Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Out and about!

A friend told me that today Vigo was forecast to be one of the hottest places in Spain, 35 degrees. Only Andalucía was supposed to be hotter, 36 degrees. I could well believe it. The billboard at the end of the road read 23 degrees at 9.15 this morning. 

That's a good time to be out and about. If you need to be somewhere in a hurry, it's still relatively cool. I occasionally see runners in the street at 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Much too hot. This morning, for the first time, I crossed someone running on my route in the opposite direction. Maybe I have started a trend. 

Late morning, I went down to the pool for a quick swim before going out for lunch. Once again my timing was right. I had swum and got out before the little boys arrived to play splashily. They seem to have two favourite games. 

One is "Penalty" involving one of them standing at the shallow end, near the steps and acting as a goal keeper while the other's throw a ball at him. If he saves the goal, he gets to change places with one of the others. If they score goals, there are cries of, "¡Gol! ¡Gol! ¡Gol!" or even "¡Qué golazo!" They obviously watch too much football commentary on TV. 

(I resist the temptation to correct their pronunciation of "penalty", which they say with the stress on the second syllable instead of the first. I'm getting quite good at forgetting that I am, or was, a languages teacher. When someone stopped us on the street the other day and asked us, "¿Tenéis fuego?" (Have you got a light?) and then, noticing that we had been speaking English, went on, "Fire? Fire?" I did not ask him where the fire was but simply told him, in Spanish, that we don't smoke. Such restraint on my part is quite admirable.) 

The other pool game is "mi primer amigo", also called "mi peor enemigo", and seems to consist of one person choosing another to throw the ball at, declaring, "Mi peor enemigo es ....". If he hits him he scores points. Who says children can't invent games? Mind you! I suppose it's quite hard to play with electronic games in the pool. 

After my swim we went out to meet friends for lunch, at the Pygmalion Restaurant, on Castelar, down near Vigo harbour. Very nice. Slightly more pricey than our usual menú but not extortionate and the food was good. 

 This is the second new (to us) restaurant we have visited in a week. The other was El Punto on Rua do Canceleiro, off Rosalía de Castro, where we went last Friday when El Puerto restaurant was closed. Definitely worth a visit. 

It's always good to try new places.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Sailing by

Somewhere between 8.30 and 9.00 yesterday morning I watched one of those big boats bringing people on a cruise for a stop in Vigo. As they went past the Islas Cíes I thought to myself that that was not a bad way to start the day. The islands look especially lovely in the early morning or the early evening light. Maybe it's time we took a boat trip there ourselves. Of course, the people on the cruise don't get to visit the islands. I suppose they might just have time to get a boat out there from Vigo harbour, take a quick look at the beach and then catch the next boat back before having to board their huge floating hotel once more. And then off they would have to go to their next destination. Not my idea of the ideal holiday but it wouldn't do for us all to have the same tastes. Differentiation in all things!

Here's a wrong kind of differentiation. A Guardian investigation has discovered a growing trend in the capital's upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission – for the poorer residents to be forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed "poor doors". Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated. Apparently this also happens in the USA and the mayor of New York is trying to make it illegal. This kind if thing is where differentiation turns into discrimination.

And then there's Islamic State (Isis), the al-Qaida offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month. It has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment. The justification? "This is not a restriction on her freedom but to prevent her from falling into humiliation and vulgarity or to be a theatre for the eyes of those who are looking."

They claim that it's not just to protect the women either, but the whole of society. "Anyone who is not committed to this duty and is motivated by glamour will be subject to accountability and severe punishment to protect society from harm and to maintain the necessities of religion and protect it from debauchery," Isis said.

Isis has provided guidelines on how women should dress in Mosul, one of Iraq's biggest cities. Their hands and feet must be covered, shapeless clothes that don't hug the body must be worn and perfume is prohibited. Women have also been told to never walk unaccompanied by a male guardian. Exactly why do hands need to be covered? It beggars belief!

But then, Isis has even ordered shopkeepers to cover their store mannequins with full-face veils. It's all just too extreme. (Are men really tempted by store mannequins?) In case you might think it's only the women who are being controlled, the report told us that a man was recently whipped in public for sexually harassing a woman. Of course, if you had an equal society and made women equal citizens, then there would be no need to whip the men. And somehow I suspect that fewer men are whipped than women are punished for wearing the wrong clothes.

Goodness knows what they would make of the state of undress at the average swimming pool. This morning down at the pool there was another of those young women with tattoos all over her back. This time it was an intricate design of swirls and patterns. (Again, I wonder why she had it done and what she will think of it when she's in her sixties and her flesh is perhaps less taut and toned than it is now.) One of her companions was trying to photograph her tattoos. Unfortunately he wanted to take the photo while she was in the pool and she was having some difficulty remaining still, floating face down while he took the photo. One has to suffer for art or at least that's what I have heard. It was, of course, the young lady who was going to suffer for the photographer's art. There you go!

On Sunday, the cruise people would have had no view of the ría at all. Sea mist rolled in early in the morning and stayed over the water all day. We had a fine sunny day in the area around our flats, a little higher and further inland but it was just as if a bank of thin cloud had been unrolled over the water. It moved around but did not shift until well after the sun went down. the promontory of a Guía looked for all the world as though it were wrapped in cotton wool. Very strange.  

And then, after dark it went and we were treated to a late night firework display beyond the Rande bridge, presumably at Redondela. I had already retired to bed with a book but, lured by the noise, managed to catch the last bit of the display.

