Saturday, 22 September 2018

People-watching (updated 4th October with photos.)

During the past two days, I have been enjoying the late summer sun in Llançà which is a 50 minute train journey from here towards the French border. It costs me €6 return.

The temperature has been close to 30c the past few days but I think next week it will get a little cooler. I am writing this on a Saturday morning and it is very warm outside. The sea was a wonderful temperature, not really cold at all. I love the thick syrupy feeling of the sea in these small bays, maybe the salt concentration is higher than in open stretches of the sea. The bay is partially enclosed, on one side by the marina, so swimming is very safe and the water was like a mill pond.
Long shadows at 5pm. But look at the colour of the sky!
I added this on Sunday 23rd. I hope it makes you smile!

On the way back from Llançà today, the carriage was almost empty so I sat back and relaxed, kicked off my shoes and put my feet on either side of the seat in front of me and listened to Vivaldi on my Fiio music player. A middle-aged Spanish guy across the other side of the carriage wagged his finger at me and reprimanded me for putting my feet on the seat, which I thought was quite ridiculous, like I was a teenager. I waved my bare foot at him and said (this was all in Spanish), "no shoes". He said that it was still not allowed. At which point I told him I was going back to my music and I put my headphones back on. For the rest of the journey and when I got off, I totally avoided any eye-contact. In English, I would have said, "Get a life."

He was with, I guess, was his wife and a small dog which sat on a third seat on a rug. I thought maybe to ask him if his dog had a ticket! In these situations it is best just not to get involved in an argument. Maybe he thought I was a tourist and therefore second-class, because I had a large back-pack with me (I had my watercolour paints with me). So I hope when I got off at Celrà he may have realised that I was a local, not to be treated like some scruffy kid. I wasn't really annoyed because it was so funny. At 75 years of age, to be told to take my feet off a seat in a train!
I have to confess that actually it did upset me.... afterwards. But I am still glad that I didn't get involved. He assessed me, not for what I did but for who he thought I was. He saw my back-pack, my girly shoes, my long hair. Maybe he should be more concerned about the kids who paint the sides of these new carriages with graffiti during the night, shooting out security cameras to avoid being caught.
Today, Sunday, the train left Llançà at 4.30pm but during the week I usually catch a train back at 5.40pm which gets me to Celrà in perfect time for a beer on the terrace of my local bar. And it is from there that I observe life going by. We have a mixture of nationalities, thee are quite a few Romanians and Moroccans in addition to the Spanish both from here (Catalan) and from other parts of Spain. There is one French girl, my friend Christèle but I am the only English guy in the village. There is an English woman married to a Catalan but she lives up at the other end of the village so I rarely see her.

Many children, some of them little more than toddlers, live on the opposite side of the road to the bar and I am terrified at the way they run across the road without looking. Most of the cars are slowing down towards a junction but some are not so slow. I remonstrated with a couple of guys who let their little boy run free. I would guess he was maybe 4 years old. It was all very friendly but I got the impression that they didn't worry too much. Maybe there was another boy as a back-up. At one point a baby was about to toddle across the road because the young girl who had been put in charge of her by the mother was distracted.

I spoke to the local council about it but there was a shrug of the shoulders and the response was that it is up to the parents. I didn't reply that many parents seem to have no sense at all. I thought stopping through-traffic might help as there are alternative routes out to the main road.

Some of the kids are really noisy. And adults! There is one woman, about 50 I guess, who actively incites her two grand-children, "Attaboy... yeah.. yeah...," she screams waving her arms and slapping them against her thighs. They respond by running up and down the path screaming in delight.

A couple of days ago, a young girl, I guess about 10, called out to her father who was about 8 or 10m away. "Papa!" He didn't respond but I'm sure he heard. "PAPA!" This time, he responded. I can tell you how I would have responded!

I feel sorry for the people who live directly over the bar, which is by far the most popular (and hence, busy) in Celrà. If it is rented then they must have known what to expect but if the flat was purchased, then they would not have known what was going to be below them. A commercial unit for sure but a bar?

Some parents lavish expensive gifts on their children. Recently I have seen two little boys, no more than 3 years old driving electric toy cars accompanied by their fathers. One even had music blaring out, lights flashing. The motors on these things make a loud grinding noise, I suppose it is the gears, I don't know. But one little boy in a toy Range-Rover decided to change direction. He did an immaculate 3-point turn! It was so very funny. Some adults can't do that too well and here was a boy only having learnt to walk recently doing it. I thought it was funny that the car had a reverse gear. Oh and by the way, little girls invariably have pink bicycles! So much for removing gender stereotyping! It doesn't happen here!

It is a fact, noise can annoy but for a while one doesn't notice it. Yesterday in Llançà I was on the terrace of a bar overlooking the sea and a woman behind me was chatting in Spanish to a friend on another table. The distance between their tables was greater than the distance she was behind me. I couldn't understand why I wasn't feeling more relaxed. Then I knew why. The woman behind me had quite a penetrating voice but for a while I tolerated it. And then suddenly it penetrated my consciousness and I quickly moved away. I guess I could have invited sarcastically the other woman to come and join her friend. Don't worry, I didn't seriously consider it.

On the subject of noise, I just attempted to watch La La Land on Netflix. I hate most movies because generally they are not exactly subtle, in sound, with rapid shock cuts in picture. Anything to keep the audience occupied. The sound guys seem to design the sound for an audience in a cinema. In other words, very loud. If I try to set the volume so that I can hear the dialogue, the effects and music are shockingly loud. I guess that is the intention. And in many cases, the actors mutter their words anyway so I need subtitles. This is English! My mother tongue. It is just crazy. As many of my friends know, I was trained as a sound engineer by the BBC. Here, I feel as though I have landed on another planet.

