Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Snow, schools and travel problems.

They’ve got snow in the mountains of Galicia and as a result 43 schools in Ourense and Lugo districts were closed. My daughter has a friend who lives in one of the higher (but not much higher) places around here and who keeps hoping for snow and complaining that the few flakes they’ve had this winter have not been enough to give them a “snow day” at the school where she works. So far we just keep on having rain although colder stuff has been forecast. In the meantime, parts of Galicia look very Christmassy. 

In some parts of France parents have been keeping children off school for other reasons. It seems that French schools have introduced "gender" as a curriculum subject and Education Minister, Vincent Peillon, has had to defend his decision as he is accused of wanting to teach pupils to be homosexual! His intention was to encourage gender equality by including it in the curriculum. Some parents have been boycotting schools in protest, encouraged to do so by a writer called Farida Beighoul. This writer has form in this respect. When homosexual marriage was legalised in Fence she started an organisation called "Manif pour Tous" (“Demo for Everyone”) in protest. A woman with views but maybe she could do with a bit of education herself! 

People who work for the Co-operative Society in the UK, especially those who produce the signs that go up in their shops, could also do with a bit of education. In our local co-op, attached to a box of quite attractive looking French bread there was a sign telling shoppers that these were “Parisean baguettes”. You never know though; maybe the Parisians have trademarked the word and so it had to be spelt that way. 

Out and about yesterday, I went on the tram into Manchester, the first time I have done so since they changed the route and sent it through the centre of town. Previously I had to get off the bus about half a mile from the old train station where there was a temporary tram stop. The tram then used the old railway lines for their run into Manchester. Now I can get off the bus at the new tram stop on the edge of the town centre and hop straight onto a tram. The helpful sign telling you how many minutes you have to wait for a tram warned us yesterday that there might be some delays as there had been a problem with a car blocking the tram tracks. I’m not surprised; the introduction of the tram system has made significant changes to access to the streets in the town centre. No doubt some driver was on automatic pilot and turned onto the route he has driven for years, only to find himself stuck in the tramlines. 

It could have been more serious. I’ve just read this morning about a van destroyed by a train on a level crossing on the Vigo-Irun railway line. I’ve always thought that level crossings were dangerous, especially those that don’t have gates. In this case one the rear wheels of the van slipped off the crossing onto the track and got stuck. The driver managed to get out but, despite phone calls to the Guardia Civil, they were unable to stop the train and his van was destroyed. And the passengers had to continue their journey to Vigo by bus while the track was cleared. The van driver is accused of driving without a license, suspended a few years ago, and possibly under the influence of alcohol. Locals, however, maintain that the level crossing in question is known to be fat too narrow. The newspaper prints this photo of a local chap on his scooter on the crossing as proof. I love it! 

Here’s a final bit of travel nonsense. In the Stalybridge Station buffet bar, by now familiar to my readers, I came across this sign. That’s a fine piece of nostalgia. Those were the days! You had to pay a penny, an old penny at that, to go onto the platform if you wanted to meet someone or see someone off or, presumably, to go train spotting. Along with going to the loo, it was one of the few things you could get for a penny. 

Nowadays, you can go onto the platforms at Piccadilly Station in Manchester for free. However, if you need the loo, it will cost you twenty new pence!

Monday, 27 January 2014

The price is right?

Years ago, at a point in our lives when we used to meet up and sit around drinking coffee while our small babies crawled around on the floor and chewed their toys, a group of friends and I speculated on what we might do if we won a million on the lottery. None of us had jobs, largely because of the small babies, and generally felt a little short of money. Everyone came up with some kind of wish list but then one of our number declared that one million wasn’t enough. She would need at least two because she wanted a yacht and then would need to have money left to be able to enjoy it. 

 I’m not sure that her budget of a million would buy her a yacht nowadays. I’ve been reading an article about yachts in yesterday’s Observer newspaper: fancy yachts that cost £90 million!!! You know the kind of thing, twenty or thirty guest bedrooms, a crew of goodness knows how many and a swimming pool on deck. Few of us could afford such a thing. Maybe we need to be the sort of people who get £million bonus payments. 

Anyway, in the article Gary White, yacht broker - there's a profession for you - says he is trying to "get our message across to the public that it is affordable" to charter a superyacht for a summer holiday. £35,000 to £40,000 per week! "That's affordable if you're spending a week with four friends. Waking up in a different place every morning is an extreme luxury and should be experienced by those who can." 

You're telling me it's an extreme luxury!!! With five of you sharing, that's at least £7000 each - for a week??!! Not within the grasp of the likes of me! 

It was luxury enough for me to spend all day Friday having a busy social day. I got up early(ish) in the morning to go and meet a friend at Manchester Art Gallery. We went and had a look round an exhibition of Grayson Perry’s tapestries: The Vanity of Small Differences, inspired in part by Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress. Here’s a link to some information about it.  I’m going back again next weekend and taking the teenager, who is, after all, studying art for GCSE, to see it as well. I’ve even downloaded an app for my iPad so that she can read all about it. 

