Sunday, 30 June 2019

Reflections on the last round.

Well, we got up earlier than Phil likes this morning as today’s game, the final game of the tournament, began at 10.00. I’ve packed the cases, checked all the cupboards and drawers to make sure we have not left anything behind, paid the bill and put the cases in a secure room until it’s all over. I’ve been for a final walk along the promenade and a paddle in the sea. I’ve been for a last look at the little park that we have visited most days. And now I’m just waiting. It’s a funny sort of dead time this last morning of the tournament.

A number of friends and acquaintances have already packed up and gone, some of them still bemoaning the fact that the heatwave has not arrived here. Personally I have quite enjoyed the non-heatwave. The sun has shone enough the make the pool pleasant but nit so much that it has become like Piccadilly Circus. And the nights have been pleasant for sleeping.

 This has not prevented my chess-player from complaining that he is really tired. It’s all that thinking. Surely it’s not good for you. One of our friends told me that he might not come next year. At our age, he assure me, nine rounds are just too many rounds. He will stick to three round tournaments from now on. And they do this for fun!?

So here we are. It’s not quite July but Vigo hotels are already taking bookings for people who want to visit to see the Christmas lights!!! I read this in yesterday’s newspaper. While they do the Christmas lights very nicely in Vigo, I just cannot imagine spending a weekend oohing and aahing at them. Each to their own, I suppose. The mayor, Abel Cabellero, seems to think it is worth the money he has spent on those lights.

Something I fead in yesterday’s English papers convinces me of the mild craziness of animal lovers. As farms have had to diversify just to make ends meet, many have apparently organised farm visits, along the lines of a petting zoo, where parents can bring their children along to see the animals. This is no doubt a good thing as there are children who have no idea that milk comes from cows but believe that arrives by some kind of magic at the supermarket. Anyway, some of these mummies have been getting upset, about calves being separated from the mother cows. Maybe the mummies had never visited a farm before and did not realise that this was standard practice. This kind of sentimentalisation of farm animals is something I might expect from my smallest granddaughter who likes to establish families wherever possible - cows, horses, poultry, fish, dinosaurs. It’s a normal stage of development. Adults need to grow out of it. I wonder if these sentimentalists have dogs. Did thy get upset about taking the puppy away from its mummy?

And finally, this.

Poor (I have my tongue firmly in my cheek as I use that adjective) Theresa May has not managed to cement her deal for leaving the EU so she seems to be looking round for other things to leave as her PM legacy. Here’s one:-

 “Couples in England and Wales may be given the option of tying the knot at sea, in the woods or even at home after a review of outdated marriage laws was kicked off by the prime minister. Theresa May announced that the Law Commission would carry out a two-year review of marriage rules, which at present require weddings to be held in a place of worship or another licensed building.
“The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners. But we can do more to bring the laws on marriage ceremonies up to date and to support couples in celebrating their commitment,” she said.”

That’s all very well but we are talking about the UK here. You might organise an outdoor wedding and then have it pour down with torrential rain on the big day.

Gimmickry! I say. Pure gimmickry!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Penultimate Sanxenxo day!

So here we are, hurtling towards the end of our stay in Sanxenxo. Once you get to the midpoint of a stay anywhere time speeds up. This is a well-known law of some kind relating to physics, although probably not one that has been properly acknowledged as far as I am aware. No doubt psychologists would tell us it’s all to do with perceptions.

Anyway we got to Wednesday and time went into overdrive and now it’s Saturday and it’s almost all over bar the shouting and the prize-giving. Last night we had the usual special dinner of “arroz con bogavante”, a very nice dish with tasty rice and, if you are lucky, some tasty bits of lobster as well. If you are unfortunate you get some claws, crack them open and scrabble for the meat inside them. I was moderately lucky.

Probably even better than the main dish itself was the selection of starters served beforehand: Little roll-up slices of serrano ham with quince jelly (I think) on small slices of toasted bread.

  •  Tiny servings of gazpacho.

  •  Croquettes - surprisingly much nicer than the disappointing ones served up as a rule in the main restaurant.

  •  Gambones -king prawns - on sticks - otherwise known as prawn lollipops!

It had been my intention to take some photos but in the event it was just not feasible as everything arrived on large platters plonked down in the middle of the table. Dessert really merited a photo but still did not get one. It was a very artistic creation of fruit, ice-cream and flaky pastry.

We sat at a table with some Belgian friends (they are friends from many previous tournaments here) and a random selection of Spaniards. As a rule on such occasions I have fun interpreting bits of conversation from one language to another. This particular bunch of Spaniards were not quite standoffish but made almost no attempt to include the whole table, i.e. the non-Spanish end as well, in the general conversation. I tried to initiate conversation with the ones closest to me. I managed to find out that they were from Malaga and that the maternal grandmother of their tiny boy is Swedish. Beyond that, nothing! The mother and child disappeared quite early as the tiny boy insisted he wanted to sleep, not in his buggy but in his bed. And the father ignored me for the rest of the evening. I gathered, from overheard rather than direct conversation, that he is a talented chess player from Malaga, so I was not really surprised to be ignored. He had probably sussed that I am a non-player. 

We had a pleasant evening all the same. The Belgians are always quite chatty. This time they were regaling us with tales of their adventures kayaking yesterday, which sounded like an adventure I was glad to have missed.

So no photos of food. Instead here are some pictures of the local flora and fauna - well, okay, just snails - snapped on my walk to Portonovo this morning.

This seashell could well be an old-fashioned compact for ladies to carry around in their handbags.


I particularly like the sea-thistles

and the flowers I have decided to call sea-daffodils.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Different summer habits. And prejudice and intolerance of one kind and another!

Well, we walked the tideline this morning, almost Spanish fashion except that we had not stripped down to our swimsuits. You always see a quite fascinating range of shapes and sizes walking the tideline, a host of people determined to get as much sun on as many parts of the body as possible. As we left the beach we saw one elderly chap walking with the aid of a stick but gamely carrying in his other hand his folding beach chair with towel clipped on and with a small rucksack on his back. He might not be very mobile but he was determinedly heading for that sand!

I think it must be a national culture thing. The British spend holidays on the beach but that’s it. It’s a holiday thing. For the Spanish it’s a regular all-summer occupation. If you live close enough you head for the beach as much as possible. If you don’t live really close then you try to make your way there at the weekend. And failing that, if you are lucky enough to have a pool in the garden of your flats, then you head there immediately you get home from work. Not quite the case in the UK!

Of course the climate helps. However, I grew up in a seaside town and we did have some good weather in the school summer holidays but as a family we did not gather our stuff and head for the beach at every opportunity. Instead we put up a tent in the back garden, rather as Kate Atkinson describes in one of her novels.

You have to hand it to the Spanish though, they organise their beach trips well. Family groups make their way down with sun umbrellas, folding chairs, cool-boxes full of goodies, frisbees and beach tennis/paddel sets, completely set up for the day. When we used to head for beach when I was a child, usually when family visited from more inland places, we did not take a beach umbrella but windbreaks to shelter us from cool winds and flying sand.

That’s the difference!

The heatwave has still not hit us with the same force as elsewhere. Personally I am quite happy for it to stay that way.

In Germany, as I commented yesterday, they had to stop a chap riding his moped naked. In many seaside places here they have introduced rules and by-laws preventing people from walking along the streets in a state of beach-ready undress. But in Grenoble, despite the heatwave, they have closed the city’s two municipal swimming pools because some Muslim women went swimming in burkinis.

Of course, it was a deliberate challenge to the city’s ban on full-body swimwear and I know that France has this rule about the wearing of face- and body-covering garments. But honestly, in the 21st century surely we can be tolerant of people wanting to swim in municipal pools without being forced to reveal bits of their body that they would rather keep covered!

It’s not just swimming either. Earlier this year the French sports retailer Decathlon was forced to back down from a plan to sell a runner’s hijab in France after coming under fire.

And I am not claiming that the UK is free of prejudice of one kind or another. The second in line to the English throne has three children. And then you read something like this:-

 “Last week a Middlesbrough Conservative councillor apologised after describing benefit claimants as “pond life” who should be “washed and sterilised”.
David Smith said: “There are so many genuine cases. But there is a large portion who are claimants that take the absolute piss. Yet they continue to breed. Rabbits, the lot of them.”
I thought of Smith as I read through a new report by the Child Poverty Action Group into the impact of the two-child benefit limit – the government policy that, from April 2017, cut at least £53 a week in support from some of the country’s poorest families upon the birth of their third child.”

