Saturday, 31 August 2013

Back again – day 2

So here I am back in Galicia. On Thursday evening I waited around in the airport at Oporto until the late evening (22.45, special summer service) Autna bus arrived. A very smart, double decker bus. This caused some comment from some passengers, all about the fact that the bus had stairs. Have they never seen films about London? Everyone seems to have accepted that London has fog, courtesy of various films, no doubt, so why not also double decker buses with staircases. 

I watched the driver hurling luggage into the hold, following a system of those who were getting off last had their luggage thrown in first, but yes, literally hurling those bags in. So when he said that anyone who had a small case and wanted to take in on the bus with them could do so, I took him at his word. It made alighting in Vigo that much quicker anyway. 

Apart from this rather cavalier treatment of the luggage, the journey was fast and uneventful. A rapid taxi ride back to our flat and there I was, back again. Why are taxis so much cheaper here than in the UK? Is it the price of petrol? Whatever the reason, I know that a similar taxi ride back in the UK would cost me about three times as much. 

 So yesterday I caught up with myself. I didn’t get up and run as I usually do. Having arrived home at around 2 in the morning, I felt that getting up and running at 8 was a bit excessive. 

But a visit to the bread shop was, of course, one of the first jobs of the day. You have to get breakfast sorted after all. The panadera, whom I regard as a kind of oracle, assures me that the weather will continue to be excellent throughout September. Which is good news. 

Later I strolled down to the library. Still on summer opening times: closes at 2.30 pm. Still as chaotically organised as ever. Still very hot! I always imagine libraries as cool havens of quiet in the bustle of a city. This one is quiet enough – notices requesting “¡SILENCIO, POR FAVOR!” abound – but it is always far too hot. This is strange in an old stone building. Maybe they have the heating on all year round. 

 It was pleasant enough strolling around in the sunshine at that point but after lunch it was too hot to do more than sit in the shade and eventually to fall into the pool. The pool police are still in operation. It’s a good job I had not lost my “Acceso a la piscina” card”. One of these days I will leave it in the pocket of my shorts when they go in the washing machine and that will be the end of my swimming. I wonder who appointed the “Supervisor”, who has a special orange vest with his position written on the front. Presumably it was the “comunidad” committee. 

He must be rather warm in his t-shirt with his official vest on top. As people arrive, he checks their card and ticks them off on his list. Then he goes back to whatever he is doing on his mobile phone. 

Maybe, like my grandson, he is an avid player of Minecraft. You never know!!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

There and back.

On Tuesday I abdicated from my post as child-carer in chief. In other words, my daughter returned from holiday and I handed the children over to her. It’s been interesting, I’ve learnt more about the game Minecraft than I really need (or want) to and I have become quite inventive at persuading three awkward eaters to eat more or less the same thing at the same time. I am a great believer in the socialising aspect of family eating. 

Talking of which, last night we went out for a celebratory (return of mother now with an engagement ring on her finger) and farewell (grandma, aka me, about to depart for Galicia once more) dinner. We went to a supposedly Italian restaurant in the hotel where my daughter has a gym membership. The food was fine, certainly Italianate, although I'm not sure that adding Mozzarella cheese to a burger makes it Italian. 

Everyone behaved splendidly and a  good time was had by all. 

In the course of my stay here we have traveled like demented, undecided gypsies, between my house and theirs with occasional complaints on both sides about both venues. During that time, the eldest grandchild received GCSE results, or rather result, as she sat only one GCSE this year in year 10. A grade A in Science, which pleased her, especially as she professes to have done no revision. 

I was reading about yet another controversy regarding public examinations in this country. Apparently large numbers of secondary schools enter pupils for the same subject with several examination boards and the select the best result as the one which “counts” for the school’s league tables and for the pupil’s personal record. How can they do this? Back when I was teaching, you had to select the examination board and that was it because the actual exam for a particular module of a particular paper was at a fixed time, the same time for all examination boards. Undoubtedly this was meant to prevent just the kind of “best result” trading that has seemingly been going on. Have things changed so much in the five years I have been out of the system? 

No doubt Mr Gove will put a stop to such shenanigans and all will be well. Hmmmm!!! Whatever the final outcome of all of this, I do not regret being out of the system altogether. 

Last weekend, I sent my trusty old bike off to a good home. This is a fairly ancient lady’s bicycle, practically a Rolls Royce of bicycles, made by the tried and tested Dawes company. I bought it from the second hand shop down the road (a building now converted into several bijou residences) and it served me well until I spent a holiday using a borrowed more modern velocipede with proper gears. My poor old bike with its three gears seemed suddenly inadequate and I bought a new hybrid on and off road bike which is a delight to ride. The poor-old-bike was relegated to the shed until a friend expressed an interest in it. She just wants to potter up and down her very flat road, along to the shop and back. And so off it went. More space in the shed. 

And now, I am all packed up, boarding card printed, ticket for the last bus from Oporto airport to Vigo bus station purchased on line and properly printed – unlike my journey here when I had only a proof of purchase – and I’m ready to go. 

