Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Striking stuff!

RENFE, the railway people, have been on strike today. I do not know what they were striking for. I only hope it was something worth striking for. As a result of their union action, we had to rearrange our plans for today, but only slightly. Our intention was to meet a friend in Pontevedra, a 15 minute or a 30 minute train ride away, depending on which train you catch. With the availability of trains being questionable, we had to consider buses.

Searching on the internet proved very unproductive so this morning I phoned the bus station. This is always an interesting experience. I have never phoned the bus station without the following things happening. On the first try you get get the engaged tone. When you call again it rings and rings and rings and nobody answers. This process is repeated through several attempts until eventually your call coincides with someone being in the office there and not already using the telephone.

So I got times of buses and then became a little more ambitious. I happen to know that people often catch a bus to Pontevedra from a place on Calle Arenal which cannot really be called a bus stop as there is nothing to indicate that buses stop there; people just seem to know to congregate there. As that is closer to our flat than the bus station is, I thought we might catch the bus there. I wondered if the helpful bus station lady could indicate to me which of the buses did actually stop there. No chance! She knew that some buses did so but she did not have that timetable information. This sort of thing has happened before when we have sought more than the most basic information about the bus service in this area!!

Armed with our information, we walked to the bus station, at some speed, I have to say. (But walking is good for you. Here is a link to an article all about the benefits of walking!  It is much better for you than riding an electric scooter on the pavement, but that is a gripe for another day.) As we were on the last minute we went straight down to the bus bays to make sure we caught the bus. The bus driver told us off for not having tickets already - “In the bus station,” he lectured us, “ always buy your ticket from the ticket office.” Hmm, I thought, and miss the bus! Besides, I have bought the ticket on the bus many times before! I did not say any of that our loud but just gave my best smile and paid our fare.

Off we went. And the bus stopped to take on passengers half way along Travesía de Vigo, another place closer to our flat! By a circuitous route it wound downhill towards the Guixar train station at our end of the town. It did not stop there, however, but went along the street (Calle Arenal) half way back into the town centre, turned at a roundabout and went to pick up passengers at the not-an-obvious-stop I described earlier. This manoeuvre meant that it took a good 15 or 20 minutes to get out of town and finally onto the motorway.

In this way we found out that the 12.20 bus from Vigo bus station does indeed stop on Calle Arenal and we now know more or less what time to be there to catch it, should we want to do so again in the near future. Learning by doing! It would have been so much easier, however, if the bus station information office employees just got their act together and provided a little more than the basis minimum information?

Perhaps they need to do more walking to stimulate brain activity!

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Going walkabout!

Today having been fine and sunny but not too hot, we decided to carry out a plan we have been thinking about. Every once in a while we like to catch a bus to Plaza de América, not quite the other end of town but almost, and go for a stroll around Castrelos park, one of the nicest green areas in the city. It contains the Pazo de Quiñones de León, an old stately home with the kind of gardens that might have figured in the film The Garden of the Finzi Contini: a box-hedge maze, rose-garlanded walkways, an old tennis court, a bit of a lake and loads of trees all around.

Serendipitously, the bus we thought we had missed was five minutes late so we pretty well stepped out of the flats, crossed the road and stepped onto it. After alighting at Plaza de América some time later, we strolled down the Avenida de Castrelos, reminiscing about other walks that way. There was the occasion when we stopped in a bar on our way back for a refreshment and found ourselves watching a stage of the Tour de France where Alberto Contador was losing ground to a young Englishman called Froome, and incidentally losing the support of a drunken Spaniard in the bar who grudgingly admitted that “ese inglés” knew how to ride a bike. Another time we were with a couple of friends who were growing weary and in need of refreshment on a stretch of the road where there was an amazing dearth of bars or cafes. Eventually we saw a sign for an Asociaciön de Vecinos, a kind of community centre, where they took pity on us and sold us beers even though we were not members. There are some nice people around!

Once in the park, we made our way up to the Pazo, entering the gardens through a side door which is usually closed, probably because it involved crossing the moat - yes the moat - on a precarious construction of broad iron girders.

And we strolled around, admiring the old and new statues in the gardens

and the odd pieces of modern art made of twisted, rusty iron - not really an asset. And then a groundsman told us that the gardens were closing at two o’ clock. It was already a quarter to two. He was doing a circuit letting people know, he told us, so that nobody would be locked in.

And so our visit was shorter than intended and we went on our way. The second bit of the plan was to exit by the other side of the park, away from the avenue, and follow the river Lagares as far as Avenida de Madrid.

It’s a pleasant walk, mostly under trees, and only disturbed by occasional runners or cyclists, the latter particularly annoying as they tend to creep up behind you on their silent tyres and without a good bell. I find this is a universal problem, well, in both Spain and the UK. My bike has a good, old fashioned bell which gives a fine, resounding “ting-a-ling” but most people seem to ride bikes with bells that give a feeble “ping” which can hardly be heard at all.

Along the way we came across a new sign indicating that the old stone bridge we could see, but not actually use, dated back to the 12th century and was believed to have been built on the foundations if an old Roman bridge. There you go! Just opposite someone had produced a rather excellent bit of graffiti art work showing the bridge in its glory. I quite often admire graffiti, although some is lacking in imagination and talent, but I decided this one was pretty exceptional!

Reaching the end of the river walk, we were back on the highways and by-ways of Vigo and decided it was time to stop for a little refreshment before tackling the last few Vigo hills back to the flat. For the grand total of €2.40, we had a mineral water each, accompanied by two little slices of empanada, two mini slices of pizza, two small salad sandwiches and a small bowl of crisps. Now, you would be lucky to get one mineral water for that in the bar next door to our house in Saddleworth.

What I want to know is how the bars here even begin to make a profit if they give away such a lot of snacks!

Spain is different, or at any rate Galicia certainly is!

Monday, 29 July 2019

Water problems. And chemists.

This morning I ran in the sunshine. Five minutes after I returned, the clouds moved in and the rain came down, some straight down and some almost horizontally, blown by the wind. Strange! In the following two hours it cleared and rained and cleared again. There must have been rainbows somewhere. As has happened in the last few days, by early evening the day was fine and bright. Very confusing.

Still, it could be worse. The day before yesterday I saw television footage of floods in Barcelona, water flowing a couple of feet deep down the street. There have been reports of half a month’s worth of rain falling in just 24 hours across parts of England over the weekend. Our daughter told us of places near home which had been flooded. It’s just as well she doesn’t have to travel to work every day at the moment.

And Greater Manchester police tweeted a photograph of a crashed Lamborghini, which demolished a section of barrier after its driver lost control on standing water. The driver fled on foot before police arrived. “A very expensive mistake,” police said. “They don’t make very good boats!”

Seriously weird weather!

Now, if hot weather is going to be the norm for at least part of the summer in the UK, people will need ice cream. It appears that this is one of the things we should be stockpiling in case of shortages after Brexit.

The following is a report from January of this year but still it might be relevant:-

“Unilever is stockpiling Magnum ice-cream in the UK to ensure supplies do not run low if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive, said the company had taken the decision to import extra supplies of the ice-cream, which is produced in mainland Europe, in case the ports grind to a halt. Brands produced in the UK include Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream but Magnums, for example, are made in factories in Italy and Germany.

“We have built inventory on either side of the Channel,” Jope said. “It’s weeks of inventory – not months or days.”

Who knew Unilever made icecream? Is this globalisation or just the interconnectedness of everything?

Meanwhile, the Arctic, of all places,  is having wildfires, with huge blazes in Greenland, Siberia and Alaska producing plumes of smoke which can be seen from space. Somehow you don’t associate such fires with the Arctic. Spain and Portugal, yes, but not those northern places. And yet it seems the Arctic region had the hottest June ever this year and 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic circle since the start of that month. Adding to the problem is the fact that these are not just surface fires but it can often be the underlying peat which has caught fire. Such fires can keep smouldering below the surface for months and can break out again at a moment’s notice. We had that problem near our home in Saddleworth last year.

I went out this morning, between rainstorms, on a mission to seek a couple of things from the chemist: antiseptic mouthwash and joint pills to ease Phil’s creaking knees. There were two types of mouthwash, both claiming to contain chlorexadine, an ingredient recommended by our dentist. The chemist sold me one which was for everyday use, which was what we wanted, the other being one that should be used sparingly for specific problems. Looking at the fine print when I got home, I discovered there was no chlorexidine in it.

