Monday, 31 December 2012

Another year over!

Here we are, rushing towards the soggy (around here anyway) end of 2012. In rather less than 12 hours' time it will be 2013; indeed, in some parts of the world it already is 2013. We are rather hoping that the weather lady who promised on TV last night that the rain should stop before midnight is correct. Following one of our traditions, we are off to a friend’s birthday party tonight and plan to walk home in the small hours of the morning. Experience proves that even when you book a taxi for one or two o’ clock on New Year’s morning it’s impossible to get one. Besides, strolling home means we walk off the alcohol and avoid starting the New Year with a huge hangover. Hence our hope that the rain will have gone by then. 

Anyway, Christmas has come and almost gone, although a friend of mine still has to celebrate it next Monday as she is married to a Ukrainian. But we have done most of the traditional visits and lunches out with various members of the family. The usual suspects have come to stay and I have cooked inordinate amounts of food. After tonight’s no doubt excellent party meal, soup, poached eggs, beans on toast and other such things should be the order of the day for the rest of the week. And then maybe I’ll think about other meals and tackle the supermarket once again. 

One tradition I didn’t join in with was the Boxing Day Sales madness, which by all accounts excelled itself this year. People started queuing not long after midnight on Christmas Day to get into stores like John Lewis in London. What an unbelievably strange way to end Christmas Day: eat a large meal, pull crackers, watch a bit of Christmas telly and then go and sit in the cold for hours in order to bag a bargain. I know that some of those bargain-hunters were folk who don’t celebrate Christmas but not all of them. Many shoppers were boasting about buying stuff ready for NEXT Christmas, for goodness sake!!!! 

Meanwhile, in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia yesterday they celebrated the “Traslación de los Restos del Apóstolo”, something that they do every year on December 30th by all accounts. I wondered if they actually moved the saint’s bones around so I did a bit of research. And the answer is no. This is the celebration of his remains arriving in Spain. Legend has it that after Pentecost, when the disciples were given the gift of tongues and went out to spread the word, good old James (for the uninformed, Santiago = Saint James) and a few of his followers went to Spain, particularly Galicia, to preach. So when he was beheaded it was logical that his followers should steal his remains and take them to Galicia. After finding a nice grotto to put him in, some of the chaps went back to the Holy Land while others stayed on in Spain to do some more preaching. 

Whether you believe all that is up to you, of course, but the Spanish do know how to celebrate such legends in a big way. The Presidenta del Parlamento de Galicia, Pilar Rojo, stood in for the king at this ceremony and asked the Apostle Santiago to please intervene and help sort out the crisis in Spain. 

Goodness knows it needs sorting out. I’ve read that prices of flats in Galicia are down to 2001 levels. People are still unable to buy many of them because the banks will only give loans for the purchase of properties owned by them. So it goes. Here’s a link to an album of photos of the crisis in 2012 from the newspaper La Voz de Galicia .

 As I run, walk, drive around our rather grey and damp area of the northwest of England, I still see loads of houses and gardens festooned with brightly lit Christmas decorations. Either the people who live in those houses are not affected by the crisis or they are making a last-ditch attempt to cheer themselves through it. 

This has led me to reflect on the Christmas decorations of my childhood, including paper streamers which stayed up until my brother and I had had our birthday parties in January. Our Christmas tree was always in the front room. (Do you remember “front rooms”? The room where the “best” furniture was almost only used for show. In the days before every household had a TV set you only went in the front room for special occasions or when Grandma came for Sunday tea.) We didn’t have plug in electric tree lights but candles which clipped onto the branches of the tree. Consequently, the tree could only be illuminated under supervision and over the Christmas period we made extra use of the front room as we had a kind of ritual lighting of the candles and would all admire the tree in its glory for a while. The candles were then extinguished to avoid danger of setting the paper garlands (and eventually the house) on fire. 

Now, my mother rather looked down on those who put up their tree actually IN the window, in a position where then the curtains were drawn the only people who could see the tree were passers-by. Partly she couldn’t see the point of depriving yourselves of the tree after drawing the curtains but also she regarded it as rather “common”. And the last thing you wanted to be at that time was “common”. 

I rather suspect she would have something to say about the people who decorate the outside of their houses with glowing inflated Santas and reindeer!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Stuff.

Well, we got through Christmas Day. 

Santa came, as expected and left presents under the tree. We all ate far too much as usual but amazingly, also as usual, there seems to be almost as much turkey meat left as we started with. 