In Catalunya we are in protest season. The national day, the Diada, on 11st Spetember; the futile* declaration of independence on 1st October last year... oh there are one or two more. At least Quim Torra who is the current president seems to accept that an independent Catalunya would be outside the EU because he talks about the Canadian deal and he talks about Brexit. He really wants to go down that path?? I have just been reading about Teresa May's humiliation in Salzburg on Thursday. She was roundly mocked by The Times, especially a ridiculous chain around her neck. 

*I hope I don't annoy my independista friends by calling 1st October, "futile" but my feeling is if you are going to declare independence, then do it. That is the whole point. If you are not free to do it then it is not independence. They required the cooperation of Madrid in order to carry it out and that would never have been forthcoming. So it was like living a dream, the pictures on TV3 in the Parliament, lots of clapping, back-slapping. Now they are in jail, not that I am totally happy about that either. I remember many years ago Rhodesia declaring UDI (unilateral declaration of independence). They just did it and said to Great Britain more or less, "What are you going to do about it?" But Catalunya is not in a position to do that with Madrid. Imagine it! So a declaration of independence would only be achieved with the agreement of Madrid. Carles Puigdemont was pragmatic about that and talked about independence in 10 or 20 years. But the CUP wants it now, come hell or high water.

I have been reading two books on how to write a novel and I am greatly dispirited. One talks in terms of 3 years work with many rejections by editors. One is particularly off-putting. But I guess as authors they don't want too much competition! I am only joking! I am sure it is naïve to imagine that there is a short-cut to fame and fortune as a writer. Sure, I can write a novel but there is no point unless I actually sell it! A couple of days ago, I started again. 

Ralph was born in a lift and one supposes it was for that reason he was obsessed by lifts all his life. And they were the death of him too....

I think I will not read any more of these books with their rules and formats. I will just write a story and publish it on my website. I have written about 12k words so far. Maybe, because it will be online, I can offer links or alternative endings. I am aware of the saying, "You have to know the rules in order to break them." So I am  breaking the rules without knowing them, I am breaking the rule about rules. One book talks about the need for a classification for the book so that the bookshop knows where to put it on the shelves. Mine will be black-humour-fantasy. Err, now where to put that??

In Spain, basketball is very popular as it is in many parts of the world. So it is sacrilegious to say this. But I find it slightly ridiculous when as is very common, the score after an hour is something like, 102-105. I know it is very exciting to see these fit young guys tearing up to one end of the court to score a basket and then the other team does the same at the other end. And the crowd goes wild, the PA announcer shouts the score, there is music. But it all seems pointless to me when either team could have won. A lottery. And the team that won goes crazy and the losing team is dejected. But in my view, it is a tie. They should both be declared winners. Or better still, toss a coin and save all the trouble. But I am a terrible spoil-sport, it is very exciting to watch. And sometimes there is actually a significant gap between the scores. But those results where the difference is simply one basket keep on coming. Another few seconds and the losing team would have raced up to the other end, and the result would have changed. Only this morning on the news, a women's game in Girona ended 62-63. The winning team was euphoric and the losing team, really sad. "Hey, don't worry," I would have said, "They are no better than you. Another 20 seconds and you would have won. Just think about the entertainment you have given". 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a picnic in Tordera which is an annual event organised by John and Eleanor who are friends at the local Anglican Church. I don't go to the services now but I still have friends there and they were kind enough to invite me!
Here is a link.

photos: The Anglican Church in the Costa Brava

The girl I was talking to was Mexican. Another friend was talking to her in Spanish when I arrived so I continued in Spanish when he left. I hope I didn't insult her because I would guess her English was fine. Haha, I never found out!  

To Ukraine.... again!
I just booked an air ticket to Ukraine for one month from December 7th to include both "my" Christmas and Orthodox Christmas on 7th January. And of course, the New Year. I am renting a flat in Kyiv and my friends can come and see me or I can visit them. Ukraine International Airways has a new website but I didn't realise how new it was till I tried to log into my air miles account (to ensure that it gets credited with air miles for this journey). It rejected my club number. "User not found," it reported. So I wrote an email to the airline saying that I thought there was an error on their website. And there followed a number of futile emails where they patiently told me how to log in.  I sent screen-shots to no avail.

Finally... today I received a response apologising for the errors in the website, they are working on it. Now, I can accept that software isn't always 100% correct first time around but what made me stressed was their smokescreen for over 24 hours. It would have been so simple for all of us if they had said.... "we are having problem with the website, please book normally and we will credit your air miles." Or even to put it on the website.

I did consider going with Ryanair because in October they start to fly between Barcelona and Kyiv but their departure during the week is at 7.30am which is too early for me (UIA from Barcelona is at 13.30). Anyway I feel a kind of loyalty to UIA, they are always very responsive by email, and there is not much difference in the prices for the month I am away. They both use the same plane (737-800) on that route, it is possible the legroom is less in Ryanair but I am too lazy to check it out! The UIA planes are always very comfortable.

And, a bonus! The next day by chance I received an offer by email for an upgrade to business class for flights up to 9th December, $99. But I was spending €22 on seat selection and a meal which of course are included in business class. UIA kindly refunded it (maybe they were more generous on account of the website problems). So my upgrade cost me effectively €60. Business class is great, just 3 rows with 2 seats either side! I have never travelled to Kyiv in business class but of course I have walked through the cabin.

People sometimes use the phrase, "I always turn left" (when entering the plane), meaning of course, first class. With a 737, you will be flying the plane! I have often travelled business class, not only when I was on business in the UK but also in my life in Spain. I have no one else to spend the money on, so I indulge myself with a bed in Emirates or Avianca.

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