Friday, 21 September 2018

Spider update. La tromba. Postal problems. Doorbells.

Well, I caught the spider this morning. (See yesterday’s post.) She was a big one! The glass and card trick worked a treat but I did not take her to the bottom of the garden to throw her out. It was raining so hard that I simply stood at the door and threw her out. I have my fingers crossed that she won’t find her way straight back in. My daughter has a theory that they can follow their own pheromone scent back to where they were previously. Personally I have my doubts.

The rain that has been falling here has been of the type that in Galicia they refer to as “la tromba”. It doesn’t really stop to rain, it just falls in a continuous stream. You can park outside your own door and be soaked by the time you reach the door. The “tromba” continued on and off for most of the night, together with intermittent thunderstorms.

I woke at my usual time, listened to the rain and gave up on the idea of running today. So I rolled over and had an extra half hour in bed and then walked into the village. By then I could probably have run as the rain had eased but it began again as I made my home.

I had to go to the post office to collect a parcel. Yesterday we found a card pushed through the letterbox which said that they had tried unsuccessfully to deliver a parcel, which we could collect on the next working day. In other words today. Now, we were at home when the card was pushed through the door. So quite what attempts were made to deliver the parcel are not clear. I suspect that, as has happened before, the postman ignored the bell and tapped gently but inaudibly on the door.

Our eldest granddaughter, now officially a grown-up and a proud first-time buyer and home owner, has a most efficient doorbell. It is conveniently placed at eye-level in the middle of the door. This enables her to look through a peephole to see who is there but also means that anyone calling at the door cannot fail to see it. What is more, it makes a fine jangling sound which can be heard on the outside as well. We need one of those!

Anyway, I walked into the village and then back through the renewed rain, which continued for most if the day, until now, as I type in the late afternoon, when we actually have some blue sky! How long it will last is a different matter.

Further up the road from us, at the cricket and bowling club they are preparing for the thirteenth “Party in the Park”, a mind of mini music festival, probably organised by the Wake Up Delph Committee, which will take place tomorrow. They have a lot of tribute bands performing, stalls selling food and drink are set up and there are bouncy castles and such like for the kids. People seem to enjoy it. We just hear the music from a distance.

I suppose the timing is partly decided by having to get the cricket season out of the way first but there is always uncertainty about the weather. We never seem to have the promised Indian summer. This year half of the fencing they erected yesterday seemed to have blown down in the night. The weather forecast for tomorrow is not great and I suspect that even if the day proves to be reasonable, the ground will be so soggy that they have a very muddy mess.

But that will probably be appropriate for a mini-Glastonbury!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Some stuff about spiders.

Apparently it is the spider mating season. At least that is the only explanation I have ever been given for the fact that we see more spiders indoors at this time of year than any other. Someone told me that they come indoors looking for somewhere clean and dry to mate. Oddly enough we never see them in our flat in Vigo, not even at this time of year. Is the seventh floor too high for spiders?

I have been pursuing a large spider through the house over the last few days. At least I assume it is the same one and hope that we do not have several of the beasties around at the same time. He or, more likely, she is about the size of a 10 pence coin; that’s leg-span not body size. I am not sure how I would react to one with a body the size of a 10 pence coin!

My plan is to pop a glass over her, slide a card under the glass and then walk to the bottom of the garden to release her into the wild. This is a tried and tested spider-catching method. My father instilled into us as children the rule that spiders are not to be killed as they are useful creatures. Fine so long as they are not stalking across my bedroom ceiling when I want to go to sleep and cannot do so for fear that the useful creature will descend on a web and crawl all over my face!

The current spider is being elusive however. I first spotted her in the kitchen, high up in an inaccessible corner. Well, it was inaccessible without getting out the stepladders and even then it was not a position where I could easily have popped a glass over her. The next time I saw her I was sitting on the rowing-machine at the back of the kitchen-dining-room, fighting the flab. There, in a little nook next to a bookshelf was the spider, once more rather inaccessible. By the time I had grabbed the dustpan and brush with the idea of sweeping her out, she had disappeared. The last time I saw her she was strolling across the rug in the living room as we watched television. I pointed her out to Phil and the spider must have sensed what was going on for she put on a burst of speed, climbed up the edge of the fireplace and scuttled underneath the electric fire. We have not seen her since but I am on the lookout!

Out running the other morning I took this photo of a spiderweb. Strung out with raindrops I thought it looked rather fine. A spiderweb where it should be - outside in amongst the bushes and brambles. 

