Friday, 12 February 2016

Feeling my age.

It used to be that people commented, semi-despairingly, on how young the policemen were becoming. Of course, that was back when there were regularly bobbies on the beat and you even got to have a nodding acquaintance with your regular policeman. I thought I had heard that they intended to bring back bobbies on the beat but I can't say I have seen a whole lot of them. 

Anyway, nowadays it is beginning to seem that the go-to group for resignedly admitting that you are getting older is journalists: not any old journalist but the ones who write specialist columns on politics, economics, the environment and social issues. There is always a photo of the journalist at the head of the column in a newspaper, so even if they are not bright young pundits giving their views on the television you can still have an idea of what they look like. 

Such a one is a certain Owen Jones. I looked at his head-of-column photo the other day and decided that either he has not renewed his photo for some years or he is far too young to be doing his job. Or perhaps, like a 21st century Dorian Grey, he has an ageing photo posted to a special Facebook page in a virtual attic somewhere. Far from looking old enough to be writing deep and meaningful stuff, explaining the economic problems and hi-jinks of the modern world, he looks as if he should be sitting his A-Levels in Politics and Economics this year! 

A good friend of mine went to hear Owen Jones speak at Home, the multi-media arts centre which has replaced The Cornerhouse in Manchester. I think it was last night as she was enthusing about it on Facebook this morning. The last time I saw her she was expressing her surprise at how much she had to play for a ticket to hear him speak: something like £15, I seem to remember. When I told her that this was a cheap deal, she laughed and said that another friend had told her the very same thing. After all, we pay around £60 to go to classical music concerts at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and anything between £50 and £100+ to see individual musical artists of our choice. Indeed, I know of people who pay upwards of £150 to see singers and groups I would pay never to hear again! All is relative! 

With ticket prices in mind, I was interested to read about the football fans who walked out of the Liverpool match recently at the 77th minute, in protest at the £77 ticket price. Liverpool's owners have apologised to fans but did try to justify the prices on the grounds that they put a lot of it back into the club. But they have now set a top price of £59 and have ended the system which meant that fans paid more if their team was playing a high-ranked team. 

Good for them! 

And yet, £59 still seems an awful lot of money to me, even if that is the top price. How do fans afford to pay these prices. I imagine a family, a couple of fans who want to take their two kids to the football match. A good family day out! Except that it must cost close on £200 for that really good day out, and that's before you factor in transport costs, hot drinks and snacks, and possibly a proper meal on the way home. 

Goodness me! It all makes me feel tired and old!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Learning from the young, or at any rate the younger than us!!

Concern is being expressed about children nowadays not being out and about enough in the natural world. According to a two-year study funded by the government 10% of children in the UK have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year. Cue apocryphal stories of the urban child who is asked where milk comes from and answers, "The supermarket". Cue also all the harrumphing about children nowadays spending too much time on electronic entertainment gadgets. 

Well, there's at least one youngster who manages to combine technological know-how with an interest in wildlife. He is 13-year-old wildlife blogger (here's a link ) and has said that schools and parents are partly to blame. Too many parents, according to this young man, stop taking their children into the natural world when they go to secondary school and the schools let their students down because they don't make the environment a core subject. "Once children hit high school they become more independent and might think being interested in the natural world is uncool,” he said. “If they can, parents need to keep their connection with their children and continue to take them outdoors." 

I am sure he is an exemplary young man but he is not, of course, the parent of recalcitrant teenagers and so does not know how hard it can be to "take them outdoors" if they don't want to go. You have to start when they are a lot younger and encourage them with your own enthusiasm for being out and about. 

As for schools, well, things have just got harder, with everything tied up in the red tape of national curriculum and ticking boxes. One of the things I remember with delight about primary school is being taken out for "nature walks". If it was a fine day our teacher would decide it was time for the whole class to go out for a walk to some local beauty spot, pointing out trees and plants, making us collect leaves and flowers and other such stuff to make some kind of display later. Nowadays, teachers would have to plan it weeks in advance, write it into their yearly plan, complete a specific planning form which explains the educational objectives of the outing and slotting it into the demands national curriculum, and then do a risk assessment, of course. This last requirement would probably lead to them not being allowed to walk the children in pairs through the streets but demand the ordering of a bus to transport the children safely to wherever they might then encounter nature in its raw state. It makes me tired just thinking about it! 

