Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Travels with a moaner!

Yesterday I arrived back from Manchester in time to catch the 7.28pm bus from Oldham back to Delph. (This made up to some extent for the bus that had failed to turn up on my outward journey, causing just a little stress about arriving on time to meet a friend. Snow somewhere else on the route was the excuse!) As I waited for the bus on the rather bitter cold evening I fell into conversation with one of our local personalities. I have come across him on a number of occasions at that bus stop at that time of day.

When I arrived at the stop this time he was busy having a rant about the awfulness of our bus service. This is one of his regular themes and I have heard it on more than one occasion. This time he added a new element to it: why do First Bus, the company who run our particular service, not put any heating in their buses? Other companies in the region heat their buses. First Bus used to do so. He is convinced, however, that since the fares went up at the start of this month another measure has come into play to increase the company’s profits - switching off the heating!

The bus arrived and we set off. I phoned home to let Phil know I was en route. He responded that he had been about to call me to warn me about the snow that had been falling on Delph. And, indeed, as the bus made its way up the main road towards my end of the town, the road became snowier and snowier. We found ourselves in a queue of slow-moving traffic as cars slid around. It took us about an hour to do what is usually a twenty minute journey.

My new friend, the elderly complainer, had a little moan about the inability to clear the road, the silliness of using salt instead of just grit, the daftness of British drivers not having winter tires for their cars and so on and so. He had a theory about the reason for one of the problems with our bus route in wintry conditions. Here it is: - The route runs between Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, thus falling under the jurisdiction of two local authorities, both of which send gritters out to help make roads passable. However, there is a stretch of road on the border of the two boroughs. If Oldham were to grit their bit of road, they would need to continue onto the Ashton bit in order to find a spot to turn round. The same applies in reverse to the Ashton gritters. Neither wants to grit the other's bit of road. And so that section, a quite steep slope, does not get cleared of snow and does not get gritted in icy conditions. and so the bus has problems. It’s a plausible theory!

Eventually the bus arrived at Delph crossroads, where I got off and trudged home through the snow. The bus then did not turn left into the village - too snowy and slippery - but turned right to continue the rest of its route. Too bad for anyone who was waiting in Delph village!

My grumbly, very informative travelling companion went on his way towards Greenfield. I wonder if I will see him again next week.

Meanwhile here are a few photos of today’s snowy conditions.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ways of making money!

Here is a story I came across in one of the papers the other day:-

“A man has been arrested after a cash machine was blown up in Glasgow.

Police said on Saturday that a 48-year-old man was being held in custody in connection with the incident. It happened on Thursday night outside a row of shops on Glasgow Road in Clydebank. A 51-year-old man who was found at the scene remains in a critical condition at Queen Elizabeth University hospital. A spokesman for Police Scotland said a report would be submitted to the procurator fiscal.

In October thieves blew up a cash machine in a kiosk outside a Matalan store in Darlington. The explosion shook homes more than two miles away and sent debris, including anti-ram raid bollards, flying across the car park. The thieves escaped with an unspecified amount of cash from the machine.

Last April, a gang of seven men who caused explosions at cash machines around England and Scotland were jailed for a total of 92 years. The group had stolen more than £550,000 and caused more than £160,000 worth of damage in attacks on ATMs at 13 banks and supermarkets, Merseyside police said.”

It reminded me of a film I have seen, or perhaps a book I have read, in which a gang of reprobates planned to dislodge a cash machine from its place in the wall and carry it away on a fork-lift truck. Needless to say, the whole thing went haywire. I have been racking my brains trying to remember which film or book it occurred in.

It’s almost as farfetched as the story of a government which kept on giving contracts to a company that was clearly failing. Actually you seem to have a better chance of getting away with a load of cash if you are a top executive in a failing company than if you are an ordinary, common or garden thief. Here’s a quote from a report:-
 “While Carillion’s private sector staff face uncertainty over their pay, the company’s former chief executive Richard Howson is still currently entitled to a £660,000 salary, even though he quit in July over the company’s dismal performance.”

Surely there is something wrong with a system in which a person can go on being paid for a job that he has left and which he did not even seem to be doing well in the first place.

Or am I just being naive?

Monday, 15 January 2018

May ‘68 - fifty years on?

In France they are wondering how to celebrate, if celebrate is the word, May 1968. President Macron is too young to remember it - born ten years after the event. Here’s an article about it. According to one of the historians quoted in the article May ‘68 as such didn’t do much for women’s liberation. He said: “Today, when we talk about the society changes of May 1968, we’re actually talking about the years that followed. There wasn’t sexual liberation in 1968 France, that is false; it was an extremely macho society, where the girls were expected to make the sandwiches while the boys demonstrated. The advances on women’s rights came later in the 1970s.”

