Monday, 29 April 2013


My friend Colin wrote recently in his blog about changes to the law in Spain to make it obligatory for cyclists to wear helmets. I’ll be interested to see how well that works in a country where many people don’t see the need to strap their babies into their buggies and don’t always have functioning seat belts in the back seats of their cars. In any case, most of the cyclists I’ve seen out and about in Vigo recently have been on the pavement rather than on the road. Maybe they should make pedestrians wear helmets in case they are knocked over by cyclists. 

Here in the UK I have heard that an increasing number of cyclists wear not only helmets but cycle helmet cameras. If they have any problems with cyclist-blind motorists they have instant video evidence of what happened. One case of road rage recently went viral when the cyclist put it into the public domain. He’s even had to appeal to viewers not to bombard the driver concerned with hate mail. He never intended to ruin the poor man’s business, he said. But there’s something rather wrong with our society if people feel such a need to gather evidence JUST IN CASE anything might happen. 

On the other side of the world, in the USA, specifically in Colorado, parents are buying oversized bullet-proof rucksacks for their children and making sure that they know how to use them as shields in the even of another madman attacking a school. Tiny children of five years old are carrying rucksacks they could almost hide in. The schools’ administrators are joining in as well, equipping classrooms with bullet-proof white boards which can be wheeled into protective positions. They have stacks of bullet-proof clipboards for use in emergency as well. Someone has benefited from the school shootings then. And yet a lot of senators still block gun control measures which might make such protective efforts unnecessary. 

I’m surprised they manage to recruit teachers at all. 

Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar has been speaking about violence as well, this time in his own country. He’s concerned that the continued repossession of houses in Spain as people can’t pay their mortgages will lead to out and out violence. Children seeing their parents forcibly removed from their homes and people watching their brothers, friends or neighbours pulled resisting from their homes are going to respond to that violence with violent protest, says Almodóvar. Former socialist president of Spain, Felipe González may well appeal to protesters to respect the homes of his fellow politicians but his appeal won’t work if their own homes are not respected. 

The wild child of the "movida", the almost perpetual party that went on in the immediate past-Franco years, is speaking out. This is a man of principle who apparently once banned Berlusconi’s companies from distributing his films in Italy because he disapproved of he bunga bunga king. 

 I look forward to seeing Almodóvar’s new film, “Los Amantes Pasajeros” (“I’m so excited” is its English title), another outrageous story involving stories such as a call girl with a compromising videotape of the king – strangely reminiscent of the kind of troubles the royal family has been having lately. I saw a clip for it yesterday. It looks tremendous.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Linguistic conundrums and old age.

Today in my Italian class we discussed the subjunctive, or the “congiuntivo” as they call it there, making it sound like a linguistic eye disease. Apparently there is quite a deal of discussion going on in Italy about whether it’s really needed any longer. It’s a little like the arguments for and against keeping the apostrophe in English. Personally I’m all for keeping both of them. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of clarity and sophistication in the language, any language. I have moments of despair about the reduction of the vocabulary, especially in English, to a simple, basic minimum. As people read less, for a variety of reasons, words slip out of usage. At the same time weird new terms are invented; politicians in particular no longer talk about what will happen “in the future” but make predictions “going forward”. Here’s a link to an article in the Guardian on that topic. 

Our Italian teacher puts the endangered state of the subjunctive down to lazy speaking, some by politicians who shall remain nameless but who don’t know how or can’t be bothered to speak properly. She had a little rant as well about the fact that anyone at all can call themselves a journalist; all they need to do is write a little article, however poorly constructed, have it published in some newspaper and they call themselves journalists. Oh dear, I wonder what she thinks of bloggers! 

Prospect Magazine has published a list of the top world thinkers. Here’s a link to the list. I know about this because a female journalist in the Guardian was getting a little upset at the fact that out of the top 65 only 15 are women. Yes, it’s disgraceful but it no doubt reflects the fact that men still hold the majority of the top positions in just about all walks of life and so are more likely to have made their thoughts more publicly available. 

I’ve just heard that Margaret Thatcher’s funeral cost over £3,000,000. A good deal of that was police presence on the streets but a fair amount went on receptions after the event. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems an awful lot of money to see someone off to the next world. Funnily enough, I was talking about this to an old gentleman on the bus this morning. His funeral, he told me, is already paid for. It was a cheerful topic of conversation for a Thursday morning bus ride. 

I know this old chap because we used to live next door to his sister-in-law, about 25 years ago. At that time he seemed ancient; today he really doesn’t look much older. How can that be? Maybe it’s to do with older people being around more and being more active than in the past. Or maybe it’s just that he refuses to dress any differently from the way he did 25 years ago. 

Anyway, he’s not letting age stand in his way or so it seems. And neither is the President of Italy, starting a second term at age 89, their oldest President ever! I wonder if he’ll manage a third term.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Getting around.

During our just finished visit to Vigo we discovered that the price of travelling on the local buses has gone up by ... wait for it ... 2 céntimos!!! Daylight robbery!!! To travel to the end of the street or to the other end of the city now costs €1.24. Amazing!!! If I didn’t have my bus pass here in the UK it would cost me about three times that much just to go the next village. I dread to think what it would cost me to go to the other side of Greater Manchester. 

Yes, here we are, back in the UK. On Sunday we walked to the bus station, trundling our wheelie suitcases behind us, commenting once again on the fact that the paving stones are set to create maximum noise as you wheel something over them. 

The newspaper kiosk in the bus station has closed. In its place there is a cheap clothes shop, with items piled in the window so that it looks like a jumble sale. Hand written notices stuck in the window announce items for €2. Clearly they are aiming for the top end of the market then! 

