Monday, 31 August 2015

Travelling in style. Life lessons.

Cruise boats come and cruise boats go. Many's the time I have looked out from our balcony to see one of them arriving at the harbour. They dock behind the elegant old Estación Marítima with its suggested history of adventurers going off to find a new life in the new world. Like small floating towns, they loom over the city, almost as tall as the ugly hotel down by the harbour and big enough to fill the alameda at least twice over if you lifted them from the water. Impressive? Certainly! But hardly a thing of beauty. 

Yesterday, however, I looked put and saw an elegant five-master, clearly a sailing ship. Too big to be a personal luxury yacht, there it was, all clean smooth lines, almost oozing money. We guessed it was probably an exclusive cruise boat of some kind. Later in the day, wanting a walk, we decided to go and take a closer look at the boat since it was still there. A fair number of other people had the same idea, all of us gawping at how the rich folk found ways to spend their money. 

The Wind Surf was its name. You could see people sitting at nicely set tables on the upper deck. 

As we stopped at the Maracaibo cafe on our way home, I decided to make use of their wifi to investigate it. It belongs to a company called Windstar and is the biggest of the ships in their fleet. I suppose you talk about such a company having a fleet. Even so, unlike the huge cruise liners which carry thousands of passengers, this has space for just 310 "pampered guests", as their blurb refers to them. Accommodation comes in the shape of 31 ocean-view suites, 122 deluxe ocean-view staterooms and 2 deluxe ocean view bridge suites. Presumably prices go up as your stateroom becomes more exclusive. And all staterooms have bowls of flowers and fresh fruit waiting for their guests. All is contrived to provide an "oasis of relaxing indulgence". 

How the other half live! 

When we sallied forth to look at the Wind Surf, the sun was shining brightly, the temperatures were in the mid to upper twenties and we needed sun hats and sunglasses. Even as we tried to find a good angle for a photo, we could see the mist coming in off the Atlantic. By the time we reached the Maracaibo, it was growing distinctly gloomy and we opted to sit inside instead of out on the terraza. 

This rolling evening mist is a common feature on the rías. It's as if someone took a roll of cottonwool and unfurled it over the water. Very heavy clouds they have around here. Frequently it's still there in the morning, barely allowing little bits of familiar landmarks to show above the surface, waiting for the sun to burn it off again. 

While we were in the Maracaibo, I was told off by a little old lady. The would-be elegant loos in that emporium have an outer door opening onto the wash basins and mirror section. The loo itself is in a little cubicle at the back. I have commented before on the lack of lock on said cubicle and the filthy graffiti on the inside of the door. I am reliably informed that there is no lock on the cubicle door in the gents' loo either. 

Anyway, yesterday I went into the ladies' and gently tried the closed door of the cubicle. There was resistance so I waited for someone to come out. I waited some time and began to wonder if the door was simply stiff as there was no sound. But I did not give in to the temptation to try again. Eventually a little old lady emerged, prim and proper-looking, with the kind of crimped grey hair that looks as though the waves have been set using a patent setting lotion and firm pressure from fingers that are used to being obeyed. She looked me up and down, sniffed and told me in grating tones that when the door is closed one knocks (demonstrating knocking) and asks, "¿Está occupado?" The naughty schoolgirl in me resisted the temptation to pull my tongue out at her. 

With another sniff she went on her way but she continued to look daggers at me from time to time as she sat with her cronies at a table on the other side of the cafe from us!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Communication and insects.

Yesterday morning, when I set out for my run, I went past a young woman pushing a pram one handed as she used he other to keep her phone to her ear, deep in conversation. Twenty minutes later, after I had run up the hill, round the back roads and back down again, I came across her once more, still deep in what I presume might have been the same conversation. It's a good job the child in the pram was sleeping. No chance of conversation for him from the pram-pusher! 

Some people's ability to talk on the phone is astounding. I remember organising to receive itemised bills from the phone company, back in the time before mobiles, because our daughter spent hours talking to her best friend on the phone. The best friend only lived across the road. It would have made more sense to go across and talk directly but somehow that would have broken the magic of the phone conversation! 

At least theirs was a private conversation. Nowadays, people live their lives in public more and more often. You hear details of divorce and more at top volume in mobile conversations carried out by people who have not realised that shouting does not make the phone call any clearer! Of course, not everyone needs a mobile phone to wash their dirty linen on public. The other day I walked behind a couple having a loud argument about some object that had been lost in the course of the afternoon. Although only a yard or so apart, both were shouting at the top of their voices. The small boy who was with them sensibly walked increasingly further ahead of them, disassociating himself from the row! 

We have managed to avoid a row with the Vodafone shop. In fact, we were extremely reasonable throughout our visit there and the Vodafone shop assistants were models of excellent customer service. For the most part we use internet cafes for our internet access but we have a mobile dongle, purchased fro Vodafone some years ago, which we use to check email in the flat and do things like check the bank accounts and order stuff online, the kind of transactions you don't want to do on a public wifi. This gadget has served us well for a few years now. We renew it whenever we are here, taking advantage of whatever offers the company has available this summer there has been a special offer, clearly aimed at holiday makers, a fair amount of internet time for €15 over a three month period. 

This was fine until we returned from our stay in Pontevedra, where we had not used the dongle at all, and discovered that it would not connect. In the shop, they contacted their customer service who said that, despite what our laptop showed, we had used up all our allowance. Somewhat sceptical about this, we nonetheless paid another €15 for a recharge. Within a week we had a repeat performance. Back to the shop we went! The young man who had sorted things last time was mystified and spent a good deal of time arguing the toss with customer service. Then light dawned. Nobody had told him to put in a special code when he last did the recharge. Consequently we had been charged at a different, faster, more expensive rate and our €15 had been consumed in double quick time. Contrite and a little embarrassed, despite it not being totally his fault, the young man sought, and got, permission from his manager to recharge our dongle at the shop's expense. 

Now, that is what I call customer service? 

I mentioned giant spiders the other day. Now, how about giant wasps? There I was, quietly going about my business, thinking about making a start on getting lunch organised yesterday when I spotted it: a huge, really HUGE, wasp. It must have been well over an inch in length. Its wingspan alone was almost an inch. It was the kind of thing to really give the heeby jeebies to an avispaphobe, or whatever you call someone with a pathological fear of wasps. 

Fortunately it was just flying around, without obvious signs of aggression. So I opened every possible window, hoping that the silly thing would leave of its own accord. No such luck! Instead it managed to fly between to two layers of double glazing and buzzed around there, having no idea how to get out. Neither did we have a clear idea of how to get him out. 

Summoning up all our bravery, eventually we had a go at sliding open the various bits of window, still trying to persuade him that a sharp exit was what was called for. But wasps must have extremely small brains for he remained there. Large, slim-waisted, black and yellow in colour. But mostly LARGE! 

