Saturday, 31 March 2018

Sugar rush time!

This morning I stocked up on Easter eggs for the grandchildren. I had commented to my daughter yesterday that I had thus far purchased no chocolate eggs, whereupon she told me that she hoped I would do so as she had bought none either and was relying on me to fulfil her children’s desire for chocolate.

She was fully expecting her Uncle Neil, my brother-in-law, to turn up with a plentiful supply. (He can be relied on to visit with supplies of all sorts of stuff: clothes his wife has chosen for the smallest in the family, toys for the same one, treats of various kinds for the older offspring, including tickets to music concerts, bottles of wine for Phil and me, and even dog treats for our daughter’s daft dog! He goes supplied with similar gifts when he visits our son down near London.) Her almost in-laws can also be counted on to provide chocolate eggs and so our daughter feels no obligation to add to the sugar rush. Maybe I should work on the same principle.

Too late now; the eggs are bought.

In today’s Guardian magazine there is an article about an experiment in which certain journalists handed over control of the family to the children. For a pre-determined period of time, a weekend for example, the children set the rules and the parents had to abide by them. Inevitably the children consumed far more rubbish food - sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks, fastfood - than they would normally be allowed.

Interestingly, in one family with teenage children those older children demanded that their mother cooked more exotic meals than usual for them. As there were also smaller children requesting a diet of pizza and biscuits, the mother quickly found herself resorting to pre-prepared pizza dough and even sending out for Chinese takeaways.

The children also spent more time watching television, playing on the wii or other electronic entertainments (ie computer games), demanding access to their parents’ iPhones and tablets and other usually restricted activities.

At the same time they made requests for more of their parents’ time. Those of an age to have bedtime stories read to them ruled that story-time would only stop when THEY felt they had had enough. Both parents were to read at the same time, or at least both be present for bedtime - bedtime being decided of course by the children. Older children asked for family games evening to be organised. And parents who felt that they rarely argued found themselves being instructed that arguing was forbidden, especially in the presence of the offspring.

One child got herself so overexcited by the sugar-rush that she asked for the experiment to be finished ahead if the allotted time, declaring that it clearly was not working.

An interesting experiment!

Elsewhere in the magazine, Barbara Ehrenreich was writing about those of us who are old enough to set our own rules all the time. Her main topic was the way people who die young have their lifestyle analysed and often blamed for their early death. She even maintained at one point that Steve Jobs’ death from pancreatic cancer was hastened along by his vegan and high fruit content diet. “... a case could be made that it was the fruitarian diet that killed him: metabolically a diet of fruit is equivalent to a diet of candy, only with fructose rather than glucose, with the effect that the pancreas is strained to constantly produce more insulin.”

I wonder how true that is. I am not a dietician or a nutritionist but I was under the impression that eating fruit as it comes, rather than blended into smoothies, meant that the fruit sugar was less dangerous and more easily absorbed by the body.

I have no intention of giving up fruit!

Getting back to the Easter eggs, I read that Ferrero, which apparently owns Thornton’s, is warning that after Brexit there may be delays in the supply of their chocolate eggs and other Thornton’s chocolate products. Much of the stuff they sell in Britain is manufactured in Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Italy. Unless they sort out all the border and import-export rules and regulations, there may be problems.

 Maybe we should stock up on Thornton’s products and Ferrero-Rocher. Or perhaps we could just ask children to sort out the Brexit rules.

Friday, 30 March 2018

Some reflections on Good Friday morning.

Today is good Friday. About 11 or 12 years ago we spent the Easter weekend in Salamanca, staying in a small pensión overlooking the main square. This gave us an excellent view of the Easter processions, all of which went through the square. The downside was that we were woken at about 5.30 on Good Friday morning to the sound of a badly played funeral march as the Christ Crucified procession went past. The early hour certainly adds to the bleakness.

I wonder how many people get up these days to watch, or indeed take part in, such an early procession. According to a recent study 68.5% of Spaniards identified themselves as Catholics. However fewer than half of them ever attend mass. Judging by photographers’ windows many people still insist on their offspring going through he first communion ceremony, with obligatory white dress for the girls and something formal and often military formthe boys.

And this year in Spain a row has broken out as the ministry of defence ordered all military institutions to fly the flag at half mast over the Easter period to commemorate the death of Christ. Opponents of the idea say it goes against Spain’s secular constitution but a defence ministry spokesman said that flying the flag at half mast for religious reasons was “in keeping with tradition” and was “part of the secular tradition of the armed forces”. Quite how he works that out I do not know!

For most people in England it simply marks the start of a long holiday weekend. School holidays used to be arranged so that the Easter weekend came smack in the middle of the school holiday but nowadays it is usually the first weekend of the two-week break. This is an attempt to lengthen the winter term and shorten the summer term so that the school year is more balanced. I even remember one year when my college simply took the weekend off, went back to classes for another two weeks and then took a two-week break.

Barnaby Lennon, once headteacher at Harrow school has apparently been advising that GCSE and A-Level stud-nets should use the holiday period, the whole two weeks, to do revision for the forthcoming exams. He recommends 100 hours revision, around 7 hours a day - probably more time per day than some students spend in school and then doing homework during term time. “Good exam results are made in the Easter holidays,” he writes. “The best GCSE and A-level results don’t go to the cleverest students – they go to those who revised in the Easter holidays.”

Student reaction is, as might be expected, rather dismissive of the idea. “That’s unbelievable,” said one 17-year-old who is studying for A-Levels in Politics, Economics and French and is evidently shaken by the idea of seven hours revision a day during his holidays which have just begun. “It’s just nonsensical. No one could do that. It’s way too much. No one can concentrate by themselves for so long.”

Personally I am on the side of the former head of Harrow, although seven hours a day might be a bit excessive. The revision process should be starting to get into gear now. I used to tell mybstudents that butBut I don’t think my students really believed me. After all, they had part time jobs to go to and the college gave them a period of study leave prior to the exams. Clearly that was the time for studying! Easter holidays are for eating chocolate! Wrong on both counts, but I knew I was mostly fighting a losing battle.

So, partly in response to the cry of “No one can concentrate by themselves for so long”, partly to reassure ourselves that revision was really happening, my colleagues and I organised extra study sessions. And now I read that, aware of all the modern problems of stress, schools are also running their own stressbuster sessions, including yoga and resilience training to support anxious students. In the higher education sector, universities are offering therapy dogs and rabbits to try to soothe anxious students. Students can book in to go and stroke dogs and rabbits to reduce their stress - all the benefits of a let without any of the responsibility!

I wonder that my generation got through it all without all that support. Resilient baby boomers!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Transport. Talking to people. Citizenship. And documentation.

I set off for Manchester the other day and found myself tied up in another of those public transport nightmares that happen around here. My bus was running about 15 minutes late. A bus going in the other direction was approaching (the same stop serves for two buses which follow the same circular route but going in opposite directions). I had to choose quickly between getting on that bus and connecting to a different bus going towards Manchester or waiting even longer for the bus I originally planned to catch and which might turn out to be cancelled.

I opted to get on the bus which was there.

This was a mistake.

A few minutes down the road we crossed the bus I was originally waiting for. Not only that but not too much later the bus I was now on (driven, by the way, by a very cautious trainee driver who seemed to think that 20 mph was speeding!) we got stuck behind a funeral (which slowed us down even more).

Eventually I reached the stop where I would catch the connecting bus. Here I made another mistake: I asked a chap at the stop if the bus had gone yet. This gave him permission to talk to me at extremely boring length about the failings of the bus companies. And it continued when we got on the bus. He sat behind me and almost rested his large, round moon-like face between the seats. (Truly he could have played the part of Moonface from Enid Blyton’s “The Magic Faraway Tree”.)

His tirade continued but he saw light at the end of the tunnel. Everything will be fine, he assured me, when we leave Europe because then we will be able to renationalise all the public transport systems. Apparently this has not happened sooner because the EU forbids nationalisation of public transport! Quite where that leaves France’s SNCF, Société NATIONALE des Chemins de Fer, and Spain’s RENFE, Red NACIONAL de Ferrocarriles Españoles, I really don’t know! So I told him he was probably mistaken and that besides I didn’t see Theresa May’s government renationalising anything!

