Monday, 29 September 2014

Statistics and lies and points of view.

The topics that are chosen to produce statistics about can be very odd at times. In La Voz de Galicia newspaper online I came across some statistics regarding infidelity. Apparently doctors, bankers and teachers are the most likely to be unfaithful. Amongst doctors it seems that 40% of infidelities are with a work colleague and 25% with a patient: all those soppy hospital romance stories come true! How do teachers find time to be unfaithful, that's what I want to know. And also, of course, I would love to know who decided to survey such a topic and how many people were involved. I wonder if they factored in the boasting elements. Surely some people must have added a little spice and romance to their humdrum lives by pretending to have been unfaithful. 

Still on the romance front, Amal Alamuddin married George Clooney yesterday and today (civil ceremony). Photos of the wedding cannot be seen until the next edition of Vogue magazine comes out. This is what the stars do; they sell exclusive rights to their wedding photos to magazines. 

A U.S. Website, "The Business Woman", is reported to have turned the story on its head, reporting that the “dual-qualified English barrister and New York litigation attorney who has long been a high-profile figure in international refugee and human rights law has gone against the trend for professional women in her field and married… an actor”. It described the groom as “probably a nice man, but seems to be a bit clingy, as since she met him it’s hard to find a photo or footage of Amal without him hanging around in the background”. I love it. 

The other day I read an interview with a young actress whose name escapes me now, one of those who used to be a model and moved into acting. Just as in the normal world of work, where we are constantly being told that it is unusual for someone to have a job or even a profession for life but must move from one position to another in the modern world, so the same rule applies in the rather artificial world of showbiz. Actors become models become singers become writers become directors become who knows what. 

Anyway, this particular actress who used to be a model was asked this question: "What has been your biggest fashion faux pas? 

Here is her answer: "I am constantly faux pas-ing." 

 Isn't it amazing what you can do with the English language? 

One of my favourite journalists, Paul Mason, has been giving advice to overseas students studying in the UK. As well as thanking them for helping to finance UK universities with their extra-high tuition costs, he advises them to visit kebab shops late in the evening to improve their command of English. I particularly enjoyed his description of the railway system: "In Britain, we have a railway system that was privatised, then half-renationalised and fragmented. There has been a lot of investment in Cornish pasty outlets, but not so much on actual rolling stock." Here is a link to the whole article. Well worth a look! 

Meanwhile Germaine Greer has been talking to European Newsweek and sounding off about the Duchess of Cambridge, the young lady formerly known as Kate Middleton (Catalina to the Spanish). Good old Germaine says the duchess is too thin - maybe that's just her body type as her sister is also slender and her mother is not exactly fat! - and should not have been "made to get pregnant" again so soon - her two children will have the same sort of age difference as my two and as the children of many of my friends! But, of course, Germaine is entitled to her opinion. However, she should be careful. She should consider the fuss that ensued when Hilary Mantel dared to comment on the role of the duchess. 

According to the Newsweek article, a poll of 3,000 British adults found that 43% of respondents thought the duchess represented a “step forward for women and represents modern women”. However, 38% of women and 35% of men believed she was not allowed to voice her opinions enough or at all. And only 36% believed she had “control and ownership over her own body”. 

There you go. That's statistics for you!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Time goes by.

Yesterday began with blue sky and sunshine and went rapidly downhill. By the time I had returned from my run and showered, the clouds had moved in. An hour later it began to rain. The rain didn't last all day but on the whole it was a bit of a washout. Oh, yes, and there was frost on the grass up at the Cricket and Bowling Club first thing. 

Today, by contrast, began dull and cloudy and improved as the day went on. I would not describe it as a total success but a distinct improvement on yesterday. Out on my run this morning I met Jack, an old gent with whom I have a sort of a nodding acquaintance. Well, perhaps a bit more than just nodding; we are on first name terms now, after a few years of my stopping and chatting to him on my run. Usually he parks just beyond the Cricket and Bowling Club (of frosty grass fame) and walks his little dog, and occasionally his daughter's little dog as well, a hundred yards up the road and back. Today his little dog, Rosie, who usually ignores me totally, waddled up to meet and greet me. Like other residents of this village, she has taken time to accept me but now clearly regards me as a local and, therefore, her friend. Clearly, no-one has told her of my aversion to small, happy-type dogs but that's the way it is. 