Then this morning I read about Aitoliko in Greece, where the beach and the vegetation alongside the roads leading to the beach have been covered with huge spider webs. Again, this is because of the mating season.

“However, the spiders of Aitoliko, which is 300km from Athens, don’t pose a threat. “These spiders are not dangerous for humans, and will not cause any damage,” molecular biologist Maria Chatzaki told Greek news websites.

She explained that the seasonal phenomena occurs when the spiders are mating, and that an increase in the mosquito population this year had lead to perfect conditions for a population explosion among the spiders.

 “The spiders are taking advantage of these conditions, and are having a kind of a party. They mate, they reproduce and provide a whole new generation.”

She noted that the phenomena had been seen before in the region in 2003, and that the spiders would soon die off, and the web would degrade naturally, leaving the vegetation undamaged.”

So that’s okay then.

As we are going to Greece in a few weeks, I trust the spiders’ mating season will be coming to an end and the place we visit will not be similarly infested. But maybe Phil, who is loved by mosquitos and reacts badly to them, should take his antihistamines before we set off.

Last word: I was pleased to find that my studies of Greek enabled me to read the caption in Greek on the you-tube clip in the news report!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Weather, running, street food - and possible consequences thereof - Facebook and the interconnectedness of things!

When I set off to run to Uppermill market this morning I put on my lightweight waterproof and a wooly hat. It was windy and rain was a distinct possibility. Some ten minutes down the road the hat came off - don’t let anyone call me a hot head! Five minutes after that I stopped to take off my waterproof and tie it round my waist. The sun was fighting to come out. There was some blue sky. And it was positively warm - too warm to run in a waterproof.

The day has deteriorated since. By lunchtime the grey cloud had consolidated and it feels a lot cooler. My weather app tells me it is still 17 degrees but I have trouble believing that!

As I waited for the bus home after going to the market (a bus which failed to arrive by the way and so obliged me to catch a later one that goes along the scenic route through our if the way housing estates - I knew I should have set off walking instead of waiting the two minutes until the bus was due but by the time I realised it was not coming it was just too late!) I spotted a sign outside the pub on the other side of the road. “SADDLEWORTH STREET FOOD”, it announced.

Now, people travel to far flung places and come back with tales of how wonderful the street food is. We have sampled street food in Palermo and very good it was too. But “Saddleworth Street Food”? Just what does that consist of? Fish and chips? Pasties and pies from the bakers? Or does the pub produce more exotic snacks for people to nibble, presumably outside the pub. Otherwise it would not be street food!

Of course, there have long been stalls in town centres selling baked potatoes, hot dogs and the like. It’s just that we never used to call it street food. Walking home from the pub we didn’t buy street food; we bought a portion of chips from the chippie on the corner and ate them from the paper as we went on our way.

I first wrote “there have always been stalls, etc” but then I changed it because there have not always been hot dog stands in the middle of shopping streets. People used to do their shopping without having to buy sustenance to eat as they walked along the high street. (My mother would never have allowed us to buy anything anyway; she regarded eating in the street as “common”.) Nobody seems to have commented on this in articles about obesity but I can’t help wondering if the habit of constantly grazing does not contribute to the fatness epidemic.

And nowadays, of course, it’s not just women who are supposed to watch their weight, as this article demonstrates. I read articles of this kind and marvel at the amount of weight some people have to lose!

Facebook gets a lot of stick these days. All sorts of things are supposed to be wrong with it. Young people are said to be moving away from it in droves, using Instagram and other newer social media instead. But me, I am an older person and am quite happy with Facebook keeping me in touch with old friends and storing photos for me. (Yes, I do know I can storm them on the Cloud and stuff like that.)

I even quite like the fact that it regularly sends me photos I posted years ago, reminding me of good times or making me wonder why on earth I posted that particular photo. (This week it has been sending me photos of a trip to Sicily we did six or seven hears ago - time to go back there, I think.)

I don’t even mind that it sends me messages to my phone telling me that certain friends have commented on or “liked” some post of mine. But I draw the line when it starts to send me emails with the same messages. Which has just started happening over the last few days.

That is taking the interconnectedness of everything just a little bit too far!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Even the storms are unfair!

Storm season is upon us again. Storm Ali is approaching the North of England, we are warned. There might be winds of 80 miles an hour. Beware of flying debris, they tell us. It was certainly windy when I ran this morning but not yet strong enough to blow me away.

