Sunday, 22 September 2019

The aftermath of the party. Decision making ideas.

In contrast to yesterday, when I ran in brilliant sunshine and under a clear blue sky, today I ran in the rain. I was not surprised. After all, the weathermen had promised us rain - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and goodness knows how many days after that - and besides I had heard it pounding down in the early hours of the morning.

At the cricket club they were dismantling the fencing that had prevented people from just climbing the low wall into the ground for the Party in the Park. Perish the thought that people should get in for free! I saw a lorry set off with a deflated bouncy castle loaded on the flatbed. There was surprisingly little litter on the road outside the cricket ground, far less than when there is a cricket match. On those occasions it is no surprise to find abandoned mobile min-barbecues! But for the Party in the Park either they had efficient litter-pickers or it was all contained within the enclosure.

There were, however, vast numbers of cars parked on the grass verge where I wanted to run. And they went on well beyond the road where I turn off to the left. Surely some of them must have been almost i Marsden! I doubt that all of them were from people helping to tidy up as there were few people on evidence. So were they all cars in which people had driven to the event yesterday. Had the drivers sensibly decided they had imbibed too much and abandoned their vehicles, setting off to walk home? If that was the case, if they lived close enough to walk home, why had they not walked to the venue in the first place?

As I completed my running circuit, approaching the house from the other direction, I spotted what was clearly car debris on the road not far from our house - bits of a bumper, a number plate, other odd metallic bits and pieces. In front of the debris was a large vehicle, a Land Rover Freelander I think, with a dent in its rear wing. In front of that was a small silver Nissan, possibly belonging to our next door neighbours. This car has a fine dent in the rear, looking remarkably as though the Freelander had rear-ended it. Thinking back I remembered waking in the wee small hours, probably around 1.30am, to the sound of a “crump!”, followed by a car alarm, a short-lived car alarm. So the evidence suggests that someone did a bit of car-crashing in our street last night. When I see the next-door-but-one neighbour she will no doubt fill me in on all the details, as she is always well-informed! I am quite pleased that we do not have a car as it would almost certainly have been larked in the same row of vehicles.

At the other end of the country the Labour Party conference has been going on apace. Promises abound - free prescriptions for all, replacing Ofsted with some superior form of inspection for schools - but Brexit is still a bone of contention. And members of the party still fall out with each other. Life is hard for politicians these days! All that decision-making!

 I was reading about a baby called Anoush, whose parents have decided to raise their offspring gender-free. The child can decide for itself, when it reaches the age of reason or when the parents decide it is old enough, whether it is male or female. I refuse to use the pronoun “they” for this child and so will stick resolutely to “it”. Presumably the parents have registered the child and must have had to put a gender on the birth certificate but they are not revealing that gender to anyone. One of its grandmothers found out when she changed a nappy. I assume that she has been sworn to secrecy. What about the midwives and health visitors from early stages of Anoush’s little life? Also sworn to secrecy? Anoush’s parents, John and the unlikely named Hobbit, live on a houseboat so, I were them, I might be more worried as Anoush finds its feet about it falling overboard.

But that’s just me.

I can understand the opposition to gender-stereotyping but there are ways to deal with it. Our three year old granddaughter alternates between playing with cars and playing with her dolls’ house. And I know about baby-led weaning, where the child more or less decides which of the foods offered are to its liking. But baby-led gender is perhaps a step too far. I should have thought childrearing was complicated enough without adding extra problems along the way.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Festivals - of one kind or another. Sunshine. Some odd facts. Spiders. Dealing with anxiety.

Today is the day! The day of Delph’s “Party in the Park”. Well, really it should be “Party on the Cricket Pitch” but I suppose that lacks a certain cachet. It’s organised by the “Wake Up Delph Committee”. Tribute bands, such as a Blondie sound and look-alike, are booked months in advance. The wicket is covered up. A stage is set up. Stalls and children’s rides are erected and all the parking spaces in the neighbourhood are filled up for the day.

