Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Unlucky for some! Superstition and corruption!

In the Italian conversation class we have been reading and talking about Totò Riina, the mafia boss who died very recently, on Friday 17th November.

Friday 17th is the Italian equivalent of our Friday 13th. Our Italian teacher did not provide much of an explanation for this superstition so I did a little research. I already had an explanation for Friday. It was the day Christ was crucified. This also works for Friday 13th. We have 13 as the unlucky number, by the way, because Judas was the 13th disciple. Lots of superstations go back to religion. So why the 17th in Italy? According to some sources, it goes back to ancient Rome. In Roman numerals 17 is XVII. If you play round with the order of the letters you get VIXI, Latin for “I have lived”, with the implication “My life is over”. Well, it’s a theory. Add to that the fact the great flood, the one for which Noah built the ark and improbably filled it with breeding lairs of all animals, is supposed to have happened on the 17th day of the second month of the year. There you go!

Apparently Alitalia do not have a row 17 on their planes just as some American hotels do not have a 13th floor. The date is understandably avoided for weddings. Renault sold its "R17" model in Italy as "R177." Finally at the Cesana Pariol the bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track in Cesana, Italy, turn 17 is named "Senza Nome”. I suppose it’s always good to hedge your bets. However, I doubt that many teenagers would skip over their 17th birthday and forego the presents!

If Friday 17th pops up in November, as this year, it is extra unlucky because November also has All Saints’ Day, November 1st, and All Souls’ Day, November 2nd. When November includes Friday 17th, it is knowns as the Month of the Deceased. It was certainly a bad day this year for Totò Riina.

In Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, and possible also Greece, Tuesday 13th is the unlucky day. One explanation is that the Spanish for Tuesday is “martes”, which is also the Spanish for Mars, God of War. On Tuesday 13th May 1453 Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, although why this would so upset Spain is a different matter. Also Tuesday is the third day of the week and, as my mother firmly believed, bad things go in threes.

My research also gave me a bit of linguistic information. If someone looks gloomy, you can ask "Qué pasó?" (What’s the matter?) and the stock answer is “martes” (Tuesday). Which seems to me a better exchange than the English “What’s up?” - “The sky”.

And, a last comment in this topic, the Italians combine Friday and Tuesday in a proverb: “Né di venere, né di marte ci si sposa, né si parte, né si da principio all'arte!" It means “Neither on Friday nor on Tuesday should one marry, set off on a journey, or start something new”.

Getting back to Totò Riina, capo dei capi, boss of bosses, mafia king, he was, as they say in many parts of the UK, a right one. He killed his first victim at age 18, served part of a sentence for that, and went on to kill many more, including being involved in the death of anti-mafia campaigner and judge Giovanni Falcone in 1993. Sentenced in absentia to umpteen life-sentences, he lived many years in hiding. This did not prevent him from running the Sicilian mafia nor from being present for the birth if his four children at one of the best clinics in Palermo. He was only captured when he was betrayed to the police by mafiosi, probably because they had someone lined up to replace him.

Most striking in all of this was the amount of collaboration between police and mafiosi and local government. Lots of tangled threads held all the elements together. No wonder they are still working on it. And Totó, who was rather proud of his life’s work, took his secrets to the grave with him. 

Incidentally, or coincidentally, Phil and I have been watching a Spanish thriller/detective/crime series: “Sé quien eres” - “I know who you are”. A high-flying, highly successful lawyer loses his memory in a car crash. At the same time one of his students, a young woman, disappears. The mystery is solved after many twists and turns and red herrings and blind alleys. Much depends on the lawyer being a rather cold-blooded creature, prepared to do anything to protect the life he wants to lead, starting the whole business off by shooting someone who was blackmailing him for, guess what, having bribed a jury about twenty years previously to find in his favour! No more details; you might like to watch it!

It really was not a good advertisement for the Spanish legal system. Not only was the reptilian baddy lawyer prepared to manipulate facts and falsify evidence, but even the goodies lied about stuff at the drop of a hat and advised their clients to lie, helping them invent stories and coaching them on how to sound convincing. Corruption right, left and centre!

How reassuring to live in a country where such corruption could not happen, where the Prime Minister’s husband would never benefit from off shore tax havens and the national television company could not possibly be accused of spending so much time on news of a royal engagement announcement that items on such things as cuts to benefits could be relegated to a lesser position, probably missed altogether because viewers would grow tired and switch the television off!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The power of words!

The Church of England recently issued guidelines which tell teachers that children should be permitted to wear tutus, tiaras or superhero capes “without judgement or derision”. It’s good to see the church preaching tolerance. We need some more of that.

The Church of Sweden has gone one better in the equality stakes, urging its clergy to use gender-neutral language when referring to the supreme deity, refraining from using terms such as “Lord” and “he” in favour of the less specific “God.” This is a step further than the feminists saying that God is a woman. A spokesman said, “Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human.”

Of course, there has been criticism. Some people say it undermines the Trinity. Although “Parent, Offspring and Holy Ghost” does not quite have the ring of “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”, it should still be possible to keep the basic idea. Similarly, the Lord’s Prayer (which would need to be renamed to avoid use of the word “Lord”) could begin “Our Parent, which art in Heaven, ...”. Of course, hymns would be a bit of a problem. Imagine singing, “Jesus, good above all other, In a stable born our sibling”.

It could all get to resemble discussing how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. I think that perhaps they should just quietly forget the whole idea. By which, I don’t mean forget about being tolerant and egalitarian but about changing the terminology. It’s like the business of using ‘they’ and ‘their’ to avoid saying ‘he or she” and “his or her”. Or calling actresses actors.

Tolerance and equality are, of course, absolutely essential in the world but the semantics just gets silly!

And yet use of language is so important and can be so influential. We have seen so many arguments in recent years about the use if regional and minority languages. And here is a link to an article about a dispute over use of the Irish language threatening the political gains of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

In future years, people look back on us and think we were all crazy.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Important news! Really?

It’s coming on Christmas; they’re putting up trees in the village, to misquote Joni Mitchell. Everyone is shopping excitedly, even me, rushing off to the supermarket to buy wine at bargain prices, following the advice we found in a weekend magazine.

I ran into a friend in the supermarket today who told me, in response to an ironic comment of mine about excitement, that all she has heard in the news all day has been about the engagement of Prince Harry and Megan Markle. Everyone has apparently been waiting with bated breath for an announcement about the engagement. Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian, prior to the announcement, when they were still going on about the nation being at fever pitch:

“Was it supposed to have happened last Thursday? Maybe it will be this Tuesday? Speculation and rumour about a possible engagement announcement from the US actor Meghan Markle and Prince Harry reached fever pitch at the weekend, although Kensington Palace aides are keeping tight-lipped. For months it has been clear the fifth in line to the throne has found a serious partner in the star of the TV legal drama Suits, whom he met in summer 2016. But the sense that an engagement announcement is imminent has been stoked by reports that Markle has already packed up her rented Toronto house and is moving into Nottingham Cottage, the prince’s home in the grounds of Kensington Palace. The 36-year-old American divorcee was photographed shopping on Kings Road, Chelsea, last week.
The bookmaker Ladbrokes stopped taking bets on the engagement last week and Sunday saw press reports that Theresa May had “cleared her diary” on Thursday in expectation of an announcement. This was emphatically denied by Downing Street, which pointed out that less than 24 hours after the budget, the prime minister had other priorities, such as spending half a day in Leeds with the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to promote the government’s house-building policies.”

What I want to know is why the Prime Minister, who surely has more important stuff to do, would need to clear her diary for this. What does it have to do with her? Does she expect to be invited to the celebration party? I expect she is rather relieved that it has finally happened though. This will presumably take some attention away from the Brexit negotiations fiasco. Nothing like a bit of bread and circuses to keep the people happy!

On the radio news I have just heard that the wedding is planned for the spring. Will this be before or after the next royal baby is born? Will Kate have time to get her figure back for the great event? Will little Charlotte be a confident bridesmaid? These are all important questions!

I saw somewhere a statement thatvthis is the first time a royal family has been linked to showbusiness. Does being a newsreader count as showbusiness. If so, I should like tompoint out thatvthe Spanish royal family has already done it. King Felipe is married to Letizia, a divorcee who used to work on television news!