After our bit of culture, my friend and I caught up on months of gossip over lunch, a very good soup and a sandwich in the gallery cafe. After that I rushed off for a coffee and more catching up with another old friend. 

And finally I met up with my husband to see the latest Coen Brothers’ film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” at the Cornerhouse Cinema. There’s no point in being in Manchester and not taking full advantage of the facilities. And all of this despite the rain that started to fall towards the end of the afternoon. I’m not letting a bit of rain get me down. 

Someone who might be letting things get him down is President François Hollande of France. Having been caught out cheating on his “First lady”, he has finally declared that they are going their separate ways. Maybe he can get on with the business of running France now. This is a rather different France from the one we all used to know. La République never used to have a “First Lady” and nobody used to care what the President got up to so long as he ran the country. Mind you, I did read that there was some concern that he had been buzzing around Paris on a little Mobylette without any security guards to keep an eye on him. 

But then, how are you going to have a secret liaison with an actress if you take your security guards along? 

On balance, I think I’d rather have my life, even if I don’t have access to a yacht!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Travellers’ tales.

On two Thursdays running I have stood at Greenfield station waiting for a train and have realised that I am standing in the same waiting room as someone I know but haven’t seen for a long time. Last week was the best as it was an old friend who moved away years ago and then changed her address once more and we lost contact. This was in the days before everyone had email addresses and it was easier to lose touch. So we had almost twenty years of news to catch up with. And we swapped email addresses before we parted company. 

Today’s was not in the same class at all. This was a mere acquaintance, someone who used to attend the same Italian conversation class as I did. Still it was nice to chat. And he was far more friendly now than he used to be when we were classmates. 

I am beginning to feel like a Victorian lady with my categories of friends and acquaintances but it’s still a valid distinction. Sometimes people you work with or share a hobby class with never progress beyond the mere acquaintance level while others become friends from day one. And then there are what used to be called “nodding acquaintances”. 

Back in the days when bourgeois families used to walk up and down the main streets of posh towns and spas, showing off their daughters with a view to possible marriage eventually, after a while they reached a point where they could “nod” a greeting to folk they saw every day. Gradually, after some investigation, all done by word of mouth in that pre-Google time, they might progress to saying “good morning” and maybe even be properly introduced. And who said the Spanish invented the paseo? 

Nowadays we really need a new term for “nodding acquaintances” as they are usually people you see on a regular basis on the bus or while walking to the local shop. You might even chat to them at the bus stop or on the bus but you rarely get to know their name. There are exceptions, of course, like the long-haired, long-bearded chap I spoke to as we got off the bus at the corner or our street the other evening. I almost got his life history and then discovered he had moved into a house around the corner from ours. Being neighbours, we had to exchange names as well. 

My Thursday train journeys are only a couple of stops up the line to Stalybridge, where the grandchildren go to school. Their mother goes to university on a Thursday so I collect the children and take them home and feed them. The school is only about 15 minutes from their house by car but the journey on public transport is far more long-winded and much less direct. So I walk up the hill from the railway station to the school and, depending on the weather, sometimes book a taxi to take us back to the station. We have had a number of frustrating occasions when young legs have not been quite quick enough to make it to the station in time for the train, usually arriving 2 minutes after the train has left. 

Anyway, today I booked a taxi. In due course I received a text message telling me my taxi had been dispatched and giving me details of what make of vehicle to look out for. Ten minutes went by without a sign of the taxi. I dialled the taxi firm’s number and an automated message reminded me that my taxi had been dispatched and so on. Several minutes later I called again and was told that said taxi was parked outside the school. Really? The first of the famous invisible taxis? 

Eventually I got through to a proper person. Despite my having said clearly that we were at the JUNIOR school, and despite my having given the name of the road, it transpired that the taxi had gone to the INFANTS’ school on a different, albeit nearby, street. So we sorted it out, found the taxi and arrived at the station with two minutes to spare. No tip for that taxi driver who relies on sat nav and puts in the wrong data! 

The train arrived but stopped way down at one end of the platform. Along with other would-be passengers we walked towards it. The driver was scuttling about looking at things. Passengers waiting to get off stood in the train, by the doors but the doors did not open. Minutes passed. We imagined people trapped in the train overnight, unable to leave.

One of the waiting passengers asked the driver what the problem was. He was told that he would not understand even if the driver told him. I was a little cold and cross by now and had you been there you might have heard me comment that could at least try us. But the driver was further down the platform by then. For all he knew, however, we might have had masters’ degrees in mechanical engineering! My grandson was more interested in the gold tooth in the mouth of the man who asked the original question. When you are eight years old gold teeth trump doctorates in engineering every time. 

It turned out that the air pressure in the door opening mechanism had failed. (How hard was that to explain, even to laymen?) They just about managed to open one door and gradually those wishing to alight did so. We were able to get on the train, into the warmth, only to be told via the public address system that the train was being cancelled. Everyone had to get off. The train disappeared, limping away into the wide blue (well, really, grey) yonder. 

The next train would be in about three quarters of an hour so we all trooped into the station buffet bar. 