Reading the newspaper I have learnt that we may be in for a warm October. Of course, that might only apply to the south of England. Here in Saddleworth our proximity to the Pennines often prevents the good weather from reaching us. I also read that Alaska my become the new Florida by 2050. Climate change is no longer a future problem but one which needs facing today. 

Be that as it may, autumn is shaping up quite nicely, with some rather fine colours around. So here is my latest poem on that topic. 

    Seasonal changes. 

Autumn lays her colours down,
Sets up her stall. 
None of the green brashness of Spring,
Although it seems only days
Since we admired HER fresh insolence: 
Parading her slender youth for all to see. 

Summer dealt with her, 
Forcing her pale innocence 
Into dusty, darker greens 
And hidden shady places 
Away from his brilliance. 

But now Autumn comes 
To set things right,
Deep reds and oranges, 
Burnt yellows and ochres, 
Bright browns,
In one last fling 
Before Winter with his white cruelty 
Locks all the colours away.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Speaking of languages.

Today is the European Day of Languages, according to their website "a time to celebrate the 6,000+ languages spoken around the world, promote language learning and have some multilingual fun!" Their website offers all sorts of teaching resources for schools. Very nice. 

Some odd statistics abound regarding languages. English remains the most spoken "foreign to me language", which does not surprise me. It's up there in the top five with French, German, Spanish and Russian. In some countries of Europe up to 98% of the people speak another language. Impressive! The UK is one of the places where this is least likely to be the case, together oddly enough with Portugal. When we talk to friends in Spain about foreign language learning they almost always say that the Spanish are really bad but that the Portuguese are really good, especially at learning English. And there they are, the Portuguese, just like the English; 61% of them only speak their own language. Here's a link to an article about it with a very nice map showing where different "foreign to me languages" are spoken.

The Guardian must be aware of the UK's minimalist attitude to foreign language learning as they have been asking people to send a photo of an everyday object, labelled in their native language, as a way of celebrating European Day of Language. 

Here's another aspect of the same thing. A Facebook "friend" who works as a teaching assistant in a local primary school expressed his bewilderment when given the task of helping a couple of Rumanian children to learn some basic English. Some of his Facebook friends gave him sensible hints. Others advised him to resign in the face of an impossible task. But it's symptomatic of his being an English-only speaker that he had no idea of where to start. Or maybe he just lacks imagination altogether. That's a different problem. 

I wonder which language will be used when George Clooney gets married in Venice on Monday. Oddly, they are having the star-spangled (Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon et al) reception on Saturday. If one of them changes their mind, I suppose, this means that they have had the party anyway. It's all something to do with Venetian bye-laws that say civil ceremonies have to take place in council buildings, which presumably are closed at the weekend. I know a number of ladies who will be rather disappointed about the whole proceedings. Their dreams of being George's chosen one have become a little more remote. Of course, in this modern world of short-term marriage they may very well be able to hope again before too much time has gone past. There I go, being cynical once again. 

Happy European Day of Languages.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Words, food, and going out.

Words are funny things. My friend Colin recently commented on the use of "the hystero-sphere", in the phrase "the hystero-sphere of Twitter and Facebook", in other words, I suppose, the tendency to over-react to events by commenting instantly, and sometimes rantingly,  in the social media. I gave him back the "cyber hive", which I found in an article urging people to give up their electronic communication devices for a while and to "de-assimilate from the cyber hive". Here's another one: "clicktivism". 

"Clicktivism" is basically digital campaigning, activism at the click of a computer mouse, I imagine. It seems that this is growing. There is an organisation called Change.org, a global website with headquarters in San Francisco. It launched in April 2012 and six million people in the UK have since then signed or launched a digital petition through this system. A further three million UK people are members of something called 38 degrees, a web-based activist organisation founded in memory Anita Roddick, of Body Shop fame. 

