Thursday, 30 June 2016

Another day in Sanxenxo.

This morning began with a bit of cloud and some mist over the estuary. Not enough to worry about, in my opinion anyway. My morning run still managed to produce some blue sky and sunshine pictures. I post these on Facebook to comfort/upset friends in rainier places.

When we went down to breakfast we came across one of our chess playing friends on granddad duty, pushing his small grandson to and fro in the buggy. He was fussing about putting socks on the child as his little feet were a bit cold. After we had finished breakfast we saw him again, still pushing the child to and fro along the terrace of the hotel. This time he told me he was doing this because it was a little too cold to go for the usual walk along the promenade and the sea front. Really? I know it wasn't quite up to the scorchers we have been having but it must have been 20 or so degrees, AT LEAST, probably more. AND the wind which has been blowing sun umbrellas over on top of me has dropped. 

Later I went down to the pool to swim as usual. By now the sun was coming out intermittently and even when it was cloudy, the cloud was thin. So, down at the pool there was me, the Portuguese lady I spoke to yesterday, determinedly sunbathing, or maybe that should be thin-cloud-bathing, and one other person. By the time I had swum twenty lengths a few more people had turned up. I only saw one other person go in the water. 

I was reminded briefly of the day last summer when my daughter, her children and I horrified our friend Colin's neighbour by swimming in the rain. Well, it wasn't raining when we went down to the pool and the rain was only very light. Besides, we were already wet, so what difference did a bit if thin rain make? The sun is shining more consistently again now. 

I wonder if there will be more people in the pool for the early evening session. 

Meanwhile, here are a few odd facts gleaned from newspapers here and there. Twice as many men as women lose points from their driving license in Galicia. Why am I not surprised at this statistic? 

Galicia is the fifth worst region in Spain for traffic offences, coming after Cataluña, Madrid, Andalucía, and the Comunidad Valenciana. Is there a correlation, I ask myself, between the density of population and the level of traffic offences? 

I saw television footage of Nigel Farage gloating at the European Parliament, to the effect that they had laughed when he first appeared there and said he was working to get the UK out of Europe but he noticed that no-one was laughing now. No wonder they want to have meetings without any UK representatives now. 

Boris Johnson has declared that he will not stand in the competition to be Prime Minister of the UK. However, Michael Gove is standing. He says Boris Johnson does not have the necessary skills to be Prime Minister. So he must believe that HE does. Hmm! what about his record as Education Minister? 

I am beginning to get a little hot under collar. Maybe I need to go and jump into the pool again.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Just a few little minor frustrations!

The other I was buying an item that cost €12.30. I handed the shop assistant a €50 and €2.50 so that she could give me mostly notes in my change and so I could thus avoid putting even more coins in my purse. After a few moments the girl looked at me and said, "It's €12.30". "Yes?" I replied, not seeing what the problem was. "You gave me €2.50 along with the €50 note". I considered explaining to the poor creature that she could give me 20 cents in my change but gave up on it and rooted in my purse for 30 cents, first making sure she gave me back the 50 cent coin. Perhaps there was something wrong with the basic maths education she received! 

After breakfast we usually go out for a stroll before the promenade heats up too much. We were almost bowled over by a fast moving cyclist as we strolled along this morning. I somewhat grudgingly accept that she could not have ridden in the road as the promenade is a one way street in the opposite direction to hers but she was certainly giving it some wellie, as they say. Had we been a couple with small children milling around, they would have been in serious danger. As it was I just about heard her approaching and managed to dodge out of her path just in time. Needless to say, the cyclist was completely oblivious! 

In addition to getting a walk in before the sun really gets going, our post-breakfast stroll gives the hotel staff time to "do" the room. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Today it didn't. Accordingly we changed the "Make up the room" sign to "Do not disturb", so that Phil could get some chess preparation done while I went for a morning swim. Later, heading down for lunch, we swopped the signs over. All to no avail: the girls were only just about to do our corridor when we returned later. They explained that they started at alternate ends of the hotel each day so that it's not always the same clients waiting for their room to be sorted. After some persuasion we managed to convince them that we don't need the room cleaning in depth and the beds made to tight hospital regulations and all the towels changed EVERY day and that it would be fine to leave it until tomorrow. Phew! 

On the way back from our morning stroll I popped into the Super Froiz to pick up a couple of things. My timing was all wrong. Everyone and their grandmothers must have been stocking up and arranging for their stuff to be delivered to their home for them. In reality there were only about five customers but only two tills operating, one of which was REALLY slow. When someone came along and opened a third, she invited the people coming to move, in queue order to the new till. I stood back to let the lady ahead of me move first. Which she did much too slowly, thus permitting one of the I-don't-know-how-to-queue brigade get in ahead of us. Then the lady I had been so helpful to remembered she had forgotten to purchase milk. I offered to hold her place in the queue while she went and got some. She assured me it was not necessary as she would just tell the cashier exactly what she wanted. I should have put two and two together. Her trolley was fuller than it looked. She was arranging for it to be delivered to her house and spent a good ten minutes making sure that it would all be done properly, almost walking out without giving her address, having difficulty finding her phone number for them and a million other activities. 

That will teach me to be polite and British and follow instructions about keeping our places in the queue. 

Ah well, it's not all bad. The swimming pool is still fine.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Networking ... and other stuff!

Most mornings while we are in Sanxenxo I get up and run down the promenade, out to the lighthouse and back to the hotel, taking a detour on the way back to walk along the beach and dip my feet in the water. This morning, instead of turning left onto the promenade when I got to the bottom of the street, I turned right and headed for Portonovo. This involves rather more uphill running but it's good to vary the routine. 

Once again it was a beautiful morning. I find it hard to understand why some folk wait until it is really hot to go for a run. I'm sure it's not all that good for you, as well as being very uncomfortable. At the Portonovo end of Sanxenxo's Silgar beach, tractors were at work smoothing out the sand for a beach football tournament. I would not fancy playing in that, not at all. Any kind of beach sport is hard going because of the difficulty of running on sand but with the temperatures up at around 27 degrees, it does not sound like fun. Each to his own! 

On the beach at Portonovo there were ducks in the water. This is not the first time I have seen them but I was still surprised. I never thought of ducks as saltwater foul. Perhaps they have come on holiday from somewhere inland, like the rest of us. 

