Monday, 14 January 2019

Taking an extreme view of things!

I spotted a headline in today’s newspaper: Playing it straight. Should gay roles be reserved for gay actors?

Oh boy!

The article didn’t come to any kind of definite conclusion. It just gave a whole lot of opinions and attitudes. And it gave me a new bit of terminology: a straight actor playing a gay role is “gayfacing”, just as a white actor might do “blackfacing”!

Okay, I draw the line at accepting putting on make-up to play the role of a black person but otherwise we should not forget that what we are talking about is ACTING. The clue is in the word!

Other similar questions spring to mind:-

Should detectives only be played by actors who have experience in CID?

Should Liverpudlian roles be reserved for actors from Liverpool?

And Cockney roles for actors born within the sound of Bow Bells?

To play criminals do actors have to have committed actual crimes? 

We seem currently to live in a world of extremes!

Here’s another example: vegan compost, made without manure, no animal products involved.

A group of Greek and Cypriot organic farmers I read about have been using wasted olive branches, olive leaves, olive cale (the dry residue left after olives have been pressed), and grape pomace (the leftovers from vineyards) to produce compost. In that compost they found they were able to grow huge vegetables. They export the compost to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, all places where there is a high demand for vegan fruit and veg.

Okay! Just how vegan does your fruit and veg need to be? Is it okay that cherry blossom, for example, is pollinated by insects? Should it not perhaps be done without insect intervention?

I fully expect Helen and Tom Archer to start campaigning for this stuff on their organic farm. After all, Tom has already had a go at kefir and has started talking about planting quinoa.

Apparently the compost needs to “ripen” into humus soil (I am not really very well up on the science of soil) and as it takes four years for this ripening to occur, this makes it a bit expensive for large scale use. However, producers foresee a demand for mature humus soil from urban growers, cultivating veg in rooftop soil bags. They also hope that conventional organic farmers (come on Helen and Tom!) will buy it as cheaper compost and ripen it on their own land, meanwhile growing huge veg in it.

Hmm! Will Brexit allow us to import such stuff? It is European, after all!

Mind you, we might all be down to a bit of urban vegetable cultivation if the foreseen post-Brexit food shortages come to pass. Dig up your roses beds and plant potatoes and carrots. Make a nice hedge of blackcurrant bushes and raspberry canes.

So-called Brexit survival kits costing almost £300 are already being sold ahead of the UK leaving the EU. A Leeds company has been producing packs which include enough freeze-dried food to last 30 days, a water filter and fire starting gel.

One interviewee said she bought a box to supplement her stocks of tinned food and toilet roll as she feared there may be "chaos" in the months after Brexit.

A government spokesperson, on the other hand, said there was "no need" to stockpile any of the items in the box.

A number of Brexit-themed products have appeared for sale and several online discussion groups have been set up. More than 3,500 people have joined the Facebook group 48% Preppers which says it discusses "the practical preparations people are making for life after Brexit". Meanwhile a "Prepping for Brexit" page on Mumsnet has more than 250 posts with members saying they plan to stock up on everything from medication, toiletries and nappies to hair dye and tobacco.

And tomorrow the much talked about vote takes place.

I am a little sceptical about all the news reports I have read and heard over the last few days which tell me that Theresa May is going to lose the vote. It hasn’t taken place yet. Assuming it is already lost might put a kind of hex on it.

The Maybot might yet pull a rabbit out of her hat!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Apostrophes and other nonsense.

This is a notice I spotted outside a local pub. I was struck by the number of totally unnecessary apostrophes.


My Spanish sister says she spots them all over the place in Spain, wrongly used of course, but she didn’t think they were so prevalent in England. This is a sign of how long it is since she has lived in this country. It is also a sign of how standards have slipped. There always were what used to be called  “grocer’s” apostrophes but nowadays there are so many signs all over the place that rogue apostrophes abound.

When Phil came home (and, incidentally, my hero, fixed the lighting situation, which was, as I suspected a blown fuse) he told me about the Holiday Inn in Doncaster, where he has been playing
chess this weekend. There they offer a “selection of panini’s”. Whoa! Double whammy fault!

“Panini” is already plural, the singular being “panino” and then there is that APOSTROPHE!

