Saturday, 28 March 2015

Reflections on a damp day!

Another rainy Saturday morning! Looking back over the last few weeks, we have not really had much serious rain. We have had damp days, when the very air seemed to have water hanging in it, and drizzly days, but not many pelting down, big-chief-rain-in-your-face rainy days. A fair amount must have fallen during the night because everything was extremely soggy by the time I was out and about this morning. 

Further up the road from our house, where successive re-surfacings seem to have raised the actual road to the level of the pavements and consequently there is no proper gutter for water to run down, a veritable river ran along the pavement. Running in the rain is one thing; running through a river is much more miserable! However, I did run and came back from the village with a rather soggy newspaper. 

The weather has not improved since then. I almost feel sorry for the workmen who are re-surfacing the road outside our house. It's probably not so bad for the men who drive the huge, noisy machines but for those who stand around directing operations and moving traffic cones about it must be pretty horrid. I have little real sympathy though. The noise of the machinery reverberates through the house far too much for me to feel truly sorry for them. 

We have been a little surprised to find them re-surfacing around here at all but we suspect that this is the usual dash to use up any outstanding local authority money before the end of the financial year. Use it or lose it! If you have any let over at the end of the year, they don't let you carry it over. Oh, no, that amount of cash is cut from the next year's allocation. 

Speaking of cuts, a friend of mine has commented on a man who shouted "No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts!" at David Cameron and has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service. This took place sometime last year in Glasgow where David Cameron was making a speech to a Conservative Party meeting of some kind. Granted the young man who shouted had hidden himself in the toilets of the building so that he could get into what was a private meeting. And he had form, having thrown paint at a politician during a student protest of some kind. But there are those who might say that by protesting about public sector cuts the young man had already done his community a service! 

A woman called Helen Morrissey has come to my attention in today's soggy newspaper. CEO of some company or other, she has 9 children, aged 6 to 23. She has been a busy lady! Her husband is a stay-at-home dad and Buddhist priest. With nine children around, even if the older ones are able to share his burden, I expect he really does need to meditate from time to time. She, meanwhile, still is a busy lady whose average day starts at 5 am and finishes at 11pm. I am tempted to ask why she does it? There are so many in the family that they sometimes text each other from room to room to find out where everyone is. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary and minister for women says, "Women like Helen Morrissey are an absolute inspiration. She is a role model to millions and a shining light of what can be achieved." 

A number of questions spring to mind. 

Why did she choose to have so many children? Especially as she must rarely see them except for when the family gathers for a film on Saturday, according to the newspaper article. And why do they not do something more interactive than passively watching a film together? And where do they all sit? And do they have a home cinema unit? 

How did she manage to get up to her CEO position in between being pregnant and giving birth to children? I have always been amazed at the idea of women having so many children that they must have spent years and years either pregnant or just-delivered of a child. Babies can be delightful but surely you can have too much of a good thing. 

Is there also a minister for men in the government? Of course, I know all the arguments about positive discrimination and so on but surely in this age of equality the chaps should be represented as well. 

Does Helen Morrissey ever relax and how? 

Do women really want a role model like that? 

These are the things that go through your head on wet days!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Key problems!

I suppose it had to happen some time. I locked myself out of the house. 

When I go out for run in the morning I usually take a minimum of stuff with me. So I do not take with me the ridiculous bunch of keys that sits on my handbag most of the time: keys to our house - two needed to open the front door for some reason - the key to my daughter's old house - still being sorted out - and the key to her new house and the key to my bike lock! In addition to all that, there are mini versions of a couple of store loyalty cards and a similar mini version of my library card. 

Someone somewhere decided that it was good to have such cards as a key fob. I think that is the correct term. In reality what they do is give me the opportunity to confuse Tesco's system completely by trying to swipe my Go Outdoors loyalty card at a Tesco till. This makes the till go into overdrive. Great fun! 

Oh, and in addition to all that stuff, there is a little Spanish bull hanging from the key ring. This was a present from my small grandson when he went to play chess in Madrid. He seems quite pleased that I carry it around with me most of the time. Anyway, when I run I usually remove from the key ring just the two keys to our front door and pop them in the front pocket of my bright pink bum bag. The other morning I thought I had done that as usual. When I arrived home and looked for my keys, I discovered I had a ring which held my Tesco card, my Go Outdoors card and my library card. No keys! And the cards are quite useless for opening doors. So I had to ring the doorbell. Which did not increase my popularity as Phil had been up late the night before and was still in bed! Oops! 

This is not the first time I have locked myself out of this house. The first time was years ago when the children were still quite small. We returned from a walk, or possibly from walking home from school and found that I had no key with me. At that time there was a pane of glass in the back door and I knew that the key was within reach if I could remove the glass. I almost managed to do this without breaking it but at the last moment a corner broke off. But we did manage to get into the house. Of course, this made it extra evident that a burglar could have got in the same way so the space where the pane of glass had been was covered temporarily with a piece of wood and not long after that a stronger door was installed. 

