Saturday, August 31, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 31.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • 50 Curious Facts about Spain. Maybe.
  • Spanish Localism: Fewer than 2% of new Galicia's newly-qualified teachers will work outside the region. At the start of their careers  - indeed, throughout them - their teachings posts will be - to various degrees - dictated by the regional government.
  • More than 150,000 Galicians have a monthly income below the national minimum wage of €900. And the Galician average is said be to only €640/month. The second poorest region in Spain, I believe, after Extremadura.
  • The Pontevedra Sunday Flea market: Chapter 5: The city council, having saved face by insisting it must move, have now lost it by agreeing to let it stay where it is. The condition is that it's 'set up' properly. In other words, by excluding the (illegal) gypsies and their awful tat. Who haven't been mentioned once in all the reportage this week.
  • I duly tried a smoked hake sandwich at the new Gastroespacio yesterday and was sorely disappointed. White bread and a taste of little but vinegar. Ironically, the chef - who turned out to be the brother of my neighbour - had first given me a piece of the fish used for the sandwich and this had certainly tasted smokey. 
  • The Spanish are not known for a love of planning, preferring spontaneity. Except when it comes to fiestas, when advance efforts are truly impressive. As with this preparation - 'restoration' of one of the gates to the old quarter - for our Medieval Fair (Feira Franca) which is still over a week away:-

  • The building on the right it the ex-convent of the Jesuits. Built 300 years ago in 1714 it still looks new - the beauty of (clean) granite. The city took it over when the Jesuits were expelled in 1767 and its latest guise is the city archive.
  • O Burgo bridge: Here it is with the granite paving half completed. Repsol are fighting to stop the petrol station - the only one in/near the city - being closed down so that this area can become a 'park'. The 2 old houses in the LH corner are unoccupied and would be a perfect pilgrims' albergue, right on the camino. Months ago, it was announced they were going to be demolished, in the interests of the 'park', but it now seems this might not happen.

The UK
  • Richard North today on Brexit: One thing that would work [to solve the Irish problem and avoid the infernal 'backstop'] is the Efta/EEA option, with new, bolt-on protocols covering such matters as customs, VAT and data protection. The UK, with its past history of integration as a member of the EU, would also have to agree protocols which kept policies akin to the CAP and CFP in place. There is too much water under the bridge for us to walk away from these core EU policies. At the very least, we would need a prolonged transition. Perversely – and certainly unintended – Johnson's prorogation of parliament, thus creating a new parliamentary session, has opened a new window of opportunity for the Efta/EEA option. It allows the Withdrawal Agreement to be represented to parliament as is, and allows for a workable solution to ensure that the backstop never comes into effect.  And that is why the so-called "Norway Option" must be revisited – and urgently. It is the only credible option which will resolve the Brexit impasse.  
Way of the World
  • Inflatable sex dolls hanging from windows, dance music pumping through the walls and screaming arguments at midnight. The genteel Georgian streets of Bath are being ruined by an influx of “party houses” let on sites such as Airbnb, councillors have complained. Analysis of the Airbnb and Home Away websites shows that the number of short-term lets has increased from 476 in 2016 to more than 1,450 this year. BUT . . . Cities across the world are trying to tackle the growth of Airbnb rentals, which is eating up housing stock:
- Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna have demanded more help from the EU.
- Santa Monica in California wiped out 80% of its Airbnbs in 2015 by requiring owners to live in the property during the renter’s stay and register for a business licence.
- In 2015 there were crackdowns on secondary apartments in Paris set up specifically as short-term rentals, with officials fining violators up to €25,000.
- In 2016, Barcelona gave Airbnb an €600,000 fine for listing unlicensed apartments.

Social Media
  • Most newspaper and political sites host huge volumes of hostile comment, so much so that one ventures a contrary opinion with the greatest of trepidation. Comment sites have become the domain of mob rule and the death of reasoned discourse. 
USA/Nutters Corner
Finally . . .
  • This is the weekend for returning from the coast or your village to your home in whatever town or city you live in. In a car, you might make it - albeit slowly - but if you're going by train or plane, the employees of various companies will be making it difficult for you. Best to check.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 30.8.19

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

  • I took another - longer - look at Pontevedra's new Gastroespacio yesterday and was disappointed to see that the only bow in the direction of international cuisine was a couple of Japanese-type items on one stall. But there was a smoked hake sandwich on offer from - would you believe - the Hake Stall (La Merluzateca), and I'll be trying that today, when I pick up the bottle of Godello wine I bought but couldn't pay for as they didn't take credit cards. 
  • Which reminds me . . . I was musing the other day about the quantities of seafood consumed in Pontevedra alone during the 2 summer months. Indeed, in just one street of nothing but tapas bars. It's a vast amount, of course, and it can't possibly come all from our local waters. Though the bar owners might be reluctant to admit that the prawns, for example, came from Vietnam or Brazil. And the 'fresh' squid came from the freezer. But some of us can easily tell.
  • The Pontevedra council says it won't comply with the shopkeepers' petition about opening a lane on O Burgo bridge and have confirmed there'll be no access to it for 'pilgrims' (or anyone else) until 'at least October'. 
  • One of the groups playing during our myriad summer fiestas is called Taburete. This means 'Stool' in Spanish but is probably not what they'd want to be called in English.
  • I'm not sure what they are but Pontevedra is blessed with 2 'escape rooms'. The problem is said to be that, once you've succeeded in escaping, there's little point returning. So, no repeat business. The only solution is to keep opening new ones. Perhaps on the sites of  all the local shops which are being Amazonised.
  • Back to food . . . A friend has told me of a restaurant in Galicia called Australia and asked whether their speciality is kangaroo meat. Perhaps someone in La Coruña could check it out.
The UK
  • If you based your entire understanding of the UK economy on the evening news, you could be left with the impression that Dover is Britain’s biggest port, that a no-deal Brexit will cause tailbacks everywhere and that the car industry is by far the UK’s most important employer. In fact, Dover is the 9th biggest UK port, accounting for only 5% of freight tonnage. Britain’s biggest port is Grimsby and Immingham and car manufacturing accounts for a mere 0.7% of UK economic output.  
Way of the World
  • There's a new menace at the world's loveliest spots: Look for their arms. That is the first giveaway. You’ll likely be behind these people, admiring the same view or vista, but only you’ll be doing so with your eyes. You’ll notice that their arms are not hanging by their side but instead are bent at the elbow, raised to their chest, holding a smartphone. They are filming everything before them. Yes, as if the rise of the selfie was not offensive enough to the world of travel, a new menace has spawned: that of the “filmie”. 
  • It's not just the young who have problems with the 'courting'/dating mores of the social media age. See the article below for the amusing - but pathos-ridden - account of a middle-aged woman's tribulations. And for some more new words for the type of people you'll meet. Or possibly won't.
  • The new (and unknown) White House Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, was asked if Ffart ever lied. “No,” she replied without hesitation. “I don’t think they’re lies. . . . I think the president communicates in a way that some people, especially the media, aren’t necessarily comfortable with." So, that clears that up. The poor man is simply misunderstood.
  • Words of the Day:  
  1. Poner
  2. Al forfait: 'When buying or selling a set of things or services, agreeing in advance a global price'. On an estimate for my annual car service.
Finally . . .
  • I searched Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain along with my name yesterday and was taken to a site called Or, rather, I was first taken to a porn site and the latter emerged when I exited this, displaying - inexplicably - my write-up of my first camino in 2009. It's a funny old world.

The new rules of dating: I was ghosted, orbited and benched at 51

Recently divorced and looking for love, one woman discovers to her horror how things have changed

I have recently separated from my husband and, at 51, find myself in unfamiliar dating territory that bears no resemblance to the courting rituals of my twenties and thirties. At least then I knew where I was.

In the Nineties, when we met, my ex-husband used to call me and take me out to a restaurant. He always rang when he said he would. It all seemed so uncomplicated. Yet now, after 16 years of marriage and four children, the rules of the game are entirely different. Tall, brunette and clinging on to my figure (just), I look good for my age, friends tell me, and after my separation they encourage me to “get out there” on social media. Apparently that’s where dating happens these days.

The fact is that I was already on Instagram, but only to monitor my teenage children’s activity. I hadn’t posted so much as a picture, but after pressure from friends I update my profile. I happen to notice a man’s name on my followers list. Until that point I haven’t even realised I had any followers. I can’t believe my eyes — it is him, the man who had ended my marriage (we had an affair) and told me he wanted nothing more to do with me, yet here he is, following me on Instagram.

