Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Money matters, inheritance and such like stuff.

Today is the birthday of Prince Philip of Spain. (I am adopting the Spanish habit of translating names of the royal family into our own language. Just as our Prince Charles become Carlos, so Felipe can be Philip, Juan Carlos John Charles, Sofia Sophie and Elena Helen. Somehow translating the Infanta Cristina into Princess Christine sounds odd but that’s how it goes.) Philip is 45 today, the same age apparently as the Dutch prince whose mother has just abdicated in his favour. Queen Beatrice, coincidentally, is also the same age as King John Charles. This double age parallel has led to much speculation about possible abdication in Spain but there seems to be little possibility of JC giving up the throne. Besides, the heir appears perfectly happy with his current role. 
However, Philip/Felipe is getting some good press at the moment. He is said to be very popular and well thought of for his educated, well-informed and considerate attitude. Somebody in the royal household has to be popular, I suppose. Having said that, Sophie/Sofia does quite well, especially for someone who in the early days was criticised for speaking better English than Spanish. 

Other people connected with the royal lot continue to come off very poorly. A judge has just asked for a bail of 8.1 million for the royal son-in-law Iñaki Udangarín (someone find me a translation into English of that name!) and his ex-associate in the case being brought against them for misappropriation of public funds, corruption of various types and goodness only knows what else. And they’ve got 5 days to pay it. 

In another part of Spain, down in the south, ecology groups are putting up a protest because of proposed extraction of natural gas from the Parque Nacional de Doñana. This is one of those areas of natural beauty, wetlands where many types of migrating birds stop off en route and where endangered species have a little more chance of surviving. The project has the backing of ex-president of Spain Felipe González but ecology groups say the work will upset the delicate eco-system of the area. There it is again, that delicate balance between getting resources for a country in crisis and protecting the environment. 

And the crisis continues. I read that 82,595 household in Galicia are in severe financial difficulties. Severe financial difficulties, according to the newspaper report, means that a family meets at least four of the following conditions:  
  • unable to go on holiday once a year;
  • unable to afford to eat meat, chicken or fish at least twice a week; 
  • unable to heat the house adequately; 
  • have no money for unexpected expenses; 
  • fall behind in payment of the mortgage or other household bills; 
  • cannot afford a car, telephone, television, computer or washing machine. 
 There was a time, of course, when it wasn’t considered essential to go away on holiday every year, when it wasn’t unusual for a family not to have a car, telephone or television. But that was a good long time ago and even then it quickly became unusual not to have a washing machine. Now times have changed and expectations are higher. There is something wrong if almost 62,000 families in Galicia can’t afford to eat meat, chicken or fish at least twice a week. Andthat's just one part of Spain!

A more light-hearted indication of the impecunious state of society is the increase in what they call “sponsored weddings”. You can get a 20% reduction in the cost of your wedding by having publicity notices around – visibly around – saying who made the cake and provided other aspects of the wedding feast. It is an American idea – there’s a surprise – but I read that it’s been seen in Galicia. It’s one way to help pay for an expensive celebration, I suppose. 

Or you could just have slightly quieter affair and save the money for something more essential!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Best laid plans.

In the wee small hours of New Year’s Day we said goodbye to a friend whose birthday we had just celebrated. As those of us who were leaving put our coats on ready for the trek home I suggested that we should all meet again on the 25th of January to celebrate my birthday. 

As the date grew closer we started to hear rumblings about dire weather warnings. The cold snap was going to go out with a bang by dumping a load of snow everywhere on ... wait for it ... Friday 25th of January. Well, I’d already needlessly cancelled on social arrangement the previous Friday when the much forecast heavy snow failed to materialise. So we decided to wait until a little closer to the day. Transport to our house had been organised and we knew it would be hard to find another date when everyone would be available. Besides by Thursday evening I had purchased mussels in order to try out a new soup recipe involving the aforementioned mussels, cauliflower and various other ingredients. 

