Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Reflections on a dull Wednesday

What do you do on a dull day in November? You head off for Oldham market, of course, to get your boots heeled, to buy light bulbs, to look for impossible colours of wool following a knitting request from your daughter, and to pick up a range of odds and ends from Boots the Chemist!

The lightbulbs were, in the first place because the under-the-cupboard lighting in the kitchen is all failing in one section after the other, and secondly because we have grown weary of dim rooms lit by energy-saving bulbs. The lightbulb stall man agreed with me that it is hard to tell the wattage of the ubiquitous energy-saving bulbs and that it is even harder to get hold of the old-fashioned kind. Fortunately he had some in stock but he was doing the high-pressure sell; if I went away to think about it, he warned me, and came back tomorrow, he might not have them any longer. So I bought some bulbs!

Having achieved all my objectives, I caught the bus home. Somewhere along the route the bus was invaded by a group of schoolchildren. There was a surprising amount of moaning and groaning from the people sitting near me. Considering that the kids refused to move down the bus but all bunched together near the doors, talking loudly and over-excitedly and blocking the way for anyone who wanted to get off the bus, this was not surprising really.

I recognised the badge on their blazers; it had the Aim High logo of our local high school. The school is located in the main Saddleworth village, Uppermill. So what were they doing catching a bus from just outside Oldham centre? Going back to school for something they had forgotten? Going to school early for tomorrow? It turned out that they finish early on a Wednesday and had made a group excursion to the MacDonald's just outside the town centre. Now they were mostly headed for another bit of Oldham where they planned to go to "The Cliff", an old quarry. Why are thirteen year olds attracted to such an evidently dangerous place - one of them was describing quite graphically how a friend had broken a leg there! And what a busy after-school life these youngsters have! Clearly they do not get enough homework!

Almost every one of them was equipped with an iPhone. They were comparing apps and photos. Is this the case in other countries? I wonder! When I got home I came across an item in the news about cyberbullying, sexting and other aspects of online life that cause teenagers misery. Apparently Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, believes that this can all be if the phone companies ban these activities. He says, “There is a lot of evidence that the technology industry, if they put their mind to it, can do really smart things.” and asks himself “why it is that you can’t prevent the texting of sexually explicit images by people under the age of 18” and “why we can’t identify cyberbullying when it happens on social media platforms by word pattern recognition, and then prevent it”.

The writer of the article says, rather scornfully, that technology doesn't work like that. The kind of scrambling of an image that takes place when a photo is sent means that you can't tell whether the photo is sexting or cyberbullying or just plain harmless until it arrives. Education programmes are what we need!

Quite so!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Embarrassing reactions!

Some people are complaining that Prince Harry has been put in an embarrassing position because he had to take part in a minute's silence in remembrance of Fidel Castro. Our Prince Hal is on a tour of the Caribbean at the moment and therefore was there when the news of Fidel Castro's death broke. And so he found himself with various local dignitaries at a reception on the island of St Vincent during which a minute's silence was called for.

Conservative MPs have said that it was unfair that the prince had been put in this position, one of them going as far as to say that the British government should make it clear that it was unacceptable. Another however said, “I am no fan of Fidel Castro, who was more of a tyrant than an enlightened leader. But I am a fan of Prince Harry. It must have been an awkward moment for him but hey, what else could he do?”


What was the young man supposed to do? Walk out of the room and create a different kind of embarrassment?

Personally I find it more embarrassing that the queen will invite Donald Trump into the palace but that's how these things go.

Besides, when did we start celebrating the death of anybody? What makes it right for an MP to say, as one of them did, "Castro was a murderous dictator. He is dead, and good riddance." Surely it is possible to accept that you have a different life view and still be respectful or, at the very least, just keep quiet about the person who died. I was impressed by the number of Cubans interviewed who said that they had disagreed with Castro but were nonetheless sad to see him go.

Much better than the undignified partying by former Cubans who "escaped" to Miami. After all, he kept children fed and clothed, even if it was quite basically and perhaps shabbily, and educated. And he provided a better health service than many other places, even training doctors and sending them to places worse off than Cuba. Not a bad record for a "murderous dictator"!

This dancing on the grave of those you disagree with is a worrying trend. Apparently when the MP Jo Cox was murdered there were masses of tweets celebrating the event and calling her murderer a hero.

I find myself wondering what kind of world we are living in at the moment!

Monday, 28 November 2016

When the trams let you down!

Over the weekend, with all its busy reunion of old friends socialising, I spent some time, even more than usual,  travelling on Greater Manchester's Metrolink tram system. Those of us still living in the Greater Manchester area praised the system to the folk from further afield: nearby Rossendale, not quite so nearby Wales, rather more distant Bristol and faraway Switzerland, geographically in Europe but not in the European Union.

This last member, the most international of all of us, having lived and worked as well in the USA, feels no geographical nostalgia for his place of birth and only comes back to see friends and family. The rest of us, perhaps more provincial and less cosmopolitan, grow sentimental about old places around the area.

However, it was the Metrolink that we were praising, a relatively new development, expanding its network all the time, and usually very efficient. Bright and usually clean, modern rolling stock and trams every five minutes or so on most lines and even more frequently on some. Having said that, we had problems on both Friday and Saturday evening. Granted, Friday's problem was nothing to do with the system.

We had left our friends in the pub and caught the tram from Prestwich to Manchester Victoria, fulling expecting to hop almost immediately onto a tram to Oldham and planning to call for a taxi to be waiting for us at the tram stop. Imagine our dismay, chagrin, annoyance when we arrived at Victoria to find a notice so poorly punctuated as to be almost incomprehensible: No service between Oldham Mumps and Westwood services will operate Exchange Square - Westwood and Oldham Mumps - Rochdale Town Centre.

This was after 11:00 pm. Consequently there were quite a lot of confused people rather the worse for drink, all trying to decipher this message. After several readings we worked out that we would be able to reach a station just outside Oldham town centre - Westwood - and then we would need to call a taxi to get us home. All well and good, but we still had to wait about three quarters of an hour for a tram to turn up! We could have had an extra thirty minutes chatting in the pub with our friends!

It transpired that there had been a very violent fight in Oldham town centre and the police had closed the crime scene, through which the tram would pass, for forensic examination. In the end our tram did go through it, progressing slowly and rather eerily through a darkness intermittently illuminated by flashing police car lights. I still do not know exactly what went on. No doubt I shall have to read the local paper to find out!

All seemed well on Saturday when I went on the excursion on the Santa Express. It was on the tram from Bury to Prestwich that we praised the Metrolink service. My friends left the tram in Prestwich, ready to continue with the reunion fun into Saturday evening. I, on the other hand, stayed on to Victoria, making my homewards to meet my chessplaying absentee husband.

At Victoria delays were announced on the Rochdale via Oldham line but it did say that there would be a tram in 16 minutes. Rather longer than the usual waiting time but still acceptable. Asking an official about the problem, I discovered that there were signalling problems at a stop on the line and the service had been suspended. So what about the tram in 16 minutes time? Well, apparently it had been saying that for the last three quarters of an hour!

So I went and caught a bus!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Day out

This has mostly been a weekend of reunion with old friends. Well, Phil had to miss a good part of it because he could not get out of playing chess on Saturday but that's just the way it goes sometimes.   

On Friday evening we all met for a rather fine meal together at a Turkish restaurant: good food in good company!   

On Saturday, however, the day Phil had to miss, we went on the Santa Express, a seasonally modified version of the old steam train from Bury to Rawtenstall. 

We didn't really intend it to be the Santa Express. We planned a simple steam train ride but it's that time of year. So we found a carriage away from the main kids' section of the train, where they could say hello to Santa and get overexcited!    

Even so, and despite most of us wearing badges that said we were adults, our carriage was invaded by a crazy magician in a flamboyant suit made of blue cloth adorned with Christmas trees and snowflakes and other such seasonal things. 

He proceeded to make small sponge balls appear, multiply and disappear, accompanied by a fine selection of ribald comments and double entendres. Six adults were rediscovering their childhood! Totally silly!   

 However, our conversation did range over more serious topics as well. This is hardly surprising as our group comprised of one physicist, one geographer, at least two but possibly three former primary school headteachers, one of whom was a leading light in a local conservation society and me, a linguist and former head of the Modern Languages department of a college.   

As the local conservationist pointed out areas that had been underwater last Boxing Day and how close the railway line came to being washed away, inevitably we had yet another discussion about global warming and climate change.    

