Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Out and about and some more changes.

I never got to see the blood moon on Sunday night to Monday morning. A friend suggested I should set an alarm but in the end I chose not to do so. I did wake at some point in the small hours and looked out but I could see no moon at all then. My window must have been at the wrong angle. So that's something I have missed. 

I have seen a good deal of the large, bright silver moon since then. We seem to be having one of those clear Septembers when the days start bright and crisp and warm up nicely as the day goes on. This has been good as I have been out and about quite a lot. On Monday I admired the autumn colours in the way to visit my dentist for a check-up and to undergo the almost medieval torture of the "scrape and polish". If my dentist were to ask me to reveal secrets I would happily do so! 

 When I got home I persuaded Phil to get out if the house and go walkabout with me. We saw some splendid sunflowers on our travels. Down in Buckinghamshire, where our son lives, all the sunflowers are past their best and are now turning to seed. Here, in the slower, cooler North West, they are still blooming nicely. 

So, unfortunately, are the Himalayan balsam plants. We found further infestations of these and spent some time uprooting and trampling them along the bridle path. 

Yesterday I went into Manchester and caught up with old friends at my Italian conversation class. Curiously, this year our classes take place in the Institute for the Deaf. The organisation that arranges the classes must hunt around for the most economical venue and this year the Deaf Institute won! 

My return journey took me through the newly airy Victoria Station. They have been working on refurbishing this previously dark and gloomy station for a couple of years now. It was voted worst station in the UK back in 2009, so it really needed some work. I am not convinced that the modernistic roof is the most elegant but the place is certainly a lot brighter and feels a lot safer in the evening as it gets dark outside. 

Fortunately they have kept the facade of the old station as it was, with glass and wrought iron verandahs, advertising trains to Blackpool, Bournemouth and Belgium. Belgium!? Really? Well, they also advertise trains to Ireland! I am pretty sure trains run to none of these places from that station but the old facade is still very fine. 

They have also kept the old buffet bar with its lovely domed glass roof but they have given it a silly new name. And it seems to have incorporated a Starbucks, which is definitely not an improvement. It's good thing there is a Java cafe at the other end of the station. So far the has not become a shopping mall like Piccadilly station at the other end of the city centre. But there is not at the moment anywhere to buy a newspaper and it still costs 30 pence to go to the loo. 

However, they do seem to have recognised that there are lot of Spanish speakers in Manchester. Those cone that warn you about wet floors now give you the warning in Spanish as well as English. I suppose it makes a change from Welsh, which does appear on road works signs around here.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

A bit of independence!

The weathermen promised us a cold night last night. They were right. There was frost on the grass on the cricket pitch up the road, which was still in the shade when I ran past at 8.30 this morning. But the sky was blue and the sun was shining. It turned out to be a very fine day. 

Towards midday I went down to the crossroads to meet the second grandchild, making her independent way on the bus from her house to ours. Her older sister had been very reluctant at the same age to travel independently (she has no problem with it now) and I wondered about how these things come about. The oldest grandchild had never been obliged to be independent and had been used to being driven all over the place. Her younger sister was forced by circumstances to learn to make her own way to and from school on public transport almost from the start of secondary school. 

I can remember when their mother started secondary school, coinciding with my getting a job on the other side of Manchester, and she had to become a latch key kid. Some people I knew expressed surprise and concern at my letting my eleven going on twelve year old make her own way back and forth. Even more so as she had the key to the house and was able to let herself in to wait for me getting back. 

It's funny how opinions swing to and fro on this question. My sister and I used to catch the bus into the town centre and mooch around town while we were still at primary school. Granted we grew up in a fairly small town but even so we achieved a level of autonomy some kids don't have nowadays. I know people who travelled across Greater Manchester on their own from an early age. On the other hand, a friend of mine taught girls who at fifteen and sixteen had never been on public transport, let alone travelled independently. It's hard to find the right balance in all this. 

Anyway, grandchild number two and I had a pleasant afternoon, baking, going for a walk, making tea for the rest of the family when they eventually turned up. 

Tonight, I have to decide whether I am going to stay up late enough to see the blood moon which is promised for the small hours. Since the weather is actually clear enough for us to be able to see it, unusual for our bit of the world, it would be a shame to miss it, especially as some people are predicting that it is a warning of the end of the world. 

If the world is going to end, I would like to experience the remaining time to the full!

Thursday, 24 September 2015


You go away for a while and discover on your return that some things, but not all, changed in your absence. 

Out running on my usual route around the village, I came across my old friend Jack and his little dog Rosie. We swapped stories of what we have been up to over the summer. His has been damper and colder than mine. In fact, he told me, he had seen statistics that said this summer in the North West of England had been one of the wettest since records began. And I had heard that it had been one of the coldest. So I think I was very fortunate that on my two lightning visits to the UK during June and July the weather was kind to me. 

