Thursday, 18 July 2019

On roadside verges and a little “what if ...”.

When we were in Sicily at the end of May we were struck, indeed seriously impressed, by the wild flowers along the roadsides. Mostly bright red poppies but there were other species among them, and of course everything looked extra glorious in the bright sunlight. I have few photos of them and almost none of the best as they were mostly seen from the minibus.

And there were, of course, the more exotic plants like the prickly pear in flower,

and capers

and aloe vera.

Last weekend, in the park in Chesham with my second smallest granddaughter we admired the wildflower beds, seemingly placed at random in the expanse of grass.

Down the road from our house, on the way to Dobcross, someone has scattered wildflower seeds in the grass verge, recreating the kind of beauty I saw in Sicily.

And today I have read about places all over the country where local groups, and sometimes local councils, have been seeding wildflowers in the roadside verges. One group complained that their local,council came along and mowed down all the flowers on a regular basis, on the grounds that they were a driving hazard. Are drivers so distracted by the bits of beauty at the roundabouts?

For more pictures of roadsides and roundabouts bedecked with wildflowers, go to this link. If everyone planted some wildflowers maybe the bees would be more numerous, the air a little fresher and everyone calmed and cheered by the sight of some colour on their drive home. If only ...

In the realm of “if only ...” here are a couple of extracts from an article from back in 2016.

“A historian has discovered a royal decree issued to Donald Trump’s grandfather ordering him to leave Germany and never come back. Friedrich Trump, a German, was issued with the document in February 1905, and ordered to leave the kingdom of Bavaria within eight weeks as punishment for having failed to do mandatory military service and failing to give authorities notice of his departure to the US when he first emigrated in 1885.”

“Returning on a visit to Kallstadt in 1901, Trump fell in love with Elisabeth Christ, whom he married a year later, returning with her to the US. But when she became homesick and wanted to return to Germany, the authorities blocked his attempts to settle there.
In an effort to overturn the royal decree dated 27 February 1905, Trump wrote an obsequious letter appealing to Prince Regent Luitpold, addressing him as “the much-loved, noble, wise and righteous sovereign and sublime ruler”.
But the prince rejected the appeal and the Trumps left Germany for New York with their daughter on the Hapag steamship Pennsylvania on 1 July 1905. Elisabeth was three months pregnant with Donald Trump’s father, Fred.”

And so Friedrich Trump’s grandson ended up in a position in 2019 where he could encourage his supporters at a rally to chant “send her back”, referring to one of the “Squad”, the four congresswomen so disliked by POTUS.

We live in strange times: the politics of tweets, mob chants, semi-legitimised racism and of course the politics of apologies, where the very slightest criticism can be analysed into an insult. Life is a lot simpler if you just concentrate on the bits of beauty.

Unfortunately, while we do that others are busily tweeting nastiness!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Keeping hold of an identity!

Andrea Camilleri, creator of Commissario Montalbano, has died at the grand old age of 93. We visited the places where the Montalbano television series was filmed during our visit to Sicily earlier this summer, on two occasions narrowly missing seeing the filming taking place. We seemed to be following the film crew around. While there, we heard the news that the writer had had a heart attack and was in hospital. So really his death, although sad, has come as no real surprise.

A friend of mine will be extra sad, however, for the death of Camilleri signals the imminent demise of Montalbano himself. The final novel in the series was written 13 years ago, but has been kept in Camilleri’s publisher’s Palermo offices for safekeeping. “When I get fed up with him or am not able to write any more, I’ll tell the publisher: publish that book. Sherlock Holmes was recovered … but it will not be possible to recover Montalbano. In that last book, he’s really finished,” Camilleri said in 2012. So there we are, some time before too long we shall see the end of Commissario Montalbano. 

Camilleri commented on Sherlock Holmes having been revived, recreated, restored. Indeed recent adaptations of Sherlock Holmes might well give Sir Arthur Conan Doyle pause for thought. I was talking about Sherlock Holmes yesterday with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She was expressing her disgust at the idea that in a new adaptation Dr Watson could be a woman. The very idea just seemed wrong to her. In fact, she told me, it all seems like a bit of token “inclusivity”, and something that she regards as historically inaccurate as women could not have been doctors in Sherlock’s time.

