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Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain

Random thoughts from a Brit in the North West. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Quite often curmudgeonly.

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28 February 2021
28 February 2021 @ 11:39


Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

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

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain'

Cosas de España

Not good news 1: How organisational problems in Spain are impeding the administration of Covid-19 vaccines: The immunisation of essential workers and the over-80s got going this week with a number of complications over appointments, which are slowing down the campaign. Last week just 75% of received doses were injected. See here.

Not good news 2: Madrid’s vaccination plan for teachers and over-80s is mired in confusion.

The ex king seems not to have coughed up all the taxes he avoided - which would have sent the rest of us to jail - but has now come up with a 2nd large tranche of €4m. Presumably under pressure. Or maybe he can't afford good accountants.

Cousas de Galiza

There will, of course, be regional differences in the vaccination program and my impression is that Galicia is doing better than most. I retain a degree of confidence I'll be jabbed in April, if not March. Or maybe May.

And when we can travel again, it’s good to know that Portuguese Railways (CP) are planning a train all the way from Valença on our nearby border to the Algarve and Faro. And places in between, I trust 

María's Tsunami Days 26 & 27. Of Santiago, María writes: Some bars had too many tables out and occupancy was above the 50% percent allowed. Fourth wave, here we come. Exactly my observations in a jam-packed Pontevedra old quarter yesterday lunchtime. Fortunately, my friends and I had reserved in a place outside the casco viejo, where the rules were being scrupulously obeyed. Though this might not help us in the longer run.

The UK

The reports coming from Scotland are doing 2 things: 1. Reducing the chances that independence will ever be achieved, even if the SNP easily win imminent elections there, and 2. Reminding us of just how corrupt a single issue, nationalist, populist government can become. These 2 things are linked, of course. Is Cataluña very much different? 

The Way of the World

The book reviewer of Private Eye magazine: The appeal of celebrity biography used to be that, while gorging on the self-congratulatory cake, you might find a currant of revelation. The books were known as tell-alls for a reason: they implied that previously, information had been withheld. Now, for the first time, here were all the highs, the lows, the drugs, the feuds and the weirdo diets. If you wanted to know what went on behind the lame, you had to buy the book. But fame, books and their bastard offspring celebrity publishing have all changed. Fame is just another fast-moving  consumer good; books are merely a subsection of the see-what-sticks word-vomit we call the media; and books about famous people are all part of the brand experience. Though celebrity biography still outsells all other non-fiction, it is waning - the market nearly halved between 2009 and 2018. A quick survey of this year's post-Christmas remainder pile suggests that the answer for a whole tranche of younger celebs is "Life Lessons", a recent genre mutation takes celebrity autobiography and shunts it towards self-help - "How a Sadsack Like You Can Live An Amazing Life Like Mine". The narrative arc in such books tends to follow a formula: early success owing to irrepressible talent; massive mental health crisis; slow recovery thanks to good friends, being kind and living in the moment; realising everything that led to early success was unutterably vacuous (if well-paid); move to country, have kids, sheep, podcast, run out of money - re-invent self as giver of vital life lessons to pay for a mortgage, sheep, etc.  Talent managers and publishers need these books to exist. It's not clear that anyone else does. 


Just in case were are as ignorant as me: ‘Parkour' is a training discipline using movement that developed from military obstacle course training. Practitioners - called tracers or traceurs - aim to get from one point to another in a complex environment, without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible. Also known as PK. Critics say it can be dangerous, encourage trespassing, and cause damage to property. Over the years, many people have died while attempting perilous stunts, like jumping from roof to roof or climbing on high ledges and rails.

Finally . . 

Here - for your Sunday reading - is a (longish) article - from Debora Robertson entitled. Good manners are simply codified kindness.  Even - especially? - in the times of Covid:-

Even with the loosening of restrictions, we will all have to be cautious for a while yet, wearing our face masks, washing our hands, giving people space. If you are wearing a mask, make an extra effort to smile with your eyes, as Tyra Banks used to tell the hopefuls on America’s Next Top Model.

I don’t know about you, but I still feel awkward when I see people I know in the street. I miss hugging and kissing my friends and even shaking hands with acquaintances. I still find it awkward to know what to do with my hands, and I think I am not alone, given the persistence of the dreaded elbow bump in some quarters. On meeting, I find keeping my hands loosely behind my back to avoid handshakes – à la the Prince of Wales – helps. And it is absolutely fine to put an arm out in a “Halt! Who goes there?” fashion, and cheerfully say, “Too close!” if you feel someone is invading your space in a way that is uncomfortable or potentially unsafe.

WhatsApp with you?

A lot of our work and social interaction has moved on to messaging services such as WhatsApp. It is a quick and convenient way to communicate with an individual or groups of people, but doesn’t leave much space for niceties. 

