Friday, 27 February 2015

On the road again. Or in the airport again.

The weather witch's mother asked why I was up early yesterday - ¿Por qué madrugas tanto? Isn't it good to be able to put the idea of being up early or getting up early into one word: madrugar. Which, incidentally, can also be used for to stay up late into the small hours. Two o'clock in the morning is "las dos de la madrugada", never "de la mañana" since two o'clock patently is not yet morning. 

 So, I was up and about and down to the breadshop in the dark so that I could get to the bus station for the nine o' clock bus to Portugal. It's a little crazy to arrive at the airport at 9.45 (Portuguese time - 10.45 Spanish time) when the plane does not leave until 12.20 but the next one would not get there until fifteen minutes after the plane left. So it goes. 

A mildly annoying bus ride in the end. A family moved in behind me at Valença, with a whinging small girl. The parents spoke to each other and mostly to the son in Portuguese but the little girl only spoke to them in French, perfectly accented French. The mother, in contrast, spoke French with a Portuguese accent. Odd! And the small girl managed to have ear-ache, a head-ache and back-ache in the course of the journey. I suspect this may have been an attention-seeking ploy as she got very cross with her mother for not listening to her at one point. Good job I had my iPod so that Springsteen could go some way to blotting out the whining. 

Coffee and an almond cake (un queique de almendoa) for €3.35 in the airport. Someone should tell British airports how to price their snacks! And then a couple of hours hanging around. 

It's very strange to go from a tiny, although seemingly growing, airport like Porto's Sa Carneiro to London Gatwick. You arrive, get off the plane and walk miles and miles to passport control. Because there is improvement work going on at the airport, notices advise you to use the loos on this side of the passport control as there are very limited facilities beyond that point. So you follow their advice and then wait in the queue for ten minutes. Thank goodness you didn't accept the offer at Porto airport to have your bag put in the hold for free. Eventually, you get through passport control, walk rather further to find the exit and then several miles more to get to the shuttle to South Terminal where the railway station is. Phew! What a palaver! 

Having negotiated all that and being aware of the time going past, when I finally reached the railway station I didn't bother being independent-minded about what they call my "onward journey". No, I just went straight to Information, smiled sweetly at the chap behind the counter and told him I wanted to go to London Bridge station. So he helped me buy my ticket from the automatic machine and pointed me in the direction of the right platform for the train that was due to leave in four minutes time. Left to my own devices, I would probably have missed it. 

After that, dealing with the underground system was a doddle. Eventually I reached my son's house. Door to door - I left the flat in Vigo not long before 8.30 am Spanish time and arrived at my son's house in Chesham not long before 5.00 pm. 

There was a lot of sitting around involved in yesterday's travel.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Communication problems. And solar eclipse.

Obviously Tuesday was not my day for using electronic media. First of all I tried to email a friend and managed 1) to send him an empty message and 2) to send the message intended for him to myself ... twice. I still have not worked out quite HOW I managed that. I could blame the new(ish) laptop which is super sensitive. The curser only has to hover briefly over something for the computer to think you want it do something with that. I have to be extra careful not to delete important stuff all the time. Then there's the fact that I rarely use it to send email, usually because the machine is being used by Phil and consequently I use my iPad. But all of that is just excuses and the result remains a mystery. 

Then there is my Spanish phone. To contact family and friends in the UK I use my iphone, which is fine. But it's useful to have a Spanish mobile as well. So when we first moved out here, we bought a couple of absolutely basic mobiles for a bargain price of something like €40 - and that was for the two of them together. Recently, though, my little Spanish phone has been playing up. You charge the battery, make one phone call and then it beeps to tell you it needs charging again. Or you don't use it at all during the course of the day and the battery quietly discharges itself. So finally I decided to replace it. 

Off I went to the Telefonica shop on Rosalía de Castro. Getting to the shop was an adventure in itself. There is a maze of roadworks to negotiate and finally you arrive at the right place!!! The charming and helpful assistant tried to persuade me to take out a contract and get a very clever and quite expensive phone free. Not what I wanted, so reluctantly she found a more reasonably priced device on which I shall put a bit of pay-as-you-go credit from time to time and over a year it will cost me less than the contract, even taking into account the handset. My Sim was transferred and Bob should have been my Uncle. Except that I had the devil's own job working out how to send messages without having to scroll through options for each letter I wanted to type. And then I kept sending one-word messages to a friend by mistake. Wonderful! In addition, for each letter typed, the handset delivered a resounding beeeeeeeep! But I sorted it eventually. 

What's more, serendipity came into play. As I negotiated the roadworks maze, I recognised the chap at the other end of one of those metal walk-ways they put over holes in the road. "¡Hombre! ¡La inglesa!" he exclaimed. (I love the Spanish use of ¡hombre! To express surprise, even when addressing women and even when it's women addressing women.) It was Isaac, one of the first people I got to know in Vigo when I was trying to learn Gallego. We met at the Asociación de Vecinos Canto do Gallo, where there was a Gallego workshop, and he then got me to go the yoga class there. These local neighbourhood groups are wonderful, community action at its best. So we exchanged news and I promised to call in at the Asociación de Vecinos when I am back in Vigo. 

Something else: there is going to be a solar eclipse in March. The last major one was in 1999. I missed it completely because I was in a shopping centre in Andalucía with my sister and her teenage daughter who went from shop to shop, unable to decide what to buy. Maybe I will be more aware of this next one on March 20th, starting at 8.45 am UK time and reaching its maximum at about 9.40. It'll all be over by around 10.40. 

Authorities are in a bit of a tizz about it because we have a lot more solar energy than we used to have and so they expect the country to go into blackout. This will be even more the case in other countries of Europe where they are more Eco-savvy. Shock! Horror! Whatever will we do? 

 At least they are not predicting the end of the world.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Noise, actresses and educational matters!

It's very noisy on our street at the moment. A huge machine is digging up the centre of the road, chewing up the tarmac surface and spitting it out into a lorry that goes along in front of it. I didn't know you could get tarmac-crunching machines similar to the tree-eating machines you see around eating old Christmas trees in early January. It just goes to show that you can see something new wherever you go. 