Eventually he reached a position where all we could do was slide a section of window closed on him, pinning him against the frame. With much trepidation we investigated later and a still twitching form fell into the bottom of the window frame. Taking care not to be accidentally stung, I scooped him into a piece of kitchen roll and flushed him down the loo. Not very kind to the poor insect, I accept, but I have been stung by wasps of normal size and did not fancy taking my chances with this big fellow. 

I just hope none of his brothers and sisters come looking for him!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

El clima and where to live!

Winter is coming! Or so say the Stark family in Game of Thrones. 

Winter has arrived! or so says María who runs the Midcentury Cafe here in Vigo. 

This was confirmed by my panadera weather witch who was complaining bitterly about the climate here this morning. All the damp and mist and clouds aggravate her arthritis. This is what happens when you have a bad final week in August! Temperatures are still around 20, 21 degrees first thing in the morning, by the way. It's a good job my panadera does not live in Wales, that's all I can say. 

I came across some statistics about the best place to bring up children. The UK didn't make it into the top 20! The writer of the article tried to console us by saying that 22nd out of 41 is not bad but ... even so! It would seem that Mexico and Costa Rica are better places to raise a family. A German friend of mine was astounded to find her country in 7th place. Spain came 12th. 

The winning country was Austria, labelled as the best country for families because of a combination of children’s health and safety, children’s general wellbeing, a wide range of leisure activities for kids and family life in general. 

Finland ranked second and also topped a sub-category in the poll thanks to its quality of education. In fact, Scandinavian countries on the whole did well. 

You can see the full list below… 

1. Austria 
2. Finland 
3. Sweden 
4. Israel 
5. New Zealand 
6. Singapore 
7. Germany 
8. France 
9. Australia 
10. Luxembourg 
11. Denmark 
12. Spain 
13. Poland 
14. Philippines 
15. Mexico 
16. Canada 
17. Norway 
18. South Africa 
19. Bahrain 
20. Costa Rica 

Most people, of course, don't really have an awful lot of say in where they bring their children up. In theory, anyone can choose to go and live in a place that suits their beliefs and ideas but the practicalities of such a decision are not always easy. 

Meanwhile In the UK, mayhem continues regarding elections for leadership of the Labour Party. Friends keep telling me horror stories about people they know being barred from voting, despite becoming members or supporters of the party, for a variety of reasons, some being too left wing and some too right wing. Yesterday I found this in a piece by Tim Dowling, someone I enjoy reading in the Guardian: 

"My middle son received an email from the local Labour party, regarding the scrutiny of new membership applications. It’s not about his application – he joined six months ago, and appears to be considered something of a senior figure in the party – but about those of two boys in his year at school. One, the party suspects, is actually a Conservative supporter, and therefore faces expulsion “under clause 2.I.4.B of the Labour party rules”. The other, well, they’re just suspicious. Could my son please confirm that his classmate is a secret Tory, or provide assurances that his other classmate is as Labour as he claims?" 

Big brother is watching us; well, watching the Labour Party anyway. 

Maybe this is one of the reasons why the UK is not the best place to raise children!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Historical stuff

Waiting for the train from Pontevedra to Vigo yesterday afternoon (having had absolutely NO problems buying our tickets), we spotted a plaque on inner the wall of station, on platform 3. Platforms 1 and 2 remain as elusive as ever by the way. 

It was put up in July 1999. Maybe it has always been there and we have just never noticed it before. Perhaps it used to be situated elsewhere and has been moved to the station as part of recent refurbishments. Whatever the case, it celebrates the centenary of the extension of the railway line to Pontevedra in July 1899. Interestingly, the first railway company in Galicia appears to have been British, The West Galicia Railway Company Limited. So there has been a connection between Britain and Galicia for a good while. 

Of course, we already knew about the veneration for Sir John Moore in La Coruña, where he died in 1809 helping them fight against the French. In fact, no visit to that city is complete without a look at his tomb. But we had not heard about the railway connection. And where exactly is the John Trulock railway museum? And who was John Trulock anyway? 

A little bit of Internet detective work followed. 

I found out that there is a Museo do Ferrocarril de Galicia is in Monforte de Lemos and comprises a maintenance and restoration workshop for its collection of trains, and is the home of the tourist train, the "Galaico Expreso", which is a grand and beautiful exhibition Visitors can learn about the history of the railway in Galicia via the various kinds of traction vehicles, coaches and wagons that travelled on its railway tracks. There are guided tours and it's even possible to hire the tourist train to travel through Galicia pulled by steam locomotive. Well, there you go. 

But then I also found out about the Fundación Camilo José Cela, which exhibits objects related to the life and work of that writer. This seems to be in Padrón, where the little green peppers come from, not too far from here. And, incidentally, where the writer came from. It seems that in the same venue is the Railway Museum “John Trulock”. Trulock, Cela’s grandfather, was the manager of the West Galicia enterprise that installed the first railway line between Santiago de Compostela and Carril. The museum shows uniforms, personal and railway-related objects, even the steam locomotive called “Sestao”, placed in the gardens of the Foundation. 

But apart from that I have found very little stuff directly related to the West Galicia Railway Company and so I gave up on that topic. 

However, while we are on things historical, I came across an article about the horse ridden by the Duke of Wellington in the Battles of Waterloo. The owner of a stately home in Devon was having a clear out and came across a lock of hair from the horse's mane. Said lock of hair is going for sale by auction and is expected to fetch £5000!!! The horse was called Copenhagen. The good lady who was so excited to find the lock said, "Copenhagen’s colour was liver chestnut and, apart from the odd white hair, the colour of this piece of his mane is as vibrant as it was 200 years ago.” 

 I am reminded of people purchasing holy relics, saints' bones and the like! Are we sure this is the 21st century?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


I fully expected to write that we had managed to travel to Pontevedra this morning without problems. Not so. Our plan was to catch the 12.10 train to Pontevedra to meet our friend Colin for lunch. The last few times I have travelled from Vigo Guixar station, the queue for tickets has been interminable and the service slow. So I set off in plenty of time, leaving Phil finishing off this and that, planning to join me at the station in time for the train. Setting off early was more of an insurance policy than anything else. A little like carrying a just-in-case umbrella to ward off rain. 

I reached the station a good twenty minutes before the train was due to leave. Just as well I did! The queue was around 10 to 15 people long. Ten minutes later Phil joined me. I was still in the queue. There had been little forward movement. Shortly it became apparent that another taquilla was about to open, this time for "salida inmediata", in other words, immediate departure. We were first at the ticket window. The clerk proceeded to huff and puff and curse and swear at her computer, trying to make it cough up two tickets to Pontevedra with old biddies' discount gold cards. 

Meanwhile at the head of the other queue a small row was starting up. An Asian gentleman who had been there for at least ten minutes was getting more and more agitated. He began to say things in English, clearly not understanding what the ticket clerk was saying to him in Spanish. Within minutes both of them, clerk and customer, were shouting at each other, one in Spanish and the other in English. A classic communication breakdown situation. My nosy-parker instinct kicked in and I moved across and asked, in both languages, if I could help. Simple! The ticket clerk needed to see the credit card with which the original internet booking had been made. The customer thought he was asking to see his ticket, not his card, and was getting irate because he had shown all he thought he needed to show. Problem solved, neither party bothered to thank me! 

