Monday, 26 September 2016


I have been going through my wardrobe, selecting clothes which I know I will never wear again. When I retired from teaching, I got rid of a whole host of formal clothing: smart suits which would have no place in my new life as a lady of leisure. And yet, some still hung around in the wardrobe, hiding behind other garments. And now there is another bag full of stuff to go to the charity shop.

I have a friend who claims she goes through her wardrobe every two years, ruthlessly throwing out anything she has not worn in that time. If that is true, how very admirable! But I don't think she tells the whole truth. Besides, there are clothes you only wear once in a blue moon. Does such a rule apply more to women than men? If that were not so, then Phil's suits would be thrown out on a regular basis, only to have to be replaced whenever a wedding or a funeral comes along!

There is something quite therapeutic about going through your stuff in this way. Proust might have had his madeleine buns to evoke old memories, but there is nothing quite like rediscovering an outfit that you bought for a specific occasion to make all the old atmosphere rush back into your head. Okay, I exaggerate a little but there is a grain of truth in it.

Then there is the size question. I don't just mean how pleasing it is to find that you can still fit into something that you last wore ten years ago. No, it's the odd discrepancy between what was, for example, a size 12 ten years back and what is a size twelve now. Have they become bigger to con ladies into thinking they are one step closer to the desired size zero? I have no proof of any of this but my memory tells me that a size 12 used to have a 24 inch waist. Such a waist does not exist except amongst the skinniest these days. Has body shape changed as well?

Now that I have decluttered (to some extent) the wardrobe, I need to set about other areas as well. There are all the books: far too many of them! In some cases we have more than one copy of the same book. This may be because both Phil and I have bought it within days without telling each other. Sometimes I have read the blurb on a book cover, skimmed the first few pages and bought it on impulse, only to discover three chapters in that I have already read it and that there is a copy on the bookshelf. On top of that, Phil loves a good hardback (perhaps nostalgia for the books aunts and uncles bought for us children of the postwar age as Christmas and birthday presents) and so we have hardback copies of books that already exist as well thumbed paperbacks on our bookshelves.

A bit of ruthlessness is called for!

Putting stuff away in the kitchen after a big family meal yesterday, I decided that that is another area that needs some care and attention. Plates and bowls, cups and saucers, dishes and platters that never see the light of day. They have to go! Whatever happened to the young couple who had to scratch around to have enough place settings to invite the in-laws to tea?

It must be a genetic thing as well. Ever since our eldest granddaughter has been working - in her first "proper" job - she has been buying stuff. Our daughter says that barely a day goes by without a parcel arriving for the new spendthrift: clothes, books, collectable items!

She is storing up decluttering work for the future!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Autumn and stuff like that.

Autumn officially started some time last week. I can't say I noticed much difference until  this morning. Up to today the mornings have just felt fresh. Today, for the first time, there was a definite chill in the air. Time to put the sundresses away and get the winter woolies sorted out, swop sandals for boots and dig out the warm tights.

Apparently the Indian summer we have been having has messed up sales of clothes. Too little sun
when summer clothes were in the shops meant that fewer summer clothes were sold and too much now winter clothes are there means nobody is bothering yet to buy warm coats. Zara is the only retailer reported to be keeping up with things. One reason is that they rely on their own factories to
produce clothes and they have a fast turn-around: catwalk ideas, production in their factories, off to the shops all in a matter of days. Nothing stays in their shops for long if it is not selling and they have a very quick reaction to trends. Some years ago I went round their factory near La Coruña with a bunch of studnets. I was impressed.

I've been reading about slaves again. The Centre for the  Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (who knew such an organisation existed?) has revealed links to all sorts of families, from Sarah Ferguson to George Osborne by way of Jane Austen. Their new analyis "highlights the extent to which slave-owners and their families permeated every stratum of British society in the late 18th and early 19th century." Really? Every stratum? I can see that most old wealthy families might have a link but do families of folk who worked in the mills and coal mines and factories have such a link? I have my doubts!

And then there is the responsibility and apology aspect of this, not to mention compensation. Should we really judge people living today by what happened in their family generations back? It all gets a bit biblical: the sins of the fathers and all that sort of thing.

And now, to add to all the other oddities about the modern world, books about Brexit are being published: "Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of the EU Referendum" and "All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class". Lots of mud-slinging no doubt. Stories of who left who in the lurch, who flip-flopped from one camp to another, who told the most lies and so on. I am just amazed at how quickly some people are managing to make money out of it.

How soon before we get books about the Labour Party Leadership Contest?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Recipes for interesting times

.Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour Party leadership election ... again. Now the fun begins. Will he be able to wipe the slate clean as he has supposedly promised to do? Not that I doubt his willingness; it's just that the party does have form at the moment. Will they be able to break the cycle of nasty niggling that they have got into?

Friends who have joined, or in some cases rejoined, the Labour Party in the last year are expressing their delight all over Facebook. I am maintaining a discreet distance from it all, although I actually believe he should be given a chance. It's time a realistic opposition was working in this country. I wait with bated breath!

