Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The parlous state we find ourselves in + a little light relief!

Chaos continues.

British Steel has gone into insolvency. Jobs are at risk all over the place. Some of the workers found out when they heard the news on the radio. Brexit is not the only cause of this collapse but it has been a contributing factor.

Jamie Oliver is closing his restaurants in the UK. This is also partly a consequence of Brexit. But I don’t feel too sorry for Jamie as he has business in Europe as well. He’s not going to be going to food-banks any day soon.

The radio tells me Brexiteers have been arguing outside the House of Commons.

Mrs May has been telling MPs they have a last chance to vote for her deal - rather like a mother at the end of her tether talking to her naughty children - but nobody seems to know whether the deal will actually be voted on at the start of June.

All sorts of fun and games are going on with Huawei - my granddaughter, who has one of their phones, may not be best pleased.

We get to vote in the European Elections tomorrow, against the will of Brexiteers, although I feel that while we remain in Europe, even if only briefly, we should be represented. Lots of rumours abound about Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party being set to do well. And there is talk of our parliamentary system being at risk. Fingers crossed for a sensible outcome!

The fabric of society as we know it appears to be unravelling around us.

Meanwhile, we continue to go about our business.

Grandma’s Cafe, which branched out recently into Grandma’s launderette, has further diversified into Grandma’s Decorating Service, not to mention Grandma’s Housesitting Service. I got in a taxi at the crack of dawn to head for my daughter’s house to be available for the washing machine repair man who could come any time between 7.45 am and 12.00 am. Just a bit vague on the timing front!

He finally arrived at 10.45.

While I waited I painted walls in one of the bedrooms at my daughter’s house. When decorating help is needed, who is she going to call - her mother!

Next week Grandma’s Multi Service Company withdraws for a while as we are off to Sicily for a week. This is a guided visit organised by my Italian friend and teacher. A few years ago we went on a trip with her to visit places where the detective series “Montalbano” was filmed. This one was supposed to be a more serious sort of visit, more refined and cultural, with visits to Roman remains and other such things.

And then came the news that further episodes of “Montalbano” are being filmed in Sicily right now. The cast and film crew are based in Ragusa, our initial destination and point of departure for all our excursions and adventures. They are quite likely still to be around when we are there.

Some of our party are overexcited and imagining meeting with Luca Zingaretti, the actor who plays the eponymous Montalbano.

The world as we kniw it might be going down the plug hole but hero-worship continues!

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Language problems. Attitudes. Dangerous artwork.

The other day there I listened to a radio news reporter in France talking to “gilets jaunes” protestors consistently mispronouncing the word, turning them into “gilets jeunes”, young waistcoats instead of yellow ones! This despite conversing quite fluently with French people during his report! Mistaught?! Or a student at a top university where they spoke little actual language during the course?!  I found it annoying and it distracted me from the news and views I was hearing.

Also on the same news item, a Macron supporter was talking about the reaction of people in her town to the president. Hatred! She was astounded. When did that become the norm? she asked. People can have differing views but why does it become so personal? When did people start hating those whose views are different to their own?


The modern world is a harsh place.

Something else language related. How to get more students to take GCSE languages - a problem much in the news lately. Some schools in Sheffield have had student mentors from the University, students of Modern Foreign Languages. Analysis found that more than half of the participating pupils said they would take a language as a result of the mentoring. There was also a knock-on effect on pupils not mentored. Entries were up in Sheffield by 43%. A possible solution!

Before the government jumps on this band wagon they should beware of catch 22. In order to have students at university studying languages and mentoring secondary school pupils, we need students to take languages at GCSE and A level!

Oh, boy!

Here’s more stuff on education. The George Washington high school in San Francisco has a series of murals, painted by a Russian emigré in the New Deal era, depicting scenes from the life of George Washington. Over the last fifty years there have been occasional complaints about the scenes being too graphically violent. And possible racist. A committee has recommended the murals be removed and archived. Perhaps even destroyed.

Maybe we need to be careful about removing upsetting artwork though. How far do you take it? Do we cover up paintings in art galleries to avpid possible offense?

 Food for thought!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Cleaning as therapy. Getting out and about as therapy. Being watched.