And so begins my new life as a middle-aged social-media dater, frenziedly posting to get his attention, gathering interest from long-lost admirers and new ones along the way, and navigating the infuriating world of “ghosters” and “orbiters”. Neither of those terms meant a thing, of course, until I googled why a promising new partner would show a great deal of interest, then vanish without so much as a text explaining why, only to reappear much later on my Instagram. So I text and call the object of my affection just to make sure he isn’t ill. I even turn up at his house to make sure that he is OK, but in the end I have to concede. I have been ghosted. After a long silence — nine months to be precise — there he is, orbiting me again on Instagram, occasionally liking my posts of Sunday walks with the kids and family lunches, but refusing to respond to my messages suggesting that we meet. I feel like a teenager, my love life dependent on the number of likes I get and each one sending me into a fit of euphoria that spirals into insanity. I spend the rest of the day asking myself, “Does he or does he not like me?”

Social-media influencers were dismayed by Instagram’s decision this summer to remove the visible “like” counts in six countries, including Australia and New Zealand, after a trial in Canada. The idea was that removing this public popularity contest enhanced a user’s self-esteem. I approved of this wholeheartedly because it isn’t just the Love Island generation who are suffering in the miserable pursuit of likes — it is sad, single fiftysomethings like me.

I know I should block him, but I am crazy about this man. I post filtered, flattering pictures of me from years ago, captioning them so that they look recent. It takes up all my time. The worst thing is they are catching the attention of my exes, who are coming out of the woodwork and romantically reminiscing in the comments section. One remembers unbuttoning that dress I’m wearing. I give him a sound telling-off for the benefit of my orbiter and instantly block him. He’s made me look cheap in front of this one elusive man I really want. Still no word.

Then, out of the blue, after I post some amusing caption saying that I’m learning to scuba dive (an interest I took up to impress him), he pops up in my private messages and asks: “Did you get your diving qualification?”

Yes! I punch the air. I didn’t, but what counts is that I’ve got him. I write back long, chatty paragraphs, telling him about my life since we last saw each other, asking how he’s doing, then I bite the bullet and suggest lunch. Silence. He logs out, keeping me on this merry-go-round, waiting for titbits of attention. This is hell. Did I mention I’m 51?

I’ve become reliant on those likes, giving me hope that a longed-for relationship might be a possibility, although removing them would have saved me half a year of heartache, and a traumatic conclusion over a weekend three weeks ago that has left me reeling. My orbiting, “breadcrumbing” (stringing me along), “benching” (keeping his options open) love interest finally started showing proper signs of commitment after testing the water for three months. He asked me out on a date. He’d moved on to the social media practice of “zombie-ing” — coming back from the metaphorical dead to reclaim me — and going farther than mere liking.

Over the course of a week our date was planned for a Saturday evening, during which time I booked the hairdresser and myriad beauty treatments. My ex-husband lives near by, so I couldn’t risk returning home to get changed; my glam hair and make-up would have instantly given the game away. So I bought an expensive outfit and dumped what I was wearing in a bin. I had put elaborate 24-hour childcare plans in place because I wanted to prepare for the possibility of staying overnight.

The reason for my investment is that this man was my great love affair throughout much of 2018 before he disappeared without a word. Now he was back, albeit tentatively, circling my Instagram posts, but that was enough for me to believe that my long-held vision of moving in together and merging our families was a possibility. We had arranged to meet at 7pm in the town he’d moved to when he vanished from my life. It was 4.30pm and I was midway through my waxing session when I realised he hadn’t come back to me with an exact venue as he said he would. Alarm bells should have rung. We hadn’t actually had a phone conversation since mid-August 2018; my phone calls to him after that went unanswered.

Nonetheless, after running up huge credit card debts on preparations for our big reunion, I went through the motions of going ahead with the part of the plan that was firmed up. I boarded the train at 6pm at Paddington, getting increasingly anxious that he wasn’t responding.

Worse, I realised he’d checked out of Instagram and hadn’t logged in for 24 hours. The horror struck me that he had ghosted me again. Forlornly I sat on the train, dressed to the nines, feeling like an utter fool. Why hadn’t I learnt my lesson?

Meanwhile an old flame had reconnected with me on Twitter. Unlike my ghosting, orbiting, hot-and-cold suitor, this one is old-school and we have form. It all starts with me tweeting him when I see him on TV.

He instantly messages me and sets a date. It’s refreshing to have him name the day, time and venue, all very keen and definite, no vagueness. We meet in a swanky London club, and I quickly establish that he has never married and has no children. We are worlds apart. He is like a spoilt boy, rude to the waiter and insisting we schedule in more dates, although I’ve got long school summer holidays coming up and can’t just dash off to his villa in the south of France. “Bring the children along too,” he says.

The chemistry between us is still there and it’s exciting, even though he is now silver-haired. He WhatsApps me, tweets and sends Instagrams, refusing to take no for an answer when I explain that I can’t just drop everything. “If you leave now you’ll be at Waterloo in an hour, we’ll have lunch at the Shard and you’ll be back for the school pick-up.” Really? Just planning this will take a day.

When he does lure me away for a night (a school night) at his private members’ club in London, for the benefit of my children and ex-husband it requires an elaborate cover story about going on a school mums’ spa night. Overnight childcare plans and printed schedules are put in place, with their sports kit and snacks all set out for the next morning.

Then, a few hours into the date, the horror! I’ve forgotten to disable the family-location tracker that links all our phones. It’s not long before my ex texts me to say: “So you didn’t tell me you were spending a night with [so-and-so]. I’ll change the divorce papers to adultery on your part.” He had called the club to ask which member had checked me in.

I get an Uber, having made my excuses to my date. He texts me all the way home. Incandescent, but at least he hasn’t ghosted me. As incompatible as we are, at least he is a distraction from the angst-inducing ghosting/orbiting spiral I’m still caught up in.

Two days later and my ghoster still hasn’t surfaced, even though he was always monitoring his children’s posts. It is pure cowardice. He is hiding behind the wall that is social media. He knows that my dozens of anxious messages will be waiting for him. Or he will have expected me to block him, which I won’t. I won’t let him get away with his behaviour that easily. I post a montage of pictures of nights out that I’ve had with girlfriends and caption it: “When your Saturday night plans inexplicably fall through, it’s amazing what other invitations crop up.”

I feel a hot glow of triumph. However, I still post the most flattering summer holiday picture I can find, knowing he will see it. My 11-year-old daughter helps me to crop it and modify the colour to a bluey hue, and heart in mouth, I wait. And wait. And wait . . .


When all contact is inexplicably stopped

When your love interest “likes” your pictures; they’re circling you

You’re on the reserves list

Just enough contact to keep you interested . . .

They’re back from the dead!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 29.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • One way to earn a living, I guess. 
  • Which reminds me . . . We've recently acquired our first living statue here in Pontevedra. I've wondered how he feels when people take a foto of someone next to him and then walk away without contributing even 50 centimos to his income. As he doesn't move, apparently philosophically. 
  • This is an (American) chap talking about the Camino Francés and some of the cities it passes through, especially Pamplona. He refers to the Jacobean 'myths' but without a trace of scepticism. Likewise the Galician 'Celtic heritage'. Go to minute 23.20 for views of the famous botafumeiro incense burner. And of people hugging a statue.
  • By the way, when he says mowthows, he's referring - I eventually figured out - to mozos, the slang term for young men. 'lads', I guess. Though one site I use also gives 'waiter', 'porter' and 'groom'. While the Royal Academy heads its 15 meanings with: 1. Joven, por su poca edad o por las características de joven que conserva. 2. Soltero, célibe.
  • The Pontevedra Sunday Flea Market - Chapter 4: The city council now says there are 54, not 35, licensed traders. They had the 'wrong list', they claim. But face has been saved by insisting that the market must move from in front of the market building and its new Gastrespacio. Possibly to a nearby square which I've noted is the quietest in the city. Apart from one day in early September.
The UK
  • Dog racing is always the highlight of the Orford fête. It's as near as Suffolk gets to Pamplona’s running of the bulls. The fun is trying to predict which breed in each category will catch the bone. Though, if I’m honest, the best part is the chaos: a false start when a dog overwhelms his child-owner and lunges for the bone; or when a mismatched pair start humping in the arena. Or, as this year, when there’s a fight. The dog race is basically a blood sport and it’s absolutely thrilling. As a friend remarked: “They’ll ban it soon.”
  • Richard North today: Something about Brexit is all too apparent – nothing to do with it is simple. The law of unintended consequences might have been written for Brexit, as every time there seems to be a solution to an otherwise intractable problem, something else crops up which has us back where we started. 
  • Meanwhile . . . A question we've all asked:-

