Monday, February 19, 2018

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.2.18

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

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

  • Not long ago, Spain was shocked to see a major energy giant, Abengoa, enter bankruptcy, laden with 'secret' debts. And now it looks like much the same fate awaits a large, privately-owned infrastructure company, Isolux. Both of these companies became rather too ambitious after the collapse of the phony construction boom and, in the latter case, after the complete reversal of government policy on solar energy. See here on this.
  • After my brush with the This-is-how-we-do-things-in-Spain notary, I was amused – but not surprised - to read that Spanish companies venturing abroad don't realise that other countries have different ways of doing things. And that Spanish companies operating there can't expect government bailouts or even re-negotiated contracts after they've put in a fraudulently low tender bid to win a contract. They live and learn. Or die.
  • It's saddening to record that, through no fault of the majority of Americans, the USA is now a cartoon country around the world. But presided over by a terrifyingly real imbecile with a nuclear button on his desk or in his briefcase. We'll probably all survive this but, if Fart secures a second term, I think I'll go into a monastery and start praying. An activity which - much to the bemusement/irritation of my Catholic relatives and friends - I've long regarded as worse than useless. Things must be bad.
  • Fart, of course, thinks the most worrying thing is that the Ruskis are laughing at the USA. Would that it were only them. His ludicrous tweets elicited this response from a student at the Florida high school: 17 of my classmates and friends are gone and you have the audacity to make this about Russia???!! Have a damn heart. Wasting her breath, I fear. An un-ordinary heart, to go with his extraordinary brain. Not forgetting his unique mouth.
  • A bit more evidence of the very unfunny US madness.
The UK
  • It's regularly said that BBC standards are slipping. I thought of this when an announcer said last night that the next edition of University Challenge would involve EmmanuĂ©lle College. Presumably they'll be at least semi-naked. I'm pretty sure she meant Emmánuel College.
The Spanish Language
  • New word for me - Batiburillo. Said of London. Hodgepodge.
  • Here's an interesting item on a hotel where my camino colleagues and I had a coffee a few years ago, when a friend of mine ran the place. An ex paper mill and factory, it certainly is stunning. But probably not terribly cheap.
  • It's reported that Galicia will be the second hardest Spanish region hit by the post-Brexit reduction in EU subventions. The reason is pretty simple; after Andalucia, it's currently the second largest recipient of regional fund largesse.
  • It seems our recently apprehended narco was buying cocaine at €2,400 a kilo and selling it at €24,000. Not a bad business. From a profit point of view, I mean.
  • The article below suggests that, if I want a long life, I'll have to double my wine intake and reduce my exercise level.
  • I see at least Selma Hayek and Lilly James managed to show a fair amount of cleavage in their black dresses at the Baftas last night. Looks like questionable timing to me. Especially as they were very much in the minority.
  • At the end of this post is what many readers have been waiting for – a recipe for Scouse. Enjoy.
Today's Cartoon


Revealed: Why two glasses of wine and 15 minutes of exercise a day is the key to a long life

Wine is said to be an important ingredient in the recipe for healthy ageing

The recipe for a long life includes exercising for 15 minutes a day, spending two hours on hobbies and enjoying a couple of glasses of wine, according to an ageing expert. Dr Claudia Kawas, of the University of California, who has spent 15 years studying people aged over 90, also recommended keeping weight down and drinking two cups of coffee a day.

She also advised getting outside of the house and talking to strangers, rather than sitting doing crosswords or Sudoku. "People should try to incorporate as many of these things into their day if they wish to give themselves the best chance of living to a ripe age," she told the AAAS annual meeting in Austin, Texas. "The more people outside of your own household you speak to any given month will lower your risk [of dying] "For a while it was always crosswords and Sudoku. They are good when you first do them. But after a while and you have done 100 million of them, and you know all the two and three letter words, it’s not such a big thing to do it. "The benefit was using your brain. People think using your brain is solving a puzzle , but when you are just getting out and interacting with people, you are using your brain a lot."

However new research is also suggesting that genetics may play a large part in keeping an active mind in later life.


