Friday, 31 March 2017

Tourist thoughts.

Here is a selection of complaints, supposedly genuine complaints, received by a travel company:

 "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food."

 "We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

 "The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

 “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallartato close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

 “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

 “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

 “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.” 

“I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

 “When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

I especially love the complaints about there being too many foreigners in foreign places. These claim to be genuine complaints. Some may be invented, of course. However, years ago we flew back from Santiago de Compostela to Liverpool (when such flights still existed) in a plane where the majority of the passengers were members of  the Crosby Cross-Denominational Pilgrimage Society. They had been on an organised trip to Santiago, a sort of pilgrimage by plane I suppose. Well, if you can do the Camino on a bicycle, why not in a plane? I earwigged on a conversation about their accommodation. One of them expressed her dismay at how little English was spoken by the staff in the pensión. "There was a suggestions box", I heard one lady say, " so I wrote, 'SPEAK ENGLISH'."

Those who crave for foreign parts to be just like home would not doubt be pleased with this headline from yesterday's Faro de Vigo:

" Starbucks desembarcará en Vigo La multinacional inicia el proceso de selección para su primer establecimiento en la ciudad."

Rumours have been flying around for a while, apparently, but now the multinational is advertising for a "store manager", who must have at least two years experience. And dozens of people have already applied to be part of the team of twelve who are supposed to be working there eventually.

Just what Vigo needs: a place where you can buy gallon-sized paper cups of vaguely coffee-coloured liquid. Oh, and probably get vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and goodness knows what other flavour of so-called coffee! It hasn't arrived yet and according to the article I read it will most likely be situated inside the big posh store El Corte Inglés. So all the "pijos", the posh folk, can go and drink Starbucks coffee.

When we first lived in Vigo we were advised to go to El Corte Inglés because they have everything - en El Corte Inglés hay de todo - just at rather posh prices.

We are not fans of Starbucks. One of the joys of visiting Spain and Italy is the number of small cafes where you can get a decent coffee at a reasonable price in a reasonably-sized cup. Costa Coffee is already in Porto airport, selling quite good coffee but in the usual range of small (in other words as big as a large breakfast cup of coffee), medium (getting on for 1/2 to 3/4 of a pint) or large (more coffee than you should sensibly drink over the course of a whole day). They also seem to sell the same range of cookies and flapjacks that you get in the branch on Market Street in Manchester. 


 What happened to going to other countries to experience their culture?

Local food, local drink, local customs - all things that make your visit extra interesting.

And above all, don't complain because it's not quite like home!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Topsy-turvy stuff on both sides of the Atlantic.

Yesterday a young friend of mine posted this on Facebook:

 "On bloody Brexit day, I feel more European than ever: I'm in Malta taking part in a Mediterranean-wide conference with my Polish colleague Agata Mrowiec and Italian colleague, speaking English, French and Spanish."

 I think he's fairly representative of many of the young people I taught French and Spanish to, young people who went on to study languages at a higher level, took advantage of the Erasmus scholarship opportunities offered by the EU to spend a year in another country and often ended up, like him, working in some other part of Europe.

At the other end of the scale is a 68 year old fisherman I read about in Hastings, getting all enthusiastic about article 50 finally being triggered. Yes, I am aware that many fishermen feel aggrieved about EU fishing quotas and so on. He proudly tells of how his family goes back all the way to Hastings in the 11th century. “The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body,” he says.

Now, isn't there something a little wrong there. Did they have elected kings in the 11th century? I'm pretty sure that William the Conqueror, and good old Harold before the invasion, didn't give the people a lot of say in what went on in government. And we don't really seem to have a lot of say nowadays for that matter, despite our right to vote and express our opinion. And we seem pretty much divided about what we actually want. And the divisions are not just generational.

Here is an article by Clive Lewis in the Independent:

"The last twelve months have been deeply divisive for Britain. Our divisions have allowed Theresa May’s Government – with a small majority – to ride roughshod over parliament. A great irony of the EU referendum is that a cause which eulogised the sovereignty of our parliament has done more than nearly any other event in recent history to endanger that very sovereignty.

Today, Theresa May will trigger Article 50. Parliament has allowed the Prime Minister powers almost unprecedented in peacetime to negotiate what happens next. Unless MPs across all parties start taking their role more seriously, our constitution will be re-written without accountability to the people. We face a battle for our democracy and our rights, one that will define our country for decades to come.

Last month I resigned from the opposition frontbench. I did that not because I wanted to reverse the referendum result, but because in a democratic country, parliament makes laws and parliament holds the government to account. By allowing the government to trigger Article 50 without any expectations, any guidance or any effective veto over what they decide, we have allowed them carte blanche over a huge range of policies that will affect every individual in this country.

This is dangerous. At times of constitutional uncertainty and social division, parliament needs a greater, not a lesser role, in defining our future. We have our work cut out, because once Article 50 is triggered, the Government will announce a raft of legislation to reform our environmental and farming protections, our migration, trade and taxation systems.

At the heart of this will be the so-called Great Repeal Bill, which aims to transfer EU law into UK law. The purpose of the Great Repeal Bill is sensible enough – but the devil is in the detail. It seems almost certain that, in order to process thousands of pieces of legislation, the government will try to give itself unprecedented power.

Under 'Henry VIII clauses' – named after statutes passed in the English Reformation, and set aside after Henry's death – government ministers would get powers to repeal legislation without the approval of parliament. Given the quantity of EU law, this could easily include rights, protections and standards that all of us take for granted in our everyday lives.

That means equality legislation, workers’ rights, environmental protection being decided by the Government without proper votes or debates in the House of Commons. In most countries with a written constitution, such procedures would violate the basic principles of parliament. We have no such advantage. In fact, the way the Great Repeal Bill is debated and concluded will establish precedents which will far outlast this Government, and affect the powers of parliaments for decades. Today campaign groups Another Europe is Possible and Global Justice Now are calling on MPs to wake up to this threat to our rights. They are calling on the Government to release clear detailed bills as soon as possible, to guarantee decent time for public consultation and parliamentary debate, to curtail Henry VIII powers and impose strict sunset clauses when extraordinary powers cease, and to guarantee that nothing which could reduce human rights or equalities legislation will be delegated by parliament.

Parliament must do a better job at holding the Government to account than it managed in the Article 50 debates. This isn't just for the benefit of those who voted remain in the referendum – it's for everyone who cares about building a better country.

Today I call on fellow MPs of all parties, to stand up for the democratic rights the people of this country have  historically fought for and defended. If we fail, and allow Theresa May to assume the powers of a renaissance monarch, our divisions will grow and our future will look bleak. But if we succeed, we can emerge from this period of uncertainty and division, to make this country more democratic and fairer and to better protect and empower its citizens."

And here is Jonathan Freedland's take on it in the Guardian.

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Trump seems dead set on undoing as much Obama legislation as possible. He has signed an executive order rolling back Obama-era rules aimed at tackling global warming. The order seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. He doesn't seem to believe in protecting the environment.

Neither does he believe in interent privacy by all accounts as he was expected to sign legislation on Wednesday allowing internet service providers to sell the browsing habits of their customers. More Obama-era rules going by the wayside. I particularly liked this comment from congressman Mike Capuano: “Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?”

What more can you say?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Wednesday around here.

So here we are; it's Wednesday. The day when Theresa May is supposed to send the fateful letter pulling the UK out of the EU. Any last-minute reprieve in sight? I don't think so. It will be interesting to see how things go over the next few months and years.

Apparently EU chiefs have warned airlines including EasyJet and Ryanair that they will need to relocate their headquarters or sell off shares to European nationals if they want to continue flying routes within continental Europe after Brexit. Car manufacturers are watching carefully to see whether they need to move their bases out of the UK. The law of unforeseen consequences strikes again!

But life goes on and we have to make the best of it.

There's a little pocket philosophy for us all!

Here everything seems to have returned to something like normal after the quiet of yesterday's día festivo. The workmen were back, drilling and hammering at eight this morning. There was the usual traffic jam up at the school. Everyone wants to park as close to the school as possible. Heaven forbid that their little Pepe or Marta should have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. And so they park on the designated pedestrian sections of the road - it's a one-track road without pavements - and on the pedestrian crossings, with no thought for those who do actually walk their kids to school. Dog eats dog!

On the subject of dogs, there are some impressively large dogs on the route I run in the morning. So before I even get to run the gauntlet of the school traffic jam, Ihave to be frightened out of my skin by an enormous German shepherd dog barking furiously down from one balcony/terrace and an even larger Saint Bernard running back and forth growling down at me from another. Heaven help me if they ever decide that they can leap over the low walls and down into the road.

Even the goats set up the hue and cry the other day. My route takes me past some plots of land where people cultivate stuff: neat rows of potatoes and greens. On one of these a goat appeared a couple of years ago. Last year there were two of them. This year there are three. If we stay here long enough there will be a small goatherd on that plot. As a rule they are very quiet but the other day the largest of the three, perhaps the original goat, decided she had to have a shout at me as I ran past.