This was journalist Francis Ryan, expressing her opinion that The two-child benefits limit is a sign of society’s growing inhumanity.   We are two decades into the 21st century and privileged politicians are still spouting on about the “underclass” who claim benefits. No-one should be describing people in those terms. If they described the rich and famous with large families as breeding like rabbits there would probably be an outcry, even lawsuits.

 Once again, I remain gob-smacked!

Thursday, 27 June 2019

On having sensible attitudes to things!

As we wake to another cool morning in Galicia, I read a few more things about the weather. The local paper tells me that Galicia is “spared” the heatwave because it is trapped between the hot weather front moving up on one side and a cold weather front moving up on the other, out over the Atlantic presumably, with the resulting cool stuff going on here. Which I don’t mind too much so long as it doesn’t rain excessively.

The report goes on to assure us that cool is better for your health. Three consecutive nights with temperatures above 20 degrees can be very harmful apparently. How do they manage in really hot places?

Even some of the sun worshippers down at the pool yesterday - yes, the sun came out with a vengeance in the afternoon - agreed that it is much better here in the summer than in, for example, Barcelona or Madrid. Fine and sunny and even hot in the day time but cool at night so that you can sleep properly. What sensible sun worshippers.

I read that railway lines have buckled near Rostock in Germany and elsewhere in Germany tarmac has been melting, causing them to impose a slower speed limit. Even better, one chap was arrested in Brandenburg for driving his moped while completely naked! This strikes me as rather dangerous. Imagine coming off your bike at even a reasonable speed and scraping skin off vulnerable parts of your anatomy!

In parts of France schools have been closed because of the excessive heat. Not a problem they would have here as the schools have already finished for the long summer holiday - even if the heat is not excessive.

In the UK schools still have a few weeks to go, for all except for the year 11 students who have just about completed GCSEs. It used to be that those students went on “revision leave” from early in May but nowadays, with the great pressures to meet targets one way or another, schools put on revision sessions. Consequently, three schoolgirls who missed a GCSE revision lesson so that they could attend a climate change demo in Manchester in May have been banned from attending their high school prom.

Now, while I think high school proms are a rather over-the-top celebration of the end of 11-16 schooling, surely it’s a bit harsh to ban the girls from attending. Reportedly these were three good students who had never put a foot wrong throughout their high school career. They even informed the school beforehand that they were going to be absent. If they had claimed to be ill on the day nothing would have happened. Other pupils with a long list of misdemeanours have not been banned from attending.

And here I was, naively thinking we wanted to encourage young people to get involved in things, have grown-up opinions and become responsible citizens!

By the way, it is with some reluctance that I refer to our secondary schools as “high schools”, another American import. I object even more to talking of going to university as “going to college”. College in the UK is for 16 to 18 year olds. After that you go to university!

It’s quite easy to understand!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A rainy morning in Sanxenxo!

The Voz de Galicia newspaper tells me that Galicia will be an oasis of cooler weather in the midst of the heatwave that is supposedly going to assault most of the rest of Europe. Paris is promised 45+ degrees, London 40+. It would not surprise me if the Northwest of England missed out on the heatwave as well. When weather forecasters talk about England, they usually mean the South or Southeast.

Anyway, it’s raining nicely here this morning. I have decided against running in the rain although I briefly considered putting on my waterproof and going for a brisk walk. But, no, the rain is bouncing down and it’s not really worth it. Besides my weather app says it will stop raining later at which point a walk will be in order.

The sun-worshippers will be disappointed. Yesterday morning's brilliant sunshine saw then stretched out like lizards around the pool. When I went down for a swim in the late afternoon, however, you could already see the cloud moving in and the temperature was dropping. So it goes. This is Galicia after all.

La voz de Galicia also gave me a bit of English etymology. It tells me that “snob” comes from Oxford and Cambridge, a contraction of “sine nobilitas”, a term used centuries ago to designate students going to the universities but not coming from noble families. Non-nobles with money copied the ways of the aristocracy - snobs.

The same article gave me “la famocracia”, the new, modern “aristocracy” of the famous: the Beckhams and Kardashians of this world. A very pleasing word for a not-so pleasing modern phenomenon.

I suppose the actor Idris Elba is maybe part of the “famocracia”. I was reading an article about a production he is putting on Manchester, and perhaps elsewhere, called “Tree”. Here’s a link to the article. Something I read that struck me is this:

“Idris Elba has a thing about trees. He’s got a tattoo of one on his left arm, partially hidden today by a black T-shirt – but that’s not all. Whenever Elba needs to mark a major event in his life – birthdays, new years, that kind of thing – he heads outside and wraps his arms around a trunk. “I just feel a massive connection to the roots that are underneath, which are very high and wide, and to the oxygen that comes from the top,” he says. “And then there’s me in the middle … Idris Elba, tree-hugger!””

 “Roots are very high and wide”? Really? Am I missing something there? Perhaps he sees trees in a different way to me - roots grow wide, yes, but high? I don’t think so.

Idris Elba played Mandela in the film about him. There was apparently some opposition to his having the role. Idris Elba recounted how people had told him he shouldn’t be playing Mandela. “They said, ‘We’ve got actors in South Africa who are qualified.’ And our director was white, and our producer was Indian.” That’s a new twist on the authenticity of who plays which part argument. As I have said before, surely the important thing is to have a good and convincing actor in a role!

The world is just a little crazy! And currently wet!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Pride - in language and nationality. And taking the heat.

An article in yesterday’s Voz de Galicia deplores the fact that the president of the Instituto Camões, Luis Faro Ramis, stated that Galician and Portuguese are not the same language. Shock! Horror! The writer, María Pilar García Negro goes into a bit of history, remembering a time when there was no border between Galicia and Portugal, and the language spreading North to South.

The original language was, of course, Galician. As she put it, the “daughter” Portuguese flourished while the “mother” galicia withered and almost died. Oh the hurt pride! And not a mention of the fact that they all come from Latin in the first place!!

I do like the fact that Portugal has the Instituto Camões, named for a great poet, and Spain has the Instituto Cervantes, named for a great writer, while the French have the Alliance Française, named for a great language, obviously. More national pride!

And then there’s this. According to the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, whatever that is, Spain is now officially the healthiest country in the world, gone up 6 places in the last 2 years and knocked Italy off the top. It’s the food that does it. Whoever does the research for this has clearly never seen young Spanish chess players having a very healthy merienda-snack of do-nuts, biscuits and pastries of one kind or another.

Royal watchers seem to be the same the world over - full of criticism. La princesa Leonor, eldest child of King Felipe, heir to the Spanish throne, is criticised by journalist Sandra Faginas because at the age of thirteen, fourteen in October, the poor child is dressed like a six year old for offical occasions. Who is to blame ? La reina Letizia of course, who “desde siempre ha supervisado escrupulosamente los ‘looks’ decsus hijas.” Oh, it’s a hard life! I suspect that if young Leonor was dressed in a really trendy manner, then Letizia would get it in the neck for that as well. And no doubt Leonor is already trained to conform. It’s what heirs to the throne usually do. You probably have to be the spare, like our own Harry, to kick over the traces a little. Just think of Princess Margaret!

I hear that the UK is about to have a heatwave. It’s also promised for much of Spain.

A friend from many chess tournaments here in Sanxenxo arrived yesterday, late. He did the same last year. I think he had commitments elsewhere and so took a bye on the first two rounds. He comes from Asturias where, his wife informed me in the bar yesterday evening, the weather had been disgustingly wet and cold - rather like Greater Manchester before we left. She is hoping that the heatwave will hit here as well as the south.

Today is fine and sunny. La Madama continues to reign over the bay.

The sea throws up interesting bits of seaweed. I have to catch the pictures before the early morning tractor cleans up most of the detritus from the beach, ready for the day.

And finally, here is what seems to be a French rogue apostrophe on a baker’s shop on the seafront.

None of the Spanish plurals sport apostrophes - only the croissants!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Radical knitters. Some interesting words.

Well, there was little evidence of last night’s San Juan celebrations this morning. Late last night we had to close our window because of the smell of smoke from outside but today there were just a few ashes on Bonfire Square. Nothing more! Oh, and a friend from Vigo posting about how tired he is after a midnight San Juan run with his running group.

Groups abound for all sorts of things. Some of the most apparently innocuous become surprisingly political. Here is a report about one group from this morning’s Guardian:-

“One of the biggest knitting websites in the world, which claims to have more than 8 million members, has announced that it will ban users from expressing support for Donald Trump, saying that to do so constitutes “white supremacy”.