 As for the joint pills, which Phil wanted to contain glucosamine and something else - glucosamina y condroitina - well, that led to a whole discussion with the pharmacist. In the UK we pick them up from Holland & Barrett, the wholefood store, or my brother-in-law acquires them via the internet. Here, however, the pharmacist refused to sell them to me without a doctor’s prescription. Other countries and other habits, I suppose. Supermarkets here don’t sell aspirin or paracetamol, easily obtainable in Tesco or Sainsbury’s. It’s just a different way of doing things.

Here’s another. Out and about around here I notice bottles of water left outside doorways. In some cases they are tied to fences. There are no explanatory notices and no bowls, the presence of which might suggest that the water is for dog walkers to give to their animals. Maybe they are intended for homeless people. Although they only need to walk to the corner where there is a spring with a tap. People queue up there to fill bottles with spring water.

 I am intrigued!

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Shouting about things!

Yesterday evening we sat in one of our cafes-with-wifi listening to to some people shouting. The place was relatively empty. I might have said relatively quiet, were it not for the shouters. We had considered possible skyping a friend but the volume of noise generated by these two people made such an idea impossible. They were not drunk, or at any rate not obviously so. Nor were they having an argument. Indeed they seemed to be having a quite amicable, if rather long and very noisy, conversation. Maybe both were hard of hearing. Maybe both thought that being at opposite ends of the bar they needed to project to make themselves heard. Maybe they were just enthusiastic about the topic of conversation. Goodness knows what that was; their volume tended to distort the words! The same happens with opera after all.

 These were both men of a good mature age, probably used to making themselves heard. We’ve come across the phenomenon before. In fact we crossed another one walking down the street this morning as we walked to the Castro: two people walking side by side, one speaking an a normal to e of voice, the other loud enough to be heard at the end of the street. The other morning I heard what seemed to be a commotion down on the street. Bear in mi d that we are in a seventh floor flat and that there are office below floor number one. When I looked out to see what was going on, I saw a chap on the other side of the road talking into his mobile phone. Clearly he was one of those who has not yet learnt that the distance your voice will travel in mobile technology, or indeed landline technology, is not dependent on how loudly you speak into the apparatus! It’s amazing how many intimate secrets you can learn from people who shout down their phones in public!

So, yes, this morning we walked to the Castro, one of the local beauty spots, one of Vigo’s “green lungs”. We were working on the basis that we should walk in the late morning before the temperature went up. Today the sun is shining, the sea and sky are brilliant blue and the temperature was 20 at 9.00am and 25 by 2.00pm! By which time we were making our way back from our expedition.

Walking towards the town centre and beyond we noticed a good deal of building and general improvement work going on. Vigo's Mayor Abel Caballero must be finding some money from somewhere. In particular we were intrigued by work going on around Urzáiz railway station in the town centre. It seems only five minutes since they finished building the new station and now there are cranes and other evidence of construction all around. We wondered whether the station was actually closed for repairs of some kind, an important consideration for when we next plan to go to Pontevedra by train. However, people seemed to be coming in and out of the main entrance with suitcases, so that was clearly not the case.

When we stopped for refrecshments at the Castro cafe we googled it and discovered that they have just had the go-ahead for construction of a new bus station + shopping centre, conneceted with and more or less on top of the railway station. This must have been the plan all along. Why else so much expanse of flat concrete surface above where the trains come in. A more central bus station for the city makes sense and, of course, nowadays it is de rigueur for train and bus stations to be shopping malls as well. Euston Station in London and Piccadilly in Manchester are prime examples. I have not travelled to Madrid for well over ten years now and so I cannot comment on Atocha station. No doubt someone will bring me up to speed.

Work was also going on along Gran Vía with the lower end of it reduced to one section open for traffic. I have no idea what is going on there but some people clearly think the mature trees along way are under threat. They all have notices pleading, “Please don’t cut me down! I provide oxygen and improve your air quality!”

Hmmm! I wonder what it is all about!

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Simply not coping!

I really don’t know about going it alone in the world once more and establishing trade links with all and sundry, for it seems that the UK simply can’t even deal with weather.

People who love to jet off to hot and sunny places to toast themselves on holiday are now complaining that it’s just plain too hot. The reality of working in 30+ degrees heat is taking its toll. Even a friend of mine who usually feels the need to turn the central heating on when the temperature drops below 20 degrees says she is finding it hard to cope.

And it’s not just people. In the winter time we have travel problems because we are never prepared for snow on the road. Trains are prevented from running because of leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow. That gets us into eskimo territory with talk of the umpteen different words for the categories of snow!

And now it seems that the hot weather is also causing problems. A friend told me about a swing-bridge in Greater Manchester that had to be hosed down with cold water by the fire brigade as the heat was preventing it from working. And as a rule even when it they report hot weather in England it does not really mean Manchester and the North but mostly the Southeast of the country!

And now, however, all over the country there seem to be travel problems because of weather. Extreme heat has caused chaos on the rail network. Great Northern, Thameslink and East Midland Trains all advised people to avoid travelling unless the journey was essential. Does commuting to work count as essential travel? Looking at it from another angle, can you use heat-related travel problems as an excuse for not getting to work?

Thousands of passengers were left stranded at major stations on Thursday, the hottest July day on record, as temperatures of up to 38.1C (100.6F) created havoc. The weather has also been causing difficulties for air travel. British Airways announced that severe thunderstorms were causing significant delays and cancellations to flights in and out of London.

In countries where summer heat is more usual there are usually lots of open air pools where people can cool off. As a rule this is not the case in the UK. So people have been making use of lakes and rivers. Emergency services have had to rescue people and in some cases have retrieved bodies of people who got into difficulties swimming to cool off.

The weather men expect what they refer to as “more familiar conditions” to return by the weekend. Everyone can get back to moaning about rain once more. On a longer term basis the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change has warned the UK is not prepared for the increase in heatwaves that is expected with global warming.

Well, I suppose that goes along with not being prepared for leaving Europe but planning to do so anyway!

On that front, here are a couple of things. Boris Johnson’s brother has been appointed to some kind of position in the government. It seems it’s not just who you know but whose brother you are! Anyway, someone pointed this out:

“Jo Johnson voted Remain in the referendum, then backed Brexit by voting to trigger Article 50, then resigned to campaign for a 2nd referendum and is now back in government supporting a no deal Brexit. And yet the public are still told they can’t change their minds on Brexit...”

It appears that changing your opinion, possibly according to the way the wind is blowing, is a family trait!

And then someone called Lucy Wainwright has been tweeting:-

 “Johnson became PM with 92,000 votes. Boaty MacBoatface got 124,000 votes and was overruled for being plainly a b****y stupid f*****g decision. Just saying.”

Here in our bit of Galicia, there is currently little need to jump into the swimming pool to cool off. We woke this morning to a cool 18 degrees and to the swishing of cars’ tyres on the wet road. When the the cloud cover shifted in the evening the temperature went up, as we expected it to do, but for much of the time we remain an oasis of cool! Not to say damp!

Friday, 26 July 2019

The vagaries of modern life.

Modern life seems to me to be full of acronyms, in a way that I am pretty sure it never used to be. Or did I go through my youth in a state of blissful unawareness? That too is possible, lol. I never quite worked out what that one, lol, really stood for, btw. I assume it’s something along the lines of “laugh out loud”, but I may be completely mistaken. That does happen ... occasionally.

Partly it’s a need to communicate at speed but I think some of it may be the result of the early days of text messaging, back when the amount you could put in a text was severely limited. And suddenly text-speak arrived. Abbreviations galore. And inventive spellings. Teachers of English despaired of their pupils using text-speak instead of standard English in their essay writing. The cleverest students, of course, learnt how and when to use both forms of the written language, rather like the offspring who have two accents in their spoken language, one for home use and one for conversing with friends. In their turn, youngsters despaired of their parents trying to be down there with the kids and using text-speak when they sent them messages.

Whatever the origin of the plague of acronyms, they are ever-present and here to stay.

I arrived at this topic having seen a headline I only half understood: - “How online dating made IRL coupling a thing of the past”. I opened the article hoping to find out what IRL stood for. No use at all. So I googled it - IN REAL LIFE!! The gist of the article was that most couples now meet via online dating. They usually say they met “in a bar”, which is where they arranged the first actual meeting. But hey got to know each other online. Marrying your childhood sweetheart (assuming childhood sweethearts still exist), marrying someone you meet at university or in the workplace, someone you get to know in real life, is a thing of the past. (For “marrying”, read also moving in with and living together.)