Another country, Iceland, seems to be considering suing Iceland, the frozen foods company, over the use of the name. It's not that Iceland, the country, wants Iceland, the company, to change its name. They are quite happy for the name to remain. What they don't want is for Iceland, the company, to have sole rights to the use of the name. Should some company in Iceland, the country, want to use that name to promote its goods in Europe, then Iceland, the country, doesn't want Iceland, the company, to stand in their way and have legality of their side. Fair enough!

I like to collect recipes from the weekend papers. There is quite often something worth considering, which I cut out and put on one side, only to revisit it later and decide whether I am ever likely to make that dish. In that case, I stick it in my recipe scrapbook. It's just one of those things! Nothing nerdy about it at all. In fact my granddaughters quite enjoy looking through it.

This morning the Guardian gave us a whole supplement of recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi. The pictures of his dishes always look enticing. And yet, I approach them with trepidation. Why? Because they
often have wild ingredients that I know I have no chance of locating without travelling all the way across Manchester or even further afield.

Today's interesting-looking recipe called for edamame. I was not even sure how to pronounce it. So I looked it up and found that it is a "preparation of immature soybeans in the pod". It features in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. And presumably in the cuisine of trendy folk who can find such stuff close to home.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia: "Outside East Asia, the dish is most often found in Japanese restaurants, some Chinese restaurants, and health food restaurants. In the United States it is sold packaged in frozen sections of grocery stores, in cans, or fresh in the produce sections of health food stores."

No chance of finding that in our local Tesco then!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Dogs and tablets and slaves.

Out running first thing this morning, in the bright autumn chill, I stopped and had a chat with Jack, one of the gentlemen with whom I have a nodding acquaintance around here. His little dog Rosie, who usually waddles, came running to meet me. Jack, a stiff but fundamentally fairly fit 78 year old, is delighted with his dog's reaction to seeing me.  Now that she knows me, he says, she gets a new burst of energy when she sees me. This is just as well since he has been having to cook, or have his wife cook, fancy bits of meat in which to bury tablets so that Rosie will take them.

She has now finished her course of medicine but Jack has discovered a new problem: she has a wobbly tooth. When he consulted the vet about this, asking if the vet could remove the tooth, the animal expert checked up on which dog they were talking about before committing himself. Reading between the lines, we understood that the vet is quite prepared to put his hand in Rosie's mouth to extract the tooth as she is a small and mostly quite docile old creature. His willingness to do the same with a younger, larger and fiercer dog seems to be in doubt.

Rosie has finished her course of tablets. Jack has also run out of his regular dose, he told me, and was off to the chemist to see if his repeat prescription had arrived. In the event of there being no prescription, he has an arrangement wth the chemists that they will "lend" him a few tablets to tide him over until the prescription arrives from the surgery. They will then deduct the same number of tablets from the lot they plan to dispense to him. This is the kind of arrangement you can have in a small place where the chemist knows the regular customers. 

On the BBC Radio 4 arts programme this evening they were talking about Barack Obama opening the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on Saturday. One report I read said it has been planned since 2003 but the radio report suggested that the idea goes back a lot further than that. I wonder if it can go some way to make things better for African Americans.

Oddly enough, since that museum will inevitably have a lot of stuff about slavery in there, I came across an article about an earlier bunch of slaves in America: Irish people. Back in the 17th century Irish people were being sold as slaves and sent off to the West Indies and the New World. Here's a link to an article about it.

Apparently, Irish slaves were cheaper and, therefore, less valued and less carefully looked after than the African variety.

Odd facts that I knew nothing about! 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Not all bad news.

I've often heard talk of a storm in a teacup. Now we seem to have a tornado in a cake tin. I am talking, of course, about the hoo hah surrounding The Great British Bake Off. 

First of all, I was amazed at the amount of money involved in transferring it from BBC to Channel 4. Then there have been all the cheers that have gone up because some of the presenters have said they won't go with the programme. This has led to all sorts of talk about loyalty and winning formulae for programmes and so on. 

 What I find most incredible of all is that this is apparently the most popular programme on TV. How does that come about? The most popular programme is all about watching people bake cakes! Don't get me wrong; I love to bake cakes. I do so quite often. And I love to try new recipes. But the idea of watching other people baking cakes and then seeing whose cake is the best strikes me as quite ridiculous. It's a bit like a media-age version of the church flower show cake competitions of my childhood! 

I know there are lots of channels to fill with stuff to watch but can we not do better than this? And here's another thing: instead of watching other people bake, dance, sing, or whatever else comes up in a competitive situation, it might be an idea to actually do all those things yourself! 

Meanwhile, bad news stories keep coming to my notice. Here's a link to one about a young man who was stabbed for speaking Polish.  Talking about his attackers, the young man said, "One of them said he had a daughter living round the corner and he didn’t want her to hear us talking Polish.” What a strange thing to say. This makes talking Polish on a par with dealing drugs, selling pornography and organising prostitution. 