Anyway, this tarmac-eating contraption is apparently preparing the surface so that they can install a central island all along our street, complete with bushes and flower beds and the like. Is this the gentrification of our end of Calle Aragón? Further along the street, closer to the Calvario end of town this process has already been completed and very nice it looks too, complete with smart new pavements and everything. 

Now, that is where the bone of contention lies. My weather-witch bread lady is up in arms. They are doing all this stuff to the centre of the roadway, making it too narrow in her opinion, but they have no intention of replacing our pavements. And it has to be said, our pavements are in a pitiable state. However, for lack of budget, all the council plans to do is patch up the worst bits of the pavement. So, only partial gentrification, it would seem!!!! 

Further to my comments about older ladies and their charms, I was interested to read about Monica Bellucci, described in the newspaper as an actor. She's an actress, for goodness sake. But that is not the argument here. Ms Bellucci was approached with an offer to play a part in a James Bond film. She thought they wanted her to to replace Judi Dench as M in the new James Bond film, Spectre, but in fact they were asking her to play the oldest Bond girl so far. 

When she expressed her doubts to director Sam Mendes, he is reported to have laughed and said: “For the first time in history, James Bond is going to have a story with a mature woman. The concept is revolutionary.” 

The 50 year-old actress commented, “Many 50-year-old women feel invisible to men, but it doesn’t have to be that way." 

So there you go; it's recognised by some that older doesn't always mean less attractive. 

Onto other matters. I have been a little disturbed to read that the Spanish Secretary of State for Education, Vocational Training and Universities, Montserrat Gomendio, has been making noises about who pays for university education. I do hope this is not the start of a movement to introduce the kind of huge fees for university education we have in the UK! 

Still on matters educational, I have been having a bit of a discussion on Facebook with my daughter and a friend about parents taking their children out of school during term time. It happens far too often in the UK, when parents find a bargain-priced holiday in the sun. They quoted a newspaper report that said, "The battle between parents and the UK government over term-time holidays has flared again after the Department for Education claimed that even short breaks from lessons can reduce a child’s chances of doing well at school by as much as a quarter". 

And it claims the same pattern can be seen at primary school level, where pupils missing up to 14 days of school in key stage 2 (ages seven to 11) are a quarter less likely to achieve level five or above in reading, writing or maths tests than those with no absence." 

They both. my daughter and the friend, were protesting about people who had been fined for taking their children to Crete, I think it was, for a week during the school term. They felt this was unfair, that there were special circumstances that should be taken into account, that visits to foreign countries are educational and enriching and so on and so on. OK, yes, I can see that argument but ... and it's a big but ... most UK parents who take holidays during term time do so because they can get a bargain break, not because they are going to show their offspring the wonders of an ancient civilisation! 

In most mainland European countries they are really strict about children having time off school during term time. And as a rule parents accept this and don't need to be threatened with fines to make them keep to the rules. When I wanted to arrange educational exchanges, really valuable for students of foreign languages, I always had real difficulties finding a time when we could do so because of this attitude. And we have had the same problem with the chess exchange we have been working on. And basically I agree with that attitude. It plays havoc with your teaching if you keep having to play catch-up for pupils who have been to Benidorm for a fortnight! 

When did it become essential for everyone to have holidays abroad? And if it really is essential, maybe the government should also think about some kind of legislation that prevents travel companies putting up their prices in school holiday periods. Oh, I know there has always been a difference in price for "high season" and "low season" but when you see prices go up for the October half term period, the Easter Break and even for the February half term break, it really is a bit much. 

Time to rethink values, I feel!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Stuff to think about!

Someone who writes as Stella Grey, although that is not her actual name, in an article the other day was bemoaning the fact that men in their fifties prefer women half their age. She writes: 

 "There seems to be a gender imbalance, vis-a-vis the packaging thing. All the women I know are tolerant of middle age showing itself in a chap. We quite like a late flowering, in fact: the silvering, the smile lines, the coming of bodily sturdiness. We read these as signs that life has been lived and enjoyed. We read them as indicators of substance, of being substantial. In general, men don’t seem to grant us the same courtesy, at least not the men I meet online. They are highly focused on the packaging. It’s disheartening." 

It was not clear how much statistical evidence there was for this but she maintained that this is the case. It could, of course, just be men you meet on the Internet, although one she met in the flesh, as it were, did comment that she should consider wearing brighter colours ( and losing some weight!). There really is, after all, nothing to say that women of 50 +, or indeed 65+, should only wear dull colours. And I, for one, don't! 

However, I do agree with her when she points out that older men being attracted to women who could be their daughters is a little disturbing, to say the least. 

But then, as regards the presentation of self as an older women, she needs to remember that "letting yourself go" (there's a delightful expression) applies to both genders. She should perhaps ask herself is she would find the older man with his silver hair and distinguished lines around his eyes so attractive if "the coming of bodily sturdiness" meant he also had a large beer belly! Just commenting! 

I have no personal experience of Internet dating and, although I have a friend who found it a very positive way of restoring her self esteem after a divorce, on the whole I am pretty grateful for that. From what I read, however, more and more people make use of it as a way of meeting possible life partners. What happened to people you meet at work or, indeed, your friends setting up blind dates for you? And one young journalist wrote recently about her disgust at finding the boyfriend of one of her friends responding to her posting on a dating website. Challenged about it, he admitted that he and a number of his friends frequently looked for one night stands this way. New and interesting modern ways to be unfaithful! 

Clearly what you see on your computer screen needs to be treated with some caution. This should be explained to an American YouTube vlogger (that was the term used in the news report where I found this - is there a difference between a blogger and a vlogger?) who has been watching EastEnders. It seems that he believed the soap opera was a reality show and could not understand why the producers had not called the police to arrest the culprit for the murder of Lucy Beale. Oh dear! Too much reality TV does weird things to your brain and you lose your hold on actual reality. He should get out more! 

He is not, however, the only one with a tenuous grasp on reality. Russell Brand has been in the news a lot recently for his outspoken statements on all sorts of things regarding the state of the modern world. He has even produced (I hesitate to say written) books. Now I discover that Prospect Magazine has shortlisted him as being among the world's top thinkers, on the same shortlist as Henry Kissinger and Hilary Mantel. 

