Saturday, 30 April 2016

Ancient and modern vehicles!

Our daughter has a new car. A brand new car. Not just a "new to you" but already used by someone else car. She has acquired it on one of those lease-hire deals where you pay so much a month and at the end of three years either you buy the car or you set up a new deal for another new car. I know a number of people who do this. No MOT. No car servicing bills. Worth considering, although for the moment we remain carless. There seems little point in leaving a car parked outside the house here when we fly off to Spain for a few months at a time. 

So our daughter has a spanking new vehicle. The only fly in the ointment is that she cannot drive it. She has a broken bone just above her elbow and, although improving daily, still cannot drive. She signed the deal to purchase/lease the car on a Saturday and fell at work on the Monday. Her partner had to take delivery of the vehicle a week later. 

She cannot drive it but I, on the other hand, can do so because I am a named driver on her insurance policy. I feel quite justified in this, having provided financial assistance for the purchasing of vehicles in the past. 

So today I have been driving this formidable vehicle. It's a big beast, something in the Nissan range, but it is not its size that is formidable. All cars seem to be getting bigger these days. Even the Mini should really be called a Fairly Maxi. But with modern steering technology you can drive a large vehicle and the high seat gives you a lovely view of the road. 

No, it's not the size but the technology. Whenever you drive an unfamiliar vehicle you have to get to know its technological idiosyncrasies. Where are the windscreen wipers? Where is the horn? How do you turn the heating/air conditioner on? I remember having a minor panic in a hired car in Mallorca as we approached a tunnel, which demanded lights, and I had no idea where the switch was to turn them on. And after the occasion when I spent a good half hour trying to get into reverse gear, I always check that before setting off in an unknown-to-me car. 

But this one is special. First of all, provided you have the "key" on your person, you can simply press a button on the driver's door and the thing unlocks itself. And then there is no ignition keyhole. Instead of turning a key, you depress brake and clutch pedals and press a start button. Neither is there a handbrake, just a little tiny switch that you lift up when you put the car in neutral, at traffic lights for example. And to set off again, putting it back in gear tells the handbrake to release itself. No trying to set off with the handbrake on. No, just some amusing moments when I scrabble about trying to find a non-existent handbrake! 

And it talks to you, after a fashion, and I don't just mean sat-nav, although that comes as standard. It beeps to let you know there is a speed camera coming up. It beeps if you cross a white line or drift out of lane. It beeps if someone has not fastened their seatbelt. It beeps frenetically as you reverse into a parking space. And it's fitted with a whole lot of technology on the steering wheel to do with using hands-free mobile phones. That's the bit I am still not sure about; even hands-free, using mobiles when driving is not a good idea, in my opinion anyway. But the rest of the technology is fine. 

Driving along in this huge, technologically advanced, almost cleverer than the driver vehicle, our paths crossed a little red 2CV going in the opposite direction. From the sublime to the ridiculous - our very first car was one of those. No technology to speak of, very little security, light enough for four teenage boys to try to lift it off the ground on one occasion! 

We loved it and we had it brand new on the road, paid for, taxed and insured for less than our daughter has had to put down as a deposit on her new beast.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Weathering the storm!

 It's odd how the weather affects one's mood. A bit of sunshine and everyone is out there, smiling at the rest of the world. You find yourself serving light salads, smoked salmon and crisp, dry white wine. 

Today by contrast, with the garden still completely white and occasional flurries of snow still falling, I had an urge to go and cook hearty stews and thick soups. It was most definitely a day for hibernating. The seasons are seriously out of flunter. Having posted photos on Facebook, I now have friends sending me comments about temperatures of 21 degrees in Galicia and 27 in China. 

And so I was not moving from the sofa unless forced to do so. Plans to go to the bookshop for a last-minute extra birthday present for the small boy of the family went by the board. 

Instead some comments on news from here and there. 

Last night on the TV programme This Week, I swear I heard the host Andre Neill speculating about whether there is a Tory plot to discredit the Labour party. Well, they will certainly take advantage of any blunders. And I did read that the original tweet about Israel by Naz Shah would not have been causing all the furore if it had not been republished by a Tory person! Such is modern politics. 

At the other end of the world, I read about someone returning a library book 67 years late. She took the book out in 1948 when she was a child and has just got round to returning it, much to the librarian's surprise. They no longer even have records of the lady's membership as it was so long ago. But her conscience mist have been troubling her and on a visit to family she took the book back. Because she took it out as a child, fines do not apply. If she had had to pay them they would have amounted to almost £12,000! Amazing! Sometimes having a conscience works. Although the book, a collection of Maori myths and legends, is probably not of great value, it is being evaluated and will be added to a special collection in the Auckland library. 