Amazing stuff!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tattoos, timing and DIY.

Down at the pool yesterday, late morning, coming towards lunchtime, there was a group of "beautiful people", probably late twenties, maybe early thirties, a little bit hippyish, the men with long hair, some in ponytails, one with dreadlocks. All were slender and bronzed. They sat on the grass in the garden and the chap with the dreadlocks played the guitar - quite well, I have to say - while the rest sat around and chatted. Their own little music festival! 

 I thought briefly that one of the girls was wearing a swimsuit with some kind of grid or net arrangement on the back and then I realised that her back was covered in lines of writing tattooed onto her skin. It just toned in with her black bikini. A curious effect. Now, I am not a great fan of tattoos and I find myself wondering why you would cover your whole back with a poem, a novel, a political statement. I am only hazarding guesses as to what was written there as I never got close enough to examine it closely. 

The beautiful people barely ventured into the pool so for the most part it was practically empty. My own private pool - or very nearly. Late morning is obviously a good time to swim; the temperature has not yet reached its maximum and there are relatively few people in the water. 

On Thursday I went down in the late afternoon and had to give up on the idea of swimming altogether. Mr Bossy, someone from the "comunidad" who has availed himself of a high vis vest labelled "monitor", was organising a group of smallish boys to dive for tokens that he threw into the water. All very commendable and I truly appreciate the value of community spirit and all that, but it wasn't very conducive to a quiet swim. Altogether too splashy and too many smallish bodies leaping around all over the place. When I do my dormouse (from Alice in Wonderland) impression, I prefer the pool to be a little quieter. 

On Friday we had planned to meet some friends and go for lunch at El Puerto restaurant, one of the best fish restaurants in town, but when I tried to book a table the other day, they reminded me that Friday was a "día festivo"' a bank holiday, and they were not going to be open. We met anyway and found another place to have lunch. A good time was had by all. 

 Friday was a bank holiday because it was the 25th of July, the feast of Saint James, Santiago as they call him around here, patron saint of Galicia. The saint's day has morphed into Galicia Day, celebrating the whole region, not just the arrival of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. 

They do a fabulous montage of fireworks on the facade of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at midnight on the 24th of July. It's quite a sight to see. This year apparently the firework display included a tribute to the people who died in the horrific train crash just outside Santiago last year at this time. The papers on Thursday were all full of stories of survivors one year on and stuff like that. 

In the Guardian newspaper yesterday morning I found a feature called "The secret pupil", made up of quotes from pupils, commenting anonymously about their teachers. Most were very favourable but there were some complaints about poor teachers who clearly didn't know their stuff and sent pupils away to find out things on the internet. Meeting deadlines and handing back marked work featured quite a lot as well. One pupil wrote, "On the theme of marking, I would much prefer to get my work marked by a teacher than Joseph Barker who has been picking his nose for the last half an hour." I always did have my doubts about the pros and cons of "peer marking". I'm sure it only works in subjects like Maths where you can have a definite right or wrong answer. Anything that is in the least subjective gives rise to too many arguments. 

We spent part of Saturday afternoon rebuilding a sofa bed in our flat. I believe it was bought originally from a certain Scandinavian furniture company who specialise in build-it-yourself stuff. In a few weeks time we will have a group of young chess players overnighting with us on their way back to the UK from a chess event in Pontevedra. Part of the arrangement involves a couple of them sleeping on the sofa bed in the living room. So we decided to check it out. Just as well! There was just no way to open it up and make the legs touch the floor. 

On closer examination we worked out that the main section of the sofa bed had been put in the wrong way round. So we bought ourselves a cheap set of Allen keys from the Chinese shop down the road and took the thing to pieces. Reassembled, it works perfectly. Whoever put it together clearly didn't test it or, if they did, decided they couldn't be bothered putting it right. 

When first we saw this piece of furniture, I was surprised to discover that, in order to keep the back of the sofa upright, you had to have it against a wall. At the time I put it down to a basic design fault. I should have known better. These things are tried and tested and intended to work. So, there you go, a little bit of jigsaw-solving thinking and the wonders of Scandinavian furniture technology can be made to work as planned. 

Having said that, I can think of occasions when I have torn my hair out trying to follow their instructions in diagramese. 

 On the whole, quite a successful day!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bits of daftness!

Today I looked out of the window and noticed that there was a cruise liner down in the port. I went out for a run and bought bread. When I returned, the cruise liner, a moderately sized boat, was completely dwarfed by another, one of those huge ones, almost as tall as a ten storey block of flats.This is what happens when you look away.

Consequently, when I went into town later in the morning, the place was full of pink cruise people (pink from the sun, I suppose) speaking English in a range of accents: Liverpudlian, Cockney, American, Scots. No Welsh! Maybe they're all at home speaking the oldest language in Europe. 

An amazing number of the tourists from the boat were weighted down with numerous bags of shopping. Do they shop in every place the boat docks in? Maybe the boat's motto is "We stop, you shop!" Do the companies advertise them as shopping holidays? Do the tourists come with empty suitcases with shopping in mind? 

And often they buy in shops that exist back in the UK. I watched an English woman spend €87 in H&M today. I know it's slightly cheaper to buy the stuff in euros rather than pounds but surely if you can afford to go on a cruise, you don't worry about saving a few pounds. Unless of course, that is how you save the money for your next cruise. I remain mystified! 

