Monday, 25 July 2016

Getting away from (the nastiness of) the world!

Well, the nastiness of the world continues: shootings and suicide bombers and political parties tearing themselves other apart instead of solving the problems of the world. And so I escape into other thinking about other things. 

Reading the paper yesterday I came across a new term, well, new to me: off-grid parenting. This seems to involve rejecting accepted ideas of parenting and includes a range of ideas:- 

  • prolonged breastfeeding (Which is fine by me up to a point but I don't think it should be exaggerated - toddlers who are running around and talking and riding little bicycles don't need to be breastfed any longer - and personally there came a time when I wanted my body back) 
  • anti-vaccination (The problem there is that potentially fatal illnesses that we thought had been eradicated, such as whooping cough, suddenly re-emerge thanks to the parents who don't have children vaccinated) 
  •  anti-medicine (I have mixed feelings about this. Antibiotics have been so over-prescribed that the human race has built up a resistance to many forms. My family knows that I resist taking pills unless I have to but sometimes you just have to take the medicine!)  
  • rejecting the school system (Home schooling can be fine and, goodness knows, there is a lot wrong with the school system at the moment.) 
  •  the whole family sleeping in one bed (Really? I have shared my bed with children at times and know what a bad night's sleep can result from it. Besides, children need their own space too.) 
  • non-assisted home births (I had a home birth and I was very glad the midwife was there when complications set in. Babies are too important to be sacrificed to airy-fairy ideas. Be flexible, for goodness sake.) 
So far so (reasonably) good but then it gets a bit wackier:- 
  • not using nappies (When was that ever a good idea?!) 
  • keeping the placenta attached instead of cutting the cord (Apparently you wait until it drops off of its own accord. Noooo! altogether too weird and strange. Not to say messy!) 
This all came up in an article about a young couple who appeared on morning television and scandalised many people by being unfazed when their one year old peed on the studio carpet. Cool customers, obviously. Well, yes, they seem to be; what they really want is for people to donate £100,000 so that they can start a “self-sustaining” life in Costa Rica (the fund currently stands at £140). 

Such idealism and optimism! No further comment needed!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Le Tour - final stage!

In my little bubble, escaping from the rubbish stuff that is going on around the world, I switch in the TV to watch the coverage of the final stage of the Tour de France. And what do I find? The women's race, called La Course, which has been taking place since 2014 and which was heralded as another small victory for women's liberation. 

How sexist is the Tour anyway? Well, this morning there was an article about Adam Yates, winner of the Best Young Rider classification, a young man from Bury in Greater Manchester. He belongs to a club called Bury Clarion Club, formed at the start of the 20th century. Here's a little excerpt, regarding women on bikes: 
"One January day in 1901 seven fearless women saddled up, adjusted their flowing skirts and straw boaters and pedalled slowly through Bury's streets. They were greeted by local people, shouting "shame" and "hussies" as well as booing children, who ran alongside." 

So, considering that the Tour has been going since a time when ladies on bikes were regarded as rather shocking, I suppose it's fairly understandable that it has been a male preserve for so long. And while I can understand the women shouting for parity, personally I would not want to compete against those men. After all, Wimbledon has separate competitions for men and women. Women's football teams don't play against the men. You have to accept that there is a physical difference. So if I were a lady racing cyclist, I would be happy with a high profile race in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France. And even that is hard going. As I watch it early in the afternoon, there are huge crashes taking place on the Paris cobbles. Ouch! 

And Chloe Hosking wins for Team Wiggle High5. What an odd name! That's the team name, not the rider. It turns out to be an online company that sells high energy drinks, bars and food supplements. In true 21sr century style, Chloe Hosking, a 25 year old Australian, stood on the podium after receiving her medal and pulled out her phone to take a selfie with the girls who came second and third. In fact, she took two: one with the Arc de Triomphe in the background and then a quick turn around to have the crowds in the background. Modern times! 

Here's another little bit of sexism. For La Course, the main commentator was joined by a female commentator, a cycling expert, yes, but dressed n a posh frock and with her hair nicely loose around her shoulders. For the Tour proper, he was joined by a male commentator, another cycling expert, dressed in cycling gear. Not so modern times perhaps! 

But an emotional acceptance speech from Chris Froome ended the day, even with a little bit of French in there. 

And that's the Tour over with for another year.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Getting around!

Saturday involves running around, reading the paper, getting the shopping done and other such weekend stuff. Here's one result of my news reading:- 

"It's a great way to see a city. It's fun to ride a Segway anyway, and you see way more than you would on foot. If you get tired of walking or bored with sights, it's perfect." Thus spoke Massimo Ferrara, who works as a guide with an agency that organises Segway tours in Rome. 

He was talking about those peculiar scooter affairs that roll down hill, charging their battery so that they can tackle the next uphill section of route. Well, that's how someone explained it to me. 

They are very popular with lazy tourists, or perhaps people who just love something gimmicky. As for us, we are very snobby about our tourism and like to "walk the walk", as we call it, getting to know a place by walking around everywhere. There must be places with steps and other difficulties that Segways can't cope with. Feet can go anywhere! 

Anyway, Barcelona and Prague have banned the use of them because of complaints from residents and even from tourists. I wouldn't fancy getting in the way of one of them and having my toes crushed. 

 One of the problems is deciding where they can be ridden. Some places allow them on the pavement. As if there wasn't enough of a problem with bicycles.! Others have them use cycle paths. Germany requires a permit for pavement use. 

In the UK, they are classified as motor vehicles. As such they are not allowed in pavements. However, motor vehicles require a license, insurance, lights, brakes and registration plates. So they are not allowed on the road either. 

 If you own one, you can only use it on your private estate! 

So it goes.

Friday, 22 July 2016

What happens when the sun shines.

I have been in Manchester all day. Contrary to the predictions of the weathermen, who told us it would rain in the afternoon, the sun shone all day. In fact the sun has been shining almost all over the country for the last few days. 

Consequently some people have decided it is okay to sunbathe in their underwear in city centre parks. You know the situation: finish work early, go to the park, oops no swimsuit, strip off to your underwear! This has caused some controversy. Understandably some other people feel that this is unacceptable behaviour. I tend to be on the side of the objectors. 

