Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 27.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

News from the Portuguese Camino: Very little today, in fact. A short walk of 12km from Barcelos to the very lovely town on Ponte de Lima. The only incident of note - in an otherwise uneventful day - was being sent for the keys of our hotel door to a café nearby which prefers to remain incognito. In other words, there was no indication anywhere on the front of the café as to its name. Which was a tad confusing.

But I did learn than Ponte de Lima technically qualifies as a city but prefers to remain a town, so that it can continue to claim that it's Portugal's 'oldest town'.

As for Spain . . . The regular themes:-

Corruption: Here's Don Quijones on the latest scandals. As he writes: President's Rajoy’s only response to the plethora of scandals affecting his party – Gürtel, Púnica, Lezo and more – is to travel abroad (he’s currently in Brazil), keep mum about domestic troubles, and offer speeches about the importance of maintaining economic growth and job creation in Spain.

One person who has so far escaped prosecution is the woman once dubbed Spain's Maggie Thatcher – Esperanza Aguirre, the ex Presidenta of the Madrid region. She's just tearfully resigned as head of the PP party in Madrid on the grounds that she was duped and ' betrayed' by her corrupt lieutenants. Suffice to say that not many people in Spain will believe that she has clean hands.

The Spanish Economy: The macro growth number that I regularly contrast with micro reality might not, it seems, be all that it's cracked up to be. A group of Spanish economists has written to the
Eurogroup President urging him to probe the Spanish national accounts, which they claim have been manipulated by Spain’s National Statistics Office.

Unemployment: Numbers – as long suspected – might not be that reliable here either. Especially down in very corrupt Andalucia. 

Spain's Banks: How safe are they really? Read DQ on this here.

Lunatic Prosecutions: Here's news of the latest one.

Beautiful Spain: A recent list from The Local which might well have appeared previously under another guise.

Galicia: An equine oddity.

Today's Cartoon: A rather vicious one from The Times, pointing up the hopeless performances of Britain's Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at Prime Minister's Questions Time.





Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 26.4.17

If you read yesterday's post, you'll know that my camino colleague and I had a bad night in Barcelos, deprived of sleep by a fairground that operated at 11 on the dial until 1.15am and then at a lower volume until 5am.

Today things got considerably worse, culminating in a farce that reduced us to laughter out of a mixture of bemusement, desperation and a small helping of anger.

Things went well as regards the walking itself, though we were distracted by the presence of a café at one point and missed a turn, compelling us to walk half a kilometre in the wrong direction before concluding the yellow marker signs were not just few and far between but non-existent.

During the day, I'd received two messages – both in English – which encouraged me to think that we were heading for a nice accommodating place in Vitorino de Piães. The first was to ask whether they wanted us to arrange for the onward transport of our bags today and the other was to say that they had a lunch waiting for us yesterday. Despite the fact we wouldn't be arriving until 4 or 5.

We arrived in Vitorino de Piães around 4.15, left the camino and headed for the location of the B&B - A Casa do Campo as shown by Google Maps. We did this in the face of comments and advice from at least 5 kind locals, all of whom were, first, anxious to tell us we were going the wrong way for Santiago and, secondly, non-plussed when we told them we were heading for the Casa do Campo. Of which none of them had ever heard. But we plodded on, tired but sure we were doing the right thing. 

After walking around 900 metres we entered the cul-de-sac indicated by Google and found not a B&B but 2 locked and shuttered houses guarded by 3 large dogs on chains. 

I checked with both Google Maps and with the reservation from booking.com, only to be given the same - incorrect – information. I then accosted 2 passing ladies, who advised us to return to the church, where they thought the place might be. Though they'd never heard of it nor knew of the street it was said to be in. 

As we set off, I called the number on which messages had been sent to me and had a conversation in almost-English with what sounded like the son of the owners. This resulted in a promise that we'd be picked up from outside the church in ten minutes. I was left wondering who on earth had sent the 2 messages earlier in the day. Clearly not the owners of the B&B. Their son or booking.com's computer?? 

A car duly arrived, containing a family of 2 adults and 2 teenagers. They were clearly surprised there were 2 of us. As this was too many passengers for the car, the parents disappeared and left us to chat to the kids about the fact that Google and booking.com had both misdirected us. 

The car returned several minutes later, minus the wife. The husband, then drove us back towards the wrong cul-de-sac and up the next minor road, for several hundred metres. Finally, we arrived at an imposing gate, drove up a long drive and arrived at a large house, where the wife was waiting. 

Once inside the house, it didn't take us long to realise it was a self-catering place, devoid of any food whatsoever. And with an Aga-type thing in the kitchen on which we were clearly expected to cook our dinner, sans instructions. In fact - apart from bed linen and towels – the only things in the place were our bags, which - to our relief and very great surprise - had found their from our hotel in Barcelos. Oh, and a small TV on top of the (empty) fridge, offering - it turned out - 7 Portuguese channels. But no bath for our weary limbs. 

As we looked at each other in more-than-mild shock, the couple asked us what we wanted them to buy for us by way of food, both for last night and this morning. And then left us to ask ourselves what on earth was going on and why booking.com had not advised of the nature of the place. Or, indeed, on how to get to it correctly! And we wondered how previous guests – if indeed there had been any – had found their way to it 

An hour or so later, the 4 of them returned with a stack of food and drink. I took the opportunity to ask the son whether it was a new venture, and was less than surprised to hear it was and that they hadn't had any guests - foreignor otherwise - before us. Clear evidence of this was the newness of the toaster, the kitchen utensils, the plastic washing-up bowl and a few other things the family had brought back from their shopping trip to - I guessed – Ponte de Lima.

It has to be stressed that the couple were charm itself and said they'd bring us 'portable wifi' shortly. And that the wife would come by in the morning to hand over our bags to the transport company after we'd left. Meanwhile, they stressed that several items were gifts from them. 

As they drove away, we opened the bottle of red wine they'd brought and then settled down to cook cod, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. And, meanwhile, eat the pastries we'd been gifted. Well, one of us did. 

All's well that ends well, they say. Which was never truer than in this case. Our bemusement and mild anger at being guinea pigs had been converted into pleasure by the kindness and all round niceness of the family. 