The physicist argued that global warming is a natural, cyclical phenomenon that has always happened and always will; ice ages come and go; the polar regions expand and contract but the equatorial regions stay much the same.   

The geographer argued that it cannot be denied that there are more cases of extreme weather than ever there used to be. Ah, but, responded the physicist, the fact of the matter is that those extreme weather cases have always happened and simply get more press now than ever they used to. In addition to that, every time there is a case of extreme weather, be it cold, hot, wet or dry or windy, someone cries out "global warming" or "climate change", as if that should explain and somehow solve the problem.   

The conservationist went on a bit about CO2. The physicist more or less dismissed it as much lesser a problem that methane, which apparently takes a lot longer than CO2 to disappear from the atmosphere.   

The rest of us just tipped in our twopenn'orth as we saw fit, perhaps with a little less authority than the scientific branch of our party, but we refused to be excluded. All of us are much too well-informed and opinionated for that.   

I am not sure where the extreme weather in Australia reported in today's news comes into our arguments/discussions. Severe thunderstorms have been doing odd things to the pollen, causing asthma attacks from which six people have died while others remain in intensive card. Here is a link to an article about it.

We were not serious and solemn all the time. We has too many silly conversations with folk dressed up as elves and Christmas trees for that. And we had an excellent walk around Rawtenstall, with our local conservationist friend pointing out the improvements that his Civic Pride organisation has carried out.   

We admired the Rawtenstall Railway Station, rebuilt 20 years ago in authentic style and looking rather fine. We enjoyed Lancashire food and mulled cider bought from stalls at a Christmas Market. Not so flashy and international a Christmas Market as you find in central Manchester, this one seemed to be selling much more local produce. Not at all a bad thing!   
 All of us thanked our organising friend, the geographer, for planning our day out and especially for organising the splendid, not too extreme weather for us. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Where the rain goes!

The sunshine has returned. This does not mean that the water has disappeared. We still have a river running down the road, puddles as large as small lakes and fountains bubbling up out of grids and manhole covers.

Returning from my run this morning, laden with shampoo and conditioner and packets of tissues from the local chemist's shop, the co-op still being a work of refurbishment in progress, I ran into a stranger. Almost literally! The sun was in my eyes and I could not see a thing. He stopped to ask if I was local and then asked me for information about the village. It turns out that he is staying at the Old Bell Inn, right next door to our house, and was out for a stroll around. He commented on our water features. So we had a chat about building on flood plains, builders possibly collapsing drains, the cumulative effect of putting up lots of houses on land which previously would have soaked up a lot of the water that is now running down the main road, as other such things.

Despite having lived in the Bristol area since 1970, he retained a delightful Geordie accent from his childhood and youth in Whitley Bay. He is here to attend a wedding at a bigger hotel further up the road from here. He is not an admirer of Trump, nor of our current government, and he seems to be anti-Brexit. You see, this is the kind of thing that happens when I am out and about in the morning quite early. People talk to me and tell me all sorts of stuff. I must have that kind of face!

The other day I went to visit an old friend. Forty years ago we were bright, enthusiastic young teachers involved together in the struggle to improve the education system, reduce class sizes and generally put the world to rights. At the time we thought we were doing a good job. Now it seems that the struggle just goes on and on. And today's bright, enthusiastic young teachers have even less time to keep it going! But that is another problem.

As I approached my friend's house, I saw that the field behind her house is now full of brand new, modern houses, probably quite expensive ones. It was quite a shock! Now, I knew that they were going to be built; the planning and the failed protesting went on years ago. However, not having been up there in daylight recently, it was a shock to see the formerly open aspect now converted into a smart housing estate.

Another patch of rain-absorbing ground covered over with bricks and mortar, concrete and tarmac!

I am quite surprised that George Monbiot hasn't added ot to his list of the crises we are currently facing!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A little bit pessimistic!

There is something very unsettling about rich people claiming to have sorted things out "for the people". Last night it seems there was a party at the Rirz in honour of Nigel Farage, a wealthy man who has persuaded rather a lot of ordinary people that he knows what is best for them. The party was given by a lot of other wealthy people, many of whom helped fund the Leave campaign before the EU referendum.

At some point Farage spoke. Well, I suppose he spoke quite often but this time it was official speaking. Farage told the gathering that Britain had a problem. “In America the revolution is total. Not only have the people spoken and won, but the old administration, Obama and all those ghastly people, are out and the Trump people are in,” he said.

(Confident of his audience, I suppose he would refer to Obama and his supporters as "ghastly people". No need for diplomatic language there.)

He went on, “In this country, the people have spoken but the same players have just been shuffled around the chess board and we are still being run by the career professional political class.

I am not sure what is going to happen over the course of the next couple of years but I suspect there’s another big seismic shock in British politics perhaps going to come at the next election.”

I find it interesting that he refers to the results of the American elections as a total revolution. Surely that country is still going to be run by the rich and powerful. Just as in this country things will still be run by the rich and powerful. For there are still very few in government who are not from well to do families.

Much against my will, I find myself almost agreeing with Farage in not knowing what will happen over the next couple of years. Maybe a political shake-up will be good for us all.

And perhaps the real revolution will happen when, on both sides of the Atlantic, the jobs fail to materialise, the pension pots dwindle further and everyone realises that we cannot turn back the clocks.

For there is a strange kind of nostalgia going on. Trump talks about opening up the coal mines and providing jobs for all. Surely mechanisations, and now computerisation, put a stop to that. My own bit of nostalgia take me back to time when, as machines took over more and more jobs, there was talk of people working shorter hours and having more leisure time to spend with their family, to learn new skills, to extend themselves intellectually, if that is what they wanted to do.

Of course, for that to happen, the owners of the newly mechanised factories would have had to make less money themselves in order to pay the reduced-hours workers a living wage. That would imply that employers had the welfare of their workers at heart. And that might have happened with certain Quakers who owned factories in the past but we see little sign of it these days.

No, I fear the cards have all been thrown up in the air and we shall just have to wait and see where they land.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Don't let it get you down - it''s only the news!

I found it quite depressing reading the newspaper this morning. First of all there was this article by George Monbiot, always a thought-provoking writer, warning that Trump's attitude to climate change was dangerous enough to lead to war. If it came to that, would Trump tweet about it? To what extent can you govern via social media? What will next year bring?

Then I found an article about the JAMs, the "just about managing" families, with stories about how people in work find it really hard to get by. One that struck me told of the mother having to break into her very limited food budget to give her children £1 each to take to school for a collection for Children in Need. This is particularly ironic when you read about a certain Jasmine Whitbread earning £234k per year working for Save the Children!

She is not the only high earner in chastity work. Here is a list I came across of the top ten highest paying charities:

 1. London Clinic £850,000 to £860,000
 2. Nuffield Health £770,000 to £780,000
 3. St Andrew’s Healthcare £750,000 to £760,000
 4. Wellcome Trust £590,000 to £600,000
 5. Royal Opera House £566,000
 6. Anchor Trust £420,000 to £430,000
 7. City & Guilds £400,000 to £410,000 
 8. Legal Education Foundation* £360,000 to £370,000
 9. Children’s Investment Fund Foundation £350,000 to £360,000
10. Church Commissioners for England £330,000 to £340,000

Somehow you imagine people working for charity organisations to be more altruistic, perhaps turning down high pay so that the charity can use the money elsewhere! Am I just being naive?

And there is Tony Blair, another high earner, being tipped to make a come back into British politics, maybe saving the Labour Party!

However, just when I could take no more doom and gloom I discovered that someone in politics still has a sense of humour. Well, I assume that is what it is all about. Here is the story of the pet tarantula in the House of Commons:

"The Conservative chief whip has declined to remove a tarantula called Cronus from his office despite a House of Commons ban on pets. Gavin Williamson, appointed by Theresa May as her parliamentary enforcer in July, has spoken in recent days about his unusual deskmate, who is kept in a glass tank and named after a Greek god who castrated his father and ate his children.

However, the publicity means the pet has come to the attention of the serjeant at arms, since Palace of Westminster rules state that the only animals allowed on the estate are guide and security dogs.

A source close to Williamson told the Sun: “The Commons authorities were told in no uncertain terms that Cronus was staying, as he is government business and this is not a Commons matter. “The point was also made that when they remove all the mice here, we may then think about removing Cronus.”

