Thursday, 29 January 2015

The best laid plans.

I got up yesterday with every intention of doing my run to Uppermill market. I looked out of the window. It was bucketing down with rain, intermingled with hailstones, all driven nicely by the wind. No good! I got dressed and caught the bus to the market. A five minute journey cost be an astounding £3.10! Because it was not yet 9.30 I had to pay for my bus ride instead of using my old dear's bus pass. But how do they arrive at these fares? I know that for £4.00 I could have bought a ticket that would allow me to travel all day, all over the place but I didn't need such a ticket. My return journey was going to be on my bus pass! How do people manage to pay such fares all the time? It's a crazy system! 

And then, when I arrived at the market, half the stalls had been put off by the weather. The fish man and the veg man were there but that was about all. The stall that sells biscuits, cheese, muesli - one of my main reasons for going was their muesli with hazelnuts, probably the best in the land - was taking the day off and everyone else seemed to have followed suit. So it goes! 

I can't say the weather improved greatly after that. I had to go and collect our small grandson from school later. Fortunately the weather stayed reasonably fine for the walk up and down the hill between the school and the railway station. The small boy was on good form, amazingly chatty despite frozen feet (why do small boys always get their feet wet?) and earned his traditional dandelion and burdock drink and packet of crisps at the station buffet. 

On the bus to the railway station to collect the boy, I once again had an odd travelling companion. My bus does a round-the-houses run between Oldham and Ashton, weaving its way in and out of various villages and housing estates. It comes into our village, round the council estate at the top of the village and back out of the village to continue its route. Instead of standing in the cold waiting for the bus to return from its run around the village I caught it at the entry point. 

As I sat down, a voice from behind me asked, "Does this bus go to Dobcross?" So I explained that it didn't actually go into Dobcross village, that we were about to go through Delph and out again towards Uppermill and beyond. I then had to explain more or less the bus route to Ashton from Delph: Uppermill, Greenfield, Mossley, Ashston. All was quiet for a minute or two. Then as we left Delph behind, the voice resumed: " So now we are going to Delph?" I replied that we had already been through Delph and were on our way to Uppermill. "So, where is Dobcross then?" At that moment we went past the road that leads uphill to Dobcross village. I pointed it out. "Does the bus not go up there?" I refrained from making sarcastic replies about that obviously being the case and just said that you would need to walk. We had a little discussion about how long it would take, the difficulty some people would have, the steepness of the hill and so on. 

And so the conversation, halting and odd, going quiet and then resuming, went on. At each turn she wanted to know where we were, where would the bus go next, what was the name of the school we went past, who did the football field belong to, where was I going, and so on and so on. Having discovered that I was going to the small Tesco in Greenfield before catching the train, she engaged me in a discussion about the merits of that Tesco as opposed to the big one on the way into Oldham and why it was less convenient for me to go there en route to catch the train to Stalybridge. It was exhausting! 

Just before I got off the bus I asked where she was going. Ashton. Did she live in Ashton? No, Middleton. She was just out for a bus ride, hence all the questions about the places we passed through. Although she looked about thirty, her mind was like that of a young child, with that same odd logic about things. Perhaps everyone else on the bus had ignored her. Was I the first person to answer her questions? Why do I attract these odd conversationalists? And, given my earlier comments about the price of bus fares, how was she affording to go on this excursion? I can only imagine she had some kind of disabled person's bus pass. She seems to be making good use of it! 

Out in the wider world, Lots of bigwigs have gone to Saudi Arabia to pay homage to the new king. Apparently Michelle Obama is refusing to wear a headscarf to cover her hair. Her principles may not stretch as far as refusing to go to the country but she is refusing to conform now she is there. Well, that should stir things up a little! Mind you, reports in the news today are trying to play all this down, assuring us that Michelle Obama is simply following USA protocol. Laura Bush, Hilary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice all set went scarfless. And nobody made Angela Merkel wear a headscarf. OK? Fuss over? 

Today the snow is back. We don't seem to have too much but then, I am only looking at from inside my house since I am not obliged to go anywhere. Our daughter's school, in a higher spot of the region, has closed for the day as has our middle granddaughter's, so they are all home for the day. 

More is promised. Good job I laid in supplies yesterday!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Getting back into the routine of things.