Such is modern life!

Here’s another bit of modern oddity / odd modernity. “Young people in Britain have almost entirely abandoned television news broadcasts, according to Ofcom, while half of the country now gets its news from social media. While the average person aged 65 and over watches 33 minutes of TV news a day, this falls to just two minutes among people aged 16-24, according the media regulator’s annual news consumption report.”

Before we had the various catch-up services for programmes you missed on television, before Netflix and Amazon Prime came along, most of us used to watch popular programmes live and then leave the set on and watch the 10.00pm news bulletin. Now we mostly watch box sets that we have streamed and we are not tied to programme schedules.

TV news is still the main way that the British public learn about current affairs, but that is partly because older viewers have remained loyal to traditional services. Phil and I are older viewers and we also probably watch more series on Netflix than on live television. So much for loyalty. We do, however, read newspapers which, despite recognised bias in almost all cases, still give more analysis than television news broadcasts.

For many people though, and it seems increasingly for most young people, the main source of news is social media.

Let’s hope they get some balance in there. We certainly need it!

Thursday, 25 July 2019

On celebrating saints’ days and coping with the heat.

Today, July 25th, is the feast of Saint James, Santiago, patron saint of Galicia.

And so today is el Día de Galicia, Galicia’s National Day. Consequently just about every establishment is closed except for cafes, restaurants and breadshops. Bread and cakes are the order of the day.

Not all cafes remain open though. María who runs one of our favourite cafes-with-wifi told us last night that she will be closed until Monday. She is, as they say here and in Italy, making a bridge. If a día festivo falls on a Thursday many people take Friday off as well, making a long weekend of it. If the bank holiday falls on a Tuesday the bridge is made by taking Monday off.

We avoid that problem in the UK by having all our bank holidays on Mondays. Saints’ days we largely ignore. I am not even sure that we take a day off for Saint George’s day, even though a lot of fuss is made about our patron saint and some people decorate their houses and cars with the flag of Saint George.

Oddly enough Saint George, even though still a dragon slayer seems to have a different day in Sicily from in England. I wonder if he has yet another day in Catalonia and the Balearics.

It was eerily quiet when I went out running first thing this morning. Having said that, our street is never really quiet as it’s a main thoroughfare. Even in the wee small hours there is a constant flow of traffic. Where do they all go at four in the morning? That’s what I would like to know.

Down at street level though it was very quiet indeed, with that stillness that often suggests a storm coming.

And indeed, although not exactly a storm, rain had come by midday, that kind of soft, quiet rain Galicia is good at. It may be Galicia Day but around here Galicia had disappeared under a bank of cloud. Perfect Santiago weather!

My daughter sent me a message yesterday complaining about the heat. It was 28 degrees in Greater Manchester, including even our end of the conurbation, which is almost, indeed formerly was, in Yorkshire!

 Various friends told me about thunderstorms. Many wags have posted comments about the thunder and lightning and the great heat, predicted to be 34 degrees in some parts of the country, signifying the opening of the gates of Hell as Boris Johnson moves into Downing Street and establishes his right wing, very Brexit-favouring cabinet. The protest group that goes under the name of Led by Donkeys projected a message onto the walls of Buckingham Palace: “Your Majesty, your primer minister is a liar!” Newsthump is putting out spoof reports of the queen re-establishing rule by divine right and taking back co trol of her country! Some folk are predicting an imminent general election. We shall see!

As regards the 28 degrees in Manchester yesterday, the newspapers are full of advice on how to keep cool. Here is Zoe Williams on what to eat when it’s hot.  From a different article  I gleaned this gem:-

  “When preparing for bed, others recommended briefly putting your bed sheets and pillows into a plastic bag and placing them in a freezer, as well as freezing cold water in a hot water bottle to cuddle. “That’s a very useful way of trying to keep your bed a little bit cooler for longer, or at least enough time for you to drift off to sleep,” Dr Guy Leschziner, a neurologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.”

 All well and good, but imagine the energy you then have to put into making your bed before you can lie in it! And yet another article  told us “Buckle in, Britain: it might have been late getting started, but it looks like we’re set for another sweltering summer, with record-breaking highs of 37C forecast for Thursday. By this point, you know the drill: swap the duvet for a sheet (and a shared bed for a single), wear shorts if your employer allows, carry water with you on the train, and get off at the next stop if you’re feeling unwell. The temperature will drop eventually; in the meantime, the spirit is broadly one of keep calm and carry on.”

 That’s the spirit! The place might be in turmoil, the temperature’s soaring, we don’t know what the Dickens is going to happen next but we must not forget that we are British!

Wednesday, 24 July 2019


Much is made nowadays of ways of organising our lives; fashions in how to go about it come and go. We’ve had fengshui telling us how to arrange our furniture, not for the best aesthetic effect but for the best peace of mind effect. There is Marie Kondo, at least I think that is her name, urging us all to declutter. For a while it was all about hygge, the Scandinavian philosophy all about cosiness and conviviality with feelings of  “wellness and contentment”, if I am not mistaken. And of course, mindfulness is everywhere. (Mind you, if mindfulness is truly everywhere, why are so many people being completely thoughtless in the way they go about life in general.)

And now along comes “niksen”. According to a journalist called Stuart Heritage, “Niksen is an increasingly popular Dutch relaxation technique where you relinquish control and just ... stop.
When thoughts occur, you don’t interrogate them or imagine them being carried away on balloons, you just let them occur. At a time when meditative practices can feel like yet another thing to do, niksen is liberatingly simple. Stop doing everything right now. Congratulations, you just did a niksen. It is essentially sanctioned daydreaming.”

His editor asked him to give it a try, so that he could then write an article about it, I suppose. He found it difficult. Told to sit down for an hour and do nothing, absolutely nothing, he was initially quite pleased but his opinion changed:-

“There was a freedom to it, a tranquillity. We are all so busy doing as much stuff as we can that to suddenly stop felt preposterously luxurious. Or at least it did for about 30 seconds, because that was when the thoughts started to trickle in. I was staring out of my window, but I was seeing the dozens of unread emails that were almost certainly piling up in my inbox. I was nagged by the sinkful of washing up that needed doing and the bin that needed to be taken out. I thought about the podcasts I could be listening to. Shamefully, I found myself wondering if anyone had written any good tweets.

In the end, I managed 10 minutes of niksen before my brain stopped idling and told me to stop being such a layabout.”

Perhaps we are all hardwired to be busy, and connected, all the time, especially now that we are digitally in touch instantly. It’s no accident, I’m sure, that “Linkedin” is so called.

I was going to say that personally I have no trouble with doing nothing but it’s not really the case. Like everyone else, I find or indeed invent things to keep me occupied. So I’m not convinced about “niksen” as a relaxation technique, especially when you are trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep!

One of our regular cafes-with-wifi here is about to close. We went along the other evening only to find that could no longer check our stuff there. They have not renewed as they are closing at the end of the month.

So yesterday we investigated one of their competitors, a place that seems very popular with locals for lunch. At the end of a walk to A Guía and back we stopped off for refreshment, intending to ask about wifi. One look at the interior dissuaded us - dingy and dull, not the sort of place where you might want to sit for a while checking your email and reading the papers online.

Fortunately we have other possibilities. Just along the street from our flat is the Cafe Caruso. Several years ago I popped in there to ask if they had  wifi,  only to be told by the lady who runs the place, Filipina I think, “Ni sé lo que es (I don’t even know what it is.)”

Since then she found out what it is and went online, but last year, maybe not seeing much increase in custom, she stopped. A few days ago I saw her coming out of the supermarket. She went out of her way to tell me, “Ya tengo wifi otra vez”. So now we have a place to go when we don’t want to go further afield.

We avoid the Caruso as lunchtime approaches for the unpleasant smell of hot cooking fat pervades the place then. At other times of day, though, it is fine for a quick coffee. And the Filipina lady is friendly and admires photos of our grandchildren!

There you go!