Final note: The street – lane, rather – in which the house is actually situated was only a few hundred metres from where the 2 old dears had told me they had no idea where it was. This is not the first time I've experienced this with people who've lived in the same place all their lives. My impression is that new streets never become known to them. That said, the address of Casa do Campo is: Rua Fonte de Ferrão. One possible reason why no one in the tiny village had heard of it was that a double R in Portuguese is pronounced as Kh, and so nothing like the double R in Spanish I'm familiar with and was employing . . . .

At the insistence of my walking companion, here's a foto of the cooker/oven:-




Footnote to yesterday: When I checked out of our hotel in Barcelos, I told the receptionist that the least the hotel could do - in view of my lack of sleep – was not to charge me for the Kit Kat I'd had from the minibar. Happily, she readily agreed. But I will still send off my letters of complaint. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 25.3.17

Yesterday I walked 29km or 18 miles, which was rather more than I usually do on the first day of a camino. Any day, in fact. I arrived at our hotel in Barcelos with my walking companion at 17.05 having set out from Vilar do Conde on the Atlantic coast at 8.20.

This is the conversation that took place at the reception desk when we arrived there:

Boa Tarde
Boa Tarde. I have a reservation for 2 rooms tonight.
Name please?
Davies.
No, we don't have anything. How did you reserve?
Through booking.com
What is the name of the second guest?
Stanford.
Ah, yes. We have 2 reservations in that name.
Strange, then, that they took the money from my debit card.
As you can see, there's a fairground right outside and it'll be noisy until late. We have only 1 room at the backside of the hotel. So, who wants that room?
How late?
Maybe up to 10pm.
I live in Spain. The noise is not that great and that's not late in Spain.
Well, maybe 11.
Still not late. I won't be going to sleep until after that. So, I'll take a room at the front.

But, truth to tell, the noise - and the vibration of the entire hotel it caused - didn't stop at 10. Or at 11. Or at 12. Or at 1am. It actually stopped at . . . Well I don't really know as - with foam plugs deep in my ear canal and a pillow on top of my head - I finally got to sleep sometime after 1.10.

All of which was very bad news for my colleague as, when we checked in, she had bravely plumped for a 'frontside' room as well. But later found, after she'd quickly changed her mind, that the only 'backside' room had just gone

By the way . . .  I did record the noise at 1.08 but it woefully failed to do justice to both the noise and the vibration caused by the relentless deep bass beat. Or whatever it's called.

But it wasn't a complete waste of an evening. I know now Portuguese hotel receptionists can lie as blatantly as those in Spain - and doubtless elsewhere - when it comes to things that might irritate guests. No wonder they took the money upfront. I rather doubt that my imminent complaint to Booking.com and a nasty review on Tripadvisor will achieve much but one must do one's bit for posterity.

A couple of photos . . .

This is taken in the shop in Pontevedra I mentioned last year as not being an official distributor for Swiss army knives. So, where did they get the display stand from? And is it genuine? More to the point - Are the knives?


Finally . . . This is a bar in our old quarter which might well be owned by a couple of grocers . . . .

Monday, April 24, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 24.4.17

I can't write a post this morning. So, here's:-
  1. Something I penned out of boredom on the train yesterday morning, and
  2. Something I wrote while my 2 friends visited a Port cave in Oporto yesterday midday.
Sunday morning in Valença, Portugal

8.00: Arrive at the train station and park, aiming to have a coffee and catch the 8.36 to Oporto. Nothing open. Neither a ticket office nor the café. No sign of any employees of CP, the national rail company. Two trains at Platform 1, both with their engines chugging away.

I wander down the platform and see some chap in civvies in what looks like a store room-cum-office. I ask him in Portuguese/Spanish/Gallego about the train to Oporto and where we can buy tickets. He points to one of the chugging trains but I'm not convinced, as I know ours is coming from Vigo and doesn't look as tatty as the 2 already in the station. I suspect that one of these is the 9.11 to Oporto, which takes about 2 days. I finally find a timetable which confirms departure of our train at 8.36 and then talk to the guy about the train coming from Spain. He agrees this is a different one and will be on Platform 2. I ask for and get the key to the toilets.

8.25: One of the chugging trains moves off in the direction of Spain, probably to go along the border to Mençao.

8.30: Our train arrives and we cross the tracks to get to it. There are bout 10 other passengers and none of us can get on the train because the doors won't open. Along comes a guy in a denim jacket and opens each door. I wonder about passengers who were planning to get off. But there aren't any.

8.42: We set off, 7 minutes late already. After 12 minutes in the station.

8.45: We buy our tickets. I hand over a €20 and get more than €9 back in coins.

8.53: We stop at Vila Nova de Ceveira, which is unscheduled. No one opens the doors.

9.01am: We stop at Caminha, at the mouth of the river Miño/Minho, the border with Spain. Also unscheduled. The doors open and one person gets on. He shakes hands with the guard and I conclude he's an employee of CP. So maybe a special stop just for him.

9.18: We stop on the outskirts of Viana de Castelo. A passenger on the other side stands up to get off and kindly tells me my wallet is on the floor.

9.21: We arrive at Viana do Costelo, now 13 minutes behind schedule.

9.23: We set off, now 14 minutes late.

9.26: We stop for no apparent reason. The train moves slowly backwards.

9.28: We set off again. Next stop is scheduled for 9.49 at Nine. I'm guessing 10.05.

9.36: Another unscheduled stop, possibly outside Darque station. No 3 or 4G, so no internet.

9.40: The train is now racing along at maybe 65kph (40mph). We might just be making up some time.

9.44: Another unscheduled stop, at Tamel. Another minute lost.

9.52: Yet another unscheduled stop, at Barcelos. The doors open and at least one passenger gets on.

I've noted that the there's only one track. This must complicate the scheduling challenge. And a quick look at the timetable suggests we're running not to the normal timetable for the Vigo-Oporto 'fast' train from Renfe but to that of the 7.56 semi-stopping train from Valença to Oporto on CP. Possibly because it's Sunday. From Barcelos to Nine is 11 minutes on this timetable, meaning we will Nine before the 10.05 I predicted. Still 15 minutes late. As there's no 3 or 4G, I can't warn the friend who's meeting us in Oporto at 10.30.

