Monday, 29 September 2014

Statistics and lies and points of view.

The topics that are chosen to produce statistics about can be very odd at times. In La Voz de Galicia newspaper online I came across some statistics regarding infidelity. Apparently doctors, bankers and teachers are the most likely to be unfaithful. Amongst doctors it seems that 40% of infidelities are with a work colleague and 25% with a patient: all those soppy hospital romance stories come true! How do teachers find time to be unfaithful, that's what I want to know. And also, of course, I would love to know who decided to survey such a topic and how many people were involved. I wonder if they factored in the boasting elements. Surely some people must have added a little spice and romance to their humdrum lives by pretending to have been unfaithful. 

Still on the romance front, Amal Alamuddin married George Clooney yesterday and today (civil ceremony). Photos of the wedding cannot be seen until the next edition of Vogue magazine comes out. This is what the stars do; they sell exclusive rights to their wedding photos to magazines. 

A U.S. Website, "The Business Woman", is reported to have turned the story on its head, reporting that the “dual-qualified English barrister and New York litigation attorney who has long been a high-profile figure in international refugee and human rights law has gone against the trend for professional women in her field and married… an actor”. It described the groom as “probably a nice man, but seems to be a bit clingy, as since she met him it’s hard to find a photo or footage of Amal without him hanging around in the background”. I love it. 

The other day I read an interview with a young actress whose name escapes me now, one of those who used to be a model and moved into acting. Just as in the normal world of work, where we are constantly being told that it is unusual for someone to have a job or even a profession for life but must move from one position to another in the modern world, so the same rule applies in the rather artificial world of showbiz. Actors become models become singers become writers become directors become who knows what. 

Anyway, this particular actress who used to be a model was asked this question: "What has been your biggest fashion faux pas? 

Here is her answer: "I am constantly faux pas-ing." 

 Isn't it amazing what you can do with the English language? 

One of my favourite journalists, Paul Mason, has been giving advice to overseas students studying in the UK. As well as thanking them for helping to finance UK universities with their extra-high tuition costs, he advises them to visit kebab shops late in the evening to improve their command of English. I particularly enjoyed his description of the railway system: "In Britain, we have a railway system that was privatised, then half-renationalised and fragmented. There has been a lot of investment in Cornish pasty outlets, but not so much on actual rolling stock." Here is a link to the whole article. Well worth a look! 

Meanwhile Germaine Greer has been talking to European Newsweek and sounding off about the Duchess of Cambridge, the young lady formerly known as Kate Middleton (Catalina to the Spanish). Good old Germaine says the duchess is too thin - maybe that's just her body type as her sister is also slender and her mother is not exactly fat! - and should not have been "made to get pregnant" again so soon - her two children will have the same sort of age difference as my two and as the children of many of my friends! But, of course, Germaine is entitled to her opinion. However, she should be careful. She should consider the fuss that ensued when Hilary Mantel dared to comment on the role of the duchess. 

According to the Newsweek article, a poll of 3,000 British adults found that 43% of respondents thought the duchess represented a “step forward for women and represents modern women”. However, 38% of women and 35% of men believed she was not allowed to voice her opinions enough or at all. And only 36% believed she had “control and ownership over her own body”. 

There you go. That's statistics for you!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time goes by.

Yesterday began with blue sky and sunshine and went rapidly downhill. By the time I had returned from my run and showered, the clouds had moved in. An hour later it began to rain. The rain didn't last all day but on the whole it was a bit of a washout. Oh, yes, and there was frost on the grass up at the Cricket and Bowling Club first thing. 

Today, by contrast, began dull and cloudy and improved as the day went on. I would not describe it as a total success but a distinct improvement on yesterday. Out on my run this morning I met Jack, an old gent with whom I have a sort of a nodding acquaintance. Well, perhaps a bit more than just nodding; we are on first name terms now, after a few years of my stopping and chatting to him on my run. Usually he parks just beyond the Cricket and Bowling Club (of frosty grass fame) and walks his little dog, and occasionally his daughter's little dog as well, a hundred yards up the road and back. Today his little dog, Rosie, who usually ignores me totally, waddled up to meet and greet me. Like other residents of this village, she has taken time to accept me but now clearly regards me as a local and, therefore, her friend. Clearly, no-one has told her of my aversion to small, happy-type dogs but that's the way it is. 

Reading the newspaper I have learnt that we may be in for a warm October. Of course, that might only apply to the south of England. Here in Saddleworth our proximity to the Pennines often prevents the good weather from reaching us. I also read that Alaska may become the new Florida by 2050. Climate change is no longer a future problem but one which needs facing today. 

Be that as it may, autumn is shaping up quite nicely, with some rather fine colours around. So here is my latest poem on that topic. 

    Seasonal changes. 

Autumn lays her colours down,
Sets up her stall. 
None of the green brashness of Spring,
Although it seems only days
Since we admired HER fresh insolence: 
Parading her slender youth for all to see. 

Summer dealt with her, 
Forcing her pale innocence 
Into dusty, darker greens 
And hidden shady places 
Away from his brilliance. 

But now Autumn comes 
To set things right,
Deep reds and oranges, 
Burnt yellows and ochres, 
Bright browns,
In one last fling 
Before Winter with his white cruelty 
Locks all the colours away.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Speaking of languages.

Today is the European Day of Languages, according to their website "a time to celebrate the 6,000+ languages spoken around the world, promote language learning and have some multilingual fun!" Their website offers all sorts of teaching resources for schools. Very nice. 

Some odd statistics abound regarding languages. English remains the most spoken "foreign to me language", which does not surprise me. It's up there in the top five with French, German, Spanish and Russian. In some countries of Europe up to 98% of the people speak another language. Impressive! The UK is one of the places where this is least likely to be the case, together oddly enough with Portugal. When we talk to friends in Spain about foreign language learning they almost always say that the Spanish are really bad but that the Portuguese are really good, especially at learning English. And there they are, the Portuguese, just like the English; 61% of them only speak their own language. Here's a link to an article about it with a very nice map showing where different "foreign to me languages" are spoken.

The Guardian must be aware of the UK's minimalist attitude to foreign language learning as they have been asking people to send a photo of an everyday object, labelled in their native language, as a way of celebrating European Day of Language. 

Here's another aspect of the same thing. A Facebook "friend" who works as a teaching assistant in a local primary school expressed his bewilderment when given the task of helping a couple of Rumanian children to learn some basic English. Some of his Facebook friends gave him sensible hints. Others advised him to resign in the face of an impossible task. But it's symptomatic of his being an English-only speaker that he had no idea of where to start. Or maybe he just lacks imagination altogether. That's a different problem. 