I like Stalybridge station bar. I have sung its praises before. It is warm and friendly. The staff are charming. There is a cheerful coal fire. The decor is unusual and interesting. And the food is good. But it did strike me, as we tucked into a tasty snack and warmed our frozen toes, that maybe this was all a ploy to get train travellers into the buffet to spend a little money. Who knows?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Only in ....

In the industrial estate of Torneiros in O Porriño in Galicia, someone had the bright idea to put up one of those poles that carry electricity cables in the middle of one lane of a road. The fact that it’s also next to a pedestrian crossing might make a difference if it were in England where cars stop for people on zebra crossings but that’s not the case in Spain. It must make driving interesting there. Only in Spain? 

 We shouldn’t scoff at such things. Around here they have been replacing a perfectly serviceable system of street lighting with something new. Unfortunately they have been rather slow in completing the work. Consequently there are many places around hr where there is an old streetlamp next to a hole in the ground and possibly a new streetlamp pole, minus lamp, and usually a plastic barrier forcing you to walk in the road. In some cases the hole is covered with a temporary plastic cover which becomes a death trap when it rains. (We need one of those recorded warnings you get in bus stations. A patronisingly soft voice could remind us, “Plastic covers may be slippery when wet.”) In other places there are two working streetlamps side by side or possible lamps every 50 yards which switch on automatically at about 2.00 pm. It may be a scheme to save energy (eventually) but at the moment it looks a little like jobs for the boys. Someone has got a good contract deal out of this. Only in Saddleworth? 

In February, on the 23rd I believe, they are having the “Feira do Cocido” in Lalín, Galicia. “Cocido” is one of Galicia’s favourite dishes: a stew using almost every bit of the pig, cooked lovingly for hours until the meat is tender along with potatoes and “grelos”, sprout tops. Personally I find it rather too heavy for my taste but it is very popular. Notices go up outside restaurants, “Hoy hay cocido”, to ensure that people don’t miss out. Anyway, they are having a pork stew festival in Lalín. Only in Galicia? 

It’s very common to have a festival to celebrate a favourite foodstuff. Maybe we should institute such events in the UK and thus counteract the belief that there are no typical culinary delights here. We could have a Yorkshire Pudding Festival, a Lancashire Hotpot Festival, a Roast Beef Dinner Festival, a Cornish Pasty Festival, a Chip Butty Festival: the possibilities are endless. 

Incidentally the autocorrect on my iPad changes the Gallego “feira” to the Castellano “feria”. Does the machine prefer standard Spanish to regional Spanish? 

Here’s another piggy story of sorts. In O Carballiño, another place in Galicia, a wild boar was knocked down and killed by a car. Appropriately this was on the road to the cemetery. Apparently that point of the road is a regular crossing point for wild boars and foxes and there are even road signs to warn drivers. I should think that crashing into a wild boar could do some damage to your car. I was going to comment “Only in Galicia” but there are places in the south of England where wild boar are also a menace on the road, so I will refrain. Only in places where they have wild boars? 

Victoria Beckham has recently been interviewed by the magazine “Vanity Fair”. I only know this second hand from reading about it in “La Voz de Galicia”. Talking about the time when the Beckhams lived in Madrid, Mrs Beckham has declared that she never said the Spain smells of garlic. She would never be so disrespectful. She really enjoyed living in Madrid. Well, that’s good, isn’t it?

 And finally, I have come across a new expression. In the United States, when a shopping centre has to close because too many of its shops are standing empty and no-one can be bothered to go there any longer, they refer to it as a “dead mall”. Rather poetic in a macabre sort of way. Only in America?

Monday, 20 January 2014

City to city!

There was a time when all we really knew of Oporto was what you saw from the bus – the Galizabus – going from Oporto airport to Vigo. This mostly consisted of a lot of rather dull streets with high points being the extremely posh MacDonald’s on Avenida Aliados, where the bus stops to pick up passengers, and the Avenida itself. 

This was in the early days of our visits to Vigo and we had lots of other places to go and see. And then in that first summer a friend came to stay. Her plane was leaving from Oporto early on a Sunday morning so, rather than leave her to spend a lonely Saturday evening and also to extend her visit a little, I went with her to Oporto and we went round the city. It was one of those gloriously sunny days when the sky is bluer than ever seems possible and all the colours stand out extra clearly. All the old buildings of Oporto looked magnificent and even the tumbledown places looked good. 

Some months later Phil and I had occasion to stay overnight in Oporto and we walked through the city again, ending up down by the river. This time it was a dull, grey day. The old buildings still looked fine. But by the time we reached the river it was damp and drizzly. Phil looked at the bridges in both directions and commented, “It looks just like Newcastle.” A valid comparison, both the rivers are fairly busy, although the boats ferrying people to the port wineries are a little more picturesque than what you see on the Tyne. But it’s the bridges that do it: a variety of bridges spanning the river in both cities. 

I’m going on about this because we have just spent the weekend with a friend in Gateshead, just across the river from Newcastle. Arriving at Newcastle’s Central Station late in the afternoon, we set off to walk across the river to catch a bus to our friend’s house. And the bridges are pretty impressive. 

So is the castle, pretty old now. 

And the very modern Sage exhibition and concert venue, designed by Norman Foster. 


