Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Modern world problems!

For a brief moment this morning I thought we had internet in the hotel room Not so. So here I am in the foyer. and here, finally are some photos.

The stripey beach hut:-

The classic Citroen Dyane:-

A bonus classic Renault 4L - we also had a red one of these;-

Today it was raining when I set off on my run. I knew it was raining but I put on my waterproof jacket and went out anyway. When I discovered how hard it was raining I cut my run short. Coward!

My Fitbit might not even recognise it as a run. Like many tech devices, it is bossy and if I run too slowly it will tell me I have been for a walk! At other times it reminds me to get up and move around, insisting on a certain number of steps an hour during the daytime! A small dominatrix on my wrist! 

Some time ago I read about teachers expressing concern that children were turning up at infant school without the necessary dexterity to hold a pencil or scissors, or even their knife and fork, correctly. They had spent too much time being entertained on mummy’s iPhone or iPad and not enough holding fat, stubby wax crayons and scribbling in colouring books. (No danger of that with our smallest grandchildren. Both have enjoyed scribbling from an early age. The next youngest, just starting school, can write her name, recognise most letters and a fair few words, and is the most careful colourer I have seen in a four year old. The tiniest watches her mother doing work for her job as a teacher and wants to join in, “writing” on papers of her own. She also tries to “help” her older siblings when they need to highlight notes as part of their homework. Proud grandparent, as you can tell!)

Now I read that a certain Prof Roger Kneebone, a professor of surgical education at Imperial College London, has said students are arriving at medical school without the required manual dexterity to perform simple, necessary surgical tasks such as sewing up patients after operations. Wow! (What a good name for a gentleman in the medical profession, by the way!) Another study found that “frequent smartphone users may be more prone to experience pain in their thumbs” than counterparts who did not use phones as often or at all. You see, I am right not to use my thumbs to write text messages!

Of course, there are some who say that children will soon have no need to write as they will use keyboards for everything. Where will the artists and draftsmen come from if nobody has pencil-control? Where will the hand knitters and embroiderers be found? Is mine the last generation to have such skills.

The hi-tech aficionados also say that surgery and stitching up wounds will also be done by robots in the near future. Such is the modern world.

Another modern world problem is the difficulty of discussing topical matters without being given a, usually derogatory, label. Trying, for example, to discuss gender-identification logically, or indeed to question at all any attitude other that TOTAL freedom leads to accusations of “transphobia”. Here is an article on that matter from the Guardian.

And, on a completely different topic, here is a link to an article about the best way to make coffee. We have become coffee snobs and favour the Moka pots, ubiquitous in Italy. The report says this about them:-

“Yes, they’re cheap (John Lewis is selling Bialettis for £20), but the coffee is often hugely bitter and over-extracted rocket fuel. Priming the chamber with coffee that is ground to the right size is fiendishly difficult and coffee should not be boiled. For maximum character, brew at 90C-96C (194F-205F). Takes practice: 5/10”

What a load of nonsense, our coffee is never bitter and nothing could be simpler to use than one of these little machines.

 I do however agree with the comments on Cafetières:-

“In theory, this should be a sustainable and superior option to the moka. In reality, it is impossible – blame steeping it too long, your juddering plunge action, a misjudged grind-size or the way the filter bends at its edges – to produce cafetière coffee that isn’t flat in flavour, full of bitter grounds or both. A gritty 4/10”

Mind you, their suggestion that you should freeze your coffee beans and freshly grind them each time you make coffee, smacks of someone with more time on their hands than most of us have.

The breakfast coffee in this hotel, by the way, is rather superior as hotel breakfast coffee goes!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Ongoing problems. And intolerance.

Internet in the hotel continues to be erratic, to say the least. At times I connect but when Phil, seated next to me, tries his laptop tells him that he cannot connect as there are too many users! As a result of these vagaries, I did not manage to post photos yesterday. So I was going to post them today but the laptop is being stupid and won’t let me log on to the internet. So here they aren’t. Maybe tomorrow!

Yesterday or the day before, at breakfast, I saw one of the hotel staff remonstrate with a couple of young athletes, members of a team of some sort who have been sprawled around the foyer for days or playing table tennis barefoot in the area near the dining room. It seemed that they were having a second breakfast and the staff member was telling them that “breakfast is just once”. They tried to protest that they were just having a cup of coffee and a bun but she was adamant. “Tomorrow once only!”

I did wonder how going back in for another round was different from someone who ate two breakfasts’ worth of food at one sitting. At least one of the young people we went to Greece with recently regularly had at least three plates of food at breakfast time. Mind you, the breakfasts were better there than here!

The heatwave did not materialise yesterday. The lizards I saw must have been opportunists, taking advantage of the little bit of sunshine available for that sort time. Rain has come back here. Storms are forecast. But it could be worse. Venice for example is flooded. Of course, we all know Venice suffers regularly from “acqua alta” - I have photos of Saint Mark’s Square looking like a swimming pool - but water levels are reported to be up by 150+ centimetres. That’s an awful lot of water. I feel quite glad that we have seen Venice several times before the tourism overwhelmed it and before it sinks into the lagoon.

I read that experts say that Trump’s rhetoric stokes hatred and in particular antisemitism. His own daughter is married to a Jew and converted to Judaism, so where does the antisemitism come from. Maybe it’s just general anti-foreigner stuff. Apparently he wrote that “some very bad people” were mixed into the caravan of several thousand people, mainly from Honduras, currently travelling through Mexico. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” Trump added. Odd use of capital letters noted!

And finally, there is a rumour going round about a new 50 pence coin being minted in the UK to celebrate Brexit. As with the idea of a day of Brexit celebration, I find myself wondering what is the point. The new coin is said to be going to sport the words “Friends with all nations”, or something similar. So we can be friendly with all nations but feel free to verbally abuse and even punch in the face anyone who does not speak English on the public transport system.

Another case of government declarations somehow authorising intolerance and violence!

Monday, 29 October 2018

Stuff going on here and there,

My run this morning took me down to the sea front and along the cycling / walking path in the direction of nearby Buarcos, past the yellow striped beach huts, which are probably summer cafes and ice cream parlours. The path rejoins the road before it gets to Buarcos proper, so I turned back towards Figueira, ran a short distance on the pavement and then back onto the boardwalks along the beach.

And then it started to rain on me. It was forecast though so I was not really surprised! Just a tad disappointed!

Later I walked into the centre of Figueira to buy supplies of this and that. On Saturday we got tied up with hunting for chess venues and yesterday, being Sunday, everything was closed. We now have supplies of coffee and nibbles to keep the chess player happy. The rain had stopped, however, the sun had come out and on my way back to the hotel I even had to carry my coat. And I saw lizards scuttling up a wall. Does this mean the heatwave has returned?

On my travels this morning I came across a very well preserved Citroen Dyane. As I stopped to admire it the owner appeared and started to talk to me about it, how old it is, what other old vehicles he owns and so on. So I told him that I used to have, long, long ago, a bright red Citroen 2CV, um dois cavalhos, or possible carvalhos, of which I was inordinately proud. I felt my limited Portuguese was doing quite well and then he asked if I was Spanish. So I guess my pronunciation is somewhat influenced by my Spanish.