On Sunday, administrators for Ravelry, a site for knitters, crocheters, designers and anyone dabbling in the fibre arts, said that they were making any expression of support for Trump and his administration in forum posts, patterns, on their personal profile pages or elsewhere permanently off limits.

“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy,” the site’s administrators said in a post.

Users could also be permanently banned under the policy.

The Trump ban comes only months after political upheaval gripped the knitting and crochet community around issues of racial and cultural insensitivity.

That debate was sparked by popular knitwear designer and blogger Karen Templer, who wrote in January about a planned trip to India, likening it, in her excitement, to visiting Mars. Many in the craft community objected to the characterisation, calling it othering and reductive.”

As a lifelong knitter, I am quite pleased to discover I belong to such a radical, indeed revolutionary, community of craft workers!

My grandmother was a great crocheter, making those fine tray-cloths and antimacassars that adorned older people’s houses back in the 1950s, all crocheted from very thin cotton thread, using a crochet hook not quite thick as a darning needle. She must have had good eyesight.

I thought of her when I came across this set of photos.

In the article on knitters, the association accused knitwear designer and blogger Karen Templer of “othering”: an interesting use of language. I am always fascinated by words. Here is another, this time Spanish: el terraceo - spreading cafes onto pavements. After a couple of decades of pedestrianisation, I read, pretty soon in Pontevedra 299 establishments will have beeen granted licencses for pavement terraces. And 1893 will be dotted around the pavementsof thecity. The city charges for tables on the pavement and expects to make €204378 in a year. Not bad!

Then there is “ la startup”, clearly another English borrowing. I wonder how they decide on the gender of such borrowings.

And “el renting de la moda”. The latter is a bit of a new idea in Spain, an enterprise “still in nappies” as one report described it. People, particularly ladies, who want an outfit for a special occasion can rent one, with the option to buy the designer clothes if they feel a great attachment to them. It was described in yesterday’s Voz de Galicia as “Un negocio en auge, En España, es un tipo de nogocio que aún está en pañales, pero en otros países está siendo todo un bum.”

And lo and behold, there is another interesting word; the English “boom” has been Hispanified into “el bum”. You just have to love it!

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Summer solstice stuff!

After breakfast today we went for a walk in the Sanxenxo hinterland, basically up the hill a little and into the backroads that lead you to places like Padriñán, which has a rather fine “pazo”, Galician for “palacio” which means more or less a stately home rather than an actual palace. We were on the lookout for a chemist, which we had located last year or the year before, quite forgetting that today is Sunday and therefore that the chemist, once found, had shut up shop for the day! This is what happens when you are on holiday; you lose track of the days.

We came back to the hotel via a series of little alleyways, almost all flanked by stone walls that looked as though they had been there forever. At one point Phil remarked, “If I am not mistaken, this should lead us to Bonfire Square”. And it did. There is, of course, no such official name for this little square but several years ago, on June 24th, the feast of St. John, we came across the remains of a quite large bonfire on that little square.

Which brings us to today, June 23rd, St, John’s Eve, la Noche de San Juan. I thought John Keats had written a poem about it but, no, his poem was about St Agnes’ Eve, a different occasion altogether. Various people, such as John Dryden and Sir Walter Scott, wrote hymns or poems about St. John’s Eve, but they were all too Christian for my purposes or in the case of Sir Waiter Scott, too long and rather gory.

For the Noche de San Juan, for all that it celebrates Saint John, is very much a pagan festival. Yet another case of Christianity subsuming pagan culture. It is connected with the summer solstice and bonfires are lit all over the place, and leapt over in an attempt to ward off evil spirits. And yes, at Bonfire Square (now our official name for the square) they were preparing a bonfire ready for this evening. The area was cordoned off with police tape so we assume they have municipal permission to light a bonfire there.

I read in yesterday’s paper that permission has been given for a certain number of bonfires in and around Pontevedra province. I also read that in Galicia, traffic police reckon to be about to carry out 6000 breath tests on drivers tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning as people make their way back from the celebrations. Also in La Voz de Galicia I found:-

  •  “Trucos para asar (bien) la sardina” especially “sin brasas, en el horno y sin muchos olores”. How to cook your sardines properly and how to do so in the oven with minimum smell. This is important. 
  • Sardines are traditionally eaten tonight but, oh, the smell of cooking sardines does linger. Sardines are reportedly cheaper than last year but on Friday they were selling at 8 euros a kilo, 3 euros more expensive than on Thursday!! Enough said! 
  • And there was advice on bonfire leaping:- “mil formas de saltar la hoguera”. If you must leap over a bonfire, learn to do it properly at least! 
  •  And “siete plantas purificadoras” - seven plants to keep in a jar of water overnight so that you can get up at dawn and wash your face in the plant water. This is an old tradition, supposedly really good for your complexion. 
  • For the witchcraft to work, however, you have to be sure to wash your face at dawn. I wonder if it compensates for the bags under your eyes from lack of sleep! 
It’s not just Galicia that does this druidic stuff. Thousands are gathering at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice this weekend. I read that in the Voz de Galicia as well. What’s more, a friend and former colleague of mine, who is very much into crystals and yoga and holistic this, that and the other, has already posted a video of herself and others banging drums and dancing with a bunch of children to celebrate the solstice.

As you have probably worked out, I am not buying into any of this nonsense.

I did wonder though if Sanxenxo might be the most appropriate place to celebrate San Juan. Somehow I thought I had been told that the name was a corruption of San Juan.

But Wikipedia puts me right and tells me this:-

 “San Xenxo means Saint Genesius, patron saint of the town (along with Santa Rosalia). The exonym in Castilian, Sangenjo was dismissed as an official place name officer by the Board of Galicia under the Law of Linguistic Normalization of June 15, 1983, so that since then the official place name is Sanxenxo.”

By the way, Genesius of Rome is a legendary Christian saint, once a comedian and actor who had performed in plays that mocked Christianity. According to legend, while performing in a play that made fun of baptism, he had an experience on stage that converted him. He proclaimed his new belief, and he steadfastly refused to renounce it, even when the emperor Diocletian ordered him to do so.  Genesius is considered the patron saint of actors, lawyers, barristers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, people with epilepsy, musicians, printers, stenographers, and victims of torture. His feast day is August 25. There you go!

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Boris mayhem. Explaining (or not) Brexit. And a little hedonism.

Yesterday over lunch a friend was trying to convince me that Boris Johnson is a charmer. Not that my friend has met Mr Johnson, not as far as I am aware, but from what he has read about him and from what people who have met him have had to say about the man, he would not object to inviting him to dinner. I was not convinced. Oh, I am sure he can turn on the charm, but the impression I get is that he is bully. And a bully who is charming is none the less a bully.

Then this morning I read the news that the police had been called because of a noisy altercation between Mr Johnson and his girlfriend: a lot of shouting, some banging and crashing, a certain amount of screaming. In one report, a neighbour, a 32-year-old nursery worker who would only give her name as Fatimah, said: “Just after midnight I heard a lady shouting, but I couldn’t make out what she said, then I heard plates and glasses smashing and things being thrown around. “I was watching something on the television and I had to mute it because I was quite concerned, it was coming through the walls.”

Now, surely that last comment should read, “Iwas watching television and I had to mute it because I wanted to know what was going on”? Or am I just being too harsh and accusing Fatimah unjustly of having nosy neighbour syndrome?

Anyway, what will this do to Boris’s campaign to become PM? Will it make any difference at all? Or will all the Tory ladies who have been charmed by him in the past siml,y disbelieve it? We shall see!

The other day a Spanish friend asked if we are going to leave the EU. To Brexit or not to Brexit? Why had we not yet left? Why had Mrs May resigned? He was really puzzled. Was it really because Theresa really wanted to remain? A justifiable question, considering that she is said to have voted remain. How does a person who campaigned to remain even try to deliver leaving?

Attempting to explain the whole business of the Irish border, the backstop, the need to come to trade agreements, I realised that my friend thought that we were just being difficult and had clearly thought that having voted to leave we would have left the EU the day after the referendum. Which, I think, is what a lot of Leave voters thought at the time!

But that is all by the by. I am now in hedonist mode in Sanxemxo where the sun is not shining very much but where the pool is still very inviting. I was, however, the only one in, or even around, the pool late this morning. The sandcastle builders have already been busy down on the beach.

And further along the promenade there seems to be a competition of some sort for making water-sports-related pictures out of mosaic.

All good!

Friday, 21 June 2019

Going to Sanxenxo. And doggy tales.