I am simply amazed! Thought provoking he may be but ... a great thinker?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A lost day!

After running in the rain to the bread shop first thing in the morning, I cancelled yesterday. The outside world had disappeared once more under the clouds and the rain persisted all day. What else was there to do but stay indoors and put almost everything on hold? 

So I rattled through a lightweight French novel, lent to me by a friend with the instruction that've should read it by Monday in order to be able to discuss it at the book club meeting at the Alliance Française. A kind of modern fairytale in which everyone, or almost everyone, discoveries the benefits of helping each other out and cooperating to make the world a better place for all, it was indeed a lightweight, easy read. And I learnt a bit of modern French slang as well, although that will probably have gone out of date by now, such is the nature of slang! I was amused to come across the French for the Web (the Internet Web, that is) as "le oueb". Adaptations of English words into other languages always interest me. 

Staying indoors also allowed Phil to finish off the translation work he has been doing, without feeling that he was missing the opportunity for a walk in the sunshine. I can now stop proofreading for him as well. So we are hoping that the weather witch is correct and that the weather is indeed going to brighten up over the next few days. Although we have walked around quite a lot, we have not yet made it up to any our usual vantage viewing spots such as the Castro Park or A Guía. 

Maybe tomorrow. Today we were down at the port for Phil to play chess in the prestigious setting of the Real cLub Náutico de Vigo, while I just strolled around the old quarter.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Enterprising beggars!?

"¡Oiga, Señora!" So it begins. Our regular supermarket beggar, after greeting me with her enthusiastic smile, almost paws me as she gets up close to tell me her tale of woe. She has an electricity bill outstanding: €20. She doesn't have twenty euros. What's more, she has had a warning letter. If she doesn't pay, they will cut her electricity off. Can I not spare her €20? I am very sympathetic and give her some small change but my €20 notes remain in my purse. 

Usually it's the story of the empty bombona, the gas canister. She is unable to cook for her little boy as she has no gas. I feel as if I should magically produce a bombona out of my Mary Poppins hold-all. Except that I am not Mary Poppins. But, seriously, this is a new step in begging, asking for quite specific amounts to pay bills. When the homeless in Manchester ask for money so they can get into a shelter, it's usually along the lines of "I just need a little more to get into a shelter tonight. Can you spare me some change?" Maybe "Soy-muy-pobre" has been on a course of assertiveness training or possibly "How to Beg Effectively". 

As we sat in the sunshine in Pontevedra yesterday, sipping Albariño wine and eating tortilla and calamares (it really is a hard life this retirement business) we were approached by several beggars, in all shapes and sizes. There was an almost portly man, just holding his hand out and asking for a little money. Another stood stubbornly waiting, maybe trying to shame us into giving him something. It didn't work; he has clearly not studied "How to Beg Effectively". He did however leave us with "¡que aprovechen!" - enjoy your meal. So at least he had been brought up with manners. Oddest, to me anyway, was the rat faced, skinny almost to point of emaciation woman. I almost said old woman, but she might well have been only in her forties. She went with nervous, bird like movements from table to table, barely stopping at each one. Not much of a life! 

Back in Saddleworth, UK, it's not the beggars but the sheep rustlers that are causing a problem, apparently. Phil is on a mailing list with the local police, who warn him about things that are going on: a spate of burglaries in a particular area, cartoon types of cars being targets for theft and so on. The latest communication, along with a reminder to people to keep their dogs on a lead during lambing season, contains this plea: 
"We have recently received an e-mail from a local farmer asking for assistance during the next few months. At this time of year it is easier to steal ewes as they are heavy with lambs. If you see anything suspicious near to farm land or any vans parked up in field gateways that you may not recognise please could you note the registration number and then call 101." 

 Who knew that sheep stealing was a regular feature of our area? There was also a reminder that farmers are within sir rights to shoot any dog discovered worrying their sheep. 

Goodness me! It's like being in the middle of an episode of The Archers.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Points of view.

How nice to look out at blue sky once again. For most of the weekend our horizons were very limited. The cloud had come down again and hidden everything. However, my weather witch bread lady assured me the weather would improve during this week. For today and yesterday at least that seems to be the case. 

On Saturday, the bread lady informed me, they even had to cancel the "entroido" procession in the town centre as the weather was so bad. There were a few people around in fancy dress on Monday so clearly something was going on somewhere but apart from that I have seen very little this year. Having stood on chilly, windswept street corners watching the procession in the past, I have reflected before now that the Vigo climate, indeed the Galician climate, does not really lend itself to a Caribbean style carnival parade with girls in skimpy costumes. Floats with Sponge Bob Square Pants lookalikes are one thing but girls in sparkly bikinis and feather headdresses are something else again; the poor things must freeze. The Atlantic blanket that came down on Saturday was just too much for the "entroido" procession this year. No one would want to turn out and watch, let alone take part in, a soggy parade. Presumably yesterday they were able to bury the sardine without hindrance from the weather. 

Maybe we should just work on converting the Galicians to simply having pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Not so colourful, but decidedly warmer. I am sure that they could arrange some colourful pancake tossing competitions. They are good at making fiestas out of any occasion after all. And fresh pancakes are much more appetising than the "orejas", weird, vaguely ear-shaped stiff batter concoctions on sale in all he breadshops at the moment. 

We had free pancakes last night at the Pitillo restaurant in Pontevedra. We are visiting our friend Colin and when he asked where I fancied going for tapas in the evening, that was my first choice. So to the Pitillo we went, despite his having already been there for lunch earlier in the day. They were surprised but very pleased to see him again. And after we had eaten little fish, calamares and zamburiñas, they gave us free pancakes along with the usual free "chupito"! Like Vigo, Pontevedra is all decked out for carnaval/entroido. 

Unlike Vigo, the street decoration is properly carnival themed. And there are pirates and pirate ships all over the place. There were even pirates dining in the restaurant while we were there. I hope they paid for their food and didn't behave like old style marauding pirates. 

Having commented on cold carnivals in Galicia, I found this picture of celebrations in the Czech Republic to mark the end of winter and the start of lent. It's not just the Spanish who dress up in brightly coloured costumes then. 

