Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 18.4.21


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

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

    18 April 2021

NOTE: Info on Galicia hettps://thoughtsfromgalicia.comre. Detailed info on Pontevedra coming soon. 


Is it really necessary to wait for your café/bar/restaurant table to be cleaned before you can even sit next to it? Apparently not. But is it, nonetheless, one of those things that’ll  probably take a long time disappearing?

A glint of hope –  Israel’s Health Minister declared that starting today, the wearing of masks outside will no longer be required.

<a href=”http://&lt;!– wp:paragraph –> <p></p&gt; Another analysis of Sweden’s record.

A criminal opportunity? The pandemic and the potential economic and social fallout expected to follow threaten to create ideal conditions for organised crime to spread and take hold in the EU and beyond.

Meanwhile . . . Vicarish resistance to vaccine ‘passports’ in the UK.

Cosas de España

A Covid negative:

A Covid positive: Home-grown vaccines

Isabella of Castilla is said to be known in these parts as Isabella the Smelly. Could be worse.

There’s an awful lot of Romanians in Spain. Sadly, a handful of them seem to specialise in selling children. Giving the rest of them a bad name, of course. As drunken Brits (hooliganes) do for us Brits.

Cousas de Galiza  

You don’t normally associate Don Quijote with Galicia but there is a latter-day connection. Click here for a tale of Oseira, O Carballiño and As Regadas, inter alia.

I’ve cited the Oseira monastery thrice – here, here and here.

The UK

The crumbling faith in No10’s lockdown strategy is turning the public into conspiracy theorists. See the first article below.

The EU

Things might be looking up on the vaccine front.

But down for Airbnb.

The Way of the World

We may be seeing the end of nearly three centuries during which free thought, reason, science, education, commerce and technology seemed to have given Europe and its offshoots not only material power but also intellectual leadership.  . .  . Now we are playing with fire. Instead of the Enlightenment narrative of progress, we see a nihilistic rejection of history and culture, creating an intellectual and moral void. See the 2nd article below.

Quotes of the Week, both about the British prime minister: 

1. The political crisis is yet to be invented that doesn’t allow Boris Johnson to imagine himself a hero of history or classical myth.

2. It’s hard to lose trust when no one trusted you to start with.

Finally  . .

See the 3rd article below for more on the Colin the Cake war. 


1. Crumbling faith in No10’s lockdown strategy is turning the public into conspiracy theorists. It was baffling when the Prime Minister decided to trash the British vaccine programme, which is seen as a modern miracle: Janet Daley 

So which is it? Is the UK vaccine rollout a stunning, world-beating success – resulting in the radical reduction of cases, hospital admissions and deaths which can be seen clearly in the daily recorded figures? Or is it largely irrelevant to what progress has been made in defeating the spread of the virus? Is it actually the case (verbatim from the Prime Minister): “that the reduction in hospitalisations and in deaths and in infections has not been achieved by the new vaccination programme”? It depends on whether you listen to Boris Johnson before or after the middle of last week.

Until Black Tuesday, when the Prime Minister, for reasons known only to himself and presumably the person (or people) who told him to say it, decided to trash his own Government’s greatest triumph – thus not only committing a bizarre act of political self-harm but, more seriously, attempting to undermine public morale and national pride – the British vaccine programme was seen as a modern miracle.

It was an unprecedented achievement not just of scientific research, but of the dedication of medical staff, the public-spirited voluntary efforts of thousands of ordinary people, and the willing cooperation of the great majority of the population who made the rational, responsible decision to accept vaccination. Not only was what Mr Johnson said on that last fateful Tuesday damaging to confidence in this most crucially important Government policy, but it was factually wrong – as any number of public health officials and medical experts queued up immediately to make clear.

What on earth was he thinking? And since he does not make pronouncements of this kind without consultation – what on earth were the motives of those presumed “experts” who must have advised him to make it? (Who were obviously not the ones who leapt into the arena to contradict him.) The context is important: the Prime Minister was comparing the impact of the vaccination programme with that of lockdown, claiming that the former was negligible (indeed, virtually non-existent) by comparison with the latter.

Maybe this is the key. He was trying to rescue the viability of lockdown which might otherwise have lost its force in the great vaccine rollout exultation. That argument might have been convincing if he had said that, in the legitimate national celebration over vaccinations, we must not lose sight of the need to maintain those lockdown restrictions which are still necessary at present…blah-blah. But he didn’t say that.