Here are some other important things:

Liverpool has apparently contributed two new words to the British Library’s Evolving English Word Bank. They are “webs” and “trabs” and both mean “trainers”, the footwear, not personal trainers. My source talked about dialect words such as “mardy” meaning “sulky” and “nesh”, which it defines as “susceptible to the cold”. Now, I would have defined “mardy” as meaning a whole attitude of sulkiness, complaining about things and being generally a moaner but I’ll accept just “sulky”. “Nesh”, however, is not just “susceptible to the cold” but implies that the person so described is a complete softie who complains about the cold even when the weather is quite mild. “Spelk”, a dialect word for a splinter, the kind you get when a bit of wood or similar under the skin. This is a good word and we should try to bring it back into general usage!

Tim Peake, the astronaut featured in the regular “This much I know” item in the Sunday Observer. Here is something he said:- “Sandhurst is not posh at all. It’s a completely level playing field, everybody is treated the same ... and that’s abysmally! The first few weeks is all about breaking you and then they rebuild you into the mould they want you to be. It was an incredibly positive experience for me.”

His final sentence there suggests that the brainwashing worked totally on him. Or am I becoming a little cynical.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

On love and marriage and global issues!

This morning I listened to Naomi Klein on Desert Island Discs. Some of her music choices, but not all by any means, were protest songs of one kind or another, including Manu Chao’s “Desaparecido”, which I used to use when teaching the topic of immigration as part of the A-level Spanish course. A little trip down memory lane. Another of her choices was a Blondie song, “One way or another”, because before she became a social activist, writer and film maker, Naomi Klein just wanted to be a teenager and specifically to be Blondie, if at all possible! We have all had such ambitions at some time.

At one point Kirsty asked if we are not in fact living better, longer than ever before. Maybe in western society, although this is no longer exactly so for the working class, replied Naomi Klein, but certainly not in all parts of the world. And then a little later, I read yet another article about climate change ruining the fertile soil in places like Mozambique and Malawi and families not being able to feed all their children. One solution they find is to take their adolescent daughters out of school and marry them off. That way the family has one less mouth to feed. The daughter becomes the responsibility of her husband.

 One girl had wanted to be a midwife but was married instead at 13. She gave birth to a son a year later. Because they could not afford to go to a hospital with an incubator the baby died. Here’s a link to the whole article.  The girls are not always, or indeed often, resentful. 17 year old Majuma, married at 15,now the mother of a little daughter, says, “I don’t blame anyone. The weather just changed.” Such is the modern world.

Later still in the morning I heard someone in the food programme talking about how she had given up being a chef because the stress was making her depressed and she discovered that her emotion was being transferred from her, via the dishes she cooked, to the people who ate them. Just as I was being reminded of that very book, she mentioned Tita from Laura Esquivel’s “Como agua para chocolate” (“Like water for chocolate”). Because family tradition says the youngest daughter in the family may not marry but must stay at hime to look after the ageing parents, Tita cannot marry the man she loves. He marries her older sister: the next best thing as it kind of gets him close to Tita. (Really? do we think even he believes that?) As Tita stirs the cake mix that eventually becomes her sister’s wedding cake, she is unbearably sad and may even shed a few tears into the mixture. When the wedding guests taste the cake, they are all overwhelmed by the sensation of having lost the love of their life and leave the party to weep uncontrollably.

Every chapter in the book ends with a recipe. The cookery message is that you should always cook with love. If you live on pre-packaged sandwiches and ready meals, I wonder if your prime emotion in life is that you have a routine task that you need to finish as soon as possible. Unless, of course, all the sandwich- and ready meals-makers really enjoy their work and transmit joy to those who consume them!

And finally, for today anyway, I heard a little bit of a history programme about women involved in the Temperance movement in the United States at the end of the 19th century. What struck me was how this was an early example of the power of mass media. A group of women in one town were campaigning, marching and singing songs (Lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine), praying in the streets in an attempt to stop men from drinking to excess. There it might have ended but because of the new spread of national newspapers, within six months it had become a national movement.

Nowadays it would have gone viral on social media within hours but that was perhaps one aspect of the start of the whole mass media junket.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Black Friday to White Saturday!

My daughter doesn’t work on a Friday and contacted me on Thursday evening, proposing that we should do something together as she has just been too busy recently for us to see much of each other - no quality time.

As the day was so fine and bright we opted to walk to the local garden centre, just for a look around so that I could see what they are charging for potted, growing Christmas trees. (Last year’s appeared to die off and then grew again but not in a aesthetically pleasing way. The poor thing is simply too half-bare to be worth decorating!) We looked at the high quality tat on sale and marvelled at how garden centres have morphed into places where you can buy useless ornaments such as antelope skulls complete with horns!
After that we continued our walk to a coffee shop and then on to the park where the smallest grandchild played on the swings. All in all a good morning spent getting some exercise, catching up with the gossip and setting the world to rights!

We had considered going into Manchester centre but rejected the idea when we remembered that it was Black Friday and that the centre was likely to be full of people hunting for bargains they never knew they needed and spending money they don’t have. This morning’s paper reports a slow start to Black Friday with a drop in the number of shoppers visiting stores. But all was well in the end. As the paper put it, “momentum built up during the day and Barclaycard, which processes half of all debit and credit card transactions in the UK, estimated Black Friday spending finished up 8% on 2016”. Phew! What a relief! I can relax about that now!

What a lot of nonsense! Whatever did we do before there was Black Friday? And we don’t even have the excuse of the day before having been Thanksgiving and all the shops being closed. Mind you, it would not surprise me if we started celebrating Thanksgiving soon, if only to say how glad we are to live here and to give is another excuse to cook a huge meal and drink a lot!

But seriously, what DID we do before we started celebrating Black Friday? How difficult life was when we had to wait for the January Sales, which now begin on Boxing Day, by the way! Personally, I avoid the sales as far as possible; I must suffer from a specialised form of claustrophobia which deters me from fighting my way through crowds in order to rummage through piles of stuff that I might want to buy atba reduced price.

Besides, nowadays almost all shops seem to have special offers going on almost all year round. The only difference is the percentage reduction. With a bit of careful observation you can buy stuff with a 40-50% reduction at just about any time. What a strange world it is!

This morning we woke up to Christmas card scenes. Snow, but not too much of it, had fallen overnight. Indeed, it started to fall again when I was out running. At the cricket club up the road a mysterious teepee has appeared. Goodness knows what that is about. Probably nothing to do with the weather though.

When I popped into the local Co-op store to buy the Saturday newspaper, one of the assistants reminded me that last year at exactly this time the store was being refurbished and the store was closed. As this is the only shop in the village they were selling essentials like milk and bread and a very limited range of goods from a “pop-up shop” in a portacabin on the carpark. And on this very weekend, as they opened their very cold “pop-up shop”, it snowed.

History repeats itself!

Friday, 24 November 2017

Colourful stuff.

The painter Kandinsky is supposed to have said that colour is a force that directly influences your soul. So here is some stuff about colour.

The lighting in our bedroom is subdued, to say the least. Reading in bed is only manageable because there are good bedside lamps. But the main lighting is so dull that it is often difficult tell what is the true colour of socks or tights or, indeed, almost any item of clothing. Sometimes I have to take things out of the room to a better lit part of the house to check the colour. It’s probably more important with the tights than with anything else. You can feel really foolish when you get to the bus stop thinking you are wearing brown tights, only to discover that they are, in fact, purple and clash horribly with the shoes you are wearing, if not with the whole of the rest of your outfit for the day!

Perception of colour is a funny thing. Phil and I have been known to differ, if not actually argue, about what colour something is. He has a pair of grey trousers which he swears are green. Okay, I concede that they might have a greenish tinge in certain lights but really their basic colour is grey. But I make absolutely no concessions about the grey woolly hat which he says is purple. Never in a month of Sundays is there even a hint of purple there!