Meanwhile, I read an odd story the other day about a woman who was stung on the hand by a scorpion just before her flight from Los Angeles took off. They stopped the take off, took the plane back to the gate and had the woman checked by medical staff. Understandably, she decided not to get back on the plane. The flight attendants killed the scorpion and checked that there were no more non-paying passengers before the plane took off an hour late. Nobody knows for sure how the got on but the flight originated in Los Cabos, Mexico - illegal immigrant, obviously. You can't be too careful! The Oregon State University men's basketball team was on the flight and their coach commented, “The woman was a real champ. She acted like it was a mosquito bite. They got it off her, but the needle was stuck.” I think I might have been a bit more upset. 

Obviously there are more dangerous places than sometimes cloudy Vigo.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Signs and symbols and definitions of youth!

Symbols are strangely emotive things. People tend to get very agitated about them one way or another. Our friend Colin wrote in his blog  about the removal of symbols from the time of Franco's dictatorship of Spain. Well, here in Vigo, up in the Castro Park there stands a huge cross which has been the subject of quite some discussion over the last few years because it was erected during the dictatorship and is clearly one of those symbols that new laws have been trying to get rid of. This one is going to remain however. The Tribunal de Xusticia de Galicia has considered the matter and ruled that it is no longer "franquista" but simply a religious symbol. As such, it can give no insult to anyone and so it can remain standing. No doubt some people will still choose to be offended by it and will continue to daub it with paint from time to time. 

It always struck me as rather presumptuous of Franco's lot to take the cross of the Christian church and make it their own. But then, there always has been a tendency for certain kinds of rulers to believe that God is always on their side. Think of the divine right of kings, the Crusaders and the like. Think also of the furore that there was years ago when Prince Charles declared that when he becomes king he would like to be the Defender of All Faiths, rather the The Faith. All those who were offended by that suggestion are probably relieved to hear that Charles has changed his mind on that. Maybe he has finally reached the age of reason. 

As for the Franquistas and their appropriation of the cross, if you believe in such things you should now imagine St Peter clocking up the Sin of Pride against them up there at the Pearly Gates. Among other things! 

Reading a review of the classical music concert we went to the other night, I found out that if the under-35s go along to the ticket office of the ABanca venue half an hour before such a concert they can buy tickets for €5, which is very good value indeed for students of music or just young enthusiasts. I use the term "young" loosely and with some reservation, as I tend not to think of 35 as all that young. Of course, compared with 65+ it is very young indeed but I really don't feel that 35 year olds come into quite the same category as 20 year olds. Mind you, I long ago stopped being surprised at the Spanish habit of defining "young" as 18 to 30, or even 35 these days. The Italians do the same. Quite likely it is also the case in Greece. It must be a Southern European thing. Being young, and presumably irresponsible, goes on for longer in these countries. (It is also, of course, a concept understood by the organisers of sun sea, sand and silliness holidays. But even the 18-30 Holiday company appears to decide that past 30 you are a grown-up!) 

Outside the Mercadona supermarket next door to our block of flats, our regular beggar was back yesterday morning. I have not seen hide nor hair of her all week. Does she have a job after all and thus can only supplement her income on a Saturday? Or is she really canny and works out that there will be more shoppers on a Saturday morning than on other days of the week? Whatever the reason for her absence all week, she was there yesterday morning and was very pleased to see me. All smiles, she spoke to me in a normal voice to tell me she was glad I was back (naturally, as I am one of her sources of income!) but gradually slipping into her almost professional beggar's whine to tell me that she is very poor and does not even have a gas bottle to be able to cook food for her little boy and cannot buy him nice shoes and clothes to go to school and so on and on and on. 

I pressed a coin into her hand, turned down her offer to carry my shopping and went on my way. I must get to the supermarket earlier in future!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Tapas, tickets, trials and tribulations!

On Wednesday night we called in at the Failde cafe for a beer. They served us a bowl of olives, a plate with two pieces of tortilla, two mini tuna salad sandwiches and two pinchos of salami and cheese on bread, and another plate with two hot beef sandwiches. Later, as we were still messing about using their internet connection, we ordered another beer, just the one between us. This arrived with a ham and cheese toastie. The whole lot cost us €5.70. You might get one glass of indifferent white wine in an English pub for that. 

Do they look at us and think we need feeding up? Is there an ulterior motive? Do they hope that we will tell all our friends to go there and spend lots of money? I don't think it's the first one because I see others getting the same sort of treatment. Also, last night we stopped off in another cafe where we are not so well known and they also served us a fairly generous plate of mixed tapas. Their beer was slightly more expensive. Or perhaps that should be less cheap. Certainly it was still within the almost giving it away range of prices. 

The Failde cafe is a bit special in its generosity but really it's just one extreme of the tapas game here. Some places just give you a bowl of crisps or a bowl of that measly nut and seed mix that has some kind of extremely hard nuts in that are impossible to eat. Most fall somewhere in the middle. The Failde, however, is to held up as a shining example of how to do it properly. And it is understandably very popular. We have seen other cafes around here close, reopen under new management and with a new name and then close once more. But the Failde is regularly full and on match nights is positively crowded with football fans. So their generosity clearly works 

The question still remains: how do they manage to do this and still make a profit? I assume they do make a profit. Maybe not. After all, drinks are not expensive here. Maybe they are happy just to break even. I suspect that most of the staff are family members, reducing wage bills to a minimum. At the Nuevo Derby, another of our favourite haunts, we know that the staff seem to have their meals provided, probably as part of their wages. Bar staff everywhere are notoriously underpaid. And yet, in all of the places that we frequent on a regular basis, the staff are friendly, pleasant and helpful, seemingly always pleased to see us when we pop up again after a long absence back in the UK. Either that or they are very good actors and know their customer service very well. However, I say again, bar staff are notoriously poorly paid. Keep tipping them! 

Last night we went to a concert at what used to be called the Centro Cultural Novo Caixa Galicia. Now it seems to be called //Afundación Obra Social ABanca. As banks pass from hand to hand their names change and so I assume do the various places associated with them. Whether that is the name of the venue or the name of the organisation remains a mystery but the venue remains the same and is as elegant as ever. The concert was excellent. 