We continue to have problems accessing internet in our room, indeed in the whole hotel. At reception they told us that they are having problems because an antenna was blown down by Storm Leslie. Poor old Leslie must be getting blamed for everything! And then he said that the hotel is full and lots of people are using the internet, slowing everything down. They are probably all chess players! So I am posting this evening, when the chessplayers are busy trying to defeat each other.

Out in the wider world, away from my lotus-eating, hedonistic existence, there has been a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, USA. Another crazy anti-semite with links to right wing organisations. Nine people were killed, maybe eleven.

All of this did not stop POTUS going on with his mid-term campaigning. "We can't let evil change our life and change our schedule,” he said. “We can’t do that. We have to go.” He added: "I'll go. Not that I want to go. But I think I actually, in reverse, have an obligation to go.” He added: “We condemn the historic evil of antisemitism and every other form of evil. “And unfortunately, evil comes in many forms. And we come together as one American people."

His regret did not prevent him from joking about the fact that the rain had messed his heir up, although some people had told him they preferred the natural mussed look, or so he said. In the end it’s all about the Donald!

He also apparently said that the 'results' of the shooting would have been 'far better' if their had been armed guards - a solution he has also promoted to stop school shootings “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better,” he said . "If they had some kind of protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a much different situation. But they didn’t.”

So presumably all churches, synagogues and mosques should all have armed guards inside. Go to worship your god but be prepared for a possible shoot-out! The mind boggles!

 Some better news tells me that Ireland has voted to remove blasphemy as an offence from the country’s constitution. In a referendum, 64.8 per cent of voters were in favour of changing the law, with 35.1 per cent supporting the status quo. The result was largely expected, as the article on blasphemy in the constitution is generally agreed to be outdated and obsolete. Well, yes! I should think so!

 No one has ever been charged with the offence in the history of the Irish state, but it does carry a fine of up to €25,000.

Here is a quote from the Irish PM:

 “What we want to have in Ireland is a 21st Century constitution for a 21st Century republic. We’ve already reformed our Constitution to allow for things like marriage equality, women’s right to choose. We believe that having a criminal offence for blasphemy in Ireland is a bit outdated so we’re asking people to change that. It’s very much part of a reform of our whole Constitution to make the country more modern.”

 Quite so!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Out and about in Figueira.

Yesterday morning I got up and ran round the local park, snapping shots of trees broken by the recent hurricane as I went. Even in the sunshine it gives everywhere a slightly shabby air.

On the seafront various places are boarded up, pending repair from Storm Leslie.

In the land of the Anglophile Portuguese, I have spotted these language errors:-
  • The ladies’ toilets at Oporto airport are labelled “Nao fumadores”, “Non fumeurs”, “No smokers”. So ladies who smoke are not allowed in. Where are they supposed to go for a pee?
  • In our hotel, arrows direct you to the “Toillets”. I seem to have a bit of a toilet theme going on here. 
  • And there is a bar on the sea front which offers a range of “gin’s”. 
But everyone has a smattering of English, even the cleaning ladies. Hounded out of our room by the aforementioned cleaning ladies, who clearly wanted to do an in depth clean even though we had only slept here one night, we set off yesterday to look for the chess playing venue and the venue for the opening ceremony, set to take place on Saturday afternoon. The venues have changed from last year because of storm damage. it was a longer walk than we planned. The map we had acquired was deceptive.

By the time we finally located the Assembleia Figueirense where the opening gathering of the great and the good, with lots of speeches of thanks to sponsors, would take place, Phil was more than a little hangry. Hangry is a term I have borrowed from our daughter, who uses it to describe various of her offspring when they are grumpy because of hunger.

Serendipitously we were close to a little restaurant, Cais do Heleno, where we were served excellent fish, “robalo”, and a half litre of vinho verde, which they have on tap, all for around twenty euros.

 And the view over the estuary was quite nice too.

All we need to do now is manage to get wifi in the hotel room. Currently we go down to the reception area, as the receptionist tells us that their service has difficulty reaching our end of the hotel! She gives Storm Leslie and the hurricane as a partial excuse. We have our doubts.

So it goes.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Travel. Bonding. Forces of nature. Freedom of speech.

We were met at the airport yesterday by a Portuguese gentleman, connected in some way I am unsure of with the chess event that Phil is playing in, whose name I still do not know, despite his having picked us up three times, at least. He greets us like old friends. No need for a laminated sheet with our name on.

He tells me something in a stream of Portuguese. Gradually I work out that he has to pick up someone else, a Cuban chess player, and that we need to wait. He has great faith in my Portuguese, and thinks I understand and speak more than I really do. Phil says it may be that I am almost the only person who speaks to him, in the sense of making conversation, when he collects them from the airport, and certainly the only one who tries to communicate in Portuguese! In any case, we have clearly bonded and swap photos of our respective delightful grandchildren.

We collect the Cuban, Rodney García something or other. (South and Central Americans and Cubans often have unlikely names, a curious mix of Anglo-European and and Hispanic.) And we set off for Figueira.

En route the driver points out places that suffered from the hurricane a couple of weeks ago. Huge trees are bent and broken, snapped as if made of straw. Behind our hotel is a paço, a kind of stately home, the Sotto Maior. The gardens are also full of bent and broken mature trees. Nature is a powerful force when she gets going.

Back in the UK I have left unfinished a library book, Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver. The story revolves around migrating Monarch butterflies that end up in the USA instead of Mexico. One of the consequences of global warming, climate change or whatever else some people do not believe in. The power of nature!

It’s not just butterflies that are on the move. There are thousands of Hondurans, also some of them with odd names, trekking their way to the USA, believing that Donald Trump will have a change of heart and let them in.

We are going to see are of this, of course. Between conflicts zones and areas of desertification more and more people are going to be seeking somewhere else to live. Will they be allowed in? 

Meanwhile, if your name is Tommy Robinson, who should not in my opinion be given houseroom anywhere, you can find yourself invited to lunch at the House of Lords - I think it was lunch - and now to speak to Congress in the USA.

Oh, yes, he has freedom of speech, as should everyone, but still he should not be encouraged!

Friday, 26 October 2018

The future of the human race!

I have decided that young people are possibly alien species. This is as a result of travelling on public transport and observing them.

This morning we were up bright and early to catch a bus to Oldham Mumps, where we caught a tram to Manchester Victoria, where we caught another tram to Manchester Piccadilly. There we wrestled with the machine for prepaid tickets to persuade it to give us the tickets we booked yesterday for a train to Liverpool South Parkway. Quite why the booking system would not allow us to print our own tickets is a mystery. And our iPhones are insufficiently sophisticated to use the app for that particular train-line. Sigh! And finally, after the train, we caught a bus to Liverpool John Lennon airport.