We were promised a band of rain moving across the country today so when we got up this morning and saw some blue sky we set off for a walk early. Relatively early anyway. Mid to end of the morning instead of mid to end of the afternoon. And the promised band of rain did arrive. By three o’clock I had drawn the curtains to shut out the dull and dismal end of the daylight. We’re past the winter solstice and the days are supposed to get longer now but it’s still too soon to see a noticeable difference. 

 It could be worse though. Scanning Spanish newspapers online I came across a photo of someone cycling in Amsterdam ... under an umbrella. The writer of the article talked about an average of 190 to 210 rainy days per year in Amsterdam. That’s 18 days per month. No wonder they need legalised drugs to help cheer them up. I shall stop moaning about the weather forthwith. Well, for a while anyway. 

I also read about an unusual kind of protest that has taken place in Santiago de Compostela. Recently lots of people in Spain, as in the UK, have been made homeless because the banks have foreclosed on their mortgages and reclaimed the houses. To draw attention to this a group calling themselves FARTAS (Fomos Armala Raptando Temporalmente Ao Susiño) stole/kidnapped the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene in the Obradoiro in the centre of Santiago. They then shut him up in the doorway of a bank, one of those where you can go in and use he ATM machine. All of this was made into a video which they put on Youtube so that people would know what was going on. 

At least they didn’t leave him out in the cold. Eventually he was found by bank workers and rescued. Much to the relief of those who care look after the Nativity scene and to the interest and amusement of tourists to the cathedral precinct, baby Jesus was reunited with Mary and Joseph early this morning. 
 I wonder if it will make any difference to the homeless.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ready for Christmas

Well, I’ve wrapped the presents, peeled the sprouts, chopped a range of other vegetables and baked a variety of cakes and puddings. All I need to do tomorrow is pot the turkey into the oven and let everything cook nicely. Mind you, it’s not a full turkey; it’s one of those strange things they call a “turkey crown”, in other words a sort of turkey body without wings or legs. Why is it called a “crown”? Whose decision was that? 

It’s that time of year when you field a whole string of questions along the lines of “What can I get for X for Christmas?” Even this morning as I jogged along the local bridle path my phone pinged. It was my son with yet another demand for inspiration. Goodness! It’s hard enough for ME to decide what to buy for some people. And then there’s television. 

Why is it that Christmas makes the programmers believe that we are all brainless idiots who need lots of nonsense like “The Spice Girls’ Story”? Oh, I do know that there is some decent stuff on as well (and that TV as a rule can be pretty mind-numbing) but there is definitely a move to put on stuff that needs little thought. 

As I type this I am listening to reports of further heavy rain about to fall on many parts of the UK. I’m very glad not to be one of the many who are trying to travel around the country and finding that floods have got in their way. And of course there are loads of people trying to do just that: travel to wherever their family is to spend the holiday with them. All this to celebrate the birth of a baby! 

I did hear a man of the church explain on the radio this afternoon that in the early days of Christianity they didn’t really celebrate Christmas at all. Easter, as you might expect, was the important celebration. However, gradually Christmas crept in, replacing the old Roman mid-winter saturnalia. Of course, we’ve known for a while that the timing of Christmas was shifted to match the winter solstice celebrations but the presenter of the programme was a little surprised to hear a man of the cloth state that. He had asked his what Christmas was all about, expecting a lot of stuff about the birth of the baby Jesus and got a rather different answer. 

 Finally, I’ve just read an article in La Voz de Galicia about the Cuadrado family in Ferrol. One of an amazing 40,000 “familias numerosas” in Galicia (what happened to the falling birth rate?), the Cuadrados have 10 children and another on the way. Mar, the mother of this amazing brood who range from 14 years old to twelve months of age, seems remarkably calm about having another on the way. Apparently she always wanted a large family but had thought of five and then just carried on having more! It’s quite daunting to think of being pregnant on and off for about 15 years. The father of the gang is a university professor so we can’t put it down to simple ignorance. 

I bet they have a busy Christmas!

Thursday, 20 December 2012


This week I’ve read two reports of people being sentenced for abuse of social media. 

There’s a chap from Portonovo, Sanxenxo, who was a little peeved that his girl finished with him and took his revenge by posting photos of her semi-naked on the web. He was sentenced to a year in prison. 

Then there’s the bloke who hacked into the accounts of various Hollywood such as Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson and stole photos of them. Among other images he posted photos of Miss Johansson, also semi-naked. He’s been sentenced to 10 years! 

Miss Scarlett has apparently declared herself to be feeling “humiliated and ashamed”. I expect the young lady from Sanxenxo felt the same way. Unfortunately for her, she is not a big name star and so she only feels one year’s worth of humiliation and shame. I wonder why this is. Clearly if you are someone who might get her kit off in a film or in a music video and get paid for it, having your photos posted on the web without your permission merits a much bigger sentence for the perpetrator. 

