Thursday, 31 August 2017

Princess thoughts.

It's twenty years since Lady Diana Spencer, for a while Princess of Wales, died. I remember my son calling the news up the stairs early that Sunday morning (at least my memory says it was a Sunday) and wondering if she had committed suicide. This shows how little I was following the royal family stuff. I had no idea she was busy with love affairs and thought she was still going through depression.

But no, not a suicide, it was a stupid accident that could have been avoided. I have long thought that all they really needed to do was pay no attention (different from ignoring) the attendant paparazzi. Of course they were a nuisance but if the famous couple had driven away calmly, just sitting in the car, giving the journalists no scandalous photo opportunities, the cameras would have tired of clicking and they would have reached their destination and been able to shut the doors on the world. Instead, they joined in the game, scuttling away in an over-excited fashion, driven by a chauffeur inexperienced in security work and possibly the worse for drink. An avoidable and unnecessary end. 

That's my take on it anyway. I didn't join in the public outpouring of grief at the time and right now I am heartily sick of the fuss that is being made all over the media. I feel for the two young men who were left motherless when they were still very young boys. And I am sure that their talking about it now has probably helped them a good deal. But I don't want to know intimate details of what Diana said about Charles and their relationship. And that is that.

I switched on the radio this morning to find that Radio 4's Women's Hour appeared to be dedicated to Diana: busily gathering people's opinions of and reactions to the "momentous event". Lots of sad memories and tales of taking flowers to the gates of the palace but one caller said how horrific she found the week of the death, not because of grief but because it was impossible to express any opinion that did not praise Diana and show great sorrow. I remember that! Apparently quite a lot of people let them know that they were switching off as they found it all rather boring and annoying. As for me, I found myself listening somewhat fascinated by the ideas discussed:

Diana as a feminist.
Diana as a role model to women in bad marriages.
Diana the fantastically wonderful mother.
Diana as a fashion icon. I particularly liked the black American who said that Diana is greatly admired by black American women because, like them, she did style flamboyantly and with attitude - she had the walk and everything!
Diana the great compassionate humanist - one of the programme pundits pointed out that the queen as a young woman had visited lepers in hospital but that her compassion did not receive the same publicity as Diana's to AIDS victims!
Diana the great beauty.
And on and on and on!

Of course, one of the main things is that she appeared on the scene at the start of the great obsession with celebrities. We were just starting to get 24 hour rolling news and huge media coverage of the lives of the rich and famous. And the ongoing soap opera of the simple ordinary girl who became a princess and then found that it was not all a Disney fairytale but more like the Brothers Grimm was fascinating stuff for many people.

And the myth of the sad princess was created and lives on. HIlary Mantel writes about her in this article:

"From her first emergence in public, sun shining through her skirt, Diana was exploited, for money, for thrills, for laughs. She was not a saint, or a rebel who needs our posthumous assistance – she was a young woman of scant personal resources who believed she was basking with dolphins when she was foundering among sharks. But as a phenomenon, she was bigger than all of us: self-renewing as the seasons, always desired and never possessed. She was the White Goddess evoked by Robert Graves, the slender being with the hook nose and startling blue eyes; the being he describes as a shape-shifter, a virgin but also a vixen, a hag, mermaid, weasel. She was Thomas Wyatt’s white deer, fleeing into the forest darkness. She was the creature “painted and damned and young and fair”, whom the poet Stevie Smith described."

Had Diana not died so dramatically and had the public not responded with the mass hysteria of grief, would the royal family have changed to become more media friendly? Would Charles have been able eventually to marry Camilla and have an apparently happy relationship? Would William have gone off to university to meet a seemingly ordinary girl and make her into a modern princess? Would Diana have been invited to that wedding? Or would she still be a thorn in the side of British royalty? Who knows? That would be a different reality.

On the day of the Royal Wedding (note the capitals!) we attended a friend's "stuff the wedding" party. The television was put away in the attic for the day so that nobody could give in to the temptation to switch it on. We did not watch Diana's funeral on TV. Indeed, I drove through empty streets that day, one of the few disrespectful people out and about on such a day. We also failed to watch that other royal wedding when Kate Middleton turned into a princess, but I suspect rather more knowingly than Diana Spencer.

For a person who finds it hard to understand why we still seem to need princesses in the 21st century, I seem to have gone on quite a lot about them today. That's all!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Running, cycling, flying - phobias!

This morning at the local market I ran into someone I taught about forty years ago. She was a pupil at the first school I worked at. We quite often run into each other, often almost literally. As a rule she is running in one direction and I in the other and so we only have time for a quick panted hullo. She runs a lot faster than I do. She regularly runs marathons while I do a gentle jog round the village and back. My running is like my swimming - rather slow but it gets me there in the end.

Today neither of us was running and we were both in civilian clothes. It's probably a wonder we recognised each other. So we stopped on the corner of the street and caught up on what we have both been up to. She told me about her holidays in France, saying that I and a friend of mine, another of her former teachers, would have been proud of her for managing conversations in French!

She also told me about cycling up the Mont Ventoux, often one of the more challenging mountain stages in the Tour de France. This was where Tom Simpson collapsed and died during a stage of the Tour in 1967, probably as a result of taking amphetamines. As you can imagine I was seriously impressed that she and her husband, both of whom must have turned fifty, had made it to the top, albeit not so fast as the Tour riders! She said that the descent was perhaps harder than going up: certainly more scary. By the time she got down, her hands were cramped from frequently gripping the brakes and they had to cool the brake blocks down by pouring water on them.

I have been up the Mont Ventoux, not on a bicycle, I hasten to add, but by car, walking the very last section. It must be one of the bleakest places in Europe but the views are fantastic on a clear day. The day Lyn, my former pupil, went up the temperature was 37 degrees. I was even more impressed. Mind you, she and her husband do a lot of this sort of thing, running and cycling all over the place. 

She also told me of her fear of flying. Apparently, who has cycled up and, more scarily, down the Mont Ventoux, she goes into total panic mode just getting onto a plane. Various members of her family have tried to cure her of this phobia, to no avail. They have given up on her. She and her husband now drive everywhere, making the journey a part of the holiday.

Fear of flying is an odd thing. It was triggered in a friend of mine by 9-11. After that he would never consider flying anywhere. But for some people it is an irrational, innate fear. Lyn told me that she is continually annoyed with herself for being irrational but there it is.

Another friend has a daughter with the same kind of fear. On one occasion, after several years of holidaying always in UK destinations, he booked a family holiday in Mallorca. After some discussion with the flying-phobic daughter it was agreed that her grandmother would accompany them to the airport and, should she still panic when she got on the plane, the daughter would be escorted back to grandma in the departures lounge. The airline staff agreed to this. The daughter tried her best, for she really wanted a holiday in the sun, but her fear was too great. She went back to grandma while her siblings went off for a holiday in Mallorca.

My fears are much more rational, I think. I simply refuse to go on roller coasters, which I regard as much less reliable and trustworthy than planes. As for flying, I enjoy the whole business, especially if I get a window seat!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Holiday practices. Holidays' end!

My son has been explaining how AirB'n'B works. Sounds okay. I was told that the name comes from the person who came up with the idea, in California, I think. Apparently there was a conference going on in LA or somewhere and some people had difficulty finding hotel accommodation, so this chap offered them an airbed on his floor. The next time it happened, they needed even more accommodation and he advertised for people willing to help out, for a small fee. And so airbed and breakfast came about. And the rest is (recent) history. That's the story I was told anyway.

My son and his family have used AirB&B successfully a number of times and he clearly thinks we should give it a go.

One reason for opting for AirB&B might be this gruesome story I came across:

"Experts are warning people not to boil their underwear in hotel kettles in case it spreads potentially deadly toxins. It's a revelation that’s bound to have you regretting every cup of tea you’ve ever had in a hotel room; the act of underwear-boiling is apparently a practice that exists. Highlighted by Gizmodo, who spotted someone asking on Twitter, “Real question: does anyone I know clean their underwear in a kettle while travelling?”
Evidence of people using hotel kettles to boil their unmentionables has, worryingly, also been spotted on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
And, while the theory behind it might seem, kind of, logical, one expert has warned that it's “super, super, super, super gross", particularly for anyone who used the kettle for a cup of tea afterwards.
Dr Heather Hendrickson, a senior lecturer in molecular biosciences at the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University in Auckland, says there are some bacteria that are resistant to high temperatures and could be damaging to people's health should they come in contact with them.  “These don't cause sickness if they are consumed, but their presence in certain environments can encourage them to produce a toxin that can be deadly,” she said. “Who knows how long that water, with nutrients that have been introduced and then sterilised, sits around in the kettle before someone else uses it?” Hendrickson continued, calling the act “unbelievably irresponsible.”  The fact that hotel kettles are communal and by no means industrial-strength cleaning facilities means that there are just too many unknowns to encourage blanching your underwear in this way. " 

All I can say is YUCK!!! Do people really do such things?