I wonder which language will be used when George Clooney gets married in Venice on Monday. Oddly, they are having the star-spangled (Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon et al) reception on Saturday. If one of them changes their mind, I suppose, this means that they have had the party anyway. It's all something to do with Venetian bye-laws that say civil ceremonies have to take place in council buildings, which presumably are closed at the weekend. I know a number of ladies who will be rather disappointed about the whole proceedings. Their dreams of being George's chosen one have become a little more remote. Of course, in this modern world of short-term marriage they may very well be able to hope again before too much time has gone past. There I go, being cynical once again. 

Happy European Day of Languages.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Words, food, and going out.

Words are funny things. My friend Colin recently commented on the use of "the hystero-sphere", in the phrase "the hystero-sphere of Twitter and Facebook", in other words, I suppose, the tendency to over-react to events by commenting instantly, and sometimes rantingly,  in the social media. I gave him back the "cyber hive", which I found in an article urging people to give up their electronic communication devices for a while and to "de-assimilate from the cyber hive". Here's another one: "clicktivism". 

"Clicktivism" is basically digital campaigning, activism at the click of a computer mouse, I imagine. It seems that this is growing. There is an organisation called, a global website with headquarters in San Francisco. It launched in April 2012 and six million people in the UK have since then signed or launched a digital petition through this system. A further three million UK people are members of something called 38 degrees, a web-based activist organisation founded in memory Anita Roddick, of Body Shop fame. 

To some extent, I suppose, this is a way of getting people involved in expressing opinions, taking an interest in politics and in what's going on in the world. I wonder about the possible shallowness of it all though. Is it not perhaps too easy to blow off steam about something on Twitter and then feel much better about it and not actually do anything more about that cause. 

And yes, I realise the irony of my saying that, as a person who sounds off her opinions via her blog. But, hey, who said I had to be totally consistent? 

So, anyway, today I de-assimilated from the cyber hive in my own way, by going out to lunch with some old friends. We do this about once a month, catch up with the gossip and talk until they throw us out of whichever "eaterie" we have chosen to patronise. 

Today we went to Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant in Manchester. I'm not sure what makes it specifically Italian. Yes, he serves pasta dishes and no doubt he has researched Italian recipes but can he claim to be Italian? Be that as it may, the decor is nice and the food was good. 

One of our party has a Gold Card for the restaurant (some kind of loyalty card) and qualified for a freebie. Turning down the chance to own a mug with Jamie's face on, she accepted a free bottle of wine to share with her friend. How kind! 

We also got a free mushroom soup starter. But just a very small one, served in a coffee cup! Very nice, yes, but I get bigger freebies with drinks in Galicia. 

As side dishes to accompany your main course you can order a "plank". This turns out to be a longish wooden board, rather like a cheese board, with a selection of tasters of different dishes on it. Interesting terminology. we did not indulge.

For my main course I had a "Superfood salad". Here is the description which I have culled from the reatuarant's menu online: "avocado, fennel, garden leaves, shredded asparagus and courgette with candied beets, cime di rapa, a mix of grains, nuts and seeds. Served with smashed cannelloni bean hummus, cottage cheese and fennel blossom harissa." 

I've just checked on the "cime di rapa". They are "turnip tops", in other words what the Galicians call "grelos". It's a very small world indeed. This was a very un-Galician use of the greens though. 

 I have to say that the "garden leaves" from my garden are nothing like what I had in my superfood salad. My garden leaves are distinctly inedible. These were good. Had I chosen to do so, I could have added chicken or fish to my salad but I decided not to. It was fine as it was and very tasty too. 

Another successful ladies-who-lunch outing!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Wednesday morning reminiscence.

It's Wednesday. So when the alarm rang I checked out the weather: blue sky, sunshine, a good start to the day. Then, because it's Wednesday I set off to run to Uppermill where there is a market in the square on Wednesdays. 

Down the Donkey Line (having done the first bit on the road because the owner of the patch of land at the start of the bridle path has meanly blocked access but seems still not to be doing anything with the land), onto the canal towpath and across the stepping stones into the park in Uppermill and the up the road to the market stalls. 

The fruit and veg man this morning had Cox's apples, "the first from our orchards in Kent", as he told me with justifiable pride. For no-one can deny that these are the best apples there are. If the English orchards could produce enough of them, they should export them everywhere and stop the sale of some of the poor fruit that is sold under the name of "apple". Well, that's what I think anyway. And I am sure the lady I met at the fruit and veg stall would agree with me. She was shaking the apples to see if the pips rattled before deciding to buy. It's a long time since I have seen anyone do that. If the pips rattle inside the apple, then the fruit is completely ripe and ready to eat. We reminisced, separately but together, about receiving that bit of wisdom from our fathers long ago. 

Clearly this was a morning for reminiscences for after leaving the market stalls I ran into an old friend I have not seen for almost ten years. There he was on the corner of the street, trying to work out what was going on behind the scaffolding on the building opposite. This is what happens: you reach a stage in your life where you can stand and ponder. Maybe it's part of the same syndrome that has men leaning on the wall overlooking, or perhaps even overseeing, the work going on in Vigo where they building the new railway station. 

Anyway, my friend and I caught up with each other's lives: who is still married (me), who has married again (his ex wife and his ex wife's best friend - for the fourth time! - that one's original husband says that she is collecting surnames!), what our various offspring, who went to school together, are up to and how many grandchildren we each have. And so on and so on until I looked at my watch and had to say that, delightful as it was to stand on the corner and chat, I had a couple of places to go to before my bus came in about 7 minutes time. You have to keep an eye on our buses. If you miss one there is a half hour wait for the next one. And I didn't fancy the walk home with several bags of fruit, fish, bread, biscuits and goodness knows what else! 

I caught the bus. Quite a masterpiece of timing. 

Reminiscences can have adverse consequences. Reading the news online after a late breakfast, I read that a member of the House of Lords has been calling for a police investigation of the writer Hilary Mantel, one of my favourite writers. At the weekend, a short story of hers was published in the Guardian: "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher". That's what did it. She wrote something that involved one of our "national treasures". Mind you, can Mrs Thatcher really be classed as a "national treasure? I thought they were mostly rather nice people. (I need to be careful what I write. Maybe there is an app somewhere looking out for derogatory stuff about national treasures.) 