One woman was apparently seen walking down the street in Birkenhead in her bra an knickers. Well, in this age of equality, if blokes can feel okay to walk down the street without their shirts when the sun comes out, then women should feel equally okay to walk around in a state of undress. Once again, I am on the side of the objectors. Even in some seaside places they insist on people being fully dressed on the streets and in bars and restaurants other than those actually on the beach. 

In countries where they expect to have sunshine in the summer months, people tend not to walk around half dressed in ordinary towns and cities. Is this a peculiarly British thing? When the local authorities have complained in Barcelona about people walking from their hotels to the beach in their swimwear and nothing else, indeed in one case totally naked, is it just the British who walk around that way? I wonder. 

Reports have also been appearing of incidents where people, not always teenagers, have got themselves into difficulties in rivers and lakes. An activity called "tomb-stoning", which involves jumping into a river from a fairly high bridge, has possibly caused the death of one teenager. It seems that they just jump in without knowing how deep the water is or what might be below the surface.   

And little George Windsor or Cambridge or whatever his name is has been photographed feeding the family dog an ice cream. As everything people see him do in photos appears to be copied by an adoring public (his baby blanket, outfits he has worn and so on have been sought out and sold out!!!), the RSPCA has seen fit to warn people that feeding ice cream to dogs is not on. Dairy products are dangerous to dogs! Some twitter users, overreacting as ever, have called for the three year old to be arrested for animal cruelty! 

It would seem that a bit of warm weather brings on a kind of madness.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

End of term.

Last night I went to see our not so small grandson's summer show at his primary school. This is the show for which I was asked to concoct a skunk costume at short notice. He was one of many skunks and, setting aside all modesty, I must say his skunk costume was far superior to most of the others. His mother and I wanted to get a picture of the skunk child but there was little point in my trying to do so during the show; pictures of the backs of other parents' and grandparents' head are never appealing. After the show he had torn his headdress, made in school, to pieces, as had all his not so small pals. So, no photos. 

Every year the school puts on a performance by the year six children. That's what used to be called Junior Four in old parlance: top juniors, eleven year olds. I am always amazed at the range of size in a bunch of eleven year olds. There are the quite small ones, often boys who will remain short until they are about 14, when they will suddenly put on a growth spurt. Some boys, of course, at 11 are already hulking great brutes who look as though they should be out at work. The girls range from the petite, who could still be eight years old, to the tall and willowy, who could be sixteen year olds already. The unfortunate ones are those who are neither tall nor short but chunky, showing early signs of the sturdy middle aged women they will one day become. I really should not be surprised at this range. After all, I have in my collection of photos a picture of my Junior Four class, with exactly the same variety of shapes and sizes. Nothing changes. 

The "show" is always a masterpiece in the art of finding something to involve all the year group. Getting sixty children on stage is no mean feat. One of the staff involved said that when they meet to plan this, just after Christmas, they all agree that it is the hardest bit of planning in the whole year. Inevitably it has to be a musical, so that even the quietest, shyest, least extrovert children can be coaxed into taking part. This year's was a Robin Hood affair. Who knew that there were skunks in Sherwood Forest? 

As you might expect, performances varied. One character, Little John, whose main comic feature was his squeaky voice must have lost a lot of laughs because his squeaky voice disappeared and was inaudible beyond the edge of the stage. However, the main characters on the whole were splendid, clearly well cast. Robin Hood revealed talents of which even his parents were unaware: a singing voice that projected without the aid of a microphone, an ability to deliver his lines with perfect comic timing and thigh-slapping worthy of the best pantomime actors. 

The jokes were uniformly bad: real groan-out-loud jokes. Some of them were aimed at the adults and may have needed explaining to the young ones delivering the lines. And then there were the usual breaking-wind jokes. The stuff of pantomime, of course! 

The school's head teacher, despite having seen early rehearsals, the dress rehearsal and every performance, laughed at loud at each one. She must be easily amused or perhaps she is just so proud of her children that she felt the need to give them every encouragement. 

The best thing about such a performance is the children's evident enjoyment. Clearly they were having an excellent time. For some of them this may be the only time they ever share in the glory of a stage performance like that but others will possibly go on to greater things. And if it's not on the stage, this will have given them the confidence to stand up and address people, without too much fear of making fools of themselves. 

And what a way to end their primary school career. I hope secondary school does not prove to be a disappointment after this. 

And the end is not yet over. There will be a Year Six party in school and a school prom, at a local hotel. The latter has been organised by parents. But when did eleven year olds start to have proms? I remember just over twenty years ago when we organised a prom at the sixth form college where I was working. In fact, we didn't call it a prom; it was a leavers' ball, in imitation of the balls that took place at universities. It was a new idea or at least we thought it was. And the students loved it. The boys wore tuxedos and the girls, or their parents, spent huge amounts of money on proper ball gowns. Even the staff who attended dressed up appropriately. 

Before we knew it, every college was organising a leavers' ball. Students turned up in stretch limos. And the amount spent on dresses went up and up. And then, suddenly, students joined the college having already had a prom at their high school. Just as the name "secondary school" had morphed into "high school", so the end of year dance had changed its name to that other American term, "prom". And the college leavers' ball lost a little of its magic. 

And now there is a prom at the end of primary school. Our daughter has been out purchasing a suitable outfit for her son. He reports that one or two of the boys plan to wear a tux. Really! What happened to the school disco? What happened to childhood? 

Then there is the politics of it all. This school prom has apparently been organised by a particular clique of parents: the in-crowd perhaps. Our daughter and a friend have volunteered to help with the supervision of the prom as a kind of statement if defiance. The clique do not really approve of them. Goodness knows why not. Perhaps they are too educationally well-informed. Perhaps their faces just don't fit. Anyway, aware that the organisers do not actively want them to be involved, they have volunteered, knowing full well that as many helpers as possible are needed. Knowing our daughter she will probably take over! 

Such are the end of term shenanigans that go on around here.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Cleaning up in a heatwave.