And now I learn that I should be the one seeing extra colours in the grey rather than him. Actually I put it down to a misconception on his part, nothing to do with seeing more colours. However, scientists say that we women see a greater range of colours than men, differentiating between varying shades of the same colour. This all dates back to ancient times when men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. Women needed to be able to decide whether or not a berry or fruit was edible or poisonous, usually according to the colour. A difference in shade could mean the difference between life and death!

Men, on the other hand, have a better perception of fast moving objects than women. Again this goes back to more primitive times, when men had to be able to hunt and kill fast-moving animals. According to the scientists, this is why men have better hand-eye coordination than women and are better at playing catch!

Eat your heart out egalitarians!

Some might argue that this colour perception business explains why women’s clothes are often more colourful than men’s but then there have been periods in the past when men were as colourfully dressed as women. I wonder if the same rule applies to birds and animals where the female is often more drab; think of peacocks and peahens! Maybe the colour would be wasted on the male of the species as he could ot really appreciate it!

It might also explain why so many women end up selecting their husbands’ wardrobe!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Licence to kill?

As part of the task of untangling UK law from EU law it seems that MPs recently voted that animals cannot feel emotions or pain. I find it hard to see how they actually know this. Now, I am not a sentimental animal lover. My grandchildren will testify to that. They get quite cross when I will not say that I “love” Baxter the dog, even though I do concede that he is part of the family. Neither do they understand why I do not want to hold the oldest one’s lizard/dragon/reptile creature. However, Even I can recognise that animals have feelings and I would never do anything to hurt them.

Of course, such a ruling makes it feasible to reintroduce fox-hunting. And why not badger-baiting, even bear-bating and dog-fights while they are at it?

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Trump just signed a bill getting rid of Alaska’s ban on killing vulnerable bears, for example when they are hibernating! Wolf cubs in dens can also be killed! Somehow it smacks of a cowardly way of hunting, if hunt you must! 76.8 million acres of federally protected national preserves across Alaska are affected by this ruling. One of the people in favour of the new ruling argued that the previous rule, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued in August, was “bad for Alaska, bad for hunters, bad for our native peoples, bad for America” and a “direct attack on states’ rights.” Oh boy, I can see that someone might argue that Alaskans “value hunting as a deep part of their culture” but how does protecting animals turnout to be “bad for America”? 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the USA, in Wisconsin, they have just reduced the age at which a child can hunt and kill animals. Previously they had to be ten years but how children as young as six can shoot to kill, presumably under supervision. Here’s a link to the story of one little girl who shot a deer.

I bet she doesn’t understand the story of Bambi at all. She won’t be crying because his mother gets shot!

I notice that her father bought her a special light-weight rifle. Was it pink, I ask myself!

Get them started on gun use when they are small appears to be the philosophy. But then, I hear that fox-hunting enthusiasts have the same idea about introducing their offspring to the sport when they are young.

It’s a different way of looking at the world!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Other people’s business!

Sometimes it is necessary to bite your tongue and prevent yourself from joining in the conversations of others on public transport. Very occasionally they almost invite the whole bus to join in but as a rule it would be considered rude if you were to give them your opinion. Of course, the problem is made worse by the fact that some people just cannot hold a quiet conversation but must speak at top volume even to the person sitting next to them.

Such was the case yesterday when the two ladies behind me, discussing local secondary schools. One of them had a strong London accent and freely admitted she did not know much about this area. This did not prevent her from expressing her opinion of all the possible schools her grandchildren might go to. I sat on my hands and bit my tongue! When she moved on to the subject of public transport and how much more efficient, organised and generally pleasant the Manchester tram system is than the London Underground I was similarly taxed. “I love the Manchester Metro,” she gushed, “It’s so much less crowded and cleaner.” Well, it’s a bit like comparing two very different beasts, cats and tigers maybe, that have some similarities but don’t really bear comparison.

While she was growing so enthusiastic I began to fear that she and her companion would get off the bus to catch the tram to Manchester and that I would have to try not to join in their talk all the way to the city centre. Fortunately they stayed on the bus!

At Piccadilly station I met my nervous companion from the Italian class, the one who likes to have company for the last stage of her journey as she fears the neighbourhood might be a bit disreputable and dangerous. Despite the rain, which seemed to have decided to fall specifically at that time, having held off earlier in the day, we decided to do the 20 minute walk to the venue.

Initially we just trusted to the hoods of our raincoats but as the rain persisted we put up umbrellas. That was when we ran into one of the local loonies (seemingly mostly harmless despite smelling strongly as if he had been smoking illegal substances) who stood in our path with his hands raised. “Ladies!” he declared, “ you have hoods AND umbrellas. What is going? Enjoy the weather!” With that he ran his hands through his wet hair and went on his way.

He would not have hesitated to join in the conversation in the bus, of that I am pretty sure.

Walking around Manchester, I was struck once more by the number of beggars there are around. Some people say I should not do this, but I now tend to go around with a pocketful of change so that I can offer something more than just a greeting. And I read somewhere that actually stopping and greeting them at least gives them a sense of belonging to society and not being invisible.

Here come some related statistics: “In Greater Manchester last year there was a 41% year-on-year rise in rough sleepers. During the last annual count, in November 2016, there were 189 people found spending the night on the streets. Charities say the real numbers tend to be about three times those officially recorded.”

That”s all.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Water, education and isolation.

Yesterday morning there was plenty of water falling from the sky but none coming through the taps in our house. I popped out to see if the neighbours were having the same problem. If it was a localised to us problem we would have to take some us-specific action. Hardly was I out of the door when I spotted a van from what I still refer to as the water board. So I went and asked the engineer if he was responsible for our having no water. Not personally, he told me; it was actually to do with the leak which I could see fountaining up nicely down at the corner.

All being well, he should be able to put it right in about an hour, he went on to tell me, but life, and his job, was being made difficult because the local council doing resurfacing work had happily resurfaced over all the access points to water pipes. Surely there are maps and diagrams intended to avoid such things happening. It’s great when two departments that should be ale to cooperate just get in each other’s way!

We were fortunate; the water supply resumed mid- to late-morning. I heard that some people in other parts of the village had no water until very late in the afternoon. And, sensible people that we are, we always have a jug of water in the fridge and so were able to make coffee for breakfast as usual. In fact the only true disruption was to the washing up which had to be put off for a while.

This morning I read an article based on a book called “Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes” by Diane Reay. As the title suggests, it was all about the disadvantaged lower orders. Children receiving free school meals and pupil premium (a special funding to the school intended to provide extra help for disadvantaged pupils) are 27% less likely to achieve five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C. Half of these free school meals children are concentrated in just one fifth of the schools in the country.

Similarly four-fifths of children from working-class minority ethnic families are taught in schools with high concentrations of other immigrant or disadvantaged students – the highest proportion in the developed world, according to a by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. More statistics were given but the basic message was that things have mot really improved in anything like the way we thought they would or indeed in the way that fought for back in the 1970s.

Some of the comments were interesting, especially this one from someone who called himself Sir Someone or Other:

“Perhaps if the schools paid more attention to basic academic rigour in English and Maths starting in primary schools say at age 6 onwards we would see better standards. Of course it's fun learning about history etc. but no good if you have no grasp of the basics. Only an hour a day day. Schools can use material used as lead up to the 11+.”

I suppose that if you have, or give yourself, the title “Sir” you might think that way. I wonder if he has been in a primary school to see how much time actually does go on English and Maths and how hard it is to squeeze in the other stuff. Oddly enough I can remember a time when head teachers used to tell us that we were all teachers of English, no matter what our subject specialism.

Oddly enough again, I read recently about a primary school where the head had decided that all the children would learn to play a musical instrument and that all would be involved in choirs. Art was given enhanced importance as well. All lessons in all subjects would involve arts and music, even Maths and Science. Astonishingly, that school did really well in SATs!

As we plan to pay out large sums of money to leave the EU, I wonder if any will be left to fund education at all. Meanwhile, I have a sense of shutters coming down on the UK, isolating us from all sorts of things. The European Medicine Agency is planning to move to Amsterdam post-Brexit and the European Banking Authority to Paris.

Interestingly, a Spanish friend of mine, someone who opposes Catalan separatism and wants her country to stay united, has been posting stuff from a forum called España que bonita eres to the effect that the Catalan Nationalists lost Barcelona the chance of becoming home of the European Medicine Agency.