In separate research, scientists found that "age-proof" brain cells may allow people to grow old without losing their memory. Scientists at Northerwestern University, in Chicago, have been studying 31 over-80s whose memory  is at least as good as people in their 50s and 60s. Usually as people age, the folds of the brain, known as the cerebral cortex, becomes thinner over time. But the team found that in super-agers there was no difference from younger people. And, crucially in one area of the brain, the anterior cingulate, super-agers had up to five times more 'Von Economo' neurons, special giant brain cells which are thought to boost social behaviour, and which are often missing in people with autism or bi-polar disorder.

Intriguingly the 'super-agers' were also found to be more extrovert, valuing social interaction and friendships more highly than people of a similar age who had aged normally. Dr Emily Rogalski, research associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Centre at Northwestern said: "I don’t know that it is the only factor, but it is an interesting lead. "It’s not entirely known (what the 'Von Economo' neurons do) but because of their size it gives the opportunity to transmit information over long distances.

"There is a thought that they may play some role in social functioning and that comes largely from this idea that there is this loss of abnormal development in autism or bi-polar disorder and behaviorally frontotemporal dementia. When we look at the super-agers there is more in the 'Von Economo' in the anterior cingulate compared to their cognitively average peers, four to five times more. There are even more 'Von Economo' neurons in the superagers than people in their 20s."

The fact that the special neurons were found in such great numbers in the anterior circulate specifically may also offer a clue to how the 'super-agers' retain their excellent memories, researchers believe.

"One thing the anterior cingulate is thought to be important for is attention and working memory," added Dr Rogalski. We know you have to pay attention to things in order to remember them, so it’s possible that super-agers are able to maintain outstanding memory performance in part because they have really good attention. It's not so long ago that we thought the only trajectory there was, was to get old and senile. We need to push the envelope and see what is possible in older age and how did they get there."

Positive thinking

The researchers also believe that a positive attitude, and resilience are also crucial to keeping the mind and memory sharp in old age. Many of the over-80s in the study had suffered hardships such as the holocaust, or the loss of children, yet had appeared to 'bounce back' and maintain an upbeat outlook. And many were able to maintain their physical and mental health despite drinking and smoking.

"I think it is good for people to hear that the super-agers aren’t individuals who have led this pristine life," added Dr Rogalski. "There is nothing to say that they became super-agers on the same path. There could have been two or more paths to getting there. For some maybe genetics plays a stronger role in getting there people that allowed them to smoke and drink and do all of those things isn’t good for our body because they have a genetic composition that tolerated that where other individuals it was very important that they exercised a lot and ate the right foods. I think this theme of resilience is an important one, when we think about how we face life's challenges so we all have the opportunity when we encounter a challenge to move beyond and to figure out how to keep moving forward or to pause and get stuck there and it seems that superagers figure out how to move forward, so they are going to bounce back from whatever stress they encounter."


Ingredients (serves four)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 700g diced chuck steak
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 400g diced onion (cut into 1cm pieces)
  • 350g diced swede (cut into 1.5cm cubes)
  • 350g carrots (cut into 1.5cm cubes)
  • 600g peeled and diced potatoes (cut into 1.5cm cubes)
  • 500ml bitter
  • 1.2 litres beef stock

Heat a little oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat (gas mark 4/180C/350F) for about 1 minute.
  • Add 700g diced chuck steak and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until meat is evenly browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the onions and cook until soft.
  • Add the bitter and boil until the liquid has reduced by half.
  • Add the diced and peeled carrot, swede and half of the potato, followed by bay leaves and the sprig of thyme.
  • Then add in the beef stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Add in the rest of the potato and simmer for an hour and a half until the meat is tender. Check the seasoning and serve.


Traditiionally - pickled beetroot and pickled cabbage, chunky sliced white bread and butter.


Sierra said...

Wonder if we'll ever learn the true outcome of the Spanish AVE contract in Saudi Arabia. The contract was won in 2011, with a 3 years construction period. They managed to have the inaugural run in December 2017, although the stations (built by others) haven't been completed. Puts the delays to the Madrid-Galicia AVE in perspective.

An old article on the project:

Colin Davies said...

Yes, I thought about making a reference to that example.

Sierra said...

It's different in Spain:

Illegal building in UK:

Ditto in Lugo:

Perry said...


It's problematic.[]=saudi&sword_list[]=arabia&no_cache=1