It's a curious mix around here, more or less on the edge of town. Between the modern bits there are traces of small village life still around. At the end of the street is a tap, permanently running into its little basin, a source of fresh drinking water. I suppose it was a spring that has been channelled into this tap arrangement. Most mornings you see somebody filling up bottles with this water, no doubt preferring it to what comes out of their taps at home. And it appears to be free, unlike the bottles that so many people buy in huge quantities from the supermarket.

Within walking distance there are also a couple of the old public washing places where the women used to take their clothes and linen to wash before everyone had washing machines in their homes. Monuments to a different lifestyle!

Our flat is in one of a pair of high-rise blocks, about thirteen stories. Along the street are lower blocks, four or five stories, interspersed with individual older houses. Down the hill, on the next main street down, it is like a sort of corridor of moderately high-rise blocks, none of them very attractive. A friend of ours bemoans the fact that they have ruined a perfectly good area with indiscriminate building.

Between the two streets are vestiges of the area as it presumably was before all that building took place: individual houses, quite well-maintained and nice-looking, mostly with a bit of a garden, sometimes with a vegetable patch. Rather like the area where I run in the morning, there are roads leading into the place but between the houses there are only footpaths.

It must be particularly odd to live in the patch between the two main roads, a little enclave of a previous lifestyle, overshadowed by the taller buildings of another age.

So it goes.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dressing up!

Today is the Fiesta de la Reconquista, celebrating throwing the French Napoleonic forces outt a couple of hundred years ago. They might well be doing a re-enactment down in the centre of town. However, they might be waiting until the weekend to do that, judging by a poster that a friend of mine posted onto Facebook.

However, there will almost certainly be a re-enactment. They like to get dressed up. Hallowe'en has been adopted here. Then there is usually a big parade for Three Kings Day in January. After that, along comes Carnaval. And in the summer you can hire medieval costumes and go along to the medieval fairs all over the place. And in some places you can get involved in mock battles between Moros y Cristianos, celebrating throwing another lot out of the country, this time the Moors. It's a bit like lots of local branches of the Sealed Knot Society. Any excuse for a bit of fancy dress!

As a result of the fiesta, the supermarket next door is closed. So is the school up the road. No traffic jams up there this morning! In fact the school was closed yesterday as well, "making a bridge" as they say around here. If a fiesta falls on a Tuesday, you take Monday off as well, and if it falls on a Thursday, you take Friday off, making a "bridge" to the long weekend. A very good idea!

It was all quiet down by the bread shop as well. The maze of pedestrian walk ways is still there but the chaps digging up the pavement and laying cables, or whatever it is they are actually doing, have clearly been given the day off. I commented on the quiet and the bread lady declared that she wants to work for that company. They too "made a bridge" yesterday. Not only that but they work very slowly. At ten o' clock in the morning they take a breakfast break (in fairness, they usually start drilling and banging at eight) which goes on for best part of an hour. And, she declared, she watched one the other day who seemed to do no more than shift the same bit of soil back and forth all day.

All in all, she is not impressed. If this work were going on in the centre of town, she assures me, there would be many more workers on task to expedite matters. Maybe so! The whole thing looks like a job creation scheme to me anyway!

So all is quiet. The sun is actually shining and there are relatively few clouds in the sky. Perhaps Spring has arrived after all. And we took advantage of the fine weather to take a walk up to A Guía, or Niño d'Aguia as I should now more properly call it. Along the nicely done Paseo Marítimo, paid for with EU financing. Oops! I wasn't going to mention the EU today.

So it goes.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a festive Tuesday, even if it does feel curiously like Sunday!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Getting the party logo around, among other things.

Like the Labour Party in the UK, the PSOE, the Spanish socialist party is having a bad time at the moment. Parties of the left seem to be having difficulties all over the place at present. Some say they have lost contact with their traditional support groups, their fanbase, as it were. Maybe so. They need to get it together again. I am not impressed with the support that UKIP managed to gain in the UK, although I still maintain that they benefitted greatly from rather over the top media coverage. And I find the rise and rise of Marine Le Pen in France very troubling as well. We live in strange times. 

However, even though the PSOE has been suffering, their 40 year old  logo has been doing very well. A range of T-shirts printed with the logo has been selling tremendously in the USA. The logo is a left fist clenched around a red rose and has been printed on T-shirts sold by the clothes store Urban Outfitters. The original designer of the logo, José María Cruz Novillo, is reportedly quite flattered but the PSOE is not best pleased and is looking into the matter. legal action has not been ruled out. In the meantime Urban Outfitters have stopped selling the T-shirts but it is still available from a company called Stussy for $32 (£25.65) in black, white, pink or purple. That's fashion for you.

In a news report about Turkey the other day, I was struck by this stray comment: "It’s also worth remembering that Erdoğan got only 52% of the vote at the last presidential election in 2014." Now, isn't that the percentage vote in that referendum last June, the voice of the people saying that should leave the EU? Percentages clearly mean different things at different times and in different situations. 

Meanwhile there has been a large anti-Brexit demonstration in London. And the EU's chief Brexit negotiator has apparently been saying that we should all be staying together if we want to combat terrorist attacks such as the recent one in Westminster. We shall see.

Uncertainty continues for EU citizens living in the UK. Here is something that was posted on the Forum for EU Citizens:

"Wish I had come to the march today.

I wasted my time with a job interview at one of the big supermarkets in a town nearby. It was a weird experience and I would like to share it. Probably just meaningless, but a bit annoying. What happened:

At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer, a young English lady, asked me if I brought my proof of right to work in the UK. I happily showed her my Dutch passport. She looked at it, over and over. 'Oh. Is this a passport from the Netherlands? Is this a real passport from the Netherlands?'

I said' yes, and this is proof of my right to work in the UK. I've been here for more than 9 years'.

'Oh. Well. I need to ask my manager if this is valid,' she said, and went away to speak to her manager. ;-) After a few minutes she came back, telling me that the manager wasn't sure whether a Dutch passport proved my right to work in the UK, and she disappeared again, to ask another manager. It was just a bit embarrassing for me.

Oh well. After 5 minutes she came back, and told me that no one really knew if a passport from the Netherlands was a proof of right to work in the UK. Without giving me the chance to explain anything to her, she went off again. To call Head Office, to ask them if I have the right to work in the UK with a passport from the Netherlands....

She came back again, phew, Head Office opened at 9 am and it was still early morning....she kept on saying that she wasn't sure.

I then gave her a short lecture about the EU, the Netherlands, the UK and 26 other countries in it. About Brexit, Britain leaving the EU, and that Theresa May will invoke article 50 on Wednesday 29 March. And that, in the 2 years after that, we will still have the right to work in the UK, with our Dutch / German / Romanian....etc. etc...EU 27....passports. It was so weird.

How is it possible that an (assistant) manager, who interviews people for jobs, doesn't know this? Don't they have a handbook in place? I mean, the magazine department of this supermarket is full of newspapers; how can they not know this? It's all over the news...

Anyway, I did not get the job. And I'm not sure if I would have accepted, if their staff don't even know these basic things. Never mind. Still have some applications for research jobs; hopefully something nice will turn up. I'm not really upset or in tears. It was just weird and a bit embarrasing.

Wish I had come to the march instead.

 Okay, end of rant. Thanks for listening and have a wonderful evening."

This is the sort of odd stuff that people have to put up with!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Understanding things!

Yesterday we were invited out to lunch. Very nice it was too, in the restaurant on the top floor of El Corte Inglés, with a fine view over the bay. We ate one of those rice dishes with large crayfish, the dishes that the Galicians do so well. The Valencians may pride themselves on their paella but the rice dishes they do here in Galicia are also very good.

We were watched from time to time by large seagulls who patrolled the outer windowsill, clearly looking for a way to get in and share the food with us all.

Looking out towards A Guía (in Galician) or La Guía (in Castilian Spanish) our host asked if we knew what the name meant. I had always assumed that it had something to do with guiding, as there is a lighthouse at the top,of the promontory. But our host declared that it has nothing to do with that, although even most Vigueses (people of Vigo) are unaware of the truth of the matter. He took us back to Franco's time, when the dictator was striving to form a united Castilian Spain - United, Catholic and Spanish. None of these regional languages and odd names for things!

At that time the rocky promontory was called Niño d'Aguia, "Eagle's Child", because eagles (aguia in Galician and águila in Castilian) nested there. So somebody decided that this should be changed to something more Castilian sounding. Concentrating on the "aguia" bit of it, they decided that since "a" is the Galician version of the definite article "la", it could be called "La Guía". Nowadays, almost everyone refers to it in Galician fashion as A Guía, just as La Coruña is almost always called A Coruña.

Franco himself was a Gallego but was no doubt educated purely in Castilian Spanish. His family may have had servants who spoke Galician but they probably had to speak Castilian to their employers. Galician was not the socially accepted language of the time.

Our friend also told us of a theory about the name of Vigo itself. I don't remember reading anything about the etymology of the name. The city goes back a long way and is known as the city of the olives. Indeed it has an olive tree in its coat of arms. However a team of archeologists working in the Hebrides has found stuff linking Vigo to the Vikings, who certainly had settlements around here. According to that theory the name would come from Uig.