What he did say seemed to imply that no vaccination programme – however comprehensive – could provide a solution to the problem and a return to genuine (not “new”) normal life. And that is a direct contradiction to what was popularly understood to be the promise from the medical and scientific experts who told us – way back in the era when our lives were first taken away – that the only ultimate answer to this dilemma lay in finding a vaccine.

Now we have not just “a vaccine” but a quiverful of them, all of which seem to be remarkably effective – more so than most of the vaccines used against other diseases (even though the broadcast media insist that every new variant may, just possibly, prove resistant, etc etc). Could this be part of the problem? Were the experts taken by surprise when this sudden avalanche of vaccines arrived on the scene so quickly that they felt in danger of losing control of the discourse – and their ability to hold down public expectations?

The most charitable explanation of Mr Johnson’s comment, and presumably the advice that drove it, is that some of the people in charge believed there was a real risk that the optimism would get out of hand and the whole apparatus of regulation would collapse. In their panic, they urged him to say something that was misleading, illogical and self-defeating: in effect, encouraging vaccine scepticism and undermining the Government’s own “get the jab” campaign.

But in the longer term, this unfortunate and gratuitous intervention could do greater damage than any immediate effect it might have on vaccine take-up. (In fact, this appears to be negligible: people are just as eager for the jabs as ever, partly because they have been told they might not be able to travel or get into the pub without them.)

In the last week, I have heard more people express serious suspicion about the Government’s authoritarian motives than at any time since this whole crisis began. Because the Prime Minister himself seemed to fling the whole question of vaccine efficacy out of the window – when it had once been presented as the be-all and end-all of pandemic solutions – there is now grave disquiet among sensible, thinking parts of the population about where this is all going and what is driving it.

What would once have been thought the stuff of cult paranoia is now commonplace conversation in socially enlightened circles. The most common refrain is to the effect that either the Government and its experts were lying then, or they are lying now: that there is something sinister about their desire to maintain a pretext for totalitarian measures.

For what it is worth, I personally do not believe that there is a cabal of Maoists at the top level of the Government who wish to maintain repressive social controls forever. But I am finding it harder and harder to argue with the people who do. There is now a real sense that frightening the population into obedience is more important than telling the truth, and that faith in the Government’s promises – even in a crisis – is for mugs.

There is one possible explanation which is less diabolical but equally destructive: that the Government has taken account of the fear that still prevails in the country and wants to address it. To those who tell the opinion polls that they do not want to be set free yet, reassurance is being offered.

But anxiety is a natural (indeed, essential) part of the human apparatus. It cannot be extirpated but it can be inflamed to levels which eventually destroy the prospect of social well-being. Cancelling optimism is a dangerous game.

2. The West is playing with fire by rejecting the Enlightenment values that created it. British intellectuals are now at pains to deny that Western ideas or culture can claim any universal validity or special importance: Robert Tombs, the author of ‘The English and Their History’ and ‘The Sovereign Isle: Britain, Europe and Beyond’

Those of us who associated Prince Philip with a life of pomp, deference, polo and palaces have learnt that his early life was one of danger, disruption and tragedy. At the time of his birth, an influential best-seller was Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West – our present-day worries are nothing new. The First World War had shattered a two-century story of rising European power, wealth and cultural primacy. Revolution destroyed the Continent’s cosmopolitan aristocratic society. Economic turmoil undermined social stability. Fascism, a toxic hybrid of archaism and modernity, took hold in the cradles of European culture, shaking its moral foundations. For many intellectuals, the liberal order was doomed.

But of course it wasn’t. The hard-fought victory of 1945 brought a period of relative stability. Though overshadowed by the Cold War stand-off between the United States and the USSR, it was a time of unequalled peace and prosperity for Britain and Europe. The collapse of the Communist bloc in the 1980s and 1990s created a short period of euphoria, when the apparent triumph of Western liberalism even seemed to herald “the end of history” through “the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”, in the words of the historian Francis Fukuyama. Only Western ideas, it seemed, provided a coherent blueprint for human progress.

But almost at once, instead of global harmony there began another phase of challenges to Western assumptions, not least from within.

We may be seeing the end of nearly three centuries during which free thought, reason, science, education, commerce and technology seemed to have given Europe and its offshoots not only material power but also intellectual leadership. The Industrial Revolution gave them the means and the confidence to extend and sometimes impose their model as the universal standard of modernity and progress.