In secondary school, we did not do such things as nature walks but occasionally some of our teachers would decide, often after much badgering on the part of the class, to conduct the lesson outside, sitting on the grass. We were fortunate enough to have large playing fields surrounding our girls' high school and I can only assume that it did not rain as much then as it does now. Once again, of course, the strictures of modem educational practice come into play to prevent such arrant nonsense. Lessons all must have a lesson plan, usually demanding evidence of use of IT (pupils researching stuff on the internet, teacher using the interactive whiteboard - you know the kind of thing), group or pair work and a pile of other necessary modern methods. 

Still, it's nice to see a young man advising the older generation on how to do things. 

There was an article in the New Statesman the other day that suggests that we should look to the young for examples in other areas of our lives as well. "Over a quarter of those aged 16-24 today are teetotal; just 29 per cent drink heavily in an average week, compared with 44 per cent a decade ago. Only 23 per cent of under-25s smoke, a 10 per cent decrease since 2001. Conception rates among under-18s are at their lowest since records began in 1969, and the number of sexually transmitted infections among those under-25 has also declined in the last five years. Today’s youth haven’t been resorting to narcotics, either: drug use among under-25s has fallen by over a quarter in the last decade." 

Time to get rid of the stereotype of the irresponsible young person, it seems. Presumably all the drunks who were falling down in the streets of Manchester on New Year' Eve, having photos taken that were compared to works of art, were all over 25 then. 

One factor nowadays is money; if you don't have a well-paid job, indeed any job at all, you can't afford to go out and get drunk and buy drugs. Another is social media. If you do go out and get drunk, you shouldn't tweet about it or post pictures on Facebook. Apparently about half of recruiters in the UK look at candidates' media profile and a third of recruiters have rejected candidates after finding evidence of binge drinking or drug use online. It's a hard life! 

Jean Twenge, writer of a book called "Generation me" explains it like this. "In past decades, teens might have smoked, drunk and had sex because they didn’t have much else to do. Now, teens have a world of entertainment and digital communication available on their phones 24/7.” I would like to take issue with that. In the pre-computer entertainment age, not all of us resorted to smoking and drinking and promiscuous sex put of boredom. There was a lot of music, places to go and dance, cinemas, bowling alleys and even odd places called youth clubs that were not just for pre-teens as they seem to be now. And quite a lot of us read books as well. 

According to the New Statesman article those of us who grew up in that less technological age, especially the over-65s, are apparently the ones more likely than any other group to drink alcohol at least five days a week. Of course, the fact that fewer of us have to get up to go to work the next day might have something to do with it. And the reports don't suggest that these irresponsible over-65s are getting roaring drunk five days a week. 

Mostly we grew up at a time when you have to learn about moderation in all things!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Pancakes and poppycock!

I didn't make pancakes for dessert last night, despite it being Pancake Tuesday. Today, however, I have seen photos of David Cameron dropping a pancake, or rather, not succeeding in catching the thing when he tossed it. And I have seen pictures of clerics in Ripon, looking silly running down the street in their red robes as they took part in a pancake race. I suppose I should give them full marks for taking part. 

However, there is a part of me that feels that politicians, and clergy for that matter, should stop trying to convince us that they are just like the rest of us. I don't go around tossing pancakes in public. In fact I don't toss pancakes at all. I find less messy ways of turning my pancakes over. And there are a myriad other ways in which David Cameron is not at all like me. 

As for the clerics, well, I sometimes wonder about the red robes, even the robes in general. And then I came across something from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. According to the Bishop of Tenerife, there are adolescents, thirteen year olds, who not only consent to abuse, presumably by clergy, but actually want it to happen and set out to tempt the clergy. And here I was, thinking that clergy in the Catholic church took vows of chastity and abstinence and were supposed to resist temptation! Silly me! It's all down to those naughty adolescents! No suggestion that youngsters who do set out to tempt adults might need help rather than abuse. 