Of course, all of this will be immaterial if the world does in fact end tomorrow as the Mayan calendar predicts. I understand that the shopkeepers of Príncipe, one of Vigo’s main shopping streets, are using the end of the world as an excuse to stay open until midnight tonight. End-of-the-worlders can depart having spent plenty of money. And then they say that you can’t take it with you! 

Apparently they are putting out a red carpet on Príncipe for the shoppers so I hope that the rain keeps off. For some parts of the Galicia coast have been on yellow alert for storms and high tides. Mussel beds off Cambados have been destroyed by the bad weather.The picture looks more like a plane crash than anything else.

So it’s not just the UK that’s been having perhaps more than its quota of rain and stormy weather. Around here, the scenery which was looking like a Christmas card in the recent cold spell has withdrawn once again into general greyness. And tonight there are more than 50 flood warnings around the UK.

It’s a good job we’ve got the festival of overindulgence to look forward to … provided the world doesn’t end tomorrow after all!

Monday, 17 December 2012


Half-listening to the radio this morning I caught the tail end of a programme where a Dr Mark Turin talked to some people in New York who are working to preserve the minority languages of America. They had discovered that it was quite possible to investigate the minority languages of South America in New York City, without expensive field trips to other places, because their are so many languages spoken in New York itself, some 800 or so. They also made use of someone broadcasting in one of the South American languages who asked his listeners to contact the academics if they spoke an unusual language. And so they made contact with speakers of a whole range of odd and probably rapidly disappearing languages. 

One of the interesting things they mentioned was the fall and rise of Yiddish. Apparently there were flourishing Jewish communities in and around New York at the end of the 19th century where most people spoke Yiddish all the time. As the members of these communities became more affluent and spread out into other areas the use of Yiddish diminished but academic interest has led to a kind of rebirth. People are going to classes to learn the language. One of the teachers they interviewed spoke about taking his students to visit a Hassidic Jewish community who still use Yiddish among themselves. There they found that modern vocabulary has been borrowed from English and incorporated into the old language. This is all part of language NOT being set in stone but being a living entity.

One of their interviewees had spent a good part of her life in education, often teaching immigrant children to speak English. In the past she had been involved in movements to educate children of immigrants in their mother tongue. At the time she had been very much in favour of this; Spanish-speaking children were educated in Spanish, Chinese-speakers in Chinese and so on. Now, however, she was very much an advocate of educating them all in English so that they all had a greater chance of equal opportunities in later life when seeking employment. (I wonder if the advocates of education in Basque, Catalan and Gallego have considered this factor.) Interestingly she was not totally convinced about the arguments in favour of the United States having only one official language: English. 

It would probably be possible to do a similar study of language use in Greater Manchester. According to something I read this weekend Manchester has one of the largest ranges of languages spoken in the United Kingdom. Although nowhere near as big a London, Manchester compares very well with the capital in terms of diversity. It’s one of the things that give the city a buzz as you walk around: a linguistically colourful place.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

On water, milk and alcohol – with a little politics thrown in.

While we’ve been having floods in the UK and continue to have precipitation of one kind or another (rain, sleet, snow) far more frequently than is really necessary in the Orense province of Galicia a village has reappeared after being drowned under an artificial since 1992. The dam generates electricity for a Portuguese company and all they say about the reappearance of Aceredo is that it’s the result of low rainfall. Whatever the reason it’s generating lots of interest among tourists and former residents of the old village, looking with nostalgia at the place where they grew up. 

Something else, or rather someone else, popping up again, this time in Italy is Berlusconi. The tax evader and risqué party organiser has declared his intention to stand as a candidate in next year’s presidential elections. Cynics say that he wants to protect his business interests but he maintains he is standing out of a sense of responsibility and the desire to serve his country once more. Now doubt my Italian teacher will be tearing her hair out with this news. 

I have been known to speculate on the reason why it is sometime difficult to find fresh milk in Spanish supermarkets. Litres and litres of the sterilised (uperizada) stuff are always available but you have to go out of your way to find a source of proper fresh milk. Eroski and Froiz are usually a good bet but I’ve never found it in Día or some of the other supermarkets. Today I read that 70% of Galician-produced milk leaves the area, much of it going into the hands (or possibly tanks) of French or Swiss companies. Why?? Time for a campaign to keep more of that Galician milk in Galicia perhaps. 