While we were there Phil did some maintenance work on our friend’s computer, more or less taking it to pieces and putting it back together again. It’s amazing what some people know how to do! This included taking all the keys off the keyboard and giving them a wash. And so I found myself taking photos of the keyboard so that we had some chance of getting them back in the correct places. Computer keys soup looks like an interesting dish! 

We did get them all back in place and the computer worked fine after all the tender, loving care. 

During our return journey, we were deciphering the instructions on the ticket machine to catch the metro back across the river to Newcastle Central Station (all these ticket machines are slightly different wherever they are located and all are easy to use once you know how but initially are just stress-inducers) when someone came up and offered to sell us his ticket for £1. He no longer needed it and this was rather cheaper than the machine’s asking price. So we bought his ticket off him and went back to buying another from the machine. That’s when he produced another – his girlfriend’s no-longer-needed-ticket perhaps – and sold us that as well. 

And so we travelled the one stop to Newcastle in some trepidation. Had we just been caught in some kind of scam? Would we be fined for travelling on invalid tickets? Were we really stupid? Well, all the entry gates and exit were open so we didn’t need to test the tickets in that way. And no inspector stepped forward to look at our tickets. So if it was some kind of scam, we got away with it this time! 

And now here we are, back in Delph, which today has been amazingly sunny once again, if a little on the chilly side.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Out and about

I was on my way to collect the grandchildren from their school this afternoon and knew that I would have a longish wait at the railway station so I went equipped with the huge book I am almost at the end of. The plan was to finish it off and then leave it at my daughter’s house if I didn’t feel like carrying it home again. In the event I didn’t open a page because I met an old friend at the station, someone I haven’t seen for almost 20 years. The waiting time went in a flash as we caught up with each other’s news. Serendipity works! 

Walking towards the children’s school I went past a beautician’s. Outside the door was this sign, offering manicures. I just had to take a picture and wondered who she worked for informally if she was so determined to declare the formal side of things. It’s just a shame that she spent money having a sign like that made without anyone checking the spelling. 

Maybe she, and the sign-maker, missed out on bits of their education because they were taken away on holiday in term time. I read today about a couple who were fined £630 for taking their children to Greece for a week outside of the official school holiday period without getting the permission of the school. Apparently they applied for permission and were refused and so decided to go anyway, factoring in the cost of the fine into their holiday budget. They protested that the government is imposing ridiculous restrictions on head teachers, suggesting that without this head teachers would happily allow children to be absent at any time of the year. The father claimed that the people who imposed these restrictions “don’t live in the real world”. 

Presumably if you can add an extra £600+ to the cost of the family holiday the “real world” doesn’t demand that your children acquire qualifications to get them decent jobs. Maybe in his real world he knows people who can help his offspring get on in life anyway. Maybe he just enjoys living for the present. 

I have also been reading about gout. When I go out jogging in the morning I often come across an old chap called Jack out walking his dog, Rosie. He recently told me that his New Year’s Resolution is to give up alcohol. This has been somewhat forced upon him. He went to the doctor’s with a pain in his foot and was diagnosed with gout, much to his surprise because, like me, he associated it with red-nosed old chaps who drank too much port wine. However, from what I have been reading gout is on the increase and the causes are multiple and quite often have little to do with too much red wine, although that can contribute. It seems that some of the things that we are advised to eat because they are good for us, such as oily fish, can also cause gout, which is really a form of arthritis. 

And the other thing is fructose, the fancy name for fruit sugar. Fructose is getting bad press at the moment; it’s being blamed for the obesity epidemic. Because so many people take their fruit in the form of “smoothies”, blending the fruit into a drink, they are trying to absorb too much fructose at one go and the body can’t process it. Consequently it makes us fat. 

 So that’s fruit that’s bad for us, ditto oily fish, ditto the odd glass of red wine. 

The experts on gout say the best way to fend it off is to keep your weight down and drink lots of water. 

It sounds like a rather miserable sort of life. I guess I’ll just keep on running!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Silly Things!

Last night, flicking through the list of programmes available on TV (the modern version of what the Spanish call “zapping” lets you look at a list instead of actually having to channel-hop) we came across an episode of the ORIGINAL Startrek series. Oddly enough this was on the Horror channel but it didn’t seem to involve vampires or other such things. We decided to take a look and watched to the end, mainly because it was so silly. 

Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr McCoy found themselves on a planet deep in conflict between two tribes: the Yangs and the Comms (pronounced “combs”). At the point where, inevitably although also despite going against their “prime directive” not to interfere in primitive societies, they had just about resolved the conflict, one of the Yangs started to spout a garbled version of the Declaration of Independence and then someone marched in with a tattered Stars and Stripes flag. No-one fell over in surprise and said, “Hey, you have the same flag as we do!” Instead they worked out that the Yangs, white men if ever you saw any, were “Yanks” who had reverted over time into savages and lived like American Indians. The “Comms”, a very Asiatic looking bunch, were the Communists who had come to rule this world, forcing the “Yangs” out into the wilderness. Was this supposed to be Earth in some distant or alternative future? Had the Starship Enterprise gone through a time warp? None of this was explained. Presumably we were supposed to feel a warm glow of pride that Captain Kirk had persuaded everyone that Freedom (a holy word for the Yangs) belonged to all, including the Comms. A splendid piece of nonsense! 