 An enterprising soul has set up a book stall on a group of tables just outside the ex-kiosk but appeared to be doing slow business. 

The bus arrived in plenty of time for once. Our tickets were checked and our luggage stowed but we were asked politely to wait a while before getting on the bus. No explanation was given. A surprisingly orderly queue was formed. Eventually we were allowed onto the vehicle. We found seats – there were remarkably few lots of two seats free together, the bus having come from La Coruña and picked up passengers en route. But we were fine ... and then a large lady sat in front of us and immediately reclined her seat so that she was almost on Phil’s lap. This was thoughtful and considerate. It wasn’t as if you could expect everyone to want to sleep; the bus left at half past midday! Fortunately she got off in Braga so all was well. 

Somewhere between Braga and Oporto the bus stopped on a roundabout, well on a kind of lay-by on a roundabout but still an odd place to stop and turn off he engines. We waited almost fifteen minutes. People were obviously wondering what was going on, getting up and looking out of the window, commenting to each other but none of us got round to asking the driver. Finally we set off once more. I think we may have changed drivers, which would be a logical explanation, but I am not sure. 

 We hung around the airport at Oporto for several hours and had some rather inferior pizza at a rather inflated price but at least it came with a free soft drink 

After watching the sun go down we made our way to the relevant gate for our plane which appeared to have arrived early and was boarding early. We had some difficulty understanding the instructions about boarding. I can usually understand enough Portuguese to deal with those announcements but this time both the Portuguese and the English versions were incomprehensible. I just about made out the word Liverpool. What’s more, the announcements remained almost incomprehensible throughout the flight. The member of cabin crew chosen to make these announcements truly was a poor choice. If I had taught someone a foreign language and they had pronounced it in such a garbled fashion, I would have considered myself a failure. Mistakes like “yours own safety” and “passengers with children and asked to hold thems hands” were the least of it. “Any raaarbish?” has now gone into our vocabulary as a way of asking if there is anything else to be added to the rubbish bag! 

Despite the early boarding we arrived a little late at Liverpool, slowed down by strong head winds by all accounts. Once on the ground in Liverpool, we could see the covered walk way and the doors by which we usually entered the airport from the plane. However, we were all shepherded onto a bus, driven rough the back ways of the airport complex and then had to walk miles and miles (all right, I exaggerate, but quite a long way) before standing in a long slow queue for passport control. 

It was into the small hours of Monday morning when we went through our front door at last. And I had promised to be up at the crack of dawn to take the grandchildren to school. 

I’ve still not caught up on my sleep. And we have left the sunshine behind!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Future plans and projects.

We were talking the other evening over a post-concert glass of wine or three, about books and things, as you do. The wine we were drinking was called Jacinta which brought to mind “Fortunata y Jacinta” by the nineteenth century Spanish novelist Galdós. This led us on to reminiscing about the Spanish TV serialisation of the novel, made in the 1970s, starring the actress/singer Ana Belén. Somewhere at home I still have the series on video cassette. If we ever get around to setting up the old television set with the old video cassette player in one of the now rarely used bedrooms, I might just watch it again. According to Wikipedia Radio Televisión Española re-released it on their webpage in 2009 and it may just be possible to see it there still for free. 

How odd, I reflected, to come all the way to Galicia, get to know a French person who has herself come a fair way to settle her, and discover that we have a shared culture. 

We went on to talk about Ana Belén and her husband Victor Manuel, also a singer-song-writer, and the fact that they have managed to bring up their children completely out of the public eye. How very different from other singers and celebrities whose children often seem to be designer accessories to be shown off wherever they go. As one of our friends put it, “son gente discreta”. 

As we were talking about writers, we asked if our friends had read the local man, Domingo Villar, whose detective stories set in Vigo have been translated from the original Galician into Castilian Spanish and other non-Spanish languages. Another friend of ours back in the UK has read “Ojos de Agua” in English and thoroughly enjoyed it without being able or indeed needing to identify places mentioned: restaurants, bars, beaches, well-known buildings, well known around Vigo anyway. 

Yes, our friends here knew the work and not only that but Emilio, the Spanish half of the couple, says he is a longstanding friend of Eligio, whose restaurant our detective hero frequently visits. We long ago located the restaurant, in a street behind Príncipe, but have never managed to find it open. Now we have half a plan to go there with Emilio. Are we going to become literary groupies? Dominique warns me, however, never to use the toilet there: not a good loo, much better to drink little and wait to go elsewhere. 

These are all things for our next visit but before we head for home tomorrow I have a new word to add to my collection of Anglicisms in use in Spanish: el ranquin – Spanish spelling for ranking. And from reading the paper just now I have found that the English expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” translates into Spanish as “No tocar lo que funciona” – Don’t touch what works! 

There you go!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Time to go home?

I wrote the other day that the bluebells in Castrelos Park were coming up white. Today I have read in the Guardian that bluebell woods in the UK are on the decline. Well, I thought that was already the case with all sorts of restrictions on picking them because they are an endangered species and so on. Now, however, I read that they are under even more threat because some unscrupulous people have been introducing Spanish bluebells to English woods. Imagine, Spanish bluebells!!! I never realised that plant piracy took place on this scale. But it seems that Spanish bluebells, paler blue and not so perfumed as the good old English variety, are perhaps taking over and making sights like this a thing of the past. 
I’d better hurry home and see them before they disappear for good. 

 I also read that they arrested Rolf Harris as part of the Jimmy Saville investigations. This rather odd man painted a portrait of Her Majesty, for goodness sake!! What is the world coming to? It’s a good job Margaret Thatcher is gone or they might be investigating her as well. We managed to miss all the fuss of her funeral although we did see some of the newspaper coverage. One of the oddest items I came across was the Independent’s feature on fashion on show at the funeral. Here is a link to the pictures, if it still works now , including a photo of her granddaughter, Amanda Thatcher, suddenly thrust into the limelight by doing a reading at the funeral. 
We may have missed that event but our social life has suddenly improved in this last week of our current stay in Vigo. 

