Thursday, 31 October 2019

Day five in Figueira. Food. Fog. And more mosquitos!

Eating out in Figueira.

On Sunday we went to the place in a sort of external box and had something fishy, sole I think, with veg and salad.

On Monday we went to the place down the sidestreet that I thought we had been looking for on Sunday. There we had pasta with fish.

On Tuesday we were planning to make use of the pre-paid dinner tickets we have from the chess tournament. This meant going to the Caçarola Dois restaurant near the casino. Unfortunately it was closed and so we went back to the place in the box and had more fish - sea bream this time - and salad.

On Wednesay the Caçarola Dois was open and so we carried out Tuesday’s plan. The lovely Patricia, assistant organiser of the chess event, provides dinner tickets, €8.50 each, which get you a menu do día, but only at the one restaurant. So Phil had the menu do día, soup, rabbit stew with chips, a drink, a dessert and coffee, while I had a mixed salad, a glass of white wine, some of Phil’s chips, a dessert, some water and a coffee, for much the same price as the dinner ticket. I am quite glad I opted not to go for the whole menu do día choice. All the food was good, but so much of it, and the service friendly. We had to smile as the waiters tried to remember the English for “coelho” when serving a non-Portuguese customer. Having worked put that it was rabbit, they went round muttering “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” for a few minutes!

At the table next to ours, two Frenchwomen came and sat down, ordering food à la carte. As ever, I earwigged on their conversation. This is a long-standing habit when I hear a foreign language being spoken, dating back to my teenage language-learning years. But it was not until their main course arrived, a delicious-looking dish of octopus and colourful vegetables tastefully arranged on a dish, that we got around to speaking. It was the stuff on the plate that a looked like spinach that sparked the conversation. Eventually the waiter told them it was not spinach, “épinards” in French, but the untranslatable “grelhos”.

Now, I know that these are “grelos” in Galicia, a prime ingredient in the soup they serve everywhere, “caldo gallego”, but also in the Galician’s favourite dish, “cocido”, an almost indigestible, in my opinion, pork stew, using just about every possible bit of the pig, including his ears. Restaurants proudly put up notices: “Domingo hay cocido” or “Jueves hay cocido” urging customers to book their table for Sunday or Thursday in order not to miss out on this amazing treat.

The French looked up “grelhos” on their phones and were none the wiser. “Les verts” or “greens” does not quite fit the bill. We discussed the impossibility of translating “grelhos”/“grelos” as in neither France nor England do we eat such stuff. The nearest I have come in English is “sprout tops”, which might come close horticulturally but not in any kind of culinary way!

Such are the joys of travel!

Today we woke to rain. Even though the rain had stopped by midxmorning, it continued damp and misty ... but also warm and sticky. Hence the mosquitos which attacked Phil in the night again - 4.00am, lights on, mosquito hunt underway!

Such also are the joys of travel!

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Day Four in Figueira. Hindsight, pavements and nostalgia.

Another grey day in Figueira da Foz. Phil is currently running on 1.5 points out of 3. Over breakfast this morning another player commented to him that the game he drew last night could have been a win for him. But then, it was against a Grand Master and it was the Grand Master who offered the draw. It would have been rather annoying to turn down a draw and then blunder against the GM and los the whole thing. Besides, it’s a lot easier to win games with hindsight. It’s also easier to spot other people’s wins. I say all of this as a strictly non-playing observer, of course, who tramps the streets of this seaside town while the games go on.

I might be tramping them again later looking for a chemist selling antihistamines as Phil was bitten by a mosquito last night. He is prone to allergic reactions to mosquito bites. But who expects mosquitos in Portugal at the end of October? Are they attracted by the warmish damp conditions that prevail at the moment? The world is crazy!

Tramping the streets, I see a lot of the pavements. Most of Figueira’s pavements are made up small square cobblestones, about two inches across and at least eight inches deep. I know the depth because I have seen them laying stretches of pavement, a very slow and meticulous process. They are flat on the top but this does not prevent Phil from complaining that he finds them uncomfortable to walk on - the wrong kind of shoes, I reckon. They do look amazingly treacherous when wet but in fact are not as slippery as they appear.

Mostly they are white or pale yellow but in at least one street they are a nice shade of pink. along the promenade they are interspersed with blue cobblestones in a geometric pattern on one side of the road and on the other they are arranged to depict seashells and other seaside odds and ends. In one street they depict figures of children indicating that you are passing a school. The work involved must be quite something.

In our bit of the UK paving stones of any kind seem to have been replaced with tarmac, a poor and rather boring substitute for the old paving slabs of yesteryear. You would have to draw a hopscotch pitch, if that is the correct term, if you wanted to play the old game, which I suspect children no longer do. Also gone are the games of walking only on paving stones of a specific colour. And the old rhyme “tread on a square, you’ll marry a bear, tread on a line, you’ll marry a swine” has completely lost its meaning. Along with seeing an ambulance and being told to “hold your collar until you see a dog!” Mind you, who walks to school with a bunch of mates any longer? So there is no longer any need for such fun and games.

Having said that, at our five-year-old granddaughter’s school they have a system of rewards for walking to school.

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. Sometimes you wonder how things change as much as they clearly do.

I was reading about Jacob Rees-Mogg, something I try to avoid, but this time he was describing his aunt. “She was the most lovely aunt,” says Jacob Rees-Mogg. “Wonderfully kind, and took a lot of trouble with her nieces and nephews.” It turns out that the aunt in question, Anne Rees-Mogg, was an avant-garde film-maker and little Rees-Mogg and siblings appeared in her films. She belonged to a film-makers’ cooperative who took over a former British Rail canteen in north London in the 1970s.

She was, I read, a committed socialist and champion of gay rights. Are we really talking about the same family here?

Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to remember her fondly and he was apparently her favourite among the Rees-Mogglings. Perhaps he had hidden charms before he turned into Lord Snooty. “She would have turned in her grave if she knew what Jacob had become,” says John Smith, who served with her on the board of the co-op, at the time the place to be for artists interested in film-making. “But she absolutely doted on him. Even as a baby, she would regularly bring him up in conversation. She thought he was the most marvellous person on the planet.”

The world is clearly full of strangeness!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Figueira - day three. Language. Graffiti. Buildings. Food. And weather!

The girls on reception in our hotel must be quite accomplished liars for they assure me that my Portuguese is very good. Either good liars or easily impressed. My Portuguese is a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. My French doesn’t seem to get into the mix, perhaps because it does not seem to me to be as closely related as the other three, despite being another Latin language. I can usually work out how to say stuff in Portuguese - I have, after all, listened and repeated my way through the Michel Thomas CDs - but I have not had enough speaking practice. Consequently when a vocabulary gap comes up, Spanish and Italian pop up to fill it.

But I’m getting by and it’s fun trying. And my efforts did result in my organising to have a hairdryer delivered to our room.

Walking around Figueira I have spotted some very fine street art.

Some old. Like this fishy picture outside a school.

 Some new ... to me at any rate.

There is, of course, meaningless graffiti as well but some things have clearly had a lot of work out into them.

I also saw a building under renovation. Many of the older buildings have very ornate decorative work on the exteriors, including carved or moulded window tops, for want of a better term.

The building in question has been totally gutted inside but the external structure remains whole, which should mean that when the work is completed it can have a modern interior but retain the elegance of its old self.

The best of both worlds!

This reminded me of something I read about Wendell Pierce, the actor. He is appearing in “Death of a Salesman” in London’s West End and has been on “Desert Island Discs”, something I must listen to on catchup some time soon. His family’s home in New Orleans was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. According to the actor his parents found this very traumatic. He said, “I have seen my parents in grief once before when my older brother died. He died about five years before. I saw them just become these diminutive fragile souls. And then I saw it again that day when I brought them to the house.” He went on to rebuild it from the inside out. “I knew that if I demolished the home it probably would demolish them.” Good for him!

We lunched yesterday in a small restaurant in a side street - the one I thought Phil was trying to find on Sunday. We discovered it a few years ago but last year it was closed for refurbishment. Now it is open again, still serving good, fairly basic dishes bit in copious amounts at reasonable prices. I wanted a mixed salad to follow the soup I had to begin with, and debated with myself on the size to order, small, medium or large. It’s a good job I went for small as it was enormous! Goodness knows how much you get in a large portion - a whole lettuce patch perhaps.

I walked down from our hotel to meet Phil at the chess venue last night through quite thick fog. The sea mist must have come in to cover the town. This morning began with cloud and then heavy rain. I walked out in the late morning, dressed for blustery autumn, only to find myself shedding layers as the sun came out.

Several seasons in one day!

Monday, 28 October 2019

Figueira - day two.

Figueira is a deceptive kind of place. First of all it’s bigger than you might think from a first impression. I always think of it as a longish coastal development but in fact it spreads back quite a lot further. For our purposes though, and presumably for the purposes of those who come here for summer holidays, the coastal stretch with access to the long beaches is all you need.

And I always think of Figueira as flat but really that’s just the promenade. To get anywhere behind the seafront you have to go up hill. Okay, so it’s only mildly uphill. It’s not Vigo or Sheffield, two towns of notable hilliness. Nor is it Lisbon, which I am informed is pretty steep, or Porto, whose hills I have been up and down. But it’s not flat!