Swimming pool, here I come.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


The other evening I put the two smaller grandchildren to bed and came downstairs planning to watch a film with the older one. She’s quite old enough and sensible enough, when she chooses, to be good company and we have had some excellent discussions of films we have watched. 

 On this occasion, I came downstairs to find her talking on the phone to her cousin, well, my niece’s daughter so that makes them some kind of second cousins. And, because they are teenagers, it wasn’t just a phone call it was face-timing, something rather like skyping I believe. As well as talking, they were both playing a game called “Animal Crossing” on their DS. 

In fact, that was really what the conversation was about: the game they were playing and the difference between their two machines, my granddaughter’s being a more modern version. The other teenager would like to update hers to a more modern version but her machine is a classic limited edition Super Mario machine and she is loath to lose it. From time to time they showed each other the screen of the DS on the phone. I found it rather surreal to be listening to such a weird conversation. 

Of course, had they been on the same room, or even maybe in the same street, they would probably have joined each other in the game by internet. But as one of them was here in Delph and the other over in Southport, this was not possible. It is what has been happening with the Minecraft game that all three grandchildren (and while he was her, our son) have been playing on iPhone, iPod and iPad, all “talking” to each other. It is sometimes quite difficult to wrench them away from this unreal, created world, based apparently on Lego. 

I did lure them away from it for a while yesterday. When my siblings and I were around the age of the two younger grandchildren (they are 10 and 8) my brother had a Bayko building set. This was made up of plastic bases into which you inserted metal rods. Plastic blocks of bricks, window, doors, steps, balconies and other sorts of architectural bits and pieces could them be slid between the rods to make a building of your own creation. Even though this was nominally our brother’s, all three sisters spent hours playing with it as well.

I was reminded of it last year when I saw a construction site in Oldham that sported tall metal supports and just looked like a giant Bayko set. When I posted a photo on Facebook, my brother’s widow commented that she still had it in the attic. Christmas came along and she handed over the wooden box full of bits and pieces. 

So yesterday, when the electronic world lost its charm briefly, I got it out. At Christmas it had not sparked much interest but now it was declared to be “a bit like Minecraft in the real world” and constructions were created. A different activity, using physical creative skills instead of electronic – for a short time anyway.


 At the moment they’re back in the virtual world once more. For a while though, reality was enough and they seemed proud of their creations.


All aspects of life seem to have the capacity to become part of a big game. I’ve been rereading Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. I haven’t seen the films and don’t really want to. But the eldest granddaughter tells me that a couple of young Texans are currently in New Zealand, where the films were made. They are walking from Hobbiton – yes, the set apparently still exists and has people dressed as hobbits entertaining tourists – to the mountain which served as Mount Doom, where the fateful ring of power was destroyed. 

How strange is that? But it’s a real activity, not a virtual adventure. Good for them!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Rushing about.

Today Saddleworth had another of its events that almost equal the fiestas they have in Spain. 

Saddleworth is made up of a collection of villages, in some cases rapidly merging into small towns but still clinging on to their identity. This weekend each village is treated to a session of Morris dancing as the Rushcart is dragged from place to place by the Morris dancers. This may explain why Morris dancing, despite the bells and flowery hats is a male preserve. Here is a link to a website with a video of a previous year when the Rushcart set off from Uppermill, the biggest village of the group. 

No-one seems to know when the tradition actually started. It is supposedly pre-Christian, probably a pagan rite to celebrate a successful harvest and, as usual, was subsumed into Christian mores. The custom of carrying rushes to church grew into a festival in many parts of the country but in the South Pennines, a more elaborate method grew. The rushes were originally taken to church on a sledge but this method gave way to placing the rushes in a cart built up in the shape of a haystack. 

The rushes would be spread on the trodden earth or clay floor of the church, often mixed with fragrant herbs and wild flowers, to insulate the congregation from the cold during the hard winter months. This sounds plausible. 

 The Rushcart grew into a festival which was held on the annual "Wakes" or mill holiday which often coincided with the feast of the saint to whom the local Parish Church is dedicated. Every village or hamlet would build a Rushcart and each would try to out-do the neighbouring villages by building a bigger or more elaborate structure, with the front covered by a sheet decorated with tinsel and artificial flowers and hung with polished copper, brass and silver household items.

The procession was drawn, by hauling on poles or "stangs" fixed to the cart by strong ropes and was accompanied by music. The Uppermill Rushcart became known as the Longwood Thump. 

Rushcarts eventually died out in the early twentieth century. However, in 1975 the Saddleworth Morris men revived the Rushcart tradition and it has become an annual event. 

Tomorrow there will be an afternoon's entertainment with displays of English male traditional dance, musicianship, gurning (face-pulling), clog-stepping, a competition to find the worst singer and weather permitting, a Saddleworth wrestling competition (open to Morris men only). 

Of course, we went along to have a look at what was going on. And here are some photos of today’s goings-on in Delph, our village and one of the prettiest of them all, naturally. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

An exciting life.

Here’s a link to a strange item in La Voz de Galicia  about someone called Álvaro Bultó with a video of him practising a sport known as Wingfly, aka El Hombre Pájaro or Birdman. It seems to involve launching yourself from a high place wearing a kind of winged jacket and carrying a parachute for the later stages of the descent. The article contains a video of a successful “flight” but mainly it tells us about the death of this “aventurero” in the alps. Apparently he had an accident doing this only a couple of months ago when he ended up injured. You’d think he would have learnt from that incident but no, daredevils always get back on the horse, or on this case, strap the wings back on. 