At the pool yesterday, the young man I spotted reading Paul Mason the other day was playing with two little girls who were obviously his nieces. I remember these children from last year, largely because one of them has an unusual (to me, anyway) name: Iria. At some point in the afternoon I got into conversation with their grandmother, mother of the Paul Mason reader who works at the University of Manchester. It transpired that her husband is a chess player. The family accompanies him to Sanxenxo: chess for him and a holiday for them. 

Later I found Phil analysing his game in the bar with the day's opponent, a gentleman from Asturias, husband of the lady I had been speaking to, father of the Paul Mason reader! 

Small world syndrome strikes again!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Sunday/Monday in Sanxenxo.

Yesterday Sanxenxo was apparently invaded by a mass of bikers. I did not see them but you could hear them from the pool. Voting took place for the Spanish government elections. This gave the newsmen something other than Brexit to talk about. This morning my Spanish sister (OK, English, married to a Spaniard, living here for close to forty years now) was expressing double depression: the referendum in the UK and the fact that the right wing Partido Popular, won more votes than any other party. 

They still are a long way from the 176 seats needed for an absolute majority but it looks as though Rajoy will continue as President, always assuming that some other party or parties will form a coalition of some kind. Having seen what coalition did for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, I would avoid coalition at all costs! 

At the pool yesterday I spotted a young man reading one of Paul Mason's books. Anyone who reads Paul Mason must be a right thinking person. He turned out to be an Asturian who works at the University of Manchester. I asked if he enjoyed living in Manchester. Wonderful so far but now he is worried about the stories of xenophobia and open racism that are appearing in the news. It's as if all the bigots have been given carte blanche to be as nasty as they wish. 

Meanwhile, the chess player had so far won one game and lost one game. We were asked to complete a survey about the hotel on Sunday morning. Good or very good for all aspects. And then at lunch time Phil found the risotto had too much of a cheese flavour for his liking. That's two days running we have found fault with something! However, I had cockles for first course (which Phil decided to skip) and they were very good. After the cockles, I had yet another ensalada mixta. PhiL had chicken.

One thing you can say for his hotel is that they will go out of their way to find you an alternative if you do not want their selected menu for the day. Today we had salpicón de mariscos followed by a kind of fish soup with pasta. They told us there was chicken (again!) for the third course. Just as well we declined it as when it arrived at other people's tables turned out to be some kind of beef. Definitely not our kind of food! 

This morning we had a walk around the Sanxenxo hinterland before it heated up too much. Provided you can still see the sea, it's just about impossible to get lost. We had some interesting views of the place from a different perspective. 

On our way back we tried to follow the coast a little, moving from one small beach to another via piles of rocks. Then we came to one that was just too big and had to turn back, something we rarely like to do. 

 But after a famous incident a few years ago when Phil slipped on a rocky place and had to hold his shorts together to get back to the hotel we have been a little more cautious. This year, we vowed, there would be no torn shorts and no emergency repairs. So we retraced our steps. 

This afternoon was hotter than ever. After I had taken a coffee to the chess player half way through his game, I dedicated the rest of the late afternoon/early evening to the pool once more.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

People watching at the poolside.

Day two of our stay in Sanxenxo. Well, really I suppose it should be day three but as we arrived half way through Friday I am not really counting that day. I was up bright and early, jogging down a rather windy promenade, noticing the Saturday night revellers who were just on their way home. There were quite a lot of joggers as well as me, however, most of them going faster than I do. But I have nothing to prove and maybe some of the younger ones still do. 

There is something very pleasing about being out and about on a fine, if windy, morning. 

Later I went people watching down at the pool, overhearing some conversations about the UK Brexit situation. Headlines in one of yesterday's papers suggested that the British vote will cause the break-up of the EU altogether. It certainly seems to be causing turmoil in UK politics. 

But my people watching was on the whole less serious. I always find it interesting that some people set themselves up for a long session at the pool while others, with almost as much clutter, take a quick dip and leave. As for me I had a good long swim in an almost empty pool and then sat and read under the sun umbrella for a while. All went well until the wind decided to intervene and blow the thing over on top of me. I fully expect to have a bruised shoulder. A lady who had just arrived and was setting up shop commented that down on the beach it was hardly blowing at all. In that case things had changed since earlier in the morning. 

So I went back in the pool for another swim and almost had my towel commandeered by the son of the setting-up-shop lady. Her family had arrived as I was in the water; there were four of them and her little boy clearly thought my sun lounger was one of the four that they needed. I heard his mother tell him off calmly and explained that they would have to manage with three sun loungers. I offered to let them move my stuff along to the next free lounger but she was adamant that they could manage. The child needed to learn to share, she said. 

Quite different was the next family to arrive, colonising the sun loungers on the other side of mine. The smallish daughter, probably aged about six like the would be towel commandeerer, objected to having to share a lounger with her even smaller brother. Her mother pointed out that she could share or she could perhaps go and have a lounger to herself on the other side of the pool. A paddy ensued! A fair amount of whining, shouting and stamping of small feet. Her mother told her that this nonsense had to stop. It didn't and after a couple of minutes the mother went and stretched out on a sun lounger in the other side of the pool. The child took her mother's place on the original lounger. 

Now, I wonder what lesson the child learnt from that!!

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Diet, fertility, childcare - causes and consequences - theories anyway!

Here we are in Sanxenxo once more for the annual chess jamboree, otherwise known as a tournament, at the Hotel Carlos I Silgar. At the moment it looks as though we might be having the usual chess tournament heatwave. This worries me not at all as the pool here is very fine. 

 In our hotel room there is a book called "La Dieta del Doctor Cidón Madrigal". On the first page is a sort of introductory quotation. Who wrote it, I do not know. It is anonymous and reads as follows: "La obesidad es una condena. A través de una buena alimentación recuperaremos la libertad". This translates more or less as, "Obesity is a prison sentence. through a good diet we shall regain our freedom". I have not read any further. I presume there is one of these in every room. Or have they singled us out for some unknown reason? 