Some of her customers, the ones who smoke, have a tendency to stand too close to the door when supposedly indulging their vice outside. Maybe all Spanish cafes, and British pubs for that matter, should adopt this idea which I read about the other day:-

 “Smoking is set to be banned on the outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants in Catalonia as well as in bus shelters and on train platforms, under proposals from the region’s health authority.
The ban would also extend to open-air sports facilities and inside cars. The proposed changes, which could come into force within a year, are certain to meet fierce resistance from the hospitality industry.”

 It sounds like a good idea to me. I enjoy sitting on the terraza but it can be a less than pleasant experience if there are too many smokers around. Ironically, the terrace to be a place where you could avoid cigarette smoke!

The article about smoking in Catalonia went on:-

 “Ever since smoking was banned indoors, the number of venues with outdoor spaces has grown , with terraces serving as de-facto smoking areas making them no-go zones for anyone who does not want to breathe in second-hand smoke while enjoying a beer or a coffee. Bar and restaurant owners in Barcelona are already at war with the city authorities, who claim that many of the terraces are illegal and occupy too much public space.

At present, smoking is permitted only on terraces that are entirely or mostly in the open air. However, the health authorities claim the law is frequently flouted in enclosed outdoor spaces and plans a series of inspections. At a national level, the Spanish government is considering raisingthe  price of tobacco and banning smoking in cars when children are passengers.

A packet of 20 cigarettes costs less than €5 (£4.50) in Spain compared with about £12 in the UK. The number of smokers in Spain has fallen to about 22%, according to Eurostatto, above the EU average of 18% and well above the UK on 13%. If they are introduced, the new regulations would be similar to those in force in the Canadian province of Quebec, where it is prohibited to smoke within nine metres (30ft) of any building that is open to the public.” Interesting ideas!Shamefully, I found myself wondering if anyone had written any good tweets. In the end, I managed 10 minutes of niksen before my brain stopped idling and told me to stop being such a layabout.”

Perhaps we are all hardwired to be busy, and connected, all the time, especially now that we are digitally in touch instantly. It’s no accident, I’m sure, that “Linkedin” is so called. I was going to say that personally I have no trouble with doing nothing but it’s not really the case. Like everyone else, I find or indeed invent things to keep me occupied. So I’m not convinced about “niksen” as a relaxation technique, especially when you are trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep! One of our regular cafes with wifi here is about to close. We went along the other evening only to find that could no longer check our stuff there. They have not renewed as they are closing at the end of the month. So yesterday we investigated on of their competitors, a place that seems very popular with locals for lunch.

At the end of a walk to A Guía and back we stopped off for refreshment, intending to ask about wifi. One look at the interior dissuaded us - dingy and dull, not the sort of place where you might want to sit for a while checking your email and reading the papers online. Fortunately we have other possibilities. Just along the street from our flat is the Caruso. Several years ago I popped in there to ask if they had wifi, only to be told by the lady who runs the place, Filipina I think, “Ni sé lo que es (I don’t even know what it is.)” Since then she found out and went online but last year, maybe not seeing much increase in custom, she stopped. A few days ago I saw her coming out of the supermarket. She went out of her way to tell me, “Ya tengo wifi otra vez”.

So now we have a place to go when we don’t want to go further afield. We avoid the Caruso as lunchtime approaches for the unpleasant smell of hot cooking fat pervades the place then. At other times of day, though, it is fine for a quick coffee. And the Filipina lady is friendly and admires photos of our grandchildren!

There you go!

Some of her customers, the ones who smoke, have a tendency to stand too close to the door when supposedly indulging their vice outside.

Maybe all Spanish cafes, and British pubs for that matter, should adopt this idea which I read about the other day:-

 “Smoking is set to be banned on the outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants in Catalonia as well as in bus shelters and on train platforms, under proposals from the region’s health authority. The ban would also extend to open-air sports facilities and inside cars. The proposed changes, which could come into force within a year, are certain to meet fierce resistance from the hospitality industry.”

 It sounds like a good idea to me. I enjoy sitting on the terraza but it can be a less than pleasant experience if there are too many smokers around. Ironically, the terrace to be a place where you could avoid cigarette smoke!

The article about smoking in Catalonia went on:-

 “Ever since smoking was banned indoors, the number of venues with outdoor spaces has grown , with terraces serving as de-facto smoking areas making them no-go zones for anyone who does not want to breathe in second-hand smoke while enjoying a beer or a coffee.

Bar and restaurant owners in Barcelona are already at war with the city authorities, who claim that many of the terraces are illegal and occupy too much public space. At present, smoking is permitted only on terraces that are entirely or mostly in the open air. However, the health authorities claim the law is frequently flouted in enclosed outdoor spaces and plans a series of inspections.

At a national level, the Spanish government is considering raising the price of tobacco and banning smoking in cars when children are passengers. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs less than €5 (£4.50) in Spain compared with about £12 in the UK. The number of smokers in Spain has fallen to about 22%, according to Eurostat, above the EU average of 18% and well above the UK on 13%.

 If they are introduced, the new regulations would be similar to those in force in the Canadian province of Québec, where it is prohibited to smoke within nine metres (30ft) of any building that is open to the public.”

 Interesting ideas!

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Of fog and dogs!

One of those quirks of Galician weather occurred this morning.

I went out at about 8.30, ran up the hill and round the back roads, ending up near the Carrefour shopping centre, then down the hill to buy bread and finally up about 60 steps back up to our street. The curious geography of Vigo means that roughly parallel streets, such as Travesía de Vigo and Aragón, where our flat is situated, are connected, for pedestrians at any rate, by sets of quite ancient stone steps. The steps were probably there before the major thoroughfares, reflecting a time when there were separate little communities, now dwarfed by huge blocks of flats.

The sun was shining and the sky was blue. There was still blue sky and sunshine when I popped out again at around 10.00 to buy milk at the supermarket next door. However, in the time it took to exit the supermarket, enter our building and go up to the seventh floor in the lift, the fog moved in.

All the local landmarks - A Guía, the Castro, the ugly hospital building - disappeared. The temperature dropped. Instead of a cool breeze coming in through the window, there was that strange smell of sea fog, vaguely reminiscent of swimming pool changing rooms. It’s not the first time I have seen this happen but it never fails to amaze me that the change can take place so quickly. The forecast said it would clear later in the day but by midday it had grown denser if anything, visibly moving up the hillside behind the flats.

This is why people here, as in the UK, talk about the weather.

During her concert, which I went to while back in the UK, K D Lang commented on having recently moved back to live in Canada after quite a long time in California. In California, she told us, nobody talks about the weather. Well, there is no need, is there?

We remain amazed at the number of dogs we see around here, even in the centre of town. I suppose that because the UK does not have a long tradition of city centre, high-rise living we don’t expect to see many dogs in city centres. We prefer to keep our dogs in outer suburbs where there is a least a back yard, if not an actual garden, for the dog to pop out into. Here nobody thinks anything of having an enormous dog in a top floor flat. The dogs must be well trained, that’s all I can say, if they can signal that they need to go our for a pee and you have to take them down umpteen floors in the lift!

Big dogs there are but there are also a lot of very small dogs. You see huge great men walking tiny rat-like creatures, although with rather longer legs than the average rat, and looking very odd as they do so. There used only to be chihuahuas by way of tiny dogs but nowadays there seem to be lots of different sorts of miniature breeds. And I swear that even the chihuahuas have got smaller!

Having tiny dogs is fraught with a different kind of danger. Here is a story from Melbourne, Australia, from 2016:-

 “The owner of a chihuahua puppy remains hopeful the dog is still alive after it was snatched from her backyard and carried away by crows. Four-month-old Fudge, who was small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, was swooped upon by crows while outside her owner Heather Sinden’s home in Melbourne’s outer east on Wednesday afternoon.”

And here is another from Monday of this week, this time from the UK:-

 “A dog owner has asked for help to be reunited with her miniature chihuahua after a seagull took it from a garden in Devon. Becca Hill, 24, from Paignton, has appealed for information about four-year-old Gizmo, who was carried away on Sunday afternoon.
She told the Devon Live website: “My partner was in the garden putting the washing out at the time and suddenly he saw it swoop down. It carried Gizmo a fair way as we couldn’t see him any more. I have no idea if he was dropped or where he is now.””

I hold out little hope for poor Gizmo. I have seen how fierce seagulls can be, attacking pigeons, scaring innocent terraza-sitters by trying to steal the snacks off their very tables in front of their very eyes!

If I had a little, tiny dog in this city of multitudinous gulls I would be very wary indeed!