I really must stop talking to nutters at bus stops. But he looked fairly harmless and all I wanted to know was whether the bus had left or not. So it goes!

With Brexit in mind, here’s a link to something about another unforeseen consequence of Brexit. EU nationals living in Britain who have had children here, at the time secure in the knowledge that their EU citizenship gave them protected status, may now need to prove their residence entitlement at the time the children were born. Otherwise those children, some of whom could be old enough to be in work here, might find themselves without the right to permanent residency. A bit like the American Dreamers!

How many of us can provide evidence from twenty years ago? Maybe those who hoard paperwork and documentation dating back years and years, taking up space in files and on shelves, have been doing the right thing all along.

The Inuit people, in contrast, do not keep records (or at least they didn’t in the past but I bet they do now) but pass everything on by word of mouth, oral history, stories and legends. A certain Louie Kamookak put together the stories he grew up with of mysterious white men using ropes to haul a ship through the Arctic ice with stuff he heard later about Sir John Franklin’s two ships that vanished while searching for the North-west Passage. He spoke to historians and archaeologists and persuaded them that he could help them find the lost ships. Which he duly did.

I came across this story because historians and archaeologists wanted to pay tribute to him as he has just died, having spent much of his life trying ensure that they tradition of oral history continues among the Inuit.

I bet he was more interesting to listen to than Moonface on the bus.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Out and about dealing with problems of the modern world.

Earlier in the week they were promising us snow for today. Later the forecast changed to rain. Now it suggests rain later this afternoon. So this morning I got up and ran to Uppermill in fairly mild, dry but cloudy weather. It’s a while since I ran to Uppermill on a Wednesday. I have either been away or travelling. It was good to get back on the Delph Donkey Line, surprisingly dry despite all the recent snow and rain, apart from the approach to the bridle path, a veritable quagmire!

I felt quite efficient: a run to Uppermill, a quick visit to the Co-op, the baker’s and three stalls on the market, all in time to catch the 9.40 bus home. Which is just as well as I had picked up a huge pot of spring flowers to stand outside the front door: not the kind of thing you want to carry while you walk the three miles back home.

I also got the fishman to chop up a variety of fresh fish for me to make what he calls “fish pie mix” but which I use to make a fish chowder. It’s good to see what is going into your fish pie mix; I sometimes suspect that the ore-packaged stuff you can buy at the supermarket is often the scrappy ends of fish, not the best stuff.

And I found cooking apples and rhubarb. In Spain I have often complained about the lack of cooking apples. I have been offered a variety of alternatives with which to make apple pie, usually apples such as the rather insipid, in my opinion, Pink Lady. When I visited my Spanish sister (she has, after all, lived in Spain longer than she ever lived in England!) I mentioned this to her. She told me that in her greengrocer’s she buys some “manzanas ácidas” which they regularly sell there, very tart green apples. These she uses for her apple pies.

The next time she went to her greengrocer’s I accompanied her and spoke to the shopkeeper. She showed me her “manzanas ácidas” and confided, “Estas se llaman Granny Smith”. I explained that these are regarded as eating apples rather than cooking apples in the UK. The concept of special apple for baking was completely new to her, just as I expected. My sister has clearly assimilated to Spanish life and has forgotten that she knew these apples in her youth.

Weather update: it is now raining and hailstones are mixed in with the rain. I must have put some kind of hex on it!

Some Spanish friends of ours are currently in the Azraq refugee camp, organising chess activities with child refugees from Syria. Here is a link to their webpage with pictures and reports of their activities. They travelled out there with 216 kilos of chess equipment and books translated specially into Arabic. Some of the material - chess sets, boards, puzzles, games - was made by schoolchildren in Pontevedra, children the same age as the young refugees. What a great way to introduce youngsters to this problem of the modern world, another step to prevent prejudice.

Here in the UK, the Labour Party continues to be stuck in the mess of accusations of antisemitism. A spokesperson for the organisation Jewish Voice commented:

"I have been in the Labour party nearly 50 years, I am a Jew. I have not met antisemitism. I cannot think of a single incident in my political career that I have met it. There is NOT rampant antisemitism in the Labour party and Mr Corbyn himself has done an enormous amount actually to deal with the cases of antisemitism"

More and more we have to watch what we say in case yet another thing is misinterpreted and used against us. The modern world is an odd place.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Palm Sunday processions. Saint James. Data sharing.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday. In some places around the world they held religious processions. What I saw here was a procession of Chevrolets and other nicely preserved old, mostly American cars. As I went out for a run they turned into the housing estate behind our house. What a curious things to do! There is nothing there of interest to classic car fanatics. Then they turned out again, having mistaken the road. Like raucous, exotic birds they went back the way they had come. On my way back I came across some of them parked in the industrial estate near our house. Perhaps the drivers had stopped for breakfast. There was nobody around to answer my questions so I took a few pictures and went on my way.

My friend Colin mentioned in his blog the other day that the Pope has declared this year to be an Año Jacobeo. I wondered if this had anything to do with the day of the week on which the feast of Saint James falls. If July 25th is a Sunday it makes the year holy, an Año Santo, and a special door into the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, usually bricked up, is opened up to pilgrims. So I googled it. I didn’t find anything much about the Año Jacobeo business. I did discover that the 25th of July is a Wednesday this year - nothing special then. And I found this:- 

“Saint James had a special place in the Central African Kingdom of Kongo because of his association with the founding of Christianity in the country in the late 15th century. Portuguese sailors and diplomats brought the saint to Kongo. When King Afonso I of Kongo was facing a rival in battle, he reported that a vision of Saint James and the Heavenly Host appeared in the sky, frightened Mpanzu a Kitima's soldiers, and gave Afonso the victory. As a result, he declared that Saint James' feast day should be celebrated as a national holiday.”

Curious! For an apostle of the Prince of Peace, Saint James is amazingly warlike. He is also known in Spain as Santiago Matamoros - Saint James the Moorslayer - and is often portrayed on horseback, sword in hand, with dead Moors beneath his horses feet. And he is supposed to have appeared in a the sky above one of the battles in Spanish history. What a busy warrior!

Much is being written at the moment about data sharing, most of it without the knowledge or consent of the people whose data is being shared. I want to know why the computer, and my phone in the middle of Friday night, was telling me that yesterday was the birthday of a friend of ours. This is a real friend, not a virtual friend on social media. He is not a “friend” of mine on Facebook, which regularly tells me to send birthday greetings to a variety of people. His wife is one of my Facebook friends but Facebook doesn’t remind me about the birthdays of spouses.

Not only that, but Phil also received a message about the same friend. And Phil is not on Facebook and does not tweet or twitter. He only uses email. So how does social media know when this friend’s birthday is and why are they sending out that information?

I also wonder what use all this data sharing makes of the sort of stuff someone I know frequently posts: “Done the washing!” “Cleaned the house!” “Cooked a good stew!” “Tired! Signing off now!”

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Children of violence!

Ian Jack was writing in yesterday’s Guardian about having been belted at school, commenting that he felt at the time that it was unfair but wondered now whether it really did him, and presumably all the other young Scots any harm. Hmmm!

In Scotland they called it the “tawse”. In the school where I began my teaching career it was referred to as the strap. Here’s some info:

“In 1972, according to logs kept by teachers, the belt was used about 30,000 times on an Edinburgh school population of 80,000, and 494 girls aged between five and 11 were among the 4,201 schoolchildren belted in the spring term of 1973.”

So a short(ish) piece of leather was used to punish children as young as five and people accepted this as normal. Some places used a plimsoll. I remember primary school teachers who used to smack legs. Others, especially the head teacher used a cane. But I never saw anyone use a strap/belt/tawse until I worked in secondary in the early seventies.

When I started teaching in the early 1970s corporal punishment was still the norm. I was not allowed to strap because young teacher had to go through a probationary period before being given permission to do so. At the end of my probationary period I was offered that permission and turned it down. I also stopped sending disruptive pupils to the head of year as I knew he would strap the boys and his deputy would strap the girls. (Male teachers were not allowed to strap girls so female teachers did so - well, some of them!) My rationale was that if I was not prepared to administer corporal punishment it would be hypocritical to send pupils to someone else who would do it on my behalf. I worked on finding ways of making my pupils interested enough in my lessons to behave themselves most of the time.

