Monday, 31 July 2017

The price of fame!

This morning I went to the hairdressers. The girls must have been practising their hair-dying skills as almost all of them had exactly the same shade of hair colour.

Scanning the scandal magazine Diez Minutos, I learnt that a star I had never heard of, Chenoa, a 42 year old singer, is having a bit of a problem. Her biological father, an Argentinian, is taking her to court to get her to pay him a pension. She hasn't seen him for 25 years. This has been her choice; he did try to keep in touch but she wanted nothing to do with him. And now he has come a ross from Argentina, demanding that she must support him. And according to article whatever it is of the Spanish Código Civil, he is is perfectly within his rights to do so. I am astounded!!!

I had already heard of cases in France where parents were obliged to continue supporting their grown-up offspring when the latter declared themselves to students, even if long past the age at which one might think they had finished their studies.

 So in both these countries family feeling is enforceable by law. Presumably it does not matter if you and the family member demanding maintenance have fallen out long ago. They remain your responsibility. What happens to those destitute people whose family do not have the resources to support them? Do they add to the numbers of beggars on the street?

I shall leave that question hanging and move on to some tourist matters.

What do Venice and Cambridge have in common? Both cities complain of too many tourists punting on their waterways. Venice I can understand. The people of that city find themselves overwhelmed by tourists. But who knew that Cambridge had the same problem. Apparently people advertising walking tours of the dreaming spires have been corrupted by punt-touts. They lead the unsuspecting walkers down to the river where they are persuaded that it will be a good idea to,go for a ride in a punt. Chaos ensues as too many folk try to navigate the Cam.

It would seem that visits to Britain by international tourists are up by 9% so far this year, and they are spending 14% more than at the same time last year, a spree fuelled by sterling’s post-referendum decline. Meanwhile, more Britons are holidaying in the UK, in part as a result of the extraordinary rise of Airbnb and other providers of competitively priced self-catering accommodation. It is all adding up to a mad summer for Britain’s tourism honeypots. Every cloud has a silver lining I suppose.

Meanwhile in Galicia the price of octopus is reported to be going up, mainly because of the "hordas de turistas" who want to try it. One pulpo seller commented: "vienen portugueses, franceses, ingleses ... muchos no hablan castellano pero todos saben decire pulpo perfectamente."

Whoever heard of people seriously complaining about too many tourists?!

Tourist excesses maybe!

I read that extra police have been deployed on the streets of Sanxenxo to "contener los excesos de la noche". In the first two weeks of July they imposed 32 fines for peeing in the streets €90 each and 131 for botellon €200 - group drinking is a worse crime than oublic peeing. This seems to have worked. The authorities declare: "esto no es el Magaluf gallego". It seemed quite refined when we were there in June but that was before the start of the high season. To my knowledge nobody compared it with Magaluf, a place that no respectable tourist destination really wants to emulate, but I did once overhear someone explain that it was the "Marbella del Norte".

So it goes!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Feeding the birds.

Sundays are quiet around here. Most of the very local bars close. Clearly everyone feels that they need a day of rest.

So instead of resting we went out for a walk to the Castro park before it got too hot to be out and about. As it turned out the day has been cloudy but still quite bright and warm. Just about ideal, in fact, for a longish walk and back in time for lunch. We stopped for refreshments at the cafe in the Castro park. The service was slow and the waiter possibly slightly deaf. How does "agua con gas" tunr into "coca cola"? Fortunately he mumbled the order to himself as he went off and so I was able to put him right. I can't remember when I last drank Coke.

Maybe the waiter's hearing or his attention span has been affected by his constant need to chase pigeons away. They really are a major nuisance up there. I watched one of the waiters remonstrate with a pair of daddies whose little girls, side by side in their buggies, were sharing a packet of crisps: a handful for each of them and then a handful thrown out for the pigeons. The daddies appeared to take it in their stride and took the crisps away from the little girls.

They did depart not long after this so maybe they were more miffed than they let on.

Mind you, some very odd people actually encourage their offspring to feed the pigeons. I fail to understand such actions. They never encourage them to feed the seagulls, after all! 

Here's a bird-feeding story from the news. Some bald eagles in Canada picked up a hawk chick, probably intended as food for their own young. However, watched by bird enthusiasts, the mother bald eagle ended up feeding the little hawk. Perhaps he just started squawking, beak wide open, and the mother bald eagle saw yet another gaping maw to be filled with food. And so it went on. Having fed him once or twice, she could not feed him to her own chicks. The end result is one confused chick who doesn't really know what he is but is now almost old enough to fly the nest.

Biologists are watching closely to see what happens. They report: "The young hawk has been seen poking at seaweed close to the eagle nest – a typical foraging behaviour for bald eagles. But he’s also been observed swooping to pick up pinecones and sticks, a behaviour often seen in young hawks as they hone the skills needed to hunt rodents and rabbits from high above. " If his unconventional upbringing proves to have fallen short in teaching him how to hunt, went on one of the experts, “that’s when I think we would catch him and retrain him in a wildlife rehabilitation facility”."

Who knew that such things as wildlife rehabilitation facilities even existed?

Saturday, 29 July 2017

In the supermarket.

The staff in the Mercadona supermarket are well trained. As a rule there is only one till open but they keep an eye on the queue and as soon as there are more than three people waiting the cashier gets on the phone and sings out across the public address system "Señorita ..... acude a caja". Then there is rarely the indisciplined rush to a newly opened till that you might expect. Shoppers are invited, por orden (in order), to move along to the next till. And off people go, keeping to the order they had in the original queue. Good grief! Who says the British are the only ones who know how to queue? 

When your turn comes at the till, the cashier goes into a scripted dialogue. A proper greeting followed by a question about bags - ¿Bolsa va a querer? - and about the car park -¿Coche en el parking? - and as a rule they help you pack. Ever so civilised.

At the Carrefour, which I visit rarely and therefore cannot truly speak with any authority about it, they seem less on the ball. Caught out there by a sudden change in the weather the other day - sunshine when we went in, heavy rain when we left - we had to buy an umbrella. As this is not the centre of town there were no umbrella-sellers on the street. (On Principe, the main shopping street in the town centre, they spring up like toadstools when it rains.) So I was forced into the supermarket in search of a brolly.

Phil stayed just outside the entrance with the computer bag as they insist plastic-wrapping anything other than a handbag as you go in. Paranoid fear of you secreting something away and leaving without paying? I guess they would plastic-wrap handbags if they thought they could get away with it.

Anyway, after some dithering I finally asked an assistant where the umbrellas were. Right behind her, of course! There is a special law that says that once you ask where something is in a supermarket you will spot it immediately and look like a fool. So I selected one that was not too garish and joined the queue for checkout. Very efficient, a little screen and an animated voice tells you which till to go to. I got the dopy cashier.

First he spent several minutes trying to remove the security tag; this was a €5 umbrella but I suppose that on suddenly rainy days they might lose lots of cheap brollies without security tags. Then he discovered that the selected umbrella had no price label. Several more minutes went by as he tried to find umbrellas on his computer screen to check the price - ultimately without success. After that he had to locate a supervisor to get a price for him. She disappeared . We waited. He served a couple more customers in the meantime. I went and found another umbrella with a label. I paid my €4.99 and left.

Phil thought I has been manufacturing the umbrella. Fortunately it was still raining when we eventually exited the shopping centre or I might have been just a little frustrated.

Here's something else about the Mercadona staff: they are trained to sing out the special offers that abound. Women with perfectly ordinary speaking voices change into cartoon-like characters with a weird sing-song intonation to tell you about the watermelon, pineapple, jamón serrano or fuet (a strange yard-long sausage-like thing) which is going at a really good price:- "¡lo tiene muy buen de precio!

What's more, they all seem really happy at their work. I wonder how much they pay them.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Doing things the traditional way!

As we strolled out yesterday afternoon, we passed two women having a full-blown argument in the street, at one point almost coming to fisticuffs. One made a lunge to snatch something off the other, who then set off down the road shouting at the top of her lungs, "¡No se lo doy! ¡No se lo doy!" Which means "I won't give it to him/her/(polite form of) you!" I doubt that the polite form of you was being used in the circumstances but you never know!

I have no idea what they were arguing about, although the one who ran off appeared to be waving a mobile phone around. It was the kind of slanging match you might expect over-excited early-teens to have, or perhaps overtired toddlers, but these were two grown women. Amazing!

