Monday, 25 July 2016

Getting away from (the nastiness of) the world!

Well, the nastiness of the world continues: shootings and suicide bombers and political parties tearing themselves other apart instead of solving the problems of the world. And so I escape into other thinking about other things. 

Reading the paper yesterday I came across a new term, well, new to me: off-grid parenting. This seems to involve rejecting accepted ideas of parenting and includes a range of ideas:- 

  • prolonged breastfeeding (Which is fine by me up to a point but I don't think it should be exaggerated - toddlers who are running around and talking and riding little bicycles don't need to be breastfed any longer - and personally there came a time when I wanted my body back) 
  • anti-vaccination (The problem there is that potentially fatal illnesses that we thought had been eradicated, such as whooping cough, suddenly re-emerge thanks to the parents who don't have children vaccinated) 
  •  anti-medicine (I have mixed feelings about this. Antibiotics have been so over-prescribed that the human race has built up a resistance to many forms. My family knows that I resist taking pills unless I have to but sometimes you just have to take the medicine!)  
  • rejecting the school system (Home schooling can be fine and, goodness knows, there is a lot wrong with the school system at the moment.) 
  •  the whole family sleeping in one bed (Really? I have shared my bed with children at times and know what a bad night's sleep can result from it. Besides, children need their own space too.) 
  • non-assisted home births (I had a home birth and I was very glad the midwife was there when complications set in. Babies are too important to be sacrificed to airy-fairy ideas. Be flexible, for goodness sake.) 
So far so (reasonably) good but then it gets a bit wackier:- 
  • not using nappies (When was that ever a good idea?!) 
  • keeping the placenta attached instead of cutting the cord (Apparently you wait until it drops off of its own accord. Noooo! altogether too weird and strange. Not to say messy!) 
This all came up in an article about a young couple who appeared on morning television and scandalised many people by being unfazed when their one year old peed on the studio carpet. Cool customers, obviously. Well, yes, they seem to be; what they really want is for people to donate £100,000 so that they can start a “self-sustaining” life in Costa Rica (the fund currently stands at £140). 

Such idealism and optimism! No further comment needed!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Le Tour - final stage!

In my little bubble, escaping from the rubbish stuff that is going on around the world, I switch in the TV to watch the coverage of the final stage of the Tour de France. And what do I find? The women's race, called La Course, which has been taking place since 2014 and which was heralded as another small victory for women's liberation. 

How sexist is the Tour anyway? Well, this morning there was an article about Adam Yates, winner of the Best Young Rider classification, a young man from Bury in Greater Manchester. He belongs to a club called Bury Clarion Club, formed at the start of the 20th century. Here's a little excerpt, regarding women on bikes: 
"One January day in 1901 seven fearless women saddled up, adjusted their flowing skirts and straw boaters and pedalled slowly through Bury's streets. They were greeted by local people, shouting "shame" and "hussies" as well as booing children, who ran alongside." 

So, considering that the Tour has been going since a time when ladies on bikes were regarded as rather shocking, I suppose it's fairly understandable that it has been a male preserve for so long. And while I can understand the women shouting for parity, personally I would not want to compete against those men. After all, Wimbledon has separate competitions for men and women. Women's football teams don't play against the men. You have to accept that there is a physical difference. So if I were a lady racing cyclist, I would be happy with a high profile race in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France. And even that is hard going. As I watch it early in the afternoon, there are huge crashes taking place on the Paris cobbles. Ouch! 

And Chloe Hosking wins for Team Wiggle High5. What an odd name! That's the team name, not the rider. It turns out to be an online company that sells high energy drinks, bars and food supplements. In true 21sr century style, Chloe Hosking, a 25 year old Australian, stood on the podium after receiving her medal and pulled out her phone to take a selfie with the girls who came second and third. In fact, she took two: one with the Arc de Triomphe in the background and then a quick turn around to have the crowds in the background. Modern times! 

Here's another little bit of sexism. For La Course, the main commentator was joined by a female commentator, a cycling expert, yes, but dressed n a posh frock and with her hair nicely loose around her shoulders. For the Tour proper, he was joined by a male commentator, another cycling expert, dressed in cycling gear. Not so modern times perhaps! 

But an emotional acceptance speech from Chris Froome ended the day, even with a little bit of French in there. 

And that's the Tour over with for another year.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Getting around!