What century does this bishop live in? Obviously not the 21st, judging by his comments on homosexuality. He comments that it is no longer "políticamente correcto" to say that homosexuality is an illness but clearly he still believes it is. He goes on to say, "Eso que decía cualquier diccionario de Psiquiatría diez años atrás, hoy no se puede decir" (Nowadays one cannot say what any dictionary of Psychiatry said ten years ago.) I suspect his dictionaries of psychiatry are more like 50+ years old! What we should do, according to the bishop is "promover la educación e inculcar los valores de la feminidad y la masculinidad". In other words, education should teach and inculcate the values of feminity and masculinity. 

That should sort it then! I wonder what the Bishop Tenerife would think of the girls in this article from today's Guardian.  They are studying "boys' subjects", Computer Science and Engineering, so clearly they have not been inculcated with the values of femininity and masculinity. You would have thought that we might have got beyond "boys' subjects" and "girls' subjects" by mow, but apparently not. And it still seems that when a man works in a profession commonly regarded as women's work, he frequently rises quickly to the top while a woman in the reverse situation is regarded as a bit odd! We still have some way to go! 

Finally, a correction. According to Phil, "navvies" are so called because the men who worked on the construction of canals were called "navigators". The contraction to "navvies" comes, he says, from "navigators" and not from "navigations", although he is prepared to accept that there is a connection. Well, I got my information from one of Phil's heroes, the journalist Paul Mason, but I stand corrected.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Words. What they mean. Who owns them.

"Happy birthday to you", the song, has been set free! Now we can all sing it without having to worry about breaching copyright and possibly having to pay royalties. Who knew that we had all been singing it illegally all these years? It's a bit like sayingthat nursery rhymes are copyrighted!

Apparently two sisters sort of composed it back in the 19th century. Some company or other copyrighted in the 1930s. They were bought out by the Warner Chappell music company in 1988 and that company have been collecting royalties every time the song has appeared in a film, a television or radio programme or indeed anywhere open to the public or where a large number of those present were not close friends or family of the birthday boy or girl. In 2008 they collected US$5,000 per day, US$2 million over the year! Now there has been a court case because someone protested about having to pay royalties because she was making a documentary about the song. And the final decision has been that the song is now free as a bird once more!! Huzzah!!! What more can one say? 

It's all words. 

Our Italian teacher was busy maintaining today that there are loads of words in English usage that have no equivalent in Italian but have to be sort of explained. This was because someone asked how you say "creepy". Answer: you talk round it and say something like "which makes you shudder". I wonder what they do with "dingy". 

Then we got onto "macché". An almost untranslatable Italian word. It can be as simple as "Oh, no!". It might be "Nonsense!". Or it can be "What the .... (insert expletive, as mild or as strong and disgusting as you like)!". 

Every language has such expressions. Sometimes they even need explaining to native speakers. Here's an example: 

Why do we call manual workers, men who dig up roads and such, navvies? Well, quite accidentally, reading about something else altogether, I found out. Canals were originally called navigations. The men who dug them, many of them Irish, were given the nickname navvies. Hence manual workers are called navvies. 

That's words for you!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Storms and fashions.

The rain keeps coming down. Storm Imogen has wrecked my umbrella, not just turning it inside out but breaking a couple of spokes. Another one bites the dust! Straight in the dustbin as I got home from Manchester. 

Before arriving home, I snapped this picture just outside the pub next door. It almost always bubbles away, unless we have had several weeks without rain, but this is pretty exceptional. Except that when I went past it earlier today, the water was spouting about eighteen inches high! Rome may have the Trevi fountain but we have this! 