I watched on more than one occasion as one of the female deputy heads of year practised her technique in the staffroom. She would make a chalk cross on the edge of a table and whack it with her strap. If the chalk cross transferred to the strap she had hit hard enough. She took a peculiar delight in showing off her skill, convincing me that she was a show-off as well as a bully.

Because that is what I still believe: people who inflict corporal punishment on children are bullies. What is more, they encourage bullying. For they persuade children to believe that might is right, that the one who hits hardest is the best and that it’s perfectly all right to use your superior strength to make others do what they don’t want to do.

So when Mr Jack wonders if being belted did him and his contemporaries any harm, my answer is that it almost certainly did!

Two more things on education this weekend. A teacher has just received an award for being the best teacher in the world does things like having her students clothes washed on the school premises, making sure they have breakfast, learning enough of the multiple languages used by her pupils so that she could greet them in their own tongue and when teaching art appreciation using works from their own countries of origin. I bet Mr Gove and his like would love her!!!

And then there are the teachers in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who saved their pupils by disobeying the directive to keep their classroom doors locked during a shooting and, by doing so, saved a fair few young lives.

“They were told to keep their doors locked during lessons and, during an active shooter crisis, to lock the door immediately and not open it”.

Imagine having to explain that to your class when you have “active shooter drill”. Imagine working in a situation where you need to be prepared for an “active shooter crisis”!

As one of the teachers, who did in the event shield his pupils with his own body, commented, this was not a choice he should have had to make. “This is going to sound kind of bad, but ... the school kids are mine, and I’m very, very protective of them, but I like me too. And nowhere did it say, when I signed up to be teacher, that, ‘Oh, yeah, by the way, in case of an attacker, you’re going to have to shield all the kids with your body.’”

There have been huge demonstrations in the USA asking for reform to the gun control laws. Maybe things will change.

Saturday, 24 March 2018


Three sisters went adventuring, in a very mild way, together. We only took photos of the bright days. The days of wind and rain, getting almost blown away and dodging the showers remained undocumented. Here are some of the promised photos.

We saw storks flying over the castle in El Puerto de Santa María, and their nests in bigh places.

Storks also featured in the photos of the church.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Passports. Shouting. And gipsies!

A lot of fuss was made some time ago about the importance of returning to blue passports for the UK, as of the colour of the passport really mattered - an extra-special form of patriotism. Well, today I came across this bit of news in the Guardian:-

“The post-Brexit blue passport will not be produced by the British firm that makes the current burgundy version, with sources suggesting the contract will be awarded to a Franco-Dutch firm instead.
Changing the colour is regarded by some Brexiters as a powerful symbol of Britain’s restored sovereignty. But the British firm De La Rue has lost out on the contract to make them, its chief executive confirmed on Thursday morning.
It is understood that Gemalto, which is listed on the French and Dutch stock exchanges, won the race for the £490m printing job.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday morning, the chief executive of De La Rue, Martin Sutherland, challenged the prime minister or the home secretary to “come to my factory and explain my dedicated workforce why they think this is a sensible decision to offshore the manufacture of a British icon”.”

So much for leaving the EU in order to regain control of our country and set about putting the “great” back into Great Britain. I wonder if the Brexiteers see the irony!

My sister had passport problems yesterday. Not serious ones but enough to get her a little agitated: not a good thing for a lady who takes medication for her heart. After queuing to go through passport control we finally got to the machines that read your passports. We entered adjacent booths. I went through without problem, but then I have done this umpteen times since I had my new passport while she has only used her new passport once before. As I saw her putting her passport into the scanner I noticed she still the passport in her pastel coloured passport holder. (She’s the kind of person who has a passport holder.) The official standing there, presumably to help people, started yelling instructions to her. I stopped to try to tell her to take the passport out of the holder and try again.

The official turned his attention on me, yelling out an instruction to go to the left, not to stop, not to wait for anyone, basically not to do anything he did not like. Another lady was trying to wait for her husband, who was having the same problem as my sister. She too was yelled at. We were none of us impressed!

My sister had already been yelled at by Manchester airport officials when she stood in the queue for security on our outward journey. I know they have to keep things moving but a little understanding for those who do not travel very frequently would not go amiss!

All three sisters were shouted at on Tuesday morning when we stopped for coffee in the centre of El Puerto de Santa María after our hunt-the-t-shirt expedition. We sat there quietly enjoying the sunshine when a gipsy-looking woman approached brandishing a set of sheets and pillowcases. Perhaps one of us would like to buy this off her for €20, she suggested. So my Spanish sister told her she had only recently bought new bedding. So what about the other two, the gipsy asked sweetly. We then told her we were visiting and had no plans to take orange sheets home in our handluggage.

She moved on to flattering us about how “guapas” we all three were and offered to read our palms. She said that she saw a beautiful future for me. When my Spanish sister interrupted to say I was not interested, our new gipsy friend snarled at her that she was to allow me to speak for myself. Returning to sweetness and light she told me I was about to meet the man of my life. I told her that that had already happened long since and, no, I did not want to find out what else the future held. So she turned to my English sister. My Spanish sister and I made out that our ender sister was the village idiot who spoke no Spanish and did not carry money with her.

This last prompted a begging whine. She had five grandchildren, the gipsy fortune teller informed us, and had no food to give them, could we not give her a little something. We fished in our purses for change to encourage her to leave  - but not the non-Spanish speaking sister who had, of course, not understood any of this - whereupon the gipsy suggested that my sister might like to give her “that five euro note” she could see in her purse. So we gave her some small change and at last she went off to pester someone else!

And we got no thanks. Indeed she proceed to insult us for being mean!

So it goes!

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Another DAY! A cure for polio. And back in the UK!

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. Lots of people have been wearing odd socks to show their support for people born with Down Syndrome. A day to celebrate difference! Very good! But it’s another one of those DAYS! They came around very quickly in my opinion.

I fully support the idea of World Syndrome Day though. I think it’s great that people have been drawing attention to how “normal” Down Syndrome people can be. However, I didn’t wear odd socks, mostly before I wasn’t aware of it until after I got dressed. And besides, nobody would see my socks under my trousers.

Some time this afternoon/evening the flight crew on my plane from Gibraltar asked passengers to give money for their charity, which this time is one that is investigating how to stop polio. This request got my big sister reminiscing. When she was about 11 or 12 and I was 9 or 10 there was a polio epidemic. One day my sister fell in the ditch who h ran behind our estate. Later she developed symptoms of polio, especially the inability to move her legs. Our family doctor at the time was homeopathic. We sent for him. He administered some kind of mysterious powder, something which he claimed to have used in missions to Africa, curing children there. My sister was lucky: she made a full recovery and did not have to spend time in the dreaded “iron lung” like so many polio sufferers of the time. Neither did she end up with her legs in callipers. The rest of us children were also dosed with some concoction intended to prevent us from contracting the disease. It appears to have worked!

My sister and I had this conversation during our flight from Gibraltar to Manchester. We had been somewhat on pins about this flight. Our flight into Gibraltar a week ago had been diverted to Manchester for various weather related reasons and we were rather afraid that we might have to repeat the bus ride, this time from Gibraltar to Malaga! But in the end all was well.

We woke up early, nobly planning to walk our great-nephew to school. This worked well. He even made us goodbye cards and kissed us goodbye. He has not yet agreed to visit us in England, something he has talked to his mother about before now, apparnetly because he speaks no English and does not understand what his great aunts say. We hope our visit has gone some way towards changing his mind.

After seeing the little fellow off to further his education, we went for breakfast “en la calle”, which translates as “in the street” but really means in a cafe. On our way there we witnessed the local madwoman, all bedraggled, matted hair and wild eyes, dragging her duvet down the street and shouting insults at all and sundry. Spain never fails to surprise!

The drive from El Puerto de Santa María to Gibraltar is quite picturesque and today was fine and sunny. It’s the first time I have been to Gibraltar and I have to say that airport is small and the runway frighteningly short. I suspect landing there is more scared than taking off.