This is what happened. Years ago Margaret Thatcher was hospitalised for some routine operation and on the day the national treasure (not yet recognised as such) left hospital Hilary Mantel looked out of the window of her flat and saw the lady waiting to be collected, in a prime position to be a target for a sharpshooter, had there been one in Ms Mantel's flat. The moment was stored away and has been turned into a short story, provoking outrage, just as when Ms Mantel commented on Kate Middleton's role as producer of heirs to the throne. It's a good job Hilary Mantel is already a successful writer because in the current climate of outraged reaction, immediately spread via social media, she would have little chance of getting her material out there. 

This tendency to explode into furious comment about material written by novelists is rather frightening. It smacks of censorship. Besides, do people no longer recognise that what appears in fiction is just that. Because a writer includes certain events in a novel, this does not mean that the writer wants or, even worse, intends to carry out those actions! Where is the voice of reason in all this? 

On a lighter note, I have read that today is the 65th birthday of The Boss. Even pop stars grow older. Here is a link to a fond look at Bruce Springsteen, still a dreamboat according to the journalist who put it all together. 

More reminiscence!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What we did on our holidays.

Italian conversation classes started up again today. Most of us are really just keeping our Italian ticking over and more than anything I think we go for the social group. Everyone has now known each other for a number of years and we all get along fine. New people add themselves to the group and sometimes stay, sometimes leave. We are pretty welcoming but maybe we are not everyone's cup of tea. 

It's very refreshing to go along to a class where no-one is putting pressure on the "students" to take an examination at the end of the year. We are all a little long in the tooth for such things now. Not that we can't pass exams; it's just that we no longer need to do so. And I'm pretty sure it's more fun for the teacher as well. In fact, having done this kind of thing myself, I know that is the case. 

We did the usual first class of the year reunion thing with all of us telling what we had been up to in the summer. Our teacher had been to Greece and declared that the Greek remains they have in Sicily are much better than what she saw in Greece. When she expressed surprise at how little there is at the Parthenon in Athens by way of statues and such, we had to confess that most of that stuff is in the British Museum. There you go, British vandalism goes back a long way. 

They seem to have been doing a similar thing at the Labour Party Conference, which is going on in Manchester. Not robbing Greek artefacts and ancient monuments but talking about their holidays. Goodness knows why. Anyway I read part of a speech by a member of the Shadow Cabinet where he went on about how he and his family went interRailing this summer. 

One of the places they visited was Salzburg and while still at the planning stage they discovered that there you can do a Sound of Music Tour. You go around on bikes, apparently, and visit places seen in the film version of the musical. You can run through the field where Maria sang "The Hills are Alive" and things like that. Well, his wife decided that if they were doing it they needed to make clothes out of curtains! Because they did so in the film! 

So she bought some curtain material, took it away with them and on the train between Munich and Salzburg they sewed. Lederhosen for the boys and headscarves for the girls. Really? The train must have gone very slowly for them to get all that stitching done. it's surely not that far between Munich and Salzburg. I have made quite a lot of clothes myself in my time, some of then stitched by hand, so I know what I am talking about. Headscarves maybe but lederhosen??? That's asking a lot. And who makes headscarves out of curtains? Another thing: they must have very amenable sons if they were prepared to wear short trousers with bib and brace and all made from curtains! 

In any case, I don't remember any clothes being made out of curtains in The Sound of Music. Granted, it's a long time since I saw the film so I could be wrong. Please put me wise if that is the case. I do know that Scarlett O'Hara successfully made a new outfit out of green velvet curtains in Gone with the Wind. (There's a woman who knew how to sew! Or at least, she knew how to get the faithful remaining slaves to sew.) Heaven help us if that politician goes on an American Civil War Tour holiday! 

As regards the lederhosen, I am afraid I think it's all a lot of ... (I almost said something rude) ... nonsense!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Stereotypes, weather, reading stuff!

I am reading (or rather re-reading but it's so long since I read it for the first time that it's almost like a first time read) Tolstoy's War and Peace. 19th century Russia was a strange place, with an upper class who often spoke to each other in French, even though some of them did so quite badly. It's especially odd as they were at war on and off with France. How odd to be able to speak to your enemy in his own language and still continue fighting. I suppose the truth was that the upper classes of all countries had more in common with each other than they did with the peasants of their own country. 

As often happens when reading a novel, I find myself wanting to shake the characters into a realisation and understanding of what a mess they are making of their lives. You can see little Natasha (I say little rather than young because she has barely got beyond playing with dolls when she is suddenly falling in love) about to make serious mistakes and mostly because silly Prince Andrei, who IS old enough to know better, went off and left her alone for a year. What a daft man! Setting himself up for heartbreak. 

At one point Tolstoy gets into a bit of national stereotyping about self-assuredness: 

"A Frenchman is self-assured because he considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistible enchanting for men as well as women. An. Englishman is self-assured on the grounds that he is a citizen of the best-organised state in the world, and therefore, as an Englishman, he always knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured because he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it is possible to know anything fully. A German is self-assured worst of all, and most firmly of all, and most disgustingly of all, because he imagines he knows the truth, science, which he has invented himself, but which for him is the absolute truth." 

Priceless!!! I wonder if he would still think that England is the "best organised state in the world". 

He didn't mention Sweden in there. For most people the stereotype most representative of Sweden is, of course, IKEA, which I have just discovered has been around since 1943! Who'd have thought it. Anyway, here is a link to an odd set of pictures, artist. Ed Harrington's idea of what various monsters would look like if flat packed by IKEA. 

And, while we're talking of Russians, here's a link to some interesting photos of the Permafrost Kingdom of the Yakuts, Permafrost Kingdom is a tourist attraction set in a cave in Us-Kut, the homestead of the Atlasov family of Yakut people. Yakuts are Turkic people who mainly inhabit the Sakha Yakutia republic in Russia. 

When I first saw that last item, I read it as the Permafrost Kingdom of the Yakults. This surprised me somewhat as Yakult is a type of liquid yoghurt product that is supposed to be really good for you. I imagined a range of Yakult ice-cream. 

Not that it's ice-cream weather here. After my moans about the disappearance if the Indian summer, the sun came out again yesterday, albeit in rather a chilly fashion. Today began very dull but got brighter intermittently as the hours passed. 

Mornings are chilly. Autumn is practically here. I am determinedly donning lightweight running gear still, shorts and sleeveless vest-top, but if the mornings continue to be cold I will have to get out the cold weather gear. 