Williamson spoke earlier this week about how the tarantula was part of his team. He said: “You have to look at different ways to persuade people to vote with the government and it’s great to have Cronus as part of the team. Everyone is obsessed with Palmerston and Larry the cat, but in the whips’ office we have a proper pet. “I’ve had Cronus since he was a spiderling, so I have a very paternal sort of approach. It’s very much the same sort of love and care that I give to my spider as I give to all MPs. “Cronus is a perfect example of an incredibly clean, ruthless killer – absolutely fascinating to rear.”"


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Tuesday stuff!

Today we received our first Christmas card on 2016. I was about to say that someone was being really efficient - which is, in fact, true - but then it struck me that there are only five weeks to go. Oops! Need to get organised!

In reality, I have been slowly amassing gifts for members of the family. Now I need to sort them or I will end up giving one or two people masses of things and others nothing at all. This Christmas stuff can be hard work.

Manchester is full of Christmas markets. I am quite glad I do not work there as I would already be rather tired of Christmas songs by now.

As regards more serious matters, I hear there have been suggestions that Nigel Farage should be the UK's ambassador to the United States. Fortunately, this idea has apparently been rejected by Theresa May. How nice to see her doing something right. It must, however, have been a little insulting to whoever is really our ambassador in the US. Mind you, I wonder whether the Americans really believe he is such an important person in the UK. I did hear him described as the leader of the opposition. It's strange how opinions of people can almost be created in this way.

After the stormy weather of yesterday, today has been quite calm and quiet. Our local bus service was severely disrupted this morning by flooding at various points along the route, leading to buses at our end all being very late or not turning up at all. We have no need of water features as the puddles have joined together to form what is almost a lake, a river runs down the road and various grids, instead of taking water in and away, are spurting water out in small fountains.

Apart from that, all appears to be well.

We are simply back to end-of-November grey and gloomy! That's all!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Reflections on food, allergies, lefties and weather!

On Saturday evening we went to a dinner party at a Portuguese friend's house. Most of us drank rather a lot of Portuguese vinho verde - and very nice it was too - but Phil, who started off with a glass of red, somehow ended up drinking red wine all evening. This was bit odd considering that the main dish was bacalhau con natas, creamy salt cod with potatoes. I have long wondered what you did to cook and serve this dried fish in a palatable manner. We once tried it in Nice, where they call it "stockfish" and consider it a great delicacy, but we were not impressed. This dish, bacalhau con natas, however, was very good indeed. Apparently the fish had been soaked in water for a few days prior to the preparation of the dish. This time we were impressed!

There was a lot of cream in the dish; so it is just as well that none of us was lactose intolerant. I have read that this is on the increase although I personally have only ever come across one person with the problem. As a small child he used to react in a most spectacular fashion to the smallest amount of dairy produce: puffy lips and a nasty rash around his mouth and that was the least of it. Fortunately for him, he seemed to grow out of it as he grew up. Apparently lactose intolerance is one of those allergies which is now on the increase but experts reckon that we Northern Europeans have no need to worry unduly as we have been genetically modified, having got into dairy farming thousands of years ago and gradually adapting our digestive systems accordingly. And here I was thinking that humans could eat anything!

Oddly enough our middle granddaughter may well have developed lactose intolerance, or at any rate ice-cream intolerance. She is a fussy eater at the best of times: pizza, pasta, cheese and chips being the things she likes best. No, in fact, icing is what she probably likes best, but the other stuff is what she eats most of. Fruit she just about tolerates in the form of a smoothie, having decided when she was a toddler that she did not like the texture of fresh fruit. However, she has always been inordinately fond of ice-cream and yet over the last six months or so she has had a very bad reaction each time she eats it! How very sad!

I wonder why it is that people are often really fond of the food that gives them an allergic reaction. My brother-in-law is gluten intolerant - or at any rate suffers from Crohn's disease - and still craves a piece of toast from time to time. When we go out walking and end up at Diggle fish and chip shop for lunch, he has chips and begs a little taste of our battered fish, trying hard to remove the batter in order to avoid a reaction. And one of our fellow guests on Saturday is also gluten intolerant but loves bread and pastries. She paces herself, eating a little of her favourite foods and gauging at which point she has to stop: keeping the pain versus pleasure balance just right!

I have also been finding out some odd facts about left-handed people.

 * Being left-handed apparently is not a totally genetic thing: "The chance of being a left-handed through inherited genes is just 25%. This is also observed in the fact that even twins who have 100% identical genes do not share handedness. The Queensland Institute of Medical Research after conducting a study on more than 50,000 identical twins in 2009 discovered that the inherited genes only account for 25% of the chances of being a left-handed person. The rest of the 75% is attributed to the environmental factors." What on earth are the environmental factors involved?

 * Babies with premature birth, especially the ones who weigh a pound or less at birth, have a high probability to be left-handed. Who knew? So the poor little things have to fight to stay alive and then throughout their lives have to struggle with scissors and all sorts of other things that are designed for ease of use by the right-handed majority.

 * Left-handed people with IQs more than 140 are more dominant in number than the right-handedpeople. My leftie sister has always maintained that they are cleverer than the rest of us. Some noteworthy intellectuals that were left-handed include Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Issac Newton and Benjamin Franklin. Quite interestingly, one of every four Astronauts in Apollo Missions were left-handed.

 * Left-handed people might well be better equipped for multi-tasking: talking while driving (our leftie daughter excels at this), piloting jet fighters (she has never tired that, at least not to my knowledge), and playing fast-paced video games.

On the negative side, here are a few facts: 

* It has been found that 40% of schizophrenics are left-handed.

* Despite popular belief, research shows that left-handers are not necessarily more creative than right-handers.

* A study by Harvard carried out in 2014 suggests that the average salary of lefties is 9 to 19 per cent lower than that of right-handed people. Life is so unfair.

If you want any more of this nonsense, here is a link.

Meanwhile, the snow that fell on Friday has largely been replaced with rain and wind. Rain on its own I can deal with. Wind on its own, likewise. You can dress for the cold. When the three come together - perhaps the tail-end of storm Angus, or whatever they chose to name it - then it really is too much. I decided this morning that juggling a frequently inside-out umbrella and a mobile phone is beyond my capacities. Maybe a leftie could have done better! And near horizontal rain can remove all the benefits of standing in a bus shelter while you wait for the bus to arrive.

So it goes!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Some stuff about some singers.

My friend and fellow blogger Colin and I have seriously differing views about Leonard Cohen. He has never been able to understand how I can even listen to Leonard Cohen at all while I just love all his songs. Anyway, reading Colin's blog the other day I followed a link to an article about the old lady who decided to do some drastic restoration work on a fresco in her local church. At the bottom of the article was a further link to this article about my hero:

 "Those familiar with Cohen’s work will know how he was influenced by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca - even naming his daughter Lorca - and that many of his songs included flamenco style refrains.

But the full extent of Spain’s role in shaping his music was only revealed when he came to Spain five years ago to accept the nation’s most important literature prize. In 2011, when Cohen visited Oviedo to collect the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, he explained how, if it wasn’t for a chance meeting with a Spanish flamenco guitarist in his home town of Montreal as a young man, his music and career may have been very different.

He went on to recount how after coming across the guitarist in the local park he persuaded the Spaniard to give him a few lessons. After the guitarist failed one day to turn up to the class, Cohen discovered that he had taken his own life.

"I knew nothing about the man. I -- I did not know what part of Spain he came from. I did not know why he came to Montreal. I did not know why he stayed there. I did not know why he he appeared there in that tennis court. I did not know why he took his life. I -- I was deeply saddened, of course."

That flamenco guitarist taught Cohen six chords.  "It was that guitar pattern that has been the basis of all my songs and all my music,” he explained to the audience in Oviedo adding: “So, now you will begin to understand the dimensions of the gratitude I have for this country.""

 Here are a couple of other facts. One of Leonard Cohen's most beautiful songs, "Take this waltz", is in fact a kind of translation/reworking of a Lorca poem. Here is a link to Leonard Cohen singing it.

And here is a link to one of my favourite Spanish singers, Ana Belén, singing the Spanish version.

My other Leonard Cohen fact is a connection to another hero of mine, Loudon Wainwright III. His son Rufus is the father of Lorca Cohen's child. Small world.