Continuing my run, I came across the place where there used to be one of those gates that are meant to prevent large animals pushing their way through. You know the kind of thing: the gate opens in one direction but is blocked from opening totally by the edge of a kind of enclosure which you step into and move the gate in the other direction before getting out of the enclosure and continuing on your way. A fairly standard country walk gate. This particular gate has annoyed me for a while because I kept finding that some ignorant person had forced it all the way open, leaving the way clear for cows, horse, people on motorbikes or whatever to get through. Yesterday I found it has gone a stage further and the gate has disappeared! All that remains is the gate post and the enclosure! 

Later in the day I walked into Uppermill, going through Dobcross village en route. Dobcross is an unusual place as the village centre stands at the top of a hill. No fortifications so it’s not a case of an old hill fort or anything like that. There is an old pub so maybe it was a stopping place on an old coaching route. In the centre of the village square stands a monument to some local dignitary. This was carelessly knocked down by a reversing delivery van earlier this year and for months the plinth stood there alone with striped tape around it. We began to think it would never be restored. But yesterday it was back to normal. Phew! What a relief! 

Leaving Dobcross, I walked down the lane past an old house which has stood derelict for years and years. Many a time I have looked at it and thought how nice it would be to have the money to restore it. Now I find that the overgrown garden has been cleared and the property has been sold. I hope the intention is to renovate and restore, not to knock down and build something new. 

Our eldest granddaughter came to see us, complete with small dog. Not the family's small dog but her very own. I thought she had a fox cub in her arms but it turned out to be a fox-faced brown Pomeranian, or some such thing. My knowledge of dog breeds is almost equal to my knowledge of makes of car! In other words, very small! This creature has cost her a large amount of money from her savings. Nobody told us that she had bought it because they knew we would have remonstrated with them for wasting money when there is already a perfectly serviceable dog in their house. So it goes! 

After she had left, Phil decided to tidy up the garden. He did not get very far as he discovered that the bottom section of the garden had been infested with Himalayan balsam, or policemen's helmets as the children called them. The downstairs neighbour who shares the garden with us had left them to spread as she thought they were just rather pretty flowers. Well, yes, true as far as it goes. They are very pretty. Unfortunately they are also aggressively assertive and take over patches of land, allowing nothing else to grow as their root systems demand lots of space and lots of water. In some cases, the value of houses has been reduced because of the presence of this dominating weed. So Phil spent a good part of the afternoon uprooting the things and stamping on them. We might need to rake them together when they have dried a little and then set fire to them to destroy the seeds. 

I was reading about pronunciation changes in an article somewhere. Apparently new ways of pronouncing words are spreading in Britain thanks to the influence of US culture. That 's what people studying language have decided. A study by the British Library reveals that a third of the people taking part in the study pronounce schedule with a "sk", American style, instead of the more traditional English "sh". Other US pronunciations taking root, according to researchers, are “pay-triotic”, in place of “pat-riotic”, and “advertISEment”, instead of “adVERTisement”. 

I was particularly interested to read this: 

"Initial findings of the research have indicated that Britons are also creating a new way of saying controversy which hasn’t traditionally been used in Britain or the US. Three quarters of Britons taking part say “conTROversy”, with the emphasis on the middle syllable, rather than the previously conventional “CONtroversy”. Jonnie Robinson, curator of sociolinguistics and education at the British Library, said the word had undergone a “stress shift”. “The new pronunciation – conTROversy – does appear to be peculiarly British and it is catching on,” Mr Robinson said." 

A new pronunciation? Really? This controversy has been going on in our house for more than forty years. All my life, I have favoured the so-called "new" way of saying it, only to be told by Phil that it is wrong. But then, he also insists that lorry should be pronounced to rhyme with worry, whereas I say it rhymes with sorry. 

What can I say? And how should I say it?

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Making our way back up north!

Here we are, back in a remarkably mild and sunny Saddleworth. Well, at least Tuesday was remarkably mild and sunny. The forecast promised more cloud than sun but they were wrong. Definitely more sun than cloud! Wednesday promises sun and cloud with an occasional shower. At least it's not predicting rain, rain and more rain! 

It is, however, decidedly cooler here in the North West than it is down south. We spent a few days with offspring number one and his family at the far end of the tube system, in Buckinghamshire, at the point where you can no longer call the underground service the underground. The place was very mild and full of flowers. 

On Saturday we went into London itself. Our plan was to go to see some Botticelli at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A what's-on-in-London website had told us about this; what they neglected to put in clear and obvious large letters was that this exhibition does not start until some time next spring. So instead we went to the Courtauld Institute to admire the paintings. Some Van Gogh, Manet, Degas, Gauguin, Kandinsky, among other stuff. Even a very early Picasso, before his models began to have their facial features rearranged into odd places. 

Goodness knows what the insurance must cost them. The value of one room alone must run into millions! 
The art was wonderful. The building itself is worth visiting, with a most impressive staircase. 

Unfortunately the Institute's cafe leaves much to be desired. Looking at lots of fine art (or Fine Art) is quite exhausting and we really needed refreshment. So before moving on we went into the depths of the building for a cup of tea. Such a refined establishment does not have a cafeteria style service; you wait to be seated and they give you time to study the menu before coming to take your order. We opted for an afternoon tea (scone and a pot of tea) between the two of us. The scone was a great disappointment. more of a rock bun than a fruit scone. No amount of tasteful serving with little pots of jam and cream could make up for the fact that it was difficult to cut the thing in two. We succeeded but felt rather disappointed in the result. 

