Saturday, 29 November 2014

Out and about. This and that.

There are some odd and interesting buildings in this town. I've already mentioned this huge futuristic tower on the sea front. It's a hotel, called Oasis, I think. At night when it's all lit up, it looks like a space ship about to depart. Maybe they should have featured it in the new Star Wars film. 

Closer to the centre of town is the Hotel Mercure. This building is quite astounding, built to look like a ocean liner. Usually when I see buildings shaped like boats they turn out to be sailing club headquarters. Not this one. A hotel. 

It makes our hotel look very boringly normal. No complaints about it though. Our hotel just has older buildings behind it. Then there is the clock tower down at the far end of the promenade. Pleasing in a geometrical sort of fashion. 

 Then there is the strangely geometrical clock tower - all straight lines.

Out and about this morning, I tried to get into the grounds of the Palacio Sotto Maior, the stately home just round the corner from the hotel. Last time we were here I remember complaining that the museum connected to it was closed but I did manage to walk around the gardens. This year everything is closed up and I could do no more than peer through the wrought iron gates. 

It has been a good day for going walk-about. Blue sky and sunshine and rolling waves coming up the beach. If you can see that far, that is. I have had to put up all my life with comments about the walk out to the sea at Southport, where I grew up. This beach makes that one look like a meagre strip of sand. Absolutely superb in the sunshine today, I bet it's quite majestic in winter storms. 

Because it is Saturday, the roundabout was operating for the children. No school It must have felt like summer holidays.

Well, this is our last full day here. One more game tonight and then one tomorrow morning. (The chess player drew last night's game, by the way, in record time - well, record for him!) After the final game and probably some kind of closing ceremony, we will up sticks and head for Vigo, by train. We have worked it all out: slow train from Figueira da Foz to Coimbra B, super fast train from Coimbra B to Oporto and then one of the only two trains per day from Oporto to Vigo. Once there, it's just a short(ish) walk up the hill to our flat. 

Mind you, I am not sure we should go to Vigo. Galician friends on Facebook have alerted me to an armed robbery that took place there yesterday. Someone tried to rob a branch of Abanca, one of the new banks which have opened in the last year or so as a result of the various mergers and reorganisations. In the ensuing chaos, of the robbery not the reorganisation, one policewoman and one of the robbers were shot dead and other police were injured. Someone from the Galician government commented on the fact that the police were not wearing bullet-proof vests. But in most European countries I don't think it's a routine thing to wear them unless you are on a special mission. If you just go to investigate an incident in the early afternoon you might well not be prepared for that. Desperate times. 

We shall go carefully and quietly up the hill to our flat.

Friday, 28 November 2014


Newspapers online this morning had headlines about Black Friday sales. What's that about? 

Crazy people buying electrical goods they don't need because "it's a bargain"??? I read reports of students buying several TV sets or taking away two trolleys full of stuff. Students?! Even if the goods are reduced from £300 to £150, how do they afford to buy four or five items? A mad rush to buy stuff you don't even know you need because the prices are reduced! Police having to close down Tesco stores because of aggressive purchasing! People fighting to get in and then snatching goods off other shoppers! Has the world gone mad? 

I decided to investigate Black Friday and had some interesting results:-
  • In 1881, a severe European windstorm hit the coast of Scotland on Friday 14th of October. 189 fishermen from Eyemouth in Berwickshire were drowned. They named it Black Friday. 
  •  In 1910, there was a women's suffrage event in London on Friday 18th of October - Emmeline Pankhurst and co. The police were sent out in force against the suffragettes and many of those arrested were assaulted and manhandled. The first case of police action against the suffragettes - Black Friday. 
  • In 1862, two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market in New York on Friday September 24th and brought about the collapse of the market. Just one of the scandals that rocked the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant. 
But the shopping thing is all about the Friday after Thanksgiving when the Christmas shopping season starts in the USA, with bargains galore, rather like the Boxing Day sales in the UK. Goodness knows why they call it Black Friday! 

Anyway, some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to import the idea to the UK. As if we didn't have enough sales already. Chaos appears to have ensued as a result! I remain unimpressed! 

Maybe we also need to import Buy Nothing Day, a day of protest against consumerism, usually the Friday or Saturday after Black Friday. 

Oh, yes, I almost forgot this one. When you google Black Friday it throws up a singer called Rebecca Renee Black who released a single called Friday in 2011. This was deemed the "worst song ever" but it went viral on YouTube. So it goes. 

I have found an interesting new (to me anyway) word: brumotactillophobia. It means fear of having different items of food touching each other on your plate. This sort of plate - lunch yesterday - with a tasty sauce combining all the ingredients wouldn't please brumotactillophobes. 

I remember my brother being a bit fussy in that way - major ructions if his potatoes touched his meat. Complicated arrangements to prevent the gravy spreading too far. Mind you he was more than a little fussy as a child. Whatever anyone else had for dinner, my mother used to prepare mashed potatoes and minced beef for her son. Pandering to his fad, I call it! He did grow up to be a normal eater in later life, although it took him a fair few years before he would eat cheese. We all have our little quirks. It's what makes life interesting. 

The chess player's little quirk at the moment seems to be having lo-o-o-o-ong games. Last night's was another 6.30 to 11.30 marathon! It went through "not so bad", "a reasonable position", "not playing well", "getting better", "made a blunder in time pressure" to "lost". So it goes. 

Today is another day! Let's hope it's not another Black Friday!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

A lot of stuff!

Sometimes you just find yourself a little overwhelmed. It can happen with lunch. 

Yesterday we decided to revisit a place called the Nucleo Sportinguista for lunch. We had been there last time we were in Figueira and remembered it being worth the visit. Our route took us through a park where the art work appeared to be inspired by Miró and Picasso. I'm pretty sure it wasn't there last time we came this way. Certainly worth seeing anyway. 

At the end of the park, Phil looked around, a little bewildered. "I was sure we should have come out at the restaurant", he declared. And so we had. He just couldn't see it because it looks rather like a glass box. We were simply looking through it. 

The food was as good as we remembered, although what was listed as garlic soup was really just another variation on vegetable. No problem. Next came fish. We thought you had to choose between the fish listed on the menu but the waitress explained that it was "uma mixta". So, when I had served myself this .... 

I still had this left to eat. 

But I managed it! I just didn't eat many potatoes. Such restraint. 

A friend of my daughter's lacks that restraint. She confessed on Facebook, where such public confessions take place, to having been unable to resist opening all the doors on her advent calendar and eating all the chocolates hidden away behind them. One of her friends commented, "For every door on an advent calendar you open before the date, an elf dies in a work-related health and safety accident." In this way new Christmas myths are invented!!! 

Of course, the true way to avoid eating all the chocolate is not to buy any! In our house I hide it. As I do biscuits! Cake is another matter. It needs eating while still fresh. Advent calendars, though, should not involve chocolate. If you only have the ones with pretty pictures; it removes temptation. Unless you are clever enough to hide a gift behind each door. Mind you, you probably need to be quite wealthy as well as organised to do that. 