In one of the odd anomalies of the unequal world we live in, the people most affected by the floods caused by hurricane, later storm, Florence, are the ones with the least likelihood of escaping easily. The poorer people live in the lowest-lying areas of the towns in the path of overflowing rivers. There are stories of family being evacuated but having to trudge to shelter through the rain, carrying food and clothing with them. This is a country where we somehow imagine every family having a car.

We should think ourselves lucky only ro have to dodge some flying debris!

I read two reports yesterday about making amends.

The University of Glasgow feels the need to “make amends for having had funding from slavery centuries back. All the stuff from the past keeps coming back to bit us in the leg. What kind of amends can the university make? And would it exist today without the funding it received in the past?

On the other hand there is this story about Dorothy Counts, a black girl in America selected to go to a white school as part of a desegregation programme in the 1950s. She must have been amazingly strong to walk into the school with white students spitting at her, encouraged to do so by their parents in some cases.

A man who appeared as a boy in the photo of Dorothy determinedly ignoring the catcalls and abuse apologised to her years later as an adult. They worked together on fighting segregation. Now that kind of apologising and making amends, on a personal level, makes a lot more sense to me than an institution like a university making a big thing about it.

Unfortunately the article about Dorothy Counts points out that the segregation in schools that she fought so hard to combat is creeping back in. Parents who have moved to smaller towns like Charlotte, for a better life for their children, living in gentrified suburbs (safe, no doubt, from flooding) are withdrawing their children from schools in the state system. The state schools then become segregated once more.

I wonder what happened to the idea of contributing to the community you live in. If all the children are educated together then all parents can strive to improve the education system for all. And the children can learn tolerance and acceptance of others at the same time.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Some thoughts about culture.

I like collective nouns, especially the ones that suggest some attribute of the, usually, birds or animals concerned. A pride of lions. Very fitting for that animal. A gaggle of geese for the noise they make. A murder of crows - because apparently crows are rumoured to judge some of their number and peck them to death. Clearly not very nice birds, crows. A parliament of owls - because the owl represents Athena, goddess of wisdom. Gosh! Does that imply that parliaments are wise? I have only ever once seen more than one owl at a time and that was a mother owl trying to persuade her fledgeling to fly back to the nest. I only ever see one heron at a time but it seems you can have a battery of herons.

I rather like an lincontinence of yellowlegs”. Yes, I too wondered what a yellowleg is. It turns out to be some kind of Canadian sandpiper.

I got onto this because a friend of mine, an oceanographer who has worked for the European Fisheries Commission and therefore knows something about fish, posted a list of collective nouns related to fish.Here goes:-

A shoal of fish. Well, we all knew that one, didn’t we?
A bind of salmon.
A company of angel fish. How nice!
A family of sardines.
A fleet of bass.
A float of tuna.
A flotilla of swordfish.
A glint of goldfish. Of course!
A herd of seahorses. What else?
A party of rainbow fish. Well, naturally!
A school of cod.
A shiver of sharks. Doo doo da doo! I must tell my grandchildren so that they can add it to the “Baby shark” song!
A shoal of mackerel.
A squad of squid. Nice! Football players?
A swarm of dragonet fish. What is a dragonet fish?
A troupe of shrimp. Heading for the stage or the circus?

Even if these were invented by someone, I particularly like a glint of goldfish. And, anyway, expressions have to be invented sometime.

Maybe these should be on the national curriculum. All SATs should include a section on collective nouns. Well, it makes as much sense as some of the stuff kids are tested on. And they could be included in tests for “Britishness”. Again, it makes as much sense as some of the stuff people are asked about. Oh, and proverbs should be included as well! There is a scene in the film “Amélie” where a young man is tested on his knowledge of proverbs as a checking if he is a nice person!

I read this morning about about a study carried out to find out people’s attitudes to immigration. Four out of ten people, it seems, believe multiculturalism undermines British Culture, whatever that is. Perhaps they mean knowledge of proverbs and collective nouns!

Here’s an interesting fact:

“The study found that people in large cities were the most likely to be positive about immigration, with scores declining as settlements became smaller, with rural residents the least positive.”

Which just shows that people are often scared of what they don’t know.

Also in the paper at the weekend, cookery writer Jay Rayner had a little rant about how boring it is to eat nothing but the food of one particular region or country. Britain is often sneered at, he says, for not having a rich, individual cuisine such as other countries have, but what makes British food so interesting, he maintains, is that we have assimilated so many other cuisines.

That’s what multiculturalism does for you!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

A bit of hostility!