Apart from being a TV presenter and adventurer, Álvaro was a former boyfriend of the Infanta Cristina. Presumably this was before she knew and married Iñaki Urdangarin and ended up almost being prosecuted for all kinds of corrupt dealings. Maybe she’d have been better with the birdman. Mind you, she should be OK with a nice bank job in Switzerland. 

Really, I am quite impressed with the way the two Spanish princess have had relatively normal job, Cristina in a bank and Elena teaching in a primary school. They may have got their jobs through a good deal of enchufe – it’s all a question of who you know in the old boy network – but at least there was a semblance of normality. 

Back here in the UK, my life has no such excitement. The most exciting thing that has happened in the last day or two was a visit to the park with the grandchildren. At least we got to the park and they ran around all over the place and generally had a good time as well as lots of exercise. According to an article I read as they ran around, about 50% of UK children don’t get that exercise, or at least they don’t do the hour a day recommended by the watchful government. It was a lot simpler in my childhood because most of us walked to school and we didn’t have electronic games to occupy our every waking moment. 

We managed the park yesterday in the sunshine. It was even hot and sunny enough for me to regret not having my sunhat with me. I thought for a moment that the much spoken about heat wave was returning. No chance! Today at the point when we thought of setting off out – tidying up done, guinea pigs sorted and so on – the rain came down. 

And there’s more forecast for the weekend. So it goes.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Day Three

Here we are, Wednesday already: day three of boot camp. This is the new name for my stay in the UK to look after the grandchildren while their mother swans off on holiday.

I haven’t quite decided whose boot camp this is. Am I being converted to the occasionally uncouth ways of the grandchildren? Or are they being trained to convert to my way of doing things? On the whole I favour the latter. I have no intention of shouting when I want my own way and snarling at anyone who upsets me, or rather by whom I choose to be upset.

OK, I exaggerate but there has been a certain amount of both of those activities. I am also insisting on electronic games and bedroom lights being switched off when I say it’s time to go to sleep. This has led to some moaning and groaning but I can live with that.

Then there’s breakfast, which I insist has to be eaten. I will be flexible to a certain extent about what is eaten but I have to draw the line at one person (the smallest grandchild) wanting to eat ALL the pancakes without sharing with anyone else.

In the periods between temper tantrums of one kind and another we had had some good times and some interesting chats about this and that. We have had expeditions to the park, with some complaining about walking there but it’s amazing how children can adapt to such things.

Yesterday we took a longer trip; we went to Chester Zoo. We managed to see most of the animals, although we somehow missed both zebras and meerkats. On the whole, I think the elephants are the most satisfying. There is something very appealing about baby elephants after all. 
And the massed ranks of flamingos seen from a distance are very impressive, even if they do look rather prawns until you focus on them properly.

The zoo is working hard to be very ecological with quite excellent wild flower enclosures to encourage insects. However, in all the picnic areas there really were rather too many wasps, causing panic among the younger grandchildren.

In one section of the zoo they had mounted a strange exhibition of huge animatronic insects, one or two of which sprayed passers-by with water.

We managed the day with only one outburst of bad temper, although that did have me seriously contemplating throwing the whinger (“I’m bored and I want to go home!”), the particular princess (“He’s standing too close to me!”) and the bossy-boots (“I have the map so I can decide which way we go!”) to the lions. But I restrained and we all calmed down and managed to end the visits calmly with the requisite to the zoo shop and the equally requisite refusal on my part to buy balloons in the shape of monkeys or exorbitantly-priced soft toys.

Then home to tea and bed.

No time to read the papers, write blogs or anything else. Watch this space.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Grandma’s B & B.

I woke this morning to a pounding in my head. Wait a minute. Not in my head. Outside my head. Outside the house. In the area behind the house a building site has sprung up in our absence. In reality it began a few years ago and stopped, presumably because they ran out of funds. Not long before we headed off into the wide blue yonder, aka Galicia, for the summer a planning notice came through the door. The old foundations from the previous work had been removed and new work was about to begin. We were glad to escape it. Now I’m back for a couple of weeks and the pile-drivers are busy from eight in the morning. 

Somehow they plan to cram forty-six houses into what is quite a small space. Just down the road a way is an estate built some twenty-five years ago with similarly cramped houses, all carefully placed so that no-one looks straight into anyone else’s windows. Twenty-five years on, those houses look as if they belong - they are built, or at least clad, in the stone that most of the older houses around here are built in - although some of the gardens are ridiculously postage-stamp sized and there’s not much cat-swinging space between buildings. So maybe these new houses will also blend in eventually. Although quite how the cars from so many dwellings will move into and out of our already busy road at rush hour times is a different problem. 

Amazingly two of the three grandchildren - they slept in the attic last night - slept through the whole banging and clanging session. The third one had woken up some time earlier and was busy sitting up in bed with his iPod. 