Anyway, I am pretty sure that young people have already developed thumbs which work in a different way from mine. They manage to hold their phones and type with their thumbs, a skill I do not possess. Our middle granddaughter finds it highly amusing that I type mostly with my two forefingers and occasionally bring in a few more fingers for support. On a touch screen keyboard, though, two fingers are usually all I can manage. This must be an age thing for I saw a lady on the tram, a lady of advanced years, although not quite so advanced as mine, with beautifully painted, obviously false, sparkly nails. One finger, her middle finger, did not have the fancy nail; this she used to tap messages and access apps on her phone.

Before seeing the lady on the tram, however, I watched teenagers on the bus, on their way to school, almost all of them plugged in to a fancy phone. One of the them held his phone horizontally flat, at right angles to his ear to listen to his music. When his friend joined him they proceeded to swap and compare things they had found on u-tube, all highly amusing.

Not much later, on the tram I overheard a conversation between two slightly older teenagers, probably sixth-form college students. They were discussing the future, a future in which one of them maintained that owning smart phones would be obligatory. Everyone will need them to pay for stuff. Tangible money (his terminology) is already on the way out. Soon it will be a thing of the past. Not only that, all humans will be chipped, rather as dogs are now. This too will be obligatory. They are already in use in the USA!! So he maintained! All those Mexican children who were separated from their parents have been chipped! On Trumps orders! So he maintained!

We will undoubtedy follow suit, he also maintained. His friend, so far relatively quiet, asked why. Well, he was told, we are always behind the Americans in technology. Whereupon his mate pointed out that it was “one of ours” who invented the computer!

At that point we got off the tram.

Then there are the clothes. Ripped jeans. So many exposed bony knees. Will they all have arthrotic knees in the future?i eemember when we used to buy new Levi’s and wash them at least five times before wearing to get rid of the new look. Just as they reached the perfect level,of fabric softness, they began tomwear out at the knees and we had to start all over again. No doubt, our parents thought we were crazy not to patch them. Nowadays, they would be perfect?

On the plane I overheard a little conversation between a small boy and his father. This was just after the plane took off.

 Small boy: Daddy, are we still on earth? Or are we in space?

 Daddy, after a pause: Well, we are in the atmosphere.

 Small boy: What’s the atmosphere?

Time for some explanatory diagrams, I thought.

Later in the flight I heard the same small boy reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to himself, carefully working out the words, spelling them out and occasionally asking for a meaning.

Brilliant! There is hope for the human race, after all!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Lifestyles. Organisation. Fireworks.

Sometimes just keeping up with your correspondence is hard work. Between letting my son and daughter-in-law know about our travel plans and answering the query from a companion in the Italian class, it’s hard to find time to hang up the washing. Which needs to dry, and some of it to be ironed, unfortunately, before we set off on our travels again the day after tomorrow.

The Italian classmate had forgotten what the homework was. I had not written anything down, knowing I was not going to be in the class next Tuesday and therefore having no intention of doing it. And so I had to refer back to notes and rack my brains to remember what it might be. And let him know.

And then I had to have a long catch-up telephone chat with an old friend. For the last few months we have rarely managed both to be in Greater Manchester at the same time. We have both been travelling to faraway places, and she has been busy with demonstrations against Brexit, against fracking and against anything else that might come up. She has become terribly militant since she retired.

We were hoping to meet today, before I go off to Portugal on Friday. But it was not to be. Someone should be coming this afternoon to take off our hands a futon we no longer have space for. And so, we shall try again when I return, and when she returns from Germany, and possibly before she goes off to London to help her daughter with a brand new baby. The baby, by the way, is not yet born. She should have arrived on Monday but failed to do so. As both the mother and the grandmother of that reluctant-to-come-out baby are both the most obsessively organised people I know, I am astounded that the child has dared to delay her arrival!

There will be ructions! 

While my friend was busy anti-Brexit-demonstrating in London on Saturday, my daughter and her partner were strolling round Manchester. At some point in the afternoon pranksters set off fireworks somewhere around St Ann’s Square. My daughter said that the silence immediately after the BOOM! was frightening. People left shops to get into open areas, waiting to see whatvwould happen next. It may not have been related but one of the shopping / eating areas was evacuated. People were afraid of a possible terrorist attack!

Not far from where our daughter lives in Ashton, residents have been complaining about gangs of youths setting off fireworks in the evening. This is not just an occasional firework, the kind of thing that has gone on since I was a child. Indeed back then it was expected that on November 4th, deemed Mischief Night, youngsters, yes, mostly boys, ran around frightening people with bangers and ripraps! But what is going on now is groups of youngsters, still probably mostly boys, setting off huge, bright fireworks and throwing them around streets and squares.

Consequently some people are saying that sales of fireworks should be controlled like sales of alcohol and cigarettes. We shall see!

Here’s another thing that has changed from what used to be called “a bit of harmless fun” into inappropriate behaviour:-

“A students’ union has been forced to introduce fancy dress guidelines after a student society held a homelessness-themed party.

The trampolining society at Liverpool John Moores University was criticised after photographs of its annual “tramps’ night out” event were published in the student paper the Liverpool Tab. The pictures showed the students wearing ripped clothes, with their faces painted to appear dirty. Some wore signs reading “Spare change? Meet me at the bar” and “give me your change and I’ll change your night”.

The society apologised in a statement. “We realise now that our annual choice of costume could cause offence and are sorry for any upset this may have caused – it was never our intention,” it said.”

Fifty and more years ago, a tramp was a different sort of creature. Think of George Orwell, living the life of a tramp to be able to write about it. Many of those he met chose the life. No doubt some of them did it from necessity but not all. And the fact was that there were far fewer of them and there was still a romantic notion of the life on the road. Think of the ones Laurie Lee met when he set off on his travels: gentlemen of the road.

There is probably still camaraderie amongst the rough sleepers, well, some of them, but I doubt that anyone sees such a life as a romantic statement about modern society!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Gingers. Ginger genes. Witches. And a bit about prejudice.

It’s Tuesday. So my daughter and the smallest granddaughter came for breakfast. It’s become quite a nice routine. My daughter doesn’t work on Tuesdays and so she drops her two middle children off at school, which they like instead of having to catch the bus, and then she comes on here with the tiny person for coffee, toast and scrambled egg. Then they go off to an outdoor activity together. Today, in return for breakfast they brought me a ginger muffin. I’ll meet them later and we'll do a library trip together.

I read in some report from the BBC that Australian redheads, a tiny minority in the continent, are going crazy for Prince Harry. I never thought of him as a redhead. In early photos I thought of him as a sort of sandy blond but grown up pictures show him very ginger, beard and all. Maybe he uses a special shampoo to boost the colour, as my grandmother used to use camomile rinses to calm hers down, or so I am told.

In Australia they call ginger people “rangas”, a term derived from orangutan, the redheaded monkey. Originally it must have been a term of abuse but redheads have made it their own. Rangas and proud! I never understood why people feel the need to mock redheads. Maybe it’s because there are fewer of us than people with most other hair colours. I always enjoyed being a bit different. As I said; Ranga and proud!

There is, of course, inevitably I suppose,  speculation about the royal foetus. Will Harry and Meghan’s child be a redhead? Some people are saying that because Meghan has freckles she might also carry the ginger gene. Really! Who knew that freckles were an indicator of gingerness. Many gingers are of the very pale variety, without a freckle to be seen Anyway, apparently both parents need to carry gene for there be a chance of a redheaded child. And even then it’s only a one in four chance.

