Sunday, 30 March 2014

Vigo, end of March 2014.

There appear to be fewer beggars outside our local supermarket but maybe I’ve just not been at the right time since we got back. On the other hand, on Friday morning I was very disturbed to see someone apparently selling in the entrance hall to our block of flats. And I don’t mean the outer doorway, where the lock has been broken ever since we moved in – not our doing, I hasten to add. No, this was the inner large hallway where you have to unlock the door to get in. I had set off early(ish) to run round the block and end up at the baker’s shop. I say early(ish) but it must have been around nine. As I walked through I noticed a sort of bundle in the alcove next to the cleaners’ room: a sleeping homeless man by the looks of things. 

I’m afraid I took the coward’s way out and walked past and out of the door. I was on my own and was not going to confront anyone without back-up. By the time I got back there was no sign of him, just a couple of empty milk cartons (at least they weren’t empty wine cartons) on the shelf of the alcove. Either he had gone of his own accord or some braver soul had moved him on. The disturbing thing is that someone must have let him in. Unless, of course, he actually lives here but his wife has changed the lock on the flat door. Always a possibility but not very likely. Maybe he just tried ringing doorbells until someone buzzed the door open. (Note to self: never open the door for anyone but the postman or similar with ID.) It could be that he knew that, Friday being a día festivo, there would be no cleaning lady to disturb him and most people would not be up early! 

Friday was a día festivo because it was the anniversary of the “Reconquista”, back in the time of the Peninsular Wars when they finally threw the French out of the area. It’s an occasion to dress up as soldiers and run around play-acting. Speeches are made from the balcony in Puerta del Sol and a general good time is had by all. I didn’t get down to town to see it this year but I don’t suppose it’s very different from the last time I witnessed it. 

I did walk into town later to use the free wifi at the Nuevo Derby cafetería. En route I checked out the progress on the new railway station: slow and uninspiring but still attracting lots of people, mostly men, to admire the work. The new pavements they were doing on a section of our street seem to have been completed nicely, with a smart new children’s playground as well. The mini roundabout now sports what appears to be a large model of a lighthouse. I wonder of it lights up at night. 

In the other direction the block of flats that they completed last year seems to remain unoccupied. This is not really surprising. I read that at the end of 2013 there were 557,450 unoccupied dwellings in Spain. In Galicia alone there are 28,249. Largely this is because young people cannot afford to buy their own place or even, in many cases, to rent a flat. It’s a crazy situation but no-one seems willing to reduce rents and so young people move back home to live with their parents. 

It makes you glad not to be a young person. 

Correction. Late morning yesterday I popped out to the supermarket next door. Our regular beggar girl was there, offering in wheedling tones to help with bags of shopping and telling us that God blesses us all. Nothing changes!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Getting back to Galicia

Up at the crack of dawn yesterday. Well, OK, so 6.00 may not be quite the crack of dawn but it was rather bleak and cold, that kind of cold that late winter/early spring throws at you sometimes. By 7.02 we were getting on the Metropolitan line to Finchley Road and then across the platform almost straight onto the Jubilee Line to London Bridge Station. This is a large and confusing station. We spent some time hunting for the ticket machine to collect our pre-booked tickets to Gatwick airport, knowing that we had precisely 12 minutes to get our tickets and find the correct platform. But all was well and by 8.18 we were sending messages to our son to reassure him that we had caught the train and so were unlikely to miss out plane. 

Gatwick is enormous! Airports should not be the size of small towns. The train drops you off at South Terminal and it’s just as well that there is a shuttle service to North Terminal or we might have been doing a route march. Our flight did not have a designated gate until 10.10. By the time we had stomped to gate 105 it was 10.25 and the plane was already boarding. Such is the size of the terminal! 

Santiago de Compostela airport on the other hand is tiny: a kind of clone of Porto airport in Portugal. The architects who design these small airports must have rubbed their hands in glee at the idea of Galicia having THREE airports, all competing with each other and with Porto. The artwork at the airport is interesting too! 

