Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Close Encounter with a Prickly Pear

I went with my friend last week to photograph a leaning dragon tree in Puntagorda, and we found a tame chough there. I think it makes a good living from tourists.

And then we went to have a look at the ravine, and I brushed gently against a prickly pear. Of course I got hundreds of spines on the shoulder my T shirt, and I couldn't think of driving back until I'd got them out, or the car seat would have pushed them into me.

My friend tried to get them out, but there were so many it was going to take forever. She even suggested driving back to her house without my T shirt, but I was worried that at least one oncoming driver would be so distracted he'd crash - it's not exactly a straight road. So we decided that the lesser evil was for me to take my T shirt off so two of us could work on removing the spines. I sat in the car for that, so as to be a bit less visible from the other side of the ravine. At least I was in the shade!

So there we were, working away at my T shirt, and an old man came down the track!

I threw the T shirt over as much of myself as possible, but he didn't seem a bit embarrassed and stood there chatting to us for at least five minutes, even after I said I'd brushed the prickly pear and got spines all over my T shirt. My friend though he had bad eyesight, and didn't see how little I was wearing. But I suspect he was just bemused, and felt you could expect any bizarre behaviour from foreigners. Or maybe he was just two sandwiches short of a picnic.

Eventually he went, and we got rid of all the prickles we could find, and drove to my friend's house. Thank goodness it was close.

And I had a shower, to get rid of as many left-over spines as possible. Yes, I found a couple in my knickers. How in God's name did they get there?

And for the next few days I was pulling them out of myself. I think I've got them all now.

But if that's what happens when you barely touch it, I'd really, really hate to fall into one.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Yesterday was my day for coming across craziness, and not the good sort.

First up, this video from This Is True. (I love This is True) An American politician called Brent Rinehart is running for re-election with a comic book full of s**t stirring and spelling mistakes. (Does a County Commissioner have much to do with education in his district?)

It also talks a lot about "The homosexual agenda", without ever spelling out what this agenda is.

Well I'm pretty sure I know what the homosexual agenda is. I reckon they want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, same as the rest of us.

And then in the afternoon, I went to a little girl's birthday party. It was a very nice party, and I met a very nice man who was convinced that the astronomical observatory was causing an epidemic of cancer on the island by "concentrating the stellar radiation."

I said this was like blaming thermometers for the heat. The reason they concentrate the starlight is because there's so little of it, and anyway, they're concentrating it away from the people.

We do seem to have a rise in cancer rates though. I doubt that it's any worse here than elsewhere, it's just that we know the people here with cancer.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A free contest

Writers need to read. Did you ever hear of a chef that didn't notice what s/he ate, or a musician that never listened to music?

One of the online magazines I like is GUD, which stands for Greatest Uncommon Denominator.

It's not free, although it is cheap. Much as I like to read for free, I don't expect to write for free, and they have to get the money to pay writers somewhere. They haven't bought anything of mine yet, but I'll keep trying. I particularly like the fact that you can buy single stories. In the digital age, why not?

But, cheapskate that I am, I couldn't resist their competition to win all of issues 1 - 3. See

And one day they'll buy one of my stories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Burnt matches

My hair colour is my own. I paid for the dye: I did the work: it's mine! I've been dying it for years, because I went prematurely grey.

For a long time, I used a strawberry blonde colour that was actually quite similar to my natural hair colour when I was a toddler. It looked pretty and natural. But they stopped making it.

So I tried a new dye that came out about the same colour as almost-ripe persimmons - about as subtle as a fire-engine siren. My husband took one look at it and started calling my fosforita, which means little match, or someone with a fiery temper. So I'd pretend to get mad at him.

I quite liked standing out from the crowd, but it looked really unnatural, and the colour didn't stick properly. After two weeks, all my grey hairs were showing through. So this morning, I tried a darker colour. I was expecting it to come out bright mahogany or a bit lighter. Actually, it's a very dark auburn, and still doesn't look natural.