So my daughter need not have worried that she might have a ginger baby, which she seemingly was quite concerned about. Neither she nor her brother are redheads, although he does sport a rather ginger-tinged beard! Somewhere down the line though, who knows how far into the future, a little ginger baby may appear. Which will be interesting if that baby also inherits the Asian looks from the smallest grandchild. There is nothing like a good genetic cocktail!

The smallest grandchild, two and a bit years old, is rapidly expanding her vocabulary and has recently learnt, after a fashion, about stuff connected with Hallowe’en. Pumpkin and witch have been added to her lexicon. And being afraid of witches has been added to her emotional lexicon. So the other day in the middle of a big store in Manchester she saw a witchy-looking lady on the escalator and declared, clear as a bell, for all to appreciate: “Mummy! Daddy! A witch! I scared!”

 And of course it’s often through fear that prejudice begins, it’s a good job she hears stories of nice witches as well and so can already play at being scared.

Life is complicated! Like genetics!

Monday, 22 October 2018

From inspiring music to the rudeness of the modern world!

Yesterday evening we went to the Opera House in Manchester again. This is only the second time I have been there. The first time was just over ten years ago when we went to see Leonard Cohen perform, just as the great man began touring again to try to reconstitute the fortune stolen from him by his accountant. It was a magical performance, probably the very best concert I have even been to. It was helped by the fact that the Opera House is quite a small, rather intimate venue.

Last night we saw Richard Thompson. The concert was perhaps not quite so magical as Leonard Cohen’s offering but it was still rather amazing. He played and sang a mix of new material and old favourites. And a couple of encores!

In the foyer was a notice informing us that the show was very loud and that customers could ask staff for ear plugs. Which I duly did. Phil already had his own in his pocket. I wondered why they set the sound system so loud that the audience needs to take measures to protect their ears. Certainly some of the songs were meant to be played at top volume but did it have to be at deafness-inducing level? 

Walking back to the tram stop we reflected on Mr Thompson’s ability to continue producing such top class material at his advanced age! He is one of our contemporaries so we feel that we can say that. Besides, he made jokes himself about some of his, still popular, material being fifty years old now! We also wondered at the drive to tour and perform as he continues to do. I must have seen him three times in the last three years. Surely he doesn’t actually need the money. But, we decided, maybe getting up in stage and doing what he so obviously loves is what keeps him young.

Then we caught the tram. And suddenly we were plunged into the reality of a rude modern age. As the doors of the tram closed a youngish woman tried to push them open again by putting her arm in the way. Her arm was briefly trapped. She managed to get free but her plastic carrier bag and her handbag were still trapped. The driver realised what was going on and opened the doors.

The young woman, beautifully groomed, with glossy black hair, smartly dressed in an expensive-looking coat, got on the tram and proceeded to pour out vile invective against the driver, or, more specifically, to the driver, calling him “t**t” and shouting about how he had hurt her “f***ing arm”. When people remonstrated with her, she turned her fury on them, in the same potty-mouthed manner, and telling anyone who spoke to shut up and anyone who looked her way to f*** off.

Maybe she was drunk but apart from the lack of inhibitions she showed no signs of inebriation. And she looked as if she was on her way home from somewhere as she was towing a small suitcase.

Her friend, an equally well-dress but less flamboyant woman, succeeded in calming her down by telling her as this tram was on its way to Oldham and Rochdale, she should expect rough and ready, unsophisticated behaviour. Really?! Who gave them the right to pass judgement on the passengers on the tram?

Everyone knew by now that she was on her way to Bury and would change trams at Victoria. I could not help hoping that she would have a long wait for her connection! Karma of sorts!

Then today I read about a man on a Ryanair flight from Barcelona to London who was caught on camera racially abusing an elderly woman after she sat next to him on the plane. He called her “an ugly black b*****d” and later yelled that he hoped someone would sit between them because he did not want to sit next to her “ugly f***ing face”.

Other passengers and members of the crew tired to intervene to no avail. In the end the cabin crew escorted the elderly woman to another seat.

Now, why did the pilot not arrange for the man to be removed from the flight. Moving the other passenger simply gave in to his racist demands. Removing HIM would have shown him, and others, that such behaviour is not acceptable. But removing him would, of course, have delayed the flight departure and messed up Ryanair’s “quick turnaround”.

And it’s not just on trams an budget airlines that foul and abusive language abounds. Firstbthere is this:-

“A senior Labour MP has called on Conservative whips to identify party colleagues who use “vile and dehumanising language” towards Theresa May, after a weekend during which there were rhetorical references to the prime minister being knifed and hanged.
The Sunday Times quoted one unnamed Tory MP as saying: “The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon.”
Another said May was now entering “the killing zone”, and a third remarked: “Assassination is in the air.”
In the Mail on Sunday, another source was quoted as saying that May should “bring her own noose” to a meeting of backbench Tories.”

Add to that stories of President Trump praising the Republican Congressman who was reported to have responded to a question from a Guardian reporter by bull-charging him and knocking him to the ground, and I get the impression that rude and abusive behaviour has been given a seal of approval! 

The world has become a rather nasty place!

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Role models. Changes. Washing up.

Keira Knightley and others, some of who have played princesses in Disney films or been on the soundtrack of them at least, are railing against those very films because of the poor example it shows to little girls. We should not be reading stories, or watching films, in which a princess has to be rescued by a dashing prince. Nor should we see a sleeping princess kissed, without her permission of course, by a handsome prince in order for her to wake up.

Well, okay, I can see where they are coming from but I have known some very independent-minded little girls who thoroughly enjoy dressing up as princesses and singing the songs from Frozen. Mind you, I have also known a fair few little boys who also wanted to dress up in flowing scarves.

My middle granddaughter pointed out that the original Snow White suffered more than just a kiss while asleep. She has been looking at fairy tales in her Drama class at high school. Rape and childbirth were involved as well. Those fairy tales that were never intended for small children were really rather grim!

But should we actually stop telling little children about Cinderella and Rapunzel and all the other fairy story girls? Maybe instead we should discuss the ideas with the children and then seek out other stories to counteract the message. I have found stories about princesses who refuse to conform and insist on going out befriending dragons, even after marrying the prince, handsome or not!

We need to be careful not to throw away too much heritage.

Speaking of which, Kendal’s on Deansgate is going to close at the end of January. There goes another Manchester landmark. It will leave a huge gap on one of manchester’s main streets. When the big store at the end of Market Street, Lewis’s,  closed - how long ago now? - it morphed into Primark. Somehow I don’t see another bargain store taking the place of Kendal’s with its snooty doormen and its air of being much superior to all its customers. The location is all wrong anyway.

A Saturday Guardian feature involves a question to which people offer answers. This weekend’s question is about the best way to load a dishwasher. For example, should cutlery go in pointing up or down? This led to stories about people being killed leaning into or falling into dishwashers in which sharp,knives were stacked pointing upwards. How do you fall into a dishwasher? Not having experience of one, I would not know.