They certainly got around, those Vikings! England and France being in their range is understandable but getting across the Bay of Biscay is rather impressive. And, of course, they made it into the Mediterranean and took over Sicily as well. No wonder the Gauls were scared of them in those Astérix stories!

Later, in a cafe with wifi I had a go at googling "2001: A Space Odyssey". I cannot say that I am greatly enlightened. It may be that the black monoliths are the product of a more advanced alien race who took it upon themselves to help other races progress towards their level of civilisation. (If so, it doesn't seem to have worked on Earth , given the current state of our world!)

At least one review suggests that we should not seek to understand or interpret the film:

"Only a few films are transcendent, and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. “2001: A Space Odyssey'' is not about a goal but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with Dave Bowman or any other character. It says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet but among the stars, and that we are not flesh but intelligence."

So when we sat and watched light and colour patterns all over the screen, it perhaps truly was meant to be blowing our minds into another dimension.

One odd fact I gleaned from my googling was that Woody Allen cast the actor Douglas Rain, the voice of the computer Hal in Kubrick's film, in an uncredited part as the voice of the controlling computer in the closing sequences of his science-fiction comedy "Sleeper".

Interesting stuff!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

We are what we are! Aren't we?

Well, we watched the second half of "2001: A Space Odyssey" yesterday evening and are really none the wiser about black monoliths, what the mission to Jupiter was all about or, indeed, anything at all. Phil commented at one point that it took a long time to tell us that life is very complicated. We shall have to google it and see if anyone can enlighten us. Very beautifully filmed and with amazing special effects, especially considering that it was made when CGI was unheard of, I nonetheless wonder what a younger generation makes of it. I must lend the DVD to our 19 year old granddaughter and see what she has to say about it.

One of the things that perhaps marks the film as a very 1960s product is the very whiteness of the cast. Okay, it was quite a small cast but there were no token black or Asian people there were for example in Star Trek not so very much later. But then, the film didn't have any alien races such as Klingons either.

Someone called Arwa Mahdawi was writing in the newspaper the other day about what she refers to as the current "weird time for whiteness". Despite her name, which she recognises does not fit into most people's idea of "white" names, and despite being as she puts it "technically speaking, a bit brown", because of her parentage she has always fitted into the US census bureau's definition of "white". This is because she has mixed British and Palestinian parentage. Also because until now the US Census Bureau has defined white" as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”. But this is probably about to change as there are plans to add a new “Middle East/North Africa” category to the US census and people originating from the Middle East and North Africa may soon have their own category. Arwa is uncertain whether this is a good or a bad thing.

It does, however, sound like another social restriction. As she says, "All of this is a little odd. Why are people from the Middle East counted as white by the US government but considered definitely-not-white by many Americans? How can you count somebody as white one year and then decide they’re not white the next year? Indeed it raises the question, what actually is “whiteness” and who qualifies as white?"

Apparently it took some time for Italian Americans and even Irish Americans to be considered as properly "white". Considering how pale some Irish people can be, this is quite astounding. But they do often consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group. Lots of stuff has been written about this kind of topic. There is a book called "How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America" published in 1998, in which the writer, Karen Brodkin, argues that Jewish intellectuals helped to “whiten” US Jews during the 1950s and 1960s.

So "whiteness" is something that can be redefined, that can expand and contract according to the vagaries of power. It's not really anything to do with race at all. How strange!

Perhaps we can all be redefined in some way!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Time travel.

Yesterday we pretty much gave up on going out anywhere that demanded walking any distance. For a while there was a break in the rain and wind and we had planned a proper walk after checking our internet stuff at the cafe two minutes down the road but when we left there the rain began again. So we just went home and stayed in.

And so we watched the first half of "2001: A Space Odyssey". Looking for something on DVD to watch the other day, we came across a box set of Stanley Kubrick films, most of which we have seen before but which are still worth revisiting, as they say. We saw "2001: A Space Odyssey" on the big screen when it first came out in 1968. 2001 seemed a long way in the future at that point. Now it seems quite a long way in the past.

Somewhat diminished on a laptop screen compared with on the big screen, the opening is still impressive. We are hoping to work out this time what the business with the black monoliths is all about. There's a splendid optimism about space travel in the film, probably in the whole of that time period. After the first steps on the moon, it was assumed that we would go on to establish outposts all over space, with space shuttles moving between them rather like planes with space hostesses instead of air hostesses. Space shuttles with rows of empty seats and running with just a few passengers. How different the reality with budget airlines cramming passengers in and routes being cancelled if not used with sufficient regularity!

Looking at the craft the characters in the film travel in and the space stations they work in, I was reminded of the Playmobil and Lego spacecraft toys pur children had in the early eighties, no doubt based on films and tv series rather than the reality of space travel that wasn't happening.

It's interesting to watch a film like this one, where the computer which runs the ship grows progressively more cranky and bossy especially so as the last book we read in the Winston Smith Book Club, organised by a good friend of mine, was Asimov's "I, Robot", where we witness the development of ever more sophisticated robots. And by the end of the book the robots are subtly controlling the world, manipulating the humans so that they believe they are still making the important decisions! Scary stuff! 

Would we be better off with robots running the world? Maybe so!

 However, I am putting such philosophical questions aside. The sun is shining and we are going put to lunch - taking our umbrellas though as the clouds are still around. My breadshop weather witch tells me that the climate has gone crazy this year. Last week they had early summer temperatures. This week it is chillier than it has been for most of the winter here.

Maybe the robots could sort that as well!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Some aspects of modern life.

Ever since Ryanair decided to allow an extra, smaller sized cabin bag, when we travel we carry the laptop and iPads in smaller bags rather than in the suitcase. We almost always travel hand-luggage only so it's quite good to have an extra bag along. And now the US has said that passengers flying from certain countries cannot bring laptops and iPads in their hand luggage; they have to go,in the hold. The UK has followed suit, saying that any electronic item larger than a normal smartphone is banned in hand-luggage on all direct passenger flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

It doesn't affect us as we only fly between the UK and Europe but I know people who are saying that they don't want to trust their precious laptops to baggage handlers. Others are afraid that data will be interfered with somehow. And yet others are moaning that they will not be able to occupy their children on flights of they can't watch films or play games on iPads. (Whatever happened to stories and conversation and non-electronic games?)

I do wonder, however, quite what the purpose of the ban is. Whatever mischief can be done with an iPad can almost certainly be done with a smartphone as well. But it's another aspect of the fear that is around in the world, some of it justified I suppose. After all, there was a terrorist attack in London yesterday, possibly another lone perpetrator attack. Those lone sharks do nothing to help anything, just making life difficult for the many non-violent, non-extremist people of various religions.

But the extreme elements keep on showing up. I was reading about ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Israel who are making life difficult for women in their country. Women have been physically attacked in the street for going about their normal business, for dressing the wrong way or for assuming that they can sit anywhere they like on buses. Women have taken cases to court and the courts have ruled in favour of a woman prevented from speaking at her own father’s burial, against a radio station that barred women from its airwaves – even blocking them from calling phone-in shows – and against bus companies that tried to segregate seating.

It seems that advertisers have taken note of the extreme views and have airbrushed women out of posters. IKEA has even produced a catalogue in which all male groups replace family groups in the furniture sections. Of course, the advertisers just want to sell stuff but surely some of them have principles. According to what I read, none of this segregation against women is in the scriptures; new religious rules have been invented. Why do we not hear more public outcry about this?

Religion is a funny thing though. Another thing I read the other day was about the restoration of the tomb in which Jesus's body is believed to have been interred after his crucifixion. Note that this is only where he is "believed" to have been interred. After all, it happened 2000 years ago, which means it's rather hard to verify. Nonetheless nine months and a lot of money has been spent on the restoration work and people will be able to visit the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It might well be the "most sacred monument in Christianity" but to me it smacks a little of the medieval obsession with holy relics. Is this where nostalgia for things past and ancient ways is taking us?

Sometimes I wonder where the world is going!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

What day is it?

According to some people yesterday was the first day of Spring. Others would have it that it is today and still others that it was Monday. In my family we always said it was today, 22nd of March, which we could all remember without too much difficulty as it is also my elder sister's birthday. Birthdays were always occasions to be remembered. I am not so sure that she feels the same now. Such are the consequences of the passing of time.

I have been fairly reliably informed that yesterday was also International Poetry Day. I have this from English and Italian sources so it has every chance of being true. Here are a few selections offered by poetry enthusiasts yesterday:

they speak whatever’s on their mind / they do whatever’s in their pants / the boys i mean are not refined / they shake the mountains when they dance 
the boys i mean are not refined',
E. E. Cummings

Tree you are, / Moss you are, / You are violets with wind above them. / A child - so high - you are, / And all this is folly to the world
'A Girl',
Ezra Pound

(So even poets see boys and girls differently - a bit of gender stereotyping there.)