My most spectacular locking out occurred in the house we lived in before we moved to this one. That house was situated a little further out in the countryside, nestled prettily in the bottom of a valley. The children were even smaller than they were on the lockout described above. One was still in a baby buggy and even the bigger one was not yet old enough for school. We arrived home from somewhere or other only to find that I had successfully locked us out. To add to our woes, Phil was away in Germany with a school exchange party and not due back for about ten days. Otherwise we might have parked ourselves at a friend's house until he returned. 

After a moment's panic, I walked the three of us round to the back of the house where we found that I had indeed left the kitchen window open. Just what I had hoped for. It was one of those small top windows, the sort you open to freshen the place up more than anything else. I was younger, skinnier and more athletic in those days and so I sized up the situation and decided that I could almost certainly manage to get in. Onto the outside window ledge I climbed, reassuring the older child that all was well and that he was to look after his small sister. I wriggled my top half through the window gap, lowered one hand down onto the inside window ledge and sort of flipped myself in. Some part of my brain must have remembered the manoeuvre from gym lessons at school, where we had to flip ourselves over parallel bars. Never did I think I would have occasion to be grateful to my much-disliked PE teacher! And then I was in, located my keys, unlocked the back door and collected the children from the back garden. They were completely unfazed by the whole procedures. 

Needless to say, I never again went out leaving the kitchen window open. There are skinny, athletic burglars out there as well! 

Since those two incidents I have managed to go somewhere between 25 and 30 years without locking myself out. This is not counting hotel rooms, of course; that is a different matter and much more easily solved. And, of course, cars. 

I once succeeded in closing, and locking, the door of my (by then rather rickety) Renault 4 with me on the outside, the keys in the ignition and the engine running. Fortunately the sliding window on the passenger side of the car was notoriously unreliable and easy to slide open if not completely fastened. So I was able to get back into the vehicle. And no, there was not much danger of the car being stolen. It was too disreputable-looking even for joyriders, although we loved it dearly. And none of us had mobile phones or laptops or tablets to leave on the seat to attract thieves. 

Until I locked myself out the other day, I thought I had become a much more respectable and responsible member of society in my older age. Clearly I am mistaken!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Working together.

Watching the American version of House of Cards and seeing Claire Underwood, First Lady, wife of President Frank (she calls him Francis always) agonise over her own career success, or lack of, has made me thoughtful. In this third series, she is briefly a UN ambassador, a position she obtained through her husband's pulling strings. (It's an extreme example of what the Spanish call "enchufe", getting on because of a connection with an important person.) She is later very resentful of the fact that she was unable to get enough support under her own steam to gain the position without needing his direct intervention. She didn't seem to take into account that even if she had been selected without his string-pulling it still might not have been a total "honest" selection. Some would have voted for her just because she was the First Lady. 

And besides, I went on to reflect, what were her credentials? She had run a non-profit making charitable organisation in an earlier series but that would seem to be more an example of her organisational skills than of her diplomacy. Did she have qualifications in legal or political studies? It's all very unclear. She appeared to work hard at the job but wasn't terribly successful, sometimes causing more havoc than anything else. 

Which brings me to my main grouse: why do politicians' spouses nowadays have to take such an active part in the life of those politicians? After all they are not elected into office. And yet spouses, especially wives, are regularly to be seen standing next to the politicians as they make important announcements. I'm sure Samantha Cameron has lots of good qualities (well, I suppose she must have some) but she isn't an elected politician. Neither are their children, who are very occasionally touted around as accessories, proof of the politician's humanity, I imagine. 

On the other hand, I have a sneaking admiration for Miriam Gonz├ílez Dur├íntez, wife of Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. She is a busy lady in her own right, partner of an international legal practice, and determined keeping herself and her children separate from her husband's political life. She was interviewed at length in one of the weekend papers and came across as shining example of a hardworking, successful career woman, juggling professional and family life with the inevitable occasions when she does have to be "wife of important man". Good for her! 

Enough of that! Today we have been checking out museums with a view to spending a day in Manchester next week with a bunch of Spaniards. Old planes in the Air and Space Hall of the Museum of Science and Industry? 

Or T-Rex in the Manchester Museum? 

Or both? 

We can work together, or so it seems.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Bits of madness!

The Richard III madness continues in Leicester by all accounts. Thousands of people have been filing past his remains in Leicester cathedral. Some people queued for four hours! One woman has come from Australia. It seems that she won some kind of lottery to allow her to attend the special service in the cathedral this morning. She is overjoyed. She says it is a unique experience. A unique experience that she appears to be sharing with thousands of other people. Amazing! And when interviewed by the media, some of the people standing the queue admit to knowing nothing about Richard III. So what are they doing there? I remain totally gobsmacked!! 