Some suggestions:-

  •  Take turns. 
  • The only way to load a dishwasher is by two people with strongly opposing views. Loader also unloads. 
  • When it’s not your turn, don’t look. 
  • Wash the dishes yourselves. Maybe then you will find time to talk about real issues in your relationship. 
(We do our own dishes - as I said, no dishwasher - and put on some good old golden-oldies washing up music. The drier gets to dance as well!)
  • I told my partner that if he didn’t like the way I packed the dishwasher he was welcome to do it himself ... and he has, ever since. 
  • Wait until one’s partner has loaded it, then quickly sneak in and do it properly. 
  • Like the right way to hang out the washing. 
The last two bring to mind a friend of mine who is even more obsessive than I am about the “correct” way to hang washing. If someone “pegs out” for her, she has been known to go out into the garden and “re-peg” to her own high standards!

It’s all about doin things the right way!

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Reflections on marches, jobs and changes in the world.

A number of my friends have been marching around London today to demand another vote on Brexit. The latest I heard was an estimated 670,000 people!!. I suppose that with a bit of determination I could have organised myself to go along but we only came back from Greece yesterday and I have had a pile of stuff I needed to organise.

Here’s a reminder of some of the nonsense that has resulted so far from Brexit. Somebody posted this on the Forum for EU Citizens (the3million):-

 “hi everyone! My daughter took part of settle status scheme pilot.She is a 20 years old full time student,arrived to uk in 2006 as a 8 years old the end of filling her application they offered her PRE settle status because: "based on your insurance number you have been in UK less than 5 years". She got her insurance when she was 16 like every young person in uk so of course it doesn't shows how long she lives here. She choosed option to add evidence and show that she is eligible to settle status.They said they will contact her shortly with full list of documents which she need send to them to prove she was here longer than her insurance number shows .Today she recieved email s you can see what documents they request.of course she hasen't got any bills on her name. payslips or other documents which they want to see as she didn't work before she got her insurance number (I supported her when she was a child,I paid all bills).she works only part time now and she worked during summers when she was younger but not before she was 16 years old.we will send them letter explaining situation(we got letters from her schools primary, high school and university that she attended to full time courses)I dont know if it will be enough. I will let you know what happened next.”

Now where is the common sense in that?!

So we have returned from Greece and seem to have brought the sunshine back with us. Very good! A friend of mine tells me that the Sun is promising the possibility of snow for Hallowe’en. So far, the long range weather forecast says nothin about that for us. But even if it is so, we’ll avoid it once again by being in Portugal for another chess event.

I read today that Nick Clegg is going to work for Facebook. Relocating his family to California is, I suppose, one way of avoiding the trials and tribulations of Brexit.

I used to quite like Mr Clegg before he made the mistake of getting into bed with the Conservatives. But he seems to have fallen on bis feet again now.

I think it was Nick Clegg I heard speak at a conference about Europe in Paris ten or more years ago. I was there with a bunch of students. If it was indeed Nick Clegg, he spoke very enthusiastically about Europe.

It was at that same conference that I discovered Innocent Smoothies. The company was talking about how they had made their name in Europe and began their pitch by asking who in the audience had never had an Innocent Smoothie. Well, that would be me and perhaps a couple of other old fogies who still believed in eating fruit rather than drinking it. My students were amused and bemused that not only had I never tasted an Innocent Smoothie but had in fact never heard of them until that moment. How could such a thing be in the modern world?

That was a long time ago, when we were perhaps all more naive but also more optimistic about the future of the world.

Much has happened since then.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Hotel life!

Most hotels, in my experience anyway, seem to have an obsession with getting the rooms “done”. You go for breakfast and come back to find your pyjamas neatly folded on your pillow. The towels are also neatly folded in the bathroom. All very nice.

Now, when a chess event is going on in a hotel, chess players have a tendency to spend a fair amount of time in their rooms analysing games they have played and preparing strategies for the games to come. Consequently a balance has to be struck between occupying the room and getting the room “done”. And that, of course, is where the do-not-disturb notices to hang on your door come in.

Except that in this hotel the cleaning staff have a rather cavalier attitude to do-not-disturb notices. Basically they ignore them and knock on the door anyway. If they receive no immediate response they are quite likely to open the door anyway, presumably on the off-chance that you did not mean “do not disturb” at all but really meant to say “please do my room”.

Good heavens! A person could be up to any kind of shenanigans!

We have just once managed to persuade the ladies to leave our room until the following day, accepting only extra loo rolls.

It’s not just us. Others in our party tell us the same story.

Then there are the towels. In the hotel room there are notices about how they are protecting the environment by not washing towels unnecessarily. Detailed instructions tell you where to leave the towels if you feel that they need washing and where to leave them if you feel you can get another day’s use out of them. The hotel may have such a policy but the cleaning ladies have other ideas. Once they get into your room, they are going to change the towels will-nilly!

Oh boy! So much for the environment!

This hotel is also a thalassotherapy spa. Hence the sea water swimming pool. From the upper floors you can look down at the point where the sea comes into the hotel.

Yesterday I explored a little further up the headland. No scratchy paths that way. I followed the path for quite some distance but there seemed to be no way down to a secluded beach, just more of the same olive trees and lavender bushes.

Food is interesting here. The restaurant runs a buffet service. This leads some of our party to eat huge amounts on the grounds that it’s paid for anyway! There is a mix of standard international hotel stuff and some traditional Greek dishes. I have not tried the cheese pie, cooked cheese making me feel a little queasy, but the stuffed peppers are very good. Yesterday I came across something they translated as “tomato beetles”, the brown object on the photo, rather  like a falafel but done with tomatoes instead of chickpeas. 

Worth a try!

Oh, and breakfast includes sliced grapefruit, pink and yellow, and oranges. A good way to start the day.

However the coffee has been disappointing and I now find myself on day seven without coffee. This is quite a record for me.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Exploring - with misleading signposts!

According to my Fitbit I walked 16.5 kilometres yesterday. That’s 10 miles. Of course, quite a bit of that is simply moving around inside this immense hotel, getting from our room to the lifts or stairs and then covering the same distance to get to the dining room. We know a couple who we see every year at the chess tournament in Sanxenxo who rarely leave the hotel but get their exercise walking up and down the corridors. I think the wife is extremely sensitive to the sunshine. It seems rather a shame to go to a place with a fine beach to stroll along and never be able to take advantage of it. I cannot help feeling that they would really appreciate staying here.

Not all of my walking yesterday was within the hotel. Out walking around the marina in the morning I took a turn off and explored the area where there are some apartments. Beyond the apartments I found myself on a road. In one direction: exit, presumably exit from the Porto Carras complex. In the other: Kohi Kohi beach, a name I recognised. I did not want to get out onto a more major road via the exit, so I went towards the Kohi Kohi beach.

Along the way I spotted a sign which said Hiking and Cycle Routes and pointed up the hill. It was almost lunchtime and so I put off exploring until later.