Saturday involves running around, reading the paper, getting the shopping done and other such weekend stuff. Here's one result of my news reading:- 

"It's a great way to see a city. It's fun to ride a Segway anyway, and you see way more than you would on foot. If you get tired of walking or bored with sights, it's perfect." Thus spoke Massimo Ferrara, who works as a guide with an agency that organises Segway tours in Rome. 

He was talking about those peculiar scooter affairs that roll down hill, charging their battery so that they can tackle the next uphill section of route. Well, that's how someone explained it to me. 

They are very popular with lazy tourists, or perhaps people who just love something gimmicky. As for us, we are very snobby about our tourism and like to "walk the walk", as we call it, getting to know a place by walking around everywhere. There must be places with steps and other difficulties that Segways can't cope with. Feet can go anywhere! 

Anyway, Barcelona and Prague have banned the use of them because of complaints from residents and even from tourists. I wouldn't fancy getting in the way of one of them and having my toes crushed. 

 One of the problems is deciding where they can be ridden. Some places allow them on the pavement. As if there wasn't enough of a problem with bicycles.! Others have them use cycle paths. Germany requires a permit for pavement use. 

In the UK, they are classified as motor vehicles. As such they are not allowed in pavements. However, motor vehicles require a license, insurance, lights, brakes and registration plates. So they are not allowed on the road either. 

 If you own one, you can only use it on your private estate! 

So it goes.

Friday, 22 July 2016

What happens when the sun shines.

I have been in Manchester all day. Contrary to the predictions of the weathermen, who told us it would rain in the afternoon, the sun shone all day. In fact the sun has been shining almost all over the country for the last few days. 

Consequently some people have decided it is okay to sunbathe in their underwear in city centre parks. You know the situation: finish work early, go to the park, oops no swimsuit, strip off to your underwear! This has caused some controversy. Understandably some other people feel that this is unacceptable behaviour. I tend to be on the side of the objectors. 

One woman was apparently seen walking down the street in Birkenhead in her bra an knickers. Well, in this age of equality, if blokes can feel okay to walk down the street without their shirts when the sun comes out, then women should feel equally okay to walk around in a state of undress. Once again, I am on the side of the objectors. Even in some seaside places they insist on people being fully dressed on the streets and in bars and restaurants other than those actually on the beach. 

In countries where they expect to have sunshine in the summer months, people tend not to walk around half dressed in ordinary towns and cities. Is this a peculiarly British thing? When the local authorities have complained in Barcelona about people walking from their hotels to the beach in their swimwear and nothing else, indeed in one case totally naked, is it just the British who walk around that way? I wonder. 

Reports have also been appearing of incidents where people, not always teenagers, have got themselves into difficulties in rivers and lakes. An activity called "tomb-stoning", which involves jumping into a river from a fairly high bridge, has possibly caused the death of one teenager. It seems that they just jump in without knowing how deep the water is or what might be below the surface.   

And little George Windsor or Cambridge or whatever his name is has been photographed feeding the family dog an ice cream. As everything people see him do in photos appears to be copied by an adoring public (his baby blanket, outfits he has worn and so on have been sought out and sold out!!!), the RSPCA has seen fit to warn people that feeding ice cream to dogs is not on. Dairy products are dangerous to dogs! Some twitter users, overreacting as ever, have called for the three year old to be arrested for animal cruelty! 

It would seem that a bit of warm weather brings on a kind of madness.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

End of term.

Last night I went to see our not so small grandson's summer show at his primary school. This is the show for which I was asked to concoct a skunk costume at short notice. He was one of many skunks and, setting aside all modesty, I must say his skunk costume was far superior to most of the others. His mother and I wanted to get a picture of the skunk child but there was little point in my trying to do so during the show; pictures of the backs of other parents' and grandparents' head are never appealing. After the show he had torn his headdress, made in school, to pieces, as had all his not so small pals. So, no photos. 

Every year the school puts on a performance by the year six children. That's what used to be called Junior Four in old parlance: top juniors, eleven year olds. I am always amazed at the range of size in a bunch of eleven year olds. There are the quite small ones, often boys who will remain short until they are about 14, when they will suddenly put on a growth spurt. Some boys, of course, at 11 are already hulking great brutes who look as though they should be out at work. The girls range from the petite, who could still be eight years old, to the tall and willowy, who could be sixteen year olds already. The unfortunate ones are those who are neither tall nor short but chunky, showing early signs of the sturdy middle aged women they will one day become. I really should not be surprised at this range. After all, I have in my collection of photos a picture of my Junior Four class, with exactly the same variety of shapes and sizes. Nothing changes. 