This is the umpteenth Party in Park and today must be the first time in ages that they have had a brilliantly sunny day for it. As a rule it is damp and drizzly, as it usually is the Band Contest in June. So hooray for a bit of sunshine! Tomorrow it is forecast to rain.

I am not attending the Party in the Park. Instead I have been for a long walk, taking in some fine canal towpaths and a visit to Tesco. I caught the bus back. One lady on the bus asked the driver if he stopped at Delph Station. He was nonplussed. So we had to explain to him that there used to be a railway. Long ago, with a station at Delph Crossroads. All that remains now is the station building, now a private house, complete with platform and a few notices. The line itself is now a bridle path, the Delph Donkey, much walked by yours truly!

Today I have added to my collection of silly names. There is a comedienne I have never heard of called London Hughes and a model who goes by the name of Seashell Coker, surely a professional name if ever there was one.

And here are some odd facts and figures. It seems there are 14,456 centenarians in Italy, 1,102 over 105 years old and 21 over 110. The city of Genoa alone has 288 centenarians. What is the cause of such longevity? Diet? Lifestyle? Who knows?

We have been watching “Peaky Blinders”, the series about a Birmingham gang and their exploits. Consequently we now address each other in bad Brummie accents. Everyone wants a bit of Peaky Blinders- Brad Pitt would like a role! You can download a podcast, if the series itself is not enough for you. And there has been a festival going on in Digbeth, Birmingham - the Legitimate Peaky Blinders. Thousands of people got dressed up in period attire in tribute to their favourite characters. Amazing!

It’s spider season, spider-mating season I am told. I keep catching them and throwing them into the garden of the pub next door. A young friend of mine posted this about spiders on Facebook: “Wish people would stop posting pictures of spiders suffering from arachnophobia after finding one in our flat, last thing I want to see scrolling through Facebook, thanks lol.”

Either she cannot write in proper sentences - which is probably the case, despite my best efforts to teach her to do when she was one of my A-Level French students - or she has discovered that some spiders are afraid of themselves.

If so, said spiders should try conscious, connected breathing. Don’t hold your breath. See below!

If you thought you knew how to breathe, think again. 2,000 people recently attended a breathing workshop run by the “Breath Guy”, aka Richie Bostock, someone who must be doing quite nicely going to festivals and being paid to teach people to breathe. They even have workshops in the House of Commons. The head of the International Breathwork Foundation (yes, that is actually a thing) says, “Conscious, connected breathing is now reaching the world. People are always seeking to find happiness, joy, real love and to be healthy.”

It’s been around for a while apparently. Someone called Hannah Goodman trained as a breathwork facilitator four years ago. “We’ve known about the benefits of conscious breathing, mindfulness and meditation for a long time but we haven’t implemented them,” she says. It’s said to be good to help deal with stress, anxiety, addiction and other health problems.

I think my mother knew about it as she would often remind us to “take a deep breath”.

John Crace, he of the Digested Week in Saturday”’s Guardian should perhaps try it. He writes, “Brexit is definitely doing nothing for my mental health. I feel depressed and my anxiety levels are sky high. I wake up in the morning with a sense of dread - it often takes a huge effort just to get out of bed - and I feel out of control most of the day.”

That probably applies to most of us. Especially arachnophobic spiders!

Friday, 20 September 2019

On decluttering! And photos!

Every so often I half-heartedly start to sort through stuff.

On the one hand there’s that Marie Kondo telling us to declutter, to get rid of anything that does not bring you joy. Well, the dustbin doesn’t exactly bring me joy but I don’t think I should get rid of it. However, it does work with the clothes and I now have a bag of stuff to go to the charity shop.

And then, on the other hand there are those earnest programmes on the radio where they go on about the difficulty of sorting out your deceased parents’ belongings. And I think that maybe I should reduce the stuff that the offspring might eventually have to deal with. I remember my mother going through stacks of photos when she was seriously bed-bound and feeling she didn’t have much time left. She distributed the photos among the four siblings, thus adding to our clutter!