Meanwhile, our angry, cursing ticket lady had indicated we should move over to the window at the other end of the counter. By now we had less than five minutes before the train left. We offered to buy without the gold card, if that would speed things. Or indeed, to pay on the train. But no, she insisted that we had time and went on to punch our gold card numbers slowly into her computer and eventually to give us the tickets, for a grand total of €3.80. 

We dashed off to platform 15. The Asian gentleman was still busy at the other ticket window. 

We caught the train. It set off about five minutes late! 

 Now, Vigo Guixar is a modern station. It has only been open for the last three years, built as a stop gap while work began on the new station on Urzáiz. You would think that such a new station could operate without all these difficulties, especially as now the new station on Urzáiz is also working. Maybe they just put all the old computers in the Guixar station! Maybe they just put all the incompetent staff in the Guixar station! One of life's mysteries! 

We arrived at Ponters to find a message from Colin to meet him at 2.10 for lunch. We had an hour to kill. So off we went to the Sanfranciso, the "pijo" cafe with good wifi. On a whim I ordered iced mint tea. It came in the following form: a mini teapot full of hot water, a teabag in a neat little box, like the ones you get showercaps in when you stay in posh hotels, and a glass of ice cubes. As a rule when you order iced tea you get a little teapot, with the teabag already infusing as well as it can do in this country that truly has no idea how to make tea, and your glass of ice cubes. It works fine. But this time I had to put my teabag in the already cooling hot water and hope there would still be some kind of infusion. As if in consolation, it came with a tiny square of chocolate, nicely chilled! 

Perhaps I should just have ordered a locally made beer. I say this, tongue in cheek, so that I can comment on something I found as a headline the other evening in a local paper. "El bum de la cerveza artesana desata una fiebre emprendedora." loosely translated: the boom for microbreweries is taking off at a feverish rate. I love the Spanish version of boom! 

The mint tea, while not really fully brewed, was nonetheless quite refreshing.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Flies and spiders

As I shooed a small fly away from the breakfast table this morning Phil commented on the unusually large number of flies in the playing room at the chess tournament in Mondariz. Now, this was in a smart hotel. My experience in recent years is that there are remarkably few flies in smart hotels. What do they do to keep them out? 

In fact, there are fewer flies around in general than there used to be. Modern insecticides must have done for them. I can remember being on holiday in the 1970s in the French Pyrenees and flies being an almost expected part of the holiday. The farmhouse where we stayed had long (rather gruesome) strings of flypaper hanging from the ceiling in the main room on the ground floor. From the moment the sun came up, the flies woke up, flew around like idiots and were stuck on the fly paper! I wonder if they still have all those flies there. I suspect not. 

Then there are spiders, of which there are far more than I ever remember in my childhood, despite the greater number of flies for them to feed on. In our house in the UK, we regularly catch large spiders and throw them out of the window. Here in the flat in Vigo, I have not seen a single spider! Can they not climb up seven floors? Are lower floors infested with spiders? Do you find spiders in the "bajos", down at street level where spiders do not have to climb stairs to get in? Are there more spiders in British homes because more of us live in houses? 

I tried researching it on the internet and found all sorts of stuff about the kinds of spiders you can find in Spain but nothing about the frequency of house spiders. 

Now, I do know Spaniards who would say that it is because English houses are dirty. This is partly because they disapprove of the English habit of carpeting everywhere, including kitchens and bathrooms, a strange custom I have never understood. But on the whole it is one of those incomprehensible misconceptions. Almost every nation considers others less meticulous than themselves in cleaning habits. 

I have also heard puzzlement about the lack of mixer taps in English homes, not to mention showers (less so nowadays, although some English homes with older plumbing systems still only have bathtubs) and bidets. 

But I can imagine hoards of British housewives who dust and vacuum daily, if not more frequently, being very insulted at the idea that their homes are not clean! 

The fact remains, however, that spiders do invade English homes. And this year warnings are going out about large house spiders, affectionately referred to by one expert as the “golden retrievers” of the spider world, making their way indoors. The explanation is the warm weather enjoyed across the UK in the past months. Truly, that is what the article in the newspaper said! I am sure that many Spaniards of my acquaintance would hold their hands up in amazement. A German friend of mine , resident in Greater Manchester, who has complained about needing the heating on in recent "summer" months would agree with them. But there it is. 

Experts say that the "warm weather" has contributed to an accelerated growth of the house spiders, who despite their name, usually live outdoors. The male spiders migrate indoors at the end of the summer looking for a mate. Foolish males! Don't they know that female spiders are said to eat their mates after having their wicked way with them? 

These spiders can grow to be a large as 12 centimetres wide. For those of us who were not brought up in the metric system, that's about 4.5 inches. THAT IS HUGE!! 

A spider expert warned that the spiders' bite (yes, their BITE!) can be similar to a bee sting if the skin was pierced. She went on to say that this was unlikely to happen as long as people did not antagonise the insects and treated them sensibly. Should we really have to worry about "antagonising" spiders. If I saw one 12 centimetres wide I would be more concerned it might antagonise me! Goodness knows how our grandson will react of he finds out. We have enough trouble with his almost pathological fear of wasps. 

The arachnid expert went on to say, “The best thing is to put a container over them and scoop them up with a postcard and escort them out. The risk of a bite even inadvertently if you're in the garden is very small." Well, that's reassuring, isn't it? 

It's also quite good to know that my method of dealing with invading spiders is approved of by the experts. 

Though quite where one finds a container and a postcard of the dimensions to trap a 4.5 inch spider, without crushing its legs, let alone risking antagonising it, is another matter altogether.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Things you learn from reading packaging.

Basque is a strange language. I have been aware of this for a long time but whenever I come across it I am struck afresh by its strangeness. I probably became aware of it for the first time when I watched a documentary programme about ETA, years ago when they were still seriously blowing people and places up. I had seen Catalan written down and could work out a fair amount of it. I could even understand bits of it spoken. 

But Basque was a different kettle of fish altogether. I already knew it was one of the oldest languages in the world, surviving the Romans and other waves of invaders unchanged. But the harsh sounds amazed me. And then we visited the Basque Country and I came across a bunch of people who didn't say hello when they answered their mobile phones. Instead they appeared to say bye, more probably written as "bai", which I suspect means yes. I also learnt to say "agur" for goodbye. And hearing it on the streets, it didn't sound as harsh as it had when spoken by the lady in the documentary I saw. Perhaps she was the Basque equivalent of those Castilian-Spanish-speaking women, so many of them, who have a harsh, abrasive tone when they speak. 

So, what got me onto the strangeness of the Basque language? I went out in the pouring rain yesterday to buy coffee and gave in to the temptation to buy cookies. Although some people think that cookies and biscuits are the same, this is not so. Cookies are biscuits, yes, but not all biscuits are cookies. In the same way, people are mammals but not all mammals are people. 

