Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 23.8.21

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

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

A couple of weeks ago, vaccination certificates were demanded of us in a restaurant in Santiago but this didn’t happen the following week, either in Asturias, Cantabria, Pais Vasco, Castilla y León or Galicia. I discovered last night that this was because this regulation had been scrapped after a week, as being impractical. 

When you can overtake illegally in Spain. En passant, I confess to sometimes being astonished where overtaking is allowed, where I’d personally never hazard it.

Some more on that retreat of the British army to La Coruña in late 1808, taken from here:

Moore’s original intention was to disembark his army from Vigo and, indeed, some of the British forces did get there. But the main body went northwards, towards La Coruña.

Winter conditions were dreadful and discipline broke down. Both Benavente and Bembibre were ‘pillaged and looted’, resulting in executions.

At Bembibre, hundreds of British soldiers got so drunk they had to be abandoned and were captured or cut to pieces by the pursuing French dragoons

On the march between Astorga and Betanzos 3,000 men died and 500 more were left in hospitals at Astorga and Villafranca del Bierzo

As the British rearguard embarked on ships in La Coruña harbour, the Spanish garrison held the citadel until the fleet was well out to sea before surrendering go the French.

Within 10 days of the battle, the French had captured two fortresses containing an immense amount of military matériel which, with more resolution, could have been defended against the French for many months. Galicia was then coccupied by the French forces, allowing a march southwards to Portugal. However, Spanish partisans and militia units harassed the French units and drove them from the province completely at the Battle of Puente Sanpayo(Pontesampaio) in June 1809.

Here, I hope, its a short video on the retreat and battle made by my friend Eamon of La Coruña.

Finally there was a small British involvement in this battle but references to this are hard to find, both in Spanish or in English . . . The crossing at Ponteampaio was protected by a number of gunboats, including one British boat provided by two frigates in the bay of San Simón. The British also provided a small party to garrison Vigo.

There’s a monument to the heroes of Pontesampaio in Pontevedra’s Alameda:-

Incidentally, my late close friend – Peter Missler – wrote this fascinating book on the search for the loot gathered and then apparently lost here by the departing French army.

The UK

There has been an explosion in the number of children wanting to change gender in recent years. In 2009 77 patients were referred to England’s only children’s gender identity treatment clinic. By April 2019 the number had hit 2,590. I’m so glad my own daughter’s ‘crisis’ happened 24 years ago. She now has 3 kids.

Sweden

The Sweden experiment: how no lockdowns led to better mental health, a healthier economy and happier schoolchildren. More below, in the 1st article.

Afghanistan

Richard North here exposes the Very Reverend Tony Blair’s reinvention of history.

The Way of the World

Romeo and Juliet is being  played at the Globe theatre in London. The producers have very kindly advised the audience to contact mental health charities if they feel “affected” by any of the scenes. They’ve also shared the helpline number of the Samaritans, in case there are trauma survivors in the audience.

Quotes of the Day

It is funny how no international crisis is now complete without a chorus of patronising yoga teachers and starlets/models/whatevers opening their vegan pieholes. It is almost as if the universe wants to remind us why the Taliban hate our culture: its vanity, its shallowness, its deceit.   . . . It seems amazing to me that people cannot see the direct connection between this patronising, hollow, “suffering in solidarity” self-love and the rejection of shallow liberal values in places like Afghanistan. Is it possible that Afghans look at the way we turn women and minorities into risible infant playthings and professional victims and feel it is somewhat jarring and wrong? More below, in the 2nd article.

Finally  . . .

A funny cartoon . . .

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

THE ARTICLES

1. The Sweden experiment: how no lockdowns led to better mental health, a healthier economy and happier schoolchildren. While Sweden’s decision to stay open throughout the pandemic generated international debate, the controversy passed most people in Sweden by: Richard Orange  

It’s the start of the new school year in Sweden, and the highly infectious delta variant is starting to hit the country hard, with cases having doubled since the end of July. In a lot of countries that would mean one thing: lockdown. But not in Sweden. Instead, at Sorgenfri school in central Malmö, the only visible anti-Covid measure is a ban on parents entering the school building. “I’m not worried at all,” says Elin Brusewitz, 35, as her son played with his skateboard beside her. “We were fine during the last outbreaks. I guess I’m a typical Swede: not worried unless the authorities tell me to be worried.”.

Sweden’s decision to eschew lockdown and leave pubs, restaurants, shopping centres and primary schools open throughout the pandemic generated furious discussion internationally.

Millions of people across the world have been confined to their homes, watched businesses go under, and struggled to stay on top of their studies amid wave after wave of restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But for some 10 million Swedes, the eighteen months since the first local Covid-19 case was registered last February have been largely unremarkable.

Two-thirds of people are not worried about the consequences of the pandemic for them and their family, according to the most recent opinion survey for the Civil Contingencies Agency, carried out in mid-June. And there is broad support for the government’s choices. Just a quarter felt the authorities should have given public health greater priority over the economy. Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist who was the architect of Sweden’s strategy, was last week voted “most important Swede of the year” by the readers of Sweden’s leading supermarket magazine.