This is the way the world ends / not with a bang but a whimper

'The Hollow Men',
T.S Eliot

Reflecting that last quotation, here is something a friend of mine posted regarding the end of the UK's EU membership:

UK: We want a rebate on the fees.
UK: We don't want to be in the Euro.
UK: We don't want to be in Shengen.
UK: We want a restriction on benefits until people have worked here for some time.
UK: We want to stop child benefit being paid for children who aren't in the UK.
UK: We want to kick out people who come here and don't work and can't afford to support themselves.
EU: That's fine, you already can.
UK: We want loads of preferential treatment that other countries don't get.
EU. Err, can't really give that without everyone agreeing.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave.
EU: That's a bit of an over reaction, but your choice.
UK: OK, we're leaving.
EU: Bye then.
UK: Now we're leaving, we want all the things we had before.
EU: Err, it doesn't work like that.
UK: Don't give us what we want and we'll leave with nothing.
EU: (Scratches head) OK, umm, well, yeah.
UK. We're serious, we'll walk away with nothing, to teach you a lesson.
EU: Bye (again).

That seems to be the way negotiations are set to go. We shall see.

Last night we popped out for a drink and to check our email in the Mid Century café bar where the music (mid 20th century music) is always good. Last night it was very hard to hear it. I know some people complain about ambient music in bars and restaurants and I understand their complaints, especially when the music is bland. However, if I don't want background music to prevent me from hearing the conversation around the table where I am sitting, neither do I want the conversation from the next table to prevent me from hearing my own conversation AND the perfectly decent background music.

This was a tableful of young women - anywhere from there mid twenties to mid to late thirties. Now, if a table of young women gets as noisy as that one in a bar in the UK the women concerned have usually had a lot to drink and are getting loud and giggly. This was a bunch of serious young Spanish women, drinking coffee, infusions, and soft drinks, and taking seriously about the state of the world, the state of Spain, and the state of Galicia. At the top of their voices! A kind of statement about being young women with opinions!?

As often happens with such groups, there was a dominant female: this time with a mass of shoulder-length tightly curled hair (one of today's statement hairstyles that says "Look at me! I am an independent female and I don't need to spend time making my hair sleek and smooth!") and the loudest voice of the group. She spent a good deal of time pontificating to the rest of the group who sometimes found it difficult to get a word in edgewise.

It was quite a relief when they finally gathered their stuff together and left.

At which point María, who runs the bar, came and had a chat about how sad she was to hear of the demise of Chuck Berry, although it did take a minute or so for us to decipher the Spanish pronunciation of his name. She can probably sing along to any number of English-language songs but still has difficulty pronouncing names of performers.

Rather like a friend of ours long ago who greatly admired the writing -in translation - of the Frenchman Albert Camus, or as he called him Albert (English pronunciation) Came -Uss.

We can't all be perfect!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Smart cars, smart phones, smart stuff in Vigo

Travelling from Portugal to Spain yesterday evening, I noticed that we passed quite a few of those tiny little Smart cars. They look very nippy but yet I am not sure I would want to drive one on a motorway. Mind you, motorways around here are a good deal less busy than the M60 around Greater Manchester.

You get quite a good view into the driver's seat of a little car from an AUTNA bus and so I was able to observe at least five of the Smart car drivers busy with their phones while driving. One was in a conversation, phone to his ear, three seemed to be consulting satnav on their phone screens and one was busy texting, no hands on the wheel. I suppose that conceivably hers was a driverless car and she was just sitting in the driver's seat but not actually driving. However, I think that is very unlikely. So not only was she driving something that resembles a sardine can on an admittedly not very busy motorway but also she was not really controlling the thing in a very conscious manner. The madness / carelessness / death wish of some people amazes me.

We woke this morning to rain but by 9:30 it had gone and we had blue sky and sunshine. Long may it last!

Our street is very noisy. They seem to be laying cables or doing something to the gas supply and possibly relaying the pavement, renewing parking bays and separating them with little islands where no doubt they will plant flowers and bushes. It has to be said that they are very good at that sort of thing here in Vigo. The other end of our street was beautified last year but our section remained scruffy and just a little dangerous - with minor potholes that you could turn your ankle in, not with hoodlums who might jump out and attack you, I hasten to add.

This is Vigo, after all, not Barcelona. Our gypsies tend to beg rather than attack. This does not mean that they don't steal but I have no evidence either way.

The bad reputation of the gypsies follows them around. My daughter was telling me about the latest scam by probably Romanian gypsy families (and, yes, I am aware that we are stereotyping here and that there are far more perfectly fine, upstanding, honest Romanians in the Uk than there are gypsies or those selling the Big Issue) in Oldham and Ashton. This is what happens: a woman rushes up to a shopper with a baby in her arms, screaming that her baby is really ill and she needs to know what to do and how to get to a hospital or at least a first aid post. The shopper puts down her bags in a natural movement to be able to help and comfort the agitated mother. While she is talking to the agitated mother, the agitated mother's companions walk past and pick up the bags and make off down the street.

Cunning plans!

I've heard of similar groups outside railway stations in Madrid or Rome, offering to help tourists, showing them maps and giving them directions, with a lot of touchy-feely patting of shoulders and the like. Meanwhile one of the gang is busy picking pockets, rifling rucksacks and relieving the hapless tourist of valuable stuff. Isn't the world a splendid place! Fortunately we see little of this around here in Vigo. Our experience has been very positive on the whole. People are on the whole friendly and genuinely helpful. So long as all we have to worry about are kamikaze Smart car drivers, then all will be well. Especially as I am not driving while we ate here.

Out and about later:

There is a dinosaur down by the port.

And here are some of the disturbing cartoons from yesterday in Porto.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Back in Vigo.

So here we are finally, back in Galicia. We left Saddleworth in the pouring rain, with a much appreciated lift to the airport in our daughter's car. She had to drop the baby off while we finished gathering our stuff together and go and park round the corner because double yellow lines have been helpfully painted outside our house.

A new estate has been built more or less behind our houses and the residents claim they cannot see proper.y to get out of the estate onto the main road. Funnily enough, then there was a factory there lorries managed to come and go without problems!

We knew the yellow lines were coming and all of us wrote letters of protest, all to no avail.

On the day after the yellow lines appeared, for the first time in the thirty years we have lived in that house, there was a bobby on the beat patrolling the area. Is this a coincidence?

Anyway, we set off in the rain but by the time we reached Liverpool it had eased off some. By the time we were boarding, the sun was trying to come out. It wasn't exactly sunny when we reached Oporto but it was a lot drier than Greater Manchester has been for the last few days. In fairness to the North West of England, our daughter told us that the day had improved considerably.

We had a longish wait for the AUTNA bus to Vigo, during which time I examined a rathervdisturbing display of "cartoons" in the airport. All of them looked at glance qitebinnocent but had a disturbing element. There was a skateboard park built on top of abandoned crashed cars. A sort of Picasso "Guernica" spin off showed a couple escaping from the rubble, but they were followed by a suicide bomber. All very strange stuff.

however, the bus arrived without too  uch delay and all was good, despite the rather smelly couple who got in at Cerveira and sat in front of us. Such things cannot be legislated for.

We reached the flat just in time for a quick dash into the Mercadona supermarket before it closed. Everything in order at the flat, we headed out for As Cobas, one of our favourite wifi bars to catch up with stuff. Little seems to have changed around here. There are still a lot of empty 'bajos', the ground floor premises intended to be shops and cafes and so on. One of the local hairdressers has changed its name. But our favourite bars appear to have survived in our absence, which is reassuring.

The bar we are in at the moment had changed its wifi password - how inconsiderate! But as the password includes the year and the year has moved on, we can probably forgive them!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Moving along!

Looking put of the window and watching swathes of rain blow across, I am putting off finalising my packing ready to go to Galicia tomorrow. So I decided to look up the weather forecast for Vigo: nice and sunny at the moment, the sun might still be there when we arrive tomorrow but it will be on its way down and for the rest of the week they forecast rain showers, light rain, rain with a bit of thunder. Still it could be worse: here they are forecasting the possibility of snow. We shall see!

We've been putting off our departure because of translation commitments, meetings one or other or both of us had to go to, getting the all clear after Phil's cataract operation, and stuff like that. And now we are timing our return to coincide with an operation on the other eye. After which Phil expects to see better than he has done since he was about seven! The wonders of modern medicine!

Don't you just love pedants. Last week's Saturday Guardian magazine had an article about Scandinavia. This week's has this letter:

"Morwenna Ferrier's article (You What? 11 March) claims "Scandinavia, of course, is a sum of its snowy parts - Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland". Scandinavia proper does not include Finland. If Finland is to be included, the term should be "Nordic countries".

Mr. Pedantic Reader." (Not his actual sign off!)

 Really? Does it matter? This was an article about words they have in the Nordic Countries for odd things. Finland needed to be included. There is no need to get picky about it. There are more important problems in the world!

 And what is going on with the chap Martin Sheen describes as "Our current commander in chief, Yellow Hair"? If Martin Sheen (aka President Bartlett in The West Wing) is not careful there will be tweets calling him a so-called actor! But seriously, why did President Trump not want to shake Angela Merkel's hand. The press were calling for a handshake, Mrs Merkel asked did he want to do a handshake but Mr Trump just sat and looked at his feet. Does he think germs come from Germany? I am sure Mrs Merkel could put him right on that; she seems to have taken on the task of informing him about all sorts of things.