Someone who does have to pay up is the father of a 28 year old Italian. This father has been ordered to continue to support his son through university despite it having taken him much longer to complete his first degree course than originally estimated. And the young man has now embarked on post-graduate courses! Sounds to me like a case of putting off the dread day when he has to declare himself a grown-up. When his father suggested he should start to look for a job and support himself, the young man took him to court and was backed up officially. 

This an example of "bamboccioni", literally big babies, which is the term the Italians use to describe such young people. In the UK apparently we have "Kippers" - "Kids In Parents' Pockets, Eroding Retirement Savings” and IPODs – “Insecure, Pressurised, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden”. France has young adults still living at home who are known as the “Tanguy” generation after a 2001 film about a 28-year-old man who drives his parents to distraction by refusing to move out. 

We have been known to refer to ourselves as the Bank of Mum and Dad but on the whole I think Phil and I may have got off lightly. Neither of our offspring have tried to move back in yet.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Stormy times and running achievements.

March winds and April showers bring on May flowers. Thus goes the old saying. Well, it's very nearly May and I can't say I am impressed. 

After sitting outside eating fish and chips at lunchtime yesterday, truly the last thing I expected to see when I looked out of the window early this morning was snow on the roof of the shed. And yet there it was. After the sun came up properly the snow disappeared and I managed a run in the sunshine. But after that the day deteriorated rapidly into grey and gloomy. And cold!

Now, middle evening, there is a thunderstorm going on outside and the garden is white over again. Stormy times! 

Stormy times for the Labour party here as well with accusations of anti-Semitism and general racism flying around and members of the party suspended pending investigation into things they have said which have been perhaps misinterpreted - perhaps deliberately so. I am left wondering why the Left so often manages to tear itself apart publicly when troubles come along while the Right usually closes ranks and deals with its problems as far as possible in private. 

Onto happier matters. Last Sunday, when the sun managed to shine, we watched bits of the London Marathon, some of us on TV and others actually there, cheering on people they knew who were taking part. Those of us watching on TV gave up with the idea of actually seeing a friend or relation running and "followed" them on the website. How amazing to be able to feed in the name of a runner and see how quickly they had dealt with the first half, and then their final overall time. The people we knew in the race all did very well. It makes my little morning run seem very paltry! 

And then I read about a 12 year old girl in the USA. She was supposed to be running in a family 5 kilometre race which set off fifteen minutes after the New York half marathon and, the decisive factor, from the same bridge as the half marathon. She saw people lined up on the bridge and thought she had arrived late. So when they set off, she went with them. 

Somewhere round the course she realised she was in the wrong race but kept on going. Her parents were imaginably very upset when they didn't find her at the end of the five kilometre course and alerted the police and race officials. They discovered what had gone on and reassured the parents that all was well. So instead of running 3.1 miles, this young lady ran 13.1 miles. She completed the half-marathon in 2 hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds and got a race-finishers medal for her troubles ... and possibly a place in the race annals. 

Pretty good going!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Reviewing the days activities and a staple of the British diet!

Well, it has been an odd sort of day, I must say. Up at the crack of dawn - just before 7.00 am still counts as the crack of dawn for me - to catch the bus to my daughter's house to do a bit of D.I.Y. for her, I shared my transport with a host of schoolchildren, something I have not done for a while. And something I don't relish doing again in any great hurry. When did 12 year old boys become so foul-mouthed? Probably not long after they got rid of bus conductors. You see, I knew the answer all along! 

 D.I.Y. completed, I contacted my brother-in-law, who was supposed to be picking me up, to tell him that I was no longer where he expected me to be. We arranged a new pick-up point near the local market, but he must drive faster than I thought as I saw him arrive there while I was still juggling fruit to be weighed at the market stall. Such was my confusion and haste that I bought sugar-free biscuits for him instead of gluten free and only noticed after we had arrived back at our house for a cup of tea. 

The rest of the day was split between a walk to the Diggle Chippy - a tiny fish and chip shop in what surely used to be a wooden garage - some more D.I.Y - at our house this time - quite a few cups of tea and some unsuccessful D.I.Y - this time back at my daughter's house where her newly purchased kitchen blind proved impossible to fit without proper tools. 