Her attitude to the transgender question was interesting as well. On the whole she is very tolerant of all the varieties of lifestyles that exist nowadays. She was, however, quite scathing about girls in her form at school who appear to choose their gender as they might choose an outfit. And a choice of outfit goes with at her school as boys wear grey blazers and girls wear purple. Confusion on the corridors! A few girls of her acquaintance, definitely not in her friendship group, first said they were lesbians and later “identified as boys” and had their hair cut short. Not long afterwards they decided that they regretted having had their haircut and missed their flowing locks, as now they declared themselves to be very “girly girls”. This led to some sarcastic comments as their classmates wondered which gender or sexuality they would select next. Maybe they would arrive at school and say they “identified as trees”.

I wonder what my granddaughter would make of this case of a transgender man who chose to pause his/her hormone treatment in order to become pregnant, by donor, and have a baby. The problem was registering the baby’s birth. He wanted to register as the father but the registrar said he had to register as the mother. Much of the concern centres on the child and fears that he might be bullied at school because of his parentage. This will no doubt spark even more discussion about the social education of children and the LGBT question.

Am I being unkind when I find myself thinking that the parent of that child is being a little selfish, wanting to be both male and female. Thoughts about wanting to have your cake and eat it come to mind.

It seems to me that future society is going to get more and more complex and difficult to deal with. Here’s another example of modern oddness:

“A Zen meditation group is to cease meeting in the grounds of York Minster following controversy over “bilingual religion”. The group has been told that its weekly 90-minute silent meditation sessions in the Old Palace must end in the autumn. The sessions were initiated by Christopher Collingwood, the canon chancellor of the minster, who practises and teaches Zen meditation and has described himself as “religiously bilingual”.”

“Bilingual religion” is not tolerated by all, apparently.

 “Christian Concern said that mixing Buddhism and Christianity was “deceptive” and dishonoured Jesus. “It is remarkable that this is happening at one of the country’s best-known cathedrals,” said Andrea Williams, a member of the Church of England’s general synod.”

Well, well! It would seem that there are more and more areas of life where we need to choose our identity. I am quite relieved to be a relatively simple soul.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019


Yesterday evening, as I was watching something on TV, my middle granddaughter sent me this text message: - “You know about eclipses and stuff. Do you know why the moon is orange??”

I was rather touched by the 16-year-old’s faith in my knowledge about ‘eclipses and stuff”, checked with her that the moon was actually orange from where she saw it, and had a look out of our window. It was still too early in the evening for us to see the moon as there is a huge great hill in the way. Yes, she confirmed, the moon looked decidedly orange as it rose behind their house. She told me she “found it odd ‘cause it’s been white for the last few days. It was only just coming up when I first texted you.”

(Linguistic note: I was impressed by her correct use of the past tense of the verb “to text”!)

My own experience is that if the moon was looking orange it was usually when it was low in the sky, so I did a little research for her after my TV programme finished and I found this for her:

“The moon is always gray. The different atmospheric conditions just make the light appear different colors. The moon is sometimes orange because of refraction. The moon can appear orange when it is low in the sky and when there are a lot of dust particles in the atmosphere.

The visible light of the moon is made up of different colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple (which together appear white). As it approaches Earth, the light of the moon passes through the atmosphere.
When the air is clear and the moon is overhead, the light rays all reach the Earth, and so the moon appears white.
So why does the moon look orange when it is low or when the sky is dusty, smoky or polluted? These circumstances make it more difficult for the light waves to travel all the way to you. When the moon is low on the horizon, it's actually much farther away from you than when it is overhead, so its light has to travel through a lot more atmosphere to reach you. Along the way, some of the colors (blue, green and purple) get refracted (deflected off their path because of their short wavelength) by the particles in the air - they just can't make it through all that dust and pollution.
The strong light waves that do make it are (you guessed it!) red, yellow and orange - the colors with the longest wavelengths.
This is also why sunsets look the way they do.”

There you go!

And now the moon is in the news again because fifty years ago men walked on the moon. I must have seen stuff on the television at the time, as we were just back from doing our year in France as part of our Modern Languages degree course, but I have not specific memory of it.