Meanwhile, the world goes on its way. Chuck Berry has gone off to join others in the Tower of Song. So it goes!

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Professional progression.

If I were a journalist and I had begun the old fashioned way, writing reports on weddings and funerals and flower and produce shows for some small newspaper, gradually progressing to something more prestigious, maybe going on to be in charge of a particular set of features, and eventually thinking about setting my sights on sub-editor jobs or even editor positions, I would be more than a little annoyed at the moment. Imagine having done all that training work and then you see someone with no real journalist experience being given the job of editor or a London paper. And probably being offered an inflated salary to do so.

I may be doing George Osborne a disservice, of course. I did read somewhere that he had journalistic ambitions in his youth. No doubt he can craft a fine article. He is an educated man, after all, and should be able to write with a good level of literacy. For all I know, he may have been the editor of magazines and periodicals at school and at university. But by his own admittance he has never run a newspaper.

So why is he uniquely qualified for the job if editor of the Evening Standard? As I say, those who have done all the training must be asking something like that, surely!

Besides, has he not got enough to do already? And does he not earn enough money already?

He is reportedly already paid £650,000 a year for one day’s work a week for fund manager BlackRock. One day a week?! And he had 15 speaking engagements in the last year, earning him £800,000. That's an awful lot money for each time he stood up to speak. His words must be made of spun gold or something. And a US thinktank give him a stipend (just how is that different from a salary?) of £120,000 a year. Then there is a book deal on top of that. Wow!

An ordinary MP earns £75,000, which admittedly may not be huge by London standards but is considerably more than an ordinary teacher earns, even with London weighting. And I bet no teachers have time to take on extra jobs to supplement their salary. There are MPs who say that representing their constituency is a full time job and that even though they are allowed to take on other commitments they would find it hard.

So George Osborne must be very clever at getting things done very quickly. Or perhaps he gets bored if he doesn't have high pressured stuff to be doing all the time.

However, the spoilsports are getting to work.

Some are asking for the Cabinet Office to investigate because he accepted the job of editor without the approval of the watchdog on former ministerial appointments.

Then there is Ryan Shorthouse, the director of Bright Blue, a Tory thinktank, who said he expected Osborne to stand down as an MP. “A free press, which holds power to account, is a fundamental part of a liberal democracy,” he said. “A sitting MP, especially of the governing party, cannot also be an editor of an influential and national newspaper. It is a significant conflict of interest and unethical. The [former] chancellor has spoken eloquently about the importance and goodness of liberal democracies. So, if he is to be editor of the London Evening Standard, he must – and I suspect will – resign as an MP.”

And there are jealous people (how shocking) who must feel betrayed because there are rumours that the former chancellor only decided to apply for the editor’s job at the Evening Standard after friends contacted him to ask for advice on whether they should apply for the role. Really? Is that the action of a friend? Or is it all sour grapes on their part?

 But when does he ever find time to spend all that money? That's what I would like to know!

Friday, 17 March 2017

Sorting out the electronic media stuff.

Today we are on grandparental duty. Our daughter is doing some training prior to going back to work after maternity leave. She has a couple of months to go yet but they want her to do the training and I think they might even pay her for turning up. Which is not at all bad.

So here I am, having walked the baby in the rain, snatching a little time while she sleeps in her pram.

I read an article recently about a primary school which put up a notice asking parents to greet their offspring with a smile and a proper greeting instead of continuing their mobile phone business at the school gate. The writer was a little indignant about this, declaring that the school had no right to tell him how to meet and greet his child. But how hard is it to put your phone away and have a proper conversation with a child at the end of the school day? If you tell him that your electronic media is the most important thing then it's hardly surprising if all he wants to do when he gets home is play on the X Box.

By the time they reach secondary school, of course, most children have a phone of their own, ostensibly so that they can contact busy parents when necessary, but also with an element of keeping up with the Joneses. And then the schools have to police what goes on and make sure that phones are switched off during school hours.

The schools also make use of the technology themselves and not just in the classrooms. Our grandchildren's secondary school contacts parents by text for a variety of reasons. Newsletters are sent out by email instead of on paper. If there is a problem of a child taken ill or, heaven forbid, misbehaving and being put into detention, parents are incormed by text and asked tomcontact the school. Nowadays they give detention fancy new names; in our grandchildren's school they call it a "New Hope" but I'm pretty sure everyone knows what it really is. At one time schools had to give 24 hours' notice but mobile phone technology means that misdemeanours can be dealt with on the spot. 

Someone else who seems to be up to date on modern technology is Mr Trump's senior advisor Kelly Conway. The question of the rumoured wire-tapping of Trump Tower rumbles on. Britain has been accused of being involved, something which a GCHQ official has described as nonsense. But Kelly Conway apparently knows that surveillance in the modern world can take many forms. This is what I read yesterday:

 * ITV REPORT 13 March 2017 at 2:57pm Obama could have spied on Trump using a microwave, Trump aide claims without offering evidence.

Donald Trump's senior adviser has suggested Barack Obama could have spied on the President using a microwave. Kellyanne Conway says she has no evidence to support Mr Trump's claim that the former president "wiretapped" Trump Tower phone lines during the election.

She pointed to recent revelations about government surveillance to suggest it was possible Obama used a different technique.

Speaking to US newspaper The Record, she said: "What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other now, unfortunately, including microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.

"So we know that that is just a fact of modern life."


So there we are. It's good to know that everyone is so up to date.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

More about planning!

In this morning's Guardian online I came across a long article all about "Operation London Bridge: the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death". She is getting on a bit so I suppose that there must be contingency plans. The queen’s last three prime ministers were all born after she came to the throne. That's quite disturbing really. (One of my earliest, vaguest memories is sitting on the grass at a Coronation Party in a park. Somewhere I still have a coronation mug and a commemorative book with pictures of a very young queen and her husband. His pictures I always thought were pictures of my uncle and I was very confused about what he was doing in the book at all.)

Apparently when George VI was dying they agreed on a coded message to send when the royal doctor had "injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine – enough to kill him twice over – in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight", as the article put it. (Is that not assisted suicide?) The code was "Hyde Park Corner", a cryptic message so that the prime minister and other important folk could be informed of the death but the telephone operators would not know before the rest of the nation. The code agreed for Elizabeth is "London Bridge is down". Surely they will have to change that now as everyone who has skim read the article knows what it is. And if anything actually happens to London Bridge they will have to be very careful how they word the reports in case the wrong message is sent and we all go into mourning ahead of time.

It is, however, reassuring to know that some things are planned. Maybe the people who do this kind of planning for the royal household should be invited to join the Brexit committee.

The mass media have plans as well. The Guardian has a list of prepared stories pinned to the deputy editor's wall and ITN is said to have rehearsed the death of the queen, substituting the name "Mrs Robinson". Royal correspondents are lined up ready for the off. This is clearly another bunch of people who should be helping to make plans for what the Uk should do if we get no deal with the EU?

The code names thing is quite amusing. So Her Majesty is known as London Bridge and Mrs Robinson. I wonder what code names exist for other members of the royal family. And for politicians for that matter. In the utopian White House world of "The West Wing" all the major players have security code names. The press secretary CJ is most upset to discover that hers is Flamingo. No amount of reassuring her that a flamingo is a beautiful bird helps; she obviously just sees the lanky and ungainly aspects of it.

Anyway, getting back to mortality matters, there are contingency plans according to where the royal lady dies. Ideally she would die in Buckingham Palace and save everyone a lot of bother but she could be in Balmoral, her holiday home in Scotland. There is a whole protocol for getting her back to London. This is fine at the moment but what happens, I ask myself, if Scotland has gone independent by then? Will the queen even be able to holiday in Balmoral, let alone die there? And will we need some kind of special permit to bring her through the customs post in the newly fortified Hadrian's Wall?

The more I think about this, the more convinced I become that this long read article was included just to take our minds off other stuff that is going on (planned or unplanned) in the world!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Getting away from it all! And getting away with it?

Amidst all the news stories of Brexit chaos, Donald Trump's tax returns (imagine paying more in tax in one year than many people earn in a lifetime!) and Scotland wanting (or perhaps not) to leave the United Kingdom, I came across a curious tale. It was a true story.

A young man of about twenty left work one day, cashed in his last pay check and was not heard from again. I was going to say he disappeared without trace but traces there were; it's just that nobody knew they were HIS traces and they didn't seem to lead anywhere. Of course, they found him in the end or his story would not have been told.

He got in his car and drove away. And he drove and drove until his car had almost run put of petrol - or gas, as he might have said since the story took place in the USA. And then he left car in the woods, with the keys on the dashboard, and walked. And he walked and he walked and he walked until eventually he found a spot in the woods that suited him. And there he made his camp.

I think he had a tent and a small amount of food but none of the equipment you might think he would take with him if he planned to go and hide in the woods long term. So maybe he did it on a whim and then it turned into a life choice. For he stayed there for just over a quarter of a century.