Later, in the local cafe, taking advantage of their wifi to check our mail and so on, we sat a table near three man having a conversation. A perfectly amicable conversation. At the level of volume they might have needed if they had been sitting each one in a separate corner of a field. Maybe they all came from huge families where everyone talked at once and had always had to shout to make themselves heard. Or maybe they were just Spanish!

The UK's ambassador to Madrid has apparently been having an argument on television with a celebrity cook, Mikel Iturriaga, about the Spanish tortilla. Simon Manley defended people like Jamie Oliver for adding stuff like chorizo and coriander to the traditional omelette but Mr Iturriaga was having none of it. I don't think they got to shouting at each other though and in the end the cook made a tortilla, traditional style, for the ambassador.

Now, I know that my friend Colin has persuaded Spaniards to add ginger to the tortilla but I am with Mikel Iturriaga on this; traditional recipes should be left as they are. No tweaking! I have fond memories of almost living on bocadillos de tortilla as a student in Spain back in the sixties. A tortilla sandwich with added ginger, chorizo, cheese or whatever would just not be the same.

All this reminds me of when my mother became very ill and my father took over the kitchen. He was very good at it, it has to be said. However he had been on numerous visits to my sister, the one who lives in Andalucía, and had acquired a taste for garlic. So he added it to just about everything. "He even puts in in shepherd's pie!" complained my mother, "We have to stop him!"

Traditions have to be maintained and really should not be messed with. Even traditional shouting!

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Modern problems.

I read recently that Randy Newman had written a song about Donald Trump, all about the size of certain part of his anatomy. In the end he decided not to include this scurrilous song in his latest album as he felt that things were already being stirred up enough without his adding to the mix. Maybe he didn't want to be the target of a vindictive tweet!

The writer of the news item felt obliged to point out that this was not the first time that Randy Newman had written songs of that nature:
"Newman is perhaps now best known for his heartwarming songs in Pixar movies such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc, but his career has often featured pointed, socially conscious songwriting. His 1974 album Good Old Boys contained Rednecks, which dealt with racial bigotry and tension between northern and southern US states, while Kingfish celebrated egalitarian Democrat politician Huey Long. His 1988 song It's Money that Matters, meanwhile, lamented both poverty and consumerism, while 1972’s Political Science was a scathingly sarcastic ode to American imperialism."

And there I was, completely unaware that Randy Newman had written songs for children's films. This is how people end up with totally different perceptions of singers and writers. When Rufus Wainwright sang Hallelujah for the film Shrek loads of people assumed it was HIS song, never having heard of Leonard Cohen. It's a funny old world!

We were out looking for something interesting on DVD to watch on the computer. Apart from overpriced films we have no real interest in watching, we found the selection in various shops here very disappointing. There seems to be less stuff available than there was maybe sixth months ago. We decided it might be something to do with people streaming material or watching films and series on Netflix or similar. We cannot do that here as we don't have internet in the flat.

But just as people seem to have stopped buying music CDs, now DVDs are perhaps becoming a thing of the past as well. And I found myself wondering what do people do who don't have computers or internet at all. There are still some such people around. Do they only ever watch the television programmes that are directly broadcast? If so, how do they not go crazy with frustration and boredom? A diet of reality shows and competitions must stunt the brain.

As it is, we have successfully missed the great hit of the year, Love Island, which has been described as having cheered up the British Nation, including apparently some of our politicians in recent weeks.

Shouldn't politicians be studying policy, not watching nonsense on TV?

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Trains and heat and fountains and such.

Looking for information about trains on the internet yesterday I came across the website of Vigotourism. Here is a small extract:

 "You can travel to Vigo by train from Madrid, Barcelona, Ourense, Pontevedra, Santiago, A Coruña, Ponferrada, León, Bilbao, Alicante and Porto. If you’re in Madrid, you have three options: the Intercity train, the Alvia train and the Hotel Train. Vigo has two railway stations: URZÁIZ where departs the AVE (Spain’s high-speed train), and GUIXAR, located in Areal St., bouth of them right in the city centre."

"Where departs the AVE" indeed? Does it really leave from Vigo or is that an urban myth? The strange English "where departs" I leave without comment. Likewise the odd spelling "bouth" which could conceivably be a typo although I suspect both these things are the result of someone's niece/brother/best friend having written it. However, I question the statement that Guixar station is really "right in the city centre". Only if you are a very fast walker from the city centre could that possible be considered the case! Poetic license I suppose!

The sun continues to shine here. The temperature gauge at the end of the road registered 21 degrees at 9 this morning, up to 27 by 12 o'clock when I walked down to the Movistar shop to put some credit on our Spanish mobile phones. Having paid my money and received my text message confirming that the credit was there I was still waiting for several minutes for a receipt. Production of the receipt involved the young lady shop assistant typing some stuff in the computer and then printing out an A4 sized sheet indicating how much I had paid and how much of it was various forms of VAT. Amazing! The Spanish do love their paperwork.

Anyway, the sunshine seems to be affecting Italy far worse than here. Or rather the heatwave and drought.

"Vatican authorities have turned off 100 fountains, including two Baroque masterpieces in St. Peter’s Square, due to a prolonged drought affecting the tiny city state and the city of Rome, which surrounds it.

Suffocating summer heat has followed two years of lower-than-average rainfall in Rome, forcing the Italian capital to close drinking fountains and consider the prospect of water rationing. More than a million residents of Rome are facing water rationing for up to eight hours a day as the prolonged heatwave that has ravaged southern Europe takes its toll.

Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said it was the first time authorities in the spiritual home of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics could remember being forced to turn off the fountains."

Apparently 72% less rain than normal fell in Rome in July. There was 74% less than normal in June, and a 56% reduction from the long-term average across March, April and May. Authorities are considering shutting off the water supply for several hours a day. Imagine being really hot in Rome and not being able to shower at will!

So the Vatican is showing solidarity and reminding us all that caring for the planet and its resources is an important issue for Pope Francis. I doubt if he is unable to shower but fountains will be switched off. “This decision is very much in line with the pope’s thinking on ecology: you can’t waste and sometimes you have to be willing to make a sacrifice,” said a spokesman.

I wonder if shutting off the water supply will work. I remember years ago my sister telling me about the same thing occurring in El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, where she lives. On the whole the net result was that most of her neighbours filled up the bathtub with water every evening, just in case they needed it, and then, usually not having needed it, let it all run away the following morning. 

There must have been some kind of logic at work there!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


For the first time in weeks there was a cruise boat in the harbour when I got up this morning. The reduction in numbers of boats calling here must be taking place after all as the newspapers said some time ago.

I must say the tourists have chosen a lovely day to call in at Vigo. Blue sky and sunshine always makes the city look better. But I can imagine some bemused reactions amongst the people who seem to regard a tour stop as a chance to go shopping. This being Galicia Day all the shops will be shut and the visitors will be thinking it must be half-day closing. As if such a thing existed these days.

The Spanish have not yet got around to thinking that shopping is the kind of leisure activity you get up to on a public holiday. They will have found better things to do with the day.

Most of the residents of our flats seem to have done that too. For a good while I was all alone at the pool once again. My own private pool! Gradually a few more people arrived but not in huge numbers. And somewhere around two the smell of woodsmoke came from the barbecue area but that too was sparsely populated.

I wonder if tourism here will be affected by Ryanair's threat to stop flying from Britain unless a reasonable Brexit deal is sorted out, which means one that favours them, I expect. They are already moaning about passengers not booking luggage into the hold when they travel.

Crafty travellers are avoiding charges by bringing more and more luggage into the cabin. Ryanair’s chief financial officer, Neil Sorahan, said the airline could review its second bag allowance as passengers were starting to “take the piss”. He said: “I’ve seen two-year-olds wheeling a bag up to the plane as people try to take advantage.”

Pardon my unreasonable attitude but I think two-year-olds have to pay for a seat. Surely they are entitled to a luggae allowance in that case!

It must be hard trying to make lots of money!

Monday, 24 July 2017

Safety first!

As I stepped out of the front door of the flats this morning I was almost mown down by a motorcyclist ... on the pavement! Cyclists are bad enough but I really think we should draw the line at motorcyclists! This is by no means the first time I have come across motorcyclists riding along the pavement but this is the closest I have come to ending up under the wheels of such an inconsiderate pavement user. Supposing I had had a small child with me, one of those small Spanish children who set off at a run at every possible opportunity.