The holiday season is coming to an end. Some parts of the country had a very warm snd sunny Bank Holiday yesterday. Even here it was fine and warm. Some more sunshine would have been even better. Today, however, I ran in the drizzle, which has fortunately stopped since then.

I am not complaining about the weather we experience, considering the horrors of extreme weather over in Texas. 22 inches of rain in 24 hours and another 20 inches expected before the weekend. That's their summer coning to a completely bad end.

The forces of nature are amazingly strong and very hard to combat.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Mythologies and other stories!

You hear some odd things when you are out and about.

The other day I went past some children leaping about catching floating dandelion seeds. When we were small my sisters and I used to pretend we believed these were fairies. Of course we knew exactly what they were but it is the job of a child to be cute and charming and to pretend to believe all sorts of nonsense. The mother of the children clearly also believed all sorts of nonsense as she squealed at the children not to touch them: "They're dandelion seeds. They're poisonous!"

I commented on this to my granddaughter, the oldest of the bunch, the one who keeps assuring us she is now an adult, and therefore the one who should know better than to reply as she did: "They do make you pee though!" Another myth. She spoke in all seriousness and quoted evidence: one of her friends at junior school was picking dandelions one day and when told about the "powers" of dandelions, promptly wet her pants. I know the girl concerned, always a bit disturbed and definitely open to suggestion.

Today as I walked hime along the Donkey Line, one of our local,bridle paths, I saw two women with a small girl. The little girl was carrying a fishing et and stopping hopefully every now and then to poke about in the muddy stream beside the path. As I got closer, one of the women went up to the water's edge and peered in. "I can't see any tadpoles," she declared, "I'm very disappointed". Also very late, I thought to myself but did not say out loud. Nobody likes a know-it-all, especially when you are out on a country walk with a hopeful child with a fishing net!

As regards fairies, I read recently that an Irishman, possibly a politician, has been blaming subsidence in a road near Kilarney on fairies. Well, little people do abound in Irish lore, don't they? But maybe in this case there is a grain of truth behind his claim. Here's a bit of explanatory journalism:

"As the 1937-39 Schools’ Collection of the National Folkore Archives makes abundantly clear every community in Ireland believed until recently in its local spirits, who lived in the surrounding bushes, banks and, in particular, the fairy forts.

After eons (potentially millennia) of living side-by-side with these spirits, aka the Little People, Gentry, the Good People or Síoga, and coping with their divilish interferences in our lives and landscapes we have now cast them aside over the course of a few paltry decades. It is the abrupt denial of fairies by the vast majority of society that is more pathological than Healy-Rae’s continued belief. After all, our first Uachtarán (Irish for President), Douglas Hyde, and two of our Nobel Laurates, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett, all believed in fairies.

It is true that science has now proven that the fairy forts (also known as a ringfort, lios or rath) were not in fact the abode of spirits, or entrances to their underworld realms, but instead are the remains of the most common form of one-off housing and defensive outpost in Ireland from the late Iron Age right through the Bronze Age, Early Christianity and up to the Medieval era in some places. Yet that does not mean that these areas are not sacred - if for no other reason that they’ve been used as burial sites for unbaptised babies for centuries.

These circular embankments are all that remain of the defensive structures that would have surrounded the farmsteads and lookout forts of our pastoral ancestors. Think of the buildings as fortified ranches, surrounded by either one or more ditches and banks, which would have had been crowned by a wooden palisade to keep livestock in and wolves and raiders out.

Again, there is countless anecdotal evidence for Healy-Rae’s assertion that there are real-world repercussions for interfering with fairy forts. Why else would rational, sophisticated farmers still go to the trouble of leaving unproductive patches of weeds and wild nature in their meticulously manicured, expensively fertilised and pesticided fields? It is widely believed that the demise of Sean Quinn’s cement and insurance empire in Cavan and of John DeLorean’s sports car industry in Belfast were directly attributable to the conscious destruction of “sacred” ringforts.

For once, the Healy-Raes are not necessarily succumbing to out-dated begorrah-esque Oirrishism, but are reminding us of our strong bond to the land and customs of Ireland that we disconnect from at our peril."

There you go. Irishmen are stranger that Saddleworth folk!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Spending money and time on stuff that really doesn't matter!

According to some statistics I saw today, families spend an average of £329 per child on school uniform each year. That means that some parents spend an awful lot more. i remain unconvinced by all the arguments about the usefulness of school uniform. As far as I can tell, the only really useful thing about uniform is that when you take the kids on an excursion some where it is easier to identify your lot if they go in uniform. Ironically enough, the school I went to did not insist on our wearing uniform if we went on a trip, just about the only time they didn't. But I suspect that the argument about uniform will run and run. The British are a bit obsessed by it. Even the nursery our tiniest grandchild goes to insists on a uniform.

Still, there are worse things to spend money on, I suppose. Reports are running around about French President Macron having spent €26,000 on make-up during his first three months in office. I know that in this age of equality men have just as much right as women to wear make-up. I know that he has to make public appearances, including on television and wants to look his best. I don't know how he has managed to spend so much in so short a time. Did he spend money on make-up in this extravagant manner before he decided to run for president? He must use really expensive brands of beauty products. I don't think I could spend so much in a lifetime. It's like when I used to find statistics on the thousands of pounds Princess Diana spent on knickers in one year and found myself wondering how many pairs of expensive knickers a girl needed.

It turns out that his predecessor spent even more on average, although his included hairdressing costs. And to think that they criticise female politicians for spending huge amounts of money on clothes. I shall have tonrethink my position on those £1000+ leather trousers Theresa May wore for a photo shoot!

I wonder how much time he wastes every morning sorting out his face. Here's something I found last week on that very subject: "How long did you spend in front of a mirror this morning? If you woke up in Zadie Smith’s house, it had better not have been more than 15 minutes. Speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival, Smith shared why she has given her seven-year-old daughter, Kit, the stringent quarter-of-an-hour limit: “I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.”

Some might find it shocking for a seven-year-old to be aware of makeup at all, but in this brave new world of teenybopper YouTube strobing tutorials garnering views in the millions, it is often reality. As Smith remarked, “From what I can understand from this contouring business, that’s like an hour and a half, and that is too long.”

 According to a 2016 survey, the average British woman spends 38 minutes, putting on her face every day. Over the course of a week, that is just less than four and a half hours; in one year, that makes nearly 10 days (and nights). Over a makeup-wearing lifetime (say, 75 years), that is two years. Two whole years. Just think how many glass ceilings we might have smashed if we hadn’t been so busy with blusher."

The article ended with this comment: "Just think of the time it must take Trump to maintain his skin tone and signature coiffure – perhaps he is doing his bit for gender equality after all."

Thursday, 24 August 2017


Today has been GCSE results day in the UK. As well as the usual reports of some students (fewer than usual) achieving between 11 and 13 top grades (Why do they need to sit so many? Back in our day even the brightest only sat 9 O Level subjects.) there was a bit of a furore. English Language, English Literature and Maths have all been made harder and have been graded 9 (highest) to 1 (lowest). Results went down by 0.6% -shocking! Even worse, only 2000 pupils achieved a Grade 9 all three subjects.

Inevitably there has been much discussion about how and why this has come about. Someone who marks GCSE English Literature examination papers listed reasons why pupils lost marks:

 1. Narrative: retelling the story – particularly for the novel and drama, but also for the poems – with little or no focus on answering the question.
 2. Irrelevant: the student unloads all their knowledge about the text regardless of whether it answers the question or not.
3. Terminology overload: the student is desperate to use all the terminology they’ve been taught, so they forget to do any analysis. The response becomes an exercise in feature-spotting.
4. Translation: generally for poetry, specifically for unseen poetry, the candidate feels they have to go through the text line by line "translating" it for the examiner. Again, they fail to answer the question. 

All of that sounds rather like the sort of thing we used to hear long ago.

In the field of Maths I heard one commentator complain, or explain, that the new GCSE contains material that used to be part of the A Level course. Now, I find this rather interesting. When I was a sixth form teacher I occasionally observed A Level Maths lessons - part of a programme where we picked up techniques from each other - and found that they were often learning stuff that I had studied for O Level.

There must be a message in there somewhere.

While on the subject of the old way of doing things, here is an excerpt from an article about study techniques:

 "As laptops become smaller and more ubiquitous, and with the advent of tablets, the idea of taking notes by hand just seems old-fashioned to many students today. Typing your notes is faster — which comes in handy when there's a lot of information to take down. But it turns out there are still advantages to doing things the old-fashioned way.

For one thing, research shows that laptops and tablets have a tendency to be distracting — it's so easy to click over to Facebook in that dull lecture.

And a study has shown that the fact that you have to be slower when you take notes by hand is what makes it more useful in the long run. In the study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles sought to test how note-taking by hand or by computer affects learning. "When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can," Mueller tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

 "The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them.""

I could have told them that.

I was, however, reminded of when Phil and I were students, conveniently on the same course and thus attending the same lectures. At our most efficient we used to pool our notes and type up a neat version on my little portable typewriter. This had the advantage if forcing us to read through the notes we had taken in lectures, something that often does not happen.