I am relatively forgiving about the “paninis”. After all, you can’t expect everyone to be an expert linguist. We linguists get a bit picky about such things though. And rogue apostrophes drive us language and grammar obsessives wild!

I trust everyone noticed my correct use of “we linguists” and “us obsessives”. Another obsession!

Between you and me, another thing that really annoys me is when people say “between you and I” or “for Mary and I”. Just think what you would say if there were not another person involved. Nobody says “for I” or “with I”, for goodness sake! it’s not all that hard!

Okay! Another rant over!

Here are some more January activities to sign up to:

Japanuary - reading only book sets in Japan. Example: Memoirs of  Geisha.

Granuary - reading only books that prominently feature grandmothers. Example: Gangsta Granny.

Dystopianuary - reading only books set in a dystopian world. Example: The Hunger Games. (Or any news report on how Brexit is going!)

Danuary - reading only books written by people named Dan. Example: Robinson Crusoe. The Da Vinci Code.

Libranuary - reading only books that contain one or more librarians. Example: The Name of the Rose. Or possibly La Sombra del Viento.

That’s all for now. Today is singularly wet and windy. I have run round the village and bought the Sunday newspaper. I have no need or intention to poke my nose outside again.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Confessions of certain inadequacies on my part!

Well, today I seem to be determinedly being a GIRL! A totally ditsy female who can’t do things!

Only women, by the way, are allowed to describe themselves in this fashion. If men do it they are being sexist!

Be that as it may, I am definitely not managing to do certain things. As a rule I am quite self-sufficient. In general I can fix things. I can build flatpack furniture without any problem whatsoever. I am an ace decorator, doing bits of plastering as needed and repainting walls and so on. I can usually find solutions. But the last few days have stumped me.

First there has been the business of the new phone.

Phil and I don’t “do” new iPhones and contracts with Apple. As our daughter and her older offspring upgrade their iPhones, we sort of inherit their more outdated handsets and put in sims from another provider. It works fine. Except that the process of transferring stuff from the old phone to the less old phone might have been witchcraft as far as I was concerned. I let my daughter get on with it on my behalf. At the moment it works reasonably well except that my Fitbit still talks to the old phone instead of the less old phone. And the Messenger app does not work on the new/less old device. No doubt it will all be sorted as it goes along.

Despite being quite good with machinery - I once wowed my engineer brother-in-law by taking my sewing machine apart, fixing it and putting it back together - I confess that I have always found information technology more than a little daunting. (Come to that, moving from a three-speed to a ten-speed gear system on my bike was quite a challenge - but I overcame it!) Long ago I briefly resisted the move from type writer to word processor. That is all in the past, however, as I quickly realised that the word processor had considerable advantages. I am not a total luddite or technophobe!

But whenever we had IT training in the various colleges I worked at, I was the one who was always lagging behind the rest in the group. When everyone else at stage 15, I was still floundering about at stage 4! And I have to admit that I got really grumpy over the whole procedure, something which is not conducive to learning new skills!

My attitude quickly became one of “I can do certain things but others are just too technical for me and I am not really interested in finding out how to do them anyway”. I do what I do and I do it well!

I cope fine with online banking and probably could not live without it. I am happy to buy stuff online. I cheerfully buy tickets for concerts over the internet. If pushed I can sort out travel that way too, but as Phil does it so much more quickly and efficiently I usually let him get on with it. I have not bothered to master streaming but I like to own CDs. And besides, it seems to me that if an artist has selected an order of songs to make an album, it’s a but churlish to simply download two or three of the songs!

This is probably why I failed science back in secondary school.

Then today I went to the supermarket, came back with a couple of bags of food shopping, switched on the light in the living room and the bulb went pop. Now, that is a bit of stuff I CAN deal with. Except that I realised that as the living room light went pop, the light in the hall went out too. And none of the lights would work.

Power-cut, I thought! How annoying!

Except that the standard lamps were still working. And all the electrical gadgets that plug in were still working.

So, not a power-cut then.

A simple power-cut might have been easier as I would just have to rely on an outside agency to put it right. On the other hand there would be the matter of the freezer quietly defrosting itself. So I presume this is a blown fuse issue or something like that - just the sort of thing I never deal with. And the man who does deal with such things won’t be back until later.