 So it goes!

Monday, 20 November 2017

They’re (almost) all mad!

The world continues to be rather crazy.

There’s Robert Mugabe, at 93 years old, desperately hanging on to power in Zimbabwe. Surely it’s time to go with dignity.

Our own nonagenarian head of state is celebrating seventy years of being married to the same bloke, in itself quite an achievement. She’s also doing a fair job of hanging onto her position. If I were a royalist, I could feel quite sorry for poor Charles, almost my own age and still waiting!

Angela Merkel is having a tough time of it. And as for our Theresa, well, what can we say?

It’s all almost enough to have us believing that the gods are punishing us, especially when you read what the scientists have to say. They are warning that 2018 could well see an increase in the number of devastating earthquakes around the world. This is apparently because of variations in the speed of the earth’s rotation which might trigger intense seismic activity.

Good grief! Is the earth’s motor broken? Do we need a new fan belt? It’s bad enough when they forecast unusually heavy snowfall without giving us earthquake warnings to boot. Surely we have had enough extreme weather with all the named storms and hurricanes and such!

Not all is craziness though. Denise Gough, actress, interviewed in Sunday’s Observer, was asked why she prefers to be called an actress and not an actor, replied, “We fought to be on the stage. We should reclaim that word: I don’t know where it came from, this fucking notion that putting “ess” on the end makes us weak. I would be no less afraid of a lioness than a lion”. Oh, well said!!! At last, a kindred spirit.

But, back on the crazy radar, here are some odd laws from certain American states, researched and publish by a photographer called Olivia Locher:-

In Illinois a hatpin can be considered a concealed weapon. Fair enough! my grandmother had a formidable and dangerous-looking collection of hatpins. We used to borrow them to pick out and eat individual pomegranate seeds. But does anyone still wear hatpins now?

In Utah no-one may walk down the street carrying a paper bag containing a violin. Golly gosh! Where did that come from and how is it a threat of any kind.

In Michigan it’s illegal to paint sparrows to sell them as parakeets. That smacks of desperation measures in trying to earn a living. Imagine the effort involved in catching sparrows, then making them keep still while you paint them. And finally, you have to persuade the purchaser that this small, remarkably un-parakeet-shaped bird is really a parakeet. Amazing!

In Kansas it’s forbidden by law to serve wine in teacups. Does this one date back to the prohibition era? Possibly I suppose!

Here is a link to more such oddities, with photos to illustrate them.

Did you know that there are still people around who believe the earth is flat. Someone called Mark Sargent has 43,415 subscribers to his “Flat Earth” YouTube channel. Thus is not a huge number, of course, and maybe they are all cranks and conspiracy theorists who think that the photographs of the world as seen from space have been created specially to deceive us all. I particularly like the lady who said, “I went down to the seashore, down New Jersey, and did my own testing... ypu take a straight edge and you go from one end and you follow the horizon of the ocean... it’s flat.”

I am so glad we got that sorted out!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Changing times!

Well, we probably should cancel Christmas right now. Aled Jones has been accused of sexual impropriety or sexual harassment or something of that nature. Every Christmas since I can’t remember when the cartoon film “The Snowman”, featuring that terrible man singing “I’m walking in the air”, has been on television during the festive season. Since Kevin Spacey was accused, it seems to be generally accept that we should no longer watch his films or consider him a good actor. So by the same standards, we should not have any truck with Aled Jones and his fine voice. Okay, he was only a boy when he recorded the song but they do say the child is father to the man.

The whole thing has got a little out of hand!

In today’s paper I have come across two items about the difficulty of ending relationships. Breaking up, it seems, is harder than ever to do. It used to be that some of your friends wouldn’t speak to you after you finished with someone, although quite what it had to do with them I never really understood. In an extreme case, an ex-boyfriend’s mother cut my mother dead on the street as a result of our break-up. Ridiculous! But now you have all the bother of twitter accounts and shared photos on social media to deal with as well.

Someone has even set up a Museum of Broken Relationships, which began as an installation in an arts festival. People sent them items, such as the silk dress one lady was married in, crushed into a jar and thus converted into a thing of beauty once more instead of hanging limply in her wardrobe reminding her of the failed marriage. Clearly it was not a meringue-style wedding dress!

I wonder who goes to such an exhibition!

But we can’t go back to simpler times. That’s just how it is.

My Italian friend was reminiscing the other day about when she used to bring huge great containers of olive oil from Italy to the UK because she could not find it here and could not cook without it. This was, of course, before there were restrictions on the quantity of liquids you could carry from one country to another. We pointed out that it was always possible to buy olive oil here; it was just that you had to purchase it in tiny little bottles from the chemist. Perfume-sized bottles (although now even the perfume comes in bigger bottles) and almost as expensive.

In our turn, we reminisced about how it was used medicinally, a little warm olive oil on cotton wool to cure ear ache. And my mother used to warm her hands at the fire, put a drop of the precious olive oil on her hands and then rub our backs and chests when we had a chesty cold and cough. The smell of olive oil warming in a frying pan still has the Proustian power to send me back to childhood!

There is nothing like a bit of good old nostalgia!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Doing the rounds!

Out and about this morning, I ran into one of the old gentlemen with whom I have a nodding acquaintance in the village. The collection has become quite large, I have to confess. They range from my age upwards. I tend to come across them early in the morning. I wonder what their wives do, assuming they have wives. In fact I am well aware that some of them have wives. So what do these ladies do? Are they all proper housewives, unlike me! Are they busy doing the daily dusting and vacuuming? I admit that I have a tendency to do housework only as and when necessary.

Some of these gentlemen have a nodding, or even a stopping-and-chatting relationship with most of the women around the village. The other day, as I walked to Tesco, I met Mike, one of the younger of the gentlemen, who walks his dog, a rescue dog, for miles and miles every day. We put the world to rights as usual.

At the bus stop later, after completing my shopping, I was chatting to another lady shopper on her way back to Delph and mentioned that I had been talking to Mike and his dog. “Oh, you mean Patrick!” she said to me. We swopped notes and decided that we were indeed talking about the same person, the one who lives alone apart from his little dog, in the basement flat behind the post office. It seems he is known by different names to different people. Maybe he leads a double life! Are his long walks nothing to do with the dog needing exercise but in fact part of a spy mission? Who knows? Next time I see him, I must clarify the name situation!

Anyway, getting back to the gentleman I ran into this morning. An elderly chap, he is one of those very gentlemanly gentlemen. You greet him and ask how he is and his stock reply is always, “All the better for seeing you, young lady!” And this even when, like this morning, I am in my most inelegant running gear.

When I first got to know him, this old gent had his arm in a sling. He told me then that he had dislocated his shoulder on a deep sea fishing trip. The fish he caught was so big and strong that it wrenched his arm around and put his shoulder out! He was waiting for surgeons to put a metal plate in his shoulder and then everything would be fine.

And there I was thinking that fishing was a fairly sedentary kind of sport!

So today, six or eight months on, I asked him how his arm was. Big mistake. His eyes filled with tears. The latest scan had shown possibly irreversible tissue damage and there was a big chance he might lose his arm. Good grief! That fish had a lot to answer for! However, he went on, “And the chap who caused the problem has not even apologised!”

I was puzzled. I thought the culprit was a fish! Before I could even ask he began to tell me a rambling tale of a former friend, someone who had worked alongside him on the allotments. At some point recently he had asked this “friend” to help him with something. The friend had refused and a bit of an argument had ensued about favours being done or not done and lack of reciprocity and stuff of that kind. In the end my old gent had turned to walk away. His “friend” growled at him not to walk away from him and grabbed him by the shoulder, the bad shoulder, the one with the metal plate. And because of the metal plate his grip caused damage. So that’s another supposedly peaceful occupation, gardening, which has led to physical harm! Whatever next?

 Did the “friend” know about the metal plate? Quite probably. Most of the village seems to know the medical history. Does he know the recent damage he has caused? Again, most likely as my old gentleman is not backward in sharing his tale of woe with one and all.

 You don’t need to follow soap operas around here. Village life is quite enough!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Going on a bit about stuff!