Yesterday I went to have my hair done. I got the colour refreshed (I wonder if that's hairdresser speak.) and got my eyebrows tidied up into the bargain. And all for a third of the price I pay in the UK. They offered to dye my eyebrows to match my hair but I declined. I have never had ginger eyebrows and I don't plan to start at my venerable age. They also wanted to massage my hands - all par of the same price - but I turned that down as well. 

 Today I ventured to the library, in search of reading matter. None of the books or writers I had on my list were on their computer system. Which was a pity because I then had to wander the shelves waiting for something interesting to catch my eye. Their system is as chaotic as ever. I saw at least four copies of Don Quijote de La Mancha, not all together, as one might expect, but scattered around the library. In the end the heat got to me and I settled for a historical novel about Catalina de Aragón (that's Katherine or Kathryn or Catherine, however the British choose to spell it) and a novel by an lady journalist, a favourite of mine, Alamudena Grandes. 

During my wandering about over the last couple of days I have seen quite a few examples of people talking on their mobile phones while driving, even in one case taking both hands off the wheel so he could gesticulate. Crazy! 

And I have spotted a number of men walking along with very new-looking babies precariously held in their arms, while their wives push the empty pram. In one case the very new person was being exposed to quite fierce sun!!! Why risk someone bumping into you and knocking the infant to the ground when you have a perfectly safe pram to put it in? If you really want to have constant contact with your new child, why not us a sling? More crazy stuff! 

Finally, overheard in the chess club the other day: 

Phil: Bieito, did you play for the chess club's team last season? 
Bieito: No. 
Phil: Why not? 
Bieito: I wasn't here. I was in Pontevedra. 

Quite likely he was studying at the university. Now, Pontevedra is half an hour away by train!!! Not exactly the other side of the world. I wonder what he'd say to the idea of travelling for an hour or more to work every morning - and back again at the end of the day. Different ways of looking at things. 

The world is full of strangeness!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Getting hot under the collar.

24̊ - that was the temperature at the roundabout at the top of the road at 9.15 this morning. It just got hotter as the day wore on. We came out to walk to chess club at about 8 this evening and it was still very hot. I'm ok though; I've been in the pool for part of the day. Phil is threatening to join me tomorrow. He must be feeling the heat as he rarely makes it into the water. I am not holding my breath. 

I'm just very glad I didn't have to cycle up very big hills in France today. It must be quite excruciating. Although the downhill runs probably cool them off some. Nibble remains in the lead. I am seeing none of it at the moment. I just catch up on the Tour website at the end of the stage. 

Walking down the road earlier, I saw a young bloke get out of his car and spit on the pavement. I see this more and more, both here and in the UK. When did it become socially acceptable to do this? 

What you don't see much of here here is young men walking along with their chests out. You see this all the time in the UK. Last year I read that several seaside places here in Spain had introduced by-laws forbidding people from walking along the street in a state of undress. And you might expect people to walk around in their swimwear when they're just coming back from the beach. However, you don't see people here doing it in the centre of the ordinary town. Whereas in the UK, the minute the sun comes out blokes think it's ok to strip to the waist and strut their stuff. It's a kind of hangover from bad behaviour on holiday in the sun. One of my favourite fashion gurus, Hadley Freeman, was protesting about it the other day. I quite agree with her. 

Just now I've read a rant by someone called Ellie Mae O'Hagan about how Welsh should be taught in all UK schools. She grew up speaking Welsh (although I'm pretty sure O'Hagan is not a Welsh name. Aren't they all called Jones or Williams or Evans?) and regrets the fact that she is very rusty now. I'm all in favour of children growing up bi-lingual. And I believe everyone can benefit from learning to speak as many languages as they can manage. Oh, and I agree with preserving ancient cultures. But I think school kids can perhaps learn something more useful than Welsh. 

 She claimed that Welsh is the oldest language in Europe. Really? Well, it may very well predate Anglo-Saxon and Latin and so on but I think she might find that Basque is the oldest!! 

I also get a little fed up of hearing about the English domination of the Welsh and the Scottish. It's the same with the Castilian domination of the Galicians and Catalans. 

It's time we all got along. That's what I think anyway.

Monday, 21 July 2014

New words, bad habits of the Brits and how we don't conform to that norm.

I've learnt a new word: el balconing. I read about it in La Voz de Galicia, one of the local newspapers. El balconing is a sport practised by young, drunken British tourists in places like Mallorca and Ibiza, especially Magaluf. It consists of leaping off balconies, sometimes into pools, sometimes just into the street or into crowds of people. Spanish authorities are more than a little concerned at the "orgías etílicos y sexuales" which crazy young people from the UK indulge in every night. (Etílico is an excellent word for alcoholic, is it not?) I quite agree with them. 

We once went to Magaluf, by mistake I hasten to add. Phil was taking part in the Calvia chess congress which turned out to be in Magaluf. Even in October it was a regular thing every morning to see barmen sweeping up masses of broken glass outside their bars. Bars which advertised, in English, one litre of vodka and coke for €2!!! Which comes first, cheap alcohol or the demand for cheap alcohol? Anyway, I think the Spanish newspapers are right when they say that young Brits seem to leave all sense of morality and general decency behind when they get off the plane in places like Magaluf. 

I'm not going there again. And Phil didn't even win a prize! 

We are much more restrained in our drinking habits, following the great Spanish tradition of eating something, preferably free tapas, while we drink. So we pop into wifi cafes and slake our thirst responsibly while catching up with out internet needs. 