Nutters Corner
  •  Pastor Francis Myles, last seen saying Trump isn’t racist because God told him so, claimed that the Bible is the real Constitution of the USA.
  • If there's one thing funnier that Ffart's antics, it's the US media commentators struggling to give credence to them. Compulsive late-night TV viewing for me. As you might have guessed. Who'd have thought there could be so many levels of disbelief? And such a struggle to find adjectives to describe Ffart's character, personality, (in)sanity, and - of course - his doings? Maybe it'll come to a head if and when Deutsche bank confirms he's been financed by Russian oligarchs close to Putin.
Finally . . .
  • The birds in my garden seem to be taking the mickey out of me. Until The Great Disappearance, there were always at least 2 of each kind, except - of course - for the solitary (territorial) robin. But last evening there was just one wild pigeon, one collared dove, one greenfinch, and one blackbird. Along with said single robin. I am not amused.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 28.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • Well, that didn't take long 2: The day after it was reported that the Sunday flea market was being closed, the Pontevedra city council backtracked and said that the 35 licensed stall holders could continue trading. So much for this being incompatible with the new Gastroespacio. As I suspected, it's all about getting rid for the illegal gypsy stalls. Without saying so.
  • I mentioned a new camino from Braga but, as some readers might recall, this isn't the only walk you can do from there to Santiago. Last month, I cited the Via Marina, which starts in Braga and ends in Mugía/Muxía, having passed through Santiago en route.
  • There are reported to be 20 'exotic' animals threatening the natural Galician wildlife. These include the Asian wasp, the North American mink, the Nile goose, and the cross between a wild boar and the Vietnamese pig - el porcolín. Reader María has endorsed the comment that dangerous wild boars are an increasing problem in our villages and even in our towns.
  • The other animal causing grief to farmers is the wolf. This map shows where they are now in Galicia, ever closer to settlements:-
  • For we city dwellers, life and its challenges are rather simpler. We still can't get across O Burgo bridge, for example. The shop-owners on the camino have now petitioned the council to at least open a lane on it, as 'pilgrims' are now bypassing the old quarter to cross over one of the alternative bridges and so costing them summer business.
  • This is a song by Spanish guy at the Edinburgh festival, taking the piss out of Brits. The ironic element is the claim that, whereas Brits all mispronounce paella, Spaniards don't ever do the same with British food. S'funny . .  . I'm pretty sure most of them say 'feesh and cheeps'. 
  • Talking of music . . . This is a piece of graffiti that I pass from time to time. I guessed it was a snatch of a song. ·Which is the same thought I'd had when I previously posted about it in September 2013! 

Sure enough,  Google told me that it came (almost) from Harlem Blues, the last verse of which runs:-
Ah, there’s one sweet spot in Harlem known as Striver’s Row
'Ditsy folks' some call them, one thing you should know
Is that I have a friend who lives there I know he won’t refuse
To put some music to my troubles and call ‘em Harlem blues

As to the origin of the changes to 'colours' and 'crawler blues', Google was of no help. Perhaps a local group.
The UK
  • Nice to know: The curse of intermittency for wind and solar power may be conquered sooner than almost anybody thought possible.  A beautifully-simple technology from a British start-up has slashed costs to levels that drastically alter the calculus of long-term energy storage. Highview Power is pioneering the use of "cryogenic" liquid air to store electricity for long enough periods to cover the lulls in renewable energy. It appears close to doing so at levelized costs that will undercut competition from fossil fuel plants once scale is reached. Highview will almost certainly be the biggest company of its kind in the world by the early 2020s. See the full article below. Final line: It is something to cheer us up as the Amazon blazes.
  • After skipping the G7 leaders’ meeting on climate change, Trump actually had the temerity to declare himself an environmentalist. And he somehow managed to do it with a straight face. The claim is so ludicrous that it’s downright asinine. Welcome to Trumpworld.
  • A conservative talk radio host became the 2nd Republican to challenge Trump for the party’s 2020 nomination and his first opponent from the right. Joe Walsh,  a former congressman for Illinois called Trump a “bigot” and a “narcissist”, adding: “I’m running because he’s unfit. Somebody needs to step up. He’s nuts. He’s erratic. He’s cruel. He stokes bigotry. He’s incompetent. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a bully and he’s a coward and somebody needs to call him out. The bet . . . of my campaign is that there are a lot of Republicans that feel like I do. They’re afraid to come forward."
  • But . . Ffart has 95% approval of Republicans and 79% approval of 'independents'. . . 
  • Need I add that Walsh is 'not expected to win'. And that Ffart might well get a 2nd term.
Finally. . . .
  • I've been taking fotos of shops in Pontevedra which have English words in their names and came across this one yesterday:-
  • I'm not sure how to react to my daughter's knowledge that Grow indicates it sells hash stuff. Or did, as it seems to be closing down. Gone to pot, you might say.

British start-up Highview beats world to Holy Grail of cheap energy storage for wind and solar: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Manchester

Highview will almost certainly be the biggest company of its kind in the world by the early 2020s
The curse of intermittency for wind and solar power may be conquered sooner than almost anybody thought possible.  A beautifully-simple technology from a British start-up has slashed costs to levels that drastically alter the calculus of long-term energy storage.

Highview Power is pioneering the use of "cryogenic" liquid air to store electricity for long enough periods to cover the lulls in renewable energy.

It appears close to doing so at levelized costs that will undercut competition from fossil fuel plants once scale is reached. Highview will almost certainly be the biggest company of its kind in the world by the early 2020s.

If it can deliver the full promise – big caveat – the cost break-through overcomes a key barrier for a future global economy driven primarily by zero-carbon energy. One oft-repeated argument against Britain’s North Sea wind expansion falls away.

There are rival technologies in this fast-moving field. Energy storage is the new playground for hedge funds and venture capital, as fashionable as fintech. Siemens Gamesa is working on hot rock thermal storage. A team at Harvard is betting on organic flow batteries using death-defying "zombie quinones" from material such as rhubarb.

The US Energy Department’s ARPA-E programme is – despite Donald Trump’s rhetoric – still supporting a string of energy storage projects in league with top US labs and universities. The Japanese and Chinese are pursuing the great prize as well. Energy storage is not a fundamentally difficult challenge for science, and will be solved one way or another.

Clean, dispatchable power on demand

The race comes down to cost, simplicity, and who can get there first with utility-sized plants. Highview’s chief executive Javier Cavada says nobody today can match his liquid air formula at gigawatt scale. “We are ready, we are scalable, we are much cheaper, and we are going to stay much cheaper,” he says.

The first viable CRYObattery is already up and running. A Highview plant is producing electricity for the local grid at a 15 megawatt/hour (MWh) plant in Bury outside Manchester, storing power during times of low demand and releasing it back when most needed. It is an arbitrage play on the variable costs of power.

The site shared with Viridor is tucked behind trees and is so discreet that my taxi had trouble finding it. The source of power is methane from a local landfill in this case. In the future it will be wind and solar.

Highview cools air to minus 196 degrees centigrade relying on the standard process used for the chemical industry for liquefied natural gas. It mostly uses off-the-shelf kit.

As the air turns into liquid the volume is compressed 700-fold. This concentrate is then stored in insulated steel towers at low pressure. The liquid re-expands with a blast of force when heated and drives a turbine. Bingo: clean, dispatchable power on demand.

The beauty is that it can be scaled-up to provide unlimited storage at diminishing extra cost. “We’re like a hydro plant in a box. We can cover times when the wind doesn’t blow. One to two weeks is totally doable, even a month,” said Mr Cavada.

“The storage tanks are the cheapest component. It is the turbine that costs money. We can double the MWh for 30pc extra investment. As we get bigger the ratios change exponentially,” he said.  The efficiency loss or "boil off" rate from the storage vats is just 0.1pc each day. Much of this loss is recaptured by the closed system.

Tumbling costs

Last month the company teamed up with the US energy group Tenaska Power to build four vastly-larger "gigawatt-scale" plants in Texas over the next two years, chiefly intended to back up Texan wind power. This is a revealing venture. Highview is competing toe-to-toe with gas "peaker" plants in a region of the world where pipeline gas is almost given away thanks to shale. If the sums work in Texas, they certainly work in Europe.

Mr Cavada said the levelized costs for a one gigawatt (GW) plant comes in “way below” $100 per MWh. This is already cheaper than any other back-up option on the market, fossil or not. “In ten years from now, I can see that being $50.”

These are remarkable figures. Lazard estimates the levelized costs for gas peaker plants at $152-$206, new pumped-hydro at $152-$198, or a lithium-ion equivalent at $285-$581. Lithium batteries are superb for a few hours but the economics are not viable for utility power over long periods.

“Four hours is nothing for us, five is even better, six is fantastic, and at ten we’re making music,” said Mr Cavada. Liquid air is well-suited to overnight back-up for solar farms in sunbelt zones. Highview teamed up with Spain’s TSK in March to develop gigawatt plants in Spain, South Africa, and the Middle East.

In Britain it makes most sense for wind. 

The technology is not magical. Liquefaction was around in the 19th Century.  Use for energy storage was first explored in academic papers in the Seventies. This came to little because it was not needed. It is urgently needed now.  Renewables are reaching critical scale at a breath-taking speed.

Solving intermittency has leapt up the priority ladder for the UK grid. Renewables topped 50pc of the country’s power this summer at peak moments of combined wind and sun. The blackout on August 9 was linked to a systems glitch at Orsted’s 1.2GW Hornsea 1 wind farm off Grimsby.