So we two sneaked off and began to organise the day leaving the girls like sleeping beauties for a while longer. Pancakes were requested. Huge amounts of pancakes were eaten. Banana milkshake was drunk. 

And then the second grandchild arrived. No pancakes, thank you. Was it possible to make cheese toasties? And then more cheese toasties? Because they are so good! 

 Finally I went and opened the blinds in the attic and the third one, who is really the first as she is the oldest of the three, stirred, stretched, unplugged the headphones from her ears - is it really possible to sleep listening to i-tunes? - and sat up. Some time later she came downstairs. This time it was toasted current tea cakes, with cheese, please. Oh, and orange juice, if that could be managed? Polite at least! 

Somewhere in the midst of that I managed to make coffee and toast for me. 

 The breakfast bar is now closed! 

Now we need to decide how we are going to occupy the rest of the day, other than eating something else.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Back in the land of rain and wind.

Well, I finally sorted the bus ticket problem to get from Pontevedra to Oporto so that I could fly home to the UK and play Grandma for a couple of weeks. Having found it impossible to buy tickets in advance at the bus station, we bought my ticket online and eventually got it printed at the hotel we were staying at. Our host seemed completely unable to deal with computers - so much for silver surfers!!!! - but his son sorted things out for us. 

So that was that and on Thursday I saw Phil off to his final chess game in the morning, pottered about in our room for a while and eventually went down and paid our bill. I had a little chat with our host, commenting that we had seen him on Wednesday evening, looking "muy elegante" with his white shirt, black trousers and tie. He had, it transpired, been on his way to his choral group; they had an appointment to sing down in the centre of town. This choir, of which he had been a member for years and years, sang in competitions all over the place and even won the occasional prize. Photos on the wall in the hotel and everything. People have hidden depths, you see. 

Then I trundled my suitcase along to the rickety old bus stop to wait for a bus to town: quite a long wait, for Thursday was "Asención", the day Mary went up to Heaven and therefore a "día festivo". Buses ran every hour instead of every half hour. But I had plenty of time and finally met up with my friend Colin and his daughter in Plaza de Verdura for a little something. I had planned to walk in a leisurely fashion down to the bus station but Colin insisted that he would run me there and so I was able to spend a little more time contemplating the world from under a sun umbrella by his pool and chatting to his daughter, setting the world to rights. 

When I finally got to the bus station, I checked at the info office for the platform my bus would leave from and, on being asked if I had a ticket, checked that my printout was sufficient. Yes, it was, the clerk assured me, but thereby hangs a tale. Waiting for the bus, I got chatting to a pair of sisters who were, it turned out, en route for Manchester where one of them had a place on a graduate training programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her sister was going along for the ride, hoping to find some kind of work, any kind of work, and improve her English. They had also had trouble getting tickets and had ended up at a travel agent’s, a solution I had considered. 

Anyway, the bus arrived, around 15 minutes late. I showed my computer printout to the driver. "¿Y el billete?", he growled. So I explained that the only ticket I had was my printout and that I had been assured it was sufficient. Grudgingly he let me on the bus. Phew, what a relief! Then at Valença, just across the border into Portugal, we all had to change buses. Apparently there were two buses going half full to Oporto and they had decided that we could all travel on the same one. So I had to go through the same rigmarole about my ticket once more - not to mention that I had some difficulty locating my printout this time round - but fortunately the efficient driver of bus number two had his own computer printout with passengers’ names on it. How clever was that!!! 

And so, despite sea mist coming in at the last minute and making Oporto airport into a strange grey place, curiously cold after the sunshine and heat of the previous days, I made my way to Liverpool without further mishap. The runway was wet. How strange! I had almost forgotten what rain was like. And there my daughter was waiting to take me on my onward journey, as the airlines call it, to Manchester. 
Since then my life has been a busy family whirl, feeding lots of people, catching up with family news, going for a walk in the wind and watching some of the family turn into nerds who play a supposedly creative game called Minecraft, with all their iPhones talking to each other in a strange invented world. Who would have thought that such things could exist! 


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The good, the bad and the tasty (not necessarily in that order).

 Yesterday I had one of those frustrating customer service moments that happen occasionally. I’m flying back to the UK on Thursday for a couple of weeks and wanted to book my ticket for the bus from Pontevedra to Oporto airport. So off I trotted to the bus station here. Looking around the bus station I couldn’t see a relevant ticket office so I went to ask at “información”. The dialogue went something like this: 

Me: Can you tell me where I can buy a ticket for the AUTNA bus to Oporto airport? Assistant: You can’t buy one here. You have to book by internet. 
Me: Ah, but I’d have to print the ticket and I don’t have a printer here. 
Assistant: (Shrug) Well, I’ll give you the phone number of the company. 
Me: Can I buy the ticket on the bus? 
Assistant: (Another shrug) Well, yes, but it can be full when it gets here from Santiago. (Dismissive shrug.) 

Great! So I have information I already had, a timetable with the phone number of Autna and their web address but that’s all. 