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside! It’s that time of year again, when we take ourselves off to Sanxenxo for a chess tournament. And the sun has obligingly come out. So I have been and sampled the pool already, as you never know what tomorrow might bring and the weather forecast is not great. So far I have only seen one familiar face but I suspect that a lot of people will wait until tomorrow to arrive.

En route we stopped for lunch with our friend Colin in Pontevedra, at Michele’s small Estrella restaurant, much to be recommended. Very nice food!

We had hoped to leave our suitcases at the railway station but were unable to find a left luggage office. Colin tells us that it is at the far end of platform one. If so, it is well hidden and not signposted at all. It may well be that there used to be one but that it was used so infrequently that they just closed it down. That seems to be the way of railway stations these days.

So we trundled our small cases into the centre of town, admiring the improvements to some of the pedestrianised areas along the way. They really have been nicely done. Later we trundled our cases back along the same route as the bus station is just opposite the train station and we planned to catch a bus for the second stage of our journey.

Our bus filled up with schoolchildren, on their way to a campsite somewhere, perhaps O Grove at the end of the bus route. On the whole they were very well behaved but, as ever, there was one who could not remain in her seat. By the time we were half way to Sanxenxo everyone knew her name was Iria.

I have to say that the bus journey was very good value: almost an hour’s ride for €1.55 each. Someone should tell Transport for Greater Manchester!

Yesterday on the ferry to Cangas we saw a couple of cyclists. They had a trailer behind one of their bikes, presumably with camping gear in it. They were also a companied by a wolf. Well, okay, it was a large husky dog but wolf sounds ore melodramatic. I am not sure about cycling with a dog on the lead next to you. It could be quite dangerous. Surely even the best trained dog is still susceptible to being distracted and pulling its owner off the bike. But ... that is not my problem!

Our granddaughter has a dog, a fine black labrador called Milo. He appears to be quite a well trained beast. Yesterday or the day before was his birthday. She posted a picture on Facebook. This is what dog-lovers do in the modern age!

Lots of people sent birthday wishes. One of her friends asked if he liked his presents. Yes, presents!!! Here is her reply:-

 “I’ll have to show you the videos of him opening them next time you're in!”

 Yes, videos of the dog opening his presents! Whatever next?

 I wonder if like all one year olds he liked the wrapping more than the presents.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Seeing new friends and old haunts.

Last Friday, travelling to Vigo, after our long wait for the bus to Vigo from Porto airport, we went out to the bus stop, much more clearly indicated than it was the first time we did so over a decade ago. On that occasion we waited with our fingers crossed, unsure whether there even was a bus.

As it happened the bus on Friday was running late. But by now we are seasoned enough users of that bus service to know that it can often be up to 15 minutes behind schedule. We listened to first-time users stressing about whether they were in the right place, whether they might have missed the bus or misread the timetable.

Among those milling around was an Irish couple with whom we got into conversation, as you do. They had tickets for a bus company we had never heard of and which appeared in none of the notices and timetables around the area of the bus stop. The scheduled time for their supposed bus came and went with no sign of the bus. We told them about the AUTNA bus which we planned to catch. When our bus arrived, 15 minutes behind schedule at least, they decided to forget about the tickets they had bought for the no-show bus and catch the same one as us.

When we arrived at Vigo we suggested that we might meet for lunch one day during the week. A good idea, we all agreed.

Tuesday came and they got in touch. We were expecting a visit from our landlady that day but perhaps it would be a quick visit. No such luck! She needed to sort out things with FENOSA the gas company, who needed to make an overdue inspection our our boiler. This took forever and a day to deal with. And now I wait to see if they will contact me as promised in a fe weeks time to come and carry out the inspection.

So lunch on Tuesday was out of the question.

Wednesday was no good as the Irish were expecting someone to come and do some work on their boat, moored at the Bouzas marina, the more industrial bit of Vigo’s port.

Finally today we all got in touch again. They were in Cangas, across the bay. Would we like to catch the ferry and join them for lunch? Yes, we would.

It must be ten years since we last went to Cangas, just a twenty minute boat ride away.

Down at the port as we made our way to appropriate quayside, a beggar approached us with a novel begging style. He needed to go to Cangas but was short of a euro or two to make up the fare. Could we help? He was in luck. I had a bit of change in my pocket. Now, he told me, he just had to hope others would be as helpful. I saw him on the boat as we crossed the bay so he must have managed it. We wondered if he spent all day crossing back and forth, making a little profit with every trip. Who knows?

In Cangas, the Irish were waiting for us at the quayside. They knew of a place near the marina which served good value food. Good indeed! We had creamed mushrooms with prawns, peppery and tasty, followed by “chinchos”. Now, I have no idea what kind of fish “chinchos” are. They are probably sone fish we never hear of in the UK. Or maybe they are some fish caught too young and small to be really legally served up according to EU regulations. They were, however, very nice with a glass of Albariño and followed by a “mus de piña” - pineapple mousse.

A good menu for around €10 apiece! 

We set the world to rights between us and then we went off to catch the ferry back to Vigo and the Irish went off to their boat. They fly back to Dublin tomorrow. We are travelling to and fro over the next few weeks.

But we will all be back in the Vigo are in July and August and plan to have lunch and swop stories once again.

 Nothing like a bit of networking!

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Annoying things on the streets! And occasionally indoors too!

On Tuesday, as I was about to close the door at the entrance to our block of flats, a young man went zooming past me on a motorised scooter. He took a quick left, inside the building (!), and then a right turn up the ramp alongside the steps, the ramp intended I presume for wheeled trolleys or cases of one kind or another. He didn’t stop until he came to the inner entrance door, at which point he had to get out a key and unlock the door. After that he folded the scooter and got into the lift.

Then yesterday I was very nearly bowled over by a young woman again on a motorised scooter zooming along the pavement. Since we arrived last Friday I have seen a number of these, you can’t really call them vehicles, motorised means of transport, not all “driven” by young people. Some people quite old enough to know better have also been using them. And judging from the size of the scooters, they are intended to carry adults. They are not just toys.

So now we have to contend not only with bicycles on the pavement but also with grown-up size scooters. While I appreciate that they may be a reasonably sensible alternative to cars as a way of getting around crowded cities, I do not appreciate them being used on the pavements. Pavements are intended for pedestrians. It’s quite enough that some of the pedestrians stop unpredictably in the middle of the pavement to answer their mobile phone or simply to embellish their ongoing argument with their walking companions by waving their arms around and making huge gestures. I assume that the scooters run on an electric motor as they make very little noise. Like the bicycles, they creep up on you and neither cyclists not scooterists seem to feel the need to ring a bell to let you know that they are there.

It appears also that this is perhaps an international problem. Some cities around the world are being “invaded” by scooter hire companies. I read that only days after they appeared in the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, USA, police started to threaten users with tickets for riding on the pavements, or sidewalks as they say over there. Scooterists complain that the cobbled streets of the town make them unsuitable for scooters, which skid around unpredictably if the cobbles are wet. You can imagine how little sympathy that invokes in me!

In the UK the 1835 Highways Act makes their use in British city streets illegal although they are appearing in cycle lanes. No doubt someone will start pressing for the legislation to be updated. (Of course, that would involve government examining something other than Brexit, so don’t hold your breath!)

Another thing I have noted over the last few days is the number of people who do not so much take their dogs out for a walk but for a carry. Not all the dogs around here are carry-able. I remain surprised at how many flat dwellers own large dogs. But It’s the small ones which have attracted my attention this time. Astonishing numbers of people carry small dogs in their arms as if they were babies.

Maybe they are, indeed, baby-substitutes.
The journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson was writing in the Guardian about the appeal of dogs - it’s all in their ability to raise their eyebrows, apparently - and finished with this:-

 “Also this week, a Channel 5 documentary introduced us to a woman who owns 34 Pomeranians, and cooks all of their meals – which is perhaps the perfect example of a human being taken in by their furry, hankering faces. Puppy eyes: they possess a lot of power.” 

That is not so much a child-substitute as a whole children’s home substitute. I did not see the documentary so I can only hazard wild guesses about the woman’s life. Where do 34 dogs, of any kind, sleep in an ordinary house? And why does she feel the need to cook all their meals? An obsessive, clearly!

I can only hope she is a lady of independent means!

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

THinking about tourism.

The weather here continues to be unsettled. Hardly June weather at all. Facebook threw up for me a picture from three years ago when a friend and I took the boat trip to the Islas Cíes, just outside Vigo Bay. It was a fine sunny day but rather windy and cool - again, not really June weather. In fact my friend, who is a little “friolera”, as they say here, which means she feels the cold, had come prepared for summer and borrowed jumpers from me and demanded extra bedding. Her cold feet prevented her from sleeping. I understand how she felt!