 Maybe the problem is that students have forgotten how to learn.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Women's stuff!

This morning I listened to someone reading material by the writer Maggie O'Farrell on BBC Radio 4. It seems that she has written about a number of near death experiences she has had. This one concerned childbirth. Because she had suffered from some kind of encephalitis as a child she had been told that if she ever had children she would be unable to give birth naturally as there was some muscle damage. She would not be able to push and would need a caesarian section. So when she was pregnant for the first time she told her doctor about this on one of her early visits to the hospital. The doctor referred the matter to a senior consultant who dismissed it out of hand, accusing her of being soft, afraid of a little pain, influenced by "celebrities" who had given birth by section, of following a fashion trend; in short he refused to consider it at all. She should go into labour and push, like everyone else. And when the day came, she went into labour but she did not dilate and never experienced the urge to push. She was in labour for three days, the baby was in distress and she ended up with a section. As a result of complications she almost died!

Now this is interesting because I was planning to write about a couple things I had found recently on the subject of childbirth. First there was the eminently sensible Hadley Freeman, commenting on how it is acceptable nowadays to talk about the abortion you had in your early twenties when you were busy with your career and a baby would be inconvenient. People react with understanding and little condemnation. On the other hand, she said, if you "confessed" to having had an elective caesarian, you faced approbation, disapproval and general harrumphing for not having given birth "naturally". Here's a link to her article.

The other was an obituary for Prunella Briance, who founded the Natural Childbirth Trust, and who died recently aged 91. She was inspired in part by a doctor who, way back in the early twentieth century, had been so impressed by a young woman who refused pain relief during delivery that he wrote a book with the aim of giving women the information they needed to combat their fear of delivery and thus endure the inevitable pain more productively. Prunella Briance's own experience of childbirth was not good and she felt much of this was down to women not being in control and not fully knowing what was going on. And so the National Childborth Trust came about. Here is a link to that article. 

Now I have had a number of discussions, mostly with my daughter, about this whole "natural birth" business. And the difficulty or otherwise of breastfeeding. Her generation seem to have found it all more difficult than mine did. Or perhaps they just complain more and more publicly. We didn't have Mumsnet. We had to network in a different way.

Back in the late 70s my friends and I were all busy making babies and almost all of us went to NCT classes and found them really useful. As was the support network for breastfeeding and those early months when looking after a new baby is rather daunting. (Better than Mumsnet? Possibly.) Maybe we were lucky but around here we had very sensible NCT teachers and counsellors, who never suggested that we were failures if we "gave in" and asked for pain relief. Of course, there was encouragement to do without; what relieves the mother's pain also makes the baby sluggish. But it was never really put across as some kind of test of how good a woman you were. We knew there were fanatics who thought that. We took them with a pinch of salt!

Listening to our children's friends talk about childbirth, I get the feeling that the pressure is greater nowadays to prove you can do it "properly". All these high-achieving young women having babies in their mid- to late- thirties are being made to feel that they need to achieve this as well. What a shame.

After all, as sensible Hadley points out, the whole thing is really all about getting healthy baby into the world!

Monday, 21 August 2017


Yesterday in the heat of the day I saw Phil off on the bus to Mondari to play chess. Mondariz has proved very difficult to get to or, rather, to get back from. There is a bus service. The only bus which arrives there in time for the start of the round gets there about two hours before the game starts. The last bus back from Mondariz leaves five minutes after that one arrives there. I suspect it just does a turn-round.

After negotiation and numerous phone calls, we found someone who was prepared to give him a lift. All was well until yesterday when there were two rounds, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. I suspect Phil may be allergic to mornings. Anyway, he opted to take what they call a bye for Sunday morning. In other words, he would not play but he would get half a point. His lift-giver was also taking a bye, but for the evening game, so that he could have Sunday lunch with his family and visit his ageing mother.

 Fortunately we found someone else prepared to bring Phil back from Mondariz, provided he could get himself there. Hence the bus from Vigo bus station. In the meantime, the heatwave has finally hit Vigo over the last few days. There was little point in my going to Mondariz as it would be even hotter there than in Vigo and there is precious little to do if it is too hot to stroll.

So after the bus had left I spent a good hour in a cafe opposite the bus station sipping an iced coffee and mentally preparing for a hot walk back. I left the cafe eventually equipped with a bottle of cold water, just in case. I ended up donating the water, and some spare change, to a beggar sitting on the street; he looked so hot and dejected. He then perked up considerably, asked my name, told me his name was Joe and that he had a nice little house round the corner. Why did I not go there with him right there and then? This is probably the first time I have been propositioned by a street beggar! 

Leaving Joe, dejected once more, still sitting on the street, I went on my way. A chemist's sign at the top of Calle Aragön, told me the temperature was 33 degrees, and that was in the shade! Later in the day, about 8.30 in the evening, as I walked out to meet the returning chess player and have a beer, the same sign said 30 degrees. The heat was bouncing off the walls. Even at 11.00pm, the wall at the front of our flat was still warm to the touch.

This morning, after a sticky night. the heat still hit you as you left the building. Usually when I run in the morning it is relatively cool and fresh. This morning the air was heavy. The temperature gauge down at the roundabout registered 26 degrees at 8.45 am! So it goes.

Yesterday I came across this stuff about sunburn. It's quite amazing what they say affects your tanning/burning. Among the things that struck me were the following:-

  • Eating late at night - something we all tend to do more frequently when we are on holiday. If you change your eating habits it messes up your skin's biological clock - who knew your skin has a separate biological clock? - and can leave it less able to repair sun damage. 
  •  Exfoliating, a practice I have never really appreciated or carried out.t stands to reason that if you remove a layer of the skin's outer surface, the underneath stuff will be more sensitive, less protected and more likely to burn. Who exfoliates, if you must do it, on holiday anyway? 
  • Eating celery! Yes! That's right! Eating celery! It all gets a bit scientific and technical here. Apparently celery contains furanocoumarins, whatever they are, which cause the skin to be more photosensitive and thus can lead to more intense sunburn. They don't say how much celery you would need to eat. And they also warn you off parsley and parsnips, again with no hint on what is a a safe amount to eat! They do, however, recommend tomatoes, watermelon, red peppers and carrots. These all contain carotenoids, the things that help you see in the dark and, incidentally protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Mind you I read years and years ago that eating to many carrots, probably a diet almost entirely made up carrots, can turn your skin orange. Now, does that explain President Trump?
  •  Anti-ageing creams come in for some stick as well. Slap on some anti-wrinkle cream and it counteracts the sunscreen! Where does that leave Boots Number Seven "Protect and Perfect" range? That range includes a facial sunscreen, factor 50, which seems to work. It does make you face look astonishingly white when you first apply it but that's a different matter. 
 As for me, I am basically ginger, a bit faded now but still apt to burn if not very careful. Freckles and a tendency to peel!

My advice: Wear a big hat! Expose your skin circumspectly! Always have a cover-up garment! Walk in the shade! But do enjoy yourself in the sun as well!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

What's in a name?

Names are funny things. Some people don't like the names they are given; my mother always objected to being named Phylis, insisted on it being shorten to Phyl, and when my younger sister was born on her birthday refused point blank to inflict that name on her. And yet your name defines you in some way and makes you unique.

I know people who have gone out of their way to choose what they thought was an unusual name for their new offspring, only to discover that that very name was "trending", was appearing in the list of the top ten most popular names, and thus their poor child was going to be one of many with that name in their class. I remember a class I taught which had no fewer than seven Julies!

When I started to learn French, many years ago, our French teacher gave us all French names; she was young and super-enthusiastic, full of new ideas for motivating pupils. Mine was Antoinette, which is quite ironic as many people here in Galicia assume that my name is a version of Antía, a name which I think is Gallego for Antonia. Biblical names like John, Mark, Luke, James, Mary, Leah translate internationally. Some names, however, like my own, are pretty much impossible to find equivalents for in other languages. Maureen, Keith, Beverley, Lesley, Norman - all of these spring to mind. And then there are names like Avelino, Álvaro, Celestino, Pilar, Consuelo.

Lately I have come across some names which sound as though they come from ancient times. Phil has played a chess game against Gumersindo. There was a rider in the Tour de France called Rigoberto. Amazing! Rather like being called Ethelred! I won't even get started on weird modern names, many of which come from Disney films and HBO series!

I started thinking about names because we have just renewed our "tarjeta dorada", the Spanish equivalent of the Senior Railcard, but at a much more reasonable price (€6) and giving a much better 40% discount on fares. We had some difficulty because I didn't immediately remember our Vigo postcode. I am still not sure that the postcode I gave was the correct one. And then there were the names. The poor woman at the ticket office was flummoxed by our only having one surname. She claimed that the computer would not let her continue with the process unless she put two surnames in. She found her own way round it. And so Phil is now Philip Adams Philips on his card and I am Anthea Adams Adams on mine.