Is it just me, or is there a certain amount if infantilisation going on?

Everyone seems to be talking about films about Peter Rabbit and Paddington Bear. Now, both if these are delightful characters in their way - if you are a small child! Both our children enjoyed the stories. But really, do we need such a lot of hype about films that are essentially intended for children? Maybe, like Shrek, they have a subtext that makes them highly amusing for adults as well.

Then there are the Christmas adverts. Apparently the John Lewis advert, which tells a story about a little boy with a monster under his bed, has made some people cry. I confess that I have only seen it without the sound. I wasn’t sure I could stand stand listening to it as well as seeing the pictures in a small screen segment of Facebook. My hairdresser yesterday said that she could not understand what it was all,about. Maybe, like me, she has only watched it without the sound.

Tesco’s contribution has been making some people indignant because it includes muslims celebrating Christmas. I wonder how many of those people are actually practising Christians who get up and go to church on Christmas morning. Besides, Christmas has become such a commercial feast that I can quite understand anyone at all, believers or nonbelievers of all or no faiths, making it an excuse to get together, have a bit of a party and give each other presents. Back when I was a child nobody questioned the fact that the Jewish kids at school used to send everyone Christmas cards through the school’s internal Christmas post service!

Marks and Spencer’s advert apparently features Paddington Bear. That bear is getting altogether too much media coverage if you ask me. Before we know it he will be on Question Time and then he will end up as Prime Minister. Maybe not such a bad idea! 

I copied this off a link to the Waitrose advert:

 “Christmas is the perfect time of year to gather round and enjoy delicious food but most importantly to spend #ChristmasTogether.”

The thing is that the original layout on the page where I first saw it put “#Christmas together” on a separate line. Consequently I read it initially as “... but most importantly to spend”. I thought this was a refreshingly honest bit if advertising, until I looked at it again! Such a disappointment!

Everywhere I go, pubs and restaurants are urging us to book now for Christmas. Manchester is full to bursting with Christmas markets, all sparklingly lit up by Christmas lights. Oldham town centre has not yet switched on its Christmas lights but they are ready and waiting, with a huge sign across the High Street which does not wish everyone Merry Christmas but incongruously declares, “OLDHAM LIGHTS”. Presumably this is just in case you though you had reached Blackpool Illuminations! 

That’s enough ranting. Here is a link to two of my favourite female singers, K.D. Lang and Carole King, doing a song called "An Uncommon Love".

Monday, 13 November 2017

Things that disappear!

Sometimes when we travel from Vigo to Porto airport, or the other way around, on the AUTNA bus, we like to sit in a position where we can keep an eye on what goes on around the luggage hold of the bus when it stops at various places. Quite what we would do if one of us noticed someone walking off with my spotty suitcase or Phil’s more sober dark blue one remains a mystery. Perhaps we would rush down the length of the bus shouting and creating mayhem? But it has never arisen and besides, there is rarely anything of great value in the suitcases. It would be purely the nuisance factor of our clothes disappearing. Oh, and the cables for recharging the laptop, the iPads and iPhones. The valuable stuff stays with us inside the bus.

I mention this because I have just read about a jewellery dealer whose suitcase disappeared from the train on which he was travelling. In his case he had gems worth more than a million pounds. He confidently put the case on the luggage rack and when he got to Rugby realised it was no longer there. Good grief! First of all, imagine travelling around with that much valuable stuff in your case. And then, as cool as you like, to place the bag on the luggage rack and ignore it for most of your journey. I would have to have it chained to my wrist somehow, discreetly so that it was not too obvious that I was seriously attached to the contents! Does travel insurance cover such incidents? 

What a cavalier attitude to transporting wealth around. I get paranoid enough when travelling, making sure I have not lost our passports, our boarding cards, the purse of Spanish money, the purse of English money, my card wallet and anything else of value. It’s a good job I am not rich; I couldn’t deal with the stress!

The police report that around here a number of cars have been stolen by gangs who approach the driver as he pulls up, threaten the driver with axes, insist on being given the car keys and then drive off. These are usually pretty posh cars, BMWs and Range Rovers and the like. My daughter and I have agreed that if anyone were to threaten her, she would grab the baby and hand over the car keys. In the end, it’s only property!

I was talking about this with our next door neighbour this morning before I set off for my run. He is a builder and apologised for not having yet been able to do the contracted work on our roof, fitting a cage to the chimney pots so that suicidal birds cannot fly down and perish in the fireplace behind the fitted fire. His ladders have been stolen from the roof of his van - for the second time! He hopes to replace them, again, this week. He can no longer get insurance cover for keeping tools in his van, ever since thieves cut through the side of his van and stole £4000 worth of equipment.

And ours is supposed to be a nice area!

I was reminded of the period, more than ten years ago now, when I began to think someone was building a VW Golf out of mine. On two occasions I went out in the morning to find that someone had stolen the windscreen, simply cutting the rubber surround and walking off with the glassware! Most spectacular was when the thieves detached the radiator grill and headlights. You can understand my slight paranoia, I am sure!

Apart from discouraging news about thieves and rascals, today has not been bad, although very different from yesterday. There was frost everywhere first thing. Also the blue sky had gone, replaced by grey clouds and a rather damp chill in the air, in contrast to Sunday’s crisp cold.

So it goes!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Frozen memories, coincidences and stuff to do on fine autumn days.

It’s funny how people are sometimes set in our memories, like flies in amber.

Nadia Comaneci, the gymnast, is 56 today! I found it in one of those lists of famous folk’s birthdays in the newspaper. But how can that be? She is forever a diminutive 14 year old, looking even younger than her years, doing amazing gymnastics routines at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Of course I have seen her in reports and documentaries since then but she will forever be that very young girl who scored a perfect 10.

Similarly Jackie Coogan is forever a scruffy little boy in a cap, peering round a doorway with Charlie Chaplin, in a scene from “The Kid” which we had in a framed poster hanging from our wall for years and years. In fact the poster is still around somewhere in the house. Checking details of this, I discovered that he gained renewed fame in the 1960s palying Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family”. Who knew? And not much resemblance!

I have been re-reading Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent novel “The Lacuna”, the story, fiction I hasten to add, of Harrison Shepherd, a writer who worked for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and through them as secretary to Leon Trotsky. Harrison Shepherd, in the novel, shares his birthday with Frida Kahlo: July 6th. This is also the birthday of my son and my oldest granddaughter as well as that of at least three other friends or acquaintances. Clearly a good date for a birthday!

That’s enough about famous people and birthdays.

Today the promised cold front (aka ola de frío) brought us one of those fantastic autumn days of blue sky and sunshine and very low temperatures. I was out and about at around 8.00 am looking for supplies of Trebor mints for my chessplaying husband who was off to play in an important league match. So while he sorted himself out I popped to the local co-op for supplies. What a beautiful day! Too good to stay indoors!
And when the chessplayers had departed, I put everything on hold and set off for the bus stop to catch the bus to one of the local beauty spots, which I have not visited for a while.

Autumn was out in force along the route and by 10.30 I was stomping round Dovestone Reservoir, still fairly quiet at that time.

I discovered that my usual circular route was not possible. They are busy “improving” the walks round the park so I sought out an alternative. This proved easy to find as I soon came across a newly opened path through a previously inaccessible bit of woodland.

There was a sign warning me that it was likely to be muddy. This turned out to be very true. I have very muddy light-weight walking shoes to prove it. But it was an interesting diversion.

By the time I was leaving at 12.30, the queue of cars trying to get onto the carpark was out of control. How glad I was not to have a vehicle on the carpark. So I made my way out by the path that declared itself a private road but which I have used for years. And the sun was still shining!

A quick stop-off for a couple of items from the local Tesco and I was back home by early afternoon to complete the chores abandoned earlier and even to read the newspaper.

The weatherman promises us a very cold night tonight! We shall see!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Changing times!

It’s official: the UK is the most obese nation in western Europe, according to figures released by the OECD. Obesity here has gone up by 92% since the 1990s. And all of this despite our becoming more and more of a nanny state.