Gas peaker plants offer quick back-up but they are costly to maintain and depend on LNG imports. Highview says liquid air can do the same job better and is ideally-suited to power cuts linked to inertia. “We are faster than a gas plant” said Ed Scrase, the project manager.

The Government is targeting offshore wind capacity of 30GW by 2030. This may rise to 40GW given the plummeting costs achieved by the giant new turbines, smart blades, and economies of scale. The last round of bids in 2017 came in at £57.50 MWh. The next set later this month may be closer to £50 and below market spot prices. Subsidies turn into revenue for the Exchequer.

'No risk of explosions'

The official Committee on Climate Change wants to go for broke with 75GW of offshore wind to meet the UK’s Net-zero 2050 target. Such scale means a wash of surplus power in the middle of the night or at times of low demand.

This implies "free" or ultra-cheap electricity for energy storage, since otherwise it would have to be curtailed by shutting down turbines – “off-peak waste electricity” in the trade jargon. The UK plans makes cryogenic liquid air almost unbeatable.

The excess power can of course be used as well to make hydrogen green gas through electrolysis for trains, trucks, and home heating. This may be necessary, but it is trickier.

Mr Cavada said the "round trip" efficiency of the Highview process so far is 60pc (ie two fifths is lost). This can be raised to 70pc with the capture of wasted heat from industrial plants. It is safe and clean. “We have no combustion particles, and no risk of explosions,” he said.

Liquefaction extracts CO2 from the air as a by-product. The gas turns into solid dry ice. “We capture all the carbon and we can sell it,” he said. Several companies around the world are devising ways to turn CO2 into bricks or carbon-rich concrete.

Highview began in 2005 with the help of Leeds University at a time when few energy analysts – beyond a handful of tech-visionaries – had any idea how quickly renewable costs would reach fossil parity. The venture was backed by £12m of state grants from the Government and Innovate UK.

It is chiefly funded by "angel investors", City tycoons doing their bit to save the environment. Normally they are resigned to losing money. On this occasion they may get a bumper reward for virtue.

Expansion has reached take-off. The company is in talks to build twenty large plants over the next three years. “We will be the biggest energy-storage company on the planet,” he said.

It is something to cheer us up as the Amazon blazes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 27.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • I think we can agree that there's a degree of irony involved in this report. 
  • How on earth can it happen that a Manchester woman ended up stranded in Ibiza after getting drunk at a christening and boarding a plane with nothing but her debit card and a mobile phone? Not the inebriation, of course, but the flying without any form of identification.
  • In 1800, the inhabitants of Ferrol here in Galicia repulsed an attack from the dastardly British, a success which they naturally celebrate each year in August. A very convenient date for partying, of course. 
  • Well, that didn't take long. A day after me predicting something would eventually be done about the gypsies illegally taking over most of the trading on Pontevedra's Sunday flea-market, the local press reported that the authorities had decided to close it down again. The reason given is that its current location is incompatible with the new GastroEspacio (Food-hall) on the first floor of the permanent market in the same street. Which I find disingenuous; surely a legal, well-managed flea-market would bring potential customers for the food-hall. I'm guessing it will eventually be re-established in another street - or perhaps back in Vegetables Square - and the whole cycle will begin again. IGIMSTS.
  • Meanwhile . . . I was confused to see this knapsack alongside one of our large rubbish bins, until I realised there was a guy sitting inside the latter going through the garbage. Which smacked of desperation but did explain the cardboard box propping up the lid:-

  • As I've noted, the annual total of 'pilgrims' on the Camino Portugués passing through Pontevedra has risen in 10 years from 5,000 to 90,000 this year and is expected to reach120,000 in the 2021 Holy Year. There are concerns that it's getting as saturated as the Camino Francés but the Galician Xunta says that new variants will relieve the pressure. Such as one I'd never heard of - the Camino de la  Geira o de los Arrieiros, which starts in Braga, down in Portugal, and bypasses Pontevedra on a more internal route. So, we can now say with conviction that the total number of caminos has passed 40. All of them 'authentic' long-standing pilgrim routes, of course. Nowt to do with money.
  • Citing the year 2021 reminds me that - to no one's surprise - we might not get the AVE high-speed train by the (latest) forecast year of 2020. This is because trials on the new rails are not taking place because the special train - nicknamed The Heineken because of its colouring - is not available for some reason or other.
The USA/Nutters Corner
  • Ffart is reported to have asked whether it would be possible to explode a nuclear bomb in the epicentre of a hurricane off the coast of Africa, so as to prevent it reaching the USA. The answer is said to have been: "We'll look into that, Sir". ´Which I suspect happens quite a lot.
Finally. . . .
  • I won't bore you with the details but Sunday saw an astonishing feat by a chap called Ben Stokes in a cricket match between England and its traditional greatest rival, Australia. There's a report below and I suspect/hope it will impress even those who have no idea how a 5 day cricket match is played. Or, indeed, makes any sense at all. As it addresses sporting genius and its impact on us.

Ben Stokes: True greats shape world around them, Matt Dickinson, Chief Sports Writer, the Times

The very best of sporting days — and who will dispute that yesterday at Headingley is right up there with the most astonishing of them? — are not just mesmerising for the thrills and the unscripted drama but for the confirmation of athletic genius.

Think Diego Maradona in 1986 proving, beyond all argument, that he was one of the finest footballers who ever lived; Usain Bolt running 9.69 seconds not just in any race but the 100m Olympic final in 2008; Jonny Wilkinson striking that drop goal in 2003 to win a rugby World Cup final almost as though he were waiting for the ideal moment to demonstrate that he was built of different stuff from you, me and, well, most humans.

It felt like that with Ben Stokes yesterday: a sense that perhaps only he, of everyone on the planet, was capable of that innings, those shots, that audaciousness. It was as if that place, that time, and that seemingly impossible challenge called for one man.

Some feat when you think about it that, of more than seven billion people, it felt as if only one ginger-haired left-hander from Cockermouth could muster all the truly extraordinary mental and physical abilities, not only to save a Test match, and an Ashes series, but to make us wonder if, among us, there are very rare folk who have a superpower.

Stokes’s hitting was almost incomprehensible to 99.9999999% of us who would not even see a ball from Josh Hazlewood as it whizzed past our ears, never mind repeatedly smack it deep over the boundary ropes like a competitive dad teaching his ten-year-old a lesson in the park.

What is sporting genius (and the term is used unapologetically)? The ability to dribble like Messi or hit a forehand like Federer or drill a five-iron to six inches like Woods is just one astonishing facet.

The greats shape the world around them. They make even top-class foes like Australia look amateur. They seize the stage and make it their own. They don’t just deliver the best lines — they write them.

To those of us of a certain age, certain parallels were, of course, unavoidable. Nostalgia consumed us, especially when Sir Ian Botham appeared on Sky Sports moments after Stokes walked off to a standing ovation. Asked by The Times to pick the greatest sporting Briton a few years ago, this writer went with Botham. Others had their Redgrave, Charlton or Faldo but as I wrote at the time, it will always be an exercise that makes demands not of the head but the heart.

To be a young cricket addict watching the 1981 Ashes was to be struck with awe at this swashbuckling idol, smashing Dennis Lillee for sixes (no helmet) and then rampaging in to take wickets even with bad balls. Beefy’s belligerent swagger felt thrillingly un-English. To me, aged 12, he was a superhero.

Perhaps the very best thing about Stokes yesterday was to feel, even in middle-age, that same wonderment — and to see it in the faces of three generations gathered together. The very best of sport, and the very best athletes, draw the world together in communal joy. You look at each other, with crazy grins, and ask “how is that even possible?”

Who expected Stokes to be such a bonding force when he was preparing to go on trial last year, accused of affray, after a street brawl in Bristol. He was found not guilty but, at that point, we all had reason to wonder what we made of him. No doubt he asked himself that question too: “How do you want to be remembered?”

After yesterday, we are a lot closer to the answer.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.8.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • I picked up a book from an Amazon delivery point yesterday. The odds on me being impersonated by someone intent on stealing it must be vanishingly small. OK. nil. But, nonetheless, I had to display my (long expired) residence card to prove my identity and then give my (totally unintelligible) signature with a pen on a PDA. IGIMSTS.
  • Here in Galicia we've had fewer summer fires than usual. Possibly because it's been cooler and wetter than average. But, sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case down in nearby Portugal.
  • Down on the south coast, they have an entirely different problem, very probably as a result of GW/AGW.
  • And it's not only me who's having bird-disappearance problems  . . . 
  • My visiting daughter just tried to book a train seat back to Madrid on Thursday but should have done so sooner. Perhaps a lot sooner. Nothing available on that day. Nor on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday Sunday and Monday. The Great Return.
The UK
  • Richard North* today: When the history of Brexit comes to be told, it should include a strong comment on the failure of the media, from its own resources, to research, analyse and report on the predictable consequences of a no-deal Brexit.  . .  So many of them are superficial and derivative, relying in the main on previously published third-party sources.  It is in this information vacuum that charlatans such as Johnson survive and even prosper, getting away with the vacuous and palpably dishonest claim that "We can easily cope with a no-deal scenario". We can't – not easily. We will cope, because cope we must – it is not as if we have a choice in the matter. 
 * A Brexiteer, of course. But a sensible one.