Anyway, I bought cookies from Eroski, the supermarket that labels all its own brand goods in four Spanish languages: Castilian, Basque, Catalan and Galician. Cookies, a word that has been absorbed into the Spanish languages, although not properly hispanified (will it eventually become "cúqui" in the way "croissant" has become "curasán?), has become "cookieak" in Basque. Many plurals seem to be formed with that ... ak ending. "Ingredients" are "osagaiak". Maybe if I bought enough Eroski products and studied the packaging, I could learn a whole lot of Basque vocabulary! 

 Perhaps I should start looking for a teach yourself Basque series. A new project.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Reflections on the temperature. Again!

In yesterday's Voz de Galicia I read that the weather was going to deteriorate. Sure enough, this morning the cloud came down. Looking from our balcony, in one direction I could just make out the top of the Rande Bridge poking up out of the mist. In the other direction, the Islas Cíes had disappeared. Once again my weather witch bread lady had been right. She has been telling me all week, "Hay que aprovechar." A bit like carpe diem, you have to take advantage of it (the sunshine) while it's here. 

 The weather report also said the temperatures would go down. A maximum of 19 degrees in A Coruña and 30 in Orense. I don't think they'll be needing big sweaters and fur coats in Orense then. The temperature sign down at the roundabout was still showing 18 at 9.00 this morning. But it was cloudy and so the lady who walks her dog every morning and with whom I now have a nodding acquaintance, was wrapped up in her anorak, buttoned up to the neck. And there I was in shorts and a running vest! 

Last night I was strolling around in a sundress. This week Phil has been playing chess in Mondariz. Play starts at 5.00pm and he usually gets back to Vigo in the middle evening. So I go and meet him at the Midcentury cafe for a beer and a snack on his return. For the last few evenings at the same time there has been a group of women with a toddler: young mother, grandmother, another woman the grandmother's age, all giving attention to the curly blond cherub. Yesterday evening at about 9.30, with the temperature still registering 25 degrees, the grandmother was preparing to take the child outside. He wore a little denim jacket and was getting fidgety as she wrapped him up further in a denim shirt belonging to one of the ladies. She admonished little Mr Fidget, "¡Espera! Que hace frío. (Hold on! It's cold out there.)." 

I know that everything is relative and that even I felt the need to throw a wrap round my shoulders later as we walked home, but it was hardly cold! And besides, that child rushed about so much that he undoubtedly created his own central heating system. Earlier, returning from the counter in the cafe, where the owner María had been giving him a little cake, he spotted the open door and did a runner. Fortunately the ladies were not busy on their mobile phones or deep in conversation and were able to race after him. Much finger-wagging ensued and a lot of explaining about how dangerous it is to run away but the little cherub just gave me a wicked grin. 

After they had left, the Midcentury pretty much emptied. There was just me and a little group of people chatting to María at the bar. She was looking exceptionally in tune with her fifties music selection, hair up in a pony tail, quite full skirt cinched in at the waist, leaning over the counter to chat. She would have fitted in quite nicely to one of those films involving souped-up cars racing down the main street of a small American town. I wonder which came first, her look, her husband's selection of music ( for he seems to be her DJ) or the name of the cafe. 

Phil arrived too late to benefit from the music last night. The Midcentury closes at 10.00 and his group had been delayed by one of their number having a chess game go on and on and on. So I left the cafe and went to meet him along the way, still not yet feeling the need for an extra layer of clothing. 

That only came at the very end of the evening after a beer in a different cafe with a later closing time.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Exams. Tasers. Poolside conversation.

Yesterday was GCSE results day in England. Another step along the way to deciding the future of masses of young people, including a young relative of mine who got herself an A* for Spanish and an A for Russian. Not at all bad in a situation where the numbers of students taking modern foreign languages has been going down year on year. Some whizz kid advised the government that it was a sensible thing to make studying a modern foreign language non-compulsory beyond age 14 and now they wonder why the numbers have dropped. Grades for languages have improved, however; they say this is probably because only the brighter pupils are taking the exam. 

That's not necessarily completely true. Being bright doesn't guarantee success in language learning. In my experience as a modern foreign language teacher, while a good grade at GCSE was usually a reasonable indicator of continued success post-16, there were always some who only really got into the swing of it in sixth form and suddenly blossomed. Maybe it's because the content of GCSE is so limited that it's not terribly gripping while A-Level should, in theory at least, allow students to discuss more interesting topics. 

There is still a striking difference between the attitude in the UK, where little importance is given to learning a foreign language, and here in Spain where parents push their offspring to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and practise English. And, of course, the interest level goes up because so many pop songs are in English. 

One article analysing GCSE results commented that Maths remains the most popular subject. Hmm! I wonder! It may be the subject with the most entries but is that a true measure of popularity? Almost every avenue open to young people beyond the age of 16 demands a pass grade in Maths. Everyone knows that and so even reluctant students of Maths sit the exam. I bet the numbers would go down if you made it non-compulsory beyond the age of 14. And judging by the numbers of students I saw having to repeat Maths GCSE in sixth form, it certainly isn't the most successful subject. 

I read an odd little story yesterday about a man being tasered on board an aircraft. It was a budget airline that only allows one piece of hand luggage per passenger. This man wanted to take two bags on board and turned abusive when challenged. So they tasered him and he was arrested. Who knew that cabin crew went armed with tasers? Be careful what you say when you travel and keep those badly behaved children under control! 

Down at the pool this morning I overheard an odd conversation about pooh, la caca in Spanish. (Incidentally, while caca is in the Spanish-English end of the dictionary, pooh does not appear in the English-Spanish end. At least not in my little Collins. I just checked. Does this say something about the two nationalities?) The pool-maintenance people were checking levels of chemicals in the water and a lady came and spoke to them about something she had seen in the water the yesterday. In fact, she said, she thought it might still be there. She could see something dark at the bottom of the water. It turned out to be a leaf, thank heavens. Apparently he suspicions had been aroused after a conversation with a her grandson. She had maintained that pooh floats and, therefore, his suggestion that what could be seen at the bottom the pool might be suspicious were groundless. Ah, no, he told her. The very little boys in his pool in their comunidad in Madrid were always doing their business in the water and, in his experience, little tiny poohs, bolitas as she called them, did not float but sank to the bottom. These are things that small boys learn! 

I will never regard small boys in the same way again. And I will always examine the bottom of the pool carefully before getting in!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Linguistic oddities!

"Love is spending your life with someone who make you nuts and you just want to kill them but you don't .... because you can't imagine life without them." 

This is one of those things that people post on Facebook because they want to post something but nothing is really going on in their lives. And so they find these sayings. I really should "defriend" some of the people who post such stuff but, despite those who deride the social media, it remains a reasonable way of keeping in touch with former colleagues and the like, people you got on with but not the sort you want to telephone or send emails to on a regular basis. 