We were seated a few rows from the backof the plane. Some minutes after we took off we noticed one of the cabin crew rummaging in the overhead lockets in the rows behind ours and muttering something about a smell. Then he and the other crew started asking those in our rows to identify our suitcases and say whether there were electrical gadgets in them. Apparently they could smell something electrical overheating.

This was not the most reassuring thing to hear, especially when you are sitting next to an anxious sister who turned out to be a nervous flier. Eventually the crew calmed down and our flight proceeded without incident.

We got home safely but, between diversions on our way out and possible fire hazard scares on the way back, I think it may be a while before I fly to and from Gibraltar again.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Sunshine and hailstones and other stuff.

This morning we woke up to brilliant sunshine. I was told it was cold but by the time we went out it was very pleasant. We were hunting for a souvenir shop. My English sister wanted to take a t-shirt for her youngest granddaughter. Up til today all we had seem had been the kind of internationally-sold t-shirts with lots of English slogans printed on them. What she wanted, however, was something that was clearly from here, El Puerto de Santa María. The trouble is that many of the places that sell what is basically tourist tat remain closed until the tourist season starts. In the end, though, we found a toyshop that sold just what we wanted.

We stopped and had a quick drink before returning for lunch, in between time making a birthday cake (that’s my Spanish sister and I) for our older sister (the English one] who has her birthday on Thursday. And so, after lunch, we sang Happy Birthday and made her blow candles out. The youngest of the party refused to join in the family photo but, apart from that, all was well.

My Spanish sister had prepared chicken fillets for lunch, accompanied by spicy rice ... and a plate of chips for my English sister, who refuses to eat rice, and a bowl of quinoa for her daughter and the daughter’s partner. Both of these are following a bit of a special diet, explaining to me that quinoa is essential to this as it is a “superfood”. So the superfoods are a big thing here as well! I was happy to try it but I can”t say it really had me demanding a lot more!

Looking out later in the day I saw that the blue sky had clouded over. Not only was it raining and blowing another gale but my nephew stepped out onto the balcony and collected hailstones! So much for being in the south of Spain.

Skimming through the papers this morning I came across this article by Fran Lebowitz.  She sounds like a sensible lady. Among other things she said, “ The only people who live in Australia are those who came to Australia and couldn’t face the trip back – I’m actually one of those people.”

Her opinion of Donald Trump is interesting too. She thinks the biggest danger of Trump is that he is a moron. “Everyone says he is crazy – which maybe he is – but the scarier thing about him is that he is stupid. You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump. You just don’t.”

She didn’t expect Trump to win. “I had zero belief he would win. I have never been so wrong in my life. And being right is something I cherish. It’s really important to me to be right.” But she lived in New York which probably has a sort of political microclimate, giving a false idea of how the man in the street was going to vote.

Talking about guns she said, “Of course I don’t have a gun! Who are these people that love guns? These people who love Trump and they love guns, these are the most frightened people I have ever seen in my life. Who’s after you? They live in the middle of nowhere. I live in New York city and I don’t have a gun. No one I know has a gun.
In the early 70s, when I was more vulnerable in every way, it was really dangerous. I could have gotten a gun but I never got one. I was an 18-year-old penniless girl in the middle of a dangerous city and I was never as afraid as these men in Texas, living in a state of terror.”

 Maybe she is right in her views. I hear there has been another school shooting this week.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Different ways of doing things. Fooling a Fitbit.

There used to be, probably still are, restaurants in the UK which did not have a licence to serve alcohol but which were happy for you to take a bottle of wine along. They would loan you glasses so that you could have a drink along with your meal. We went a couple of times to an Indian restaurant in Tooting where we took cans of beer along with us.

Yesterday we did things the other way around. We went to a bar that my Spanish sister and her family have frequented for years and years. Everyone in the party took along something to eat as the bar does not serve food any longer. The owner of the bar was quite happy with the arrangement, especially as we took paper plates and plastic forks. Tortilla española - the classic Spanish potato omelette, a rice omelette my sister had made - an interesting idea I had never come across before, using up leftover rice and adding chorizo and onion and garlic, slices of cheese, a variety of potato salads; we had quite a feast!

Later we walked into town for coffee and were served the inevitable pile of churros to go with them. I will eat almost anything, but churros just do nothing for me at all. I suppose it would not do for us all to love the same things.

I am not walking as far or as fast here as I do in other places. Maybe it’s the company I am keeping. My poor Fitbit is confused and keep reminding me to get up and move around to meet the target of so many steps an hour and such like. Mind you, the Fitbit is easy to fool. The other day I spent ten to fifteen minutes kicking a soft ball to and fro with my Spanish great-nephew and the Fitbit decided I had met my exercise target for the day. Poor confused gadget.

I read about a Fitbit wristband called Fitbit Ace which has been launched for children over eight. It will feature “reminders” for them to get active, undertake family step-challenges and also monitor sleep patterns. Do children really need a gadget to remind them to run around? And those who need reminding, will they take notice?

But apparently a third of children between two and fifteen in the UK are overweight or obese so maybe such a gadget for children is needed. How did we get to such a situation? However, as the writer of the article pointed out,

“ Children are already bombarded with harmful messages about body image. Overweight kids are teased. Normal-sized girls feel that they should be on strict diets. Even young boys are succumbing to anorexia.”

The writer concluded: “Do children need what amounts to a “fat-shaming toy”?”

There is even a new kind of anorexia called orthorexia, anorexia which hides behind an obsession with health and fitness.

Such are the problems of the modern age!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Different views.

Snow in Saddleworth. (I had a weather report when I gave Phil a wake-up call this morning.) And other parts of the UK. My daughter is trapped in her square - the main road is clear but side roads are not treated by the snowploughs. My son has sent pictures of his little girl building a snowman.

Rain in El Puerto. And in other parts of Spain. However, we have not been blown away by Storm Gisele. Neither did Storm Gisele prevent thousands of people turning out on the streets of Spain’s big cities to protest about pensions, or rather the reduction and even lack of them.

We will go out later to meet friends of our sister and have lunch somewhere interesting, and eat something interesting, once again. Well, most of us will. My rather conservative elder sister may  ot participate fully.

This item I found some time ago reflects the attitude of my older sister who has consistently refused to try new things to eat during our stay here:

“The Sun recently reported on the findings of a survey from the Chilean Blueberry Committee, conducted via One Poll that set out to explore whether over-60s are embracing modern food fads.

Seeing as the results showed 1.3 per cent of over-60s have never had porridge, 3.8 per cent are yet to get around to trying garlic, 10.7 per cent haven’t eaten asparagus and 15.2 per cent remain unacquainted with the aubergine, it would seem that, on the whole, they are not.

The foodstuff given the biggest snub by the older generation is matcha, with 90 per cent admitting to never trying it. As it turns everything it comes into contact with a somewhat violent shade of green, we think they can be forgiven.”

I had never heard of matcha so I did a little investigation and found this:

 “Matcha is a special type of powdered green tea that is grown and produced in Japan (in most cases). The green tea leaves are shaded from the sun for the last few weeks of their growth, increasing the chlorophyll content and creating a gorgeous green color. Then, the leaves are carefully ground with stone grinding wheels to produce a fine powder.

The powder can then be used to brew an antioxidant rich frothy green tea or in recipes like smoothies or baking. Unlike other types of teas, the green tea powder is not strained out before consuming, so you are consuming the entire leaf, making Matcha more potent than other tea varieties. In fact, only 1/2 tsp is needed to brew a traditional cup of Matcha.”

So there you are! Who knew?

It would certainly not do for my big sister, who was quite mystified when I selected to drink a lemon and ginger infusion during our journey here!

It wouldn’t do for us all to be the same!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Worse things than storm Gisele?

I was woken at about 2.00 or possibly 3.00 am my phone going ping! It was a request to phone Phil at 10.30am English time to ensure that he had got up to go to his chess match. I might be a lot further south in stormy Andalucía but I can still be useful.

I woke properly at somewhere around 8.00 to a grey and gloomy day. Storm Gisele was on her way in. I phoned Phil later as requested. It was snowing, he said, in Delph. Here in El Puerto de Santa María the wind was getting up and the rain was starting.