All of this could, of course, be simply Galicia’s normal climate variations. This is the north of Spain after all but it is pretty much on the same latitude as the south of France and so it is not unreasonable to expect a bit of summer warmth. And then it could all be due to climate change! After all, France has had odd weather too:-

“France will declare a state of natural disaster after rain and hail storms lashed a swathe of the south-east on Saturday, devastating crops. The flash storms, which brought hailstones as big as pingpong balls to some areas, killed two people in France and Switzerland, and injured at least 10 others

The hailstones smashed car windscreens and also damaged homes, schools and public buildings. Several trees fell on train lines and fire and emergency services struggled to deal with smashed roofs. More than 2,000 homes were without electricity on Sunday.”

There you go!

I have been rereading one of Donna Lean’s detective stories with Commissario Guido Brunetti set in Venice. We’ve been reading about this detective for years, watching him and his city grow older and change. This story was published last year and Guido does a good deal deal of complaining about the overcrowding in Venice. He’s not talking about Venetians but about tourists. Shops that used to sell the everyday things a resident of the city might need now sell tourist tat, and not even genuine Venetian artisan tourist tat but carnival masks imported from China. And I read recently that there had been an incident/accident with a cruise ship in the Grand Canal.

The whole thing has got rather out of hand. They are having to police the Trevi Fountain in Rome to prevent the mass of tourists paddling in the basin. Barcelona has had protests about tourists and in particular air b&b pricing locals out of accommodation in the city. Bruges is the latest place to take measures to restrict the number of tourists entering the city.

And the tourist industry ploughs on, determinedly advertising and sending tourists all over the place. And of course, we all want to visit these faraway and exotic places.

I feel quite glad that we have seen Venice and Rome and Florence and Barcelona and Madrid and Sevilla before the tourist boom went exponential. There are places we still have not visited that we would really like to go to. Have we missed the boat? If we go there now, will we not be contributing to the tourist-overcrowding problem?

It’s a 21st century problem. Maybe it needs a 21sr century solution. They keep telling us we need to cut down on the number of flights we do. Maybe someone needs to work on the holographic tourist industry - develop the technology so that virtual visits to Venice become truly possible.

And only the very rich will be able continue enjoying real-life tourist delights!

Monday, 17 June 2019

The things you see out and about!

Out running this morning, I was cheered on by passers-by, one a woman who smiled broadly and said something incomprehensible in Gallego. Usually I can have a good go at understanding the local dialect - and, yes, I know that I will offend some purists by calling it a dialect - but this time I did not catch a word of it. The other was a gentleman - well, a man, anyway, if not very gentlemanly - who laughed and told me I did not have far to go now. This was a bit of an exaggeration as I was still at the bottom of the hill!

Later, after I had run round the back roads, past the allotment (where one of the goats, by the way, appears to be pregnant, or is maybe just fat) and was back onto the main road, my progress was impeded by a school party. I stopped at the point on the street where the pavement is narrowed because of scaffolding and allowed about sixty small people, walking in twos hand in hand, make their way past me. The accompanying teacher thanked me, which is quite unusual for Spain.

This must have been a private school as all the children were dressed in a quite repulsive brown and mustard-yellow uniform. Maybe the colours work for older pupils in the school, secondary age girls wearing smart kilts, for instance, but on the under-sevens it looked rather miserable. I think I recognised one of them as little podgy Brian from our swimming pool. Brown and mustard are not his colours, I must say!

Still, I’m glad the little ones were being being taken out. Maybe it was an end of term treat. Schools here close for the summer at the end of this week I think. It crossed my mind that perhaps primary schools here are not as rigidly held to a national curriculum as in the UK and thus can afford the flexibility of taking the little ones out on what we used to call “nature walks” when I was that age. Basically it was an excuse for the teachers to take the pupils out of school into the fresh air on a fine day, not an easy thing to do on a snap decision nowadays in British primary schools. It takes too long to fill in the requisite health and safety forms, which usually have to be submitted at least a week before the proposed outing.

Yesterday we walked up to the top of A Guía and admired the view from the chapel. We were not impressed by the group of people in the carpark who had set up speakers in the boot of one of their cars and were blasting out not very tasteful music for all the world to share. They didn’t even appear to be having an organised party, just a bunch of people standing around doing nothing. Of course, it’s quite possible that they were waiting for others to arrive. Or they could have been the tail end, the last hangers-on from something already over, a more likely prospect judging by the stream of cars we saw descending as we walked up the road to the top.

We walked back down through the A Guía park, the oak tree park as they seem to be calling it now. We noticed a number of obviously newly planted trees, all in little enclosures to prevent them from escaping or to prevent woodland creatures from attacking them. A little further on we found a notice, the writing tastefully burnt into a tastefully shaped piece of wood, not so tastefully tacked to a fence post. This told us that the children of one of the Teis primary schools had come out one day in February and planted oak saplings in order to keep the oak tree park going. What a brilliant idea, maybe inspired by young Greta, the teenage echo-warrior, to do something for the environment.

I had to stoop to read the notice which was pinned at a height best accessible to children too small to be able to read with any proficiency. I suppose it made the children feel involved though. Some concessions have to be made for small people who have almost certainly been made to walk in twos hand in hand in a crocodile through the streets of their district.

The notice was in Gallego and began thus, “Os nenos e as nenas de Teis ...” - “the boys and girls of Teis ...”. Now, not so long ago such a notice would have begun simply with “Os nenos de Teis”, taking it as read that the masculine plural included all children, male and female. This has always been the case until now. A group of 1,000 children could be made up of 999 girls and 1 boy and would be referred to in the masculine. It’s a linguistic matter, not a sociological one. Nowadays, however, equality demands that the girls get a separate mention. Similarly letters to parents, formerly beginning “Queridos padres” now have to start with “Queridos padrs y queridas madres”. I despair! All those years I spent as a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages explaining to students that labelling words “masculine” and “feminine” had nothing to do with actual gender! It’s just a lot easier than saying “words that used “el” for “the” and “un” for “a” or words that use “la” for “the”and “una” for “a””. A handy label, that’s all! And the along comes equality-gone-mad!

Okay! That’s another little rant over and done with!

As we made our way through Teis itself, heading for home, I noticed that the streets were festooned with umbrellas. Umbrellas, that is to say, suspended at intervals from ropes or cables above the street, instead of more conventional bunting. Maybe it was to celebrate the feast of Saint Umbrella. There were several notices telling us that “O comercio de Teis da vida ao barrio” - “Teis commerce livens up the district” but I have yet to find a truly satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon.

I posted a picture on Facebook which has so far earned only the comment from a Vigo-residing friend “Oh, so you managed to see them”.

A fine comment in its way but not very enlightening.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Sunday stuff!

On the roundabout at our end of the street, previously unadorned, a bit of street art has appeared. Vaguely reminiscent of the work of the Basque sculptor Chillida, it could also be influenced by Lego or the much praised children’s computer game, Minecraft. I remain unsure as to how much of an improvement it is to the street but I assume it has appeared in line with the smart new pavements.

The sun has been shining although the temperatures remain in the mid-teens rather than moving onto the mid-twenties that you might expect for June. After all, the summer solstice is approaching and after that it will be all downhill as the days start to grow shorter again. However, avoiding pessimism we must remember that it is still officially summer. The sailing schools heve been out in the bay and the Sunday cyclists were out in force. Which reminds me, it must be almost Tour de France time again,

Here’s a report about one cyclist who will not be doing the Tour this year:-

 “Chris Froome has admitted he is lucky to be alive after speaking for the first time since his horror cycling accident. The four-time Tour de France winner came off his bike and hit a wall at 37 mph on Wednesday while examining a time-trial stage route in the Critérium de Dauphiné. He sustained multiple fractures, including a broken leg, elbow and several ribs, requiring extensive surgery. It has been also been reported that Froome suffered a fractured neck, faces six weeks in hospital and is not expected to compete again this year.

 “I know how lucky I am to be here today and how much I owe to all the paramedics and medical staff on the race,” said Froome. “Whilst this is a setback and a major one at that, I am focusing on looking forward. There is a long road to recovery ahead, but that recovery starts now and I am fully focused on returning back to my best.”

The post was issued with a picture of Froome giving the thumbs up from his bed at the University Hospital of St Etienne, where he has been receiving treatment.”