I had been to Manchester to lunch with a couple of friends and to catch up on all our news. We went to the Côte Brasserie, just off Deansgate. Very nice and quite reasonably priced. Of course, UK restaurant lunchtime menu deals bear no comparison with Galician restaurant lunchtime menu deals, but this is the UK after all. It crossed my mind that they might need to redo all their signage now that the circumflex is disappearing from so many French words. I wonder if "côte" is one of them. It almost certainly will be! 

After lunch, my friends and I took a stroll around some of the shops, looking at sales good. This included the Russell and Bromley shoe shop, where shoes in the sale are reduced to £80 and non-sale goods get into triple figures! Amazing! 

I have often ranted about the craziness of high fashion. Usually it's just women's clothes but today I came across a piece by Tim Dowling with his comments on a number of men's fashion trends. In this case, it was not a matter of buying new clothes but wearing what you have in a new and fashionable way. Most of his judgement agree with mine. 

First of all, there was wearing your coat as if it were a cape, just draped elegantly across the shoulders. I can remember doing this with friends when I was a child in junior school. We would drape our school gabardines, not so elegantly, across our shoulders and run around with cloaks flowing behind us. Of course, what we did was fasten the top button so that we did not suffer as Tim Dowling did with the coat blowing away as he walked down the road. 

Then there was the "man clutch". Now I am all in favour of "man bags". I think they are really useful. If a bloke wants to carry his iPad, a load of papers, the newspaper and goodness knows what else, what better than a bag. There are some really nice one. But a "clutch" has always struck me as a singularly silly bag for either gender. They are never big enough to fit anything of any use in and you have to carry it "clutched", as the name implies, in your hand or under your arm. Just a nuisance. 

He moved on to wearing shoes without socks. My almost son-in-law must be really on trend as he seems to do this a lot. Sandals without socks I am quite in agreement with. In fact, I think they are a must. And maybe canvas shoes. But almost any other sort of footwear really should not be on bare feet, in my opinion. It's surely a recipe for sore feet, whether you are male or female. And if you have sore feet on a regular basis, you end up with lumpy, ugly feet. And then, when you want to go barefoot on the sand, for example, you have these embarrassing feet that you don't want to show off! 

Such is the world of modern fashion.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Taking the hat off.

So the French have decided to remove the circumflex, which my students used to refer to "that little hat", from some words, have they? And they have changed some spellings as well! We don't seem to do that sort of thing with English. From time to time we hear that some new words have been included in the Oxford English Dictionary but major spelling changes don't really happen. The Germans did it some years ago and it seems to have been all right. And the Spanish just formalise changes that have been happening willy-nilly. 

When I read about it yesterday, I wondered what the reaction of an old friend of ours would be. He studied French and Spanish at university with us and has frequently moaned about changes in both those languages. I don't think he ever quite got over the demise of the subjunctive in English usage, if we could ever truly be said to have used the subjunctive, apart from in expressions like "if I were you". 

But I am a little surprised (and amused) to hear about accusations that these changes, made apparently to simplify the words for schoolchildren, are an example of the Socialist government dumbing down the language. Obviously a left-wing plot! A student union group has criticised the education minister, Najat Vallaud- Belkacem, for "believing she was authorised to overturn the spelling rules of the French language". They should think themselves lucky to have spelling rules! And the wonderfully named Florian Philippot, vice-president of the far-right Front National, has declared "the French language is our soul". Maybe he is afraid that his surname will be changed to Filippot, giving him even more alliteration, visual as well as phonetic! 

Mind you, I must confess that the French for "onion", traditionally spelt "oignon", looks really odd and somehow wrong when you spell it the new way: "ognon". 

It's amazing how people leap to the defence of the traditional! Talking about the Sanremo music festival the other day, one of the ladies in the Italian class told us that the is something of a furore going on at present about Elton John. He has been invited to be a special judge or something at the festival and some people consider him unsuitable. Why? Well, for one thing he is openly gay. Not only is he gay but he is married to another gay man! Not only is he gay and married to another gay man but they have two adopted children! This goes against all ideals of the traditional family. And, of course, it would be far better for those two children, who seem perfectly happy with their two dads, to have remained in an orphanage! Much more traditional! Oh, come on!!!! 