  • Compulsive - but worrying - reading:- This Isn’t the Madman Theory. This Is a Madman President. Taster: The Trump campaign and the early days of his administration were marked by the charming window when most of his supporters—and frankly, much of the mainstream media—believed that the vomitus spraying out of Trump's mouth was part of some clever psychological game, quantum chess to own the libs. Only idiots and zealots believe that now. 
  • Query of the Day: How best does one translate Jane Austen's comment that To wish is to hope and to hope is to expect without using esperar more than once?
  • Do you confuse tenderhooks with tenterhooks?
Finally. . . .
  • More good news for me on the avian front . . . I certainly saw a blackbird - a backbird?? - in my garden last night. And I might well have seen a sparrow. Albeit only the one so far.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.8.1925

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • A month or 2 back, I passed a 'rope shop' in Madrid outside which there was a long queue of folk apparently interested in exchanging money for old rope. But, in fact, it was these they were buying, at a place considered the best outlet in Spain for them. Or at least the most fashionable.
  • Talking of shopping . . . Pontevedra's Sunday flea-market was far busier today than last week. I can't say I know why, but one factor is that the unlicensed gypsy stalls were not just down at one end but at both ends and on all sides. This encroachment will surely go on until the legal traders again call in the police. Who won't act until they do.
  • Just in case you need to know, the most expensive place in Galicia in which to buy property is not one of the major cities or one of the centres of drug-smuggling but in the little coastal town of Nigrán. Which I'd thought was just conveniently placed for a large beach and for surfing. Can't see surfers paying millions for a house but perhaps I'm wrong.
  • Our local farmers are reported to be close to giving up in the battle against the wild boars and abandoning their crops. Which will doubtless please the extremist animal adorers of PETA, I imagine. The folk who've accused a British school of 'speciesism' because they have a pet alpaca for the kids. Should be shot. Not the alpacas, of course . . . 
  • I wrote recently of an example of strange local praying habits, in respect of potholes in a road. The latest case is of the faithful praying for the 'miracle' of our football team ascending back into the Primera Liga. Something which they must have been doing since the mid 1950s. Without Anyone heeding their pleas, it seems to me. Too much to do, perhaps. Or is concentrating on stopping mass slaughters by Christian nutters in the USA. Not terribly successfully, it has to be said.
  • Word of the Day: Un see-day-kah.  Heard in an exchange between father and son at the flea-market this morning. A 'sidecar'. 
  • The correct Spanish word, by the way, is un sidecar. 
  •  This is a truly astonishing article. Can it really be true. A taster:- This tale of intrigue fully reveals the extent to which this decades-old alliance between organized crime, the CIA, and Israeli intelligence has corrupted and influenced politicians of both political parties, both through the use of sexual blackmail and through other means of coercion. 

  • Finally. . . .

    • Not a challenge I normally facd when driving down into town . . .

    In truth, far less irritating than drivers mis-signalling  on roundabouts . . . 

    Saturday, August 24, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 24.8.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    • Under Spanish law, stealing something with a value less than €400 is considered a 'falta' (misdemeanour), and not a 'delito' (crime). However many times you re-offend, it remains a misdemeanour and, as an offence, is not cumulative. Those caught will be liable for a fine of probably no more than €50. The consequence of this rather odd situation is that gangs of petty thieves operate pretty openly and with impunity in Spain's major cities. A plague on naive tourists in particular. Barcelona is universally recognised as the worst place for this and here's The Local on the nature and size of the ever-growing problem there.
    • And here's The Local again, on the subject of the damage being done by excessive tourism in Spain. . .  The side effects of tourism are destroying the lives of many local people. But with elected representatives doing little to help, the locals are turning against one of the country’s worst-perceived nuisances: tourists.
    • And here's the last is a trio of negative articles from The Local: What you need to know about the outbreak of listeria, which has cost the lives of 2 people so far.
    • Here in Galicia, some good news is that drones are being successfully used to plant explosive charges in the nests of the vicious Asian Hornet, usually called La Velutina here, though there are several local alternatives.
    • Sitting in a street where one couldn't move for crowded tapas tables yesterday, I took to pondering the quantities of seafood consumed here every day in summer. They are truly vast. And it can't possibly all come from our local waters, whatever your bar owner tells you . . .
    • Talking of eating . . . Our own food hall - El Gastroespacio - duly opened this week. Possibly at least a month late:-

    There were around 15 of the 25 kiosks doing business midday yesterday. I do hope it's a success, even if it's not quite up to the standards of those in Madrid, Oporto and Lisbon. My fond hope is that we get some truly international food in due course

    The UK
    • Richard North this morning: The one thing that has come from Brexit – exposing the fundamental ignorance of our political classes and our media. This has proved so extensive that there seems no possible cure. It is unwise to expect either politicians or the media to correctly analyse or interpret developments, or to provide advice that can be relied upon. Breaking away from the most comprehensive experiment in political and economic integration is a unique event. And since so many people in authority have little idea of what is entailed in our EU membership, it can be hardly surprising that they have less idea of what might happen when we leave. 
    • My daughter, up from Madrid, had a job interview by phone yesterday. It was successful, possibly because she didn't have to struggle with any these buzzwords, phrases and acronyms which are said to litter job ads in the UK nowadays. BTW . . . I'm familiar with only one of them:-
    Laser-focused self-starter 
    Thought shower 
    Brand architecture 
    Low-hanging fruit (the one I know)
    Front-to-back scenario
    Hit the ground running (Oh, another one)
    Take an idea shower
    Open the kimono
    B2B (back-to-back?)
    And then there are job titles such as New media tsar, Co-ordinator of interpretive teaching, and
    Conversation architect.
    • Shopping is not what is was in Britain's High Streets. The nice article below on this theme took me right back to my time in Iran. Specifically to sharing a melon in the mosque in Yazd with 2 local youths, on a Friday sabbath. Where and when they really shouldn't have been eating a melon at all, never mind sharing it with unbelievers.
    Way of the World
    • Those blasted e-bikes . . . .

    The USA
    •  I have to admit I've reached the exact same conclusion as the estimable Caitlin Moran but have not yet been able to comply with it. I wonder if she will: With many other people who vaguely work in the world of comedy/satire, I've arrived at the opinion that, when it comes to certain political figures, the fundamental tools of comedy — exaggeration, extrapolation, juxtaposition, surrealism, self-aggrandisement, jarring non-sequiturs and demented fantasy — simply don’t work if the subject of that comedy is using the self-same tools with bigger results. There is no point in using these techniques to prompt a few laughs and some mild thoughtfulness when someone else is using them to, for example, casually refer to using actual nuclear weapons that they have or explain a policy of housing refugee children in cages. So CW isn’t going to attempt to make any more “humorous” observations about the US president. Every week it’s simply going to note what he has said without further comment, reaction or bias. Thus: this week Trump first offered to buy Greenland, then approvingly retweeted someone who claimed that Trump is “the second coming of God”.
    • Word of the Day: Chapuzón. Not to be confused with Chapuza, which means a 'bodge' and is well-known to anyone having things done on their house or flat here. Usually with the option of IVA being excluded from the bill.
    Finally. . . .
    • Yesterday's garden score was 2 greenfinches - which would be better called greedfinches - and at least one redwing((zorzal alirrojo), I think. And the robin is still around, probably for the entire autumn and winter now. But still no sparrows.

    Iran showed me what we have lost: It’s easy to be sentimental as an outsider about traditional bazaar shopping. But at its heart is social connection.  Samira Ahmed,  New Humanist

    I am standing high on one of the pillars[actually 'towers'] of silence – the massive stone towers [see] where the Zoroastrians used to leave their dead to the vultures – looking down on the desert city of Yazd in the heart of the Iranian plateau. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been; Yazd’s mud-brick walls offer secret passages at every twisting turn and, like all Iranian cities, its beating heart is the bazaar. I walk through its magnificent cool brick-vaulted colonnades, unchanged since Marco Polo, who followed the Silk Road this way too.

    Over six weeks filming in Iran for a BBC documentary series about the history and culture of the Persians, from Shiraz in the south-west to Mashhad in the north-east, the bazaar was always calling me back. It epitomises Persian identity: proud of its history but always absorbing the new into its own traditions.

    Part of the appeal is the “slow” consumption idea. Thinking, touching, talking to the seller and deciding why you need the thing. In Isfahan the Safavid Shah built a grand covered bazaar around a massive public green. Traditional crafts such as leatherware, carpets and miniature painting thrive here. I watch one metalsmith at work creating delicately patterned samovars and lamps, a skill passed down still by master to teenage apprentice.