The supreme irony is that the food here is very good but they serve copious amounts of it. Lunch and dinner are both made up of three courses and then there is a dessert. Today for example they offered a kind of crayfish kebab with rice, then potato croquettes, followed by veal steak with chips. By my reckoning, that's three portions of carbohydrates in one lunch! Not a green vegetable in sight! Oh, and the traditional "flan", creme caramel, for dessert. 

And they leave books about obesity in the rooms!!! 

We only have half board and can choose between lunch or dinner. In the restaurant they are constantly surprised that we ask what the three courses are for the day and then choose to have only two of them. As it was, today we made the wrong choice. The kebab was lovely but the croquettes, although home-made, were disappointing. We should have opted for the veal, even though we eat very little meat. As regards dessert, neither of us really enjoys "flan". This goes back to our student days when some of the boys in the student pension where we stayed in Murcia used to have flan-eating competitions. These were rather reminiscent of the scene in the film "Cool Hand Luke", where the Paul Newman character declares, "I can eat fifty eggs". Enough to put you off certain foods for life. So we had to sweet talk the waiter into bringing us ice cream instead. Oh, I know there is sugar in ice cream but we had not eaten all our croquettes! 

In the local paper yesterday we read that the birth rate in Galicia is falling dangerously low. Not only that but the Pontevedra province, where we spend most of our time, has fallen behind Coruña province! Now, I can quite understand that if you have no job, if you are well qualified but have no prospects of a job other than giving out leaflets to persuade people to visit the Islas Cíes, if you find yourself beyond the age of thirty and still having to live with your parents, then you will put off having children. It's the only sensible thing to do. 

However, in the hotel where we are staying there is an abundance of children, many of them quite small babies. Not only that, but many of Phil's younger chess playing friends seem to have reached the point in their lives where they marry and produce offspring. Babies all over the show! It did strike me, though, that perhaps the kind of people who can afford to summer in this hotel (which is rather grander than any we stayed in during our younger days when we were encumbered with two offspring) can probably afford to have children. It's a theory! 

Here's another one. Yesterday evening we strolled out. Families were out and about, going up and down the promenade. In some cases, a tiny child was walking with the parents. Phil commented that Spanish children seem to start walking at an earlier age that British ones. Is it the famous Mediterranean diet? I doubt it but there were certainly tiny people, who looked to be no more than twelve months old, walking along at the end of a parent's finger. What could be the cause of this precocity?

This morning at the pool I had a moment of enlightenment. There were several young families with sitting-up babies, around sixth months old. I even had confirmation of the age because I chatted to one fond daddy as his child gurgled in the water. All these infants, too small to be standing or even pulling themselves up onto their feet independently, were at some point "walked" by their proud parents, held up by their tine, fragile arms, little legs going like the clappers. 

This is all well and good but I was always advised that it is actually not the best thing for the development of strong and, more importantly, straight legs. Maybe it leads to early walking though. Are these parents uninformed or are they competitive and want their child to walk first? Who knows? 

It may, of course, answer another question of mine. Why is it that so many young Spanish blokes appear to be slightly bow-legged? Just take a look when you walk behind them. Especially if they are wearing shorts. 

Of course, it's just a theory but the premature encouragement to walk might have something to do with it.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The events of June 23rd.

Because we have no internet connection in our flat, and also because we were busy organising our regular annual departure for Sanxenxo where Phil will play chess for the next week, we did not discover the result of the referendum vote until about 3.00 this afternoon. 

What is there left to say about it? Almost all my friends are in a state of shocked mourning. Some optimists are saying that it might be all right in the end. The younger ones are left uncertain about the future. The non-British ones are busily pointing out how different the result could have been if EU residents in the UK had been allowed to vote. The newspapers are full of turmoil. We shall wait and see. 

In the meantime, to cheer me up, here is a photo of the nuns who visited the Islas Cíes yesterday. I could not find it to post it last night. 

One of my friends has asked if there will be bonfires and fireworks from now on in the UK on June 23rd. Oddly enough, this would bring England into line with at least two EU countries who do just that. Today is the day of Saint John. In Galicia and possibly in other parts of Spain but most certainly also in Portugal, on June 23rd, the eve of Saint John's day, they celebrate. Bonfires are lit on beaches, in squares, on patches of waste land and at midnight fireworks are set off. 

Traditionally you should leap over the bonfire to ensure either good luck or romantic success for the coming year. The one that was being built near our flats looked as if you would need to be a professional long-jumper to get over it. A student of mine was very worried about this fire-jumping business some ten years ago on a visit to La Coruña. He was reassured when I pointed out that I had signed a health and safety agreement prior to the visit, declaring that no student would be involved in dangerous "sporting" activities. 

Then there are the "hierbas de San Juan", a bunch of particular wild flowers and plants that you keep in a pot of water overnight. All the Vigo florists were stocking them. At dawn on the 24th, you wash your face in the flower water and you are guaranteed a lovely fresh complexion. Personally, I tend to prefer a full night's sleep and rely on my Oil of Olay and Boots Number Seven "Protect and Perfect" products. 

Of course, the whole feast of Saint John thing is another example of Christianity taking over pagan rituals and making them its own. Summer solstice festivals have been subsumed into the saint's day. Mind you, I sort of think the pagan element has come a little more to the fore here.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

To the islands again.

I was down at the harbour this morning waiting for friends and friends of friends for another trip to the Islas Cíes. As I waited I was harangued by girls from the competing companies which run boats to the islands. Well, really I was offered information by the Mar de Ons girl but I was certainly harangued by the Nabia girl. 

She took me to one side, gesturing that she did not want the rivals to hear what she was saying. Then she told me how much faster the Nabia service is than the Mar de Ons - by all of five minutes as far as I could tell. She offered to negotiate so that I could book tickets and possibly change the return time, since I explained that until my friends arrived I had no idea what time return boat we wanted. All the while she implied that there were very few places left. 

The Mar de Ons girl was much calmer, chatting about all sorts of stuff, just running off whenever she saw potential people to give leaflets to. According to her here were plenty of places on boats today. (This certainly proved to be the case when we finally boarded.) The weekend was fully booked already but today was fine. Perhaps the Nabia girl works on a commission and was desperate to entrap more customers. All I know is that I took to avoiding her as I popped in and out of the booking office as she was so insistent. 