If you are quite wealthy, and silly, you can buy bundles of sticks as Christmas gifts. Marketed by Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, twin sisters who were child stars but have reinvented themselves as fashion designers, these bundles of sticks are called "palos santos" - Spanish, and probably Californian, for "holy sticks". You burn them in your home to rid it of negative energy apparently. Negative energy?! It is known as "smudging" and is thought to stem from a Native American practice that involves burning bundles of herbs, usually sage. At twelve dollars a bundle, it seems rather silly. Surely you could give the money to a good cause instead. 

I have been going on just a bit this autumn about how good the colours have been and how the trees seem to be keeping their leaves for rather longer than usual. Well, I seem to be right. It's official. And it's all down to global warming and carbon dioxide, as you might expect. Here's a link to an article explaining it all, more or less.

While we're on about global warming, here's another curiosity. During last summer and the one before that we stuck tinfoil on our windows in the flat in Vigo to reflect the sunlight back away from our flat in an attempt to keep the interior a little cooler. It seems that we did the right thing. Scientists have been working on a mirror that reflects heat out into the cold depths of space in an attempt to replace air-conditioning units that keep buildings cool on Earth. And we all know that air-conditioning units are counterproductive as they just add to global warming. Anyway, here's a link to tell you all about it. Of course, it's all rather more complicated than our primitive aluminium foil but I think the principle is much the same. Who'd have thought it? 

Update on the chess player: last night's game was less lengthy than the previous one. Another draw. Three points out of five. He seems quite happy with it all so far. We shall see!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014


Wednesday already! I have a theory about the vagaries of time. There's the usual stuff about five minutes being very short if it's all the time you have to complete an important task and very long if you're waiting for a bus. Time is elastic. When you go away somewhere, time goes along normally to begin with. In fact, if you are doing lots of different and interesting things it can even seem to slow down. However, no matter what you do, when you reach the midpoint time speeds up. It happens every time! Without fail! And today is Wednesday, half way through the week. So I expect the rest of the week to fly by. 

Still time to be adventurous though! Yesterday we took the plunge and had lunch in one of those little restaurants in a side street, away from the main drag, as it were. This one was called Búzio. No English to fall back on here but plenty of locals eating. Always a good sign. On the table behind ours four gentlemen were lunching together. One of them was clearly more opinionated than the rest; he rarely stopped talking enough to take a mouthful. The others barely got a word in edgewise. Another said nothing at all but, boy, he could eat! This probably explains his girth! 

Anyway, the food was good wholesome stuff. Sopa de naboços to start with, another version of the "caldo gallego" we know and like. "Nabos" are turnips so it's possible that "naboços" are turnip tops, what the Spanish call "grelos". Our second course was "azélias fritas com arroz de tomato". Having established that "azélias" were some kind of fish, we turned down our waitress's suggestion that she should show us the fish prior to ordering. We had already understood that they were small "lenguado" or sole. Very good they were too; we had four small fried fish each, about five or six inches long, and a mountain of rice. 

Whenever we have a dish like that I wonder if we are eating fish that are really too small to be caught legally. We eat them anyway so I should stop thinking about it. I am pretty sure they serve fish we have never heard of or that the British don't deign to eat. But it's all good tasty stuff. 

The continental Europeans also use English words we have never heard of: "el footing" for jogging (Spanish), "relooker" meaning to renovate or to give a new look (French) and many more. English is everywhere in names of shops and bars, in adverts and especially in business and IT terminology. It amuses me. What doesn't amuse me is the transfer of mistakes such as the rogue apostrophe, sometimes called the "grocer's apostrophe". Here's an example from a seafront bar in Figueira da Foz. 

Well, I just don't know! I have heard people say that some foreigners speak better English that the English but obviously they are no better at punctuation! 

The barman across the road from the casino where the chess event is taking place told me that the Portuguese are better at learning languages than the Spanish, largely because of watching films in the original version with subtitles, rather than dubbed into the local language. (In Spain there are professional "dubbers"; dubbing-actors specialise in certain foreign actors. It happens in Italy too. An Italian friend of mine was astounded when she first heard George Clooney speak in his own voice!!!) We have conversations in a mix of Portuguese and Spanish, with a bit of English thrown in. I go in at least once in the evening to order a "garoto" Portuguese for the Spanish "cortado", "para levar" - to take out. I then carry a plastic cup of coffee across the road to the casino to give the chess player a boost. 

As often happens, I am impressed by the level of conversation I have with barmen here and in Spain; they are always well informed. This one argues that Columbus is Italian - no way can he be Galician as our Pontevedra friends maintain! - but that he learned his sailing and navigational skills in Portugal. The barman went on the give me a mini history lesson about the kings and queens of Europe in the time of Columbus and how they were all related. Do English barmen know stuff like this? Or is there something superior in the continental European education system? 

We've taken to popping in there as well for a post-chess game beer - hence the lengthy conversations about stuff - and the barman is now taking an interest in the chess player's progress. 

Last night? A five hour marathon, needing TWO coffee boosts, which resulted in a draw! Phew! We thought it was never going to finish! It's a good job there are no more morning games until Sunday!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Kettles and cakes and such.

Our hotel room comes with its own kitchen/dining room. Well, I say kitchen; it has a fridge and a microwave as well as a selection of crockery and cutlery but precious little else. However, there are refugees and women escaping from violent husbands living with their children in spaces smaller than this. Why, it’s not much smaller than our flat in Vigo. 

If this were an English hotel, even one with much smaller rooms, there would be a kettle. But this is Portugal and although they may have tea rooms, salaõ de cha, tea-making facilities in rooms do not come as standard. So, out and about, we have been looking for a small kettle, ideally one of the travel variety. To that end yesterday we walked up the hill to Buarcos. 

Quite probably in the past Buarcos was a separate community but now the spaces between it and Figueira have been filled and it's all one. There's an Aldi supermarket up there, next door to the cemetery. It's one of those little walled-in cemeteries, with some fancy tombs and lots of niches in the wall. Presumably it used to be on the edge of town but now it's back to back with a cheap supermarket. 

We bought the makings of snacks and sandwiches there but no kettle was to be had. Nor did we find one in any of the "lojas chinas", the Chinese shops. So when we got back to the hotel we cobbled together enough Portuguese to ask if we could borrow something to heat up water, the word for kettle being outside our vocabulary, so that we could make "cha". And shortly after that a kettle was delivered to our room. Success! 

Walking back from Buarcos we spotted a cake shop, a "pastelaria". All those Spanish words that end in ...ería become ...aria in Portuguese. Some are abbreviated. Thus "panadería", breadshop, is "padaria" and "salida", exit, is "saida". Even "caliente", hot, becomes "quente". Fascinating! 