When my husband came home, he took one look and called me fosforita quemada, which means little burnt match. It's spot on. My hair is exactly the colour of a burnt match-head, and this week, I've got a minor case of burnout.

I'll just have to try again. Maybe it'll be third time lucky.

Or maybe it'll come out pink.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


When I got back from developing photos, my brother-in-law who lives in the other side of the semi collared me before I got inside, and lead me to the mini-garden between the parking space and the pavement.

I say "mini-garden": it's a triangle of ground with poor, thin soil. Having tried other things, I planted nasturtiums there, since they would survive. I love nasturtiums. Admittedly, most people here regard nasturtiums as weeds (if it's free, it can't be good) and I had neglected them lately. Even so, I think my patch looked better than the ones in front of the other houses.

My brother-in-law had roughly shoved back the nasturtiums, breaking a lot of stems, turning most of it upside-down, and put in cuttings of the bright pink flowers he has in front of his own house. So that's orange and pink together.

I saw red. before I could draw breath to ask what the f___ he was playing at, he said, "Carlos agreed it would be good to plant something here. So I just put these in. Remember to water them occasionally, all right?"

I said through clenched teeth, "I liked the flowers that were there already."

He said, "Well, you can always take them out again." Ignoring the mess he'd made of what was there all ready.

Now I have a habit of going off the deep end and regretting it afterwards. So I bit back the 97 things I wanted to shout, and went to talk to my husband.

No, he did not agree to this. He'd agreed to the idea of maybe putting a bush in there at some unspecified date in the future.

I've taken the cuttings out, of course. (I don't think they'd have survived anyway.) Now I'm trying to calm down enough to have a sensible conversation with my brother in law about this.

If I put this in a short story, do you think people would believe it? I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cueva Bonita

Yesterday evening we finally got our boat ride to Cueva Bonita, on the Fancy II. It's a nice little boat which holds about 30, and the crew are friendly. The light was gorgeous, and I can see exactly how Cueva Bonita (the Beautiful Cave) got it's name. At sunset, the light comes in reflecting off the water in the most gorgeous colours.

And I spent the entire three and a half hours vomiting. The fellers were very sweet to me while this was going on, but it was a huge relief to get back to port.

In spite of having parted company with tea and lunch, I didn't want dinner, just a glass of milk.

I was exhausted, and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Then I woke up at 2 am from a dream about vomiting. After that, every time I shut my eyes I could feel the bed pitching like the boat. So I had to get up and make myself some tea. I got back to bed at 4 am and managed to sleep.

Boy was I tired in the morning. And still nauseous. I couldn't face breakfast until eleven.

And ever since, people have been queuing up to tell me how wonderful modern sea-sickness pills are. I confess, I didn't even think of that, because they were no use to me when I was a kid.

So I might jsut try again another day.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Galileo

Up again, to do the Galileo for the first time. Nobody fainted, thank goodness. But I need to work on the timing a bit.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fainting Tourists

Wow, what a week!

I can now spout explanations of four new telescopes (although I need to work on the bit about Cherenkov radiation in Spanish) and the general talk about the observatory. It took a lot of practice, and I'm sure I must have looked quite mad, lecturing the bathroom mirror on the short history of Gamma Ray telescopes. But however ridiculous I looked, it worked. By Tuesday, I found myself regurgitating it quite confidently in front of the tourists.

I was deep in the explanation of how they observe gamma rays, given that gamma rays never make it as far as the earth's surface, when I heard a collective gasp and everyone looked away from me.

An old lady had fainted.

She was already coming around when I got there. We moved her to the recovery positioninthe shade, and I just had time to run through the checks to make sure it was a faint, not a stroke, when Romer, the assistant, arrived with the ambulance.

By then it was obvious we didn't need it. She was on her feet again, with her husband hugging her fit to bust her ribs and choking back tears. The poor man obviously thought for a second that she'd died.

She insisted that she was fine, and sorry for being such a bother. So Karl, the boss of the MAGIC, produced a chair and some water and we carried on. Then when we'd finished with the MAGIC, we persuaded her to rest in the nice, cool residencia for the second half of the visit.