Yesterday we had lunch with our friend Colin from Pontevedra. He’d come to Vigo to visit the Apple store, trying to replace the missing cable for his i-pod shuffle. Neither the Apple store nor MediaMarkt were able to provide him immediately with what he needed. He may have found it by going back to the Apple store, such as it is, a poorly equipped little shop on Puerta del Sol, later in the day. 

This inability to find electrical items is one of the peculiarities about life here. I was recently in MediaMarkt with another friend who wanted to buy a new battery for her digital camera. They told her they had sold out and were not expecting a delivery for another month. Another whole month!!!! 

Then yesterday evening we went to another concert at the Centro Social Nuevacaixagalicia. We purchased our tickets online on Wednesday. It’s just as well we did. Had we relied on turning up to buy tickets we would have gone tonight instead because the webpage told us it was Friday. It was only when we tried to purchase tickets that we found out the truth of the matter. A friend of ours suggested that we had misread the webpage as the concert is being repeated tonight in Pontevedra. We are not convinced, however, and think their webpage manager needs some training. 

Anyway, we made it to the concert, lots of Tchaikovsky and very good too, and then went on to have “un vinito” and some nibbles with friends. It’s quite amazing that at 11 o’ clock in the evening a bar will cook you a tortilla, not just serve you up something they made earlier but make you a fresh one. English bars who grudgingly sell you a packet of crisps should take note. 

Finally today we had lunch out with yet another friend. All good but perhaps it is time we went home before our waistlines expand. 

Sitting now in the cafetería on the corner near the chess club, I have just seen one of those oddities of Spanish television. The news reporter went seamlessly from a sports report to an advert for some brand of milk and its related products. As she told us of the benefits of drinking milk and eating yoghurt there was nothing to show that this was not some mini-documentary apart from a little sign in the corner saying “publicidad”. And then back she went into something about Rafa Nadal. Astounding! I wonder whether the milk company pays her to do this. Somehow I don’t see Kirsty Walk doing the same thing on British television. 

Another thing to look out for when we head back on Sunday.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Street people

There is a violin player – if you can really call his scraping playing – on Príncipe. He’s there most days, come rain or shine and he’s been around at least since we first came to Vigo about five years ago, possibly longer. We’ve also seen him in Sanxenxo in the summer time. Maybe that’s his summer residence. His repertoire doesn’t change much year on year: a bit of badly played Carmen, an equally badly played Ode to Joy. Practice isn’t making perfect. As for him, he’s not improving either, looking a bit more wrinkled and a bit more weathered than when we first saw him. Mind you, other beggars have come and gone but he remains. 

So does the old chap who sleeps in a shop doorway on Urzáiz. He’s been there more than a year now. He seems to have survived the winter with his bag of belongings and a rather disreputable-looking blanket. I see him reading at times – maybe the people who stop and talk to him give him books – but mostly he’s sleeping. 

The sun has brought out the bench sleepers in the last few days, stretched out in the warmth, oblivious of the street life around them. It has also woken up the traffic light clowns. In minimal fancy dress, usually loose, brightly coloured clothing and dreadlocks, when cars stop at traffic lights they step out into the middle of the pedestrian crossing. Then they do the smallest amount of juggling possible, a couple of tosses of their batons into the air, before haranguing the car drivers for a contribution in payment for the entertainment provided. 

Our regular supermarket beggars in the doorway to Mercadona just next to our block of flats – a young woman who looks pathetic and asks for money and a young man who pursues you and asks you to buy something for him while you’re in there, preferably meat – have either disappeared or changed their schedule. One way or another, I’ve not seen them when I’ve gone to the supermarket. Maybe I just go too early in the day. 

 I’m not too early, however for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Twice in the time we’ve been here I’ve been stopped and asked if I want to learn how to make my life simpler and better. And it’s happened on other visits to this fair city. Maybe they have their headquarters – Kingdom Hall – somewhere near our flats. 

Or maybe it’s my face. Do I really look so much like a sinner in need of redemption?

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Signs of summer.

For the last two weeks people have been telling me how awful the winter has been here: rain, rain and more rain. And then suddenly it’s summer. Forget about spring. Galicia has gone almost immediately into summer. Saturday was pleasant. Sunday had a little hiccough with a beautiful day followed by rain in the evening but since then apparently it’s summer. Orense has had 25°, Lugo 22° and La Coruña 21°. The folk who’ve come in on a cruise ship today have had a lovely day. We think we saw some of them on one of those Vigo tour buses up at Castrelos Park. They really should have got off the bus and had a stroll round but clearly they were badly advised and the bus just went on its way. 

Yesterday up at the Castro the old men were back playing cards on the top of the hedge: a sure sign that summer had arrived. The frogs didn’t seem to have made it back to the fountain but maybe they’re more pessimistic than the card players. The chestnut trees are coming nicely into flower up there as well. 

Today we walked to Castrelos Park. On the way there I saw this notice: 


It translates as “Walls are the people’s press”. Around Vigo they certainly appear to believe in the freedom of the press as there is graffiti all over the place, not all of it very clever stuff either. But then, not all the stuff you read newspapers is all that clever. As regards graffiti, I much prefer this sort of thing, which I saw in Pontevedra on Saturday: 

Anyway, Castrelos is looking very lush and green after all the rain. I thought at first that the bluebells were not yet in flower but then I realised that in fact they are but they’ve all come up white this year: all the colour washed away by the winter rain perhaps. 