 Anyway, the cake shop is called "New Cake". Would it sell many cakes (or "queiques" as I have seen it in the airport at Porto) if it were called "Old Cake". Of course, to be truly modern it should be "All New Cake". We have noticed that nowadays in English usage things are no longer new but "all new", especially in advertising. And people no longer just die; they "sadly die". Can this be true? Are they all regretted to such an extent? 

Also in Buarcos, we went in search of the Aquario restaurant, scene of Phil's mishap with a fish bone last time we were here. He sadly got a fishbone stuck in his throat and sadly had to go to hospital, thus sadly missing a chess game. Apart from the fish bone, the food was excellent. We found O Aquario. It was sadly closed, up for sale or rent. So we sadly went elsewhere. 

 That's enough sadness. 

We went to Caçarola I, where Phil had Sopa do Campo, vegetable soup, and I had Caldo verde, just like Galician Caldo gallego, full of turnip tops. Good stuff! Yesterday being Monday we followed the Galician rule that you shouldn't order fish because it might not be fresh. Fishermen in Galicia don't go to sea on Sunday, or so we are told, and we guessed that Portuguese fishermen might be the same. Judging by the televised mass on Sunday morning and the number of religious icons on tiles above house doors, this is quite a religious place. So we opted for chicken - frango à milanesa to be exact, tender chicken pieces served in a tasty pasta mixture. This time we avoided the NOT free starter. A good meal for two, followed by coffee, for under 20€. Pretty good. 

Oh yes, and the chess player won his evening game!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Day 3 in Figueira da Foz

The sun shines in Figueira da Foz. Well, it has done today anyway. I heard one of the hotel staff say to an old dear in the breakfast room this morning, "E como la primavera!" And indeed it was spring-like and even summery later. There have even been butterflies and lizards around! Jolly good, say I. They have forecast a cold snap for the UK, perhaps the tail end of the awful cold weather the USA is having. We have escaped at the right time! 

Figueira is a place of cobbled pavements, small white cobbles for the most part, only occasionally arranged in patterns of other colours. It makes a much pleasanter-looking surface than the ubiquitous tarmac pavements of the north west of England. Whatever happened to paving stones? Is that why so few children play hopscotch these days? Paving stones provided a ready made hopscotch patch. 

Much of the architecture around here is standard blocks of, mostly low-rise, flats, interspersed with strange modernistic towers such as this one. 

Then there are bits of older walls and towers, almost fortifications. Near our hotel they are probably the remains of the old estate, Quinta de Souto (or Sotto) Maior. 

Our route into the centre, where the chess tournament is taking place in the casino, goes past large private gardens, locked away behind high wall, glimpsed through padlocked gates. Most intriguing!

And on the streets the trees are rapidly shedding leaves but spots of colour remain. 

The chess player got off to a good start yesterday morning, despite having to get up for a 10 o' clock game which he won. So we went off to lunch in good spirits. We made a rapid choice of lunch venue as the rain was coming on quite hard, even though I had managed to walk along the beach without getting wet earlier. 

At a little place called O Picadeiro we shared a salada mixta (2.50€) and arroz con sardinhas (10.50€) along with a half litre of white wine (3.00€), water (0.80€) and bread (1.00€), all very reasonable. We (semi-deliberately) made the mistake of eating the anchovies and oil-drizzled wholemeal bread that appeared on the table. This Portuguese habit of putting apparent freebies on the table and then charging you for them is a bit naughty, especially when they charge you 4.00€ for half a dozen anchovies and a bit of bread. But, hey, just under 20.00€ for lunch for two is all right! And the sardines and rice were very good! 

What surprised us most was the smoking. We were going to sit inside the restaurant but people were smoking there so we went onto the covered veranda instead. Clearly smoking was accepted for there were ashtrays. So later I googled the question. from what I found out Portugal seems to be where Spain was a while ago. Small places can decide whether to allow smoking but need to put up a sign to that effect. Otherwise every restaurant need a designated smoking section. This one seemed to be flouting the rules either way. But it's the first we've seen. 

As for the chess player, he lost his evening game Was it the lunch? Who knows? He has just left for this evening's match and, misquoting Scarlett O'Hara, today is another day!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Investigating eateries.

On Friday, still reacquainting ourselves with the geography of Figueira da Foz - it is, after all, just over three years since we were here and even then it was only for a week - we looked up restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor before going out to eat. As was to be expected, we ended up wandering around for a while until we came to a restaurant which seemed to be patronised by a fair number of locals, usually a good sign, and ended up going in there. 

The first challenge was getting in: through a kind of airlock where one door needed pulling and the next needed sliding. Far too complicated for everyone. While we were in the restaurant we saw at least five people having difficulty, trying in vain to pull or push the sliding door. 

Then came the menu, which almost completely defeated my Portuguese. I could recognise ingredients but the dishes themselves remained a mystery. My Portuguese went as far as asking an important-looking waiter - later identified in a newspaper photograph as the owner - what he recommended. 

He tried to steer us towards a "mariscada", only 75€ for two people. However, we have had that kind of seafood platter before and have found them slightly disappointing. They look impressive but they demand a huge amount of work with crab-claw-crackers for precious little actual food in return. Not our thing at all. 

Instead, we followed his other recommendation and tried "Massada rica", a pasta dish with prawns, bits of fish and chunks of lobster, all in a tasty sauce. Phil likened it to a Galician fish soup served on a plate instead of in a bowl, which was quite true. Even though the lobster needed prizing out of its shell, on the whole it proved to be a good and nourishing meal at the end of a long day's travel. Together with some fresh bread and a glass or two of white wine, it suited us fine. And for around 35€ all in, it didn't break the bank. 

Now, this restaurant, the Bigode Preto or Black Moustache, was not one of those reviewed by Trip Advisor. Since there was a sign on the wall declaring it had been there "since 1994", we wondered why not. For those of us who have been around since the mid-twentieth century, 1994 may seem quite recent. But we need to adjust to being in the twenty-first century and realise that 1994 was twenty years ago now. So, why no reviews? Silver-surfers that we are, we went back and googled it. 

And eventually we found it ... in a Coimbra newspaper article about the opening of that very restaurant ... about 10 days ago!!! The owner, our waiter, spoke of how he had always dreamed of opening a restaurant. Where did 1994 come into it? Maybe that was when he started to dream! 

Last night, Saturday, was quite different. We were invited to the official tournament opening ceremony and dinner. Glasses of Port wine were served (as always, stickier than I remember) while people assembled: chess players and local bigwigs. Speeches of thanks were made: to the municipality, to the casino where the games will be played, to our hotel, to other hotels, to sponsors of all kinds. Then speeches were made in praise of the great and good of the local chess world. Small sections of three or four words at a time made their way into my brain. The rest went over my head completely. Clearly I need to study harder! 

 Dinner was fine: mushroom soup, cod served tastefully on a "nest" of spinach and accompanied by scoops of mashed potato, followed by chocolate cake and ice cream. We talked a mix of English and Portuguese, more of the former than the latter. The Portuguese chess players seem more linguistically able than Spanish ones we have met. 