As with so many things, it is important to deduce the sender’s intention. What they may see as an efficient way of sharing information with you may come across as snappy and rude without vocal or visual clues to indicate tone. You will save yourself a lot of anxiety if you don’t always assume bad faith. Give yourself a break. If you are the sender, a courteous opening and an odd thank you will go an awfully long way.

Socially, I have so many WhatsApp groups busily bubbling away on my phone and I have loved the camaraderie, fun and, YES, gossip (now that no one goes anywhere or does anything, I miss high-quality gossip so much) over the past year. I also live in a state of semi-permanent terror of posting the wrong message on the wrong group, and thereby committing some kind of horrendous faux pas. If this happens, all you can do is fall on your phone and apologise profusely and then, as soon as travel restrictions allow, go and live in an undisclosed location with a new identity and limited social media privileges.

Office culture when everyone is at home

Working from home used to be an occasional “privilege” afforded to few of us, but it is currently the norm for many of us and it may remain so for some time. Of course, we have got to grips by now with the importance of being on time, being available and responding promptly to emails and other messages, but it is also very important to manage your office life as you would if you were in the office, instead of at your kitchen table, which is to say, respect your own and others’ boundaries. Switch off your work email after hours if you can, and don’t expect others to be working late or early just because you are.

Keeping your boundaries

Just as a crisis brings out the best in some, it brings out the worst in others. We are all looking forward to seeing our friends and families again, even under these new constraints. For most, a coffee and a chat on a park bench is enough for now. But we all know those who will want to bend the rules and take offence if we don’t acquiesce. Not one person meeting up outside, but a few? Not six people having a picnic, but 10? And what if they get too close? Want a hug? To shake hands? Of course a firm NO is absolutely fine, but for some it is hard to give, and for others, even harder to hear.

Practise if you have to, but find some words you feel comfortable saying, along the lines of, “I can’t wait to see you, but I really don’t feel comfortable with that yet”. It is also absolutely fine not to see people who you think won’t respect your boundaries, and keep those relationships online only for now.

On the other side of this equation, it is never acceptable to ridicule anyone else’s caution as we navigate our way through the social implications of living in a Covid-19 world. It is boorish and rude. 

Moving on 

As we edge forwards into the spring and summer, we may expect to enjoy greater freedoms, and while the anticipation of that is wonderful in many ways, it doesn’t come without its own anxieties.  I know a few people for whom the past year, while not being enjoyable exactly, has allowed them to relax into their inner introvert, and others who have been inside so long that they view the opening up with trepidation. I think we all need to be patient and, yes, kind with each other. We have been through a hellish shared societal experience and we will feel its repercussions for a long while yet. Some will, no doubt, plunge headlong into a festival of hedonism, and who can blame them? For others, it will prove considerably more challenging. Reticence may feel like deliberate distancing if you are on the receiving end of it. 

What may appear to be stand-offishness face to face may just be nervousness or uncertainty. I hope if we have learnt anything in this past year, it is how to be more honest with our feelings, and that vulnerability is not a weakness. As best we can, I think we all just need to jump in and use our words. If you are anxious or awkward, just say so. 

If you are raring to get out there, pay close attention to people’s non-verbal cues and any verbal hesitancy – they may not be as keen as you are, but might be afraid to hurt your feelings. There is no way out of this other than kindness; let that be your guide. 

If you have friends who get too close or want a greater degree of intimacy than you are ready for, be warm, be friendly, but be firm. Say how you feel, “I love you, I miss you, but I’m not ready for this yet!”. When you are ready, it will be all the sweeter and anyone who genuinely cares for you will understand that.

How not to hate your [neighbour]hood

One of the great boons of this past year has sometimes been one of its greatest sources of irritation. At first, neighbourhood message boards such as Nextdoor and local Facebook groups showed the best of us: making food for NHS workers or vulnerable local people; offers to walk shielding neighbours’ dogs or to pick up prescriptions and shopping; socially distanced gardening and friendly chats over a fence.  And of course, all of that still exists, but at least where I live, what once was so wholesome and good has degenerated into irate threads complaining about huffing joggers, clusters of kids in the park, pavement cyclists, roadworks, dog poo (in plastic bags or not), litter, illegal parties, parking, inadequate mask wearing versus the freedom not to wear a mask at all, vaxxing and anti-vaxxing… all guaranteed to provoke a thousand responses because we’re bored, we’re fractious and some of us have a lot of time on our hands.

Tempting as it might be to have a prod, don’t allow yourself to get embroiled. Engage if you want to, but try to do it in a limited way. Seek out the happy and the helpful. Whizz past the angry and idiotic, especially if you think you might be tempted to respond. You never know, you might have to meet these people face to face one day.

Silence in court

We all seem far more hobbied than we were this time last year, what with the baking, the boxsetting, the tomato-growing, needlepointing, yoga, decorating, and whittling (this might just be my neighbour, who has created far more wooden spoons this past year than anyone could possibly use in a lifetime).

