Sunday, 22 January 2017

Links to things that might be of interest.

Having been out in the rather chilly, almost snowing Saddleworth morning, I thought it might be nice to compare it with this short video of my friend Brendan cycling around the Vigo area.

If anything, it looks as though it might be colder there than here at the moment but they are having a bright cold while we are having a gloomy, grey one. There is evidence in the film that Brendan actually signals and obeys traffic signals and the like when he is out cycling, unlike an awful lot of cyclists. I was going to compliment him on riding on the road, like a grown-up cyclist, rather than the pavement. This is one of my bugbears. I know the roads are dangerous but if all the cyclists give in and ride on the pavement then there will never be a proper system of cycle paths. What's more, the pavements will become dangerous places as well. But then, at the end of the video, it became clear than Brendan only rode on the road in places where there was virtually no traffic and, indeed, virtually no pavement. Back in the city, he was back on the pavement. ¡Qué desilusión!

I tried unsuccessfully to copy a clip from La Voz de Galicia, inviting us to compare the arrival of the Obamas to take over the White House from the Bush family - Barack Obama waiting for Michelle and escorting her, indeed letting her go first, up the steps to meet Bush - and the arrival of the Trumps to take over from the Obamas - Trump gets out if the car and heads up the steps, leaving Melania to get out in turn and follow meekly, until Obama goes and greets her and brings her into the group on the steps. Correction, I had another go and, hopefully, here it is.

Occasionally Phil gets a little agitated about how people use language. So do I as a matter of fact. It must be something to do with our both being linguists. Phil, however, gets a lot crosser than I do. Trendy expressions such as "going forward", employed to mean "in the future" really bug him. His latest gripe is about the use of "So" as an introduction to an answer. I found this letter in Saturday's Guardian:
'When Seamus Heaney began his translation of Beowulf with the single word sentence "So", he described it as "an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention". Whenever I hear a politician opening with it, I translate it roughly as "that's quite enough from you, never mind what you think, this is my much more important opinion".'

And finally, while we are on the subject of language, here is a link to an item about a postcard on which someone corrected the English. How rude!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Random reflections.

I have mostly been trying to avoid pictures of that inauguration that went on yesterday. As a rule I avoid watching opening ceremonies of things like the Olympic Games as well. Oh, I know there is a lot of grand, spectacular display goes on at such occasions but in the end that's all it is: grand, spectacular display!

And then, quite accidentally I saw a photo which included Trump's youngest offspring, Barron, a boy of about ten. What struck me was how much he reminded me of the young Joffrey Baratheon, as portrayed in the first TV series of Game of Throne. It was not that he and the actor truly resembled each other. No, it was the sort of arrogant sneer and narrow-eyed stare that the photographer had caught. How sad to be so young and yet to look so hard!

Are the Trumps a real(ity)-life version of the Lannisters? (For the uninformed about Game of Thrones, Joffrey Baratheon, despite his name, has not a drop of Baratheon blood as his biological father is his mother's brother, a Lannister. Yes, it is a bit shocking but then the ancient Egyptians did it all the time. Hmm! Where are they now?) Two rich families taking over their respective worlds!

Somewhere in the midst of all this I found a little nugget of information which told me that Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the Heinz company, was the grandson of Charlotte Louisa Trump of Kallstadt. Related then. Maybe rich families are like European royalty: in the end there is always a family link between them. The important question is this: can I now eat Heinz baked beans with a clear conscience?

Maybe I should stick to other kinds of food such as vegetables and salad. And yet, it now seems there are problems with this. Rain and cold and snow in Spain and other Southern European countries have reportedly been affecting our supply of courgettes and aubergines and salad vegetables. Prices will rise! According to a radio news report last night, a few towns are completely without courgettes. How shocking! The newsreader struggled to keep the amusement out of her voice as she told us that they had not been given the names of the towns concerned. Were they expecting courgette riots? We're okay. Our local co-op is well supplied and the price is reasonable. Phew! What a relief! Aubergines I have no regrets about at all.