 More speeches followed, introducing the international players. After all, it is billed as an international event. Most were mentioned for being well known Grand Masters and so on. Phil also had to stand up and be applauded, as the UK's representative and for having had to visit the hospital with a fish bone in his throat last time we were here. 

Fame of sorts!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

To Portugal

So, after several days of running around making sure I had purchase odds and ends we needed (extra adaptor plugs, having left our supply in Vigo), here we are in Portugal. As well as all the running around, there was a rush of necessary phone calls: a dental appointment to change, friends I need to see before Christmas, arranging for a chimney sweep to come, booking tickets for a carol service, among other things. And then there was the ritual of weighing the suitcases, of which more in a paragraph or so. 

We are in Portugal for a chess tournament at Figueira da Foz, a place by the sea, popular with the Portuguese in the summer time, when I hear that its immense beach positively heaves with holidaymakers. Rather gentile and quiet at the moment, with soft rain splattering on the swimming pool. But it's very mild and, you never know, we might even get some sunshine. 

Anyway, the ritual weighing of the suitcases. For a number of years we have only ever travelled hand-luggage-only. It's not just that we are cheapskates, although it is noticeably cheaper when you don't have bags to check into the hold. The main advantage is being able to get off the plane and stride out of the airport without waiting for the carrousel to spit out your luggage. And so we have a handy gadget to weigh our bags, ensuring that we are within the limits set by the airline. 

Now, this time we travelled with a Portuguese airline. They are ever so nice and friendly and polite. They even do old-fashioned things like give you assigned seats on budget flights. And they give you free food and drinks during the flight. None of the meanness of other budget airlines we could mention. However, and it's quite a big however, about two kilos worth of however, their hand-luggage weight limit is only eight kilos. And that has to include my handbag and its contents! So I started off putting in a suitcase all the stuff I wanted to bring and Phil did the same. Then we weighed them. Then we took stuff out and weighed them again. Then we moved stuff around from one bag to the other and weighed them again. 

Of course, it was extra complicated because I HAD to bring my hair straighteners and the chess player HAD to bring all sorts of chess related gear. And there are the electricals - computer, iPad, iPhones, Spanish phones because we are going on to Vigo after the tournament - and their associated chargers and cables. When we simply go to Vigo, of course, we don't need quite as much paraphernalia as we have duplicates for some things in the flat there. But this time, with a reduced luggage allowance we needed more stuff. Nightmare! Sacrifices were made! My running gear went by the board; in Portugal I shall only walk and running will wait until we get to Spain. We have one iPad between us instead of one each. Of course, I know that this is all luxury stuff and we are spoiled and so on but our status as retired baby-boomers allows us to do this. 

But finally here we are, after an overnight stop chez offspring number one and his little family. Budget flights do not go from the northwest of England to the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula in the winter months. Clearly northerners only want to go to sunny Spain and the Algarve. Only Londoners are expected to fly to more "cultured" places. And so we flew from Gatwick and will fly back the same way, making another, slightly longer family visit en route for home. 

We were ever so kindly met by a friend of the chess tournament organiser at Oporto airport and driven here to Figueira da Foz. I tried out my Michel Thomas Portuguese on him during the journey. All my plans to study really hard between going home from Spain and coming here and to learn a great pile of vocabulary every day went by the board, naturally. But, haltingly and with a fair amount of Spanish and Italian coming out of my mouth, Antonio and I discussed motorway systems, the corruption of politicians, the state of Scotland, the Irish question and, inevitably, the fact that I DON'T actually play chess. Serious stuff. I quite impressed myself. 

More about the delights of eating out in Figueira and generally being out and about will come over the next week. For the moment, an "uplifting" finish. Almost everywhere we go in Spain, the lifts are provided by the Otis company. This hotel uses a different company. 

We brought our suitcases up to our room in Schindler's lift! What more can I say?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Claiming what is yours! And other stuff.

Whatever we may think of George Osborne in his handling of the nation's finances, he keeps tight control of the milk in his fridge in the Treasury. He has a padlock on the door of the fridge and there is also a guard. This is reported by the SENIOR political correspondent of the Telegraph. You would think such a senior person might have more important things to do. 

I can sympathise with poor George Osborne about the milk situation, however. In the staff room of one place I worked at we suffered from milk stealers among the teachers. Some people thought that whatever was in the fridge was legally everyone's and treated it accordingly. I even used to label my bottle of milk, politely explaining that it was, in fact, MY milk but if people were unscrupulous enough to steal it that I would appreciate their leaving enough for me to have a cup of coffee later. It didn't work. They usually left the empty bottle though. You would have thought they could at least rinse it out! 

Such are the people who are influencing the minds of the younger generation. And, it seems, running the country. I hold my hands up in horror. 

And then Turkey's president has been claiming that Muslims discovered America in 1178. But Vikings and Basques also claim to have been there first. Whose country is it anyway? It's all a bit childish, like kids pulling their tongues out at each other or thumbing their noses, declaring loudly, "I saw it first!!!" Load of nonsense but a bit of light relief in a world with too many serious things going on. Such as politicians stealing each other's milk. 

Maybe the milk thieves are following the example of a certain lady prime minister who was known, after all, as the milk snatcher. Not that she stole from the Treasury fridge but she did stop free milk to primary schools. Ah, the nostalgia! Little bottles of milk in crates outside the classroom: frozen in the depths of winter and slightly rancid in he height of summer! 

Mind you, according to some sources, we should stop drinking it. Some research shows that people who drink too much milk are at greater risk of heart attacks and other diseases. Who knew? Maybe we should just go on a bread and water diet! With perhaps a little cabbage thrown in! 

The cabbage comes from my Italian class this afternoon where we looked at idiomatic expressions involving "cavolo", Italian for cabbage. If you want to say, " What the ****!" you can simply say, "Che cavolo". In French they use cabbage as a term of endearment: "mon petit chou!" In English we can use it to suggest an air of stupidity or perhaps naivety: "he's not so green as he's cabbage-looking". But for the Italians it serves as a harmless replacement for swearing. Because I suspect that's how it started, putting "cavolo" in expressions where a much ruder word beginning with "c" might have caused offence. 

Idiomatic expressions are odd, especially when inadvertently and mistakenly changed. Someone was ranting on the Mind Your Language Blog in the Guardian about people saying "He's got another THING coming" instead of "He's got another THINK coming" when they want to say that someone is mistaken in their expectations about something. I quite agree with the ranter and I was put in mind of a German friend of mine who went around protesting when asked to do something unreasonable by saying, " I can't be asked to do that!" Then her daughter pointed out that it was really a much ruder expression than that. Oops! 