There’s a bit of me that says the state as such should not really be held responsible for people growing fatter. Oh, I know the government is in charge of education, but I don’t remember vast amounts of time being spent on learning how to be healthy when I was in school. Education was about Maths and English and History and Geography and Modern Foreign Languages and Music and the like.

But of course, the government must be seen to be doing something to counteract an “epidemic” which is affecting so many people and costing the health service money (if, that is, the health service continues to exist. Have we grown more tolerant - possible not the correct word, accepting might be better - of people being fatter? I am reminded of someone I knew, back in 1990s, whose husband would not complain or criticise her for putting on weight; he simply said that she should buy bigger clothes. Has our growing on average fatter been seen as a sign that the nation is being well fed? And then suddenly, it no longer means being well fed but wrongly fed!

I also read today about a mysterious radioactive cloud over Europe, released from some unknown origin during the last week in September. The last week in September!?! And I am just reading about it now!?! I know I have been away from TV news broadcasts for a couple of weeks but even so, I would have expected to hear about it before now. And they are trying to reassure me that this has not been harmful. Radioactive clouds are bad news in my opinion.

Pretty soon I’ll be siding with the conspiracy theorists.

The clouds today all looked remarkably harmless. A fine autumn day, in fact. Mind you, I would not recognise a radioactive cloud if it came and tapped me on the shoulder.

So I have been out and about in this fine, albeit rather chilly, autumn weather. I was on a mission to find fabric. My oldest grandchild has a project - she does this mind of thing at this time of year - to sew a rag doll for her boyfriend’s small niece, who has complained that all the dolls in the shops are the wrong colour for her, a mixed race child. The creative granddaughter was supposed to have located fabric so that we could make a start on the project this weekend. Not a thing has she done! Empty promises!

I was uncertain about finding fabric on sale around here. Back in the 1970s, when I made a lot of my own clothes, fabric shops were all over the place. Like wool shops and haberdashers, they have become elusive. In Spain, I still see them all over the place. For how long? i wonder! The local market seemed like a good place to start. I asked at the wool stall there, not expecting much joy. “The outdoor market”, the stall holder told me, “is full of fabric sellers on a Saturday!”

And so it was. I took a good look around and then joined the serried ranks of ladies buying fabric. It was a strange experience: I swear I was the only non-Asian customer at the stalls I visited.

Does nobody else get their sewing machines out these days? Apart from my granddaughter and me, that is. 

My oldest granddaughter, by the way, was most impressed with my purchases: suitable-coloured fabric for the body and a collection of odds and ends of patterned stuff to create a wardrobe for the doll. Now I just need to pin her down to find a date and time to begin Project Doll in earnest!

Friday, 10 November 2017

Theories of relativity!

Ay! Qué frío! One after another people came into María’s cafe in Vigo last night exclaiming about bow cold it was. Well, okay, it wasn’t baking hot but the temperature charts were still saying 12 degrees, which is fairly mild. Hardly the kind of temperature that has you reaching for your biggest jumper, your wooly hat and scarf and mittens. Even María was at it, expressing surprise that we ordered beer, “in spite of the cold weather”. Although that might have been because on the two previous evenings, albeit rather earlier in the evening than last night, we had ordered coffee or fruit tea infusions. Everything is relative!

This morning we walked to the bus station in the crisp, bright sunshine. One of the signs read 16 degrees. Good grief! That’s almost a balmy English summer’s day! I ended up carrying my jacket; it’s warm work pulling your suitcase through the streets of the city.

We arrived at the bus station in plenty of time for the 12.00 bus to Porto but the bus was already there and already quite full. A bit of a change from the days when it might turn up at 12.15!

We have often commented on the ability of Spanish women to talk the hind leg off a donkey but now I think the award should go to German speaking women. There were three of them, young women in their twenties, possibly German, possibly Austrian who kept up a running chat show for the hour and three quarters that the journey to the airport lasted. To be fair, one of them slept a good deal of the time and most of the talking was done by one of the other two, the third just chipping in her twopenn’orth whenever she got half a chance.

As we were waiting to board the bus a young woman arrived in a bit of a fluster, clearly on the last minute. She asked if anyone knew which side of the bus you needed to put luggage if you were going to the airport. So we put her wise. When we arrived at Porto airport, I saw this same young lady alight from the bus and stride off confidently and nonchalantly towards the entrance, only to rush back a minute or so later to scuttle round to the other side of the bus to collect her suitcase. Maybe she travels a lot on Galician trains where the PA system reminds you as you approach each station in turn not to forget your personal belongings! Imagine the consequences or realing this after the bus had set off to continue its journey to Porto city centre.

In the queue to board the plane, we were marshalling our arguments to prevent the check-in staff insisting on our hand luggage going into the hold. Just ahead of us were a couple from Liverpool, brother and sister as it turned out. They went one each side of the check-in desk. He was invited to check his hand luggage into the hold for free, and accepted, but she was not. Phil and I had the same experience but Phil turned down the offer; the big advantage of travelling hand luggage only is making a quick get-away on arrival without waiting for the suitcase from the carrousel.

Anyway, the gentlemen just ahead of us commented to his sister that his little suitcase was going in the hold for free. He was very pleased; now he did not need to hoist it up into the locker on the plane. A little miffed, his companion said she would like her bag to go in the hold as well if they were going to have to wait anyway. “Go back to the desk,” the gentleman said, “and tell them that your brother is going in the hold and that you would like to as well.” A little bit of dialogue worthy of comedy script writers. Well, we thought so anyway!

So eventually we flew back to the UK, arriving at a rather damp and distinctly cooler Liverpool. Cries of “Ay! Qué frío!” were heard from the Spanish and Portuguese descending the steps from the plane! About 5 degrees! All is relative!

Post script: the latest update on my iPad seems to have eliminated the possibility of typing upside-down question marks and exclamation marks, an essential bit of punctuation if you want to include something Spanish. It used to be so easy: simply hold your finger on the ? or ! And you got the option of an inverted version. Simply gone! I am mystified!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Festive times are coming!

Well, everyone here seems to have agreed that summer is finally over. I swear I saw in a television news broadcast yesterday something about snow up in San Sebastián. A cold front was sweeping down, the weatherman said.

It’s funny that in English we have heat waves but cold fronts whereas in Spanish they have heat and cold waves: you can have an ola de calor and an ola de frío. Well, I find in interesting anyway.

Whatever the linguistic niceties, the colder weather - and it is all relative - temperatures are still in the low teens rather than down to 4 or 5 degrees - only the hardiest of smokers are sitting outside on the terrazas of the cafes in the evening. And the bread shop lady asked if I was not cold when I popped into the shop in my running gear this morning.

Christmas is coming on apace as well. Christmas decorations are going up in all the streets and the supermarkets are filling up with displays of turrón and polvorones and, oddly enough, boxes of Cadbury’s chocolates! It must be a dieter’s nightmare season! Temptation wherever you look!

Back in the UK, mince pies have been on sale since September and in Manchester they switched on the Christmas lights last weekend. The elegant town hall is rather tastelessly adorned once more with a huge inflatable Santa. But I suppose that if you are going to have Christmas Markets, which cover a bigger and bigger area of the city centre every year, then you need them to operate for a fair few weeks to make the effort worthwhile.

But the sun has still been shining here today and so we took a stroll along the coastal path this afternoon.

We travel back to the UK tomorrow. Time to buy a Christmas tree and start making plans

Wednesday, 8 November 2017


We had been in the flat in Vigo maybe no more than half an hour when there was a knock on the door? Odd! Nobody knew we were here! I opened the door to be confronted by a huge great teenage girl, a good six inches taller than I am. She smiled and told me she was collecting for the end of term party, the fiesta de fin de curso. Well, strictly speaking I suppose that fin de curso should mean end of year rather than end of term but as it’s still rather a long way from the end of the school year, I assumed she meant end of term. Either way, I had no supplies of biscuits, cakes, do-nuts, sweets or other tooth-rotting delicacies to offer so I sent her on her way!

I am always amazed when that happens. Why do adolescents here in Spain think that the whole artificial community of people who live in the block of flats, many if not most of whom have no real acquaintance with each other, might want or feel obliged to give them stuff to have a party at school? Do their parents know they do this? Maybe their parents encourage it. One of life’s minor mysteries! 