Monday, 22 July 2019

Summer suffering!

For over a week now Phil has been fighting off a summer cold, one of those “head full of snot” colds, possibly an overblown form of hay fever, possibly just something going around. Whatever the cause of the affliction, there he is, dosing himself with Lemsip and working on thinking positive, which is my response to most afflictions. I suspect positive thinking works better for me though than it does for him.

Oddly enough I read recently that summer colds are a manifestation of the summer version of SAD, seasonally affected disorder, the gloomy depression that overcomes some people, including Phil, in the dark months of winter. According to what I read many people are similarly overcome, nay, overwhelmed, when midsummer comes around and they realise that it is all downhill from now on. The days will inexorably begin to grow shorter, the sun will start heading back in a southwards direction and everyone can resign themselves to putting away the barbecue kits.

Personally I think the summer version of SAD is a bit of an invention by people who want to feel important for having found yet another explanation for depression. Will there be a mid-autumn and mid-spring version next?

I have never quite understood why or how summer continues hotter through July and August, and even sometimes into September if the summer solstice is towards the end of June. No doubt the scientifically-minded can come up with an explanation for me, involving seas warming up, jetstream direction and stuff like that.

In the meantime, I shall continue to to enjoy the summer.

The pool police were out and about here yesterday. Well, at any rate when I went down for a swim there was a young man with a clipboard asking which flat people came from and whether or not we could name the owner of said flat. I gather from his presence that there must have been a spate of interlopers - personas ajenas a la comunidad - recently. He wasn’t there this morning. Maybe it’s only at the weekend that the interlopers arrive.

There are all sorts of rules -normas - concerning the pool: no eating or drinking, no “personas ajenas a la comunidad” unless accompanied by residents, only so many guests per resident, no eating or drinking in the pool area, no topless bathing - although topless sunbathing seems to be accepted on the grass outside the immediate pool area.

For a people many non-Spaniards of my acquaintance think of as quite anarchic, the Spanish do like to make lists of rule and regulations!

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Weather and wayward tourists and weddings!

It seems there was a mini tornado in Manchester on Friday; nobody was seriously hurt but cars and buildings were damaged. Well, who would have thought it? We had two weeks of relatively calm weather there, even some sunshine. The only real rain was occasional overnight stuff and then some drizzle on Friday, which became more realistic and heavier rain the close we got to Liverpool.

As we waited through the three hours on Friday for our plane to Porto I heard conflicting explanations for the delay:-

  •  The plane had been delayed arriving at Porto. 
  •  Indeed, they were still waiting for it. 
  •  There had been dense fog at Porto in the morning and planes had been unable land or take off. 
That last explanation was pooh-poohed by one person who had spoken to a friend in Porto who denied that there had been any fog, and by another, a native of the city, who declared that they never had fog in Porto. Now, that was rubbish as we have seen fog there and in fact, even though the sun was shining on northern Spain, there was still some fog hanging around when we arrived at Porto. So it goes!

It was overcast and drizzly first thing yesterday but the day improved. Today dawned bright and sunny, with a predicted top temperature of 26 degrees. This may not constitute a summer for the local people but it suits me fine. Maybe this is the start of the promised heatwave. Time to go and check out the pool again.

 The problems of tourism in cities rumble on. I read yesterday about two German backpackers who were spotted sitting on steps near the Rialto bridge in Venice quietly making coffee on a camping stove! It must take a special kind of self confidence, not to say cheek, to start making your breakfast right in the middle of a tourist spot. You would think they might at least have chosen somewhere a little more secluded. They were arrested, fined €950 and issued with a Daspo behaviour order, something used against misbehaving football supporters, and ordered to leave the city.

Venice has public decorum laws which were introduced after residents complained about the bad behaviour of tourists at the Unesco world heritage site, including picnicking, diving into canals, washing in fountains or walking around bare-chested or in bikinis.

“Venice must be respected and those rude (people) who think they come to the city and do what they want must understand that, thanks to the girls and boys of the local police, they will be taken, sanctioned and removed,” said Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor. “From now on furthermore, we will also report them to the embassies and consulates of their countries of origin.
Our city will always be open and welcoming to all those who want to come and visit it, at the same time we will be intransigent with those who think they will come and do what they want.”

Earlier this year Venice said it was introducing a booking system and an entry fee of up to €10.


Maybe that sort of measure will put a stop to people who arrange to get married in some picturesque spot far from home. (Didn’t George Clooney get married in Venice?) Weddings are expensive enough without having to pay extra for all your guests to get into the city!

Journalist Grace Dent was writing about weddings. She wrote, “I swore I’d never mention marriage again, but everyone deserves an Instagram wedding.”


I think it’s something to do with the appeal (to some people, many people even) of the stage-managed event with lots of supposedly romantic instagram photos.

And, boy, are they stage-managed in some cases.

In her attempts to cure herself of being obsessed with weddings, Grace Dent trawled the internet for extreme examples. “My favourite this year,” she wrote, “ is a bride who wrote to one guest insisting she buy tattoo camouflage cream, as her blue arm inkings would spoil the wedding colour scheme. Another bride sent out a weight chart decreeing anyone over 80kg wear only dark colours, or have the common decency to loiter at the back of the group photo.”

Such is the madness of those few minutes of instagram fame!

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The best laid plans and all that sort of thing!

We were being really efficient with our travel plans for yesterday. The last time we travelled from Liverpool to Porto, on the same schedule flight as yesterday, we messed up our bus booking from Porto to Vigo because someone misread our arrival time and booked us onto a bus which left before we arrived. We ended up spending about 5 hours at the airport.

So, in order to avoid too long a wait in Porto, this time we booked ourselves onto an ALSA bus which should leave a couple of hours after our plane was due to arrive.

We got up bright and early, caught a bus (on which we had to buy a ticket as it was too early to use our old-biddy passes) and a tram into Manchester. That’s when the trouble started. Halfway there the tram got stuck behind the one in front of it, on which a lady had been taken ill. We all waited for an ambulance to take her away and off we went once more. To add insult to injury, it was raining. But we still had time to catch a train and then yet another bus to Liverpool airport.

As a result of that delay it was likely to be a quick turnaround at Liverpool. The plane was due to leave at 12.15 and we arrived at 11.20. But we had no luggage to check on and there were relatively few people going through security and so we sped through there. Would I have time to go to Boots in the airport before we had to rush to queue at the gate? Touch and go!

That was when I spotted the departures board:-

12.15 Oporto. Departing 15.15. Relax and enjoy.

Relax and enjoy?!? More likely sit and seethe!

So once more we sat in the airport on the internet trying to change our bus tickets.

Thank goodness we are not a family with a parcel of bored kids to entertain for several hours in a hot airport.

The airport internet was unbelievably slow and the ALSA website so little user-friendly that I ended up making a call to Spain to ALSA’s “atención al cliente”, where everything amazingly went like clockwork. I explained the situation, gave the young man our order number, he changed our booking, checked the email address and before you knew it we had a message complete with PDF - tickets for the bus.

We had briefly considered just abandoning our ALSA tickets, calling it lost money, and going for the AUTNA bus instead. It’s just as well we did not do so. While we waited for our bus to turn up the AUTNA bus, late, was still loading up, packed to the gills. A group of scouts was asking if there was room for 15 of them in the bus. It would have been an uncomfortable journey.

Our bus was also running late and we began to wonder if we were waiting in the wrong place. I asked a number of people. The first responded in French: “sais pas, moi!” Nobody else seemed to know either and, disturbingly, our bus did not appear on the timetable on the wall. A very helpful lady and I had a conversation in a strange mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. I am constantly amazed at the kindness of complete strangers!

Eventually the bus arrived, much more luxurious than the AUTNA bus, but slightly more expensive. 

And here we are, back in Galicia!

Thursday, 18 July 2019

On roadside verges and a little “what if ...”.

When we were in Sicily at the end of May we were struck, indeed seriously impressed, by the wild flowers along the roadsides. Mostly bright red poppies but there were other species among them, and of course everything looked extra glorious in the bright sunlight. I have few photos of them and almost none of the best as they were mostly seen from the minibus.

And there were, of course, the more exotic plants like the prickly pear in flower,

and capers

and aloe vera.

Last weekend, in the park in Chesham with my second smallest granddaughter we admired the wildflower beds, seemingly placed at random in the expanse of grass.