Not quite frost in the morning yet but I bet we'll have some soon.I have just heard ground-frost forecast for a few places in England tomorrow morning! Brrrr!!!!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sheds! But not as I know them.

On the BBC Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" the other day they were talking about garden sheds. These were not your average run of the mill garden sheds but fancy sheds, even one that that can rotate so you can change your view. With such a shed, if you live in a house with a sea view you can sometimes have your shed looking towards the garden and the house and at other times looking out to see. The wonders of modern technology! 

But why would you need such a thing? Well, the people on the programme apparently use their shed as a place to write, relax, listen to music. Such a place is not a shed but a kind of gazebo or wooden conservatory. And, I wonder, in such a life, what do you use your house for? Are these people's life-partners such ogres that they feel the need to escape from them? Surely, if you can afford a fancy rotating shed, you probably have a house large enough for you to find a place of "refuge" if you absolutely have to escape from your spouse. Our house is not huge but we still can find space to spend part of the day in separate rooms if we so choose. It's not hard. 

Now, I can understand that if a person has a particularly noisy or messy hobby, involving machinery such a lathes, drills, potters' wheels or what-have-you, then you might need a shed as a place of work. Surely, though, writing or reading or listening to music, even composing music, is better done in a more comfortable place than a shed! 

We have a shed in the garden. In fact we have two: a large-ish one and a smaller one that is little more than a lean-to. Even if they're were empty I would not choose to sit in there for any length of time to relax in any way whatsoever. The only time I ever felt remotely inclined to spend any time in a shed was when I was child and we used to make my father's shed into a kind of den. Mind you, to do that we had to clamber over boxes of seeds, various DIY tools and so on. And even then it was never a very satisfactory den: too cold in winter and too hot and stuffy in summer! 

Our sheds are of a similar kind to my father's. They are not empty. Despite the fact that an elderly neighbour thought we were erecting a playhouse for the children on the day we put the first on up, they really are not inviting places to stay for any length of time. Our sheds are full of bikes, sledges, old plant pots and other such gardening stuff! In other words, the kind of paraphernalia that you don't want cluttering the house. Where do shed-writers, shed-listeners to music, shed-relaxers put all this stuff? In the garage? So where do they put the car? In the living room? 

 Once again I am struck by how different some people's lives are.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Staying together and getting it together.

So Scotland decided to stay with in the United Kingdom, not by a huge majority but still, the country remains part of "us". The strange cloud formation I saw recently which appeared to foretell the loss of Scotland did not come to pass. I confess to feeling some relief as I was rather worried about what the consequences of splitting would be. 
And Alex Salmond has chosen to resign from his post as First Minister. It smacks a little of taking his toys away and going home because the gang won't play his way. But maybe I am doing him a disservice. 

What are we going to get excited about now? For the last few weeks the atmosphere has been electric with expectation and anticipation. Now it's all a little flat. Analysis of how the voting went and which bits of the community voted in which way is not quite the same somehow. And yet, there is still a feeling that things must change, that concessions must be made, that democracy has been shaken up and woken up. Will great changes to our society take place? We shall see. 

Back in normal life, things go on as ever. The Indian summer seems to have petered out a little here in our neck of the woods. Having had some fine, warm days, once I started to arrange things to do, the weather decided to let me down. Wednesday started fine and warm, I sat waiting for a bus with my bags of shopping in Uppermill in brilliant warm sunshine. By the time Phil's brother turned up for a walk later in the morning, the grey cloud had moved in. 

Similarly yesterday. I had arranged to take my German friend Heidy for a stroll around the area. She always admires the pictures of "sunny Saddleworth" I put on Facebook and wanted to see them for herself. So, of course, the cloud came down again. We had a nice walk but it's not quite the same when the sun chooses not to shine. 

 As for today, well, it's Party in the Park at the Cricket and Bowling Club up the road from us. Bouncing castles and food stalls abound. Local hopefuls are scheduled to make music on the stage. Planning has been going on for months. People have bought tickets online. The "music" pounds out from mid afternoon until eleven in the evening, at least. A zumba teacher exhorts the crowd to join in the dance with her. Is this Saddleworth's answer to Glastonbury? 

Phil says it's Saddleworth's answer to A Guía. Towards the end of August each year our peaceful sleep in our Vigo flat is disturbed by the over-excited sound of a fair going on on the promontory of A Guía, for all the world like Silcock's fair which used to come to the farm at the end of our road when I was a child. Noisy, a bit tacky and keeping you awake at night. And yes, Party in the Park probably has more of A Guía than Glastonbury about it. Mind you, the wellies were totally. Glastonbury! 

For, as you might expect, the sun failed to shine on Party in the Park and sensible people were prepared for all eventualities! 

It did, however, like all the best Spanish fiestas, end in spectacular fireworks, which I watched from our attic bedroom window!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Still protesting!

Yesterday evening on BBC Radio Four's arts review programme, Front Row, they were interviewing the wonderful Joan Baez, still singing beautifully at 71. She is doing concerts in London and at various venues around Europe. Not Manchester, unfortunately! She described how had been concerned that she wasn't hitting the high notes as well as she used to and had even considered giving up performing. Fortunately, rather than do that she went to see her doctor to see if there was something physically wrong. Nothing at all. What he reckoned was happening was that she was mentally blocking herself because her voice was no longer as young as it used to be (it happens to us all) and she was subconsciously unhappy about it. So he referred her to a voice therapist. This was America, after all. He sorted it out and she now feels fine. 

A few years ago, more than a few, probably about seven or eight years ago, we saw her perform in Manchester. She may not have hit the highest of high notes (this was pre-voice therapy, after all) but she still sounded good. At the time, she commented on how much she was enjoying performing in contrast to how scared she used to be, the stage fright she used to endure when she needed to stand up and sing in public. And yet, despite the stage fright, she did it. 

She sang to the vast crowds on the day that Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream" speech. So it was, I suppose, inevitable that they asked her in the Radio Four interview about the USA having a black president. Her response was a comment on growing racism in the United States. In her opinion, some of the anger that right wingers felt they could not openly express when equal rights legislation came in is being expressed now against Obama. What is more she feels that racism is more rife than ever in the USA. This fits in with recent news stories of black women out for a night together, simply drinking and chatting in bars being accused of prostitution and even arrested. Then there was the actress who was arrested, again for prostitution, when she kissed her white partner in their car. A passer-by took objection to this and reported them! And along came the police.