At another table a lady on her own had ordered the same. She did not succeed in slicing her rock bun/scone in order to butter it. Hers ended up in crumbled pieces and she called the waitress over to tell her that the thing was too hard for her to eat. She was sending it back and only wanted her pot of tea. She demanded to know if it was fresh. With a sniff the waitress told her that all their cakes are freshly baked each day! Now, I suspect that the scones were overcooked rather than stale but whatever the truth of the matter, these were not the standards one expected of a venerable institute such as the Courtauld! 

 Otherwise our trip to the capital was almost without incident and we had a very pleasant weekend, setting off back for the North West on Monday. Disaster almost struck as we strolled down the hill to the station to catch the not-quite-underground to Euston. A few minutes into our stroll I remembered that my mobile phone was still plugged into a borrowed charger in our son's kitchen. Leaving Phil to pull two wheelie suitcases, I ran back up the hill, retrieved the phone, ran down the hill again and reached the station with two minutes to spare before the train set off. 

That was quite enough adventure and excitement for me, thank you very much!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Moving on.

Because we were leaving Vigo yesterday the sun decided to come out again after a fair few days of rather foul weather, the "ciclogenesis violenta" which brought wind and rain and general nastiness. But we left Vigo under blue skies once again. By the time we reached Santiago de Compostela, however, the skies were grey once more and a light rain was falling. This was Santiago after all! 

It cleared up later and we had blue skies once more until the moment came to board the plane. At that point the heavens opened and it seemed that the "ciclogenesis" had returned. It's amazing how wet you can get in a short run to a plane and then a walk up the steps. Inside the plane there was the usual problem, even WITH assigned seats, of people insisting on standing in the aisle to sort themselves out and remove from their hand-luggage anything they might need during the journey before stowing their bags away. The idea that they might move into the row of seats to do this is clearly a concept some have never heard of. Appeals from the cabin crew for people to move to their seats as quickly as possible so that those still standing on the steps in the rain could get inside went unheeded. I'm-all-right-Jack-ism and centre-of-the-universe syndrome was rife. 

Eventually most of the damp people were seated and most of the luggage was stowed. Fortunately we had managed to be among the first to board so we were able to put our luggage above our own seats. Not so a very indignant Spaniard who had to be persuaded by the cabin crew to let them put his bag in a locker towards the back of the plane while he was seated near the front. It was only when they began to insist that if he failed to accept that, the only solution was to put the luggage in the hold that he agreed, still mumbling and muttering about the insecurity of his bag being so far away from him. 

When we landed and as soon as we were allowed to unbuckle our seat belts, indeed possibly a little sooner than that, he had elbowed his way through the passengers in the aisle, almost knocking several over in the process. When challenged he protested that his suitcase was THERE and pointed indignantly to the locker he was aiming to reach. Immediately a chorus of Spanish passengers told him, also pointing, "Y mi maleta está allí", each one indicating that his case was, of course, the most important in the plane! 

We alighted to much better weather, calm and almost warm, as if England and Spain has swopped weather! All went well until we reached a point where the automatic door refused to open. It crossed my mind that we might all have died and gone to a special form of hell for plane passengers, one where you stand for all eternity in a queue of Ryanair passengers waiting to go through a door! 

Our indignant fellow passenger, he of the important suitcase, was vociferous in his complaints and suggested that we should all turn round and go back and find another door to go through. This despite the fact that the remaining passengers were piling up behind us, making retreat impossible, not to mention the fact that we almost certainly had to go through a specific numbered door for security reasons. 

But in the end all was well. At last, after about five minutes, one of the airport employees became aware of our plight and opened the door. All we had to do after that was stand in the enormous queue for passport control, a good half hour of waiting I should say. Eventually we were officially back in the UK and onto the Stansted Express into London so that we could catch the underground train out again to go to visit offspring number one. 

Some ten and a half hours after walking out of the door of our flat in Vigo we walked in through the door of his house. Such are the joys of travelling!

Monday, 14 September 2015

Visiting Vigo in the rain!

Well, that seems to be the end of summer. Officially autumn doesn't start until the 21st but nobody has told the weather gods. Friday was cool and cloudy. Saturday began wet. Very wet! When I looked out and saw the state of things I decided that running was not on. It takes quite a lot for me to forego my run but this was one of those days. Originally I had planned to walk my running route, sheltered under my umbrella, but by the time I got down to street level it was raining so hard that I gave up on that idea as well and simply walked to the bread shop via the short route. It was the kind of rain that they call "la tromba", rather like the north of England expression about raining stair-rods. It's as if someone has just turned a million taps on a full pressure! 

 Down at the harbour there were two huge cruise boats again. I saw the second one arriving again. As it docked the mist thickened and you could no longer see anything. Parking a big boat in the Atlantic blanket cannot be an easy task. And what would all those tourists do on Sunday? There must be close on seven or eight thousand when you put two huge boatloads together. And they couldn't even take refuge in shopping because it was Sunday when all the shops are closed. Is there capacity for so many even in all the cafes of Vigo? 