 Now, here is something else altogether. A friend of ours said that his Christmas was greatly enhanced by his hearing a young autistic girl singing a reworked version Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I must say that I did not see that as a particularly Christmassy song but someone, presumably a music teacher at the school for autistic children, wrote a new set of words, making it into a version of the Christmas story.

My friend suggested I should include it in my blog. So here is a link.

Friday, 20 January 2017

What goes around comes around!

Things have a way of coming back to get you. They have found a bomb in the river Thames. Near the Houses of Parliament at that! Not an act of terrorism, however, this is a leftover from World War Ii. All those years of sitting around in the mud and they find it now in 2017! I wonder how they discovered it. Did it start to tick? That's what bombs do in cartoons, after all.

A couple of bridges were closed, as were underground stations near that bit of the river, but tourists still went to have a look. There's something about a dangerous situation that attracts people. Think of all the people who go and look at the big waves at the seafront whenever a storm is reported. Inside us all there seems to be a little something that wants to say, "I was there!" My little something is very small indeed. I have grown sensible apparently!

It is by no means the first time that old bombs have been discovered. In February last year they evacuated the area around Victoria Station in London when they found an unexploded bomb, also from the second world war. And in May they found one under a school playground in Bath. Hundreds of people had to spend a night in a shelter set up at the racecourse. In November they did a controlled explosion in Portsmouth, of yet another second world war device, messing up cross-Channel ferries and causing the evacuation of parts of the city. They are finding our bombs in Germany as well. 54,000 people had to leave their homes in Augsburg at Christmas when they discovered a 1.8 tonne British bomb.

I do not remember any of these things being reported in the papers at the time. There must have been too much more interesting stuff going on.

What a dangerous place the world is! Clearly we all need to be careful how deep we dig in our gardens!

But let us not get downhearted. The sun has found its way back to the North West today.

I have discovered that pink is going to be THE colour for men's fashion this year. Here's a link to some photos. Somehow I don't see the men in my life wearing any of these but that's how it goes.

And, this being inauguration day, the papers have even more stuff about Trump, indeed all the Trumps. And so I learn that all the Donald's wives have been fashion models.

At least he is consistent in something!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Transatlantic downs and ups.

This was the headline to an article in Wednesday's paper: "Big freeze in England sees temperatures drop to -6.5C".

Ah, I thought! Are we due for another major cold spell? NO, as it turns out. The article told us that the South East has clear, bright, cold weather, with really low temperatures,while the rest of us have cloud and, consequently, rather milder temperatures. I could get a little agitated about "England" being taken to mean just the South-east! We are also part pf England here in the North West.

I should stop complaining about weather. Most of Europe appears to be in the grip of that cold spell. And then central Italy has had earthquakes as well. As if deep snow was not enough!

Here's something else to get me a little astounded and cross. New officials to all sorts of posts have been having confirmation hearings in the USA. Do we have similar interrogations of people nominated to high office in this country? I sometimes get the impression that the posts in the UK are just swapped around at the whim of whoever is Prime Minister. Anyway, one Betsy DeVos has been nominated to head the Department of Education in the new administration in the USA. During her confirmation hearing it seems that she said the guns should be allowed in America's schools as long as the locals said it was cool. (Did she really say "cool"?) She also gave her support for Trump's proposal to get rid of gun-free school zones, backing it up with the argument that in Wyoming, for example, "there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.” I've heard about people offering excuses such as "the dog ate my homework" but the grizzly bear possibility is a new slant on the animals excuses idea.

Getting back to the UK, we have heard a lot about the mess that has been Southern Rail in recent times. Now it transpires that the Southern Rail operator has joined forces with another operator to bid for and win the franchise to run the Metrolink tram network in Greater Manchester. How do they even get to make a bid? How do these things happen? If a caterer gave somebody serious indigestion, not to say food poisoning, you wouldn't even consider, let alone accept, their bid, however economical, to cater for your next big event, would you? Well, I wouldn't but then, I don't run transport networks!