The Mar de Ons girl told me during our chats that she is doing this as a summer job. No, she is not a student. Not any longer. In fact, she has completed a Masters. But there is no proper work available. So this will do for the summer and she hopes something better turns up before winter comes around again. At least she was not having to sell sunhats and fake designer handbags like to African blokes. They were offering sunhats at half price! No chance today. Too cloudy. But very sultry. 

Eventually the group of friends turned up, we bought our (Mar de Ons) tickets and off we went. A group of ten nuns boarded at the same time as us. Several of them had bought sunhats, the bonnet style with rose-patterned ribbons around them. None of us could work out how they planned to wear the sun bonnets on top of their habits. It was quite a chilly and very windy crossing. The nuns seemed quite happy with it however. Two of the younger ones stood right at the front of the boat, the pointy end, their black headdresses blowing around, indeed almost flying off in the wind. 

We wondered at one point if the boat was driving itself as the pilot appeared to have disappeared. But all was well. He was just busy with another bit of equipment. Self-drive cars may be being tested but self-piloting boats remain a thing of the future. Possibly not the too distant future, I suspect. 

It was much warmer when we arrived, even though the sun stubbornly refused to shine. So we walked to the restaurant and had some lunch. Not in the self service section this time. Some of our party insisted on the proper restaurant section, with waiter service. Very nice it was too. 

After lunch we considered a walk up to the lighthouse but in the end decided there was not enough time as we were booked on the 5.00pm return boat. So we opted for a walk on the beach, the braver of us dipping our toes in the rather cold Atlantic. The temperature of the water did not seem to be putting other people off taking a proper dip, but not too many of them. 

Then our group split, half choosing to stay and doze on the beach while the other half took a stroll through the eucalyptus trees. And then back to the boat, sailing once more with the nuns. It was a warmer ride back and the closer we got to Vigo, the more the sun came through the clouds. 

Not quite one of the spectacularly good evenings that we have sometimes had after mediocre days but still something of an improvement on the cloud of earlier. 

 Nonetheless, the day was declared a great success. The Islas Cíes rarely fail to please.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

In the gossip magazines, mostly, and in the sensible press, a bit!

Our visitor having left and my having no other commitments, today I took myself off to the hairdresser's, where, as you might expect after several years of albeit intermittent custom, they greeted me by name. And I got my fix of prensa rosa, scandal magazines. I found out all about the royal families of various countries. 

The British royal family make a splash with the celebration of the queen's ninetieth birthday. The young woman formerly known as Kate Middleton is deemed to have stolen the show. She is judged to have adapted well to being royal and it is generally felt that Queen Elizabeth II can be reassured that she has a suitable successor there. This must assume that poor old Charles is never going to make it to kingship and we shall never have a Queen Camilla! If Kate was upstaged by anyone it was by her own small daughter, who charmed everyone by waving delightfully to the crowd. 

The various generations of the Spanish royal family were also featured. The retired king and queen have been on joint engagements, after two years of appearing separately. Who knew that there had been a royal separation there? Mind you, there have always been bits of scandal about his retired majesty. Retired Queen Sofía seems unable to do any wrong. There is some concern about the ex-Infanta Cristina losing weight. It's all that stress from the court case! 

The clothes of the various royal females receive a good deal of comment, except for the members of one of the Scandinavian royal families, as they were all wearing national costume. You will be pleased to hear that Queen Letizia is noted to be patronising cheaper brands, well, less extremely expensive. Our very own Kate was wearing the same suit to the queen's birthday do as she wore to little Princess Charlotte's christening. But she did have a fancy new hat, with a large artificial rose on it. The princes seem to get away without comment, except for tiny Prince George. He did better than anyone at recycling outfits by wearing the same shirt as his father wore to his brother Harry's christening all those years ago. I have heard of christening robes being re-used but a small boy's shirt?! Did William not wear it out? You would have thought they could afford a new shirt for wee Georgie! 

And then there was the alternative royalty. David Beckham was featured smiling and laughing with small boys in an African country. Richard Gere was in Taormina, Sicily, for the film festival, with his Galician young lady, Alejandra Silva. Poor Richard Gere is still having problems with his ex as they cannot come to an equitable agreement about money. There's about €40 million to share out. Surely with amounts like that you could just split it two ways and still have plenty? 

And the Spanish star Ana Obregón is apparently making "un reality" about her life. Amazing! The things these celebrities get up to. Her justification, apart presumably from making some more money, is that her life has been a reality show without her wanting it to be so. Her Spanish construction was one I would probably have marked as incorrect if one of my students had used it in the past. She said, "mi vida ha sido un reality sin yo quererlo". I would never have used an infinitive there in that way. Always something new to learn. And she is speaking her own language after all! 

More seriously, I also got a look at a local paper with this main headline: "El "Brexit" se convierte en una grave amenaza para las exportaciones gallegas". The long and the short of it is that the UK leaving the EU may cause problems ("be a serious threat") for Galician exports. The UK is the fourth biggest importer of Galician goods, in the region of 1000 million pounds or euros worth, and trade has doubled this year so far. 

They would rather we stayed in! 

Voting takes place tomorrow. By Friday we should know what is going to happen.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Out and about in Galicia and Portugal.

 I have just returned from Porto after almost seeing a friend safely onto her plane home. Almost because in the event her plane was delayed (she had no luck in her travels this time - on the way out she was held up by French air-traffic controllers striking and going home by a technical fault) and so she saw me onto the bus to Vigo instead. 

We spent yesterday in Porto as her flight was leaving too early this morning for reasonable travel from Vigo to the Portuguese airport. And so my friend had pre-booked a hotel for an overnight stop. Mistakenly she booked a hotel in the Matosinhos district, thinking that she was booking a hotel in Gaia. On the internet page map she saw a bit of water near the location of the hotel and assumed it was the Douro. Therefore, in her eyes, the hotel was only a short distance from the old centre of Porto, instead of a forty minute metro ride away. This is what comes of being too impatient to check properly with a friend who just might know better. It all worked out fine in the end though. 