How very annoying! And it would choose to happen on a really dull day!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Better late than never! Translations and trains and architecture!

Today’s blog never got started properly as the day sort of slipped away. After I had finished the morning stuff - run, shower, breakfast, sort out wet hair, tidy up, read paper, and on and on - suddenly it was afternoon and my daughter turned up, ostensibly to sort out my phone but also to do a whole load of other stuff. And the phone is still not quite sorted. It’s all very well the younger generation saying that I really need a more up to date phone but, oh, the hassle involved in sorting it out!!! 

Anyway, here it is.

The linguist bit of me was highly amused to read that Brexit ministers paid EU £1.5m for translations of the Brexit white paper into other EU languages. Much embarrassment was caused as the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) was ridiculed for sending “clunky” translations. I wonder if they did that Spanish thing of finding someone, maybe a niece or a cousin, who knew a bit of each language and made use of them.

In the event, translation experts found numerous mistakes and irregularities in several translations, including the French, German, Croatian and Welsh language versions of Theresa May ’s Chequers plan. Mistakes in Croation I can understand. Who learns Croation at school? But why was it necessary to translate the document into Welsh? Surely there is no Welsh official who does not speak perfectly adequate English, maybe with a nice lilt but still perfectly good. I am once again astounded at such a waste of money in the name of political correctness!

While I am thinking about Wales, here is a link to an article about Harlech putting in a bid to be the place with the steepest street in the world. Apparently tourists come to look at it. People will look at the oddest things!

Phil sent me this link to Peter Hitchens’ blog, this time on the subject of Spain and the Spanish Civil War. Very interesting reading. I was struck by his comments on travelling on the Eurostar:

“ ... the scanning of luggage for Eurostar passengers seems daft and excessive.  It isn’t done on the Paris-Amsterdam Thalys (I am glad to say), or on any other cross-border express service that I know of even though there has been an actual terrorist incident on board that train. Spain insists on it for high-speed services, I know. But I think this is an understandable if excessive response to the massacres on trains in Madrid some years ago, which is Spain’s business.”

It is done on the station at Pontevedra, Galicia, and at the (relatively)new Urzáiz station in Vigo, presumably in preparation for the high speed trains that might one day use those stations. I am not sure about the Vigo end but the Pontevedra station luggage scanner closes down at around 9.30pm.

I can only assume that they consider that too late an hour for terrorists to strike!

Peter Hitchens also talked about Barcelona (he was more impressed than he expected to be Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada church) and voiced his opinion that the area north of the Plaza Catalunya has been ruined by modern architecture. I was reminded of recent visits to Manchester city centre where I see a huge amount of new high-rise building is going on. Now, I know that Manchester cannot really compare with Barcelona in terms of architecture but it does have some fine buildings and it has its own charm. However, I am concerned that Manchester’s older beautiful buildings are being dwarfed and overshadowed by these new giants.

It’s not often I find myself coming out with opinions that Prince Charles (and Peter Hitchens, I assume) might approve of.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The stress of growing up!

Years ago, more years than I care to calculate or remember, I read a science fiction story in which steps were taken to ensure equality. The very beautiful had to wear masks so that they did not outshine more ordinary-looking folk. The fleet of foot had weights attached to their ankles to slow them down to the speed of the majority. I cannot remember what was done to make the very clever appear dull. And I remember no details of events in the story, just the general social set-up in which equality really meant uniformity. On reflection it sounds like the scenario for a Black Mirror story, except that the Black Mirror stories always involve the dangers of modern technology.

How dull life would be if we were really all the same.

Equality (in other words, uniformity) of outcome is not the same as equality of opportunity.

Much is made of the fact that children nowadays have less freedom than those of previous generations. Many of my generation rabbit on nostalgically about being turned out to play first thing in the morning and not returning home until tea-time. They recall how they walked to and from school on our own from an early age. They tell you how good this freedom was for them. And now experts are backing them up. This article makes a correlation between overprotection in early childhood and the prevalence of mental problems in teenagers.

