waiting until the baby arrives to find out what type it is? Personally I am getting a little agitated about the whole gender labelling business. 

I grow tired of pink and frothy clothes for little girls, aggressive toys for boys and the suggestion that bad behaviour can be expected Billy but not from Betty because the former is just “being a boy”. Grrrrr!!!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Under a cloud.

Our little bit of the UK appears to be under a huge raincloud. Droughts may exist in other parts of the country but not here. We are beginning to wonder if we have our very own microclimate. Twice this week I have travelled over to Southport, not all that far away, and on both occasions the weather has been fine and reasonable sunny. On both occasions, as I approached Greater Manchester the weather grew progressively worse. This phenomenon has been noted also by a friend whose work takes him out and about. He declares that the rain appears to hover over a ten-mile radius above our house. 

If this is a drought, Heaven help us when the real rain starts!! 

Still, other people have troubles raining down on them, which is a good deal worse than a bit of rain. While the British royal family seems to be going through a popularity boom – Kate Duchess-of Cambridge Middleton is held up as a fashion icon, young women are declaring their love for the ginger prince Harry ad want to marry him and nobody is being scandalous at all – the Spanish lot are having all sorts of difficulties. 

The two royal sons in law are being outrageous. Cristina’s husband has been accused of all sorts of financial messing around and Elena’s ex has allowed his underage son to use firearms and the lad has shot himself in the foot. On top of this the king himself has been out elephant hunting and managed to fall so that he needed to have surgery on his hip. 

Much of the indignation about this is because some people feel that the government should have been informed in advance that the king was off to Botswana but only found pout after he was sent home to hospital. I didn’t know kings needed permission to go on holiday. 

Of course, the real indignation is that he was occupied in such an obviously luxury pastime when his country is going through such a bad time and many people are having to take pay cuts. No holidays at all let alone luxury ones. 

To cap it all the German newspaper Bild is now making insinuations about Juan Carlos and a German divorcee, Corinna Prinzessin zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. She has apparently been accompanying him on lots of trips, often taking the place of Queen Sofia. Bild implies that they are having an affair. And it would seem that she is the one who organised the fateful safari in Botswana. 

 For a long time the press had a kind of agreement not to print scandal about the king. Maybe the kid gloves are coming off. 

 However, the king has apologised for the elephant-hunting incident. So that’s all right isn’t it? 

And we can all rest easy because he has no plans to retire just yet. Prince Felipe is said to maintain himself in a state of readiness, aided by Letizia who is said to have improved his attention to detail no end, but he does not expect to become king for a while yet. 

When that happens, of course, it will be, as some folk say, “a whole nuther story”. But that will have to wait for the future. Watch this space.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Some things just don’t change.

This week, wandering around Vigo, I’ve noticed a number of things that go on the same as ever. There are rather more empty shops than last time we were here and some of the menús del día have gone up by a euro or so but people are still as friendly and helpful as ever. We’ve ended our stay in the hotel we came to on our first visit here. Three and a half, almost four years on they still remember us and greet us like old friends. They know how to do customer service here, you see. But no, it’s nice to receive warm welcome.

People still stop and change direction in the middle of the street (that’s pedestrians not car drivers) without thinking about those who might be coming along behind them. Cars still park double file; well, parking is as bad as it ever was! There are still reports of all the road accident statistics in the news. In Thursday’s paper I read that in the first third of this year 54 people have been knocked down or run over by cars in Vigo, more than half of them on pedestrian crossings. No change there. On the bright side, only one in ten of these people was injured seriously. That’s OK then!

The cruise boats are still coming in. The Independence of the Seas was here yesterday and as usual there were tourists around in shorts, sandals and sunhats in the rain. (Rain, incidentally, that all our friends tell us we have brought with us from England, where it always rains:
a well known fact!) I sometimes wonder if the tourists from the big boats don’t think to look out of the port holes before they set off, just to check the weather. Or maybe it’s optimism. They often have to disembark at eight in the morning and so they can be forgiven for thinking that it might brighten up; after all, they are in Spain!

Our flat hunting this week has been the usual sort of mix of interesting and frustrating as well. We have seen a variety of places, ranging from one that promised a view of the estuary – at least they included a photo of it in the stuff on their web page – but didn’t have one to one that h
ad a sort of view if you stood in the right place and didn’t mind looking over almost all the roofs of Vigo first. The former was considerably scruffier than it appeared from the web photos and the latter was such a well-preserved old place that it was rather like a museum, complete with an old fashioned sewing machine and a corridor window etched with engravings of things Galician such as hórreos, the strange grain and food storage units on stilts. We were quite impressed with this last one but felt that we would have been afraid to touch anything for fear of spoiling the atmosphere: definitely a place to visit but not really to live in.