Ok, so today has been Tuesday. All day, or so I am led to believe. In my efforts to get back to normal, I got up this morning and ran. Too late to meet old Jack and his dog Rosie, however. As I approached the cricket club, I could see his car just setting off. Clearly he had already walked the dog, or dogs, and was off home for a cup of coffee and hot buttered crumpets, his usual post dog-walking breakfast. If I want to catch up with him, I must not snooze my alarm when it rings but leap out of bed immediately, don my running gear and set off. But the bed is so inviting first thing in the morning! Must try harder! 

On the positive side, I did manage to run once again. That's three days now. Getting back to normal! 

Late in the morning I caught the bus to Manchester, without any untoward incidents. No weirdos on either bus or tram today. In the Italian class we have been listening to songs from the time of Mussolini. Would-be anthems and marching songs, full of martial language and with a good rhythm to get you parading down the road. Our teacher told us of her horror as a child when she finally realised what was meant by the songs she had been chanting away merrily, with garbled lyrics, as a smaller child. One of my companions commented afterwards that perhaps our teacher has chosen to have us study popular music from Italy's past so that she could lay a few ghosts of her own. Maybe so! 

After the class I did not go straight home, as I usually do, but indulged myself with a buttered scone and a cup of coffee in Waterstone's cafe before going to Stalybridge for the monthly poetry group meeting. It still feels odd having a cafe in a bookshop but I thoroughly approve of the idea. What could be more civilised than looking at a book you are thinking of purchasing and having refreshments of some kind at the same time? It's a lovely place to meet friends as well. 

A bit of spare time killed in a pleasant manner, I caught the train to Stalybridge and met up with the poets of the Stanza group. We were supposed to be anonymously criticising each others' poems. These had all been submitted to the organiser and sent in an email to all who sent a poem. Mine had been accidentally missed off the list. Apologies from the organiser. So it goes. We had an interesting evening anyway. 

So that's Tuesday over with. We are crossing our fingers that the promised snow does not arrive tomorrow, especially as I plan once again to go to the market in the morning. Mind you my American friend has been posting photos on Facebook of the mounds of snow, at least 15 inches deep, in her garden. 

How can I whinge about the weather after that?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Everything is relative!

So, another day without snow, although the weathermen promise us another cold spell coming in later this week with the possibility of yet more snow. However, a friend of ours in the USA was commenting about a weather warning they have had over there. Her house, she says, is on the edge of the zone which is in imminent danger of having 18 to 24 inches of snow! Yes, 18 to 24 inches! That's INCHES not CENTIMETRES! That is a lot of snow. Good grief, it's up to most people's knees. I am tempted to say that I will stop whinging forthwith but that would just be empty words. 

The snow might have gone but there is still quite a prodigious amount of water around. Little streams are overflowing and mud puddles abound. This I discovered on my second run of the year. More of a leap over the mud patches in some places, not to mention the point where I had to tiptoe round the edge of a puddle with aspirations to become a small lake. Be that as it may, I did manage to run and plan to do so again tomorrow, weather permitting. I also saw our local heron while I was out and about, even though he had flown off by the time I got my camera sorted. Perhaps he too has decided to get out and about more, getting more exercise between two cold weather sessions. 

Out in the wider world, Greece has been putting the cat among the pigeons with her elections, shaking up attitudes to the EU a little more. Their situation is another that should make us stop and take stock of our own country and our own lives. The newly sworn in president has promised to reconnect electricity to families who have been months without it. In the twenty first century we find ourselves with people in first world countries unable to have what we consider the necessities of life! Of course we could get by without electricity if we had to but, given that it is there and that we have grown accustomed to all the labour saving devices, we expect to be able to continue using it. 

More importantly, more shockingly, there are people in first world countries unable to feed their families adequately. And I don't just mean in Greece. 

 In the UK, despite the fact that certain experts assure us that the average wage has risen faster than inflation, averages include both above and below average. Consequently, a lot of people don't feel very happy with their situation. Here is a link to an article about who are the happiest and unhappiest workers in the UK. 

Interestingly nurses and teachers, two groups who are always praised for their sense of vocation, are included in the least happy. 

Also interestingly, they do not seem to have included bank and business executives who receive huge bonuses among the happiest, maybe they just take that as a given. 

Or maybe it is true that the more you have, the less satisfied you tend to be with your life.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Happy New Year

Today I went running for the first time this year. Between coughing and sneezing on the one hand (me) and snowing and freezing on the other (our ridiculous weather), I have simply not got my running gear out. 

But the coughing and sneezing appears to be on the wane and the snow and ice are visibly withdrawing. So this morning, there being no rain either, I set off and ran round the village. I am getting back into my normal routine and the New Year has now officially begun for me, appropriately enough on my birthday. 