Anyway, yesterday evening I did sort some stuff and I threw out a modicum but I also found a range of photos, photos that have been taken out of albums for one reason or another and never put back in their proper place. So that’s another job lined up for me: get out the old albums and see whether I can put any of the strays back in place.

But the whole business got me thinking about photos. I swear that our new grandson in his, what?, eleven days on the planet has been more photographed than I was through umpteen years of my childhood. Mind you, part of the reason for that is my elder sister having got hold of the camera when she was about four years old. My parents had one of those old box-brownies and whenever they took a picture they would tell us to watch the birdie, so when my sister got her hands on the gadget she began looking for the well-hidden birdie. That was the end of the camera!

But even when it was replaced, it was only used on special occasions and on holidays. Which in our case, as we lived in a seaside town, meant when the Yorkshire relatives came to stay. But there is something about actual printed photos, whether in an album or stuffed into shoe boxes and put away in a drawer. They are a tangible reminder of stuff that went on, as I said usually on memorable occasions.

But nowadays we point and click at every opportunity. I do it myself. This morning on my run I stopped to take photos of spiderwebs and of the local heron - he must love me as I managed to frighten him into flight at least three times before he finally settles on the other side of the millpond. And I post a lot of them on Facebook. Indeed, I have a friend who says she looks forward to my almost daily updates - they remind her that there is life after teaching!

I don’t do selfies though and I don’t do Instagram. I’ve not quite sussed that out. Do the photos posted on Instagram disappear into the ether after a while? If so, what is the point? And so I also find myself wondering about all the masses of photos taken on mobile phones, the photos documenting children’s progress through life, all the milestones they reach. I know they are stored on the mysterious “cloud” but does anyone go up there and look at them? And what about children looking back at their baby photos? I know that our three year year old granddaughter can very ably swipe through photos on my iPad or on my phone but it’s still not quite the same as looking through an album.

Then last night on the television news they interviewed the McCartneys - Paul and his daughters Stella and Mary - because they have just had published a collection of Linda McCartney’s family photos. There are photos of family members doing family things, shots of the cottage they lived in up at Mull of Kintyre, of horses, of Paul cleaning his teeth. Many of them are polaroid pictures as apparently Linda was always taking instant pictures.

(Our daughter had a polaroid camera, briefly, in her mid-teens. It was a requested birthday gift and she was very pleased with it. Unfortunately it was short-lived as she took it out on one of her rambles with friends. A careless friend dropped it down a hillside and it crashed into a rock. Another camera bit the dust!)

No doubt McCartney fans will go out and buy the book even though really those photos are of most interest to the family. But at least the McCartneys now have a lasting record of those family moments. I found myself quite inspired. I should go through all my photos and make a similar family memory book. There are computer programmes that will do this for you, provided I can digitise all the photos. But then I can give both offspring a copy and throw all the old photos out.

All I need to do is organise myself!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Seasonal nonsense.

A friend of mine, a retired English teacher so he should know a thing or two about matters literary, tells me that 200 years ago today John Keats wrote his Ode to Autumn. Apparently he, Keats that is, not my friend, wrote to a friend a couple of days later about a splendid walk he had taken and how it had inspired him to write his famous poem. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that sort of thing. Time was I could recite the whole poem from memory!

I guess John Keats must have been walking about in the kind of weather we have had over the last few days. It’s nice to get some good September weather. This morning fulfilled the “season of mists” criterion; everywhere around here was shrouded in mist, just a little damp and chilly for my morning run. By late morning, however, the sky was uniformly blue, not a cloud in sight, and the sun was shining nicely. I may need to go and forage some of that “mellow fruitfulness”, otherwise known as blackberries, once again.

The fine weather has inspired us to go out walking up the quarry road, as we call Lark Hill, not far from our house. It’s quite a steep walk in the early stages, up a road where you need to watch your footing as so much of the soil between the old stone surface has been washed away by heavy rains at regular intervals. It’s got so bad that I wouldn’t even like to tempt it in a four-wheel drive vehicle these days.