No doubt there were buses laid on to take them off to Santiago de Compostela but the same question arises. What would they do there in the rain? Because if it was raining in Vigo it would almost certainly be raining in Santiago. It rains there even when it's sunny everywhere else. I exaggerate, of course. We have visited Santiago on beautifully sunny, blue-sky days. I have the photos to prove it. But Sunday wouldn't be one of those. The visitors would no doubt buy plastic ponchos and big umbrellas from the African blokes who pop up like mushrooms in the rain to sell their wares. 

If I were one of those cruise people I think I might opt to stay on the boat with a good book.

By mid afternoon the day had improved somewhat. The boats left in rather cloudy sunshine. So at least they would get a better view of the ria as they left than they did in the morning on the way in! 

Today there's another one. As I helped a lady out in a shoe shop today - shopping, of course - she commented on how rough their cruise has been so far. At least they have had a bit of sunshine today.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Putting the world to rights!

Yesterday evening I went out for a drink with a friend. We put the world to rights, as you do when you sit down for a drink with a friend: the European Union, Brexit, Greece, Syria, immigration, begging and all sorts of other stuff. At some point, talking about the time when she used to work as a doctor in the UK, my friend told me about having got back in touch with a friend from that time through Facebook. Her friend moved long ago to Texas and she had lost touch completely until one day she decided to try to find him on Facebook. And there he was! And the time difference didn't matter. They could have a chat, of sorts, and swop photos and comments about life and its ups and downs. 

Now, that is what Facebook should be about as far as I am concerned. I too have re-established contact with old friends from the past in that way. Later in the evening, however, I found this on Facebook: "Sometimes I just want to shut off my cell phone, sell my car, move to a little cabin in the woods and live off the land." It was posted by a friend of a friend. I saw it because said friend "liked" it. I resisted the temptation to comment that the original poster could begin by switching off her iPhone and not posting rubbish on Facebook. And in any case, it wasn't even an original thought; she had found it on something called Sun I suppose that if posting nonsense makes someone feel happy and less stressed then I have no right to criticise them. 

Everyone finds some way of relieving the stress in their lives. Pupils in some boarding schools in Zimbabwe have been doing so by brewing beer from breakfast cereal. This was something I read in the news last night! Most curious! It seems that in Zimbabwe parents send parcels of groceries to their offspring in boarding school. It must be a bit like the tuck boxes you used to read about in the Billy Bunter stories but instead of sweets they send proper food items. Anyway, a number of schools have had to contact parents and ask them NOT to send a certain kind of breakfast cereal. 

“Pupils reportedly mix the cereals with brown sugar and yeast and leave the mixture to ferment in the sun, creating a potent alcoholic mixture which the pupils drink right under the noses of school authorities,” said the news report. 

These were pupils as young as 13! And we thought it was just the youth of the UK who were into underage drinking. 

Meanwhile, schools in the UK continue to have problems in connection with uniform. I read that some schools have banned the wearing of skirts altogether because young male teachers are uncomfortable chastising the girls for wearing their skirts too short. And girls are the one who statistically get into the most trouble over uniform and are sent home or put into "isolation" for some offence against the dress code. And so some places have decreed that all girls must wear trousers. But even this leads to further problems because girls are criticised for wearing trousers which are too figure-hugging! (Are boys excluded for wearing low slung trousers that show their underwear) When will the establishment learn? Uniform does not automatically create a corporate identity! 

Here in Spain they don't have the problem because only private schools impose uniform on their pupils: girls in pleated plaid skirts (kilts, I suppose) and matching cardigans! In the public sector they just wear normal clothes. Nobody seems to think that dressing everyone the same will improve discipline and performance and the like. That must be a curiously British thing. 

This business of girls getting into trouble for what they wear should really be regarded as a preparation for later life, when they will be scrutinised and criticised, and occasionally praised, over and over again. But it's something of a two-edged sword. There was another case the other day of someone getting a storm of abuse for telling a young woman that her photo on LinkedIn was very nice. This was a young woman in the legal profession. The older gentleman who complimented her on her lovely photo apologised even as he did so, aware that it might be taken the wrong way, politically incorrect. But she still lambasted him. 

It's rather a sad world where a woman cannot just accept a compliment. Yes, I am aware that few men are assessed in quite the same way for their physical appearance, although there are signs that it is becoming more common. But something is wrong when it becomes impossible to tell a woman she looks good without this being taken as a totally sexist remark. There are women out there who will hate me what I am about to say next: I don't even see the harm in a chap giving a wolf whistle when he sees a pretty girl. So long, of course, as that is where it ends and he doesn't start to follow her and harass her! 

That's my point of view anyway!

