Thursday, 22 June 2017

The solstice.

So yesterday was the summer solstice, which won't be celebrated here for a few days yet as they celebrate it with bonfires on the eve of St John's day. The longest day has been and gone. You might say thatvit's all down hill from now on and the days will start to get shorter. However I don't think we'll notice it just yet.

In the southern hemisphere, of course, it was the winter solstice. I read about a place in Australia where they celebrate the midwinter day by having a swim in the cold water of the ocean. SOme places do this on New Year's Day. Anyway this place in Australia had so many participants signed up for it this year, and so manybwho actually turned up on the date - as a rule more register than turn up -  that they ran out of towels and some people had to stand and shiver after they got out of the water. If only all the world's problems were so easily.

So here, to celebrate the summer solstice, are some pictures of our visit to Sanxenxo.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

What to wear?

Fashion is a curious thing. It even finds its way into leisure pursuits and exercise routines. Long ago, when Jane Fonda's Workout was the go-to book for keeping yourself young and lithe and beautiful, I used to go to aerobics classes. I would turn up in my basic black leotard and basic black tights. Other ladies had a veritable rainbow collection of leisure wear. I swear some of them wore a different set each week. And I would hear the same question repeated again and again: "That's a lovely leotard; where did you get it?" As a rule I was astounded at how much some women were prepared to spend on stuff to get her hot and sweaty in!

Down at the pool I see a similar phenomenon. Some women must fill their suitcases with swimsuits and bikinis in a range of styles and colours. To do them justice, however, I think a lot of them buy extra swimwear from the Chinese shop across the road, where they have a fine selection of bikinis and cover-ups in many colours and all at reasonable prices. And you really need two swimsuits, of whatever style, just in case you swim in the morning and your suit is not yet dry when you want to swim again in the afternoon. Which often happens. Pulling on a wet swimsuit is not the most pleasant experience.

The other fashion trend this summer is probably a bit morepricey than Chinese shop swimsuits. Back in the 1960s there was a trend for baby-doll nightdresses: frothy and frilly, slightly off the shoulder and stopping midway between hip and knee. Well, the baby-doll look appears to have returned in the form of a dress. I keep seeing them around. They are fine on young women with a slender, model-girl figure. On anyone beyond a certain age, they just look silly. And any girl endowed with a large bust, no matter how slim the rest of her, looks as though she is pregnant. (Although nowadays women no longer where clothes which disguise their pregnancy or hide it behind a loose, drapey frock. The thing to do is wear something clingy which outlines the bump nicely, or even reveals an expanse of swelling baby-belly!) As ever, fashion trends are not meant for the woman in the street but for the skinny model on the catwalk!

Today it seemed likely that few would be showing off their bikinis at the pool. The day began overcast and rather cooler than yesterday. This should not prevent people from swimming but it probably will. And the sun worshippers would have to find another occupation. By lunchtime the sun had come out. So maybe the pool will fill up later. Before lunch there were only five of us down there.

Yesterday the temperatures reached silly heights. A friend told me that one of the girls cleaning and sorting rooms at her hotel collapsed with heat exhaustion and had to be taken to hospital. The UK had crazy temperatures as well. A school in Hull reportedly sent pupils home. Not all of them because of the excessive heat, which would have been quite sensible. No, a small group apparently rebelled at having to wear their blazers in the classroom in 30-degree heat and were suspended. The headteacher said "no students were sent home as a direct result of not wearing their blazer" but because of "rude behaviour". However, if the rude behaviour was provoked by having to wear blazers in hot clasrooms, what more is there to say?

Our two middle grandchildren, aged 14 and 12, attend a school where they have to wear their blazers all the time. The uniform is very smart, grey trousers, grey blazer for the boys, purple blazers for the girls. This is meant to give a good corporate image to school and make everyone feel great pride in the establishment. And the blazers stay on at all times, except for PE lessons. This must make writing awkward and practical lessons such as science and art and technology uncomfortable. Presumably there is also a dress code for staff as well. And presumably all of the staff have to agree to enforce the rules.

The whole idea that such insistence on uniform is good for discipline and makes everyone learn more effectively has always struck me as crazy. The Germans manage without it; in fact a German friend of ours once told us that they had had enough of uniforms in their past. In France and Spain uniform is the preserve if the private sector. I am pretty sure that Scandinavian countries don't impose uniform on their schoolchildren.