As sometimes happens, contrary to the belief of certain Spanish friends of ours, over the last few days the temperature here has soared up into the top 20s, even topping 30 degrees. Suddenly summer has arrived, almost out of nowhere, and is punishing us for not believing it could happen. Of course, it's forecast to cool down again pretty soon but I could do with posting the weather chart to a friend of ours over there in Galicia. 

While we were away, our house was invaded by a bird, probably a young rook. We think he fell down the chimney, which is something which has happened before. Our daughter had been keeping an eye on the house, popping in from time to time to check that all was well. She had not been for about a week and went in to the living room to find it in a state of disarray. Things were knocked over. In some trepidation she checked the study and found that the computer was still there. Nor was there any evidence of anything having been stolen anywhere else on that level. So perhaps it was not a burglar after all. 

Then she moved upstairs and discovered that our bedroom was liberally splattered with bird droppings. It was clear that a bird had got in and had spent some time flying in panic around the room, leaving his trademark behind. Some experimentation with the fireguard in the living room proved that he could have fallen down the chimney and pushed his way into the room and then the fireguard had bounced back into place. Eventually she found him, dead in a corner of the bedroom. The poor thing had obviously died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. 

It was our daughter who discovered the previous bird invasion as well. This must have been about 17 or 18 years ago. She and her small daughter were living with us at our house. I had gone out to work early in the morning and there had been no problem. By the time our daughter got up, maybe an hour later, there was a rook sitting in the fireplace, accompanied by one of its fledglings. She showed remarkable aplomb and backed quietly out of the room and went to fetch her father: always a good move when invaded by birds. He opened the window as wide as it would go, stood back and crossed his fingers. Mrs Rook and fledgling flew out of the window without so much as a trace of their passage being left behind. Amazing! 

On the recent occasion, we were not so fortunate. Bird splat all over the show! So our daughter and the child who had been with her on the first occasion, now a young adult in her own independent right, set about cleaning up, washing bedding and generally restoring order. And a good job they did of it. 

So today, probably the hottest day of the year so far, I returned the favour by going to her house to help her restore order to her own little corner of chaos. Not bird mess, just the chaos that can be created in a household with two children (and a young adult), two dogs and a full-time working mum. The full-time working mum having just reached the end of her first year of teaching, we were trying to get most of the stuff done before the middle child finished school for the summer today. 

Despite the uncooperative vacuum cleaner (now replaced and on his way to the tip), we made great inroads. A new order was established. But at great cost! 

The first thing I had to do on returning home was take my second shower of the day in an attempt to cool down. 

If it's as hot as this on the border of France and Switzerland, I bet the Tour de France boys are relieved that today is a rest day!

Monday, 18 July 2016

A little rant about guns.

I watched a news broadcast about preparations for the Republican congress in Cleveland, Ohio. There they will anoint (yes, that was the term the newsman used! I was surprised too.) Donald Trump as their candidate for the presidency of the USA. 

The mayor of Cleveland has requested federal troops to help with the policing of the event. He is not sure that his own police force will be sufficient for the job. Well, it is a pretty high-powered event after all. 

They are expecting anti-Trump demonstrations, pro-Trump demonstrations, anti-racist demonstrations, in fact almost any kind of demonstration you can think of. A Biker gang had promised to attend, pro-Trump of course, to keep an eye on the anti-Trump demonstrators. That should help the atmosphere no end! I have seen Sons of Anarchy! I love the way groups like this claim to be protecting the morals of the country. 

And then there is another big factor that comes into play. Ohio is an open-gun-carrying state. This means that they interpret "the right to bear arms" as meaning that people can carry guns around in plain sight all the time. Which means, I suppose, that at least you know that someone is armed and potentially dangerous. 

Apparently there will be no guns allowed in the congress hall. I was going to say that surely they did not expect any problems in there. Surely they are all Republicans, all on the same side. But I suppose that some gun-toting enthusiasts might just start firing into the air out of sheer glee and enthusiasm! 

The mayor, however, does not feel it is correct to impinge on the people's right to bear arms and so there will be no restrictions on gun toting on the streets of Cleveland. Oh, except that he has appealed to the good folk to leave their "long" guns at home: hunting rifles, assault rifles and so on. Just small hand guns please! 

Now, I can understand that people who go out hunting need the appropriate guns. Surely, though, such guns should be kept in a locked cabinet between bouts of hunting. That seems fairly logical. Why should anyone need to carry them through the streets of Cleveland? 

And as for assault rifles! Well! Why does any ordinary citizen, peace-loving or not, need an assault rifle? Why not hand-held missile launchers? Your very own nuclear weapons? 

I suppose one reason why I fail to understand the need to own such things, indeed to own any kind of gun, is that the most aggressive type of "weaponry" we have in the house are kitchen knives (not always as sharp as we might like), umbrellas (do they count? Even the folding type could serve as cudgels!) and an old rounders bat belonging to our daughter. 

Surely it not beyond the limits of even the American government to change the constitution so that it gives people the right to bear arms (assuming that they still need it) but NOT actual weapons of war!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Going Crazy!

I have never been one for computer games. Once they progressed beyond bat and ball games and Tetris puzzles, I stopped seeing the point of working out all the complicated stuff you need to know to make the games work. My grandchildren have tried to explain how certain things work in the games they play but all to no avail. 

Consequently I am completely bamboozled by the Pokémon Go phenomenon. As I understand it, this takes the game out of the computer and into the real world. Well, after a fashion. Game players are supposed to collect virtual reality figures from real-life locations. I have NO idea how this works and, before anyone sends me complicated explanations, I am not really interested in finding out. 

But there have been some odd consequences so far. Two men somewhere in the USA managed to step off a cliff trying to capture the Pokémon involved and had to be rescued. I suppose they were lucky not to be badly hurt. And since the game has been available here in the UK, mine rescue experts and fire-fighters have had to go to the aid of four teenagers who were searching for Pokémon Go characters deep underground. They had gone into a network of caves in Wiltshire and got lost. They even had to wander about for quite some time until they reached a spot where they could get a phone signal and call 999. 