It reminded me of the first time we ever came to Pontevedra and arrived at this same bus station. We asked for information about buses into the town centre, only to find that the assistant didn’t really know. She thought one had just gone and didn’t quite know how long it would be until the next one. She looked at our luggage and said, “No van ustedes muy cargados” – “You’ve not got a lot to carry” – and proceeded to give us directions to walk to town. It’s not along walk but distances always seem longer when you don’t know the route and besides it was quite a warm day. She neglected to tell us that the train station was just opposite and we could get a cheap taxi from there. No joined-up thinking! 

I could cite other customer service disasters but I won’t. The Spanish are lovely people but from time to time their customer service lets them down. 

Apart from such incidents, our stay in Pontevedra has been very good. The chess player has been moderately successful, although he would say he’s not playing at his best. 

 I’ve seen some interesting sights, such as the ladies using the old “lavadero”, stone washing place, on the way to the chess club. 

I’ve heard some marching bands of dubious quality and of limited repertoire in the centre of town. 

A couple of afternoons have been spent chillaxing (that, so I am informed, is the correct term for chilling out and relaxing) beside my friend Colin’s pool. Well, actually, doing a fair amount of swimming in addition to chillaxing. 

And then last night we ate out at “El Pitillo”, one of our favourite eating places in this fine city, with Colin and his lovely daughters. 

 Not a bad life!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Into the centre.

Today I managed to catch the elusive L5 bus into Pontevedra centre. The information we got yesterday was a little garbled to say the least so when we returned from lunch today we asked again, planning to phrase our question along the lines of whether they actually knew the times of the buses. Today, though, instead of seeing our friendly host we saw someone who I assume is his wife. She supplied approximate times of buses and, more importantly, told us exactly where to catch the bus. You see, you need a woman! 

There is a stop just a few yards from the hotel but that is for alighting only. There’s a neat bit of logic. It seems that they won’t let you get on there, even though the bus then goes up to the nearby roundabout and turns round in order to go back down the road. And there appears to be no bus stop on the other side. What it does then is goes down to the next junction, about five minutes walk away but still quite a distance in the sunshine, and then goes to Monteporreiro, the place I explored briefly yesterday. There it goes round the “urbanización”, the housing estate, and comes back to a picking-up bus stop before making its eventual way down to Pontevedra and on to the bus station. Quite what anyone at our end of the route has to do if they want to go to the “urbanización” is a mystery as there seem to be no bus stops until you are almost there. Anyway, I watched the bus go past our hotel and then I set off to the picking-up bus stop. About 15 minutes later the bus arrived and five minutes or so after that I was down by the river near the centre of Pontevedra. I could almost have walked it in that time but I would have been very hot and sticky. 

 So I had a wander around the old quarter, mostly very quiet late on Sunday afternoon. 

I took a picture of the Peregrina church, which really should have been in yesterday’s blog but here it is now. 

 I stopped for a drink and watched a group of gentlemen spend well over €40 on a round of drink. €7 or €8 each I reckon for one drink. That’s what you get for drinking gin on the terraza of a cafe in the big square. They proceeded to discuss a kitty and each put €50 on the table. It was clearly going to be an expensive afternoon/evening but they all looked pretty prosperous. They’ve probably got drunk at the Peregrina Fiesta every year since they were much younger and slimmer. 

At one point the pigeons, and the peace, were scattered by the huge bang of a firework. And then the music started, a very rackety band playing the “San Fermín” tune. They were one peña, in yellow t-shirts, accompanied by another in greenish t-shirts and three pantomime bulls who charged anyone and everyone in the square. 

Such is Semana Grande.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Legends and wanderings

I love explanations of things vaguely biblical. The Peregrina church, a very pretty church in the centre of Pontevedra, was built, so I am told, to honour the Virgin Mary. The story goes that she was making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to visit the tomb of the Apostle James. En route she stopped to rest by a fountain in Pontevedra. Close on a couple of thousand years later (give or take a hundred or so) they built the Peregrina church where she stopped and the rest is architecture. 

What a nice story. Call me picky but I do get my chronology a bit confused. Presumably this must have happened before she was transported up to Heaven. At what point did James go to Glastonbury, as I am in formed that he is supposed to have done? Was he disappointed that there were no festivals yet and that he wouldn’t get to see the Rolling Stones on the Pyramid Stage? When did he die? When did his stone boat arrive in Galicia? And where, oh where, does Mary fit into it all? They didn’t teach you stuff like that in the Church of England Sunday School. Nor in the Methodist church that I later attended so I could go to their youth club. 

Anyway, today Pontevedra’s Semana Grande, also called La Peregrina this year, began in earnest with a prayer and a parade and an offering to the Virgin. When I read that last bit an image flashed into my head of innocent young boys being sacrificed to her. But no, too silly! It was an “ofrenda floral”. 

Bulls are being sacrificed though but they call it bullfighting. 

There is lots of other stuff too. There are free concerts involving groups I’ve never heard of. No surprise there though. After all, I’m not a Spanish teenager. Various “actuaciones” will take place in the streets and squares and there will be fireworks, naturally! And lots of noise, naturally! 