Back in the UK rain seems to have continued. At least in Greater Manchester. A friend of mine has been bemoaning the fact that a torrential downpour started just as she finished cleaning her windows. Which just shows how much if a waste of time cleaning windows really is. We missed the Saddleworth Brass Band Contest last Friday. Judging by various photos I have seen the day managed to remain reasonably dry even if the sun failed to emerge properly. My daughter tells me it has rained on and off since then.

But it could be worse. People have been evacuated from their homes in Lincolnshire because of sever flooding. We got out just in time it seems!

At the end of this week we relocate to Sanxenxo where I say once again that I expect some decent weather so that I can make use of the fine pool while Phil plays chess.

As we will be staying in the tournament venue hotel, we will have to adhere to their breakfast times rather than the lackadaisical come-day-go-day regime we follow on our own. This means that we need to ensure this week that the chess player gradually adapts his regime, going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. He tells me that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks but according to this article   it is quite possible for night owls to become more like the annoying larks such as myself.

 We shall see!

Saturday, 15 June 2019


On our plane yesterday, sitting just behind us was a woman who kept talking through boarding and take-off, directing her travelling companions to their seats, commenting on what they could see through the window. She did a repeat performance as we came in to land. “Can you see the river yet? There’s Porto. We’re just passing Porto. You can see the sea. We’re coming in to land. Yes, we’re definitely landing. We’ve landed.” This last presumably in case we perhaps thought we were still up in the air. “This is Porto airport.” Just in case we thought we had gone back to Manchester?

I couldn’t work out whether she was a nervous flier or just a busybody chatterbox.

Later, as we sat in the airport cafe waiting patiently for hours for it to be time to catch our bus, I listened to a family at the table next to ours. They might have been talking something Eastern European or it might just have been very dense, unintelligible Portuguese. At least three times the father of the group read out long texts from his phone, or maybe stuff he had found on the internet, quite lengthy pieces anyway. These he read at breakneck speed. I doubt that his listeners could really take in what he was saying. They didn’t seem terribly interested anyway but I simply did not know anyone could speak at such speed!

After they had left, their place was taken by a group of young Frenchmen. Hipsters by the look of them, shaven heads and those very fashionable beards. Late twenties I would think. They drank beer and discussed drinking habits, going into details of their taste in champagne, the different sorts of wines to be drunk at different times of day and with different types of food. All very technical and knowledgable. All rather loud and cheerful. Do young British hipsters talk so authoritatively about wine and food? In public and at top volume?

When we arrived at Vigo, finally, we decided to walk from the bus station to our flat. We had spent a good deal of the day sitting down and it was a fine evening. A brisk walk would do us good. En route we stopped off at As Cobas, one of our regular cafes-with-wifi. This one has the added advantage of serving very generous, and usually very good, tapas with a glass of beer. As it was too late to buy supplies at the supermarket, this seemed a good way of having a little something before retiring for the night.

The table adjacent to ours seemed to be hosting a discussion group, about five men and one woman. At first it looked like an fairly ordinary, in other words loud, Spanish conversation over drinks but it became clear that there were some dominant personalities. The token woman was not backward in coming forward, talking at length about some topic or other and not at all reluctant to criticise her companions. One of the men was quite forceful too.

Most impressive however was the man nearest to us who on several occasions went into what I think of as teacher mode. He obviously felt he had something important to tell the rest of the group and was determined not to be interrupted. So he raised his voice and slowed down his delivery but maintained a rhythm that did not provide any opportunity for others to butt in with their rebuttals or confirmations. Wow!

When we left the cafe he was still going on and on and on.

We left him to it and went on our way, inspecting the improvements to our street as we walked along. 

The last time we were here they were in the throes of replacing the pavements, something which had been completed in other parts of the street in the previous year, leaving our stretch in a parlous state. Now it is quite pristine, fine white paving slabs all along the length of it. Very smart indeed. I much prefer this to the increasing British habit of replacing old-fashioned paving stones with tarmac. At least that is what seems to go on in Saddleworth.

Full marks to Vigo for providing a pleasing street environment!

The plants in the central reservations need a bit of attention now but no doubt that will come. And this morning the street cleaners were out with their brooms and trolly-bins, keeping the place tidy. 

Now, why is that not done in the UK?

Friday, 14 June 2019

Efficiently inefficient travellers!

Here we are, back in the Iberian peninsula.

We very efficiently booked ourselves tickets for the AUTNA bus to take us from Porto to Vigo. Just not quite so efficiently as we thought. All will be explained.

We got up at the crack of dawn, after the worst night’s sleep I have had in a long time. Why is it that when you know you must get up early your sleep,pattern is totally disrupted?

We needed to be at Liverpool airport for maybe 10.45. And so we caught a bus at 8.20, a tram at around 8.50, and a train at around 9.45 to Liverpool South Parkway, where we caught yet another bus to the airport.

All went well. The sun even came out and the weather improved the closer we got to Liverpool.

It was in the airport that we made the discovery that we had accidentally booked tickets for a bus from Porto to Vigo that left three quarters of an hour before our plane landed.

Someone had misread the information on the boarding cards. He described this as “a rare glitch in an otherwise distinguished record of organising travel”.

I was quite amused. He tried to,put it right by emailing AUTNA - to no avail.

And we considered spending a further €30 on tickets for an ALSA bus, a more expensive service and one which takes longer to reach Vigo.

Update: After arriving at Porto and refreshing ourselves with orange juice, sandwiches and coffee, we finally received an email from AUTNA. Exceptionally, they told us, we can use our tickets on a later bus provided we show the email they sent us. Hurray for the internet!!!

This means we arrive at Vigo after the supermarket has closed but, hey, there are worse things happening in the world.

And besides, we can go out to a bar with internet, have a beer and some tapas, and post this blog. Unless I decide to post it on airport wifi.

It’s a good job we always have plenty to occupy us on our travels.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Preparing to run away again.

So Boris Johnson looks like being the next leader of the Conservative Party. He has won the first ballot at any rate. They seem to think people will vote for him in the event of a general election being called.

Sometimes I despair of people.

In the meantime there is this:-

“The US Just Threatened to Move Against Corbyn: Where Is the Outrage?


The Secretary of State of the world's most powerful nation has promised to 'push back' against the possibility of the leader of the Labour Party in Britain getting elected. He suggests US agencies will try and intervene to stop that eventuality because "it's too risky and too important and too hard once it's already happened".”

As far as I can tell, the world has gone even more crazy. 

And just to cheer us up, it continues to rain! Not as heavily here as in some parts of the country but wet nonetheless!

But we are opting out for a few weeks, taking ourselves off the Galicia, where the weather forecast does not promise a great heatwave but where even if it rains it will likely be warmer rain than we have here.

In just over a week we’ll head for Sanxenxo, where there is a chess tournament. We rely on the organisers to arrange for decent weather while we are there. They are usually quite good at that.

In the Italian class on Tuesday, while we shivered in the Manchester gloom, Piero, our guide during our recent trip to Sicily, contacted us with a “saluto” for the men of the group and a kiss for the girls, “un bacio per le mie ragazze”. We did not object to being called girls.

He went on to tell us that temperatures there had reached 40 degrees C. A little too hot for the site-seeing we did during our visit! But better than Manchester’s 10.

One of my travel companions from the trip asked me if I was already packed for our journey to Spain. Not at all! She has already packed for a trip to Wales. I can never understand being packed a week in advance. Making lists of stuff to take is fine but actually putting it in the suitcase is a bit excessive.

And so today I have scuttled round collecting this and that - and bullying Phil into doing the same - and doing last minute cleaning jobs. I wonder why we have a mania to leave the house sparkling before we go away.

But that’s how it is.

And tomorrow we hit the road again. Further adventures await us.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Just a few thoughts on the unfair distribution of wealth.

Kylie Jenner, famous for being a member of the Kardashian family, a “media personality” and for her cosmetics company - does she invent them all herself? Surely not? People are employed to do it in her name, are they not? - has invited people to her Handmaid’s Tale themed birthday party.

You can almost feel the excitement from here. A fancy dress party is always fun. “We can dress up in those cute red outfits but make them just a little bit sexy!” And there is a certain frisson of daring because, after all, everyone really knows that the Handmaid’s Tale is about female subjugation but, well, when you are rich and famous such things can never happen to you. 

It all smacks of privilege!

Sometimes it seems that when the rich and famous are not being outrageous they are giving us their words of wisdom on how we should run our lives. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, likes to remind us that we should wash up after the evening meal and not leave it til tomorrow. All those nast germs sitting in the sink! “I can’t sleep at night if there are dishes in the sink,” she said. But then we already knew she is a bit obsessive.

