Tuesday, 31 May 2016

What's in a name?

I suppose everyone has to some extent the desire to appear sophisticated, one way or another. You see a lot of it in shop names. Hairdressers shops in the UK are among the best. Among my favourites are "Curling Me Softly" and, not quite so clever, "A Cut Above". At the far end of Calle Aragon, here in Vigo, is a place that calls itself "Miss Uñas y Miss Pelos", a play on "mis", plural form of "my" in Spanish, making the name "My Hair and My Nails". However, "miss" has long been used to denote a beauty contest winner; think of Miss England, Miss Spain and, of course, Miss World! 

Here they seem to like to use English to give that air of sophistication. There's a women's clothes shop, a boutique I suppose, not far from our flat that calls itself "Mileidy". Pronounced Spanish style that says My Lady. There you go. Even calling a clothes shop a "boutique" is a very ancient example of that desire to sound a little clever and up market. 

Sometimes the English goes a little awry, as does the use of French in shop names in the UK. I have seen a few cafes that try it on by calling themselves "Coffee and Bar". Okay, so "café" translates as "coffee" on many occasions but not all the time! Then there is a launderette with the name "Wash-Up" - not quite right! I prefer the more modern, witty "Wash@pp" - you see, there is an app for everything. And there is a car repair place, or maybe a tyre servicing place, on our street called "Bestdrive", a name that has Phil spluttering and harrumphing almost every time he goes past it, for the sheer nonsense of the name. Much better is the windscreen replacement workshop called "Ponteglass", possibly with a connection to the city of Pontevedra but also making a little linguistic game of itself: "ponte" is the imperative form of the verb "ponerse" which makes the name say "put yourself some glass (in your car)". 

Perhaps the best I have seen to date was the shop sign I saw yesterday as I strolled around the centre of Vigo. On one corner I came across a shop selling seeds and plants and the makings of home-brewed beer. An interesting combination! Although in the past I have known a number of people who had allotments and also took an interest in brewing their own ale. However, it was the name of the shop that struck me most of all: "WEED AND BEER". I found myself wondering if the owners are aware of the meaning of weed to most young British speakers of English. Do folk looking for some interesting alternative to tobacco wander into the shop asking to buy weed? This is Vigo, not Amsterdam! 

And sometimes it's hard enough getting your own language right without messing around putting incorrect foreign stuff in there as well. We have recently noticed an trend for the word "of" to disappear. Or, indeed, sometimes to appear where it shouldn't. For I don't know how long I have been infuriated by "would/could/should have", correctly abbreviated to "would/could/should've", morphing into "would/could/should OF". But now we find "of" slipping away after the word "couple". So we hear, "a couple things" or "a couple people" or "a couple days ago". Presumable "couple of", said quickly, becomes "coupl'a" and then just slides into "couple" with nothing to follow it. 

Sloppy speaking! 

Grrrrr! It's enough to raise the hackles of any grammar policeman or woman!

Monday, 30 May 2016

Sunday outing!

Yesterday we went on a short road trip: really just a bus ride to Baiona where our son and his little family have been renting an apartment for the week. I woke up in the morning to rain. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night to torrential rain and the sound of water rushing down drain pipes. Not an auspicious start to the day. 

And so I headed off to the breadshop with my large, shocking pink umbrella to buy bread for breakfast. The weather witch told me the rain was set in for the day. Splendid! 

However, by the time we walked to the bus station the rain had stopped. I did not wear my sandals though, just in case the rain started again. I didn't fancy wet feet. And the shocking pink umbrella went with me. 

In the event, I could have worn my sandals and the shocking pink umbrella just served as a banner by which our son and family recognised us from a distance. The weather cleared up quite nicely but it still did not manage to match the heights of last year's visit, when we ended up in the pool belonging to the complex where our son is renting the flat. I took my swimsuit just in case but we decided that the water was still rather cold and the wind might be chill as we got out. So, no swimming this time round! 

We had a very good lunch in a moderately smart restaurant in one of the back streets off the sea front: tortilla, squid, scallops, croquettes, octopus and a green salad as a nod to healthy eating. Oh, and a couple of bottles of crisp Albariño wine. What more could you ask for? 

Travel from Vigo to Baiona was ridiculously cheap. In greater Manchester we pay almost £4 for a twenty minute bus ride. In fact it costs about £3.50 for the ten minute ride from our house to nearby Uppermill. Yesterday we took a 50 minute ride to Baiona for €2.20 each. Crazy! 

It may be possible to get to Baiona more quickly by car but we took the scenic route, admiring beaches along the way. 

On the whole, not a bad way to spend a Sunday!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Breaking stereotype! Or not!

Walking along the road yesterday evening, we found our way blocked by a young woman busy with her mobile phone. As we approached, however, she stepped to one side, still busy on her phone. Clearly a young woman who can multi-task. Not only that, but a young Spanish woman with sufficient spatial awareness to step out of the way of other pavement users. This is a rare thing. Of course, there is every possibility that we were jumping to conclusions. Perhaps she wasn't Spanish at all. Or perhaps some other factor entirely had caused her to change position on the pavement. 

A little later, in the Mid Century cafe, we watched a mother install herself at a table with her two children, aged about four and six. This cafe not only plays excellent music and has a quite reliable wifi connection, not to mention a friendly young lady owner, but also provides colouring books and coloured pencils to entertain customers' children. What a splendid idea. More places should follow suit. Perhaps it's María's experience of certain of her customers' children trying to do a runner and head off down the street at a furious rate of knots that has made her think of ways to keep them occupied. 