Though forms might vary (the British and French empires were significantly different as was the later American hegemony) they had in common what has been called “liberal imperialism”: the belief that the West, which had been first in discovering Enlightenment values, had the right and even duty to spread them in what the French called a “civilising mission”.

Though it has become common to describe these empires solely in terms of conquest, exploitation, oppression and resistance, they could not have functioned without a wide degree of acceptance and even eager collaboration among their subjects. When those subjects eventually threw off imperial rule, it was usually in the name of the West’s own proclaimed values of democracy, liberty and equality.

Europe shrank, as its imperial structures unravelled in the 1950s and 1960s. But at first, this seemed less than revolutionary. It could even seem to be the fulfilment of Western ideas. The British Crown presided over independence ceremonies designed to celebrate former colonies becoming fully fledged members of the Western world. The Commonwealth was the expression of this aspiration. Leaders of new nations in Africa and Asia stepped into the shoes of colonial rulers, inheriting their institutions, laws and infrastructure, and maintaining close ties. Even for its enemies, empire had been the route to modernisation and statehood.

Moreover, the United States took over the role of the European empires in maintaining a liberal world order, based on new post-imperial institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation. The European Economic Community seemed to reinvigorate the ambitions of a defeated Europe. Even the Communist enemy, from South America to China, was motivated by a rival variant of Western universalism born of the French Revolution and German idealist philosophy, and equally based on a rationalist view of progress.

In short, from the 18th century to the end of the 20th, the history of the world seemed to have merged into the history of the West. When I read history at Cambridge in the early 1970s, one of the most popular papers, covering world history, was unashamedly entitled “The Expansion of Europe”. The Enlightenment provided a universal narrative, in which it was assumed that sooner or later every people would embrace the model of modernity.

That intellectual world has vanished. We have entered into another “Decline of the West”, in which again external and internal forces are engaged. The West has lost the technological, economic and organisational advantages it had enjoyed for two centuries as a result of early industrialisation. The rest of the world has largely caught up, not least due to a Western policy of encouraging economic development. Hence the total inability to impose order on the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, once acquiescent in Western authority.

Moreover, the self-confidence – arrogance if you prefer – of the West has been rejected by much of its own intelligentsia. This is the real meaning of the vogue for cultural and intellectual “decolonisation”, and the reason why it is extended beyond history and literature, to music, science and even mathematics.

What is being denied is that Western ideas or culture can claim any universal validity or special importance. Instead, they are attacked as hypocritical, morally corrupt and oppressive: John Locke, theorist of political rights, benefited from the slave trade; David Hume, a founder of modern ideas of the self, was a racist; Mozart and Beethoven wrote during “the age of slavery”.

Our museums are products of empire, our National Trust treasures are the fruits of slave labour, and our universities, churches and charitable foundations, tarred with the same brush, make fulsome expressions of shame.

If these were just academic games, they might give rise to lively seminar discussions and even provide some insights of value, discovering other intellectual traditions and realising that Europe was not the source of all knowledge or wisdom. That process, indeed, has been going on for generations.

But now we are playing with fire. Instead of the Enlightenment narrative of progress, we see a nihilistic rejection of history and culture, creating an intellectual and moral void.

Is progress a myth? In many ways, yes, but it may be a myth we need. Without it, human rights, social justice, racial equality and ecological responsibility would be among the first casualties.

Britain and its allies may have to navigate something like the pre-Enlightenment world in which great regional powers – still largely the same ones today – lacked any sense of cultural affinity and had nothing in common but mutual suspicion and rivalry. Growing forces in the world, including Chinese nationalism, militant Hinduism, and fundamentalist Islam, are not merely resistant to Western ideas, but indifferent to them.

For the first time for more than two centuries, the world is not being led by some version of the Enlightenment. Instead of enjoying “the end of history”, we are threatened by what Samuel Huntingdon called the “clash of civilisations”.

Was Spengler just a century before his time in announcing the West’s decline? Certainly, we can no longer assume that the world is moving inevitably in our direction. If we continue to spurn our own history, culture and ideas, how could we expect it to be otherwise?

3. Colin the Caterpillar vs Cuthbert, Curly and Wiggles: we decide which tastes best. In the battle of the chocolate caterpillars, M&S has stiff competition from all the supermarkets. Let the taste test begin…

In the tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, along with an ice-cream cone, a pickle, a slice each of Swiss cheese and salami, a lollipop, a wedge of cherry pie, a sausage, cupcake and a slice of watermelon, our ravenous protagonist devours a piece of chocolate cake. 