The weather was as mixed as the activities. The sun shone beautifully in the frost in the garden first thing and remained shining until some time just before lunchtime. As we arrived at the diminutive fish-and-chippery we were caught in a hailstorm, which helpfully disappeared so that we could eat our lunch in the returned sunshine by the Diggle duck pond. 

The sun managed to stay out until we returned from our walk. Here are some photos of the nice bits of the day. 

This evening we have had snow. I am very confused about the weather! 

Thinking about a light meal in the evening - we had had fish and chips at lunchtime, after all - I spotted a review of baked beans in one of the online newspapers. What else would you expect in a newspaper on a Wednesday? Some of them waxed quite lyrical. Here are a couple of examples: 

" Tesco baked beans: There is a real 1980s school dinners feel to Tesco’s beans. The sweet, bland sauce is fractionally thinner than you would normally expect and, frankly, barely distinguishable as tomato-based. It does not adhere meaningfully to the beans, either. They look pale and exposed, like bald English bathers in a Costa Brava hotel pool. The dominant flavour is of marginally overcooked, mushy haricot, which, while not actively unpleasant, definitely makes this taste like the cheap option it is. Heinz is a purring Jag next to this third-hand Honda Jazz. 4/10" ("pale and exposed, like bald English bathers"!?!?)   

"You know when you’re in a meeting and everyone starts talking at once? And you don’t know what’s going on? That is Co-op’s baked beans. The sauce is a bewildering muddle of peculiar flavours: something almost sweetly corny; a certain mustiness; gentle spiciness; tomatoes thrown off-kilter by interloping astringent notes. The beans themselves taste tired. They fulfil their iron-rich obligation, but with little of the vibrancy displayed in the Duchy Organic or Morrisons samples. A minority of those beans are a bit hard and chewy, too. Not great. 3/10" ("interloping astringent note"?!?! Beans that "tasted tired"!?!?) 

Heinz beans won the greatest praise, of course. I know people who swear by them and declare that Heinz baked beans on good wholemeal bread toast is the basis of a well-balanced diet! Personally I would grow bored but that's how it is. Each to his own!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Festivities and other stuff.

Here I am on the train from London to Manchester. Amazingly, my journeys this weekend have been completely hassle-free. Of course, having said that, this train will probably now be delayed somewhere en route and I shall rue the day I ever expressed optimism about travelling. So far, however, it has all been good and I have even had an internet connection courtesy of Virginwifi. This does not mean that I can post this while in he train as my iPad continues to refuse to connect me to blogger properly. So it goes. 

I travelled down to southern parts on Friday to spend the weekend with our son and his family, part of the ongoing campaign to ensure that his small daughter feels quite at home with us. I suspect that there is a bit of an ulterior motive here. Next month the little family will travel to Galicia, spending a night with us on their way to Baiona, where they are hiring a holiday flat. Part of the plan is for the young parents to abandon the child with us for one night while they go off and have a night alone together, possibly remembering the romantic proposal that took place several years ago in Pontevedra. It sound like a good plan to me. 

So Saturday morning, Saint George's Day, saw me in the centre of Chesham where we had been assured the mayor of the small town was going to slay a dragon. We were a little sceptical, especially as on Friday evening he was appealing on his website for a damsel prepared to be in distress on Saturday morning. Anyway, we made our way down to town and came across a small group of people gathered around a chap decked out in pretend armour and the mayoral chain of office, a dragon statue- thing, recycled from Chinese New Year, and a "damsel", somewhat past her sell-by date. 

Oh, and there was a town crier as well, a lady town crier in this age of equality, telling the story of St George and the dragon and the damsel and announcing that said dragon would be slain and said damsel rescued. Which duly happened! After a fashion. 

It was, however, all very low key, despite the sunshine and the flags and bunting. One of the flags was a knitted thing, made by the mysterious ladies who deck the town centre there with knitted paraphernalia at the drop of a stitch. 

I couldn't help feeling that the Spanish might have done it all much more effectively. We reflected that perhaps next year someone should suggest that one of the local schools make a dragon out of papier maché, a hollow thing that could be filled with sweets and treats, rather like the Mexican piñata. That way, all the parents would turn out with their children. Good old St George could slice the dragon's head off and sweets and treats could pour out. A good time would be had by all. 

In that way a new tradition, the Chesham St George's Day re-enactment fiesta, could be born. It's an idea. 