Surnames are interesting too. It took me quite some time to realise that the poet Lorca is named after a place in Andalucía, just like the people I know called Halsall or Ramsbottom in the UK. Federico García Lorca is one of the few known universally by his second surname, because García is such a common surname. And Lorca has changed into a forename in the English-speaking world; Leonard Cohen, a great admirer of the Spanish poet, called his daughter Lorca.

Other surnames go back to the time when we were all known as the son/daughter of somebody or other. All the Anglo-Saxon people called, like us, Adams, Michaels, Philips, Johnson or similar were originally in the family of some Adam, Michael or John. In the same way all the Spanish Rodriguez, Davidéz, Martinez, Fernandez and Míguez come from some original Rodrigo, David, Fernando or Miguel. Even all the Perez come originally from Pedro.

But what about one of the chess players in the same tournaments as Phil? His name is Ladrón de Guevara. Now "ladrón" is the Spanish for "thief".

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Getting the words right!

Here's a new bit of Spanish vocabulary, new to me anyway, found in a local paper: Furtivismo - ejemplo: gente (veraneantes y turistas) que recoge almejas de forma ilegal. Basically it means committing a minor crime, I think. The example, and the main thrust of the article, involves people on holiday taking advantage of the low tide to collect shellfish, clams in the example, illegally. And then presumably to go home and cook and eat them. I can remember years ago fishing for teeny tiny shrimps with my almost Spanish sister and making them into omelettes. (Which my daughter, in a fit of English craziness, refused to eat on the grounds that we had caught the shrimps on the beach and therefore they might be dirty!)

How many English people on a beach would know where to begin collecting shellfish and which ones they could eat. I listened on the train one day to an English woman, clearly resident here, telling her children how she and her siblings had gone out with their parents picking blackberries in the English countryside. What's more, they had then gone home and made jam. Her children asked if they could go blackberrying next time they were in England and, by the way, did she know how to make jam? I didn't hear her answer to that last question but I am willing to bet she doesn't. My family regularly picked wild blackberries and we all helped with the jam-making but I would still need to look it up if I wanted to make some now.

Old skills disappear: not just jam making but knitting, crochet, dressmaking, stuff that we used to take for granted and, indeed, began to learn in primary school. Here in Spain you still find haberdashers, fabric shops, woolshops and the like. In England they have become difficult to locate. Specialist woolshops selling fancy yarn at extortionate prices exist in twee places like Hebden Bridge but no longer do you find a woolshop on the average high street. And the younger generation are praised highly for being able to knit a scarf!!!! Oh dear! I am beginning to sound old and cranky!

As I travelled on the bus yesterday I went past a shop with an English name, "Every Ways". I have no idea what they sold but I wanted to stop and give them a grammar lesson, explaining that "every" works just like "cada" in Spanish and is followed by a singular noun. Good grief! I keep coming across examples like this. At the top of the up escalator in Pontevedra station a large notice says "No Trespassing", which is not quite the same as "No Entry". And I came across a shop selling shoes and bags and other bits and pieces: purses and belts and fancy scarves. Across the bottom of the window it said, again in "English", "Shoes and Complements". Somebody had not found out that "complementos" translates as "accessories".

You see, it's not just menus that are poorly translated. It happens all over the place. And I know that the reverse happens in England. I come across awful French and Spanish in shops and restaurants there too. It's just not quite so ubiquitous.

Here, English is super-fashionable and even though everyone tells you that they, the Spanish, are really bad at learning foreign languages, everyone still feels they know enough to splash it around on public signs with great confidence!

Friday, 18 August 2017

Safety first!

I watched a woman on the bus with what I presume where her two grandchildren. The younger of the two was a charming little girl, probably just under a year old, sitting up and smiling and interacting with the passengers on the bus. The grandmother didn't seem to know how to put a brake on the buggy. She held it precariously still by jamming her foot against a wheel. The child was strapped in around her waist. There were straps for her arms to go through but these were just dangling empty. I wanted to tell the grandmother that if the bus lurched there was a strong possibility that the buggy could be tipped over and the delightful child tipped out sideways onto her head. Of course I didn't do any such thing! The older child, by the way, probably four or five, had secured himself with the strap intended to hold wheelchairs safely on the bus.

Also, sitting in a cafe this morning, I watched an elderly person trundle past on a mobility scooter, laden with parcels. The scooter was being driven on the ROAD, amongst all the traffic. So people on bicycles feel they need and, indeed, have the right to travel on the pavement while someone on a mobility scooter rides on the road!! The cyclists usually go much faster than mobility scooter riders. And I'm pretty sure that riding in the midst of traffic exhaust fumes can't help whatever condition makes the rider need a mobility scooter in the first place.

The world is more than a little crazy.
A journalist declared that the white van is becoming the weapon of choice. This after yet another terrorist attack involving driving a vehicle into crowds of pedestrian. At least thirteen dead and a hundred injured in Barcelona. And then not long afterwards another similar attack in Cambrils, about sixty or seventy miles from Barcelona.

And President Trump is reported to have responded by tweeting and retelling an already discredited story of terrorists being executed with bullets dipped in pigs' blood. This is supposed to be a method of persuading the terrorists to desist?

However he has received criticism for not condemning strongly enough the driver (not a terrorist? someone prepared to copy terrorists though!) who drove his car into anti-republican protesters in Charlottesville. And I read this morning that a Democrat is taking steps to demand the impeachment of the president for just that failure to condemn the Charlottesville car driver. Where will that get to, I wonder!

On the good news front, Malalia Youzasfai has achieved the A grades she needed at A-Level to win her a place at Oxford. Life takes odd twists and turns at times. Had she not been shot for demanding an education, would she have ended up studying at Oxford?

Mind you, somehow, I think she might still have brought herself to the world's attention one way or another.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Being rather Spanish!

Today I found myself doing a very Spanish thing.

This is sometimes a very strange-seeming country. Drivers frequently ignore red lights when it suits them, although usually only at pedestrian crossing as far as my limited experience tells me. Motorcyclists drive short distances on the pavement, again when it suits them. Cyclists zoom along at speed on the pavements - but that happens in the UK as well! You can park in legally designated spots adjacent to pedestrian crossing, even though this obstructs the pedestrians' view of the traffic and the drivers view of people waiting to cross. People park ON pedestrian crossings, on corners, even sometimes on roundabouts. And, if they plan on stopping for only a short time, people double park. Keep that last one in mind.

Because we do not have a bank account here in Spain we have complicated arrangements for playing the rent on our flat. We do all our dealing with the landlady's 40-year-old daughter and every so often she comes round and I pay her a few months's rent in advance in cash. It works fine and everything is documented. Whether she declares everything to "hacienda" is her affair.

Anyway, this morning we had arranged for her to call round. At the appointed time she telephoned me to ask if I minded going down to meet her outside the flats. She had just arrived and her baby had chosen that very moment to fall asleep, the way nine-month-old babies do. She was loath to disturb him, almost certainly waking him up getting put of the car and then having to settle him down again after the visit. So I went down and there she was, double parked! And I looked at paperwork, handed over money, signed relevant documents and was given receipts ... standing in the road next to a double-parked car! Wonderful! I must be acclimatising!

As I said, this is sometimes a very crazy country.

However, as far as I know you wouldn't get the kind of thing described in this excerpt from an article on racist attitudes and violence towards black women in the USA:


I had been documenting police violence against adult women of color for almost a decade when I learned about the case of Jaisha Aikins, in 2005. Jaisha, a five-year-old black girl, was handcuffed and arrested at her St Petersburg, Florida, school for essentially throwing a temper tantrum – as every five-year-old has done at some point. The school’s administrators and some media commentators justified putting a five-year-old in handcuffs on the grounds that she “punched” the school’s vice-principal, as if the little girl had hauled back and clocked her, rather than flailing at her with tiny hands while in the throes of a tantrum, with the force of a child.

It was clear from video taken of the incident that the vice-principal was not hurt and that Jaisha eventually calmed down. In fact, Jaisha was sitting calmly in a chair when police arrived in response to the vice-principal’s call to arrest an unruly student. Even after discovering the student was a kindergartener, three white armed officers nevertheless proceeded to pull the little girl’s hands behind her back to put them in handcuffs as she cried and begged them not to. Jaisha was taken to the police station in a patrol car, but released to her mother’s custody when prosecutors refused to file charges against her."

Thank goodness for prosecutors sensible enough not to press charges!

And here's another example, from a news report I came across earlier this week: "An Alabama law barring teachers from having sex with their students was ruled unconstitutional Thursday by a state judge who also dismissed charges against two instructors who were facing 20 years behind bars for sleeping with students. Judge Glenn Thompson dismissed charges against a former high school teacher, Carrie Witt, 44, and David Solomon, 27, a former aide at a different school."

Now, which country seems the more crazy?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More celebration stuff.