When we went into town yesterday evening, we were uncertain whether we would actually get into the concert. We had had a little problem with the tickets. As is our wont, we booked tickets on line, at the last minute. We did this in the Failde on Wednesday evening, in between consuming free tapas and drinking beer. Not, I hasten to add, an enormous amount of beer. Had that been the case it might have explained what happened with our booking but I don't think that three cañas between two of us counts as an enormous amount of beer. We found the website and made our booking in the usual way, planning to print our tickets when we got back to the flat. And then Phil realised that he, who is usually scrupulously careful in checking stuff like that, had managed to get one digit wrong in his email address. So the email containing the pdf file with the tickets has gone off into the ether somewhere. All for one number!!! 

We did, however, have a booking reference number and a printout of our order, indicating the seats we selected. So we set off for the challengingly named concert venue early, planning to explain the situation, taking that proof with us together with the card we used to pay for the seats and Phil's passport to prove that he is bonafide. This is Spain after all. And it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that we might come across an immovable bureaucrat, who would refuse to let us in unless we bought more tickets. As it was, the chap in the ticket booth was friendly and helpful, if a little amused. He simply printed out duplicate tickets. And there was no-one else trying to sit in the same seats. 

Of course, all of this could have been avoided if it were possible to buy the tickets from a booking office in town when one is out and about. During one of our forays into the city centre this week, we would happily have popped into the booking office and purchased tickets. However, even though there is a booking office it is only open half an hour before the concert begins. The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester has a manned ticket office, perhaps not all day long but certainly for a good part of the day. People can wander into the foyer, pick up brochures about performances there and at other concert halls in the area, buy CDs and, oddly enough, jewellery from stalls around the foyer and have a drink at the bar. The Corn Exchange, a more central venue, operates a similar system. In fact I often meet friends there for lunch. It's good for marketing and creates a few jobs. 

Mind you that may be why tickets for concerts are more costly in Manchester than in Vigo.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Keeping an eye on things!

Walking around Vigo, we notice some changes. Nothing radical. A few more empty "bajos". A few new places open but not that many. I wonder if at some point they will stop building blocks of flats with the ground floor organised for shops and cafes. It would be a shame because it creates an instant community but if they are going to stand empty, is it really worth it? It would be possible for someone to do a study of this phenomenon. I have no scientific or statistical basis for this but it occurs to me that the creation of shopping centres, such as the one where the Carrefour supermarket is at the end of our street, has "stolen" the shops that might otherwise have been located in the empty "bajos". It's a theory. 

In the flats they finished last year just a short distance from our tower block it isn't just the "bajos" that stand empty. The whole block appears to be unoccupied. Presumably nobody has the money to purchase newly built flats. And so the block stands there, a huge white elephant. 

Closer to the town centre the new train station is coming on apace, even if the date for the arrival of the super fast train is still perhaps uncertain. There is a huge, and I mean really huge, car park. Are they anticipating lots of commuters parking there every day? Might people travel to and from Madrid daily? For the poor pedestrians it will be a long, long walk from the station forecourt (is that the right word for the place where the tickets are sold and you finally get onto the platforms?) to the final exit from the station and out into the centre of Vigo. And there are still huge empty areas at the moment. Are they to be filled with the kind of shopping area you find at big stations in the UK? Piccadilly station in Manchester is like an airport except, of course, for the fact that the shops do not give you a duty free reduction. 

The old chap who used to sleep, possibly even live, in a shop doorway on Calle Urzáiz has disappeared. He was there for well over a year with his suitcase full of stuff, his sleeping bag and blankets. I just hope he has found somewhere warmer and more permanent.

The main streets of the town are all decorated, in readiness for "entroido", carnival, I suppose. Lent starts on Tuesday, after all. On closer inspection, the decorations look remarkably like the Christmas lights that went up at the end of November. There are the same stars and baubles. Of course, I have not seen them switched on this time, so I cannot absolutely confirm that they are the same blue and white street decorations. However, the fact that on Monday I spotted a couple of sneaky Christmas trees still standing at the end of Príncipe, where the big lamp is and where the buses stop, must be significant. They had been removed yesterday when i went into town. It would make sense not to pay someone to put up decorations in November, take them down in early January and then put them up AGAIN in early February. It's rather like those people who leave the fake icicles hanging from their houses all year round and just switch them on for the Christmas period. 

Here's an odd fact: according to a poll of 11,000 people in 24 cities around the world, the British accent is the most attractive of all possible accents. Who knew? It was chosen ahead of an American accent in second followed by Irish and Australian. French, once considered the language of love, was back in fifth place. The survey did not indicate which British accent is preferred. After all, there are a lot of very different ones. We don't all speak like Benedict Cumberbatch and friends. However, I remember reading somewhere that the Geordie accent from the North East is popular with telephone sales people. 

And here's a disturbing fact: some British police forces have questioned newsagents to try to find out who has bought the special edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine published after the Paris attacks. Why would they do that? One police force later apologised! It has not been all over the country but more than one constabulary has been involved. One journalist asked, “Does possessing a legally published satirical magazine make people criminal suspects now? If so, I better confess that I too have a copy of Charlie Hebdo.” 

I wonder if they question who buys Private Eye. Do they monitor which papers you read online? It must confuse them when people read the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph AND the Independent. Big Brother would seem to be watching us more and more. 

In fact, in one article I read about how to avoid being constantly monitored, the writer came to the conclusion that the only way is to have no friends and never use a mobile phone or computer. 

There you go!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

¡España es diferente!

Yesterday morning I bought, among a whole of other things, half a dozen eggs from the supermarket. Half a dozen free range eggs. Now, when I buy free range eggs from a British supermarket, and as a rule I prefer free range, those eggs have been selected to be of a uniform size. These Spanish supermarket free range eggs were all different sizes. One was most certainly a large egg, two were definitely small, but not to an equal degree of smallness. All six were quite clearly of different sizes. The only time that happens to me back in the UK is when I buy eggs from the fruit and veg man at the local market. It's one of those odd things about supermarkets here; some of them are like large corner shops. This one next door to our block of flats, because it is in a place where there is a quayside for fish to be brought in at, will occasionally announce the arrival of fresh fish, not just ordinarily fresh but fresh from the quayside. 