The "show" is always a masterpiece in the art of finding something to involve all the year group. Getting sixty children on stage is no mean feat. One of the staff involved said that when they meet to plan this, just after Christmas, they all agree that it is the hardest bit of planning in the whole year. Inevitably it has to be a musical, so that even the quietest, shyest, least extrovert children can be coaxed into taking part. This year's was a Robin Hood affair. Who knew that there were skunks in Sherwood Forest? 

As you might expect, performances varied. One character, Little John, whose main comic feature was his squeaky voice must have lost a lot of laughs because his squeaky voice disappeared and was inaudible beyond the edge of the stage. However, the main characters on the whole were splendid, clearly well cast. Robin Hood revealed talents of which even his parents were unaware: a singing voice that projected without the aid of a microphone, an ability to deliver his lines with perfect comic timing and thigh-slapping worthy of the best pantomime actors. 

The jokes were uniformly bad: real groan-out-loud jokes. Some of them were aimed at the adults and may have needed explaining to the young ones delivering the lines. And then there were the usual breaking-wind jokes. The stuff of pantomime, of course! 

The school's head teacher, despite having seen early rehearsals, the dress rehearsal and every performance, laughed at loud at each one. She must be easily amused or perhaps she is just so proud of her children that she felt the need to give them every encouragement. 

The best thing about such a performance is the children's evident enjoyment. Clearly they were having an excellent time. For some of them this may be the only time they ever share in the glory of a stage performance like that but others will possibly go on to greater things. And if it's not on the stage, this will have given them the confidence to stand up and address people, without too much fear of making fools of themselves. 

And what a way to end their primary school career. I hope secondary school does not prove to be a disappointment after this. 

And the end is not yet over. There will be a Year Six party in school and a school prom, at a local hotel. The latter has been organised by parents. But when did eleven year olds start to have proms? I remember just over twenty years ago when we organised a prom at the sixth form college where I was working. In fact, we didn't call it a prom; it was a leavers' ball, in imitation of the balls that took place at universities. It was a new idea or at least we thought it was. And the students loved it. The boys wore tuxedos and the girls, or their parents, spent huge amounts of money on proper ball gowns. Even the staff who attended dressed up appropriately. 

Before we knew it, every college was organising a leavers' ball. Students turned up in stretch limos. And the amount spent on dresses went up and up. And then, suddenly, students joined the college having already had a prom at their high school. Just as the name "secondary school" had morphed into "high school", so the end of year dance had changed its name to that other American term, "prom". And the college leavers' ball lost a little of its magic. 

And now there is a prom at the end of primary school. Our daughter has been out purchasing a suitable outfit for her son. He reports that one or two of the boys plan to wear a tux. Really! What happened to the school disco? What happened to childhood? 

Then there is the politics of it all. This school prom has apparently been organised by a particular clique of parents: the in-crowd perhaps. Our daughter and a friend have volunteered to help with the supervision of the prom as a kind of statement if defiance. The clique do not really approve of them. Goodness knows why not. Perhaps they are too educationally well-informed. Perhaps their faces just don't fit. Anyway, aware that the organisers do not actively want them to be involved, they have volunteered, knowing full well that as many helpers as possible are needed. Knowing our daughter she will probably take over! 

Such are the end of term shenanigans that go on around here.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Cleaning up in a heatwave.

As sometimes happens, contrary to the belief of certain Spanish friends of ours, over the last few days the temperature here has soared up into the top 20s, even topping 30 degrees. Suddenly summer has arrived, almost out of nowhere, and is punishing us for not believing it could happen. Of course, it's forecast to cool down again pretty soon but I could do with posting the weather chart to a friend of ours over there in Galicia. 

While we were away, our house was invaded by a bird, probably a young rook. We think he fell down the chimney, which is something which has happened before. Our daughter had been keeping an eye on the house, popping in from time to time to check that all was well. She had not been for about a week and went in to the living room to find it in a state of disarray. Things were knocked over. In some trepidation she checked the study and found that the computer was still there. Nor was there any evidence of anything having been stolen anywhere else on that level. So perhaps it was not a burglar after all. 