That is not to say the virus has not taken its toll – nearly 15,000 people have died in total, around 1,450 per million. But that death rate is lower than the average for the European Union as a whole (1,684), and well below those of France, Spain, Italy and the UK.

Some now concede Sweden has not become the cautionary tale many predicted. “Many times I would have thought that the situation would have gone a different way, but it worked for Sweden,” said Samir Bhatt, professor of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen, and one of the team at Imperial College who pushed the UK’s lockdown strategy. “They achieved infection control; they managed to keep infections relatively low and they didn’t have any health care collapse.”

The real benefits of Sweden’s radical policy, however, can be seen in the economy, the psychological impact, and in schools. At the end of the first wave last year, the IMF predicted that Sweden’s economy would contract by 7 per cent in 2020. In the end, GDP shrank by just 2.8 per cent, significantly lower than the EU average of 6 per cent and the UK – a staggering 9.8 per cent. Sweden’s economy has also bounced back faster than any other country in Europe. By  June, GDP had overtaken where it was before the pandemic struck and the economy is estimated to grow by 4.6 per cent this year. The government avoided splashing out on costly financial-support packages, spending just $22bn (£16bn) – 4.2 per cent of its GDP – on wage subsidies and other measures.

As a result, in 2020, the country recorded the second-smallest budget deficit in the European Union after Denmark, and its national debt has come through the crisis almost unscathed. “The public finances have been hit relatively lightly compared to most countries, probably due to the fact that we have used less draconian measures,” Urban Hansson Brusewitz, Director General of Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research [and no relation to Elin], told the Telegraph.

The psychological toll of the pandemic also appears to have been less dramatic in Sweden.

The National Board of Health and Welfare reported a continuation in the decline in the number of people seeking treatment for anxiety and depression, particularly among children and young adults. A large part of this is likely down to the decision to keep primary and lower secondary schools open throughout. Even in upper secondary schools, only children who test positive or have been formally contact-traced are asked to stay home. Entire schools and classes were quarantined very rarely and only in exceptional circumstances if advised by a local infectious disease doctor. That’s a marked contrast to the UK, where as many as a million children were sent home from school during the “pingdemic”. “We are very happy that we kept our schools open. I think that that is very important,” explained Sara Byfors, unit chief at the Public Health Agency.

An analysis of national grades published by the Swedish National Agency for Education last month found no evidence that the pandemic had negatively affected children’s educational attainment. “The fact that grades have stayed stable suggests that both teachers and pupils have handled this tough pandemic year well,” said the agency’s general director Peter Fredriksson in a statement. “No group of pupils seems to have been affected more negatively than any other.”

Ms Byfors said the worst impact of the pandemic appeared to have been on the few people who did have to quarantine. “We know that it had a big effect on the elderly that were isolated, and we also know that a lot of children were affected if they were in the higher grades that had to have distance learning,” she said. “How big it is and what the long-term effects will be [is] still to be determined.”

However, Dr Bhatt, the University of Copenhagen professor, is keen to point out that for all of its successes, Sweden saw more Covid fatalities than its Nordic neighbours who took a more interventionist approach. The death rate was between three and four times that of Denmark, and nearly 10 times those of Finland and Norway – suggesting Swedes died that didn’t need to. And Dr Bhatt does not think another, non-Nordic country such as Britain could have copied Sweden’s policies and got the same results. With about 23 people per square kilometre, Sweden has about a tenth of the population density of the UK, while about half of Swedish households comprise just one person – a major factor in local transmission.

In a paper published last week in science journal Nature, Dr Bhatt, together with the UK’s former government advisor Neil Ferguson and other researchers, estimated that if the UK had adopted Sweden’s policies, its death rate would have been between two and four times higher. “What Sweden did was a pandemic response that involved large numbers of interventions, a considerable amount of reliance on population behaviour and population adherence, and a reliance on the intricacies of what makes Swedish culture Swedish culture,” Dr Bhatt said.”If the UK had adopted what Sweden did, I have no doubt in my mind that it would have had an absolute disaster.

For residents of Malmö, the gamble has paid off. Zaina Vujcics is a podiatrist who runs a small business close to Sorgenfri school that was able to stay open throughout the pandemic. She is adamant: “Sweden has had the best coronavirus policy.” “In Denmark, in Norway, in France, Belgium, everywhere else, I would have had to close,” she said. “I am so happy to be living in Sweden.”

2. . Angie, Harry, Lily: shameless celebs line up to make the crisis all about them. Camilla Long. The Times

So that went well, Afghanistan-wise. A week of zombie-movie horror, as panicked teenagers, clinging to the wheels of aeroplanes, plunged to their deaths at Kabul airport. Every hour a devastating new image: frightened children, the triumphant Taliban, women “bravely” doing their jobs.

By Tuesday I noticed that “women bravely doing their jobs” had become the leading obsession. There was footage of women “bravely” interviewing Taliban fighters, or “bravely” returning to their posts at Kabul airport. It didn’t even matter if you weren’t anywhere near Afghanistan: an official portrait was released of the BBC’s Afghanistan-born presenter Yalda Hakim after she “bravely” performed the relatively simple task of an unexpected live scoop interview with a Taliban spokesman.