It is perhaps no coincidence that the latter has become synonymous with the insect (and visa versa), and subsequently that a caterpillar-shaped sponge is often the most familiar guest at birthday parties and office celebrations across the land. 

Nor is it surprising that the news of Marks & Spencer taking Aldi to court in a bid to protect its Colin the Caterpillar cake has provoked such an uproar.

The retailer has accused the discounter chain of riding on its reputational coat-tails after Aldi began selling its own Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake, which looks very similar. But since M&S launched Colin (a chocolate-coated sponge cake bearing buttercream, topped with sweets and fronted by a smiling white-chocolate face) some 30 years ago, similar critters have emerged, and not only from the German discount store.

From Cuthbert and Wiggles to Curly and Carl the free-from caterpillar, there are cute-faced chocolate Swiss rolls in almost every supermarket – and each has a band of fervently loyal supporters. 

But how do they compare to each other? Does Colin hold the gold standard when it comes to softness of sponge and flavour of edible boot? Are the sprinkles on Curly superior to those adorning Morris? 

While Aldi has not stocked its Cuthbert cake since mid-February and so was sadly unavailable for review, we netted the best of the rest and put them to the test.  

Colin the Caterpillar, £7, M&S

With reassuring heft, thick, white-chocolate feet and a slightly unsettling button eyes, Colin’s iconic look remains, in my eyes, unbeaten. His ridged back, decorated simply with green and yellow sugared chocolates, has a good chocolate-to-cake ratio, the thick shell revealing swirls of Swiss roll and rich chocolate buttercream. He tastes light, moist and gloriously chocolatey.

Taste test score: 5/5

Looks: 5/5

Wiggles the Caterpillar, £6, Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s cake is perhaps the closest in resemblance to Colin among today’s line up, featuring a white-chocolate face with milk-button eyes, and even a little tongue poking out. The body, decorated with similar chocolate sweets and the addition of hundreds and thousands, looks a little less luxurious than Colin, and the feet are considerably smaller. The taste is lacklustre; thin chocolate, dry cake and little flavour beyond sugar.

Taste test score: 2/5

Looks: 3/5

Curly the Caterpillar Cake, £6, Tesco

I won’t lie; I am quite partial to a fondant face. Curly’s rather cute, almost bashful little smile is set in a thick orange fondant – great for kids. He’s adorned generously in chocolate sweets, white chocolate stripes and little coloured chewy things which get stuck in your teeth. The flavour, sadly, is lacking. The chocolate is rather thin, the cake dry and the buttercream granular, sugary and dull. 

Taste test score: 2/5

Looks: 4/5

Carl the free-from Caterpillar Cake, £6, Tesco

One has to pity the recipient of this gluten-free caterpillar. Covered in chewy fondant icing and sporting a, quite frankly, terrifying orange fondant face, this larva must be that of a moth. Cutting into it reveals that the cake is a conventional layered chocolate sponge with a buttercream centre, rather than the usual Swiss roll swirl. That said, it doesn’t taste awful, especially for a gluten-free cake.  

Taste test score: 2.5/5

Looks: 1/5

Cecil the Caterpillar, £7, Waitrose

With a thick, white-chocolate face and expressive fondant eyes, a generous chocolate-coated body (longer and thicker than Colin), and decorated with chocolate sweets and white chocolate stripes, Waitrose certainly means business with this caterpillar. Decapitating it reveals an extra layer of buttercream coating the light chocolate Swiss roll, wonderfully rich and smooth. Colin, you have competition in the taste stakes. 

Taste test score: 5/5

Looks: 5/5

Morris the Caterpillar cake, £6, Morrisons

Morris wins a point for the most (or should that be least?) inspired name. I also like the swirl of chocolate-coated buttercream that snakes down his body, studded with sweets and coloured sugar, providing an extra mouthful of rich buttercream. The cake is a little dry and the white chocolate face and feet are no match for Colin’s (in terms of both taste and size), letting him down. 

Taste test score: 3/5

Looks: 2/5

Clyde the Caterpillar cake, £5.92, Asda

Clyde seems a gentle soul; you can tell by the sweet little fringe (or droopy antennae, possibly) that frames his face in green fondant. He’s certainly dressed to the nines, sporting funky orange fondant boots and multicoloured sugar decorations. Though the chocolate isn’t the best quality and the cake is nondescript, he’s generous on the buttercream, and everyone knows that’s the best bit. 

Taste test score: 4/5

Looks: 4/5