This just provided, of course, corroboration for what some friends and I had been saying earlier yesterday afternoon: there seems to be nothing but rubbish on the TV these days. It’s all full of game shows and cookery programmes. This came up because we saw something on a big news screen while waiting for the Italian class and none of us recognised the “celebrities” referred to. 

And this seems to be an international phenomenon. I was reading about a programme in Spain called “Deja Sitio para el Postre” – “Leave Room for Dessert” – a kind of competitive pudding-making programme. One of the presenters or possible competitors has been sent back to Pontevedra, his place of origin I suppose, mainly because he failed to follow the suggestion that he should shave off his beard. And there I was thinking that the Spanish were more tolerant of beards than the British. 

Another headline concerned the beleaguered Infanta Cristina. “¿Hará la Infanta Cristina el paseíllo?” – Will the Princess take the short walk? The walk in question is the distance from her home in Palma de Mallorca to the back door of the main judicial court in that city. Goodness, there I was thinking she had gone off with her children to live in Switzerland. It must be hard to be rich and famous. 

I moved away from celebrities to read some statistics: a “Panorama dos sete grandes concellos de Galicia”, a survey of sorts carried out by the Instituto Galego de Estatística”. This told me that 56.8% of the population of Galicia still lives in the place where they were born: hardly surprising given their fierce love of their home towns and the longing that Galician emigrants have to return. Ferrol is the city with the highest percentage of inhabitants born in the place (60.8) and Ourense the one with the lowest (46.4). Considering how many British people living in Galicia choose Ourense as their place of residence, I can’t say I’m surprised. 

Only 4% of the population of Galicia (2.78 million, 51.7% of whom are women) is foreign, or at least that as the case in 2012. Ferrol, with the highest number of residents born there, only has 3% of its population from other countries. No surprise there then. Ourense, with 5.3%, doesn’t win the prize for the highest percentage of foreigners. That goes to Vigo with 6%. I wonder what the percentage of UK passport holders is. 

Vigo has the biggest population of the 7 major cities of Galicia: 297,900. La Coruña comes next with 246,100. La Coruña, however, is more densely populated with 6,512 inhabitants per square kilometre as against 2,725 in Vigo. 

I think that’s enough silliness for one day! 

Except perhaps for the reappearance of a lost knife. This was not just any old knife. Well, it was old but the perfect one to use when chopping margarine into chunks ready to rub into flour when making pasty. Also the perfect one for difficult spreading tasks. Every kitchen has such a vital implement. Anyway, it went missing. Today I found it ... inside the kettle! Quite how and why it ended up there remains a mystery. But it’s a silliness in keeping with the day.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Having your say.

I sat in the hairdresser’s this morning resisting the temptation to join in the conversation going on in the seat next to mine between customer and stylist. 

First there was the question of security in Barcelona and how you have to take off all your jewellery, leave it with your mobile in the safe in your hotel room, carry a small amount of change in your pocket and if you must take bank notes, stuff them in your bra. Well, yes, I know Barcelona has a bad reputation. I myself as almost the victim to a bag snatch in that fair city; my husband and a passerby chased and caught the thief and persuaded him to return everything before the police arrived. And I know at least three other people who have had a similar experience. You have to be vigilant and you can’t expect to leave stuff safely on a table outside a cafe but then I would feel the same in many a city in the UK. And I feel a good deal safer wandering around most places in Spain in the evening than I do in the UK. Besides, how on earth do the “stuff your notes in your underwear” brigade imagine the folk who live in Barcelona manage on a daily basis? 

Then there was the matter of food in Italy. I gather that the speaker had been to Milan and had been SO unimpressed by the food – “the only thing worth eating was pizza!” – that she declared she was never going back to Italy again. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! “Head south,” I wanted to shout. “Try the food in Sicily!” However, I remained completely British and kept my mouth shut. It’s really not done to join in another customer’s chat with the stylist. It doesn’t stop me commenting on it here though. 

Later I went along to my Italian conversation class, where I can say more or less what I choose, and commented to our friendly Sicilian teacher about the Cristofero Colombo from Genoa / Cristobal Colón from Pontevedra controversy. In her opinion there was no question; Columbus was obviously Italian and they have documents to prove it. The trouble is they have similar documents in the museum in Poio! Imagine, though, the different world we would live in if the Italian courts had believed Cristofero when he said he could sail round the world and had financed his journey of exploration! The Spanish speakers of South and Central America might well be speaking some form of Italian! Now, there’s an idea for a science fiction/fantasy story. 

On Radio 4 they have a comedy quiz show called “The unbelievable Truth”, in which competitors speak about a topic for a few minutes, making up a lot of nonsense but trying to sneak 5 true facts past the other panellists. Points are gained or lost as they challenge each other over points of possible veracity. One of last night’s speakers had to talk about Spain and one of the sneaky true facts she got past everyone was the fact that Spain, the name of the country, means “The Land of the Rabbits”. Apparently there are academics who believe that Hispania in ancient Latin meant this. No real proof was offered however. How very odd! 