We’ve not seen any of today’s festivities, although we did hear some fireworks at around 1.30. We’ve been finding our way around the area where we are staying. 
We had lunch at the restaurant across the road from our hotel. The restaurant has the same name, although really it’s a separate establishment. It’s run by the brother of the manager of the hotel. You can tell. Not so much brothers as clones! Lunch was very good but we stuck to one course: pescaditos fritos with a mixed salad. Just as well as we had copious amounts of both. Very good it was too!
 Later, having left Phil to try to continue his winning streak at the chess tournament I went exploring some more, still trying to find a good short cut from the hotel to the chess venue. I didn’t find one but I ended up in a place called Monteporreiro, I think, and stopped for a drink of cold water and to check for directions, not to the hotel but to the centre of Ponters, which I judged must be nearer by now. As I thought, I was on the right road and soon found myself more or less following the river into town. 

I found people bathing in the river and lounging around on the “playa fluvial”. Very nice! And with safety buoys to stop people going out too far into the river itself. 

I saw the bridges of Pontevedra from a different angle. 

It was a longer walk than I intended but still interesting and involving quite a bit of ingenuity to walk in the shade as much as possible. The temperature was VERY HIGH!!! 

I called in at the SuperFroiz to buy fruit. The place was full of young people in groups, each group wearing their “team” T-shirt. They were excitedly stocking up on drink for the evening’s fun and games running around the centre of town. They were already very noisy! 

So I gave the town centre a miss. I’ll catch up with the “actuaciones” tomorrow or the next day. Instead I headed back to Mourente and our hotel, on foot, still not having ascertained where to catch the elusive L5 bus. 

On the way I stopped to photograph a little church, nameless, possibly Santa Margarida as that was the name of the road. 

More interesting than the church was the tree growing next to it. 

I reckon that’s been there ever since the Virgin Mary visited Ponters.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Out and about again.

Yesterday I saw this in the barber’s shop down near the port where Phil goes to get his hair cut and to get a little bit of Spanish barber shop chat. The last time we saw this creature he was about half the size and extremely scrawny. The barber said that they had found it fallen out of a nest and took it home, never expecting it to live. But it did. For a while they had it on an uncovered perch but now that it’s learnt to fly they have had to put it in a cage of sorts as it gets in the way, although it’s quite tame. He had planned to set it free once it had learnt to fly but apparently some of his customers protested and said he should keep it. He’s even had a visit from the press and should have his picture in La Voz de Galicia at the weekend. 

Today we are in Pontevedra where Phil is taking part in another chess tournament. Inconveniently it’s not in the centre of town but out in the sticks at the Polígono Deportivo del Casino Municipal de Pontevedra, or something like that. Anyway, out on the edge of town in an area full of houses with “horreos” (traditional storage “sheds”, not family tombs close to the house as many people I know think) in the gardens and lots of grapes growing round about. 

 I also saw one of those old communal washing places but there was a sign on the roof telling people that they were definitely NOT ALLOWED to wash their cars there. OK!!

The last time we came to Pontevedra we did a reconnaissance with our friend Colin in his car and thought we had found the venue. Close by was a hotel, La Paloma, into which we booked ourselves once Phil had decided to play. 

So we arrived there at around one o’clock, discovered that our room didn’t seem to have the hotel wifi coverage and swopped it for another. All good but it delayed us going down to town to meet Colin for a spot of lunch. We made it finally, after about 25 minutes walk. 

Then it was back to the hotel for a quick wash and brush up before going off to settle the chess player into round one of the tournament. 

Checking with our helpful hotel chappy we were a bit surprised by the directions he gave. 
Not round the corner at all but a good couple of kilometres walk!!! 

So off we went, left at the roundabout and straight along the main road until you come to one of those Galician roadside crosses. You can tell it’s the right one because the house has a statue of a Guardia Civil on the wall. 

We seemed to be walking forever so we popped into a chemist's shop to check we were going the right way. The same instructions: go past the “old road” off to the left, carry on until you come to the cross and the Guardia Civil and then turn left. We found them both and turned left. Then it was 800 metre according to the signpost: a long 800 metres in our opinion. 

Walking back to the hotel after greeting various friends and leaving Phil to get on with it, I tried a little experiment. I took the old road. It was rather shorter than the walk along the main highway. Not a great deal shorter but a good deal pleasanter: no cars racing past you at full speed. 

Whether we can stand even a slightly shorter walk every day in the heat that has been beating down on us is another matter. I think we need a conference to decide what to do about this. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

How you see things.

Today I saw the other side of the supermarket queue thing. Having been harangued for attempted queue-jumping the other day, this morning I was invited by two gentlemen, yes, TWO, to go ahead of them in the queue. 

I had bought milk yesterday on my way back from the hairdresser’s but, despite the fact that its use-by date was not until Friday, when I heated some up for our breakfast coffee it curdled in the pan. Not pleasant! Why should that happen? It’s not the first time I have bought bottles of milk from the Froiz supermarket only to find that they go off before their sell-by date has been reached. Can an apparently thriving supermarket chain not store its milk properly? I prefer milk in bottles to milk in cartons – it’s just one of those things about being in my comfort zone – but I think I’m going to buy my milk in cartons from Mercadona from now on. 