Thursday, 10 September 2015


When I was in sixth form I had a friend who suffered from depression. She dealt with it in two ways: eating and sleeping. The first led to her gradually changing from a slender 16 year old to a roly-poly 18 year old. The second, which I think she had even less control over, led to her disappearing from time to time and our finding her curled up asleep in a chair in the sixth form common room or at the back of the Modern Languages stock cupboard. She knew she was less likely to be disturbed in the stock cupboard than in the common room. 

I was reminded of this when I read a report about sleep patterns and the suggestion that schools and work places should stagger their starting and finishing times to accommodate the sleep patterns of different age groups. Our natural waking time changes according to our age, say the scientists who study such things. 10 year olds naturally wake at about 6.30am, 16 year olds at 8.00 and 18 year olds at 9.00. So it's fine for the younger children to start school at 9.00 but maybe sixth formers should start at 11.00!!! Fancy giving students a science-based excuse for missing nine o'clock lectures! 

By the time we are in our mid-fifties we normally have reverted to our 10 year old selves' waking pattern, which they say is why work places and schools run on a 9 to 5 schedule. The day is organised to suit the managers, usually over 50 years old. 

Nobody has told my husband that he should naturally be waking at 6.30 these days and indeed should have been doing so for the last 10 years at least. He must be in touch with his inner adolescent as he still works best if he stays up late and gets up late. As for me, I have always woken early and find it hard to stay asleep once it's light. 

And the scientists say that light has a lot to do with it. The eye registers the presence of light and sends messages to the brain, or something like that. So why don't people in Scandinavian countries sleep a lot more than those in Mediterranean countries? And what about people who sleep in ligh-proof rooms? Should they stay asleep for years? 

I think the scientists perhaps need to research it a little more but they are almost certainly right that many of us are sleep deprived one way or another. And no doubt the world would be a happier place if we all get enough sleep on a regular basis and se were more alert the rest of the time. But the bit of me that has done timetabling in the past rebels at the idea of organising a time table to suit the sleep needs of different age-groups of pupils and staff. The logistics of it would be crazy. give me the most complicated Sudoku puzzle any day!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Shopping matters.

The other day I saw someone with a shopping trolley loaded with food ... in the lift of our block of flats. It's not the first time. It seems like a perfectly sensible thing to do if you live next door to the supermarket as we do. Just push the trolley from one building to another. Mind you, I have never yet plucked up the courage to walk out of the supermarket and in through our front door with a supermarket trolley. I must be too well trained in British trolley etiquette. 

 At our local Tesco in Saddleworth, UK, there are notices close to the exit warning customers that their trolleys will stop automatically if they try to push them any further. Actually, unless there is some powerful magnet mechanism under the pavement at that point I really don't see how this could happen. But once again I have lacked the courage to test the system. I have often pushed a laden trolley to the back of the supermarket where their lorries come in and out but I always leave it there, never going out onto the road. 

There is also, of course, that very British fear of looking silly pushing your trolley full of shopping down the street. Here in Spain, or at least in our bit of Vigo, nobody seems to bat an eyelid at such a sight. Then there is the plastic carrier bag question. At the Mercadona next door if you need a plastic carrier bag they charge you something like 1 céntimo for a small one and 2 céntimos for a big one. I have yet to hear anyone complain about this. And yet it appears that they are expecting confusion and arguments at checkouts in the UK when a 5p charge for carrier bags is introduced in October. And why 5p when a poorer country like Spain can charge only 1 or 2 céntimos? 

There is a list of purchases that will qualify you for a free UK supermarket carrier bag: uncooked fish, meat and poultry products, potatoes, flowers, unwrapped blades and “live aquatic creatures in water". (None of the supermarkets I frequent sell "live aquatic creatures in water" but I suppose that if you go to somewhere like Pets at Home, a kind of pets supermarket, and buy a goldfish you might qualify for a free bag. Whereas if you buy fishfood you would need to pay for your carrier bag.) The poor cashiers will have to be ready to argue the case for charging or not charging for a carrier bag - all for 5p per bag! 

It is all meant to help us preserve the environment. Government policy wants to reduce waste by cutting bag use by up to 80 per cent in supermarkets and by half on the high street, with the aim of reducing litter and protecting wildlife. I remain somewhat unconvinced however. 

Oh, don't get me wrong; I am all on favour of reducing the number of plastic bags used. I re-use my plastic carriers. And I have several of those "bags for life", the ones you pay 20 or 30 céntimos for. Incidentally, here in Spain they mark the label in the bag to show that you have paid for it: far less trusting than Tesco or Sainsbury's. 

No, it's a different kind of plastic bag use that concerns me. Here in Spain, for example, when you buy fruit or veg you put it in a plastic bag, weigh it yourself and stick on the bag he label spat out by the scales. In some supermarkets a shop assistant does the weighing for you. The problem is that there is only one size of plastic bag available (huge) whether you buy two kilos of potatoes or two individual tomatoes! And so you end up with a collection of plastic bags, each with a price label stuck on, which cannot be re-used for shopping as they are not carrier bags with handles. How many people, I wonder, use them as bin liners in the bathroom as I do? Even that is impossible if a helpful shop assistant has tied a tight knot in the bag so that you have to tear it to get at your purchases! 