Having just vacuumed most of the house, I am moved to write about what is being called “Cleaning as Therapy”. Cleaning “gurus” abound: Marie Kondo, Mrs Hinch, Lynsey “Queen of Clean” Crombie - is there no end to them. And yesterday I read that a study published in 2008 in the Journal of Sports Medicine said that 20 minutes vigorous cleaning was enough to reduce anxiety and depression by 20%.

Well, I could have told them long ago that doing a good clear-out is good for the soul. There is something very satisfying about sorting out a mess. I am not convinced that it is really a long term solution to depression and anxiety though. It’s a sort of displacement activity, like tidying up your pencil case before you get on with a difficult piece of homework. In the end the difficult piece of homework or the causes of the depression need to be addressed. But decluttering and tidying up, like making a list of what you need to do, is a valuable step on the way.

Getting out for a walk also helps to declutter the mind. No headphones, no music playing on your phone, no podcast to listen to. If a walk outdoors is going to help you have to have no more external stimuli than what occurs naturally - birdsong if you are lucky, traffic noise if you are not. But you should not be listening to anything specific. Your mind should be free to ramble where it will. Zen and the art of walking around! Could I become a guru?

The Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate (formerly-Middleton) Windsor, has, it seems, been doing her bit by building, or having landscape gardeners build, a special garden at the Chelsea Flower Show to encourage parents to let their children play outdoors, get wet and muddy and leave their electronic devices behind. Good stuff if you have some outdoors to run around in getting wet and muddy! Not to mention the time to do so and the facilities to wash the muddy clothes and children afterwards!

Just saying!

I wonder if the outdoor places are monitored by CCTV. Kenan Malik, in an article on surveillance culture, was writing about the number of CCTV cameras in the UK (some estimates suggest that 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras are here!!), and about facial recognition technology, and had this to say about surveillance in general:

“Almost without realising, we have created an entire infrastructure of surveillance. If you’re reading this online, you’re being tracked. If you bought a print version of the newspaper at a supermarket, your purchase was probably recorded.”

And he goes on:

“Every time you go shopping, use public transport, make a phone call, engage with social media, you’re likely to have been tracked.”

That sounds like a good reason to buy things with cash and not a credit or debit card. As more and more of us have our train and plane tickets in an app on our phones, not to mention linking our phones to our bank cards so that we can pay contactless just using our phones, it gets harder and harder to be anonymous.

It seems to me we have gone way beyond 1984. No wonder we get stressed and anxious!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Social media / anti-social media / oddness!

I have been known to express my rather negative  feelings about the excessive number of pictures of dogs and cats that appear on social media. So I was not greatly impressed to see the face of a cat on so many front pages of national newspapers.

This was Grumpy Cat, apparently the most famous cat on the internet. She has been described as a “petfluencer”, which I suppose is the pet-related version of “influencer”. An “influencer” is defined as “a person who has the power to influence many people, as through social media or traditional media: Companies look for Facebook influencers who can promote their brand.” And this one was a cat with a cross face.

She has been in the news because she has just died. As a result of her success as a “petfluencer”, she has been in a film (really? Have adults been to see it?), there have been numerous soft toys made in her image (understandable), and she is even supposed to have written a book (yes! I too am amazed!) and presumably she made money for her owner.

And now lots of people are seemingly very sad.

It is not known whether there are plans for a public memorial.

Oh, boy!

People have been posting and reposting pictures of Tommy Robinson having strawberry milkshake thrown at him during his campaign for election to the European Parliament. Nigel Farage has been in Edinburgh, where police asked a MacDonald’s restaurant near the venue where he was speaking not to sell milkshakes as they feared copycat milkshake throwing.

I have heard, however, that Burger King have been specifically advertising their milkshakes. Of course, that might just be fake news.

Another bit of possibly fake news is this headline:

Donald Trump convinced Roe vs Wade was legendary 1970’s Wimbledon final

And yes, it was fake news, put out by the spoof news people, Newsthump, in response to Alabama’s extreme rulings about abortion. Since then President Trump has had his say on the matter, urging Republicans to stay "UNITED" on abortion in a series of tweets late Saturday night where he wrote that he is "strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother."

I could go on at length about this but in fact I am left quite speechless by it all.

Instead I will return to a lighter vein and give you this link to a series of photos of amazing facial hair.

Who even knew that there was such a thing as The World Beard and Moustache Championship?