On Sunday evening, after Phil's chess game, we stopped off in Pontevedra for something to eat with our friend Colin, making our way to the station in time for a train at about 10.20. In theory we had plenty of time but leaving the old quarter was made difficult because of the "Peregrina" celebrations. A procession was making its way to the chapel, walking the statue of the virgin through the streets in that very Spanish way. Our route was blocked by onlookers and dignitaries. This was rather pity as I would have liked to take some pictures. but on any case we had no time.

On Monday, the tournament over and a celebration lunch - best veteran trophy once again! - eaten, we stopped for a coffee near the station and looked at the paper. There we found photos of some aspects of the celebration, including this one of the "tradicional baile de las cintas", the traditional ribbon dance.

From the look of it, the "tradicional baile de las cintas" is essentially exactly the same as a maypole dance. What most struck me was the similarity between the costumes of the men involved in the dance and the garb of the traditional Morrismen of the north of England. No doubt this is another Celtic tradition which crosses all boundaries and takes no notice of EU regulations or Brexit.

I apologise for the poor quality of the photo, which I pinched from the newspaper.

Here's some stuff I found out San Roque, also known as Saint Rock in English. He dates back to the 13th century and is invoked against the plague, among other things, such as cholera, epidemics, knee problems, plague, skin diseases.

He is a patron saint of dogs, falsely accused people, bachelors, and several other things.

Today is his day.

And of course Vigo has a "festivo" for San Roque. After all there is a district called San Roque. According to the Vigo turismo webpage San Roque is Vigo's most traditional urban religious celebration. (Even more than Semana Santa???) This is what the webpage tells us:

 "During the San Roque festivities, every 16th of August, the milagreiro (miracle maker) saint turns the neighbourhood surrounding the San Roque pazo (where they keep its statue) into the largest urban pilgrimage in Vigo. The celebration maintains all the customs of traditional celebrations in the countryside, a romería (religious celebration in honour of a saint).

Every year, thousands of devotees gather in the vicinity of the Praza de España, in the neighbourhood of San Roque, to keep the largest pilgrimage in Vigo alive. Votive offerings are the most typical part of this celebration: the custom is to buy wax reproductions of diseased body parts to ask San Roque for a cure. The saint’s devotees guarantee that the 'holy milagreiro' is able to heal all ailments."

 I suggested that Phil should go along as he sometimes complains about knee problems (see above for the powers of San Roque) but he seems not to be interested. I can't imagine why!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Celebrating things!

Today is "festivo", a public holiday, the Feast of the Assumption, when the Virgin Mary is supposed to have been transported up to heaven, I think. It's a public holiday in Italy as well: "ferragosto", when everyone has a big family meal ot set off on holiday somewhere.

Tomorrow is also "festivo" in Vigo, but not, I was told, in the rest of Spain or even in the rest of Galicia. It is the feast of San Roque, whoever he is. Maybe he is the patron saint of Vigo. On the train the other day I heard two young women taking about the "festivos", one of them wondering why there are so many. The other explained that it is because there are so many saints in Spain. Not just that there are so many saints in general; she was quite possessive about it, declaring, "We have so many saints". She made it sound as if there are more in Spain than elsewhere. Is that even possible? Surely a saint is a saint everywhere! No doubt somebody will put me wise.

As there are two "festivos" on the run, I found myself wondering if those who like to make a bridge connecting the weekend to a public holiday will make one at each end and take the whole week off. It would make sense, of a kind anyway. But maybe Wednesday is too far from next weekend for a "puente" to be realistic and feasible.

This being Spain, the supermarkets close for "festivos", unlike the UK where just about the only one that leads to a mass shutdown is Christmas Day. Not even Easter Sunday makes them close, just reduce their opening hours. So when we got back from Pontevedra yesterday in the early evening I decided to pop into the supermarket next door for a couple of things. With the chess tournament on in Pontevedra we have been doing so much coming and going that very little shopping has been done. 

Well, either everyone had been in already, emptying the shelves while stocking up on food as the place would be shut for two days, or the supermarket was applying a policy of not restocking shelves until after the two public holidays were done. The place looked as though it was in the last stages of a closing down sale. Whole shelves were almost empty. There were only about three cartons of fresh milk left, of which I took two. I got the last box of six fresh eggs. There were however plenty of boxes of hard-boiled eggs! Almost no oranges! No packs of chicken fillets!

 It felt as if I was in a disaster movie, shopping in possibly the last supermarket in the world! And, clearly, I had arrived too late to get the really good stuff!!!

Monday, 14 August 2017

More travellers's tales!

On Friday evening we waited with a bunch of people for passengers to get off the train in Pontevedra so that we could all get on. Finally we all started to get on the train, everyone checking in which direction they needed to go to find their seats. It was at that moment that a small kerfuffle started. Two girls were trying to get their rucksacks, tent, rolled up sleeping bags and goodness knows what else from the luggage rack so they could get off the train. Why were they only just doing it at that point? Had they mot realised they were at their station? Had they fallen asleep? Or were they just stupid?

Being good English folk, we told those getting on behind us what was happening and asked them to try to hold the door open. Nobody took a blind bit of notice, the doors closed and the train set off. With a mixture of horror and resigned giggles, the girls settled down to wait for the next stop. Fortunately this was not the superfast train, which stops nowhere until it reaches Vigo. And so they were able to get off about five minutes later at Arcade, where presumably they changed platforms and caught the next train back to Pontevedra.

On Saturday we had another little train adventure. Vigo to Redondela was quiet and peaceful as usual and then we reached Redondela. Suddenly the train was invaded by hordes of young people. There seemed to be hundreds of them but perhaps I am exaggerating. Different groups of them had matching t-shirts, some clearly specially printed for the occasion with the names of their mates printed on the back. Many of them had had their t-shirts signed by just about the whole group, like school leavers with their school shirts at the end of year 11 in the UK.

They were clearly "peñas", teams of young people, on their to Pontevedra for the last day of the Semana Grande - bullfights, fireworks, running around drinking and spraying other "peñas"with watered-down wine. They were so numerous that they could not find seats and stood in the aisle, swaying and squealing with every movement of the train. The noise was phenomenal, some of them were already half-way drunk. A kind of mobile botellón!

I  had been thinking of spending the afternoon in Pontevedra centre once again but, faced with the prospect of so many happily rampaging "peñas", I decided to accompany the chess players to the tournament where the heat in the sportshall where they are playing was astounding but I found a cool corner outside with a fresh breeze!

Later in the day, I overheard someone on the bus going down to the railway station - a bus that we almost missed as Phil's game went on and on and on - I overheard someone say that the "peñas" are more dangerous than the bulls!

On Sunday it was the automatic ticket machines that let us down. First at Vigo Urzáiz station in the morning we tried to use them to avoid the queue - not working so we had to queue anyway. Then on Sunday evening, going for the 22.21 train, we found the ticket off ice closed and the automatic machine only accepting card payments - but not ours, for some reason!

So much for all the public address system announcement telling passengers that they can buy their tickets from the automatic machines!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Water, bikes and things that are good for you.

I read in the paper that regular immersion in cold water is good for you. It stimulates all sorts of bits of the nervous system, helps you lose weight and is good for combatting depression. So my daily dips in the sometimes chilly water of the pool are even better for me than I thought. Not that I have been much on the pool this week with all rushing off to catch trains to Pontevedra. I wonder where the cold water theory leaves all the spas I have come across with their heated pools! Those who do not have a handy chilly pool to fall into should try to force themselves to brave a cold shower! So said the article I read anyway!

Yesterday, Friday, we travelled to Ponters early so that we could have lunch with our friend Colin. On the train we got chatting to an English family who had begun their holiday in Santiago de Compostela, had a few days in Vigo in an Air B&B place and were going to Pontevedra for a few days before returning to the UK. All of this they had booked online months back in the UK, including tickets for a trip to the Islas Cíes. Mind you, there had been a slight hiccough with the Cíes booking, something to do with their card not being recognised. But the whole Cíes visiting operation has come on leaps and bounds from the first time we visited when you had to go down to the harbour and hope there was room on the boat you favoured.

After lunch I abandoned the chess player to his own devices. A visit to the museum, a refresco while I checked my email in a wifi cafe, a stroll along the river under the trees in the late afternoon and another refresco were the order of the day. Here is a selection of some of the fine pictures kn the museum.

Our friend Colin has taken to cycling around Pontevedra centre. It's good for him! He keeps pretending to lock his bike to trees and lamp posts, having forgotten the number for the combination lock. Nobody has stolen his bike yet.

Coincidentally, here is a post from a group I follow on Facebook, Forum for Europe, Mostly EU citizens in the UK trying to make sense of Brexit and things:

 "Hi All, I called the Cambridge constabulary to report a bike crime that occurred on my property. As the bike was stolen from my patio, I gave them my home address in Cambridge. They then asked me what my nationality was, and whether I have a British passport. Is that normal?"

When did things like that start to happen? And we haven't even properly left Europe yet!

What has happened to my country?

Friday, 11 August 2017

Degrees of oddness and safety!