Anyway, as this little family settled itself in the small boy, the younger of the two, pushed past his mother, almost knocking her off her seat, slammed into two chairs at our table and shook our table in the process. Fortunately he did not manage to spill our drinks. "¡Ay, caramba, hijo!" said his mother "!Que bruto eres!" Roughly translated, "Good grief, son! How rough you are." This was not really a reprimand. It was said in quite dulcet tones; an initial expression of surprise and then a kind of recognition of his admirable masculinity. No suggestion that he might be reminded to apologise to the people (us) whose table he had jostled! Boys will be boys! His slightly older sister just got on with things with no fuss whatsoever. Both children, however, then entertained themselves very nicely while Mamá and Papá had a drink in peace. 

We were amused to hear the word "caramba" being used. This is probably the first time I have heard it in everyday use in I don't know how long, if at all. It is the expression of surprise that was always used in our grammar school Spanish text books, Nos Ponemos en Camino (we are setting off) and Seguimos Adelante (we continue on our way), no doubt regarded as terribly old fashioned nowadays. It is the word that we use jokingly between ourselves to express surprise at this and that. And over breakfast this morning Phil, having expressed his astonishment at something or other, remarked on the young woman's use of it, just before I did so. Sometimes life is stranger than text books. 

As a rule, when we hear people express their surprise it is with somewhat cruder words like "!joder!", "!jolín! (a milder version, I think, of "!joder!", rather like "what the heck!" instead of "what the hell!" In English) or the universally used and very sexist "!coño!".

Friday, 27 May 2016

Walkers and words.

As I set off on my regular morning run today I crossed paths with a lady pilgrim, a "peregrina". Stout boots, sensible shorts, cap, small rucksack on her back, small bag on her front with map poking out, and a couple of those walking poles you see people using. No pilgrim's staff for her but those semi-professional walking poles, rather like ski sticks. I think they are supposed to make your stride more regular or something, but on a city street they look a little odd. But, hey, I am not the one walking kilometres and kilometres. I greeted her but she was intent on her walking and made no reply. Maybe I spoke in the wrong language. Maybe she was preoccupied because she was all alone. 

Some twenty minutes later, having run the circuit around the back of our blocks of flats, past the allotments, coming out at the back of the Carrefour shopping complex, I saw her again. This time she was crossing the road with a gentleman pilgrim, a "peregrino". And then came a whole gaggle of them, a group of perhaps ten. I decided at that point that they must be British because two of the men were wearing handkerchiefs with the corners knotted by way of head gear, the classic make-do sunhat of the British male. But they were too far away for me to greet them or engage them in conversation so I simply watched them cross the road and continue on their way. 

I didn't know the Camino went past our flats but presumably they had maps sending along this route, heading towards Redondela and beyond. And then, around here almost all roads will eventually lead you to Santiago. 

Knowing that I am interested in words, a friend of mine sent me some information about something called the "Positive Lexicography Project", an online glossary of hundreds of untranslatable words. "First, it aims to provide a window onto cultural differences in constructions of well-being, thereby enriching our understanding of well-being. Second, a more ambitious aim is that this lexicon may help expand the emotional vocabulary of English speakers (and indeed speakers of all languages), and consequently enrich their experiences of well-being." There you go. 

And here are a few examples: 

Cwtch (Welsh, n.): to hug, a safe welcoming place. (I wonder if you pronounce it at all like "couch", which is a welcoming place where you. Might hug someone!) 
Fjellvant (Norwegian) (adj.): Being accustomed to walk in the mountains. (Any connection with fells? Quite a lot of fell-walking goes on in our bit of England.) 

Here are some that I really like, the first two for the sound of them: 

Morgenfrisk (Danish, adj.): feeling rested after a good night's sleep. 
Whakakoakoa (Māori, v.): to cheer up. 

and this one for the translation: 

Waldeinsamkeit (German, n.): mysterious feeling of solitude when alone in the woods. 

 The Spanish word selected was "sobremesa", sitting around talking after a meal or as they translated it "when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing". This is something that goes on at our house all the time, even if we don't have a special word for it. 

Personally I would like to add "consuegra", another Spanish word. "Suegra" means mother-in-law. "Con" means with. Two women, mothers of the two halves of a young couple are "consuegras", mothers-in-law together, I suppose. Somehow it suggests an amicable arrangement, to me anyway!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Hello sunshine!

According to one of the UK newspapers, Britain is about to have a record three months of brilliant summer weather. They say that the highest ever UK temperature of 38.5C could well be beaten. "The predictions hinge on a rare set of meteorological circumstances, which forecasters now agree will come to fruition." I will believe it when it happens. Every year they seem to predict such wondrous weather and rarely does it come about. Almost all of us, especially the baby boomers, have memories, undoubtedly false memories, of the fabulous summers of our youth, when the sun shone every day and the tar went soft in the streets so that ladies' high heeled shoes sank into it. And that was probably more to do with the makeup of the tarmac than anything else. 

In reality, the only truly amazing summer I remember is 1976, when we went camping in Brittany in late June, were totally impressed by the heat stroke-inducing weather and returned to England to find they had had the same. Not only that, but it really did continue until mid-September. That, however, is the only time I can say, hand on heart, that we had an unbelievable summer. So I wait to see what my friends and relations report about summer 2016. 

Summer 2016 in Galicia is getting off to a slow start. We have just had a visit from our son and his little family. They left us yesterday day for a week in Baiona, where they are renting the same holiday let as last year. Granted they are here a week earlier than last year but by the time they arrived last year I had already had a few weeks of dipping in and out of the pool. So far, while I wouldn't go so far as to agree with the locals who keep telling me how cold the weather is, I will confess to eyeing the pool with some suspicion and thinking that it is not quite warm enough for me to be risking a daily swim just yet. 