That purchase had in itself been a masterpiece of planning. On Thursday I went, as usual, to my Italian class, on the far side of the city centre. When we finished at 3 o’clock I walked up Oxford Road to catch a tram at St Peter’s Square. I debated whether to abandon the mussels as this tram would take me almost all the way home – well, a good deal of the way as it was headed for Oldham Mumps and would connect with my bus home. But I decided to hop off the tram at the Market Street stop, run into the Arndale Market, purchase my bag of mussels, scuttle back to the tram stop and catch the next tram to Oldham. These trams run every 12 minutes so I had little time to waste. All went well; I caught the tram and even managed the connection to my bus without having to wait more than a couple of minutes. Brilliant timing! 

On Thursday evening emails flew back and forth regarding weather on Friday and the cancellation or otherwise of my birthday supper. Once again we put off the decision, this time until Friday. The mussels had to be cooked anyway so the soup was being made whatever the weather. And for a while it looked as if all would be well. 

By 3.00 pm the snow had not arrived, although the forecast was still poor. However, somewhere around 5.00 the snow started gently but persistently and grew heavier. Reluctantly we decided to postpone celebrations until Sunday, when the weatherman promises us higher temperatures, rain and for some parts of the country possible flooding as the accumulated snow melts. 

It’s just as well we did cancel because by 8.00 the road was covered in snow and at midnight it was still snowing. This morning the area was doing its Christmas card impression once again. 

So Phil and I had the fancy soup – and will finish it off this evening. I’ll do something different tomorrow. 

 Still, other people have other, perhaps more serious problems. 

Iñaki Urdangarín, married to the Infanta Cristina of Spain, collectively “los Duques de Palma de Mallorca, has been eradicated from the web page of the Spanish royal family. Iñaki has been involved in so many tax evasion and corruption scams that King Juan Carlos is taking further steps to distance himself from his difficult son-in-law. Already last summer it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome at family get-togethers in Mallorca, despite being the Duke of Palma! 

 Then there’s Beyonce, who apparently did really well singing for President Obama at his inauguration ... until someone revealed that she had been miming! Shock! Horror! 

And finally there is Shakira’s new baby who is going to have to go through life called Milan. I am perhaps jumping to wrong conclusions. Maybe he isn’t named for the city in Italy but his mother is a great fan of the writer Milan Kundera. Hmmmm, I wonder. 

So, there it is. Life’s not too problematical after all.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Well, the snow finally arrived with a vengeance on Monday night. At some time after midnight I looked out to see the road outside white over. By the time I got up on Monday morning the snowploughs had done their work and the road was clear. There is about 4 – 5 inches of snowing lying in the gardens around here, canals are half frozen and cars that haven’t been driven are big white mounds at the roadside but it’s nothing insurmountable. 
This hasn’t stopped chaos ensuing, of course. 150 schools were closed in Greater Manchester because of snow yesterday. Compare that with 34 schools closed in mountainous bits of Galicia, where they have also had snow to contend with. Yes, I know that Greater Manchester is a much more built-up area with a lot more school to take into account but it’s not exactly mountainous. And we did know that the snow was supposed to be coming. Our eldest grandchild’s school took what they call a “snow day”; in other words they chose to use one of their occasional extra days off and shut the school for the day. Fifteen minutes up the road and up rather steeper roads and side roads that are less likely to be cleared by snow ploughs, the smaller grandchildren’s primary school remained open. There really is little logic to it. 

The north of Spain has also been hit by something called Gong. This is apparently a cyclogenesis, such an odd scientific term that I had to look it up. It clearly means something to do with the birth and growth (genesis) of a wind system of some sort. And that’s more or less what the scientific definitions told me, when I eventually found them. Some online dictionaries didn’t seem to believe it was a word. Anyway it led to closure of airports in some places and blew down some trees in Vigo, according to one report I read. Here’s a YouTube video of waves in Castro Urdiales. I hope all this weather had calmed down when we head to Vigo in a couple of weeks’ time. 
Back here in the frozen Northwest, the sun has come out today, compared with continual thin sleety stuff which we had yesterday. So I am about to stir my husband into action and go and stomp around in the snowy countryside for a while.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

On food, music and enthusiasm.