Anyway, this morning we had a small breakfast problem. Fortunately Mercadona is literally just next door so I was able to pop down and pick up a couple of cartons of milk. As I approached the till, first one gentleman and then another looked at my small amount of shopping and said to me, “¡Pase usted primera!” So I thanked them nicely and went in front of them. I like to think it was my charming person that prompted such chivalry but I suspect it was the fact that I looked like someone in a hurry who had not had breakfast yet. 

 So, you see, chivalry is alive and well and lives in Vigo. 

Of course, it may be that they looked at me and saw a foreigner and wanted to impress me with how gallant Spanish men are. I say this because I walked into the chess club one evening recently and had Pepe, the club secretary, greet me with, “Hola, tú y Phil sois muy guiris” – “You and Phil look very foreign”. Asked to explain he talked about our clothes. OK, I was wearing a sunhat and suglasses but even so. We pointed out that we see many Galicians dressed just like us on the streets of Vigo. Goodness me, I even buy some of my clothes here! So then he said, “Sois tan blanquitos” – “You’re so pale, i.e. not suntanned”. Now, I had to protest. I may not be brown, brown, brown but I’m hardly pale. You can’t hang around the swimming pool as much as I do and not get something of a tan. In response to my “¿Blanquita, yo?” he took another look and conceded that I am not, in fact, all that pale. But then he went on, “Pero tienes esa cara tan inglesa” – “But you have a very English face”. You can’t win. He sees us as “guiris” and so we have to accept it: “guiris” is what we are! 

At least we are not ninnies. In Spanish they have an expression for young people who are neither studying nor in work: “los ninis”. It comes from this: “Ni estudian, ni trabajan”. Well, last week I saw a new meaning for “nini”. There was newspaper headline: “Gobernado por los ninis” – Governed by ninis. It went on: “Mariano Rajoy ni dimite ni convoca elecciones. Es un nini.” This means, “Mariano Rajoy (President of the Spanish Parliament) will neither resign nor call elections. He is a “nini”.” 

I wonder if anyone writing this knows what a ninny is in English.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Odd habits.

In the supermarket the other day, I trundled my wheeled basket up to the till and joined the queue. As it got close to my turn I prepared to put my shopping on the moving belt. At that point I heard a shriek behind me: “¡Oye! ¡Soy yo!” More or less, “Oy! It’s my turn!” (“Oye” really means “listen” but said in that special growly shriek that certain Spanish women are so good at it was definitely an “OY!!!”) I explained that I hadn’t seen her in the queue. So she told me that her trolley was there. Oh, yes, so it was but it’s fairly common to see trolleys loaded with stuff in odd places in supermarkets. I didn’t say that but let her continue. I had no choice really: she was going on at length. It transpired that she had moved aside to do work out prices on her calculator but now she was back. Quite why she couldn’t use her calculator standing next to her trolley was beyond me but I let it go and allowed her to precede me. I wasn’t in any hurry and besides I didn’t want to become a supermarket-rage statistic. 

So she unloaded her stuff, quite a lot of it, onto the belt and ... went running out of the supermarket!! The cashier raised her eyebrows and carried on sending items past the scanner. The other ladies in the queue looked perplexed. A minute or so after the cashier had finished her totting up, the runaway returned, clutching two of those re-usable shopping bags. So, she remembered her calculator but not her shopping bags, which she had left in the car. Priceless!! Another example of “I do things my way regardless” syndrome!! 

And then my friend Grant posted on Facebook this morning about someone throwing a lighted cigarette down in the street. Nothing unusual in that. It happens all the time, increasingly, both here in Spain and back in the UK as more and more people smoke on the street. The difference this time was that the cigarette landed in his foot. And he was wearing sandals. And the smoker? He was halfway down the street. Oblivious! 

In some cities in Italy they have local by-laws preventing people from shaking table cloths, dusters, sweeping brushes, rugs and so on from upper floor windows. A brave attempt to make people aware of the needs of others. Imagine sitting on your balcony and having someone else’s breakfast crumbs rain down on you! 

As my friend Colin has often told us, Christopher Columbus, aka Cristobal Colón, is a Galician. Apparently he comes from Poio, Pontevedra. They even have his birth certificate, I am told. Now I’ve found another hero, fictional this time, with Galician connections. I spotted this poster in the centre of Vigo. Apologies for the poor quality of the photo; the sun was just at the wrong angle. Popeye, the Sailor Man, is saying, “I admit it. It wasn’t spinach; it was “grelos”, Galician greens.” 

You can see fine crops of “grelos” growing in the various vegetable plots around this fair city. In between the tall buildings, and behind the tall building where we live, you find the remains of the little communities that used to be there: individual houses and every other house has a vegetable plot. One of those behind us has free range chickens. AND a most annoying cockerel who doesn’t seem to know that dawn is in the morning. Another has a couple of goats. 

This is part of the phenomenon of so many people here being only a generation or two away from village life. You see people busily using gardening implements that wouldn’t look out of place in films from the 1940s.And an awful lot of people still leave the city most weekends to go back to their “pueblo”. I used to know a lady who brought fresh eggs back for her friends. 

A few posts back, reader Perry asked if the “pueblos” in Spain had communal ovens for everyone to bake their bread. Well, a friend of mine once told me about her family having a mill for grinding corn in their “pueblo”. All the residents had the right to use the mill to grind their flour. They had a rota system that still worked in her childhood. And I have read about the communal ovens as well. 