    In Shiraz, city of poets and roses, vendors weigh out dried rosebuds, purple-blue borage petals, and spice mixes from layered contour-line piles of ground cumin, turmeric and cinnamon. But ubiquitous, too, are wildly coloured extruded snacks in foil packets, tacky plastic toys and some kitsch carpets with images of baroque Western paintings. The bazaar sells everything people want to buy. Including washing machines, fridges and TVs.

    Then there are the clothes. Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, who wrote about the tyranny of consumerism for the American housewife, would have nodded knowingly at the fabric stalls selling 50 kinds of black chador material. But I hadn’t anticipated the sheer boldness of bazaar displays. In a nation with a legal dress code for women, I walk in my headscarf past aisles packed with sexy feathered and buckled underwear, wondering, “Who will buy?”

    Fashion fills the arcades too. Everywhere I see Iranians old and young taking selfies to post on Instagram like their counterparts anywhere else in the world.

    I had to buy pyjamas for a sequence we were filming about the Persian origin of the word – it’s from the words for leg garment and the clothing allowance given to imperial soldiers. The shop I chose had a lovely selection of pure cotton patterned pyjama bottoms, laid over the counter in a delicate overlapping rainbow of colours. Sourced in Bangladesh, the shopkeeper told me – a mother running the stall with her daughter, I guessed. The fun was in choosing from the lace-trimmed camisoles in toning colours to make your own set. Why did the experience fill me with such delight?

    At the heart was the social connection of it all. When the heat of the day declines, the bazaars come alive again in the evening with all generations finding their own places to go. Iran has its super-fancy malls – the Palladium in North Tehran has a definite Beverly Hills vibe – but they are the exception. I can’t help but compare Iran favourably to what’s corrupted India’s bazaar culture, which saw extreme Western-style consumption, including malls and fast-food brands, flood the nation’s cities in the early 2000s, with little regulation around construction and pollution, and the consequent health crises, including obesity.

    It’s easy to be sentimental as an outsider about traditional bazaar shopping, which is undoubtedly time-consuming. But the epidemic of anxiety and loneliness in the West does seem to have a real link to the isolating impact of online consumerism. Iran has its own social and social-media problems – few people are rich, child obesity is noticeable; its theocratic leadership has so far resisted efforts by many ordinary Iranians to loosen the restrictions on their daily lives – but the strong binding sense of life is built around daily public interactions and family bonds, which contrasts strongly with the time-poor frenzy of the average Western city-dweller’s existence.

    Back in Britain my local department store had announced it was finally closing after 106 years, the latest casualty of a national epidemic on the high street. People were coming in to commiserate with the staff. Returning from Iran, I wondered if what we are mourning is what they’ve never lost.

    Friday, August 23, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.8.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    • I touched on fashion yesterday, citing the wearing of black underwear beneath white clothes. A young cultural spy has now told me this has been taken a step further here in Galicia. During the summer fiestas, she says, she clocked 3 or 4 young women wearing black bras as tops. I haven't seen that yet but will be on the lookout for it now.
    • Here's The Local (again?) with an analysis of the veracity of Spanish stereotypical images. I concur with their conclusions.
    • More importantly, here's the same journal with advice on Spain's outbreak of listeria.
    • The Galician government is seriously concerned about Madrid's holding back of funds on the grounds that - there being no government - there's no national budget. Here's news of a lawsuit aimed at changing the situation. But presumably not very quickly . . .  [Another true stereotype].
    • Down in Extremadura - in a place called Peraleda de la Mata - the summer draught has revealed 'Spain's Stonehenge'. Built, they say, by folk who'd come west from Anatolia and who eventually headed north to the British Isles around 6,000 years ago. These 144 granite blocks can be seen c. 120km north east of Caceres. Or, if you like, 140km west of Toledo. They're thought by some to have been erected by Celts 4-5,000 years ago. But don't tell the Galicians; their 'national' myth is that they're the only descendants of the Celts in Spain:-

    • Here in Pontevedra, they've been cleaning up some of our architectural sites. Here's the one at the city end of O Burgo bridge, where both Roman and Medieval remains can be seen, at or around the level of the approach to the original Roman bridge.

    • As for the current bridge, paving work has progressed slowly but is now past the mid-point. Maybe it really will open in October. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying biking into town via the pretty 'temporary' camino alongside the tributary of the Lérez river.
    • On my way into the old quarter this morning I'll be taking a look at the Gastroespacio, which debut'd yesterday on the first floor of the fish and seafood market.
    The UK
    • Not so long ago, Anglo medical practitioners used to mock the 'polypharmacy' of the Continent and the developing world. But now it's been revealed that 2 million patients in the UK are taking at least 7 prescription drugs daily, putting their lives in danger from lethal side effects.
    • The French might well have shot themselves in the foot by predicting huge traffic disruption at the 'choke point' between Dover and Calais after a Hard Brexit. Transport companies are looking hard at using rail and east coast ferries, rather than trucks across the Channel. Who wants to be a prisoner of French politics? Companies in Belgium and Holland are said to be rubbing their hands in glee. As well they might. 
    Way off the World
    • Hard to believe - well, no, not really - Tripadvisor and its ilk have made the exceptionally poor district of Dharau in India a tourist hotspot.
    • The Times in the UK provides the Sex Guide Every Teenage Boy Needs in the Me-too Era. Read the article below. Especially if you're a teenage boy.
    Nutters Corner
    • Check out this clown, who claims that (Jewish) Bernie Sanders is ignorant of the true significance of the Bible and Israel's role in it. And therefore, doesn't understand true Judaism.
    • More confused right-leaning Christians 
    • Word of the Day: The versatile Bochorno.
    Finally . . .
    • Well, the collared doves are definitely back in my garden, and I'm sure I heard the alarm call of a blackbird last night, perhaps because there'd just been the loud cawing of a crow. And the robin is twittering as I write this. Normality is returning, though the feed containers remain full for the moment. The robin never goes near them and the doves and blackbirds confine themselves to hoovering up those seeds which fallen to the ground. But still no sign at all of the many sparrows. Perhaps they've already headed south for the winter. Off-peak flying.
    • After yet another incident yesterday, I'm now convinced that the second I mount my (ancient) bike, I become invisible.

    The sex guide every teenage boy needs in the Me Too era

    A new, no-holds-barred manual promises to educate young men about relationships. Hilary Rose meets its author, Inti Chavez Perez

    A generation ago young men might have learnt about sex from their parents, or their teachers, or friends. They might have learnt from fumbling around on the job. But however they did it, they learnt by talking to someone. Then the internet happened, and social media and online porn. Now they learn by watching, and suddenly the rules aren’t so clear. In a world of limitless information, of Me Too, dick pics and ubiquitous porn, and when the American president boasts of committing sexual assault, what is a teenage boy supposed to think? And how can he set about learning?

    “Guys have so many questions about sex, but they don’t always reach out and ask them,” says Inti Chavez Perez, a sex education expert. “There’s this idea that you should already know everything. So many guys tell me that the sex education they get isn’t useful. They don’t learn what sex is, how it’s done. And our cultural images of sex don’t really live up to what sex is like for real.”

    A 2016 study by Middlesex University found that 53 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds had seen explicit material online. A report into child sexual exploitation published in 2017 by the children’s commissioner quoted one young person saying: “Basically, porn is everywhere.” The result is that children tend to think sex is a straightforward affair, usually involving male dominance. The clitoris doesn’t matter, everything works brilliantly every time, nobody has pubic hair and everyone has an orgasm. Which, Chavez Perez says, is so much misleading rubbish, and it’s not just the internet, it’s sexist adverts and romantic films with unrealistic sex scenes. If you watch all that as a teenager, he argues, you are going to be left wondering, when the time comes, why it isn’t anything like that in real life.

    “Many guys don’t know how women’s bodies work, and that makes it quite hard to make the magic happen,” he says. “They don’t understand the importance of the clitoris.”

    So Chavez Perez decided to write a book in which nothing was off-limits. What would be the point of limits, he asks. The whole purpose was to get real about sex, so he gets straight down to it. Chapter one, line one reads: “Is my dick normal?” We move quickly on to how to masturbate and a bullet-point guide on how to kiss (“try not to drench the other person’s lips with saliva as they might not like it”). He talks about straight sex, gay sex, dick pics, groping, consent and even offers handy hints on how to take off a bra. One chapter is called “What to do with girls”, while another, headed “Sex — the basics”, offers 21 bullet points for how to make out, from stroking someone’s face to caressing their bottom.

    “Sex education in schools doesn’t necessarily speak to a teenage agenda,” Chavez Perez says. “It tells you how not to get an STI, but doesn’t give you the social skills training to actually hook up with somebody. A teenager would say, ‘How do I even get to the stage of choosing to use a condom or not?’”