Down the road from our house, on the way to Dobcross, someone has scattered wildflower seeds in the grass verge, recreating the kind of beauty I saw in Sicily.

And today I have read about places all over the country where local groups, and sometimes local councils, have been seeding wildflowers in the roadside verges. One group complained that their local,council came along and mowed down all the flowers on a regular basis, on the grounds that they were a driving hazard. Are drivers so distracted by the bits of beauty at the roundabouts?

For more pictures of roadsides and roundabouts bedecked with wildflowers, go to this link. If everyone planted some wildflowers maybe the bees would be more numerous, the air a little fresher and everyone calmed and cheered by the sight of some colour on their drive home. If only ...

In the realm of “if only ...” here are a couple of extracts from an article from back in 2016.

“A historian has discovered a royal decree issued to Donald Trump’s grandfather ordering him to leave Germany and never come back. Friedrich Trump, a German, was issued with the document in February 1905, and ordered to leave the kingdom of Bavaria within eight weeks as punishment for having failed to do mandatory military service and failing to give authorities notice of his departure to the US when he first emigrated in 1885.”

“Returning on a visit to Kallstadt in 1901, Trump fell in love with Elisabeth Christ, whom he married a year later, returning with her to the US. But when she became homesick and wanted to return to Germany, the authorities blocked his attempts to settle there.
In an effort to overturn the royal decree dated 27 February 1905, Trump wrote an obsequious letter appealing to Prince Regent Luitpold, addressing him as “the much-loved, noble, wise and righteous sovereign and sublime ruler”.
But the prince rejected the appeal and the Trumps left Germany for New York with their daughter on the Hapag steamship Pennsylvania on 1 July 1905. Elisabeth was three months pregnant with Donald Trump’s father, Fred.”

And so Friedrich Trump’s grandson ended up in a position in 2019 where he could encourage his supporters at a rally to chant “send her back”, referring to one of the “Squad”, the four congresswomen so disliked by POTUS.

We live in strange times: the politics of tweets, mob chants, semi-legitimised racism and of course the politics of apologies, where the very slightest criticism can be analysed into an insult. Life is a lot simpler if you just concentrate on the bits of beauty.

Unfortunately, while we do that others are busily tweeting nastiness!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Keeping hold of an identity!

Andrea Camilleri, creator of Commissario Montalbano, has died at the grand old age of 93. We visited the places where the Montalbano television series was filmed during our visit to Sicily earlier this summer, on two occasions narrowly missing seeing the filming taking place. We seemed to be following the film crew around. While there, we heard the news that the writer had had a heart attack and was in hospital. So really his death, although sad, has come as no real surprise.

A friend of mine will be extra sad, however, for the death of Camilleri signals the imminent demise of Montalbano himself. The final novel in the series was written 13 years ago, but has been kept in Camilleri’s publisher’s Palermo offices for safekeeping. “When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: publish that book. Sherlock Holmes was recovered … but it will not be possible to recover Montalbano. In that last book, he’s really finished,” Camilleri said in 2012. So there we are, some time before too long we shall see the end of Commissario Montalbano. 

Camilleri commented on Sherlock Holmes having been revived, recreated, restored. Indeed recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes might well give Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pause for thought. I was talking about Sherlock Holmes yesterday with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She was expressing her disgust at the idea that in a new adaptation Dr Watson could be a woman. The very idea just seemed wrong to her. In fact, she told me, it all seems like a bit of token “inclusivity”, and something that she regards as historically inaccurate as women could not have been doctors in Sherlock’s time.

Her attitude to the transgender question was interesting as well. On the whole she is very tolerant of all the varieties of lifestyles that exist nowadays. She was, however, quite scathing about girls in her form at school who appear to choose their gender as they might choose an outfit. And a choice of outfit goes with at her school as boys wear grey blazers and girls wear purple. Confusion on the corridors! A few girls of her acquaintance, definitely not in her friendship group, first said they were lesbians and later “identified as boys” and had their hair cut short. Not long afterwards they decided that they regretted having had their haircut and missed their flowing locks, as now they declared themselves to be very “girly girls”. This led to some sarcastic comments as their classmates wondered which gender or sexuality they would select next. Maybe they would arrive at school and say they “identified as trees”.

I wonder what my granddaughter would make of this case of a transgender man who chose to pause his/her hormone treatment in order to become pregnant, by donor, and have a baby. The problem was registering the baby’s birth. He wanted to register as the father but the registrar said he had to register as the mother. Much of the concern centres on the child and fears that he might be bullied at school because of his parentage. This will no doubt spark even more discussion about the social education of children and the LGBT question.

Am I being unkind when I find myself thinking that the parent of that child is being a little selfish, wanting to be both male and female. Thoughts about wanting to have your cake and eat it come to mind.

It seems to me that future society is going to get more and more complex and difficult to deal with. Here’s another example of modern oddness:

“A Zen meditation group is to cease meeting in the grounds of York Minster following controversy over “bilingual religion”. The group has been told that its weekly 90-minute silent meditation sessions in the Old Palace must end in the autumn. The sessions were initiated by Christopher Collingwood, the canon chancellor of the minster, who practises and teaches Zen meditation and has described himself as “religiously bilingual”.”

“Bilingual religion” is not tolerated by all, apparently.

 “Christian Concern said that mixing Buddhism and Christianity was “deceptive” and dishonoured Jesus. “It is remarkable that this is happening at one of the country’s best-known cathedrals,” said Andrea Williams, a member of the Church of England’s general synod.”

Well, well! It would seem that there are more and more areas of life where we need to choose our identity. I am quite relieved to be a relatively simple soul.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019


Yesterday evening, as I was watching something on TV, my middle granddaughter sent me this text message: - “You know about eclipses and stuff. Do you know why the moon is orange??”

I was rather touched by the 16-year-old’s faith in my knowledge about ‘eclipses and stuff”, checked with her that the moon was actually orange from where she saw it, and had a look out of our window. It was still too early in the evening for us to see the moon as there is a huge great hill in the way. Yes, she confirmed, the moon looked decidedly orange as it rose behind their house. She told me she “found it odd ‘cause it’s been white for the last few days. It was only just coming up when I first texted you.”

(Linguistic note: I was impressed by her correct use of the past tense of the verb “to text”!)

My own experience is that if the moon was looking orange it was usually when it was low in the sky, so I did a little research for her after my TV programme finished and I found this for her:

“The moon is always gray. The different atmospheric conditions just make the light appear different colors. The moon is sometimes orange because of refraction. The moon can appear orange when it is low in the sky and when there are a lot of dust particles in the atmosphere.

The visible light of the moon is made up of different colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple (which together appear white). As it approaches Earth, the light of the moon passes through the atmosphere.
When the air is clear and the moon is overhead, the light rays all reach the Earth, and so the moon appears white.
So why does the moon look orange when it is low or when the sky is dusty, smoky or polluted? These circumstances make it more difficult for the light waves to travel all the way to you. When the moon is low on the horizon, it's actually much farther away from you than when it is overhead, so its light has to travel through a lot more atmosphere to reach you. Along the way, some of the colors (blue, green and purple) get refracted (deflected off their path because of their short wavelength) by the particles in the air - they just can't make it through all that dust and pollution.
The strong light waves that do make it are (you guessed it!) red, yellow and orange - the colors with the longest wavelengths.
This is also why sunsets look the way they do.”

There you go!

And now the moon is in the news again because fifty years ago men walked on the moon. I must have seen stuff on the television at the time, as we were just back from doing our year in France as part of our Modern Languages degree course, but I have not specific memory of it.

Apparently Nasa invited heads of state around the world to send messages to go to the moon. Our very own queen was naturally one of those invited to do so.

Buckingham Palace seemingly thought it was a bit gimmicky but the government was keen. “Their idea of emphasising the international aspect of the first men on the moon is something we want to support,” wrote John Graham, principal private secretary to the then foreign secretary, Michael Stewart.

He added that “it would look churlish” to decline.

The Queen’s then private secretary, Michael Adeane, writing on Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, recorded the Queen had approved the suggested text of a message.

But, he added: “Her Majesty agrees that this idea is a gimmick and it is not the sort of thing she much enjoys doing but she certainly would not wish to appear churlish by refusing an invitation which is so obviously well intentioned.”

Never let it be said that our queen was churlish. And so this message was sent:-

“On behalf of the British people, I salute the skills and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.” I can almost hear the queenly tones.