It's not just kids who play it either. Well, I suppose that since it involves mobile phones, which need paying for, it is quite likely to have a following among young adults who remember collecting Pokémon cards when they were kids. 

A lawyer in the USA said, "The game itself isn't the fun part. The fun part is taking a walk and seeing things you don't usually see." Yes, I suppose so, like the side of cliff as you step off. 

And then there's the social aspect: "You can chat while playing or goof around taking photos of your friends with Pokémon on their faces." 

Somehow that is not convincing me that I want to discover this new activity.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Cycles, respect and more mayhem.

My favourite quote at the moment is this: "No-one wants to ride somebody else's bike up the Mont Ventoux." This bit of apparent absurdity came up in the commentary on the Tour de France the day before yesterday. It came as one of the riders was having a problem with his bike and had to change it. And then again: same rider, another change. In the end he had about five changes until, according to one of the commentators, he got his own bike back. 

And then there was the crashing into a motorbike incident. After a few hundred yards of running up the mountain in those special cycling shoes with cleats that fix them to the pedals (I ask you !!!), Froome was provided with the spare yellow bicycle that is available for the race leader. Except that the pedals weren't right for his shoes. The attachments didn't match! So he was wobbling about all over the place with his feet sliding off the pedals, until they brought him his own replacement bike. 

Apparently cyclists are really sensitive to such changes. If a bike is ever so slightly smaller or bigger than their own, they have difficulty riding, or at any rate difficulty riding up to the standard they strive for, and sometimes even their own second-best bike is not quite right. It must be hard being a professional. And even harder being the personal assistant who has to ensure that everything us up to scratch. 

Yesterday they had a minute's silence at the start of the stage for the victims of the Nice terrorist incident and, as the first one had really only involved the race officials, they had another one at the end. They combined all the jersey presentations into one and had a very muted ceremony, ending with all the jersey winners placing their flowers on the podium as a kind of tribute. They had had serious doubts about continuing with yesterday's stage at all but finally decided to go ahead on the grounds that if you let terrorism make you change your life and your plans then the terrorists have won. And so the time trial went ahead more or less as planned but involving even more security checks. 

We watched the highlights programme as usual, rather later in the evening than we had originally planned. And so we went straight from the cycling to a news programme, where we discovered that chaos had broken out in Turkey. Another dose of mayhem. Strangely this coup seems to have been largely put down because the President of Turkey was able to use social media to urge his supporters to go out onto the streets in defiance of the curfew that had been imposed. 

And so a president who appears to want to take his country back into a more traditional religious time used modern methods to impose his will. Somehow this picking and choosing, mixing and matching of traditional and ultra-modern leaves me feeling rather confused. 

And I have the impression that our world in a very poor state.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Madness and mayhem.

Yesterday was the 14th of July, Bastille Day, a national holiday in France, remembering that date in 1789 when they stormed the Bastille prison and the French Revolution began. 

Yesterday cities all over France had celebrations and fireworks. People were out on the streets, having fun with family and friends. Small children got to stay up late to see the fun. 

So last night the Promenade des Anglais in Nice was full of people. The perfect situation for a crazy man in a lorry to drive into them and cause mayhem. And another lovely place is overlaid with memories of madness. 

This is the third attack in France in a year. It makes our own bit of homegrown political chaos seem less important somehow. 

Surely it must be time for us all to put any differences between us to one side and get together to find a solution to this craziness: a solution that does not involve bombing another country. That has been shown not to work. The people who drive lorries into crowds and gun down concertgoers are usually citizens (or at least they have the passport) of the country where they do the deed. 

No, I don't know what the solution is. Maybe it is actually too late. Perhaps we let the mad genie out of the bottle when we responded to 9:11 with war instead of talks. Maybe there is no solution.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Modern life in turmoil!

I seem to have developed an allergy to something, possibly the ferns which grow in our garden. The dog-owning lady from the basement flat next door has moved out and in no time at all the tracks left by the little dogs' constant to-and-fro-ing up and down the garden have been obliterated by tall grass. And finally we have had two days with minimal rain and have plucked up courage to sort out the garden. 

While Phil has been cutting the grass, I have attacked the wilderness of the front garden, where some sort of pampas grass which began just in one corner had more or less taken over any space not filled with fern. This is what happens when you go away for a while and it rains a lot in your absence. So I spent a good part of yesterday uprooting grass from the bits of the garden where it is not supposed to be and cutting back enormous ferns. 

And then I spent yesterday evening sneezing and sneezing and sneezing. 

By this morning, all seemed to be well, so I attacked the undergrowth in the back garden, at the same time trimming back some bushes which had decided they want to be eight feet tall. And once more I have been attacked by fits of sneezing. There would seem to be a connection! 

However, the garden now looks like our garden once again and if the sun manages to shine again tomorrow, maybe I will get the garden furniture out. But no barbecues. We don't do barbecues. 

While we have been radically transforming our garden (ignoring the piles of rubbish left behind in next door's section by the dog-owning previous tenant) Theresa May has been doing some radical transforming of her own in the government. All change at Number 10! I wonder if she has rubbish left behind by the previous tenants! 

Sackings and granting of new positions have gone on apace. Some of her appointments have been odd, to say the least. We found ourselves wondering if she came to some sort of deal with Boris Johnson before he dropped out of the race to be PM: "drop out and I'll make you Foreign Secretary"! And so we all wait to see what will become of our country and of us all. 

The Labour Party are doing little to help matters. I have friends who joined the party so that they could support Corbyn when he was on the up and up. Now they find that they can't vote in the leadership election unless they pay an extra fee. When was that a left wing way of doing things? 

I become disillusioned with the whole business and thank heavens for the Tour de France. We have been recording the programme of highlights of the day's events, which coincides with our evening meal time and, incidentally, the Archers on the radio. Yesterday I set it to record and accidentally managed to change channel at the last minute and recorded some nonsense in which we have no interest at all. Anthea defeated by technology! 