Nonetheless, our small granddaughter had a splendid time wiping the rainwater off the slide and swings in the playground in the garden of our flats. And when we go to Baiona for lunch one day at the weekend I shall probably take my swimsuit with me just in case it should be pool weather. 

Last year, prior to their visit, we had to go through something of a battle to ensure that the parking place allocated to this flat remained free in the underground garage. A series of moderately rude notes were left on cars parked in that very spot. The drivers were invited to contact us if they thought they might like to rent the spot from us for a modest monthly fee. The upshot was that the space was cleared but no one took up our offer to rent the space from us. 

This year, no problem. No illegal parked vehicles. But still no possible tenant. However, the war of the fire-doors continues. We continue to close them. Some other inhabitant of our block continues to wedge them open. 

Oh, the joy of living in interesting times!

Sunday, 22 May 2016


For various reasons, we don't have a permanent internet connection in our flat here. As a result we have collected a list of cafes with wifi which we frequent, checking our email, reading news online and so on. Not very long after we moved into our current flat I asked at the nearest bar if they had wifi. The lady who ran the bar, a Filipina I think, looked at me blankly and then told me, "Ni sé lo que es" (I don't even know what it is). 

And every time we come to spend time here, I look out to see if there is anywhere nearer than the Failde cafe, a fifteen minute walk away, with wifi. All to no avail! Until this time! On Tuesday morning I spotted a sign in the window of the "Ni sé lo que es" bar, actually called Bar Caruso: HAY WIFI. 

So finally, on Saturday evening we went along. It was raining and we didn't fancy walking much further. A perfectly fine wifi connection. A rather dingy bar but the people are friendly enough. 

In the bar I read my friend Colin's blog. He has been noting down conversations he has overheard. Here's one for him: 

Man who walks into the bar: Hola. 

Woman nursing a large glass of white wine at the bar, at least her second: Hola señor ... señorito. 

She then went on at length about why she called him señorito: because of his age. (Somewhat tongue in cheek as he was well past middle age. And besides, señorito has rather bourgeois connotations.) Women, the wine lady explained, are called señora rather than señorita when they reach a certain age. So the same should apply to men. There were some raised eyebrows at this, so she appealed to the Filipina who runs the place. Should she be señora? She was, after all, beyond the age of mere girlhood. 

 Her reply was classic: Soy señorita. Y soy virgen. 

Now that is not a conversation you are likely to hear in a bar in the UK. 

Meanwhile, I think we might be in danger of starting a little controversy in our block of flats. Every floor has two heavy fire doors, one at each end of the lift area. These are regularly wedged open, especially on fine and sunny days. Perhaps this is in the belief that it keeps the building cool. Who knows? 

Anyway, every time we go out, Phil tuts, removes the wedge and carefully shuts the fire door. On an almost equally regular basis, we come back to find it wedged once more. I imagine a Spaniard who comes out and finds it closed, tuts and wedges it open. 

Are we initiating the Fire Door Wars? 

Of course, if this were England the doors would have a notice clearly stating that these are fire doors and should be kept closed. No such notice here, of course! 

Where will it end?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Odd forms of entertainment.

Here's an odd random fact, gleaned from yesterday's Guardian: it is perfectly legal to be naked in the parks of New York, provided you get a permit which states that it is for entertainment purposes. Only in America! 

And so a group of women have been performing Shakespeare's play The Tempest" in Central Park stark naked. Well, it seems that some of them took their clothes off during the performance but most of them were starkers throughout. The actress who played Prospero put her clothes back on at the end to symbolise getting free of the island. It's produced by a the Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp fiction Appreciation Society, known as the Topless bookclub for short. For six years, the group has met to read books and have picnics while exercising the right to enjoy the outdoors topless (which the law in York allows), in an effort to encourage body freedom. 

I just love terms like "body freedom". It goes along with stuff like promoting "the normalisation of the naked female body", another of the group's aims. Each to his own!

Well, I hope their production was successful. I am, however, quite glad I wasn't there to see it. I get a bit purist about productions of Shakespeare. I once saw Macbeth in a German theatre, a very strange production in which the three witches were not old crones but three nubile young things who insisted on being quite phonographic all over the stage. The students I was with were all rather embarrassed by the whole affair. 

Performance art is often odd. We have seen some strange things here in Galicia in the name of what I suppose is Celtic Fringe: witches and wizards prancing around of stilts and setting fire to quite toxic looking brews. Maybe I am just too ignorant to appreciate it. Or maybe they are trying to hard to prove centuries-old tradition! 

Mind you, just because something is centuries old does not necessarily mean it should last forever. I also read about a regional government somewhere to the northwest of Madrid which has outlawed the killing of bulls by spearing them to death during a summer fiesta. This is the Toro de la Vega (loosely translated, the Bull form the Orchards) festival in Tordesillas. Horsemen chase a bull and attack it with spears, while the onlookers presumably cheer them on. Understandably, animal rights activists have been protesting about it for a good while and now they have had their way. 

Some of the fiestas involving animals that go on around here, herding all the wild horses together and stuff like that, are undoubtedly worth seeing. Gratuitous nastiness, however, is a different matter. 

 I can't imagine that spearing an animal from horseback is really a skill you need to acquire in the 21st century anyway!

Friday, 20 May 2016

A bit of culture!

Last night we went to a concert at the Teatro Afundación in the centre of Vigo. It used to be called the Fundación Caixa Galicia before the banks amalgamated or were taken over or for some other reason changed their name. I still find it odd that a concert venue is run by a bank. But then, if you buy tickets for other events - outdoor concerts in the Castrelos Park or even the Springsteen concert we went to outside Santiago some years ago - you often have to collect your tickets from the bank. 