Here’s another little nugget about moon landings and space travel:

 “American space success came after the Soviets had launched Sputnik 2 in November 1957, with the dog Laika, a stray Moscow mongrel, on board, though she died in orbit. In April 1961, Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit around Earth, returning a hero.

When Gagarin visited the UK in July 1961, while much of Germany was still under Soviet occupation, such was the rapturous UK welcome that the British ambassador to West Germany, Sir Christopher Steel, reported that “the average German finds it alarming that the British, who are supposed to be reserved and politically mature, should rave over a Bolshevik on a propaganda mission, even if he is a hero”.

The British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, noted: “I think Sir C Steel might point out to the Germans that Gagarin’s reception was nothing like that which the little dog would have got.”.

And now, in this evening’s radio news I am pretty sure I heard something about a partial eclipse of the moon. It should be visible, the newsman said, in areas where the sky is clear. Well, yes, that sounds logical.

The best time to see it will be at about 10.30pm. Great! I know from last night’s experience that even if the sky remains clear, as it is at the moment, the moon will still be hidden behind that great hill. 

Even from the attic windows there won’t be much of a view! How very annoying!

Monday, 15 July 2019

Out and about. Some thoughts about origins.

Yesterday we travelled back from London with the intention of dumping our belongings, having a quick refreshment and heading out into Manchester to go to a concert by the Canadian singer K D Lang. In the event Phil was feeling decidedly under the weather and came home and went to bed.

So I turned to my fall-back go-to-concerts companion, our eldest granddaughter. On numerous occasions she has accompanied me to musical events which have fallen on an inconvenient evening, which usually means clashing with a chess event. Fortunately she was available, even at very short notice. 

And so we met in Manchester, had a selection of tapas - patatas bravas, croquetas, chorizo and some rather messy gambas al ajillo, which were in fact gambones rather than gambas, huge things complete with heads and tails, something I don’t mind dealing with but not when they are floating an a garlic sauce - and a little glass of something before heading for the concert venue.

The support act was the classical guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, one half of the Grigoryan brothers. His brother Slava, as he told us several times, should have been there, in fact had been around for most of K D’s tour, but had had to go back to Australian to run a guitar festival. Leonard was very good.

My granddaughter must have been by far the youngest in the audience, many of whom were lesbian couples in their mid-thirties and upwards into beyond even my great age! However, Tasmin has had a good musical education and appreciates all kinds of music.

This tour apparently began as the 25th anniversary tour of the album Ingénue but, KD Lang told us, the tour has been going slowly and this is now the 27th anniversary tour.

After a couple of numbers, including the lovely “Miss Chatelaine”, with the inevitable self-parodying dancing around the stage, K D told us she was going to go straight through the album “without banter”, as she put it. This she did, with only a small break to tell a fan on the front row that while she appreciated her singing along, it was a little over-enthusiastic and was putting K D off her stride. One of the fan’s companions told KD it was just because the lady loved her so. But the request/rebuke still stood. Oh, to be gently chastised by your idol!

K D later sang songs from other albums, all good, and finished with some of her own Canadian singer-songwriter favourites. She told us about having sung a Joni Mitchell song FOR Joni Mitchell, an experience she found terrifying. Even idols have idols!And she finished off with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Splendid!

Then I saw my granddaughter into an Uber - this is what today’s working 22-year-olds to at the end of an evening - and went off to catch the tram back to Oldham and then a taxi from Oldham to home. My taxi driver gave me his considered opinion of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson almost all the way home and for a couple of minutes more after I had paid him and was waiting for him to come to a conclusion with the taxi door open. The taxi driver was less than impressed by either of the “gentlemen”.

This morning I read that Donald Trump told four progressive Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”. Three of the congresswomen concerned were born in the USA, so that was an interesting suggestion to make to them. Here’s an article about it.

I like this response, from an article by one Richard Wolffe: “There was a time, before January 2017, when presidents and prime ministers celebrated immigrants and diversity as one of the defining strengths of their countries. Now our leaders pretend their own families have nothing to do with immigrants. Soon we’re going to have to watch a German-American president playing footsie with a British prime minister who was born in New York, with Turkish and Russian roots, who is actually named Boris. With all these immigrants around, it makes you wonder why we can’t find any real white nationalists to play the racism card any more. All these foreigners are taking the jobs away from our pure-bred bigots. They ought to go back to where they came from.”

You couldn’t make it up!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Some statistics, some unfairness, some symmetry and some oddness!

On the train home from London to Manchester, we have been travelling first class. This is purely and simply because it turned out to be cheaper to book seats in first class than elsewhere on the train. As a result we have had free cups of tea, free egg and cress sandwiches, free biscuits and free fruit!

How the other half live!

In the newspaper I came across some statistics about school funding. Most schools, probably all schools, have Parents Teacher Associations. The main aim of such organisations, as far as I have ever been able to tell, is to raise funds. This has become even more significant in the age of state school funding cuts.

Here’s some of what I found out!-

  •  Cardinal Vaughan Memorial school, a Catholic boys’ comprehensive in Holland Park, London, raised £631,770 in donations from parents, ex-alumni and benefactors.
  •  Hasmonean High School in barbet, North London, raised more than £1million in 36 hours. Some donors gave £10,000 each! 
  • These schools can use these funds to pay for extra staff. 
  • Trinity St Mary’s Church of England School in Wandsworth raised £2,000. 
  • They use some of the money to help provide transport for homelesss people who have been moved out of the area, so their children can still attend the school and have some measure of stability in their troubled lives. 
So we have private schools, state schools in areas where the PTA can help them get by and state schools in areas where the parents probably need help from the school as much as the school needs help from them.

Injustice is rife!

I started off watching Wimbledon by seeing Venus Williams being knocked put of the first round. Yesterday I watched Serena Williams lose to Simona Halep in the women’s final. There is a kind of symmetry there!

Here come some more statistics:-

The 2019 tennis championships are estimated to have generated £240m revenue for the All England Club, 12% increase in London hotel bookings, £28m in merchandise and concession sales, 300,000 glasses of Pimm’s, 473,000 fans through the gates.

This next is for my friend Colin who lives in Poio, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain, and who is always assuring us that Christopher Columbus was born in Poio. They claim to have his birth certificate in Poio museum!! The Observer must have done a feature last weekend on “ Fantasy Island, a colourful tour of Dominica”. This week they published a correction:

“We described Christopher Columbus as a Portuguese mariner. His wife was a Portuguese noblewoman but he was born in Genoa, Italy, and undertook his major voyages of exploration for the Spanish.”

There you go. It must be true. I read it in the newspaper!

Saturday, 13 July 2019

On going to concerts!

For the first time in three years I have not been to a concert in Hyde Park with my son and bis wife and various friends this year. Two years ago we saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We were all heartbroken whenTom Petty died not long after that. The concert was rather fine. We felt privileged to have been there. And we danced!

Last year my Spanish sister came over and we all went along and saw Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Paul Simon, the latter on his supposedly final tour. Again we danced and sang and this time occasionally wept, my sister having been recently bereaved.

This year I saw that Bob Dylan and Neil Young were performing. Neil Young we might have bought tickets for but we agreed that Dylan has gone beyond the point at which we might spend money to hear him mess up songs we know and love.

So instead Phil and I are heading back to Manchester tomorrow to see K D Lang in concert there. A treat is in store for us!

And today I have come across a review of the Dylan (78) and Neil Young (73) concert. Here’s a sample:

“The gig had barely been announced before Young issued a statement via his website, decrying the show as “a massive fuck-up” and declining to take part at all unless somebody did something about its sponsor, Barclays, “a fossil-fuel funding entity”. Evidently rattled – the promoters were presumably expecting something more along the lines of how much he was looking forward to seeing his fans and rockin’ London – Barclays’ name and the British Summer Time branding was discreetly dropped, the gig went ahead, but notice had been served: age has not rendered two of the most unbiddable figures in rock history any more biddable.”

Neil,Young was described as being “still entirely capable of making such an unyielding racket onstage that people feel impelled to write letters of complaint to the national press” but this time being in “uncharacteristically crowd-pleasing mood”. Bob Dylan was described as “eager as ever to demonstrate that when it comes to unbiddable live performances, the boss is in town. It’s an article of faith among his devotees that his gigs represent astonishing nightly feats of musical reinvention, in which a consummate artist presents his oeuvre not as a back catalogue carved in stone but a kind of living entity, constantly shifting and changing according to his mood”.