10.01: We arrive earlier than expected at Nine.

10.03: We depart, now a mere 13 minutes late. But, if I'm right about today's timetable, we've another 3 stops to make above and beyond the timetable we were supposed to be on. We are certainly not going to arrive at Campanha station by 10.18.

10.08: As feared, we stop at the first of the 3 stations, Farmalicão.

Jack tells me he has 4G through an operator called NOS. My phone tells me I'm with MEO, which used to be Telecom Portugal but I have no signal. Jack tells me to switch off and on and, possibly by coincidence, I now have a signal.

10.20: We arrive at Trofa. This is even slower than the 7.26 timetable, which has us down as taking only 9 minutes between these stations. Contrasting with the 12 we've just taken. Clearly a Sunday driver.

10.31: We arrive at Ermesinde. Only another 14 minutes to our destination, where we'll arrive 17 minutes later than expected. And, indeed, scheduled.


10.40: We finally arrive at Campanha station and head for the San Bento metro station, where our friend has been waiting since around 10.00.

VISITING OPORTO 2017

Note: This curmudgeonly comment on Oporto might well be stimulated in part both by the above and by my having previously had to wrestle with 2 machines.

The first was a ticket machine on the Metro. These are so user-unfriendly that even Portuguese folk tend to take several minutes getting them to spew out tickets. Leading to long queues. The machine at Campanha station added injury to insult my making it difficult for me to put my coins in and then told me time had run out after I'd got the first one in. And then refused to give it back. Regular readers might recall my account last year of the guy who makes a living on the Metro by offering to help confused tourists and then asking them for the 80 cents he claims he lacks to buy his own ticket. Which rather says it all.

The second machine was the one giving access to a left-luggage locker at São Bento mainline station. The system there is so complicated – with instructions only in Portuguese – that there's a guy standing there all day explaining to local and tourists alike how to use it. Or at least there was when we were there. This gentleman kindly suggested we take a photo of the codes on the receipts issued by the machine as, if we should lose them, we'd never see our luggage ever again . . . 

Oporto is a truly lovely city which I've visited probably 10 times. But it has changed a lot since my first visit in the 1990s. In fact, it's an excellent example of the curse of tourism.

Even in April it's overflowing with tourists. As one emerges from the metro at São Bento of a Sunday morning, the first challenge you face is to negotiate the groups of people blocking the pavement while being lectured to by a guide.

Then, en route to the Port Caves in Gaia, there is the riverbank path that used to be derelict and dangerous but which is now stuffed with bars, cafés and restaurants. And, of course, people.

Above the bridge, the 'characterful' slope of slums has been transformed into something far less noteworthy. Which I suppose is a good thing.

Gaia itself is nothing like it was 15-20 years ago. It's essentially a riverside promenade and, apparently, a magnet for noisy motorbikers, who - the waitress tells me - congregate ther every Sunday in their dozens. Near the entrance to the cable car, should you want to know where to avoid.

As in all cities in which tourism is the real money spinner, service is now poor. Appalling even. I left 2 bars after the waiters had walked past my table twice without saying anything. Indeed, in the first one, the waiter declined to respond to my wishing him Bom día. At the third, I had to wave to attract the attention of the waitress, who was standing at the entrance, before she came to my table on the terrace at the roadside.

As I write, the only consolation is that I can hear myself think. Which would never be the case if I were in a Spanish city among so many people.

But, anyway, here's a nice foto of the city, taken from Gaia:-


And we did have an excellent lunch away from the hordes, up near São Francisco church.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.4.17

I'm off to Oporto early this morning, to start a week long camino on the Portuguese Way, up to the border with Spain. My young guest - Jack - has solved a problem for me by volunteering this summary of why he loves to come to Spain. Apart from the free accommodation that is. He used to come with my younger daughter, who was a teacher colleague a few years ago, but now has the chutzpah to come alone:-

Things I like about Spain
  1. Toilets in stations are free to access
  2. It's acceptable to drink wine at 11.30am and not be labelled a drunk
  3. Free tapas/pinxos with drinks
  4. The Guapas (Beautiful women)
  5. The cleanliness
  6. A little Spanish goes a long way
  7. Once you're introduced it's like you have a new friend for life
  8. Jamón in its many forms and qualities
  9. The Spanish love of the elderly and how many elderly people join their families in the evening
  10. How conversations in Spanish sound like arguments but can actually be quite polite in tone
  11. The colourful shirts
  12. "16-60s". (Faye Davies will know what I mean!)
  13. Late opening times
  14. How 10.30am is considered early morning
  15. The level of noise which is considered acceptable
  16. How people wear up to 3 layers of clothes even though it's 28 degrees
  17. How relaxed things are
  18. The scenic views
  19. The quality of wine (even a cheap one tastes good)
  20. Plans change; people get on with it.
Me: I don't have any problem with these, except perhaps no. 15. But it has to be said that Jack confided in me this afternoon that, although he loved to visit, he very much doubted he could work here. I sympathised.

Finally . . . Today's cartoon




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.


More on high-level corruption, I'm afraid. You'll notice that the state prosecutors are trying to stop the actions against the PP politicians. One wonders why. But it could be that they were appointed by the PP party.

And then there's the minor case of the mayor of a local Galician town who's being prosecuted for taking with him, when he left office 6 years ago, not just a few paper clips and pencils but 18 mobile phones.

And the King of the Orchestras here in Galicia who's being asked by the tax office to account for €46 million which they believe passed through his hands in cash but was not taxed. In other words, the vast proportion of his income derived from providing music for the concerts of our many, many fiestas. One wonders where the cash flowed to and why it wasn't noticed by the banks and the tax authorities, who work hand-in-hand to check deposits and transfers of over €2,000. In theory, at least.

Here's news of another of those bizarre suits started by someone in Spain who feels insulted. This time by the picture of a drunken Pope on a poster advertising a fiesta in La Coruña. The action was initiated by the Association of Widows of Lugo. Doubtless a fine group of women in other respects but very probably all good Catholic ladies who are easily affronted on behalf of their Church. A dying breed here in Spain. Thank God.

Yet another Galician octogenarian has died below his tractor, something which seems to happen at least once a month.