But we managed to see it on catch-up so all was well. The Tour has had its share of incidents this year: one of the inflatable portals collapsed on a bunch of riders; Contador fell off in the first two stages and seemed to be catching up but gave up altogether when he clearly was not making progress in the first mountain stage; Froome was fined for thumping a spectator who came too close and then was today involved in a crash caused by spectators. One of the Tour motorbikes had to stop suddenly to avoid running over a spectator, Richie Porte crashed into the motorbike and Froome crashed into him. Wow! No replacement bike was available for Froome immediately so he set off to finish the stage, up the Mont Ventoux, by running! I have been to the Mont Ventoux and would not fancy running, or indeed riding up there. 

But there is a sense of fairness and justice in the Tour. The judges decided that Froome, sliding down into sixth place through no fault of his own and up there in the lead with Richie Porte when the crash happened, should keep his yellow jersey. 

Now, that makes up for all the other rubbish going on in the world. Well, to some extent, anyway.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Skunks, sunshine (or lack of) and gardens.

Yesterday I received a text message from my daughter. "Matthew is a skunk!?" So it began. This is not a nice thing for a mother to say about her son. Reading on, I discovered that this was really an appeal for help in making a skunk costume for the school play. Well, not really an appeal for help. More of an appeal for me to make the thing. 

The school had relied on the children informing the parents about costume requirements and deadlines, instead of sending out a letter. The latter might have avoided confusion as Matthew had told his mother he needed the costume for Friday but by the time she collected him at the end of yesterday afternoon, the deadline had moved forward to today. Fortunately I had already had some thoughts about the costume and had almost concocted a tail out of black and white wool by the time my daughter contacted me again with a panicky, "Eek!!! We need the costume for tomorrow!" So, at about 8.30 last night I was sewing white stripes onto a black t-shirt and attaching the aforementioned tail onto a pair of black trousers. It is on the cards that I might get to see the performance next week. 

This morning I did my Wednesday thing of running down the Donkey Line, local bridal path, to Uppermill to buy fish from the Wednesday market there. I ran past the remains of the old mill which burnt down while we were away. Here is a link to video footage of the blaze. It's amazing! You go away for a couple of months and come back to find a local landmark reduced to charred rubble! 

For as long as I can remember there has been talk of plans to turn to the old mill building into accommodation, as has been done successfully in many places around here. A couple of years ago they fenced it all off and closed the assumed right of way, where people had walked for thirsty or forty years. Local anarchy soon opened up the right of way and nobody was prosecuted, to my knowledge anyway. And now we just walk or, as in my case this morning, run past piles of old stones and blackened timber. I wonder how longer that will remain there. 

 It was a lovely morning when I went out to run. The sun was shining and the sky was mostly blue. So I had plans to tidy up the wilderness that has replaced the front garden. By the time I had showered and had a late breakfast, the cloud had moved back in again. I managed to get out there and restore order into that chaos but there were occasional rainy interludes. 

And finally, here's a link to information about an interesting project by an ambitious and talented young lady.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Winning! And hoping!

So Murray has won Wimbledon and British cyclists are doing well in the Tour de France. Thank goodness we can do something well. 

 On Sunday night we watched Portugal beat France in the final of the European Cup. I actually found myself being rather impressed by Cristiano Ronaldo. I am not a great follower of football but that young man had always struck me as a bit too fond of himself, "up himself" as they sometimes say around here, "presumido" as the Spanish say. Yet on Sunday night, having been injured during the first half, there he was as his team went into extra time, going round and talking to each team member, a sensible, encouraging team captain. And it must have been hard not to be on the pitch when his team won but he was as delighted as if he had scored the winning goal himself. Good for him! Add to that the fact that some of the pundits expected the team to fall apart without him but they carried on and won: a proper team not just the support act for one star! 

Meanwhile, England is looking for a new manager. Sam Allardyce, formerly of Bolton Wanderers, and other places, is about to be interviewed for the job. He's been interviewed before but didn't get it and is said to be a bit peeved about it. “I wanted to do a real knock-your-socks-off interview for the FA, so I put together a PowerPoint which looked at every single detail,” he wrote in his autobiography. “There was nothing missing. Nobody but nobody was going to beat it. But then Brian Barwick, the chief executive, told me there were no PowerPoint facilities at the interview venue, so I had to print off hard copies for the panel. So much for the progressive FA.” 

Such things happen. Maybe he'll be more successful this time. 

Of course, all of is stuff is just a bit of bread and circuses, taking our minds off the chaos that is around in the political world. Not just here but all over the place. I was reading about another new party springing up, this time in France. It is called "En Marche", set up by a young man called Emmanuel Macron, until now of no party but boosted from presidential advisor to economy minister in France's socialist government. "En Marche", described as being of neither the right nor the left, was launched in April and has gained 50,000 members since then. 16,000 volunteers, called "marcheurs", are going round knocking on doors asking people what they feel works and what they feel doesn't work in their country. 

Will he stand for president? Who knows? But maybe a refreshing change in these rather dismal times. 

No comments about our new, soon to be lady PM.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

It all depends on your point of view!

The other day I had a conversation about weather and beaches, as you do, with a friend of ours. It's one I have had several times over with a host of different people, all concerning stereotypes. The gist of it was that if he and other Spaniards were finding the very hot weather (27, 28, 29 degrees over the last few days before we flew home for a few weeks) then how much more oppressive must it be to poor Brits like us who as a rule did not have a summer to speak of and usually suffered from fog? Did we ever have such high temperatures, he went on to ask. Well, yes, very occasionally the temperature do soar. I didn't mention that when the sun comes out like that young men go crazy and walk around without their shirts. 

The questions went on: 

You don't go to the beach much, do you? Unsure whether he was talking about Phil and me or the British as a whole, I assured him that personally we don't mind a stroll on the beach, Spanish style, up and down the tide line, but that we find spending hours stretched out on the beach just a bit boring. 

And then there are not that many really good beaches, are there? Well, considering that in Great Britain you are never more than fifty miles from the sea and Great Britain is an island and that hordes of people head for the seaside on bank holidays, I think that's a nonstarter. So I told him about some of the popular beaches. 

But with the low temperatures, people probably don't spend a lot of time on the beaches, even if they are beautiful, do they? Great surprise was expressed that people actually sunbathe and even swim in the sea off the coast of Great Britain. Even with such cold water? Well, yes! 