Since he didn't have any of the necessary stuff to be self sufficient he began to steal. This was in the woods or forests of Maine. Scattered around the area are cabins and hunting lodges and the like where people go for weekends, probably all year round, or maybe for a couple of weeks or so in the summer. Anyway he worked out when the owners were not around and how to break in to their places and steal what he needed, never causing any damage. Some places he visited on a fairly regular basis, hiding the spare keys that he found inside the cabins in the vicinity so that he could let himself in easily the next time. Boy, that must have annoyed the owners!

He even borrowed their canoes to paddle across lakes and rivers to access other houses, always returning the canoe to its place. After all, he didn't need a canoe every day. I thought he might have simply escaped from all the news as well but apparently he stole a portable television set and rigged up an arial in the trees in his hideaway. So presumably he kept reasonably up to date with the news. Eventually, of course, they caught him. They had been after him for years. He must have been pretty crafty to evade capture for twenty-five years.

He still doesn't seem to have given any real explanation as to why he ran off like that. Always a loner, he had no friends to miss him. His family must have wondered where he had got to, maybe even thought he must have died somehow, but that did not seem to bother him. The authorities say he shows no signs of mental illness. He just wanted to be alone.

Funnily enough, his arrest came about not long after the capture of another chap who lived six years in the mountains of Utah before being caught. It must be an American thing! He was a runaway parolee, however, so his case is a little different. And he clearly was not as efficient as the man from Maine since he only lasted a paltry six years.

Of course, this happened in America, a very big country, which still has huge empty places where people can still disappear like that. I find it hard to imagine someone setting up camp anywhere in England and living there for years and years without being discovered. Maybe somewhere in the wilds of Scotland it might be feasible but I should think it would be pretty cold at times.

I have known a number of people who have had the dream of going off and finding a small place to live where they could be quite self sufficient, growing a lot of their own food and such like. Most of them would still like to be within at least driving distance of some, at least small, place where other folk live, just in case they needed some kind of help. Most of those I have known have had this dream when they were young and then have grown out of it as they grew up or just grew older. We do, however, have one friend who upped sticks in her sixties to go and live off the land with her partner in Scotland. Most of us thought at the time that she was slightly bonkers, and indeed still think so to this day.

No, if asked by Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs how we would manage on our own on the island, most of us might well respond that well, we might be okay but we would prefer to be within reach of civilisation. Mind you, I suppose the man from Maine cannot truly be said to have been properly self-sufficient. He kept enough contact with civilisation to keep himself fed and provided with replacement clothes and shoes and equipment as his own wore out. Not the same thing at all! 

And now what will become of him? How will he adjust to life in Donald Trump's America? Will he write his story and will someone come along and make a film of it? (I'm betting they will.) And will he he make enough money out of this to escape from the world again, without the need to steal from other folk's weekend retreats?

But I bet he would miss the little rush of excitement of breaking and entering!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The rights and wrongs of it all!

So it's been decided that there will be no guarantee of rights for EU citizens living in the UK. Here's an interesting article from the New Statesman on that topic.

And here is another quote from Forum for EU Citizens, showing that some people are taking it calmly:

"So, my few thoughts to all the negativity here...

No one has said we have no rights.

No one has said we have to leave.

No one actually expected the vote to show a different result, right guys? Admit it: we knew it would come to this.

No one can expect the UK to focus on the EU citizens before solving all the other problems the referendum has caused. Of course they can't promise us anything, not before the negotiations actually start.

Come on guys - I know it's scary, but for fucks sake (sorry, Irish partners bad influence) pull yourself together and stop whining. This is so counterproductive! We are all in the same boat - and you all are talking it to the ground. In any vote, in any
discussion they are talking about us. We are not ignored, nor 'forgotten'.

And they simply can't kick us out of the UK, as we are contributing too much - and they know it!

So you all take a deep breath - and try not to take this bill personal, because it's not.

Keep calm and carry on! Because giving up is not an option."

However, my Italian class has been cancelled today because our teacher is unwell. Has she been sickened by the vote from the House of Lords? I wonder!

I also wonder where all of his will end! A friend of mine pointed out that rather a lot of people are retweeting something a certain David Cameron posted in 2015:

"Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice - stability and strong government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband."

Well, we know where at got us, don't we. Oh, to be able to rewind ourselves to 2015 and do it all differently.

Someone who might agree with that last statement is Nick Clegg, someone I used to like and respect before he made the mistake of getting into bed with the Tories. However, he did speak movingly and sensibly in the debate on the rights of EU citizens. Here's a link to that.

On to other matters.

We have recently had quite lengthy email correspondence with a friend of ours about things grammatical and what should and should not be acceptable as good English. And then I came across this article about different kinds of English around the world.   It starts off talking about the government being urged to create opportunites for people in Britain to learn languages like Polish, Urdu and Punjabi, in the interests of social cohesion, rather than just insisting that everyone living here should learn English. "There is interest and joy'" the writer tell us, "to be had not only in learning the languages of other cultures, but also in appreciating the effect they might have had on English."

I agree with all of that. I can appreciate the charm of, for example, Irish English. And I accept that language constantly evolves and changes. And yet my linguist's ear is still offended when I hear local youngsters (and the not so young as well, for that matter), native English speakers all their lives, say such things as the following:

 I seen it. (Often said by football pundits as well!)
They done it yesterday.
He's broke his leg.
I've ate it already.

 Such things are simply wrong!

Monday, 13 March 2017

How the people speak!

I talked about words and expressions the other day, amazed at the odd things other languages come up with. Then my friend and fellow blogger Colin reminded himself, and incidentally me, about invented things being "trumped up" - usually charges.

Today's Guardian had an article about disappearing dialects. In the UK that is; in other countries they abound and are called regional languages. Here's a link. The conclusion was that you can still hear dialect words all over the place.

They included the expression "like a figure one, well scraped", used in Bolton apparently to describe a very thin woman. A friends of ours from Prestwich or Whitefield says, of someone very small and thin, "if you turn her sideways she disappears". All very picturesque but not in quite the same class as some of the Scandi words. However, "clemmed" for "hungry" still used apparently in Wigan might almost fit the bill.

There's a whole section of the British Library that catalogues these expressions. In fact, in the middle of the article there is a very informative little quiz where you can try to guess the meaning of certain words and expressions.

Sometimes words seem to travel. They identified "well" used in the sense of "very" as coming from the Midlands and yet I hear it used that way around here al the time. And they appear to have neglected to include "proper", also used to mean "very", as it, "I'm proper tired", "that film's proper good" and " me mam's proper poorly". I heard it all the time when I worked in Salford.

Many of the dialect words included in the quiz came from Cockney rhyming slang. When does slang become dialect? That's another little conundrum!

This is not really an example of a dialect word but a small robot submarine called Boaty McBoatface is setting off on its first Antarctic mission. The name was chosen by public vote from names suggested, also by the public at the request of the Natural Environment Research Council, for a new polar research ship. Some joker suggested Boaty McBoatface and it took off. But it was felt to be too jokey for such a prestigious vessel and so they gave it tine little yellow submarine instead.

How could they do that? After all, the people had spoken! And we know that you have to listen when the people speak!

The results of the people speaking, i.e. triggering article 50, seems to be being pushed back again. Instead of this week, the suggestion is that it will be by the end of the month. We wait to see the outcome.

Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon is calling for the people to speak again; she wants another referendum on Scotland's independence.

And Sean Spicer, White House press secretary,  has been accused of racism after telling an Indian-American woman that America is a great country because it lets her stay there. I was unsure whether this meant an Indian-American whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of that great country or one whose family came originally from India.

Words are not always crystal clear!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Forward planning?

When I was working as a teacher in a sixth form college I had to make plans. Formal lesson plans for individual lessons only needed to be submitted of observations and inspections were taking place but schemes of work for the year had to be in place and subject leaders were expected to give five year development plans to their head of department. So why, I wonder, is there such a lack of planning for what the country will do after Brexit?

Political parties produce manifestos but these are not the same thing as specific, concrete plans. We have all heard the ambitious list of things that Donald Trump promises to get done but, once again, that list is not really a plan of how he intends to do it all.

And so we stagger along, with the letter of withdrawal, article 50, probably being signed this week and no real idea of what happens afterwards.

Meanwhile, here are a couple more quotes from the Forum for EU Citizens:

"I think it's safe to say that the moods amongst Europeans have shifted from ' please,please, let us stay' to actually ' fuck it,stuff it,enough is enough, we won't be beggars,we got our pride,we got where to go, see how well you do without us,see who'll have the last laugh', as this been dragging on for too long and upsetting too many. How long is a peace of string?"

"I just heard that a Dutch citizen who has lived and worked in the U.K. for over 40 years has been advised by the Dutch embassy that, if he is told to leave, they will require him to be fully compensated for any financial loss, fully reimbursed for all the NI he has paid and all of his expenses paid. In his case this will be about £500k. If this applies to all EU nationals, it will be quite a hefty bill. Worth bearing this in mind."