Finally, two silly stories about Peppa Pig, the children's TV series. First of all, in the series there is a character called Gabriella Goat. When the series was dubbed into Italian she became Gabriella Capra. A lady by the name of Gabriella Capra is suing the BBC because she has since been mocked by lots of people in her village. I wonder why no-one found her name funny before. And secondly, someone bought a Peppa Pig costume to wear to a playgroup fundraising event. She paid £210 pound for the costume to be sent from China but it was confiscated upon arrival in the UK for violating intellectual property rights. Apparently it had to be destroyed! 

You could not make up such stories of you tried.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Colourful oddities.

Out and about in recent weeks I have had occasion to comment on the colours of autumn, indeed to post pictures of the colours of autumn onto Facebook. 

Today we once again spotted some trees showing off their autumn colours. The surprising thing was that these seemed to be fir trees. The shape looked right for fir trees but they appeared to be turning a golden brown colour. Surely fir trees are not mean to do is. So intrigued were we that when we came close enough we took a picture of a couple. Are we mistaken? Are these not fir trees after all? Or has the world gone mad?

In Alice in Wonderland the queen of hearts has some playing cards painting white roses red. At least I seem to remember that that was going on. No-one ever really explained why it was necessary to do so. In any case, if you disobeyed the queen you were likely to lose your head. In the House of Commons gardens recently they have had gardeners picking yellow leaves off trees rather than leave them to fall and sweep them up. A spokesman is reported to have said, "it is more time efficient". There have been accusations of the government cancelling autumn. Life imitating literature perhaps! 

Then there's the doughnut burger, eaten as a challenge by Zoe Williams of the Guardian. It consisted of two burgers, two sugar doughnuts, bacon, cheese and some kind of relish. Standing seven inches tall, it needed squashing down to a biteable size. Why would anyone want to eat that, even for a newspaper challenge! The world is mad. She didn't manage to eat it all but did get through three quarters of the disgusting object. 

Another bit of oddness! I heard that a tiger was spotted prowling around in the woods near Paris. Children were escorted home from school by police. People were advised to stay indoors. No zoo reported a missing tiger. Yesterday I read that there is some belief that the tracks found were actually those of a dog. How disappointing! I commented on this to some friends who were visiting this weekend. They live in France but have seen no wandering tigers. One of them, however, swears that she did once see a panther near Cambridge when they lived nearby. But I have also read that most places have myths of big cats on the prowl. Most of the photographic evidence has been proved to be wrong, not wilfully so, just mistaken. Some of the romance and excitement is taken away by such reports. 

Romance is not dead though. The Rosetta mission has delivered the "lander" Philae, dropped bouncing onto Comet 67P. This has excited everyone and awakened dreams of space travel once again. The Philae has sent a lot of data for the scientists to examine but its solar-powered batteries are not getting enough sun to recharge and it almost certainly can't continue. Such a shame, but what names, what poetry: the Rosetta satellite went up there to land Philae, there's a measuring instrument called Ptolemy and the on-board camera is Osiris. Names to conjure the imagination. And yet people are writing letters to the papers saying that the lander should be looking for life. The dream of meeting aliens is not dead. 

Finally, the weekend newspapers publish lists of birthdays of famous people, often more people I have never heard of. Sometimes, though, the names themselves are enough to amuse me. Yesterday I discovered that Billy Twelvetrees, a rugby player was 26 years old. Is it really possible for someone who is not a hobbit to have a name like Twelvetrees? 

Bits of poetry all over the place!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Reading headlines, anticipating Christmas and electronics - groups of three.

Here is the headline to an article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper: Romanian and Bulgarian workers in UK up 50,000 after curbs lifted. 

And here is the sub-headline: Britons account for two-thirds of extra jobs and are not being displaced by migrants, Labour Force Survey finds. 

So the headline suggests that the article is all about the increase in workers from Romania and Bulgaria but in fact it's not really about that at all. It gives a much more balanced view of the situation of immigration and employment. Figures for increased immigration generally were given. And yes, immigration has continued to increase, from both EU and non-EU countries. It goes on, however, to say: 
"But the Labour Force Survey provides little evidence of displacement of British workers by migrants. British workers accounted for two-thirds or 445,000 of the extra 675,000 people working in the British economy. Foreign nationals accounted for 230,000 or one-third of the increase in employment over the past year." 

The article also tells of a 30,000 reduction in EU immigration in June to September of this year. Just in case you thought this was because of our PM's efforts, it goes on to explain: 
"But the fall is more likely to do with seasonal variations than as a result of David Cameron’s high profile campaign to restrict free movement rights across Europe." 

So it's not just tabloid newspapers that use misleading headlines. No wonder people are so confused about the state of the world. 

Here's another example. We are led to believe that vast amounts of our taxes are spent on things to do with Europe. Well, today I received a letter from the taxman. Not a demand for extra tax, nor a (more pleasant) tax refund, the letter began: "For the first time we are sending you an Annual tax Summary." And it did just that, telling me how much money I have received and from where, as well as how much of that is taxed and how much tax they have taken from me. On the reverse was a nice little graph of how the money they take from me is used. 

Contrary to what excited propaganda might have us believe, a tiny proportion goes to the UK contribution to the EU budget. In fact if you put together what goes to the EU budget, to overseas aid, to the environment and to culture, that comes to the same as what is spent on defence. I wonder if I could opt out of contributing to defence spending! 

Imagine, though, the chaos if we could all opt out of or into paying our individual taxes into different bits of the annual budget. Those without children, or who send their children to expensive fee-paying private schools, might opt out of contributing to Education. The permanently healthy, and those with huge health insurance plans, might opt out of Health. Young people might stop contributing to State Pensions. Better to leave stuff as it is and just try to vote some more sensible people into government. 

 Other things! Last Friday they had the official ceremony to switch on the Christmas lights in central Manchester. (Cue for a fair amount of comment about how they could at least have waited until after Remembrance Day on the 11th of November.) The ceremony involved a host of "stars" I have never heard of! Yesterday I saw workmen busily erecting the stalls for the Christmas Markets, which I have just googled and discovered that they will extend over an even greater area of the city centre than last year. These too will be officially opened by a media star I have never heard of. I am clearly getting out of touch. 

In our village a huge Christmas tree has been put up in the square. It is not yet decorated but no doubt that will soon be remedied. Running around the village I have spotted a house which already has a decorated tree in the living room window. It's not quite the middle of November and the Christmas madness is well under way! 

Our nine year old grandson has begun to make a series of requests, along the lines of, "Grandma, for Christmas will you buy me .... ? To date this has included several age-inappropriate, very violent computer games, all declined. The latest was the FIFA 2015 game for the PS3 or a jar of pickles. If those are genuine alternatives, I wonder how he will feel about receiving a jar of pickles! 

His older sister, 17, has been having a series of electronic-device catastrophes. My mother always said things go in threes. it seems to be the case here. First she dropped her kindle and, catching it mid fall, gripped it so tightly she cracked the screen. Although the kindle still works, she can't read it as the screen shows fractured patterns instead of words. Probably reparable! Then she dropped her iPhone down the loo. Not a good idea. The phone works ... most of the time but clearly has not been improved by going for a swim. 