And then there are the deceptively not quite parallel streets which can lead you away from your intended destination. Yesterday, for example, Phil had a particular restaurant in mind for lunch. It didn’t help that his description was a little imprecise and had me thinking that we were looking for a different restaurant in a different direction altogether. Once we had sorted out that problem and I realised where we were heading, at least we had only one problem to deal with. We were no longer at cross purposes. Every time we look for this restaurant I swear it moves. It’s on a corner and has an exterior section enclosed in a sort of glass box affair. We must have gone up and down almost every little street in the vicinity of the casino before we came upon it at last, as if it had suddenly materialised on the corner.

It was worth the hunt. The food is good and the staff are friendly.

We have had similar problems trying to re-find eating places in Santiago de Compostela’s old quarter. And even more so in San Sebastian where you really get the impression that the streets are on a kind of grid. Unfortunately the grid is inexact and you are led astray, undoubtedly a ploy to force you to discover new bars and restaurants.

 It’s all part of the fun.

 Our hotel wifi continues to be wonky. Even in the lobby, where it is reasonably reliable and you usually get a connection, it can still be slow. It’s a good job we are not trying to make a living via wifi. As a rule I only follow the goings-on of the rich and famous when I go to the hairdresser’s. At the moment, though, it seems that Prince Harry and his good lady are popping up in the news on a regular basis. From the Guardian the day before yesterday I got this:

“To be or not to be an active royal, that is the question raised last week on behalf of Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. It was aired by a concerned media after Harry used the media – his friend Tom Bradby’s ITV documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey – to discuss his bitter feelings about the media. That circular progression forms the perimeter of the hole in which the 35-year-old prince finds himself trapped. He feels surrounded by the same intrusive lenses he blames for his mother’s death and, like Diana, Princess of Wales, he has tried to break free from them with an emotional appearance on primetime television.
Are his complaints legitimate or a case study in the kind of spoilt privilege that is normally filed under the phrase “first-world problems”? Certainly the dubious optics of discussing his own struggles against the distressing backdrop of African deprivation did not go unnoticed by his critics. Nevertheless, what seems beyond doubt is that Harry is a genuinely troubled soul, a 21st-century tortured prince.”

I also read that the actor Wendell Pierce (Bunk in “The Wire”) a friend of Meghan from their starring in a series together, warned her that her life would be changed utterly, including the press attention as part of his warning.

Personally, I think that Henry Charles Albert David Windsor, or is it Sussex by now, and his lovely wife, and presumably their small son, should beetle off to Hollywood. The lovely wife could pick up her acting career, or not, as she chose. After all, between them they have plenty of money to live on. They could continue to do good works as the Clooneys seem to do. But they needn’t worry about being active members of the British royal family, whatever that means anyway! After all, Harry’s chances of becoming King of England grow slimmer by the day. And we could still read about them in Hello Magazine. That’s my take on it anyway!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Day One proper in Figueira. Hotel gripes making me feel like a real bourgeois!

When we finally arrived at Figueira da Foz in the early evening yesterday we set off walking from the railway station, way out on the edge of town, far up the estuary. We were headed for the hotel where we knew that the opening ceremony for the chess tournament was taking place. Some way along the road it occurred to us that maybe we should have got in a taxi but by then it was too late; we were well on our way and besides the taxi rank was back at the railway station.

As it happened we probably took the right decision, for the lengthy speeches that our friend the organiser of this event arranges for the opening ceremony were still going on. Not that I have any intrinsic objection to long speeches. It’s just that when they are in rapid Portuguese, thanking various sponsors and town dignitaries, and you understand maybe three words out of ten, then they are something of an endurance test. That said, even if you understand every word, I feel that these speeches do ramble on and on and on.

The speeches were followed by a very nice music and poetry event, a tribute I was told to a recently deceased poet, a relative of the organiser. Now that’s the kind of thing that does not usually go on at British chess events!

We sneaked in at the back with our bags and were mildly chastised by the lovely Patricia, some kind of assistant to the organiser, because she had been to Coimbra to collect us and we, of course, were not there, having missed our train. Our messages and emails and voicemails to the organiser had not been passed on to her. Next time, we decided, she must make sure I have HER mobile number!

We waited and waited for the excellent music to come to an end, hoping that we could at least greet our friend the organiser. But it was not to be and so we left our bags in the room of another friend, staying at the chess venue hotel and went off to get something to eat. After some fine fish soup and a decent salad, accompanied by several glasses of white wine, we eventually got into a taxi to go to our hotel at the other end of town, checking in late in the evening.

We have stayed in this hotel several times but this year it has been, or is perhaps still in the process of being, refurbished and has changed its name. It all looks very swish and modern and tasteful. However, when we went up to our room the door key-cards refused to open the door for us. I went down to reception where a charming young lady reprogrammed the cards. Which made no difference at all. So Phil went down, perhaps to see if he could be more efficient in explaining the problem, perhaps to put the frighteners on the charming young lady! By then the door to the room was keeping up a shrill beep beep beep and still nobody could open it. So the charming young lady programmed some key cards for another room and when they did not work, resignedly gave us a proper key, an old-fashioned metal gadget - okay I exaggerate - it was a perfectly modern key but a proper key nonetheless.

This morning we need to go through the rigmarole of handing that back and getting the modern wave-me-at-your-door key-cards.

The room is perfectly nice but has only one chair. As a rule there is a sit-up-straight chair and some kind of easy chair. Ours just has the first. Clearly only one person is expected to sit at a time. The bathroom is nicely refurbished, the shower is splendid, but there is a decided lack of towel rails. This is the mind of thing that leads to towels dumped on the floor and being washed more often than is good for the environment. But, more annoyingly for me, there is no hairdryer. Now, when I was packing I debated long and hard about packing my hairdryer and finally decided, in the interests of space in the suitcase and weight of the same, that any hotel calling itself a 4* would surely have a hairdryer in the rooms. Straighteners are a different matter but hairdryers are a given these days. Not so, apparently! And now I am going to have to ask them to find me one, not immediately but within the next few days! What a pest!

Oh, and the hotel wifi is still wobbly! Last year they blamed the difficulty of accessing the internet in the bedrooms on the storm that had caused so much damage only a week or so beforehand. This year they simply told us that the best place for internet is the lounge and that most bedrooms have problems logging on.

Other than that, everything is fine. The weather if fine and mild. I ran along the promenade and back along the boardwalks on the beach. The breakfast is everything you might expect from a nice hotel. The staff are friendly and cheerful. We’ll see how it goes!

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Going to Portugal - a late blogpost!

Friday. Another fine morning. Rosy-fingered dawn and all that sort of stuff. With oddly, not very far ahead of the sun, the tiniest sliver of waning moon. I have not sussed out moonrise and moonset times. As a child I imagined the sun and moon coordinated themselves so that when one went down the other came up but that is not the case. On many a fine afternoon you see the moon in the sky. And of course, it comes up an hour later every day, which I knew already, explaining why high tide is an hour later every day.

All of this stuff that we take for granted!

Such as that if I head out at 8.25 in the morning my breadshop/cafe will have bread waiting for me. Not this morning it didn’t. I was down there by about 8.35 and the place was still in almost complete darkness, just a light on in the back where they were presumably getting ready. It’s usually closer to 9.00 or a bit later when I get round there from my run so maybe they don’t open until 9.00. I am pretty sure I have been there at that time before now and found them open, although on one occasion they told me the bread had not yet arrived. So maybe that explains the delay.

Anyway, I had to go another, altogether inferior, breadshop this morning. We still miss the small bakery just up the road from our flats. They ovens were behind the shop itself and the bread was far better than anything made by even the smallish chains that supply many of the cafes and breadshops in our bit of Vigo. It must be two years or so ago that the older lady of those who worked there - if there was a man you never saw him - decided she was retiring. Well into her seventies, she deserved to retire, but as she was the owner of the place she decided to sell up and move elsewhere. Since then the place has been closed up. Twice this year we have seen signs of life, someone inspecting and cleaning up, but not really looking as though opening is imminent.

What a shame!

So on this fine and sunny day, we travelled. The best laid plans went a little haywire. The plan was to catch the 12.00 bus to Porto airport, where we would catch a metro to Porto’s Campanhá station, just in time for a train to Coimbra B. There we would be met by a friend with a car.

The timing was always going to be tight.

The bus arrived at the airport 10 minutes late and even though we were on a metro train within five minutes it was soon clear that we would miss our train to Coimbra. And the rest of the day was shunted to match it. So it goes.

I paid 50 cents to reacquaint myself with Campanhá station’s toilets - clean enough, nicely decorated, pot plants here and there and fado music in the background! I’m not sure it was 50 ents worth of fancy. Stations in the UK have recently decided to make their loos free. A big plus!

Then we bought our tickets to Coimbra B for a later train and sat on the platform eating the sandwiches I had prepared - hummus, ham and lettuce, gourmet sandwiches! We had to produce our passports to qualify for a discount on our tickets and get them out again when the ticket inspector came along on the train. He got very agitated with a pair of young people, Japanese looking, whose passports were in their suitcases. Presumably they were on some kind of young people’s discount and so had to show their ID documents. Maybe there is a trade in discounted tickets which demands strict controls on the trains.

This was a train going eventually to Faro, a super-smooth, highly sophisticated, high-speed train. A thing of sleek beauty, it had to be admired. It took an hour from Porto to Coimbra, dashing so fast through numerous, sometimes old and picturesque, stations that it was impossible to read the names.

By contrast the train we caught, after another hour’s wait, from Coimbra B to Figueira da Foz was slower and rather clunky, covering a much shorter distance in a rather longer time and stopping at just about every station along the way, with names like Vila Pouca do Campo, Ameal, Pereira and Formoselha-Santo Varåo.