 The same applies to seasonal fruit. As a rule they stick to the seasons. Oh, yes, they have strawberries at the moment, which certainly is not right. Strawberries are a summer fruit and should only be sold as such. The ones they grow under glass all year round and then sell all year round are not the same class at all. But still, you are more likely to find seasonal fruit here than you are in the UK. Apart, once again from the small markets, farmer's markets and the like. Our local market, the one I tend to go to on a Wednesday for fresh fish, has apples, pears, tomatoes and the like that the stall holder will proudly tell you have come from "our place in Kent". Of course, when he tells us that the coxes apples he has on sale today are the last of the season, he may be spinning us a line to persuade us to buy. But his apples and pears certainly taste better than the ones they sell in the supermarket. 

Later in the morning, Phil and I walked into the centre of town to sort out a couple of things. We both have Spanish mobile phones, simple uncomplicated things that do no more than make and receive phone calls and, oh yes, tell you the time. No cameras, no internet connection, just bog standard, old fashioned phones. If you are lucky, they connect to the radio. Anyway, when Phil switched his this time on it told him, "SIM card recognition failed". So we went along to a Telefonica shop to try to sort it out. It turns out that because he has not put any money on it for a few months his number has been kind of re-absorbed into the system. All trace of him has been erased. Perhaps his number has been given to someone else. If so, they might be surprised to receive calls from the chess club here. Do pay-as-you-go phones work in a similar fashion in the UK? I have no idea. 

The upshot of it was that he needed a new SIM card. So we tried to buy one, only to be reminded that to do so he needed to produce his passport. This is, as we really know, standard practice here in Spain, where everyone carries their ID card around at all times. And, of course, we were not yet in proper Spanish mode and the passports were in a drawer under the bed. Consequently the purchase of a new SIM card and the acquiring of a new mobile number was put off until the afternoon. 

At that point we realised that other purpose of our visit to town would almost certainly also fail. We wanted to renew the dongle which gives us temporary mobile internet access for the laptop. We would need to produce the passports for that as well. So back home we went, had some lunch and prepared ourselves for a further trip into town in the afternoon. 

Everything was eventually sorted, although it did generate an enormous amount of paper work. This is another Spanish anomaly: when you purchase an electrical device it seems to demand that lots of documents are printed and handed over to you, normally, neatly packaged in an official envelope. Come to that, opening bank accounts also leads to this sort of thing. Back when we managed to open a bank account, we ended up with half a telephone directory's worth of printed pages - contract, agreement, terns and conditions, and goodness knows what else. And as far as I can tell, the computer age has done nothing to reduce that. 

These little, or perhaps not so little, differences make life interesting, if a tad frustrating at times.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The hardships of life?

"¡Que frío!" That was the taxi driver last night. We had just arrived at Vigo station and wanted to get to one of our local cafes before it closed. We knew that they would sell us a bottle of milk so that there would be milk for our coffee this morning. "Well," we told him, "compared to minus several degrees and snow on the ground, it's actually quite nice." 

 Everything, as I have a said many times before, is relative. And, let's be fair about this, the temperature down at the roundabout this morning was 3 degrees, which is not exactly warm, and there was a dusting of frost on the grass up on San Joan do Monte where I ran, en route for the breadshop. 

Getting to Galicia from April to October isn't a problem in the summertime but the flights from Liverpool to Oporto don't operate in the winter time. So we have to organise ourselves to fly from one of the London airports. As a rule this also involves flying to Oporto but there weren't any convenient, and conveniently priced, flights this time so we looked at other options. And so we ended up flying Heathrow to La Coruña. Or A Coruña as I must learn to call it. 

The flight left at 5.35 pm English time and, according to our information, was scheduled to arrive at 8.40 Spanish time. Imagine, therefore, our surprise when the pilot, making his captain's speech to welcome everyone aboard, said that we would arrive at A Coruña at 8.15, local time. And that is just what we did. Maybe the pilot pedalled extra fast. Maybe we had a following wind. Or maybe they just miscalculated the time when they put the schedule on the website. 

Anyway, it was convenient for us because the last train to Vigo left A Coruña at 9.10 and, had we arrived at 8.40 we would have been hard pressed to catch it. We had a contingency plan, a list of A Coruña hotels to phone if we found ourselves needing an overnight stay. As it was a taxi got us to A Coruña station in plenty of time and off we went. When we arrived at the Failde cafe, the place was full of football fans, enthusiastically watching a match on TV. 

As usual the Failde fed us copious tapas to go with our beer, preventing us from dying from hunger before breakfast this morning. Two beers, copious tapas and a large bottle of milk to take away cost us the grand total of €5.10. Amazing! I always wonder how these little cafes keep going. 

And then the match was over, a draw I think, and all the football fans, en masse, got up and left. Suddenly we were the only customers left and it was clear that hey were clearing up ready to shut up shop. Maybe the football fans had all been told that once the game was over they had to leave and that was that. Spain as a whole may stay up late but clearly at this end of Vigo this is not necessarily the case, even on a Saturday night. 

And this morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining, an auspicious start to our stay. Even if it rains tomorrow, it's nice to wake up to sunshine on day one. 

Today being Sunday and this being Spain, or at any rate Vigo, there are no supermarkets open and all we have in the flat is tea and coffee, half a loaf of bread, a few olives and, of course, a large bottle of milk. So we had to take ourselves out for lunch. 

These are the kind of hardships we can manage to survive!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Presents making you tense!

Yesterday slipped away somewhere. Between rushing to the market first thing, packing suitcases for our trip to Spain, going to collect the small grandson from school and then bringing him and his two sisters to our house to eat, the time just disappeared. Suddenly it was mid- and then late-evening. These are things that happen! 

As well as packing suitcases, I have been wrapping birthday presents for the smallest grandchild, who will be one year old, amazingly, next week. This smallest grandchild is the offspring of our son, who lives near London. Since we are spending tomorrow night at our son's house before flying to A Coruña on Saturday, we are taking parcels not only from us but also from all the little person's cousins living in our neck of the woods. 