That's enough of that. If the loonies are right we will not be around much longer to worry about any of it. Minority Christian groups have apparently predicted the world will end later this month – when they say a ‘blood moon’ will bring about an apocalyptic meteor strike. 

Scientists say a ‘blood moon’ will occur on September 28, when the moon passes into the shadow of the earth cast by the Sun (a lunar eclipse) and appears dim and reddish. I hope I get to see this 'blood moon'. Usually when interesting phenomena like this are in the skies wherever I am is too cloudy for me to witness what is going on. 

Anyway, some religious leaders believe that because this is the fourth consecutive lunar eclipse since April 2014, it is part of a "tertrad" - which foretells a meteorite destroying earth and the end of time. 

So there you go! Enjoy the few weeks remaining to us! Be profligate in your use of plastic bags! Push trolleys all over the place! And if we are still around after September 28, then we can go back to protecting the environment!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Itisitis and giant bonsais!

It seems that almost everyone can have an ...itis. Tonsillitis, laryngitis, appendicitis. I have chronic dermatitis and a friend of mine went to see her doctor with a pain in her wrist, only to be told it was tendonitis. You would have thought she could have worked that out as she is a qualified doctor herself. Maybe it's hard to diagnose yourself! 

Anyway, yesterday I came across a new ...itis. In a magazine at the hairdressers, I read about an ailment common in the summer time when so many of us are in and out of the swimming pool or the sea: otitis. Yes, otitis! Is that even a real ailment? Is it not just a fancy name for ear-ache? I'm going with the latter. However, the spell check on my computer has accepted the word without a blink and, more importantly, without red underlining! If you are not careful to dry your ears when you get out of the water, you can end up with ear-ache. Or otitis! Just imagine, someone wrote a half-page article all about this?! 

One solution offered for otitis was the following: gently warm up a little olive oil, soak it up with a blob of cotton wool and put the warm, oil-soaked blob in your ear. The warmth will give you some relief. I knew that already. That's what my mother used to do all those years ago when I was a small child. And there it is as a recommendation in a women's magazine. Who would have thought it? 

My mother also used to rub warm olive oil on our chests and backs if we had a chesty cough and cold. In fact, throughout my childhood I believed olive oil was a medicinal thing. You bought it in tiny bottles from the chemist's shop. To this day, there are moments when the smell of olive oil heating up in a pan can whisk me back to childhood in one of those Proustian moments! 

Vigo is known as the "ciudad olívica", the city of the olive trees. In keeping with that name, in various places around the city, where they have been doing a bit of refurbishment work, such as along Rosalía de Castro street, small but mature olive trees have appeared in the last twelve months. On newly created small roundabouts or on certain street corners, there they are. 

To me they look like giant bonsais. Yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms but bonsai trees always look like perfect miniatures of mature trees. They are cultivated to look like that. These trees on roundabouts have a similar quality. Often they have a fully mature trunk but they stand no more than about five feet tall and their branches and foliage appear to have been trimmed into a carefully selected shape. They could come off an old willow-pattern china tea set or be the artificial trees you buy to screw into electric train layouts. 

What amazes me is that somehow they have managed to transplant apparently mature trees into places where there were not trees before. I did not know that this was possible. I had always been given to believe that the root system prevented this from being able to take place. 

Obviously someone in the horticultural world has found a way round the problem. I am amazed!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Dressing up.

On Saturday we travelled to Pontevedra on a train half-full of people in fancy dress. They were going to take part in the medieval fair that was going in there. We were going to meet a friend for lunch and the fair was purely coincidental. 

People of all ages had dressed themselves up. Little tiny boys dressed as crusaders strode alongside their fathers dressed as monks. Ladies who were old enough and stout enough to know better wore long skirts, pulled in their waist with broad leather belts and bared their shoulders for all the world to see. Young girls who were too young, far too young by at least fifty years, to have been hippies were taking advantage of the fair to put some flowers in their hair. 

What did it matter if the green reflective sunglasses didn't quite go with the medieval outfit? Medieval babies were pushed along in medieval all-terrain buggies. Medieval selfies were being taken all over the place on medieval iPhones. A vast amount of effort had gone into erecting artificial fortifications around the centre of town. The main square had become a kind of medieval market place selling sandwiches, cakes, craftwork of various kinds and, inevitably, tat, also of various kinds. 

 We met our friend Colin in a bar behind the Peregrina chapel. Not one of his usual haunts but a place where he had managed to find a table in the shade away from the main hurly burly. Nowhere seemed to be selling their normal range of tapas but a more expensive spread, taking advantage of the carnival atmosphere to make people spend more money. Our chosen venue had bought in a supply of locally made empanadas so we polished one off together with a bottle or two of Ribeiro wine. All of this served by a charming young waitress, in medieval costume of course. 

As we made our way back to the station towards the end of the afternoon the knights and damsels and friars were still walking into town. The medieval jollities would continue into the late evening. But by yesterday all would be back to normal. The straw will have been swept up from the floor of the taverns that spread onto the streets. The wooden palisades around the cafe tables will have been dismantled. Are they stored for next year? I wonder. Or do the cafe proprietors hire them and does the provider now chop them into logs and sell them for people to burn in their stoves in the winter? Now, that sounds like a sensible solution. 