 Some time ago my husband was reading a book by Bill Bryson and, using one of the chapters as his source of information, set about testing me on Cockney rhyming slang: north and south = mouth, trouble and strife = wife, plates of meat = feet and so on. Well, I have recently come across Mancunian rhyming slang. Here are a couple of examples: 

Newton Heath (a district of Manchester) = teeth – usually shortened to “Newtons”; 

 Salford docks = socks – usually shortened to just “Salfords”. 

 I can’t say I have ever heard anyone saying such things. Maybe I don’t mix with the right people.

Monday, 13 January 2014


Here’s a photo of a church in Dobcross village, not far from where we live. This church always looks vaguely out of place around here; it looks as though it belongs in Italy somewhere. And today we even had the blue sky to go with it. Splendid! 
Over the last few days we’ve had quite a lot of blue sky. I took advantage of the weather on Saturday to take a long walk around Dovestone Reservoir, one of our local beauty spots. You have to grasp these opportunities. Tomorrow, according to the weather forecast, the rain will be back. 

Getting back to things Italian, we watched the first of a new series of “Italy Unpacked” the other evening. Italian cook Giorgio Locatelli and art expert Andrew Graham-Dixon are in Liguria and will be making their way down the west coast of Italy during the series, talking about food and at as they go. They have clearly had tremendous fun making the programmes. It could just as easily be called “Two get a little bit drunk occasionally and show off a lot in Italy”. This does not stop it being very good television, of which there is precious little these days. 

One of the food items the good Giorgio introduced us to was “farinata”, a kind of flatbread or huge pancake made with chickpea flour and baked in a woodfired oven. It reminded us of “socca” which we ate in the old quarter in Nice on a visit a few years ago. So we did a little research and, lo and behold, it’s exactly the same thing. The name simply changes as you cross the border. Very tasty street food! 

Another gem the programme gave us was the information that a certain Cristofero Colombo, the adventurous chap who reputedly discovered America, came from Genoa. I thought I should mention this as we know people who are convinced that his name was Cristobal Colón and that he came from Poio in Pontevedra, Galicia. As there was no mention of a museum dedicated to him in Genoa and I know that there is such a place in Poio, maybe the Pontevedrans have a slightly stronger claim than the Genovese. This is, of course, a debate that will run and run. We won’t get the truth of it until someone invents time travel. 

I have been told by a young friend of mine that today is “kiss a ginger” day. Here is a link to an article about it. How odd that they feel a need to make a special day for it. It was never the case when I was a young ginger. Surely the reputation of ginger people has not fallen so low that we now need a special day if we want to be kissed!! 

In addition to this, I am reliably informed that today is also “No Pants Day”, when quite a lot of crazy folk choose to travel without their trousers on underground trains all over the world. According to Wikipedia this is an event celebrated on two different occasions per year, one held in January, the other on first Friday of May each year. The origin goes back to 10 January 1986, when a New York City resident forgot accidentally to wear his pants and boarded a New York subway pantless. He was embarrassed, but at the same time was thrilled with the grins and giggles wherever he went. The following year, he was joined by tens of other pantless friends and this has snowballed into an international event held on January and May of each year. Here are a couple of pictures. 

Well, I’ve been outside today and I don’t think I would fancy going anywhere pantless, thank you very much.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Catch-22 in the cyberhive!

So here I am, properly re-assimilated into the cyberhive. In other words, my phone is just about sorted out. Mind you, it wasn’t easy! 

First of all was the fact that the teenager who donated the (to her useless) handset neglected to return it to “warehouse settings”. That means she didn’t get rid of all her stuff from the phone. The main reason for this was that there were security settings that she either forgot existed or couldn’t cancel because she had forgotten necessary passwords. 

They always say not to write down passwords but as our life is more and more ruled by passwords and codes it becomes ever harder to remember them all unless you have a system to remind you. Sometimes you don’t even know you have a code. I discovered one when I tried to renew some library books online. Asked to put in an id and a code I put in what I thought it might be: my name and the number on my library card. Not at all. In the end I had to go and ask them at the library what it was all about. They sorted it out and it’s quite simple but I didn’t even know this system existed at all. 

Anyway, back to the phone problem: my daughter spent almost two hours on the phone persuading the phone company that we were bona fide and not some stray people who had found the phone and wanted to make use of it. 

So that was step one. Then I wanted to keep my old number and thus avoid having to contact everyone and let them know my new number. (Contacting everyone was another aspect of the problem.) Once again there was a system for this. The problem was that they were supposed to let me know this changeover from new number to old was taking place by sending a text message to my old phone. It was beginning to feel rather Catch-22-ish. In the end I had to get someone to phone me on my old number to see if it worked. Yes, it did! 

Finally there was the matter of all my contacts, saved onto my old phone. I had been assured that if I took both mobiles to the phone shop, they could copy the contacts from one sim to another. That sounded logical. So I did that. The young man I spoke to appeared to listen when I told him about the problem. However he then proceeded to try to connect my old phone to the new one and wondered why the connector wouldn’t work. So I explained again that this was the original problem. I went on to mention that I had been told that they should have a device called a “sim card reader”. This was me, the technophobe telling a technogeek what to do!!! 