This particular motorcyclist was clearly in his way to park, on the pavement naturally, as close to the entrance to the Mercadona supermarket as possible. He must have ridden up from the direction of Teis. Then, instead of continuing on the road to the next roundabout, all of a couple of minutes ride away, and coming back to the supermarket, he would have crossed on the pedestrian crossing and then used the pavement as his personal roadway. Considering that it was not yet quite nine o'clock, opening time for Mercadona, I have to wonder what special offer he was afraid of missing!

I read yesterday that a report has been published showing that driving for two hours or more every day, as well as being bad for your heart (sedentary activity), is also bad for your brain. It's like watching TV; your brain is not actively engaged. (Unless of course you use the driving time to learn Italian from CDs, perhaps, which I used to do as I drove across Manchester on a daily basis.) Do people really drive on automatic pilot so much of the time? This is another aspect of modern life which is bad for us then!

It probably also goes some way to explaining the drivers around here who don't understand red lights! Or perhaps they do understand and just have an amazingly cavalier attitude to them. The other day I saw two examples in quick succession. One driver ran the red lights and then stopped, double parked, at a cash machine maybe thirty yards beyond the lights. Clearly it would have been too annoying to have to stop for a red light, wait and then stop again to get cash. Or maybe he was really being a good citizen and minimising the nuisance to other drivers of his double parking!

The second driver almost stopped at a red light but, when those of us waiting to cross the road did not set off immediately but just hesitated for a second until the green man appeared, she changed her mind, put her foot down and went on her merry (illegal) way!

I suspect my motorcyclist this morning has the same kind of me-centred mindset!

Do things like this happen in Madrid or Barcelona?

Where are the traffic police who wait vigilantly for drivers to exceed the speed limit on some roads? Do they never keep an eye on what goes on at traffic lights, especially in relatively quiet parts of town?

All this goes along with the mentality that says it's okay for children to sit in their car seats with the straps unfastened. This morning I saw a family loading up to go away on holiday, or at any rate on a journey somewhere. One of the rear seats was folded down and cushions placed on it to make a sort of bed for the smallest member of their group to travel on. No baby seat or even sign of straps or seat belt. The mind boggles! Just as when I see small children riding unfastened in their baby buggies, I was tempted to stop and give a little lecture on safety measures and the need to protect little lives! 

Rant over! I simply need someone to explain this arrant carelessness to me!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sunday. Bridges. Tour ending.

It's been a splendid Sunday: sunny, warm but not too hot. I went down to the pool in the late morning and found hardly anyone there. Just me, the Italian Spanish couple with whom I have a nodding acquaintance and a daddy giving his small daughter a swimming lesson. So I took advantage of the emptiness, and especially the absence of adolescent boys showing off their prowess at doing the "bomba", swimming underwater, retrieving items from the bottom of the pool and generally splashing a lot, to swim a bit further than usual. How many circuits do you need to swim to do a kilometre? How many kilometres will I have swum by the end of the summer? Am I the only resident who actually swims any real distance in the pool?

Where was everybody? This is Sunday and the usual enthusiastic barbecue fiends were absent. Not a single barbecue fire being lit. Today it seemed that nobody wanted charred meat for lunch. I suspect that what María at the Midcentury cafe commented to us on Friday is probably true: Vigo has emptied for the weekend. She was warning us that she will be closed on Monday, in addition to her usual Sunday closing. Tuesday is a día festivo, a public holiday, and so, like many Spaniards when a public holiday falls on Thursday or a Tuesday, she is making a bridge and giving herself a long weekend. Tuesday is Saint James' Day. Saint James is the patron saint of Galicia and so July 26 is a public holiday, Día de Galicia. Everything closes, except for bars and restaurants, facilities at seaside resorts, and breadshops: bread and cakes, freshly baked are still needed. But masses of people will have left the city and headed for the hills or the beach. And they say it's a British thing to head off on a Bank Holiday weekend!
 The Tour de France is not having a day off. Indeed, as I wrote, Chris Froome should be making his way into Paris to wind another tour, all being well and provided nothing untoward happens. The time difference between him and the close followers has been so small that I wondered if there would be a last minute battle on the Champs Élysées. He consolidated his lead a little yesterday so maybe they will follow what seems to have become a tradition of letting the yellow jersey win and just competing for second place. I shall try to ascertain the truth of this matter before posting.

They have dug up Salvador Dalí. A certain Maria Pilar Abel claims to be the result of a liaison her mother had with Dalí in 1955. So they have been collecting DNA samples. Under Spanish law, she would be heir to a quarter of Dalí’s fortune if the DNA supports her contention. In a twist almost a surreal as some of her putative father's painting, María Pilar is a fortune teller. Does her profession give her access to information about the past as well as the future? If so, she should know whether she has a good case or not. But it would seem that she might not just be after her fifteen minutes of fame but a tidy sum of money as well. Perhaps I do her an injustice. 

What the papers have been getting most excited about is the fact that Dalí's famous moustache is still there! What did they expect to have happened to it? Apart from maybe growing a little? After all, hair and nails are said to continue growing after death. But surely hair does not rot away as such. Isn't that way locks of hair were kept as mementos? And back in Victorian times, pictures used to be made using the hair of deceased loved ones. Gruesome stuff! Almost as gruesome as the reaction of the embalmer who dealt with Dalí's body back in 1989. “His face was covered with a silk handkerchief – a magnificent handkerchief,” he told reporters. "When it was removed, I was delighted to see his moustache was intact … I was quite moved. You could also see his hair. His moustache is still intact, [like clock hands at] 10 past 10, just as he liked it. It’s a miracle."

Oh dear! Someone takes his work too seriously. He should get out more!

Postscript: Froome won his third Tour de France in a row, his fourth altogether, by 54 seconds. Not a single stage win though!

Saturday, 22 July 2017


I slipped accidentally onto the Telegraph online yesterday evening and found a headline, not a major headline but one towards the bottom of the page, that informed me that Kate (used to be Middleton) was wearing Lady Diana's pearls. Is that really news? I suppose it's symptomatic of the fact that British society is still oddly class-ridden.

For a while it seemed as if the edges were getting blurred. Working class kids could go to university and get into professions previously closed to them. And, goodness me, a girl from a perfect ordinary family could go to university, marry a prince and find herself with the possibility of becoming queen one day! Fairy tales could come true!

Except, of course, that it was never really the case. Back when I and a whole lot of others of my generation were the first of our families to escape to university and then flew the nest, it was mostly those of us whose parents were already moving up. Most of the manual workers's offspring were destined to follow in their parents' footsteps. And when some of their offspring later did get into those supposedly more vocational university courses, it was only to find themselves saddled with huge debts at the end of it. As for the girl who might be queen, well, her "ordinary" family turned out to be an ordinary very wealthy family. The prince did not after all marry the working girl who had never had any privileges. So it goes.

I keep coming across news items relating to these class-related things. There's the tale of Princess Eugenie's application to read English Literature at Newcastle University. Her application was rejected on the grounds that her predicted grades were not good enough. One explanation is that the person dealing with the form was Italian and did not cotton on to who this potential student was! Fortunately someone realised in time what a privilege it would be to have a princess at their university and so they offered her a place on something like Art History. According to the news item, "the university were “horrified” to find out that she had been rejected and promptly offered her a place for a different degree, according to Dr Martin Farr, a senior history lecturer at Newcastle University". Phew! What a relief!

And then there is this article about how to learn a language: all about someone who was sent off to Russian more or less on her own aged 13. Curious! I read that article and thought to myself that only the wealthy can do stuff like that. Recently we talked with some friends about Gerald Durrell and his stories about growing up on a Greek island. The family often declared themselves poor and yet could manage to go off and live on their island where young Gerald, the baby of the family (el benjamín as the Spanish say) ran wild and free. They lived a hand to mouth existence with constant battles with the bank but nobody ever went truly hungry. They had the connections and the network to make it all work.

Similarly the girl who was sent off to Russia. It takes a certain confidence that comes from being around money to run your life that way.