As we work our way back into “normal” life, I see developing a tendency among some to judge others, as though an evening in front of Tarkovsky is somehow better than watching four episodes of Married at First Sight on the bounce, a desire to get back to the opera somehow trumps longing to go back to the football, an expedition looking for Columbia’s rare flora and fauna is somehow more justifiable than a couple of longed-for weeks on one of the Costas. We are all just getting through this as best we can. Put the gavel down – it’s a terrible look. 

Zoom etiquette

Our busy work and social lives have, in many cases, now been reduced to the size of a screen. Zoom (other video apps are available) has revolutionised our interactions and many of us have a love-hate relationship with it. For work, there are more explicit rules than for social interaction. Even now, almost a year on, it is important to dress appropriately for your industry – even if these rules have softened a little over the past months. Take the cue from the most senior person on the call. It is not about being stuffy, it is about inspiring confidence. Though you can take this too far. 

I recently heard a story, possibly apocryphal, of a woman interviewing for a job in a law firm over Zoom. The interview went very well until right at the end they asked her to stand up. When she did, it was clear that while she was all business up top, below the desk she was wearing sweats. She didn’t get the job, but to be honest it sounds like she dodged a bullet to me.

If I had to embroider on to a pillow a phrase that most typifies work life 2020-21, it would be, “You’re on mute!” Can there be a more irritating aspect of online work life than managing the mute button? The most essential of all rules is to make sure you’re muted if you’re not talking – it is very distracting and irritating to hear the background noises of your colleagues’ lives, the tea slurping, snack munching, children shouting, dogs barking mundanity of it – it just makes a trying situation worse. Mute early and mute often are words to live by.

Personal dilemmas

From March 8, we [in the UK] are going to be allowed to meet one friend outdoors for coffee on a bench or a picnic, without the deadening wholesome thud of exercise as cover.  From March 29, we will see the return of the rule of six, so six people from up to six different households will be allowed to meet outside, or two households will be allowed to meet outside even if together they number more than six. Heady times indeed. I envisage myself racing to my local park in the manner of a post-war debutant dashing to the Dorchester. But inevitably, with great choice comes great responsibility. We are practised at this now, but naturally people’s feelings get hurt if they are not the Special One, or part of the Super Six. 

If that person is you, take a breath and realise no one is doing this specifically to hurt your feelings and your day on the park bench or at the picnic table will come. If someone else’s feelings are hurt, reassure them that you are looking forward to seeing them as soon as time and the weather allow (if that is what you want; see boundaries). 

We are all feeling a little raw and weary right now and emotions are heightened. It is also going to be exhausting after all of this time to go back to anything like a social life, however limited, so allow for that when you are dealing with other people’s overtired behaviour.

Handling illness and death

This past year has brought into stark relief how hard many of us find talking about, being around or contemplating illness and death. 

Unlike some other cultures, we are cast adrift with grief without the raft of traditions and rituals to buoy us. Even large funerals, memorials and wakes have been denied to us. There are, however, things we can do to help ourselves and others through this. 

If you have a friend who has lost someone or who is ill themselves, do keep in touch with them, taking the lead from them on what might be appropriate. There is no perfect thing to say or do; being present is more important than being perfect. Do let people be sad and afraid. Saying things like, “Everything happens for a reason”, “No one is sent more than they can handle”, or “I know just how you feel,” only comforts you and often closes down the person you are trying to comfort.  Just be open and kind and there. Send thoughtful treats if possible. Remember, it is never too late to check in on a bereaved friend.

If you feel embarrassed or worried that you didn’t manage to say or do anything in the aftermath of a death, don’t worry unduly, and absolutely do not let it make you feel awkward about getting in touch at a later point. In fact, when the first shock of grief is over, the months afterwards can be particularly lonely and hard. Get in touch. Call. Write. Email. It means such a lot. 

Social life online

Zoom at work is, for many, a necessary evil, so it is understandable that for many, when it comes to their downtime, the very last thing they want is online interaction (the sale of books hasn’t rocketed during our various lockdowns for nothing). 

At the beginning of this extraordinary episode, my inbox was awash with invitations to online dinners, drinks, parties, large group chats and quizzes. I soldiered on determinedly, mostly because I was so desperate to see the faces of the people I cared about, but I knew very quickly it wasn’t for me.  I find such chats exhausting and frustrating and, frankly, I would rather trepan my own head than do a Zoom quiz.  I think many feel similarly, as such invitations have dropped off in recent months. But it can be hard to get out of these things when none of us has an excuse that we have anywhere else to be. In this case, I think it is best to be honest. Being clear that while you love and miss the inviter (if love and miss them you do), you have so many on-screen work obligations you don’t enjoy further time in front of the screen in the evenings or at weekends. Suggest a phone call instead, which somehow feels much more old-school intimate.

And if you are the person who loves a big Zoom meet-up, I am sure you can find your tribe. Don’t be offended if others can’t face it. We are all  just getting through this the best way we know how.

Two-metre pointy stick

No, unfortunately, this is never appropriate, no matter how tempting it might be.

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