As I have been heard to say before, we live in a very odd world. 

Having said that, we are enjoying a mild sort of Indian summer here. This has given us the chance to go for long walks along the local bridle paths, stopping for pleasant refreshment along our way. So,it's not all bad. 

And here are some photos. I have still not mastered the art of attaching photos via my iPad so I have used the laptop instead. So it goes. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Stuff in the news.

And the big news yesterday was ........ Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce!!! Normally I only see this sort of stuff in scandal magazines when I go to the hairdressers. This bit of scandal, however, was deemed so momentous that it appeared on the television news. Pity the poor people who, like Brad and Angelina, live their lives under constant media scrutiny. As if going through divorce was not bad enough, you have all the pundits speculating on they whys and wherefores of your case.

And then there are the children, six of them in this case. Speculation is going on as to whether Daddy Brad will fight for sole custody, joint custody or just visiting rights. Of course, these are not ordinary children in a divorce case. They must have got used to the fact that both Mummy Angelina and Daddy Brad go off from time to time to make films or to do charity work. Surely they have grown accustomed to being cared for by highly qualified, and probably highly paid, professionals. So, personally, I am not too worried about them. Just as I don't worry about the children of the rich and famous having odd names like River and Summer. They are far less likely to be teased and laughed at in their schools than the little Rivers and Summers off the council estates.

Susan Sarandon, a great campaigner for all sorts of causes, had a go at CNN for their massive coverage of the Brangelina divorce. What got her goat as well was the fact that they ignored another shooting of a black guy by police, this one apparently not responding fast enough to their commands alongside his broken down car in Tulsa. Thank goodness our police don't carry guns as a matter of course. Who knows what might have happened to the chap who apparently had his windscreen smashed in by an irate policeman recently, somewhere in the London area I think?

Still with the news, I read about a food waste supermarket in Leeds. I think this works by organisations collecting food that supermarkets are throwing out because it's close to its sell-by date and then putting it on sale at much reduced prices. In this case, people pay what they can, what they think the food is worth, or just by offering some kind of service. Apparently supermarkets throw out £230 million worth of still edible food.

Here's a link to an article about it.

The irony is that, at least in the version I read online, the article was interspersed with adverts for diamond jewellery, at a bargain price of course.

What makes the media magicians who decide who to target with which products think I might be interested in diamonds?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Some thoughts about loneliness.

It's a funny sort of world we live in these days. I read the other day about a man who "walks" people for a living. Just as some people walk dogs and get paid for it, so he walks people. It's not the same as doing a guided walk around a place. I know someone who does that around here but he isn't earning his living that way; I think people make donations to the Peace Movement in return for his informative walks around the area.

The other chap I read about accompanies people who fancy a walk but maybe feel odd walking on their own, or who might want to be walked home through an area that they regard as bit unsafe. So there is an element of bodyguard work about it. However, most of his work is going for walks with people who just want someone to talk to as they ramble along, often walking the same route on a number of occasions. And he is making enough money to consider "people walking" as a profession.

Personally I have no qualms about going for a walk on my own. It's a good way to get my thoughts in order while having a little exercise as well. But that's just me. Anyway, the man I read about is based in Los Angeles and I am afraid I dismissed the whole thing as one of those American oddities you read about from time to time. And then, this morning in fact, I came across an article about how people can make money out of all sorts of aspects of loneliness. You can pay for cuddles, for a chat, for someone to go shopping with you. Here's a link to the article.

Apparently loneliness is one of the contributing factors to the increase in mental illness in our society. And they are not talking just about lonely old people here. They mean younger people as well. Lots of people are too busy to make friends. So there is a niche market there to be exploited. What a sad indictment of our society.

Coincidentally, one of my son's friends put a post on Facebook today, celebrating the fact that twenty years ago today he met a group of friends, including my son, at university. That particular group of friends went off to London together after graduating, touting their cvs around various agencies in search of employment. Many of them still live and work within shouting distance, or at least a tube ride, of each other. And those who have moved away return for weddings and birthdays and celebrations of babies being born and so on.

So, is that not happening any longer? Was there a cut-off point when it stopped being the norm to get to know a group of people, at university or in the work place, and remain friends with them for pretty well the rest of your life?

Maybe the increasing need for university students to maintain a very time-consuming, supposedly part-time, job was a factor. Maybe it was the move away from leaving home to study in a distant place, where you had to get to know new people, to staying at home and studying in your local
university. Perhaps that led to more students simply going home after lectures and classes and not
actually bonding with their fellow students, while at the same time losing touch with many of their friends from school and sixth form.

And did those who went straight into work simply have to work such long hours that they had no time to create workplace friendships?

Or is everyone so busy with their virtual friendships that they have forgotten how to form actual face to face friendships? It's no good having thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram if you can't meet any of them for a coffee and a good chinwag when you are feeling down.

Of course, I am just speculating but that doesn't stop me repeating my belief that it's a funny old world!