Seen from trains, however, this long, thin country, Portugal, looks quite neat and well organised - an impression enhanced no doubt by the blue sky and sunshine.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Friday thoughts.

Weather report: a bright and sunny start here in Vigo today. Other parts of Spain have had floods in recent days, I understand, so we seem to be getting off lightly. By late afternoon at least one temperature gauge outside a chemist’s shop was showing 27 degrees. It was in full sunshine but even so it seemed a little excessive to me.

Tomorrow we head a little further south to Figueira da Foz in Portugal. Last year at this time we arrived there to find them suffering from the after-effects of Storm Who-Knows-What-Name, with trees blown through windows on the sea front and millions of Euros of damage all over the town. The year before we had had to buy sun hats and suncream. So goodness only knows what awaits us this year. From reports of a cold front crossing the Iberian Peninsula, however, I think we might not need our sunhats! But you never know!

The other day I went on a bit about how dark it will be when we change the clocks at the weekend. As has happened before, I was sending the time in the wrong direction. It will in fact be lighter in the morning and darker in the late afternoon.

In the baker’s shop cum cafe this morning I half saw a news report about the moving of Franco’s remains. Members of his family were saying that the decision was “electoralizada”, which presumably means “taken for vote-catching purposes”. Maybe so. But not all of those giving fascist salutes were of the older generation. Not the very young either, but young enough for me to wonder about their reasons for feeling that way.

I read somewhere yesterday that Jean-Claude Juncker has accused Boris Johnson of spreading lies during the Brexit campaign. Speaking on Thursday evening the European Commission president said he “should have intervened” in the campaign to point out “bulls***” and falsehoods spread by “Boris Johnson and others”. “They were saying things, some of them – lying. Telling the people things which have nothing to do with our day by day reality,” he told an audience at a think tank in Brussels.

It’s coming to something when foreign politicians start to say in public that ours have lied!! I doubt that it makes for good relations!

It is, however, perhaps rather a pity that he did not intervene at the time. It’s a bit late pointing it all out after the event. Maybe he too thought, as so many of us did, that the result of the referendum would be a vote to stay. Would his intervention have made any difference? Or would it just have reinforced some people’s views about an interfering Europe?

All water under the bridge now.

Just as I am growing more and more concerned about the acceptance of violence as a normal thing in our society, I come across a survey from Cardiff University that tells us that a majority of voters in England, Wales and Scotland believe that violence against MPs is a “price worth paying” in order to get their way on Brexit. And this is not just frustrated leave voters either. Of those who took part in the survey 71% of leave voters in England, 60% in Scotland and 70% in Wales agreed that violence towards MPs was “a price worth paying” for Brexit to be delivered. Remain voters - 58% in England, 53% in Scotland and 56% in Wales - felt the same if it meant we could stay in the EU. So remainers are only marginally less violent than leavers.

I am somewhat gobsmacked!

I would be interested to see if there is any difference in opinion between different age groups.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Foggy weather. Foggy thinking. Channel tunnel thoughts.

As predicted, yesterday’s sunshine disappeared into a wet mess overnight. As we walked home from a visit to one of our local bars-with-wifi late yesterday evening it was bright and clear and more than a little chilly. This morning, however, most of the city had disappeared into the murk. When I went out first thing it was not so much walking in the rain as walking in the middle of a cloud. My phone’s weather app promises sun and cloud for tomorrow though, so we shall see what comes of such promises!

The fogginess around here has maybe spread itself to Westminster as I read that Boris Johnson’s cabinet are divided over how to proceed with Brexit, and the prime minister has to choose between pressing ahead with his deal or gambling his premiership on a pre-Christmas general election. I was about to say that the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times was working, but in fact it’s all got rather boring now.

In the United States it seems that the Republicans, or some of them at any rate, are intent on making things more interesting by “storming” a closed-door committee hearing on Capitol Hill in the impeachment inquiry. They were chanting “Let us in!” and tweeting updates from their phones. This should come as no surprise to us. A prodigious amount of chanting went on during Mr Trump’s election campaign and he so much likes tweeting that it almost seems like an alternative form of government.

A tweetocracy?

It’s almost 25 years since the first Eurostar train reached Paris, not going quite so fast as my daughter-in-law reported their train to be going last Friday. Apparently the idea of a tunnel under the Channel was first mooted in 1802, when a French mining engineer, Albert Mathieu-Favier first proposed a tunnel involving horse drawn carriages and oil lamps. This scheme and several others were surveyed and abandoned. In 1881 digging began but soon stopped as British politicians, backed up by the press, stirred up fears of an invasion. Politicians and press don’t change much, do they? Just over a hundred years later Thatcher and Mitterand agreed on the construction of the tunnel and there it now is. Since then over 200 million passengers have travelled on the Eurostar – including the Queen, presidents, prime ministers, Beatles and Rolling Stones, ambassadors, Wags, fans, and a lot of ordinary people.

A Guardian reporter spoke to some of those passengers, and the people who helped them travel. Here’s part of one person’s experience, a writer and railway historian:

 “I was a passenger on the first train to Paris The most disappointing thing was that you never actually saw the sea: it’s because of the way the tunnel had to start in front of a hill on the British side and takes you quite a way beyond Calais. It’s a brilliant piece of railway engineering: I’ve travelled in the cab, an amazing experience. But the other great disappointment is that Brexit has happened. Despite the fact you can hop on the Eurostar and end up in France, it hasn’t made us feel more European. “

I have only been through the tunnel twice, going to France and back with a bunch of sixth form students. We almost persuaded some of the more gullible students that if they watched carefully they might see fish as we went under the sea!! For brief moment they believed!

This is perhaps the oddest of the various travellers’ tales:-

 “I had sex on the Eurostar and founded the 45 Metre Underground Club I was with my girlfriend – it was 2011, we hadn’t been going out long. It was a morning train. I think we did have a drink on the train, but we were very much in control of our senses. I had the idea as we were heading out of St Pancras. She didn’t take much persuasion: it was a sort of pioneering thing. I imagine we weren’t the first to do it, but we were the first to do it in the spirit of this new club we wanted to set up.
The Mile High Club is aspirational: what could be sexier and naughtier than sex on a plane? But now flight shame puts the Mile High Club in a different light. The 45 Metre Underground Club is the low-carbon option. But you have to be doing it when you are under the Channel. Honestly, I think we were in there for about five or 10 minutes, before emerging gingerly but extremely pleased with ourselves. I would absolutely recommend it. There is a huge body of water above you, you are hurtling along at high speed through a dark tunnel under the Channel, knowing you are on a low-carbon adventure.
 *************, founder of the Ecohustler online magazine, lives in Frome, Somerset.”

I wonder how Eurostar travel will be affected by Brexit. My son tells me there is now a rather imposing-looking “borderforce” at the Gare du Nord end of the Eurostar. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop people enjoying that bit of once-cooperative travel organisation.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Out and about in Vigo again.

It’s amazing how dark it still is at 8.00 in the morning. Next weekend the clocks go back. Imagine how dark it will be then. People going to work in the gloom. Children walking to school in the dismal dark. But at least it was not raining when I got up and ran up the hill, something I have not done for a couple of months.

Nothing much has changed on my running route here in Vigo. All the shops are festooned with Hallowe’en stuff. One shop I saw wishes everyone a Happy Autumn, in English, a greeting I don’t see around in the UK. Despite all this more immediate festivity, Christmas seems to be coming on apace. The lampposts on our street are already decorated, waiting presumably for the great switch-on.

And in the supermarket they are selling pannetone and turrón. Maybe somebody should introduce them to the delights of British mince pies. After all, if they can sell Italian pannetone, why not British Christmas stuff as well?

 I run perhaps three kilometres most mornings, but I don’t do marathons or other endurance events. When I watch the Tour de France on TV I see the cyclists receiving packs of foodstuffs they can just suck out of a kind of tube. Presumably some of these are energy gels. Yesterday I read a short article about how a spoonful of mashed potato is just as good as these energy gels at providing energy for athletes on the go. The research quoted in the article is “supported by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education”. So maybe the research is a little biased but I rather like to imagine cyclists and marathon runners sucking pureed potato out of plastic sachet.

 The article also suggests honey, probably sticky even when taken from a tube, pureed fruit pouches such as can be bought for weaning babies, good for the fruit sugar but low on carbs, raisins and other dried fruits - I now have the picture in my head of runners digging raisins out of the little boxes my smaller grandchildren like to have as snacks on the go - and finally guava jellies “For years, Colombian cyclists have been fuelling on bocadillo de guayaba, a kind of solidified guava jam rich in carbs and really tasty, like a bigger, classier, fruit pastille. The traditional form comes in small red blocks, wrapped in dried leaves.”

 By midday here in Vigo the sun had come out and the sky was mostly blue. The temperature had gone up from 13 to 18 - not bad! How long this can last is debatable. My weather app promises rain tomorrow! But at least we managed a walk in the sunshine today.

 Yesterday evening I saw an article claiming to explain what Mr Johnson’s deal offers us. Following on from stuff about Ireland and the cost of the “divorce”, came this:
 “Legal copy-and-paste Highlighting the sheer scale of Brexit, the bill allows for EU law to be retained under UK law, as needed, even at the end of the transition period.”

 One beguns to wonder just what is the point! Especially the last item about EU law. Those who have gone on and on about how they don’t want to be ruled by Brussels will not be best pleased! 

Meanwhile, we still wait to see whether Mr Johnson can push the whole business through and whether or not we will still be EU Europeans when we return to the UK!