Experts suggest that there is no real harm in it, apart from chopping boards that have been used for preparing meat and fish. They need cleaning properly straight after use.

I suspect Ms Paltrow has ulterior motives when she talks about washing-up though. Her lifestyle business - yes, he lifestyle business!! - is called Goop and sells washing-up liquid as part of a cleaning kit – yours for just £64.

There you go!

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, just appears to obsess about her cats, Ginger and Snow, which she likes to take out and about with her. “I’ve just got one of those carriers,” said Kidman. “Have you seen those? Those backpacks that you can put them in? A cat carrier that’s a backpack and it has a window that they can peek out of and it’s got air and everything and they love it.”

Now, I see people, quite ordinary people, not famous at all, carrying small dogs in baskets, dog carriers and even handbags but I have yet to see cats being transported in this way.

Ms Kidman’s reported actions have got the animal rights people a little agitated. They see thhings from a feline perspective. Despite cats’ love of curling themselves up into small containers - think of all the cute photos you can see on social media of cats in shoe boxes, saucepans, fruit bowls and the like - they are very independent creatures and like to do things in their own terms.

But no doubt the rich and famous can ignore that as well. There is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

Journalist Arwa Mahdawi, not so rich, hears her biological clock ticking and bemoans the fact that really only the rich and famous can afford to have babies in the USA, where she lives. A straightforward, no complications, no operations birth can cost £20,000. Any birth problems send the costs up. And in that case only the best health insurance plan will cover it. One couple faced a bill of $770,000 for the care of their premature triplets.

And still some people think it will be OK for the US to interfere in the running of our health service!!

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Adverts and giving in to media pressure!

Every so often when we are watching something on some channel on the TV, PBS America I think it is, there pops up an advert which drives us crazy. A lycra-clad young woman on an exercise bike screams into her headphone microphone something along the lines of “Come on, Peloton!”, followed by very urgent instructions. We both wince, Phil throws a hissy-fit about how he really can’t stand this advert, and we turn the volume down or even channel-hop until we think the adverts are over.

So we never discovered what this is an advert for.

Then I found an article in the Guardian Weekend Magazine all about exercise bikes. There I read put that “Peloton sells smart, connected exercise bikes, to which it streams spinning classes from its Manhattan studio”. The bikes, which incorporate big touch screens, cost £1,990 and riders pay £39 a month to access the classes. So people set up sort of mini-gyms somewhere in their home and “spin” at home instead of going to a class. Then there is “Zwift” which lets users pretend they are following a route, such as going up the Alpe d’Huez, one of the really, really hard stages of the Tour de France. Oh boy!

We have an exercise bike and a rowing machine. Together they came nowhere near £1,990 to set up. Yes, it can be a bit boring perhaps to sit for ages on an exercise bike. This is where the iPad can be really useful. I usually just play music but Phil sets his up to play chess videos for him. It seems to work for us.

It’s funny how fads come and go.

How long will Peloton keep going? I wonder!

I sometimes go on a bit about my Fitbit but I mostly do it tongue in cheek, although there was a moment when Phil and I seemed to be getting a little competitive about who had done the most steps in a day - usually me, by the way, because I go up and down stairs a lot and move around the house a lot during the day. Also I have usually clocked up 5,000 on my morning run. But I am always amused by the analysis of my sleep, telling me how much deep sleep, light sleep and dreaming sleep I have had, not forgetting the time awake in the night!

It’s a good job I am amused by it because, from what I have read this weekend, if I took it too seriously I could become properly insomniac. Apparently some people are getting so anxious about what their various sleep trackers are going to tell them that they really begin to suffer from insomnia.

Oops! there it is again, that influence that social media and related apps can have on real life.

There are more serious things to worry about in modern life. I just listened to a programme on the radio where a young medical doctor talked about her experience working, and being overworked and overstretched, in emergency medicine. She is about to emigrate to Australia, I think, where she will work with the flying doctors service, where there will surprisingly be less stress. Emergency medicine in the NHS is her first love though and she expects to return to it sometime in the future. That assumes, of course, that there will still be a NHS to return to.

And I found myself thinking how wrong it is that dedicated doctors and teachers in this country, people who have a passion for their profession, are being forced out because the pressures of the job make a normal life impossible!

And now here is an odd story I came across the other day, a story which I find hard to believe:-

“It was May 2006, and I had just been swimming. I was on my way from my home in Hastings to work as a revenue executive for HMRC. It was raining hard, and the visibility was terrible. I was crossing the road when a white van drove into me and I fell, hit the side of my head, and rolled under a parked car. I have no memory of it. In fact I didn’t remember anything from a year before the accident until four years afterwards; I began to work out what had happened to me from what other people told me.

I was in an induced coma for three weeks in the neurological unit attached to Haywards Heath hospital. The medical staff tried to bring me out of the coma after about 10 days, but it was too early. I’ve got no medical notes about my time in hospital, but my family and friends were there every day. My coma was marked grade 3 in the Glasgow Coma Scale: the deepest one you can be in but still be alive; luckily I didn’t need brain surgery.

When I started coming round I was moved to my local hospital. The strangest thing was that the first words I spoke were French. A friend asked the nurses whether he should speak to me in French; they thought it was a good idea, to encourage communication. So he would ask me a question in French, and I would reply in fluent French. No one knew why, but I had done both German and French at O-level almost 30 years earlier.

After a while, the doctors decided speaking French was not helping me, because I’m English. So posters were put on the wall asking people not to speak in French.

Before my coma I’d never heard of foreign accent syndrome, which can occur when people wake up from a coma and their speech is affected; people sometimes perceive it as a foreign accent. What happened to me is different, because I really was speaking French, and not just for a few seconds – for two weeks.”

Why don’t I quite believe it? Well, to be fluent in a language you need a bit more in your memory than the stuff you learnt for O-Level thirty years ago. It sounds like a load of stuff and nonsense to me!

Monday, 10 June 2019

The birds! The birds!

Birds! Large, black, raucous birds! Rooks or crows or jays or all three together! There are masses of them in our neck of the woods! We see them flying around and Phil comments, without fail, “Flying school!” regardless of the time of year and whether or not there are any young ones involved.

And that is where they should be: flying around outside! Not inside my house!

Now, everyone has something that gives them the heebie-jeebies. Some people can’t stand spiders. My grandson cannot abide wasps; all his courage disappears and he becomes a quivering wreck. Me, I can catch spiders, even large ones, and throw them out at the bottom of the garden, as I have boasted only recently. I am a pretty good wasp dispatcher as well. My kindness towards spiders does not extend to wasps. I have been told lately that I should not squish hem as they are as valuable as bees in the pollinating business. However, I find them much more annoying than bees and far less inclined to let themselves be trapped in jars and transported outdoors. So squishing it has to be.

But things that flap give me the willies! Butterflies I can just about cope with. Moths, which are stupid and seem to fly deliberately towards people, give me the jimjams, but over time I have trained myself not to panic. In a supreme act of bravery I have accompanied the grandchildren into the bat cave at Chester zoo. Pigeons taking off in front of me cause me to shudder and I have to force myself not to scream in horror. You can imagine my reaction to seagulls and pigeons on the terraces of Spanish bars.

But birds indoors are, for me at any rate, the stuff of nightmares!

When we first viewed our house, well over thirty years ago, there was a very old-fashioned gas fire in the living room. In the romantic flush of relative youth we decided to get rid of it and replace it with an open fireplace - coal and logs and such would provide our cheer. And, in addition, we installed, or rather had someone else install for us, a coal-burning stove in the basement kitchen to run the central heating. When the coal-burning stove eventually packed in we had gas-fired central heating put in. Several years ago now we gave in and bought a very realistic-looking electric-powered fire to go in the fireplace in the living room, effectively blocking it.

What has all this to do with large, black, raucous birds? You might well ask.

About twenty years ago, when our daughter and her small daughter were living with us, I set off for work as usual somewhere between 6.30 and 7.00am. All was well. About an hour later our daughter brought her daughter down for breakfast and found a crow, or a rook or a jay, sitting in the fireplace with its baby. She did not panic, as I most assuredly would have done, but retreated upstairs to alert her father to the situation. He came down and calmly opened the living room window as wide as possible and amazingly the bird and its young flew out.

That was bird invasion number one.

A few years ago, while Phil and I were away in Galicia, our daughter, accompanied by the same daughter as before, now in her mid-to-late teens, popped in to check that the the house was fine. It clearly wasn’t. Things were knocked over in the living room but it did not really look like a burglary. Further inspection revealed a certain amount of soot and bird droppings. But no sign of a bird. On going upstairs they discovered a similar sort of mess in the main bedroom. But again no sign of a bird. Like angels, they cleared up the mess and eventually found a poor dead rook, or crow or jay, in a corner of the bedroom. They cleared him up too.