As this is her first birthday, the party organised, I believe, for Sunday will be much more of a social occasion for the parents than for the small girl. This is how it should be. Parents of small children need to create a supportive network for each other. And besides, what usually happens is that a group of friends somehow decide almost unanimously to start producing offspring at more or less the same point in their lives. So really it's just another excuse for a grown-up party, often with people who were young people together at university, just with rag ruts on the floor as well. And a prodigious amount of cooing and gooing! 

This will change as the children grow older. I have just heard in the news about a kind of protest by the singer Myleene Klass. (No, I've not heard anything of hers either!) Apparently parents at her child's school received an email from the parents of a couple of children about to have a birthday. The import of this email was that the children concerned would like, in one case, a Kindle and, in the other, a rather expensive desk for their birthday presents. So would parents care to contribute, for example, £10 each so that the children could have the present of their dreams. Ms Klass objected that this was taking some of the fun out of birthdays and suggested, somewhat sarcastically, that parents might like to contribute to a collection for a live unicorn for her daughter. 

Now, we have contributed to expensive joint presents win the family. It works because everyone knows that grandparents will also give other smaller presents as well. The problem with using the same system with classmates is that it's a little more difficult, or at least less diplomatic, to suggest the value of the present that you should buy for someone else's child. Even amongst the wealthy, it's a bit presumptuous. Also, to make it work, it implies inviting the whole class to the party. This is part and parcel (not birthday presents) of the modern approach to children's birthday parties. 

Ms Klass and others in the discussion also made the point that children need to learn to choose presents for their friends. They should be involved in the whole process, not just turn up to the party. 

When my children were small, we used to invite a group of friends, selected by the children themselves, to their birthday parties. As a rule we held the parties at home, although we did branch out to a trip on a canal barge one year. Our grandchildren, on the other hand, have mostly been involved in parties to which the whole class is invited, usually held in some "party venue" with organised jollity, lots of rushing around a huge barn-like place and consuming too much sugar. It reduces mess at home. And at the end of the party the little host takes home a massive pile of presents. 

I remember being a child, hard as that may seem to some people, and I know that I did not like ALL the members of my junior school class enough to want to invite all of them to my party. Surely birthday parties are for friends, not a device for getting as many presents as possible. But if you are going to organise that kind of party, I suppose you can almost understand the parents' desire to use it as an opportunity for their child to receive an expensive present without said parents having to pay for it! 

Oh, it's wrong on so many levels! 

That's another rant over!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Art and propaganda.

Great excitement in the art community. Two bronze statues of muscular chaps riding snarling panthers are now believed once more to be the work of Michelangelo. I say once more because up until some time in the 19th century they believed this to be the case but then they changed their minds. Now someone has spotted a corner of a drawing in a Paris museum made by one of Michelangelo's minions and which features a sketch of a chap on a panther. So art experts have had a look and have then compared the musculature of the Panther riding chaps with that of Michelangelo's David - same six pack and the like - and have almost gone back to opinion number one. It is, of course, all subject to verification. All other Michelangelo bronzes were melted down long ago so there is no possibility of that kind of comparison. Will we ever know for sure? Probably not, unless someone finally invents time travel. 

I showed photos of the bronzes at my Italian class but our teacher was singularly unimpressed. She must have gone on to another topic. Only a couple of weeks ago she was full of admiration for the cleverness of the artist (Michelangelo) in depicting God in a brain shaped vessel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling: some kind of comment on who created who! But maybe she was pressed for time today and did not want to talk about bronzes. 

Dr Victoria Avery of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, on the other hand, is very excited. She said: "It has been fantastically exciting to have been able to participate in this ground-breaking project, which has involved input from many art historians in the UK, Europe and the States, and to draw on evidence from conservation scientists and anatomists." 

We have been looking at examples Italian Fascist propaganda in the Italian class. It's amazing how many sayings we take for granted as part of everyday speech are claimed to have been said first by Mussolini. "Who dares wins." "Those how are not with us are against us". It lead to some interesting discussion. Here are a couple of examples of his propaganda on the walls of buildings. 

I was amused to read about members of Germany’s neo-Nazi National Democratic party (NPD) who were forced to cancel a protest in the south-west city of Freiburg after they got on to a train to Mannheim by mistake. They were going to demonstrate in Freiburg in solidarity with a woman who had allegedly been refused permission to take the final exam for a public management studies qualification because of her allegiance to the NPD. However, the police prevented them from boarding a train to Freiburg because it was full of far-left "ultra" football supporters on their way to a Bundesliga match. Wanting to avoid clashes on the train, the police told them to take another, presumably later, train to Freiburg. But the NPD folk just got on the next train from the same platform without checking where it was going and ended up going in completely the opposite direction. There were only about twenty of them, so it would not have been a very big demonstration anyway. Don't you love it when groups like that get all confused? And nobody missed them in Freiburg! 

As I walked through Manchester this afternoon, I noticed once again how dull Piccadilly Gardens look these days. Really you can't call them gardens. A friend of mine posted this picture of what they used to look like. Much better. Whoever agreed to the present arrangement really needs some education. 

And finally, since I put some of Mussolini's graffiti on earlier, here's a link to an article  about graffiti from the 1970s. Nothing changes.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Coffee and tea, chemicals and electronic gadgetry!

A friend sent me some information about coffee. Coffee, it seems, is the best thing in the world for your health. Why? Because it's full of anti-oxidants! I'm not entirely sure what antioxidants are. My first reaction has always been to suppose it has something to do with stopping you from going rusty. Maybe that is the case. Perhaps rust in the brain causes all the diseases connected with dementia. 

I looked up antioxidants. It's all to do with atoms and free radicals and stuff like that. Basically, the human body is one big chemistry laboratory. Unfortunately it doesn't come with a very clear instruction manual. Here's a quote from a website about anti-oxidants:- "Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells in your body from free radical damage that can occur from exposure to certain chemicals, smoking, pollution, radiation, and as a by-product of normal metabolism. Dietary antioxidants include selenium, vitamin A and related carotenoids, vitamins C and E, plus various phytochemicals such as lycopene, lutein, and quercetin." 