I’ve been watching art critic Andrew Graham Dixon and chef Giorgio Locatelli on television in another series of Italy Unpacked. Last time they went to Sicily. This time they’re in the north of Italy, even popping in to visit Giorgio’s mamma. It must be a splendid way to make a living, driving around looking at interesting places and cooking and eating splendid food. They certainly seem to enjoy themselves enormously. One review I read of the series said that it probably provokes viewers to throw the remote control at the TV set in sheer frustration because the two presenters are obviously having so much fun. But I don’t think so; it wouldn’t be half so good if Andrew Graham Dixon didn’t so much enjoy the food presented to him and Giorgio Locatelli didn’t get so scruffily open-mouthed with amazement on seeing yet another bit of art work and learning something else about his country. 

During Friday’s programme the intrepid travellers visited a butcher’s shop and bought an amazing array of bits of pig, including the snout, the ears and a number of unmentionable parts. Giorgio went on to chop up a collection of vegetables, enthusing about the colours, the texture, the wonderful visual effect as he fried them in a heavy-bottomed casserole dish. He then added the various pork products and a good splosh of red wine to make the sauce extra rich. I was beginning to see some similarities between this dish and a famous Galician dish but it was when he added cabbage leaves, put the lid on firmly and left it to stew for a couple of hours that my suspicions were confirmed. 

 He called it “cassoeula” but it looked to me for all the world like “cocido”, the stew that you see advertised one day a week outside many a restaurant in Galicia. Giorgio Locatelli got all misty-eyed remembering how he would arrive at his grandmother’s house and smell it cooking before he even got through the door. Andrew Graham Dixon tucked into it with gusto, enthusing about how the cabbage leaves had absorbed all the juices of the pork but I can’t say I share his delight in eating pigs’ ears, even if he did shave them before they went into the pot. However I know many a Galician who would be just as pleased to eat “cassoeula”: the same ones who go out of their way to cook “cocido” as a special birthday treat for family members. Even the culinary world shows us aspects of small world syndrome. 

Here in the frozen North of England we braved the cold yesterday (the amount of snow lying here remains very minimal compared to what we have known in the past) and went off into Manchester to eat tapas with some friends at “El Rincón de Rafa”. I can heartily recommend their “espinacas con garbanzos”, a dish of spinach with chickpeas but then I like almost anything with chickpeas in. The “merlucitas”, little pieces of hake were also very good. 

As we sat around chatting and deciding whether to order coffee, the bill suddenly appeared without our having requested it. Apparently when our friend had booked our table it had been made clear to him that we would have to be finished by a certain time. Now, I can understand that this is a busy and popular restaurant but I was a little miffed at such un-Spanish punctual time-keeping. However, we were not going to let that spoil our enjoyment so we ordered coffee anyway and eventually made our way to the Bridgwater Hall where we had tickets for a concert of Spanish music. 

Having left the restaurant a little earlier than originally planned, we arrived at the concert venue in time to find the guitar player who was going to be the soloist in Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez later giving a free concert in the foyer. Most impressive! Australian (I think) Craig Ogden had been busy all day doing guitar workshops for young people and various other events. What a very hardworking and talented young man!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Waiting for the snow.

Today I should have been lunching with friends in Manchester. However, the weathermen promised us deep snow today and my friends decided it was perhaps wiser to stay at home and keep warm instead of risking being caught in Manchester and having difficulty getting home. I would have waited until this morning but the vote went against me and as it was actually snowing as we discussed it, I went along with their decision. And now, half way through the day, the snow has not yet arrived. There have been occasional flurries of extremely thin white stuff which truly does not merit the name of snow. Maybe the Eskimos have a name for it but really if it weren’t so cold this stuff would just be very fine drizzle. So, I am waiting to see if anything more substantial falls later. 