The world is full of odd things. On Wednesday when I went out in the morning to buy bread, the lady in the bread shop commented to me, "¡Qué frío!" It was not yet nine in the morning, the temperature gauge said 18 degrees and the day was cool, fine and clear. Not what you would call cold. As the day went on I heard a number of conversations about what an odd summer it is. Baking hot in June, cooled down in July and, according to some, chilly in August. One lady said that this is to be expected: "¡Agosto refresca!" This is apparently an old saying: August cools things down. In April, as in England, they expect rain: "En abril, aguas mil". Such sayings, wise old saws, abound!

The agua might yet prove to be a problem. Back in June I was told that the reservoirs were far from full and there hasn't really been serious rain since then, despite the moaning. Thursday's weather was back up to summer standard: predicted high of 29 in Vigo, 30 in Pontevedra and 32 in Orense. Quite cool for Orense! On the north coast of Galicia, it is cooler; Coruña can expect a high of 24 or 25. Even that seems quite nice to me!

Today, Friday, is equally hot!

In the playing room at the chess tournament yesterday they were all suffering from the heat. The wind direction must have been wrong for keeping the room cool. Outside on the other hand it was quite pleasant.

On Wednesday after Phil finished his game we opted to walk down into Pontevedra centre. It was quite a pleasant walk even though it probably took us about 45 minutes. I can't say I would fancy doing it in the opposite direction - all up hill! I considered walking down again on my own while Phil played on Thursday but then he gave me his laptop to take care of and somehow walking down with a full rucksack, even a mini one, lost its appeal. I fancied taking a look at what was going on in the centre.

This week is "Semana Grande", Pontevedra's big week, when lots of street theatre takes place. And in the evening groups of young people rampage around drinking and throwing stuff at each other! Maybe another day I will make it down to take some pictures.

At various points in the festivities there will be fireworks. Some of the organisers and helpers at the "campus" were discussing the possibility of taking the youngsters down into town on Saturday evening to watch them. It should, they reckoned, be feasible if enough organisers and helpers with cars go their act together. Then the main organiser was consulted. Brilliant idea but ... a big but ... they would need permission from all the parents of the participating youngsters if they were to take them in private cars. He would consider organising a coach!

So health and safety has raised its head here in Galicia too. Knowing the main organiser, I am not at all surprised at his response. And I was reminded of all the trips I used to organise and the forms I had to sign declaring that my students would NOT be involved in various dangerous activities. So it goes.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Time keeping.

Tuesday was the first day of the Pontevedra chess tournament. Phil, of course, is taking part. The event is organised by someone who has become a friend over the years. Every year the tournament is preceded by a "campus", a kind of training camp for young chess players. A few years ago we organised a kind of chess exchange with him. A group of Manchester youngsters came to the "campus" and played in the tournament and then some months later a group of young Galicians went to Manchester. No "campus" but they stayed with chess families, went to the club and then won loads of prizes in a tournament. Not bad!

The "campus" and the tournament take place in a big private school in the outskirts of Pontevedra. It's a prestigious international school with dormitories, which are extremely useful if you are planning a week long residential training session. The disadvantage is that it is up in the hills, so far from the centre of town that access is difficult. You can't just stroll out from town to get there. And so the tournament organisers put on a bus, picking up from Pontevedra bus station half an hour before play starts. Very good!

And so we should have had no problem getting there. Not so! A combination of stuff slowed us down all the way along. In the first place the trains from Vigo to Pontevedra were not perfectly timed. We knew we would have a longish wait at the bus station but we were prepared for that. So off we went for a train at 15.10, from Vigo's out of town station, Guixar. Arriving there, we discovered that the train was now leaving, five minutes later, from the town centre station, Urzáiz. This was because of work being done at the station at Redondela in connection with the eventual, long promised, connection with the AVE high speed train service.


We went to get a taxi to the relevant station. Time was pressing! There was a taxi but there seemed to be no driver. Almost at once another arrived but he refused to take us as there was a taxi ahead of him - the driverless one! Not driverless at all! The driver was snoozing with the seat so reclined that he was invisible. He awoke and put his seat back up. Off we went. Would we arrive in time? The next train would be too late. Phew! We made it ... with only minutes to spare!

Our plan was to spend the waiting-for-the-tournament-bus time in Pontevedra checking our email and other such internet activities. First thing to do was check that the bus station cafe had internet. Yes! Did we need a password? No, according to waitress. So we found the network, discovered that you needed to register, did the registering, filled in all the details and then came up against the screen that demanded the password for the cafeteria!!! By then it was too late to operate plan B and go to the cafe across the road with reliable wifi.

And besides, we had spotted a minibus with the name of the school on the side and went out to investigate. It was indeed our transport. A few other people were also waiting. We exchanged greetings and then chatted with the driver, who seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. But it was still quite early so we were not concerned. Some fifteen minutes later another bus had turned up but no more people. What was going on? Last year there were about twenty people. Perhaps they were all waiting at the second pick-up point.

Eventually we got into the bus and waited and waited and waited. We spoke to the driver. He was expecting somebody from the tournament organisation to turn up. He could not set off yet. (Sometimes the Spanish are great sticklers for obeying instructions. You see it as pedestrians wait for the green man at a crossing on a completely empty road!) So we waited and waited and waited. Time was going past. After some phone calls the driver was persuaded to set off. He also needed convincing that there was supposed to be a second pick-up along the way. And yes, there were players waiting there!

And so, after wasting a prodigious amount of time just hanging around, we finally made it up into the hills, really only a ten minute drive from the town centre, to the school, which is named "Los Sauces", or "The Willows" in English. However, there is not a willow tree to be seen, just lots of eucalyptus. They should rename it "Los Eucaliptos". Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it. We arrived just in time. The opening ceremony was coming to a close. It was a close call. Play was starting!

Heading back to Vigo later, we asked at Pontevedra train station about trains for Wednesay. Which Vigo station would our train be running from? In what we have come to recognise as fairly typical "I am a state employee with a secure permanent contract and really couldn't give a damn" behaviour, the ticket clerk first of all told us he had no idea. After all, we were asking about Vigo stations and this was Pontevdra, all of fifteen minutes away in a fast train and thirty minutes away in a slow train. What did we really expect! Then he thought about it, finally registering that we had told him about problems at Redondela station. His brain clicked into gear. Clearly he had heard something about work in connection with the AVE. Yes, Monday to Friday the 15.10 train would not leave from Guixar station but from Urzáiz at 15.15. We thanked him and left. He called us back. Saturday as well! We set off again! He called us back. He wasn't sure about Sunday!

He was so vague that we asked again when we got to Vigo, where they confirmed that the 15.10 from Guixar would indeed be the 15.15 from Urzáiz. And what, we asked, if we decided to go earlier, maybe on the 13.10 train? Where would that leave from? Oh, that one would leave from Guixar as usual. (Fast trains - 15 minute journey - run from Urzáiz and slow trains - 30 minute journey - from Guixar, under normal circumstances.) What I neglected to ask was exactly when the work for the AVE took place at Redondela station. The station was open for the 13.10 train to go through, closed so that the 15.10 train had to go round a different way, but clearly open again by the time the evening train was running from Pontevedra to Vigo. They must have a small window of just a few hours to do the AVE work.

This probably explains why the long-promised Galicia bit of the AVE, once scheduled to be here by 2012 I believe, is still a mythical creature of the future!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Putting labels on things and people!

In novels set in strange future dystopias we read about history books being rewritten to reflect greater glory on current leaders, things being renamed to be made to seem more acceptable. And we wonder at the strangeness of it all and flatter ourselves into thinking that our society is somehow better than that. The dystopian novel world will make us stop short at such excesses.

And then this appears in a newspaper:-
 "Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead. A series of emails obtained by the Guardian between staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA unit that versees farmers' land conservation, show that the incoming Trump administration has had a stark impact on the language used by some federal employees around climate change."

Hmmm! Not quite Nu-Speak but ....

Here's another thing I found in yesterday's paper. A new study shows that atheists are more easily suspected of evil deed than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists – even by fellow atheists. Apparently “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous”. Who would have thought that now, in the 21st century, many people would still believe that we can't really be good unless we fear punishment from an all-seeing deity. Even stranger is that some atheists believe that as well. Oh, boy! They must be pretty mixed up and their self esteem must be really low. Do they go around all the time fighting the urge to do something really wicked? Or do they just think that they can get away with it as a god they don't believe in can't actually punish them? Maybe such atheists are secretly hedging their bets and are readybto make a deathbed conversion, just in case! 

Years ago a friend of ours used to expound the view that babies are born selfish (after all, they demand attention so much of the time) and are intrinsically evil. Parents and society have to exert a civilising influence on children so that they can become properly functioning human beings. Come to think of it, there is some truth in that last statement and it may well be that parents and society are currently failing in that role. There is an awful lot of me-centred behaviour in the modern world! However, to go from the need to educate children to be good members of society to the belief that all children are intrinsically evil is a step too far for me.