Land of the free! I think Joan Baez perhaps needs to continue singing those protest songs.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

After the dog sitting.

Well, my dog-minding and grandparental duties are over for the time being. Yesterday I caught up with things I needed to do at my house, as opposed to at my daughter's house. Today I went to Manchester, armed with a list of stuff I needed to buy. 

The Indian summer continues and Manchester was full of people out and about - girls in their summer clothes (Springsteen fans, recognise the borrowed line?) and blokes in suits carrying their jackets. The centre of Manchester is very pleasant In the sunshine. In Saint Ann's square they have set up a kind of artisan market, selling jewellery and odd-looking clothes, as well as some very nice food stalls. I bought some very good bread and Eccles cakes. 

However, I am not entirely sure about this tendency to fill the square up with stalls so frequently. In June they have French markets, where you can buy excellent tarte aux pommes (French apple pie) and as we get close to Christmas there will be Christmas markets. But the square itself is one of the nicest places in central Manchester and should be shown off for itself once in a while. 

With the Scottish independence referendum coming up on Thursday, someone posted on Facebook a mini- article suggesting that Greater Manchester should make a bid for devolution as well. After all, it has a bigger population that Northern Ireland and a larger economy than Wales. Here's a bit of the rationale offered: "What’s the point of it? It is hoped that a devolved Greater Manchester combined authority, with an elected mayor and control over taxes and spending, would be able to turn the city’s fortunes around." 

Long ago when we were students we used to joke about demanding free rule for Lancashire. That was when Manchester was still part of Lancashire. So maybe we should support any bid for A Free and Independent Greater Manchester. Hmmm!!! 

So I have been doing a lot of walking around today, which I have been reading is better for you than sitting down. Experts say that we spend half our lives sitting down – and studies show it increases our risk of dying from practically any disease you can think of. 

It all gets quite scientific, as usual. Those who know these things tell us that reducing sitting time increases the length of your telomeres. So, what are telomeres? You may well ask! "They are the protective caps made of DNA and protein that sit on the end of chromosomes and try to stop damage during cell division. They affect how long cells live, with shorter telomeres being linked to diseases related to ageing, such as heart disease, many cancers, diabetes, obesity and strokes." The more we stand up, the better it is for our telomeres. 

And it's no good expecting that going to the gym once a week will make up for sitting around the rest of the time. This is not the case. We need to be on our feet more. So it's a good job I was always one of those teachers who moved around the classroom all the time and rarely sat behind the teacher's desk. I was doing myself a favour and didn't even know it. 

One study concluded by saying that an adult who watches an average of six hours of television a day over his or her lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years less than someone who does not watch television. 

Is it even possible to find enough stuff to watch on TV so that you can spend six hours a day sitting in front of the set? 

Enough of that. 

I have been trying to organise a walk around our rather fine bit of the UK (or possible future Independent Greater Manchester) with a friend. Consequently I have been looking at weather forecasts online. I have come across several different summaries for the next few days but all of them are really saying the same thing. 

What is the difference between "times of clouds and sun", "periods of clouds and sun" and "partly sunny"? 

 I would appreciate any sensible suggestions.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The things people say.

An Italian friend of mine posted an article to Facebook, essentially a list of things you should know about Italian or things that Italians say and apparently believe. 

1) There is something called the colpo d’aria, and it can give you something called cervicale. 

2) You should never leave your house with a wet head. 

3) Having a cappuccino after dinner inhibits digestion. 

4) Sparkling water helps digestion. 

 5) A digestivo, like an amaro, grappa, or limoncello, really does help you digest. 

6) It’s dangerous to go in the water within three hours of eating, especially for kids. 

7) Putting urine on a sting, especially from a jellyfish, helps it heal. 

8) Air-conditioning makes you sick. 

Each one was examined in turn. Some were refuted. Some were accepted as having a grain of truth. What struck me was that most of them could also have been said by a good number of Spanish people I know and, for that matter, some French. 

I've mentioned number one before. The colpo d'aria is basically a draught and I know quite a number of people who suffer from "cervicales", plural in Spanish, as a result of sitting in draught. That's why even on sunny days you see women wearing scarves. It is, of course, conceivable that it's just a stiff neck with a fancy name! 

Similarly, number three. You would almost never find a Spaniard drinking cafe con leche after a meal. Only guiris do that. The Spanish and the Italians maintain that the dairy produce causes the problem. But it's all right to have arroz con leche (almost rice pudding), leche frita (another popular dessert - literally "fried milk" - no idea what it really is) or flan, all with dairy produce in!!! 

On the coffee question, a French friend of mine long ago told me that you should never drink more than two cups of coffee a day and especially not after 6 in the evening. Or tea for that matter. She said that she once did so and her stomach turned inside out!!! Is that possible? 

Some of them would also have been said on a regular basis by my mother forty years ago, especially numbers two and six. How our ideas have changed since then. 

As for number seven, well!? There was an episode of "Friends", years go, where one of the girls had to wee on another's leg because of a jelly fish sting. 

So that one must be true!!!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Plus ça change!

In between getting grandchildren organised for school - bags packed, homework done and in bags, lunch or snack sorted - driving grandchildren here and there, feeding grandchildren, walking the puppy, making sure the puppy is fed and watered and that someone has taken him outside to do what puppies need to do, I have snatched the odd moment to read bits of the newspaper. 

That is how I came across the headline "GCSE changes may cut top grades". My heart sank. They want to tinker with the system again. There is this desperate terror that too many pupils are achieving the A* grade. Well, I've thought that for a while but if you set up league tables and judge teachers on the exam results of their pupils, they will usually find a way of teaching TO the exam, improving exam techniques and one way or another pushing up the percentage of top grades in their classes. 

The other thing is that there is a lot of concern about our place in the PISA - Programme for International Student Assessment - ratings. We don't do very well. I wonder if instituting a grading system which they consider compatible with the PISA systems will improve our students performance. Anyway, they want to institute a new grading system: 1 to 9 instead of A* to G. 

At first I thought they were reverting to the grading system that was around when I did O- levels, more years ago than I care to confess to. But that's not quite the case. This time 1 will be the lowest grade possible and 9 the highest, contrary to most other grading systems I have come across, except possibly music exams for playing an instrument. 