When we had got to the flatter stages up at the top of the hill, heading gently towards Dobcross village, we spotted a lady walking a couple of dogs. As we got closer, she and I said in unison, “Oh, I didn’t realise it was you until we got close.”

This lady used to be the librarian in our village library, now manned by volunteers in an attempt to prevent complete closure. But I knew her because I had taught both her daughters in the early days of my teaching career. Now, that is going back rather a long way.

And we swopped family news without making any reference to the nonsense going on with certain politicians at the moment.

There’s the nonsense of Boris Johnson being challenged during a hospital photo opportunity by the angry parent of a young patient. The father was outraged by the lack of provision in the hospital and was clearly annoyed at the PM creating a press opportunity. In a supreme moment of daftness, Mr Johnson declared that there were no press present, this despite the photographers and cameramen all around. Perhaps in his mind the fact that reporters were not asking questions meant that the press were not there. I bet photojournalists feel a bit miffed by that idea.

Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political person, tweeted later that it “turns out the man who challenged the PM is also a Labour activist”. As if that somehow undermined his parental indignation! A doctor tweeted back nicely, “Thanks Laura, next time any patient gets substandard care I’ll make sure to check their political affiliation I listen to their concerns.”

On the other side of the world, President Trump complained about the presence of homeless people while speaking to reporters on Tuesday, saying they live in “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” where people “pay tremendous taxes”.
He said LA and San Francisco “destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening” and that some residents want to move away because of tent encampments. I wonder if it has ever occurred to him to use some of those “tremendous taxes” to help solve the problem of homelessness, a problem that is increasing all over the world.

This morning I read something in he Washington Post that said that POTUS has made 10,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office. Of course, this is probably not deliberate lying, just the result of opening his mouth before his brain was switched on.

Meanwhile, over in France, I hear that thieves have broken into Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau where they tied up the owners and escaped with €2million worth of jewels and cash.
The 80 odd year old owners were not harmed. Very good. But imagine having €2million worth of jewels and cash in your home. Surely by their age they should have realised it was a good idea to put some of it in the bank.

 On a linguistic point I was a little miffed to see Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau described as “one of France’s most opulent chateaus”. Not that I am questioning the opulence. I was just surprised by that plural, which surely should be “chateaux”. So I went and looked it up and found that ”chateaus” is a perfectly acceptable English plural.

Not for me, it isn’t!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Christmas is coming ... already!

It’s mid-September. ONLY mid-September. Yesterday I saw mince pies on sale in the local co-op store. In fact, two weeks ago I saw mince pies on sale in one if the big supermarkets, probably Sainsbury’s. But somehow I expect our local co-op to be a little more restrained. And since Hallowe’en appears to have become an acknowledged public festivity, maybe we should get Hallowe’en out of the way before we start selling Christmas stuff.

When I commented yesterday in the co-op that we are still a long way off Christmas, another customer replied with his opinion that mince pies can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Well, no, not really, it seems to me. Some things need to be saved for special occasions.  Hot cross buns all year round I heartily agree with as hot cross buns are really just extra-nice fruit teacakes. But mince pies are rather more in the realm of fancy cakes. That’s my view anyway! Eating them all year round would be like having birthday cake all year round.

Christmas has been in the news in the Netherlands as well, every year they have a Saint Nicholas parade in Apeldoorn on November 16th, which also, by the way, is a little early in my opinion. But it’s not the timing that is in the news but the characters who make up the televised parade. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a group of people dressed up as the Swarte Piets, or Black Petes. The Swarte Piets are traditionally white people in blackface make-up.

Inevitably anti-racist protesters have been complaining for a good while that this is a reference to slavery. And it has to be said that in photos they do have a look of the Black and White Minstrels. See the picture in this link. Some of the protests have been violent.

Defenders of the Swarte Piets say that this is not a case of racism but that the Piets have sooty faces because they accompany Sinterclaas down the chimneys to help deliver gifts to all and sundry. So anyway this year a decision has been taken and the Swarte Piets will not have blackface make-up but sooty faces.