We made a good team, I think.

We got up to the Liverpool and Mercator telescopes, and found engineering work going on inside the Liverpool,and the man who'd offered to take half the group very busy with higher priority things. But I wasn't going to let a little thing like that put me off after coping with the faint. I ploughed on, and remembered it all (although not quite in the best order.)

One of the visitors comments afterwards, that they enjoyed it, but it would have been even better with some photos of galaxies or seeing the telescope move.

So now we have pretty pictures organised for the next visit to the Mercator.

Most of Wednesday passed in a blur of housework. I went to see the astronomer for the Galileo telescope who does public relations, to educate myself some more. Then I took my son to the dentist. And finally, by way of relaxation, I drove right to the other side of the island to see the Fiesta del Carmen, where they take the statue of the Virgin Mary on a boat to bless the fishermen. I've been here 17 years, and it was the first time I've actually got there to see it. I was hoping it would all happen with the golden evening light, but it was dark by the time the boats left the harbour. It was still beautiful.

It was beautiful.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ruido Magazine, Issue 6

Well it's out there.

Helen did a great job of the layout, and the party in Rocke's bar was fun. Mind you, I was taking photos and video for the web page, so I couldn't just relax. But it's all up at the Ruido website.

And one of the raffled T shirts went unclaimed after they'd drawn three numbers, so Merche threw it into the crowd. I was very pleased with myself for catching it in mid air.

So that's the Ruido web site up to date - until I have to start work on getting the previous issue up. And I've blogged. So that just leaves learning about new telescopes, the translation, entertaining my son in the school holidays, the housework, the novel, saving the whales, reversing global warming, and bringing peace to the Middle East.

You, I'm really puzzled by people who say they've got nothing to do all day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

More Tour Guiding

Last summer and this spring, I got several mornings work as a tour guide, showing people around either the William Herschel Telescope, or the Isaac Newton Telescope.

Today was my first go at the new-style open days at the observatory (see my blog about the island) where I have to give a general talk about the observatory first, then take them to the MAGIC telescope (and maybe give the explanations if the MAGIC site manager isn't available) and finally take them to one other telescope, which could be the Galileo, the Liverpool or the Mercator. Today was the Galileo, and one of the Italian astronomers was going to give the talk there. That left me learning the general talk, and creating one about the MAGIC.

Last night I dreamed that I arrived at the residencia (the private hotel for the observatory) in good time, had a quick coffee, and suddenly I was half an hour late, and I couldn't find my car to go and meet the visitors. So I ran uphill the whole way, only to find that they were all Japanese, and expecting me to explain telescopes to them in Japanese.

Spot the anxiety dream.

And this morning went fine.

I was on time (as always). Juan Carlos, the observatory site manager, offered to give the general talk, since it's the first time, and I gratefully accepted. As it turned out, most visitors were Spanish, but six were German, so he gave the talk in Spanish, and I did it in English for the Germans. Then Karl, the MAGIC site manager, was available, so he gave a talk in German, while Juan Carlos did it in Spanish, and I listened and learned.

In fact the hardest bit was the Galileo, translating the talk into English when I could only half hear it for the background noise. Fortunately I knew more than half of it anyway, so I managed.

And then I went off to the Mercator and Liverpool telescopes to educate myself. I came home feeling that my brain had been down the gym, but it was fun.

And now you'll have to excuse me. I have to do my homework. I'll never remember all that new stuff unless I write it down in my own words.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Happy Birthday Ringo Starr

And what does he want for his birthday? "Just more Peace & Love. It would be really cool if everyone, everywhere, wherever they are, at noon on July 7 make the peace sign and say 'Peace & Love'."

That sounds like a much better present than a pair of socks and a dodgy tie.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Star Party

My friends in Franceses have amateur telescopes, and my friend in Puntagorda usually has cloudless summer nights with no street lights nearby. So we finally put the two together.

The catch is that it meant camping, because the house in Puntagorda is tiny, but that made a change.