And then Michele Hanson, whose columns I have enjoyed reading for years and years, wrote something about the disappearance of music teaching from schools. She wrote:

"Remember the lovely old pre-Sats days and all those peripatetic instrumental teachers? I do because I was one. Children would leave their classes – yes, leave their classes – and come and learn the flute, or whatever, for 20 minutes. Free. Instrument loaned by the school. Free. Then any child could play in orchestras, bands and concerts. Happy days. Some still can, but if they do make it, there will be nowhere left for the “low” ones to play. I almost despair of music in this country. Most contemporary classical music has rather gone up its own plinkety-plonky, inaccessible, academic bottom, and last week Andrew Lloyd Webber – lord of wambly, mainly forgettable or baby tunes – has just collected a lifetime achievement award. Is he the best we can do? Surely not. Imagine how many more talented musicians there would be if everyone had a fair chance. Music should be the most, not the least, important subject in schools. I have said it before, I’ll say it again, and again, and again …"

Some might disagree with her assessment of Andrew Lloyd Webber (not necessarily me) but she's not wrong about the music teaching. Pretty soon only the wealthy will learn languages and music!

Not all is negativity, however. During my last couple of years as a sixth form college tutor I had a student in my tutor group who was a year or three older than the rest. Determined and concentrated, she met all her deadlines and worked enough part time hours to pay rent on a tiny flat and support herself. The back story is that she had a pretty dysfunctional family, dropped out of school as soon as she could and lived rough for a while. That could have been the end of her story. Eventually, however, she got back into education, night school classes and the like, acquired the qualifications to get into sixth form and chose to study hard, non-girly subjects: Maths, Physics, Chemistry. And off she went to university, to read Physics, all the while supporting herself, and managing to do charity work in between times. The BSc out of the way, she went on to do a Master's degree, also in Physics, and just recently completed her PhD, still in Physics, with a bit of medical technology thrown in for good measure. A total success story. One of the things she does now is visit schools to tell girls how they too can succeed in science!

I feel quite privileged to have had a small hand in her success, even if it was just writing the reference that accompanied her university application

Friday, 21 July 2017

Kids out of or under control!

Recently I read about a legal argument over who "owns" the space between seats on planes and buses. Is it the person whose knees are in the space? Or is it the person whose seat might at times recline into that space? As far as I know this is still rather a grey area. I do know that Phil had to remonstrate with someone sitting behind him on the plane last week as he keep pushing his knees against the back of Phil's seat, often enough and hard enough to make sitting uncomfortable. I am pretty sure it was not deliberate, or even conscious, nastiness on his part. I think he just had very long legs and felt confined in the space.

I was reminded of this by a news story I came across about a family who were thrown off a plane in the USA. They were travelling from Fort Lauderdale to New York, a couple with three children. The one-year-old started kicking the seat in front. The occupant of that seat suggested the mother should hold her baby's feet and eventually moved to another seat. One version says that the parents became argumentative and made threats. The mother simply says she apologised. The outcome was that the pilot turned the taxiing plane around and went back to the departure gate. The family was asked to get off the plane. They refused. The whole plane has to disembark and the family were escorted off by security personal. The cost of their flight was refunded. They had, however, to pay for a hotel overnight and the next day they took another, rather more expensive, flight to New York. All in all, a rather expensive bit of toddler kicking!

To add to the family's woes, when they were deplaned their luggage was not; it continued the planned journey to New York. By the time the family reached New York, their luggage had been sent back to Florida! Oh, and the family has been barred from travelling with that airline ever again! Such are the joys of modern life.

If only people could sort out minor problems like toddlers who kick seats in a more amicable way life would undoubtedly be much easier. I am so glad Phil's remonstration with the passenger behind him did not lead to such difficulties!

On the subject of children, here is a little extract from something by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian recently: "As Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher Rees-Mogg – sixth child of the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – makes his way in the world, social media is awash with formulas for calculating your Rees-Mogg name. There’s combining the surnames of your History and English teachers with the last home county you visited – or taking your favourite monarch, adding both parents’ middle names followed by your favourite French word and favourite cheese. In another life, I’d be Charlie Patrick-Suzanne Pamplemousse Cave-Aged Gouda."


Some questions spring to mind. Does a child really need so many names? How will they actually address him? Do the other Rees-Mogg children have similar ordinal number names - Primus, Segundus, Tertius, etc?

The mind boggles!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Social media and communications stuff!

At some point during our long wait for the bus at Oporto airport last Friday I went to the loo. It's a perfectly natural thing to do, after all. I realised that the person in the cubicle next to mine was making a phone call. Not, in my opinion anyway, a totally natural thing to do. I can think of nobody I would need to call so urgently and importantly that it could not wait until after I had been to the loo. Especially a public loo. Just think of the background noise! Some people, however, simply cannot be incommunicado even while they pee. This is probably one of the reasons why so many mobile phones are dropped down the toilet. It's not just a matter of them falling out of trouser pockets; it's the desperate need to be communicating non-stop!

I say this in total awareness of the fact that I post a blog most days, check my email on a regular basis, ditto text messages, get a good deal of my news updates from what other people post on Facebook and have the habit of posting a picture on Facebook just about every day. But there are limits! Somethings you just don't do!

Maybe it's a generational thing.

Yesterday I read about the growing popularity of rosé wine. Sales are up by 15% or 16% apparently. Chilled rosé wine is the drink of the summer, they say, especially among the millennials. I can vouch for that, I think, if my son and his friends count as millenials. Born at the end of the 1970s, start of the 1980s, does that make them millenials or are they too old? Whatever the truth of that matter, here is the rosé thing. When my son, his wife and I eventually found some friends of theirs at the Tom Petty concert in Hyde Park - just under two weeks ago although it seems an age away - said friends had already purchased a bottle of chilled rosé wine. Another bottle of the same was acquired later. The wine came in a plastic bottle, properly wine-bottle shaped but still plastic. It seems that they manufacture such bottles and properly-shaped plastic wine glasses, complete with stems, just for such occasions. If you want a sophisticated picnic you need such things!

All of this is a far cry from the days when supermarkets in England seemed to sell only rather nasty wine called Corrida or straw-clad bottles of Chianti. Those straw-clad bottles were then trendily used as candle holders and allowed to become wax-be-dribbled as well as straw-clad. Ah, the joys of nostalgia!

Getting back to the trend for drinking rosé wine, it would appear that one of the reasons behind this comes from social media. If you document each moment of your existence with an Instagram photo, an aspect of social media I have so far resisted, then rosé wine comes in the perfect colour to be included in such photos. Less in-your-face than full-bodied red wine and not so photographically insipid as white wine, a glass of rosé is the ideal drink to include in the documentary of your sophisticated life!

Who knew?

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Damp! And clouds!

I was pretty sure it was raining before I even opened the blinds this morning. There is a particular swish of car tyres on tarmac that is instantly recognisable. But there was no sound of rain. No, it was that soft drizzle that Galicia does so well and the dampness in the air that results from the clouds coming down to sea level.

I always find this thing with the clouds very curious. Years ago we spent an Easter holiday in a place in the hills/mountains of Almería. About half an hour's drive from the small town of Cómpeta, the chalet was so difficult of access that we had to hire a four by four to drive down the steep track to reach it. If we went into town to eat, whoever was driving consumed no alcohol whatsoever as the drive home was so scary. In the mornings we would wake to sunshine on the hilltop and look down on cloud at various points lower down the slope. But these were wispy bits of cloud and, besides, somehow you expected such things in the mountains.

The cloud we look down on from our seventh floor flat (really nineth or tenth if you also count the floors of offices) is like rolls of cottonwool. It's as if the stuff the plane descends through as it comes down to land has just dropped to sea level. And it moves around so that landmarks are hidden and then revealed as the cottonwool roll squirms around obstacles. When we first came and lived two years in Vigo we didn't see this phenomenon. Or maybe we just didn't notice. It feels like a more recent devlopment.

We certainly experienced the sea mist advancing off the Atlantic on a memorable occasion when we took our daughter and her children out on a trip to the Islas Cíes. We watched from the main island as the other islands and distant Vigo gradually disappeared. Our eldest granddaughter, then about 12, was rather worried that the boat might not find its way back to Vigo harbour.

This cloud-drop mist/fog/rain is a different kind of phenomenon though and one that we have seen increasingly in the years that we have rented this flat near the Teis end of the city. Another curious effect of that non-existent climate change. And all rather different from the swelteringly hot weather that we had over the weekend.

Taking advantage of the cooler (but still pleasant) weather yesterday we took ourselves off for a stomp along the coastal path around the A Guía promontory, a product of EU funding. A very fine walkway, with steep rocks on one side and eucalyptus trees on the other, it offers occasional splendid views of the bay. And it always has us thinking about health and safety factors at points where it runs directly alongside a steep wooded slope overlooking the sea. If this were the UK, we think to ourselves, there would be a sturdy fence here! But this is a another country!