Either way, it's a different way of grading to what is in place at the moment. And it will not be possible to award the very top grade to as high a percentage of students as goes on at the moment with A* grades. So the emphasis has changed from getting as many high grades as possible to demonstrating that we have a strict and realistic assessment programme in place. Wasn't that what they really wanted to have already. I suspect we are seeing a lot of political manoeuvring and career tweaking. 

It's bad enough when you have work out the approximate equivalent grades from a previous system with the ones from an old system. It's got some of that "comparing chalk with cheese" aspect about it. However, this new grading system will exist side by side with the old one for a while. Only Maths, English Language and English Literature will change initially, although the rest will follow at a later date. So some students will have two different types of grades on their certificates. I feel sorry for the employers who will have to make head or tail of the grades and for the teachers who will have to deal with administering the system and explaining to parents why little Billy isn't getting the top grade. But most all I feel sorry for the poor kids who are being used as guinea pigs once more in this ongoing educational politicking!! 

Rant over! I've got a puppy to walk.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A gypsy life. Oh, and a dog's life!

The daughter has swanned off to Italy. Her fiancé's cousin is getting married there. This is what you do nowadays apparently: you go off and get married in a foreign country. Everyone wants to be Brad and Angelina. Unfortunately not everyone has a home in the south of France in which to get married. So you have to go off to Lake Garda or somewhere similar. And your guests leave the children with the grandparents! 

So yesterday I went round to the daughter's house to collect her car for my use while she is away. (After all, I will be driving her kids around.) I got there to find that she and the fiancé were not packed. Truly this is last-minute-ism carried to an extreme. What is more, this is seriously not my daughter. She usually resembles me much more than this. In other words, she has usually made a list of what she needs to pack and has packed it the night before. Neither of us is not like those who are packed a week in advance but, unlike her father who would happily pack just immediately before departure, she generally is better organised than this! Madness has clearly set in! 

The next bit of evidence of unpreparedness was her asking me to look up times of trains to the airport!!!! Surely this should have been done days ago! We found one, we got to the station on time (having completed the packing) and I was on the point of setting off to go about my business. I had a list of things I was going to accomplish while I had the car. Just as I pulled out of the parking lot, the daughter and the fiancé reappeared, all in a fluster. The train had been cancelled!!!! Why did the website not show this? Was it a last minute cancellation? Why was it cancelled anyway? I suspect staffing problems. On more than one occasion, I have had trains cancelled in this part of the country because they did not have a driver or a guard available to work that train. And they say there is an unemployment problem?! My eye!! 

Outcome? A trip to Manchester airport. Not on my schedule but there it was. And so, they were off. 

And for the next few days I will be living a gypsy life, to-ing and fro-ing between houses. No doubt you have a question: Why have I not moved the grandchildren lock, stock and barrel to my house? Well, thereby hangs a tale and a tail. 

There's the independence factor. Grandchild number two has just started secondary school and is walking to and from school every day with a friend. We would rather not disrupt this newfound self-reliance. But the major (and recently added) complication is the puppy dog. 

Ever since the faithful boxer dog became terminally ill and had to be put down about a year ago, the children have pestered for a replacement hound. The excuse for not doing so has always been the unfairness of leaving a small dog on his own in the house while the adults were at work and the children in school. An excellent bit of reasoning in my view. 

Then, when the summer holidays started the daughter, in a fit of madness as far as I can tell (there's the madness again), went out and purchased a puppy: small, scruffy-looking, wiry haired, some kind of terrier crossed with something else, cute and funny but still A PUPPY! 

The children were delighted. Grandchild number two declared, somewhat over-dramatically that the black hole in her heart left by the demise of the faithful boxer dog had finally been filled!!!! 

And all summer long the puppy has been used to lots of people being around him all day long, making a fuss. For various reasons of the older granddaughter's college timetable and the fiancé's leave from work this continued even after term started again. The puppy is at the stage when he needs to have a bit of exercise, have a sleep, have a play, maybe have some more exercise and so on. Not to mention, of course, food and water. 

Not wishing to transfer all the puppy equipment to our house, this blogger finds herself involved in puppy care, a style of puppy care that involves going over to the daughter's house mid-afternoon to ensure that the puppy is not lonely, in need of a wee, a drink, a bit of love, etc. And so I go to and fro, sleeping at the daughter's house but returning to mine during the day, well most of the day, and for meals and such. (I prefer my own kitchen! I hope readers don't have a problem with this!) 

Now, I would never harm or hurt a small creature like this but I am seriously not a doggy person. I am not given to picking them up and hugging them, as the grandchildren do all the time. Neither am I a fan of kissing small dogs and letting them lick me, especially on or near my face. Above all, I do not appreciate picking up doggy-poo. So I am faced with a dilemma. 

On the one hand I am severely critical of those who allow their dogs to do their business all over the place and just walk away from it. On the other, picking up said business, albeit with my hand in a plastic poo-sack, is something I find quite repulsive. Up to now, I have managed to avoid the problem. Yes, I have walked the puppy but he has not needed cleaning up after when I have been alone. If I am accompanied by grandchildren they are happy to be poo-collectors for me. 

So far so good. But tomorrow is another day! And so is Saturday!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Social mobility, changes, a fortunate generation and so on.

So, the latest polls suggest that Scotland might vote FOR independence after all. This is causing lots of discussion about border controls and last minute promises of extra benefits and autonomy if they stay in the United Kingdom. 

Another consequence seems to have been the announcement of a Royal Pregnancy. Yes, I know they are saying that the announcement has been made early because poor Kate has horrid extreme-morning-sickness and has had to miss some royal engagements. However, some analysts appear to think that it is because this amazingly wonderful news just might make the Scots want to stay in Great Britain after all. Why? Does a royal birth make such a difference? Will this baby become the "Prince or Princess of Scotland"? 

Anyway, Guillermo and Catalina, as the Spanish insist on calling them, are over the moon to announce that baby number two is on the way. Spanish scandal mags have been saying so for weeks. Do they have access to details of the life royal that the rest of us don't? Are they strangely clairvoyant? Or has someone simply said that baby George is now over a year old and it's about time they made another sprog (an heir and a spare as they say, well, as I am told they say) and suggestion has gone to rumour which has gone to press coverage? 

Does it really matter, in the broader scheme of things? Probably not! Not to those of us born in the 1940s at least. 

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have been looking at what we have as pensions and have discovered that most retirees from that birth group "have never had it so good .... the vast majority of couples born in the 1940s are maintaining their former living standards into retirement – and nearly a half enjoy a greater income in retirement than average real earnings." 