Here in Pontevedra there used to be 4 tourist offices, all competing with each other - Galicia as a whole; The Rias Baixas; Pontevedra Province; and Pontevedra city. After many years of this nonsensical localism, two of these have finally fused. Not so with our 3 uncompetitive 'international' airports, which continue to compete with each other via local grants and subsidies (i. e. bribes to the airlines) to the detriment of the region as a whole. Meanwhile, the facility in nearby Oporto in North Portugal continues to grow by cornering most of the international market. And, in the process, cheekily advertising itself as The airport for all Galicia.

So, it's impossible not to at least smile when reading of the Galician president publicly begging our friends in North Portugal to indulge only in 'fair competition' (competencia loyal) with our local businesses. As if. A not unreasonable response might be:- Cultivate your own garden. Anyway, right on cue comes this cartoon from Lenox of Business Over Tapas:-

Postmen protesting against unfair competition from Google

Finally . . . A Galician dish that tastes a lot better than it looks - Cuttlefish in its own ink:-


Todays' cartoon:- Apologies if it's a repeat. I lose track . . . .


Friday, April 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

First the good news . . . .

  1. Here's how to emulate the Spanish so that you can reach 100.
  2. Here's how the Spanish energy companies are being dragged into the 21st century. (And then boasting of it with full-page ads in the local media).
And here's the bad news: The latest example of brazen corruption on a huge scale by a leading Spanish politician. As El País puts it: A recovering economy, a weak opposition and an unstable international scenario should all have provided a good opportunity for President Rajoy to present himself as a solid political reference point. Instead, a resurgence of corruption cases is ruining that opportunity. But no doubt things will improve for him after he's testified in the trial I mentioned yesterday . . . 

I'm doing a camino down in Portugal next week. Yesterday, one of the hotels I'm using sent me this helpful message: Good morning. Tankful for the reserve. Will do all that i an. Do you need anythin else? Dinner? Breakfast?Transport? Tank you. Still on the subject of bad English, I had occasion last night to visit the web page of a new "British School" in Vigo. Here's the heading from one of its sections:- Parent's School is in session. One hopes that the place is doing rather better than when this was first written. Or that they have sacked the teacher of English.

Nutter' Corner: There's a prize for the first reader to translate this paragraph into English. It's from the website of a US Catholic TV network and it relates, I think, to the danger to Catholics posed by the practice of yoga: Many Christians who are former practitioners of yoga argue that it is not possible to separate yoga from its religious origins, that the dangers of the occult remain, especially by efforts to manipulate internal forces in order to achieve a particular physical state. That, while natural causation is claimed, in fact achieving the result depends on the existence of the very forces which the non-Christian philosophy teaches. Separating the philosophy from the posture makes possible the posture’s Christian use, but removes any value of it over any other physical posture. On the other hand, retaining the posture and seeking its purpose necessarily adopts a non-Christian worldview, opening the individual to spiritual forces, as opposed to simply material ones, who are opposed to their salvation.

Talking about religion . . . If you're a theist and wonder how we atheists can manage to enjoy life without a 'sense of purpose', this video clip is for you.

Local News:-

  1. Reader Maria, I think, recently wrote about the history of olives here in Galicia. And I recalled that Vigo is known as the City of Olives. If you want to know why, there's a brief account at the end of this post. Well, two actually.
  2. I've been known to accuse Galicians of putting paprika (pimentón) in just about everything. Well, yesterday, my visitor Jack provided me with this evidence of a chocolate bar containing the stuff.


Finally . . . . 
  • Very Local News 1: Since I came here more than 16 years ago, I've regularly had to struggle to get up to my house past the inconsiderate parents who block the road by double and triple parking so their precious kids don't have to walk more than 20 metres. But, blow me, a local cop appeared on the scene this week and the parked cars stretched up and down the hill for several hundred metres. And then I read in the local paper that, not before time, the local council had decided to do something about this twice-daily nuisance outside all local schools. Well, the private ones anyway. All strength to their ordinances.
  • Very Local News 2: It seems that Renfe's web page has difficulty only with Pontevedra as the station of origin. If I mis-type the name and enter Pom, it automatically gives me Pombal and allows me to then enter Santiago as the destination. Weird.
Today's cartoon, on a topical issue:-
VIGO: THE CITY OF OLIVES

First t

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Starting off rather negatively - if you've glossed over the above quote  . . . . The Spanish cartoonist, Forges (Antonio Fraguas), has gone into print with a devastating attack on 'Spain's mediocrity'. You can read it in English at the end of this post. Sadly, it's all pretty accurate. In my humble estimation. My thanks to Lenox of Business Over Tapas for alerting me to this article this morning.

So . . . What is wrong with these 2 sentences, as least for speakers of British English?:-
  • Local paper: Three times canoeing world champion Óscar Graña has saved a woman from drowning in the river Lérez in Pontevedra (Galicia) – for the second time.
  • National UK paper: And even if the timeline fit, it would be difficult for MPs to select and coalesce around a single candidate in such a short space of time.

Talking of bad English . . .  I discovered last night that a Spanish site from which I'd been printing out info in respect of a September camino also had an English version. I was a bit miffed with myself for not noticing this until I'd finished but then I read this sentence about a church in Pontevedra and decided I'd unwittingly done the right thing: Latin plant and pointed style. So, not translated by a native speaker. As ever.

In a surprise move - and one totally resisted by the Spain's most senior legal officers - the President, Sr Rajoy, has been called to testify in the biggest corruption case currently going through the courts. See here on this. should be interesting. Or, more likely, not as he's likely to duck all the questions. As he has done for years.

The latest example of Spanglish: El overbooking.