As I seem to be hopping to and fro across the Atlantic for this post, here's a story more to my liking: heartwarming in a wistful kind of a way. One of my heroes, Bruce Springsteen gave a special farewell to the White House concert for President Obama and staff last week, an acoustic performance, accompanied by his wife Patti Scialfa on a couple of songs, with following playlist: 

Working on the Highway

Growin' Up

My Hometown

My Father's House

The Wish

Thunder Road

The Promised Land

Born in the U.S.A.

Devils & Dust

Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa)

If I Should Fall Behind (with Patti Scialfa)

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Long Walk Home

Dancing in the Dark

Land of Hope and Dreams 

The Springsteen fansite Backstreets apparently reviews every Springsteen show (that must be a nice job) and this is an excerpt from their review of the White House gig:

 "I have seen Bruce Springsteen a lot of places: front row at MSG, rehearsal at Convention Hall, summer runs at Giants, the last show at the old Giants, a surprise appearance in a shopping mall, 2004 Vote for Change, second row at the Lincoln Memorial in 2008, arenas all over.... But this one was a real personal thing, this thing for staff who sacrificed so much over the last eight years. It was a humble, quiet gesture from Bruce to say thanks to President Obama, the staff, and their families. No pomp, no ceremony, no press. Just the man, the guitar, and the songs."

Oh, to have been a White House staffer!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017


I don't tweet or twitter myself but here are some twitter-tweet reactions I found to Theresa May 's speech outlining her Brexit plans:

  •  "I want access to your snooker club but I won't pay for entry. I'll need to borrow your cues. And I want to play pool instead"- T. May 
  •  "I do not seek membership of Shoreditch House but seek the greatest possible access to it." 
  • ‪#TheresaMay‬: "I wanna break up because I hate you" EU: "If that's what you want" Theresa: "But like we're still best friends right?"‪#Brexit‬ 
Who'd be a politician, eh?

But I suppose she can take comfort in appearing in the American edition of Vogue. This is happening in April, I understand. According to stuff I have read, our Prime Minister 'has been very open about her love of fashion and a recent article in Vogue praised her bold fashion choices, including leopard-print kitten heels and statement jewellery, saying she was already “pushing the boundaries of prime ministerial attire.”'

Maybe if it all goes truly pear-shaped on her she can join Sam Cam in her fashion venture!

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, someone is having difficulty organising an inauguration. The Bruce Springsteen cover band set to perform at Donald Trump’s upcoming presidential inauguration has cancelled its performance out of “respect and gratitude for Bruce.” I did wonder, when I first heard they were performing, how someone who as enough of a Springsteen fan to make a tribute band could even consider playing his songs at a Trump event!

Maybe they should just skip the razzamatazz and declare him president quietly. However, I think someone who has a golden lift in his tower wouldn't like to do it that way.

Is there a special term for fear of not being given enough attention?

Here are some nice phobia words I came across:

  • Eremophobia - fear of being alone. It comes from the same root as "hermit", someone who actually chooses to be alone. 

  • Brontophobia - fear of thunder. From the Greek for thunder. A brontosaurus was a thunder lizard! how good is that? 

  • Kakorrhaphiaphobia - surprisingly, not the fear of unpronounceable words but fear of failure. The Greek word kakorrhaphia means a clever or devious plot or plan, derived from kakos, meaning bad or evil. There you go! 

  • Ophidiophobia - fear of snakes. The root for this also gives us the very pleasing word ophiomorphic, meaning "snakelike in form". 

That's enough of that. i am beginning to develop phobophobia - fear of developing an irrational fear of phobias.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Beating the blues!

Today is Blue Monday. It must be true. I read it in the Guardian newspaper. Every third Monday in January (except when someone decides it's going to be the second Monday) is dubbed Blue Monday, the most depressing day in the year. Well, here it's more of a Grey Monday; the cloud has come down and my first thought was that someone had STOLEN my Monday.  

Mind you, if I wanted to feel blue, I could simply read even more stuff about Donald Trump in his interview with Michael Gove. I'm sure they got along famously. I stopped with Trump's opinion on Brexit - a good thing, in his opinion, and an example likely, indeed recommended by Trump, to be followed by other European countries - and his analysis of why it happened: 

“People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”  

When did we take in too many refugees and who forced us to do it? Can we cope with four years of political analysis of this calibre?  