Why was it “brave” of her to do this? Hakim speaks six languages — I think she can cope with pressing “speaker” on a telephone so that the viewer can hear a man 7,500 miles away. Does everything have to be packaged up as a vain Instagram moment? Even speaking to the worst people in the world?

l crisis is now complete without a chorus of patronising yoga teachers and starlets/models/whatevers opening their vegan pieholes. It is almost as if the universe wants to remind us why the Taliban hate our culture: its vanity, its shallowness, its deceit.

If you were a broken, frightened, poor Afghan woman, how reassuring would you find the news that fashion clowns like Diane von Furstenberg and Kate Winslet had written an “open letter” to President Biden, begging him to take responsibility for “women’s rights”, as they did this week? Or that Angelina Jolie had finally — finally! — got an account on Insta, for the sole purpose of mooing on about Afghan “fear and uncertainty” while failing to mention that it was her own country that actually created it?

It seems amazing to me that people cannot see the direct connection between this patronising, hollow, “suffering in solidarity” self-love and the rejection of shallow liberal values in places like Afghanistan. Is it possible that Afghans look at the way we turn women and minorities into risible infant playthings and professional victims and feel it is somewhat jarring and wrong?

For example: how would I explain Lily Cole’s Instagram picture of herself in a burqa to a repressed Afghan woman as the Taliban rolled back into town? Last week, as the country collapsed, the vapid supermodel posted two images of herself in the garment as part of a celebration of “diversity” for the launch of her book.

Perhaps I would explain to this woman that in the West we are so pro-women that someone like Cole can do almost whatever she wants, for the sole reason she looks great in a miniskirt. Perhaps I could explain that this is what a top university education gets women: the opportunity to prance around like a child on social media, telling people that fashion is “empowering” for women when it is not. In our culture, I might add, it is extremely important that people, especially women, in positions of prominence speak an enormous stream of utterly defective woo-woo bollocks at all times while claiming it is “the truth”. It is just like, I might say, when your Taliban give a press conference and claim they are “supportive of women”.

The person Afghans probably least want to hear from is Prince Harry, a man who actively took part in the occupation that caused all this. And yet on Tuesday he and Meghan saw fit to release a 215-word statement crudely cobbling the tragedies of Afghanistan and Haiti together. The “many layers of pain” had left these two gilded bog-hoarders “speechless”. Really? Never before have I seen anyone “speechless” at such great length.

It’s all self-promotion, as shameless as the editor of Vogue telling us you can “head to vogue.co.uk” for a list of Afghan charities to donate to. What on earth was he thinking? Like the Sussexes, the magazine is merely using a tragedy to drive traffic to its site in the hope people will stop to buy some “hypebeast-approved sunglasses” or a “forever ceramic”. 

7 comments

  1. Thank you for the information on the retreat to Coruna, I confess that knowledge of the Peninsular War comes mainly from the Sharpe novels by Cornwell. I enjoyed Eamon’s video; very nicely done.

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  2. From a close friend in Galicia, to whom I sent the 19 sayings.

    9. A Galician doesn’t ‘worry for his future’ because ‘every pig gets its San Martin day.’ (a todo porco lle chega o seu San Martiño)

    This expression is said when somebody is hurting you, whatever they’re doing, so you hope someday he/she will receive the punishment.

    12. In Galicia it doesn’t ‘rain,’ instead ‘pikes peak fall.’ (caen chuzos de punta)

    It is rather said when it is pouring or when there is an strong storm.

    13. A Galician doesn’t ‘stop complaining,’ he ‘goes to cry at Collona’s place.’ (vai chorar á casa da collona)

    You say that to somebody who is whining you with his/her regret/complain/lament.

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  3. It’s curious, but saying 9 above, reminded me of this Rupert Brooke poem that my mother would read to me when I was little.

    The Little Dog’s Day

    All in the town were still asleep,
    When the sun came up with a shout and a leap.
    In the lonely streets unseen by man,
    A little dog danced. And the day began.

    All his life he’d been good, as far as he could,
    And the poor little beast had done all that he should.
    But this morning he swore, by Odin and Thor
    And the Canine Valhalla—he’d stand it no more!

    So his prayer he got granted—to do just what he wanted,
    Prevented by none, for the space of one day.
    “Jam incipiebo, sedere facebo,”
    In dog-Latin he quoth, “Euge! sophos! hurray!”

    He fought with the he-dogs, and winked at the she-dogs,
    A thing that had never been heard of before.
    “For the stigma of gluttony, I care not a button!” he
    Cried, and ate all he could swallow—and more.

    He took sinewy lumps from the shins of old frumps,
    And mangled the errand-boys—when he could get ’em.
    He shammed furious rabies, and bit all the babies,
    And followed the cats up the trees, and then ate ’em!”

    They thought ’twas the devil was holding a revel,
    And sent for the parson to drive him away;
    For the town never knew such a hullabaloo
    As that little dog raised—till the end of that day.

    When the blood-red sun had gone burning down,
    And the lights were lit in the little town,
    Outside, in the gloom of the twilight grey,
    The little dog died when he’d had his day.

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