Eventually, it was the old who-you-know factor that solved the problem. We popped in to say hello to the estate agents who had found us our first flat in Vigo, knowing that they really only do sales these days. Lo and behold, they had a little place round the corner that we can rent for three months for the summer: only small but central and reasonably priced. There you go: some things never change!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Return to Vigo.

This blogger is back in Galicia, briefly.

We’re here flat hunting, hoping to find somewhere to stay for the summer months without paying summer prices. So we are doing a round of estate agents, getting a look at places and trying to avoid the question of how long we plan to stay until a little later. We shall see.

We travelled over to Porto on Sunday evening, having the strange experience of Ryanair checking the weight and dimensions of everyone’s hand luggage before they got onto the plane. That’s the first time that’s happened! It didn’t stop the usual chaos of the scramble for space to stow your hand luggage once on board the plane. That would be too much to ask for. And some people ended up with theirs in the hold, rather defeating the object of travelling hand luggage only as far as I can see.

On arrival at Portugal we had to wait a good twenty minutes for a train to Porto centre and when it arrived had some anxiety about whether it would take us to the right place as it was heading to a different destination to the one we are used to. However, all was well and we got off at Trindade station without problems and trotted down the road to sign into the hotel we had booked into for the night, it being too late to catch a bus straight to Vigo. Ironically enough, we met a couple from Vigo while waiting in the Ryanair queue at Liverpool airport. They offered us a lift to Vigo but by then it was too late to change our plans at this end. So it goes.

Anyway, by the time we had checked into our hotel we were beginning to feel a cold beer calling and set out in search of a suitable hostelry. Not a single place to found in the vicinity of our hotel. A few expensive restaurants were open but little else. Perhaps if we had gone down to the tourist area down by the river it might have been different but we didn’t want to go that far.

So back to the hotel we went where my Phil turned his charm on the receptionist and she magically produced a couple of cold beers from someone’s minibar – our room didn’t have one. So it was a case of all’s well that ends well.

The next morning we woke up to blue sky and sunshine. What a wonderful sight! And it lasted through our bus journey to Vigo and into the evening as well. Very pleasant.

By Tuesday morning, though, the promised rain had arrived. Everyone, yes, everyone, has told us about the dry and mild winter they have had here, the driest in years and years. The rain was obviously just waiting for us to arrive. Still, you don’t come to Galicia expecting wall-to-wall sunshine. That’s part of its charm, or so they tell me.

Prices have gone up a little but the food is still as good and the people as friendly and helpful as ever. And so we wait for the helpful estate agents to get back to us and help us in our flat hunting. Progress reports later.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Making a fool of us.

On Sunday, since it was April Fool’s Day, a friend of mine posted this on Facebook.

Mr Sarkozy offers to halve his salary if re-elected and then announces that we have been caught as “Poisson d’avril” since the French have April fish instead of fools. I thought it was rather nice; if only such things could happen.

I’ve never been very good at April Fool’s Day tricks. I think my best was convincing a first year A-level French class that they were having a surprise exam. Only when the paper fishes appeared on their tables did they realise I had caught them out.

Apparently there was a spoof report on Radio 4 about people stealing donkeys and how this was causing a problem for churches which wanted to include the animals in Palm Sunday processions. As a result, the report said, many churches were using llamas instead.

When did churches in the UK start having Palm Sunday processions? It never used to happen when I was a believer. The only processions we used to have where the Whit Walks, when the Sunday Schools paraded through the streets with their banners and all the little girls got new white pleated skirts for the occasion.

The use of real donkeys in Palm Sunday processions received comment in one of the Galicia newspapers: comment on how unusual it is for such a thing to happen.

And the Spanish know a thingor two about Easter Week processions. They do them in a big way. The square in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela was packed out.

As was Puerta del Sol in Vigo.

And I think I recognise this lady selling woven palm fronds in Vigo.

Meanwhile, here in England, in time for Easter we have returned to winter and the snow is back.

This morning I awoke to a blizzard, a snow covered garden, a power cut and no signal on my mobile phone. And it’s not even April Fool’s Day any longer!

It’s probably a good job that we are planning a week in Galicia starting on Sunday.