Bearing in mind how low some "real earnings" are, that average may not be so very high. But once again I have been reminded that we are the fortunate generation who did not have to pay university fees, had jobs to look forward to when we graduated and had proper pension schemes. 

The Institute of Fiscal studies goes on to say: "Younger workers are now being offered less generous “defined contribution” pension plans into which employers tend to pay less money and which are dependent on stock market returns. They are also having to save large deposits to pay for a home and take on mortgages on multiples of income far higher than previous generations." 

On that last point, I would like to point out that when we were entering the housing market we had to save at least twice our annual salary to have the necessary deposit to put down on a house, which was pretty difficult even then. I know that house prices have gone up in a ridiculous fashion, out of all proportion to salary increases but ... it wasn't all easy peasy for us either. However, with hindsight I think we were very fortunate that no-one was prepared to offer mortgages above and beyond the value of the property. You had to work very hard to get into negative equity in those good old days. 

While we're in looking-back mode, let's mention university, which has already come up once in this blogpost. This morning I read that the UK has more graduates than ever but without the skills and social mobility to match. It seems that only a quarter of the country's graduates reach the highest levels in literacy and numeracy, well below other top-performing nations. 

Am I surprised? Not really. Once you start to say that everyone can go to university - ok, not everyone but the aim was for 50% I believe - then there's bound to be a bit of dilution of skills amongst those going to university, especially when you take into account some of the degrees on offer. Call me snobbish if you will but "Events Management" is not a degree subject on a par with Chemistry or Modern Languages. 

Add to that the increasing tendency for students to stay at home while they study for their degree, going to the university closest to home and you have another factor in the lack of social mobility. Going away from home to study, living independently, meeting people from a whole range of different walks of life all added to the likelihood that you would try something new and different in life. If university is an extension of sixth form college you are probably going to look for work close to home as well, even if it's not quite what you might truly aspire to. 

Just think, if a certain young lady, now pregnant for the second time, had not gone away to university she would never have had the chance to be the future queen of England. There's social mobility for you!

Monday, 8 September 2014

A bit of a moan.

Up at the crack of dawn. Mist all around, turning into a generally cloudy start to the day. A chilly morning to be out of the pavement at 8 in the morning meeting a local councillor. 

For longer than I care to remember there have been plans to build houses on a patch of land behind our road, not directly behind our house but just a little further up. Building started and stopped and started again. Now, finally, houses are not only completed, some of them, but also sold, some of them, and ready for the first occupants to move in. The access road is a few houses up the main road from our house. And that is part of the problem. 

Because that little side road is now going to give access to some fifty houses, instead of the three it presently serves, there is going to be a whole lot more traffic in and out. Consequently we returned home to find a letter explaining that parking outside our house and our neighbours' houses, was about to disappear, improving visibility for drivers coming out of the side road. Not only that but the promised allocated parking next to the new houses that are being built didn't seem to be materialising. Where would residents of our row of houses be able to park? Parking space is already at a premium around here. Cue for a bit of protest action. 

One of the neighbours contacted a local councillor, (local not only in the sense that she represents us on the town council but also in that she lives locally) and organised a meeting with her. Meanwhile. Phil did some research and found some of the original letters we had all received about the project right back at the start. Armed with statements about the promised parking places, all the neighbours were up first thing this morning to witness the local councillor inspecting things and talking to the building contractor. Will we get a satisfactory outcome? We will all wait and see. 

There's nothing like a little protest to start the week off properly. 

I listened to one of the neighbours commenting to the effect that permits to do various things had probably been bought. "It all comes down to money!" he said pessimistically. And I found myself thinking of all those times in Spain when questions of corruption have come up and Spanish friends have turned to us and said that, of course, that sort of thing couldn't possibly happen in the United Kingdom. Oh, no? Maybe less frequently and less obviously than in Spain but it almost certainly still goes on.

So here we are, back in the swing of things. The weather also swings, between fine and sunny one day and grey and gloomy the next. The big difference is the temperature. The evenings are especially cool and we find ourselves turning the heating on. Have we gone soft by spending time in Spain? 

And time is marching on. Signs of autumn are around. Leaves are turning red and brown and beginning to fall. Rose hips abound. 

 In one of the local Co-op shops they are already selling chocolate Santas and mince pies!! Mince pies! I ask you! Just what is going on? You'd think they could at least get Hallowe'en out of the way first! Surely no-one is buying mince pies and putting them away in the freezer for Christmas already. Pretty soon there will be mince pies all year round as there already seem to be hot cross buns all year round. What has happened to tradition? 

Seasonal food should only be available in season! I cannot imagine Spanish bakers producing "huevos de santos" (literally "saints' bones", a weird piece of confectionary consisting of marzipan "finger bones" with contrasting coloured "marrow") at any other time than in the run up to All Saints Day. Or indeed "orejas" (kind of batter fritters in the shape of huge ears - hence the name) except at "carnaval" time. 

Time for another protest, methinks!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Going back to Blighty!

Yesterday we flew back to the UK, from Oporto to Liverpool. Oporto airport was busy. That is an understatement. The queue to go through security was huge. It wound through at least three layers of zigzags before you finally got to where you put all your stuff in a tray and someone in uniform looks rudely and sneeringly at your feet to remind you to take your shoes off as well. You never know, you just might be hiding something in those open- toed sandals!!!! 

None of the three airports in Galicia is as busy as that, I am sure. It's no wonder Oporto has a huge mural on the ground floor declaring itself to be the airport of all Galicians!! Unfortunately Galicia has been so slow in getting its act together that it has seriously missed the aeroplane!!! 

We left a very cloudy Vigo behind us, fairly sure that the weather forecast for Oporto was much the same. However, the further we went into Portugal the better the weather became By the time we reached Sà Carneiro airport the sky was pretty well all-over blue again. This was a problem as it was by now late afternoon / early evening and the waiting area is west facing. It was extremely difficult to find shade anywhere. But we survived. As you do. 

I gather that the weather must have improved in Vigo as well because my friend Craig posted an excellent picture of the sun going down behind the Islas Cíes. 

For this morning I didn't set an alarm. As we had arrived home at around 1.30 in the early morning, I decided to just sleep and see what time I woke. So at 8.30, I was wide awake and ready for the day. Which turned out to be fine and sunny. It's only as we have moved into late afternoon that the clouds have appeared. 

And there seem to be flowers everywhere, brightly-coloured ones. 

It was very nice of them to lay on sunshine and flowers to welcome us back!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Cultural differences.

