Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 26.6.21

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’ 


Spain: Here’s info on the UK government’s rules re travel to/from the Balearics. As I understand it, from 30 June you can go there and return to the UK without much hassle and expense. Until the EU stops you from doing so, that is. Probably  quite soon.

Cosas de España/Galiza

The new face mask rules, as of today.

There’s now a cheaper high-speed train, on the usual priority route(s). As ever, nowt for us in the North West. It’s called the AVLO, from AVE+Low cost, I guess. Some details here.

Spain takes another good step in its post-civil-war direction.

I left my newish beisdbol cap on the rack above my seat on Thursday’s train. This morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that both Renfe/ADIF and the city of Madrid have an email via which one can report losses. But, of course, I’ve no great optimism that it was handed in. Should this happen, I will – with delight – report the fact of recovery.

Here’s Lenox on how to be really Spanish. All very true but the rubbish problem is lower in Galicia. Except in the forest behind my house, where the dumping is on an industrial scale. And near the contenadores.

The UK

In a survey of 20,000 young people, the best sign that somebody is old was said to be asking for a cappuccino. According to 52% of those asked, only ‘ancient’ people do this.

Post Brexit roaming charges. Reality bites.

The Way of the World

The absolute problem of fundamental human rights: What to do when one of yours clashes with one of mine? See the article below.


These are said to be the ten most annoying mispronunciations of native speakers in the UK: 

1. Pacifically for specifically (35%)

2. Probly for probably (28%)

3. Expresso for espresso (26%)

4. Specially for especially (25%)

5. Artick for Arctic (19%)

6. Nucular for nuclear (19%)

7. Tenderhooks for tenterhooks (18%)

8. Excetera for et cetera (18%)

9. Assessory for accessory (15%)

10. Triathalon for triathlon (9%)

A few days ago, I predicted that – through increasing usage of a ‘mistake’ – the gerundive ending would over time shift from ING to IN*. Today I read that a linguistics expert has said: Language is always changing, and this can apply to pronunciations of words and not just word meanings and grammar. Once the new pronunciation takes hold in a society, then it’s no longer an error but an innovation. That’s English for you. The other example I can think of is the insertion of a semi-glottal stop in words like hospital and total.

*The 2  most public exponents of this are the Home Secretary and Sky News’ political editor. I confess to find them both irritating.

Finally  . . .

I said above it was this morning I found the Renfe and city of Madrid site but it was actually 4am, after I’d been woken by a mosquito that had already got me twice. This is my first experience of a mozzy in Madrid and I wondered if it was one of the awful tiger variety – from voracious droves of which I sometimes had to flee in Jakarta. I recall reading a report that these were making their way into Spain.

My daughter confirms that there’s a plague of the insect in Madrid  and this article talks of the tiger variety being here since 2017.

Note: If you’ve arrived here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try this


The absolute problem with human rights. Allowing the 18th-century notion of unalienable rights to become embedded into law has contorted our common sense. Matthew Parris. The Times

Rarely can a columnist say with confidence that on something controversial in the headlines, he absolutely knows what you, the reader, think. I say that, though, this morning. You think it’s sensible for the government to propose, as they did last week, that care home staff in England who come into contact with elderly residents should be required to be double vaccinated against Covid-19. So do I.

In what way, then, should we call the proposal controversial? Well, here’s The Guardian. “The controversial measure sets up a likely battle with staff in both services and could lead to the government being sued under European human rights law . . . for breaching the freedom of people who work in caring roles to decide what they put into their bodies.”

And here are just a few of the comments from care staff during the long public consultation the government conducted beforehand. “Forcing people to have vaccinated [sic] . . . is against human rights”; “It’s a breach of human rights forcing us to have this vaccination . . . It’s basic human rights!” “[it is] against my human rights to be told I can no longer work in the care sector if I do not have the vaccine”; “Its [sic] all about choice and that is a basic human right.”