Apparently Nasa invited heads of state around the world to send messages to go to the moon. Our very own queen was naturally one of those invited to do so.

Buckingham Palace seemingly thought it was a bit gimmicky but the government was keen. “Their idea of emphasising the international aspect of the first men on the moon is something we want to support,” wrote John Graham, principal private secretary to the then foreign secretary, Michael Stewart.

He added that “it would look churlish” to decline.

The Queen’s then private secretary, Michael Adeane, writing on Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, recorded the Queen had approved the suggested text of a message.

But, he added: “Her Majesty agrees that this idea is a gimmick and it is not the sort of thing she much enjoys doing but she certainly would not wish to appear churlish by refusing an invitation which is so obviously well intentioned.”

Never let it be said that our queen was churlish. And so this message was sent:-

“On behalf of the British people, I salute the skills and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.” I can almost hear the queenly tones.

Here’s another little nugget about moon landings and space travel:

 “American space success came after the Soviets had launched Sputnik 2 in November 1957, with the dog Laika, a stray Moscow mongrel, on board, though she died in orbit. In April 1961, Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit around Earth, returning a hero.

When Gagarin visited the UK in July 1961, while much of Germany was still under Soviet occupation, such was the rapturous UK welcome that the British ambassador to West Germany, Sir Christopher Steel, reported that “the average German finds it alarming that the British, who are supposed to be reserved and politically mature, should rave over a Bolshevik on a propaganda mission, even if he is a hero”.

The British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, noted: “I think Sir C Steel might point out to the Germans that Gagarin’s reception was nothing like that which the little dog would have got.”.

And now, in this evening’s radio news I am pretty sure I heard something about a partial eclipse of the moon. It should be visible, the newsman said, in areas where the sky is clear. Well, yes, that sounds logical.

The best time to see it will be at about 10.30pm. Great! I know from last night’s experience that even if the sky remains clear, as it is at the moment, the moon will still be hidden behind that great hill. 

Even from the attic windows there won’t be much of a view! How very annoying!

Monday, 15 July 2019

Out and about. Some thoughts about origins.

Yesterday we travelled back from London with the intention of dumping our belongings, having a quick refreshment and heading out into Manchester to go to a concert by the Canadian singer K D Lang. In the event Phil was feeling decidedly under the weather and came home and went to bed.

So I turned to my fall-back go-to-concerts companion, our eldest granddaughter. On numerous occasions she has accompanied me to musical events which have fallen on an inconvenient evening, which usually means clashing with a chess event. Fortunately she was available, even at very short notice. 

And so we met in Manchester, had a selection of tapas - patatas bravas, croquetas, chorizo and some rather messy gambas al ajillo, which were in fact gambones rather than gambas, huge things complete with heads and tails, something I don’t mind dealing with but not when they are floating an a garlic sauce - and a little glass of something before heading for the concert venue.

The support act was the classical guitarist Leonard Grigoryan, one half of the Grigoryan brothers. His brother Slava, as he told us several times, should have been there, in fact had been around for most of K D’s tour, but had had to go back to Australian to run a guitar festival. Leonard was very good.

My granddaughter must have been by far the youngest in the audience, many of whom were lesbian couples in their mid-thirties and upwards into beyond even my great age! However, Tasmin has had a good musical education and appreciates all kinds of music.

This tour apparently began as the 25th anniversary tour of the album Ingénue but, KD Lang told us, the tour has been going slowly and this is now the 27th anniversary tour.

After a couple of numbers, including the lovely “Miss Chatelaine”, with the inevitable self-parodying dancing around the stage, K D told us she was going to go straight through the album “without banter”, as she put it. This she did, with only a small break to tell a fan on the front row that while she appreciated her singing along, it was a little over-enthusiastic and was putting K D off her stride. One of the fan’s companions told KD it was just because the lady loved her so. But the request/rebuke still stood. Oh, to be gently chastised by your idol!

K D later sang songs from other albums, all good, and finished with some of her own Canadian singer-songwriter favourites. She told us about having sung a Joni Mitchell song FOR Joni Mitchell, an experience she found terrifying. Even idols have idols!And she finished off with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Splendid!