Everything else was coming along nicely although they have not yet finished whatever treatment they’ve been giving the maze in the gardens. It’s looking very good but there are still signs saying not to touch the box hedge. That’s almost two year’s treatment it’s been having. It should look excellent at the end of it. 

Summer might seem to be here for most of us but some of the rich and famous are still deep in winter. I read that there are suggestions that Iñaki Urdangarín should have his passport taken off him. This is to prevent him running off to take up the promised job in Qatar. He has told the King of his intention to go but it seems that some people don’t think he should be allowed to do so. Surely it would be better for him to be out of the King’s hair and actually earning some money but who am I to comment on such things? 

In my newspaper readings about the parlous state of the monarchy here, I came across this expression: “la Corona se cavará su tumba” – more or less “the monarchy will dig its own grave” – if it doesn’t begin to set a better example in facing the crisis. No more African hunting trips, no more corruption scandals, please, is the message. There have already been anti-monarchy demonstrations in Madrid to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Second Republic and debates on TV about monarchy versus republic. The honeymoon period is definitely over. 

And parliamentary people aren’t faring much better. Pachi Vazquez, leader of the Partido Socialista de Galicia has been saying that Feijóo should probably go to prison because of those photos with smuggler turned drug baron Marcial Dorado. Mind you, they still have to prove that there was anything untoward going on. That has never stopped opposition parties shouting though. 

They probably shout in a very cultured and polite fashion, however, observing all the formalities. When I was working as a Spanish teacher I was often asked if the Spanish really used the subjunctive. Did they actually remember to do so? Well, last night in one of our preferred local free wifi, free tapas venues I saw this notice on the wall: 

    “Señores Clientes, se ruega no muevan mesas ni sillas por su cuenta. 
     Pídanles amablemente a los/las camareros/as. 
     Por su comodidad y la de todos. 
     Disculpan las molestias. 


    “Dear Customers. You are requested not to move tables or chairs on your own behalf.   
      Kindly ask the waiters/waitresses. 
      For your comfort and that of everyone. 
      We apologise for the inconvenience. 
      Thank you.” 

 It’s on a par with the formal letter writing we used to learn in schools before writing letters became a lost art and everyone sent texts and emails. And we know what difficulties the electronic media can get you into.

Monday, 15 April 2013


During the hour and a half that I spent sitting in Pontevedra station on Saturday I learnt a couple of linguistic things. 

First of all, the French word “croissant”, which I have seen change to “croisán” in Spanish, has another, even more Spanish spelling, “croasán”. I’m not sure how official it is but it sort of makes sense. 

And it seems that young people speak shortens “fin de semana” – weekend – to “finde”, at least for text speech. 

The last item I got from reports about the young people who trashed a “casa rural” the previous weekend. It was the venue for a 17th birthday party. The parents of the young lady in question rented it for the weekend so that she and about twenty friends could celebrate, presumably so that their own house didn’t get messed up. Quite what the parents were about letting a bunch of teenagers spend a weekend doing what teenagers do is a different question altogether and is certainly none of my business. I’m the one who let a bunch of 15 year olds, our daughter and friends, camp in our garden one summer night and didn’t get a wink of sleep. But at least I was around to keep a sleepless eye on proceedings. 

According to reports in the papers, the young people in the “casa rural” mentioned the party on the social networks and something like fifty people turned up. That sounds like a familiar story. Some of them have been described as “creisis”. (This is another linguistic treasure, apparently and attempt to make “the crazies” into a Spanish word.) 

Whether it was the uninvited “creisis” or the actual friends of the birthday girl is unclear but the house was trashed: furniture smashed, fire extinguishers emptied and graffiti sprayed on walls. It became known as “la fiesta destroyer”. Before reports of the damage were released some of the milder partygoers were tweeting, “se acaba el finde probablemente más extraño de este año” – the end of probably the weirdest weekend of this year. Others were congratulating the hostess on the great “finde” and posting pictures of themselves and birthday girl making victory signs and declaring that you’ve not had a good weekend if you don’t get pursued by the Guardia Civil. 

Now, I’ve heard that sort of thing before. I used to have some teenagers in my tutor group at the college where I worked who said they’d not had a good night if they’d not got into a fight. Similarly, a night out after which you actually remembered what you’d done clearly wasn’t any good. But mostly these were youngsters from the rougher parts of Salford: not an excuse but some kind of explanation. I don’t think their parents could have afforded to rent a gite for the weekend for them. 

The youngsters in the “fiesta destroyer”, on the other hand, were from families who could afford to pay for them to go to a quite exclusive private school in Santiago de Compostela. 

The owner of the house has been hospitalised after a nervous breakdown on discovering that they have done €30,000 worth of damage. The school has suspended some of the perpetrators. Other parents are calling for them to be expelled. As someone pointed out, if you spray paint graffiti on walls in houses you must have gone with the idea of doing so; you don’t as a rule find cans of spray paint in the kitchen cupboards. 

That’ll do for now. I’ll make the next post more cheerful.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Trains and things.

Today I had arranged to meet my young friend Sarah in Pontevedra. I was to catch a train from Vigo while she caught one from Santiago de Compostela. That almost didn’t happen. I arrived at Vigo Guixar station with a good 15 minutes to spare to buy my ticket for the 12.13 train. Unfortunately the queue for the ticket office was stretching halfway down Arenal. OK, I exaggerate but it was long that by 12.12 I still didn’t have my ticket. But then neither did a whole lot of other people and there were serious rumblings in the line. They speeded things up by giving us all a slip of paper which said “Autorización para acceso al tren R-595” and told us to pay on the train. What a novel idea, paying on the train. 