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

More travellers’ tales

Today began with a run. A weekend of looking after a five-year-old granddaughter plays havoc with your exercise routine. Somehow walking down onto town at her pace and running around the park a little do not quite fit the bill. So, as it was not raining this morning, off I went on my usual round the village route.

And I was back in time for a quick shower and hair wash, breakfast à deux, albeit a little sparse as we were making do with what was available to a couple about to depart for a couple of weeks. Any remaining odds and ends were packed up to be handed over to the daughter who came to give us a lift to the airport.

Even them, the lift could not be door to door because of the ongoing roadworks. Could we, she asked, tote our bags past the roadworks so that she could pick us up without having to circumvent the village to get to our house? No problem! I squeezed myself in between two sleeping grandchildren in their car seats and off we went.

Manchester airport remains a supremely confusing place. Of course, this might be because we have little experience of London airports and prefer to travel to and from smaller places like Liverpool and Porto. And then there is the carparking nonsense. Our daughter was just throwing us out but still came in for a £3 parking charge!!

Our flight set off about five minutes early. We heard no announcement about boarding, so it was a good job we were close to the departure gate. We had found nowhere to provide us with a light lunch of soup or something similar - Liverpool’s John Lennon airport is good for this - and had satisfied ourselves with sandwiches from W. H. Smith. Then we headed for the gate where embarkation as already in progress. Maybe there are more people going for priority boarding these days but there was little difference between those with the magic words on their boarding cards and the ordinary folk as regards boarding the plane.

But we had no problems. Apart, that is, from a ridiculous amount of turbulence. Did we cross the jet stream at the wrong point? It went on and on. The loos were out of action. A small boy in front of us was threatening to be sick. Eventually all calmed down and the aisle filled with weak-bladdered folk queuing for the toilets!

We were due to arrive at 18.40. There is a regular bus to Vigo leaving at 18.45. We had had some discussion weeks back about whether to book tickets for that bus. In the end we decided it might be tempting fate. But today we arrived at 18.30 and the buss was a possibily. Much betternthan waiting an hour or more for the next one. So we positively scuttled across the tarmac, through passport control and out of the airport. There was the bus! One passenger was just discussing his ticket with the driver, who grumpily let us put our luggage in the hold and purchase tickets. On days when we have waited for two hours for a bus, it arrives 15 minutes late. Today as we arrived at the last minute the driver was clearly set on breaking records for punctual departure.

We travelled peacefully from Porto to Vigo, admiring the sunset sky and dozing along the way.

 And the day is ending with a couple of beers and free tapas in one of our favourite bars!

Monday, 21 October 2019

Brexit. Travel (mis)adventures. Language. And back to Brexit.

Brexit-wise I have no idea what is really going on. Some reports say Mr Johnson has sent an unsigned letter requesting an extension and another letter explaining his personal reasons for not wanting an extension. Can this be true? And do his personal reasons have anything to do with tax?

Another thing I have read talks about a possible extension until the end of 2020 to allow time for another referendum. Will it be sorted in our lifetime? Goodness knows!

Yesterday my son and his wife arrived safely back from Paris, where the weather was kind to them. My granddaughter and I walked down onto town to meet them at the station, whereupon it started to rain!

Phil arrived safely back in Manchester yesterday after some adventures:

  • our misreading the time of his train to Manchester and his consequently arriving at Euston a good hour and a half before his train’s actual departure time; 
  •  his accidentally getting on a train bound for Edinburg abut realising in the nick of time and managing to get on the Manchester train after all.
I must be careful to avoid both these things as I travel today.

I thought I was travelling home lighter than I arrived - luggage-wise not personally having lost weight - as I arrived with stuff to leave here in Chesham. However, I have now been given a stack of stuff to carry in the other direction: hand-me-down clothes from one small granddaughter to another slightly smaller one and gifts for the new grandson. But at least I am not carrying a weighty sewing machine. That will wait for my brother-in-law to visit here by car. We have yet to tell him that he will have this task but he is usually quite amenable.

A friend of mine posted this odd statistic on social media:

 “Here’s a mad stat for you. In 1834 when the UK abolished slavery, they paid the equivalent of £16.5bn as to slave owners compensation. It was so large an amount that they had to take out a loan from the treasury that they only paid back in 2015. Which means that all of us, through tax, have been paying back slave owners for the freeing of their slaves until 2015 ...”

The world is crazy!

I read that Duolingo, the online language learning programme, plans to add Gaelic to its syllabus. Something like 60,000 people speak Gaelic, now regarded by Unesco as an “endangered language. There are hopes that adding it to the Duolingo list will increase the number of speakers. Apparently this has worked for Welsh and Irish. Some academics, however, believe that promoting Gaelic to new speakers does not help the existing core of speakers on whom the language’s wellbeing depends.

It’s an odd dilemma. Can we, indeed should we, interfere with the natural progression of a language? Every time I complain about the way the English language changes with modern usage, someone will inevitably tell me that we cannot artificially prevent this progression, which I refuse to call progress! 

And I am taken back to my schooldays when my Spanish teacher used to try to persuade us to sign up for Esperanto lessons, which she regarded as the future of communication and a way of ensuring world peace, or at least peace in Europe, before the Common Market came along!

Oops, there we are, back at the EU and Brexit!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Role-playing. And generational differences,

On a Saturday morning my son usually walks his 5-year-old daughter down into the town centre for breakfast, leaving his wife to have a bit of lie-in. So in his absence the small girl and I did the walk down together. I have accompanied them on is breakfast adventure before so I know the routine: a flat white for me, a babycino for the small girl, a plain croissant each and a pain au chocolat to share. A babycino, by the way, or perhaps a babiccino in line with a cappuccino, is basically a small cup or frothed milk with chocolate powder sprinkled on top. A generation used to getting their cappuccino to order have brought up their tiny people to appreciate a small person’s version without the coffee. Who knew such a thing existed?

On the walk down I tried to engage the small girl in proper conversation about the stuff we could see en route - plants, flowers, interesting buildings, planes in the sky, etc. This worked quite well but every so often we had to get into “in the game” mode. Thismeant that we were part of a group of schoolchildren on a “reward” visit to a cafe for having been generally good and hard working. I had to be Louisa Amy Pickles and she was Freya Charlotte Nobbs. I was told off if I forgot and reverted into general conversation mode.

When we went into the park later, still in “in the game” mode, I realised what some of this was based on. She welcomed me to “Heartlake Park” not its real name by any means but borrowed from Lego Friends - Heartlake City. I have found out that there is a computer game for children, “Heartlake Rush where you will play with Andrea, Mia, Olivia, Emma, Stephanie and a bunch of their LEGO friends.” As far as I know our granddaughter has not played the game but she has watched episodes of a series on Netflix involving these Lego Friends characters - all high achieving girls but nonetheless very feminine, perhaps a little too concerned with fashion and singing for my liking. So it goes.

The generation thing is interesting. Here is the start of a article in today’s Guardian:
 “As a member of Generation X, I naturally derive much of my self-esteem from reflecting on the fact that I’m neither older nor younger than I am. On one hand, the baby boomers’ ruination of the planet (and the property market) was well under way before I’d even learned to ride a bike. On the other, not being a millennial or Z-er, at least I learned to ride a bike, rather than spending my childhood in a darkened room staring at a screen in preparation for a career writing articles explaining to my elders why the films they liked as teenagers were actually horribly problematic. In short, I have examined the evidence for the merits of each generation, and reached the dispassionate conclusion that mine is best.”

Here’s a link for those who want to read the rest of it.

I get a little peeved at baby boomers being blamed for all sorts of today’s ills - including the result of the Brexit referendum. Personally, I do not consider myself to blame. To some extent we were set up by our parents’ generation, who after all were the ones who started buying council houses! However, I can see that each generation considers itself the best. And ours may well have been the most fortunate - no university fees to pay, no student debt. We may not have had the best TV programmes but I still consider we probably had the best music.

I commented recently, and happily, about the making of proper spacesuits for women. Today I read that two Nasa astronauts were the first all female spacewalk team yesterday. They should have done it seven months ago but at the time there was only one medium-sized suit available and presumably that one was made for a medium-sized man rather than specifically for a woman. Progress in equality stuff.

Less good news. A second whale has been found dead in the Thames, near the place where a humpback died just over a week ago.why are whales suddenly going up the Thames to die. Two in the space of just over a week are two too many.

There’s a section of the weekend paper called “You’re the expert”, where readers send in queries about how to solve problems and other readers offer solutions. Today’s query is “How can I throw a Halloween Party for 11-year-old girls on a budget - and still make sure it goes with a bang?” I couldn’t be bothered to read the suggestions, apart from spotting the suggestion that the participants make their own costumes put of paper and sticky tape. An excellent idea, by the way, as apparently masses of plastic is used and wasted on pre-made Hallowe’en costumes.

No, other things struck me. First of all, I object to Hallowe’en losing its apostrophe and becoming Halloween. And then, even more, I still fail to understand how Hallowe’en became such a big business that card manufacturers produce greeting cards and there is a whole host of producers of Hallowe’en related fancy dress stuff. When did it become SO important. But most all, why is my mobile phone network provider sending me emails like this one? “Halloween is just around the corner and we come bearing treats.”

 I just want them to provide me with a good service. Whether or not I celebrate a possibly pagan festival has nothing to do with it.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Stars of one kind and another!

It’s a fine and sunny day in Chesham. Well, at any rate, a fine and sunny morning. Will it last? We shall see. Fine weather has been forecast for the weekend so we are at least in with a chance.