Then I saw my granddaughter into an Uber - this is what today’s working 22-year-olds to at the end of an evening - and went off to catch the tram back to Oldham and then a taxi from Oldham to home. My taxi driver gave me his considered opinion of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson almost all the way home and for a couple of minutes more after I had paid him and was waiting for him to come to a conclusion with the taxi door open. The taxi driver was less than impressed by either of the “gentlemen”.

This morning I read that Donald Trump told four progressive Democratic congresswomen to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”. Three of the congresswomen concerned were born in the USA, so that was an interesting suggestion to make to them. Here’s an article about it.

I like this response, from an article by one Richard Wolffe: “There was a time, before January 2017, when presidents and prime ministers celebrated immigrants and diversity as one of the defining strengths of their countries. Now our leaders pretend their own families have nothing to do with immigrants. Soon we’re going to have to watch a German-American president playing footsie with a British prime minister who was born in New York, with Turkish and Russian roots, who is actually named Boris. With all these immigrants around, it makes you wonder why we can’t find any real white nationalists to play the racism card any more. All these foreigners are taking the jobs away from our pure-bred bigots. They ought to go back to where they came from.”

You couldn’t make it up!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Some statistics, some unfairness, some symmetry and some oddness!

On the train home from London to Manchester, we have been travelling first class. This is purely and simply because it turned out to be cheaper to book seats in first class than elsewhere on the train. As a result we have had free cups of tea, free egg and cress sandwiches, free biscuits and free fruit!

How the other half live!

In the newspaper I came across some statistics about school funding. Most schools, probably all schools, have Parents Teacher Associations. The main aim of such organisations, as far as I have ever been able to tell, is to raise funds. This has become even more significant in the age of state school funding cuts.

Here’s some of what I found out!-

  •  Cardinal Vaughan Memorial school, a Catholic boys’ comprehensive in Holland Park, London, raised £631,770 in donations from parents, ex-alumni and benefactors.
  •  Hasmonean High School in barbet, North London, raised more than £1million in 36 hours. Some donors gave £10,000 each! 
  • These schools can use these funds to pay for extra staff. 
  • Trinity St Mary’s Church of England School in Wandsworth raised £2,000. 
  • They use some of the money to help provide transport for homelesss people who have been moved out of the area, so their children can still attend the school and have some measure of stability in their troubled lives. 
So we have private schools, state schools in areas where the PTA can help them get by and state schools in areas where the parents probably need help from the school as much as the school needs help from them.

Injustice is rife!

I started off watching Wimbledon by seeing Venus Williams being knocked put of the first round. Yesterday I watched Serena Williams lose to Simona Halep in the women’s final. There is a kind of symmetry there!

Here come some more statistics:-

The 2019 tennis championships are estimated to have generated £240m revenue for the All England Club, 12% increase in London hotel bookings, £28m in merchandise and concession sales, 300,000 glasses of Pimm’s, 473,000 fans through the gates.

This next is for my friend Colin who lives in Poio, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain, and who is always assuring us that Christopher Columbus was born in Poio. They claim to have his birth certificate in Poio museum!! The Observer must have done a feature last weekend on “ Fantasy Island, a colourful tour of Dominica”. This week they published a correction:

“We described Christopher Columbus as a Portuguese mariner. His wife was a Portuguese noblewoman but he was born in Genoa, Italy, and undertook his major voyages of exploration for the Spanish.”

There you go. It must be true. I read it in the newspaper!

Saturday, 13 July 2019

On going to concerts!

For the first time in three years I have not been to a concert in Hyde Park with my son and bis wife and various friends this year. Two years ago we saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. We were all heartbroken whenTom Petty died not long after that. The concert was rather fine. We felt privileged to have been there. And we danced!

Last year my Spanish sister came over and we all went along and saw Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Paul Simon, the latter on his supposedly final tour. Again we danced and sang and this time occasionally wept, my sister having been recently bereaved.

This year I saw that Bob Dylan and Neil Young were performing. Neil Young we might have bought tickets for but we agreed that Dylan has gone beyond the point at which we might spend money to hear him mess up songs we know and love.

So instead Phil and I are heading back to Manchester tomorrow to see K D Lang in concert there. A treat is in store for us!