And here we are still fighting for those advances all over the place.

I read that in Nepal a woman died in a remote village because she was made to sleep in an unheated hut when she had her period. This is a Hindu tradition based on the belief that women will anger the gods if they remain in the house while they menstruate. The gods will then punish the family with death or sickness to people or livestock. And so women sleep more or less outdoors in temperatures of 0C and below. This woman is thought to have died from smoke inhalation when she tried to light a fire to keep warm.

We should not scoff. It is not not all that long ago that women were considered unclean when they menstruated and had to be “churched”, given a special kind of blessing, after giving birth to ensure that they were once again clean and fit for purpose!!!

All is not lost, however. In Saudi Arabia women are now allowed to watch football matches live ... but only in three stadiums which have been specially prepared to receive women and families. Other stadiums will follow suit by next season and they will have separate cafes and prayer rooms for women football fans!

Step by little step!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Art and food and language!

We have been watching “Rome Unpacked”: Andrew Graham-Dixon (art expert) and Giorgio Locatelli (chef), finally visiting the Italian capital after a fair few other bits of Italy they have “unpacked”. I like the format: Andrew Graham-Dixon reveals art stuff to Giorgio Locatelli who reveals culinary stuff to Andre Graham Dixon.

In Rome, among other things they went below ground under the Basilica San Clemente. At one level they found an ancient, 4th century church, complete with fading frescos. Going a stage deeper they found what was probably a temple to Mithras and a room that might have been a schoolroom dedicated to that religion, with a fairly recently discovered painting on the wall of someone who might have been the schoolmaster. Amazingly he looked remarkably like some of the ordinary folk used as models by Caravaggio, some of whose paintings were also admired. Just another Roman you might come across on any street today!

How fascinating to find something ancient and beautiful under all the buildings of your city!

Both Andrew and Giorgio must have had a lot of fun making the programmes. I have to say, however, that by the time they got around to unpacking Rome, both of them looked a little raddled, not to say debauched. In this latest series we don’t see them drinking much - eating and appreciating food, yes - but in previous series, they did seem to down a fair bit of wine. Of course, like the rest of us, they are not getting any younger.

Giorgio Locatelli has a very good command of usually idiomatic English. He has still not learnt to pronounce the name of his friend though, always referring to him as Endrew. The letter h defeats him. He omits it almost everywhere except on words that begin with vowels! And in one of his cooking demonstrations he talked about cooking something on a slow fire, a fairly literal translation from the Italian, instead of telling us to cook it on a low light. I could listen to him all day!

But then, I am a self-confessed language geek. I find myself collecting words which sound as if they should have a related opposite but are, in fact, stand-alone words. This morning’s word was “incongruous” - nothing is ever “congruous”. You can be “ruthless” but never “ruthful”, although you can do things “ruefully” and you can “rue the day” that you started to think about these crazy words!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A mild little rant about animals

Yesterday I spoke to one of my nodding acquaintances around the village. This a gentleman I know as Mike. Another friend calls him Patrick. Yesterday I heard someone call him Bill. Goodness knows what his name really is.

He was accompanied by his latest rescue dog. The previous one grew old and died. This one he has only had a few weeks and has already spent large amounts of money at the vet’s to help it. He thinks it’s coming along nicely. This is a man who goes out of his way to be good to animals. Credit where it’s due!

He told me about someone whose house was broken into recently. They stole nothing but a French bulldog, one of those squashed-face dogs that are all the rage at the moment. One of the householders was stabbed during the robbery. Mike/Patrick/Bill said he would have defended his dog too. We decided the dog was probably stolen to order and has quite possibly been sold on now for £1,000 or so.

Last week I heard a vet talking about the cruelty of the selective breeding that has produced these oddly popular dogs. She was saying that these dogs now need specialist breeding to unwind some of the genetic manipulation that has taken place to give them their squashed faces and their breathing difficulties. We do strange things to animals in the name of fashion. Not me personally but as a race! 

Someone else I know drew my attention to a report of a hunt - hounds, men in red coats, hunting horns, the lot - charging through a cat sanctuary in pursuit of a fox AND a deer. As if one quarry were not sufficient for them! The people who ran the cat sanctuary said their cats were traumatised and many fled and may have been permanently lost. Volunteers and police had to fight the hounds off the cats! I am not a cat lover by any means but I don’t see that huntsmen have the right to ride rough shod over somebody else’s land causing frightening havoc.

Today I read about someone out running in the Peak District and coming across a group of people hare coursing:- pursuing hares with dogs, often grey hounds, or rather letting the dogs chase, catch and eventually kill the hares. It is a “sport” which is illegal in England.