Anyway, back to the rubbish posts. There must be a website where you can find trite sayings. I've never come across it. But then, I have never looked for it either. Forget the sentiment expressed; it was the crazy grammar that attracted my attention. How can you say "someone who MAKE you nuts"? Surely it should be "someone who MAKES you nuts". And I don't think it was a typo because it was on one of those fancy backgrounds. No, I think it was influenced by the fact that it went on to say "you just want to kill THEM". It's that lack of a neutral third person singular pronoun in English. Nobody wants to write "him or her" and so we end up with "them", really a plural but here used to denote a singular. Odd! In languages which make everything masculine or feminine I am pretty sure it doesn't arise. You can use "una persona", grammatically a feminine noun, to describe a man and make the adjectives that follow feminine as well. "Pedro es una persona simpática", for example. It does not imply anything derogatory about Pedro's masculinity. It's just language. And language is odd, and oddly fascinating. 

Take the "tú/usted" question. In the books by Carlos Ruiz Zafón that I have been reading, there is a very clear demarcation. His stories are set in a time when everyone addressed people they did not know as usted. Children called their parents usted; they in turn called the children tú. This still applied when the children were grown up. Servants addressed their masters as usted; masters called them tú, even if the "masters" were children and the servants quite elderly. But those were the rules and people understood them. If you wanted to imply your superiority you could address the person you spoke to as tú. It implied condescension as well as intimacy or friendship! 

When I first visited Spain in 1968, much the same rules still applied. Less so, perhaps, between students although I had been advised that I should wait for the Spanish to initiate the use of tú. Not too many years later, in the mid seventies, my sister was encouraged to address her soon to be mother-in-law as tú, but her novio said she should continue to call her usted. Otherwise it implied a lack of respect. In the present day, I am pretty sure my sister's son-in-law calls her tú without any implied disrespect. 

It's not unlike getting on first name terms in English. When we were children, in our family we called friends of our parents Mr. ... And Mrs. ... . I knew people who called them Auntie ... and Uncle ... but my mother was adamant: if they were not actually related, we could not call them Auntie and Uncle. Our children, in contrast, called all our friends by their first name. Even our grandchildren call our friends by their first name! 

Nowadays in Spain it is generally more relaxed. Unlike France, where the formal "vous" hangs on in there very stubbornly, people who have just met call each other tú from the word go. Adverts invite you to do and buy things using the tú form of the imperative. Shop assistants address you as tú as you walk in. In the Vodaphone shop, where we have had to sort mobile internet problems on several occasions, they go one better. They start off with tú and then ask what your name is so they can be on first name terms as well! The last time I was in El Corte Inglés, however, I noticed that all the salespeople addressed customers formally as usted. Customer service training of top quality, of course. 

Sometimes it gets confused. My panadera, the breadshop weather witch, alternates between tú and usted. Maybe it depends on her mood, on the day of the week, on the weather? Who knows? And in a shop the other day, I paid €5 for something, handing over a €20 note. The assistant gave me my change and said, "Cinco euros y quince para ti." ("€5 and fifteen back to you", using the familiar form.) As I left the shop, however, thanking her with the usual "Gracias", she responded "A usted" ("Thank YOU" using the formal form.) 

Like English, Spanish lacks an impersonal "you". The French have "on", which they use a great deal. I suppose English has "one" but it often sounds pretentious and most of us don't use it much. Come to that, the Spanish will occasionally use "uno". When I was learning Spanish, I was taught to use the reflexive form for the impersonal you. You see it used slightly differently in signs like "se vende" (for sale) or "se alquila" (to let) but it can be used in sentences like "Cuando se está en España, se tiene que tratar de hablar español" (when one is in Spain, one must try to speak Spanish). I used to teach my students that sort of construction but nowadays I hear the tú form of the verb used instead (Cuando estás en España, tienes que tratar de hablar español), even by people who address you directly as usted like the taxi driver who told me all sorts of things "you" (impersonal) see in Spain and then told me I was an unusual English person: "Es USTED una inglesa rara". 

 I don't have a problem with any of this; I just find it all rather fascinating!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Borders and beggars

Some of my friends laugh at me when I express concern about the future of Europe and, in particular, the future of the UK in Europe. Well, I may not be alone in my worries. Research suggests that thousands of people, continental Europeans in Britain and UK citizen abroad, are applying for a second passport. It seems that they consider that life as an EU citizen in Britain or a UK citizen abroad in an EU that no longer includes the UK could become very problematical. Dual nationality could help. 

Chief among EU migrants’ worries in the event of “Brexit” are the end of fast-track EU-only lines at passport control; the return of work permits for employees; the abandonment of reciprocal public healthcare arrangements; tighter restrictions on studying and doing business; possible higher taxes on foreign property ownership and cash transfers between member states; and the treatment of foreign pensions. 

As for me, while I am aware that unpicking the UK from the EU would be a lengthy progress which probably wouldn't affect me directly, I still wonder about the more limited horizons my grandchildren might face. 

It could be worse. Other countries' border controls throw up different problems. I was reading about an undertaker in Columbia who had a call from a colleague in Venezuela, asking if they could borrow a glass-sided hearse for the funeral of President Hugo Chávez in 2013. Without hesitation he lent them his 1998 customised Lincoln. 

“I was happy to do it. I felt like I was participating in a historic moment,” he says. 

After the funeral though, he discovered that there were problems with the paperwork and he had difficulties getting his vehicle back into his own country. In the end it was declared to be contraband and was sold at a public auction. It was bought by a collector for $45,000. Last month he managed to buy it back for $60,000. 

“It’s not fair having to buy what is already yours,” he said. “But it was important to recover the car for its historic value.” 

But having the hearse that carried Chávez’s coffin has been good for business. “I have people come in and request that car specifically for their loved one’s funerals,” he said. 

Back here in Spain, here are couple of things I have been noticing:- 

More and more frequently, I see young fathers carrying their small baby, often quite precariously, on one arm while the young mother pushes the empty pram. Is this part of the proud-young-fathers-involved-in-their-child's-life movement? 

Occasionally it may be a matter of convenience. Yesterday I saw a proud young father with a tiny baby. As it was very hot and sunny he and the proud young mother were trying very hard to protect the tiny mite from the sun by draping a sheet over her. Meanwhile the pram, in which the child would no doubt have been more sheltered from the sun's fierce rays, was full of shopping!! Even better was the proud young father we saw the other day in Pontevedra, skating merrily down the street on roller blades with a child of about sixth months old perched on his arm! 

Then today I have seen a couple of alternatives to begging. The first is one that I see fairly often: rummaging in rubbish bins to see if there is anything salvageable. The difference today was the chap doing so looked quite respectable and only a few minutes later followed me into the breadshop to buy his morning bread. I stood as far away from him as possible. Those big rubbish bins don't usually smell too good. 

The second was a younger man, quite well dressed, smoking, who stopped at a public phone box to jiggle the returned coins slot, presumably in the hope of getting a bit of forgotten small change. 

 I haven't seen anyone do that since I was a kid!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Dangerous businesses.