In any case, as the same friend used to scrape all the seeds out of tomatoes as he believed that they caused appendicitis, tomato seeds being small enough to get into the appendix (??), I rapidly decided that most of his ideas were a little too extreme for me.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Nostalgia politics!

I have been re-reading David Nobbs's Henry Pratt novels, a very funny nostalgia trip. Even though Henry Pratt was born more than a decade ahead of me, his childhood rings all sorts of Proustian bells. There's some mixing of metaphors; I blame Mr Nobbs!

I confess that I was a little bit miffed to discover that David Nobbs was not a Yorkshireman at all, even if he did buy a house in Harrogate. Somehow it's all right to poke gentle fun at northerners if you are a northerner yourself but less so if you were born in Kent. It's rather like families: I can be mean to my siblings and say what I like about them but I will defend them and turn against you in righteous fury if you dare do the same. However, I have decided to grant him honorary northerner status.

Most chapters in the books have some reference to things going on in the real world on specific dates important in the life of Henry Pratt. If you removed the Henry Pratt story you would have a succinct history of the period. Here is an example:

"On Tuesday April 3rd, 1979, Mts Thatcher opened the General Election campaign, promising tax cuts and warning the nation not to accept the attempt of James Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister, to blame Britain's problems on the world recession."

Somehow, all of that sounds ever so familiar and not just because I remember 1979. It seems to me that some people in the here and now have not been learning from history and are being condemned to repeat it.

Returning to the twenty first century, I read that the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is trying to make his wife into an official "first lady". It's a funny thing; before President Sarkozy came along with his glamorous, already famous wife, Carla Bruni, nobody really heard much about the wives of French presidents. At least, you didn't hear about them until after the said president was president no longer and suddenly the scandals could break about who had a mistress or an illegitimate child or whatever. But during the presidency you never even saw the wife.

Then along came Mrs Sarkozy, standing alongside her husband, looking chic and ever so presentable, giving the rather funny-looking president a bit of cachet! The Blairs did it as well, of course, although I read that their plan was always to see which of them could get into parliament first and then that person would be supported by the other. (This in no way suggests that I am a Blair supporter, by the way!) When David Cameron came along, Samantha had to appear with him on the steps Number Ten. Isn't she a design specialist or something? Not political anyway. But suddenly the world was awash with First Ladies.

And now Monsieur Macron wants to make it official and give her an office in the Elysée, a staff and an allowance. The French people are not happy with the idea but apparently he always had this in mind. “I would like a defined framework and I will ask for the subject to be worked on,” he said during his presidential campaign. “The person living with you should be able to have a role and be recognised for that role.”

Why? Just because the Americans do it? Should we all follow their lead in everything? Is there a Mr Merkel demanding to be First Gentleman of Germany? In what other walk of life does this happen? Apart from maybe being queen?

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Boats and pool and weather and B&B.

Blue sky and sunshine, but it was nice crisp cool morning when I went out for a run. So the lady I see who walks her dog every morning was once again wrapped up in her jacket, buttoned up to the neck, around who h there was a scarf. This despite the temperature gauge saying 20 degrees. I wonder what she makes of me running in shorts and sleeveless top!

Down in the harbour there was one of those cruise boats as big as good-sized village. If it's the same one as was here on Tuesday then this is it's last visit until next spring. I read in the paper on Wednesday, while Phil was having his hair cut at the barbershop in town, that the P&O line's Ventura, with somewhere close to 4,000 passengers, was on it's penultimate visit of the year. Of course, today's boat might be a completely different monstrosity. Would the Ventura have had time to return to Southampton, or wherever, and come back here today? Goodness knows!

Down at the pool the Italian-Spanish lady confessed to being really glad to be able to go there in the morning when hardly anyone else goes. In the afternoon, she told me, it gets far too crowded and there are too many children jumping in and splashing. I refrained from commenting on the morning occasions when her grandson Enzo has been visiting and we have endured splashing and ball-games in the pool.

She also had a minor moan about the weather: all the sea mist that has been drifting in over the last few days. Then she commented that her Italian relatives think she is very lucky to have some respite from the heat. They are suffering with 40+ degrees and in Rome they have water shortages as well. The famous fountains have been turned off and the tourists have nowhere to wash their hot, tired feet. I bet they are still able to shower in their hotels though. And do they throw their towels on the floor every day as well, contributing further to the water shortage by creating extra washing?

Now, here's an item I "borrowed" from yesterday's Guardian, from the "What I am really thinking" section, which might be of interest to those involved with Air B&B:

Saturday 5 August 2017

Ninety-five per cent of my guests are a delight. They appreciate my rural Cotswolds apartment, enjoy the breakfasts, chocolates, flowers and wine I provide, and treat the place as their home. Since my sons left home, I have had guests from all over the world. Families, babies, retired couples, therapy dogs, Olympic athletes, Hollywood actors, writers, young couples from London. Many return and have become friends. What could possibly go wrong? The guests who kept two barking dogs locked in for days. The cat that was smuggled in. The foursome that appeared on a booking for two. The woman who shouted at her crying husband all weekend. The famous playwright who left a trail of broken crockery. The discarded underwear of couples who are married, but not to each other. 

Nevertheless, people are surprising. The fashionistas who remained cheerful when evacuated outside for hours in November as a chimney fire filled the whole place with smoke. The American couple who were disappointed to find that the Cotswolds were not flat and that we have neither snakes nor raccoons. They didn’t like walking, so I drove them about. I didn’t mind: they were hilarious company. We really are more alike than we are different. I am glad to share my part of the world with visitors. Renting out my studio has given me another income and an extra string to my bow. My background is in design, so the endless cleaning and washing is not my first choice of career. But there is no such thing as a free lunch or, in this case, a free breakfast."

So, she provides chocolates, flowers and wine" as well as bed and breakfast? And she drives people around?

Does she make any profit out of this?

How very odd!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Under a cloud no longer

The cloud that dispersed at some point in the afternoon yesterday and then came back down with a vengeance for the evening did not dampen the spirits at the A Guía festivities. Despite the fact that they could probably not see beyond the end of their noses, the singers continued into the small hours. We could not see the flashing lights however; the low cloud blanked all that out.

By this morning the wind had got up and blown the cloud back out to sea. That wind whistles round the flats. It's a good job my washing-dryer gadget is tied down or I suspect that all my washing would be half way to Samil by now.

As I set off for my run this morning I spotted our latest supermarket beggar walking along the street ready to set himself up in the Mercadona entrance. Laden with a folding chair, his "sin recursos" sign and a blanket to cover his legs, he trudged along. I wonder if he sat with the blanket over his legs yesterday when it was so stickily hot. Our previous beggar girl, "Soy-Muy-Pobre" has disappeared without trace and we now have this older man, in reality probably not a good deal older than we are, with his mournful greeting of "¡Hooooooolaaaa!" He says less than "Soy-Muy-Pobre" but is more lugubrious.

On reflection, I see more older beggars around these days than I used to. Clearly these older man, and it is usually men, don't have younger, wealthier relatives they can take to court to oblige them to maintain them. Maybe it's indicative of the population of the city, 30% of whom are of pensionable age apparently. I have no statistics about how many of them actually receive a pension. I did read, however, that only one in ten of the foreigners living in Vigo are of pensionable age. 40% of them are under 40. Most of them are Rumanian or Portuguese. I am certainly hearing more Portuguese spoken in the cafes we frequent.

And so Saturday has come round again, with sunshine and blue sky, wind trying to blow us all way, and a host of small boats pottering about on the impossibly blue bay. What do I do on such a Saturday morning? Go out on a hunt for ginseng and/or gingko biloba for my chessplaying husband, who is firmly convinced that they boost his brain activity. Back in the UK it's Boots the Chemist or Holland and Herbalist who are our principal source. Both of these would be a welcome addition to the shops of Galicia!

I remembered seeing a shop that called itself a herbalist, in the Calvario district and so I set myself the task of investigating it. What a let-down! It turned put to be a shop that sold fancy flours, interestingly shaped dried pasta, a limited range of dried fruit and expensively price water bottles and plastic boxes. All very tastefully laid put but not what I would call a herbalist.

Walking on, intending to investigate a parafamacia, I came across a little shop that boasted a range of 'natural remedies'. Turning down offers of royal jelly and other concoctions, I came away with a rather highly-priced box of ginseng capsules. No sign of gingko biloba.

Moderate success!

Friday, 4 August 2017


Joni Mitchell sings about the hissing of summer lawns. I could sing about the swishing of car tyres on wet roads. It's an odd phenomenon of Vigo in August that the day begins with low cloud, mist and drizzly rain, all of which disappears when the sun breaks through and the day turns blue and clear. Today, just to be different, the low cloud and mist was still hanging around in the rather muggy late morning. And hanging in the air was religious-sounding singing coming from one of the nearby churches. No doubt it has something to do with the A Guía festivities: religious music in the morning, honky-tonk in the evening!