And today I have come across a review of the Dylan (78) and Neil Young (73) concert. Here’s a sample:

“The gig had barely been announced before Young issued a statement via his website, decrying the show as “a massive fuck-up” and declining to take part at all unless somebody did something about its sponsor, Barclays, “a fossil-fuel funding entity”. Evidently rattled – the promoters were presumably expecting something more along the lines of how much he was looking forward to seeing his fans and rockin’ London – Barclays’ name and the British Summer Time branding was discreetly dropped, the gig went ahead, but notice had been served: age has not rendered two of the most unbiddable figures in rock history any more biddable.”

Neil,Young was described as being “still entirely capable of making such an unyielding racket onstage that people feel impelled to write letters of complaint to the national press” but this time being in “uncharacteristically crowd-pleasing mood”. Bob Dylan was described as “eager as ever to demonstrate that when it comes to unbiddable live performances, the boss is in town. It’s an article of faith among his devotees that his gigs represent astonishing nightly feats of musical reinvention, in which a consummate artist presents his oeuvre not as a back catalogue carved in stone but a kind of living entity, constantly shifting and changing according to his mood”.

So there we go!

This summer’s visit to the southern branch of the family is just that, a family visit.

This morning I have breakfasted in town with my son and his small daughter. The small girl and I have been mermaids in the park, swimming as we ran over the grass, would you believe!

And I bought cherries at the Saturday market, incidentally receiving lessons in queueing from a lady at the fruit stall. Despite my being in the queue behind her, she was at pains to tell me that I needed to queue to pay. Yes, that was my intention. This queue, she then told me, was for those who had already selected what they wanted to buy. Yes, I had done that. “You don’t understand!” she declared, clearly exasperated with me.  “No, I don’t!” I agreed with her.

Bits of madness everywhere!

Friday, 12 July 2019

Some Friday morning thoughts!

Apparently George Osborne and Nigel Farage are suggestions for the next UK ambassador to the USA. Now, is Farage really a likely contender or is this just something the bookmakers have cooked up to get money off people placing bets? Or is it just me who cannot imagine him representing us in a diplomatic fashion. And is Osborne any better?

 As for me, I have escaped from it all to visit family in Chesham. This morning I got up in time to accompany my small granddaughter on her walk to school. They all get stamps on a card for walking to school - all good stuff to encourage exercise. Some sixty small children make up the reception group, divided then into four groups of fifteen - all named after birds - in separate corners of a large room. Amazingly they manage to keep a calm and businesslike atmosphere. At five and a half she is writing stories about balloons and dragons and princesses. What’s more, she writes me letters. I am impressed.

I am less impressed by this, which comes from today’s newspaper:-

“ More than 300 primary schools across England have been forced to become academies in the last three years against a backdrop of mounting opposition from parents, a Guardian investigation has revealed. Analysis of government data has shown that 314 schools were forcibly removed from local authority control after being rated inadequate by Ofsted.
The Department for Education (DfE) has paid out at least £18.4m to academy trusts for taking on the schools. Concerns are growing, however, about the stability of the system, with evidence that a rapidly increasing number of primary schools are being passed from one trust to another after conversion, causing long-term disruption and uncertainty.”

Altogether too much tinkering with the system!

Because I did not get up in time for breakfast before the walk to school, after we dropped the small girl off, I headed into the centre of town - my daughter-in-law was going to a boot-camp fitness training session - and had coffee, croissant and orange juice at a small cafe in town. The service was friendly, the coffee very good and the freshly squeezed orange juice excellent. The croissant, on the other hand had been warmed up just a little too much and was rather crispy, as well as overpriced at £2.60.

Then I had a wander around the town centre. For a small place, Chesham has a very good centre. As with most town centres these days, there are perhaps too many charity shops but it has two bookshops - W.H. Smith and Waterstone’s - a proper old-fashioned butcher’s shop with a proper old-fashioned display of meat products in the window, a Boots, a small shoe shop, a good old-fashioned hardware shop, and even a craft shop, where I purchased yarn for a crochet project I have in mind. There is also a Sainsbury’s and if you feel like going a little up-market, a small Waitrose. And on a Saturday they have an excellent market. And at least five cafes!

A good old-fashioned small town centre. What more could you ask for?