Here is another: why do driving school cars in Spain sport a large L on the top? What is L supposed to mean here? Lento? It certainly doesn’t mean “learner”. Would not A for “aprendiendo” be more appropriate? It must be a bit like the international STOP sign.

In Portugal one day last week we had a choice on a dinner ticket menu between a chicken dish and something much more red meat based. The chicken came with “carril”. So I politely asked the waiter “o que è carril?” in an attempt to discover what we might end up eating. He leant in and said, “Carril, carril!” as if that provided all the explanation necessary! In for a penny, in for a pound, we went for the chicken adventure.

When it arrived it was in a mild curry sauce: carril! Obviously the word was a victim to southern british pronunciation, the one that has people drinking “caps” of tea! Very good carril it was too. So much for the Portuguese being really good at languages though!

Today we set off for Pontevedra for lunch with our friend Colin. Our timetable misinformed us and we had been led to believe there was a train from the Urzáiz station at 12.06. Except that there wasn’t any such train. The next was at 14.40. There was, however, a train at 12.10, and another at 12.20, from the other station, Guixar.

Off we went in a taxi, getting to Guixar two minutes before the 12.10 was due to leave. The queue was long so we risked getting on without tickets, as they were announcing its imminent departure. The departure took place five minutes later. We could have bought our tickets and spared ourselves the lecture we got from the grumpy old git ticket man on the train!

So it goes!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Leaving Figueira.

On Sunday, while Phil was finishing off what everyone assured me was a won chess game, I went walkabout with a friend of ours, stopping for a refreshment along the way. As we strolled down one of the cobbled back streets, not too far away from the promenade, I side-stepped round what looked like a patch of blood on the pavement. Indeed, my friend assured me, it was a bloodstain.

On the Saturday evening, after he had left us, he had gone in search of a live music venue. Which he found and where he enjoyed the music. After an hour or so, in other words at about 1.30 in the morning, he had left there to go in search of another such venue when he had come across a group of young men having a fight. In fact, you could not really call it a proper fight. Four young men were kicking and beating up a fifth young man who was on the ground. and they weren't even gypsies, he said, as if that would make it more normal, just ordinary lads on a night out. What a way to have fun! He had been prepared to intervene, as were several other people, when the police turned up.

So he went on his way, found another music venue and finally made it to bed at 4.00 or 5.00 am, when others were probably considering getting up. Okay, I exaggerate but since he was due to play chess at 10.00 on Saturday morning, this did seem a little reckless. I think he went on to win his game! Late nights must suit him.

After Phil finished his game, which he drew, we went off to O Tuberão da Bebé, Bebé’s Shark, a restaurant that was recommended to us. Not only was it recommended but we had dinner tickets, a system by which the organisers of the tournament sold us tickets at a reasonable price, which could then be redeemed against a menú do día at the restaurant named on the ticket. We had a good soup to start with, followed by a choice of a pork dish or cod in cream, a speciality of Portugal not unlike fish pie, but without the mashed potato. We chose the fish, a tasty enough dish, but rather too copious. We could have done with smaller portions and maybe some salad to go with it. So it goes!

After this large lunch we might all have enjoyed a stroll along the beach, to help the digestion. I had already taken a long walk in the morning while the chess games went on but most of our party had been slaving over a hot chess board all morning. However we had been told that the prize-giving cum closing ceremony was to be at 4.00 pm so we returned to the venue and waited.

And waited and waited and waited. Eventually at around 5.00, or perhaps later, things began to happen. Speeches were made., of which we understood little. We all clapped when everyone else did. Prizes were presented. Drinks and nibbles were consumed and goodbyes were said.

On Monday morning we breakfasted early and waited for a lift to Porto, courtesy of the organiser, who felt that it was only right for him to provide such a service. How very civilised!

En route to Porto I noticed far more areas of burnt forest than I had spotted on our way to Figueira a week previously. Maybe the morning sun made it all clearer. The closer we got to Porto, the less of this we saw. There was also surprisingly little to be seen from the bus as we travelled later from Porto to Vigo. And yet we know that there were fires. Presumably just not along our bus route.

Porto was bright and sunny. We had time while waiting for the bus to go and have some lunch. Our joint memory told us of a particular restaurant that we had enjoyed in the past, somewhere close to Avenida dos Aliados. So off we went, trailing our suitcases, in search of a Proustian moment!

Almost half an hour later and after much wandering around, we found it. At least we think it was the same one: O Marinheiro, a family run restaurant where we had an excellent sopa de peixe followed by robalo, sea bass, washed down with a fine glass of wine. We even treated ourselves to icecream for dessert. And then off to catch the bus.

A fine end to another week’s adventuring!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Getting things right!

On Friday evening, determined to download some photos to post on my blog, I sat down to use the laptop while Phil was playing chess. Of course, the laptop belongs to both of us but mostly I am quite happy to use my iPad and let Phil get on with stuff on the laptop. Before anyone gets all equal opps about this, I repeat that the situation suits me fine. But my iPad refuses to post pictures into the blog for me, so from time to time I have to demand my share of laptop time.

So on Friday evening, I did just that and I was being clever, checking ways to highlight a whole bunch of photos and download them all at once, when everything went haywire. Goodness knows what combination of keys I pressed but the whole screen turned upside down. I tried the undo key - to no avail. I tried various combinations of key controls - still to no avail. I even turned the damn thing off completely and rebooted, hoping it would go back to a default setting. Still to no avail. I completed my tasks using the upside down screen. How talented am I? And then I switched the thing off and waited until the chess match was over.

It turned out that I had accidentally put the laptop into tablet mode. That laptop is too clever for its own good. You can switch to tablet mode, fold the screen over, ignore the keyboard and use the touchscreen. We NEVER do that. Even Phil had to hunt for instructions to get it back to ordinary laptop mode.

As I said, too clever by half! I shall stick to my iPad! Except that, as the chess tournament comes to an end, I wanted to add a picture of the venue. Here it is:-

I have come across another odd use of English here in Portugal. A furniture shop advertises a service they call “room staging”. What does that mean? It is not a term I have come across in use in England. 

The French Académie have been getting a little stressed about their language too. I spent many years as a Modern Foreign Languages teacher explaining to recalcitrant, or possibly just dim, students, that the gender business in French and Spanish has nothing to do with sex. It’s purely a linguistic convention that says that some words are masculine and others feminine. Okay, it’s a little anomalous that you can have 999 women and 1 man in a group and you have to refer to them using a masculine plural pronoun but is it really worth getting worked up about?

Now it seems that politicians are beginning to address crowds as “Chers français at chères françaises” to placate the equal opportunities folk, instead of the old use of just “Chers français”. My sister told me some time ago about receiving letters from her children’s school addressed to “Queridos padres y queridas madres”: whereas in the past it was understood that “padres” covered both parents! And I have been known to grumble at the use of actors i stead of actresses. The gender-specific “actress”is deemed to be demeaning! No! I would never have wanted anyone to refer to me as a school master!

Well, the French are jumping on that same bandwagon and trying to invent a way of writing dual-gender terms.instead of “étudiants at étudiantes”, some people want to write “étudiant.e.s” and to refer to mixed groups of actors as “”. Goodness only knows how anyone is supposed to pronounce such terminology. Political correctness gone mad! Again! The Académie is having none of it.

And while I am getting indignant about stuff, here’s another matter. Facebook is full of reminders that November 11, Remembrance Day, is approaching. Some are reminding us to buy our poppies from a legitimate source and to avoid accidentally supporting a right wing nasty group. All well and good. Then yesterday I found this:-

 “It's 99 years ago today that Wilfred Owen was killed on 4th November 1918. Could he have known that he would not last the War? He was killed exactly a week before it ended, and his mother received the fateful telegram on Armistice Day.”

 Nothing at all wrong with that, you might say. Unfortunately it went on:

“Tea towel available here:”.

Somehow that seemed wrong!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Weathering the tournament.

There are two very small Chinese boys playing in the chess tournament here. Brothers, they look as though they are no more than six or seven years old. The organiser of the tournament assures me that they are older, probably nine and ten. However, because they are of very slight build they look considerably younger.