Saturday, 18 May 2019

On national pride and prejudice. The importance of names and symbols.

Here’s a little story about numbers:

 “More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey. Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.”

I am resisting the temptation to mock American ignorance. If we did the same survey in the UK, I wonder what kind of result we would get.

Hadley Freeman,  a very anglicised American, under the guise of giving advice to Meghan Markle, has been writing about being an American mother bringing up a child in the UK. She gets particularly agitated about what the child should call the mother: mummy or mommy?

She writes: “Yes, the tweeness of “mummy” sets American dentistry on edge, but I can guide the duchess through this transatlantic minefield.”

Well, tweeness is as tweeness does. “Mom” simply grates on my ear! But I have to agree that when grownups refer to their parents as “mummy” and “daddy” it does sound a bit precious.

A French friend of mine used to speak of her mother, then well into her nineties, as “mummy” but we forgave her as it was just a direct translation of the French “maman”. Despite my many years of speaking French, I have no idea how the French abbreviate “maman”. Perhaps they don’t. Watching Italian series on television I have, however, learnt that “mammá” and “papá” get shortened to “ma” and “pa”, both with the short “a” as it “cat”, not the longer “a” you hear in upper class English “ma” and “pa”.

Poshness and Americanness combined: the press have had access to the birth certificate of little Archie Windsor. In case people were really worried about it, we can now be reassured the little one was born in hospital and his parents did not opt for a home birth. Well, I can stop being concerned about that now.

And the child’s mother’s occupation was listed as “Princess of the United Kingdom”. Is being a princess really an occupation? Who knew? That scotches any notion that she might go back to making films.

Now, how about maternity leave? I seem to remember reading about Kate Windsor, another “Princess of the United Kingdom”, coming to the end of her maternity leave for one of the offspring and resuming her duties. Do Princesses of the United Kingdom have contracts, stipulating duties and appearances? Presumably both these ladies had it all explained to them before they joined.

We can all be relieved to hear that there are raven chicks in the Tower of London for the first time in thirty years. I was amused by the headline for this little article: “Raven chicks born at Tower of London for first time in 30 years”. I thought that birds hatched rather than being “born”. Or is that just a linguistic technicality?

I am pretty sure there are superstitions relating to the ravens and the tower. Here we go - legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, both the Tower and the Kingdom will suffer.

Maybe the arrival of new chicks, which tellingly began to hatch on St George’s Day, bodes well for the end of the Brexit crisis.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Oh dear! Oh, deer! The oddness of the modern world!

Cities in Spain have problems with wild boar wandering into the outskirts - and maybe even the centre. Some places have problems with wolves. A friend of ours in Canada had told us about bears coming into town looking for food and even had one in his own garden.

So what do we get in Manchester? Deer!

A female deer was seen swimming in the canal at the Castlefield end of town yesterday. Goodness knows how she got there, Maybe she fell in in one of the outer districts of Manchester and just kept on swimming. But how far out do you need to go to find deer falling in the canal.

The RSPCA told the BBC: “We received a report from the police that a medium-sized female deer was in the canal in Manchester city centre this afternoon but it managed to get out. We were then told the deer was stranded on some land near the canal but it again managed to get free and ran away before our officers could attend.”

Once out of the canal she ran onto Oxford Road, a busy road full of scary (for a deer) people and even more scary, not to mention dangerous, cars. And then they lost it. No reports of a car-deer crash so we can hope she managed to get away!

We never even used to see deer around here at our end of Greater Manchester, and we are literally minutes away from open country. Now I am told that there are lots of them in the valley between Delph and Denshaw but they must have hidden well when I have walked there. We did see a couple in a field on the edge of the village and one ran across the Donkey Line bridle path in front of me. But we are hardly city centre Manchester.

All part of the oddness of the world!

Here’s some more:-

About twenty years ago now I took my daughter and granddaughter - the one who is now an independent adult of sorts - on a visit to my sister’s house in southern Spain. Her then eight year old son was very proud of a hat they had bought for him at the market. This, I was informed was a “Gran Hermano” hat, a style worn by one of the participants in the TV show. I had never heard of this show. When it was described to me - a selected bunch of people living in a house, pretty much out of contact with the outside world, their every action and interaction filmed and broadcast to a public who would vote on who should be ejected - I was amazed and declared that you would never see such a thing on English TV. “Oh, Mum,” said my daughter, “they are about to start broadcasting ‘Big Brother’ any time now! Do keep up!”