I suppose listening to such stuff provides light relief from hearing tales of the shenanigans of politicians. The latest is the would-be conservative candidate who tried to persuade the English Defence League to stage a demonstration against a planned mosque in his would-be constituency. This was just so that he could then persuade them not to do so or to cancel the non-demo, if you follow my story, and so make his party of choice look really good. I suspect he has been reading too many boys' adventure stories. It's the kind of convoluted thinking William might have got up to in the Just William stories. He claimed that he had been the victim of a sting by the EDL but surely serious people don't mess with the likes of the EDL The poor chap has withdrawn his candidacy. Not at all surprised! 

Our flurry of activity continues here. We have carted stuff to the tip, built flat pack furniture (we are considering applying for a job as the fastest flat-pack sofa constructors in the region), entertained and fed our offspring's offspring while she does preparation work for her teaching placement and managed today to fit in a visit to the bank to have the meeting that they failed to diary last week. I even succeeded in inculcating some memorising techniques into our eleven year old granddaughter, resulting in a score of 10/10 in her Spanish vocabulary test! We are feeling particularly noble! 

As regards the Spanish vocabulary learning, I was quite dispirited by my conversation with the eleven year old. She had a list of weather expressions to learn. So I enquired as to how they had beenlearning the expressions so far. Had they had weather picture cards to respond to? Had they played memory games around the class? Had the teacher done spot month-related weather questions? You know the kind of thing: "What's the weather like in January/ June/ etc?" "Does it usually snow in August?" Well, no, they didn't seem to have done any fun stuff. The teacher had told them to open their books at the relevant page and copy the list of expressions down. Oh my! Such dull stuff! I know you shouldn't take a pupil's word as absolutely gospel, but the complaints are getting a little too frequent. 

Teaching first year secondary modern foreign languages should still be fun. I always used to find it fun, for the teacher as well as for the pupils. If you can't, or perhaps won't, play games with language when they are eleven going on twelve, they are going to be soooooo bored by the time they are fourteen! 

Something has clearly gone wrong in the languages classroom!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Kings and stuff.

In 1485 King Richard III lost the Battle of Bosworth Field and incidentally his life. In 2012 they found his remains when they were excavating ground prior to building a car park in Leicester. Much excitement ensued. First they had to establish that it actually was Richard. Descendants of the family were found and DNA evidence was obtained. Then they had a big argument as to whether he should be buried in Leicester or in York, both cities declaring they had the right to his remains. 

Leicester won. Today they are reburying him with great ceremony. Or perhaps today is just a pre-re-burial rigmarole. I hear they are burying him properly on Thursday. Today his remains are being touted around the city with great ceremony. Crowds are expected to turn out and watch. Are there really so many royalists? So many followers of the House of York? Do they really want to make good the "harm" done by the Tudors? Have they all been watching too much "Wolf Hall" on television. 

Whatever the case, stuff is going on in Leicester, the Bishop of Leicester will preside over the goings-on and presumably he will lay Richard to rest and all will be well. Apparently! On the radio news a reporter was going on about restoring dignity to Richard. Now I know he was supposed to have been bundled off the battlefield and put in an small and unmarked grave. Not much of an end for a king but, after all, that was the 15th century and there was a lot of rough stuff going on. And old Richard was no angel. I have to confess to finding the whole thing a little tedious. Bury him properly by all means but don't go on too much about the need to atone for things that were done to him long ago! 

Of course, most of this is really good for boosting tourism to Leicester. No doubt you can now go on Richard III / Battle of Bosworth Field tours. However, I do get a little tired of hearing about the need to atone for the past. Apologising for events that took place long ago has been rather overdone, in my opinion. Of course, we should not forget about slavery, the holocaust and the like but some of the apology ceremonies ring a little hollow. 

Still, they have a nice day for their parades and processions and dignity-restoring. And besides, if all this historical violence had not happened, whatever would Shakespeare have based his history plays on. And according to some, George R. Martin would perhaps not have written Game of Thrones. And then where would we be?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eclipses, appointments and modern communication.

Up bright and early yesterday morning, I went out for a run, determinedly NOT looking up at the sun in the sky to see what was going on with the eclipse. Amazingly, we had mostly blue sky. Other parts of Greater Manchester had cloud, thin enough to allow the eclipse to be seen and not enough to hide it completely. I was expecting it to grow darker as the eclipse progressed. It that didn't happen. On the radio they talked about it being a kind of dusk but I wouldn't even say that. Not a great deal of change in the light levels at all. 