All the nasty stories are being spread around about the post-Brexit possible no-deal situation:-

  •  The uk driving license may not be valid in Europe. 
  •  If your passport has less than 6 months left on it you might not be allowed into europe. 
  •  You might have to pay ridiculous roaming charges on your mobile phone once again. 
  •  You might need a visa for every visit you make to Europe. 
  •  Life might get really difficult for British people living in Europe, problems with pensions and all sorts of stuff. 
Why, oh, why is Europe being so mean to us? That’s another question Inhear quite a lot.

And then you hear stories like this one  about a Russian married to a German who wants to visit his daughter, who has official residency on the UK, because she has recently had a baby. So he sent off all the paperwork he had been told was necessary to get permission to enter the UK, including his marriage certificate. And then he was told that as he had not included photos of bis wedding 30+ hears ago they did not believe he was really married to an EU citizen and had made it all up.

Entry to the UK denied!

Now, if that is not a hostile environment then I am a Dutchman! And does it not explain some hostility from the EU in return?

And even if, as Sadiq Khan and others are calling for, we have a fresh referendum and vote to stay in Europe, maybe the damage has been done.

And perhaps we have broken the whole thing irrevocably.

Of course the EU has things wrong with it but it allowed rather magical family combinations where a Russian could be married to a German, have a daughter living in the Uk and a grandchild who could well turn out to be a British citizen.

And I just feel rather sad that a degree of freedom has probably disappeared from our lives and that my grandchildren are going to have more restricted horizons than the ones I grew up with.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Some things about language learning.

I am having a go at learning Greek with the Michel Thomas method. Many famous people have used this method, which worked very well for me for learning Italian and quite well for Portuguese. I need to take the Portuguese to a higher level to really assess how well it has worked. But for now I am trying Greek, prior to a trip to Greece next month.

The method involves listening to recorded material which introduces you to various elements of language and then asks you to put them together in simple, and then increasingly complex, sentences. The constant repetition and reviewing helps the language go in. The recording includes two “students” who have a go at the tasks set by the teacher. The listener joins in as a third student and can pause the recording to try to complete before checking with the recording. The two recorded students serve to ask questions the listener might plausibly raise.

I am not sure if the two students on the Greek course are the same as on the Portuguese course. They sound very similar. If they are the same, then these two must be polyglots by now!

At the point I reached yesterday the cd teacher introduced us to the Greek equivalent of the French “n’est-ce pas” or the Spanish “no” at the end of a statement. This is the expression used at the end of a statement to confirm it: You don’t like eggs, do you? You go on holiday a lot, don’t you? You are English, aren’t you? In English we have a whole range of questions, but other languages make do with one all-purpose expression. This can lead to some confusion; we have a Spanish friend who insists on using “not” in English in the same way as he uses “no” in Spanish. For example: It’s a lovely day, not? That was a nice meal, not? We keep explaining it but he always forgets. Bad habits become ingrained very easily!

Anyway, on the Greek recording one “student” asked for a repeat of the explanation. The teacher was floundering a little when the other “student” suddenly said, “Oh! It’s Greek for “innit?” The Greek teacher was delighted and enthused over how well he had explained the expression.

And I am afraid my heart kind of sank. I first encountered “innit” when I worked in a college with a high percentage Indian and Pakistani student intake. I was at first amused at their use of “innit?, a contraction of “isn’t it?”. Gradually I started to hear it more and more. It became a standard part of young-people speak. But until now I never heard it used by sensible grown-up people. Things have moved on, clearly, if I am hearing it on a language learning course.

 “Innit? has gone from young people’s slang, and originally young Asian male slang in my experience, into everyday use, has it? Or perhaps I should say “innit”?

This language learning stuff is important. Many people apparently think that the ability to speak English is an integral part of being British. Apparently it is an important requirement when you apply for British citizenship. I can think of people I have come across, people born and brought up here, people of long-established British families, whose standard of English leaves a fair amount to be desired. The same thing applies to questions about British culture. If they set me a test on Coronation Street and Eastenders, I would fail. Would they throw me out as a consequence?

The problem with a big emphasis on use of the English language is that it can give rise to racism. I read that the UK’s 2011 Census included questions about language for the first time. The results showed that 138,000 UK residents (0.3% of the population) reported that they could not speak any English. Apparently some of the press reporting on this ignored the 99.7% who answered that they could speak English and printed headlines along the lines of “Migrants shun the English language”. Some people only see the headline and don’t read the detail!

Politicians declaring that immigrants to the Uk should be “made” to speak English don’t help matters.

Personally, I would be interested to know how many of the British who live in Spain or France speak the language of the country where they have chosen to live!