Parents of other, older children ruffle their hair as they pass, in that continental European way that accepts that children belong to everyone and deserve love from us all. Not the British way at all. No doubt somebody would be asking for parental permission before any hair ruffling could take place.

Apparently their parents have brought them from Lisbon to spend the week playing in the tournament here. The organiser questions their readiness to play a tournament like this one, which has some very strong players. He says that they are losing just about every game and he usually finds one or other of them, if not both, being comforted by their mother at the end of the evening as they dissolve into floods of tears. Is this part if some rigourous training routine to toughen them up for future tournaments? If so, there is clearly some way to go.

Perhaps Phil should consider himself fortunate not to have had to play either of these small boys. At least one of his opponents was not a great deal older. That young boy’s English was impressively good. Something must be going right in the Portuguese education system.

As the week has progressed, the fine and sunny weather of earlier in the week has disappeared and we have regressed into more normal November weather: wet and blustery and a little on the cold side. It’s just as well I managed walks out to the lighthouse and along the beach on finer days. Here are some photos to remind me of the blue skies of just a few days ago:-

And later in the week:-

My favourite graffiti girl:-

And the sign outside Fifty's Tavern:-

Friday, 3 November 2017

Out and about in the world.

The beach here at Figueira da Foz is well provided with boardwalks. The beach is extensive and I imagine that in summer the sand gets very hot so the boardwalks are very necessary. In the evening they are eerily lit from underneath. Anyone arriving here for the first time after dark must seriously wonder what it is all all about.

As well as the boardwalks there is a dual path, one half for walkers and one one for cyclists, stretching from the end of the beach where the causeway to the lighthouse begins all the way along to nearby Buarcos. Both are generally well used.

Running along the path this morning I spotted a couple pushing what looked like an oversized baby-buggy. As I got closer I saw that instead of an oversized baby, the buggy contained a large black Labrador dog. Presumably the dog has some problem with its legs but the owners still take it for walks along the beach path. Excellent idea! I have seen people using actual baby buggies to carry smaller dogs such as Pomeranians but never a specialised one for larger dogs.

In general the Portuguese are pretty good at learning foreign languages, well English at any rate. This is often explained as being the result of watching foreign films in the original version with Portuguese subtitles, rather than dubbed into the local language, which is what happens in Spain. Good at speaking they may be but they are as bad as the English in the mis-use of apostrophes. We have seen the “Gin’s and cocktails” bar and the “Fifty’s Tavern”, to name but a couple.

As a rule, however, their use of English is accurate, even idiomatic. And then I picked up a leaflet for the gum at the hotel next door. It advertises itself as a “Fitting Point”. Oh dear, yet another misused!

Out in the wider world, I see that the sexual harassment accusations continue apace. Now it is Dustin Hoffman’s turn. Who will be next? It begins to sound as though more than half of the MPs in Westminster have a dodgy past. Parliament always seemed a bastion of male privilege but really, all this sexist stuff is rather over the top. Did they ever think about the job instead of watching and lording it over the few females who worked there?

And some joker cancelled Donald Trumps Twitter account. He was a Twitter employee on the last day of his job with them and as a parting shot he closed down the president’s account. The blackout may have only lasted a little over ten minutes but, oh,  how satisfying it must have been to feel that power!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Old traditions.

At the restaurant at lunchtime yesterday I saw an item on the television news involving children going from house to house asking for not just sweets but bread and fruit and whatever people wanted to give. The children were dressed in their ordinary clothes. No Hallowele”en costumes and masks. No gruesome make-up. And some of the grown-ups were out on the street with tables offering specially baked bread with chorizo inside.

Of course, the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, a public holiday in many places in Europe, a day for visiting the family graves and tidying them up, as at the start of Almodóvar’s film “Volver”. I read that in Mexico they have parties in the cemeteries to include the dead family members in the celebrations. In Italy they take two days holiday: November 1st is Ognisanti, All Saints’ Day, and November 2nd is il Giorno dei Morti, the Day of the Dead, for visiting the graveyard. In some parts of Italy, children receive gifts from their dead relatives. Nice but a bit spooky!

In the UK we just forget about the dead, it seems to me. And October 31st, Hallowe’en, seems to be taking over, American style, in many countries.

Anyway, tradition still holds in parts of Portugal, in small villages at least. The tradition is called Pão por Deus, Bread for God. In some places it is called Dia do Bolinho, The Day of Cake. Children up to the age of about ten go round receiving gifts of food stuff. Bakers give bread, fruit shops give fruit or chestnuts. Some people give sweets or money.

There is a rhyme that goes with the day:-

Bolinhos e bolinhós
Para mim e para vós
Para dar aos finados
Que estão mortos e enterrados
À porta de vera cruz,
truz, truz
A senhora está lá dentro
Assentada numa banquinha
Faz favor de vir cá fora
P’ra nos dar um tosttãozinho, ou um bolinho

Bolihnos e bolinhós (cakes and buns)
For me and you,
To give to the deceased
Who are dead and buried
At the beautiful, beautiful cross
Knock, knock
The lady who is inside
Sitting on a stool
Please get up
To come and give us a penny or a little bun

The children go around from quite early in the morning and greet the people who open their doors to them with “Pão por Deus”. In the Azores, people give them a cake shaped like a skull (just as in Spain you can buy “huesos de santos” or saints’ bones made from marzipan, with realistic looking marrow!).

There are records that date this tradition going back to the 15th century. Pretty impressive! One suggestion is that it was reinforced back in 1755 when the great Lisbon earthquake took place on All Saints’ Day. The vast majority of the city’s residents lost everything and the survivors had to ask for bread in neighbouring towns.

And here is a link to a clip about some children at a nursery school preparing for Pão por Deus.

My small granddaughter’s nursery, bu contrast, put on a Hallowe’en Party with children too small to know what was going on dressed up as skeletons and other such strange things!

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Pagan celebrations!

Okay, that’s Hallowe’en out of the way-and now shops can concentrate properly on getting ready for Christmas.

I think I first came across Trick or Treating in the UK 25 or more years ago. If it’s really that long, I suppose we can almost call it a tradition. Anyway, the “tradition” had not really established itself. You couldn’t buy cute costumes for little kids in the supermarkets. Yummy mummies did not yet escort their charming little vampires and ghouls from house to house getting a sugar high. Bigger kids mostly still concentrated on preparing for the celebration of burning Catholics that is November 5th, Bonfire Night.

However, we had heard that some youngsters were going around our area Trick or Treating and I was half prepared to hand over some sweets when the knock came at the door. When I opened it, however, the Trick or Treater was a huge great 15 year old girl, not even dressed up, and more often seen hanging around outside the local off license asking people to go in and buy her bottles of cider. I was rather busy and more than a little impatient and told her in no uncertain terms that thought she was too old to be getting involved in that nonsense. And I shut the door and forgot about it.

Next morning, I opened the door, a door with black surrounds and white panels, to find that the white panels had been inscribed in permanent marker: “F*** OFF!” It may be one reason why I feel disinclined to celebrate Hallowe’en, especially now that it has become so commercial. What I would like to know is when we actually started wishing people “Happy Hallowe’en” and even buying and sending cards to that effect.

Here in Portugal, we had other things in our mind. In Phil’s case this involved preparing for his third chess match. Monday night’s, against his unfavourite kind of opponent, a 12 year old girl, was a draw. Last night’s was another junior. A friend of ours commented that he should be thankful for small mercies: at least it was a boy this time.

As for me, I went walkabout in the sunshine, photographing local bits of beauty

 and noticing that Rapunzel’s house appears to be being refurbished. It’s actually the Castelo Engegneiro Silva, built in the 1950s by António da Silva Guimarães, a merchant marine, entrepreneur and explorer.

I have long admired its fairytale look.

I also admire the tilework at the tops of widows on the building next door to the Castelo.

At lunchtime we set out for a light salad at the Caçarola 2 restaurant only to discover that it was closed to give staff a day off. So we ended up at a place called O Picadeiro, a bit further up the road. We were unsure of the size of portions at this place and our light lunch ended up looking like this.

So it goes.