So there you go. Saying that they stop you going rusty is not too far out. However, I have no intention of finding out exactly what phytochemicals are. And when you start to talk about lycopene, lutein and quercetin, well, I just give up! (Almost all of these terms are not recognised by the spell checker on my computer! What does that tell me?) I just want to eat food, not a list of chemicals. 

Be that as it may, it would seem that drinking coffee makes you live longer. They suggest five cups a day as maximum. You can drink more but you don't get any extra benefits. You just get twitchy. My research shows that you can get some of the same benefits from green tea, which has caffeine but less than coffee. So you get less twitchy. 

Now, the person who sent me the original information has always, as long as I have known her, which is well over thirty years, drunk lots of disgustingly strong instant coffee. I wonder if you get the same benefits from instant coffee as you do from the proper stuff. 

Green tea and coffee also increase your body's fat-burning capabilities. At least that's what I read. So you can smoke to curb your appetite. Then you drink lots of coffee and green tea to burn more quickly any fat you have ingested, while at the same time combating the bad effects of smoking tobacco. It sound like a lot of nonsense to me! 

What I like most about such articles is the way they try give a certain authority to what they say by including all the scientific terminology. Blinding the reader with science is a way of persuading them to follow the often outrageous dietary ideas. Or, alternatively, convincing the reader that he/she can carry on eating loads of rubbish but the magic ingredient will keep them slim and healthy. It has always been that way and probably always will. 

Other things I have been reading and listening to suggest, once again, that too much technology too early is bad for children. They say that young children who spend too much time with tablets (electronic not medicinal) and iPads do not learn to control their emotions. I know a few like that. On the radio I heard of somewhere in Ireland that is employing a team of speech therapists to help children who arrive at school with severely underdeveloped speech skills. This is considered to be the consequence of parents who spend too much time on their mobile phones and not enough time actually speaking to their children. One of the mothers agreed that her children spend too much time with electronic gadgets. She became concerned when she saw her child looking at the display in a toy shop window and trying to swipe the window to make the display change. I've heard of that sort of thing before as well. 

A child's wish to play with his mother's iPad had potentially dire consequences in the USA yesterday. A small boy rummaged in his mother's bag, looking for her iPad and found her gun instead. He fired it, managing to injure both his parents. The parents are being investigated for negligence. Someone has recognised that carrying a loaded gun in your bag, which your toddler might rummage about in, is not good parenting. This is the third incident of this kind that I have come across in recent weeks. And this country believes its way of life should serve as an example to other countries? 

On matters electronic, we are told that our electronic gadgets (and I confess to having a few and using them quite a lot) should all "speak" to each other. My iPhone connects to my iPad, which connects to the computer, which connects to my kindle. You know the sort of thing. Well, in my kitchen, when the kettle is boiling the toaster begins to vibrate in sympathy. Could they be said to be "speaking" to each other? 

 I was only asking!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Vitamins, babies in boxes and overdue books!

Years ago, perhaps in a photography exhibition, I came across a picture of a skinny, pale bloke in swimming trunks, leaning on the corner of a building in a snowy Moscow street. The caption said he was catching what little sun there was, to boost his vitamin D levels. And indeed, the sun was shining on the corner of the building. 

For the last few days, we have been doing much the same, although without stripping down to swimwear. While the sun is shining down from a clear blue sky into the snowy field, we walk up the hill to the highest point and stand facing the sun, absorbing the warmth, like sun worshippers of old. Quite how much vitamin D you can absorb through your face is debatable but it's quite pleasant standing there with your eyes closed. So far nobody has approached us to ask what we are doing and whether we need escorting back to the asylum. 

In a radio programme, possibly Desert Island Discs or perhaps some other series where they interview well known figures, I recently heard the chosen personality being asked if it was true that he had slept as a baby in the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers. The implication was that this was an odd thing to do. Why, the commentator suggested, did his family not have a cot for the baby? Was this a sign of exceptionally humble origins? And yet I have heard quite often of babies in the first half of the twentieth century sleeping in the bottom drawer in this way. And not just in poor families either. Quite likely in working class families rather than upper class, but still respectable artisan families. The drawer was a good size for a baby, it could easily be lined with blankets to keep the baby warm and usually it was handy for the mother to pick up and feed the a baby during the night. Quite a sensible idea on the whole. 

In similar fashion, apparently, most newborn babies in Finland sleep in cardboard boxes. Good sturdy cardboard boxes. Every expectant mother receives a box from the government with all the necessary clothing for a new baby, baby suits, blankets or quilt, sheets, sleeping bag, warm outer clothing and such like. The sheets and blankets are the right size to line the box and it is usual practice for the baby to sleep in there until he grows too big for it. What a fabulous idea! From what I read, the practice started back in the 1930s and was restricted to mothers from low-income families. To qualify for the box they had to attend antenatal clinic, thus ensuring proper health checks during pregnancy. In later years, in the interests of non-discrimination, it was decided that all new mothers should receive such a box. 

 I thought back to when my sister's first child was born and she received a maternity grant, which was supposed to pay for the pram. It would need to be a big grant to pay for a pram these days. And I qualified for maternity allowance when I had my children. A friend of mine didn't, I remember, because she had not paid the full National Insurance stamp. So I went and checked what the situation is today. Both these things do still exist but, of course, there are all sorts of conditions that apply. For instance, if you are on benefits and apply for the maternity allowance, it may affect your other benefits. There you go: they give with one hand and take away with another. If you are expecting triplets you may qualify for a grant of just over £1000. But how far would that go? How much nicer to receive a box of stuff without having to prove that you are entitled to it, apart from being in the family way. And nobody could be accused of spending their allowance on non-baby stuff! 

And now, here's a story of over-the-top honesty. Sir Jay Tidmarsh, a businessman who was Lord lieutenant of Bristol 1996 to 2007 returned to his old school with a library book overdue since at least 1949 when he left the school. Sorting books at home he discovered it and declared himself horrified at his own negligence. So he arranged a visit to the school and took the book back. He donated £1,500 to the school library - overdue fees, he said. 

Goodness me, I hope my old school doesn't come chasing the poetry book I walked off with in 1966.