Here's my final extracts from the second volume of Arturo Barea's The Forging of a Rebel. By this time he's living in the  Madrid of the mid 1920s:-
  • Sanchez came from a wealthy, middle-class family. His parents had given him a solid education; he had studied for a commercial career, at a time when such studies seemed a novel and preposterous thing to do in Spain.
  • [The comment of Barea's boss when Barea resisted the pressure on him to marry his daughter, responding to Barea's question about how his daughter felt about marrying him]. The girl does what I want her to do. And, anyway, women don't know which men they like or not, so long as they haven't been to bed with their first.
  • [The comments of his father-in-law about the state of the marriage with his daughter] I want to speak seriously with you. You've got a lot of modern ideas in your head and want to change the world. But now look here. A woman is either married, and in that case she has got to keep the house clean and feed the kids, or else she's a bitch and a street-walker. So don't set your mind on something different. The man must support his home and children, that's his business. And if you've got an itch to amuse yourself . . . well, you go and find a woman somewhere, amuse yourself without a scandal, and that's all there is to it. If you go on as you are, it will come to a bad end.
  • [Barea's response] All right. But I think only a fool would marry just to have a woman in his bed. What I want is that my wife should be my best friend, besides being my bedfellow.
  • [The father-in-law's reaction] Pooh, that's just romantic nonsense. Look, a man marries to have a home of his own and a woman to nurse him when he's ill and to look after his children. And everything else is just modern claptrap.
  • [Barea] But if one's wife differs only from other women only by the colour of her hair, the cut of her face, and the shape of her body, she becomes one among the many women who are attractive to the man, with the disadvantage of being close to hand day and night and having her attraction submitted to the relentless test of proximity without tenderness.
  • [Advice to Barea from an old male friend] The problem is complicated in detail but simple in its general outline. You see, in Spain boys and girls grow up in two separate water-tight compartments. The boy is told he mustn't go near the girls or play with them, and if he does it all the same, he's called a cissy. The girls are taught that boys are beastly and brutal, and a girl who likes playing with them is not a 'little woman' but a tomboy, which is considered something very bad. Later, the school teachers get busy teaching the boys that Woman is a vessel of impurity and teaching girls that Man is the incarnation of the Evil Spirit, created only for the perdition of women. So the boys form their masculine society, and when sex awakens, the young man goes to the brothel to learn about it and the young woman sits and waits until one of the men who come glutted from the brothels invites her to go to bed with him. Then some agree to do it through matrimony and others without it, and the first become so-called decent women and the others whores. How do you expect real, complete marriages to grow from that? And will you adapt yourself to your wife or do you rather think she should adapt herself to you.? But, apart from your case, they can't do it because the whole weight of the society of their own sex is against them.

Thank-God things have changed and all that is a thing of the past . . . 

Finally . . . . Yesterday's comment of my guest, Jack, about the poor range of products in the one grocer's he went into doesn't chime with my experience. I disassociate myself from it totally. And with Jack, in fact.

Today's cartoon:-



ARTICLE

The Triumph of the Mediocre

"Those who know me know my beliefs and ideals. Beyond these, I think the time has come to be honest. It is, above all, necessary to undertake a deep and sincere exercise of self-criticism, taking seriousness as our motto.

We have to assume that our problems will be not be solved by changing from one party to another, via another battery of urgent measures, via a general strike, or by leaping into the street to protest against each other. Perhaps the time has come to accept that our crisis is more than economic, goes beyond these or those politicians, or the greed of the bankers, or the risk premium.

We have to recognise that Spain's main problem is not Greece, the euro or Mrs Merkel.

We have to admit that we have become a mediocre country and to try to correct this.

No country achieves such a condition overnight. Or in three or four years. It is the result of a chain tha starts in school and ends in the ruling class.

We have created a culture in which the mediocre students are the most popular in the school, the first to be promoted in the office, the most heard in the media and the only ones we vote for in our elections, no matter what they do - people whose political or professional careers we do not know fully know about - if indeed they have one – merely because they are ours.

We are so accustomed to our mediocrity that we have come to accept it as the natural state of things. The exceptions, almost always confined to sport, serve to deny the evidence.

- Mediocre is the country where its inhabitants spend an average of 134 minutes a day in front of a television that shows mainly garbage.

- Mediocre is the country which since the start of democracy has not produced a single president who spoke English or had even a minimal knowledge of international politics.

- Mediocre is the only country in the world that, in its rancid sectarianism, has managed to divide even the associations of victims of terrorism.

- Mediocre is the country which has reformed its educational system three times in three decades to end up with its students at the tail of the developed world.

- Mediocre is the country which has two universities among the 10 oldest in Europe but does not have a single university among the 150 best in the world and which forces its best researchers to exile themselves in order to survive.

Mediocre is the country which has a quarter of its population unemployed, but which finds more reason to be indignant when the puppeteers of a neighbouring country joke about its athletes.

- Mediocre is the country where the brilliance of another causes suspicion, where creativity is marginalised - when not stolen with impunity - and where independence is punished.

- Mediocre is the country in which public institutions are headed b politicians who, in 48% of cases, never exercised their respective professions but found in politics the most relevant way of life.

- Mediocre is the country that has made mediocrity the great national aspiration, pursued without any shame by those thousands of young people who seek to occupy the next place in the Big Brother contest, by politicians who insult each other without promoting ideas, by bosses who surround themselves with mediocrity to hide their own mediocrity and by students who ridicule the hard-working colleagues,

- Mediocre is the country that has allowed, encouraged and celebrated the triumph of the mediocre, cornering excellence until it is left with two options: to leave or to be engulfed by the unstoppable gray tide of mediocrity.

- Mediocre is the country, which denies the existence of its mediocrity in order to shamelessly boast of its national education, and which needs the motivation of sporting successes. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

I'm very short of time this morning - bloody visitor - so here's a series of unrelated citations:-

And now for something completely different. My visitor-cum-guest has just given me this, as a suggested Guest Blog. I am considering it:-

Morning dear readers! This entry is supplied by Professor Pedantry's English visitor, Jack. 

Galicia in the Spring is a slightly different being to what I've been treated to. Evenings drop colder quickly (expected), there are less [Ed. fewer!] people milling about and no fireworks (I usually come during fiesta week). 

Yesterday I took a walk around the newer part of the town on my own. Professor Pedantry was helping some potential new Pontevedrans look at houses, good chap that he is, so I took the opportunity to get lost (he had suggested I did something similar earlier in the day!) and explore. My experiences of Pontevedra have been dominated by the old town, by Castelao and flea markets so it was enjoyable to see everyday Spain. 

One thing I noticed were [Ed. was!] the number of elderly ladies and gentlemen, all well dressed in lots of colour. Lots of people taking it easy; even businessmen as they crossed the road almost nonchalant with the impending doom of a lorry hurtling down the road. 