Anyway, back to Blue Monday: I would like some days of a better colour. They all seem to be blue or black at the moment and all of the colour-specific days are to do with spending money. Blue Monday, it seems, was invented some ten years or so ago as part of an advertising campaign for a travel company. The idea was that you could cheer up the January Blues (there you go, a whole month this time!) by booking a holiday. And since then the concept has been used to persuade us to buy clothes, shoes, cars and just about anything you choose to name.   

Has anyone used it to promote the sales of books? I wonder! When you buy clothes to cheer you up, you just end up with less space in your wardrobe and, in some people's wardrobes that means clothes which are never worn and years later still have the price label on them! Even though buying books also adds to your clutter collection, at least on a grey day in January if you have a new book to read you can have a bit of instant escapism. Just curl up in your favourite chair and start reading! And it's cheaper than a cruise!  

Another way to escape the blues is "hutting". Basically, this is having a hut to which you can escape and think and write or be creative in your own chosen fashion. One of the posh names for a hut is a "bothy". Lots of famous people had them: Roald Dahl, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Wolfe. Gabriel Oak in Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd" had one. And now, thanks to some change in Scotland's building regulations, more people will be able to build huts, and even go and live in them, where previously they were not allowed to do so.  

Where better to indulge in a bit of Danish "hygge" (basic meaning: snug cosiness) with friends, or presumably on your own with the good book I mentioned earlier? And you can eat lots of organic food, being "folkeligt". This is apparently the latest buzzword to come from Denmark, where half the population eat organic food, a much higher proportion than in the UK. They really like organic stuff over there. This is something that I read the other day: "The extent to which Danes have embraced organics is captured by Økodag, or Organic Day, in the spring when almost a quarter of a million people don wellies to witness the so-called “dancing cows” as the animals rush back into fields to graze after the long winter."

Now, I bet that has got rid of some Blue Monday blues!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Media stuff I gleaned while multi-tasking

Today is as grey and gloomy as promised by the weathermen. So it is a day to stay in and do indoor stuff, such as reading the paper, listening to the radio and knitting, all at the same time.

So while reading the paper I have been half-listening to the Food Programme on the radio, where somebody (I wasn't totally concentrating so I have no idea who she was) said she had a WWII binocular case which is exactly the right size to fit two champagne flutes in. Who knew this was possible? Another kind of recycling I suppose. She carries champagne flutes around with her, presumably in connection with her work. I assume this as she went on to talk about how cider should no longer be regarded as just something teenagers drink in bus shelters but should be recognised as sparkling apple wine! Okay!

Quote from the Food Programme: "People eat with their eyes. Food should be beautiful". I'm in total agreement with that. This is why I take photos of food when I eat out.

The wonderful Giorgio Locatelli is one of the judges for the Food Programme's food awards for this year. His Italian accent is absolutely delightful.

Now for the serious stuff. Here's a comment on the power of the media. The lunchtime news on the radio has interviews with people in the USA about the car industry there. Much was made at the time of the wonder of Trump persuading Ford not to transfer more of its car-making to Mexico but keep it in Detroit. Doing good stuff before he was even in office! According to some workers there, however, this move was already underway before Trump put in his two-penn'orth. Much of it comes down to Americans buying fewer small cars (built in Mexico) and more SUVs and other large cars (better built in the USA). One speaker maintained that Car manufacturers wanted to get stuff done before Trump could claim it as his achievement. But then he tweeted about it and claimed the credit anyway. People believe what they see on social media.

Similar stuff, and more frightening is apparently going on with opinions about the holocaust. Holocaust denier David Irving is getting a lot of attention from teenagers, especially in the States according to this article. Some of this is down to Google, which has been criticised because searches for information about the holocaust tended to direct seekers to holocaust denial sites, such as David Irving. Irving himself claims that the young people are simply seeking the truth!

Nowadays it seems that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!