 And finally, in today's Guardian Q&A they featured the singer Suzi Quattro, now 66 - even pop singers grow older. Asked when she had last cried and why, she replied, "Watching Gone with the Wind for the 100th time". So I am not the only one who watches that film again and again!

That's all!

Friday, 18 November 2016

Local weather problems!

Today we woke up to snow. The weathermen had forecast it but, as with forecast sunny spells, you only half believe it. Nonetheless, I looked out this morning onto a white garden - positively Christmas-cardy! As usual the centimetre of snow on the local road caused havoc.

My two middle grandchildren caught a bus at around 7.30, which should have got them to school by 8.00. I have no idea what they need to be there so early since the school does not start until 8.45, but that is another problem. By 8.40 the bus had travelled along about half of its usual route. A little later, my daughter gave her partner and her eldest daughter a lift to the local train station so they could go to work in Manchester and she had similar problems. Getting to the station was not too bad but it took her an hour to do the normally 5-minute journey back home. Even a small amount of snow leads to chaos!

Foolishly I decided to go out running as usual, despite the thin covering of snow on the pavements. It was not actually snowing and I wanted to stop off at the local co-op store for a couple of things. So off I went and, of course, within five minutes it had started to snow. By then, however, I was committed and so long as you keep moving you keep warm. The only problem was my feet. In no time at all they were soaked. Not too cold so long as I keep going but very wet as there were so many unavoidable puddles around. I began to feel that if I had taken my shoes off I could have poured water out of them!

And then I discovered that the local co-op is still closed. They are doing some kind of refurbishment, for the second time in eighteen months, I am sure. So the only food shop in the village is closed for the next two weeks at least. This means that the village centre which used to sport a butcher's shop, a sweet shop/ paper shop, two bakeries and two greengroceries as well as the co-op store, now has three hairdressers, a restaurant, a small cafe, a fish and chip shop (which has always been there) and three pubs (previously four plus the band club and the conservative club) but no food store!

Okay, there is a sort of hut, which they are calling the "Pop-up Co-op", but it really sells little more than milk, bread and newspapers. Fortunately, I managed to find what I was looking for and made my soggy-footed way homeward.

It has snowed intermittently for most of the day. There is something reassuring about sitting safe and warm inside watching the snow fall outside. It's rather like a Disney Christmas or being inside a traditional Christmas card.

I have no intention of going anywhere else today! Tomorrow is another day!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Folding things!

Having recently organised myself to take my running gear away with me when we spent a week in Portugal, I was interested to read about a folding bicycle helmet.

The inventor, Isis Shiffer from New York, has just won a £30,000 prize to enable her to move towards commercial production of the helmet. She spotted a problem that needed solving, a gap of sorts that needed filling. When you go away on holiday, even on city breaks, it is almost always possible to hire a bicycle. Hiring a helmet is more problematical. Packing a normal cycle helmet, however, is not easy; they take up rather a lot of room in your suitcase. And besides, you may not know until you get there that you actually want to hire a bike. So she got her thinking cap on.

When I was a child, every Christmas my mother would get out the box of decorations: crepe-paper streamers to be hung around the room, all sorts of bits and pieces to go on the tree and larger decorations in the form of bells and globes, made of paper but folded flat. When you opened these very unprepossessing-looking things they changed from flat shapes into 3-D objects of beauty - at least to child's eye. That is the principle of the folding cycle helmet. Made of stiffened paper or card, it comes a flat object which, when opened out, has a sort of honeycomb structure, sturdy enough to protect the rider's head.

Shiffer says her plan is to coat the helmet with a recyclable or biodegradable waterproofing material, such as wax, for rainy days. It will also be kitted out with an indicator or mechanism to highlight when it should be ditched for recycling and replaced with a new helmet. The finished product is expected to cost about $5 (£4) per helmet and could be dispensed in vending machines at bike-hire points.


I wonder if she will produce it in a range of day-glo colours. After all, cyclists need to be visible.

Some years ago, when I was first attending Italian classes in central Manchester, one of the younger members of the class (a young man from an Italian-Argentinean family, who was only coming to classes so that he could get an extra A-level qualification) turned up in a hi-visibility jacket and a brightly coloured helmet. He had come by bike. Our teacher, a carefree Italian (at least in cycling matters), fell about laughing. The young man said that when he visited family in Italy, if he went cycling he would not be seen dead in such an outfit but in Manchester, with all its traffic, he feared that without the reflective clothing he might actually end up dead.

Safety trumped fashion-consciousness. Fear of death beat fear of ridicule.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Odd things in the world!

Well, the politicians seem to continue in disarray. Leaks suggest that Theresa May's government still does not have a plan for what to do to get us out of Europe with any kind of dignity. There's a surprise! Then Boris Johnson is causing some hilarity by suggesting that Italy should give us a really good trade deal so that they can continue to sell Prosecco in the UK. And Donald Trump's attempts to make appointments for his White House staff and general organisation appear to be leading to arguments all round and people being hounded out of office.

Somehow none of this reassures me that the world is in good hands.

In the meantime, I am getting back into my UK routine. Today is Wednesday. Therefore I got up and ran to the market in Uppermill, bought fish and fruit and bread, and caught the bus back as usual. It was just damp and dull when I set off. By the time the bus back reached the crossroads the promised rain was pouring down. When I asked the bus-driver what he had done to the weather he grumpily denied all responsibility. However, I raised a smile when I said I had to blame someone and he proposed blaming the bloke walking down the road in a wet raincoat! OK!

Later I went over to our daughter's house. By then the weather was improving. My bus there took a good deal longer than usual because we had a trainee driver who needed to be told where to go at every stage and occasionally needed help with certain odd tickets they have at our end of thenGreater Manchester area. So I passed the time with some people-watching.

At one stop a bunch of local schoolchildren got on and managed to travel for a good twenty minutes before realising they were going in the wrong direction. The bus-driver-trainer helpfully told them that they could get off, cross the road and hop onto the next bus going the other way. Unfortunately, hardly had he done that than the next bus in the opposite direction came along and proved to be one that only covered the first part of the route. So he managed to signal to the other driver to stop and chat through their driver windows, explained the situation and persuaded the other driver to reassure the kids that the next bus after his would take them to their destination. Customer service above and beyond the call of duty! Well done, that man!

Then there were the twins. Several sets of them. Yesterday I had seen a young woman with small twins on a bus. They looked very tiny but must have been about eighteen months old as they could stand and responded with some sense to what she said to them. It was very disconcerting to see her take one out of the double buggy and stand her in the corner while she got the other out, complaining that the child was being an idiot. In fact she used much stronger language. Then she bundled one under each arm and marched the length of the moving bus with them until she found seats. There they sat, poking each other and pulling each other's hair and being remonstrated with by the woman, who I think was their aunt. Most disconcerting were the names, one perfectly normal and the other truly odd: Rose and Ocean. Who calls a child Ocean? It was very strange to hear the young woman say, in ringing tones, "Rose, kiss Ocean better!"

Today I came across another set of identical twin girls, this time aged at least eleven, as they wore the local secondary school uniform. But they looked about eight! Diminutive young ladies, with long, neat plaits and serious faces behind serious glasses, and carrying identical rucksacks almost as big as they were.

After they got off the bus their seats were occupied by an ageing pair of identical twins, male this time. They were dressed alike in dark wind-cheater jackets and black caps, looking for all the world like a very respectable Tweedledum and Tweedledee!

How very strange! Too much double vision!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Vigo to Porto to Liverpool to Delph.

We left Vigo in the sunshine yesterday and caught the bus to Oporto. On the bus a young woman from La Coruña - she had spoken to us earlier while waiting for the bus - complained about how hot it was. This was after she had rearranged her clothing so that she was wearing a thick cardigan throughout the journey. Which bit of removing layers did she not understand?

Behind her sat two people speaking in English. After about half an hour she apologised for listening to them but, she said, she could not help it as their conversation was so interesting. Well, yes, it was, and clear enough for all the rear section of the bus to follow if they so chose.

Salsa, tango, the problems of eucalyptus trees in Galicia, whole foods, organic living, communal living, yoga, eco-friendly architecture, alternative life style in general. They both dealt very competently with all these topics in a language not their own. He was from Argentina. She was from the Czech Republic. English is clearly the Latin of the modern age, spoken by well-informed people from all over the world.

Well-informed these two might have been but they were, nonetheless, totally bemused by the fact that if you travel from Spain to Portugal you go into a different time zone. One of Europe's little anomalies!