“Today is a beautiful, historic day,” said Jerry Afriyie of Kick Out Zwarte Piet, who has been campaigning against Zwarte Piet since 2008. “This is a victory for everyone who strives for an inclusive parade that will delight all children. We want the tradition to continue for thousands of years – but adapted to the times.”

A happy ending of sorts.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A new age nonsense rant.

For quite a lot of people Madagascar is a cute animated film about a bunch of animals made in 2005. Many of them have no idea where Madagascar is. In the case of small children this is understandable as they probably think it is another made-up place like Arandelle in that other cute animated film, Frozen. And even many of the adults who know that it is the fourth largest island in the world, located off the east coast of Africa possibly think of it only as an interesting tourist destination with lots of unusual flora and fauna.

It’s also the source of a lot of crystals, rose quartz and the like, which are believed by a surprisingly large number of people to have healing qualities. The reasoning seems to go that if contact with uranium can make you seriously ill then contact with other substances can heal you. I have a few friends who are logical and intelligent in all sorts of areas of their life but who maintain this belief in the benefits of having crystals around you. Which is fine. If you want to believe that a highly polished piece of mineral is going to improve your life, then that is your privileged right. You could put the money you spend on crystals towards helping the homeless, for example, but that’s another matter.

The fact is that in Madagascar a large percentage of the crystals are hacked out of the ground by people who are paid a pittance to do so. As well as risking being crushed under landslides when the unstable ground gets wet, they breathe in mineral dust which causes silicosis and lung cancer. It puts your complaints about working conditions into perspective, doesn’t it?

Some of those pulling crystal hunks from the ground are the age of my 14-year-old grandson or younger. My grandson spends his spare time playing games on his X-box. The difference even a small amount of privilege makes!

And a crystal worth a few cents at the point of being pulled from the earth, goes up and up in value as  it is polished and cleverly marketed. For far away from the crystal mines people use the crystals to sort their life out. As Kim Kardashian was recovering from her robbery at gunpoint in 2016, she embraced healing crystals. The model Miranda Kerr has said that she filters all her skincare products through rose quartz “to give the vibration of self-love”. At least Kim Kardashian still had funds to buy expensive healing crystals. And quite how you filter your skincare products through rose quartz remains one of life’s mysteries to me.

Some of the people selling crystal products do have a conscience and want their crystals to be ethically-sourced. Julia Schoen, for example, of the crystal drink bottle company Glacce, apparently regards ethical sourcing as “the No 1 priority” but I wonder how aware she is of the child labour involved in obtaining the crystals which will be “blessed” by her staff who burn sage smudge sticks over them and pray to cleanse them before using them. It’s a lot easier to get into the hocus pocus than into checking the validity of assurances that nobody was exploited.

So think about it if you feel a piece of polished crystal calling you to purchase it or if you are tempted to buy a water bottle or a metal straw embedded with rose quartz, amethyst and other crystals, which are supposed to transform ordinary water into a “crystal elixir”, where the water takes on the healing properties of the crystal!

One of the crystal sellers in he USA interviewed for this article  expressed the belief that the circumstances of miners in Madagascar, “makes the pieces a lot more special. Because I know some person in a little baby hut was actually polishing it by hand, and they’re setting their intentions into it, too. People’s intentions and people’s energy are put into the stones as they’re producing it.”
“So the circumstances they’re mined in, they are embedded into the stone somehow?” the journalist asked.
“I think so. A little bit, it has to be. It has to be.”

There’s a hint of magic realism about this, rather like in Laura Esquivel’s novel “Like Water for Chocolate” where the emotions of the cook get into the food prepared - food prepared with love tastes better, we all know that! And suffering makes the crystal more powerful?

Monday, 16 September 2019

Crazy birds and crazy people.

I know a lot of people who cannot abide magpies. There are, it has to be acknowledged, far more of them these days than I ever remember seeing as a child. I swear that around here they are almost as numerous as the rooks. And they always sound extremely quarrelsome. The rooks are just raucous but the magpies sound as though they are having a serious argument about something.