To some extent, I suppose, this is a way of getting people involved in expressing opinions, taking an interest in politics and in what's going on in the world. I wonder about the possible shallowness of it all though. Is it not perhaps too easy to blow off steam about something on Twitter and then feel much better about it and not actually do anything more about that cause. 

And yes, I realise the irony of my saying that, as a person who sounds off her opinions via her blog. But, hey, who said I had to be totally consistent? 

So, anyway, today I de-assimilated from the cyber hive in my own way, by going out to lunch with some old friends. We do this about once a month, catch up with the gossip and talk until they throw us out of whichever "eaterie" we have chosen to patronise. 

Today we went to Jamie Oliver's Italian restaurant in Manchester. I'm not sure what makes it specifically Italian. Yes, he serves pasta dishes and no doubt he has researched Italian recipes but can he claim to be Italian? Be that as it may, the decor is nice and the food was good. 

One of our party has a Gold Card for the restaurant (some kind of loyalty card) and qualified for a freebie. Turning down the chance to own a mug with Jamie's face on, she accepted a free bottle of wine to share with her friend. How kind! 

We also got a free mushroom soup starter. But just a very small one, served in a coffee cup! Very nice, yes, but I get bigger freebies with drinks in Galicia. 

As side dishes to accompany your main course you can order a "plank". This turns out to be a longish wooden board, rather like a cheese board, with a selection of tasters of different dishes on it. Interesting terminology. we did not indulge.

For my main course I had a "Superfood salad". Here is the description which I have culled from the reatuarant's menu online: "avocado, fennel, garden leaves, shredded asparagus and courgette with candied beets, cime di rapa, a mix of grains, nuts and seeds. Served with smashed cannelloni bean hummus, cottage cheese and fennel blossom harissa." 

I've just checked on the "cime di rapa". They are "turnip tops", in other words what the Galicians call "grelos". It's a very small world indeed. This was a very un-Galician use of the greens though. 

 I have to say that the "garden leaves" from my garden are nothing like what I had in my superfood salad. My garden leaves are distinctly inedible. These were good. Had I chosen to do so, I could have added chicken or fish to my salad but I decided not to. It was fine as it was and very tasty too. 

Another successful ladies-who-lunch outing!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Wednesday morning reminiscence.

It's Wednesday. So when the alarm rang I checked out the weather: blue sky, sunshine, a good start to the day. Then, because it's Wednesday I set off to run to Uppermill where there is a market in the square on Wednesdays. 

Down the Donkey Line (having done the first bit on the road because the owner of the patch of land at the start of the bridle path has meanly blocked access but seems still not to be doing anything with the land), onto the canal towpath and across the stepping stones into the park in Uppermill and the up the road to the market stalls. 

The fruit and veg man this morning had Cox's apples, "the first from our orchards in Kent", as he told me with justifiable pride. For no-one can deny that these are the best apples there are. If the English orchards could produce enough of them, they should export them everywhere and stop the sale of some of the poor fruit that is sold under the name of "apple". Well, that's what I think anyway. And I am sure the lady I met at the fruit and veg stall would agree with me. She was shaking the apples to see if the pips rattled before deciding to buy. It's a long time since I have seen anyone do that. If the pips rattle inside the apple, then the fruit is completely ripe and ready to eat. We reminisced, separately but together, about receiving that bit of wisdom from our fathers long ago. 

Clearly this was a morning for reminiscences for after leaving the market stalls I ran into an old friend I have not seen for almost ten years. There he was on the corner of the street, trying to work out what was going on behind the scaffolding on the building opposite. This is what happens: you reach a stage in your life where you can stand and ponder. Maybe it's part of the same syndrome that has men leaning on the wall overlooking, or perhaps even overseeing, the work going on in Vigo where they building the new railway station. 

