16 May 2022: Almerian delights; Solar sights; A Pontevedra foto gallery; Putin’s people; & Other stuff

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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’


Would you trust the WHO and its favourite contributor when the next plague comes along? See the first article below?

Cosas de España

Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas tells us here a bit about Almería here. Western towns, cowboys and fields of plastic sheets, it seems. I must take a look.

Talking of covered fields . . . Evidence here of Spain’s very belated commitment to investment in solar energy. Second time round:-

Cosas de Galiza 

A foto special . . .

This is a procession – in honour of one of Spain’s countless Virgin Marys – which passed me the other evening. Having noted that at least 95% of those processing were women, it came as a surprise to see a foto in which almost everyone at the front was male. Including the priests, of course:-

I surprise all my visitors with the claim that narcotics play a huge part in the wealth generation of this part of Galicia/Spain. So, naturally enough, as I sat on Pontevedra station the other evening, I wondered if this goods train was taking cocaine and/or heroin to other parts of the country. Probably not . . .

The other thing I wondered about recently was whether anyone would be attracted to these new houses planned for the outskirts of Pontevedra city:-

Those modern beauties compare with these old houses of granite in the city centre. Previously blackened by the weather, they’ve been restored to their original glory by jet-spraying. Exactly as Santiago cathedral has been, over 7 years:-

If you have half a hour to kill in Pontevedra this week, you could do worse than visit the exhibition of  perfumes in our new-ish (but ugly) museum building. The bottles, stoppers and boxes from the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods are stunningly beautiful, leaving me wondering how they could mass produce the glassware. Moulds, I guess. I noted that the examples were all from France, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. Are/were there no British perfume companies? Anyway, I noted that many of the names were surprisingly suggestive. So much so that I wondered why there was none brazenly called ‘Whore’. This one certainly took me by surprise. Surely not still on general sale . . .

I’m sure everyone will be pleased to hear that the German chap was back on his flea-market pitch yesterday – one of the few-and-far-between traders who braved the possibility of rain. Since he’s a tad dour, I chose not to welcome him back.


A promising book I’ve just ordered . . . Might explain a few things.

The Way of the World

I wrote recently about fashion items. This is something from one of the big name designers:-

The question arises . . Why?

Quote of the Day

No one who’s followed Eurovision over all these decades of errant silliness would seriously argue that it was ever about the music. There are, essentially, 3 modes of song: camp over-the-top dance banger, fake folk knees up and histrionically emotional ballad. These are songs written by professional teams on the edges of mainstream success, delivered by cabaret singers who can’t quite cut it in the pop charts. It is fake pop for people who don’t care about pop music, packed with gimmicky, contrived by-the-numbers songs that sound a bit like hits if you’re not really paying attention. I had similar thoughts during the event. Manufactured formulaic stuff, very probably done on/by computers.


Revisiting my Persian Grammar, I noted the name Javan. Since Farsi does without vowels, this is written J U/V N.  So, . .  Juan.  In English, John of course.

See the 2nd article below on the vacuous words of our times.

Finally . . .

I told  a friend that the Omicron I’d recently had was like a mixture of a very mild cold and an equally mild flu. I suggested it could be called coflu. He countered with the first letters off ‘cold’ and ‘influenza’. Or colin. Which was nice of him.

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.


1. A WHO pandemic pact would leave the world at China’s mercy. Lessons have still not been learned, so why should we trust the WHO in a future pandemic?: Matt Ridley, The Telegraph 

On 22 May, the World Health Organisation meets for the World Health Assembly, an annual summit to which all the world’s countries are invited – except Taiwan, which is excluded at China’s behest. On the agenda is a “pandemic accord” that would greatly expand the WHO’s powers to intervene in a country in the event of a future outbreak.

The European Union, true to form, pushed for a legally binding pandemic “treaty” instead, but that won’t happen for two reasons: the American Senate would need a two-thirds majority to ratify it; and the Chinese government would not allow even its pet international agency to tell it what to do. But the accord would still have substantial force of international law behind it, to make governments impose domestic lockdowns, for example – despite the WHO’s own figures showing little correlation between lockdown severity and death rates.

Though some of the measures make sense, such as more sharing of vaccines with other countries, the plan skates around WHO’s errors during the Covid pandemic. It ignored Taiwan’s early alarm call, praised the Chinese government for its transparency at a time when it was denying human-to-human transmission and punishing whistleblowers, delayed declaring a health emergency, flip-flopped on masks and lockdowns and mounted a farcical Potemkin investigation into the origin of the virus. Added to its poor performance in the 2014 ebola outbreak, when for months WHO resisted calls from doctors and NGOs to declare an emergency to avoid offending member governments, this track record does not inspire confidence.

According to the meeting’s agenda, the accord would be part of six “action tracks” focused on: healthcare systems; zoonotic outbreaks; endemic tropical diseases; food safety; antimicrobial resistance; and protecting the environment. What is missing from that list? Something WHO itself and the US and other governments insist might well have been the cause of the Covid pandemic, namely a laboratory experiment gone wrong or a virus-hunting researcher infected while sampling bats in the field.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, said in July last year that it was premature to rule out a lab leak, a view echoed by the G7 summit in Cornwall. Since then if anything the evidence has grown stronger. A book published this month, Preventable by Professor Devi Sridhar, argues that a lab leak is “as likely an explanation as natural spillover and should be pursued until evidence emerges to the contrary”.

A former software developer by the name of William Gates has written a book called “How to prevent the next pandemic”. Its main message, according to one uncharitable reviewer, is that we can prevent the next pandemic by “doing all of the things that did not stop the last pandemic event, only more, faster and harder”. But even Mr Gates does allow that “regardless of how COVID started, even the remote possibility of lab-related pathogen releases should inspire governments and scientists to redouble their efforts on lab safety, creating global standards”.