Yesterday this led to our having a little chat with the waiter in the Nuevo Derby about the British Open Golf Championship, just finished in Hoylake, Liverpool. It was on the TV in the cafe. He asked if we knew how much tickets for the event cost. No idea! Golf doesn't really interest us much. And then I saw on Facebook that my sister-in-law was there. I didn't see her on screen though. 

When we first came to spend time in Vigo, amazingly almost six years ago now, we lived right in the centre of town, in the middle of all the activity. Now we have a flat at the far end of town, almost in Teis, and it's positively rural. Although there are huge tower blocks of flats, just like ours, all around there are smaller properties with little vegetable gardens attached. It's a whole self-sufficiency thing that's going on. We, however, amount to no more than a pot of basil on the window ledge. 

Back to new words, I recently discovered Sean Bean's version of John Denver's Annie's Song. It goes like this: 

"You fill up my senses, 
like a gallon of Magnet, 
 like a packet of Woodbines, 
like a good pinch of snuff; Like a night out in Sheffield, 
like a greasy chip butty…". 

I just thought I would share that. 

I've just seen the weather forecast for Spain for tomorrow: sunshine everywhere, except possibly the Basque Country, where they can expect rain! Oh, and a few clouds down in the far south, near where my sister lives but that might be good for them as it gets far too hot down there.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Time marches on.

Another Saturday evening and here we are in the Failde cafe with football on the telly again. I have no idea who is playing. Last week it was the last throes of the World Cup but that's all over and done with. Tonight it might be Barcelona against I don't know who. It doesn't really matter. 

The pacing lady is here again, walking up and down the cafe just like last week while the old chap, presumably her father, sits and read the paper at the same time as semi-watching the football. She's an odd one, this pacing lady. Possibly a case of care in the community! Possibly she just likes walking up and down cafés. 

So we've been here just over a week. It seems like longer. Maybe it's because we've been busy doing stuff. And we had a trip to Pontevedra mid-week. Doing lots of things and going to different places has a weird effect on time, making it stretch out to some extent. Time is funny anyway. There's that odd thing that happens when you go on holiday and time speeds up after the midpoint of your stay. Then there's the way five minutes pass really slowly when you're on the platform waiting for a train but really fast if you need to get there before the train leaves. As I said, odd! 

We've had quite a lot of excellent sunshine since we got here. Yesterday was a disappointment, especially as it rained quite torrentially as we made our way home from the chess club last night. Today has been better, rather cloudy but mostly fine and a bit of sunshine thrown in. I hear they've been having a bit of a heat wave in the UK as well. But then, they've also had thunderstorms. 

We walked up to A Guía at the end of this afternoon. The view over the bay towards the Islas Cíes was still spectacular, even though the sea was silver rather than blue. It's hard to believe it's the same sea as we saw during last week. 

We've also "done" the Castro since we arrived. We need to visit Castrelos Park and possibly do the river walk to Samil to complete our collection of regular visits to places. Some time next week we hope to get to the fish restaurant, El Puerto, for lunch with various friends. Clearly we are ticking boxes here on the list of "stuff to do". 

In the Tour, the Italian is still in the lead. The Sky team seem to have given up on getting Richie Porte on the podium in. Paris and are now just going all out for stage wins. They've not managed it yet but there's still time. 

So that's it: just another Saturday.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Weather and cyclists and such!

My panadera (aka the lady in the breadshop) told me then weather was due to change. So by lunchtime today we had rain, not real rain, no torrential, soak you to the skin rain, but nonetheless rather drizzly rain! I felt a bit sorry for the people who came in on the cruise liner as they must have had a rather damp visit. 

Last night we discussed with one of the chess playing folk of Galicia the possibility of Phil translating some of his books into English. He told us about his experience with publishers in the early days of his writing career when he was so pleased to get a publishing contract that he signed away all his rights to publish those books in other countries. When his publisher did nothing to promote his books outside Spain, he could do nothing about it. Now he is older and wiser and knows the ropes a little better and is in control of his own work. I was reminded of pop singers and songwriters from the fifties who naively accepted contracts which gave them no rights to royalties in later years. Is the world full of sharks? Apparently so! 

I suspect that we might be talking about different sums of money signed away here though. Few people make a fortune out of chess, after all. I have yet to hear of chess players being in the kind of sponsorship deal where they have to wear, for example, a cap with their sponsor's name on whenever they appear in public. It doesn't happen like that. 

 The cyclists in the Tour, of course, have their sponsors' names blazoned all over their kit. And with the increased popularity of cycling, and the importance of having the right gear, loads of amateur cyclists now have the same cycling tops, paying large amounts of money to ride around advertising a company, just because that company sponsors a team in the Tour. The same goes for those who wear their favourite football team's jersey. And those football jerseys cost an awful lot of money. At least, if you buy the genuine article and not a cheap supermarket copy. 

In Italy they are remembering a cyclist who helped save hundreds of Jews from the Nazis by transporting counterfeit identity papers hidden in the frame of his bike. He was the star Italian cyclist whose victory in the Tour de France on the eve of the second world war made him a favourite of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. But he was also a devout Catholic who helped save hundreds of Jews from the Nazis by using his hero-status to courier false documents around Italy. On Friday– 100 years after his birth in a small village near Florence called Ponte a Ema - Gino Bartali, known to some as Gino the Pious, will be remembered in his home region of Tuscany, where a special bike ride, a dinner, a parade and free museum tours will be held in his honour. He died in 2000 and in his cycling career won three Giri d'Italia and two Tours de France. Not bad for a hero! 