Having dumped our stuff at the hotel, we took the metro into the centre and took in the sights of Avenida Aliados and the Sãn Bento station with all its tiled pictures. I took her to the Livraria Lello, the amazing bookshop built in 1906 and still keeping all its old fittings and fixtures, with the addition now of a small coffee shop on the top floor. When I first visited it, maybe six or seven years ago, it was free. Now they charge €3 but you can redeem your entry charge buy buying something in the shop and having the €3 taken off the purchase price. I think that is a very clever ploy on their part: if 100 people visit, the shop makes €300 and many of those 100 will purchase something, if only to feel that they have got into the shop for free. And goodness knows how many people visit in a day! 

It was a baking hot day. Nonetheless, we walked miles around the city, stopping for ice-creams and other refreshments. The Luiz I bridge, built by Mr Eiffel, was admired again and we took the funicular so that we could walk along the top. There we were confronted by a different kind of beggar. A moderately respectable looking woman asked if we spoke French or English as, she said, she was not Portuguese. Her story was that she had bent her metro ticket and it would not work. Also her Swiss bank card was not accepted by the machines. Could we help her get back to the hotel? I gave her a little and made the mistake of asking her, "Ça vous suffit?" "Non", she replied, it was not enough. A few coppers more had to do! What a curious begging style. She almost sounded genuine but, on reflection, the blue metro card was a bit too crumpled! Imaginative use of he language skills though! As we walked on we were tempted to look back and see if she asked anyone else? 

The last time my friend visited, she came in August and it was high summer. For the last few years, May and June seem to have been year, June has been very Galician, with more than enough rainy days. So my friend had very poor weather for the first half of her visit but it finally improved for the weekend. Which was just as well, as we had booked tickets for the boat to the Islas Cîes. 

On the islands with my friend and an ex-student we both have in common, we trekked to the lower lighthouse, the Faro da Porta, oohing and aahing at the magnificent views. Up at the lighthouse, our young friend spotted a seagull's nest with chicks. That explained the noise the gulls had been making. They clearly did not want intruders. In fact, I suspect we were lucky to get away with noise. Sometimes gulls can be very aggressive when nesting. Then, as we walked down towards the beach, a young fledgling seagull walked across our path, followed by a concerned parent. We were all very impressed! 

On one of the information notices on the island, they reminded us that we should be respectful of the gulls. After all this is "territorio de la gaviota", which we would translate as "seagull territory". Once again their translator was just slightly off key. It was translated as "seagull's territory". Okay, I know I am pernickety about these things but it just doesn't sound right. I would have accepted "the seagull's territory" or "the seagulls' territory" but the form used made it sound as though there was ONE super-important bird whose name was Seagull. Ideally, I would just have said "seagull territory". There you go. 

On Sunday we took a bus to Baiona and visited the replica of the Pinta, one of the boats that Columbus (the famous Genovese Galician, born according to some in Poio, Pontevedra) took to the Americas. 27 sailors went on that little boat, which barely looks large enough for ten. In the "museum" on board, they told us about the Pinta and its sister ship the Niña but there was no mention the third boat, the Santa María. I asked why there not and found out that the Santa María never returned to Spain. There is always something to learn. 

We also walked around the very well preserved fortifications that surround the parador. This is quite a walk. My friend is not a great walker - some arthritis and circulation problems - but she insisted on continuing, as she did yesterday in Porto. She complained that she is developing leg muscles! Surely that is not bad thing! 

 Considering that we did Santiago in the rain on Wednesday and Pontevedra in the mixed sun and showers on Friday, I seem to have done more tourism in the last week than I have done in the last three years! 

Friday, 17 June 2016


For a largely flat-dwelling nation, the Spanish seem to have a prodigious number of dogs. Some of these are surprisingly large, once more I say, considering that they live in flats and don't get to run around in a garden all day. I often marvel at how well trained they must be. It's one thing to have your dog whine at the door to go out to do his necessary business when you can let him out directly into your garden, but quite another if you have to go out and wait for the lift to take you down umpteen floors to street level. This is especially so if, as in our flats, you are not allowed to let your dog run around in the garden area at the back. I must say that I agree with that last ruling. How nasty for the chap who maintains the garden to come across little packages which clog up the blades of his mower! 

 I read that until 2004, Paris boasted a fleet of what they called "Motocrottes”, motorised pooper-scooters that would pick up dog dirt. These were abandoned after accountants calculated they rid the city of only 20% of the 350 tonnes of dogmess deposited on the streets of that capital. I just love the name! 

 Paris may have abandoned its "motocrottes" but it has "incivility brigades". These are a kind of police force who can impose instant fines on people who drop litter, throw their cigarette ends down in the street and other such related muckiness. What an excellent idea! Around here you see very little litter as a rule. This is largely because of the street sweepers who are out with their carts first thing in the morning. Even then, they mostly seem to be sweeping up cigarette ends, which the Spanish do quite liberally distribute around the streets. 

You do see the occasional dogmess, but not a great deal as most dog owners nowadays are well-trained pooh-slaves! I wonder how the street sweepers feel about cleaning that up! 

And I am often amused to see big bulky men walking those ugly little pugs which are so popular here, or other very tiny dogs. No doubt these have been chosen by the wife or girlfriend but on occasion have to be walked by the chaps who look as though they should be walking huge Alsatians instead. so long as they clean up after them, I guess it's OK.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Santiago voy!

On Wednesday, whose name should really be changed to Wetnessday because so much rain fell, I went to Santiago de Compostela. I wanted to show it to a friend who is visiting and Santiago is one of those places which can still look splendid and monumental even in the rain. Granted it looks much better set against a clear blue sky but it impresses even on a rainy day. And it is a place where it can rain when there is sunshine in the rest of the region. 


So we went off in the fast train from Vigo, about 40 minutes instead of an hour. The journey is less picturesque, however, as you spend a lot of time hurtling through tunnels. In some ways it's not unlike going from the UK to France through the Channel Tunnel: nothing to see at all. A fellow teacher and I did once persuade some students that if they looked carefully they could see fish in the Channel. Their belief lasted for several minutes before the penny drooped. It's amazing how gullible even sixteen-year-olds can be! 

And just after midday we were in Galicia's capital city and heading up the hill to the old quarter in a taxi, saving my friend's rather arthritic legs for sight-seeing walking. After we had walked for a while, donning our raincoats as the rain started, admiring the covered archways and the statue of Cervantes on his little column in his own square, eventually "la tromba" - the heavy Galician downpour - caught us and we took refuge in a cafe for hot chocolate, for my semi-frozen friend, and green tea, for me. 