Anyway, my friend and I caught up with each other's lives: who is still married (me), who has married again (his ex wife and his ex wife's best friend - for the fourth time! - that one's original husband says that she is collecting surnames!), what our various offspring, who went to school together, are up to and how many grandchildren we each have. And so on and so on until I looked at my watch and had to say that, delightful as it was to stand on the corner and chat, I had a couple of places to go to before my bus came in about 7 minutes time. You have to keep an eye on our buses. If you miss one there is a half hour wait for the next one. And I didn't fancy the walk home with several bags of fruit, fish, bread, biscuits and goodness knows what else! 

I caught the bus. Quite a masterpiece of timing. 

Reminiscences can have adverse consequences. Reading the news online after a late breakfast, I read that a member of the House of Lords has been calling for a police investigation of the writer Hilary Mantel, one of my favourite writers. At the weekend, a short story of hers was published in the Guardian: "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher". That's what did it. She wrote something that involved one of our "national treasures". Mind you, can Mrs Thatcher really be classed as a "national treasure? I thought they were mostly rather nice people. (I need to be careful what I write. Maybe there is an app somewhere looking out for derogatory stuff about national treasures.) 

This is what happened. Years ago Margaret Thatcher was hospitalised for some routine operation and on the day the national treasure (not yet recognised as such) left hospital Hilary Mantel looked out of the window of her flat and saw the lady waiting to be collected, in a prime position to be a target for a sharpshooter, had there been one in Ms Mantel's flat. The moment was stored away and has been turned into a short story, provoking outrage, just as when Ms Mantel commented on Kate Middleton's role as producer of heirs to the throne. It's a good job Hilary Mantel is already a successful writer because in the current climate of outraged reaction, immediately spread via social media, she would have little chance of getting her material out there. 

This tendency to explode into furious comment about material written by novelists is rather frightening. It smacks of censorship. Besides, do people no longer recognise that what appears in fiction is just that. Because a writer includes certain events in a novel, this does not mean that the writer wants or, even worse, intends to carry out those actions! Where is the voice of reason in all this? 

On a lighter note, I have read that today is the 65th birthday of The Boss. Even pop stars grow older. Here is a link to a fond look at Bruce Springsteen, still a dreamboat according to the journalist who put it all together. 

More reminiscence!

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What we did on our holidays.

Italian conversation classes started up again today. Most of us are really just keeping our Italian ticking over and more than anything I think we go for the social group. Everyone has now known each other for a number of years and we all get along fine. New people add themselves to the group and sometimes stay, sometimes leave. We are pretty welcoming but maybe we are not everyone's cup of tea. 

It's very refreshing to go along to a class where no-one is putting pressure on the "students" to take an examination at the end of the year. We are all a little long in the tooth for such things now. Not that we can't pass exams; it's just that we no longer need to do so. And I'm pretty sure it's more fun for the teacher as well. In fact, having done this kind of thing myself, I know that is the case. 

We did the usual first class of the year reunion thing with all of us telling what we had been up to in the summer. Our teacher had been to Greece and declared that the Greek remains they have in Sicily are much better than what she saw in Greece. When she expressed surprise at how little there is at the Parthenon in Athens by way of statues and such, we had to confess that most of that stuff is in the British Museum. There you go, British vandalism goes back a long way. 

They seem to have been doing a similar thing at the Labour Party Conference, which is going on in Manchester. Not robbing Greek artefacts and ancient monuments but talking about their holidays. Goodness knows why. Anyway I read part of a speech by a member of the Shadow Cabinet where he went on about how he and his family went interRailing this summer. 

One of the places they visited was Salzburg and while still at the planning stage they discovered that there you can do a Sound of Music Tour. You go around on bikes, apparently, and visit places seen in the film version of the musical. You can run through the field where Maria sang "The Hills are Alive" and things like that. Well, his wife decided that if they were doing it they needed to make clothes out of curtains! Because they did so in the film! 