 Sarah sent me a text saying she was on the train. I sent one back saying so was I. All seemed to going according to plan again. 

I arrived and Pontevedra with time to have a coffee at the station before Sarah’s train was due in. Then it was delayed; first of all the notices said that instead of arriving at 1.22 it would be there at 1.45. 1.45 came and went but the train didn’t. It was then expected at 2.05. Then we were told it was delayed en route and we should listen for announcements about its expected arrival. The next train was due in at 2.25. We were told that it would arrive at 2.45. Finally somewhere around 3.15 the 1.22 train came into the station. Someone said there had been problems with signals. How long does it take to override signals? 

Hoards of people got off the train and went straight to the booking office to complain. No-one needed to say anything in fact. They just handed in their tickets, had them stamped and were sent to another desk to get their money back. How amazing!!! The last time we had a complaint about a train in the UK we had to wait weeks to get a voucher from the train company concerned. Here in Galicia, the trains may not have run like clockwork today but the refund mechanism certainly did. I was seriously impressed. 

What’s more, the sun was shining. 

Sarah and I walked into town along the riverside path, which was very pleasant. We managed to get some tapas in Plaza de Verdura and began to feel human again. Then we had a nice walkabout in the old town, stopping for refreshments and the chance to chat and set the world to rights. 

Eventually we wandered back to the station and caught our trains in opposing directions, this time with no delays. Hooray!!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Out and about again.

The other day I took myself off to the hairdressers to sort out the roots that were becoming to evident. One again I had to fight off offers to dye my eyebrows to match my hair, to give me a manicure, to paint my nails with fancy patterns and so on. I did give in and read the magazines again. Who buys magazines like Hola, In Touch, Diez Minutos apart from hairdressers? Can you really be called a journalist if you write for one of these celebrity cult magazines? 

 I learnt that Queen Sofía has been much comforted by having her son and his family around her on her Easter holidays in Mallorca. The presence of the little princesses took everyone’s mind off the problems the royal family had been going through. This was no doubt written before the biography of Princess Letizia was published, revealing details of her past that don’t quite gel with her cleaner than clean image. Mind you I know a fair few people who already thought she had no right to be called a princess. The same people have the same sort of opinions about Kate Middleton. I suppose if you’re a royalist you probably believe that princes should only marry princesses. The trouble is that there are few princesses of marriageable age around these days. It must be hard being a royal person. 

One magazine also told me that despite advice to the contrary the Infanta Cristina is sticking by her husband, Iñaki Urdangarín. Apparently a separation would get her off the hook but she has decided to back him up as much as possible. Well, good for her. I keep hearing about what dire straits they are in, how poor they are now and how they might lose their home in Barcelona. And then I see pictures of Cristina and her children skiing in some fancy expensive resort. Hmm, once again it’s all relative. Somehow I suspect that the people whose homes have been repossessed by the banks aren’t able to afford holidays like that. 

Seeking relief from all this celebrity-watching I took a look at the Spanish version of Cosmopolitan. First you have to plough your way through pages and pages of adverts for clothes no-one can afford but eventually you get to articles claiming to give you advice on your life-style. One of these gave hints on how not to put on weight, such as setting your mobile phone to ring an alarm once an hour to remind you to get up and walk around for ten minutes. I bet that goes down well if you’re a teacher or a nurse or, in fact, almost any kind of employed person. Some of the hints made sense, such as going for a walk after lunch, whether you eat in a restaurant or gobble a sandwich at your desk. 

The one I liked best was about going round the shops. I liked it for its language content. This piece of advice suggested going for a stroll round the shops, not to buy stuff to “practicar el looking at”. Once they explained what “el looking at” is, it was clear that they meant window shopping. If you’re going to borrow English expressions, that’s fine but I really don’t see the point of inventing new ones that the English would never use. I look forward to hearing my daughter or some friends suggest that go and do some “looking at”. Really!!! 

 Meanwhile, we’ve been happy to “practicar el getting free tapas” in a range of different places. When we came here in February we were disappointed to find that one of our regular places, a cafe called “El Cairo”, just round the corner from our flats, had closed. What a disappointment! Now it has re-opened under new management. On our first visit they had only been open two days and hadn’t got into the swing of things. At least that’s how we interpreted the fact that we were only offered one measly bit of bread with some jamón serrano, a bit different from the range of tasty stuff the previous owners provided. Mind you, I suppose that could be why they went out of business. Anyway, since then we’ve been again and they are making a little more effort so we won’t give up on them. 

Yesterday I had lunch out with some French friends at a “crèperie” on Calle Urzáiz. It’s supposed to be a little bit of Brittany. The bar and kitchen area of the place is decked out to look like an old VW camper van and there is an old Beetle for children to play in. They serve cider buckwheat pancakes as good as any I’ve tasted in Brittany. It’s very strange ordering this Breton stuff in Spanish. Apparently the owners are French, not Breton however, and although we were speaking French they addressed us in Spanish. The children of one of my friends, two little girls of seven and nine, slipped happily from one language to the other without problems – one of them even managed to greet me in English as well – and they were beautifully behaved. What a delight! 

Later on, since the sun was shining, Phil and decided to see if we could catch the sunset from the Castro. Of course, the weather changed as soon as we set off. By the time we were approaching the Castro it was bucketing down again so we went home and had a very British cup of cocoa to end the day.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


So Margaret Thatcher is going to have a ceremonial funeral. Not quite as good as a state funeral but still pretty impressive with soldiers marching in procession and her coffin pulled along on a gun carriage and so on. The Queen has to give permission for this type of funeral. This puts Mrs T on a par with the Queen Mother and Lady Diana Spencer. Who knew? 