This being my birthday, the family are coming for tea. I have baked a cake. This is what you do at my age, you bake your own birthday cake! As I beat up (beat together?) cake ingredients in the kitchen, I could hear mayhem from the basement flat next door. In the space where we have our kitchen and dining room, the house next door has a studio flat, currently occupied by a lady, probably my age, who appears to have far more grandchildren than a sensible person could want or need. She has four children and all of them appear to have followed suit. (My mother also had four children but the four of us only produced six grandchildren between us, a much more reasonable way of doing things!) 

At times the grandmother next door has a large number of them to stay overnight at the weekend. Where they all sleep remains a mystery to me. It works fine, I am sure, in the summer time when they can run around in the garden, but at this time of year, even now the snow has gone, the garden is seriously quagmirish! Everyone has to stay indoors (apart from the small dog who is probably sent out to reduce pressure on space). Hence the mayhem! 

Note to self: as sound travels so well, be sure not to raise voice above the gentlest of tones! 

The world is an odd place at times. I read about a young man of about 22 who set up a website called "Ship Your Enemies Glitter". The idea was to send an envelope full of glitter (the stuff you used to play with as a kid, putting paste on card and sprinkling the coloured, sparkly stuff on top to make Christmas cards for your adoring parents and grandparents) to someone you don't like or to a person who has annoyed you in some way. The recipient opens the envelope and gets covered in glitter. Anyone who has ever supervised children doing craft work knows how hard it is to remove glitter from furniture and carpets, not to mention clothing. Even if you just need to sweep it up off a tiled floor, it still hangs around for days and days and your dustpan and brush are contaminated with the stuff so that wherever else you sweep gets glittery. So I suppose it's quite an effective way of getting your revenge on someone. 

Except that I find it hard to think of anyone annoying me in such a way that I would need to send them an envelope full of long distance revenge. I seem to be in the minority in this. The site was so successful that he has sold it on to some bigger concern. I wonder who now dispatches envelopes full of sparkly malice. What a strange thing to do! And besides, you wouldn't even have the fun of watching the recipient get covered in glitter! 

How did people go about creating strange businesses that nobody knew we had a need for before there was the Internet? Nowadays, someone has an idea, puts it out on the net and, before you know it, the idea goes viral and the creator has the potential to make a fortune. 

Then there is declaring your undying love in public for a person you will probably break up with in a very short time. I caught a short extract from a radio programme either about Verona or about Romeo and Juliet. In Verona you can visit "Juliet's house". We have been there. I am pretty sure it isn't a real Juliet's house but it is equipped with a suitable balcony from which from time to time actors perform bits of Shakespeare for the tourists. The passageway leading into the courtyard is now festooned with graffiti along the line of "Sam loves Mabel forever". Where there isn't space for more graffiti notes have been stuck on with chewing gum (how romantic!) or sticking plasters (also very romantic!) especially on the notice that says not to stick notices. 

Couples have always done this, of course. Think of the numerous trees with names carved inside hearts that are now much higher up the tree than even a tall couple could reach and weirdly bent out of shape by the tree's increased girth. But now people travel a lot more and do it on an international scale. 

There's the Pont des Arts in Paris where so many couples have attached padlocks as symbols of their love, and thrown away the key, that the weight is endangering the bridge. Bits of the guardrail have broken off and landed on boats going under the bridge. Declaring your love can obviously be a dangerous business! The last time we went to Sicily we saw the same phenomenon on the guardrail of a viewing point above the town of Modica. There were none there when first we saw it about ten years ago. 

It's a funny old world!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Fraud, guns and more fraud!

Moaning and complaining about a bit of snow here, I feel like a complete fraud. This is because I came across this set of pictures of snow and ice, more ice than snow in fact, in Michigan, USA.

Frozen lakes and lakesides are always impressive. Around here at the moment we just have frozen millponds and the ice is rapidly melting. thank heavens! 

Still on the subject of the USA, I came across two stories about guns today. There was a two year old who found his father's gun in the glove compartment of the car, pointed it at his own chest and managed to pull the trigger. No one felt that the father, who worked as a sheriff and so had every right to carry a gun, was in any way negligent. Just a tragic accident. 

Imagine being so complacent about carrying guns around that you can leave it in the glove compartment of your car or carry in it in your handbag, just like your mobile phone. And I even get annoyed when I see people giving in to their toddlers' demands to play with the mobile phone. You have an expensive piece of equipment and you let a toddler get his sticky finger on it??!! 