We found the bus to Santiago but were unable to get it immediately as we only had €50 and the driver would not accept them. So we had to go back into the airport and have coffee, thus changing the money-laundering note (I read somewhere that Spain uses more €50 than any other country, possibly because of money-laundering!) and then caught the next bus. The fare was only €3 each so I suppose it’s understandable that the driver wants smaller denomination notes. 

Finally at around 5.00pm, Spanish time, we arrived in Vigo, some six months since we left. We had intended to be back in a month or 6 weeks at the most but things conspired against us. 

But here we are! In no time at all we had:- 

          recharged the mobile internet dongle at the Vodafone shop; 
          restored the out of date numbers on our Spanish phones at the Telefónica shop (if you don’t use the phone for a while they assume your number has lapsed);
          put some credit on said Spanish mobile phones; 
          met an old friend by chance at the bus stop; 
          gone food shopping! 

The last task was interesting! I scouted around for the checkout with the shortest queue (self checkout has clearly not arrived in Vigo supermarkets as yet) and joined it. Then I was almost barged out of my place by a lady (a lady? really?) who informed me that I was in her place. “I was there!” she told me. Oh, no, she wasn’t! She was half way up the aisle looking at tins of soup or something. But then her friend joined it, confirming that she was indeed queuing with her and advising her mate in future to leave her trolley in her place. Not quite what I call queuing etiquette but I let it go, not feeling in the mood for an argument. 

Now this is not the first time this has happened to me. And just before we came away I went to an Italian film and workshop about how Sicilians and most southern Mediterranean people use gestures and body language, Here’s a photo of us all making strange and meaningful gestures. Great fun! One thing that came up in discussion was the wonderful British queue. I wonder if there is a gesture that signifies “Oy! Get out of the way; that’s my place in the queue even if I walk away for a while!” 

I must remember to ask my Italian teacher when I go back to Blighty!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

On the move again.

Here we are, rushing towards the end of March. The first day of spring has come and gone; I think we missed it somewhere along the way. The spring flowers are all out but the wind is still very cold. Quite probably the winds have got up because the trees are just getting full of blossom. What usually happens is that it waits until all the blossom trees are looking fine and then it all gets blown off and it looks as though we’ve had a large number of weddings all at the same time. 

We are at our son’s house, a stopping off place on our way to Galicia. The budget airlines don’t fly from, or indeed to, the northwest of England fro the northwest of Spain for another month. Consequently we are flying from Gatwick and visiting the family en route. 

Statistics say that this has been the wettest and stormiest winter in Galicia for 45 years. Weather men say that they expect spring to be a fairly typical Galician affair; in other words there is a fair chance of some more rain. Nonetheless we are hoping that the sunshine that they have had intermittently in recent weeks might become a little less intermittent while we are there. However this works out, though, it will probably be slightly warmer than in Manchester. It might be spring but we still managed to wake up to frost the other day! 

We’ll manage to miss two family birthdays while we’re away, not to mention Easter. However, contingency plans have been made and bags of presents and Easter eggs have been left with our daughter. You have to do these things. 

We will arrive in Vigo in time for the Reconquista celebrations. Good timing.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bits of nostalgia and stuff going on now!

Our daughter was strolling around in 24° temperatures in Madrid last weekend. My sister, who admittedly lives in the south of Spain, has been posting photos on Facebook of her small grandson playing on the beach. Summer has perhaps arrived early, well, in some parts of Spain at least. 

Here we just have indications of spring: the frogs are back in the ponds alongside the Donkey Line bridle path, croaking away and filling the water with frogspawn. We’re hardly into shorts and tee-shirt weather here yet, but I did see someone put and about in sandals earlier today. 

The aforementioned trip to Madrid went very well by all accounts. I like to think that my bit of linguistic assistant, phoning Madrid on their behalf, made a bit of difference. One likes to feel one has been useful after all! Our grandson did his bit too, scoring 5 out of 7 in his chess competition, giving him 4th place in his age group. Had he come 3rd, he would have received a huge trophy to bring back to school. Our daughter was disappointed for him but I found myself thinking about luggage weight restrictions and thinking that perhaps it was just as well he came 4th. 