At my son’s house I sleep in the spare bedroom, which the rest of the time is the office. Some time in the night the laptop in the room decided to start flashing a small green light on the side, just bright enough to make it feel rather like sleeping in a disco. I had already rigged up a barrier around the server for the main computer which has a fine array of coloured lights of its own. So this morning I have given in and bought myself a sleeping mask. As a rule I do not like sleeping in such things but needs must ... etc.

We got up this morning and walked the small girl down to school, where we went to the assembly and watched as she received a superstar award for being a consistent role-model to everyone in her class. Wow! The school seems to have a policy of awarding as many children as possible with superstar status. Splendid!

Then we continued our walk into town and had coffee before my son and his wife scuttled off to the tube station. By now they will be on the Eurostar, Paris-bound. I read that Eurostar has had its busiest August ever. People are looking for an alternative to flying, it seems. Of course, for those of us who live in the North of England, we would have to make our way South to travel on this more eco-friendly fashion.

And then, we don’t quite know what the future of Eurostar is if Mr Johnson’s deal goes through. Will it be affected by our not being in the EU? I wonder!

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Antique buying. Stuff in the news. Contrasting behaviour styles.

Strolling through Chesham, getting some exercise, giving my son and daughter-in-law space to get on with working from home, I looked into charity shops and second-hand shops. As you do!

In the window of one I spotted an ancient Singer sewing machine.

Now, my crazy 22 year-old granddaughter, who has an eclectic range of weird and wonderful interests and hobbies, already has a similar vintage machine which she has cleaned and oiled and restored into a thing of beauty, so I sent her a photo. Instant excitement! How much did it cost? I enquired. The shop assistant had no idea. But she found out for me: £45!

I could see what was coming next. And no way was I going to volunteer to carry a heavy machine, even though it had a wooden carrying case with a handle, on the train to Manchester. Did she really need another sewing machine? Well, no, not really but she wanted it. Indeed, she coveted it. A little planning was called for.

Maybe my son, her uncle, could put it in his car when he travelled north for Christmas. I called him. Such a thing was feasible but he told me that my brother-in-law, his uncle is due to visit the southern branch of the family in November and could undoubtedly be imposed upon to carry the machine home in his car. Job done!

All we needed to do now was get the machine to my son’s house. Easy! My daughter-in-law was due to go to the hairdresser’s and on her way back would park, briefly, outside the antique shop and between us and the shop people we would manhandle the machine into the boot of the car. Sorted!

One happy, crazy granddaughter!

In the meantime I completed the purchase and went to sit down with a coffee and the newspaper and wait for transport for the machine.

From the newspaper:-

Equality issues - NASA has designed and commissioned a woman-friendly space suit. Hooray! Space suits, like car seat belts and many other things were designed originally by men for men. Not that I plan to go into space but it’s good to know that women space-travellers can now go to the moon in comfort.

John Crace on Stephen Barclay, Brexit Minister -

“Barclay’s job is mostly to open and close bis ring-binders”. A bit harsh but possibly true.

I don’t watch breakfast TV as a rule but it was on in my son’s living room this morning.

On the one hand I saw footage of an Extinction Rebellion protester being pulled from the roof of a tube train at Canning Road and being kicked and punched by angry commuters. A journalist commissioned by Extinction Rebellion to film their protest action was also knocked down, kicked and punched. Interviewed by the BBC he estimated that probably 50% of the people at the station, even though probably angry, were calm or indifferent, 30% were actually trying to prevent the kickers and punchers from inflicting too much damage, but an alarming 20% clearly felt that violence was the answer and were prepared to put the boot in.

On the other hand, I saw a trio of teenagers interviewed because they had gone to John Bercowe’s house to protest about the bad manners, bad language and general bad behaviour of parliamentarians. Their aggression, the young people said, was a shockingly bad example to their generation. If they spoke and acted in that way at school or sixth form college they would be sanctioned!

Just a little point of comparison!

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

On the move with a SL-O-O-OW Virgin Trains internet connection!

Here I am, off on my travels again, this time headed for London and eventually Chesham where I shall babysit over the weekend, while our son takes his wife for a belated birthday celebration in Pais. The last of the great romantics!!!

 I was up bright and early. It was too wet to run, and besides I had set quite a strict schedule for myself involving washing and drying my hair, having some breakfast and getting out of the house in time for a stop off at the library to return a library book. I returned some yesterday but this one was unfinished until last night. I suppose I could have taken all of them today but I was unsure of how much time I would have. And besides, library books are often hard back and I already have a rucksack and a bag of stuff various members of the family have asked me to take for my small granddaughter.

 So, despite the slight delay at the tram-stop in central Oldham - they had had mechanical problems earlier and were “experiencing delays” - this did not stop there being five trams going in the opposite direction in the time I waited for mine to Manchester - I managed to do my library visit, pop into Boots the Chemist in Manchester and get on my train in plenty of time.

 According to the seat indicators there should be someone in the seat next to mine, booked apparently from Manchester to London, but nobody showed. Maybe I can move to the window seat and get my knitting out.

 This visit is on a tight schedule. I return to Manchester on Monday and we set off for Portugal on Tuesday. Goodness! Will there be time to wash socks and undies before I pack another bag? By the time we return from Portugal, the 31st of October will have gone by. Will we return as European citizens or simply as British? Goodness only knows.

 Our son has had to renew his passport before his romantic weekend away. He tells me he still has a burgundy passport. Blue has not yet made its way in. However, all mention of the European Union has been expunged. He is rather sad about that. If the unexpected happens and article 50 is revoked, will he be able to add the European Union to his passport?

 We shall see!

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Becoming isolated. Odd responses to things.

We are rapidly becoming an island. I mean our bit of Delph, where we live. We are not suffering from flooding, thank heavens! But the extensive roadworks, intended to help prevent such an eventuality, are gradually cutting us off from the outside world. One point of access has been out of action for a week. Another was blocked this morning. Drivers, including lorry drivers, are still ignoring the road closed signs and having to turn round in frustration near our house. We have joked about UDI. We could declare ourselves an independent state, albeit tiny, and remain in the EU.

Someone knocked on our door the other day. Phil went to answer it, fully expecting it to be our daughter and family arriving. But, no, it turned out to be a chap doing a survey on radio listening habits. He asked Phil a series of questions, left him with a radio diary form to complete over the next week and proceeded to pay him £5 for taking part!!

I was astounded.

And then I saw this in a post on Facebook:-

 “Calling all parents.

Is your child walking and aged between 2-12 years of age? We are looking for children to take part in a study to look at how shoes influence walking. It is a collaborative project between the University of Salford and Clarks,

You will receive a £10 Clarks voucher for participating.
Testing will last a maximum of 1.5 hours.

Please email .....@salford.... “

Clearly bribing people to take part in surveys and studies is a modern thing. Of course it goes on all the time. The weekend Guardian has a regular blind date feature, where they pair up two people, send them for a meal in a restaurant and ask them a series of questions about the experience. Some people will do anything for a free meal, I suppose.

Sometimes, some very rare times, it leads to lasting romance but that must be exceptional. Mostly people are quite polite about each other, even if they really did not hit it off. This last weekend Ashleigh and Mike had a pretty bad time. Here are some of Ashleigh’s responses:

What do you think he made of you?
I was very surprised when he asked to swap numbers and see each other again. I’m not sure we were on the same date.

Did you go on somewhere?
To the underground.

And… did you kiss?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’m not sure we were very well matched, so maybe we’d have had more fun separately.

Marks out of 10?

Mike must have sensed her negativity:

What do you think she made of you?
Not too much. I got rejected: she probably thought she could do better.

Did you go on somewhere?
After she didn’t give me her number, I didn’t see the point in trying to carry on.

Oh dear! I particularly like Ashleigh’s answer to “Did you go on somewhere?” - “To the underground.”

And finally Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo are sharing the Booker prize for literature this year. I was amused to hear Margaret Atwood express her surprise at being a winner. She said she did not think they would choose her because she is “too elderly”.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Spiders! Ridiculous trainers! And the difficulty of being a woman!

Yesterday afternoon my daughter took her three-year-old upstairs to use the bathroom. On their return to the living room they informed me that there was a hu-u-u-u-u-u-ge spider hiding in a corner where there is a small space between one bit of skirting board and the next. Well, in fact they had only seen a couple of long legs sticking out but they assumed the rest was also there. After all, it’s the time of year when spiders brave the indoors to find a safe, warm and hopefully quite place to mate. Unfortunately for them I often catch them and throw them out. But when I looked there was no sign of spidery stuff.

This morning, however, as I headed for the bathroom I spotted something dark on the landing carpet. Spider! I tiptoed past him (after all, I did not want to frighten him off) and went in search of a receptacle to catch him in. As I popped an inverted glass over him, it struck me the he seemed very still. Sliding a card under the glass confirmed my suspicions. This was a dead spider.

How had he ended up dead in the middle of the landing? Was he the same spider from yesterday. Was there another spider crawling around somewhere?

Too many questions!

Some people like to watch TV in their pyjamas, a habit I have never got into. Now, if you tire of binge-watching your box sets in your pjs, it seems that you should buy yourself lounge pants, a lounge suit, made up of lounge leggings and a lounge top or, for the truly elegant TV watcher, a lounge dress! I just saw them advertised by M&S! How amazing!

Here is something from the Daily Mirror. Can it be serious?