Some-one who might be being forgotten Barbie, who is now 55 years old. The oddly shaped doll has seen her popularity fade in recent years. She might have tried dying her hair all sorts of colours, she might have tired a multitude of new professions but the old(ish) lady can't compete with new dolls which appear as vampires and witches and who knows what else. I never did like her but you can't help feeling sorry for a 55 year old who is deemed to be over the hill! 

Back to the cycling. Nibali is still in yellow after winning today's mountain stage. Poor Richie Porte had a bad day and lost more than 8 minutes to the Italian. It looks as though he might not be on the podium after all. But there's a Spaniards, Valverde, in second place. The race goes on.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

In Pontevedra.

Watching the Tour de France at our friend Colin's house in Poio, Pontevedra, yesterday, I noted that the sun had come out for them in France. Having provided horrible weather, causing a number of nasty crashes over the first few days of the Tour being in France, the country has decided to be nicer to is race. On the rest day, however, Fabian Cancellara announced his decision to withdraw from the race so that he can prepare for the world championship. Average speed yesterday was over 40 miles an hour! These men are amazing. If it's as hot there as here, I would not like to cycle in that heat! 

Nicolas Roche, who tried to help Alberto Contador to get back into the race after his fall the other day, is now having a good go at replacing his teammate at Saxo Tinkoff's hope for victory in the Tour. Good luck to him. 

We were in Pontevedra so that we could go out to the Pitillo restaurant on Tuesday evening. This is one of our favourite eateries, lots of excellent tapas and some good white wine. Splendid stuff. 

Then yesterday morning we met the organisers of the chess club in Pontevedra that is doing a kind of chess exchange with my husband's club back in the UK. All good stuff. We have arranged for four youngsters from the UK club to come over to a chess training camp and then play in a tournament here. One of the stumbling blocks is the possible date of the return visit. The Spanish youngsters are involved in a lot of training camps in the summer and then Spanish schools have a much stricter policy than English ones about their pupils having time off in term time, even for something clearly educational. At the moment we're looking at next Easter - so far ahead! At least we'll have time to organise. 

After our discussion about chess visits, we rejoined Colin for lunch and spent some time watching him fight a losing battle against pigeons in Plaza de Verduras. These annoying birds congregate around your feet, hoping for scraps. In the past Colin carried around a large model owl which worked for a while to deter the objectionable pigeons. Yesterday he was reduced to a rolled-up magazine and attempting to swat them. He must have got about ten and that seemed to deter them. It amused folk at other tables, fortunately there did not seem to be any pigeon lovers among them! 

His battle will continue. As will that of the riders on the mountain roads of France. At the moment Nibali, the Italian, still rules!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Hadley Freeman, reporter for the Guardian, has a regular, rather tongue in cheek column where she answers peoples queries about fashion problems. The latest question was about what is a suitable outfit for a 14 year old to wear to a prom. Now, a prom is an American import so Hadley, who grew up on the USA and may even be an American citizen for all I know, is qualified to talk about them. 

Here is an extract from her reply: "There was a popular story last week about a mother in England spending £1,000 on her 11-year-old daughter's prom, fitting her out with a handbag, professional hair and makeup, a limo and a tiara. People, please. That is not a prom: that is just lunacy. Take off your tiara and listen to a tale from the prom coalface: I went to proms in the States when I was a kid. In fact, I was voted prom queen when I was 12 or 13, and let me tell you how much my parents and I spent on my prom triumph: $0. No, there aren't any missing digits there: $0. I wore an old denim dress my mother had bought me ages ago from Gap, I didn't wear any makeup and I certainly didn't go to the hairdresser. At most, I might have had a bath and brushed my hair. Instead of a limo (limo!) I walked to the prom with my girlfriends, and we spent the night dancing to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Then, when I was made prom queen, I got a small crown made out of aluminium foil and a plastic rose. Then I walked home." 


Years ago, in the early 1990s, when I worked at a sixth form college in Bolton, one of our bright young teachers, in charge of the student social committee, decided to organise a prom. This was strictly for the college leavers. So all attending would be 18 or pretty nearly so, about to leave college for employment or university. No doubt he pinched the idea from some of the American films but there was also his own experience of leavers' balls at the end of university. It was going to be a very grown up affair, no jeans or scruffy clothes. It worked fantastically. We were very impressed with the way our students scrubbed up so nicely. 

That was kind of the start of it all. I'm not suggesting that he introduced the idea to the country as a whole but he was in at the start. Over the years since then it has worked its way down to students leaving high school: 16 year olds. And now we hear of leavers' proms for primary schools. It's a bit like "graduation ceremonies" from nursery schools. All rather silly! I can remember being amazed at one girl whose father paid almost £300 to HIRE a dress for her prom, so that she wouldn't risk the embarrassment of someone turning up in the same dress as she was wearing. Crazy stuff! 

The last one of these events I went to was in 2008, just as I was retiring from teaching. Two girls from my tutor group, both beautifully dressed and with immaculate hairdo, manicure and make-up, spent the whole evening taking selfies with their mobile phone. Back then, of course, no-one knew they were called selfies. Also rather silly! 

 Thinking of my ex-students, I was reminded of at least one of them yesterday evening as I watched a report on Spanish television about Brits behaving badly in Magaluf. I am having serious thoughts about "unfriending" the young lady in question as her recent Facebook posts have all been videos of herself and friends doing embarrassing things in ... yes, you've guessed ... Magaluf. One was all about them being thrown out of their hotel. Now, I've been to Magaluf and I think you have to be pretty bad to be thrown out of your hotel there. And this was a girl who studied languages at university. Okay, this is not a total guarantee of quality but it usually indicates a certain degree of intelligence!!!! 