The other story was in an article about the photographer Robert Zuckerman and his Hollywood photos. It concerned the death of Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee. He was accidentally killed on set because the gun they used in the filming was loaded with live ammunition by mistake. By mistake! What were they even doing with live ammunition on set? Did they think they might need to defend someone from an attack? 

This is the moment when you feel reassured by the health and safety nuts in the UK who would not doubt have someone doing a risk assessment before allowing a gun, let alone bullets, on the set. 

 Of course, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone deliberately put the live bullets in the gun. Oh, no! That way conspiracy theory lies! Enough of that. 

Today I took the tram out to Chorlton where my friend Heidy picked me up and took me off to her house for lunch: her famous onion soup and left over stollen from Christmas. In Chorlton and in her part of Stockport there was no snow and I seemed rather overdressed with my woolly hat and scarf and double mittens. 

On the tram I found myself once again seated next to one of the local eccentrics. I must have the kind of face that encourages people to talk to me and to tell me their life stories. I was sitting there quietly writing stuff down in my trusty notebook when he leaned over and commented on how neat and clear my handwriting was and how he wished he could write so well. There you go, time to put the notebook away! Most of us have been tempted to cast a glance at what someone has open on their iPad or iPhone; it has to be admitted. But most of us try to resist the temptation and certainly don't comment on what is being typed. So when someone tells you that your handwriting is nice and clear, they are obviously reading your words so you stop writing and put the notebook away. None of their business what you write about! 

So he proceeded to engage me in conversation about his life as an investigator, first working as a customs man in various parts of the world and then in other places and in other areas of investigation. He told me how to spot a fraudster and produced documents, photocopies of marriage certificates, to demonstrate to me how you can tell they are false. An odd things to show off about to a complete stranger on a tram! 

He went on to tell me about the lack of help he receives from church officials in these investigations, how they all work together to cover up corruption. And in the next breath he commented about the cheek of such priests, guilty of all sorts of stuff, telling him to say five Hail Marys when he goes to confession. 

Now why, if he thinks the church is so corrupt, does he still go along to confession? It beggars belief!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Snow, rubbish and elephants!

Well, it finally stopped snowing some time yesterday afternoon. Far too late to think about doing anything constructive. And apparently too late for the dustbin men to come and empty our general rubbish bin. One branch of refuse collecting emptied the bag of paper and card for recycling and hid the bag under the snow so that I've had to retrieve it this morning. However, emptying the general rubbish bin was clearly the responsibility of another refuse department, presumably with a different type of dustbin wagon, one that cannot deal with snowy road. 

It's complicated enough keeping track of which bins you are supposed to put out each week: food waste and compostable rubbish (el compost, as my friend Colin informs me it is now called in Spanish) every week, recyclable glass and plastic on alternate weeks and recyclable paper and card together with the general rubbish bin on the other alternate weeks. They give us a handy chart so that we know what is going on, very helpful. But if they start missing collections for weather related reasons, the whole system will fall apart. As it is, our general rubbish bin is full. I swear someone else is adding their rubbish to ours because, with all the recycling we do, we actually generate very little general rubbish. 

This is one of the problems of the streamlining of refuse collection. Back in the golden age of refuse collection, bin men used to go round to the back of houses and carry the bins to the front pavement for emptying. Now you have to put them out on the pavement ready for collection, causing a nuisance to passersby. Consequently most of us now keep the bins in the front or side garden - an elegant addition to the floral displays and the garden gnomes and such - so that it is easy to drag them out of the front gate. However, this leads to bin piracy! Shock, horror! On the street where our daughter lives, there is a regular race on refuse collection day to retrieve your bin, usually marked with the number of your house so that you don't get someone else's scabby, smelly bin by mistake, before some antisocial neighbour fills it up again. 

There is quite a lot to be said for the large refuse bins you see on Spanish streets. It avoids possible dustbin wars in neighbourhoods. 

 So, making my way out to replenish our food supplies from the supermarket today I had to squeeze past an un-emptied bin by our garden gate. It was still there when I returned. Hopefully they will catch up with themselves before too long! 

I walked along the local bridle path on my way to the supermarket. There was a steady drip of melting snow from the trees and the temperature is less severe than it has been but there is still plenty of by now rather sorry-looking white stuff around. 

In the meantime, I have been helping Phil out with some of his translation work. Yesterday I came across a section that said, in Spanish, "The British have a proverb that can be useful to all of us, 'an elephant cannot be eaten in a day'". 