Steps are being taken to remedy the situation. Nursery schools have to let their small charges spend part of the day playing outdoors. The kind of “Forest School” playgroup that our smallest grandchild has attended encourage children to explore their environment and grub about in the dirt looking for interesting stuff. Schemes are set up to get older children out on bikes more frequently. Physical challenges!

But is it enough? Only time will tell. It must be hard to strike a balance between giving freedom and protecting. There is no denying that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be. It’s not just the dangers that lurk behind the screens of the electronic media today’s youngsters are exposed to. The outdoor physical environment is less safe too.

Nobody can deny that there are simply more and bigger and faster cars on the roads. When my friends and I used to play out in the street - hopscotch, skipping, football games, whip and top, go-carts, just running around - the streets were emptier and the air was cleaner. And although we may have roamed a fair bit, mostly we stayed within our own districts, where there were enough stay-at-home mums to be on the lookout for which kids were doing what. And when we walked to and from school there were always mums, and occasionally dads, taking smaller children to school and keeping an informal eye on the bigger ones, even those who didn’t belong to them I don’t think we can replicate that today.

I grew up in a system where there were school exams a couple of times a year, for just about all kids from junior school age upwards. We used to keep a running total of our exam marksaverage them out and work out who was top of the class, and what position everyone else held. Pupils moved up and down from one class to another accordingly. A bit of healthy competition and some challenges to overcome. And yes, some people were always low down in the pecking order but most could reassure themselves that did well at maybe one or two things at least. And we learnt to deal with exam stress in a more routine way than seems to happen with SATs nowadays.

Sports worked the same way. Everyone had to take part in sports day, even those who were never selected for football, netball, cricket, rounders teams. Then suddenly competition was wrong and everyone had to succeed. Even those who came last got certificates.

Cooperative sporting activity is great but competition builds up resilience.

The article doesn’t mention this aspect of changes in the way our children are brought up and educated. But I have long held that spoon-feeding youngsters through GCSE exams does not prepare them for A-Levels. And spoon-feeding them through A-Levels does not prepare them for university. And giving put more and more first class degrees every year raises unrealistic expectations. It’s no wonder some of them crack under the newfound strain of thinking for themselves and organising themselves. It’s no bad thing to learn to deal with a bit of failure and disappointment before you get too far on in life.

Oh dear! I recognise that I am beginning to sound rather like those who say, “I used to get a good smacking and it did me no harm!” That is a different question altogether.

But maybe the millennials, born between 1982 and 1994, and “iGen”, aka “Gen-Z”, born after 1994, could have done with some of the challenges baby-boomers faced.

Once again, I find myself grateful to have been born at the right time.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

On democracy and the name of the month!

On the lunchtime news on the radio I heard the Prime Minister berating the leader of the opposition for not having a clear plan for what he would do about Brexit. A certain amount of pot calling the kettle black seems to be going on. The lady who appears not to know what she is doing criticises a gentleman for apparently not knowing what he would do if he were in control.

I have heard suggestions that in the event of the vote on the deal going against her, the PM should use her powers to push the deal through anyway. Is that really possible? Does she have such powers? Isn’t it like POTUS signing presidential orders without letting Congress debate the idea first?

Another suggestion is that an election should be called for immediately after March 29th, Brexit Day. Quite what the advantage of that would be remains a mystery to me. However, if Cameron can institute a proceedings and then walk away and leave others to deal with the consequences, maybe May can do the same.

Is this the new Tory style of democracy?

Some are suggesting that democracy is breaking down, not just here but all over the place.

In our case, maybe the Queen should step in, dissolve Parliament and declare herself an absolute monarch!

That would give everyone something to think about!

Or something to moan about anyway!

On the moaning front, we have Dryanuary - the resolve not to drink alcohol throughout the month of January.

And there is the counter-move: Tryanuary, the suggestion that people should remember that, like dogs, pubs are for life, not just for Christmas, and that publicans still need to make a living - so for a drink for goodness sake!

We mustn’t forget Veganuary - the resolve to be vegan throughout the month.

After my husband declared today that he had no more serious social commitments for the rest of the month and, therefore, plans to drink less alcohol, eat less chocolate and fewer biscuits, and to get more exercise, I decided to create a new nomenclature - Miseranuary!

Masses of people seem determined to make January as miserable as they can for themselves. I include our politicians in this as the dreaded VOTE is due to take place next week. All sorts of misery could ensue!