    It’s true that Chavez Perez occasionally takes some things to what can seem like ridiculous extremes. Then again, you might think he’s wisely leaving nothing to chance. Do straight guys really need to be told that if they’re making out with an unresponsive woman, who has her arms folded defensively across her chest, they should probably back off? Some of the advice amounts to what Basil Fawlty would call the bleedin’ obvious. If someone asks about you and your life, they’re interested in finding out more about you. If the object of your interest never wants to meet up, and never gets in touch, it’s a sign that they’re not interested. Well, duh. And President Trump notwithstanding, do we need to spell out to men that groping is wrong and they shouldn’t do it? Chavez Perez swerves the question.

    “Many guys are taught that if someone says no then you have to stop. What I’m saying is that they [the other person] have to say yes. That’s very different. Mostly people say it without words, maybe because it’s a bit embarrassing to say things out loud. What I’ve done is translate what is a yes and what is a no. If they have their arms around you, that’s a good sign. If they have their arms between you, it’s not. I don’t think everybody understands unspoken language.”

    Chavez Perez, 34, is Swedish, but was born in Spain to a Spanish mother, who was born in Belgium, and a Peruvian father. The family moved to Sweden in search of work when he was four. As a teenager he remembers being interested in gender equality and curious about sex education. He came from a Catholic family where sex was never mentioned, and went to an international private school where it wasn’t on the curriculum. At the age of 18 he was offered training in how to educate his peers about safe sex, and he enjoyed giving out information and free condoms. He went on to pursue a career as a political journalist, working mainly for Swedish public broadcasters, but worked as a sex-education and equality activist on the side. “Then one day I realised I didn’t want to just describe the world, I wanted to change it,” he says.

    He went back to college to study andrology (male health) and embarked on a second career giving lectures to midwives about how to be gender and trans inclusive, advising the Swedish government about sex education in schools, writing books and travelling around Scandinavia giving talks and advice to teenagers.  “There’s this idea that sex just happens and then you don’t speak about it, but we are not the same, our bodies are not the same, our ideas of sex are not the same, so we need to speak about what arouses us, and how we want it,” Chavez Perez says.

    Parents, he thinks, should be talking more about sex with their children, but not in a big set-piece kind of way. They should be calling out an unrealistic sex scene in a rom-com, where the characters climax in five seconds, or an advert filled with sexual stereotypes. Yes, it can be hard for parent and child, he concedes, but it’s easier if you do it in small steps. (He is in a long-term relationship, but has no children.) Perhaps surprisingly, he thinks the internet is largely a positive phenomenon when it comes to sex and relationships: it has made it easier to meet people, to have dates, to have sex, he says.

    Yes, social media and smartphones have increased some forms of sexual harassment, of which the most important he thinks is men sending unwanted dick pics. But sexual violence, he argues, was around long before the internet; he cites his own Spanish grandmother who couldn’t walk down the street when she was young without being heckled appallingly. And groping isn’t even really about sex. “It’s more to do with a guy wanting to dominate, wanting to show other guys how little he cares about other people’s boundaries, and how cool he is in the masculine hierarchy.”

    He says it is a sign of the toxic masculinity which young men have it within their power to stop. A guy wolf-whistling at a girl might not think it’s a big deal, but when millions of men around the world think harassment is OK, then every day there are millions and millions of acts of sexual harassment “and we have a problem for the whole of society. Sexual violence is a world health problem and it comes from the individual.”

    It’s depressing to contemplate Chavez Perez’s central thesis, that many young men have to learn the most basic rules governing consent and appropriate behaviour from a book. Then again, at least they’re learning it somewhere. “Guys feel bad about their bad behaviour. Many people think that teenage boys do stupid things because they’re stupid, but they’re not. Many times when they do things to show how cool they are, they get home and they ask themselves why. We have to teach guys their own value. The first step towards respecting others is to respect yourself.”

    Thursday, August 22, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 22.8.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    • Nice to read that 'ecotourism' is on the way up here in Galicia. Along with transhumancia, whatever that is. See here, if you're as ignorant as me.
    • As for the challenge of cohabiting with nature . . .  The boar-hunting season is approaching here, aimed at preventing ruination of crops. And confabs are being held to decide what to do about wolves devouring - or at least killing - more and more sheep up near Ourense. And then there's the plague of starfish which are voraciously eating their way through the beds of almejas(clams) in our estuaries.
    • Talking of the Ourense province . . . Interesting to read that the hottest place there is a village called A Mezquita. Or 'The Mosque'. And they say the Moors never settled this far north . . .
    • I read in a UK paper that skirts, having headed south for a while, are now heading back up north, to 'baby-doll' length. I can't say I've noticed these developments here in Pontevedra, where it seems to be obligatory to show maximum thigh, at least in summer. And, in some cases, rather more. That said, some with-it women do seem to be sporting the in-fashion floor-length summer dresses which are rather more attractive than bare-buttock-displaying apparel. IMHO.
    • BTW . . .  Some of these long dresses are colourfully horizontally-striped, which has the unfortunate effect of making their wearers look like a block of Neapolitan ice cream. Or a deck chair. 
    • Talking of what women wear . . . I suspect my mother would have died rather than wear black underwear beneath white clothes. Nowadays, this seems to be compulsory. At least here in Pontevedra . . .
    The UK
    • I read that Immingham is the busiest port in the UK. Shamefully, I had no idea where it was. Between Hull and Grimsby, in the Humber estuary, I now know.
    • I can't help feeling it's a tad extreme to claim that the 'Eagle Fly' carousel in the Tatzmania theme park displayed Nazi sympathies because of its Swastika-like seat arrangements. Of course, it all went viral at the speed of light, leading to a close-down and fulsome apologies. It seems like an over-reaction to me but then I'm not German or living in repentant Germany.
    • Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – the infamous non-aggression pact of 1939 between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It is observed as a day of remembrance for victims of Stalinism and Nazism in 10 EU countries, the US, Canada, and Georgia. But the pro-Kremlin media is still adamant that the USSR was reluctant to sign the pact and  had no other choice; that the pact did not trigger World War II, the USSR cannot be blamed for it, that Poland wanted to attack the USSR and that all of it was Hitler's idea anyway. Such sophistry puts me in mind of a current-day leader.
    The Way off the World
    • We now know that Elton John bought carbon offsets to balance the effect of the private jet trips of you know who. As someone has commented: Some have even compared these schemes to the sale of papal indulgences – ecclesiastical pardons of sin that served as neat revenue-raisers for the Catholic church.  . . . This modern form of absolution is facing heightened scrutiny amid concerns it may actually be harming the environment. 
    • On the subject of the hypocrisy of celebrities who moralize about climate change, this sounds about right: A simple explanation for this is that it is a way of flaunting their special status.  Hypocrisy is the ultimate power move. It is a way of demonstrating that one plays by a different set of rules from the ones adhered to by common people. Hypocrisy demonstrates how unaccountable one is to conventional morality. Such displays work because, unlike wealth, status is inherently subjective. The more of it you are perceived to have, the more of it you actually have. . . . Why do we get so upset when celebrities moralize about climate change? Because, in doing so, they are violating an unsaid social contract. You can be rich, fabulous, and showy, but you can’t tell us how to live. The problem, in other words, isn’t that celebrities flaunt their rich lifestyle but rather that they moralize about it. See the full article here.
    Nutters Corner
    • Christian 'prophet', Mark Taylor, claims that God has told him that if, Trump does not begin to arrest well-known Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, people like him and those who believe the same putrid crap he does will begin to murder those politicians themselves and “drag their dead bodies through the streets.” A supporter to be truly proud of.
    The USA
    • So, Ffart didn't cancel his state visit to Denmark in a fit of childish pique because yet another woman was 'nasty' to him but because this is the way to make the world respect the USA more than it did under Obama. Could anyone be more self-deluded?
    • For those with some knowledge of the dismal science . . . How negative interest rates screw up the economy.
    • Words of the Day:-
    1. Aguadilla.
    1. Sorgo: Sorghum
    Finally . . .
    • I read that the British police have much the same power as their Spanish colleagues to fine you for whatever they thinks amounts to distraction. Nowadays, this includes talking on a hands-free phone, wearing earphones, touching your satnav/GPS and eating or drinking anything. Here in Spain, I believe it even includes resting an elbow on the window frame. And very possibly putting a CD into the player or adjusting the radio except via switches on the steering wheel. The hard-to-refute logic of this total-reduction-of-risk attitude is the penalisation of anything which takes your eyes off the road or a hand off the steering wheel. So, can it be more than 10 years before gear/stick changes are adjudged dangerous and we're all compelled to drive automatic cars? Assuming any of us are still actually doing anything by way of driving a car by then.
    • There's definitely a robin in the garden this morning. Still the sole representative of the avian community.