In the meantime I have been doing a little bit of research prompted by the new venue for our Italian class. Yes, the Italian class has moved home once more. Having been moved out of its rather prestigious headquarters near Piccadilly Station, allegedly because the Italian government would no longer subsidise the CDLCI organisation, we moved to a former cotton warehouse in a more downmarket bit of central Manchester. This was fine but apparently this year the organisation has chosen to let our room out to someone who pays more than we do. And so we moved to a room in the Manchester Science Park, part of the university complex. Just before Christmas we discovered that the rooms were being refurbished and we had to look for a new home. 
This is how we finished up in Hulme, an area that grew during the industrial revolution and has seen various periods of regeneration since the end of World War II, in the Z-arts centre. The Hulme Library is decorated with extensive murals, prominent in which is this saying: “From Hulme all blessing flow”. Clearly an optimistic area now. 

I had already worked out that the Z in Z-arts Centre came from Zion but my research was really prompted by some postcards I found on sale in the centre, one of which shows the building in 1966. No doubt, car geeks will be able to tell me the names of the makes of cars parked outside. 

Nowadays it forms part of a much more built-up street. 

The building was the Zion Congregational Chapel, and the Zion Institute, built on the site of a much older chapel of the same name, built in 1842 and demolished in 1910. 

The present building was made possible by a bequest from Enriqueta Rylands, wife of John Rylands of Rylands Library fame (another building in Manchester worth a visit). There is a plaque inside the building commemorating this bequest. 

When it was a Congregational Chapel, it attracted a congregation of a thousand people for its morning and evening services every Sunday. Apparently it also functioned as a community centre offering local residents a variety of activities in its sixty rooms, that included a hall of worship, an assembly hall, a gymnasium, games rooms, reading rooms and a canteen. Among the postcards on sale I found programmes for some of those social events. 

One advertises “pleasant Sunday afternoons for men”, with its motto: “Brief – Bright – Brotherly”. It might have been an all male event but there were solos by a Miss Dawson, all uplifting stuff, I’m sure, accompanied by a Mr C. Standring on the organ. 

The men were not alone in having events organised for them. There was a “Spinsters’ Party” in March 1902 with pianoforte solos, monologues and songs. However, the activities that most impressed me were the competitions: a Hat-Trimming Competition and a Button-Sewing Competition. Quite priceless! 

 There are more photos available at this website.

After World War II Hulme experienced a major slum clearance program that swept away old and war damaged homes. As a result, the Zion Institute's congregation melted away and by the 1960s it had dwindled from 1,000 to 20. The church rented out parts of the building to organisations like the Hallé Orchestra and the Northern Ballet. Eventually the building passed into the hands of Manchester City Council who converted it into the Zion Arts Centre. 

And there we are, in 2013, talking Italian on a Thursday afternoon. 

By the way, the snow still hasn’t arrived.

Monday, 14 January 2013


Well, the snow arrived last night. Everywhere was covered whitely this morning but, fortunately, it was not too slippery. If fact, hardly slippery at all when I went out before the sun came up to drive to my daughter’s house and take children to school. It did start to snow in earnest while we were en route to school and it was getting a little hairy as I made my way homeward. 

At some point mid-morning we received an email from the local police station. Yes, we are on their mailing list and hear about things going on in the area. This particular one was warning us that there had already been a few road traffic accidents in the area this morning because of the weather conditions. People, it told us, should try to avoid driving if they possibly could. How eminently sensible! It never would have occurred to me to think that up on my own. 

We have decided to refer to such emails in the future as “Floors may be ...” emails. This is a reference to the public service announcement in our local bus station which reminds us, “Floors may be slippery when wet”. The announcement is made in the tone of voice that you might use when speaking to a demented child and sets my teeth on edge whenever I hear it, almost but not quite provoking an impulse to run at top speed from one end of the bus station to the other. Anyway, we have abbreviated the reminder to “Floors may be...” by analogy with Winnie the Pooh’s house which is called “Trespassers Will”. 