Still, our daughter now has another experience to add to her CV. She has been initiated into the delights of organising and supervising residential trips abroad. As she described the noise issuing from the bedrooms of the school (from another part of the UK) that accompanied them on the trip – largely the result of their teachers’ deciding to go out for evening drinks, leaving only one member of their staff to keep the bedtime peace – I recalled that feeling of satisfaction when it’s not YOUR school causing havoc. I particularly remember being approached on a cross-Channel hovercraft by a hostess who informed me, somewhat acidly, that my girls were being ill in the ladies’ toilets. When I got down there I discovered that the girls who were busy throwing up all over the place were not MY girls at all but pupils from a rather posh establishment that had shared accommodation with us and looked down us “oiks” from the north of England. It was with great pleasure that I told the hostess that it was nothing to do with me. Such are the small triumphs of the teaching profession! 

Today I discovered that they are going to introduce a new pound coin with a new fancy design. Apparently there are 45 million fake pound coins in circulation (about 3% of the total number) and they hope that this new coin will be harder to forge. It will be a twelve-sided shape that will make it hard to copy and will have two different coloured metals in its make-up. 

But there’s more. This super-coin possesses what the Royal Mint calls an “Integrated Secure Identification Systems”, or iSIS, to give it that lofty ring of Apple-Mac-meets-classical-mythology. All high-tech stuff that makes genuine coins easy to detect and almost impossible to forge. 

The new shape is, in fact, an old shape based on the old threepenny bit or thrupenny bit as it’s traditionally pronounced around here. This one was last minted in 1967 and then went out of circulation in 1971 when the UK went decimal. 

The official line is that the old threepenny bit, a quarter of the old shilling, would now be worth just over one (new) penny. I wonder, however, if the choice of shape says something about the value of the current pound! 

 Or am I just being pessimistic.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Summer? Spanish speaking.

Summer appears to have arrived. 

This was Manchester yesterday!!! 

And this was Uppermill this morning!!! 

Everyone is walking around stunned, not daring to say too loudly that the day is beautiful, just in case they upset the weather gods by presuming too much, fearful that the rain might return. 

Our daughter is off to Madrid tomorrow with a bunch of junior school chess players, including our grandson. She is in something of a quandary about what type of clothing to take. With the promise of temperatures rather better than an average English summer’s day they will not want to boil in winter clothes, despite the Madrileños no doubt telling them that this is still quite chilly. Everything is relative. If summer means temperatures approaching 40°C, then a mere 20+° is nothing to shout about. 

Because of this impending trip to Madrid I had to leave my Italian class early yesterday so that I could make a phone call to Spain on behalf of my daughter’s school. They wanted to sort out some queries about the accommodation and were uncertain how much was being understood if they spoke in English. Mind you, in order to get through to the relevant person at the Madrid school end you needed to go through their switchboard so it might have been a problem anyway. 

We got it all sorted and I had a little chat which led to comments on how good my Spanish was (well, I should hope so, although it was a wonder that it didn’t come out in Italian!). When I explained about having been a Spanish teacher before retiring I was told my voice sounded too young for a retired lady. How do you judge the age of a voice? At what point does it become the quavery voice of an older lady? I wonder. 

In between rushing off to visit people and playing secretary to my daughter, I have continued my binge-watching of the TV series “The West Wing”. I am now well into the final series, where Congressman Santos is the Democrat candidate running for president. A Latino candidate!!! Appealing to the Latino voters, but not wanting to be just the Latino candidate. 

In the real world I was reading the newspaper (a proper newspaper not an online version for once) on the train to London when I came across an article about George P. Bush. This is the son of Jeb Bush and nephew of George W. Bush, once President of the United States. You have to be careful with all these Georges to make sure you get the correct initial for the second name. Anyway, George P. is the Republican nominee for the post of Texas Land Commissioner, whatever that involves. A bit of a Bush dynasty thing goingon there, perhaps.