On our way back, walking through the backroads of Teis, we spotted a family group ahead, the small boys equipped with fine straw hats. Something in the demeanour said British. Well, we had to speed up just a little to check if our suspicions were correct. The women in the group could have been of almost any nationality but the father and the boys seemed distinctly English. And so it turned out. The boys with their pale but freckled faces said it all.

The father tall and tanned, weatherbeaten even, told us that they had a boat in the Teis marina, the puerto deportivo. (As we had passed it we remarked on the millions of pounds worth of boats moored there and the income presumably generated for the area. The protestors should think of that sometimes.)

The English family had sailed here from England and were visiting a relative who appeared to live here, or at any rate who knew Teis well. Now, I bet they know a thing or two about sea mist and fog and general variations in weather!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


Walking our smallest grandchild in her elegant red baby buggy one day last week, I fell into conversation with an elderly man walking in the same direction. He remarked on the smartness of the baby buggy, the steepness of the slope we were descending and the cleverness of the strap attaching the buggy to my wrist, so that it could not slip my grasp and run away down the hill. He informed me that HE was in no condition to run away anywhere. Indeed, a year ago he had been in no condition to walk anywhere. Like the ancient mariner in the poem, he had a glint in his eye that suggested that thereby hung a tale.

So I obliged him by asking him to explain.

Fifty years ago he was involved in an accident. The details of the accident were clearly irrelevant as he gave me none. The important fact was that as a result of the accident his left ankle was smashed. Not just broken but smashed. Back then, he told me, Oldham hospital barely had an X-ray machine. Scans were a thing of the future. However, the equipment available was enough to show that his ankle was a mess. Beyond repair. The best 1960s solution they could propose was to amputate just below the knee. Fancy prosthetic limbs were also a thing of the future and so he declined the offer and walked away.

Yes, he walked away, on his ruined ankle and for fifty years continued to walk on his ruined ankle. He never learnt to drive, lacking the necessary flexibility in his ruined ankle. How was walking even possible? That was what I wanted to know. He promised to come back to that point. The tale was clearly going to be told at his pace.

Fifty years on he received a letter one day, from a doctor he had never heard of. The doctor had seen his records and wanted to meet him. Aware that the elderly gent might not be too mobile, instead of asking the patient to visit him, he proposed to visit the patient. Or at any rate meet half way at the big health centre in Oldham, at a time when the health centre is usually closed. "I think you will find it stays open for me," he commented. Clearly a medical chap with some clout! And so the old chap went along, with his ruined ankle, and the doctor poked and prodded and declared that he believed he could do something to sort it out. First, though, he wanted some scans of the ruined ankle. Before you could say "waiting list" the old chap had an appointment at Oldham hospital, once again at an unusual hour, and scans were taken from every conceivable angle.

Called once more into the presence of the mystery doctor, the old chap viewed these 3-d pictures. Ouch! What a mess! Crunched up bits of broken bone, mangled and out of place. And the doctor proposed to put this right? Well, yes! He even showed him before and after scans of the ankle of a lady involved rather less than fifty years ago in a car accident. The before scans were remarkably similar to his own ruined ankle. The lady in question was now walking around perfectly well once more. The doctor had put the ankle back together rather like a complicated three-dimensional jigsaw. 

It was time for the first big question: if his ankle was such a mishmash of bits of broken bone, how had the old chap been walking around on it for fifty years? How come he had not been in agony? The doctor had a couple of theories.

It was highly likely that the old chap had a very high pain threshold. Yes, the old chap confirmed, that seemed to be so. On more than one occasion he had burnt himself without realising and once he had only become aware of having cut himself badly when he saw blood on the floor. Good grief, it was a wonder he was still alive!

The second factor was that his brain had kind of excommunicated his foot. All the nerve ending were in such a mess that his brain had decided that his foot was no longer there. The human body is an amazing thing! Who knew that your brian could do that?

But the good doctor sorted him out. Once more there was no mention of waiting lists before the old gent was whistled off for a two-month stay in hospital where the good doctor took apart the ruined ankle, reshaped bits of bones and put it all back together again. A work of art! And there the old chap was, not exactly running marathons but off to his allotment to dig for potatoes. And all this on the National Health!

Time for the second big question: why had all this happened? Well, the doctor finally explained, he and his professional companions have been doing hip replacements and knee replacements for a good while now and they would like to be able to the same with wonky ankles. However, the ankle is a much more complex joint and needs a lot of detailed study. Every time he does a reconstruction he learns a little more about how the ankle works.

Another question springs to mind: perhaps more important than the other two: if the government keeps selling off the National Health Service to Richard Branson and others, will this kind of story be able to be repeated in the future?

Monday, 17 July 2017

Noises off!

This morning I woke up to a strangely muffled city. The sea mist that had rolled thinly up the estuary late yesterday evening had spread all over? Cangas and Mosña had disappeared as had the top of A Guía. The temperature gauge at the roundabout read 17 degrees at 9 o'clock. Rather a large drop from 25 and 26 which it has been showing at that time.

I ran around the block as usual, in shorts and t-shirt prompting the lady in the breadshop to ask me if I was not cold! 17 degrees, not 7! Not hot but not really cold either!

Anyway, the city is muffled, which is strange as this is quite a noisy place. In fact Spain as a whole is a noisy place. People speak loudly. Elegant ladies often have shrill or hoarse voices. Even small boys sound strangely gruff at times.

And the Spanish love fireworks. They let them off at the drop of a hat. There was a display across the bay late on Saturday night. Now, I love a good firework display. The magic still works. What I find hard to understand or appreciate is the apparent obsession with firing off what might be flares in rapid succession at various points in the day. There is simply nothing to see!

Yesterday, for example, at some point in the mid- to late-afternoon, we started to hear the pop-pop-thump of small explosions. Looking out, we could see a series of flashes followed by small puffs of smoke emanating from some point on the other side of the estuary, more or less opposite the A Guía promontory. This was in broad daylight, indeed, in bright sunshine. After a while, when they had accumulated a fine lot of smoke it all stopped. Some time later, long enough for someone to have driven along with supplies of small explosives, it began again a little further along the coast: repeated pop-pop-thumps, flashes and puffs of smoke intil a small cloud was created. And then it stopped, only to recur a little further along some time later. Perhaps it was a fog-creation project!

Some time around midnight we had a repeat performance, this time cumulating in a huge bang, as if someone was trying to blow up the Rande Bridge. Of course, as you would expect, each time this small arms stuff occurred all the local dogs set off barking nineteen to the dozen.

Add to that the fact that a pop-up disco (similar to pop-up shops that appear overnight) came into being sometime in the wee small hours and continued until around four in the morning, emitting a hurdy-gurdy dumph-dumph which woke me up several times, and it was quite a relief to have the city under cotton wool this morning.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

State visits! Climate change! Community spirit!

The king of Spain has been visiting the UK. There were rides in state carriages and a big gala dinner with everyone in their finery and the ladies wearing their tiaras. The BBC news seemed to be struck by the fact that the oldest monarch in Europe was meeting the tallest monarch in Europe. Some of the Spanish press concentrated on how much better dressed Queen Letizia, striking in red, was than the Duchess of Cambridge, more demure in dusty pink. Is this what it's all about?

President Trump meanwhile has been in France where he felt it was appropriate to comment to the first lady of that country that she was "in great shape". Would he say the same to Letizia or Kate? I wonder! Or was it the fact that much has been made in the press about how much older that her husband Madame Macron is? I suppose she should feel grateful that he did not grab her by a certain part of her anatomy! And this man is in charge of one of the most powerful countries in the world!! 

We were talking about him last night in María's Midcentury cafe. At ten o'clock in the evening it was still around 30 degrees. Goodness knows what the temperature was in mid afternoon! María's husband commented that this is what we can expect from now on. Twenty years ago Galician summers did not run to 33 or 35 degrees on a regular basis. Unless, of course, you lived in Orense, which is a place of extremes. And yet, we all remarked, the likes of Donald Trump still say that climate change is a myth!

Whether it is part of a normal cycle or totally the result of carbon emissions is something the scientists continue to argue about but nobody sensible can deny that change is happening. Ice caps are shrinking and deserts are growing and we human beings need to be aware and prepared. 