I don’t cite these responses as being persuasive. They are nonsense. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been consulted and indicated no objections, and doubtless the case would fail before the European Court of Human Rights. No, I offer this simply as an example of how deeply into our popular culture, as well as into judicial and political thinking, the idea of “basic” “fundamental” or “unalienable” human rights has now penetrated. So deeply that people start challenging obvious, life-saving common sense.

This column’s aim is to question the whole concept of fundamental human rights. It is so deeply flawed as to be fatal to all legal reasoning built upon it. We took a wrong turning in 1791 which has by degrees led us, via the American and French revolutions, into a terrible mess.

The flaw is irremediable and voids the concept from the start. Take the issue in question. Here, the care home resident’s “right to life” trumps the care-worker’s “right to liberty”. As it must. In any ordinary use of language, two assertions of rights which conflict cannot both be “fundamental” or (in the words of the American Declaration of Independence) “unalienable”. To settle the conflict, one or the other “right” will have to trump another, in which case the trumped right will have proved anything but fundamental. The person who claimed it will have been stripped of it — or “alienated” from it.

This problem does not apply to other kinds of rights, and the common law and statute which deal in them understands that. There are limits and they are adjustable. Your “right” of way may have to be suspended for urgent earthworks. Your right to free speech may be limited by the laws of defamation. But the concept of “fundamental” rights aims to take rights to a different and deeper level. The revolutionary idea is that all human beings have these rights at all times and cannot be deprived of them.

But they can and sometimes they should, and frequently they do; and everybody knows it.

The philosophical muddle we’ve landed ourselves in stems from an important failure in the English language. “Fundamental human rights” started as an Anglo-Saxon concept, rooted logically in a divinity. But in a world in which we humans and our courts are to be the adjudicators, our language needs a different word. English can only offer the Latin “desiderata”, and that’s never going to catch on. Desiderata are “things that are desired”; everyone knows that settling conflict between them may require compromise or even the extinction of one desideratum in favour of another.

A culprit in all this is an 18th-century book by the English-born American, Thomas Paine: Rights of Man (1791), justifying revolution. It was a huge hit and his thinking had already found its way into the 1776 American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The French revolutionaries were more circumspect in their 1789 declaration, which acknowledged limits to rights. But within decades the language of unalienable rights had rooted itself in progressive thinking: beginning a long journey that led to the postwar Geneva Conventions, the European Convention on Human Rights, the related United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and our own British human rights legislation. These are long and intricate documents, but underlying them all you can see the shape of the 18th-century thought that we have been given (by God?) certain rights that no government could take away. Subtract God and what do you have? A rather cloudy idea of something called “natural” law, at whose core remains that hoary old phrase, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

And here’s why it isn’t workable. “Life” — this cannot be unalienable or fundamental; we manufacture and export weapons of death; we switch off life-support machines; we deny NHS patients access to prohibitively expensive drugs. “Liberty” — this cannot be unalienable: your liberty to roam may conflict with my liberty to enjoy my own property without trespass. “The pursuit of happiness” — ditto: such pursuits conflict all the time. They are not absolute and must be adjudicated. But if not absolute then the adjudicator must weigh one desideratum against other, conflicting desiderata. And that’s what adjudicators have always had to do, before and after Paine: Jefferson, Lafayette, Geneva, the European and UN declarations. They add nothing to the process.

The words “fundamental” and “unalienable” serve only to confuse both legal and commonsense reasoning. Look at the real moral and legal dilemmas we’ve faced in recent years: refugees versus host population; unvaccinated employees versus their customers’ lives; trans people versus feminists; prisoners on parole versus possible victims of recidivist crime; pregnant mothers versus the unborn child. The language of unalienable rights in such cases is entirely unhelpful. “Rights” or desiderata vary, of course, in importance; but the importance will depend as much upon the facts of each case as on the moral category into which we have placed the desideratum.

I am well aware that my thinking here will (in the philosopher David Hume’s words) “fall stillborn from the press”. But for more than two centuries we have been wandering up a blind valley in our obsession with unalienable rights. In time, maybe some time yet, we will come to understand that.