In one of the UK papers the other day someone was expressing amazement at the number of people who go away in August. Why August? the writer pondered. Why not July? After all, the universities have finished by mid/end of June. Doh! And schools? Most schools in the UK continue until late July. That is why prices go up in late July and August. That is why people try to cheat the system by taking their kids away in term time. These journalists! Do they know nothing!

His other point was that people should take their holidays at home: no reason to complain about the airport queues then! Of course, there is always the weather to contend with!

Theresa May has headed off to Lombardy, where she is reported to have sung the national anthem. I deed she is supposed to have led a "singalong". The pianist at the hotel included God Save the Queen in his medley and Theresa and Philip stood up and started to sing. I could almost feel sorry for her. Mocked, by me as well as others for standing up and singing, she would no doubt have been accused of lack of patriotism if she had just ignored it and carried on with he glass of wine. That is assuming that people who go on walking holidays in Lombardy indulge in glasses of wine!

Meanwhile, those who holiday in more Eastern European countries are indulging in a bit of Corbyn-spotting. Like train-spotting or birdwatching but you get to tweet about it. Jeremy Corbyn in on a cycling holiday in Croatia, or so the papers say. One holiday maker expressed her delight at seeing him enter her hotel. This had "made her holiday", she tweeted. As for me, if I were in Croatia or wherever I would be more interested in seeing things Croatian. It's all very well getting excited about seeing famous people but in the end they are only people!

The funniest thing I found was that the news report included a description of what Jeremy Corbyn was wearing, including his rucksack. The article went on to tell you where you could purchase an identical outfit, including rucksack. They did not do the same with Theresa May's outfit. Nor her husbands, for that matter.

Finally here is a bit of Spanglish vocabulary. In the supermarket you can buy packets of crispbread, ideal to "dipear" in the humous they sell there. And my Spanglish niece posted a link on Facebook to info about holiday accommodation, including "bungalós". I appreciate the change of spelling in that English word of Indian origin, or so I have heard. The accent is useful to tell the Spanish how to pronounce it. Now they need to do the same with "penalty". I wince every time a football commentator talks about "penAlties".

It's all very well borrowing vocabulary but you have to say it properly!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Street life

In the local paper one day earlier this week I read that Vigo council had been fined €5,000 for tarmacking a path in the Castrelos park without permission. I seem to remember it was a pedestrian path alongside one of the stretches where cars can actually drive. Nobody had permission to resurface it and it did not connect to any of the cycle paths through the park. And so, despite not actually causing any harm or being unsightly, the path led to a big fine.

The council could have put that money towards beautifying our stretch of Calle Aragon. The long section from Calvario to the ridiculous roundabout with the lighthouse (which Phil insists is a pawn from a chess set) has been nicely renovated with smart new pavements. The stretch from the Carrefour shopping centre to just beyond the breadshop has also been done. (Sadly, in both stretches the smart new pavements have already begun to be marked with the splodges of discarded chewing gum but that is another problem.) All along the central reservation plants have been tastefully inserted. So it's just our section of the street that has the old, messy, sometimes cracked pavement. Maybe next year ...

Money is clearly being spent beautifying the streets of Vigo. Last year we noticed a positive explosion of olive trees on street corners and occasionally on small roundabouts. Vigo is the Ciudad Olívica, after all. They appeared to be quite mature trees transplanted wholesale but looking remarkably like giant bonsais, if such a thing is possible.

This year a different kind of street decor has erupted, in keeping with the lighthouse/pawn, complete with turning light at the top, on the roundabout near our flats. Here are some photos.

On the Avenida Del Alcalde Gregorio Espino (wonderful name!) the entrance to the underpass has been elaborately decorated with a seascape. My sister did wonder if the lighthouse was some kind of white dalek. she has a powerful imagination!

On Rosalía de Castro an amazing video feature has appeared. The circular screen which goes around the roundabout features underwater scenes, all in motion and occasional information about coming events. Surely it must be really distracting to drivers.

Another bit of fancy work on Gregorio Espino is a representation of something in the way of marine life. From the general shape of it I had decided it must be an oddly coloured whale. Then my daughter pointed out that it seems to have tentacles and is probably an octopus. Quite so! That would explain the colour as well.

Perhaps the wildest is the one I have not managed to photograph because I have only seen it from a car whose windscreen was too filthy to make photography possible. On a large roundabout on the Avenida de Castelao, heading towards Samil, there is a large fishing boat. This is a real, genuine fishing boat, lovingly restored by the look of it, a fitting tribute to the fishermen of Vigo.

As you drive up the avenue, the boat dominates the view. Unsuspecting drivers who do not know the area must wonder if it has been dropped from the sky by a tornado. I am told that there was much controversy about the installation of this "barcazo" (big boat). Some people objected to the money that was spent on it but in the end the mayor had his way and the roundabout was adorned with the aforementioned fishing boat.

Where is the money coming from for all this street decor? And why is our bit of street not getting new pavements?

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Views of life!

We walked up to A Guía late this morning, aiming to get some exercise before the day grew too hot. All the way up to the chapel atbthe top of the promontory they were putting up bunting and street decoration in preparation the Festas da Guía, in honour of the Virgin but also involving quite a lot of sardines, judging by the posters that have been put up everywhere.

We walked back through the woods where there was further evidence of fiesta preparations. Stalls and concert stages are being erected. This suggests that the fiesta is imminent, probably this coming weekend. Time to find some earplugs as the music will start at about 11.00 and go on into the small hours.

 I must say that I like the way Spanish fiestas combine remembering the saints and other holy folk with a good feed!

There is a story going around in the news about members of Donald Trump's cabinet attending a weekly session to study the bible. Regular attendees are said to include Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This news comes originally, I think, from Christian Broadcasting Network, a radio station not much heard of worldwide until the Trump administration came along. The president himself does not attend, it seems. Probably he is too busy tweeting. The vice president is said to oin in when his timetable permits him to do so and once a week around a dozen members of the inner Trump circle gather to look at scripture.

And they are very good apparently. Ralph Drollinger, the founder of Capitol Ministries who leads the weekly Bible study, told CBN: "It's the best Bible study that I've ever taught in my life. They are so teachable. They're so noble. They're so learned”.

I am sure this is all very commendable although I find it hard to see exactly what it has to do with government, especially in a country where, unless I am mistaken the church and state are separate. The cynical part of me wonders if it a ploy to keep the Christian right on Trump's side. And do their studies include Christ's teaching of tolerance and acceptance?

Six months into the presidency and still it has the power to surprise!

And here we are in August. Pretty soon another cycle race will be in the sports news: la Vuelta a España. Like so many of these big national races, this one begins outside the country, this time in Nîmes in France. CHris Froome, Tour de France winner, is hoping to make it a double win this year, having had a few weeks to recover from the Tour. Froome could become the first British rider to win Spain’s national race. He does like a challenge. And his aim for the double win is another one; no rider has won the Tour and Vuelta in the same year since the latter was moved to August and September from April in 1995. We shall see. He is up against some big names, as you might expect: Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru, and Alberto Contador all expected to ride. Vincenzo Nibali, who missed the Tour, may also be a strong contender.

Nobody said it would be easy!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Labelling things and people.

I spotted a label in my swimsuit and for some daft reason decided to have look at it. Washing instructions. The usual stuff about washing dark colours separately and so on. And then came the incomprehensible bit: keep away from direct sunlight. What?!? This is a swimsuit we are talking about. Am I supposed to wear it only in indoor pools or for swimming on cloudy days? Too late! It has been exposed to plenty of direct sunlight already.

I read somebody's fashion blog the other day. She was going on about her body shape suddenly being fashionable. According to Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, writing in the Guardian, big bottoms are in back fashion. Kim Kardashian may be to blame. Ms Brinkhurst-Cuff declares "My body shape may be in fashion just now, but for how long?" It's a balck woman thing apparently. I have no chance. If my bottom was a big as Kim Kardashian's I would have no waist to speak, which would rather defeat the object. Fashion is a strange and fickle thing!

Reading that stuff, however, I was reminded of a time when my sister and I, in our mid-teens, used to get hold of American "true romance" magazines from friends. We had to hide them from our parents who would have disapproved of such reading matter. We were both intrigued and mystified by adverts for underwear you could buy on mail-order, knickers, no, bloomers really, with padding on buttocks and thighs, intended presumably to give a shapely figure. We could not understand who would buy such things.

On a completely different topic, but related to the USA, here are some statistics: the United States has more than 20% of the world’s prison population with only 5% of the world’s population. More than half of those incarcerated in the US are black. What a complicated country.

Michelle Obama was talking about racism recently. Even someone as high profile as she became suffered from racism. Such things are no respecters of rank or status. In her speech she also talked about changes being made to what kids get to eat in their school meals, on restaurants and shops and food outlets not saying what the calorific value of food is. She was protesting that mums (or moms) need the information. All of this is stuff she worked on as First Lady. Most of all, I love what she ended her speech with this comment, reflecting on her life since leaving the White House: “Everything is really great. Being ‘former’ is all right … The president’s good. He’s running around out there in the world with his shirt unbuttoned."

Now there's an image to conjure with.