We were due to go over the bay to Cadiz for lunch with my younger sister’s Spanish in-laws. So we dodged the rain and piled into the car and off we went, across the elegant new bridge, a very high, cable-strung affair. So far so good.

Once over the water we collected various Spanish relatives and set off to find a place to lunch. All the likely places were full, largely because those who might have sat outdoors were inside because of the foul weather. My Spanish nephew suggested we looked for a place which served really bad food; they were bound to have room. Eventually, however, we found somewhere without having to go to such lengths.

The usual selection of tasty tapas followed. My English sister had egg and chips. Now I know where my middle granddaughter gets her refusal to try exotic food from!

After lunch we went elsewhere for coffee. This was a whole different adventure. We were heading for a place near the seafront and at one point were almost blown away, the wind was so strong! There they offered us a strange concoction of salted peanuts and chewy fruit sweets. Is this the latest trend? If so, it is not one I appreciate.

Coming home to my Spanish sister’s place in el Puerto, we avoided the very high new bridge and used the old bridge. We are not going out again this evening. Gisele is a storm too far!

On a different topic altogether, here is a story from yesterday’s Guardian:

“A Romanian court has rejected a man’s claim that he is alive, after he was officially registered as dead. A court spokeswoman said on Friday that 63-year-old Constantin Reliu lost his case in the north-east city of Vasului because he appealed too late. The ruling is final.

Media reported Reliu went to Turkey in 1992 for work and lost contact with his family in Romania. Hearing no news from her husband, his wife managed to get a death certificate for him in 2016. Turkish authorities located Reliu this year with expired papers and deported him.

When he arrived in Romania, he discovered he had been declared dead. He was quoted as saying: “I am officially dead, although I’m alive, I have no income and because I am listed dead, I can’t do anything.””

So there are worse things than Storm Gisele!

Meanwhile, I read that Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

“The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady decline of the US as the world’s largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.”

The UK is in the 19th place but al least we are ahead of France and Spain. So it goes!

Friday, 16 March 2018

Things I have found out recently!

According to my Spanish niece, here in Andalucía there is a relationship between the price of beer and the likelihood of your receiving free tapas. The more expensive the caña the less likely you are to get a freebie. Also according to my Spanish niece and her boyfriend it is far less common here than in Galicia for free food to arrive with your drink. They only know this from word of mouth and from stuff they have read and I do not have sufficient experience of bars around here to comment.

We went walkabout yesterday and stopped for coffee and homemade cake near the castle of El Puerto de Santa María, complete with stork’s nest on the tower. Photos will appear at some time soon, but maybe not until I return to England and have access to the computer. Unless, of course, I suddenly discover how to do it on my iPad.

When I first went to Galicia, lots of people went to great lengths to explain to me about “galerías”, the enclosed mini-balconies on the old traditional buildings. These act as insulation, keeping the building cool in summer and warm in winter. They always maintained this was a Galician specialty. Guess what? They have them on old buildings here as well. Once again, photos will appear at so e time in the near future.

This morning we woke to thunderstorms and a deluge. By 10.30 the sky was reasonably clear. We are going to eat out near the beach so we hope the clear skies will remain. Umbrellas in our handbags however.

Here is some odd stuff I found about certain English expressions:-

“They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & Sold to the tannery.......if you had to do this to survive you were "Piss Poor" 

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn't even afford to buy a pot......they "didn't have a pot to piss in" & were the lowest of the low The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

Here are some facts about the 1500s: Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June.. However, since they were starting to smell . ...... . Brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting Married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof... Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt poor." The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire.. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat. 

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would Sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.”

Isn’t language interesting!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Trials and tribulations of reuniting sisters!

So here I am, back in Spain, in Andalucía this time. My older sister and I are visiting our younger sister. It’s the first time in a good while that the three sisters have been together. My daughter did suggest that the three of us should all sleep,in the same bedroom, recapturing our childhood! Fortunately there is no room large enough for three beds.

The journey was interesting to say the least. First there was my older sister not having understood that meeting at departures in Manchester airport meant before not after going through security. Consequently I was waiting for her and not getting through to her phone because she was already in the security queue and being yelled at to switch her phone off!!

We got that sorted and eventually met and found our way to the gate and then onto the plane, headed for Gibraltar. It’s the first time I have flown to Gibraltar.

Except that in the event I didn’t fly to Gibraltar.

We set off from a windy Manchester and the pilot did his usual talk about how nice it was to welcome us onto this EasyJet flight and so on and so forth. He went on, as usual, to talk about weather conditions in Gibraltar: windy, just on the edge of acceptable for landing there.

And then he told us about a rockfall on El Peñón in the last few days, a rockfall which had knocked out the radar system. This meant he would have to land on visuals, provided visibility was good enough. Which it was at that point but he would monitor the situation.

We continued on our rather bumpy way, the pilot explaining to us that the jet stream was really strong and he would have to fly above it if possible. On and off went to the fasten-seat-belts signs throughout the flight. You had to choose your moment to go for a pee!

Then he announced that there was a possibility of our being diverted to Malaga. Oops! But better a diversion than falling off the end of Gibraltar’s runway.

And so, forty minutes before our due landing time, he confirmed, Malaga it was. By now our niece would be on her way to meet us at Gibraltar. How annoying! But they did promise to provide us with transport to The Rock.

Once landed in Malaga, we had to sit on the plane a while until they had sorted some things with the ground crew. But now we were able to send messages to our driver, expecting to be in Gibraltar within a couple of hours.

What false expectations!

We finally got off the plane and stood around in baggage reclaim waiting for further information. Some three quarters of an hour later we all traipsed, in a gloomy kind of procession, into the bowels of the airport, where buses were supposedly waiting for us. Except that not enough buses were waiting. We were unfortunately at the tail end of the gloomy procession. Our bus went to the wrong bit of the underground bus park!

And at long last, after standing around for another two hours, we got onto a bus and made our way to Gibraltar!

And so several hours later than intended the three sisters got together to spend another hour or two reminiscing! Such is my life!

Monday, 12 March 2018

Bouncing back!

Yesterday I got myself up and ready to go for a run. I was halfway out of the door when I realised that I had not picked up my keys. So I popped back in, grabbed them from my handbag, stuffed them in the pocket of my bumbag and off I went.

En route I stopped to have a chat with Mike the dog-walker. That’s Mike who might also be Patrick or even possibly Dave, depending on who you talk to. I suspect, from things he has said about this Roman Catholic education, that he was probably christened Michael Patrick. Where the Dave comes from I have no idea. He had a little rant about obesity and doctors being unwilling to discuss it with their patients for fear of hurting their feelings!!!

Leaving Michael/Patrick/Dave behind, I continued on my way, past the snow drifts that still adorn the roadside, and into the Co-op store to buy the newspaper.

When I arrived home I fished my keys out of my bumbag pocket ... only to find that they were the keys to the flat in Vigo. I was sure I had put those away in a safe place already. Obviously not! So there I was, on the doorstep, without the correct keys. I rang the doorbell. No answer! I hammered on the door. No answer! I rang the landline! No answer and eventually on to messages! I rang Phil’s mobile. Straight to messages but it does that every time and I rang again to make it ring, which is one of the quirks of his mobile. Still no answer! This is what I expected, which is why I usually try to remember the keys. Phil claims to be a poor sleeper but he must sleep more deeply than he thinks because he never hears the phone or the doorbell. Of course, wearing earplugs to sleep in does not help. Eventually, after I had almost worn my fists out banging on the door, he came apologetically to my rescue. So it goes!

Later in the day the gang - our daughter and family - came to eat. I always enjoy a family meal. However, I have been reading more and more about what they term “boomerang children”. These are the offspring who leave home, most often in the UK to go and study at a fairly distant university, sometimes finding a job and establishing themselves in a place of their own, and then come bouncing back.

It’s one of the consequences of the cost of renting accommodation and the difficulty of saving up sufficient money to put down a deposit on a house or flat to buy. Another factor is the difficulty graduates have in finding a job that matches their newly acquired qualifications. So, having had a taste of freedom and independence, they have to return home to the parental home, not quite tail between their legs but feeling a bit miffed at not having got away permanently. After all, that is what most of our generation did: we went off to university, got a job and got on with our lives, returning to Mum and Dad for brief visits. Gaining your independence without tears! It was a good system! Our two followed something like the same trajectory, although our daughter did it in a rather roundabout manner.