“A company has answered the question of 'what would Jesus wear?' by creating a pair of $3,000 (£2,451) holy shoes. Dubbed the 'Jesus Shoes', the Nike tick emblazoned sneakers have holy water in the soles.
When they hit the shelves on Tuesday morning they sold out in a matter of minutes.
It is not clear whether early buyers were willing to fork out an average month's salary because of the shoe's 100% frankincense wool make-up or the crucifix tied on to the shoe laces.
Possibly they were drawn in by the Matthew 14:25 quote on the websites suggesting wearers would be able to walk on water.”

I am amazed at the nonsense that goes on.

Arwa Mahdawi in the Guardian has written about serious nonsense. She was talking about AOCDS - Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Derangement Syndrome - in other words, getting obsessively angry about trivial stuff, or indeed almost anything,  the congresswoman does. In this case it was having her hair done which upset the conservative critics. The Washington Times apparently ran a story about this, headlined “Self-declared socialist AOC splurges on high-dollar hairdo.”

Arwa Mahdawi tells us:

“In actual fact, as the internet swiftly pointed out, Ocasio-Cortez’s $80 cut and $180 coloring were not actually that “high-dollar”. Women’s haircuts are incredibly expensive. Being a woman is incredibly expensive. Dunno if you’ve heard of this little thing called the “pink tax”? What’s more, spending money on a haircut is not incompatible with being a socialist.

Conservatives seem to think that if you want to tax billionaires and make the world a more equitable place you ought to live in a dirt hut and refuse to participate in modern society. Last year, for example, a reporter for the Washington Examiner tried to insinuate that AOC was a hypocrite by posting a photo of her wearing a nice jacket and coat. The subtext being that you can’t call yourself a real socialist unless you dress in rags.”

The congresswoman can defend herself and tweeted back about the amount of public money republicans spend on unnecessary travel and the like.

Arwa  Mahdawi continued:
“The to-do about AOC’s ’do isn’t just yet another example of Republican hypocrisy, however. It’s also a depressing reminder that being a woman means being forced to walk an impossible tightrope everyday. You’re criticized if you don’t look good, but you’re also criticized if you look too good. You’re either a slut or a prude. You’re told to lean in and speak up at work, but you’re called a bossy bitch if you speak up too much. Women simply can’t win when they play by the patriarchy’s rules. Which is why we need to stop playing by the patriarchy’s rules and lean all the way out”

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman!

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Chaos! Craziness! And a good reason for getting bus conductors back.

Roadworks! A couple of hundred yards from our house chaos has ensued. Well, organised chaos. And we did have warning that it was going to happen.

The work to replace collapsed and blocked drainage pipes all along our section of the road has begun and the road is actually closed off with a huge barrier a couple of hundred yards from our house, as I said. There are stacks of huge pipes, various pieces of large, heavy machinery, a temporary toilet for the workers and lots of those workers milling around in hi-vis vests! It’s going to go on for about six months.

A little farther away in the opposite direction there are large signs saying ROAD CLOSED AHEAD, which vast numbers of drivers ignore. It’s quite amusing to watch them realise that the signs were telling the truth. Everyone gets to practise their three-point turns!

There are also signs telling everyone that local businesses are open as usual. Access to the industrial park is available on one side of the barrier and access to the pub, The Old Bell Inn, on the other. I think the industrial park has the better end of the deal as more traffic comes in from that direction. The pub has been granted a huge official sign of its own: OLD BELL INN OPEN AS USUAL. The owner seems also have negotiated some parking rights with the industrial estate. As a rule anyone who parks there without having business with one of the companies on the estate is threatened with wheel-clamping. Now, however, there is a notice saying that extra parking for the Old Bell is available on the industrial park. A nice bit of local cooperation.

The pub owner is clearly still afraid of losing business. Some people simply don’t like walking more than a few paces from their car to the door of the pub/restaurant. So the Old Bell owner has organised for some unofficial to go up - OLD BELL DIVERSION THIS WAY, with an arrow of course - directing drivers around the village so that they can get to the pub from the other direction. After all, we have Hallowe’en (yes, I know it’s not really a party celebration event but still ...!!), Christmas and New Year, possibly even Valentine’s Day during the period of the roadworks!

 I quite pity workers in their hi-vis vests. Ever since the work began it has been raining intermittently and usually very heavily. This morning, for example, I got up and looked out at mostly blue sky and even some sunshine. I even considered going for a run without my waterproof. By the time I opened the door the rain was falling in torrents and I went back inside to change a light waterproof, which really works only for the lightest of showers, for a heavier duty waterproof.

If anyone wants to know where all the melting glaciers are going, I can tell them. They are being rained down on Saddleworth!

Onto more serious matters, the town of Halle in Germany suffered an attack on a synagogue. The gunman was frustrated in his efforts to kill more people than he did because his homemade guns kept jamming. It seems he guilt his firearms according to plans released by a British pro-gun activist from West Yorkshire. Philip Luty, who believed British gun control laws were “fascist”, devoted his life to publicising blueprints for making firearms from easy-to-obtain materials, with the goal of allowing private citizens around the world to flout gun restrictions by building weapons at home.

There is a lot of craziness out there!

The fight against obesity continues. Dame Sally Davies, in her final report as Chief Medical Officer for England, said: “Today’s children are drowning in a flood of unhealthy food and drink options, compounded by insufficient opportunities for being active.”

She is calling for the government to take further measures such as bans on promoting and advertising junk deals. No more sports event sponsored by snack companies. She also calls for a ban on eating and drinking on public transport, except for drinking fresh water and people eating and drinking because of a medical condition.

 I travel on local buses, trams and trains quite frequently and see very little serious eating but quite a lot of snacking, which I sometimes indulge in myself with, for example, a bag of mixed nuts and raisins on my way home from my Italian class on a Tuesday evening. On the whole it’s probably a good idea but I find myself wondering how it could be policed. Someone would need to check that the travelling snackers or snacking travellers had legitimate reasons for doing so or if they were just greedy guzzlers aiming to get fatter and fatter.

Is this the moment to suggest the return of the bus conductor?

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

A bit of a lament about women’s magazines and then celebrity weddings.

Yesterday I went to the hairdresser’s to get my colours sorted out and stop the roots from showing too obviously. I might have left it another week or so but the next few weeks are going to be rather busy and as I was going to be in Manchester anyway it was a perfect opportunity to sort myself out. I also had my eyebrows shaped - a perfect little bit of masochism!

In the hairdresser’s I looked at women’s magazines while various processes were worked through, all involving some waiting around. What do they give the male clients at this point? This question has just occurred to me and I must remember to observe closely next time I go.

One of the magazines offered to me was Cosmopolitan. Now, I was about to say that I remember Cosmopolitan being launched in the 1960s. But then I thought I had better get my facts straight and discovered that it has been around in one form or another for much longer than that. In fact, Cosmopolitan began as a family magazine, launched in March 1886 by Schlicht & Field of New York as The Cosmopolitan. Well, there you go!

It seemed to undergo various transformations.

I read that “Cosmo was widely known as a "bland" and boring magazine by critics. Cosmopolitan's circulation continued to decline for another decade until Helen Gurley Brown became chief editor in 1965. Helen Gurley Brown changed the entire trajectory of the magazine during her time as editor. Brown remodeled and re-invented it as a magazine for modern single career women. Completely transforming the old bland Cosmopolitan magazine into a racy, contentious and well known, successful magazine.”

That sounds like the magazine I vaguely remember; a cut above Woman’s Weekly and the like with their knitting patterns and cookery ideas. Not that I have anything against knitting patterns and recipes or even the serialised soppy romances I read in my mother’s magazines when I was a young teenager. But Cosmopolitan seemed like a more serious bit of reading matter.

The one I looked at yesterday, however, was a bit of a disappointment. It may not have had as many shots of famous people getting married, taking their offspring to school in fabulous outfits, or remodelling their fabulous houses as other magazines but it still had a large number of its pages devoted to advertisements for ridiculous and ridiculously-priced outfits!

It seemed rather too frothy for my liking.

Fancy getting nostalgic about women’s magazines!

I must say that in this age of instagram and lives lived on social media I am quite surprised that women’s magazines keep going at all. I guess it must be something to do with all that glossy advertising.

In another magazine, one whose name escapes me but which shows lots of shiny celebrities getting on with their shiny lives, I read that Ellie Goulding, singer-songwriter apparently (one problem I have nowadays is that I am unaware of who is who in the land of the rich and famous) wore four, yes FOUR different dresses on her wedding day! For those who want details of the expensive dresses, here is a link.

Since when did a bride need more than one wedding dress for her “big day”? Surely one is expensive enough! What happened to a wedding dress and than a “going away” outfit?

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Off-duty pilots and train drivers save the day!

A while ago, some time in the summer, there was a news story about a budget airline plane whose departure was being delayed, possibly about to be cancelled, because they did not have a pilot available to fly it. At the last moment a solution was found. Among the passengers was a family, looking forward to have a week or two in the sun, Tenerife I think. The father of the family discovered what was causing the delay and informed them that he actually worked for the airline. He was actually a pilot. He was on holiday but, more importantly, he had not flown his allocated number of hours in the last few days. And so he offered to fly the plane himself.


Everyone won! They all went off on holiday.

This evening a similar thing happened on my journey home from Manchester. My Italian class finishes at 6.30 pm. As a rule, I walk briskly to Piccadilly station. If I catch a tram from there to Manchester Victoria and change onto a tram which will drop me off at Oldham Mumps I am almost certain to arrive there just too late to catch the 7.28pm bus to Delph. And there is no other bus until 8.28pm. Consequently such a journey often involves a taxi for the last stage of my journey. This is what I used to do on a regular basis.