That’s enough of that nonsense. The snow has stopped falling now and the sky actually has quite a lot of blue in it. This state of affairs needs to continue until I have collected the small people from school and brought them home for tea, indeed until I have safely delivered them back to their mother and returned home myself. After that it can snow as much as it likes. 

Another of today’s oddities is an item I heard on the radio about watches. Apparently fewer and fewer people are wearing watches these days. Among the younger generation it is almost unheard of as they all depend on their mobile phones, i-pods, i-pads and other electronic devices to keep track of time. I find it hard to visualise someone getting their i-pad out just to see what time it is but apparently this is so. I must be in a minority as I own several watches and like to vary their use according to the outfit I am wearing. Now, to some extent this fits in with what the radio report told me, of which more a little later. 

It seems that people are buying fewer watches but the ones they buy are more expensive. (I hasten to say that mine are not of the expensive variety.) Some people are buying watches that cost thousands of pounds and regard them as an investment, hoping that the watch will appreciate in value at a time when interest on your bank account and savings is not giving you much return. And then some are buying expensive second hand watches so that they can make a kind of statement about the kind of person they are: the sort who shows off expensive watches!! It seems that if you go out for an evening to some blingy social event, no-one notices that you have arrived in an expensive car but they do notice that you are wearing an expensive watch. 

The thing is, however, that they don’t call these watches “second-hand” but “pre-owned”. How’s that for a bit of linguistic manipulation? It smacks of nu-speak to me. Wasn’t it in Brave New World that such terminology was invented to hide the reality of things? 
 I learned as well that men and women buy watches on different criteria. Women regard them as pieces of jewellery and buy according to how they look and how they co-ordinate with clothes and other accessories. This is where my watch-wearing habits match the stereotype. Men, on the other hand, buy watches for the gadgets incorporated into the timepiece. They may never intend to wear their fancy watch several hundred feet under water but they like the option to do so. In fact, according to the watch seller interviewed, most men have no idea how to work the fancy things that their watches can do. How crazy is that? 

Finally a few pictures related to the tube trains. 

To mark 150 years of the existence of the underground system, a steam train was driven along one of the lines, complete with actors in fancy costumes. 

  And then there has been “No pants on the subway” day. This is called “No pants on the underground” day in the UK and involves people travelling without their trousers. Who would have thought that such a thing could exist? How amazing! 

The day is celebrated in many countries of the world, although the Chinese people on a subway in Shanghai seem rather bemused by the whole proceedings.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Cold front

I’m reading about a cold front in Galicia. Headlines like “Half of Galicia below 0°!” 

Mind you, when you read on you find, of course, that they’re talking about INLAND Galicia. Places like Vigo and Pontevedra still have minimum predicted temperatures of 5° and 6° and maximums of around 11°. The people of more inland places would find that positively balmy. 

The picture comes from a place called O Cebreiro, in Lugo province, where you expect it to snow in winter. They had 10 centimetres of snow overnight. Mind you there roads were cleared. The “quitanieves” –snow ploughs – were busy making sure of that. And people are being advised to put their chains on their cars if they head to these snowy, mountainous places. 

We’re predicted snow here in the grey North West but it hasn’t happened yet. People are warned about not doing unnecessary journeys but o-one has mentioned winter tyres or chains on your wheels. We just don’t have that kind of winter-prepared culture in the UK. I wonder if they do in the north of Scotland. 

Anyway, the snow has not yet arrived, just the cold weather replacing the milder stuff we had got used to. Despite the cold, I’ve been surprised the last few mornings at the lack of frost around. Not that I’m complaining. At least it’s stopped raining, for the time being, and we’ve even managed to get a little sunshine, albeit rather pale and wan. 