The trouble with the boomerang children, it seems, is not only that the offspring feel that they have failed to some extent but also that the parents have got used to, and rather resent losing, their own newfound independence. Most have not gone as far as turning the offspring’s bedroom into a gym or office, or in some cases moving house, downsizing because they no longer needed the extra room. However, a large proportion of us/them have got used to being able to do whatever we/they like without taking the offspring into account. And suddenly the offspring are back, and the grocery bills go up, the washing machine gets more use once again and you have to bite your tongue not to complain about mess.

Problems of modern living! But then maybe the parents, who will live longer and longer according to all the theories, can eventually do a sort of reverse boomerang and go and live in their dotage with their offspring. Good grief! That generation could end up with boomerang children AND boomerang parents!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Another Mother’s Day!

Happy Mothers’ Day! There it is! Another ... Day!

When I was a child it was called Mothering Sunday, or at least that was the case where I was brought up. You went to Sunday School in the morning and you went home with a card for your mum. Card shops, which in any case didn’t exist in their current huge card-emporia form, didn’t sell special cards. And in primary school you didn’t make a special card to take home. So teachers didn’t have to worry about the possibility of children who for one reason or another didn’t live with mum. I don’t think it occurred to our Sunday School that such a thing might be possible.

Neither was so much fuss made about it that childless women felt the need to avoid any mention of it. Here is a link to an article about older mums and those who opt to be childless, or often nowadays don’t opt but find it happening anyway.

When I was a child, back when I brought my Mothering Sunday card home from Sunday School (Good grief! She must have received four identical cards before the older two of us moved on to other things!) we were given an explanation for Mothering Sunday. Girls who were in service, maids and cooks and cleaners for the gentry, had that one Sunday free - free to go home and visit their mothers. So on their day off they cleaned and cooked and generally helped out at home instead of in the “big house”. If that is true, then Mothers’s Day is not quite the celebration of motherhood that it has become today.

As far as I know Frida Kahlo, subject of yesterday’s post, had no children. It is unlikely, I suppose, that after childhood polio and her horrible accident in her late teens that she was actually able to have children. But the Barbie Doll people have made her part of their “Inspiring women” series of dolls. Here is a link to a picture of the doll, which you can acquire for $29.99.

However the doll has become the subject of a dispute. Frida Kahlo’s great niece claims the the toymaker Mattel does not have the rights to use the artist’s image. She doesn’t want money or any sort of compensation but she wants them to redesign the doll. Apparently it doesn’t reflect Kahlo’s heavy, nearly conjoined eyebrows, and its costume doesn’t accurately portray the elaborate Tehuana-style dresses the artist wore.

But the Mattel company said in a statement that it worked with the Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corp, “which owns all the rights”. “The Frida Kahlo Corporation actively participated in the process of designing the doll, Mattel has its permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo,” the company’s statement said.

Oh, dear! A bit of a legal wrangle going on! It’s rather ironic that Frida Kahlo, a communist, should be portrayed by a company from the consumer society! So it goes.

Now, just recently I came across a series of books for children, each one based on the lives strong women - suffragettes, adventurers, artists. One of these was Frida Kahlo. I wonder if her great niece has seen these and if she approves of the image of her great aunt!

Saturday, 10 March 2018


I have just been to our local Tesco to replenish stocks.

I walked there, to the undoubted delight of my Fitbit which will be able to congratulate me on the humber of steps I have taken (14,042 so far today) and the distance I have covered (10.9 kilometres). It sends me messages telling me I am an over-achiever - so many steps over my daily target most days. Then it invites me to set myself a higher target. I think about it, briefly and not very seriously, because if I were to do that it might have to start to admonish me for not meeting my daily target. So I just stay with the status quo.

David Sidaris, who occasionally does very wryly funny talks on the radio about his life experiences, once described his experience with a Fitbit. He began modestly with a target 10,000 steps a day. Quickly he upgraded his target to 20,000 and easily made the grade. He walked around his village, picking up litter as he went, simultaneously meeting a different, more ecological, target. He moved through 30,000, 40,000 and rambled further and further afield. The higher his target, the more obsessive he became about it. He had to meet his target and, no doubt, receive the Fitbit badges saying what an achiever he was. It was taking up more and more of his day. There was little time left to do anything else. His partner was complaining; this was worse than if David were having an affair.

He had got up to a target of 60,000 daily steps, possibly more, and had not found a way out of his dilemma, when his Fitbit broke. He did not replace it!

Such are the perils of letting an amusing little gadget tell you what to do!
It was a pleasant walk to the supermarket. The weather was mild, almost springlike. I followed the bus route for part of the way, planning to hop on one if it came along, None did so I went off road and followed the towpaths and bridle paths the rest of the way.

The supermarket shelves were strangely bare. Empty spaces with the notice “temporarily out of stock” abounded on the fruit and vegetable shelves. Even the fish counter was sadly depleted and I am usually quite impressed.

What was going on?

I know that there has been deep snow around here and for at least one day the Co-op store in the village closed because it simply ran out of stuff to sell and the shop assistants who lived outside the village could not get in. And I am aware that there is still snow lying in places: big, dirty mounds at the side of some roads, pushed into drifts there by snow ploughs when the weather was really bad, and cleaner mounds in the fields, blown into drifts against the stone walls. All very picturesque! But the roads have been clear for days, or so I am told.

So why have Tesco’s supply lorries not restocked the shelves?

Did they not realise I was due back and would be food-shopping today? It’s not good enough!

While I scanned the vegetable shelves to see just what was available, one of the shop assistants, also scanning the shelves, turned to me, pointed to the parsnips, of which there were perhaps a dozen scrawny specimens remaining and asked me if they were turnips. I put her wise. So she asked me if the store had any turnips. What did a turnip look like, she wanted to know. No, I told her, there were no turnips on the shelves. I described a turnip. She looked puzzled. Then I spotted one of the things I was looking for, a pre-packed ‘stew veg’ pack containing an onion, some carrots and parsnips, a swede, but no turnip. I introduced her to the swede, which has a vague similarity to a turnip, although you could never really confuse the two. “oh”, she said, “and we definitely have no turnips?” Once more I had to disappoint her! As we separated she thanked me for my help.

Minutes later - not even long enough in time for me to have moved far with my trolley - I overheard another customer asking another assistant whether they had any packs of “stew veg”. The young man gave her a blank stare. She explained what she was looking for. He still looked blank. So I held up my purchase and said that this was probably what she was looking for. The customer’s eyes lit up (Saturday shoppers in a depleted store are easy to please) until I revealed that I had taken the last off the shelf (shoppers are also easily disappointed). Still looking blank, the young man told her they only had what was on the shelves, confirming my belief that replenishments have been slow to arrive!

But what is it with the young shop assistants who cannot recognise vegetables? Did nobody ever read them children’s story books about enormous turnips?

I should perhaps apply for a job in customer service!

It had started raining, just like Galicia, when I came out of the supermarket. Consequently I caught the bus back!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Women having their day. And hugging!

Yesterday was International Women’s Day. There were demonstrations in Vigo centre. lots of women with flags.

Almost every day is international something or other day.

The V & A in London is holding an exhibition of the belongings of Frida Kahlo, often held up as an example of a successful woman artist. Which of course she was, with her own style and exhibitions of her work all over the place. And yet I always have a sneaky suspicion of her not being quite so famous as her husband (later not her husband and then her husband again) Diego Rivera.

Her belongings - clothes, jewellery, makeup and her prosthetic leg - were sealed up in her house, the Blue House, for more than fifty years. This is the first time they are being seen outside of Mexico. After Frida Kahlo died in 1954, aged 47, Rivera locked up her belongings in a room and said it should not be opened until after his death. That in itself says something about his control over her. A sign of the times, I suppose.

In the event, it was not opened until 2004.

The thing is that Frida Kahlo herself was a work of art. She was injured in a near fatal bus crash and suffered great pain throughout her life. But she covered it all with her own distinctive style of dressing. Even her prosthetic leg was clad in a red leather boot. You have to admire the little woman. Many would just have given up!

 Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up will be at the V&A from 16 June to 4 November. I must try to get there! I wonder if TheresaMay will go. After all, she has the bracelet!

Here’s something else. I read yesterday about doctors in the UK being warned not to hug patients, even when trying to comfort them as they give them bad news, because it may lead to legal action later!!!

I find it really strange. If you walk around the streets and see young people meeting, they hug each other far more than previous generations ever did. Girls in particular squeal their greetings and hug each other as if they had not met for years. But boys are not immune to this social contact thing. I can remember my brother being averse to hugging or kissing anyone, even family, for years after someone told him that only sissies kiss people. It all changed when he discovered girls but he was never a great hugger within the family. But now they all make physical contact on greeting.

So on the one hand we have young people hugging all over the show and on the other doctors being warned not to offer physical comfort to patients. And then there are the teachers, who are advised not to hug their pupils. Keep everyone at professional arm’s length! But now the mental health professionals are blaming many of the mental health problems of the modern age on precisely that lack of physical contact. Here’s an article about it.

We have a big loneliness problem: half a million older people in the UK, I read, go at least five days a week without meeting or touching a soul. And it’s not just in the UK. A Spanish friend of mine spoke to me recently about the number of elderly people in Vigo who live alone and rarely see anyone. Centres are being set up in some countries for people to go and be hugged.

Ours is a strange world!

“We seem to have been creating a touch-averse world,” said one expert. “It’s time to recover the social power of touch.”

I think I’ll just keep on hugging family and friends!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Fines and justice!

Yesterday we went down into town to meet a friend and have some chipirones encebollados - baby squid served up with really tender onions - for lunch. We met in the bar La Porchaba, where they served such copious free tapas that when we moved on to the restaurant we opted to miss out the starter and go straight on to the main course.

How do bars and cafes make a profit when they give free food in such quantities? Three drinks and lots of food for less than the price of one glass of wine in the UK!

In the restaurant, the Rosalía Castro, near the port, the chipirones were slow to arrive but the wait was well worth it. Absolutely perfect!

 Later Phil went of a haircut, something he does almost every time we visit Vigo. He is greeted like an old friend by the rather aged barber and they swop opinions about this and that.he says he gets a better cut than he does at home in the UK.

While he was getting trimmed, I took a look at the paper. I discovered that a cyclist in Orense was recently fined €200 for having a flashing light on his bike. It seems that the Reglamento General de Vehículos states that bikes should have a fixed lamp front and back and reflectors on pedals and wheels. Well, none of the cyclists I see around here seem to have heard of that rule. Flashing LED lights are pretty standard bikes in the UK but here in Vigo no lights is the more common thing. I suspect that the police were doing a little revenue generating!

Incidentally, out and about yesterday and today I saw at least ten cars go through red lights. This morning a van stopped at a red light so that I could cross, with the little green man giving me permission. And then he set off and made his right turn, totally disregarding the light. The cars behind him obeyed the traffic lights. He was a white van driver, however, and they appear to have a different highway code to all other road users.

In my newspaper reading I came across an item about the Galician feminist writer Emilia Pardo Bazán. More specifically it was about her summer residence, lasTorres de Meirás. Here is a link to a youtube visit to the pazo.

After her death in 1921 and after the assassination of her son Jaime in 1936, the house was left to her daughter and to the widow of Jaime. They decided to donate the residence to the Jesuits, who in 1938, together with the right wing authorities of La Coruña, gave the llace to Franco as a summer residence. After that nobody from Pardo Bazán’s family was allowed in. A little unfair, all things considered!

In 2008 the pazo was declared a “bien de interés cultural”, a sort of National Trust property, despite the protestations of Franco’s heirs. In 2011, the doors opened to the public for the first time. And iw you can visit it on Fridays. However, the Franco heirs still use it in summer and try to prevent visits. They were fined in September lastvyear for failing to allow visits. Justice of sorts!

And finally, proving that every cloud has a silver lining, here I hope is a link to a newspaper report on Roman remains in Cádiz uncovered by the recent Storm Emma. Bits of an aqueduct and a roman road.

That sort of thing doesn’t often happen in Greater Manchester!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Bits of nonsense everywhere!

I have been collecting bits of silliness, some more serious than others.

  • A couple in Brittany, France, have been banned from calling their baby daughter Liam. Laws about names used to be much more strict in France, with a list of “permitted names”, and a veto on giving a child a ridiculous name which could cause adversely affect the child. Things have eased up but even so the authorities still step in to prevent names which might lead to gender confusion. Previously, names such as Manhattan, Nutella, Strawberry and Deamon have all been banned in France. (Why anyone might call their child Nutella is beyond me. But then, so is the reasoning behind giving a girl a boy’s name, or vice versa, unless like the Beckhams you are ignorant of the fact, for instance, that Cruz is a common girl’s name is Spain but you like it anyway and so you give it to your boy child!) 
  • By contrast, a family in Alabama, USA, have Saylor, Wales and Bridge. In the photo I saw they looked like boys but, well, you never know. Their mother is Courtney, a name you never heard when I was a girl. They were in the news for Courtney’s giving birth to sextuplets. It didn’t say what their names were but they were all swaddled in colours of the rainbow so they might well be Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Indigo - Violet being far too normal a name! Yellow and Indigo/Violet were adorned with little coronets of flowers in the photo shoot, so I assume they are girls.
  •  Coming up soon, March 16th, is World Sleep Day. “Intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is held, apparently, every year on the Friday before the Spring Vernal Equinox.Who knew?
  •  Here are some suggested ways participate in World Sleep Day:
 * Organizing an event to create excitement and generate interest in World Sleep Day.
 * Circulating the official press release with sleep experts and local media.
 * Distributing sleep patient literature such as booklets, leaflets and newsletters.
 * Finding other ideas at ‪‬.
 * Spreading the word on social media about #WorldSleepDay.

I wonder if it is possible to organise something to stop the rain and wind from battering the window, like the other night, and waking me up!

My Fitbit gives me an analysis of how well I have slept each night. I take it with a pinch of salt and wonder if it is tricked by times I just remain still and quiet without actually sleeping! I know that sleep is important and all that but really some organisations take themselves far too seriously. Here’s a sample:

 “World Sleep Day is designed to raise awareness of sleep as a human privilege that is often compromised by the habits of modern life. Sleep impacts nearly every aspect of mental and physical health. Research suggests:

 * Sound sleep is one of the three pillars of good health along with a balanced diet and regular exercise.
 * There are close to 100 disorders of sleep, but most are modifiable and manageable with the help of sleep specialists.
 * Effects of insufficient sleep favor outcomes such as increased appetite and enhanced sensitivity to food stimuli.
 * Next day effects of poor quality sleep include a negative impact on our attention span, memory recall and learning.
 * Studies suggest that sleep quality rather than quantity has a greater impact on quality of life and daytime functioning.
 * Short sleep duration appears independently associated with weight gain, particularly in young age groups.
 * Longer term effects of reduced sleep duration are being studied, but poor-quality sleep or sleep deprivation has been associated with significant health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, weakened immune systems and even some cancers.”

However, we end up with so many World This That and The Other Days that it’s hard to have an ordinary life!

Here’s something else, a bit of serious madness.

  • The Vatican has just set up a new exorcism training course, following an alleged increase in demonic possession. It seems that half a million cases are reported in Italy yearly, according to a Sicilian priest, Benigno Palilla. He doesn’t sound very benign to me! Visiting fortune-tellers and Tarot-readers “open the door to the devil and to possession”, he says. This is the 21st century, isn’t it. I suppose people can believe what they will but exorcism practices can be dangerous and harmful, especially to children. 
 A lot worse than sleep problems, if you ask me.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018


Further to my comments yesterday about the man who invited the First Nations people of Canada to live rent free on “his” land, here is something I found yesterday about a ceremony in Brazil

 “It was a modest ceremony for such a significant victory: it is not every day that the descendants of enslaved people are given the title to their land. But there was no doubt of its importance at a time when the protection of Brazil’s traditional rural communities is threatened by a conservative government in league with powerful agribusiness interests.