That was bird invasion number two.

One summer, after the installation of the electric fire and thus the blocking of the fireplace, our daughter and her partner came round, again in our absence in Galicia, and heard flapping and squawking behind the fire. Armed with large shopping bags, they gingerly moved the fire and successfully caught a large, black bird, rook or crow or jay, and sent him on his way into the great outdoors.

 That was bird invasion number three.

Yesterday granddaughter number two complained that she had heard a noise behind the fire. It was only hailstones tumbling down the chimney. She did, however, put a hex on the place for this morning it was plain that bird invasion number four had taken place. I was up fairly early as I had an appointment for a dental check-up. Having some breakfast in the basement kitchen, I distinctly heard a squawk, the kind that rooks or crows or jays make. But this one appeared to come from inside the house. Somewhat freaked out, I steeled myself to go up to the living room and check. No sign of anything but a certain amount of noise from behind the electric fire. It was still too early to wake Phil so I put up a fireguard and placed a moderately heavy coffee table in front of the fireplace in the hope that whatever was there would not be strong enough to shift the barricade.

And then I went out. A couple of hours later, my dental appointment over, I phoned Phil and mentioned, en passant, that there was bird in the chimney. Which he had already discovered, of course, but which he had decided to leave where it was as a problem for us to solve together.

On my return home, I spent some time working in the kitchen as I could not bear to sit in the living room and hear the scrabbling and squawking. In the meantime, my hero and knight in shining armour had consulted the great god Google and found instructions on How To Remove A Bird From A Chimney Or Fireplace. And so we carefully moved the fire and managed to drop a towel on top of the by now exhausted bird, clearly a young crow or jay or rook. Phil scooped him up and dropped him out of the window, whereupon the bird flew away. 

Quite traumatised, we had to have tea and cake!

The thing is that after bird invasion number three we spoke to the builder next door and ascertained that he would be able to fit a cage over the chimney pot.

We know that around here rooks, or crows, or jays, whatever, like to nest on or in or next to chimney pots. And the young are daft, like all young creatures, and are prone to falling in. The builder next door assured us he would cap the pots. He has not done so and as he promised to do it free of charge I did not like to nag.

I did hear that he has been suffering from vertigo, not a good ailment to have when you plan to do roof work. I know a good do-it-yourself cure for vertigo as I have helped Phil to overcome the problem. It involves moving the head around a certain way in order to perform what the website calls “rolling the stones”, shifting bits of crystal that get into the ear canal and cause dizziness. Who knew we had crystals inside us!?

While I have no intention of helping the builder next door to “roll his stones”, I think I need to ask him once again about putting a cage on our chimney pots.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Getting rid of spiders and other nuisances!

It seems to be large spider season again! I have removed two in the last couple of days. I am, in fact, a spider catcher extraordinaire, using the tried and tested glass and postcard method. This morning’s large spider, body about half an inch long and legs to go with it, seemed very angry at being trapped in a glass. You could almost hear him hissing as he scrabbled against the side. Ignoring his protests, I unlocked the back door and walked to the bottom of the garden to throw him out, hoping to trick him into not being able to find his way back in.

Back inside, I was unable to find the back door key. It was clearly one of those days! Obviously the thing had bounced out as I opened the door, which is always a bit stiff in damp weather. There is the added problem that we only have the one key. Presumably we started out with two and lost one long ago. (Memo to self: get a second key cut and put it in a safe place for emergencies such as this!) So we needed to locate this one. After hunting, without results, in the likely places close to the back door I decided the time had come to investigate the bag of paper and cardboard waiting to be put out for recycling next Tuesday. No luck on the first cursory inspection! So I went into more detail, looking into the Weetabix packet and the cardboard biscuit box that contain other smaller containers. And there it was!

As I said, one of those days. Even the weather is odd.

I ran round the village in early morning sunshine, disposed of the spider a little later when the cloud had moved in, debated whether or not to hang the washing out to dry and felt spots of rain. Once the washing was draped around the house, the sun re-emerged. Not for long though. Before we knew it we had a hailstorm! And now the sky is trying to clear again.

So much for Flaming June!

Mind you, I suspect I am having a better day than some.

Cocaine user Michael Give is still in the news. Here are some comments:-

“In 2014 Michael Give’s education department passed a new code of conduct that included disqualification for teachers convicted of possessing class A drugs like cocaine.
So snorting coke makes you unfit to teach but fine to run the entire education system!”

“Thank goodness Michael Give is only admitting to the serious criminal offences of possession o class A substance rather than necking a can of Marks and Sparks mojito on the train. There’d be hell to pay.”

I wondered what had provoked his admission. Then I discovered that Owen Bennett had revealed it in a new book.

So there are no lies, just a bit of omission. Until forced to reveal all.

Some Tories have gone on about what an unconservative thing taking drugs is to do. Really? I remember reading years ago that the offspring of the privileged classes, educated to be adventurous, were probably just as likely, if not indeed more likely, to try drugs than working class kids.

Anyway, it does not seem to be making him give up the idea of becoming PM, and he is trying to get his campaign back on track. I read that “Gove dismissed as “foolish” the idea that American authorities could ban a prime minister from entering their country, even though some UK citizens have been stopped from going to the US after admitting to having taken drugs.
He acknowledged he was “fortunate” not to have been sent to prison. Asked if he should have gone to prison, Gove said: “I was fortunate in that I didn’t, but I do think it was a profound mistake and I have seen the damage drugs do. I have seen it close up and I have also seen it in the work that I have done as a politician. That is why I deeply regret the mistake that I made.”

We shall see! Some things can’t be caught in a jar and thrown over the garden wall!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Being delusional!

The weathermen were right: a lot of rain has come sweeping up towards our end of the country. The sound of the rain on the roof and against the windows did rather but me off running this morning. So I switched off the alarm, planning to get up shortly and walk into the village instead. I woke up almost an hour later. Obviously, as my mother would have told me had she still been around, I needed the extra sleep.

By the time I got myself organised, the torrential rain had turned to drizzle. I suppose I could still have run but by then my plans had changed. The rain did not prevent me from taking pictures of the flowers around here en route to the coop for the newspaper.

I went out again later to catch the bus to the nearest supermarket and found a wall fallen down near the corner where the bus stops. It was fine the last time I walked past. It clearly was not the result of a car mounting the pavement as that would have caused the stones to fall into the river. Maybe the wall just gave way under the weight of water falling from the sky.

Talking to several of my nodding acquaintances on the bus, I discovered that they were on their way to school fêtes that their children were involved in today. So this is the season of school fêtes. Which explains the rain! In addition to that, next Friday is Whit Friday, Band Contest Day in Saddleworth, when brass bands from around the country, indeed from around the world, go from village to village and march in playing their music, hoping to win a prize. It’s the closest thing we have to a fiesta and on a fine day it is quote spectacular. On a wet day it is still pretty impressive but sunshine is best. Unfortunately I cannot remember the last time we had a really warm and sunny Whit Friday.

Are we all delusional, thinking that we can organise outdoor events in June?

Also delusional seems to be Donald Trump. First of all he said he was very popular in England and had seen no demonstrations against his visit. He must have looked in the wrong places. He has also boasted about having “automatic chemistry” with the Queen during his state visit here. He apparently told Fox News that people had noticed how well he and the Queen had connected. He said: “The meeting with the Queen was incredible. I think I can say I really got to know her because I sat with her many times and we had automatic chemistry, you will understand that feeling. It’s a good feeling. But she’s a spectacular woman.”

He seemed to think the queen enjoyed herself too. “There are those that say they have never seen the Queen have a better time, a more animated time. We had a period we were talking solid straight, I didn’t even know who the other people at the table were, never spoke to them. We just had a great time together.” Trump, when asked if he would keep the conversation going, added: “Yes I am, she is a spectacular woman, an incredible woman.”

He must not have seen the cartoons of the queen peering from behind the curtains and asking Prince Philip to tell POTUS she is not at home!

Meanwhile the struggle to find a new leader for the Conservative party continues. Today brings a fresh bit of scandal. Michael Gove says he regrets taking cocaine. A more unlikely person to be in involved in drug taking I cannot imagine. I can, however, think of decisions he should regret having taken in his political career! We might never forgive him for those "fronted adverbials" - and that's the least of it.

Maybe he too is delusional!