So off we went to hear a little Ravel, a little Fauré, a little Poulenc and, in the second half, quite a lot of Beethoven. All very good. Now, they say that you can tell you are growing older when the policemen start to look young. Well, what about conductors? Our conductor last night, a Russian judging by his name, looked about twelve. Okay, I exaggerate! Presumably he must be in his twenties at least or he would bit have completed his studies but I swear he did not look a day over eighteen. 

There he was, bouncing about on his podium, all sweeping gestures and waving his overlong hair around. The orchestra, the Real Filharmonía de Galicia, usually has its own conductor, an Englishman, so I presume the Russian juvenile was a guest conductor. I have often wondered how one becomes a conductor. As with musicians, it must be quite a precarious existence until you have made a name for yourself or become part of an established orchestra. And even then, what an odd life: going out to work in the evening and then, presumably, needing to wind down after the performance before being able to go off to bed. A different kind of shift work, but at least doing something you feel a passion for. 

We booked our seats at the last minute. After all, we only arrived late on Monday afternoon and then more or less wrote off Tuesday as the whole place closed down. Consequently, we had to take the only seats available, in the main auditorium, the "patio de butacas". (Somehow the "patio of armchairs" sounds much more grand than the "stalls".) Our tickets warned that we had "visibilidad limitada". Indeed, right at the front and off to one side, where about a quarter of the stage is cut off from view. Still we got a good look at the musicians' shiny shoes. And the music was good. 

There were, in fact, plenty of empty seats around the concert hall. We worked out some time ago that this is because associations and companies block-book banks of seats and then only occupy them occasionally. Such a waste! There should be a way of indicating, maybe on the day of he concert itself, which seats will not be occupied so that people in "visibilidad limitada" seats and impoverished music students can go and make use of them. 

If only the world were so simple! And so organised!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Different perspectives.

Tuesday, our first full day here this time, was the Día das Letras Galegas, more or less translated as Galician Literacy Day. Perhaps everyone is meant to stay at home and read a book in Galician, written by a Galician, of course! Whatever the intention, it did not seem to me to merit all the banks and shops and schools being closed. 

We keep doing this, arriving here just in time for a día festivo, bank holiday, when the place shuts down. Fortunately we had bought milk and other essentials on arrival on Monday - another benefit of having caught the 1.45 bus from Porto, as the later bus would probably have meant our arriving after the supermarket closed its doors. As it was we forgot all about it and suddenly realised it was late lunchtime, probably too late to find anywhere still serving, and we had to scratch together a gourmet lunch of hummus, olives, beans on toast and salad! 

The Spanish attitude to bank holidays is quite different to the English one. Well, not totally; both nations have a tendency to head for the beach if it's the right time of year and the Spanish have the wonderful habit of "bridging" their bank holidays to weekends if they occur of Tuesday or Thursday. Long weekends are always a good idea. Where they differ is that the British regard shopping as a well-established leisure activity whereas the Spanish do not seem to agree. Window-shopping is as far as it seems to go. If there is a day off to be had, why shouldn't shop assistants have it as well. Bread and cake shops are the exception but even they work shorter hours on such occasions. Nobody, however, expects cafes and restaurants to close. Maybe they are a public service, like the police, fire and ambulance people. 

But the British, or at least the English, for the Scots and Welsh might be more restrained, regard a bank holiday as a shopping opportunity. And it has always been so. As a teenager I worked in a shoe shop, Saturdays during term time and full time during the summer breaks. Since Southport is, supposedly but not always proven, by the sea, as the summer season progressed the shop stopped having Tuesday half-day closing and also stayed open on bank holidays when lots of visitors to the town were expected. None of us were paid extra for Tuesday afternoons; you just had another morning or afternoon off in lieu. For bank holidays however, you were paid time and a half or even on a occasion double. Those were the days. Nowadays, with Sunday opening and shops staying open until late in the evening I suspect such arrangements no longer count. 

I can't say I have ever fully understood the principle of going on holiday and buying clothes but lots of the tourists who come in on cruise ships seem to do so. But then, people do odd things on holiday. 

 I read about some tourists who visited Yellowstone National Park in the USA and came across a recently born bison calf apparently all alone. They thought he looked cold and bundled him into the back of their SUV. When the park officials discovered this they tried to reunite the baby with its herd but it was too late. They wanted nothing to do with him.

 “The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway,” the park said in a statement. The tourists were reminded of the rules about not getting too close to the animals and were fined $110. Silly people! 

Another bit of silliness was Gary Lineker's promise to present Match of the Day in his underwear if Leicester won the Premier League. Against all the odds they did so and Gary Lineker will have to make good his promise. He did try to get out of it but social media, tweeters and the like are insisting he should keep his word. And why not? 

 “Do I regret the tweet?" commented Gary, "Nah, not really. No, no I don’t because it’s been quite fun. I did the tweet knowing, categorically, there was zero chance of Leicester continuing on the line they were going and to win the league. I was spectacularly wrong but I’m so glad I was.”

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Mixed fortunes.

 My mother had a theory about things going in threes. Buses missed. Accidents at the corner of the street. Local women getting pregnant. You name it; she could find a way of putting it into a group of three. 

When we were returning from London recently and our train was cancelled, I thought nothing of it. Some weeks later we were going to Newcastle to visit a friend and arrived at Manchester Victoria to find that our train was cancelled. But still it was only two! 

Then, yesterday morning, en route for Spain, we had organised out travel to Liverpool John Lennon airport as a masterpiece of timing. Bus from the corner of the street at 7.54. Tram from Oldham to Shudehill Interchange on Manchester, arriving in plenty of time for the final stage: Terravision bus to the airport. It promised to get us there for 10.00. With fast track through security we would not need to hang around for too long before getting the plane to Porto, due to take off at 11.15. 