Meanwhile, here it keeps on raining! I ran in the drizzle quite early this morning and later saw a hardier soul running in the truly pouring rain as I waited for the bus to take me to the supermarket. It was still raining when I came back. They forecast something like three inches of rain for today! 

I have consoled myself by reading odds and ends in the newspaper, bought when I jogged in the drizzle this morning. Having reached the Birthdays section, I learn that Rabbi Lionel Blue, whose dulcet tones and bad jokes used to amuse me when he did "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio 4 as I drove to work, is 86 today. The actor with the unlikely name of Rip Torn is 85. Best of all is Zsa Zsa Gabor who has reached a magnificent 99! 

Hats off to all of them.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Stuff in the news.

Last night I watched Question Time on BBC2. Well, I half watched it and half read a book. There was some interesting discussion about the EU and Brexit among other things. The programme was being broadcast from Bradford which has a large Asian population. Maybe as a result of that a question came up about our prime minister's insistence that immigrants should all learn English and in particular that the "traditionally submissive" (his words, I believe) wives should learn English to prevent their isolation and maybe prevent their sons from being attracted to terrorist organisations. You can imagine the storm. A number of people pointed out that funding for English as a second language classes had been cut by a certain government ruling. A teacher of English told of the women of all ages, not just the young, on waiting lists for the now restricted numbers of classes available. And a quietly assertive young Asian woman listed the occupations and professional positions held by traditionally submissive Asian women. Almost all of the speakers, with the exception of the bloke who almost shamefacedly admitted to coming from Essex, spoke with a Yorkshire accent, including the Asians in the audience. 

One of the panel had a strong Scouse accent. He was the second in command of UKIP. I am afraid I found it hard to take his contributions very seriously. This was partly because he was from UKIP but also because he mostly looked as if he was doing an impression of the comedian Alexei Sayle. The gestures and the facial expressions were there; unfortunately the humour wasn't. I read this morning in the paper that Nigel Farage was supposed to be on the panel but got stuck in traffic, travelling from Wales, I think, to Bradford. Mind you, I might not have been able to take him seriously either. Unfortunately some people do. 

Other things. Joan Bakewell, or rather, Dame Joan Bakewell, is 82. And unless they published an old photo in the publicity for a book she has written, the "thinking man's crumpet" is looking very good. I was amused and rather horrified to read that when young Joan got a scholarship to Cambridge, the headmistress of her school announced the news to the assembled girls with the reminder that “however pleased we are for Joan, the true calling of a woman’s life is to be a wife and mother”. 

This is a little different to the headmistress of my girls' grammar school. She used to interview the girls who had chosen not to continue into the sixth form after completing O Levels. In our year, one of my best friends was leaving to get married to the boy she had been going out with since she was thirteen. We all knew she was having a baby. She could have left school at Easter but had stayed on to complete her O Levels. She returned from her interview in tears. The headmistress, who was very proud of the fact that so many of HER girls went on to university, had told my friend that she was letting herself down letting her parents down, letting the school down and, most importantly, letting the headmistress down! What a difference a decade and a half made in attitude to women's role in society. 

Mind you, I doubt that Dame Joan's head teacher would have approved of young "gals" having sex before marriage! 

Getting back to Dame Joan, when she worked at the BBC she once asked a senior executive what plans he had for a woman to read the news; the answer was, "He had none. And never would have.” End of conversation. Another change of attitude. But only partial. It appears to be obligatory for female news readers to be attractive and always well-dressed and coiffed! 

And finally, some good news stories. The hole in the pavement outside our house, made by the electricity men when restoring power to our row a week ago, has finally been filled in. The bad news is that the plastic barriers are still there. 

 The other story is about a teenager in Germany who found a half-kilogram gold bar in an alpine lake. Being a good, honest girl, she handed it in to the police. Six months down the line, nobody has claimed the ingot and so the young lady finds herself the owner of a lump of gold worth about $20,000. That should pay for a few more holidays by Alpine lakes!