At the airport we had the worst lunch we have had in a long time. There must have been changes to the catering franchises at the airport as I am sure we have not been quite so badly served in the past. Surely it is possible to do better than inferior sandwiches and a bowl of soggy salad! There was a huge section that has been taken over by Burger King. Perhaps a burger would have been a better option.

And later I had to explain the difference between 14 and 40 to a waitress who insisted on speaking English to me. She asked me for €2.14 and simply glared at me and kept repeating €2.14 when I gave her €2.20 and expected change. When light dawned, the language teacher in me emerged and I gave her a pronunciation lesson. Memo to self: work on improving my Portuguese to prevent this sort of thing from happening in future.

After that the travel was without incident. Our plane came in smartly, off-loaded incoming passengers, on-loaded the Liverpool-bound and even arrived twenty minutes early. Cue fanfares from the Ryanair plane and a lot of crowing about 95% of their planes arriving on time. Perhaps it was our early arrival but Liverpool was seemingly unable to provide two lots of steps for passengers getting off the plane. Consequently those of us who were seated in the back few rows had to wait until everyone else had made their slow way out via the front doors. Frustrating! But at least we had not had to stow our luggage in the hold this time!

Walking from the plane to the airport I caught a glimpse of the so-called supermoon: full and bright but not exceptionally large. This might closest it has been to the earth since 1948, it did not look much different to me! After that the fog moved in and we saw only the haziest outlines of the moon. Just as I had predicted!

This morning there are lots of examples of bad photos of the moon around, including a few obvious circles of paper stuck on windows! However, despite the weatherman's promises to the contrary, after a rather gloomy start, today has turned into anither fine and sunny autumn day.

Keep it up, you weather gods!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Delivering a bit of sunshine.

After a mostly grey week in Vigo it was nice to wake up to blue sky again this morning.

With stuff to do online, I suggested a walk up to the Castro park, one of our favourite place here, and a stop-off at a wifi cafe to deal with the business in hand. Not only was the sun shining but it was positively warm again. Summer has returned once more. It is simply refusing to let go its grip this year. Up at the Castro park, there were rainbows in the fountains. Could you wish for better? Except maybe the pot of gold.

I wonder if the weather has been kind to my Spanish sister, who has been in England, the two of us managing not to meet again this year. Our paths might cross in the sky tomorrow. She and her husband had visited to UK to go to a Paul Simon concert. I confess to a certain amount of jealousy but, judging by the photo on Facebook is morning, they might not have had a very good view. The bigger the star, the bigger the venue they play at, the more impersonal the concert inevitably becomes.

Now, it seems that if you want to meet your musical heroes up close and personal, you should be out and about in your motorbike, looking out for a broken down singer/songwriter. This is what happened to some bikers in New Jersey. Here's the story:

"Coming across Bruce Springsteen on a broken down motorcycle on the side of the road could probably be a lyric from one of his songs, but it really happened for a group of veterans from New Jersey. Bikers from the Freehold American Legion were riding after a Veterans Day event on Friday when Dan Barkalow said he saw a stranded motorcyclist up ahead near Allaire state park in Wall Township. “Bikers gotta stick together,” Barkalow said. “I stopped to see if he needed help, and it was Bruce.”

Barkalow says they tried to help get his bike running, but when they couldn’t, Springsteen – wearing a brown riding jacket and a red handkerchief – hopped on the back of Ryan Bailey’s bike and they headed to a local bar.

“We sat there and shot the breeze for a half hour, 45 minutes till his ride showed up,” Barkalow said. “Nice guy, real down to earth. Just talked about motorcycles and his old Freehold days.” Springsteen was raised in Freehold and still lives in New Jersey. The American Legion post says Springsteen is eligible to join since his father was a veteran. “It was nice to help out,” Bailey said. “One Freehold person helping out another.”"

So there are good news stories after all.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Looking at the bigger picture!

Yesterday I was all set to compare a couple of people's reactions to the Trump success. Then I was sidetracked into writing about Leonard Cohen instead. So here's the other stuff.

Nigel Farage, somebody's man in the USA, is taking responsibility for all sorts of events at the moment:

“I’m the catalyst for the downfall of the Blairites, the Clintonites, the Bushites, and all these dreadful people who work hand in glove with Goldman Sachs and everybody else, have made themselves rich, and ruined our countries. I couldn’t be happier.”

Farage continued:

“That Obama creature – loathsome individual – he couldn’t stand our country. He said we’d be at the back of the queue, didn’t he?”

He's also watching, even anticipating, events across Europe:

“Brexit, and now Trump, and now the wagons roll on to the rest of Europe for all the elections next year,” Farage said. “This is a really exciting time. As someone who has now become a demolitions expert I’m thoroughly enjoying what’s going on.”

Is he perhaps giving himself a little too much importance!

Then there is Gloria Steinem in the Guardian. She is an old feminist, dating back to the 1960s and 70s. Still active, in 2005, with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan she co-founded the "Women's Media Centre", an organization that works "to make women visible and powerful in the media". She must be in her eighties and still going strong. Amazing lady!

She describes Donald Trump as "an unqualified candidate who came up not through politics, but through inheriting money, a gift for bullying, and being on television." He's a product of the modern age then.

She's one of the few I have read who has come out with a coherent defence, of sorts, for Hilary Clinton.

"If a first female president were someone like, say, Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin, or another woman who knew how to play the game and win, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But Hillary Clinton didn’t just play the game; she changed the rules.

She insisted that women’s rights are human rights, that women can decide the fate of our own bodies, that workers of all races should get paid the same as white men for the same work, that fathers can and should be equal parents, that women’s rights and children’s rights should be fundamental to foreign policy, and that global warming was a reality. That’s why she was, and always has been, supported more by women than by men, more by voters of color than by white voters, and more by scientists than creationists. It’s also why she is deeply and vehemently resented."

That's quite enough of that. I shall try not to go on about it again.

Yesterday, as well as mourning the loss of my poetic hero, I went out to lunch with Phil and our Pontevedrés English friend Colin. We went to the Rosalía Castro (Galician poet and perhaps feminist - two good points!), a restaurant down near the port here in Vigo. We tried to get "caldo gallego" for starters but they had none. How can a Galician restaurant not have such a Galician soup? After all, it was on the menu! So we had a "crema de verduras" instead, a bowl of green sludge that tasted delicious. We followed this with "chipirones encebollados", baby squid served up the best way: with lots of onions and a portion of chips! Delicious! As we are going back to the UK on Monday, this was almost our last opportunity to eat this dish for a while.

Also on Monday, I am fairly reliably informed, the moon will be the biggest and brightest it has been in more than 60 years. Apparently this is what they call a “supermoon”, or technically a “perigee full moon” – a phenomenon that occurs when a full moon coincides with the moon being the closest it gets to the Earth on its orbit. What makes this one special is that the moon is going to be even closer to the Earth than it normally gets, making it a tiny bit bigger than even your average supermoon.

Now, I have been watching this moon since I spotted it as a very, very thin new moon in Figueira da Foz, so thin it was almost invisible. Since then, I have watched it grow. However, it does not look any bigger than usual to me. I have seen photos of so-called supermoons and they always look huge, hanging on the horizon, making everything else look small. The moon at the moment, albeit growing fuller, just seems normal-sized. Surely this supermoon is not a phenomenon only seen in the UK.

The newspapers tell me that so long as the sky is clear of clouds, it should be a great time to get outside and gaze at it or take some photos. Well, that "sky clear of clouds" might not be very likely in the Northwest of England.

We shall see! Or not, as the case may be!

Friday, 11 November 2016

It's closing time! It's closing time!

It's been a bad week for news.

 And now I hear that Leonard Cohen has died. I checked my phone and found a "notification" that a friend had "tagged" me in a post. All I could see in that notification was the start "RIP ..." so I had to investigate. And there it was: RIP Leonard Cohen! Well, he did say, not so many weeks ago that he was ready to go now, that he did not think he had time to work on the songs and poems that were still waiting. And I suppose 82 is a good age.

I had always loved his songs and when he came out of his Buddhist retirement because his accountant had robbed him of everything, forcing him to go on tour again, we had the chance to go to one of his concerts in Manchester. We were lucky. This was at the start of his come-back tour and he was not performing at one of the huge Manchester venues. We saw him at the Manchester Opera House, a small, intimate venue, and by some kind of serendipity, we had seats about eight rows from the stage. I was told later that there were all sorts of famous television personalities in the audience that night but we never noticed them.