At 9.05, five minutes before the planned departure of the Terravision bus, one of their employees ran round telling us all that the bus was cancelled. We were welcome to catch the next one .... at 10.00. So that made three cancellations, one in March, one in April and finally, one in May. 

We wondered, very briefly, which of our friends and relations might be able to drive us at short notice. Answer: probably none and even of they were willing, by the time they made it to central Manchester to collect us, it would be too late. So we scouted around to see if anyone else going to Liverpool was willing to share a taxi. As luck would have it, two Irishmen were flying back to Belfast and needed to be at the airport at around the same time as us. 

As we debated where to find a taxi at such short notice, we spotted one pulling up outside the interchange and persuaded the driver, once he had dropped off his previous fare, to take the four of us. So off we went, sharing the fare and arriving in time for our respective planes. 

Now, we thought we were unfortunate. However, it turned out the two Irishmen had been in Manchester for the United match at the weekend. The one that was cancelled because of a bomb scare. The bomb scare that turned put to be a training device left behind from a security-dog-training exercise. They had been given tickets for the rescheduled match but would not be able to come back to Manchester. Work commitments. How peeved must they have been! 

As we bowled along the motorway, our taxi driver talked about passengers and how his previous fare had been really stressed that she might miss her bus. Suddenly he put two and two together and asked what time our bus had been due to depart: 9.10. That was the time his stressed lady passenger needed to catch the bus! Oops! Probably the same cancelled Terravision bus. By then it was too late and, besides, it was someone else's problem. 

We arrived in time for our plane, hung around for a while and boarded and departed on time. We even arrived just a tiny bit early. More about that shortly. In the airport I was on the lookout for a young friend, Sarah, who was supposed to be on the same flight. No sign of her. Had she missed the Terravision bus? But no, all was well. I found her on the plane half way through the flight. We discussed onward travel and lamented the fact that we were probably going to arrive in Porto just too late for the 1.45 Autna bus to Vigo. The next one would not be until 6.15 in the evening! This would mean Sarah could not continue her journey to A Coruña today. Did she want a bed for the night? That would be fine. We could help her out. 

And then our plane arrived in Porto just a tiny bit early. Knowing that Autna buses are sometimes on the last minute, the three of us, Phil, Sarah and I, all travelling handluggage only, raced through the airport, scuttled as fast as possible through passport control and exited the circling doors of Sa Carneiro to see the Autna bus, fifteen minutes late, still loading passengers. Hurrah! No time for a loo-stop. Straight onto the bus. 

Sarah was able to catch her train to A Coruña and we strolled through the hazy Vigo sunshine, pulling our suitcases along behind us, back to Calle Aragón. 

Sometimes, despite a poor start, the day just goes right!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Points of view!

One of the gentlemen I meet walking their dogs while I am put and about first thing in the morning was complaining today about the drought. Yes, the drought! Granted we have gad a few days of sunshine but it hardly constitutes a drought. We have had some rain as well. And the ground has not really had time to dry out properly. But he wants to plant his vegetables and he reckons he cannot do so if the "drought" continues. 

And there we were hoping that the relatively dry spell would continue through today so that Phil could cut the grass before we head for Spain tomorrow. He is actually managing to do so as I type this. 

About half an hour ago he called me to take a look at something. Down at the bottom of the shared garden, just behind a fence, he had discovered a bed of baby "policemen's helmets", the local name for Chinese or Japanese or Indonesian balsam, the plant that simply takes over patches of land, whatever name you recognise it by, squeezing out anything else that wants to grow there. It's rather a shame that they are so domineering because the flowers, when they bloom, are very pretty. 

Obviously the occasions recently when I have stopped on a walk along a local bridle path and pulled up a seedling, pointing out to him exactly what it is, have borne fruit. Unwilling to pull all these up individually, we are hoping that cutting off their heads with the strimmer might do the trick. Only time will tell. 

Last year, we returned in September to find the whole of that area full of mature, nicely blooming plants, about six feet high. Sometimes local school organise for pupils to have a mass weeding session, pulling up the flowering plants and stamping them out of existence. Maybe they should organise such excursions now. Except that it would be much more wearisome having to bend down and pull up seedlings only inches high rather than grasping an almost fully grown plant. So it goes. 

Out and about, I have spotted a pair of Canada geese with six goslings on one of our local ponds. I never knew they nested locally. They glide serenely around the pond, accompanied by a white goose who appears to have appointed himself guardian of the little family, godfather, or perhaps godgoose, if such a thing exists in the waterfowl world! 

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Feeling slightly miffed!

Every Saturday, well every one that we spend in the UK, we buy the weekend Guardian newspaper. I sit and plough my way through the various bits, generally omitting the sports section. 

 In the magazine section today, a certain Sali Hughes, who writes about cosmetics and whose section I usually scan with some scorn as she recommends stuff so highly priced it's silly, was writing about products for different age groups. 

"From your very first lipstick to that Magic night cream, Sali Hughes picks her 40 best makeup and skincare products for all ages, decade by decade." 

Notice that it said "for all ages"! 

So I decided to see what wonders she would recommend for my decade. Nothing! That's the answer. 

Teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and then no more. 

What a shock to be past it! 

What a shock to find such a thing in a magazine that regularly features older models in its fashion pages! 

 I realise that she could not have gone on for ever and ever but in this modern ages, many women are still holding down high powered jobs in their sixties and, presumably, still want to look their best. 

Maybe I should take it as a compliment to my age group. After all the decades of making ourselves beautiful, maybe we now know it all and need no further advice.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Bits of madness.