I passed a confectioners that were advertising chocolate with pimentón. I remembered what my host had remarked once before, that Gallegos will use it in everything. When I did smoked mackerel pate last year we struggled to find a Spanish recipe without it. 

Speaking of food, I was surprised by the amount of packaged and processed food in a supermarket yesterday. I was also surprised about the lack of choice in a fruit & veg shop also. So many varieties of apples, many shining brightly under fluorescent light. A few oranges dotted about and a barrel of strawberries. Nothing else. 

A [new] deli has opened up in the town. It's good to see Spain embracing the continuing demand for fine foods. I was immediately greeted by jamón being sliced freshly and then vacuum packed; many types of bellotta jamón and one or two in black sacks and the infamous black nail suggesting the best of the best, pata negra. These pigs are fed purely on acorns throughout their whole life and this is reflected in the nutty taste. It's the jamón of the Spanish royal family and the price indicates this. 

And finally, yesterday we had the most wonderful lunch at a restaurant in the hills. San Blas is a fine meat restaurant built over a well and has a ramshackle country farmhouse feel. The speciality is ox meat[buey] served with kosher salt and then griddled on a plate at the table. Served with peppers and chips and a simple green salad, it was a joy to eat. Fantastic conversation with my host's American friend and his family and washed down with outstanding Rioja. It required an extra long siesta. Ahhh what a schlep this life is! 

A couple of Jack's fotos:-

Buey on the grill:-


My favourite, zamburiñas:-


Today's cartoon, on the food theme:-


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 18.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

A bit more on life in the Spanish army in North Africa i the early 1920s, from Arturo Barea's The Forging of a Rebel:-
  • I learned enough in my years of apprenticeship in the bank to realise the power of the Society of Jesus [the jesuits] in Spain. I knew that the Sacred Heart had been enthroned in the factory plants of the north and that the big shipowners had Jesuits for their father confessors, and the big banks were so intimately bound to the Order that some of them were assumed to be its financial figureheads. I had seen that a letter of recommendation from a Jesuit opened all doors in Spanish industry and that a discreet hint from the same quarters had the power to shut those doors for good.
  • Once you have selected your [literary] Master, you belong to him, unconditionally. If he's of the Right, you belong to the Right. If he's of the Left, you belong to the Left. It doesn't matter what you write. In this country, you have to belong to one side or the other, right or wrong.
  • [Observing recruits arriving in Africa] There were men from the Castilian plains and sierras, taciturn, small, bony, tanned by the sun, wind, frost and snow, their legs of their corduroy trousers fastened with twine over their bulging pants, which in turn were tied with tape over thick blue or red home-knitted socks. Basques, Gallegos and Asturians usually came in a mixed lot on the same ship, and their discrepancies where astounding. The huge basques, in blue blouses, with the inevitable beret on the crown of their small heads, were serious and silent, and they spoke in that incomprehensible language of theirs, they measure their words. You felt the strength of their individual being and of their self-contained culture. The Gallegos came mostly from poor, forlorn villages, they used to be incredibly dirty, often barefoot, and they faced this new affliction, worse than the familiar penury at home, with a bovine resignation. The Asturians from the mountains were strong and agile, great gluttons and bawdy merrymakers, and they mocked at the wretchedness of the people from Galicia, as well as at the gravity of the Basques. Then there arrived pot-bellied, old transatlantic steamers with a load of recruits from the Mediterranean provinces, from Catalonia, parts of Aragon, Valencia and Alicante. The mountain people from Aragon and northern Catalonia differed in language, but they were much alike – primitive, harsh and almost savage.The Catalans, from the ports, in contact with all the Mediterranean civilisations, were a world apart from their own countrymen of the mountains. The people of the Levante, in black blouses and laced alpargatas, rather handsome, but lymphatic and flabby with promise of an early paunch, were a group by themselves. And it seemed to me that a Madrileño is less of a stranger to the New Yorker than a Basque is to a Gallego, with their villages a bare hundred miles apart.
  • That mass of illiterate peasants commanded by irresponsible officers was the backbone of Spain's Moroccan field armies.
  • One day a company of the Tercio refused to eat the rotten food of their mess. The first man in the queue shouted something like:”The sons of bitches in the Expeditionary Force get chicken and champagne in the officers' mess, while we have to eat this stinking muck”. He took the mess tin and shoved it back. The officer on duty shot him clean through the head. The next man refused the filled tin. The officer shot him. The third wavered, carried his mess tin away from the field kitchen and smashed in on the ground. The officer shot him. The others ate their portions.
  • He threw fat stones into the sea and watched them ricocheting. “You know, barbarism is surely one of the most contagious things in life”.
  • You see, Franco . . .Look, the Tercio's rather like being in a jail. The most courageous brute is the master of the place. And something of this sort happened to that man. He's hated, just as the convicts hate the bravest killer in their prison, and he's obeyed and respected – he imposes himself on all the others – just as the big killer imposes himself on the whole jail. You know how many officers of the Legion have been shot in the back during an attack. Now, there are many who would wish to shoot Franco in the back, but not one of them has the courage to do it. They're afraid he might turn his head and see them just when they have taken aim at him. . . .Believe me, it's sticky going with Franco. He simply looks blankly at a fellow, with very big serious eyes, and says “Execute him”, and walks away, just like that. I've seen murderers go white in the face because Franco had looked at them out of the corner of his eye. You know, that mans' not quite human and he hasn't got any nerves. And then, he's quite isolated. I believe all the officers detest him because he treats them just as he treats us and isn't friends with any of them. They go on the loose and get drunk but he stays alone in the tent. It's difficult to make him out and it's funny because he's still so young.
  • The Legion grew quickly into a state within the State, a cancer within the army. Franco was not content with his promotion and his brilliant career. He needed war. Now he held the Tercio in his hands, as an instrument of war.
Tomorrow, life back in Madrid after the army.