The concert was magical, probably the very best concert I have ever seen. Sorry Bruce, your concerts are great but this was something else. Eat your heart out, Neil Young, and K.D. Lang for that matter; this Canadian did it better.

He was amazingly humble, grateful to the audience for being there, surprised almost that so many had turned out to see him. And, a perfectly old fashioned gentleman in his suit and tie and hat, he thanked each member of his tightly-knit band in turn. Spine tingling stuff! If there had been tickets left for the next evening's performance I would gladly have gone again.

The next day I spoke to an enthusiastic young music teacher at work, equally entranced by the previous night's performance. I am not at all sure how either of us got any work done that day. At the end of that academic year I retired and the following September we came to spend a year or two in Galicia.

As the summer of 2009 approached, I discovered that one of the concerts in the Castrelos Park, sponsored by Vigo's local council, was to feature Leonard Cohen. My friend, she of the tagged post this morning, was coming to stay for a week, coinciding with the concert date. So I hastily bought three tickets, for Phil, for me and for my friend.

The concert in the park was not so intimate as the Opera House, but magical in its way. What could be wrong with a clear August night, listening to fine music in the open air? We heard the same songs as in Manchester. All good. The fabulous Webb sisters did cartwheels on the stage. And the old man sang for a good three hours. At one or two o'clock in the morning we walked home, stopping for beer on the way, enchanted!

And now he's up there in the tower of song. Or maybe forever in Suzanne's place by the river, having tea and oranges that come all the way from China.

It's been a bad week for news!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Doing things in style.

Okay! While I would not say that I have got over the shock of discovering that the Americans are as stupid, if not indeed even more stupid, than the British when it comes to voting, life must go on. I suppose I shall have to grow accustomed to seeing Trump's smug face whenever some item concerning the USA pops up in the news. I do not, however, have to learn to like it but, as I said, life goes on.

I woke this morning to rain and so I did not leap out of bed and go for a run but instead rolled over for five minutes and woke again an hour later. My mother would have said that I must have needed the sleep. The rain has sort of come and gone and come again all day since then. The weather witch breadshop lady commented that the rain had come to us - "Nos vino la lluvia" - in resigned tones.

She is not the only person to have commented to me in this way about the weather. It's strange how quickly we grow used to certain weather conditions, even unusual ones, like the extended summer that seems to have gone in all sorts of places. My sister in the South of Spain told me that, instead of cooling down somewhat into autumn, their summer just went on and on. Even in the Northwest of England, September and October kept giving us fine and sunny days, putting off the onset of wintery grey. And, as if we had convinced ourselves that this state of affairs could continue indefinitely, we are now rather surprised to find that we do need to sort out our winter wardrobe after all.

Skimming the paper for items unrelated to elections, poverty, war, the dire state of the world, I came across something by a self confessed fashionista, whose name I neglected to note down. She wrote about a study by a parcel delivery service, based she hazarded a guess on the numbers of pairs of jeans people sent back, that claimed that most people think other people shouldn't wear jeans after the age of 53. By people I think she meant women as the age factor seems to be brought up more often for us than for men. Why the arbitrary selection of age 53? After all, most 53 year-old women nowadays look a whole lot younger than 53 year-old women did at almost any time in the past. 

Which brings me to a little aside about age. In a discussion group recently we decided that MacBeth must be at least middle-aged. Then the youngest member of our select band, a mere 17, when asked to define middle-aged, told us that this meant 35 to 45. Goodness! I am pretty sure my daughter, 36, does not regard herself as middle-aged! But everything is relative. I can remember being a callow young teacher of 22 or 23 and regarding the more experienced 40+ year-olds as positively ancient! Such is the cruelty of youth!

Be that as it may, 53 is apparently the age at which a woman should stop wearing jeans. The fashionista more or less dismissed this on the grounds that jeans come in so many different styles these days and, so long as they are comfortable, she plans to continue wearing them. I'm with her on that. Those skinny, stretchy jeans that look unforgiving on anyone who is not stick thin, I leave to the very young and fashion conscious. Other styles I continue to wear, except for dungarees, a garment I really like but is decidedly a young person's style.

In the final analysis, and I think my fashionista would back me up on this, it all comes down to a few essential question:
* do I feel comfortable in this?
* do I look silly in this?
* do I look like mutton dressed as lamb?

My fashionista wrote about certain dresses she still has in her wardrobe but which she refuses to wear as they make her feel like the artist Grayson Perry dressed up in one of his ultra-feminine outfits. Personally, I draw the line at patterned leggings, which really should not be worn by anyone over the age of 5! Oh, and leggings worn with very short tops, another style that only the stick-thin can get way with successfully but which is often favoured by those more well-endowed in the nether regions. A nice, long jumper or tunic, please, ladies.

Of course, I may change my mind tomorrow and decide to apply other criteria to my wardrobe. Perhaps I shall simply grow old and outrageous!

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sorry about the state we are in!

The other day I read that US military scientists have used electrical brain stimulators to enhance mental skills with the aim of boosting the performance of air crews, drone operators and others in the armed forces' most demanding roles. Apparently the technology is seen as safer than enhancing drugs. Not only that but you could construct your own kit using stuff you buy over the internet.

However, young people who hope to enhance their performance in exams and so on are advised not to try it. Neural stimulation administered by experts is one thing, a do-it-yourself kit might end up with you frying your brain. Not a good idea.!

But, having heard the results of the American elections, I find myself wondering if it might not have been a good idea to do a bit of neural stimulation to a majority of American voters! What a shambles! All sorts of expressions about cutting off your nose to spite your face spring to mind. I wonder how long it will take for people to realise they voted the wrong way, as has happened to many who voted for the UK to leave the EU. "May you live in interesting times"; the curse is upon us.

I also read that research shows that the consumption of refined sugars not only causes obesity and diabetes but prevents effective learning. Tests on rats show that young rats fed on a high-sugar diet have difficulty finding their way through mazes and remembering where exits are or where to collect rewards. This research could be used to support my belief that my generation is, on the whole, the clever one, more able than succeeding generations. We grew up with more restrictions on our access to refined sugar, junk food and fast food. Therefore our brains were more able to develop unimpaired.

Some would disagree with me, especially those who blame the older generation for voting to leave the EU. Personally I voted to stay, as did a very large number of my equally elderly friends. We do not accept responsibility for that bit of chaos.

I suppose we might be to blame for other things but, after all, nobody is perfect.

Some of us just like to think we are closer to perfection than others!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Plus ça change!

Back in Vigo after a couple of months away, we find some things the same as ever: the same good view from our balcony, the same ever-changing colour of the sea, the same tapas free with your beer. There are still interesting sights to be seen when you go out for a walk, like this boat we saw as we walked the coastal path around A Guîa yesterday.

Out running, I am greeted, almost like an old friend, but not quite, by the chap who hobbles on his crutches down the hill from San Joan do Monte, and by the lady, wrapped up in layers of coat and scarf and more, who walks her dog alongside the Carrefour shopping centre. The weather witch at the breadshop tells me I have clearly brought the cold weather with me. On the other hand, the old lady who walks her old dog every morning, and incidentally describes herself and the dog (a bitch) as "dos viejecitas" (two little old ladies), tells me it is not quite so cold as she had expected. It all depends on your point of view.

Our letterbox was, as expected, full of advertising junk. If someone had ever got around to fixing the lock on the outer door to the entrance of the flats, then nobody could stuff junk in everyone's letterboxes and they would be obliged to leave it all in the box labelled "publicidad". That lock stopped working a matter of weeks after we moved in - nothing to do with us, I hasten to add - and besides, even when it worked people left the door ajar all the time. The main entrance door, fortunately, remains lockable and locked. Less reliably so the door to the lift area.

This was causing problems in the summer and half-hearted attempts were made to fix it. A new door seems to have been installed, which is now easy to unlock, unlike the old one, which needed some key-jiggling on occasion. However, the new door sticks as it closes. Maybe the bottom of it needs planing. Whatever the cause of the problem, it needs a little gentle persuasion to ensure it closes fully, thus maintaining the security of the building. The vast majority of the residents seems to be in too much of a hurry to do this, judging by the number of times I have found the door ajar in the couple of days we have been here this time. Or maybe they just don't care!