Another week comes to an end. As predicted by the weathermen, a cold wind has been blowing from the north, increasingly chilly as the day went on. So I went out wearing my sunhat and sunglasses this morning and by late afternoon felt as though maybe I needed gloves and a scarf. 

A friend of mine who has been in Hamburg, Germany, has been complaining of too much sun. This is most unusual for her, as she has impressed me in the past with her lizard impressions, sunbathing for far longer than I can stand it. Now she's planning her visit to see us in Vigo, booking a hotel in Porto for the last night of her visit in the hope that we can repeat the spectacular trip we made to that city a fair few years ago. 

Here some educational arguments have been raging: - 

Should parents be allowed to take their children out of school to go on a cheap holiday? When I say no, of course not, I am accused of sour grapes because, as teachers we were never able to take advantage of cheap deals when our children were small. But a judge has upheld a father's refusal to pay the fine for taking his child out of school. Where's the logic? 

Should children be tested to within an inch of their sanity? Parents have been criticised for keeping their children off school (again!), this time to go on a demonstration against SATs. Other parents have just been expressing their dismay at their children's fragile emotional state. 

Example questions have appeared in various bits of the mass media, challenging us to see if we are able to do any better than eleven-year-old. 

Our SATs-age grandson has seemingly taken the whole testing malarkey in his stride, thank goodness. No nervous crises there. Today his school organised for the year six class to climb a mountain, well, a hill behind the school, as light relief. They disguised it as a Geography trip as they would not want the Education Secretary getting cross with them for rewarding children for sitting exams, but two of the teachers took their dogs along! 

David Cameron has been flinging accusations of corruption around. And then his own party is being accused of corruption for spending too much on electioneering. 

The world is quietly going crazy. In fact it might not be doing it so very quietly. 

Over in the USA, George Zimmerman, the man who shot dead a young black man, Trayvon Martin, because he found his presence in his neighbourhood threatening, has been trying to put up for auction the gun with which he committed the crime. Except that he has not actually been found guilty of any crime. 

As I said, the world is a bit crazy. 

Anyway, despite bidding getting up to $65m at one point, two auction houses have refused to continue with the sale. Maybe there is some sanity after all. 

I am just amazed that anyone might want to buy such a thing. 

And it would seem that Mr Zimmerman is not selling the gun just to get rich. Apparently he has said "a portion of the proceeds would go toward fighting what he calls violence by the Black Lives Matter movement against law enforcement officers, combating anti-gun rhetoric of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and ending the career of state attorney Angela Corey, who led Zimmerman’s prosecution." 

So that's all right then. Nothing crazy there!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

On giving and receiving.

When I was in junior school, in what we called Junior Four, or even simply the fourth year, but what they now refer to as Year 6, as Christmas drew near I received a card from a certain Barry Samuels, one of my classmates. I was not one of his particular friends. In fact, I was fairly indifferent, in that take-it-or-leave-it way that eleven-year-olds have. At that age boys and girls can still be friends but they are on the cusp and there is always the potentially embarrassing danger of being taken for boyfriend and girlfriend, a totally different kind of relationship. 

Anyway, I was in no hurry to send a card back. This was perhaps a little mean. The school ran a Christmas Post. You posted cards into a letter box in the entrance, paying a nominal fee that went to charity, and at some point in the day cards were delivered to classrooms, providing a little bit of distraction from the hard work of learning. After all, we were the top class and were expected to behave. Not a word out of turn. In fact, mostly not a word unless the teacher asked you to respond to a question. The only exceptions were Art lessons, where a certain amount of whispering was tolerated and Needlework, where you had to ask people to pass you things and, besides, it was a whole lot more informal, rather like being in a large community sewing session - all girls together, as the boys had been sent off to do manly stuff like woodwork! 

So, for one reason or another, I was slow in sending Barry Samuels a Christmas card. There was an element of competition in the card sending ritual. Everyone was on the lookout for who was the most popular and received the most cards through the Christmas Post system. And then, as the end of term grew closer and closer, he marched up to me one day and declared, "If you don't send me a card, Anthea Pye, I want mine back!" Just like that! 

I think I did eventually send him a rather grudging card! 

One of our grandchildren had a similar experience last Christmas. Well, not really similar but related. She sent a card, writing nicely inside it, "To Thomas from Sophie, Merry Christmas". The next day she received a card from Thomas. Except that it was the card she had sent him. He had simply crossed out "Thomas" and overwritten "Sophie" and vice versa so that the card now read, "To Sophie from Thomas, Merry Christmas". Perhaps he was not a cheapskate but an ecologically aware twelve-year-old! 

I was reminded of these things when I read yesterday morning about a couple who sent an email to one of their wedding guests, a former work colleague of the bride, saying that the cheque for £100 sent as a wedding gift did not seem to reflect the wishes for happiness that she had expressed to the couple on the happy day. It seemed ungenerous. Would she like to consider amending it? 

Wow! I might have been inclined to amend it by cancelling the cheque. 

I can just about understand "wedding lists" (something that never used to exist long ago) since they avoid the problem of receiving six of the same unwanted item. But criticising the monetary value of a gift is something else again. Even so, I have always considered wedding lists just a little presumptuous. If a young couple want a set of completely matching crockery, pans, bedding or whatever, then perhaps they should save up and go and buy it themselves! 

Don't get me wrong. I love to give presents but I do object to being told exactly which make and model of an item is required! Besides, where's the element of surprise in all this? 

A little appreciation, please!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Sunshine, sins and rain.

Well, the rain is back. For a brief few days the sun shone and the neighbours and I did what British housewives do when the sun shines: we washed any item of clothing, bedding, towels and so on that was not actually tidied away into its proper place. And we hung stuff out to dry to our hearts content. Last night I even left sheets on the line overnight. 