Okay, mini-environmental rant over. Here's something else that is disappearing: the English estate pub. According to Martin Dodge, a senior lecturer in Geography at Manchester University, In the past, the pub acted as “the community anchor”. Now gentrification has led to the closing of many local pubs and he reckons that communities are losing their soul as a result. He is encouraging people to go and drink there, and presumably get involved in quiz nights and music nights and all the other stuff. Now, he says, there’s nostalgia for the English pub, “but that’s not going to pay the rent. If you don’t go and buy your beer there, it’s not going to survive.”

I know people who said the same about the local parish church and many if them have now been turned into conference centres, furniture warehouses and goodness knows what else. And in the same way, pubs are being turned into bijou residences for those who can afford them. 

Social change, like climate change, creeps up on you and one day you blink and realise everything is different!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Travellers' tales.

Yesterday we travelled very efficiently from Delph to Oporto, with a slight hiccough going through security at Manchester airport. After that it went just mildly pair-shaped. We finally reached our flat at 1.00 in the morning, some eleven or possible twelve hours after leaving the house in Delph.

Bus from Delph to Oldham; a two minute wait for a tram into Manchester, alighting at Deansgate Castlefield to change for a tram to the airport (a minor moment of confusion there as it was not clear which platform the airport tram left from) and eventually to the airport. Oh, and a long trek on moving walkways to get to Terminal 2!

 Getting through security at Manchester airport was a lengthy and, in my view, unnecessarily complicated affair. Shouted instructions abounded:-
Put all creams and liquids in plastic bags!
Get out your electrical items: laptops, iPads, large cameras, kindles, hair-driers, straighteners, curling wands! (Oddly enough not electric shavers - or maybe Phil's just slipped under the radar!)
Take off jackets and belts!
Empty your pockets!
Do all this in advance and save time!
Wow, so many things to do as you shuffle along in a queue winding to and fro, with some people getting grumpy as others overtake them while they juggle electrical gadgets and take their jackets off at the same time.

 When we finally got to the actual security check they insisted that almost every item went in a separate tray. So my small rucksack could not go in the same tray as my even smaller handbag. Each electrical gadget had its own tray. At the last moment someone spotted my watch and insisted I take it off, grudgingly allowing me to put it in the same tray as my hoody!

At the end of the line, as trays arrived there was total confusion as each person's myriad trays arrived, not in a group but intermingled with other people's. How belongings are not lost, I do not know. Perhaps they are.

Our flight was smooth and trouble free, arriving on time, prompting boasts about their airline having the highest percentage of on-time arrivals!!! For a brief moment we thought we might be able to dash through Oporto airport in time for the 7.00 pm bus to Vigo. What a silly idea. It must have taken at least twenty minutes to fix stairs to the aircraft so that we could get off. So an almost three-hour wait for the next one it was!

In the process of leaving the plane, we got into conversation with the young man who had been sitting next to us. Initially he spoke to us in rather halting Spanish. He had spotted that I was reading a Spanish novel and jumped to conclusions. Briefly I considered keeping up the charade but eventually I took pity on him and admitted our Englishness. He too was going to Vigo but managed to find something on line, an app offering places in a car going to Vigo at 8.00pm. All our hopes rose. And then it turned put to be just one place. So we resigned ourselves to our long wait.

Talking to this young man, we discovered he is a software engineer (hence his ability to find an app for a lift), travelling to and fro at the moment as his Spanish wife is in Vigo for the summer with their daughter. The child is being brought up bilingual. Excellent!

I thought of him as I read my Spanish novel and came across an apt quotation: Al que no aprende idiomas el cerebro se le convierte en puré de coliflor - If you do not learn languages your brain turns to puréed cauliflower!

Quite so!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Delays, cancellations and catch-up!

I failed to post yesterday. I had got back later than expected from London on Tuesday evening. When I reached London's Euston station around lunchtime on Tuesday the place was crowded, perhaps even more so than usual. Then I noticed that the train to Manchester before mine was cancelled. Virgin trains run on that route every twenty minutes and my train said it was on time. Until suddenly it wasn't; it too was cancelled. Get on the next one, said the electrnic noticeboard. And then the next one was cancelled and the one after that!

It transpired that there had been an "incident" at Milton Keynes, causing chaos to all train journeys passing through the station. This later was updated to a "fatal incident", leaving us all to speculate uselessly on what might have happened.

Eventually some smeblance of normality resumed and we all caught a later train. As I was travelling light, only a small backpack, I cleverly dodged all the stressed people running with huge suitcase towd behund them and ducked into the first class carriage. Once there, I walked calmly through to the carriages where the common people get to sit and found myself a seat, a table seat at that. All seat reservations were cancelled because of the delay so there was no problem. And when the ticket inspector came round he assured us that those of us who had been delayed for more that 30 minutes woud receive an automatic refund. Ever cloud has a silver linng and so on.

Yesterday I decided to get up in time for a run, the only exercise I had really had over the splendid weekend having been dancing barefoot in Hyde Park at te Tom Petty concert.

That was when the day went haywire. My daughter contacted me as I jogged along the  ridle path, to say her youngest had been sick at nursery and had to come home. Could I babysit? Oh and could I also pick up medication for the middle daughter who was home in bed with tonsillitis? Well, of course. That is what you do.

And so yesterday and today became grandmother days. No real reflections on anything. Which is why today's post, finally, is largely a collection of photos of fun and ganes at Hyde Park in the sunshine on Sunday.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Keeping to the rules!

Some time ago I read about hotels losing money because of people leaving without actually checking out and therefore not paying the bill. Do they sneak out with their bags before anyone has a chance to see them go? The hotel equivalent of the moonlight flit. I imagine the receptionist stopping guests and asking just where they are going with the suitcase.

I was reminded of this because I just read about a bunch of Italians in Pamplona who tried to do a runner from a restaurant and were made to go back and settle the bill: €620! That's rather a lot of money for a restaurant to lose in one night. There were fifteen in the group but still, that's over €40 apiece. You see, we simply would not have gone to a restaurant with those sorts of prices!

Teachers, even retired teachers, can't afford such things. And now our government is insulting teachers once again by restricting their proposed pay-rise to 1%. I wonder if they will ever realise that if you want quality public service workers you need to play them properly. Fortunately for the government there are still enough people who feel inspired to go and work in schools and hospitals. How long will it last.

Here's a link to another bit of nonsense about schools: testing pupils. The gist of it is that primary school pupils might well learn to punctuate properly and understand when to use a semicolon (something that many adults find really difficult) but if they don't make a perfectly formed comma or semicolon, with the tail of the comma facing in the right direction and the dot of the semicolon at just the right height, they may lose marks. If you have to insert punctuation into a printed text it can be extremely difficult to make the mark in a perfectly neat way, especially if your teachers and parents have stressed you out about the whole thing! Don't the "experts" who oversee the marking of tests realise this? This is not testing but trapping!

But I mustn't get started on the whole issue of testing. Not good for anybody's blood pressure!

I also read recently about female journalists being expelled from the White House press room because of inappropriate dress. Apparently the women concerned were wearing sleeveless dresses. It is summer after all! But female journalists' arms and shoulders are deemed disrespectful. Or maybe it's only the kind of female journalists who might tell "false news" stories. Maybe they should start to carry tasteful stoles to cover their bare arms, as many women tourists do when visiting Italian churches. Or perhaps the White House could invest in those paper cover-ups that some churches, again Italian, hand out as you enter if they deem you to be showing toomich flesh!

I was reminded of our trying to visit the Vatican one summer holiday and Phil being denied entry because of his knee-length shorts! So a middle-aged man's knees are offensive to the Lord, are they?! 

Strangely enough, having read about this dress code business, I then saw Kellyanne Conway on the news, standing outside the White House in a sleeveless dress! Shock! Horror! Perhaps she too had been expelled!

Sunday, 9 July 2017


When the temperature got up towards 30 in Vigo recently a friend commented that we probably never get such weather in the UK. When I assured him that it does happen, he assured me that it must be only rarely. And so, here I am at our son's house not far from London, with blue sky and sunshine and soaring temperatures. He assures me that they have had this weather for a good few weeks. (Everyone predicts that it will stop when the schools break up at the end of the month.)

Looking at the weather forecast, I notice that the predicted high temperature here is 27 degrees, as opposed to a predicted high of 22 in Manchester. So there is a bit of regional difference. The Northern Powerhouse is clearly not doing much about the weather.