It's a particularly British madness!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Here and there.

This morning we saw a strange sight: two young men wheeling bicycles along the pavement. They could not ride on the road because it was a one way street in the opposite direction. What the majority of people seem to do in such circumstances is simply ride at full speed down the pavement. Our friend Colin from Poio, Pontevedra, gets very agitated about cyclists on the pavement. Yesterday I came across spme statistics regarding cycling in Pontevedra. The Faro de Vigo newspaper reported on a survey by an assoc called Pedaladas, which found that in Ponters, despite a 30kph speed limit, which is not very fast, most cyclists, 71% of those surveyed, do not feel safe on the road and prefer the pavement!! 20% of the, never wear a helmet, and another 24% only occasionally use one. Perhaps if they took some safety precautions themselves - helmets, lights, bells, a bit of road safety training - they might manage to leave the pavements to the pedestrians.

Here's another bit of statistical information: in Galicia 10 accidents occur per day because of loose snimals - deer, wild boar, etc. This is 30% more than 5 years ago. Does this mean that there are more animals (in the case of wild boar, probably yes) or more cars on the road? Last year there were 400 injuries and 9 people died. Meanwhile, temperatures soar and forest fires rage in Portugal with huge loss of life and property.

 And in the UK they are still counting the cost of the tower block fire. Here is a link to fireman's account of his experience fighting that fire. And the stories keep coming in about people who still go around barefoot and in the clothes they managed to escape in; about people being told that if they refuse to be rehoused in places like Preston (only the other end of the country); about donations of food and other goods to the survivors being left to rot on the streets because the local council has not got organised to distribute it.

And Brexit negotiations are supposedly going on - how well remains to be seen.

The Queen's speech will finally take place tomorrow.

How long all of this will last remains to be seen.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Very Galician problems! Still in my bubble!

Yesterday there seemed to be a prodigious amount of noise around the town, small explosions, cannons being fired, perhaps, or fireworks being let off. What on earth was going on? Is there no such thing as a noise abatement society around here? Did they really have to provoke all the local dogs in that fashion?

Then, at some point in the evening I discovered that yesterday was Corpus Christi, a Roman Catholic feast which "emphasizes the joy of the Eucharist being the body and blood of Jesus Christ". Having been brought up in a Church of England and Methodist mix, I did not consciously know about this. There will have been flower patterns on the street leading to the church. I did not get to see them.

I read that back in 1972 there was a big kerfuffle about trade guilds taking part in Corpus Christi processions and carrying their trades' banners and symbols with them. The bishop of Pontevedra had to intervene. However I have no idea what he decided as I lost the will to carry on reading the article, which had very small print.

One of the delights of coming to the Sanxenxo chess event is meeting groups of people who over the year have become friends in a way. Not the kind of friends you send Christmas cards to necessarily or would invite to your retirement party. Just people it's nice to see once again and catch up with what they have been doing since this time last year.

And so I found myself talking to the parents of a young chess player. We first met this young man a few years back when we got involved with organising a kind of chess exchange for youngsters from their chess club here and from the one that Phil helps run in the UK. This year that young man has just done "selectividad", the end of secondary schooling exam which decides what level of university course you qualify for. How did he get to be so old? Mind you, most of the young English chess players who came here on that exchange are now studying at university or in the process of taking A Level exams. Time has been flying past once again!

Anyway, this particular young man has done quite well in his selectividad exams and will undoubtedly qualify for the optometry course or whatever else he decides to do - there not being a truly viable option for a university course in chess, unfortunately. However he is asking for a re-mark on the paper testing his Gallego, ie knowledge and use of the regional language, on which he scored an extremely disappointing 3. (The paper he was really worried about, Maths, got a high score!) All his friends and their parents agree that the marking on Gallego is extremely harsh. They sense a hidden agenda in there! Quite what knowledge and use of the local regional language has to do with one's suitability to study something like optometry remains a mystery.

I have known large numbers of students who were very good at sciences, technology and all things mathematical but quite hopeless at learning languages. I do, however, feel that a good, all round bright and clever candidate should be able to deal with a bit of foreign language but that is a different matter. And I have helped candidates applying for Oxford or Cambridge to achieve the required GCSE pass in a foreign language but there we are talking about applying to the top universities. And I am a little out of touch and could not really say if that restriction still applies. So it goes.