Nonetheless I remain amazed at the ability to restore order after ferias and fiestas. Who would think these were the same people who are supposed to put everything off until tomorrow?

Friday, 4 September 2015

A couple of success stories.

While Phil had his haircut yesterday, I took a look at the newspaper, El Faro de Vigo, and discovered a little local history. It was about a lady who had recently died at the grand old age of 93. 

Back in the 1960s Elvira Monzonís and her husband Emilio Fernández acquired a small property on the Islas Cíes. Originally they went there from time to time, the odd day now and then. Eventually they took to spending the summers there. They had a house that looked down on the Playa de Rodas, in more recent times voted the best beach in the world. Towards the end of the 1960s one of the local ferry companies had a wharf built at one end of the Playa de Rodas and started taking groups of tourists out to the islands. As there were precious few facilities on the islands, these tourists would knock on Elvira's door and ask if she could sell them bottles of water, a little something to eat and such like. 

 And from such beginnings arose the bar and restaurant and eventually permission to open a campsite, still the only campsite on the islands. The business is still run by her children and grandchildren. I know they must have to work their socks off during the tourist season but it can't be a bad little earner. 

On the day of Elvira's funeral, back in the small town on the mainland where she was born, they closed the restaurant on the island for the day, as a mark of respect. A little reminder to those visiting the islands of what the place would be like without the services provided! 

Personally, I think the islands are exploited just enough. It's good to go to a place where there are no tat stalls, where you make your own souvenirs and memories. Even on the Isla de Ons there are stalls selling supposedly artisan ware and jeweller. None of that on the Cíes. I heard that someone tried to open a disco last year but they had not applied for a license and were quickly closed down. A little oasis of peace in a busy world. 

During our first year in Vigo we discovered Bar El Puerto, on Arenal, a fish restaurant which, according to a friend of ours who works for the European Fisheries Commission, serves some of the best and freshest fish and shellfish in the area. Part of its charm was the decor, making no concessions for modern style. The restaurant occupied the space of one "bajo", the ground floor area which often houses shops or cafes, and went back quite deep into the building. When closed, the place was fastened up with massive wooden shutters. Inside there was a small bar, where you fought to get a waiter's attention and check they had a table free. A few tables were close to the bar but most of the tables were bench style at the back of the restaurant alongside the open kitchen area. The tables were covered in oilcloth with paper tablecloths on top. Chilled local white wine was served, not in fancy slim-stemmed wine glasses, but in squat heavy bottomed tumblers. Oh, and if a lady needed the loo she had to ask for the key from behind the bar: a throwback to the Spain I knew at the end of the 1960s. 

As the place grew in popularity, presumably through reviews on social media as well as word of mouth, it became more difficult to get a table without prior booking. And the place was always busy. It on Monday because of the impossibility of getting absolutely fresh fish and every August It closed for a couple of weeks while the owners had a holiday. 

This year in August we saw a notice saying that they were relocating to new premises on Calle Argentina. We had some difficulty finding it but eventually we did so. Very smart they are! Through an engraved window you can see tables nicely set with tall wine glasses next to each place setting. Decidedly much more upmarket, more "pijo" as they say around here. Clearly they are wanting to step up in the world of restaurateurs. So long as the quality of food remains the same and the prices don't go up too much, all will be well, we reflected. 

So today we went along, with our fisheries friend and sampled the wares. We complimented them on the new premises. They told us that the old building was in such a bad state of repair that it was in danger of falling down. So a move was strictly necessary. 

Many of the groups of working folk who used to eat in the old place seem to have followed them round the corner to Argentina. Bar El Puerto still maintains its display of fresh fish and its open kitchen area, a very good feature. 

We paid about €18 each. So, compared to a cheap menú del día, a little on the expensive side but not really into the totally "pijo" as yet. And the fish was excellent!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Some surprising things.

Yesterday I saw something I have never seen before here in Vigo: an inspector on the bus! She didn't do a very thorough job, merely checked a couple of tickets and made sure that the wheelchair user was safely in his designated spot. Mind you, I don't blame her for not pushing through the sardine-like passengers. I swear that they just pack standing passengers in with no regard for maximum numbers. 

I had decided that I wanted a walk that did not involve traipsing through the streets of the city. And so I caught a bus to Samil with the intention of strolling along the beach and then walking the river route back to Castrelos, from where I would catch a bus back to the centre and meet Phil coming out of chess club. Until it reached Plaza de España the bus, as I said, was jam-packed full. After that it quickly emptied and just a few of us remained on board through Bouzas and eventually to Samil. 

On the beach I felt distinctly overdressed in my shorts and t-shirt with almost everyone else in as skimpy a swimsuit as they could find. But I was just out for a walk, not playing dodge-that-wave or beach pingpong. 

I saw an excellent example of sand sculpture as I left the beach and headed towards the end where the River Lagares comes out. Disappointingly I had to negotiate a building site of some kind as the first stage of the river wok was closed for works of some kind. After that it was pleasant walk back towards the Balaidos football stadium and beyond to Castrelos. 