I have just come back from a drink with my young friend Craig, an ex-pupil who has been working here and there around Europe since he graduated from university. We swapped stories of life in Spain and elsewhere, in his case bemoaning the difficulty of getting employment at embassies or airports here. Oddly enough the jobs, which might benefit from the services of a bilingual Brit, appear to be reserved for Spaniards who know someone already working there. What a surprise! We agreed on the wonders of the menú del día and how great it is to be able to eat well for under €10, usually with a drink thrown in. 

He's a little disappointed with the weather which managed to change in time for his arrival. Having come from Barcelona, where he works at present, he was hoping to enjoy Galician beaches and possibly show some of his English friends the Islas Cíes and it's not working. Not that it's cold, just that the sunshine seems to have gone walkabout. 

I watched that happen yesterday. We went out to meet a friend for lunch. The sky was blue. The sun was shining nicely. When we left Vigo centre in the late afternoon the sun was still shining splendidly but from the site of the old railway station (eventually to be the site of the new AVE station) we could see a huge bank of cloud that had made its way up the ría and enveloped all the are around our block of flats in grey dampness. That was it for the day! 

We had met a friend for lunch, as I said. I had a mixed salad followed by chipirones encebollados - baby squid with caramelised onions - absolutely delicious. Phil had been undecided and had got as far a choosing to share my salad and order a portion of calamares. If he was still hungry, he would order more later. Just as well, for my chipirones encebollados dish was so enormous that you could have fed a whole family. So I shared it around. Splendid stuff. 

Later I read an article about how the British are receptive to the cuisines of other countries. We are happy to borrow wholesale from places all around the world. This is perhaps why there is no real famous British cuisine. We're too busy enjoying everyone else's. 

The article went on, however, to say that foreigners are often appalled with what we do to their cuisine and quoted the blog Guirilandia by the Spaniard Jorge Ruiz, which has a section devoted to "atrocities committed under the name of Spanish food". He particularly objects to the fact that many people think that simply adding chorizo to a recipe makes it Spanish, even adding it to dishes such as paella which have nothing to do with chorizo whatsoever. 

 He reserves special disgust for paella "ready meals" sold by supermarkets in the UK and especially the production of "paella sandwiches", fortunately just a limited edition. Mind you, I suppose a nation that eats chip butties would see nothing wrong in making sandwiches from paella or lasagne, another offence against cookery which has been perpetuated. oddly, however, i have not heard of sweet and sour chicken sandwiches! 

Describing restaurants that make "paella" with Chinese style rice and simply throwing in a mix of vegetables, shellfish, cooked ham, chorizo and pepper, Jorge Ruiz is horrified. He comments, "El responsable de semejante afrenta debería ser fusilado, o peor aún, obligado a comerse toda la paellera." (The person responsible for such an affront should be shot, or even worse, made to eat the whole paella-panful.) 

Neither is he impressed with what British restaurants can do to the Spanish "tortilla". Personally, I find it hard to understand how you can mess up a Spanish potato and onion omelette. Some people do insist on adding odd ingredients or doing strange things to the potatoes though. I pass my recipe and instructions around. In my way I am doing my culinary bit to educate the British. 

The only thing I can truly say in our defence is that Mr Ruiz should investigate the atrocities that are served up as cups of tea in Spain. It may not be quite so enormous a problem but the fact remains that the Spanish, like the French, have no idea how to make a good cup of tea!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

September thoughts!

Suddenly we are almost at the end of our summer. It's September already. You might not think so if you looked at the blue sky and felt the heat bouncing off the walls out in the street. Nonetheless, September it is. As it said on the t-shirt of someone I saw in Pontevedra during our chess extravagance, "Winter is coming". Actually, I think that is going a little too far but that's the way of slogans. But, indeed, suddenly we are running around tying up loose ends here before we head back to the UK. 

One of those loose ends was paying our rent. Because of the difficulties, still unresolved, that we had opening a bank account here, we pay a couple of months rent in advance in cash. (I sometimes wonder if our paying the rent in cash means that the landlady avoids paying taxes and that we are part of the black economy!! Heaven forbid!!) This means that for a few days before payment I run round like a scalded cat visiting cash machines every day and hoarding euros under the bed. 

I was reminded of this when I read in the newspaper yesterday that there are almost €1.7 billion worth of pesetas still kicking around somewhere in the country. Is it really 12 years since Spain converted to the euro? It seems barely believable. I remember being in Mallorca not long before they changed and having a conversation with a number if people who were panicked at the idea of adjusting to a new system. 

They probably needn't have worried. In some places, prices are still given in pesetas as well as euros even now. I wonder how they work out what the modern value of the peseta is. 

I am constantly hearing that life is more expensive under the euro. That may well be so. I am sure that some prices were "rounded up" and even quite substantially so. Mind you, I could also say that life is generally more expensive than it was twelve years ago. So what does that prove? 

In any case, it seems that there are a lot of pesetas around. Some might well be under people's beds. Some will have been stashed away by coin collectors. Others will probably have been lost down long-since destroyed items of furniture and possible been destroyed. There is a theory that quite a lot have left the country in the pockets of tourists, never to return. 

I have the odd duro (5 peseta coin) kicking around but not enough to make my fortune. For those who have huge reserves of pesetas tucked away under the mattress, you have until 2020 to take it to the central bank and cash it in. Get a move on! 

On the subject of currency, what will happen if Scotland votes to go independent. Will they keep the pound? Will the Scottish pound be of different value? Will they be able to spend Scottish pounds across the border? Such a lot of questions! 

The journalist/economist Paul Mason reckons that it is unlikely that Scotland will vote for independence but ... He writes, 

"It probably won't happen. But few south of the border realise how volatile the outcome is. Yes, the polls reflect bookie William Hill's confidence that there's just a one in five chance of a majority for independence – but the variables are bigger than for most political events. If, on the morning of 19 September, we wake up and that 4/1 horse of independence has come in, the levels of shock in official circles will be extreme. The Conservatives will have presided over the break-up of the Union. Even compared with handing Zimbabwe to Zanu-PF, and Hong Kong to the Chinese Communist party, that will be a major psychological moment. 

Even more traumatised will be Labour. The prospect of a majority Labour government at Westminster after 2016 will be remote. The party in Scotland will likely go into meltdown, with a Podemos-style left emerging among the pro-independence Lbour camp, the Greens and the progressives around groups like Common Weal." 

So this is part of the excitement that September holds in store for us!