I should be amazed at this lackadaisical attitude. After all, this is the country which, nine times out of ten, demands that you sign for a card purchase as well as entering your pin number and, oh yes, showing some form of ID. And this is the place where most bank branches demand that you swipe your bank card to open the door to the premises. Failing that, you press a button to get into a kind of air lock which allows in only one person - at a pinch an adult and a child - at a time and waits until the outer door has closed before opening the second door to allow you into the inner sanctum. Security overkill!

Yes, I should be amazed, but I am not. This is Spain, country of contradictions, where some people wait for a green man at a pedestrian crossing when nothing is coming in either direction. Others do their best to impede a clear view of the road you want to cross by parking in the most ridiculous and dangerous places.

That's enough of that.

I have often expressed surprise at the ability for other nations to do odd things with the English language. Here I go again. There is a food and restaurant guide in France, described in fact as France's trendiest food and restaurant guide. Its name? "Le Fooding"! Where did they find that nomenclature? I have come to accept "le parking" and "le camping". After all, "to park" and "to camp" are verbs and so, with a bit of linguistic license, you can add "" and pretend it's a noun, or at least a gerund. But "food" is a noun in its own right! "Fooding" makes no sense at all!

It came up because a self taught chef from Manchester runs a cafe in a small place in deepest France, a cafe called "Le Timbre" - another name that makes little sense but is at least a genuine French word - which has just been named France's best village bistro. The Mancunian was hoping for a quiet life, presumably with the cafe doing enough business to keep him ticking over. Instead he has been mad busy and has now achieved a bit of fame.

So much for the British being unable to cook!

Monday, 7 November 2016


So another Figueira da Foz tournament has come to an end. The great chess festival finished with almost as much ceremony as it started. I am not sure how long it took to hand out eight prizes but, considering that before and after prize was handed over there was a bit of speechmaking and then several minutes of photo taking, it went on for a while. We had managed to arrange a lift to Vigo and our drivers were going on to Coruña after dropping is off. So they were quite impatient for us to get on our way.

Before the closing ceremony, we had been along to the Caçarola restaurant for a bit of lunch. Soup, fish, wine, dessert and coffee for €8.50 is not at all bad.

We finally made it to Vigo for about 9.30 pm Spanish time. There being no supplies in the flat we took ourselves out to one of our local wifi cafes for a beer and some tapas. Portugal is a delightful place but they don't provide you with free food as they do in Spain, well, in Vigo anyway. With the first beer we got scrambled egg with ham, while the second came with a bit bread, some slices of chorizo and a mound of local cheese. What a nice place this is! I can even forgive it for being rather colder than Figueira.

Meanwhile, the last run-up to the American elections continues. The FBI judge has apparently decided that Hillary Clinton's latest lot of revealed emails make no difference to their judgment that she is ok. Will that be enough to undo the damage? I keep reading that the main reason she is unpopular is that she is a woman. According to the feminists, (hu)mankind still cannot accept the idea of a female president. Is this really the 21st century?

Two stories coming up:
  • An old gent started interrupting a speech Obama was making. When the Democrats in the crowd started to boo, Obama reminded them that this was an old gentleman, that he looked as though he might have served his country, that the country still had free speech and that what they should do was vote not boo. The old gent was escorted out of the rally.
  • An avowed Republican, disenchanted with Trump, pushed his way to the front of a Trump rally with a "Down with Trump" sign. He was beaten up by fellow Republicans as he was removed from the rally, with major panic going on as people shouted he had a gun. Meanwhile, Trump was hustled off the stage by his security detail.
Which bit of democracy do you prefer? How will this election end?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

To post or not to post?

Our daughter is immensely proud of her newest offspring. And it has to be admitted that, even though we might be a tiny bit biased, she is a very beautiful baby. Everyone agrees. And lot of friends from far and wide get the chance to admire her as the pictures pop up on Facebook. The latest is a video of the clever child reaching out and grabbing a ring hanging from her "baby gym". Yes, that's right, a baby gym. It's a wooden structure that straddles the child as she wriggles about on the rug; brightly coloured shapes dangle to encourage her to reach out and grab. She is clearly very good at baby gymnastics.

My daughter is not the only mummy showing off her baby in this way. Quite a large number of my ex-students have reached the age where they are producing offspring. They too post pictures showing off how delightful their sprog is. It's all very nice and tasteful. Nothing shocking. No nudity!

Then I came across an article about the rights and wrongs of posting pics of your children on Facebook. Here's the link. And I can quite understand that we need to be circumspect about what pictures we put out there. Cute and funny at five can be major-league embarrassing at fifteen.

I was struck by the story of the child whose mother "outed" his loneliness. She put an appeal out on Facebook for parents of his school companions to send him cards for his birthday and it went viral, as these things sometimes do. Now he is "big in Brazil". He has received cards and presents from all over the world and from famous folk. His latest birthday party, his 12th birthday I think, was an immense affair.

But I am afraid I am just a little sceptical. Does getting fancy presents from Facebook friends in the Netherlands make him any less lonely in his real life? What do his school companions make of it? Will he find all this really embarrassing when he is 18?

Parents have always taken photos of their children. And everyone's baby is the most beautiful in the world. We have albums full of photos of our two. The problem now is that the current crop of children are truly the children of the social media age. The pictures are not mouldering in an album to be brought out only at family occasions. Will they always want their baby pictures and videos of their toddler birthday parties to be available to the masses?

Or is it all as harmless as my putting photos of food out there?

It's certainly a good deal better than the posts that say, "Done the washing!" and "Off to bed now".

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Things that go bump in the night!

In the middle of the night I woke to find that our balcony door, which we leave ajar to allow air to circulate, had blown wide open. Curtains billowed into the room and light from the street-lamps flooded in, which is probably what woke me. And then, from somewhere inside the hotel, there came a huge crashing noise. Perhaps a bit of the roof had blown off. Maybe a piece of wall had collapsed. Something solid had gone down with a huge amount of noise. Was it anything to do with the wind rushing through our room? We hastened to close the door, just in case!

All remained quiet. We went back to sleep.

This morning there is no sign of damage anywhere. Its a bit wet and windy outside but all appears to be well. Another of life's mysteries.

We leave the balcony door open without any great fear of burglary. It would take quite a supreme effort to climb up from the well-lit street, several floors up the side of the building. And when we go out we leave stuff locked in the safe.

Fairly secure here then, we feel rather less so about the house in the UK. Phil is on a mailing list from the local police who keep sending him updates on robberies in the area. There seems to be a gang at work. The police are now appealing for residents to be on the lookout for people trying all the doors of houses and parked cars in the hope of getting into one or other of them. Statistically this can happen and the police reckon this is at least part the robbery gang's modus operandi.

They - the thieves, not the police - are on the lookout for small stuff, such as jewellery, that is easy to carry away and easy to sell. They would be disappointed if they came to our house for jewellery. My whole collection would be unlikely to raise more than £25 on a good day! But the thieves do not know that, of course, so we shall have to look to another bit of the police advice. They say the thieves want to get in and out as quickly and quietly as possible. So perhaps we should leave collections of noisy stuff for them to bump into or fall over at strategic points in the house!

We are on the lookout! Well, we shall be on the lookout when we go home!

Also on the lookout, apparently, are vigilante groups in the USA who plan to take steps to ensure that their elections are not rigged. They have accepted all Mr Trump's claims that rigging is going to happen on a large scale, that non-citizens are voting and votes are being stolen.

"In a “new effort”, the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist, neo-Nazi organization, is planning to send out hundreds of members to watch for voter fraud outside polling places in 48 states, with a focus on California, Illinois, Florida and Michigan, Butch Urban, the group’s chief of staff, said.

Members would not be wearing their uniforms or National Socialist Movement gear. “They’re going to look like everybody else that’s going in there to vote,” Urban said."

Talk of a National Socialist Movement which wears a uniform is rather worrying, to my way of thinking at least. I can only hope they meet the same ignominious fate as the "Illinois Nazis" in the film the Blues Brothers. Standing smart in their uniforms they had to leap into a river to avoid being run over.

If only life's problems could be sorted as easily in real life as they are in the movies.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Voting, changing your mind and posting food pictures.

I suppose that in a place as big as the USA it might be difficult to get everyone to vote on the same day. No, I don't really think that at all. We are in the 21st century. How hard is it to coordinate the voting system? Be that as it may, I have read that some 34 million people have already cast their vote. well ahead of veryone else. Why is that even possible? And now Donald Trump is urging them to maybe rethink the way they voted and go back and change their vote. Who knew that such a thing was possible?