Really? Do we actually have such a proverb? It sounds quite a sensible one but I can't say I have come across it. And like one of the characters in the French film "Amélie", I am usually pretty good at proverbs. 

So I googled it. The best I could come up with was an old joke. Well, not really a joke, more like the kind of thing you get in crackers at Christmas. It goes like this: question - How do you eat an elephant? Answer - Well, one bite at a time, of course! It fits in with the idea the writer wanted to get across: Rome wasn't built in a day; do things little by little; slow and steady wins the race. 

 In my googling I found lots of business advice pages, using the metaphor of eating elephants. Here's a quote from one: 
"Take small bites out of your elephant. Take the right bites. But most importantly, determine what your elephant will look like when you’ve eaten the whole thing this will help keep you focused on the results, not the work." 

You see what I mean? Somewhat overcooking the elephant in my opinion. 

That's all!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Culture? And more snow!

Well, the plan for today was to get up and walk the half hour to the market in Uppermill. I woke up and looked out of the window to see ... yet more snow, falling gracefully from the sky. Proper goose feather flakes! None of that thin sleety stuff! Judging by our path and pavement, now covered again after our good citizen clearing and gritting the other day, it's been going a while. 



The road is beginning to be covered as well. It's a good job I didn't have to take the small grandson to school today. I would not have relished waiting for a bus at 7 am in the snow. I wonder, though, if it was snowing when my daughter got up to drive to Ormskirk in the small hours. If so, she may have difficulty getting back. We shall wait and see what the rest of the day brings. 

The centre of Manchester yesterday had no snow. I know this because I was there. A good number of us came in from outlying bits of Manchester to the Italian conversation class this afternoon. Most of us left snow behind us and returned to it at the end of the afternoon but in the centre there was nothing. It was still pretty cold mind you. This did not prevent young men from going around in shorts. Where did that fashion come from? All muffled up with warm jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and then legs bare from knee to ankle! Even in my mini skirt days I used to wear warm tights when the weather was cold. Crazy young men! 

We had been asked, in preparation for the Italian class, to research interesting facts about the Italian city of Bologna and talk about it to the group. Amazingly none of us chose the same as anyone else. So we had the unsolved mysteries of the bomb in Bologna railway station and the plane that went down into the sea off Sicily on a flight from Bologna to Palermo, both in 1980, a treatise in the canals of Bologna, a list of Bolognese food, the rather obsessive artist Giorgio Morandi who painted mostly pots, bottles, jars and vases (in fact in his museum in Bologna you can see the pots, bottles, jars and vases that inspired him!) and stuff about the university. 

Not only is Bologna University the oldest in Europe but it was the first to allow women to graduate and the first to have a female professor, and that hundreds and hundreds of years ago. In fact she was the first woman to work from home in a professional capacity. That's pretty impressive considering that, according to the lady who talked about it, the University of Cambridge didn't properly accept women students until 1948. What's more, the Bologna lady professor also had 12 children - hence the need to work from home! I wonder who did the washing up in her house! 

On the subject of women, I was reading about "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios", Pedro Almodóvar's wonderful film. It has been made into a into a musical with the actress Tamsin Greig. I'm not sure I want to see it, although Almodóvar probably appreciates the weirdness of it. One of the wonders of the original film was the homage paid by the cinematographer to earlier works that had gone before. That and the splendidly outrageous storyline. 

I do wonder about the desperate need to remake everything. The sequels and prequels are surely enough without having to do a revamp of a perfectly good film. Perhaps live theatre is different since it is a fleeting, impermanent thing. But a film is set in stone, or at least in celluloid. 

My other query is why there seems to be the desperate need to make a song and dance of stuff. There's opera, high brow stuff with classical stories and music written specially. Some lovely music but the peasant in me finds the whole thing quite hard to comprehend. And it's not because it's in a foreign language! Then you have "musicals", which always seem a bit like the poor man's opera. Not quite so high brow, a story with some good songs thrown in. Opera for the common people? 

Sometimes I have my doubts about the stuff that has been made into musicals. There has been some inspired work, like "West Side Story" reworking the Romeo and Juliet story. But how did they ever turn "Les Misérables", the book, into a musical? Surely the most unprepossessing material you could think of for a musical entertainment. Unless, of course, you go back further to "Oliver". Who would have thought that you could make Oliver Twist into a musical. And yet "Les Misérables" goes from strength to strength and schools all over the place put on productions of "Oliver"! 

I remain baffled. Maybe we should all just go back to watching panto!