This morning we were almost killed on a pedestrian crossing. Ok, I exaggerate a little. It was one of those crossings without lights, where you rely on the goodwill of the drivers to stop and let you cross. Even in the UK, where zebra crossings are almost sacrosanct, I am careful to ensure that the driver has seen me before setting off. Here in Spain, we try to make eye contact with the driver. Which has on some occasions just resulted in a smile and a friendly wave and nothing more. This morning we were safely across the first half of the crossing, giving a wave to the polite driver who stopped, when it became obvious that the chap driving the red car on the other side of the road had no intention of stopping. In fact, I would say he put his foot down and did a little swerve to make sure he had no need to stop for the likes of us. The air was momentarily quite blue. 

I should not be surprised. Later in the day I saw a police car come to a belated stop at a traffic lights-controlled crossing. About half his bonnet was over the crossing when he stopped. So he was not exactly anticipating the lights changing, was he? And then there's the parking close to pedestrian crossings. The mere fact that there are official, proper parking spots right next to the crossings says it all! No wonder people think nothing of stopping ON the crossing, and usually then waiting with their lights flashing for their expected passenger to turn up! 

Different countries with different ways of looking at things you see! 

A fair number of my British Facebook friends are very soppy about animals and some of them seem to "follow" rescue centres, an activity which results in their posting pictures of cute dogs or poor, pathetic dogs that have been badly treated. Here recently there was a case of someone throwing a dog they no longer wanted over the wall of the dog pound. Not just leaving it tied up outside as a reasonable person might do! A little different! 

Then there's the question of the bulls. The pros and cons of the corrida form an argument that will keep running for a good while yet but this year it's the bull running that is making the news in a big way. Most of us tend to think that it's just Pamplona that has the craziness to run bulls through the streets and let all and sundry have a go at racing them, dodging them, waving capes at them and so on. And, yes, I know that a lot of the crazy people are tourists. But it isn't just Pamplona. Loads of places run bulls through the streets as part of their fiesta. 

The trouble is that this year more people than usual are being gored by the bulls and more are being killed. A Spanish journalist who regularly comments on bullfights says that this is largely because of the reduced numbers of bullfights proper. Because of changes in the law and also because of the economic crisis which there are about 300 fewer bullfights scheduled for this year as compared with the years before the crisis. Yet the number of ranchers who are raising fighting bulls has stayed the same. So what do they do with the fighting bulls? 

Well, there is no law that says which bulls must be used for which activity but generally the biggest and fiercest animals are set aside to square off against matadors. This year, however, many of those larger, fiercer animals are running down Spanish streets, charging at people. And there are around 16% more bull running events organised for this year as well! A recipe for disaster, if ever there was one. An encounter with a charging bull is rather like having a car drive straight at you. If it's been bred to be fierce and aggressive, what chance do you have. I've never understood the need for such an adrenaline drive myself but it wouldn't do for us all to be the same. 

Meanwhile in Italy, there have been protests against the Palio in Siena. This bareback horse race which takes place in Siena's beautiful main square is an exciting and popular event. Like much of the ceremony that accompanies it, complicated flag waving, colourful parades in brilliant costumes, each district having its own colours, it dates back to mediaeval times. And like a lot of mediaeval stuff, animals suffer in it. Horses are hurt. They fall on the cobbles, break legs and have to be put down. And yet, these horses are lovingly cared for all year. As with the fighting bulls, we are left wondering what would happen to these beautiful animals if the events were totally banned. 

This is a much more complex situation to legislate than what goes on at pedestrian crossings.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Buying train tickets.

In the UK I have a senior rail card. For around £30 a year I get a smart plastic card which gives me the right to a discount on rail fares around the country. Here in Spain I have a "Tarjeta Dorada" or Gold Card, for which I pay €6 a year, a scruffy looking piece of card, looking for all the world like the tear-off end of a printed ticket and rather easy to thrown away by mistake. This also gets me a discount on rail travel all over the country. The UK card is smarter but the Spanish card is much cheaper and gives me, I think, a slightly higher percentage discount on fares that are already considerably cheaper. 

Last year's Tarjeta Dorada reached the end of its useful life on Friday so on Sunday, before buying tickets back to Vigo, Phil and I renewed our cards at Pontevedra railway station. As I explained what we wanted to do, I asked the ticket clerk if he needed to see our passports. No, it was fine, the number he needed was in he "tarjetas doradas". Several minutes later, he asked for the passports. So it goes. 

He got in a bit of a muddle as to which was Phil's surname and first name. I believe he was looking for a second surname. We explained about being English and our shortage of surnames. That sorted, he had a wobble about Phil's date of birth. We solved that problem too and had a little discussion about his star sign. 

Then followed an odd interlude during which he said that he saw that we had bought last year's tickets at one of the Granada stations. No explanation as to why he thought this might be the case. Not true, we told him. Most likely at Vigo Guixar station. We have not been near Granada for years and years! We let that one go and he moved on to my ticket. 

He showed off his knowledge of English by reading my passport number out in our language. Very good! Then, despite my reminding him that where it says "surname" in the passport, that means "apellido", he proceeded to read out "'Margaret Adams" as my surname. I tried to tell him this was wrong, that my surname is simply Adams but that, just like many Spaniards of my acquaintance, I happen to have two Christian names. No good. He felt it did not matter. Perhaps this was because he could not be bothered to put it right. And so, on yet another occasion I am to be known as Señora Margaret Adams, or even just Señora Margaret. 

But he had already moved on to the subject of tea as he sorted out our tickets to Vigo. Was it true, he asked, that the English have tea at four o' clock? I had had enough of stereotypes and told him that we drink tea at any hour of the day that takes our fancy! 

When he pointed out to us that the train would leave from platform three, I gave in to the temptation to ask him where platforms one and two are. Since Pontevedra station was refurbished, very nicely indeed with lifts and escalators, the platforms are numbered three to ten. Platforms one and two are as non-existent as the magical platform the pupils going to Harry Potter's school get to use. But my question fell on deaf ears. I was expecting to hear something about the numbers being reserved for new platforms to be introduced when the high speed train comes through. None of that. Anglo-Spanish diplomacy was at an end. He just mumbled about platform three being right outside the door to the ticket office and turned away. 

 Such a disappointment.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Holiday activities.

In Italy they have been celebrating "Ferragosto", the August holiday, the start of summer holidays proper for a lot of people. The 15th of August is a public holiday. Everything closes. Pontevedra has come to the end of its Semana Grande festivities which have centred around the Peregrina, the virgin pilgrim and, oddly enough, bullfights. And this weekend, coinciding with the public holidays in Italy is also a public holiday weekend in Spain and just about everything closes here as well. 

Because I am an ignorant non-Catholic, I decided to check on the religious significance of the date. And, of course it turns out that the whole of August is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of the Virgin in the Catholic calendar. The 15th is the Feast of the Assumption, when she is believed to have died and been taken up bodily into heaven before her immaculate self could begin to decay. There you go. 