After more tramping, and a bit of sheltering in the archway leading to the huge obradoiro square in front of the catedral, which we shared with a young lady gaita player and lots of other soggy tourists and pilgrims, we made it to the cathedral itself. The front entrance is all blocked off because they are working on restoring the grand old portico. So we had to walk round into the square called Platería in Castilian Spanish and Pratería in Galician. Presumably silversmiths had their workshops there in the past. A few shops selling expensive stuff made of silver still remain. 

I never fail to be impressed by Santiago's cathedral - so much ornate stuff, so much gold, so many side chapels. And then there is the silver casket/coffin supposedly holding the remains of Saint James the apostle himself. He must have been quite a small chap, judging by the size of the casket. 

I was struck by the nonchalant disregard of some of the visitors for the notices in some sections of the cathedral, the ones that remind us that these areas are for people who want to pray and request us to be quiet and please not to take photos. Click, click! Chatter, chatter! So it goes! 

Cathedraled out, we went in search of lunch. It was getting a little late but we found a crèperie where we shared a small mixed salad (heaven knows how big a large one would have been) and a Popeye savoury pancake, so named because it contained spinach! Very good and with a glass of wine each the total bill was under €20. Not bad at all for a place close to the cathedral. 

As the sun had come out briefly we thought we might walk around the alameda. No chance! Two minutes in, the rain began again so we took refuge in a cafe before going down tot he station and back to Vigo. 

There are worse ways to spend a rainy Wetnessday!

Monday, 13 June 2016


Well, the queen of England has had her ninetieth birthday. In the news reports on TV there were lots of pictures of female members of the royal family in expensive outfits and male members of the royal family in fancy dress. Oops, I meant to say military dress uniform, red tunics with lots of medals. I am a little unclear as to what exactly Charles and William have done to earn medals but who am I to question such things. According to some reports the youngest member of the royal family, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth stole the show with her charming waving. Isn't that always the way at family gatherings. 

At least nobody is clamouring for members of the British royal family to be sent to prison, as is happening in Spain. The organisation Manos Limpias wants to sent Iñaki Urdangarín, brother-in-law to King Felipe, to prison for 20 years and his wife the Infanta Cristina for 8 because of the corruption case, the caso Noos. Of course, we can no longer talk of her as the Infanta as she was sort of expelled from the royal family last year or the year before. What a come-down! Are they still the Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca? Or did they lose that title as well? I don't think they are exactly living in misery; a bit stressed, no doubt, but I bet their children still go to expensive schools. 

 Getting back to our very own queen, every year "honours" are given out to mark her birthday. I have often been amazed at some of the reasons for which people receive honours. An article in the Guardian the other day took this sideways look at all of that: 

 "It can also be fun dreaming up alternative reasons for honours. It might announce “Roderick David Stewart (knighthood), for services to music and charity”, but let’s not forget his selfless sporting of comedy tam o’ shanters back in the day. Astronaut Tim Peake (CMG) for giving the nation an excuse to say: “Ground Control to Major Tim”; Ant and Dec (OBE) for services to “Geordieness”; Jamie Murray (OBE) for childhood bravery sharing bunk beds with sulky brother Andy; Brian Blessed (OBE) for ear-splitting theatrical booming beyond the call of duty; Alan Shearer (CBE) in his role as a football pundit, having the perfect vocal delivery to lull people into a deep coma, thus saving the cash-strapped NHS the need for anaesthetic." 

It quite cheered me up!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Making a noise around the city streets.

The weekend brings out the cyclists. I mean the serious cyclists: narrow-wheel, ultra light-weight bicycles, helmets that match their very professional cycling gear - all the correct kit. Many of them sport the yellow jersey: every one a Tour leader in his head! The more modest wear the colours of other Tour teams such as Movistar. Some wear the gear for a local cycling club. 

But all of them cycle ON the road! 

I sympathise with the problems of cycling on the road. In fact, I don't know that I would want to cycle on Vigo's main thoroughfares at busy times of day. I have seen how badly people drive around here. I don't even want to drive a car on these roads. And here is a link to an article about the difficulty of cycling on the road.  I suspect that the writer is American and that her comments refer to conditions in the USA but much of what she says applies certainly to the UK and probably to Spain as well. 

While road cycling remains an almost totally tiny minority activity, there will continue to be problems. In countries where large numbers of the population cycle to work every day, and presumably where those numerous cyclists follow the highway code and don't jump red lights or disregard other road-use stipulations, they don't seem to have as many problems. The solution, however, is NOT to cycle on the pavement. Which is what an increasingly large number of people both here in Spain and in the UK seem to believe. 

The other day we were almost bowled over in Calvario, on the pedestrianised stretch of Urzáiz, by a cyclist towing one of those chariot affairs that you can put small children in if you don't want them on a special child seat behind your saddle. Not only was he cycling at quite a speed but he was swerving from side to side, weaving in and out of trees and benches, presumably giving his small passenger an exciting ride. A very dangerous character and the sort who gives cyclists a bad name! 

If you insist on cycling on the pavement then you should travel at a sedate speed, not above a fairly fast walking pace. And you should have a bell which you should ring at regular intervals to let folk know you are coming. Bicycles, with their almost silent tyres, are great for sneaking up on people! Oh, and in pedestrian areas, cyclists should get off and walk! You can't drive a car through a pedestrianised area. Neither can you ride a motorbike or moped! So you should not be permitted to cycle. Or ride a skateboard for that matter! 

Having mentioned warning bells, here's a little something we witnessed yesterday. As we walked along Vía del Norte, heading towards the centre of town and eventually on towards the Castro, we heard a sort of tin-whistle tune. Just the beginnings of a tune, the opening notes, repeated several times. Then there would be a pause before the whole thing was repeated. We looked for a beggar, thinking it might be one of those who think that because they can play half a tune badly they deserve to given a stipend to live on. 

And then we spotted him: not a beggar but an itinerant knife grinder, pushing his moped along the pavement (not riding it, please note!), his knife-grinding equipment strapped to the luggage carrier at the back. When he reached the end of the blocks of flats, nobody having taken up the service he offered, he hopped on his moped (on the road) and headed off for fresh fields and pastures new. We heard him again later, a few streets further up the hill. 