However, there is an alternative: a train from Piccadilly to Greenfield which coincides perfectly with the new local bus service, instituted last year with the specific aim of coordinating with trains to and from Manchester. As a rule this works very nicely and I have been doing this for  while now. I hang around for a while at Manchester Piccadilly, maybe picking up some essential food item from the little Sainsbury’s on the station. For once I am glad that modern stations are like mini shopping malls. Even with the waiting around, I still get home more quickly than on the tram route.

This evening I did my mini-shop at Sainsbury’s, went onto the platform to wait for my train, reassuring another rather worried passenger that, despite there already being a train that seemed to be going to another destination at that platform, our train would pull in shortly behind that train and thus would be ready to depart before it. It was the firstbtime she had caught this train and she did not know the sytem.

The train duly arrived. We all got on. I sat for a while, phoned Phil, had a nutty snack, read a few pages of my book and then realised that the train was going nowhere. A notice came up on a computer screen about delayed departure. How annoying! Then came a notice over the PA system: our driver was absent but another was on his way from Manchester Victoria and would be with us shortly. He was coming by taxi and was stuck in traffic! You could not make it up! Why has he not caught a tram between the two stations? We would be departing as soon as possible, we were told. I swore quietly to myself!

And then, lo and behold, I saw someone running the length of the train and suddenly a new announcement was made. On our train was one of the company’s train drivers on his way home to Huddersfield, our trains’s final destination. Realising that there was a problem and, as with the plane pilot, off duty but not having exceeded his set hours for working today, he had volunteered to drive the train. And we were off!

Goodness! It could have been an episode of Thomas the Tank engine!

But now I had another little problem. Would my late-departing train arrive in Greenfield in time for me to catch the bus to Delph? Would I have to walk from Greenfield to Delph, not i possible but not pleasant on a dark evening. We pulled into Greenfield station two minutes before the bus was due to leave. I has to cross a bridge to get from the platform to the road. From the top of the footbridge I could see that the bus was already at the bus stop. I scuttled down the last lot of steps and hurried onto the little bus. Which proceeded to wait until it was clear that no more potential passengers were coming out of the station!

I was impressed. For once a bit of joined-up thinking had made two elements of public transport work efficiently together!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Names. Arts and crafts again. Sustainability.

What’s in a name? It seems that a little controversy is going on because of a proposal to change the name of the Welsh assembly from Senedd to Senedd Cymru. The advantage of adding Cymru means, apparently, that it can then be translated directly to Welsh Parliament. Some people, including the newsreader Huw Edwards, are getting a little stressed about it.

Surely even if the Welsh language name remains as Senedd it can still be referred to in English language documents and reports as the Welsh Parliament. Or the English could simply talk about the Welsh Senedd. After all it is quite usual to talk about the Irish Taoiseach, putting an English adjective with an Irish word.

I would have thought there were more important things to get worked up about at the moment. But then I am not a Welsh nationalist!

Yesterday I went on a bit about disappearing practical skills. Today I have read about “therapeutic respite”, in other words people signing up for craft classes as a way of relieving the stress of modern living and as “a way to sidestep untrustworthy, unethical and unsustainable manufacturing.” Which last is all very fine, except that it can cost rather more to knit your own jumper than to buy one ready made from Marks and Spencer.

There is a lady I read about called Michelle who teaches lingerie-making and admits that making your own knickers is not an cheap option as they use high-end fabrics such as silk and lace in her classes. Her students also are usually surprised at how much work goes into making a pair of knickers. They obviously never made dolls’ clothes as children.

But there are now more than 7,500 craft classes across the country. The oddest I read about was making paper from mushrooms. The man who runs the mushroom-paper-making days in a village hall in East Sussex describes Ashdown Forest, where presumably they find the mushrooms, as a “paradise of fungal opportunities”. At £70 per person I think mushroom-paper-making is also a paradise of money-making opportunities.

There is also Farah Merahli who is opening a craft-themed cafe (does that sound like something I mentioned yesterday?) where people can learn all sorts of skills, “from how to make a baby’s turban to creating reusable facecloths”. Aren’t all facecloths reusable? Don’t they call the throwaway things “face-wipes”?

But, bring on the craft classes, say I! Goodness knows, we might need them after Brexit. How many of us can really claim to be self-sufficient? If we ever find ourselves in a post-apocalypse situation, there is a whole lot of stuff most of us cannot reinvent.

And maybe the craft classes can teach people to recycle and reuse materials. In a fashion article about tights I saw tights described as “the single-use plastic of the fashion industry” by one Daniel Clayton, who set up a company to sell “sustainable hosiery”. “Exactly the same polymer raw material goes into hosiery tights as plastic bottles and bags,” he tells us. “They will meticulously recycle their household waste, but wouldn’t think twice about throwing a laddered pair of tights in the bin.” He estimates that there is in excess of 103,000 tons of hosiery waste created every year around the world. Who knew?

I feel quite smug that I only ever wear opaque tights these days and have worn the same ones for years and years, not without washing them, I hasten to add. However, now I have also to feel guilty about micro-bits of plastic coming off them when they are washed. Oh boy!

Meanwhile, the weekend newspapers’ magazines continue to offer us information about stuff we might like to buy but probably don’t need. This used to be called advertising but now seems to be style advice. Here is a link to some pictures of some very nice plates!  As with clothes, so with stuff to have in the home, the Guardian, like other newspapers, goes over the top as regards price of the stuff they feature. That was my first reaction when I saw that feature, especially as I spotted one plate which sold for £88 for a set of four. But then there is a Habitat plate at £6, and a nice mushroom-picturing plate for £3.99. So I over-reacted! It doesn’t happen often. And the plate I like least does cost £27.50. But I do wonder when style features really expensive stuff (coats that cost going on £1,000, for example!) what the aim is.

 Are they trying to make us all aspirational?

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Some thoughts on disappearing craft skills!

I listened to the rain on the roof this morning and decided that running was out of the question. So I got up and got myself organised - raincoat on, wellies for the muddy puddles - and set out to walk briskly along my usual running route. Of course, by the time I was five minutes down the road the rain stopped. So I could have run but I would have got very wet feet! After that the day proved to be much better than forecast and mid-afternoon we even managed a walk in the sunshine.

October seems to have morphed into April: gusty winds, showers and intermittent sunshine.

Most of today has been spent on a project set for me by my daughter. She had acquired some Disney Princess material pieces - not quite so horrific as they sound. They have patterns of mermaids (Princess Ariel, I presume) or crabs and fishes. All the mermaids for some reason have red hair. Is this usual for mermaids, I wonder! As her small daughter is a little obsessed with Disney princesses, all of whose names she remembers and I forget, my daughter wondered if there was enough fabric in any one pattern to concoct a dress for the small girl.

She left me a denim pinafore dress from which to draw a pattern. Which I duly did.

The ability to do this kind of thing is a dying art. Ever since secondary school arts and crafts began to operate on a carousel - six weeks painting and drawing, six weeks cookery, six weeks “fabrics” (i.e. sewing), six weeks pottery, six weeks woodwork, and so on - none of the old practical skills are learnt properly. Unless, that is, the pupils opt to specialise in one of the carousel items as a GCSE subject.

Consequently my daughter’s generation and her children’s generation have had a taste of all sorts of crafts but have not really learnt the useful bits of any of them. Goodness knows what will happen when her own daughters decide they want something sewn for their own offspring.

One odd consequence of this lack of school-imparted skill is the arrival in shops like W.H. Smith of a plethora of sewing and knitting and crochet magazines. The knitting and crochet mags mostly have instructions for how to make scarves and hats and cuddly toys. Those of us who want proper knitting patterns have to scour the internet for information about where to find an actual shop selling yarn, needles and patterns.

Another aspect of it is that people are inordinately praised for successfully completing a knitted scarf!

Oddly enough, however, our eldest granddaughter has acquired some of these skills by watching youtube videos and she surprises us with the things she is able to do. Her latest things seems to be to turn herself into a miniaturist. Her boyfriend gave her as a birthday present a kit for making a miniature greenhouse, about 8 inches tall and she is busily cutting tiny pieces of balsa wood to make tiny planters and sets of shelves. Her aim is to make it look as similar to her real, full-size greenhouse as possible. She even taught herself how to weave miniature baskets, about 2 centimetres in diameter. The very idea of the fiddly weaving involved makes my fingers go into cramps.

She and I have long fantasised about running a cafe called Soup and a Sandwich. This has now become a fantasy cafe and craft shop!

The smallest granddaughter, by the way, although rather obsessed by Disney princesses, also has other less-girly obsessions from time to time, including an intermittent love of Thomas the Tank Engine. We do try not to stereotype her into girly activities and preferences.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Getting physical and educational!

Yesterday was a very sedentary day. My daughter and I went to visit the oldest granddaughter. This is what you do when they are living independently. She was working from home, an option which suits her and her partner as they alternate who works from home and who goes into the office to work, thus providing almost constant companionship for their adolescent black Labrador.

So we had to time our visit to coincide, more or less, with her notional lunch hour. The rest of the time, for our visit of course over-ran the lunch hour slot by quite a long time, we had to keep everyone quiet if her phone rang. This was fine for most of us but did rather puzzle the second-smallest visitor, the three-year-old, who wanted to sing songs from “Frozen” and even to watch some “My Little Pony” on television.

Had our hostess not been “working” we might have suggested a bit of a walk with the Labrador, as it turned into a rather nice afternoon. But it was not to be and so we sat around and chatted instead.

 No doubt my Fitbit will have been disappointed. It sends me a pat on the back when I exceed my target number of steps for a day but keeps quiet on the less-step-productive days.