In Brixton and Glasgow I hear that they had street parties when they heard the Iron Lady was dead. I wonder if they asked for permission to organise them. After all, for the Queen’s Jubilee and the Royal Wedding (please note the use of capitals!) people had to apply for permission for street parties. So why not this national celebration as well? 

 Is it somehow subversive to organise street parties to celebrate the passing of a politician, one who cracked the unions and defeated the miners? Will those who organised them be investigated by the police? Maybe they’ll be ok so long as they have not tweeted or twittered about it. 

This tweeting can be dangerous as 17 year old Paris Brown has found out. This young lady was employed as a “youth advisor” to the Kent Police Commissioner. Not a bad job: £15,000 a year to tell the police what young people are like. But then they found out that young Paris has been tweeting about drinking, drugs, sex and other such young people pastimes. Well, they wanted the views of a typical teenager. What did they expect? And she did all the tweeting before she got the job. But still .... Now the police are investigating her tweets to see if she has committed any crimes. And today it is reported that Miss Brown has handed in her notice. 

Shouldn’t the police be doing something better with their time? 

Are my friends who made derogatory comments on Facebook in any danger? 

Do I really pay taxes to pay for this sort of thing? 

 Come to that, do I want my taxes to contribute to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, ceremonial as it might be? Can I opt out? 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, they have been digging up, sorry, exhuming, Pablo Neruda. The Chilean poet/politician died in 1973, supposedly from cancer. Now they think he might have been another victim of Pinochet (friend of a certain MT) shortly after that person’s coup. 

 If this proves to be true, will he be given a ceremonial re-burial?

Monday, 8 April 2013


We had lunch in Pontevedra yesterday with our friend Colin. At one point he asked if we knew what “escraches” were. No idea! After some discussion with the waitress and people seated at other tables, we established that they were some kind of protest. OK, that was clear enough but where did the word come from? 

Today I did a little research. Wikipedia informs me that the word originated in Argentina (or possibly elsewhere in South America) as a form of peaceful protest involving activists gathering outside the home or workplace of someone they want to expose for criminal, antisocial, immoral activity. Hence all the protests in banks, making a lot of noise about people losing their home through bank repossession. 

The Diccionario de la Lengua Española does not recognise the word “escrache” but reveals that the verb “escrachar” is a colloquialism from Argentina or Uruguay meaning “to break, to destroy, to crush” or interestingly “to photograph someone”. 

One source talks about the term “un escracho” being used in 1879 in Río de la Plata to designate a kind of swindle involving presenting someone with an article claiming they had won some sort of lottery. 

Another suggests it comes from an old Italian term "scraccé" meaning photograph, especially a portrait photograph. That goes along with the idea of revealing the identity of some kind of evildoer. 

Even though the dictionary might give the verb “escrachar”, modern Spanish appears to be coining a new one “escrachizar” which I am told means “hacer escraches”. 

 It doesn’t, however, seem to have anything to do with the English word “scratch”. That makes a change. Anglicisms pop up all over the place. 

The President of Galicia, Mr. Feijóo, has been in the news recently because of photos from almost 20 years ago in which he appears with someone who for the last 10 years has been in prison for drug dealing. Mr. Feijóo has been dealing with it all quite calmly but must be rather relieved to find that he has been pushed out of what the newspaper “El Correo Gallego refers to as “el primetime” by the reports about the Infanta Cristina being called as a witness in Nóos corruption case her husband is involved in. I wonder how long it will be before “primetime” changes its spelling to “praimtaim”, Spanish fashion. 

Today I have read items relating to both the Feijóo case and the Nóos scandal. First of all, Gonzalo Berreno in La Voz de Galicia suggests that the Feijóo photos have been known for a while but weren’t revealed when he was standing for election as President of Galicia as it wasn’t considered important enough, Now, however, he might be a contender for the leadership of the Partido Popular, replacing Rajoy, and therefore, potentially President of Spain. And so, someone decided to get the nasty photos out. Who knows? 

And then there’s the Nóos case with Iñaki Urdangarín, son in law of the King of Spain. In the past he was a handball player of some renown. Now he’s unemployed, involved in corruption scandals, written out of the webpage of the Familia Real, persona non grata all round. But Valero Rivera, a big wheel in the world of handball is on his side. Valero Rivera is about to go and take up a well paid position in Qatar, helping them prepare for the 2014 world handball championship. As and old friend and former trainer of Iñaki, he’s offering him a job. Will the royal son in law, Duke of Palma de Mallorca, accept? Will it get him out of a hole? Once again, who knows? 

Onto other matters: I recently had a bit of a moan about buying tickets online for a concert at the Centro Cultural Novacaixagalicia and the lack of information about how to pick up said tickets. Well, today (Monday) I had an email telling me that my purchase (of ticets for last Friday) had been successful and explaining all about the machines in the ticket office at the venue. 

People talk about Spaniards putting things off until “mañana”. If you want to say “the day after tomorrow” you say “pasado mañana”. As my email arrived about three days late, am I suffering from “pasado pasado pasado mañana”?

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Across the bay

Yesterday Cangas. It’s I don’t know how long since we were last there. Phil had a chess match and we HAD to catch the 4.30 boat. They’re only one an hour and we almost didn’t make. Setting off just a little later than planned had us running along the waterfront to get there in time. But all’s well that ends well; we made it with minutes to spare. 

Time for someone in the queue to decide that I was a tourist and to ask me if I’d enjoyed the dancing in Vigo that afternoon. I confessed that I hadn’t although I have seen it in other years. I didn’t say that watching Gallego dancing is a bit like watching Morris dancing: very nice once in a while, a bit of a novelty, but not something I would necessarily go out of my way for. We had seen rather a lot of people in fancy dress, oops, I mean national costume. The long skirts and embroidered waistcoats must make dancing difficult but that’s often the way with national dress. 