Meanwhile in the UK a different kind of drinking is rumoured to be on the decline. New studies maintain that binge-drinking among the young, especially among students, is reducing. Maybe the students have finally decided that with university costs being so high they can’t afford to carry on drinking to excess. Somebody from Warwick University said that students are staying in more. “Social media now accounts for a lot of students’ leisure time. When going out, they are finding other ways to socialise.” Maybe those science fiction predictions of a society where people stay in their own little pods, communicating electronically but never leaving their own space, are coming true. 

It’s an interesting idea but I’ll reserve judgement on that one, I think.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

More odds and ends.

A few posts ago I talked about the possibility of Cataluña becoming n independent state. Now it seems that there have been demonstrations in Barcelona in favour of remaining Spanish. 

Under the banner “España somos todos” (We are all Spain) around 7000 people marched through the city and eventually spread out a giant flag of Spain in Plaza de Sant Jaume in front of the Palau de la Generalitat. Maybe Spain can remain one country after all and maybe come out of the economic hole it has sunk into. 

Princesses have been in news both in Spain and in the UK. In the Spanish press I found an article saying that, contrary to rumours, no-one is putting pressure on the Infanta Cristina to stop being an Infanta (I always thought that just meant she was daughter of the King of Spain and so I wonder if it’s possible to stop being one.) and/or to divorce her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín. He has been in the news for economic shenanigans but, despite the seriousness of that, it may not be grounds for divorce. 

The other princess is our Kate (Catalina to the Spanish) who is now safely out of hospital. Apparently they announced the pregnancy so early because they wanted to be the ones who made it public instead of having it leak out through tweets and twitters. Living in the public eye must be hard. 

Here in the semi-frozen North of England the cold and damp continue but I notice that inland parts of Galicia have already been having snow. White Christmas is clearly on its way. 

Having avoided the switching on of the Christmas lights in our village centre last weekend, I have now found photos of that same ceremony going on in Pontevedra. We are fast approaching the day when Christmas is the same everywhere. One aspect of this is the way people from all sorts of places, including other parts of Europe, flock to Manchester to visit the Christmas markets – that is the GERMAN Christmas markets! So it goes. 

 Looking further south, I understand that the Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba has been declared “patrimonio inmaterial de la humanidad”. This translates more or less as “intangible heritage”. So it’s not the patios themselves, pretty as they are, but the fiesta. It’s not the buildings that matter so much as what people do to celebrate them. 

I think that’s rather a fine idea.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

This and that.

Weather extremes are getting closer to home. 

There was a knock on our door yesterday. The tenant of the basement flat next door was just checking we weren’t having problems with our basement kitchen. She had woken up to several inches of water in her bathroom. Our houses are built in such a way that you go in through the front door and then go downstairs to what should be a cellar but opens onto the back garden. When we moved in we made the basement area into the kitchen/dining room. When the old lady who lived next door moved out a few years ago the basement was converted into a separate flat. However, the damp proof course they put in appears to have been defective or at least unable to withstand the downpours of recent months and the current tenant has had to move out while things are sorted out. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t suffer a similar fate. 

I talked about downpours but in fact over the last few days we have had some brilliant sunny days in between the grey and wet. It has meant some very cold weather so that on Saturday morning my run almost turned into a skating session. It’s quite disturbing to turn a corner and find yourself running on black ice! Not my idea of fun! 

Then on Sunday we went out with a friend of ours for what was meant to be a shortish walk. Three hours later we got back home, having picked our way over frozen paths and trying hard not to fall over. 

The views were magnificent as usual on such a clear day. And we came across some very odd “standing stones”: rather like a mini version of Carnac in Brittany. 

On Monday the rain returned but we were not bothered. We were off to Manchester for lunch with an old friend. He works for one of the TV news programmes and as we got to the end of our meal he received a phone call asking him to go and present a breaking-news story which he had to decline, having helped us consume a couple of bottles of wine. Besides, I suspect he probably should have been in London to do it. 

The story turned out to be the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge, a story that I’m already heartily fed up of. The prospect of almost eight months of up-dates on her condition, speculation about the gender of the baby and what s/he will look like and numerous articles about the whole business is more than daunting. We’ve already had a lot of hoo-ha about where this tadpole will be in the queue for the throne: so much talk about the fact that a girl could inherit even if she were to have a little brother later that it will almost be a disappointment if we discover that the child is male after all. 

And today came the news that an Australian radio show managed to telephone the hospital where poor Kate is busy being sick and managed to convince someone that the person phone was Her Majesty. (Have they not heard all the reports and discussion of press intrusion down there in the antipodes?) Someone is going to be in trouble on the switchboard of that hospital!! 

That’ll do for now. Time to get back to making those lists of stuff I need to do before the man in the red suits is due to come ho-ho-ho-ing down the chimney.