 A little moment of nostalgia, taking us back to the rag-and-bone man of our childhood, who used to come around with his horse drawn cart, calling out "Ra-a-ag bo-o-one!" And offering you a goldfish in a plastic bag as a reward if you gave him a bag of old clothes or household stuff you no longer had use for. No matter that the goldfish rarely survived more than a couple of days! 

We found ourselves wondering how many of the people living in the flats along Vía del Norte and the other streets of the city recognise nowadays his tin-whistle-tune and what it signifies!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Visits. Cards. Banks.

Having been here in Vigo for almost a month and today being a fine and sunny day, we decided it was time we visited the Castro, one of our favourite places around here. Up at the top we came across a couple of young men discussing in English what the funny little turret - tower affair at the corner of the fortifications might be. Was it a sentry box? Was it a place for the sentries to go and warm up on cool evenings? So Phil put in his two-penn'orth by suggesting it might be a latrine. After all it is conveniently placed so that everything could be "flushed" away over the wall!! OK. Getting down to basics. 

 The young men were here for a wedding. The bride is from Vigo and so many of the guests had come over for a long weekend. Very likely she is one of the many young people who went off the UK in search of work ... and found a life partner. We advised the young men to go and visit the Islas Cíes if they had time. You can just see the islands on the horizon in the photo.

Having done our bit for local tourism we made our way down to the cafe, discovering new fencing en route and a set of steps which get half way down and peter out. I am pretty sure that last year they were barricaded at the top to prevent people doing just what we did. But we made our way down safely admiring the local flora as we went. No fauna in evidence! 

At the cafe we had a moderately expensive clara (small shandy): €5 for the two whereas two small beers at the Midcentury cost €3.80! But we did get crisps and olives. And when we had sat for a while with our shandies, checking email on our phone courtesy of their wifi, the waiter brought us a generous serving of Russian salad. This is an innovation for that cafe! 

There was a large sign on the wall: NO ACEPTAMOS PAGO CON TARJETA. So it has wifi but no credit/debit card machine. I wonder what the increasing number of (mostly young) people who never carry cash would make of that. In Manchester I have noticed some who pay for items costing as little as 40 pence with their cards. Presumably they never need to use the loo on the main Manchester railway stations as you cannot get in without putting 30 pence in the turnstile. No card machine there either! 

 I was reading about Sweden which is rapidly becoming a cashless society, according to some reports. Certainly in the big cities people appear to use cards, or increasingly their phones, to make payments. And 900 of the 1,600 bank branches no longer keep cash on the premises or take cash deposits. What do they do exactly? Count the cheques? I suppose it must reduce bank robberies. No bags stuffed with high denomination bank notes! 

And many of them don't have ATMs either, especially it seems in rural areas. Now that last one did surprise me. I know of lots of places in the UK where the local bank branch has disappeared but at least they still have cash machines. 

Does Sweden have no old ladies who insist on having their money in cash and keep in under the mattress?!?!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Stuff you find in Spain.

Looking for something to settle a delicate stomach - Phil's not mine for I seem to have the stomach of a concrete elephant, unless I get really drunk, which happens very rarely these days - I visited several chemists in search of Enos or similar. In the UK I would be able to find this in any supermarket but there are strict demarcation lines here. Nobody is going to accidentally buy too much aspirin or paracetamol in this country. 

Anyway, I was having no luck and explained to one chemist what I was after. She was all set to sell me a product called bio-something or other that you can add to water, to milk, to your breakfast cereal, according to your preferences. It was going to cost in the region of €25 to do the same kind of job as Actimel. Then, at the last moment she decided she could not sell it to me as it was "caducado", past its sell-by date. So she wrote the name down and told me I could get it anywhere, well, in any chemist's shop. 

In the next one, I found the expensive product but I also found Enos. So I opted for that, still more expensive than in Tesco but closer to what I wanted to spend. If it had not been for the super-expensive bio-whatever, I would have said that the moral is not to look for UK products in Spanish pharmacies. Strepsils, for your sore throat, are quite extortionately expensive! 

Mind you, I can now buy PG Tips tea in the local supermarket at a perfectly reasonable price. This does not, however, mean that the Spanish have learnt to MAKE tea. It is still quite usual to be served with a tea bag in a cup, accompanied by a pot of hot water, hot but not boiling! But then, what do most British folk know about making coffee? 

Today I was in a store which has not existed in England for donkey's years, at least 25 I think, but which still appears to be going strong here: C & A. I was looking for short sleeved shirts in a traditional cut, without any of the fancy foll-de-rolls that trendy shops like to add to their designs. I found some, very reasonably priced as well. 

While in the store, I could hear drumming, very rhythmical and getting louder and louder. Leaving the store, I found out what it was: a marching drumming group from Viana do Castelo, across the border in Portugal. Dressed in black and white, with red sashes and black hats of the sort that flashy Seville horsemen wear, they had formed a circle and were gradually reaching a crescendo. 

As the volume increased and the rhythm grew faster, they tightened the circle on one of their number who was doing really fancy drumming in the centre. Hats were falling off all over the place. It was most impressive. 
But, boy, was it good when they stopped! 

Now, you don't see that sort of thing on Market Street in Manchester!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The right tools for the job!

Finding that a drawer under the bed, in which I keep odds and ends of paperwork as we have no actual desk here, had effectively fallen apart, I went and bought wood glue. The instructions came in a variety of languages. The English told us to stick the relevant bits together and them leave them with a weight on top for at least 30 minutes. Actually it said a weight or a jack. Now, I may not be a mechanic but I am pretty sure a jack is not the tool required in such a situation. Surely a brace or a vice of some kind. 

The Spanish require the application of "un peso", a weight, or "un gato". Anyone who ever saw the magician Paul Daniels talking about his system for foreign language learning back in the 1990s will be familiar his idea for memorising words: attach a visual image. "Gato" is the Spanish for cat, so think of a cat eating a large slice of gateau. (Not the image I would have chosen but it worked for some of my students at the time.) 