The latest disaster was her laptop. Perched on the sofa with the laptop beside her, she jumped up to get something, tangled her feet in the wire and the laptop hit the floor. After that it only gave her error messages. Computer-doctor Granddad has taken it apart, examined the entrails and put it back together. The prognosis is not good. Despite several goes at disconnecting and reconnecting the hard drive, in the hope that it was just a loose connection, the error message persists. Phil tells me that on the back of the hard drive is a warning message: avoid jolting! Maybe the message should be somewhere more prominent. 

I suspect someone needs to put in a special message to Santa. Let's hope she has been a good girl this year! And can she survive without laptop until December 25th?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rituals of one kind and another.

I have recently informed friends on Facebook that I don't want to be LinkedIn. I don't need another social network. I have not ventured into the world of tweeting and twittering. My husband is even worse ( or should that be better?) as he is a Facebook refusenik. He simply doesn't want anything to do with it. Just as well, I suppose, as it takes him all his time to deal with the emails that come in. 

And now I've just read about someone employing a "social media manager" for a month. She can't keep up with her Facebook likes and comments, her tweets and her twitters and is experimenting with having an agency deal with it for her. I suppose that if you are a journalist you need to have a respectable number of "followers". It's a credibility thing apparently. But really, if you haven't the time to go through your Facebook stuff, does it matter? Surely it's better to be actually living your life and doing things than living a virtual life through the electronic media. Weird and strange! All part of modern magic and witchcraft. 

In my Italian conversation class we have been talking about Hallowe'en. Yes, I know it's been and gone but we had a week off for half term when Hallowe'en came along. Now, I am one of those who has gone on and on about Hallowe'en, at least in its modern "trick or treat" incarnation, being an American invention. A lot of the things we talked about and read about revealed that youngsters going round from house to house was a traditional part of activities at this time of year. Granted what they were doing was offering to pray for the souls of the dead but they were receiving sweets, fruits and occasionally money for it. 

It all goes back, of course, to pagan rituals. We had been asked to come prepared to talk about our own childhood memories of Hallowe'en. So I talked about "apple bobbing" at hotspot suppers and going around asking for a penny for the guy in the run up to bonfire night. A little investigation showed that the game of floating apples in a bucket of water and trying to get them out with your teeth was almost certainly introduced by the Romans as part of the celebration of the goddess Pomona, goddess of fruit trees and represented by ... wait for it ... an apple tree. It's all about fertility rites and stuff like that. 

And even the song sung by kids collecting (no, begging!!) pennies for the guy (We come a cob a coalin', come a coalin', come a coalin' We come a cob a coalin' on/(for) BonFire Night. ) is believed to have been part of old Mummers Plays before the Gunpowder Plot stuff along. 

So first we had pagan rituals, which the Romans combined with the worship of their many gods and goddesses. Then along came Christianity and overlaid it's celebrations on the pagan, Celtic, Roman stuff. And now we can put it all out into the world via social media. 

Is nothing new under the sun?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Understanding Languages.

I stood at a bus stop in Oldham town centre today. Two women were talking away nineteen to the dozen, probably in Punjabi but it could well have been one of the other Asian languages. After a while, a large, red faced man looked around at the rest of in the queue and said, " I can't understand a word they are saying". "No," I thought, "and you probably wouldn't understand if they were speaking German either." 

Except that I didn't just think it; I said it out loud. He was a bit surprised but finally agreed with me and went on to mutter something about the women having their faces covered. One of them was wearing the headscarf while the other did have a black veil as well, hiding her face. "If you live in this country," he observed, "you should live by our rules". Ok, fair enough, but I don't think we have rules about what you can wear in the street. And so long as there is no obvious security problem we should maintain our country's freedoms. I don't think there was any question that this was a woman chatting to a friend. And provided she would be prepared to unveil in private when asked to do so by a female police officer, I really don't see what the problem is. 

I can't say I really like the increase in the wearing of the burka in our towns and cities but neither do I like rules and regulations that say what you can and cannot wear. If we go down that road, we'll ban young people from dressing as Goths, young men from shaving their heads and wearing aggressive looking piercings, not to mention tattoos. It's far too easy to take offence at what people wear and to judge them by their outfits. 

What I didn't say was that if the fat, red faced man had been standing at a bus stop in a city in the Indian subcontinent, chatting away in English to a friend, there would probably have been people at the stop who understood him. And quite possibly those two ladies also understood what he said. When Phil and I are abroad, even in a country where we speak the language well, we tend to speak English to each other. It's normal. Although I know people who claim that after years of living out of the UK the language of their adopted country has come to dominate their brain, I still think your first language does to some extent define who you are. 

Which brings me to languages that are at risk of disappearing. The language expert Christopher Moseley of the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies has compiled a list of 33 languages that are under-threat, including four languages spoken in British territories: Jersey French, Guernsey French, Manx and Cornish. Jersey French still has about 1000 native speakers but Manx is in a bad way because the last first-language speaker died in 1974. There are still Manx speakers in the Isle of Man but English is their first language. Dr Moseley says that Cornish and Manx have been / are being revived in a systematic fashion and there are tourist organisations running study holidays for all the languages. 

And once again, I find myself in two minds about the whole business. It's a shame for languages to disappear but if they are kept alive in an artificial way is that truly a good thing? Is such a language still a living language? 

I'm reminded of something I heard on one of Stephen Fry's TV programmes about language, in which he went around the UK looking at local dialects and showing off his ability to put on regional accents. In one of the programmes he interviewed an American who had spoken only Klingon to his small son for the first two years of the child's life. Dr d'Armond Speers, a linguist from Minnesota, wanted to see if it would be possible for his son's first word to be "vav", Klingon for "dad". 

Now, Klingon is a language invented for the TV series Star Trek and lacked a whole lot of everyday vocabulary, such as "baby bottle". Consequently, despite Dr d'Armond Speers working very hard at it, his project was only partially successful. Add to that the fact that his son was spoken to in English by everyone else and quickly learned that Daddy also spoke English and you can see why the child pretty soon made more progress in English than in Klingon. Here's a link to an article about Dr D'Armond Speers' project

Even languages such as Basque have had to "borrow" from languages such as Castilian Spanish to provide modern vocabulary. And Basque is a language that has probably been around longer than almost all others so what chance does a totally invented language have. 

You can't legislate for the way a language develops. Maybe the minority language speakers need to find an additional way of asserting their identity.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Names, nostalgia and entertainment.

On the BBC Radio 4 programme "Last Word", where they talk about famous people who have died in the last week, today they included Acker Bilk, jazz clarinettist, much admired by my late father. Acker Bilk died last weekend, aged 85, not a bad age at all. Phil wondered aloud where the name Acker came from. So I googled it. It turns out that his real name, given name, call it what you will, was Bernard. Acker is Somerset slang for "mate" or "pal". There you go. You learn a little every day. Somehow Bernard Bilk lacks the ring that Acker Bilk has. Would he have become famous if he had not used that stage name? I wonder! 