It’s even been fine enough for our window cleaner to come round and go up his ladders to clear the gutters. We’ve been trying to arrange this since the autumn set in. First of all we agreed that it was a good idea to wait until the leaves had stopped falling. After that it was just too rainy. But it was clear that it needed doing as the last time it really rained heavily the downpour just ran down the back of the house instead of down the downspout. As he told me when he’d finished, our lawn is no longer in the gutter and we’re ready for the next torrential rainstorm. 

It was a little worrying, however, to see him setting up his ladders at the back of the house. Our house is one of those odd ones where you go in through the front door, imagining that to be the ground floor, and then go downstairs to what should be the cellar, only to find that the back door opens onto the back garden. So one end of our kitchen/dining room is underground while the other opens onto the garden. The ground slopes down the side of the house. (We were fortunate when the basement flat next door flooded recently because of collapsed water pipes that it was discovered in time before it could come through into our kitchen. The flat has had to be completely re-done so we feel that we escaped quite nicely.) 

One consequence of this architectural quirk – actually quite common in this area – is that the window cleaner had to go up three floors to reach the gutter. His ladders went a loooong way up. What’s more he had no-one supporting the base of the ladder as he worked. Whatever happened to health-and-safety? Clearly it doesn’t apply to the self-employed. But it was quite disconcerting to look up and see his piratical face go past the window – he wears an eye-patch aver since he was attacked by a bunch of thugs some years ago – and carry on up and up. 

But our pirate friend survived his adventure and we have nice clean gutters, until the next time.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Life’s little annoyances

This morning not long after 9 o’clock the phone rang. Now, as a rule, if the phone rings at that time of day it means that one or more of the grandchildren has succumbed to tonsillitis, toothache or toxic tummy and needs looking after. But no, it was something less time consuming but rather more annoying and time-wasting. A voice said, “This is an important message regarding your claim for compensation for ...”. It didn’t get any further because I put the phone down. The other day it was a young man with an accent suggesting that he was somewhere in the Indian subcontinent, asking for me by name and assuring me that I was talking to Sean, yes really, Sean! He was no more Sean than I am Marie-Antoinette, in fact probably less so. 

We have managed to put a block on junk mail coming through the letter box: well almost. We certainly receive a lot less than we used to. Now I want something on my telephone that recognises cold-callers and tells them automatically that I have not made any claim on payment protection insurance, I’m not suing anybody and have not had an accident recently. The number of times I’ve been offered advice on getting compensation for my recent traffic accident, it’s a wonder I’m still alive to tell the tale. 

Maybe somebody is just trying to make my fortune but somehow I doubt it. It’s even worse than the updates to computer programmes, intended to “improve” the way things work but in fact just making life more complicated. And I’ve not even got back onto the subject of reminders about the passage of time. I commented recently on a letter from the tax office. Then I got a reminder to renew my bus pass – not that I’m objecting to my bus pass; I really appreciate travelling around the area for free on buses, trams and local trains. 

The final straw though was seeing an advert for a beauty product I regularly use, one of those creams that are supposed to stave off the wrinkles – and this one comes recommended by various organisations like Which Magazine. Anyway, there was the advert in the weekend paper, telling me loud and clear that this cream is ideal for 35 to 45 year olds. I’m too old for it!! How can that be? Ah, well, time start counting backwards from my next birthday until I get back to the right age group. 

Final grouse: fashion articles. I try to ignore these but occasionally give in and take a look at them. The latest was all about brightening up your winter wardrobe, combinations of skirts and tops to cheer up the winter grey skies. There were a number of nice outfits but what I want to know is why they have to choose items that cost around £250. Even when the article featured a reasonably-priced skirt from a high street chain it was teamed with a top from a big name designer because the colour match was perfect. Yes, there were a few things from Top Shop and Zara but most of the clothes were from expensive brands. Who really spends over £200 for an outfit to go to work in? 

So much for austerity!!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A bit of direct action.

Here’s an odd story from La Coruña. In the district of the city called Sagrada Familia they have a recurring problem. Almost every day the police have to be called because of someone who goes into shops, breaks stuff, throws things around and insults or threatens the shopkeepers and customers. Nothing really serious takes place. Nothing is stolen. But it happens on a surprisingly regular basis. 