And do people go around in short sleeved shirts and t-shirts? Surely it's not warm enough for that? A little exasperated by now, I pointed out that we are English, after all, and not 'frioleros', people who feel the cold all the time. 

I should have told him about the young men who wear shorts even in February, possibly as a fashion item but even so, shorts are worn in February and in the rain. 

I did not tell him either about the weather forecast for Wimbledon that I had seen earlier in the week. That weather forecast predicted some rain but the weatherman said it would be quite warm, 20 or 21 degrees! 

Then this morning I went out running in shorts and a vest top. This was a mistake, not because of the temperature but because I got rained on. When I was chatting a neighbour about the rain on my return from my run, he commented, "At least it's quite warm; it must be 19 degrees". 

 Only ten degrees lower than we had in Vigo on Thursday! 

Perceptions are everything! I know English people who won't believe me when I tell them how cold it is in central Spain in the winter. Spain is always hot and sunny and England is always wet and cold and usually foggy! This is known!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Cereals, commitment and accepting responsibility.

A friend of ours recently commented about his daughter's dislike of the fact that the area of Madrid where she lives seems to have become the haunt of hipsters. Now, I don't know a lot about hipsters except that Phil keeps pointing out young men, often football players, with either a man bun or a particularly silly-looking beard, a beard of the bushy variety, on the way to being a patriarch beard. Sometimes both! What a very strange fashion. I can fully understand our friend's daughter not wanting such people around. Nor wanting her district to be "gentrified" in such a way, with all the price rises that usually follow. On the other hand, there is a bit of me that says people should be able to dress and wear their hair, facial or head variety, in whichever way they like. 

Apparently one element of being a hipster is eating cereal (Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies, possibly Weetabix) at all hours of the day. A new all day cereal bar opened on Monday in New York. It's called Kelloggs New York, or something like that. It sounds as if the Kelloggs company is cashing in on a trend. It costs $7.50 for a bowl of cereal! Wow! 

Here's an interesting quote from an article about the new cereal bar:- "When cereal was first created, towards the end of the 19th century, it was promoted as part of a temperate Christian lifestyle. A bland diet was thought to keep both body and mind healthy, subduing sinful sexual urges. Dr John Harvey Kellogg who, alongside his brother Will, invented Corn Flakes, extolled cereal as a means to curb masturbation – about which he had very severe views." Who'd have thought it? 

 Since then, the papers have largely been full of the report from the Chilcot enquiry. It's all very damning about Tony Blair and his cronies but one wonders (well, this one wonders) if they will actually be brought to account. Blair still seems to think he did the right thing. "Asked whether invading Iraq was a mistake Blair was strikingly unrepentant. “I believe we made the right decision and the world is better and safer,” he declared." His idea of a better and safer world is rather different from mine. 

There are journalists and pundits saying that the only member of the Labour Party coming off anything like squeaky clean in the much criticised Jeremy Corbyn, who was opposed to the war at the time. He has apologised for what his party got up to. Party leaders are expected to do this kind of thing. 

All this apologising for stuff that you did not do, however, leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. All the politicians are at it and it smacks of popularity seeking to me. Distance yourself from those actions by all means. Indicate strongly that you were opposed to it at the time, assuming you were around when the bad stuff happened, or that you disapprove of the actions of your forbears. But, for goodness sake stop this mealy mouthed apologising! 

That's all!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

People watching at the bank and at the pool.

Twenty five degrees was what it said on the billboard at the bottom of the street at 9.00 this morning when I went out for a run. That's pretty hot for that time of day and says something about how sticky the night was. Not much cooling down there! 

After I had come back from my run and showered, I walked down to Travesía de Vigo to go to the bank. If I was going to have to walk about in the sun, I thought I would get it over with early. I had to pay the rubbish collection bill. Our landlady had received this, taken a photo and emailed it to us with the instruction that it could be paid in any bank. 

I tried it a few weeks ago at the big Abanca bank branch in town. There the clerk was very snooty and more or less snarled at me that I needed to pay it at the cash machine. Not with a British bank card and the ensuing charges, I thought. But Mrs Snooty was not prepared to give me any more information or help and I was in rather a hurry that day and so I gave up. We had until August 5th to pay it so it was no immediate problem. 

Next I tried at the Santander branch on Travesía de Vigo, again without success. It wasn't that they didn't accept payment; I simply couldn't get into the branch. The second, or possibly the third door just wouldn't open for me and I gave up in disgust. Judging by the levels of security at some of the banks here, the Spanish must be a nation of bank robbers! 

Anyway, this morning I went back to the Travesía de Vigo bank and got in without problems. Hurrah! As I waited to pay the bill (which I eventually did without any hassle at all) an elderly lady came in and asked if the clerk had found a pair of glasses. She couldn't find them anywhere. The clerk pointed out that she was wearing them. Well, not exactly wearing them. She had looped them into the neck of her blouse, something that she said she never ever did as a rule. At least she was able to see the funny side of it. The bank clerk said it must be the children who were making her distracted: the two grandchildren, aged about 6 and 8 by the looks of them, who were currently playing with the security mechanism on the inner doors, resulting in their being permanently open! Interesting! 

Later in the morning I went down to the pool to swim. I thought this was an ideal time to go to the pool as the sun was not yet at its fiercest. But almost everyone with kids must have gone the beach because the pool was pretty well empty. There were some young people (well, relatively young, probably late 30s, which is still young in my books) sunbathing in the area outside the pool, the area where you can smoke, and posing for pictures on their mobile phones. 

The photo-shoot amused me. In each case, the subject of the photo would get nicely wet under the shower and then pose at the poolside as if they had just been swimming. However, they never once got into the water. and they left the shower running! After a while one of the regular swimmers came down and had a longish swim before settling down to sunbather topless. 

Then a grandmother with a couple of children arrived and they took advantage of the relative emptiness of the pool to perform acrobatics in the water. The "abuelita" was very encouraging, giving the children points for their performance each time and assuring the little girl, her "princesita", that she was almost as good a professional synchronised swimmer! The little princess's slightly older brother was more scathing of his sister's performance, as big brothers often are. 