What interested me really was the fact that George P. is also a Spanish speaker. His mother, Columba, was born in Mexico and George P. was brought up to be bilingual. So here we have the Republican appeal to the Latino voters! Who’d have thought it? Of course, I realise that I am doing a little stereotyping here. Just because you belong to a group who have been discriminated against doesn’t make you an automatic left-winger! Just because some members of your community may have had problems getting citizenship of the USA doesn’t stop you voting Republican! There is no guarantee that Latino-Americans will be Democrat supporters. There must be the same range of opinions as anywhere else. It just seems odd (to me anyway) that they might vote for someone who declares, “In Texas, we will show the rest of the country what it means to be conservative.” 

On the same day I also read that it was the birthday of the writer Gabriel García Márquez: 86 years young! Magic realism must be good for you!

Monday, 10 March 2014


You go away for a few days and come home to find chaos has ensued. How do these things happen? I came home yesterday afternoon to find that someone has dug a trench all the way along the pavement and that we have a kind of drawbridge arrangement to get to our garden path. They’re building houses (far too many for the space available, in my opinion but then, that’s only my opinion and I won’t be living in one of them) on a patch of land more or less behind our row of houses (a patch of land that might possibly be liable to flooding but, once again, this has nothing to do with me and I won’t be living there). The trench is going to carry electricity cables and such like to those houses. So until the work is finished we live on the other side of a moat. It’s just as well the rain has stopped or it truly would be a moat. This is going to play havoc with putting the dustbins out tonight ready for emptying early tomorrow morning. 

I have been away visiting our number one offspring and his new little family. His wife gave birth to a little daughter a month ago and it was high time I went to inspect said little daughter: very fine, all the necessary toes and fingers and so on and gives every sign of being alert and intelligent. All very satisfactory! 

Our son has spent all his post-university working life in the London area, moving out last year (or perhaps the year before) to the more rural/semi-rural surrounding area, off at the end of the Metropolitan line. It’s all very civilised and pleasant with the station 10 or 15 minutes walk from home in one direction and nice open countryside about 5 minutes walk from home in the other. 
While my son was at work, my daughter-in-law and I went off to visit Amersham, just a few miles away, taking a stroll with the new baby in her pram up and down the main street of old Amersham. We didn’t bother with new Amersham but the old town, which has been around forever, well, since pre-Anglo-Saxon times according to old records, is very pretty. There’s an excellent old church and lots of fine coaching houses. In front of many of the houses you could still see sandbags. They had been threatened with flooding recently but apart from the odd cellar had managed to escape it. Lucky them! 

My visit to more southern parts of England coincided with the (unofficial, of course) start of Spring, which was excellent timing on my part. After months of rain and grey skies we woke on Saturday and Sunday to blue sky and sunshine. Excellent weather for buying fruit from the open air market on Saturday and then having tea and scones in the garden. 

Yesterday, before I set off to catch the train back to Manchester, we went for a walk up the hill not far from my son’s house. At the top we found an appropriately named bench for us to sit on. In the absence of an apostrophe, we decided it was not Adam’s bench but a bench for the Adams family. 
It truly would have been an excellent day for striding out over the hills and far away but I had a train to catch. 
 The sun was still shining when I got back to Manchester and rumour has it that we are in for a week of good weather. However, I am whispering that; if I shout it too loudly they may change the weather pattern on us. 

In the meantime, my washing is hanging on the washing line in the back garden. 

This is a first for 2014!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Ups and downs.

Yo-yo weather is what we’ve had over the last few days: sunshine one day and back to rain and wind the next. 

Saturday was one of the sunny days, which was good as I had arranged to take the teenager, our oldest granddaughter, to Liverpool. We had to take along her (he’s not my boy)friend as this was the only time they would be able to see each other for a week. For a couple who both declare they are not dating, they see an awful lot of each other but that’s their business I suppose. They spend a good deal of time playing electronic games together and have cryptic conversations about Pokemon that I fail totally to understand, largely because I have never played and have no intention of ever playing Pokemon. 