I have just been reminded that Brexit negotiations start today. And there has been another terrorist incident in London, another kind of terrorist! And so I shall have to come put of my escapist bubble again soon.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

A little more escapism!

Back in my escapist bubble for the moment, I am ignoring any stuff about the Queen's speech and Theresa May's machinations to stay in power. I shall only say that perhaps she and her handholding friend across the ocean could perhaps retire into the sunset together at some point.

This morning, as is my wont, I was up bright and early, running along the paseo marítimo and then along to the lighthouse and back along the beach, dabbling my feet in the sea. Other early risers were also up and about, doing the sensible thing and getting some exercise before it got too hot. At least two groups of younger people were also up and about, in their case still up and about rather than already up and about.

Revellers extending Saturday night into Sunday morning, one group of young men seemed to be debating whether they could go into a cafe for breakfast while still holding half-full bottles of beer. Another group were mostly young women, dressed in matching outfits of black top and long shorts, topped with bright yellow net skirts of the kind that our three year old granddaughter would love to possess for dressing up purposes. These young women's fancy dress was finished off with black pussy cat ears. So they were not after all dressed as bees in sympathy with Manchester. One possibility is that they were a hen party, despite the fact that they seemed to have collected a few men en route. They all sat on the sea wall, chatting happily and finishing off glasses of wine and beer.

In Spanish there is a verb, "madrugar", which has different possible meanings, depending on the angle from which you approach it. Those of us who were out and about for exercise were "madrugando" in its sense of "getting up early". Those young people who were still socialising were "madrugando" in its sense of "staying up unreasonably late". We could do with such a verb in English but all we have is the expression about burning the candle at both ends when we try to "madrugar" in both senses at once.

On the subject of words, I have been noting odd uses of English once again. There is a shop here that sells sailing gear which persists, even after several years, in having the slogan "At anytime and to any weather". Surely someone must have told them by now. As my students used to tell me, it's the little words (prepositions, as any primary school child in the UK could now tell you) that make life difficult. A company called ServiNauta, hedges its bets by advertising "Yatch service" on one bit of their van and "Yachting service" on another! And in Porto Novo I spotted a boutique that calls itself "Woman Chic" - possible considered a very trendy name but not really English!

Some things just don't translate, of course, as my friend Colin has been saying about the menu item "huevos rotos", literally broken eggs. Impossible to translate because eggs with their yolks broken and then fried would just not appear on any menu in the UK, even if the Spanish appreciate them. I wonder how the Spanish translate the American "sunny side up" fried eggs!

I had a chat this morning with a small girl on the next door terrace in our hotel. She spotted me through the dividing greenery and told me she was going to pool later. When I replied that I too would be there but that I had not yet had breakfast, she told me "Ni yo tampoco" - neither have I. Then, at the tender age of no more than four, she demonstrated perfect mastery of the subjunctive mood, telling me, "Mi madre me dice que vaya adentro ahora", more or less "mum is telling me to go inside now". Aren't children amazing?

Of course, she had to do as she was told, for as I heard a young mother telling her daughter that she HAD to rinse the pool water out of her hair, "las cosas que dicen las mamás, hay que hacerlas". The things that mums tell you to do, you have to do them!

But of course!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reality check!

Well, I think I have sat in my escapist bubble for long enough now. I shall probably get back into my escapist bubble before long but in the meantime her are some thoughts. I have been avoiding making any kind of comment about the tower block fire in London by writing about the weather and odd things that I have noticed about life in Spain.

And all the time I have been reading reports, first about how awful the fire was and then the reports of all the things that were wrong with that tower block: the external cladding which probably let the fire spread, and the use of which is banned in so many other countries; the cost cutting that meant that sprinkler systems and other fire-safety measures were ignored; the ignoring of regulations that said they should be installed; the lack of an adequate escape route in the event of a fire; and on and on. And then the reports that tried to put the blame on residents for not installing sprinklers and even one resident in particular whose faulty fridge may or may not have stated the fire.

Then last night our son sent us a long email, in which he talked about sitting up and watching the election results come in last Thursday night to Friday morning (is it really only just over a week ago?), about the London Bridge attacks and most of all about having to go into work on an early train on Tuesday morning and being able to see the tower block fire from his train. What a terrifying sight!