So there we go!

This summer’s visit to the southern branch of the family is just that, a family visit.

This morning I have breakfasted in town with my son and his small daughter. The small girl and I have been mermaids in the park, swimming as we ran over the grass, would you believe!

And I bought cherries at the Saturday market, incidentally receiving lessons in queueing from a lady at the fruit stall. Despite my being in the queue behind her, she was at pains to tell me that I needed to queue to pay. Yes, that was my intention. This queue, she then told me, was for those who had already selected what they wanted to buy. Yes, I had done that. “You don’t understand!” she declared, clearly exasperated with me.  “No, I don’t!” I agreed with her.

Bits of madness everywhere!

Friday, 12 July 2019

Some Friday morning thoughts!

Apparently George Osborne and Nigel Farage are suggestions for the next UK ambassador to the USA. Now, is Farage really a likely contender or is this just something the bookmakers have cooked up to get money off people placing bets? Or is it just me who cannot imagine him representing us in a diplomatic fashion. And is Osborne any better?

 As for me, I have escaped from it all to visit family in Chesham. This morning I got up in time to accompany my small granddaughter on her walk to school. They all get stamps on a card for walking to school - all good stuff to encourage exercise. Some sixty small children make up the reception group, divided then into four groups of fifteen - all named after birds - in separate corners of a large room. Amazingly they manage to keep a calm and businesslike atmosphere. At five and a half she is writing stories about balloons and dragons and princesses. What’s more, she writes me letters. I am impressed.

I am less impressed by this, which comes from today’s newspaper:-

“ More than 300 primary schools across England have been forced to become academies in the last three years against a backdrop of mounting opposition from parents, a Guardian investigation has revealed. Analysis of government data has shown that 314 schools were forcibly removed from local authority control after being rated inadequate by Ofsted.
The Department for Education (DfE) has paid out at least £18.4m to academy trusts for taking on the schools. Concerns are growing, however, about the stability of the system, with evidence that a rapidly increasing number of primary schools are being passed from one trust to another after conversion, causing long-term disruption and uncertainty.”

Altogether too much tinkering with the system!

Because I did not get up in time for breakfast before the walk to school, after we dropped the small girl off, I headed into the centre of town - my daughter-in-law was going to a boot-camp fitness training session - and had coffee, croissant and orange juice at a small cafe in town. The service was friendly, the coffee very good and the freshly squeezed orange juice excellent. The croissant, on the other hand had been warmed up just a little too much and was rather crispy, as well as overpriced at £2.60.

Then I had a wander around the town centre. For a small place, Chesham has a very good centre. As with most town centres these days, there are perhaps too many charity shops but it has two bookshops - W.H. Smith and Waterstone’s - a proper old-fashioned butcher’s shop with a proper old-fashioned display of meat products in the window, a Boots, a small shoe shop, a good old-fashioned hardware shop, and even a craft shop, where I purchased yarn for a crochet project I have in mind. There is also a Sainsbury’s and if you feel like going a little up-market, a small Waitrose. And on a Saturday they have an excellent market. And at least five cafes!

A good old-fashioned small town centre. What more could you ask for?

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Blogger on the move - random thoughts!

Here I am, sitting on the train to London, fifteen minutes before departure time, logged in to Virgin wifi. I am on my way to visit Offspring Number One and family. Aiming for the record in travelling light, I have stuffed a change of undies, spare t-shirt, etc, into almost the smallest rucksack I have. It’s a good job it’s summer time. (I have just seen a fellow traveller wrestle into the luggage place the largest suitcase imaginable. You could LIVE in such a suitcase!) Of course, I have bought a bottle of water at the station, in case I get thirsty on the train, and some nibbles - nuts, not chocolate - and have had to get out my emergency shopping bag to carry these in. So it goes!

Talking of healthy nibbles, here is George Monbiot, in an article from last year, talking about obesity and why we are all fatter now than back in 1976. He bases his original idea, that we are fatter than in 1976, on a photo that appeared in the paper of Brighton beach back in the year of the fabulous summer. The majority of sun-worshippers on the beach are slim. That would not be the case now. His theory is that it is not so much that we eat more than we used to. Rather, we eat differently. More sugar-based stuff is the main difference, he maintains.

Someone I know recently told me she had lost three stone in weight. An impressive total and she looks better for it. The secret she said was eating more slowly and thus being aware of when she was full, instead of just eating quickly whatever was on her plate. The other thing, of course, is the constant eating that goes on nowadays. Eating places and stalls selling street food abound. My grandmother would turn in her grave at the idea of the vast number of people who walk along the street feeding their faces. Such a “common” thing to do!

We live in a strangely intolerant time. According to this article, people are more intolerant of gay people and gay marriage now than they used to be. It’s the first decline in acceptance since the aids crisis, apparently. The article talks a about the bakers who refused to make a gay wedding cake and when the case went to court, they won the right to refuse to make a cake against their religious beliefs. Would it even have made the news, I wonder, if they had refused to make a cake with a racist slogan?

I have been rereading Ruiz Zafón’s novel “La Sombra del Viento”. In the mysterious Barcelona where the story is set, a writer goes round burning all the copies he can find of his own books, which he does not want to be out in the world. According to this article someone is tearing up books in libraries in Herne Bay. Is this another crazed writer?

The world is full of oddness.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Some odd beliefs (or disbeliefs) and some odd use of language.

It is 2019 and we have seen all sorts of evidence that the moon landings did in fact take place but there are apparently still people who think it was all made up. This is from an article on the subject:-

“It took 400,000 Nasa employees and contractors to put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon in 1969 – but only one man to spread the idea that it was all a hoax. His name was Bill Kaysing. It began as “a hunch, an intuition”, before turning into “a true conviction” – that the US lacked the technical prowess to make it to the moon (or, at least, to the moon and back).”

And Kaysing had actually worked for the company that helped design the rocket engines!

Here is a link to the article about our love of conspiracy theories.

The argument I like best about the impossibility of the moon landings is the one that says the nobody could have walked on the moon because it’s made of light! It’s an argument worthy of Mr Trump!

The “moon is made of light” man, Martin Kenny claimed: “In the past, you saw the moon landings and there was no way to check any of it. Now, in the age of technology, a lot of young people are now investigating for themselves.” He obviously never saw some of the science fiction TV series, such as “Lost in Space”, with really bad special effects which suggest to me, at any rate, that you couldn’t really fake the footage shot on the moon.

And yet, 21 % of 24- to 35-year-olds agreed in some kind of poll that the moon landings were staged, compared with 13% of over-55s.

Personally I am more concerned about the conspiracy to write poor English.

I came across this yesterday, supposedly written by a teacher:

“As a teacher of ethics, philosophy and religion at a Manchester comprehensive school, students often ask me why politicians allow 7% of children in this country to access exclusive schools that enable them to dominate the top professions – schools whose main entrance criteria is the size of parents’ bank accounts.”

While I appreciate and indeed agree with his point about the unfairness of private education and the advantage it gives, I find myself wincing at his opening statement, which implies that his students are “a teacher of ethics, philosophy and religion.

And besides, if those are school subjects, should they not have capital letters? Or am I just being altogether too pedantic?

He goes on to say:

“I sometimes inform my students of the latest Sutton Trust reports which highlight that 65% of senior judges, 49% of armed forces officers, 44% of newspaper columnists and 29% of MPs are all privately educated. Being a good teacher, I integrate maths into my subject and get them to work out the extent to which private school students are disproportionately represented in these professions.”

Ten out of ten for integrating Maths into his subject but how about integrating some English as well. Some senior person at a school I worked at once told me we are all English teachers. But maybe not teachers of Ethics and Religion!

A friend of mine sent me news about a student at the college we both used to work at. He felt that the headline was a little misleading:-  “College student goes to Harvard.”

In fact she is going to spend a week at Harvard as part of a programme designed to encourage UK students to apply to prestigious US universities. Young Hannah has just finished her first year at sixth form college and will fly out to Boston, USA, at the end of July, all expenses paid! Lucky girl!

At college here in the UK she is studying A-Level Law, Geography and Sociology as well as Vocational Criminology. I assume the last subject is part of the programme of vocational qualification available in a wide range of areas but somehow Vocational Criminology sounds to me a little like training to be a criminal.

 Or am I once again being too picky!