 In the Midcentury cafe later, we heard Tommy Tucker singing High-Heel Sneakers. Or maybe it was a cover version. Intrigued by the mention of what sounded like a "wig hat", I looked up the lyrics and found this: 

Put on your high-heel sneakers, lordy 
Wear your wig-hat on your head 
Put on your high-heel sneakers, child 
Wear your wig-hat on your head 
Ya know you're looking mighty fine, baby 
I'm pretty sure you're gonna knock 'em dead 

So then I had to google "wig hat", which turned out to be exactly what it sounds like: 

"It is a detachable wig that can be donned or doffed much like a hat, hence the name. They are usually in the topknot or Beehive styles= The Ronettes were rumored to use Wig Hats, sometimes spelled as one word- Wighat, like Powerhouse. A Powerhouse of rock they were! Whoa Hoa- a whoa Ho- Oh Oh !" 

So there it is! Does anyone still wear a wig-hat? I wonder. 

This morning I popped into Mercadona for some milk. At the checkout I was delayed because a gentleman was querying the price of a bottle of wine? He insisted that he should be paying less for it as it was supposed to be a reduced price. The cashier checked up for him. Yes, the price on his receipt was correct: €1. It had been €1.10 but the price had come down. 

What quality of wine do you get for €1? Do you really need to question that price? But then, I suppose that if you are buying really poor wine, you want it to be as cheap as possible! 

What is more, this did not seem to be not some wino buying rotgut. I saw the customer get into a very nice car and drive away after he left the supermarket. 

The mind boggles! It really does!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Ways of seeing things.

There have been two cruise boats in port today. One had already arrived when I first looked out and the second was just making its way into the harbour. Do the pilots of these craft ever suffer from the equivalent of road rage, ocean rage I suppose you could call it, when they reach a port of call only to find that another boat has taken their parking spot? 

I watched it slowly manoeuvre itself into the dock. It was rather like watching someone parallel park, except that the vehicle being parked was as large as several buildings put together. Of course, the pilots cannot do what many drivers seem to do around here, gently bump the car behind them or in front of them to make just a fraction more room for themselves. I imagine a cruise boat doing that and one or both of them gently turning turtle and slipping under the water. 

 Even after years of coming here, I remain amazed at the parking habits. It's not just the inconsiderate bumping, which probably explains why so many cars have dents and scratches. There's the closeness of parking. How frustrating must it be to go to your car and find that you simply cannot get it out of the parking spot because the cars in front and behind yours have left only centimetres between your bumper and theirs. 

And the places people park! Anyone who has grown up with English zebra crossings is infuriated to find not just cars parked right next to the pedestrian crossing, because the indications are that you can legally park there, but actually ON the crossing itself on occasion. 

Don't even get me started on corners and roundabouts! Back in the UK we had a lengthy kerfuffle with the local council because of changes to the parking outside our row of houses. New houses had been built behind ours and what had been an unimportant driveway was now becoming a road into the new development. Therefore parking outside our row was deemed dangerous because it could impede visibility for traffic coming out of the side road. Here, they don't just park close to the corner. They park ON the corner. Sometimes they double park on the corner. In fact they also park on roundabouts in some parts of town. 

In a way, I suppose, it's the road-users' equivalent of the pedestrians who just stop where they feel like it for a bit of a chat, seemingly unaware that there are other people on the pavement. This certainly explains the phenomenon of stopping your car in a queue of traffic to let someone out, after a long series of kisses goodbye and all the rest of the farewell process, or to wait for someone coming out of the supermarket. You turn on the hazard warning lights to indicate that you are not really there. This is clearly what indicators are for as I rarely see them used for anything so simple as to show your intention to turn left or right. 

It's just a different way of looking at life, I suppose. And possibly a throw-back to an earlier time. When there were fewer cars around, it didn't matter so much where you parked or if you indicated. 

You see it in other areas of life as well. I still see shoppers leaving the supermarket with their trolleys loaded with bottles of water. Come to that, I still see people filling bottles of water from the tap in the wall down by the Carrefour roundabout. My guess is that this was once the local water source before all the houses had a water supply. You see a lot of these old springs all over the place. Maybe some people prefer the taste of it. You also see the old communal washing places but you don't see many fol rushing to use them. Curious!

Now, I remember years ago having a bit of a discussion with Travel and Tourism students in the college where I worked. This was some time in the early years of the 21st century! Not so long ago then. They had been told that you could not drink the water in Spain and would not believe me when I said that this was no longer true. Yes, in the past you had needed to be careful but staying in a reputable tourist venue you really no longer needed to boil the water or buy bottles of mineral water. 

But then, I have an Italian friend who tells me that she buys mineral water to drink and to clean her teeth when she goes home to Sicily! Maybe, like the people loading their trolleys with mineral water here, she is remembering a time in her childhood when the water was unreliable. 

Or maybe, as when we visit some parts of the UK, they just don't like the taste of what comes through the taps.