It's quite possible, of course, that there were few people, and especially few children, in the pool at 12.00 because it was it yet considered warm enough to be playing in the water. The doting grandmother did comment on how chilly the water was. 

Yes, it WAS cool, deliciously so!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Escaping the heat in a museum!

We thought it was hot in Sanxenxo when we left on Sunday but yesterday and today in Pontevedra have taken hot to greater heights. 

It was beautifully fresh when I walked down to the bakers for bread this morning before nine o' clock but by the time we headed into town later it was really getting rather unbearable. We were with our friend Colin and some relatives of his who are visiting. While the visitors went shopping and taking a look at old Pontevedra (before it got any hotter!) Colin took refuge in one of his favourite watering holes and we went to the Pontevedra museum. 

The building is relatively new. Light and airy and beautifully air conditioned, it's a lovely place to wander around on a hot day. The receptionist got into a bit of a fluster trying to explain things to us. Despite the fact that we spoke to him in Spanish, once he realised we are English he insisted on trying out his very poor English on us. A mistake but that's how it is. Finally he managed to pass us on to the information point where a young lady explained to us in beautiful Spanish where everything in the building is situated. 

Our main purpose in visiting the museum today, apart from escaping into a cool place, was to see the exhibition of the works of the Galician artist Castelao, who lived twenty years in Pontevedra from 1916 to 1936. As well as producing a prodigious amount of paintings, drawing, etchings and cartoons, he was also very active politically in Galicia, elected as a member of parliament for Cortes Constituíntes de Galicia in 1931. But then, in 1936, along came to Spanish Civil War and I believe he spent the rest of his life in exile. 

The amount of work on display in the museum is impressive. His cartoons and caricatures are very clever and very pleasing. There are the politically significant ones, like the one of a Galician father telling his children "A nosa terra no è a nosa" - "our land is not ours" - which was used as a poster to encourage voting in the referendum of the "Estatuto de Autonomía" in 1936. And then there are the sweetly funny ones like this one entitled "The man who always forgot his umbrella". 

Here are some more examples of his work:-

As I looked at his cartoons I suddenly put two and two together. In Sanxenxo we went almost every evening to a cafetería near our hotel. On the back wall of the hotel are huge reproductions cartoons in Galician, printed directly onto the wall. The cafetería is called "O Castelao" and although we have been there often during our last two visits to Sanxenxo, and although I was already slightly familiar with the work of the artist, I had never made the connection. 

Sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Stars and buses.

A couple of months ago we saw "Hail Caesar", a film by the Coen Brothers. Their films are always worth seeing, making you laugh, making you think. This one was about the early years of Hollywood and as usual had a host of well-known stars such as George Clooney. I am always amazed at the Coen Brothers' ability to get big stars to make complete fools of themselves. And to all intents and purposes they seem to enjoy doing so. Tremendous stuff. This one featured Scarlett Johansson as a sort of glamour-puss starlet. I was somewhat surprised at how well she played the vamp. I remember her as a rather subdued, very young girl in "Girl with a Pearl Earring". How nicely she has grown up into a beauty! 

I was reminded of all this because I came across an item in the paper about Scarlett Johansson making lots of money in the box office. The article began by telling us she now makes more money than Will Smith, something which is regarded as an astonishing statistic. (I must have missed this fact by reading more serious stuff in the papers!) Miss Johansson is now in 10th place while Mr Smith is down to 24th. Top of the list is Harrison Ford, so it's not just an age thing. 

Young Scarlett (31 years old) is also doing her bit for feminism as the only female actor - those beings formerly known as actresses - in the top ten box office earners. 

I found this fascinating fact surfing the net while we waited for a bus from Sanxenxo to Pontevedra yesterday. Somehow we had managed to allow at least one group of friends depart by car without hinting to them that a lift to Pontevedra, on the way to almost anywhere, would be appreciated. And so we took a taxi up the hill to the bus station and had a late snack lunch before the bus which was due at 4.20. 

We moved out of the cafe into the hot bus bay section and overheard someone else asking about the bus to Pontevedra. The Monbus employees working on a broken down vehicle assured us all that it had just left. Indignation all round! Followed by about ten minutes of stressed discussion and consultation of timetables and of other prospective passengers. And then the Monbus employees grudgingly declared that in fact the bus they were talking about was going somewhere else. So why did they get us all hot and bothered on an already hot day? 

Ironically there was a bus which had PONTEVDRA in capitals on the front of bus display. Logically (!) that bus was coming from but not going to that fair city. 

Eventually the bus which was supposed to leave O Grove at 4.00 and Sanxenxo at 4.20 left the seaside resort at around 4.45. And it stopped about every five minutes along the way to pick up passengers! 

However, we did finally arrive, somewhat hotter and more frazzled than originally planned, at Pontevedra.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The end of Sanxenxo 2016.

So another Sanxenxo tournament comes to an end. Results might be available by the time I reach the end of writing this. 

I took myself out for a stroll around after packing the cases and paying the bill. Luggage safely stowed in a store room, chess player busy in the playing room, off I went to catch a few last photos. It's a baking hot day. They have predicted 29 degrees at least. The beach was filling up nicely. A young man was asleep on a bench. I suspect that he fell asleep in the shade of the tamarind tree but by the time I saw him the sun had moved around. Someone would wake up a bit burnt and headachy, I think. 

The beach football stadium is almost complete. I found out from posters along the promenade that this will be no ordinary bit of beach football. Oh no! An international Eurotournament on the 8th, 9th and 10th of July. Good for Sanxenxo! 

I walked through a little park on the way to Portonovo. It's a lovely shady spot on a hot day. Splendid views of sea through trees and so on. Somebody built a little cafe up there a year or two ago. I bet they do very good business on hot days like this. 

 I was about to take a picture of a bank of hydrangea bushes when I realised that a man was dropping his pants and squatting down to relieve himself just next to, practically under, the last bush of the row. Now, I know that blokes will have a pee behind rubbish containers, in dark corners, even in shop doorways for that matter, but squatting down for more serious business in the middle of park, albeit a fairly empty Sunday morning park, is a different matter. I hurried on and took my photo later, from a healthy distance!!! 