This weekend, Simão Jatene, the governor of Pará state, signed a document giving land titles for more than 220,000 hectares of Amazon forest to an isolated community populated by descendants of enslaved people who escaped centuries ago. The 500 inhabitants of Cachoeira Porteira have spent 23 years trying to get legal rights to their territory.

“It has a very important meaning for us,” said Valterlane Souza, 34, who was born and raised in the community. “

There you go! Justice for all! Well, for some.

Here’s another justice related matter. As an occasional cyclist, I am often dismayed at the way some two-wheel users behave. It’s not just the riding on the pavement, often at speed, that annoys me, it’s often their attitude when they are actually on the road itself.

Now, I am aware that many four-wheel road users are blind to cyclists and, even if they do see them, regard them as some kind of lesser species, inferior beings who really should not be allowed on the road. But often cyclists do themselves no favours. Some of them disregard traffic lights, apparently thinking that red lights really apply only to car drivers and that they, the cyclists, can do a nifty turn rather than stop and wait. (Mind you, here in Galicia, there are car drivers who seem to have the same philosophy, especially at pedestrian crossings controlled by lights! But that is a different matter.)

And now it seems that in the UK they are considering bringing in new laws regarding cyclists. Well, one new law in particular. They want to introduce the offence of causing death by dangerous cycling. A woman died, last year I think, after being knocked over by a cyclist. Motorists who cause death by dangerous driving face 14 years in prison and the proponents of this new law think that death by dangerous cycling should carry the same penalty. 

Labour MP Ian Austin, the former head of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, suggested the government should focus on reducing deaths caused by drivers and said: “Ministers are wrong if they think this will make our roads safer.”

But it seems to me that as more and more frequently we come across people cycling at speed along pathways and pavements, then surely there has to be some legislation. Austin, however, said: “Each death is a tragedy but what I and others have been calling for is a proper review of road safety and how the law is enforced when people are killed or injured because many more pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by people driving cars. They are a much greater danger to pedestrians and should be the focus of government resources.”

We shall see!

In other areas of cycling, things are going on as well. The question of whether or Bradley Wiggins asthma treatment counts as a performance enhancing drug has come up again. A report has been released suggesting that his winning the Tour de France in 2012 was by foul means, not fair. Team Sky so badly wanted to win that they abused the anti-doping system to allow Wiggins, and possibly support riders, to take powerful corticosteroids to prepare them for the Tour de France.

Oh dear, there must be a fine line between deliberately doping and using legitimate medication, knowing that it might actually enhance performance. I suppose it becomes an ethical thing as well. Do you knowingly take that particular medication or not?

BradleyWiggins himself said: “I find it so sad that accusations can be made, where people can be accused of things they have never done which are then regarded as facts. I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need.I hope to have my say in the next few days and put to my side across.”

 And, of course, he is right about the accusations problem. Mud tends to stick.

I am quite glad to be only an occasional cyclist.

Monday, 5 March 2018

A bit of a rant!

It’s a modern thing to look back at stuff from the past and apologise for it. I read about a man in Canada who owns rather a big stretch of land and now states (admits?) that this land was originally stolen from native North American Indians. Except of course that now you aren’t supposed to call them that; they are the First Nations. And so he has advertised his willingness to invite people of the First Nations to go and live rent-free on his land. Note, however, that it is still “his land”; there is no talk of actually giving it back. If I was a member of the First Nations I might be just a little peeved.

How far back can you take restitution of this kind?

I recently read “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx. It tells the story not just of the stealing of land from the First Nations but also the exploitation of forests in the North American continent and in the wider world. She covers attempts to maintain the traditional way of life of some of the First Nations’ people - a pretty hopeless attempt as the wider world impinges and, besides, a large proportion of those trying to live that life are no longer truly First Nations people but a mixture, thanks to the arrival of Europeans.

She also looks at the attempt of some of the exploiters of the woodlands to regenerate the forests, planting afresh wherever they have cut down. But again, the wider world impinges and the financially most successful are the ones who do not replant. Almost inevitable they push the ecologically sound out of the picture.

It’s taken a long time for us to realise that the planet’s resources are finite and we still don’t really know how to put it right It’s greed and the profit motive that keep getting in the way. And they pop up in areas like education and health where surely, in the 21st century we should have realised they have no place.

I read an article about a baby born premeaturely and weighing only 2 pounds. This was in the United States. Here is a short extract from what the parents of that baby had to say:

“The financial cost of caring for a child with an illness or disability ruins families; with the Republican war on healthcare that’s only getting worse. If we had had a lifetime cap on Layla’s insurance coverage, for example, she would have blown through it in her first weeks of life. It’s not uncommon for families of preemies to be left bankrupt, depending on a healthcare system that says it protects the most vulnerable while making it impossible for you to care for your child while still paying the bills.

That’s why we need a healthcare system that adequately protects families and children from the complex and tragic hurdles life puts in our way. We need family leave policies that make special considerations for parents of ill children. And most of all, we need to recognize that none of this can be a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The baby in question, Layla, survived and thrived. At six or seven years old she had caught up with her peers and was doing well, a bright and happy little girl but her parents had frequent rushes to the hospital when she was tiny.

This is why in the UK we need to fight for our NHS and not think of selling it, or bits of it, off to the profit-greedy!

Rant over!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Sunday thoughts!

Another Sunday.

The nasty weather appears to have calmed down. Friends and family in more northern parts of Europe (ie. NW England), and friends and family in the South of Spain have vied with each other to prove that they have suffered more from the inclement stuff - snow and wind bringing drifts on the one hand and wind, rain and huge waves on the other. And I have had to explain to both that in Vigo we have been protected from the extremes because of the particular geographical situation, on the ría with the Islas Cîes protexting the bay from the worst of the storms off the Atlantic.

We had a bit of an electric storm in the wee, small hours Friday-Saturday but, apart from a fair amount of wind and rain, that was all. I was half convinced I had made the whole thing up but it seems I just incorporated the flashing and banging into a dream in which the whole building shook. Dreams are odd: last night’s involved waiting for a train that was stuck in a tunnel. Where that came from I have no idea.

 Ian Jack, writing in the Guardian about “Who do I blame? Eight reasons we ended up in this Brexit mess”, gives a nice description of three products of the playing fields of Eton, David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg as, in turn, a too-confident incompetent, an opportunist and a cartoon version of the ruling class. The damaging effect of the first of these, he says is especially hard to forgive.

His comments on the immigration question, something many give as a big reason for their voting to leave the EU, are interesting. “Immigration”, he wrote, “had begun to die as a political issue until, in 2004, Tony Blair’s government decided to open the UK labour market to the eight eastern and central European countries that had joined the EU. Only two other member states, Sweden and Ireland, did so as freely. Between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants were expected; within the first year, 129,000 turned up.”

Even Tony Blair and co agreed later that it had been a mistake.

And the rest is history!

Yesterday we went off to Pontevedra for lunch and to meet some people for chess related matters. Walking back to the station later we went past a furniture store with a piece of furniture on display described as a “cheslon”. It looked rather like a sofa but we decided thatbit was really a “chaise longue” and that this intriguing new (to us anyway; others may be quite familiar with it) word was a Hispanicised version of the French term.

Sitting in the station cafe as we waited for a train back to Vigo (maybe that sparked the train dream!) I skim-read a local paper and came across another one: “gurmé” for “gourmet”. In context it read: “Vendemos las conservas en tiendas gurmé y ‘on-line’ en varios países de Europa”. I find it interesting that in that sentence “gurmé”, which seems to be an adjective, does not agree grammatically with the word it describes.

I love the Spanish habit of making foreign words into Spanish ones by altering the spelling. The oddest one, for me at least, is “croissant” morphing into “curasán”. This is the kind of thing you get excited about when you are a language geek!

As our train made it’s speedy way through the final long tunnel (another dream provoker perhaps?) into Vigo Urzáiz station, the public address system told us in Castilian Spanish, Galician Spanish and Mexican accented English that we were approaching the station, the end of our trip, thanked us for travelling with them, reminded us to be sure to take all our possessions with us and warned us to mind the gap - or rather, to be careful about the distance between the train and platform! A rather wordy warning, delivered with the accent that always sounds as though the speaker has a big fixed smile on his face.

Are there no native English speakers around?