What I think we were missing was the re-enactment of the defeat of the French some 200 years ago. Any excuse for playing the gaita. At least they had a nice day for it. The same cannot be said of today: damp and drizzly. 

Yesterday though, while the chess team was winning its match I strolled up and down the paseo marítimo in Cangas. It’s all been tidied up quite nicely with some very good play areas and cycle paths, full yesterday of people on roller skates. Or should I say roller blades? Lighter and more manageable than the clumsy things I never got the hang of in my childhood. Now it seems to be something dads and daughters can do together on a Saturday afternoon. 
I walked as far as the beach, Praia de Rodeira. Various signs had pictures of dogs with a line through them. ¡Perros no! Really? The beach was full of folk walking their dogs. That wonderful Spanish ability to do what you like! There were lots of windsurfers out as well, colourful butterflies on the water. Further out were the rowing teams, busy practising. In Vigo you see scores of small yachts on the water each weekend. Across the bay it’s “traineras”. I wonder how the Oxford and Cambridge boat crews would fare against these. 

Walking back, I sat on the promenade waiting quite a while until an apologetic waitress spotted me. No problem. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine and wait. I was in no hurry. And the “clara”, when it finally arrived, was appreciated. 

Today, Pontevedra in the rain, which shows no sign of shifting yet.

Friday, 5 April 2013

What a performance!

Last night we went to a concert at the Centro Cultural novacaixagalicia, here in Vigo. I still find it hard to reconcile a cultural centre and the banks but no-one here seems to find the connection strange. Maybe they endowed these centres before they became grasping institutes who seem to have made off with people’s money. 

Anyway, a friend had told us that there was a concert going on: a piano concerto by Tchaikovsky, an old favourite piece of ours, and a symphony by Hans Rott, someone we had never heard of. It seemed like a good idea so we set about getting ourselves tickets by going onto the website of the Centro Cultural. This worked fine; we selected our seats, rather too close to the front but when you book last minute, in our case the night before the concert, you have to take what comes. We printed our receipt but were a little unsure how to go about getting the tickets themselves. And the website clearly said that you needed to print the tickets before you could get onto the auditorium. 

Maybe we should have read the pages of gumph on the website but we gave up on that and arrived in what felt like plenty of time at the Centro Cultural so that we could go to the booking office and check up what to do. The booking office, for some strange reason, only opens about an hour before the concert is due to start. So any poor soul who doesn’t have a computer and therefore can’t do an online booking has to take pot luck and hope that there are tickets left. 

So, we arrived at the venue, went to the booking office and found a rather long queue. There was a lackey in uniform hanging around, doing little more than greeting friends in the queue and kissing cheeks and so on. I approached him, showed him our printed receipt and asked how we should go about getting the tickets printed. There’s the queue, he told us and wandered off. We grudgingly accepted this as a fait accompli. Fairly typical, we thought, that this smart venue would have a website but then expect you to queue along with those who haven’t booked in advance. In similar situations in the UK, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, for example, they have a separate, faster-moving queue for simple collection of tickets. 

As the queue moved up, I spotted two machines and realised that they said something about collecting tickets. No instructions though! Could we print our tickets on one of these machines? My suspicions were confirmed when I saw someone do just that. So I asked this person if they could help. Easy-peasy! Swipe the card you used to book your tickets, the machine reads your details and prints your tickets. 

Two questions: why were there no clear instructions pointing out the machines and how to use them? And why did the cheek-kissing lackey not tell us that we could print our tickets that way? 

Maybe he didn’t know. Perhaps he’s just dressed up to look official but that’s all. 

Whatever the answer to these problems, we thoroughly enjoyed the concert. The Chaikovski (doesn’t the Spanish spelling look odd?) was excellent. The pianist, Nicolai Lugansky, gave us a bit of Rachmaninov as an encore. And the unknown Mr Rott was very acceptable, with some good bits. Well worth standing in a queue for. 

Afterwards we went out for a glass or two of wine and some nibbles with friends and friends of friends. All good stuff. We’ll probably do a repeat performance in a couple of weeks’ time.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


When we came to live in Vigo in 2008, one of the things I could never find in supermarkets, along with basil plants and a number of other herbs, was hummus. I tried to explain to people what I was looking for, all to no avail. All I got was blank looks. You would think that a place that uses chickpeas as a regular part of its cuisine and habitually cooks with olive oil would have no problem with hummus. But this was not the case. It was one of those elements of “foreign stuff” that this culinarily conservative country did not get. 

Gradually, items such as pre-packed fresh pasta appeared on supermarket shelves. Last year I found pots of growing basil as well. They’re not there at the moment; I suspect they think it’s too early in the year for basil to survive so far north. Well, I’m just hoping that someone is watering MY basil plant on my even more northerly window ledge in Saddleworth! 

 Today I found this!!! 

You can tell it’s new as the spelling hasn’t been converted to Spanish yet. 
And inside the packaging are suggestions for how to serve it. 

Here’s another surprise. For some time I have been alternately sympathising with larger travellers – they are discriminated against in that they can bring fewer clothes since all their garments are larger and therefore heavier – and suggesting, tongue in cheek, that they should have to pay more for their tickets as they add more weight to the plane than less substantial travellers. Now I find that there is an airline in Samoa which proposes to weigh passengers and charge them according to size!! How long before a certain budget airline follows suit? 

And finally, another of my little bugbears. The Spanish government plans to get rid of the “use by” date on yoghurts. Instead of indicating that the products go out of date they will “suggest” a preferred date by which the yoghurt should be consumed. Now, I have often horrified my daughter b eating yoghurt after the “use by” date. A sniff is enough to tell you whether the product has gone off or not; we’re not babies, after all. 