Unfortunately, he discovered that the wonder-machine wouldn’t work because the sims come from two different providers. Apparently I needed the original phone to be working. Oh, yes? Erm, I think that was the problem to begin with, wasn’t it? He then suggested that I take the broken phone to a stall on the market to see if I could have it mended. Then they could transfer the numbers!!! There’s that Catch-22 thing again!! 

In the end, I remembered that the last time I had a phone problem I had made a computer file with a whole lot of contact phone numbers on it. All I needed to do was locate it. Which of my several memory sticks contained that bit of info? Finding that file was the easiest bit of the whole business. Now, all that remains is to spend a happy half hour entering these numbers manually onto my new phone. 

It’s a good job I was going nowhere that evening!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Season’s end

A bare Christmas tree stands in the corner of the living room, waiting for a let-up in the rainy weather for us to take it our into the garden. It is supposed to be a living tree and hasn’t shed too many needles so there is a chance that it might survive in the garden until next year. The previous tree did two years and back in May looked set fair to manage another Christmas. Then came the UK heat wave and the poor thing dried out. None of my house-sitters realised that a tree in a pot in the garden needed watering. It’s not actually dead. There is new growth which occurred after the heat wave but all the new growth is on the end of very scrawny-looking bare branches. Of course the idea is that you dig a hole and plant the living tree. We did that with a tree some 25 years ago and ended up chopping it down about 15 months ago because its root system was causing havoc with the drainage. It was a great shame as it was a beautiful tree. Our eldest granddaughter refused to speak for us for weeks after the tree-felling; she doesn’t like change and reacted in similar fashion when we painted the front door in a different colour to the one she was used to! 

Anyway, the Christmas decorations have gone (except for the poinsettia – it’s a nice healthy little plant and it would be churlish to throw it out just because Christmas is over) so, according to one superstition, we should not have incurred any bad luck. Another one says that if you don’t take the decorations down by the 6th of January you must keep them up until the following Christmas to avoid misfortune. (Some people seem to do this with the fancy light displays outside their houses, simply not switching them on again until the next year.) Mind you, the other day I read that these superstitions/traditions were all created in Victorian times, along with the Christmas tree itself or so I have been given to understand. The idea was to encourage people to return to work by emphasising that the holiday period was over and done with. That sounds typically Scrooge-like! Before this period, people used to keep the decorations up until spring to add some colour to the grey winter months. 

When we were children, the decorations used to stay up until my brother and I had had our birthdays later in January. The tree disappeared – too dried up and messy – and the cards came down - to make way for birthday cards – but garlands and such stayed up. Then when we had our birthday parties the house was still decorated. Of course, in those days you had parties for a small group of friends in your home. Eight children seemed a lot. Nowadays, by contrast, it seems that you have to invite almost the whole class to parties and they take place in specialised venues with entertainers and much noisy excitement. Our middle grandchild is going to two parties in the next week or so. One of these is a horse-riding party. So that won’t be the whole class. The other is also number- (and gender-) restricted. It is a “pamper party”, taking place in a beauty salon, or at least that’s what she tells me. Why do ten and eleven year old girls need a “pamper party”? Shouldn’t they be running around playing musical chairs and other such games rather than having their nails painted? I’m going to have to start ranting about girls being pushed into stereotyped roles if this continues. 

Over in Galicia, I hear that the Three Kings managed to get around. They arrived at La Coruña by boat. 

And at Monforte by train. 

In Viveiro, finding that their procession had been cancelled because of the foul weather, the Wise Men did the decent thing and went walkabout through the town, distributing good will and sweets as they went. Pretty good! 

 Last summer I read a Spanish novel (the title and author currently escape me – I need to find my little “books I have read” notebook) in which one of the characters talks about having seen wolves or, at any rate, ONE wolf scavenging in dustbins in the outskirts of Madrid. Okay, I thought, urban wolves. We have urban foxes in the UK so why not urban wolves in Spain? My Spanish friends pooh-poohed the idea. There are no wolves anywhere near Madrid, they maintained. 

Well it seems that they were wrong. In the Guadarrama hills, only 40 miles from Madrid, wolves are breeding again. Experts reckon that the mountain range could support two or three packs but that there are currently around six packs. Farmers are complaining about livestock being killed. If the wolves can’t find enough to eat out in the wild, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that they will go scavenging in the waste left behind by city dwellers. They’re pretty canny animals, after all. 

A new era begins!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

On being connected.

On Desert Island Discs this morning Ray Mears, adventurer, writer, TV presenter, general outdoorsy type, said he liked to go out exploring with just a map and a compass. Going out without GPS or other similar devices was a condition he described as being “de-assimilated from the cyber-hive”. What a wonderful expression! 

Yesterday in our living room we had our own little cyber-hive: daughter ordering her groceries online, her partner busy on his iPad and three grandchildren all playing a variety of electronic games. Surprisingly, we do still talk to each other at times! 