Here's another difference from once place to another:-

In El Salvador a young woman has been sentenced to 30 years in prison. She was raped, more than once, over and over, ended up pregnant and finally gave birth to a stillborn child. She was found guilty of murder on the ground that she did not seek proper antenatal care. How does that work?

By contrast, in the UK a man has been sentenced to 25 years for killing two women, five years apart, both former girlfriends.

It's a strange world. And there are still places where women poor treatment.

It seems too that inequality also exists in the world of technology. Here is a link to an article about how sexist technology can be. It reports the case of an academic trying to gain access to the locker room at her local gym. She identified herself by her title: Dr. The automatic door system would not let her in because it only recognised Dr as a male title. Therefore she was not allowed into the women's changing room!

Some of this is because computers and computer systems are now capable of learning. By reading a lot of text, a computer can learn that Paris is to France as Tokyo is to Japan. It develops a dictionary by association. And so certain occupations become male preserves, just because on the real world that is more often the case. And when asked “Man is to woman as computer programmer is to ?”, the computer model will answer “homemaker”. Or for “father is to mother as doctor is to ?”, the answer is “nurse”. "Of course", the article tells us, " the model reflects a certain reality: it is true that there are more male computer programmers, and nurses are more often women. But this bias, reflecting social discrimination, will now be reproduced and reinforced when we engage with computers using natural language that relies on Word2vec. It is not hard to imagine how this model could also be racially biased, or biased against other groups."

We still have some way to go to have a perfectly balanced world.

Friday, 7 July 2017

A Traveller's tales.

Travelling to London in the so-called quiet zone of the train. This works fine for preventing people making noisy phone calls and making a row with their electronic gadgets. What it does not do is legislate for a group of young women talking nineteen to the dozen at the top of their voices.

I was considering reminding them of the quiet status of the coach. And then they were joined at Stockport by a friend who seemingly had a seat booked in another coach but wanted to sit with her friends. She asked if she could sit in the seat next to mine. I pointed out that it was reserved, and therefore she might have to move at some point. Then another passenger came up and said that that seat was actually hers but she had chosen to sit further down the carriage in unreserved seats. And she reminded them that this was the quiet coach! Hurray! It made little difference. Especially as when their friend arrived, she brought alcohol for all of them.

Finally the ticket inspector reminded them that this was a quiet coach! Listening to their not-so-quiet conversation, I gleaned that they were off for a weekend partying in London. The one who got on in Stockport had a case so big and obviously heavy that even her friends expressed surprise!

Here is from the noisy ladies: "As well as a quiet coach, they should have a party coach. If ever I get rich, I'll buy my own train and organise it!"

On the bus yesterday from Vigo to Porto to catch plane to Manchester we were quite amazed at how full it was. AUTNA, the bus company, had even laid on an extra vehicle. We had booked in advance so we were unconcerned about getting a seat but proved hard to find two seats together. At the last moment a British family group got on and walked up and down the bus looking to seat numbers to match their booking. Eventually we put them out of their puzzled misery by pointing out that the numbers really only serve to tell the company how many seats are booked. Even when all seats have numbers nobody takes any notice of them. This has always been the case as long as I have travelled around Spain.

On Wednesday we made a last minute decision to pop over to Pontevedra and have lunch with our friend Colin. We arrived at Urzaiz station in plenty of time but the queue to buy tickets was so long that we opted to follow the recommendation that kept coming over the public address system and had a go at buying our tickets from the automatic vending machines. We successfully put in the numbers of our tarjetas doradas, our over-65 discount cards, and followed all the instructions. When it came to paying for our tickets, the amount seemed higher than usual. Then we discovered that somehow we had bought four tickets. By then there was no time to ask at the ticket office so we scuttled off and caughte the train. After all, it was only a matter of €7.

On the train we decided to ask the ticket inspector about this. We explained our stupidity in using machines. His first reaction was to say we should go to the ticket office at Pontevedra and ask there. Not terribly helpful! After a few minutes, however, he came back and scrawled something on the unused tickets. So, arriving at Pontevedra we headed for the booking office. Another long queue awaited us and so we asked at the customer service desk. The haughty lady there indicated that we should join the queue and "comentar" with the assistant there. Another not very helpful moment!

Meanwhile, perhaps because so many people in the queue were mumbling and muttering, another assistant turned up. The one who was there already had spent about five minutes with each customer. Slowly, slowly, the second assistant ambled to his seat. Slowly slowly, he switched on his computer. Slowly, slowly, he sorted out all his equipment. And slowly, slowly, our turn came around. Then everything went into double speed. I was half way through explaining what had happened when he nodded, smiled, and handed us the money we had paid for our unused tickets. Amazing!

Such are the things that happen to this intrepid traveller!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Weather (again) and graffiti in dreams!

Yesterday was an odd day. It began with intense heat first thing in the morning. While I was down at the pool in the late morning and into midday it cooled down, not enough to cause concern but indicative of a change on the way. By late afternoon the Islas Cíes, outside the Vigo ría but which can be seen from our balcony, were disappearing under a bank of sea mist. And that bank of mist proceeded to roll up the estuary, as it often does suddenly in a heatwave, and cover the port area and the peninsula of A Guía. It wasn't as spectacular as I have sometimes seen it but it was just as effective at bringing down the temperature. This morning we have a grey sky and 19 degrees. What a difference a day makes.

In this town graffiti can be seen all over the place. Sometimes it's just a tag but even these have different levels, from a badly scrawled name to a more stylised set of initials, like ADMS which is everywhere, or the fancier Grey Brus, seen almost as frequently. I would like to know how they manage to produce such careful graffiti high up on walls of buildings or, more frighteningly, on the walls overlooking the motorway!

There are messages as well. There's the simple "TE AMO" (I LOVE YOU), which is written almost without a space, so that I always do a double take when I see it and wonder what "teamo" is. In one place there is a now much out of date wedding announcement; I hope it went well! And on one wall someone has written an apology: LO SIENTO. What did the writer do that demanded a public apology; there must be a story behind that.

In some places the graffiti are really elaborate, a whole work of art. There is a section of the river walk back from Samil beach to Castrelos Park with some excellent examples. It's a shame that sometimes the taggers who feel the need to scrawl their names as inartistically as possible often choose to overwrite such urban decoration.

It was last night's dream that spurred me to write about the graffiti here. In the dream I was out with friends having drinks and tapas. The list of raciones included flamingo. Not a usual item around here. Intrigued, we ordered flamingo, expecting some kind of steak. After all, there are farms that specialise in rearing ostriches in order to sell the meat to restaurants. So why not flamingo meat? When the order arrived it was a plate of tiny flamingo-shaped offerings, impossibly flamingo pink and intended to be eaten whole, like the little sardines or the pescaditos fritos. What did they taste of? My dream memory lets me down on that detail. No doubt ancient Romans or Greeks would have found some interesting interpretation to my dream.

However, I am pretty sure I know what inspired it: a piece of graffiti. Every morning, out on my run, I turn a corner and find myself looking at a bright pinky-orange flamingo painted on a wall. In case you are left in any doubt, the artist has written in large letters FLA-MIN-GO. That must have been the trigger!

Dreams are definitely strange ... and I hadn't even eaten any cheese!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Heat, poolside talk and some statistical info!

We've been having another heatwave. When I went out running first thing this morning, the temperature indicator on the advertising hoarding down at the roundabout already registered 30 degrees. And that was at 9.00 this morning. It was 30 degrees at the other end of the street at 9.00 last night so maybe the temperature just didn't go down at all overnight.

Late morning I went down to the pool and a bit of cloud was moving in, and a light breeze. Not quite so hot but still hot enough to make me want to sit in the shade when I wasn't in the water. Opinion down at the pool is that "hay que aprovechar" - we must make the most of it - as the rain is coming on Friday. By which point I shall be in London, visiting our son. The forecast for there is quite reasonable by all accounts.

At the pool I had one of those odd conversations with a very small boy. A series of questions:

 "Do you have a swimsuit?"
"Why don't you go in the little pool?"
"Why have I not seen you here before?"
"Can you swim?"
And so on. The sort of question three year olds ask.

He told me his name was Brian, a name I have not heard here before. Or in England since I was a small girl for that matter. All the English Brian's are of my generation I think, like the Maureens. Of course, it could be that the small boy's name is spelt Braian and that it is some traditional Galician or Celtic name.