But I have made up for it today with a run round the village first thing, an autumn-cleaning session, vacuuming just about the whole house, and then doing our quarry-walk with Phil, up the steep hill, round a few farms and eventually back home.

I don’t think we need to sign up for a course in “physical literacy”. Since Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson won gold medals in Doha in the last few days, Tim Hollingworth, CEO of Sport England says that children should be taught “physical literacy” in school, just as they are taught to read and write. He believes that children will be inspired to follow the example of these two successful athletes and that we should take advantage of the expected upsurge in interest to encourage as many children as possible to get busy with sport. An excellent idea!

John Crace, in his “Digested Week”, wrote about making his children do athletics training as he felt he had missed out in his youth, despite encouragement from his mother. “I was determined my children were going to live the life I had missed out on and forced them down to Tooting Bec athletics track every Tuesday and Thursday evening for training.
This went on for several years but was an unmitigated disaster, even though they were both quite good.
Both children hated it and Anna was the only athlete I knew who would invariably declare she had injured herself in the warm-ups.” Perhaps they needed a role-model!

Something persuading people of all ages to go out and do something active is Parkrun, which is now 15 years old. The combined distance run in this way by people in numerous countries around the world is 162million miles. That’s 53.8million parkruns globally, or 3,118 years, 25 days, 7 minutes and 8 seconds of running!

All this from an unemployed chap organising for a group of friends to run round a park together.

The man who had the bright idea to organise parkruns, Paul Sinton-Smith said, “One of the things I’m most proud of is that every year the average finish time at parkrun has slowed. That means we are reaching more people for whom physical activity hasn’t been the norm.”

Some friends of our daughter travel around the country in their camper-van at weekends, taking part in parkruns far and wide. Their six-year-old daughter goes with them and runs with them. Not only does she run but as a rule she is the fastest finisher.

Pretty impressive, is it not?

In the world of education other ideas are being floated. The Department for Education is trying to persuade more graduates in Modern Languages and Sciences, particularly Physics and Chemistry, to go into teaching and to stay in teaching for more than just a few years by offering them bonuses. Graduates could be earning £35,000 per annum.
Isn’t that the magic number that makes you a professional? The number that was bandied about as being the amount foreigners should be earning if they wanted to stay in the UK? How nice to be a professional at last - well, not actually me personally but some of the people I taught French and Spanish to in sixth form and who went on to become teachers.

Will it work? Who knows? Wait and see.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Things theatrical. And ham questions.

Our middle granddaughter, the one who has just started to remake or reinvent herself now that she is at sixth form college, was rather excited at the prospect of a college-organised trip to London: an overnight stop, a ride on the London eye and, most importantly, a show she would dearly love to see. This is quite a big step for a girl who until recently would refuse to go into Manchester because there were too many people there and who declined to take a train journey with me to go and visit her uncle, who lives just outside the capital.

So she was extremely disappointed when she went into college with her £60 deposit in her hand, early on the morning after the news that such a trip was going on was announced, only to find that it was already sold out.

Do some students routinely carry £60+ around with them for just such an eventuality?

Hopefully there will be other such opportunities.

Theatre was in the news, well, at any rate in one of the items I came across. I was intrigued by a headline about an immersive production of “The Wolf of Wall Street” being postponed, again the headline emphasised, because of flooding. Having got over my mild amusement at FLOODING stopping an IMMERSIVE production, I stopped to wonder what exactly an “immersive” theatre production is.

I found this, among other stuff:

“Many people go to the theatre to lose themselves in the production, to forget their everyday worries and troubles and be transported into another world. However, no kind of theatre transports an audience quite like immersive theatre. In immersive theatre, the audience are not merely passive bystanders. They are part of the story, however small their role may be, and they are in the middle of the action. In an immersive theatre production, the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character.
They may be allowed to roam and explore the performance space as the performance happens around them, allowing them to decide what they see and what they skip. They might be herded from room to room so they see the key scenes. They might even be invited to become a more active part of the performance. The lines between performer and audience and between performance and life are blurred. The audience is placed within the environment of the story and therefore play witness front and centre to the events without the distancing factor of a proscenium.”

 Not my sort of theatre, I suspect. I have been known to get a little anxious at the prospect of being too close to the front row when watching productions of theatre in the round, in case I was just too close to the action. I was confirmed in this belief when I read that during an immersive production of “The Great Gatsby” some of the audience got so “immersed” that they actually attacked a couple of the actors!!

However, I have no objection to getting dressed up in period costume to match a theatrical performance. There is nothing quite like a bit of fancy dress!

Having eaten Spanish tapas for my lunch out with friends yesterday I was amused by this article about the Spanish Prime Minister h who apparently upset ham producers in Extremadura by talking about “jamón serrano from Extremadura” rather than “ jamón ibérico from extremadura”. The latter is seemingly a much superior product and the extremeños (people from Extremadura) would presumably not consider their ham to be merely “serrano”. There is a certain amount of food snobbery there but I suppose thatvif you have an excellent product you want it to be acknowledged as superior.

 “Spain’s love affair with pork,” I read, “goes back millennia and last year the pig population reached 50 million, making them more numerous than humans. As its popularity has grown internationally, especially in China, supplies of jamón ibérico have not been able to keep pace with demand and the industry has been hit by a series of fraud scandals as suppliers attempt to pass off poor quality ham as top of the range.
One major supermarket chain was found to be selling ham that had passed its sell-by date but had been repackaged and relabelled. More recently a company was caught selling “Spanish” ham that had in fact originated in Poland.”

 Well, that last item is very poor. “Spanish” ham from Poland is just not right. It’s like the Galicians who get upset at “pimientos de Padrón”, the small green peppers served fried and sprinkled with salt and which occasionally have a really hot one which makes steam come out of your ears, turning out to have been grown in Morocco and to have nothing at all to do with the small Galician town of Padrón.

Reading about the jamón serrano/ibérico thing made me wonder if anyone had thought of producing a similar meat product from the wild boars that are increasingly making a nuisance of themselves in some parts of Spain.

 Just a thought.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Out and about in Manchester. And ginger prejudice.

It is routine in the Spanish region of Galicia to find a restaurant offering a menú del día for a reasonable price. The equivalent is not always found in the Uk but today I went to meet a couple of friends for lunch in Manchester. We went to La Viña on Deansgate where they offer a menú del día for £9.99.

 3 Tapas & a drink £9.99 per person
Monday – Friday until 5pm

  • PIMIENTOS DE PADRÓN Spanish-style, green peppers cooked in extra virgin olive oil & smoked sea salt.
 Crisp lightly-battered aubergine slices stacked & drizzled with honey & truffle oil 
 Crispy cubes of potato with a spicy sofrito tomato sauce & alioli 
 Alhambra reserva beer battered fish with alioli & lemon 
  • TORTILLA  Spanish caramelised onion & potato omelette 
Roast pork meatballs in a sofrito tomato sauce 
 Crumbed croquetas filled with chicken in a creamy béchamel sauce 
Lemon-scented whipped goats cheese with warm roasted cauliflower, balsamic beetroot & courgettes. With beetroot purée, pomegranate seeds, toasted almonds & a sherry & balsamic glaze 
A selection of seasonal mushrooms cooked in a sherry cream sauce, topped with toasted pine nuts 
 Crispy squid, sprinkled with smoked sea salt, crispy leeks, fried fresh garlic & sliced red chillies with alioli 
 I had pescado rebozado (five small fingers of fish - but not fish fingers), patatas bravas (good but not very spicy) and setas con salsa (extremely tasty!!). I suppose purists might find fault but we three found it good value and very tasty. It has to be said though that the coffee we finished off with was rather more expensive than the equivalent in Galicia.

The staff seem to be all Spanish speakers. Our waitress was a diminutive Venezuelan, very friendly and glad to have Spanish speaking customers, and very tolerant of my friend’s slow and careful Spanish.

Best of all was that nobody was hurrying us on our way when we had finished eating. They even brought us an extra jug of water while we sat and chatted. Worth a visit.

A good time was had by all, we caught up on all the gossip and agreed that Manchester is a fine city. Even if we also agreed that we might not actually want to live right in the city centre. Not because it’s Manchester but because we don’t like city centre living. Cities, we agreed, are good for visiting but we wouldn’t go beyond that. Even Manchester weather was kind to us. The rain did not set in until well after I arrived home once more.

On a different tack, here’s a link to an article about Leonardo da Vinci.

 “Far from being admired as an extraordinary genius, Leonardo da Vinci was repeatedly lampooned and teased about his unusual red hair and his unconventional sexuality by other leading artists of his day. Although the work of the great Italian was popular in his time, an extensive new study of the artist to be published this week has outlined evidence that he was the butt of gossipy jokes in Renaissance Milan.
Author Simon Hewitt has unearthed a little-studied image held in Germany, a “comic strip” design made in 1495 to illustrate a poem, that showed how Leonardo was once ridiculed. In one of its colourful images, An Allegory of Justice, a ginger-haired clerk, or court lawyer, is shown seated at a desk, mesmerised by other young men, and represents Leonardo da Vinci. “The identity of Leonardo as the red-headed scribe is totally new,”
Hewitt told the Observer ahead of the publication of Leonardo da Vinci and the Book of Doom. “The comic-strip picture is in an obscure manuscript in Berlin and has never been consulted before by any Leonardo scholar.”” 

Who knew that anti-ginger prejudice was already prevalent all that time ago?

Personally I never really came across much such prejudice as a child. Maybe I simply lived through a a tolerant time.