I am amused to see them, along with the rooks, try to balance on the bird feeder in a neighbour’s garden, a feeder intended for small birds such as blue tits, the kind that are good at hanging upside down! I find magpies quite impressive to look at, however, when they are not being stupid and trying to be small acrobatic birds.

Some people though complain that they have become too numerous and have frightened off other garden birds. This may be the case. And I know that they can be quite aggressive at times, stealing fledgelings from other smaller birds’ nest. But that’s the way nature is, red in tooth and claw and all that sort of stuff. There are people who set traps for them, which seems to me to be a bit extreme, especially as you them have to remove them from the traps and wring their necks - human being red in tooth and claw!

Anyway, I found this Australian magpie story in today’s paper:

“A man has died of head injuries after he was startled by a magpie and crashed his bicycle in Wollongong. The 76-year-old was riding a pushbike on an off-road path alongside Nicholson Park at Woonona on Sunday morning when he veered off to avoid a swooping magpie, witnesses reported.

He hit a fence post and was thrown to the ground, suffering serious head injuries. He was airlifted to St George hospital in a critical condition and died in the evening.

Australia is entering prime magpie swooping season with the onset of spring, as the birds target cyclists and pedestrians who venture near their nests. This month a Sydney council shot dead a “particularly aggressive magpie” that had allegedly swooped and injured people over several years, including one case in which a victim had a heart attack.”

I don’t know! Those Australians! Having to have a more extreme version of our birds.

Having said that I have heard of seagulls attacking people who get too close to their nests when eggs are hatching. Not to mention the ones that swoop down and steal your chips at the seaside or try to take you tapas off your table on the terraza of Spanish cafes.

The Americans also like to do things in a spectacular way. In a place called Germantown in Tennessee on September 11th, which the Americans write as 9/11, at 9.11 in the morning a baby girl was born, weighing in at 9lb 11oz. 9. 11 at 9.11 on 9/11 - coinciding with commemorations of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

They have named her Christina and her parents promise to explain the significance of her birth details when she is old enough to understand. “Christina is a little miracle during such a sad time. She is a new life amongst the devastation and destruction,” mother-of-four Cametrione Malone-Brown said. 

I found myself reflecting on the sheer size of the baby! I know they say each baby you have is bigger than the one before. So I think that Cametrione Malone-Brown, mother of four, should call it a day now. Goodness knows what size the next one would be.

Here’s another American story:- It is reported that the incidence of swearing by US politicians on Twitter has increased tenfold since Trump was elected. Members of Congress have seemingly said “fuck”, “shit”, “bitch” and “asshole” nearly 1900 times this year compared with a mere 193 times in 2016.

I am not entirely sure that we can blame it all on POTUS however. It seems to me that people are more ready to use coarse and aggressive language, just as they are more ready to be physically abusive and aggressive, than ever they used to be.

Another factor to take into account is that Members of Congress are probably using Twitter more than they did before. Not only do they have a president who appears to govern via social media but it seems to be de rigueur to have a social media presence. Anyone who is anyone tweets and twitters.

By that rule, I am no-one.

Then there is Lisa Bloom, lawyer, who was hired by Harvey Weinstein for $895 an hour to help him whitewash his reputation when accusations against him started to surface. She advised him on tactics to “shut down” the accusations, how to appear publicly repentant, to do things like pledge a $5m scholarship fund for female film makers at the University of Southern California. Wow, she was a women’s advocate as well!

She has since said her involvement was a “colossal mistake” but maybe she was just swept away by the colossal fees involved!

The French might win today’s prize for odd stories though. A Frenchman recently died from a heart attack after having adulterous sex during a work trip. A French court has ruled that his death was a “workplace accident”. His employers argued that the man interrupted work for the rendezvous but the court decided that sex was part of everyday life , “like having a shower or a meal”. Perhaps more importantly, the worker’s family would receive a better pension and other help.

 Only in France!

I was going to express my relief at being British and not being odd at all but then I remembered that we are going through the continuing nonsense that is Brexit. Living in our current mad glasshouse we have no right to throw stones at anyone else.