At present I feel a little “de-assimilated from the cyber-hive”. OK, I exaggerate; I still have the computer and the iPad, my new toy, to keep me happy, not to mention the trusty Kindle. But I am still mobile-less and it feels very odd to go out completely without instant communication devices. How quickly we grow accustomed to being in touch instantaneously. 

I do now have a new sim card for the iPhone so kindly donated by my granddaughter and I have taken the necessary steps to change the number to my old mobile number. However, when my daughter handed the device over to us she neglected to ask her daughter, who now has the latest model iPhone, to reset the thing to “factory settings”, i.e. to wipe out all her stuff and any passwords and so on. To do this after the event has proved complicated and is going to involve both my daughter and granddaughter speaking to the Apple people in order to get round the various security settings. My technophobia is, naturally, way up at the top of its settings!! Definitely time to “de-assimilate from the cyber-hive”. 

However, I do like that expression and will add it to my collection. The people of O Carballiño in Galicia are trying to add a word to the official vocabulary of the Galician Language. They are asking the Real Academia Galega to accept “pulpo” as a “galego” word, alongside the “polbo” which the traditionalists insist is Galician for octopus. The thing is that the good folk of O Carballiño have been having an octopus festival for more than fifty years and have been calling it “a festa do pulpo” and they don’t see why they should change it to “a festa do polbo”. Good luck to them, say I. There are people who say (and write about it at length) that whatever people say should be accepted as correct use of language. I can’t say I totally agree with that but then I’m a bit of a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to grammatical correctness. Vocabulary, though, is a different matter. I rather suspect that as time goes on it will be increasingly hard to keep “galego” traditionally pure. 

Meanwhile, today in Galicia, and in the rest of Spain, processions will be going on to celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings, bringing presents to good girls and boys and loads of sweets for the children watching the processions. 

 I hope they don’t get blown away by the storms. Here’s a link to a weather report from La Voz de Galicia. As I watched the video of a cruise ship going into La Coruña I found myself feeling sorry for the tourists on board. It can’t be much fun rolling around in the heavy seas at the moment. Just imagine: you book yourself onto a cruise to escape the winter weather and find yourself in the middle of that! 

According to reports I have read, the storms in Galicia are the tail end of the weather systems that have been hitting the UK. These in turn have been caused by the cold weather in the USA which has made the Jetstream colder, pushing cold currents of air across to us and playing havoc with our weather. This is all part of the interconnectedness of everything. A Physics teacher friend of mine must be feeling quite smug about this as he has gone on and on about this topic for years. Mind you, I don’t think he was really thinking about the weather. 

Here in Saddleworth, we have once again come off lightly, somehow avoiding the worst excesses of the weather. We have even been able to get out occasionally and catch a little winter sunshine. This involves Phil stopping from time to time to turn his face up to the sky to catch the sun’s rays, something he studiously avoids in the summer!!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014: Day Two.

So, here we are: day two of 2014. The sun WAS shining and the sky WAS blue when I headed out for a run at nine o’ clock this morning. Now it’s gone a bit grey. So it goes. It could be worse; the young friend I met in Manchester earlier this week is complaining about Madrid being foggy and wet. So, despite having lived away from the UK for a fair few years now, he’s obviously still very British if he’s complaining about the weather. 

I have consciously begun two sentences with “so,” because according to Vanessa Barford of BBC Newsmagazine this is one of 2013’s overused words, especially as a sentence starter. Am I bothered? I don’t think so. Here’s a link to her other overused words.

The newspapers don’t seem to have stopped giving us lists of things to find fault with, things to do, things to buy and so on. One of these was a suggestion that ladies should start the New Year with some new lingerie. One of the sets recommended was designed by Stella McCartney: bra £95 and knickers £55. Really? So much for some flimsy bits of fabric? I’m afraid I would expect a whole outfit for that. 

I say this as someone who ended 2013 eating gold dust. We went to a friend's to celebrate his birthday on New Year’s Eve and the dessert was sprinkled with gold dust!!!! I can’t say it made much difference to the taste but it certainly sparkled! 

Afterwards, as usual, we walked off the final excesses of the year by returning home on foot. It was a fine clear night (rain in the morning of the 31st and rain all day for New Year’s Day but we were lucky) and we set the world to rights as we walked. There’s nothing like a good walk to set you thinking. I am not the only person to believe this. According to Comment is Free in the Guardian online  many eminent thinkers, including Charles Darwin, swore by a bit of exercise to get the brain working. 

So (there it is again), what do we have to look forward to in 2014? According to scaremongers we should fear an “invasion” of Romanians and Bulgarians. Opinion is mixed, however. Other sources say that advance booking for fights to the UK from Romania and Bulgaria for the first three months of this year are substantially down on the same period in 2013. We shall have to wait and see. Maybe they have all heard about the floods which are still promised and have decided to stay at home. 

And then there’s the Tour de France, starting in Yorkshire this year. There are some bleak roads to cycle along over the Yorkshire moors. The Yorkshire Tourist Board is hoping that the publicity will entice people to go and see the more picturesque aspects of the county. 

Well worth a visit!