I wrote yesterday that the Camino de Santiago is essentially about money these days. I thought there were now about 15 camino routes, spidered across Spain. But the web page of Mundicom lists a staggering total of 33, even if you exclude variants. Here in Pontevedra, spring has brought a sharp uplift in the number of pilgrims passing though Pontevedra. Most of these will be heading due north on the original Portuguese Way but some will be heading west or north west on one of the 3 'authentic' routes discovered in the last 5 years. All heading for a city which has, to my mind, been effectively destroyed by excessive tourism over the last 20 years. About which the residents of Barcelona are now up in arms. The gilt is off the golden goose, it seems. You can have too much of a good thing.


Finally . . . In the Voz de Galicia yesterday, I read that El segundo cerebro está en tu barriga. "Your second brain is in your guts". Well, for women maybe. For men it's rather lower down. Or, in the case of some men, in their head.

Today's cartoon: Another on the UK's NHS:-


Monday, April 17, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Life in Modern Spain: Expression is not entirely free here. Click here and here for evidence of this claim.

Life in Old Spain: I've just finished the second volume of Arturo Barea's wonderful 'autobiographical novel', The Forging of a Rebel. This centres on his time in the army in North Africa in the early 1920s. The accounts of maltreatment, debauchery, negligence, inefficiency and corruption are hard to believe but doubtless accurate. Here are extracts which appealed to me:-
  • For the fist 25 years of the 20th century, Morocco was a battlefield, a brothel and an immense tavern.
  • [On the soldiers trying to get sick to avoid fighting, quoting an old hand.] "When there's fighting, if you're lucky, you get leave to go to Tetuan and you find a bitch who's sick and you sleep with her. Then they send you to hospital for 3 or 4 months and you don't have to run about when it's raining bullets. But those lousy bitches know it and ask for double the price".
  • It's frighteningly easy for a man to slide back into an animal state.
  • This Spanish 'Be it as God wills' does not signify hope in God's kindness but rather the end of any hope, the expectance of worse things to come.
  • In the Spanish code of personal relations drunkenness is considered not only disgusting but also as proving a lack of virility. But on certain occasions there is an exception to the rule, as for instance on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve.
  • At the far end of the camp barrels of wine were lined up against 2 square tents: the canteen and the brothel.
  • As a rule, the wine which was sold to the forces in Africa contained a shameless dose of water and half a dozen chemicals to to prevent quick fermentation.
  • The women were old, corroded by disease, in rags of glaring colours, hoarse from syphilis and alcohol, their eyes red-rimmed.
  • The tavern had the same fascination for me which the first visit to a lunatic asylum has for a normal person.
  • [An exhortation from the insane Lieutenant Colonel Millán Astray, later to become even more infamous during the Civil War]. Gentlemen of the Legion! What are you? The Betrothed of Death. You have washed yourselves clean, for you have come here to die. There is no other life for you than in the Legion. But you must understand that you are Spanish gentlemen, all of you, knights like those other legionaries who, conquering America, begat you. In your veins there are some drops of blood of Pizarro and Cortés. There are drops of blood of those adventurers who conquered a world and who, like you, were gentlemen - the Betrothed of Death. Long live Death!
  • In a war, men are saved by the fact they cannot think. In the struggle, man reverts to his origins and becomes an animal in a herd, his only instinct is that of self-preservation.
  • The units of the Spanish army in Morocco went into action without any means of finding their bearing. Suddenly I understood those tragic Moroccan withdrawals in which, after a victorious operation, hundreds of men perished in ambushes.
  • In Xauen's Hebrew quarter, they still spoke an archaic Spanish of the 16th century. And a few of the Jews still wrote that dusty Castilian in antiquated letters , all curves and arabesques, which made a sheet of paper look like a parchment.
  • A few thousand exhausted men embarked in Ceuta glare of the sun, worn to the limit of their endurance. Badly clad, badly equipped and badly fed. [Thanks, in large part, to vast corruption on the part of the officers].
  • The whole social life of the town was so regulated that groups could not mix. There were cafés for soldiers, for NCOs and for officers. There were brothels for each of the 3 castes. Certain streets and even parts of the same street were reserved for one group or the other. On the whole, the soldiers fled the streets in the centre of town where they had eternally to salute: the officers avoided the streets where they could not exhibit themselves to the public that counted.

More tomorrow, of his time back in the festering Madrid of 1924-5.

By the way . . . There are 2 references to cackerel. The first one I assumed to be a mistake for mackerel. But now I'm not sure. Though Google knows nothing of it.

Meanwhile . . . Nutters' Corner: Our old favourite, Pastor Kevin Swanson, is at it again:-
  • I hate the Beauty and the Beast movie because it promotes inter-species dating.
Finally . . . The Camino de Santiago is, of course, all about money these days. With a bit of religion/spirituality thrown in. You can see this from the fact that a new 'ancient' route is discovered every year. There's been an enormous increase in 'pilgrims' on the Portuguese Way since I did it back in 2010 and the demand for cheap hostels (albergues) has correspondingly soared. But, not content with coining it, the owners of these are now hurling the common Spanish complaint of unfair competition (competencia desloyal) at the local councils who are opening up sports halls for those looking to keep their costs down. Chose you bastards.

Today's 'cartoon':-


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 16.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.

- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

Life in Spain 1: Hard to believe but a judge has admitted the case of a TV program being pursued for a satirical take on the appalling Valley of the Fallen, where Franco is buried in the dreadful basilica-mausoleum he designed for his rotting corpse. Incidentally, I was pleased to read recently that John Carlin and I agree this should be dynamited.

Life in Spain 2: Identity cards can be useful or a nuisance. But pity the poor family who can't get the gas supply (and the bills) cut off to the house of someone who died 35 years ago. They can't find his NIE card and the gas company won't terminate the contract without it since it's in his name. . . 

Life in Spain 3: My daughter and her man were travelling back from a local beach yesterday when they witnessed a minor accident. Along with 5 firemen, 2 paramedics and 2 guardia civil officers. All for a case of dented bumpers. Spain always seems to overflow with police officers from several different forces. I assume the local and provincial police representatives arrived later.


Old guys have been in our local news recently. Yet another octogenarian died when his tractor overturned and a chap aged 83 killed a cyclist on the coast road when making a U-turn. It's debatable whether he should still have been driving, of course. Probably got a relative or friend at the medical testing centre.