As we walk around the area behind our flats, San Joan do Monte, and in nearby Teis, we come across what used to be communal washing areas, big stone basins with a ridged area, rather like an old washboard, for rubbing difficult items clean. I wonder if busy housewives would give up their washing machines to go back to this system, everyone singing as they scrubbed. 

And there are also in various places along the back roads still functioning taps providing clean drinking water. Presumably these were the water supply for the community before houses had piped water. Every morning I run past one outside the Travesía de Vigo shopping centre, where the big Carrefour store is, and every morning there is a queue of people waiting to fill bottles with water. Do they drink it? After all, I see enough people leaving the supermarket with huge supplies of bottle water to know that many people don’t like drinking what comes through the taps. I don’t have a problem with it myself. Chilled in the fridge, it’s fine! 

Finally, here’s a bit of odd spelling, the result of "borrowed" words being standardised into Spanish. I am currently reading a Spanish novel by a journalist called Javier Reverte, very readable, set in Madrid just before the millennium. The protagonist drinks an amazing amount of alcohol every day. At one point a list of drinks available in a bar appears: “whiskys, gintonics, bladimeris, cócteles” are just a few of them. What puzzled me was the third in that list: “bladimeri”. Then I realised that this was a Bloody Mary. It’s just that so many Spaniards are taught to pronounce the “u” sound as “a” (“pub” becomes “pav”) that when the word has changed its spelling to Spanish style, it bears little relationship to what an awful lot of the UK population actually say.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Where to park.

Yesterday we watched and listened as a rather frustrated driver tried to get her car out of the underground garage space in the block of flats opposite ours. Someone had helpfully parked across the entrance, probably while they popped into the supermarket to buy something or just to help someone get the shopping to the car. The frustrated lady driver tried pipping her horn at length, a signal universally recognised here as meaning, “You are blocking me in so get your ****** car out of my way”. Of course, this doesn’t work if the driver of the offending vehicle is out of earshot in the supermarket across the road or in a cafe somewhere. She stopped pipping and had a long conversation with neighbours, passersby and anyone who felt like joining in and sympathising. 

Straight away there you have two aspects of the Spanish character: total lack of awareness that parking across a driveway will inconvenience someone else and a willingness to stop and sympathise and offer help when you see someone in difficulty. There’s a kind of blinkered quality, preventing people from seeing the consequences of their actions. It’s what makes them stop and ask a stranger of they need help when they see them studying a map and yet allows them to charge out of shop doorways without looking or stop in the middle of the pavement to answer the phone or have a chat, oblivious of the people who almost bump into them. 

And then there’s that other odd contradiction in character. If a Spaniard sees that a traffic light is about to change to red, or indeed has already changed but the pedestrian green is not yet lit up, he puts his foot down and charges across the pedestrian crossing. As a driver he wants to beat the system. But as a pedestrian, he waits patiently for the lights to give him permission to cross, even if the road is completely empty and it’s Sunday morning. Ok, I exaggerate but we see this charming dichotomy all the time. 

As regards the pipping lady, I looked out sometime later and her car was gone although the other car was still parked across the entrance. Either she had backed her car into the garage again or she had manoeuvred it around the offending illegally parked vehicle and managed to get out. This would have involved her driving off the edge of the pavement, something to be avoided if possible as the pavements can be quite high and you risk damaging your vehicle. Either way, she was gone. 

Now, I read in the Guardian the other day that there are moves afoot to change rules about double yellow lines in the UK. Drivers will be allowed a 15 minute grace period to wait on double yellow lines in order to load cars, picking up from the supermarket or other shops and so on. Here in Vigo, of course, you would need no such relaxation of the law. Drivers double park wherever they want, even on main thoroughfares. I wonder if the same thing happens in cities like Barcelona. It’s partly the fact that the traffic police aren’t really that vigilant about the double parking. 

And of course, in small places in the UK where you see few traffic policemen the same thing happens. In our village centre back home no-one takes any notice of the double yellow lines and people park at the bus stop outside the co-op. The attitude seems to be one of, “after all, busses only come every 30 minutes so does it really matter?” Why go to the car park and walk two minutes if you can park illegally at the door of the shop. 

The proposed change in the UK is part of a move to regenerate the failing high street, apparently. I am doubtful about the effectiveness of this as many high streets are now mostly full of payday loan shops and places where you can sell the family valuables for instant cash. These used to be called pawn shops but we seem to be too posh for such terms now. 

In a newspaper here yesterday I read that between 2008 (start of la crisis) and the end of 2012 the number of shops buying and selling gold went up tenfold, reaching a peak at 87. Imagine that: before 2008 there were 8 or 9 shops carrying out this trade and then suddenly there were 87! Now there has been a fall. There are only 50 left. Only 50!! That still seems a lot to me. One reason is that the price of gold has fallen. Another is that fewer people are selling the family jewels. Maybe they have no family jewels left to sell. 

It’s a good job we don’t have to resort to such measures as I don’t have any gold to sell or family jewels or anything of that nature.