"And now," he wrote, "London enters a hot weekend as a tinder box. Justifiable anger, but the police tired and stretched. First London Bridge then this. Police who in some cases have done two weeks with no break. Angry, rightly angry, people. But all it needs is one tired, provoked, police to over-react and be caught by a smart phone doing something unacceptably brutal and it could so easily erupt now.

 Summer 2011 - I walked home from Mike's flat to the flat Emma and I had in Tooting after watching a box set (probably Treme, appropriately enough). We turned the news on before I left and I realised that all over London shops, flats, were being burnt. I walked (just five minutes) down empty streets realising that if i needed help, if I dialled 999 for a whole long-weekend no-one would come because every police, every fire-fighter was committed. Hopefully this weekend will be peaceful, but it's on a knife edge. I sit far away on my hill in Buckinghamshire, but I worry for my city."

He moved to London with a bunch of friends after university and it became "his" city in a way that Greater Manchester, where he was born never was. Even though he no longer lives in the city itself, he travels in daily from the end of the Metropolitan line to work in the city centre.

And I understand his feelings because it's what we have felt when Manchester, London, Paris, Nice have been threatened in whatever way. And we felt it when riots took place years ago in Oldham, where we live on the privileged edge of town. Our home in Saddleworth was never threatened by those riots like the centre of town was. And we feel almost guilty to live in such a secure place.

And we feel privileged, and yes, again guilty, to be able to take ourselves away to places like where we are now for a chess tournament (for Phil) and a week of pampering and using the wonderful pool (for me). And I think our son feels some of the same, safe on his "hill in Buckinghamshire". I think back to dystopian novels I have read by Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, J. G. Ballard and others, stories of a future where the rich live in gated, indeed fortified, communities with security forces to keep out the rampaging, starving poor and reflect on how they might be coming true.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Getting around again!

So, here we are in Sanxenxo once again for the chess tournament. We had fun organising our travel. We wanted to check up times of trains from Vigo to Pontevedra, to coincide with buses from there to Sanxenxo. Vigo has two train stations: Urzáiz in the centre, the refurbished original train station, and Guixar, out on the edge of town, which we thought was just a temporary measure while the refurbishment work went on, but which remains open. Trains from Guixar to Pontevedra take about half an hour to do the journey. Trains from Urzáiz, on the other hand, do the run in ten to fifteen minutes. Some of the information websites only gave us trains from one station. Others gave all stations but neglected to state which station individual trains left from. We could make a fairly well informed guess from the arrival times in Pontevedra but to the uninformed that site was less than useful! And there would be little point in turning up at one station for a train and hoping that you could make it quickly to the other if you were in the wrong place. Crazy stuff!

We made it in the end, however, despite the bus to Urzáiz railway station arriving late and then our being held up while we had to put our luggage through the security scan system at the station. Vigo Urzáz station clearly has aspirations of grandeur. But then so does Pontevedra station. I suppose you can't be too careful these days!

Anyway, we got here and trundled our bags down the hill from Sanxenxo bus station to the hotel, reflecting that it was quite hot but not as hot as it has been some years on our arrival. We usually have a heatwave for the tournament. There is time yet!

Last night, as we checked train times for the umpteenth time in one of our local wifi-providing bars, I noticed that the football team on the TV was dressed in yellow. The Cádiz canaries. As they scored a goal I sent a message to my sister, who lives just across the bay from Cádiz and supports the canaries. It turns put that she and her son were there - on the front row too! Needless to say, I did not notice them!

In my friend Colin's blog yesterday he put a link to advice on keeping cool in the heat of (especially southern) Spain. This included standing near or even in fountains. I now read that such activity might get you into trouble in Italy.

"Rome is cracking down on anyone hoping to recreate Anita Ekberg’s dip in the Trevi fountain in the film La Dolce Vita, imposing fines for bad behaviour in and around the city’s watery wonders. One of Italy’s most visited cities, Rome has long struggled to protect treasures such as the Colosseum and prevent tourists paddling in its sculpted fountains."

Apparently some fountains have been badly damaged by tourists paddling in them. Some people even take a naked dip in them. No respect!

The worst offenders are often football fans.

 However, a friend of ours, a fan of both Manchester United and Celta de Vigo said he was most impressed by the Manchester fans who turned up in Vigo to watch the recent match between the two teams.

Mancunians are pretty good! Well, most of them!