It's almost a year since I've been camping, partly because the previous exhibition wasn't a success. (See Sleeping With My Best Friend's Wife) This time I vowed to be better prepared, and bought two new sleeping bags.

We got there for lunch, and then I left my son with our friends (who were setting up telescopes), while I went off to take photos of a local artist for Ruido. That was fascinating.

We came back and cooked a barbecue meal, watched the clouds roll in, and discussed our chances of actually seeing stars.

It stayed cloudy, and my son went to bed. We stayed up, chatting and drinking wine.

Then glory be, the clouds disappeared and the stars blazed. I woke my son.

The big 10" telescope (the one in the photo. If you look closely, you can just see my son's eye in the innermost circle.) had a technical problem, but the 90mm was fine. We just had time to get a really nice view of Jupiter, complete with cloud bands and the four Galilean moons, when the cloud rolled back.

So we went to bed. And this time I didn't freeze.

Friday, July 04, 2008

More on the racism

I got an email from the people I mentioned in my last blog. When they said "foreigners" they meant people from the Peninsular, not the English, Germans, Venezuelans etc. I can stay.

Then there's a lot of stuff about why they feel they're a separate country, and a colony. Spain (in other words some Spaniards) treated the Canaries badly in the past and therefore it's perfectly logical to hate all Spaniards today.

I wrote back and said:

SOME mainlanders have been very racist against Canary Islanders. You hate them ALL.

SOME British behaved very badly towards the Irish. I didn't. My ancestors didn't either, because they were too poor to oppress anybody. The IRA would have liked to kill me anyway, just for being British.

You probably know that in July 2005, Islamist extremists exploded four bombs in central London. They killed 52 people and injured 700, because they blamed ALL the British for the war in Iraq, even though half of us were against it (and presumably half the dead people too.)

There were about 20 people involved in the attack, which leaves approximately 1,000,000 British Muslims who had nothing to do with it. But some British blame all Muslims anyway. (This is what bin Laden wants, to make everybody hate each other.)

For some reason human beings love to blame whole groups for the actions of a few. It's common, but it's not fair, or helpful, or pretty.

Most mainlanders have done nothing to you, but you hate them because of their race.

That is racism.

Fortunately I still haven't personally met any of these racists, although I know a lot of Canarian nationalists. You can be pro-Canarian without being a racist. After one ETA murder, I remember protesters chanting, "Basque Country, yes. ETA no."

And now for something completely different. The planet Mercury has shrunk, and is now a mile smaller. Maybe I should ask it for dieting tips.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Well I've been invited to leave the island for supporting a non-approved football team. Somebody calling him/herself "The voice of the Awara" emailed their list and said "We invite all foreigners who shout 'Spain!' to pack their cases and leave for the Peninsular."

Nobody I've asked knows who this person is, much less remembers electing them as the island's spokesperson. Most of them support the national team too.

I've had emails from this self-appointed "leader" before. What the history books call the conquest of the island, he calls an invasion and armed robbery. I find this refreshing, since I agree (although most people seem to have regarded it as normal at the time.)

S/he wants independence from Spain. I can see all sorts of problems with that - very small countries tend to get pushed around - but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

S/he refers to La Palma as a colony of Spain. Nope. It certainly used to be a colony. A colony, by definition, is ruled from outside, and has no say in the matter. We get to vote in national elections, same as everywhere else in Spain. Not everybody likes the result, of course, but they're real elections, not like Zimbabwe.

But the bit that really annoys me is the attitude to people from mainland Spain. Now I don't know about you, but I judge people by their actions, especially towards the powerless. I look at the way they treat slow old ladies and stray cats.

Not this person. The entire population of mainland Spain is guilty of invading La Palma. The invasion was a crime, and therefore the Spanish football team are criminals.

Of course it's obvious that the Spanish football team didn't invade personally. (Did they have a time machine or what?) No, they're judged guilty because they're the same race as the guilty person.

In other words, this self-appointed "voice of the Awara" is a racist.

And I'll support whatever football team I damn well like.