    Wednesday, August 21, 2019

    Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 21.8.19

    Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                      Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
    • It's hard to avoid references to Benidorm this week. Here's another one, possibly giving one more reason to stay away from the place.
    • I sometimes wonder how God gets through his/her/hir day, given the millions - if not billions - of requests which come his/her/hir way via the prayers of the faithful. Here in Galicia, one very public case is that of a priest who recently held a Mass in which the deity's help was sought to have the potholes in the village's road filled in. And then, of course, there are the millions of - apparently ineffective - prayers which have been offered up over more than 20 years in respect of the arrival of the AVE high-speed train here in Galicia. Presumably they didn't meet whatever criteria God uses for celestial intervention. As with prayers in respect of mass slaughters in the USA, I guess.
    • I'm compiling a list of things that have or haven't changed in the 19 years I've lived in Pontevedra. One which doesn't seem to have changed is the risk you run venturing onto zebra crossings. As you might have guessed, I had to stop in the middle of one yesterday morning when a car in the far lane didn't stop. The 3rd time in a week. Plus one in the nearside lane which was undertaking a car which had stopped in the far lane. You need to have your wits about you. The accident statistics suggest quite a few older folk don't.
    • Cycling into town these days, I'm using our newish bridge - Puente Das Correntes - while the O Burgo bridge is being converted into pedestrian only. To get to the former, I ride alongside a small river that's a tributary of the Lérez river. At the moment, this path is a temporary camino stretch and is far prettier than the usual route up the main street of the barrio of Lérez. These paths join up just after the Alba marshes and I wonder if they'll make the temporary one a permanent 'variant' option. If so, it won't please the owners of the café O Recuncho do Peregrino (The Pilgrim's Corner/Refuge), a fair share of the revenue of which must come from 'pilgrims' leaving the barrio via the normal camino route.
    The UK
    • Is there anyone who doesn't believe Prince Andrew was involved with Geoffrey Epstein's young friend? Apart, perhaps, from his grandmother.
    The Way of the World 
    • Google - as you might expect - is so culturally (North) American that, when I typed 'main street' yesterday, it came up as Main Street. Thrice. Just as it did right now. Doesn't happen with 'high street'. 
    • Dear dog:  A UK homeopathic pharmacy with a royal warrant is selling a water and alcohol solution containing bits of the Berlin Wall. Homeopathic nutters believe it contains a “spiritual force” that can help imbeciles break down barriers in their lives. It costs a mere £72 for a 100ml bottle of 96% alcohol solution “in medicating potency”.
    • Is Ambrose Evans Pritichard's pessimism proving to be well-founded? See his article below.
    The USA
    • Is Ffart actually getting oranger?
    • Amusingly(?), it's reported that - having got everything so embarrassingly wrong in 2016 - there's not a single US pundit of any colour who's prepared to state that Ffart has little or no chance of getting a 2nd term next year. Whatever his current popularity ratings. And whatever the hubbub about a faltering economy and even recession. 
    • Word of the day: Zigzaguear. Guess.
    • I wonder what the difference is between unos fuegos de artificio and un espectáculo pirotécnico. Of our 3 recent midnight firework displays, 2 were in the former category and 1 in the latter.
    Finally . . .
    •  I fancy I caught the 'song' of a robin in my garden yesterday morning, as well as the earlier sight of the 3 young thrushes/blackbirds. Hope springs . . . But absolutely  nowt this morning. The skies are still devoid of winged creatures. Except insects, of course.

    It's too little, too late to prevent a global recession as we enter the 'pre-slump window': Ambrose Evans Pritchard, Daily Telegraph.

    US and European stimuli have come too late and this week's Jackson Hole may be a wicked disappointment

    With each passing month of trade conflict, the world economy slips closer to stall speed. A partial cease-fire between the US and China – or the US and Europe – is not in itself enough to keep recession at bay.

    The White House has flagged another package of tax cuts to keep the wolf away. Mere talk of ‘stimulus’ has brought instant relief to battered August markets, but beware. Donald Trump requires the support of Congress to do anything. House Democrats are in no mood to extend him a lifeline. Their political price will be exorbitant. Nothing will be done soon in any case.

    One can only smile at the pretence that tax cuts will be funded by “Chinese tariffs”. China does not pay the tariffs. Importers in the US pay the tariffs (tax). To rotate this back into the US economy via tax cuts is not fiscal stimulus. It is neutral. If that is all Donald Trump has up his sleeve, fetch your tin helmets.

    In the meantime, companies have frozen investment plans across the globe. The longer this goes on, the greater the damage. Call it time-decay.  Standard & Poor’s says firms are sitting on $6 trillion of cash and waiting. They are not going to spend much beyond maintenance investment as long as Trump keeps threatening to shut down the Pacific trade relationship – not to forget his parallel threat to impose 25% tariffs on European, Japanese, and Korean cars in November.

    S&P’s capex diffusion index for North America has collapsed to minus 35. This is the steepest deterioration of any region in the world, though the EU and Japan are close behind. The capex freeze sets the world on a ratchet course towards recession unless something is done to stop it.

    Trump’s tax cuts were supposed to unleash a wave of US corporate investment, delivering self-sustaining growth once the sugar rush of fiscal stimulus faded in 2019. The ‘happy hand-over’ never happened. All he got was debt – on track for 117% of GDP by 2023 (IMF) – and a budget deficit over 4% at the top of the cycle. Trade wars have undercut core premise of Trumponomics.  My view is that the current global soft patch looks deceptively innocuous.

    We have entered a pre-slump “window” where the slightest shock is enough to crystalize recession – a blue chip profit warning? Liquidity woes at a large German bank? Iranian retaliation in the Strait of Hormuz? – at which point metastasis kicks in.

    Some $16 trillion of debt trading at negative yields tells us it may already be too late. This includes the entire maturity curve of German, Danish, Dutch and Finnish bonds, as well as Portuguese debt out to eight years, and the junk bonds of Telecom Italia. This signal is of course distorted in a Europe of negative policy rates, but that begs the question why Frankfurt has to keep them so low and why it is eyeing minus 0.6% next month.

    The Europeans never really overcame the deflationary virus, and now the threat is returning in earnest. That is poisonous for Italian debt dynamics.  The euro project cannot endure sustained deflation. It as simple as that. The currency bloc is not Japan. It has no treasury, joint debt instrument, or automatic lender-of-last-resort, and is not a cohesive state or an ‘optimal political area’ (to misuse Mundell).

    There is a wicked twist to deflation in a zero-yield world. What normally happens in downturns is that inflation falls but yields (i.e. borrowing costs) fall even faster. This acts as a counter-cyclical stabilizer and – crucially – prepares the way for recovery. The self-correction mechanism is jammed. Jonas Goltermann from Capital Economics warns that real yields might actually rise if recession takes hold. This would be pro-cyclical tightening into the teeth of the storm. We are back to our old friend Irving Fisher from 1933: ‘The Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions”. If you are not disturbed by this, you ought to be.

    Richard Clarida, the Federal Reserve’s high priest, knows the danger. He says the Fed must be extra dovish when rates are already so close to the ‘zero-bound’ and buffers are so thin. Yet somehow the Fed has allowed itself to fall behind the curve anyway.

    Nothing much is likely to change at the Jackson Hole conclave this week. Last December’s rate rise was ill-judged. The Fed persisted with reverse QE (bond sales) for too long. Real M1 divisia money was allowed to contract in early 2019. The Fed did not start cutting rates until July. Chairman Jay Powell called the quarter point tweak a mid-cycle insurance move rather than the start of rapid-fire easing.

    This was to defy market pricing in futures contracts. It smacks of insouciance at a juncture when the US yield curve is inverted on every metric, the US Cass freight index has fallen by 5.9% (y/y), and the world manufacturing contraction is getting worse. Trump accuses the Fed of “horrendous lack of vision”. He wants immediate rate cuts of at least 100 basis points, with QE for sauce. In this he is correct even if his own actions have led to this impasse. He is not going to get what he wants. Krishna Guha from Evercore ISI says the Fed will stick to its steady-as-you-go message. Fed staff argue that jobs and consumption (not leading indicators, nota bene) are holding up well. “We think Powell will convey that the Fed is in preemptive mini-easing cycle/mid-cycle adjustment mode in the spirit of 1995 and 1998, not super-aggressive easing to ward of recession mode,” he said.

    A quarter point will be trickled out in September. Evercore said the Fed will switch to “super-aggressive” in a heartbeat if the economy buckles. It will cut rates to zero and throw the kitchen sink at the US financial system. Well, good luck with that. By then the Fed will be chasing its own tail.

    It has let the Wicksellian natural rate of interest slide faster than it is cutting rates. It is therefore tightening. My presumption is that markets will spit out a quarter point offering with disgust. Once it becomes clear that neither Europe nor the US are in fact delivering either monetary or fiscal stimulus on a scale required to head off recession there will be a nasty moment of discovery.

    One reader asked what I am doing with my pension fund. Answer: 40% bonds, 50% cash, and 10% equities. I have battened down the hatches. This does not feel to me anything like the refreshing pause of 1998 or 2016.