This morning I took them in, nice and dry, and hung out another load of shirts and socks. Then later, as I set off for Manchester, I had a feeling that the weather was about to turn. There was that suspicious dampness in the air. So I phoned Phil from the bus and asked him to bring everything in before he in turn went out. Alas, by the time he had showered, it had already rained on the washing! Just slightly! To his credit, he did go and get it in. I know some who would have left it to get wetter and wetter as the day progressed. 

Yesterday was one of those sunny days that convince my Spanish-resident sister that England has the best summer anywhere: bright and clear but not oppressively hot. Unfortunately, we don't have whole summers of such days, which is what she mistakenly remembers. But it was definitely a shorts and t-shirt day. I got up early and drove my daughter's youngest offspring to school, in her car, which she is still not allowed to drive until the fracture clinic gives her the OK. I then returned the car to her house and made my way home via short bus-rides and longer intervals of walking along bridle paths admiring the bluebells. And I was still home in time for a late second breakfast with Phil. 

I had hoped that today might be a similar day but the weatherman's gloomy predictions proved correct. Peccato! As the Italians would say. We were talking about "peccati", sins, in the Italian class this afternoon, mostly discussing how an attitude to sin and confession leaves an imprint on the language. One of our number told a joke which ended with the line, "Where In Heaven would you find a lawyer?" The problem, our Adalgisa said, was that in Italian nobody would ever ask "where in Heaven" you would find anything. The expression just doesn't exist. 

I find it interesting though that Italian talks about people having a "vizio", just as the Spanish talk about having a "vicio", for eating too much chocolate, watching soap operas, buying too many books and other such things. We would never say such things were "vices", just "weaknesses". 

But then Adalgisa spoke of having to invent sins to confess when she was a child, varying the sin so that she had some variety in the penance she had pay, the prayers she had to chant out, so that she could take communion. I casually pointed out that I never had that problem, not even before taking first communion. So, she went on, what happened about all the sins and forgiveness? Someone pointed out that our Protestant god was supposed to be all-knowing and so could forgive us without our having to tell him a load of stories. 

She was a little annoyed at her priest who never told her such things! It's a good job we know that she is really aware of all this stuff already!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Things going back and forth.

I just read something about people heading for the beach to enjoy the sunshine in our current, probably short-lived, heatwave. The thing to do, apparently, is to dress not so much for the beach as for Instagram, so that you can post pictures and advertise the fashion industry's product without being paid to do so. Particularly prevalent are photos of sandals. As a result foot jewellery and tattoos, toe rings and fancy toenail polish are appearing. Here's a quote: "I am planning two foot tattoos that will fit perfectly where the gaps in my sandals are." 

As ever when I read such stuff, I remain gobsmacked! 

Also, we were in Manchester the other day and saw a chap running who appeared to be wearing a multi-coloured, tight-fitting top. When he got closer, we realised he was just wearing a normal running vest but his arms and shoulders were so heavily tattooed that no skin could be seen between them. Forget about a couple of perfectly placed tattoos! 

Fashion is a strange thing. 

None of this affected the group of people I met up with on Saturday. What was meant to be a celebration of someone's birthday turned into a staff reunion. Once we were a happy bunch of people who worked together at a sixth form college. Following merger and effective take-over we found ourselves in a regime that left most of us miserable and some of our number on the verge of breakdown. So we mostly went our separate ways. The vast majority of us are now retired. Little real communication has gone on for a while. 

Then recently I received communication about the celebration of a 66th birthday on the steam train that runs along the East Lancashire railway, running from Bury to Rawtenstall and Ramsbottom and various other places. The birthday boy had some of his family along but mostly it was a nostalgia-fest for those of us who used to work together. And a good time was had by all. 

I can highly recommend an afternoon of chugging back and forth on an old train chatting to old friends. Here is a selection of photos. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

The pen (along with the microphone and the camera) is perhaps mightier than the ballot box.

Well, it's all over bar the shouting. The 5th of May, polling day, has come and gone. 

For the first time in I don't know how long, possible the first time ever, we were unable to vote. We were concerned to apply for our postal vote for the referendum in June, knowing that we would be in Spain at that point. However, when we applied we were uncertain exactly when we would be setting off for Galicia. And so we asked for postal votes for anything that popped up between the start of May and September. And then our departure was delayed for various reasons. Our voting cards arrived for the 5th of May, followed shortly by another set of cards saying that our postal voting papers were being sent to Vigo and that we could not use the first lot of cards sent. The law of unforeseen consequences came into effect! 

But at least we shall be able to vote in the referendum in June. 

 And so lots of other people voted. All the pre-election stuff in the media went on and on and on about how Labour were unvotable-for. How, the mass media kept asking, would it be possible for anyone to vote for a party led by such a shambolic figure as Jeremy Corbyn? I was getting rather tired of hearing it. If you keep telling a child she is stupid and ugly, eventually he or she comes to believe it. And I began to think that the same kind of bullying brain-washing was taking place in the political sphere, pushing voters into thinking there was no point voting for Labour because, after all, it was unelectable! 

And in the end, some reports say Labour did better than expected. Others say it was a disaster. In Scotland they have certainly taken a drubbing. The Tory advance there is enough, I suppose, to justify some crowing on the part of the Conservatives. But it looks as though the Labour candidate is set to become Mayor of London, despite the workings of the dirty tricks department in the last few weeks. 

All is relative! 

My blood was set to boiling again as I listened to the radio news though. A UKIP member, successfully elected onto a local council somewhere, was being interviewed and talking delightedly of his success. And a little bit of me wanted to say that freedom of expression could go hang and UKIP should not be made to appear as a party as important and meaningful as the big players. I have felt for a long time that the column inches and air time given to them in the media have contributed to changing them from a sort of embarrassing joke party into a credible threat. 