As for me, I have my birthday in this month and have decided it should be Happyanuary! But maybe that’s just my terminally cheerful personality. There was an occasion in my teaching career when someone, a member of staff not a student, kind of snarled at me in the corridor, “Why are you always b****y smiling?”

I wonder what all these New Year’s resolutions turned into strange month-names would be if the year began with March instead of January.

Just a thought!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The disturbing madness of the modern world!

We live in very strange times.

For example, when did it become acceptable for people to shout abuse at an MP in the street, even if she is Tory MP Anna Soubry? Disagreeing with someone’s views does not mean you can subject that person to harassment in the street, or anywhere else for that matter. When did our responses become so violent? And when did being pro-Europe begin to mean you are a Nazi? Weird and strange!

Less seriously, there is the fashion industry and the price of stuff. In the weekend paper was a picture of Gillian Anderson, looking sleek and stylish as ever. The caption read:

“Actor Gillian Anderson has turned fashion designer, with a capsule collection for British label Winsor London. Key pieces include rain macs, knitwear and tailored trousers. Prices start at £250 for the knitwear.” Actresses (I refuse to call females actors.) used to be trendsetters. Fine. Now they are designers as well. Which I suppose means that Gillian Anderson had some ideas of things that would look nice to wear and someone with training in producing clothes made the idea reality. Or maybe I am misjudging her completely and she has absolutely excellent drawing skills as well as her other talents.

The other thing that springs to mind is the possibility that you might pay £250 for a piece of knitwear and then it accidentally gets in the wrong cycle in the washing machine and comes out as a felted piece of very small knitwear. All you could do then would be to put it in a frame and claim it was a piece of Gillian Anderson designer artwork!

And I came across a thing about lip balm. Lip balm is, in my opinion, an essential thingin life. Nobody wants chapped lips. But there is lip balm and lip balm. You can get very reasonably-priced lip balms in any chemist’s or supermarket: a whole range - from repair lip balms for those who have neglected their lips to more specialised ones for going out in the hot sun. Or there is the lip balm I read about, made by a company called The Lipstick Lobby. It is a clear vitamin E lip balm and markets for £15.

Really? Who pays such prices.

And, once again, there is the washing machine problem. You leave your very expensive vitamin E lip balm in your trouser pocket when your trousers go in the wash and it dissolves, leaving you with an expensive empty case!

There seems to have been a bit of a furore about Greggs, the bakers, producing a vegan sausage roll. Various people, notably Piers Morgan, got a bit agitated and tweeted about it and I really can’t think why. There seems to be a sort of class element in there. Here’s an extract from a report about it:

“Set against the prevailing line on obesity – people who eat cheap, processed food are a burden on the NHS and should be ashamed of themselves – and you have the perfect storm of a divided nation. On one side is a company that still cares; on the other a faceless, finger-wagging elite who don’t understand anything about people’s lives or how delicious those sausage rolls really are. Every meaty controversy, from George Osborne’s pasty tax to David Cameron’s pretend-pasty eating, from the cancer scares of bacon to the blanket meat tax proposed by Oxford University at the end of last year, has a bead of this conflict in it: “Why don’t you poor people take better care of yourselves?” v “Why don’t you rich people just get permanently out of my face?” Then some rightwing antihero – Morgan, or Nigel Farage – rides to the rescue, saying: “We don’t judge! We’re team mind-your-own-business,” when in fact it was their wealth-supremacist worldview that created the division in the first place.”

It’s all a lot of nonsense.

(Grammatical aside: in the middle of that report I spotted a punctuation error. When you read “David Cameron’s pretend-pasty eating”, it sounds for all the world as if David Cameron was eating an imitation pasty. A misplaced hyphen, if ever there was one! Surely they mean “David Cameron’s pretend pasty-eating”. Oh, my goodness! I’ll be writing another version of “Eats, shoots and leaves” before you know it!)

Along with vegan sausage rolls and tofu meat substitutes, I have been reading about pretend-salmon, made from carrots and other stuff. Surely if you are truly vegetarian or vegan, why do you need to eat pretend-non-veggie stuff?

It’s all part of the silliness!