Anyway, he went along too on Saturday, which was fine by me as long as he accepted that he would have to walk around parts of the city and do cultural stuff with us. All of this went well and he paid his way, joined in the conversation and was generally good company. Well, as good as you can expect from a teenage boy! 
The main purpose of our visit was to go to the Open Eye Gallery, a gallery which promotes photography as an art form. Apparently it’s been around since 1977 but moved into its new premises down by the Liverpool waterfront only in 2011. Very easy to find, bright and airy, it’s worth supporting. Beautifully placed for interesting photos of the waterfront and nearby buildings. 

We were there because I had been reading in my Italian conversation class about an Italian photographer called Letizia Battaglia, who fell into photography more or less by accident and then made a name for herself taking pictures of the “anni di piombo”, the “years of (flying) lead” in 1980s Sicily when the struggle against the mafia was taking place. It’s hard to imagine that all this was going on only around thirty years ago. 

Here’s a link to a Guardian article about Letizia Battaglia.And here’s a link to a website with some of the photos.

We were impressed by the stark black and white images. Here is an example: this is the widow of one of the bodyguards of Judge Falcone, investigating and prosecuting mafia bosses, whose car was blown up in May 1992. 

By way of a contrast to this serious stuff, we saw a crowd of people queuing to get into a building just across the way from the Open Eye Gallery: a rather dilapidated-looking building. I asked a gentleman who was taking pictures of the building if he knew what was going on. Now, he could have been just like me, taking pictures of an interesting-looking building and not knowing much about it. It turned out, however, that he was better informed. 

This building, he told me, had been the headquarters of the White Star Line a shipping company perhaps most famous for having the ill-fated Titanic as one of its ships. The White Star Line merged with the Cunard shipping company in 1934 but apparently modern Cunard ships still use the term White Star Service to describe the level of customer care expected of the company. 

The building had stood empty for many years but now at least part of it was being converted into a luxury Titanic-themed hotel. On Saturday, for a few brief hours the public could go in and take a look around. It’s rather a shame that the rest of the building did not look so luxurious. Maybe there are plans to extend upwards; who knows? The well-informed gentleman I spoke to said that he had been inside and was not impressed. 

After our cultural and information-seeking visits, the teenagers and I had some lunch and strolled around the Albert Docks complex, admiring boats – in the case of the teenagers, proposing stealing boats and becoming pirates – and watching ladies in posh hats disembark from boats. And then we caught the train back to Manchester. 

All in all it was a splendid day for seeing the Liverpool waterfront buildings. 

On Sunday it rained. Yesterday the sun shone again. Today began with rain and finished with sunshine. 

As I said, yo-yo weather!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hacked off!

Since Phil had read an article about the need to add extra symbols to email passwords, in addition to the usual collection of letters and numbers, lower and upper case and so on, we spent some time last week changing our hotmail passwords. This was supposed to make it more difficult for our accounts to be hacked. 

So imagine my surprise on Friday when my phone started pinging messages to me telling me about the inability to deliver emails that I had not sent, emails to my sister’s old email address that she no longer uses, for example. 

Then came another ping with a message telling me that it was likely my hotmail account had probably been hacked. 

How very annoying! I cannot imagine what benefit any hacker gets from breaking into my account. 

And how ironic! 

Anyway, I then spent some more time changing my password once again and hopefully all is well. Of course, doing this involves having to answer security questions as they check that it is actually me changing my password and not some random person. It’s all very annoying. 

And since then, every so often I receive a suspicious email from yet another friend which I have to get rid of and then contact the friend to let them know what’s going on and advise them to change their password also. I suppose it will just take time for this to work its way through my friends and then we can settle down again. 

As I said, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to hack into my account. There are no great secrets to reveal to the world. I suppose it gives the hacker a little sense of power. How sad to have to get your entertainment that way. 

Well, I hope he (and it’s probably a he) enjoys himself. He obviously should get out more. 

Me, I’m just a little fed up of it!