Later: the train was not delayed but I arrived in Manchester to find that the Metrolink system was at a standstill. Consequently all buses were extra crowded and slow. It took almost as long to get from Manchester to Delph as it had from London to Manchester! Wonderful!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Reflections on birthdays and obituaries.

This morning a friend of mine posted this on Facebook: 

"Shouldn't the Queen's birthday celebrations be curtailed? Victoria Wood has died, show some respect!" 

Most of last night's ten o'clock news was full of those two things: the queen's 90th birthday - all sorts of sentimental stuff with other members of the royal family - and tributes to the comedienne Victoria Wood - someone I have never really appreciated although lots of people I know rate her very highly. 

Maybe I need to take another look at both of these ladies, because the trend has continued today, more for the royal personage than for the comedienne, it has to be said. 

Masses of people turned out to sing happy birthday to Her Majesty on the streets of Windsor this morning. Whatever your feelings about how much easier it is to live to a ripe old age if you live a life of privilege, you have to admit that it must be just a little annoying not to be able to celebrate your birthday quietly with your family but to have to go walkabout and carry out public duties. 

And then in this evening's news came the announcement that the performer Prince has died at 57 years old. Another one I've never truly followed but, all the same, 57 is no age to shuffle off this mortal coil. 

There have been radio programmes about the huge number of famous people who have disappeared so far in 2016. Obituaries right, left and centre! And it's still only April! The general consensus is not so much that more people are dying than ever did in the past but that there are just more famous people than there used to be. And they don't just mean those who are famous for being famous. Although there are rather too many of those. (I recently heard Sandi Toksvig and Roy Hudd discussing the fact that in their youth they just wanted to earn a living as performers, not necessarily become famous. Fame came as a bit of a by-product.) 

The theory about the disappearing famous folk is that before the advent of television, the only "celebrities" most people heard of were film stars. Relatively smaller numbers. Then along came television and, in particular, soaps and regular series, providing a whole host of household names. Add to that the arrival of pop music on a grand scale and suddenly the world was full of names to remember and people to admire. All of this started to happen in the 1950s and 1960s and inevitably those famous folk, like the rest of us, have been getting older. And many of them lived wilder lives than the rest of us. 

So it goes!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Ladies in waiting!

Quite a lot of today has been made up of waiting. To begin with, I was going over to my daughter's house to do some painting for her. So, to kill two birds with one stone, I hopped on a bus just before 10.00 and went to Uppermill, where I purchased one or two odds and ends at the market. That bit of the day dealt with, I calculated I could walk part of the bus route before the next bus came along to continue on my way to my daughter's house. At my chosen bus stop, sure there was insufficient time walk further, I then waited for twenty minutes for a bus which should have arrived within minutes. 

Eventually, painting tasks over for the time being, I headed homewards. No bus due for a while, so once again I walked part of the way along the bridle path. It was a lovely day for it. Just as well, for once again my bus decided to be about 15 or 20 minutes late. 

Later in the afternoon, I waited once more, this time at our crossroads, for my daughter and her partner to collect me. My daughter managed to break a bone in a fall at work last week and has been unable to drive. Her partner's car, which she was driving in the day of the incident, remained in the work carpark and today, finally, we were going in her car to collect the other car and have me drive my daughter's car home, since I am a named driver on her insurance. Such a convoluted lot of messing about. 

Why had we not done this sooner? Because the car which I am insured to drive was being repaired after my daughter's partner had managed to bump it. All this before the bone was broken, giving rise to my driving skills being needed! 

Having acquired the car, I took advantage of it to run my chess playing husband around, after which I dropped the car off at my daughter's. For some odd reason it needs to be there tomorrow morning instead of outside my house. Nobody was available to run me home so I hung around until it was time for one of the rare buses back to my house in the evening. Phew! What a palaver! 

After doing this and that, I turned on the television to watch the news and caught the tail end of a programme about the Portland Hospital. Now, this is a hospital I read about recently. It's a maternity hospital. A private maternity hospital. Victoria Beckham has given birth to at least one of her children there. The Duchess of Middleton had both her children there. It's a hospital that gives women in labour a magnificent service: specialist medical attention combined with customer service, food and standards of comfort which you might expect in a luxury hotel. Women come from far and wide to enjoy its luxury. Arrangements can be made for the new father to have a bed in the same room as his wife after the baby has arrived, thus sharing those special moments from the word go. Wonderful! 

Why don't all women receive a version of this service when they go into labour? Well, because it all comes with a bill of around £40,000! 

Amazing stuff! How the other half live!