Also, I was reading about the Pret a Manger chain of restaurants ... no, not really restaurants, more food outlets, cafes or even what used to be called snack bars. Anyway, whatever they are, they employ a lot of EU nationals in their places in the UK. This despite being rather better employers than other similar places. Still not the best place in the world to work but better than some.

They would really like to employ more UK nationals but very few apply. One of their employees said that the British find the work too hard and leave after a few weeks, probably at the point where they are about to learn how to make a coffee really quickly and deal with a rapid turnover of costumers. So it goes.

It's not just Pret though. Huge numbers of employers in the hotel and catering industry say that they would find it really hard to replace the EU nationals who work for them. If they managed it, the replacement employees might not be so highly qualified; there are economics graduates and other quite highly educated people among those employees.

People in the know reckon it could take about ten years to sort out that bit of employment anomaly. And by then, if Jean Claude Juncker's predictions are correct, we might well be applying to rejoin the EU in some form or other.

Just another of life's little ironies!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Rubbish - recycling - remarkable words!

Out running this morning I came across a woman with a bag full of rubbish in one hand and a further collection of bits and pieces she could not fit into the bag in the other. She told me she collects rubbish every day on her morning walk. She thinks that the lay-by up the road is used by drug addicts to share their poison of choice as she frequently finds crumples of tinfoil there. She also find vodka bottles on a fairly regular basis. She finds this slightly less offensive than the remains of picnics and packaging from fast food outlets: stuff that people don't want to clutter their cars with but don't mind leaving to clutter up our pavements. What she finds most offensive are the sweet wrappers, which she assumes parents allow their children to drop as they walk along.

Why do people leave all their detritus behind? Is it so difficult to carry your rubbish home in a bag in your car and then put it in the bin. Of course, some of the problem might disappear if there were actually bins in the places where people stop for picnics in lay-bys. And along the bridle paths for that matter. It is possible to go for a couple of miles along bridle paths around her without seeing a single rubbish bin. But wanting litter bins might be asking for too much. After all, you would then have to employ someone to empty them!

 Later, returning from the shops, I came across Mike, a local chap who walks miles and miles every day with his unprepossessing-looking rescue dog. He commented that earlier in the day he had met another dog walker. That lady's dog had one of those collars like a lampshade to prevent it getting at a wound on its leg. She had let it run around in a field recently and the poor thing had cut his leg badly on a broken bottle in the grass. Even worse than stuff left at the side of the road.

Our daughter is also having difficulty with rubbish. In her case, it's the difficulty of getting rid of it. First of all there is the paper-recycling bin that the local council neglects to empty. Recycling is encouraged; indeed people are sometimes fined for not recycling. But in her square the dustbin men fail to empty the paper recycling bins. The last time she complained about it the solution was for them to empty the recycled stuff into the general waste wagon. Not a solution! One of her neighbours plans to take up the challenge; he likes to remind them when he phones about such things that he is a retired magistrate. I wonder if that still works!

Her other problem is disposing of an old sofa now that she has ordered new furniture from that Scandinavian company. They promise to take old stuff away and recycle it when they deliver new but on this occasion there was no specific instruction to that effect on the delivery note and so the workmen refused to take the old sofa away. They did not realise that they were dealing with one of the experts in making complaints and now, after her telephone rant to customer services, they have to turn out again and take it away.

I am, however, impressed by the company taking stuff away for recycling at all. It is remarkably difficult to get rid of large old stuff when you buy new. But this is a Scandinavian company. They like recycling.

They also like words for odd things. We have already grown used to "hygge", the Danish for comfortable living. They also have "uhygge", meaning creepiness or possibly the antithesis of "hygge". The Swedes, by the way, call "hygge" "koselig".

A pleasing word is "Kabelsalat", which both the Germans and the Norwegians use to describe the mess when all your cables are tangled up.

I also like "kalsarikännit", a Finnish term for drinking by yourself at home in your underwear with no intention of going out. Goodness knows why they drink in their underwear, let alone have a word for it. Maybe they are all "Texas", a term which the Norwegians are said to use to mean crazy!

Now I need to start looking out for English terms for odd things. Surely we must have some.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The kindness - or otherwise - of strangers!

Driving around with my daughter yesterday, at one point our conversation was interrupted by the angry pipping of a horn. We were in a queue of traffic, stopped by a red light. The angry horn pipper wanted to cross our road from a side road and wanted us to move forward a little so he could get across. There was barely room for us to advance without almost touching the car in front or ours but we did so anyway. However, there would have been no need for that if the car behind us had respected the cross hatching on the road, the sort that means "do not enter this bit of road unless you can get out the other side at once". Little bits of discourtesy.

Later, we paused once again in a queue of traffic, this time to let someone come out of a side road and turn right into our lane ahead of us. Knowing how frustrating it is to be stuck at the end of a side road, waiting for the opportunity to move out into the main road, we try to give way when we can. We work on the principle that the good turn you do someone else might persuade them to be similarly kind to others and so the goodwill gets passed along.

In an increasingly grumpy, bad-tempered, selfish and unco-operative world, it is more important than ever to live by principles like that.

The nasty news stories keep popping up from the past. Recently there has been the discovery of an unmarked mass grave, mostly babies and young children, discovered under a playground in Ireland. It is located on what was the site of one of those home for unfortunate girls who found themselves pregnant and had nowhere else to go. The babies and small children had died there and been buried anonymously. This place, like so many others, was run by nuns. As in the Magdalene laundries, the young women who went there for help were punished for having babies out of wedlock. Many of the babies were adopted by families who wanted children. We can only hope they had happier lives but often they were prevented from getting in touch with their birth mothers later in their lives. And often the young mothers were told that their babies had died at birth.

This has parallels with the children of Republic women giving birth in Spanish prisons in Franco's Spain after the Spanish Civil War. Their babies were usually taken from them and given to good Franco-supporting families. While some of those children no doubt had happy childhoods, others are known to have had very unhappy lives, being reminded constantly of their good fortune in having been taken from their wicked Republican mothers. Many of those adoptions were also arranged through the church. Isn't it strange how harsh some Christian institutions can be?

Institutionalised nastiness keeps on happening of course. I follow a group on Facebook that calls itself Forum for EU Citizens. Despite assurances from all sorts of people that EU citizens living and working in the UK will not be thrown out of the country after Brexit, there is a very high level of uncertainty, worry and stress among those people. People simply don't know where they stand. Here are some examples of the kind of queries that pop up:

"Checked for an insurance quote and now have to enter whether you are permanent UK resident or European, formerly UK resident.....?!?!Quote with the latter, of course, considerably more expansive...
Is this even legal?"

And so many of the queries and comments relate to families and children:

"I am polish and have been in UK for last 12 years. I do have permanent residence already but all my 3 children even though born here only have Polish passports. Do they need PR as well to have the same rights as I do? EDIT: has any if you applied for pr for children? Is the process/forms as lenghty as for adults? And can I apply for them as a single parent? I am not interested in British passports at the moment because of personal reasons (father might not agree.. etc) Thanks in advance."

 "While I am adamant I am not going to apply for PR etc, I thought that that was my prerogative and not my childrens'. I have therefore decided to apply for their British passports since they qualify. So last night and again tonight, I am on the site. And guess what, the system is down.
Twice in a row...😮"

"Hi there. I have a question about children. me and my husband are both EU citizens and have lived and worked here continuously for over 30 years now. We never thought we would have needed PR, so we never applied for it. our children were born here, one is 20 the other 13. Are they British citizens? They don't have a brit passport but the eldest voted in the referendum."

 Or the "catch 22" situation that some people find themselves in:

"I just have been refused PR, actually on Sunday at 1pm by a phone call with hidden number. To be fair- I have asked for an email confirmation and I receive it. There are few ways to apply and I chose the way to apply based on my marriage, as I don't have 5 full years of working history.
 I've been rejected because if I stayed home and lived off of benefits then they will recognise my husband as a "sponsor". But because I've been stupid enough to work in the country and pay taxes apparently my husband can't be my sponsor!
So my question is: is that what is required to be recognised in here- to stay home when I'm able to work, to live off of benefits and being punished if I want to work, to pay taxes and help the economy?! Speechless!!!"

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. Some people are reminded of the kindness and acceptance that is still out there:

"Here is what happened to me yesterday. Was with my daughter in a taxi as we were meeting friends for play. And suddenly taxi driver asks if my daughter was born here and where I am from. You can imagine what's going through my head, right? Am I gonna get another lecture on immigrants, EU etc? But I am polite and answer: yes she was and I am from Poland, expecting some silly comment. And he says he loves Poland, has lots of Polish friends and his sister works there so he travelled there few times. And we end up having most nice conversation about the state of the world. So just want to say big thank you again to all British people who support us. 😀😁"

Now, are UK citizens living in the EU going through the same kind of heartache? I really don't know but I wonder what my sister will do if she suddenly finds herself after almost 40 years in Spain, more than 30 of them married to a Spaniard, being told she should return to her country of origin. How do you do that when you have children and grandchildren born in the country that wants you to leave? 