Over the years laboratory accidents have resulted in deaths of researchers and others from smallpox, anthrax, SARS and other pathogens. In one case, a global epidemic of flu resulted from a mistake with an experimental vaccine in China in 1977. In recent years there was a dramatic increase in the number of coronaviruses taken from bat caves into labs for experiments, most of them in a city called Wuhan. The experiments tested how easily the viruses could be induced to infect human cells. Some scientists compared this to searching for a gas leak with a lighted match.

This pandemic began a long way from where the infected bats live but very close to the world’s leading laboratory for collecting and manipulating SARS-like coronaviruses. That, plus the continuing failure to find an animal infected with the virus in food markets or elsewhere, added to some peculiar features of the virus’s genome, has led many to conclude that a proper investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is warranted. But the institute has refused all requests to open up its 22,000-item database for international inspection even though doing so could go a long way to reassuring the world.

So you might think the World Health Assembly might have put lab safety and transparency of research on the agenda next week at the very least. But nowhere are these even mentioned. Presumably China would object. In February the WHO held the third “Covid-19 Global research and innovation forum”. In the titles of the 49 sessions, the word “origin” did not appear once. Though it has set up a committee, the WHO seems to be paying no more than lip service to its own commitment to investigating the possibility of a lab leak. Like some western scientists, it may be hoping the question of the origin of this dreadful pandemic remains unsolved lest the answer ruffle diplomatic feathers.

Here’s what a pandemic accord should include, in my view: a commitment by all national governments to share the genomic data of all viruses collected in the wild and to share details of all experiments being done on potential pandemic pathogens (yes, including in biowarfare labs). Something similar happens with nuclear research and with airline accidents, so it can be done. If China’s government refuses to sign, then let’s gradually shame it into doing so. But it looks like we will have to do this outside the WHO.

2. O grammar community, help me rescue yourselves from the seven deadly syntaxes: Rod Liddlep, TheTimes

I reached peak “myselfism” last week while on the phone to a fabulously annoying woman. I was trying to locate a rug I had ordered online, which she — I blame her — had lost somehow. She not only referred to herself as “myself” but also addressed me as “yourself”. And then, in a moment of crowning glory, referred to my wife as “herself”. As in, “Do I have a number for herself?”

I mentioned the newish tendency of people to use the term “myself” when they mean “me” in last week’s column and suggested that someone should compile a list of words that were immediate signifiers that you were listening to someone mendacious or stupid. Pondering on the matter after my exchange with the “yourself is getting no rug” woman, I decided I should be that person. Or perhaps I can at least make a start on a lexicon of syntactic witlessness and deviousness and leave other people to complete the work.

It may take many years. So many words have become overused or have — like “classic”, which I have seen in the context of a brand of lavatory paper — entirely lost their meaning. “Vulnerable” is one such. It once referred to somebody who was in immediate and perhaps continuous peril, whereas these days it seems to mean everybody in the country except me. All ethnic minorities are vulnerable, as are women and children and members of the LGBTQIetc community. It has become a political classification and so has lost that thing important to words, a vague connection to reality. Sometimes “vulnerable” is used as a euphemism, or synonym, for “thick as a plate of mince”.

Then there’s “survivor”, one of my favourites. This noun was once employed to describe someone who, say, had been a passenger on a plane that crashed in the Andes and had crawled from the wreckage, eaten a couple of deep-frozen dead fellow passengers and then made her way down 15,000ft to a village of Peruvian peasants to alert her family that she was still alive.

It is now routinely applied to someone who, several years ago, was subjected to an inappropriate sexual remark by an ageing and tipsy Liberal Democrat peer, (and so is now a “survivor of sexual abuse”) or has simply decided to give up drinking (“a survivor of alcohol abuse”). The word once used for these people was “victim”, which is these days considered too passive for someone who had the chutzpah or resilience to tell a lord to piss off or has recently “bravely” signed up to AA. Frankly, even “victim” was stretching it.

Another word whose meaning has been turned on its head is that old favourite “diverse”. When a news reporter on the BBC says, “Well, it’s a rich and very diverse community, Huw”, you know he means that it is 100 per cent Bangladeshi (say) and poverty-stricken to boot. Likewise the word “vibrant”, which actually means “lively” but now seems to mean “thieving and looting” or, at best, perpetually moaning and terminally indolent.

A smaller quibble, perhaps, but one with a certain semantic import, is the substitution of “hating on” something for simply hating. This is another arrival from that cornucopia of mangled and deceitful grammar, the USA. Hatred is an enormously valuable and wholly natural human disposition and I much prefer it to ectoplasmic notions such as “hope” (which is just one reason I am not a member of the left-wing campaigning organisation Hope Not Hate).

We hate something when we are genuinely, viscerally, repulsed by it. But the addition of that dubious preposition “on” suggests somehow that the hatred is in some way confected rather than reflexive, and even part of a kind of fascistic groupthink, as in: “Why is everybody hating on James Corden?” Sorry, you have to ask?

Rendered impotent from overuse are those two words “toxic” and “vile”. The latter, these days, seems to mean something mildly risqué that makes people laugh — such as a joke by Jimmy Carr. The word “toxic” is almost always applied to a wholly sincere and honest (if contestable) statement by someone that contravenes one or another of the benighted precepts of modernity.

There are so many others: shame, community, tolerance and discrimination (once a good thing; now the toxic refuge of the bigot) but I have run out of time. Let me pass the baton on to yourself.