And yet there are apparently six states where early voters are allowed to withdraw their vote and have another go. How amazing!

I know quite a lot of people who think that would be a good idea with the EU referendum, but not just for early voters. There are polls which suggest that now a majority of people in the UK would prefer to remain in the EU. However, while an early voter might just possibly have a good reason to change their mind - propaganda in the press, bullying relatives, the realisation that they sleepwalked into the polling booth - going back and re-voting after the result comes out is a different matter altogether!

In the state of Wisconsin early voters can change their mind THREE times! Now, that smacks of serious indecision. How many candidates do they want to vote for? Maybe they want to have a go at each one and see how it feels before truly committing themselves. Craziness!

Wisconsin made it into the silly news as well. It seems that Thursday was National Sandwich Day in the USA, a chance to celebrate that nation's favourite food. So the governor of Wisconsin, perhaps to prove that he is a good sort who joins in stuff, posted a picture of his sandwich, ham and cheese, the sort he has every day at work. And the internet went bonkers, asking why he was so boring. Here is a sample of that.

The twitter-sphere is quite harsh.

What exactly was he doing messing around on twitter anyway? Even in his lunch hour? Surely he should be too busy governing for that sort of thing

I thought it was just the Iberian Peninsula that had "days" to celebrate all sorts of nonsense, usually food. Pigs ears day. Pigs trotters day. Potato day. All invented by me, I hasten to add. And usually they are fiestas, which allows them to go on over several days so that you can get the most out of whatever is being celebrated. But it would appear that the USA does it too. Maybe it's al those Hispanics and other immigrants that Trump wants to keep out. Anyway, checking up on National Sandwich Day, I discovered that next year November 3rd ill also be Cliché Day. In addition to that, November is National Pomegranate Month, Peanut Butter Lovers' Month and Family Literacy Month.

And we thought November was just about Bonfire Night on November 5th! Surely the fireworks will make up for it. However, the possibilities for extending it are there. Hallowe'en Trick or Treat could combine with the old, traditional Mischief Night, November 4th, and become almost a week long session of begging sweets off all the neighbours. We could organise Parkin Parties and Treacle Toffee Tastings (a bit like the French wine "dégustation"). And we should not forget Take a Toffee Apple for the Teacher Day. The possibilities are myriad. We just need to get organised. This is what social media is all about!

 Meanwhile, since I have not included any recently, here are some photos of today's rather excellent fishy lunch!

Much better than a ham and cheese sandwich!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Education, gender and genies.

When I started teaching in the 1970s in a large comprehensive, one of my tasks as a form tutor was to coordinate the homework timetable for my class. If I remember rightly, the pupils were to be set three subjects per night, each subject having about half an hour's work. Of course, the amount of time taken varied from one child to another, but you couldn't really legislate for some people working faster than others. Five lots of three half-hour homework assignments would amount to 7.5 hours of homework per week.

Now I read that parents in Spain are being urged to go on a weekend homework strike this month in protest against the “unacceptable” amount of after-school tasks their children are given. Apparently Spanish fifteen year-olds have 6.5 hours of homework each week, while other OECD countries average 4.9 hours. So presumably some have more and some less. 6.5 hours per week for 15 year olds does not sound escessive to me. A similar amount for 8 year olds would be excessive. All they need is a bit of practice in reading, a task parents should be happy to share. But teenagers should get used to reinforncing their learning by doing stuff at home as well.

Are we in danger of mollycoddling them? Or am I just a stuffy old retired teacher?

And now, in the Guardian today, somebody called Tom Bennett is offering a gold star to parents who take a stand against homework. Here's a link.

He argues that homework eats into "family time" but surely, up to a certain age at least, sitting down with your children to talk about their homework and make sure it gets done is a valuable way of spending time with them. And for the fifteen and above year olds, well, a good conversation over the family meal should fit the bill, before they go off and do their teenage thing on their own or with their mates.

While I'm on my education rant, here's something else. On our wanderings around Figueira we pass a very nice-looking nursery school. Now I have no idea, of course, about what goes on inside as regards gender stereotyping but I notice that all the children wear those rather cute smocks: the tiny boys wear blue ones and the tiny girls wear pink ones. No comment!

There is another one where all the children wear yellow smocks, regardless of gender!

Since I commented on the wonderful weather yesterday, probably as a direct result of my comment, yesterday evening we had a short burst of quite torrential rain. Out of the blue, as it were! Today is breezy and a bit cloudy but still very warm when the sun breaks through, which it does quite often.

A headline in today's newspaper says that the High Court has ruled that Brexit must be approved by Parliament before it can be implemented. What happens if Parliament votes against it? Will we have to tell all the other EU countries that we are not leaving after all? Would they accept that? Would that put everything right so that we could go back to trying to reform the EU and make it into a much better organisation?

Somehow I doubt that the genie can be put back into the bottle so easily!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

places to live.

Another day of sunshine in Figueira da Foz. Whoever would have believed that in November I could really relish a cold shower after a run? But that is the case.

My run now takes in a bit of the town, running through the park with the wierd statues - bits of art for the public - and then back to the beach to finish off on the boardwalks. All good.

In the Guardian, I came across an article about the bad things about living in a city. Here's a link.
There were one or two things I just had to take issue with. We don't exactly live in the deepest, quietest bit of "country" but our village is right on the edge of the Greater manchester connubrbation, with many aspects of small community living. Here are some of the things in the article that I argued with:

 • And they(city people)’ll be stuffing their faces with crisps, chips and chocolate when they could be foraging for wild strawberries, hazelnuts or even mushrooms and snails. Away from the city, friendly locals – everyone’s friendly in the countryside, as well as handsome and intelligent – will give you venison that they’ve shot themselves.

That might happen the writer's "place in the vosges". You can find blackberries and bilberries in season around our way but you don't come across anyone giving away venison!! Or potatoes off their allotment for that matter!

 • Free loos are few and far between (in the city), while in the countryside the world’s your toilet.

So he's suggesting that in the countryside you can pee and poo wherever you like. Not so! A little respect, please! Dog owners are supposed to scoop the poopl So what about people? And even in France, while it may be easy for a bloke to pee behind a tree, it's a different matter for the girls.

 • Speed limits are reasonable and poorly enforced, and you can park pretty much anywhere, so long as the muck-spreaders can get by. Even the most territorial farmer won’t grumble if you stick your Twingo on his grass verge.

Those of us who live in places that are on the edge of open country really appreciate drivers respecting the speed limit. Some of us like to stroll along the country roads as well, preferably without being mown down by speedy drivers.

Meanwhile, George Monbiot has been going around the UK, looking at social problems, as he does, and performing in regular gigs with the musician Ewan McLennan, where they talked about those social problems as well as providing music. Here's something he said:

"But what has struck me with greatest force is this. At the end of every gig, we ask people in the audience to turn to someone they don’t know and say hello. I tell them they needn’t do any more than that, but they can keep talking if they wish. On the first night I made the mistake of mentioning the idea before we had wrapped up the show. That was all it took – the conversation flared up immediately, and it was a long time before I could direct people’s attention back to the stage. After every concert the talking has continued long into the night, in the venue’s bar or the nearest pub. It’s as if people have simply been waiting for permission to speak to the strangers who surround them."

Now, it strikes me that people who would go to a George Monbiot gig are more likely to be the sort who would turn willingly and have a chat with a stranger at the venue. The trick is to take this out into the wider world. Someone recently had very mixed reactions to the suggestion that people should talk to each other on the tube trains. I know people regard it as odd if you speak to them at bus stops, other than to ask if the number xxx bus has gone yet. But half the people on a bus or tram or local train actually spoke to each other, surely it would be a lot less likely that incidents of violence could occur. I talk to everyone. We need a little solidarity in our lives.

And now the last refugee children are leaving the Jungle in Calais. Buses are taking them to undisclosed destinations in France. There are supposed to be UK Home Office workers on each bus and when they reach their allocated juvenile centres, their applications for asylum in the UK and France should be duly processed. Most of them are aged 14 to 17, that awkward age, neither sweet, appealing children nor proper young adults. And they have been robbed of their childhood. Let's hope there is a solution. Some of the human kindness that George Monbiot says we need more of.

Some of the saddest photos are the ones showing the stuff left behind at the Jungle.