 After lunch, and after I had shipped Phil off to his chess game, I first went for a swim. I have no idea how far I swam but every day I have swum a little farther, sedately plodding up and down the pool, under bridges and past waterfalls and back again. And repeat. And repeat. Yesterday the weather was quite excellent. Consequently I did not feel the immediate need to be wrapped up in the hotel dressing gown and towel when I left the water. Very nice.

And for the first time I was not alone. Two Indian boys, brothers I presume, one in his early teens and then other rather younger, came and played chasing games in the water. At one point it looked as though their mother was going to join them but the boys got rather cross and made a great fuss, persuading her not to do so. What was all that about? I wondered.

Rather later in the afternoon I set off once more to explore the so-called hiking and cycling route. I turned off the road at the signpost and set off up the hillside, already concerned that this path had not been cycled or hiked on for some time. A cyclist would need a heavy duty mountain bike. A huge number of quite tall yellow flowers, a bit like coltsfoot, grew all over the place.

The path did not improve as I went along. Rather it grew worse. Thyme and rosemary grew wild as well. While it is quite delightful to see these herbs in flower and forming small bushes in the case of the rosemary, it did not make walking easy. I was assaulted by spiky plants from all sides.

Eventually I made it to the top of the hill and wondered where the path went on to. Was there a nice beach at the end of the trail? But time was getting on and I did not fancy making my way back along the rather indistinct path if the sun started to go down. In the late afternoon light I could see the remains of the path and so long as I could see the marina and the hotel complex off to my left I was not going to get lost.

So I took a couple of photos and turned back. A little bit of an adventure?

I have long been a fan of Leonard Cohen. His son has had published the last collection of poems the great man wrote before he died. It is called The Flame. Here is a link to Michael Shannon reading a poem about Kanye West.

The Leonard Cohen page where I got this included this: “Leonard often said, "There is good wine in every generation." He would surprise interviewers when he recited a few lines of lyric from a rapper or hip hop artist's latest song. Leonard appreciated music of all kinds. His son Adam believes appreciation was Leonard's intention when he wrote the poem "Kanye West Is Not Picasso," included in Leonard's new book The Flame.”

This was, of course, before we saw pictures of Kanye West hugging President Donald Trump! I wonder what Leonard would think about that.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Feeling virtuous? Royal babies. Outdoor activities. Storms and sunshine.

Most mornings I get up early and go for a brisk walk, not having brought my running shoes with me in order to save space in our hand luggage allowance. So there I was, feeling virtuous, when I saw someone coming up from the beach, clearly having been for an early morning dip in the sea!

Virtuous is as virtuous does!

It seems that Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor are doing their royal duty and having a baby within the first year of their being married. I suppose they have the excuse of both being in their thirties and maybe feel the need to prove that they CAN reproduce. The Mirror announced it like this:-

“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex today announced that they are expecting their first child together.”

So they are “expecting their first child together”, are they? Does this imply that they have had other children separately?

The announcement continued:-

“However, some people couldn't help but draw a connection with the timing of the baby's arrival and another massive change going on in the UK at the moment.”

This prompted a friend of mine to suggest that the child should be called Brexit!!

I am sure we’ll hear a lot more about this pregnancy. I hope it all goes well for them.

Our youngest grandchild has been going to play sessions at what is loosely referred to as a Forest School. This involves a lot of play activities in the open air, running around among trees and bushes, examining leaves and bugs and generally learning about nature, whatever the weather. She has been thoroughly enjoying it by all accounts. How enthusiastic everyone will be as winter sets in remains to be seen.

This is the kind of activity approved of by the National Trust. “Set your children free,” they say in their campaign to get children outdoors. “Let them feel the wind in their hair, smell food cooking on an open fire, track wild animals and eat a juicy apple straight from the tree.” Except that they seem to have changed their mind about an outdoor nursery, Forest Kindergarten, in Kent, originally granted a licence in 2014 to operate in in woods designated a “site of special scientific interest”.

The school has been judged outstanding by Ofsted but the National Trust say that the children running around in the woods are imperilling ancient trees and disturbing wildlife. As a result the licence will not be renewed What a shame!

We seem to have avoided yet another named storm by being here in Greece. Apparently Storm Leslie, or it might have been Hurricane Leslie, has been battering the west coast of the Iberian peninsula. Figurers da Foz in Portugal, a place we shall be visiting in a couple of weeks time suffered badly, with establishments in the seafront damaged and cars crushed by falling trees. I trust it will be all over and done with by the time we get there.

A friend of mine in Crete has been looking at my photos of Porto Carras and wondering why we have sunshine here while she does not in Crete.

I hastened to assure her that some of this is the luck of the photographer.

The camera may not lie (well, actually it may very well lie nowadays although I don’t know how to make that happen) but if you only take photos when the sun is shining, you can give a very favourable view of the weather where you are.

Having said that, yesterday was quite delightful!

And the chess team won its match as well! All is good!

Monday, 15 October 2018

Mistaken emails. Make-up. Made up language.

In the midst of all the dire warnings about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit and suggestions that the UK government is falling apart and invitations for me to join let’s-demand-a-second-referendum marches, I came across this little news item about the US embassy in Australia sending out by accident an invitation to a “cat-pyjama-jam party”, complete with a picture of a cat in blue pyjamas. If that was a training error, then their training may need some work! However, I have known worse emails sent out by mistake!

Recently a number of women have posted blogs about how they have decided to go bare-faced, braving the world without the defense of make-up. By way of a contrast, it would appear that more and more men are now beginning to wear make-up. Sam Wolfson wrote in the Guardian about having his face made up by a professional make-up artist and being quite pleased with the results. Some men have taken to make-up as a way of hiding acne or other skin complaints.

Almost thirty years ago I had a student on a BTech course at a college of technology who tried to cover his acne with foundation, not very successfully and rather obviously, I am afraid. Inevitably he was ridiculed by others in the class. They were a tough group, those Catering students! I know because I had to try to teach them French! But really he was just ahead of his time.

Nowadays some people are making money producing a whole range of male cosmetics. This does not, of course, prevent some males from continuing to be rather noticeably smelly when they sit near me on the bus!

Sam Wolfson wrote:

“There is a brand of socially conditioned masculinity that might stop me having a cupboard full of products, or powdering my nose in the loos of a commuter-friendly Wetherspoons. But would I pop to a male makeup bar and get my face done before a big night out? I already go to the barbers, where my eyebrows are plucked, my hands massaged and my beard trimmed to the millimetre. If they chucked in a little foundation and some colour corrector for the weekend – well, I wouldn’t say no.” 

Now, my daughter tells me that she knows of young women who have their make-up done professionally for nights out. They must have more money than sense. Of course, it’s all gone beyond a bit of foundation, a bit of blusher and a smudge of colour on the eyelids. Nowadays, you have to put on a base (how that differs from foundation, goodness knows!) and then different shades to “contour” the face, and after that heaven only knows what other sorts of goop to make it all shiny and smooth and glowing. It must be quite a shock when a partner gets to see a girl without her make-up for the first time.

Mind you, that has always been so to some extent. I knocked on a friend’s door early one morning many years back and when she opened it was shocked at how pale she was. “What’s up? Are you ill?” I asked her. “Oh, I’m fine,” she replied, “I’ve just not out my face on yet.”