Enough said!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Rubber bands, boats, football and Le Tour.

Our grandson really enjoyed learning to play the cornet at school. They have a specialist music teacher who comes in once a week and teaches groups of children to play. Half way through the year they changed from brass instruments to recorders. The boy was singularly unimpressed and stopped trying. Whether he thought the recorder was not really a boy's thing or what the problem was, we will probably never discover. However, the teacher decided to introduce incentives. Knowing how children all over the country are currently obsessed with loom bands, she started to offer packets of these small rubber bands to those who excelled in effort, enthusiasm and general progress. Suddenly, the child who had become the clown of the class turned into a model pupil, organising his little group to play well and even writing little compositions himself. What a transformation! 

I don't entirely see the attraction in wearing bracelets woven out of rubber bands but they have been spotted on the wrists of the famous; even members of the royal family have been photographed wearing them. Our grandchildren get commissioned by their m other's friends to make them in specific colours and patterns. Odd! 

Now it seems you can even make clothes out of loom bands as well. Someone has made a dress and put it up for sale on eBay. By Friday afternoon bidding had reached £169,000. I regularly express my amazement at what people will pay for haute couture. Comments along the lines of, "What? I would expect a whole wardrobe for that!" have been heard to escape my lips. But at least those are proper garments. This is a collection of rubber bands looped together. How uncomfortable must that be?! I don't suppose anyone will ever wear it. It'll probably become a museum piece eventually. Life is strange. 

Children in Bolton were featured in their local newspaper when they made a huge loom band bracelet that went around the whole school. They're not the first though. Our grandchildren reported two girls at their school doing that. It's just that no-one told the newspapers. 

I wonder if you could make a flotation device out of loom bands. Over in Italy they are working at re-floating the Costa Concordia, the cruise liner that sailed too close to the rocks and went down. Last year a salvage team managed to get it upright but they are afraid that it might break apart when lifted from the metal platform that has been supporting it. Surely no-one will ever really want to sail in it again, even if they get it back in working order. It must be haunted! 

Last night we watched the final of the World Cup. The German and Argentinean teams ran up and down the football pitch, working very hard and trying their best but not managing to score any goals until Germany finally managed one in extra time. The tension was evident in the bar where we watched it. People groaned each time a goal was saved. One elderly chap was accompanied by his daughter who clearly didn't want to be there. She paced up and down the length of the bar muttering for most of the match. Then she made the old chap leave before they played extra time, so he never got to see Germany's victory after all. 

Meanwhile, in France, the yellow jersey has been worn today by a Frenchman, Tony Gallopin. As today is Bastille Day, the French must be very happy about this. Richie Porte and Alberto Contador are still contenders, in 5th and 9th place respectively at the end of yesterday. 

Everything to play for. That's what I wrote this morning but I've just read that Contador has had a bad fall today and has pulled out of the Tour de France. 

Spain is seriously not having a good year for sport - Nadal failed at Wimbledon, la selección failed in Brazil and now the little madrileño is out. What else can happen?

Sunday, 13 July 2014


Back in Galicia, I have resumed my Vigo running route: down the road to the roundabout with the lighthouse (which Phil insists is a pawn, strayed off some gigantic chess board), lest up the steep road that leads eventually to San Juan do Monte, round the back of the cultivated area and pest the goat field, until I come at last to Carrefour and then it's a straight run to the bread shop and home. 

This morning, as I turned up the road to San Juan do Monte, a dog was howling, sounding for all the world like some mournful wolf. Fortunately it was behind a wall so there was no danger. I suppose the howling beast could have been any size but it sounded large and fierce. A small poodle was answering it in kind. Just as well the howling-wolf dog was not loose to eat it up. The owner of the poodle also had a chihuahua, a singularly useless sort of dog in my opinion, in her arms. He must have felt protected as he took no notice of all the barking and howling. The dogs' owner smiled at me approvingly and commented, "¡Muy bien!", as I pounded up the hill. It is nice to get encouragement. 

Of course, there is every possibility that the howler was in fact a wolf after all. I say this, not just because Laurie Lee had problems with wolves when he set off walking from Vigo into the hills but also because I read yesterday about a place called Castro which has had five attacks by wolves in one week. One wolf even managed to get into a cow shed and kill a calf. Hunters in the area say that they are aware of a number of wolf packs. The scarcity of food in the hills has driven them down into small villages and made them very daring. It's a good job we don't live in a small village then! 

Occasionally I hear about proposals to reintroduce wolves into the hills of Scotland. Maybe they're better just leaving any wolves in the UK in zoos. Just a bit less chance of them attacking livestock! 

Meanwhile, the commercial wolf (sorry, airline) that sent some passengers astray has denied responsibility for those three Galician ladies who ended up almost in Scotland. They blame the airport staff at Palma de Mallorca. That would, naturally, explain why the air hostesses didn't spot that the boarding cards were for a different plane! Anyway, They are demanding an investigation and assurances that it won't happen again. They probably want to claim back from someone or other the cost of repatriating the lost Gallegas. 

I went to the bus station here in Vigo this morning to say goodbye to my young friend Sarah who is returning to the UK after two years here in Galicia, leaving behind a boyfriend in Cangas, across the bay from Vigo. She is going to train as a teacher of modern Foreign languages, Spanish and German, but feels the need to go on a refresher course for her German after two years of total immersion in Castellano and Gallego. 