So she bought some curtain material, took it away with them and on the train between Munich and Salzburg they sewed. Lederhosen for the boys and headscarves for the girls. Really? The train must have gone very slowly for them to get all that stitching done. it's surely not that far between Munich and Salzburg. I have made quite a lot of clothes myself in my time, some of then stitched by hand, so I know what I am talking about. Headscarves maybe but lederhosen??? That's asking a lot. And who makes headscarves out of curtains? Another thing: they must have very amenable sons if they were prepared to wear short trousers with bib and brace and all made from curtains! 

In any case, I don't remember any clothes being made out of curtains in The Sound of Music. Granted, it's a long time since I saw the film so I could be wrong. Please put me wise if that is the case. I do know that Scarlett O'Hara successfully made a new outfit out of green velvet curtains in Gone with the Wind. (There's a woman who knew how to sew! Or at least, she knew how to get the faithful remaining slaves to sew.) Heaven help us if that politician goes on an American Civil War Tour holiday! 

As regards the lederhosen, I am afraid I think it's all a lot of ... (I almost said something rude) ... nonsense!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Stereotypes, weather, reading stuff!

I am reading (or rather re-reading but it's so long since I read it for the first time that it's almost like a first time read) Tolstoy's War and Peace. 19th century Russia was a strange place, with an upper class who often spoke to each other in French, even though some of them did so quite badly. It's especially odd as they were at war on and off with France. How odd to be able to speak to your enemy in his own language and still continue fighting. I suppose the truth was that the upper classes of all countries had more in common with each other than they did with the peasants of their own country. 

As often happens when reading a novel, I find myself wanting to shake the characters into a realisation and understanding of what a mess they are making of their lives. You can see little Natasha (I say little rather than young because she has barely got beyond playing with dolls when she is suddenly falling in love) about to make serious mistakes and mostly because silly Prince Andrei, who IS old enough to know better, went off and left her alone for a year. What a daft man! Setting himself up for heartbreak. 

At one point Tolstoy gets into a bit of national stereotyping about self-assuredness: 

"A Frenchman is self-assured because he considers himself personally, in mind as well as body, irresistible enchanting for men as well as women. An. Englishman is self-assured on the grounds that he is a citizen of the best-organised state in the world, and therefore, as an Englishman, he always knows that everything he does as an Englishman is unquestionably good. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and others. A Russian is self-assured because he does not know anything and does not want to know anything, because he does not believe it is possible to know anything fully. A German is self-assured worst of all, and most firmly of all, and most disgustingly of all, because he imagines he knows the truth, science, which he has invented himself, but which for him is the absolute truth." 

Priceless!!! I wonder if he would still think that England is the "best organised state in the world". 

He didn't mention Sweden in there. For most people the stereotype most representative of Sweden is, of course, IKEA, which I have just discovered has been around since 1943! Who'd have thought it. Anyway, here is a link to an odd set of pictures, artist. Ed Harrington's idea of what various monsters would look like if flat packed by IKEA. 

And, while we're talking of Russians, here's a link to some interesting photos of the Permafrost Kingdom of the Yakuts, Permafrost Kingdom is a tourist attraction set in a cave in Us-Kut, the homestead of the Atlasov family of Yakut people. Yakuts are Turkic people who mainly inhabit the Sakha Yakutia republic in Russia. 

When I first saw that last item, I read it as the Permafrost Kingdom of the Yakults. This surprised me somewhat as Yakult is a type of liquid yoghurt product that is supposed to be really good for you. I imagined a range of Yakult ice-cream. 

Not that it's ice-cream weather here. After my moans about the disappearance if the Indian summer, the sun came out again yesterday, albeit in rather a chilly fashion. Today began very dull but got brighter intermittently as the hours passed. 

Mornings are chilly. Autumn is practically here. I am determinedly donning lightweight running gear still, shorts and sleeveless vest-top, but if the mornings continue to be cold I will have to get out the cold weather gear. 

Not quite frost in the morning yet but I bet we'll have some soon.I have just heard ground-frost forecast for a few places in England tomorrow morning! Brrrr!!!!