I read yesterday that there are almost two-and-a-half times as many UK citizens (expats) living in Spain as there are Spanish citizens (immigrants) living in the UK. Most of the expats choose to live near the coast in Spain and about half of them are retired. The figures provided by the National Office for Statistics didn't say where most of the Spaniards live but I suspect a lot of them live in London and Manchester. Most of them are between 20 and 39. 59% of them are employed. Only 5% are unemployed - the Spaniards are not benefits scroungers then! The rest must be students, spouses or children presumably.

There were 219,000 visits of between one and 12 months to Spain by British citizens, mainly not for work or study, so perhaps those with holiday homes in Spain or visiting friends and relatives. We contributed our bit to those statistics. And there were also 13 million visits of less than 28 days to Spain in 2016, the vast majority holidays.

Only 849,00 Spaniards came to the UK on holiday. You'd think they don't like our weather. Considering that most of those I speak to are firmly convinced that we NEVER have hot weather and, in fact, that it rains most of the time, when it's not actually foggy, that is, they probably don't like the weather.

Those I have spoken to have enjoyed visiting London, Edinburgh, the Lake District and, in one odd case, Milton Keynes. I think it was because her son worked there for Banco de Santander, the bank that seems to be taking over the financial world!

None of this explains why the British living in other countries are expats rather than immigrants!

Monday, 3 July 2017

Nationalism, of one kind and another!

Years ago when the British spent holidays abroad, in our case at that time mostly in northern France, which was just about within drivable distance from the Northwest of England, there were usually two things that we really truly wanted on our return: fish and chips and a proper cup of tea. The longing for fish and chips has faded, at least in our case, but the yen for a good cup of tea remains. The continental Europeans seem incapable of making a good cup of tea. The basic principle of pouring the water on the teabag immediately it boils is a thing unheard of. But then I know Italians and Spaniards who make similar complaints about the British and coffee. Phil and I pride ourselves quite outrageously on being able to make both beverages to a more than adequate standard!

It used to be that here in Spain the closest you could buy to decent tea was the comically named English Breakfast Tea, which might be what effete Southerners drink for breakfast but is not at all like what is drunk in the North. Even then, you had to hunt for it. Nowadays, just as you can buy chorizo, jamón serrano and even ready-made tortilla española in Tesco, so I can pop down to the Mercadona next door and buy Typhoo Tea and PG Tips. And since it is now much easier to buy proper milk, instead of sterilised rubbish, a decent cup of tea is easily acquired ... at least in our flat! 

We just need to find a source of Cadbury's chocolate and all will be very well indeed!

Down at the port, in the A Laxe shopping centre, there is an American Food Shop. As far as I can tell from a quick visit, it seems to sell mostly American sweets and soft drinks. Somebody must miss those items and feel the need to buy them here.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, there is a grocery store called A Little Bit of Britain, which largely caters for British expats. (Now, there is a conundrum for another day: foreigners who go to live in Britain are migrants or immigrants but when the British emigrate they are expats!) That store has recently had a delivery of the breakfast cereal Weetabix (also available in Mercadona supermarkets here in Spain) seized and impounded. A rival cereal company, Weet-bix complained that it could confuse customers. Weet-bix is apparently a staple in many New Zealand homes and the company claimed their copyright was being infringed.

These antipodeans must be easily confused! And I am not sure that the solution will really reduce the confusion. Lisa Wilson, the co-owner of A Little Bit of Britain, received a letter saying her cereal shipment would be released if she placed a sticker over the offending Weetabix label once the item was on her shelves, and blanked out the name Weetabix when she sold the cereal online. So it goes! 

And here's another tale of seizure of a different kind. Austria's highest court has upheld a decision to expropriate the house in Braunau where Hitler was born, ostensibly to stop it becoming a pilgrim site for neo-fascists. It seems that the government was renting the house and using it as a centre for people with disabilities. How appropriate; Hitler must be spinning in his grave! The rental agreement came to an end in 2011 when the owners refused to carry out renovations.

Nobody knows what the government will do with the building. Proposals to demolish it have been met with resistance from politicians and historians.there is a suggestion it might be used by a charity. Every year on Hitler’s birthday, anti-fascist protesters organise a rally outside the building, where a memorial stone reads: “For peace, freedom and democracy. Never again fascism, millions of dead warn.”

However, I fail to see how this appropriation will prevent pilgrimages, by both anti-fascists and neo-fascists.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Recycling stories!

The telecommunications people R must be branching out into other fields, diversifying. We found a letter in our letter box all about R Optica (mobile phones to glasses!!), with a clever little pair of cardboard glasses inside, intended to be a copy of the kind of thing the optician uses to measure your eyes and the kind of lenses you need. People get paid good money to come up with advertising ploys like that! Anyway, we didn't want it so we put it in the box outside the door, the one labelled "publicidad".

I think that box was intended for advertisers to put their fliers in back in the day when the outer door to the entrance to our block still had a working lock. Nowadays the advertisers can get into the outer vestibule where the letter boxes are and pop a flier in each letter box. When we empty all the tat out of our letter box and can't be bothered to go out to the big waste paper collecting bin in the street, then we pop it into the box labelled publicidad. It disappears as if by magic!

 Whoever does the disappearing trick clearly took one look at the envelope from R, saw that it was addressed to "El señor residente", ie the occupier, at our specific address and took umbrage. For the opened envelope appeared back in our letter box with a message: "Hay una papelera en la calle"; in English "There is a waste paper bin in the street". Oops! We shall consider ourselves told. It will not, however, prevent us from putting anonymous, untraceable advertising propaganda into the "publicidad" container!

We do believe in recycling though. It's just that such a lot of tat gets stuffed into our letter box.

Someone else who believes in recycling is a chap described as the "crazy bottle guy". He has been filling empty plastic water bottles with sand and using them as building materials to make a house in a refugee camp in the Western Sahara. Here is a link to details of what he has been doing.

"I was born in a sun-dried brick house,” he says. “The roof was made of sheets of zinc – one of the best heat conductors. Me and my family had to endure high temperatures, rain and sandstorms that would sometimes take the roof off.
When I came back to the camps, I decided to build a place for my grandmother to live that was more comfortable and more worthy of her.”

Apparently the sand-filled bottles work a treat, insulating just as well as traditional sun-dried bricks, and have the advantage of not crumbling away. Well done, "crazy bottle guy".

And here's something from the Huffington Post that I found myself in agreement with, and which I think applies to the countries of Europe as well as the USA:-

"Like many Americans, I’m having politics fatigue. Or, to be more specific, arguing-about-politics fatigue. I haven’t run out of salient points or evidence for my political perspective, but there is a particular stumbling block I keep running into when trying to reach across the proverbial aisle and have those “difficult conversations” so smugly suggested by think piece after think piece: I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.

Personally, I’m happy to pay an extra 4.3 % for my fast food burger if it means the person making it can afford to feed their own family. If you aren’t willing to fork over an extra 17 cents for a Big Mac, you’re a fundamentally different person than I am.

I’m perfectly content to pay taxes that go toward public schools, even though I’m childless and intend to stay that way, because all children deserve a quality, free education. If this seems unfair or unreasonable to you, we are never going to see eye to eye.

If I have to pay a little more with each paycheck to ensure my fellow Americans can access health care? SIGN ME UP.

Poverty should not be a death sentence in the richest country in the world. If you’re okay with thousands of people dying of treatable diseases just so the wealthiest among us can hoard still more wealth, there is a divide between our worldviews that can never be bridged.

I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy. I cannot have one more conversation with someone who is content to see millions of people suffer needlessly in exchange for a tax cut that statistically they’ll never see.

I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters. There are all kinds of practical, self-serving reasons to raise the minimum wage, fund public schools (everyone’s safer when the general public can read and use critical thinking), and make sure every American can access health care (outbreaks of preventable diseases being generally undesirable).

But if making sure your fellow citizens can afford to eat, get an education, and go to the doctor isn’t enough of a reason to fund those things, I have nothing left to say to you. I can’t debate someone into caring about what happens to their fellow human beings. The fact that such detached cruelty is so normalized in a certain party’s political discourse is at once infuriating and terrifying.

The “I’ve got mine, so screw you,” attitude has been oozing from the American right wing for decades, but this gleeful exuberance in pushing legislation that will immediately hurt the most vulnerable among us is chilling."

It's all about making the world work for all of us!