Then she moved upstairs and discovered that our bedroom was liberally splattered with bird droppings. It was clear that a bird had got in and had spent some time flying in panic around the room, leaving his trademark behind. Some experimentation with the fireguard in the living room proved that he could have fallen down the chimney and pushed his way into the room and then the fireguard had bounced back into place. Eventually she found him, dead in a corner of the bedroom. The poor thing had obviously died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. 

It was our daughter who discovered the previous bird invasion as well. This must have been about 17 or 18 years ago. She and her small daughter were living with us at our house. I had gone out to work early in the morning and there had been no problem. By the time our daughter got up, maybe an hour later, there was a rook sitting in the fireplace, accompanied by one of its fledglings. She showed remarkable aplomb and backed quietly out of the room and went to fetch her father: always a good move when invaded by birds. He opened the window as wide as it would go, stood back and crossed his fingers. Mrs Rook and fledgling flew out of the window without so much as a trace of their passage being left behind. Amazing! 

On the recent occasion, we were not so fortunate. Bird splat all over the show! So our daughter and the child who had been with her on the first occasion, now a young adult in her own independent right, set about cleaning up, washing bedding and generally restoring order. And a good job they did of it. 

So today, probably the hottest day of the year so far, I returned the favour by going to her house to help her restore order to her own little corner of chaos. Not bird mess, just the chaos that can be created in a household with two children (and a young adult), two dogs and a full-time working mum. The full-time working mum having just reached the end of her first year of teaching, we were trying to get most of the stuff done before the middle child finished school for the summer today. 

Despite the uncooperative vacuum cleaner (now replaced and on his way to the tip), we made great inroads. A new order was established. But at great cost! 

The first thing I had to do on returning home was take my second shower of the day in an attempt to cool down. 

If it's as hot as this on the border of France and Switzerland, I bet the Tour de France boys are relieved that today is a rest day!

Monday, 18 July 2016

A little rant about guns.

I watched a news broadcast about preparations for the Republican congress in Cleveland, Ohio. There they will anoint (yes, that was the term the newsman used! I was surprised too.) Donald Trump as their candidate for the presidency of the USA. 

The mayor of Cleveland has requested federal troops to help with the policing of the event. He is not sure that his own police force will be sufficient for the job. Well, it is a pretty high-powered event after all. 

They are expecting anti-Trump demonstrations, pro-Trump demonstrations, anti-racist demonstrations, in fact almost any kind of demonstration you can think of. A Biker gang had promised to attend, pro-Trump of course, to keep an eye on the anti-Trump demonstrators. That should help the atmosphere no end! I have seen Sons of Anarchy! I love the way groups like this claim to be protecting the morals of the country. 

And then there is another big factor that comes into play. Ohio is an open-gun-carrying state. This means that they interpret "the right to bear arms" as meaning that people can carry guns around in plain sight all the time. Which means, I suppose, that at least you know that someone is armed and potentially dangerous. 

Apparently there will be no guns allowed in the congress hall. I was going to say that surely they did not expect any problems in there. Surely they are all Republicans, all on the same side. But I suppose that some gun-toting enthusiasts might just start firing into the air out of sheer glee and enthusiasm! 

The mayor, however, does not feel it is correct to impinge on the people's right to bear arms and so there will be no restrictions on gun toting on the streets of Cleveland. Oh, except that he has appealed to the good folk to leave their "long" guns at home: hunting rifles, assault rifles and so on. Just small hand guns please! 

Now, I can understand that people who go out hunting need the appropriate guns. Surely, though, such guns should be kept in a locked cabinet between bouts of hunting. That seems fairly logical. Why should anyone need to carry them through the streets of Cleveland? 

And as for assault rifles! Well! Why does any ordinary citizen, peace-loving or not, need an assault rifle? Why not hand-held missile launchers? Your very own nuclear weapons? 

I suppose one reason why I fail to understand the need to own such things, indeed to own any kind of gun, is that the most aggressive type of "weaponry" we have in the house are kitchen knives (not always as sharp as we might like), umbrellas (do they count? Even the folding type could serve as cudgels!) and an old rounders bat belonging to our daughter. 

Surely it not beyond the limits of even the American government to change the constitution so that it gives people the right to bear arms (assuming that they still need it) but NOT actual weapons of war!