In Italy they make a big thing about having a special lunch and people set off on holiday, leaving the big cities behind. In Poland, one of he most Catholic countries in Europe they also make the 15th of August into Polish Armed Forces Day. That sounds like a good way of celebrating a Christian event!!! 

And here we have had bullfights going on, not specifically on the Feast of the Assumption but there were fireworks. Bullfights has also been making a comeback in San Sebastián this week. It has been banned there for three years but the new local administration has voted to bring it back, contrary to what is happening in a lot of Spain. The former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, a big bullfighting fan, was there. 

The poor animals do suffer. Animals of all kinds. I read that in the USA a grizzly bear attacked and killed a hiker in Yellowstone Park. The bear in turn was killed, or as the article in the newspaper put it, "euthanised". This may have been because the poor creature's behaviour was regarded as unusual. Grizzly bears apparently attack to defend their young but don't usually eat part of the animal (or person) they attack and hide the rest of the body, which this one did. She had a couple of cubs, so maybe she was suffering from postnatal depression. Do bears suffer from postnatal depression? In any case, they put her to sleep, presumably in case she might start attacking and eating more hikers. 

My attention was drawn to the following comment about the cubs: The two female cubs faced death, too, unless a zoo would accept them. “They are too young to survive in the wild 
on their own,” Bartlett said. “If we would have left them, they would have suffered and died.” 

What particularly struck me was the language in the final sentence. A British person would more usually say, "If we had left them, they would have suffered and died." That construction, pluperfect tense (had done) followed by conditional pluperfect (would have done), would have been used in French as well. But in Spanish it would have been almost exactly as in the quoted sentence, using an imperfect subjunctive (often used as an alternative for "would have done") and a conditional pluperfect. Italian works in a similar fashion. I am not sure what German does. 

Now, I have a theory that the Americans have been influenced in some of their sentence construction by the immigrants to their country whose first language was Spanish or Italian or possibly German. The first immigrants translated their first language structures literally into English and it became part of the standard language.

 Well, it's a theory!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Farewells and reunions (of sorts).

Late yesterday afternoon I stood for about 15 minutes in a queue to buy a ticket to Pontevedra from Vigo. The same happened the other day when I was returning from the Islas Cíes with my daughter and her children. We began to wonder if everyone was obliged to tell their life story before the staff would sell them any tickets, the process was so slow. Yesterday, the lady behind me commented that the chap on the middle ticket office was always very slow. He should retire, she told me. There are all those young people out of work and this old chap can't do the job properly. I must say I tended to agree with her. On one occasion last year I asked him for two singles and he sold me one return!!! 

Mind you, I am not sure that the lady who served me yesterday was any better. While she was laboriously putting in the number of my "tarjeta dorada", the ticket that gets me a discount for being over 60, into the computer, someone came up and said she had given him the wrong tickets. He was in a panic as he already had his cases on the train. It was only when he had looked for the seat numbers that he realised the mistake. At the Pontevedra station, the ticket clerk did not even enter my "tarjeta dorada" number into the computer. So why the hassle at the Vigo end? 

All this because I had accompanied my daughter and family to Vigo from Ponters so that I could make sure they had no problems getting onto the bus to Oporto airport. All went well. I saw them off and then walked back to our Vigo flat to drop off all the beach mats, buckets and spades, water pistols and other such equipment that the kids have been using during their stay. Everyone has had a good time although the little fellow had one tearful evening when he saw so many friendly little dogs along our route into town that he became totally nostalgic for his own friendly little dog! Who knew that a cheeky ten year old could be such a sentimental softy? 

After I had dropped off the beach stuff, I headed down to the station to go back to Ponters where Phil is still playing chess. Hence the need to buy a ticket for the train. The queue was enormous - hence the long wait - but the ticket machines seemed only to accept payment by card and I had no cards with me! 

As I walked down to the station, thinking about this and that, I almost jumped out of my skin when someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was " Soy Muy Pobre", the local supermarket beggar. She was a little out of breath, probably having spotted me and run to catch me up. The usual story of how poor she is (Soy muy pobre, señora) followed her expressions of delights at seeing me again. I gave her a few coins to send her on her way. I am aware that this almost certainly encourages her to chase after me again but she seems harmless enough. 

This must be a week for reunions with beggars. On Wednesday, as I walked along Urzáiz in Vigo with the family, I spotted a familiar figure in his old spot near the car park exit. It was " Nadie Da". This beggar always used to be in that spot, on his knees, eyes downcast, hands outstretched. I gave him his name in the run-up to Christmas one year when his chant went on and on about it being Christmastime and nobody giving any money - "nadie da". 

For the last two years, at least, I have not seen him but on Wednesday I was there in the late morning, an unusual time for me to be about and about in the centre of Vigo, and so was he. Maybe that is his time for that particular begging pitch. I did not give him anything. He was no longer on his knees but sitting in the ground, still telling us that nobody gives. Perhaps his knees are worn out. 

Curious coincidences!!!

Thursday, 13 August 2015


Over the last few days we have demonstrated our Englishness. On Tuesday, as it promised to be cloudy bright, we headed for the beach. This, of course, goes against Spanish tradition, that says that you go to the beach when it is sunny and hot. The breeze off the sea will keep you cool. But we wanted the children to be able to play without frying. So a cloudy bright day, with a promised maximum of 25 degrees, was just what we wanted. 

It's quite a long walk to the beach from where we are staying and so we compromised. Instead of walking down for bread and having breakfast at home, we walked to the bread shop, which is also a cafe, and had a leisurely breakfast there. Then we continued the walk down to the beach. It all worked fine. Having arrived at the beach we had a little "refresco"' complete with free tortilla, and then went onto the sand. 

There then followed a couple of hours or more of traditional beach pursuits: building a wall to keep the incoming tide at bay (King Canute, eat your heart out!), 

 leaping waves,

looking for stuff in the water, beach football, 

burying each other in the sand. 

Back to the cafe for an ice cream to help everyone along the way and we set off for the walk homewards. 

En route we stopped for more refreshments, thinking to get a snack in a cafe, only to find that it was already turned five and the kitchen was closed. Cheese and ham toasties were all they could manage but that worked fine. 

My daughter has one of those apps on her phone that measures how many steps you have taken over the day, how many kilometres you have walked and even how many flights of stairs you have climbed. I am unsure how it works out flights of stairs. Perhaps it can tell when you have taken an upward or downward step and measures a certain numbers of those steps as a flight. Who knows? Anyway, it turned out that we had walked around 12 kilometres in our round trip, including umpteen flights of stairs! 

Yesterday, Wednesday, we had booked tickets for the boat to the Islas Cíes. 

The day promised to be a little damp but we were prepared for that. We took taxis down to Pontevedra railway station. The taxi driver told me first that he was amazed we had managed to get tickets, having only booked them at the weekend. He thought we would have needed to book much further in a advance. He went on to say that it was a pity we did not have a better day. "You need a good, hot, sunny day to go to the beach!" What did I say earlier? And finally he told me that I am an unusual Englishwoman, una inglesa rara, as I speak Spanish! 