Last night we watched Germany and Italy come to a draw but did not hang around to watch the penalties, which Germany finally nailed down to win for them. My German friend was on pins with the tension of it. But really she is rooting for Wales and hopes for a final between Wales and Iceland. Now, that would be an interesting turn up for the books. Instead of watching the penalties, we went to investigate Corleóne, "gelateria d'autore". Had we realised how big a medium sized cone is, we might have made do with just a salad for our evening meal. Very good ice cream! 
We heard the cheers for the various penalty goals being scored as we strolled along the prom with our ice cream, like proper tourists. Nothing to do with chess tournaments at all! 

Oh, and the chessplayer won second place in the veterans category and won yet another pot boat as superveteran. Does this mean he is a clever old man?

Saturday, 2 July 2016

End of tournament food fest!

Every year the organiser of the chess tournament here in Sanxenxo arranges a special meal in the hotel. Not quite an end of tournament party as everyone goes their separate ways after the prize-giving on Sunday. Sometimes it has been in a Saturday but that is hard going as the last round is on Sunday morning starting at 10.00. So this year it was last night. Last year we gathered in the smaller dining room at the back of the main one. But then there were thirty odd of us and we filled the room. A couple of people brought guitars. This year we were a smaller group, only sixteen, and so we had a large table in the main dining room, but we did go on longer than the ordinary, run of the mill diners. 

We began with a series of small treats. First There was a very pretty thing served in a small glass, probably what the French call an "amuse-bouche". Uncertain whether you were supposed to eat it or set light to it, rather like small candle or tea light, especially as it was unclear which eating implement to use, we gave it a try: some sort of cream cheese or perhaps soured cream concoction. Then came jamón serrano, very tender, tasty, melt in the mouth jamón serrano, served on pan a la catalana. After that plates of croquettes and plates of empanadillas (like tiny Cornish pasties but made with shellfish) turned up. All the time a nice Albariño wine was doing the rounds. 

All lovely stuff. And then the waiters brought plates wrapped in white serviettes, to keep them warm. Opened up they revealed percebes, goose barnacles. This shellfish delicacy is very expensive, mostly because it is very dangerous to obtain, involving people abseiling down cliffs to collect the things. And when you twist the end off, the slimy thing that is revealed is really not worth the effort. Quite repulsive, in my opinion. They must have been collected originally by the very poor who had nothing else to eat. And then, like snails and frogs legs, they became a delicacy. 

One of our number must have really enjoyed them, however, as his plate was piled with percebes detritus when they came to take away the starters plates. 

Starters! There had been enough food for about three meals already and the pièce de résistance was still to come. And come it did! Arroz con bogavante. A sort or paella but done with lobster instead of any other kind of meat or shellfish. One huge paella-pan of it after another and another and another and another. And, despite the difficulty of getting the meat off the bogavante, it was delicious as usual! And everyone was completely stuffed. But there was still just enough space for a tiny little mousse thing for dessert! 

 So as midnight struck, fearful of turning into pumpkins or something worse, Phil and I took ourselves off for a walk along the promenade. Which was heaving! Masses of small children still abounded. In fact, Infantilandia, one of those places where you can dump your children and let them play excitedly for a while, still seemed to be accepting customers. Either that or the children we saw going in lived there. The cafes and restaurants and bars and ice cream parlours along the sea front were doing great business. The shops on the seafront must have huge electricity bills as they all feel obliged to leave the lights on in their shop windows. 

This morning early all was quiet again on the beach. A yoga class was taking place but that was all until a couple of hours later when the tideline walkers made their appearance. 

And then the sailing school came out onto the bay. Where earlier I swear I saw dolphins leaping. 

And so we come to the penultimate round of the tournament. 

Almost all over bar the shouting!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Occupations and reputations.

When we were kids, my siblings and I used to pester our father to tell us what his first jobs had been. Well, there was the job on a farm, where he had special responsibility: taking the lame ducks to the toilet. Noooo! Really? OK, there was the factory where he had to carry the smoke out in wheelbarrows. Aaaaagh! And a whole string of other ridiculous answers until we gave in, defeated! (In fact he began an apprenticeship at a local printing company, went off to spend the second world war as a sailor, returned to complete his apprenticeship and worked for the same firm until he retired. That's a story you don't here often nowadays!) 

I was reminded of my dad's silly jobs this morning when I saw a bloke on the beach with one of those blowers that people use to blow leaves off their drive and into their neighbours' gardens. He was blowing sand off the boardwalks! It looked like one of those occupations that could go on for ever, apparently pointlessly. 

On reflection it's almost certainly an essential job. Otherwise the boardwalks might just disappear under the sand and became mini sand dunes. And on the really hot days those boardwalks are vital. The sand gets so hot you simply cannot walk on it. On the whole they do a good job of keeping the beach pretty pristine. No litter to speak of. And the road cleaners are out early along the prom. Tourism is a big business and needs maintaining. On the beach they are gearing up. The pop-up beach football stadium is almost complete: a kind of slot together set of scaffolding that is turning into ranks of seats. The rows of sun loungers, complete with sun umbrellas, for rent have not yet appeared but I fully expect them to do so by tomorrow or Sunday. It's almost July. Time to get ready for the high season! 

We once overheard somebody describing Sanxenxo as the "Marbella of the North". Not a bad comparison. Certainly it's not Benidorm or Torremolinos, thank heavens! It may not have quite so many expensive boats as there are in Marbella but there is still a prodigious amount of money moored down in the harbour. The working port with the fish market hall, the "lonja" or "lonxa", depending on whether you favour Castilian or Galician Spanish spelling, is located along the coast in Porto Novo. Which, nonetheless, is also a very nice place and has a lovely beach. 

Of course, the Marbella of the North doesn't always have the weather of its Southern cousin. Today, like yesterday, began a little grey. People were telling me the water in the pool was freezing - !está helada" - but I disagreed. 

And the sun came out properly not long after lunch!