The perpetrator, well known in the area, is a six year old boy. When the police arrive he begins to cry and accuses the shopkeeper of hitting him. The police have got used to this and the case has been referred to children’s courts. His mother has been heard to say that “no puede con él”, in other words, she can’t do anything with him. Maybe keeping him at home instead of letting him run around might be a good start. 

From another part of Spain comes another story. From all over Spain at the moment we are hearing about “los desahuciados”, the people evicted from the homes they can no longer pay for. Faced with 350,000 reported cases over the last four years, pressure groups are popping up, asking why there was money to save the banks but not to save people’s homes. It seems that a little bit of direct action has been taking place in Pamplona. 

Iker de Carlos, a 22 year old locksmith grew a little tired of being asked to accompany bailiffs and bank representatives to evict families. In the summer locksmiths were assisting with 2 or 3 foreclosures each week and can tell stories of people given such short notice that they barely have time to get dressed before being thrown out. So Iker organised the locksmiths of Pamplona to refuse to cooperate with the banks: no opening of locked doors or fitting new locks to houses of evictees. 

It's perhaps one small gesture to draw attention to a large problem.

This is a part of Spain with one of the lowest levels of unemployment: only 15% compared with the 26% national level. How horrific to say “ONLY 15%” when for some countries that would be considered intolerably high! And Iker considers himself lucky; he is able to work in the family locksmith business. 

I wouldn’t know where to go to find a locksmith in this country. There are those places that cut keys – usually when not sticking new heels on shoes – but they aren’t the same as old-fashioned craftsmen locksmiths. Like haberdasheries and woolshops and independent bakers’ shops, they have quietly disappeared. 

I wonder who the police turn to here when they need to get into a property and change the locks.

Friday, 4 January 2013


It’s great when officialdom goes out of its way to remind you of the passage of time. The latest has been the tax office asking me to fill in an “Age-related personal allowance” claim form. You know the sort of thing: as you are approaching yet another significant birthday, send us the information we already have about you and we’ll see if we need to adjust your tax code, no doubt enabling us to claw back even more money. It’s not as if I receive a huge pension to begin with!!! 

Anyway, I duly found the relevant information and decided to get it out of the way a little faster by taking the fill in the form online option. So I found the HMRC webpage and read the following message:

 “If you’ve come to this page to complete an online version of a P161 claim, it’s with regret that the service has been withdrawn.”

 Great! However it did give the option to download another hard copy of the form. What I want to know is why they are still sending out forms which say you can complete online when it just is not so. So much for the age of electronic communication! 

There are schools and colleges where they no longer communicate in any other way than electronically. They call themselves “paperless colleges”. If they can do it, why can’t the tax office? 

Even the cathedral in Santaigo de Compostela has entered the electronic age and you can now buy tickets online. I wonder if it will also manage electronically to prevent theft of holy relics this year. 

Mind you, the paperless colleges must suffer when there’s a power cut and suddenly you need paper copies of the handouts and old-fashioned write-on boards instead of electronic whiteboards. 

 And then some people use electronic communication as a way of hiding themselves away. A friend and I have recently (well, since a week or so before Christmas) been trying to organise a get-together of a smallish group of friends and former colleagues. The first friend and I check our email regularly but it seems that some of the others don’t. You hear from them gradually over a week or so by which time the window of meeting opportunity has gone. They don’t even seem to check their mobile phones for messages. One of them is an ITC teacher so you would think she’d be up to speed. But no, this is not the case. It would seem that the only email address she has is her work email and she doesn’t check that during the holidays. When she gets back to college next week she’ll have a zillion emails to check through. So much easier to have a private email as well and issue it to selected friends and acquaintances. As I said a little further up the page, so much for electronic communication. 