Now, I am aware that people grow nostalgic for things past and try to turn the clock back. But there are limits.

 Maybe they would like to reintroduce bear baiting while they are at it!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Presidential visits! Royal weddings! Referendum thoughts!

So Donald Trump has decided not to come to see us after all. Cries of “Chicken!” might be heard. Is he afraid of seeing people lined up to say they don’t like him or his policies or his ways in general? He says it’s because he doesn’t want anything to do with officially opening the new US embassy in London. He says he’s cross that Obama sold off the old one and spent a lot of money on a new one, despite the fact that apparently it was Bush who started it all off. Excuses! Excuses!

Another theory is that he is holding out for an invitation to the wedding, you know, Harry and Megan! But then he might have to socialise with the Obamas, since they are supposed to be friends of Harry’s.

How complicated it is to be a person in the public eye.

I came across an article about Princess Margaret. Not my usual sort of reading but I found myself almost feeling some sympathy for her. Like Harry, she was the “spare”, the second child in the royal family, never likely to inherit the throne but still constrained by all the royal folderol! When she wanted to marry Peter Townsend, first there was the problem of his being divorced, then she needed her big sister’s permission and even if she waited until she was 25 and deemed old enough to marry without the queen’s say-so, she would still need parliament’s agreement! Crikey! No wonder she got a bit rebellious! Of course, she could have just given up royal status and privilege and married him anyway but maybe that was a step too far towards being ordinary, just plain Mrs Townsend.

So much for Tom Petty singing “It’s good to be king and have your own way”! What did he know about it anyway?

And, after all, what are princesses for?

I still remember the fuss about Margaret’s eventual marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. So she got the big princess wedding in the end. That was, I think, the first of the big televised royal weddings, certainly at a time when it was becoming more common for people to have television in the home. At the time of the coronation loads of people either didn’t see it or went to watch it at the home of a more “fortunate” friend or relation. We went to a party in a local park!

But I blame that first big televised wedding for the current mania for big expensive weddings that cost an arm and a leg. That’s where it all started and it all snowballed from there. That’s my theory anyway.

And now we have Nigel Farage suggesting we should have a second referendum about leaving the EU. That’s what he said first of all. Then there was quite a lot of reaction with remainers saying they might win. Now he says he “fears we may need a second referendum”. Both sides think they could win. Will it happen? Theresa May says not. Whatever happens, we have an expensive mess going on. 

Arguments are spinning around. One lot say that with more young people now being able to vote and some old people having popped their clogs, then remain might win. Another lot say that people who came out unusually to vote to leave in the original referendum, people who had rarely voted at all in the past, might not be bothered to turn out again and so, again, remain might win. Farage thinks that people are more convinced than ever that we should leave and a second referendum would simply silence the remoaners once and for all.

Will it happen? Who knows? I am not holding my breath!

The world is crazy!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Delivery problems!

In our front garden is a black plastic box, a medium sized box, originally provided by the local council to put paper and card in for collection and recycling. Some time ago they changed their system to containers that could be more easily left on the pavement, outside the gate, when they decided that dustbin-men’s time could be used more efficiently if they did not have to enter gardens and drag bins out. Now householders do the dragging in and out bit. Cost-effective rubbish collection!!

Anyway, we still have a black plastic box in the garden, not far from the front door. In it there are containers of coarse salt and grit, for sprinkling on the path in icy weather.

This is all background information to the story coming up.

This morning I received an email about a parcel I was expecting. It told me that my parcel had been left in a safe place and had a photo of a hand putting the parcel in question - yes, you’ve guessed it - inside the black plastic box. Now, we have worked quite hard to persuade the Post Office delivery people that the black box is not exactly a secure place to leave parcels. Any passing scally could choose to “collect” the parcel. So they leave them with the next door neighbours or put a card through the door saying we can collect parcels from then Post Office in the village. It works. Apparently we need some kind of notice for other delivery services.

The other thing is that we were at home at the time the delivery was attempted. I can only assume that the delivery man ignored the doorbell, which can be heard throughout most of the house, and opted to tap the tiny little door knocker above the letter box. This door knocker is so laughably small as to be almost ornamental. What is more, you can only hear it if you happen to standing close to the door when the tap-tapping occurs! Another notice is needed, pointing out the existence of a quite effective doorbell. Or perhaps we need to add a new and noisy door knocker.

However, the parcel was safely retrieved and can now be forwarded, together with a couple of other items, to the person it was intended for.

What I really fail to understand is how a company can have the technology to send me an email letting me know my parcel is in a “safe place” and yet fail to make use of the more basic technology of the doorbell!