She is traveling with that airline that loses people. I do hope she gets home OK.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Sporting life!

Here we are back in Galicia, much later than intended his year because of a series of family emergencies. But without those emergencies I would probably not have been around to see the Tour de France whizz through Yorkshire. 

The sun is shining beautifully here, as it was in the North West of England when we left. Indeed, according to messages from our daughter earlier today, the sun was still shining there this morning. This was not the case in London; according to our son it was camp and muggy, proof that the South does not always have the best weather. 

On Wednesday, while the sun shone nicely on Greater Manchester and Yorkshire, the poor cyclists in the Tour were riding through the rain in the North of France. And over cobbled stretches of country road to boot. It must have been really nasty. They were falling off their bikes all over the place. Chris Froome, the great hope of Team Sky, fell twice, having already fallen the previous day. (My mother always said things go in threes.) His third fall was too much for him and he withdrew from the race altogether quite early in the day's ride. Poor Chris Froome, last year the overall winner and this year forced out injured in the early stages. 

Now all hopes are pinned on Richie Port if Team sky is going to have a stab at winning this year. Because we were travelling, I didn't see any of Thursday's stage nor have I see any of Friday's or today's but I have found out that at the end of Thursday the Italian Nibali was still in the lead. Our Richie Port was almost two minutes behind (1'54" to be precise) in seventh place. One of my old favourites, Alberto Contador, still has to show what he is made of, back in 18th place and 2'37" behind the leader on Friday. 

Today, Saturday, Nibali continues in the yellow jersey, Richie Port is up to 3rd place, 1'58" behind the Italian, and Contador has moved up to 6th place, but still 2'34" behind. It's getting quite exciting and I am not seeing any of it. How very annoying! 

We travelled back without incident, despite the fears that we might have to prove that all our electrical gadgets were what they appeared to be by switching them on. After stories in the press about mobile phones and tablets being adapted to be explosive devices, we were hearing about all kinds of checks being made and the possibility of phones that were not fully charged being confiscated as they could not be shown to be working mobile devices. 

But we had no problems at all; maybe Liverpool airport was being lax. If that was he case, it didn't stop the over sensitive security gadgets pinging at my hair slide, my bangles and even the wires in my underwear as I went through the scanner. I began to wonder if I had suddenly acquired a metal plate somewhere about my person. 

The plane was full of noisy children, the sort who are unable to talk except at full volume and unable to share their toys with their siblings without whining. Great! We made it to Porto safe and sound and still relatively sane, however: correct destination and about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. 

Then yesterday morning I read about a small group of Galicians who ended up at the wrong destination. They had been visiting family in Mallorca and were flying back to Santiago de Compostela with RyanAir. One of their party was an old lady of 80+, not very mobile and was assisted onto the plane in her wheelchair. All seemed to be going well until one of the people travelling with the old lady realised that the flight was taking rather longer than expected and asked some questions. They were, in fact, on a flight bound for the North of England, way up almost in Scotland. When they boards the plane the air hostesses had only glanced at the boarding cards and directed them to their seats. Wonderful! 

At Liverpool, they were checking very carefully to make sure that no cheeky person without a priority boarding ticket (more expensive than the "other Q" kind that most of us had) was sneaking onto the plane ahead of anyone else. And yet in the case of the old lady in the wheelchair, no-one checked she was on the correct flight. I am amazed. To give the airline its due, they did pay for a taxi to take the lost passengers to London for a flight back to Santiago, although a little later than planned. 

Right now, we are in the Failde cafe, not far from our flat, a good wifi spot. The World Cup match between Argentina and Germany is about to start. Correction: the Argentina versus Germany match is tomorrow. Tonight's match is Holland against Brazil, currently not going well for the Brazilians!! 

What an exciting life I do lead!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Signs and symbols - time passing!

Walking into the village the other day with my son and his wife, via the back lane that goes past the old mill pond, we suddenly that the lane was full of tiny frogs. They were all about half a centimetre in size, minute little black creatures, still tadpole-coloured rather than frog-coloured. All were crossing the road in the same direction, with the exception of the odd confused little beastie who decided to carry on down the lane instead. Presumably they had all reached the stage of development when the instinctively know it's time to leave the water and go wherever small frogs are programmed to go. Whatever the cause of this mass movement, it made it very difficult to walk normally along the lane as we all balked at the idea of treading them underfoot. 

I was reminded of a holiday in Lochgilphead, Scotland, years ago when our children were still young teenagers. We had rented a cottage outside the village. Driving back to the cottage one evening, we found the lane full of full grown frogs, presumably also doing a mass migration somewhere. Unfortunately, on that occasion I had to drive on as there was no avoiding them. Quite disgusting really. The rest of the holiday was fine; it was quiet and peaceful, the weather was mostly good (if it wasn't, the teenagers could play table tennis in the barn) and looking out of the window in the early morning you could see the field behind the cottage full of deer. 

Back to the frogs, I haven't seen such tiny frogs since the summer when my siblings and I had an old kitchen sink full of tadpoles in the back garden. As they turned into little frogs, they climbed up the sides of the sink and escaped ... to my mother's horror! She couldn't hang washing on the line without treading on small frogs in the grass. Isn't nature strange? 

Strange too is the fact that, although it's only July, I am already seeing signs of the approach of autumn. Here is a picture of what I collected while out and about first thing this morning. Granted, the horse chestnuts are very tiny but even so, this is one of the first signs.

Time is passing! There had better be some summer left when we head out to Galicia in a couple of days' time. 