Of course, it may not come to that for any of them but in the meantime nobody knows quite what is going on. What a crazy world!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sorting stuff out! Or ... women getvthe job done!

I have spent the last couple of days, in fact a good part of the last week, helping my daughter sort things.

First of all there was the painting. She wanted to freshen up the entrance hall of her house with a coat of paint. This is difficult to do on your own with a small baby and a daft dog to contend with at the same time. So I went along, we got everything organised and then decided that the best way to make a good start was for her to take baby and dog out for a walk while I did a good bit of painting. This worked well until I found that the huge pot of paint, which had already been broached during another painting session, had kind of self-glued its lid shut. It soon became apparent that opening it was going to be a two-woman job so I called her and suggested she come back. In the meantime I would out masking tape all over the place. By the time she returned I had fought my way into the pot of paint. Sod's Law, I suppose.

However, the baby had gone to sleep, which meant that one distracting factor was out of the way. As for the daft dog , well, we shut him up on a bedroom, where he proceeded to bark all afternoon. The repainting was so effective that my daughter was inspired to attack other parts of the house during the evening. By then I had gone home but she recruited other family members - partner, older children, etc - to be dog distractors and babysitters.

The next job was the garage, still full of boxes of rubbish ... oops sorry, boxes of unsorted belongings from when they moved house about two years ago. To be fair to my daughter, she was completing a degree in education and then holding down a first teaching post and finally producing another offspring. She has been a bit busy.

The passing of time has, if anything, facilitated the sorting mechanism.

Stuff that an eleven year old and a thirteen year old view differently from when they were nine and eleven could more easily be sent off to a charity shop without an outcry about how cruel it was of their mother to expect them to live without those things.

Files of notes that had been essential to the education degree student could now be put into paper recycling without so much as a backward glance.

And suddenly there was space in the garage. Not enough space to fit a car in but then modern cars are so huge that they don't really fit into garages anyway. But there was definitely space to see what else was still there to be sorted.

The biggest problem is the vast collection of books. This is probably a genetic trait as we also are in permanent danger of disappearing under a pile of books of one kind or another. Some of my daughter's book will go to school with her when she resumes her teaching post at the end of her maternity leave. She plans to try to persuade her older offspring to part with some of the collections of books they acquired when they were smaller. I wish her luck with that!

Among the books were treasures: favourite storybooks from when she and her brother were six or eight years old, or maybe a bit younger. There has been a suggestion that I might take some of these treasures back to my house. Goodness! I thought I had seen the last of them when I passed them on to her! But they ARE treasures and cannot simply be discarded. Besides, I can see why she is plotting this. Some of the books belonged to her older brother, now living in distant Buckinghamshire with his own little family. It would be nice to set up a bookshelf here which his small daughter could dip into when they come to stay.

I just need someone to help me sort my books so that I can create that space!

Today's was a different sort of errand, involving a trip to IKEA to look at certain bargain items to replace bits of her furnishings that have been worn out, partly by a small boy who thinks that furniture is intended for him to practice parkour on!

I just had a minor disagreement with the spell check about the spelling of parkour, which I wanted to spell parcour as it comes from a French word, "parcourir", to run round / over / through. Here's part of a description of this "sport" which developed from military training: "Parkour involves seeing one's environment in a new way, and imagining the potential for navigating it by movement around, across, through, over and under its features". My grandson thinks that the sport also involves moving around, over or through furniture in the same way. Much to his disgust, it is banned in my house! 

Anyway, we had a successful visit to the Scandinavian store and ended the day with a trip to the local rubbish dump to get rid of stuff we no longer wanted and that we thought nobody else could make use of either.

Quite a cathartic experience really!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Today is International Women's Day. Even my eleven year old grandson knows this. He told me so when we collected him and his cookery from school. His home economics class has been coming on quite nicely. A little bit of equality of opportunity there.

Some wag asked why there is not an International Men's Day. It turns put that there is one. It's on November 19th. They even have a website. Here it is. Their focus last November 16th was men's suicide. It seems that on most countries the male suicide rate is considerably higher than the female rate.

My daughter and I have celebrated the day by sorting out the contents of her over-full garage and taking a load of stuff to charitybshops and to the rubbish dump. Women working together get results!

As regards International Women's Day, I thought I had found out why it is celebrated on March 8th. Apparently, my source suggested, it dates back to 1908 when the female workers at a New York company, Cotton, went on strike to protest about their terrible working conditions. The strike went on for several days until, on March 8th, the proprietor, a certain Mr Johnson, locked all the doors so that the workers could not leave. When the cotton mill burnt down, the 129 women who worked there all died. Rosa Luxembourg proposed that the 8th of March should be designated International Women's Day, in memory of the 129 women.

I came across this information on an Italian website. Wikipedia, hiwever, denies the truth of this story. According to Wikipedia, the earliest organised Women's Day observance was held on February 28th 1909, organised by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.

It goes on to say that there was no strike on March 8th, as some people claimed,  and that even the year was wrong since the strike it celebrated, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, ended on February 28th, 1910.

At that point I gave up on the whole idea of researching the origins of the date. Today is International Women's Day and that's that!

And on a completely different topic, but with a bit of nostalgia thrown in, here is a link to a set of photos of London in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Food for thought!

Actress Imelda Staunton has spoken out against people eating in the theatre. I didn't know people ate in the theatre. I knew it happened in the cinema but I thought the theatre had managed to keep free of that blight. I get annoyed enough with people who have to open crackly sweets during musical performances.

"I don’t know why people can’t engage in just one thing. I don’t understand this obsession with having to eat or drink something at every moment of the day,” said Imelda Staunton. I have to say that I agree with her. I would go so far as to say that I don't understand the need to eat and drink during films either. Cinema managers must have other ideas, however, because modern cinemas all seem to be fitted with a drinks holders next to every seat. But then the cinema company makes a lot of extra money out of people buying popcorn and other snacks to consume while watching the film. 

Back in the day, when you had a B movie, then a break, and then the main feature, they used to have girls (always girls, with a special tray to carry their wares) come around with trays of ice cream and choc ices for the audience to buy and consume during the interval. And it was usually timed so that you could just consume your little tub of ice cream before the lights went down again for the big movie. Failing that, if you had been slow in purchasing your ice cream, you had to keep trying with your little wooden spoon to see if you had finished it. But woe betide you if you made a noise while you did so.

 Of course, that was back when there still were B movies, just as records had an A side and a B side. And cinemas tended to show only one main movie for a week or two. If you wanted to see a different movie, you had to go to another cinema in town, instead of another screen in the multiplex. Or you could do what a friend of mine did and watch the same movie every day for a week, usually a John Wayne movie in her case.

Nowadays we don't have an interval so you have to take the goodies in with you. Even though you are only going to be confined to your seat for about an hour and a half. When I used to be a sixth form Modern Languages teacher, at least once a year I would take a bunch of students to see a foreign language film, followed by a workshop by some expert, usual.y from one of the Manchester universities. As regular as clockwork, one of the students was bound to ask why the Corner House, the venue for such films at the time, did not have at least a little kiosk selling bags of sweets and popcorn and bottles of fizzy drinks. Because this was a venue that expected people to be able, and to want, to concentrate on the film they were watching and reflect on the ideas. That was why!

And that's what Imelda Staunton has been going on about. She goes a step further as well, saying that people should follow her example and avoid eating when watching television at home. “I don’t do TV dinners. There might, at one point in the evening, be a very small, very naughty bowl of ice cream. But that’s not noisy.” Yes, I agree with her on that as well. And I think that there should be no television in the kitchen or the dining room. That's the kind of old fashioned I am.

The actor Kit Harington (Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones") has been said to have defended people eating in the theatre. My reading of the various articles I have come across on this topic is that Kit Harington is not so much defending eating and drinking as saying that we must not blame the young. It's certainly not just the young who indulge in a good feed and a chat during a show. He is afraid that if we blame the young, they will be put off attending the theatre: “I am afraid that, if the theatre is going to die of anything, it will be from exactly this type of stereotyping and prejudice aimed towards a new and younger generation of theatregoers." Good point!

And while I am showing myself to be perhaps a little old school, yes, I did refer to Imelda Staunton as an actress. We have a perfectly good word for a female actor, so why not use it?

Getting back to eating during performances, I think it has always been there. I an pretty sure I have read about it as being the norm back in Shakespeare's time. And I remember going to the panto for a friend's birthday treat, long ago (but not quite Shakespearean times) when we were both about eight years old. We were given money to spend on sweets to suck during the panto - sucking a sweet was recognised as a way of preventing coughing - and spent the lot on Uncle Joe's Mint Balls, very hard, long-lasting inty sweets.. They were sold at the corner shop, 2 sweets for an old penny. We had 2 shillings, 24 old pence. So we had 48 Uncle Joe's Mint Balls. By the end of the evening, despite our having taken time out to go up on stage and sing with a crowd of other children, we had scoffed the lot, the roofs of our mouths were raw and we never wanted to see another Uncle Joe's Mint Ball, let alone eat one.

So there is a long tradition of eating while you watch. But that doesn't make it right or even acceptable!