T.S. Eliot wrote, in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”

So there it is. We all more or less adjust our faces to suit circumstances. It’s just that some are more artificed than others.

Meanwhile, here are a few language things. Not quite errors but no exactly what we would say:-

There is a table in the lobby (surely they mean) reception, that is labeled “Guest Relations”.

Down by the beach is a notice advising children “You can leave your toys here on your responsibility”.

And next to the pool there is the inevitable notice about sunbeds: “Do not leave belongings for reserving sun loungers”.

So it goes!

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Pools and promontories and protests!

It’s a little chilly getting into the outdoor pool here. Once you are in and swimming it’s fine, so long as you keep on swimming. And then suddenly, after a good while, you realise that your toes are beginning to be chilled through. It is October after all! It’s a tad chilly getting out too. Not really weather for lounging about reading your book in the sunshine.

Mind you, you can find corners where you can sit on a bench outside and enjoy the sunshine.

I took a stroll round the marina and up into the nearby headland in the late afternoon. Shorts and a t-shirt were perfectly adequate - no coats and hats and scarves needed.

Friends and relations in the UK have been telling me about Storm Callum, blowing everyone and everything over and raining all over the place. I am not missing that at all. I commented to a friend that we seem to have a lot more storms these day. He replied that he does not think so. In his view, they just get a lot more adverse publicity now than they used to. Nowadays we name them. Back before storms were given names we just thought we were having bad weather. Well, it’s a theory anyway!

I read today that Gordon Brown says he believes there will be a second referendum on Brexit. Well, he was once Prime Minister so maybe he can judge such matters better than the likes of me. All sorts of showbiz personalities are also calling for a second referendum. I doubt the latter group will really be listened to. I wonder what the question would be this time. And I wonder how anyone justifies the monumental waste of money it has all been so far!

Ed Vulliamy wrote about Taylor Swift and her entry into meddling in politics. He saw her somewhere in the United States and pointed out that, in her way, she is in a line of singers whose songs had political messages.

“Her audience comprised mainly girls wanting to look like and be Swift, their parents pretending not to love it, twentysomething boys who wanted to marry her, and older men who probably should have been admiring the looks of a singer their own age. It could not have been more different to the great unwashed at Woodstock who gathered to hear Baez and the Airplane – or, for that matter, those converging on Victoria Park in London for Rock Against Racism eight years later – or on the Bowery Ballroom in New York to hear Patti Smith on Iraq.”

Here is his list of the top ten all time great protest songs:-

1 Woody Guthrie, as sung by Joan Baez: Deportee Written in 1948, about Mexicans being deported from the USA, and still relevant seven decades later.
2 Steppenwolf: Monster/Suicide/America An epic and ground-breaking trilogy on an empire built on the back of genocide.More relevant with each turn of the page.
3 Jimi Hendrix: Machine Gun My generation’s searing cry against Vietnam and all wars – and also as Hendrix once said, for “people fighting wars within themselves”.
4 Crosby, Stills & Nash: Long Time Gone The promise of a better time and world, sung in hope and quiet rage, during dark times.
5 Patti Smith: Waiting Underground Long Time Gone without the light. A summoning in terrible times to those who have lost hope, for a “gathering” to make “the great ones tremble”.
6 No Time For Love: as sung by Christy Moore. Jack Warshaw’s song – with the preposterous notion of its title – about the universal knock-on-the-door, the arrival of the police, the soldiers.
7 Bob Dylan: Masters of War The song that joins the dots, in white-hot rage, between those who die, and those who make fortunes from the killing.
8 Son House: American Defense The original Delta blues master on World War II – all war, in its way – with the twist of a black soldier’s sacrifice in a white man’s war.
9 Neil Young: After the Gold Rush The ‘green’ song ‘ahead of its time’, more than any. If Mother Nature was on the run in the 1970s, she is by now crushed by the greed and belligerence of Homo supposedly ‘Sapiens’.
10 Giuseppe Verdi: Dio, Che Nell’Alma Infondere Not a ‘song’ exactly, but this duet from Verdi’s opera Don Carlo has become an Italian folk song in its way: pledging death before servitude, and a vision of liberty.

Maybe we should all get back to singing in the streets to make our feelings heard!

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Emotional “support”, language, and security matters!

When I was a kid in school it was the thing to do at exam time to bring a lucky mascot with you. Provided it was something small, our teachers turned a blind eye to the fact that we all seemed to have a small toy sitting on the desk.

Nowadays students, and almost anyone who is stressed, can go along to special centres where they get to pet a small animal, or sometimes quite a large but friendly one.

And as a spin-off from that I assume, in the united states some people on internal flights take along an “emotional support animal”. Now, on Tuesday a woman was escorted off a plane going from Orlando to Cleveland because her “emotional support animal” was not acceptable. It was a squirrel and the airline concerned said that they don’t allow rodents on their planes, not even cute and appealing-looking rodents such as squirrels.

They are cute and appealing but I would not have thought that they were very calm creatures to have as an “emotional support animal”. Each to their own.

 I found the language used in the report of this incident to be very interesting. The lady in question was not asked to leave the plane. She was asked to “deplane”. When she refused to deplane the police were called. All the other passengers were deplaned and then the police escorted her off the plane, or rather, they forcibly deplaned her! !!

“This incident comes after multiple airlines have tightened restrictions on emotional support animals during flights. Delta Air Lines announced in January that customers must provide 48 hours advance notice and submit three forms to bring an animal on board. United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have all adopted their own policies on support animals in the last year, citing a sharp increase in the number of "comfort" pets on flights. In the past, flyers could present documentation at the airport.”

Oh, boy!

There is no chance of anybody sneaking a mascot and especially an “emotional comfort animal” into the chess event here, the European Club Team Championship, I think it is. There are strict rules about what players can or cannot take into the playing area. No phones, no watches, no fitbits, no pencil cases (they provide pens, so it’s too bad if you have a lucky pen!), but you have to wear an official wristband. The dress code is pretty tight as well - no wandering in wearing short shorts and flipflops! So it goes!

This morning, though, I saw somebody on a bench petting a kitten. Maybe he was a chess player getting his emotional support in early! Walking about while the chess players are busy, I keep finding plastic bottles abandoned on or near the beach. I pick them up and find a bin to put them in, hoping against hope that they will be recycled. After watching a documentary about Greece and its problems with waste, however, I don’t hold out much hope, but I refuse to give in.

And I read the other day about a plastic bottle, probably a washing-up liquid bottle by the looks of it, that was washed up on a beach in Somerset. The bottle advertises itself as having 4d off the recommended price. 4d is 4 OLD pence, so that bottle predates the introduction of decimal currency in 1971. That means the bottle is at least 47 years old and it still looks good, and usable.

Which just shows how plastic lasts!

If we don’t cut off our plastic wristbands after the chess event is over, will they last forever?

Friday, 12 October 2018

Language and people!

So far here I have found a place that sells coffee and BIERS! Is that in case the coffee kills you off? At breakfast, where the coffee, by the way, is pretty bad, you can have baked BEENS!