I mostly remember Acker (aka Bernard) Bilk for his 1962 hit, " Stranger on the Shore". Why do I remember it? Because the year before it became a hit, the BBC used it as the theme tune for a series about a French girl who came to England as an au pair. I had just started learning French at school, thought my young French teacher was wonderful - as you do when you are 12 going on 13 - and loved all things to do with France and the French. The tune was originally called Jenny but they changed the name to match the TV series. Another bit of useless knowledge! 

That's my bit of nostalgia over. For the time being anyway. I have read today that a team of psychologists have been researching nostalgia and have decided that on the whole it is good for us, helping us to deal with difficult times in life. Apparently women in the German concentration camps spent a good deal of time talking about family meals they had enjoyed in the past. Strangely enough, this actually made the hunger they were going through easier to bear. One of the conclusions that the psychologists came to was that children whose parents indulge in reminiscing about good times they have had, both with said children and before they came on the scene, were better at creative writing than those whose parents never talked about such things. 

In the last few days we have been to the cinema twice, not having been for ages and ages before that. It's a bit like buses: you don't see one for ages and then two come along at once. So it is for us with films at the cinema. Having seen "Le Jour se Lève" on Wednesday, we decided yesterday to head back into Manchester to see "Mr Turner", a new film by Mike Leigh about the painter Turner. So we saw a very old film and a very new film. 

I can highly recommend "Mr Turner". The scenery alone is enough to take your breath away, views obviously chosen to bring to mind Turner's landscapes. The make-up artist need to be praised as well for the tremendous job they did in ageing the actors as time went by. Timothy Spall as Turner was splendidly expressive in his use of the grunt as a means of communication. Here is a link to the official trailer for the film. 

Today we took advantage of the sunshine to take ourselves out for a walk around the area. You have to seize the moment. Tomorrow it might be raining again. Who knows. 

Mind you, if it is we can perhaps go and see another film!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Words, wasps and whatnot!

The French word "meurtre" which now means "murder" originally meant bruise. The English word "kill" originally meant "hit", giving a little insight into "a hit man". This is one of the odd facts I have picked up over the last week. 

Here's another: texting while driving kills more American teenagers than drink-driving does. I wonder what the statistics are for the UK? And how many people do you see on a regular basis using their mobile phones while driving? Too many. Texting is extra crazy, however, even if you think you can text-type without looking. The average texter, I read, takes their eye off the road for less than five seconds but at 55mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field blindfold. Selfies come into this madness as well. One in three Britons under 24 admitted snapping away while at the wheel in a recent survey for Ford. The latest stupidly dangerous trend is for making Vines, or short video clips, while driving; last month it emerged that a 23-year-old had filmed himself being chased by the police at 60mph through Burnley, ending with the prophetic words: “I’m going to prison now.” Not my kind of thrill seeking! 

Last night we stayed up late to watch TV. Phil goes out to play chess on a Thursday evening and when he came in last night we decided to watch the last episode of a series about the fire of London: The Great Fire, a romp through the London of Charles II, with splendid sets and well dressed rich people and dirty looking poor people. Not a bad series, it had a rather Disneyworld happy ending where Thomas Farriner (the aptly named baker from Pudding Lane - surely Farriner must have connections to farine or flour) saved his sister in law from being hanged for starting the fire as part of a papist plot, King Charles proved himself to be a strong king, despite what his brother thought of him earlier and good old Samuel Pepys and his wife learned to live with the love they had. As I said, a bit sugary! 

Oh, and the adverts! Because the mini series was on ITV there were commercial breaks. We have lost the habit of having our watching interrupted in this way. I swear the breaks were almost as long as the segments of drama. Back when I was a teacher and had to produce complicated lesson plans for inspections and observations, we were advised to plan our lessons in 10 - 15 minute chunks. This was the maximum expected attention span of students! Really! I wanted mine to study a text, work together at understanding it and extract some facts to relate back to the class. This demanded being on task for rather more than 10 minutes! However, if that is truly the maximum attention span of today's 16 to 18 year olds maybe it is as a result of watching TV programmes with too many commercial breaks. OK, another rant over! 

Anyway we stayed up late and so I went to bed later than usual. Phil stayed up even later and went off to sleep in the attic so as not to disturb me. All in vain because at five in the morning he did disturb me when he was woken by an angry wasp who stung him, probably because he turned over in bed and disturbed its waspy slumbers! Where did a wasp come from in November? Had it inadvertently flown in one sunny day and decided to winter over in our attic bedroom? How long would it have stayed there if Phil had not rolled over and made it angry? All unanswered questions. And that was the end of the wasp's attempts to spend winter in a warmer place than the great outdoors! And the end of the wasp, in fact!

Now, when I commented yesterday on the difficulty of keeping to any kind of routine, I wasn't expecting disruption of that kind!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Routine remarks.

They say we are all creatures of habit and yet it doesn't take much to throw your routine out. In my case, going off for a weekend away is enough to remove all semblance of a routine in my life. Not that I am complaining, far from it. Variety is the spice of life, after all. 

Of course it doesn't help if, like me, you manage to lose your purse and so have to spend an inordinate length of time cancelling cards, renewing cards and running around seeing if the missing purse has been handed in anywhere. Most of the taxi drivers in central Oldham must now know my face as I have tried to locate the taxi driver in whose cab I almost certainly dropped the purse. 

And who knew the hoops you have to jump through to cancel cards? In order to do so you have to answer almost as many security questions as when you do online banking and suchlike. I suppose this is to prevent malicious exes from cancelling their previous partner's cards and making life difficult for him or her: the modern equivalent of cutting up all the suits in your ex- (or unfaithful) husband's wardrobe. Come to that, it was that kind of jealous "make life difficult for him" action that was the basis of Woody Allen's film "Blue Jasmine". 

 One of the best catch-22 moments of this card replacement stuff was the website for a store loyalty card that asked for my loyalty card number. Yes, if I had the card I would give you the number, Mr Website, but I don't have the card. Doh! How silly can life get? 

Talking of films, yesterday we went off to the Cornerhouse Cinema in Manchester to watch a remastered (I believe that is the correct term) version of Marcel Carné's film "Le Jour Se Lève" with Jean Gabin and Arletty, one of those stars known just by one name. A sad tale of love and passion, it still holds up well even though made in 1939. The number of police deployed to capture one man was astounding and it was interesting to see the 1939 forerunner of the modern French CRS police force used to clear the square of sympathetic onlookers: a wall of police riot shield simply pushing the crowd backwards. Quite a scary image!