Time is passing! The other day I read an obituary for the Irish writer Dermot Healey in which the writer felt the need to explain that The Bachelors were a 1960s pop group. Apparently the writer was thrown out of college at age 15 for going to see The Bachelors when he should have been studying. Such rebellion! And such severe punishment! 

Time is passing! George Monbiot was writing in today's Guardian about the science of life-extension which is suddenly producing amazing results and may make it possible for people to live for much longer provided, points out Mr. Monbiot, they can afford to pay for the treatment. A champion of life-extension science, Aubrey de Grey, reckons that there are people alive now who could live to be a thousand years old, assuming they don't get too bored. George Monbiot, always looking on the bright side, reminds us that there will be problems of paying pensions to these eternal OAPs, sociological problems as the old outnumber the young in ever greater fashion, crowding the young out of affordable housing, jobs and just about every aspect of life. As he wrote: "The inequality and the potential for exploitation that would emerge if people lived twice, not to mention 10 times, as long can only be boggled at." 

As for me, I'm not going to worry about it. After all, tomorrow is another day!

Monday, 7 July 2014

¡Siete de julio, San Fermín!

Today the madness that is the Fiesta de San Fermín begins in Pamplona. Bulls will run through the centre of the city and lots of fools will run along decked out in white t-shirts and red neckerchiefs in front of these large, rather fierce animals. 

However, I am taking little interest in that today. We have the Tour de France here in the UK to take our attention. 

Yesterday, to celebrate my son's birthday, we set off to find his allotted parking spot in a field near Holmfirth so that we could watch the cyclists go through on day two of Le Tour. We had been advised to set off at seven in the morning to avoid traffic jams. However, we had a small child in tow and did not fancy sitting around all day with one who would need regular feeds and nappy changes. Instead, we got on the road at about 10.30, prepared to turn back if we got stuck in a queue of cars. But despite the signs telling us to expect delays, we had no problems at all. 

By 11.30 or so, we had arrived at our parking place. Yorkshire farmers had seized a moneymaking opportunity and charged £10 a day for people to park not too far from the site of the action. 

Our son had found his spot on the internet and booked it a while ago, on the basis that if it should turn out to be a day of torrential rain we would just stay at home and watch it on television. But parking was still available on the day for those who turned up on spec. 

And all along the road to the foot of Holme Moss there were enterprising folk selling wine, beer, ice creams, hot dogs and all varieties of food and drink, not to mention the vans that stopped from time to time to encourage us to buy a "fan pack": an expensive collection of t-shirt, cuddly toy and a range of bright yellow tat. 

We saw some fine field art, 

some festival organisation 

and a fair number of cyclists, including some with children. 

There was also encouragement en route for UK cyclists who were not taking part in the end. There was one for Bradley Wiggins who wasn't selected for the Sky Team. 

And one for Mark Cavendish who was injured in a fall on day one. But we've still got Froome. So we will wait and see. 

Our little group of spectators followed the masses who were settling onto the hillside at the foot of Holme Moss and finally selected a spot where we could watch the publicity caravan entertaining us all. Quite what Miffi was doing there, I'm not at all sure, but there she was. 

Eventually, after we had eaten our picnic, waved to the cameras going past on the road and in the air, we saw the yellow motorbike, forerunner of the leading riders. 

Then the first rider showed up ....

... and the second ... 

 ... and then the peleton. 

And then it was over and the crowd started to make its way back towards their parked vehicles. Except that it wasn't quite over; an official car pipped its way through and made a space for the last couple of riders making their way up the hill! 

And so we set off for home, getting thoroughly soaked in a rainstorm on our way to the car park. But at least it hadn't rained on Le Tour and we had had a good day. 

Of course, we still had no idea who had won the stage. To find that out we had to watch the highlights of the day later in the evening. 

Right now, I'm watching stage 3 make its way into London in the rain. The race goes on!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Co-ordinating things.

Sometimes you can sort out travel exactly. This is what we did the other day. We were meeting friends for lunch at the amazing Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar, renowned for it's delightful decor. We were travelling from Greenfield, a couple of stations before Stalybridge on the Huddersfield to Manchester line. Our friends were travelling in the other direction from Manchester. Astoundingly we managed to find trains that got us all there within one minute of each other. The food, pie and peas for some, vegetable lasagna for others (the latter served surprisingly with jumbo chips!!), was fairly average but nicely presented. 

The following day I tried, in vain, to get my granddaughter and myself to Greenfield at the same time. Once again we were coming from opposite directions on the bus route but the closest we could manage had one or other of us waiting around for fifteen to twenty minutes. In the end my granddaughter's bus came early and she ended up hanging about for almost thirty minutes. So it goes! All this in the interests of getting the teenager's hair restyled, a pre-birthday present, successfully achieved in the end. 

We will celebrate the birthday on Sunday, together with her uncle who shares the birthday with her. We will do so by going to watch the Tour de France make it's way through nearby Holmfirth. There is a parking space booked in a field somewhere near the route and we will walk up from there to see the cyclists whizz by, or possibly, depending on the weather, to see them start to toil up Holm Moss, the local high point. Mind you, if it turns out to be pouring with rain we shall just stay at home and watch it all on television. 

At the moment we are watching Wimbledon on the television, all the spectators looking a little like boiled lobsters in the sunshine, whereas we have warm, drizzly rain here in the north. 

Having been eliminated from the football and the tennis this year, we are hoping to see a little bit of success in the cycling! We shall see!