The problem is that Spain is the sixth worst country in the EU for wasting food. Almost 8 million tons of food are thrown away every year. Italy chucks out 8.8 million tons, Poland 8.9 million, France 9 million, Holland 9.4 million and Germany an amazing 10.3 million. The article doesn’t say how much is thrown away in the UK but I’m pretty sure it’s too much. But we are not in the top six anyway. 

 The decision about labelling yoghurts is part of the government's «Más alimento, menos desperdicio» plan. More food, less waste is the idea. 

I’m all in favour of that.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

At last.

Well, finally it feels as though we’ve arrived properly. 

Supermarket shop done! Everyone and their grandmothers were there this morning, making up for not being able to shop yesterday. Prices seem to me to be creeping up to UK levels but there are still differences. You bag and weigh your own fruit and veg and stick a price label on. The meat and fish counters are more extensive here; people still like to choose their own lump of meat. Even the pre-packed stuff contains different cuts of meat so on. 

I did the supermarket shop before breakfast. I left the flat with the sun shining through the window. By the time I got to street level it was pouring with rain. Fortunately the supermarket is just next door so I didn’t have far to run. By the time I emerged the sun was out again. The cleaning lady in the entrance commented that it’s time the rain stopped properly now. “Parecemos peces”, she told me – we are like fish. Maybe she worked a charm on it as the rest of the day has been pleasantly warm. Long may it continue. 

We managed to do the other stuff on our list as well. First recharging the dongle so we have internet in the flat. As Patricia, our regular Vodafone shop assistant, was waiting for confirmation of our reload she remarked that we still had about €12 in our account. Now, the way this thing works is that you buy the dongle with a month’s worth of credit on it. Once you’ve used your gigabyte or the month has elapsed, you need to reload it. Usually we go for the one month/one gigabyte option, notionally priced at €19. Then they add IVA (VAT) which bumps the price up to €22.something and inform you that the system needs to round it up to €25. Now it appears that each time we have done this the system has been storing up €2.something worth of internet. If we just use it as it is, we will pay at a higher rate. However, if we remind Patricia of this the next time we charge the dongle she can fix it so that it goes towards our month’s supply. I understand NONE of this!!! 

Reloading the mobile phones with Telefónica was a piece of cake!!! 

At MediaMarkt we bought 2 gadgets only to discover that one, a cable to link something to the computer, has in fact the wrong kind of USB. Who knew? Not me. I thought there was only one kind. It just shows how much I know. And then, Phil-the-computer-genius discovered that if he disconnects my mobile phone charger (the English smartphone not the Spanish basic phone) from its plug, he can use that as the connector he needs. 

After all our busy shopping we ended up eating out once again, this time at a place we know half way between the port and the town centre that does a perfectly good menú del día for a reasonable price. 

An elderly lady was dining alone there, slowly working her way through “merluza a la romana”. We’ve seen her there several times before and the staff always make a fuss of her. At one point she had a coughing fit. All the staff rallied round to make her feel better. She probably lives just round the corner. It’s something that really works in this society and I think it’s great. If she failed to turn up, someone would worry and go and find out what had happened to her. 

If they do finally reduce the lunch hour for workers, as threatened, so that people no longer have time to patronise little restaurants like this one and end up eating a mournful sandwich at their desk, some/many of these places will close. A little bit of the caring community will probably get lost in the process. Collateral damage?

Monday, 1 April 2013

Definitely closed for business.

Today began with a visit to the bread shop where I had my €0.80 ready to pay for my loaf. However, the panadera told me that today the loaf cost €0.85 because today is a “día festivo”. Of course, Easter Monday! How long has that been a holiday here? I thought that was a British invention. Besides, how can the price of a loaf vary from one day to the next? I have come across that variation before, of course, as the price goes up the same way every Sunday. That doesn’t make it right though. 

Back in the UK, Easter Monday is celebrated by many in the great commercial cathedrals such as The Trafford Centre or Meadowhall, where people go to shop ‘til they drop. Not here, of course! Vigo has been as quiet as quiet can be. 

We had a list of things to do: 

      recharge the dongle so that we can have internet access in the flat – Vodafone 

     put some credit on the Spanish mobile phones – Telefónica 

     pick up a cable to connect one of Phil’s gadgets to the computer, the original having been left at home by mistake – MediaMarkt 

     buy some food – Mercadona, Froiz, Eroski, in fact any supermarket would do. 

Vodafone, Telefónica, MediaMarkt, the supermarkets: all closed! 

I had to go back to the breadshop for a carton of milk. 

Even the chess club has been closed for business today. 

On our fruitless walkabout, however, I came across this poster for a concert by comedian Carlos Lastre. I just had to take a photo. 

Here’s a link to a website selling tickets for his show. 

 I googled Mr Lastre. One of the things I found out is this: “Se hizo muy conocido por sus imitaciones en el late night Crónicas Marcianas de Telecinco de diversos personajes” - he became famous for imitating various celebrities on the TV show “Crónicas Marcianas. (That’s fine but just who decided to refer to a TV show as “un late night”?) But since he is apparently such a famous impressionist who mimics well known politicians as well as other famous people, I can only hope his ungrammatical English is intended to be ironical. 

Anyway, we ended up having lunch out today as well as dinner last night. I can highly recommend the “calamares frescos a la plancha” at the Nuevo Derby on Calle Urzáiz. 

The Nuevo Derby also has some very interesting coffee cups with pictures of ancient coffee grinders and information about Brazil becoming a major coffee producer in 1920 and the United States creating instant coffee during World War II so that their soldiers could easily have coffee wherever they happened to be fighting. 

And thus perhaps began the Starbucks empire!