The power of the press is formidable!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Pictures of democracy.

Wow, members of parliament have been having a punch-up in Turkey: a proper arm-waving, fist-connecting-with-other-people's-faces brawl. In their parliament chamber! This should serve to remind us that our Houses of Parliament has its two sides with a wide space in the middle to prevent just that kind of thing. The space between the two sides is supposed to be more than a sword length so that back in the days when people regularly carried swords around they couldn't actually reach their political opponents. 

Of course, we are meant to be too British to resort to such fisticuffs. You can cast aspersions about your political opponents views, print stuff about them being racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or almost anything else that will distract attention from the things that really matter such as policies. But we don't actually hit each other. 

Sometimes, friends can fall out. I read that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, is no longer such a close friend as he used to be of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Friends through Eton, Cambridge and Westminster, they have seemingly let Europe come between them. Still friends - they are both Conservatives, after all, and they tend to stick together - but no longer truly close, no longer bosom buddies. David Cameron told all this in an interview with Glamour Magazine, according to a report in an online newspaper.  

Now, what is our Prime Minister doing talking to a magazine that used to called Glamour of Hollywood and which describes itself as "your source for what matters to women now, from outfit ideas and make-up tutorials to celebrity news and politics"? Doesn't he have a country to run? But of course he has to have his mass-media presence! 

We were talking about politicians and their public image in the Italian class yesterday. We had read about the death of Aldo Moro, kidnapped and eventually killed by the Red Brigades in 1978. First we had the official story and then the unofficial stories and legends and conspiracy theories. The presence of secret service forces on the street where Moro was kidnapped - the motorcyclists who were never officially there - the flat the Red Brigades used as one of their headquarters but which was not searched by the police apparently because nobody answered the door when they searched that block of flats - all these unexplained things! You couldn't make it up. Possible international corruption and cover-up. 

And then our teacher said that she was about to say something that amounted to blasphemy: she actually believed that the Italian republic of that time, for all its faults and all the manipulation, was actually better than the current republic. The leaders actually met people and spoke to them and listened to their concerns. Above all, they did not make fools of themselves in public, they did not organise sex parties with underage girls. Like very strict fathers they did what they thought was best for the state. More recent Italian leaders have been rather too much in the public eye for the wrong reasons in her view. 

And she asked if we thought that stuff like the possible Aldo Moro cover-up went on here. So we thought of Hillsborough and the police actions or lack of action that was hidden for so long. 

But still Spanish friends tell me that we don't have corruption here. And a Spanish friend from the Italian class, a Basque who has lived in Manchester for a good part if her adult life, says that her Spanish family say the same to her. 

Everything is relative.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Chains of Friendship.

When I was a kid in school at least once a year chain letters would appear. There must have been a season for them as there was for conkers, whip and top, skipping ropes, hula hoops and hopscotch. You would be given a letter, hand-written of course, saying that you had to copy said letter out six times and give it to friends, who then had to do the same and so on, ad infinitum. If you broke the chain, the letter warned, dire and dreadful consequences would follow. Members of your family would fall ill and possibly die. They would lose all their money. Plague and pestilence all round. 

I never showed these letters to my mother. She was one of those people who always bought something off the gypsies who came around selling lucky heather and similar tat. She truly believed in the evil eye. And belief, of course, made it work. 

Sometimes the letters were less fatally threatening. They included six names and addresses, usually in far-flung places, and asked you to send a postcard to the person whose name appeared at the top of the list. You then copied the letter out, again six times, omitting the name at the top of the list and adding yours to the bottom of the list. Within weeks, it promised, you would receive myriad postcards from unknown and possibly exotic places around the world. 

It never worked! My postcard collection never materialised. I was a lot better off with the international pen-friends organised by my Spanish teacher; she not only organised pen-friends in Spain but in Rumania and other places I knew little about. (She also sold us Gideon bibles in Spanish, French and German and tried her best to persuade us to learn Esperanto with her after school. Would she be allowed to sell us bible nowadays? I wonder.)

I was reminded of all of this when I received an email recently inviting me to send a favourite poem to someone I didn't know but whose name appeared in the email. Having done that, I was to forward that email, minus the name and email address of the poem recipient and plus my own name and email address, to 20 friends. I would then receive a poem every few days via the electronic mail. A poetry chain mail. It was sent to me by a friend from the poetry group I sporadically attend at Stalybridge station buffet bar. 

Did I want to do this? Well, not really but the sender was a friend so I decided to have a go. Did I even have 20 poetry-loving friends whose email address I had? Did I even really have 20 poetry-loving friends? The answer was certainly no to the first of those question and probably also no to the second. The friends from the poetry group at Stalybridge are not on my mailing list. Besides I always feel like something of a fraud when I attend the group. So many of them go to lots of poetry groups, attend writers' and poetry workshops, enter poetry competitions and have work published. I go along because I have always scribbled bits and pieces and I enjoy the feedback. Besides it's a nice social occasion. 

So I confessed to the sender, who has an MA in creative writing and is currently doing a PhD on something to do with women poets, that I had been unable to forward it to 20 people but that I had done my best. OK. So far so good. 

Now I am receiving emails from friends saying they can't join in because they are too busy, don't ever participate in chain letters, don't actually have any favourite poems, have just moved house, want to spend time with their grandchildren or just plain can't be bothered! 

And suddenly I feel like that kid at school waiting for dire prognostications to befall me and not receiving myriad postcards from obscure destinations around the world. 

And I have yet to receive a single poem electronically!