Well, if you look up "gato" in the dictionary you will find that it also means a jack. But I was already visualising persuading a cat to sit on top of my glued drawer and wondering where I might find such a biddable cat. Our son's cat is prone to sit in one place for quite long periods of time but she tends to choose the location herself. 

As a good linguist should, I cross-checked the word in the English-Spanish end of the dictionary. A jack - un gato. To jack up (e.g. car) - levantar con gato - or possibly to lift up with a cat. So now I was busy imagining a situation where I might have a puncture and need to jack up the car, busily hunting for a big, strong cat who would lift the vehicle and hold it while we changed the tyre! 

Words are quite fascinating. I am pretty sure there are some Spaniards who might not be aware of the technological uses of their domestic cat! And then there is the humble spanner: in Spanish "una llave inglesa", which also means an English key. Why should it be English, I ask myself. Did an Englishman invent it? 

When my father was learning Spanish, determined to be able to communicate at least at a basic level with my younger sister's Spanish husband, we bought him a children's book called "My 100 First Words in Spanish". Each page had topic based picture of objects, conveniently labelled. There was also a duck hidden on the page somewhere, predating the much more complicated "Where's Wally." books. 

I seem to remember it had pages of kitchen equipment and farm animals, hospital stuff and gardening paraphernalia but if there was a page of useful tools to have around the home, such as a "cat" to put on your newly glued drawer, it completely passed me by! 

We were unable to find a willing cat and so we upended a coffee table to serve as a weight to help our glue to set.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016


Over the last few weeks I have noticed that some of the buses around here have in large letters on the side the words LION OF PORCHES. What on earth could it be? Was it a film I had not heard of? No idea! It did not appear on advertising hoardings or on bus shelters. Just on the side of buses. And what did it mean. Is Porches a place? Does it have a lion. Is it a special kind of doorway, a "lion" of porches? 

And then, the other day when I was hugging the bit of pavement closest to the wall in the centre of town, trying to avoid the sudden rain shower as much as possible before I found an umbrella seller, I found the answer. On Urzáiz there is a boutique, a clothes shop of that name. 

                                    LION OF PORCHES 


So it claims to be of or from London, does it? Well, I know I am not acquainted with all the clothes vendors of London but somehow Lion of Porches does not sound like a very English name for a shop of any kind, except possible porches! 

Very good marketing, however! 

Our local supermarket must train all its staff in marketing. If you pause for breath at almost any spot in the store, some assistant will sing out the news that there is a special offer on some product related to that aisle. For example: "You-can-get-a-big-bag-of-oranges-for juicing-for-just-three-euros!" This is announced in a flat tone, unlike any kind of normal intonation I have every heard. But all credit to the staff for pushing the goods. You don't get that level of commitment from the shelf-stackers in the UK. Occasionally a cashier will remind you that something is on a two for one offer but that's about the limit. Maybe the staff here are all shareholders and it is in their interest to promote the goods as much as possible. 

Whatever the motivation, I find these announcements vaguely irritating and it is purely the tone of voice that does it. Intonation is a funny thing. Spanish football commentators, and indeed other sports reporters, have a special over-excited intonation when you hear them on TV. However, it does not grate the way the supermarket announcement tone does. If anything, that flat announcement tone reminds me of the tone used in public safety announcements in many British bus and train stations. You know the kind of thing: "Floors may be slippery when wet!" "Be aware that pickpockets operate in this station". 

It's a tone of voice that you might use to a demented child when you want to be sure he is listening to you. It's condescending even when used to a five hear old. 

I, however, am not five years old. Please speak to me like an adult!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Deep in the back of the supermarket is the section that sells loo roll and similar paper-based products, cleaning stuff, polish, detergents and the paraphernalia for keeping people clean and beautiful as well. Looking for Fairy liquid, the famously gentle washing-up liquid disturbingly pronounce 'fiery' by the locals, I followed a mother with a small child in the seat of her trolley. Suddenly the child said, in tones of amazement and almost fear, "Mamá, estamos perdidos". He was convinced that they were lost because they had strayed away from the parts of the supermarket where you could see the tills and the exit. His mother and I restrained ourselves and did not burst into fits of laughter as she reassured him that all was well. 

Having completed my purchases, I stood in the queue to pay and watched another small boy "helping" slam stuff down onto the conveyor belt. As he did so he explained to the cashier that all this stuff was because they were going on an 'excursión' and went into detail of the kind of sandwiches they planned to make and what else they were taking with them. Where were they going, the cashier wanted to know. To the beach and, he told her, they had their beach rucksacks ready. She, he went on after a little thought and indicating his mother, would carry the beach rucksacks. The cashier asked how old he was. Five years and two months, he announced. Those two months are extremely at that age. Oh, the importance of being seven and THREE QUARTERS or nine and a HALF!  

It must have been a day for overhearing conversations between parents and children. Earlier I had walked into town, an excursion that involved haggling over the price of an umbrella with one those chaps who appear like mushrooms when it starts to rain unexpectedly. Who would have thought that the day would have ended up nice enough for a mother and small son to plan a trip to the beach! Anyway, at one point I stopped off at the Marco museum and art gallery to make use of their loo. In the cubicle next to mine a French woman was remonstrating with her rather noisy and uncooperative children. In exasperation she said to them that if they continued in that way she would leave them there! What? In the loo for someone to find? 

Clearly she had not heard the story of the small Japanese boy whose parents did just that when he would not stop throwing stones at cars and, indeed, people in a park in the middle of a forest. So they got in their car and drove off, leaving him at the roadside. By all accounts they only went about 500 yards and then the father went back to collect him, expecting the seven-year-old to be tearful and repentant. Instead, this tough little fellow had walked off into the forest, a forest full of bears, tramped about three miles to a place where he found an army hut and took shelter there. 

A week-long search ensued. Eventually he was discovered by some soldiers who went into the hut to get away from the rain. A bit hungry and dehydrated, although fortunately there was a water supply to the hut, but definitely not eaten by bears, the small boy was taken off to hospital in a helicopter, which must have been rather exciting for him. 

Eventually reunited with his parents, Yamato Tanooka has forgiven them. Not so social media. People have tweeted and tittered that he should not be given back to them. They are being accused of neglect and abuse. If they get through this they will probably never let him out of their sight again! 

Parenting is a difficult business.