Having established a habit of breakfasting out on Tuesday, we postponed Wednesday's breakfast until we got to Vigo on the train. So, a late breakfast, around 10.30 at the Nuevo Derby! Then we wandered in leisurely fashion down to the port, where we collected our pre-booked tickets from the machine and went and joined the queue, laughing at the amazing number of people who were running along laden with all sorts of stuff, on the last minute for the boat leaving before ours! 

The taxi driver was right; we really did need a better day. The boat ride to the islands was chilly!!! The walk round the beach and across the causeway to the self service restaurant was breezy but by the time we had queued for food, found a table and eaten, the sun was trying to come out. 

It didn't last long. There was, however, time to get settled, for castle building to begin and a fair amount of construction work to take place before the Atlantic blanket mist came over us and my daughter and I found ourselves sitting in drizzle eating cherries. We retreated to the shelter of the pine trees but the children continued their construction project. Indeed, we had to tear them away eventually to get dry and change into warm clothes for the journey back. 

Not quite such a fine day as we would have liked but, nothing daunted, the English brigade determinedly had a good time. This morning, however, we decided to forego our trip to the breadshop. The rain was falling steadily. Toasted sliced bread was the order of the day. 

Thursday has been a day for indoor activities. We opted not to reinforce our reputation as crazy English; in other words we did not swim today. Last week we did swim in the rain but it is one thing to continue he swimming if it starts to rain when you are on the pool and quite another level of looniness to deliberately head for the pool once the rain is actually falling. 

 A rather damp end to their holiday then but this is Galicia. It could have rained throughout the visit!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Out and about around Ponters again.

Here is a picture of the charanga that I failed to photograph on Saturday night. Last night, as we walked back from town, I saw them again and snapped them with a little more success. 

I had walked down to town with the eldest grandchild. Her younger siblings had stayed behind with their mother for a bit of an early night. So we headed down with the idea of meeting Phil as he came back from the chess tournament. 

Yes indeed, the Pontevedra annual chess tournament began yesterday. Weeks ago we had contacted the Ponters chess people and explained that we would be in Poio for the duration. There had been promises of a lift to the tournament venue but all had been left very vague. We had sent emails about other stuff, including a hint that the lift arrangements had not been finalised but without too much emphasis. After all, we did not want to appear to be nagging. 

When we still had heard nothing by Saturday, however, we did begin to feel a little anxious. So we sent a further email, in which Phil requested a bye for the early Sunday morning match. His chances of getting to the other side of the town for 10.00 am were slight and so he opted to skip that game and accept half a point instead. But he did need to be there for 5.00 pm for the second round. We were assured, by email, that they would phone me during Sunday to confirm arrangements. 

Finally, at 4.20 or maybe even 4.25, I had a phone call asking if Phil could be at the pick-up point for 4.40! Fortunately, our friend Colin was able to drive him down the hill to the pick-up point. A twenty minute walk for most of us. A ten minute walk for Phil. But it was a hot day. So a lift was welcome. At the last minute he asked me to go along so that I could liaise with the Ponters chess people. 

This I did. In the car to Mourente, the chess venue on the other side of town, I discovered that the reason for the late arrangement was not just Spanish mañana-ism. One of the morning games had not finished until almost 4.00 and all subsequent decisions were put off as a result. Anyway, we got there at last. I chatted to a range of people:- chess players from previous tournaments, organisers, parents of some of the boys who had taken part in the Manchester chess visit at Easter and so on. 

And suddenly the start of the tournament was announced and there I was, stuck in Mourente, wanting to return to Poio and seriously not fancying a hot walk, even through the trees and along the river, back to Pontevedra centre and up the hill Poio. Just as I was considering who to ask for a taxi phone number, someone I know, the wife of one of the regular chess tournament people, saw me and offered me a lift. Hurray! Some people are just so good! 

So I was dropped off at the garden door here in Poio and strolled past the pool, greeting people in the water, including the middle grandchild, and up to our friend's house. 

Some time much later, the oldest granddaughter and I went back down to town. We saw the statue of the virgin being brought out of the lovely, round Peregrina Chapel, to the accompaniment of enormous amounts of bell ringing. No photos possible this time. The crowds between us and the white and gold-clad virgin were just too dense. 

We met Phil - game drawn - and we all had a drink and a snack at the Meigas Fora, a favourite place of almost everyone we know here. The waiter asked where our friend Colin was. On his way later, probably, we replied. Almost immediately the table next to ours, actually the table where Colin prefers to sit, was reserved for him. After a number of people had been turned away, the waiters eventually agreed to serve a couple who sat at the table. Clearly the wait had been too long. Commercial considerations won out over their friendship for Colin. However, time was passing and we worked out that by the time he and his companions arrived, we would be ready to move on and they could take our table. 

And so it proved to be. All's well that ends well!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Livening things up.

 It's fiesta time in Pontevedra. 

Yesterday we heard it all begin at around midday. We were at, or in some cases in, the pool in our friend's garden in Poio but we could hear all the bangs and mini explosions from down in town. 

Later, having swum and sunbathed, eaten lunch and rested and sat around reading and so on, we made our way down into town in early evening for a bite to eat. 

The alameda was full of funfair. Some of the stalls had weird names, such as "Scalextric camarero". It was a ride with little cars running on a track. So that explains the "Scalextric" part but goodness knows where the waiter (camarero) comes in. It was interesting to see that trampolines, for kids anyway, are referred to as "camas elásticas" or elastic beds. 

Gangs of young people, "peñas", each group with its own distinctive t-shirts, were preparing to rush around later spraying each other with diluted wine. Some of the peña members were not so very young as a matter of fact. I suppose it's likely that they have been members of their peña for years and years, that they have all grown up together and continue with their old fiesta traditions. When we sat eating in Plaza de Verduras we saw one chap, dressed in his peña t-shirt, chatting to his mates but with his baby in a sling. I hope he was just getting the infant to sleep and not planning to run the streets with her. Another group were having a noisy meal - getting fuel for the energy they would use later perhaps - and stood up and cheered every so often. 

Charangas, walking bands, were making their way around, stopping to play every so often. I did try to take a picture but I must have tried too fast as the photo came out blurred. 

We headed homewards through crowded and rather smelly streets. The Spanish know how to be noisy but portaloos seem to be in short supply. 

At midnight the fireworks started and went on and on for what seemed like best part of an hour. Although perhaps I exaggerate. I did only hear and not see them. 

This morning, as we walked down to buy bread, we passed revellers making their way home. Some were dishevelled and the worse for wear. One young lady looked perfectly elegant. (One of the advantages of being young is that you can stay up all night without it showing on your face!) She was on the phone, possibly to her parents, asking for a lift home. Her young man stood beside her. We saw him striding alone up the road a few minutes later, clearly having seen her safely into her transport home. 

Gallantry, it seems, is alive and well and lives in Galicia.