When I got home, before showering - in case the promised cloud moved in - I decided to try out the colander eclipse viewer, as recommended by the BBC's scientist. And it worked. I was like a big kid, ever so pleased that my bit of elementary science had worked so well. I don't think my photos were all that impressive but that's how it goes. In fact, the image looks rather like a strange alien. A moonbug perhaps? Almost immediately after the eclipse excitement was all over, the cloud moved in, the temperature went down and general gloominess was restored. So much for the Spring Equinox. 

We went into town later for an appointment at the bank. We wanted to ask questions about ISAs and duly set off to catch the bus and get there in plenty of time. We stood in a queue for some time while one amazingly calm young lady fielded questions from one customer after another. She even dealt most diplomatically with the case of the customer who complained, ever so politely in good British fashion, that the lady who had been attended to before her was in fact a queue jumper! It struck us as odd that there was no system of triage: greet a customer, find out what the concern is, pass the customer on to the relevant person and be ready to greet the next one. No, there appeared to be just her. If a customer's query took a while to deal with, the others just had to wait patiently. Although I did see one walk out in a huff. 

There were no security guards either. The Spanish branches of this bank have impressive-looking security men placed at strategic points. Do they fear a large number of armed robbers or do they plan to terrify the customers into submission? Although not as grand as some of the branches I have been in over in Spain, there was almost as much empty space, simply not being used for anything. A perfect space for a flash-mob to do a protest dance, I thought to myself! I had to think about something as we stood and waited. 

Eventually our turn in the queue came around, we explained that we had an appointment. The young lady asked if we had an appointment card. No, we didn't; the young man who made the appointment for us had not given us one. What's more, it transpired that he had not bothered entering out appointment into the diary either! There was no appointment for us with Donna at 12. How very annoying! Much abject apologising took place and we made a fresh appointment for Monday. And this time we made sure we got a little card! 

We could have gone back later in the afternoon if that suited us but I had arranged to pick up our grandson and take him to our house. We had had a quite lengthy text messaging conversation the evening before, he on his iPod and me on my iPhone. Isn't it amazing how quite young children just get accustomed to using the communication systems. Basically he wanted to come and play football in our garden, the garden of their new house being woefully inadequate for his purposes. Fair enough! 

So I went along and met him out of school and drove away in his mother's car, leaving her to cadge a lift off a friend/colleague. We took advantage of the holes left all over the back garden by the studs of his football boots to get him to plant grass seed for us. Time will tell whether that was any use or not!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Things to think about.

Apart from serious international news items, budget pronouncements and electioneering, here are a couple of things that appear to be worrying the media at the moment: 

1) the state of children's teeth - a largish percentage of over 12 year-olds don't smile because they are self-conscious - about their bad teeth. I find myself wondering if one of the reasons for this is the increase in HUGE bags of sweets being sold. 

At one time - OK, back when I was a child - when sweets were sold loosely for the most part, you went into a shop and asked for a 1/4 of whatever sweets you fancied: mint imperials, sherbet lemons, bonbons, pineapple chunks or whatever else there was on offer. 1/4 meant a quarter of a pound. Four ounces. If you were eking your pocket money you bought two ounces. And you took away your purchases in a paper bag. The thing was that the amount you bought was limited. And so the number of sweets eaten was limited. Nowadays you find enormous bags of sweets, enough for a whole family, being bought by one person. There are parents who limit how many their offspring can eat from this bag but it's a lot harder to do. 

And there are increasing numbers of "old fashioned" sweetshops popping up, specialising in old fashioned sweets sold at extortionate prices in little paper bags. (I even saw one recently called "A Quarter of Sweets". How many of the younger generation will understand the name, I wonder.) But, given a choice between a small paper bag of sweets from a fancy shop or a huge bag of the same sweets from the supermarket for the same price as the small one, most people opt for the supermarket super-size me bag! 

2) the partial eclipse of the sun tomorrow morning. News programmes are giving us all advice on how to view this phenomenon without ruining our eyesight by looking at it directly. The best one I heard was using a kitchen colander. You stand in such a position that the sun's rays shine through the holes in the colander and project an image of the eclipse onto the pavement. It's a bigger version of the pinhole camera. If the sky is not full of clouds tomorrow morning I will try it out. However, there is a strong chance that it will be cloudy. 

Today, by contrast, has been fine and sunny. They must not be expecting the cloud cover to move in over the next few hours because I saw a gritter out an hour ago, spreading grit to prevent accidents on potentially icy roads. Mind you, earlier today when I was out and about a chap sitting sunning himself in his front garden told me that snow is forecast for next week. He puts it down to global warming! This is the scapegoat for all our weather problems at the moment, of course. 

I also came across a barge selling pots of spring flowers on the canal in Uppermill. It looked very picturesque. And I must say that it seems like an enterprising idea. If they manage to sell just a few they will make quite a lot of money. I don't think I saw a pot costing less than £15. 

Back to the market for me!