And so it began! Reality TV, showing a reality that most of us don’t want to live. And now we have had the big scandal of the Jeremy Kyle show (where members if the public seem to have family fights and arguments on screen) and its eventual permanent shutdown after a participant allegedly killed himself through humiliation and despair after being subjected ta a lie-detector test on the show.

There are two things I don’t understand :-

 1. why people watch such stuff

 2. why people want to participate.

As for watching it, I suppose people take a kind of delight in their life not being as horrific as that of the participants. And people have always watched others suffer. Think of bear baiting. Or even boxing matches, for that matter.

But surely if you volunteer to take part you must already have an idea of what to expect. Sowhy do it? Does the fifteen minutes of fame really compensate for being made to look a complete idiot.

It simply beggars belief!

And finally here is a bit of mistranslation. I have a French friend who lives in Vigo - both a real friend and a Facebook friend. She regularly posts pictures of the sunset over the sea on Vigo bay or birds in her garden, with the greeting “Amitiés de Vigo” - friendly greeting from Vigo. The other evening the automatic translation system went into gear and translated it to “friendships of Vigo” - each word correctly translated, if they were in a different context, but the whole coming down to a piece of “translationese” gobbledegook.

Humans are not likely to be replaced by machines at this rate!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

My launderette! And a bit of Facebook-related ranting!

Grandma’s cafe has expanded its business and has become grandma’s launderette this week. My daughter’s washing machine has developed a fault. Consequently she arrives here at regular intervals with bags of washing and suddenly my washing machine is busy nonstop. It’s a good job we have had some fine and sunny and warm weather to get stuff dry. That said, she does take some wet stuff hime to put in her tumble dryer.

Back in the day, when I had children around and felt the need to wash clothes every day, if my machine played silly beggars, I had to put the stuff in the car and go off to an actual launderette. Those establishments seem to be thin on the ground these days. In fact I see more of them in Vigo than I do here. Odd!

Facebook friends come in at least two categories. There are those who are your friends in real life, people you have known for ages, some of whom you meet from time to time for lunch and some who just stay in touch through social media. Others are often friends of friends, people you may have met once or twice at the most but who are vaguely in tune with you and so become Facebook friends. Two “real” friends of mine became “Facebook friends” in that way and only discovered months later that one had been the German teacher of the other’s daughter. That’s the kind of small world stuff that happens in my life! If you are really daft, you have another category of friends: people who have somehow seen a post of yours and decide to “friend request” you. If you accept all of those you end up with thousands of nonsense friends.

I was prompted to write all that because I wanted to comment on the recent post of a “Facebook friend”. It was a photo of a dog looking miserable and hiding his face. She commented on the photo: “Someone is feeling sorry for themself”. I winced! Even the spell check picks it up! If you must insist on using “they” and “them” to refer to singular people (or animals), then you must be consistent. “Themself” is a nonsense, neither singular nor plural. Surely it should be “themselves”. But there is only on dog in the picture! Besides it’s HER dog and surely she knows whether it is male or female so that she could say “himself” or “herself”. And this “Facebook friend” is supposed to be a linguist (she was taught German by the “real friend” mentioned earlier - that’s how we became “Facebook friends”) and so she should know better than to mangle the language!

Having got that rant out of the way, here comes another one.

Someone suggested that mothers should be banned from posting numerous pics of their babies. I can sympathise; some people do ho a little over the top and will have some embarrassed teenagers in the future. But personally feel the same, and possibly even more strongly, about people who post cute pics of dogs, especially of people kissing dogs, treating dogs as human beings and generally getting over-sentimental about it all.

Worst of all is when they combine the two: - pictures of new babies snuggled up to dogs!!!

As for me, I mostly post pictures of places I go, trees and flowers and interesting birds I see along the way. According to some columnist I read at the weekend I am very in trend, as they say. The latest thing for Instagram, apparently, is not a selfie of the poster wearing something elegant but a picture of a place, proving how ecologically sound the poster is. There you go.

The columnist then went on to point out that it is only the most privileged of us who can post such pictures as only the wealthy live in those places with greenery and trees and flowers.

Such nonsense. Some of us are quite ordinary people who happen to live a short walk away from a green place!