As for me, today I’ve read the papers online as usual, downloaded a recipe form El País and come across a little feel-good story from La Voz de Galicia. Here goes: 

The first baby born in Cangas in 2013, a little girl called Emma who arrived at 1.38 on New Year’s Morning has received a present from the boat company Mar de Ons. She can have free travel on the boat between Cangas and Vigo until her 18th birthday. It’s part of Mar de Ons celebrating 20 years on the ferry business and should save her family a bit of money over the years: the ride form Cangas to Vigo is currently €2.10.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Current affairs.

It’s a good job the Three Kings don’t come to England. They’d have a miserable time of it at the moment. I say this because here in the North West of England 2013 has begun as soggily as 2012 ended. It’s all very well the weathermen assuring us that the weather is now getting drier, that people can expect it to be dull and overcast but essentially DRY. This is simply not the case. Oh, we did manage our planned walk home from our friends’ house early on New Year’s Morning but we woke up later to rain ... again. Since then we have begun each day with a little window of dry weather, followed by drizzle, low cloud, fog and general dampness. So far, not so very impressed. 

 However, I have just heard that 2012 didn’t quite manage to be the wettest year since records began. That dubious honour goes to 2000. Do they tell us these things to cheer us up? To make us happy with our lot?

I can’t for the life of me imagine why I thought the weatherman might have got it right. I should know by now that our little corner of the UK has its own micro-climate: mostly dull and damp with occasional outbursts of brilliance, either bright cold or bright and warm, when the place wakes up and shows off its beautiful scenery. So it goes. It’s probably time for us to visit our borrowed homeland, Galicia, and see if it’s any less damp there. 

Another would be ex-pat is Frenchman (for the time being) Gérard Depardieu. Having fallen out with the French taxman he has gone off to set up home in Belgium. The latest news is that Vladimir Putin has offered him Russian citizenship. Does Vlad just want to annoy the French or does he have a devious plot to lure Monsieur Depardieu into a false sense of security and then tax his fortune anyway? 

I don’t really see what our Gérard has to moan about. Even if he paid his taxes he would undoubtedly still have a good deal more to live on that your average Frenchman in the street. As far as I am concerned, you SHOULD pay your way. If your country has looked after you so far, don’t you need to put something back and, in Depardieu’s case, do something to help others who might like to be as successful as you are? Maybe G.D, doesn’t feel that France has looked after him well. It’s a hard life being famous. 

The FBI have just released papers revealing that they were investigating Marilyn Monroe. She was suspected of being an undercover communist agent apparently. She clearly mixed with the wrong sort of people. 

In the Carabanchel district of Madrid they are trying to stop the expulsion of an immigrant who has played the part of King Bathazar (el rey negro – the black king who used to be my nephew’s favourite when he was small – the nephew not the king) in the Three Kings’ Procession for the last few years. It may, of course, turn out that he has committed a crime and so loses his right to stay in Spain but in the meantime the Christmas spirit is standing up for him in Carabanchel. 

And finally, a money matter. The Spanish have always been rather reluctant to give up on the peseta. Estate agents’ windows blow my mind by insisting on putting prices in millions of Pesetas. Has the exchange rate fluctuated at all since 2002 when the Euro became legal tender? How do they work out how much a certain amount of Euros is in pesetas? And who decides which currencies deserve capital letters? When I type pounds, lower case throughout, there’s no problem but if I do the same with euros the spell-checker on my computer starts to protest. 

Anyway, be that as it may, it seems that there are still some 1,691 million pesetas kicking around Spain. If my calculations are anything like correct, that’s about 35 Euros per person, 35 Euros for each and every Spaniard. 

I suppose some people have just a few for sentimental reasons; I’ve got a couple of old pennies around somewhere, much to the amusement of the grandchildren who can’t imagine walking around with a pocketful of those huge things. But some folk must have an awful lot stashed away under mattresses and in piggy banks. You have to go to the Banco de España now to change them to Euros. No other bank can change them. But maybe those who have the huge stashes are hanging onto them in case Spain has to exit the Euro zone and then they would be the only ones with anything like a Spanish currency.