Finally  . . . . I learned a new political phrase this week - The regressive Left. And this is what it's said to mean. I thought it might mean those liberals who'd forgotten about the working calss but it doesn't.

Today's cartoon:- The UK's NHS:


NB: Just a reminder that this blog can be accessed via my new Facebook page Dross Bin but also, as ever, via Google + and via readers such as The Old Reader and Feedly. Or you can, of course, bookmark it and go direct to Thoughts from Galicia every day . . .

Talking of Facebook . . . . .

Behind our happy snaps is a sea of Facebook filth        Simon Shinerock

Tay was the gormless artificial intelligence chatbot launched with a cheery “Hellooooooo world!!!” on Twitter last year. It was designed to encourage playful conversations but within 24 hours had turned into a racist, sexist conspiracy-monger jeering that “Hitler was right”, “9/11 was an inside job” and one woman was a “stupid whore”.

“The more you chat with Tay, the smarter it gets,” the brainiacs at Microsoft had boasted, not realising in their infinite idiocy that humans would be smart enough to contaminate the bot with their extremely dumb views. After we’d all had a good laugh, Microsoft pulled the crazed bot from the public domain and went back to the drawing board.

There is no sign of such humility from Facebook, which was exposed by The Times last week for hosting pornographic images of children, including what appeared to be a video of a sexual assault on a young child.

As with Tay, it is humans who are responsible for this filth. Social media only mirror what is in our most distorted soul. The problem is that Facebook actively encourages dissemination of vile material by herding users into friendship groups, where they can find more and more of the stuff they “like”.
This is exactly what happened to the undercover reporter from The Times. Facebook recommended sites to him with names such as Pokegirl Lewds because his fake profile suggested he was particularly interested in underage material.

His complaint to Facebook about this potentially illegal content elicited the bland reply, “We’ve looked over the group that you reported and . . . it doesn’t go against any of our specific community standards.”

As it happens, a member of my family got the same pro forma response from Facebook to a complaint after the US missile strikes on Syria earlier this month revived an objectionable television clip of a 2013 interview with Kenneth O’Keefe, a former US marine turned self-styled peace campaigner.
You don’t like child porn or anti-semitism? You don’t have to see it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.

O’Keefe is a 9/11 “truther” who blames Israeli intelligence for the attacks on the twin towers and publicly burnt his US passport in 2004, but you wouldn’t know that from the Facebook clips, nor that the interview had first appeared on the Iranian propaganda channel PressTV. No, he is presented as a truth-telling, honest-to-goodness ex-marine.

In the interview, carried out at the time of the previous chemical attacks in Syria — when Bashar al-Assad crossed Barack Obama’s “red line” — the ranting O’Keefe laid into the US for its “war of deception” over Syria. That, you might say, is just his opinion.

But soon he slipped into sly anti-semitism by claiming the Syrian civil war was part of the “greater Israel project” to destabilise the region with “rich and powerful bankers” as the puppet-masters.
Alarmed to see this nonsense proliferating again, my family member reported the clip for “racism” to Facebook last week. It didn’t just reject his complaint, however; it politely offered to “help you see less of things like it in the future”. That’s missing the point. You don’t like anti-semitism? You don’t have to see it. The same goes for child porn. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t out there, corrupting what can often be very young minds. O’Keefe’s clip is popular with anti-war teenagers.

Facebook wants you to think the world is full of people who are as sensible and well informed as you. My social media helpfully direct me to all sorts of terrific articles from traditional media. But if you prefer to walk on the wild side, you will encounter bucketloads of hate speech. Such types naturally think they are every bit as sensible and well informed as me and — here’s the really scary thing — their posts are the most likely to be shared. Facebook feeds off viral videos by the likes of O’Keefe and other haters and conspiracists. You’re just not seeing them.

It’s all about the algorithms. Last week a team of computer scientists from Princeton University explained why Tay was driven bonkers by showing that artificial intelligence programs amplify our hidden biases.

Microsoft is looking at ways to enhance Tay’s emotional intelligence so it learns not to ape our worst features. Facebook, it seems, is not even trying. It even reported the BBC to the police recently for confronting it with sexualised images of children from its site — before the inevitable public outcry forced it to recant.

Ultimately, its arrogance may be its undoing. Ministers are looking into ways to fine Facebook and Google if they fail to remove hate speech and illegal content in a timely fashion.

I would prefer to keep the government out of the realm of censorship, but that requires the internet giants to step up to their responsibilities. If not, like Tay, we’ll all be corrupted.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 15.4.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.

NOTE: For those readers who've used Facebook to access this blog, you can now go to my FB page Dross Bin for this.

Which reminds me . . . It's said here that, in the UK at least, hackers only need 3 pieces of information to be able to access your bank account. These are your name, date of birth and address and they're often available via Facebook.

Doubtless some folk in Spain will be pleased with the news that the state now collects as much in taxes as it did before the Crisis. Mostly via increased personal, rather than corporate, taxes. Which is not a great surprise, given the ingenuity displayed over the last few years in squeezing the low-hanging fruit of the middle class. And foreigners resident here. Even easier meat. If you'll excuse the mixed metaphors/similes.

This is a lengthy article on corruption in Spain for those interested in the subject. Sadly, if you are, you're probably foreign, not Spanish. Extract: In his 2011 Christmas speech, then-King Juan Carlos promised that “justice” would be “equal for everyone”. Today, his words amount to an insult for many Spaniards.

Sorry . . . Gib again: Here's someone who thinks Brussels has shot itself in the foot by giving Spain a veto. Might well be right.

If you're coming to Pontevedra in a car, bear in mind that - despite a great deal of humanización (pedestrianisation) of our streets - there are 10% more vehicles here than there were 10 years ago. All looking for somewhere to park.

Still on the local scene . . . We're now promised the AVE high-speed train by end 2019. And we all know that means, don't we?

Someone has asked (North) Americans: Exactly when was the USA great? Surprise, surprise - there's no agreement.

Finally . . .  I wasn't exactly surprised to read that electricity supply companies have been fined for abuses, though not a huge amount. Nor that customers complain in their many thousands of complicated bills, of opaque pricing and of being ignored by the companies. I feel their pain.

Today's cartoon. From The Times. Says it all really:-


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