I wonder who they would cast nowadays in the Jean Gabin role, smouldering eyes under his flat cap! It would be a quite different film, of course, if they made it now. Perhaps the music hall dog trainer, the older man who seduces the young woman and interferes with the romance, would become a fading older rock star. Or in the light of recent scandals, an ageing DJ. No, they shouldn't do a remake. On the whole I don't really see the point of making a new version of something that worked well in the past. 

And finally, here is a bit more in the continuing spider saga. I read the other day that a singer I've never heard of called Katie Melua had a spider living in her ear for a week. Granted it was only very tine but even so, it was still a spider. And it was living in her ear. 

For those interested here is a link to the whole story.

Monday, 3 November 2014

The end of the weekend.

So he we are back in Delph after a weekend in the sunny but windy North East of England, where they all speak with a lovely singsong lilt and an astounding number do actually go out in the evening without their coats. Coming back from a meal out on Saturday night we heard a bunch of youngish men, all in jeans and t-shirt, no jackets, mocking another friend just a little further up the road: "Look at him in this TRENCH coat!!!!" 

There were even little kids yesterday morning out and about with their bare arms. As for me, I had my woolly hat and gloves on. 

 The bus and metro into Newcastle centre worked fine. Our train was waiting at the platform but no-one was allowed on until about two minutes before the train was due to depart. This of course led to a flurry of activity as people hunted for their seats prior to departure. A lot of pointless hanging around on a windy platform. 

The public address system on the train advised those who had standing-only tickets (who knew that you buy such tickets?) could upgrade to a seat by paying an extra £6.00. After Darlington, (well, I think it was Darlington) there was another announcement that people who had boarded the train with tickets for the earlier train which had been cancelled could collect a form from the company's complaints desk at their destination and apply to have their fare refunded. If your train is delayed by more than an hour, it seems, you can do this. What an excellent bit of customer service! 

I heard one poor soul trying to buy a single ticket for a station a little further down the line, only to be told that our train would not be stopping there. He would have to go on to York and catch another train back, presumably costing him rather more money. The moral of that story is that you should always check your train before boarding. Someone else obviously had the same idea as she was frantically asking people if this was the Manchester train as the doors closed. She expressed some concern to her small daughter that Grandma and Granddad might have just ushered them into the first train that came along in their haste to be rid of them Are there really grandparents like that? 

We however had our reserved seats and were fine. Perhaps not quite so exclusive as on our toward journey when we had travelled first class and received free coffee and buns. For some crazy reason, when we booked our tickets online it had been cheaper to travel first class on that particular train booked on that particular day. How very odd! 

So there we were, in our seats, equipped with the newspaper to keep us busy. I discovered some interesting facts: 

  •  The NHS pays out huge amounts of money for agency nurses - up to £1,800 per day per nurse - because there has been a reduction in training places for nurses!! Can you believe it? 

  • UKIP is recruiting young members. the junior branch is called Young Independence and some 2,600 young "kippers" are out campaigning for the party!! Not good! 

  • The latest trend is for breakfast raves. In London, and now apparently in Liverpool, there are monthly opportunities to dance in the morning before going on to work. Organised by people who enjoyed going to raves in the 1980s, these are like early morning parties but without alcohol there are people who get up early, spend an hour dancing happily and then get changed into their office clothes and go on to work. The dancing gets the adrenalin going and sets them up for the day. 

  • Leading tobacco manufacturers are backing an organisation aimed at warning people that if they don't help defend rights of smokers then their right to overeat and overdrink might also become subject to "regulation". This as there is already talk of putting warnings on bottles about the calorific value of alcoholic drinks - 170 calories in a glass of wine or half of lager, etc., as if they will stop people drinking. Somehow I have my doubts, and anyway that's not really a reason to say that smokers should be allowed to pollute our atmosphere. Not until watching people eat makes you put on weight anyway. Although I might agree to the forced closing of smelly hot dog stands. 

  • And then we were back in Manchester and catching the tram back to Oldham. There were few seats available. A smart young man occupied an aisle seat, leaving the window seat empty. When I asked him to move over, he gestured for me to sit by the window and then proceeded to ask me how the tram system worked and what he needed to do about a ticket. I pointed out that he should have bought a ticket before boarding and he produced such a ticket but he was confused about who he needed to show it to. So I told him about ticket inspectors and so on and then, being a nosy person and somewhat intrigued by his accent, I asked where he was from. He was Russian and was on his way to "study" in Oldham, together with a couple of compatriots, something related to his unidentified profession. 

 We chatted about Russia and how English people view it. He told me that reading Tolstoy in translation was no good, rather like just looking at pictures of food. Well, I would probably agree with that but Russian isn't one of my languages, unfortunately. Our conversation was cut short when Phil found us two seats together and I moved over. Shortly after this my new Russian friend came over to ask for advice on getting to his final destination, a hotel in Oldham. We consulted websites on the phone and found out which was the best tram stop for him. Others in the compartment joined in the advice-giving and by the time he and his friends alighted they were accompanied by a couple of locals prepared to point them in the right direction for the last stage of their journey. Perfect!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Languages, eggs and dogs.

English is the most common second language in the world. It's official, at least according to this website.  The site also tells us that Polish is the second language in England and Catalan is the second language is Spain. By second language I assume they mean the language with the most speakers in that country, rather than the second official language. I can think of some Galicians who would be a bit upset to think that Catalan was the second language of their country. 

I also discovered that second language of Portugal is something called Mirandese. I did not know such a language existed. This is not really a surprise. I am sure that there are lots of languages in the world that I have never heard of but I thought I had a pretty good idea about Romance languages. And Mirandese is in that family, originating, I have since found out, in the Leon region of Spain and still spoken in parts of Portugal. It's an old language. I wonder if it predates Galician for I know quite a lot of fanatical speakers of that language who tell me that it is just about the oldest language around in the Iberian peninsula, certainly more ancient than Castilian Spanish. It's always interesting to come across something new, even when it's really old. 

From reading my friend Colin's blog, I understand that Hallowe'en seems to have morphed into "Alowín" in Spanish. Strange, considering that today is Todos los Santos, All Saints' Day, the more traditional celebration in countries like Spain and Italy. 

Here in the North East of England, where we are staying at a friend's house, celebrating Hallowe'en has long been a tradition and many houses are decorated with broomsticks, spiders and goodness know what else. This did not prevent some of the houses in our friend's street having eggs thrown at them last night - another local tradition. They must have run out of eggs before they reached her house for her front door was spared. 

 Our friend Sharon has a dog. She looks like a very fierce dog and does have a very gruff bark. All of this is belied by her name: Mitzi. In fact, though, once she knows you she is very soft and sociable and just barks and rumbles at you when she wants some attention. Now, Mitzi really thinks she is human and when you sit down to eat she wants to join in, not just to beg food but to be around, sharing the experience. This is borne out by the fact that when she has her food she will push her bowl into the room where her people are, not really willing to share her food but to have you join in the conversation with her about how good it is. 

None of this, however, convinces me of the need to have a dog!