In the hotel room there is a little booklet, Porto Carras History Book, which tells how the place was developed, initially by one Yiannis Carras. Apparently he loved to travel in his yacht, “which he STIRRED wearing his trademark red knit cap”. The land was very marshy but he had a vision, although it took him “three years IN ORDER to drain the swamps, open roads and create the appropriate underlying infrastructure”, etc, etc.

On the whole, despite those two errors, which made me smile, the booklet is in much better English than many I have come across in smart hotels in Europe. The place has catered for the rich and famous, and sometimes infamous. Salvador Dalí had his own red room and designed his own bathroom. At least one of the Kennedys has stayed here, as have François Mitterrand and Vladimir Putin! Who knows who we might rub shoulders with.

The views are good.

 And the seawater pool is fine.

I read that the marina here was the first in northern Greece to cater for leisure yachts. And the yachts are impressive. Enormous things, like mini cruise boats. We thought there was a lot of money moored n the marina at Sanxenxo but these make those yachts look like little rowing boats.

But the people are nice and friendly. We were looking for sticking plasters, one of the items I managed to leave behind at home, and asked in the tat shops which are sprinkled around the complex if there was a pharmacy. One shopkeeper we spoke to told us that he planned to drive to the nearest village, too far to walk, at around midday and would go to the pharmacy there and get some for us. We could go back to his shop later in the afternoon. Amazing!

Walking around I came across two motorbikes parked on the edge of the carpark, right under a sign forbidding motorcycle parking!

Greek anarchy!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Strangers (or maybe just strange people) in a strange land?

So here we are in Greece!

We got up at the crack of dawn yesterday. No, seriously, before the crack of dawn. I saw the crack of dawn - where the light gets in - from the plane window. We left home at 3.20 am, after a scant few hours sleep, and then dozed most of the way here on the plane.

My poor fitbit is most confused about my sleep!

First impressions: as seen from the plane, it looks like a remarkably tidy country with areas of land divided into a patchwork of fields. As seen from the minibus that picked us up at Thessaloniki and brought us to Porto Carras, it seems full of olive trees, and has the same mix of half-built or tumbledown buildings and fine houses as the rest of southern Europe that we have seen.

The difference is that the signs are in a different language. And a different alphabet. Or at least some of them are. There is a huge amount of pandering to the tourist trade and much signposting in English. I kept trying to read the signs in Greek but mostly we whizzed past them too quickly. It is remarkably difficult to read upper case Greek. The capital letters are strangely more complicated than the lower case ones. I am like a small child who has just learnt to read and needs to work out the letters. Slowly! I would just have painstakingly deciphered the beginning of a word and we would be half a mile down the road!

However, I keep reminding myself to thank people in Greek. It’s the least I can do! And I managed to work out and try out a sentence on the waitress at lunchtime. And again later in one of the hotel bars, when the waiter forgot to bring us the glasses of water we had asked for to accompany our coffee, I successfully reminded him that we wanted (would like was beyond my capabilities) two glasses of water. And I asked him how much it was! A small measure of success!

When we arrived at the hotel complex we were first dumped at the wrong hotel and had to trundle our wheelie suitcases down the road to the other one, our taxi having departed. At reception we were all given our room numbers. Everyone else in the group was ahead of us and set off, leaving us behind. Phil wondered if it might not be a good idea to have everyone’s room numbers and asked the receptionist if this was possible, as we are a group. Are you the group leader? she sternly asked, and, on discovering that this was not so, refused to comply. Oh, yes, security and all that, but we had made a group booking and had all arrived together!

Then we had fun finding the room as the hotel is HUUUGE! Not only is it huge but there are enormous empty, carpeted areas where you could organise a barn dance or an art exhibition. Eventually we located it and discovered that it was like a furnace. And we could not fathom the air conditioning system. The next time we went near reception we asked about it, only to be told that all the air conditioning in the hotel is turned off as “it is not the season for air conditioning”!!

It must have been 25 degrees outside and considerably more in our room which had had the morning, and early afternoon, sun on it!! They promised to look into it but once we were back in the room we indulged in some choice rude words about the “air conditioning season”, as you can no doubt well imagine.

More reports of our fun and games another day!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Okay! Before I start rambling on about our current adventures and misadventures in Greece, here are some pictures of our amazing weekend in Wales. A good time was had by all!

 There were Welsh dragons everywhere!

 And the names were odd.

We had a good train ride

 and the view from the train was amazing!

And then we went round the castle at Caernarfon.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

A little pessimism!

Friends in Galicia have been sending news of forest fires not too far from Vigo, in the area near Mondariz, where we go most summers so that Phil can play chess. When we were there in August you could still see charred trees from the last lot of fires, at this time last year. We might complain here about not getting much of an Indian summer but over there a summer that goes on into October brings problems of its own.

According to the experts we can expect this sort of thing to continue. The kind of unusually hot weather the UK and much of northern Europe experienced this summer will become more frequent. Here’s an article warning that we have about 12 years to sort ourselves out before we end up with much bigger problems. As more and more places around the equator become uninhabitable and sea levels rise, flooding low-lying lands, the people will have to go somewhere. A new kind of refugee will be created. We need all countries to work together on this, not have some withdraw from agreements about emissions and pollution, just because they want to put their country first.

  • Another article I read gave advice on how to avoid breathing in too much contaminated air in cities. 
  • Avoid main roads and walk in back streets away from the traffic. 
  • Avoid running in streets at rush hour. 
  • And be mindful of your little ones walking along the street; they are just the right height to breathe in more polluted air. Great! 
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking tree-lined streets are necessarily healthier; trees may well combat pollution but the tree canopy can trap emissions down at ground level. 
What we really should do, apparently, is have quite dense hedges at the edge of pavements, absorbing much of the pollution from traffic. Isn’t life just too cheerful? And that’s before we even think about inequality and injustice!

Then there is the sleep question. Almost all of us have sleep problems at one time or another. However, I can doze off listening to my teach yourself Greek CDs. Well, they do say in the introductory CD that you should be relaxed! Maybe I should listen to them in those nights when sleep just won’t come.

Somewhere in all this stuff there came the question: Do all animals sleep? Opinion differs. Bullfrogs are thought not to sleep. The little black bat is thought to sleep 19 hours a day while the giraffe only sleeps for five minutes at a time. This is probably so that he doesn’t fall over! That is my idea, not scientific opinion. Dolphins have the ability to put only half their brains to sleep at a time, known as unihemispheric sleep. Migratory birds are thought to sleep-fly and sharks sleep-swim. My sister used to sleep walk and sleeps talk. There you go!

And there are a couple of new conditions related to use of the internet. A new collaboration dubbed the European Problematic Use of the Internet Research Network plans to examine internet-related issues health issues such as addiction to gambling and gaming. The new conditions are cyberhoarding - the reluctance to delete information gathered online - and cyberchondria - compulsively using search engines and websites in the hope of finding reassurance about medical fears, only to self-diagnose further ailments. Wonderful!

Of course, after Brexit, who knows if we will have access to any of their findings?