Saturday, 30 November 2013

Fireworks and such.

Earlier this evening I heard the sound of fireworks somewhere in our vicinity. It was a little early for someone to be celebrating their birthday. Usually that would be at the end of an evening, not at the start. Looking out of the window, I saw a splendid firework display over Delph Village. It was then that I remembered that at 4.30 this afternoon they were having the official switching on of the Christmas Lights (official and, therefore, with capital L for lights!) in Delph. The fireworks must have been the culmination of the festivities. Even though I never had any intention of going and standing in the square to ooh and aah as fairy lights were switched on, I was quite glad for those who enjoy such things that they had a fine crisp late afternoon for it and not one of the soggier offerings that our area so often suffers. The fireworks were very fine and just enough not be excessive in this time of austerity measures.

 And so Christmas has officially started around here. Last night, in another of the Saddleworth villages, children from the local primary schools sang carols under the village Christmas tree as part of their light switching on festivities. Who says that the British don’t know how to do festivities? 

However, some people are concerned that carol singing may have to disappear because of new legislation recently introduced. Apparently ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders) are being replaced by IPNOs (injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance) and there are fears that these may be used against carol singers or even to stop ten year old boys playing football noisily in the park, not to mention political activists such as Peter Tatchell addressing issues in public! 

They probably won’t stop people crowding rather aggressively into shopping centres to do their Christmas shopping. And I wonder if I can organise one against people who post on Facebook that they have already wrapped up all the Christmas presents they intend to give this year. Surely being so organised takes the fun out of Christmas panic shopping! I hear that there is a kind of unwritten agreement in the USA not to start Christmas shopping until Thanksgiving is out of the way. Sound quite good to me! Mind you, I bet loads of people ignore that idea totally: the smug ones who want to make others feel inferior. 

Then there’s the question of HOW you shop. I read something today which said that women like to actually see the object they intend to buy but even taking that into account, the majority of shoppers at this time of the year go to the shops just to look and choose and then order the goods more cheaply through Amazon. This even works for buying presents for their children. They take the little dears to window shop, the children point to items saying, “I want this and this and this and this and this” and then the parents go away and order it. No longer do Santa’s little elves slave away to make children’s dreams come true, workers in warehouses run around to fill people’s on-line “shopping baskets”. 

As for me, I have a few items, chosen and purchased as the whim took me, stowed away in cupboards away from prying eyes. I just hope I can remember where I put them when the time comes to wrap everything ready for the big day, along with all the stuff not yet selected. 

Ah, well, today we got our first Christmas card of the season. I suppose I’d better buy some cards, dig out the address book and get started!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Assembling evidence and things

Today I went along to an assembly at the primary school two of our grandchildren attend. This was a “musical assembly” by our grandson’s class. The year 4 children (8-9 year olds) have been having lessons with a peripatetic music teacher. Half of them have been learning to play brass instruments and the other half to play recorders. All of them have been learning songs, including one about their granny who rides a motorbike, plays computer games and goes to the gym (“she’s hard”) and is, therefore, not to be messed with. Great fun! 

Our little chap was playing the cornet. He has been telling me how hard it is to play the note “c” but all of the children seemed to cope quite well and appeared to enjoy it. The recorders were as squeaky as they always are when played by small children but considerably better than those played by beggars on the streets of Vigo. 

 I’ve been to a number of primary school assemblies before but this was the first one I have been to at this particular school. What was interesting this time, for me anyway, was that it was purely a celebration of the achievements of this class of 8 to 9 year olds. We didn’t have any prayers of hymns. Quite refreshing! 

Especially so as I have been seeing increasing signs of religion taking us back into a previous era of holy relics. Back in 1939 Pope Pius XI died. He had asked to be buried in the grottoes under the Vatican, where lots of other popes had been buried. As they were digging around there they discovered a funerary monument with a casket built in honor of Peter and an engraving in Greek that read “Petros eni,” or “Peter is here.” 

Apparently the remains found in the casket were given to one of the basilica workers who stored them in a shoe box in a cupboard. Later it seems someone said there was a “convincing” argument that the bones belonged to Peter. It’s amazing what people will put in shoe boxes! None of the stuff we have in such boxes is half as controversial as old bones! 

And then it transpires that no Pope had ever permitted an exhaustive study, partly because a 1,000-year-old curse attested by secret and apocalyptic documents, threatened anyone who disturbed the peace of Peter’s tomb with the worst possible misfortune. However, the current pope, Francis, who so far has seemed like a sensible chap to me, has decided to risk the curse and recently put the bones on display. Not only that, but loads of people turned up to try to catch a glimpse of them and even to pray to them. 

CNN, the news people, appear to agree with me in assessing Pope Francis: “Pope Francis generally comes off as so hip, so completely at home in the 21st century, it's tempting to forget he's also a deeply religious believer and therefore sees the world fairly differently than most of his fellow celebrities and pop culture icons.” 

I don’t know about “pop culture icons” but I did think that by the 21st century people would have stopped being impressed by bits of ancient bodies and even giving them miraculous powers. 

Personally I’m rather more impressed by these bones, belonging to a prehistoric leopard and discovered accidentally in 2009 in the province of Lugo in Galicia. 

And, while we’re on the topic of things historical here’s a little something for our friend Colin in Pontevedra. He’s often written in his blog about Christopher Columbus (known to the Spaniards, of course, as Cristobal Colón) coming from Poio, Colin’s bit of Pontevedra. A book by someone called “El Enigma del Gran Almirante” by Josefina López de Serantes supports that theory. Here is a link to an item about this from Galicia’s VTelevision.

Interesting stuff!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Travel Stories.

As I sat in the waiting room of Greenfield Station yesterday I was greeted by an old almost friend. I say an “almost friend” because this is someone who is more than just an acquaintance but has never quite become what you could really call a friend, not someone you would tell your troubles to, confide your secrets in or just meet up with for a drink. And yet for years we have got on well although when we first knew each other our relationship was quite different. 

When I started teaching in a big comprehensive school, more than 40 years ago now, hard as that is for me to believe, her daughter, Anne, was in my very first tutor group. I also taught Anne, and later her sister, Lyn, French and Spanish. After my own children were born and grew old enough to join the local library I found that Anne’s and Lyn’s mother was our librarian. Small world syndrome strikes again. 

Then, a year or two ago, we had some very snowy weather and I sat on a bus, uncertain whether the bus was going to go anywhere as so many of the small side roads that formed part of its route had not been cleared. I got chatting to a young man, a sixth form student trying to make it into the town centre to college. As we swapped snow stories, I told him about my first experience of winter in our part of the world. 

At that time, I was still working at the big comprehensive in the town centre but lived out here in Saddleworth, in the valley between Delph and Denshaw. At the end of the afternoon in question I was marking and chatting when someone commented that it had started to snow properly and that he had had a phone call about how bad the roads were becoming. No internet weather checks in those days and no smart phones to check it up on: no mobiles or computers in classrooms either! He advised me to set off for home before I got stuck. 

Duly warned, I set off to pick Phil up from the school where he was working and we made our way up the long, slow hill from Oldham to Delph in our trusty little red Citroen 2CV. Travelling mostly in first or second gear we got along fine, although the heating in that little sardine can left something to be desired. But we had more traction on the snowy roads than bigger, heavier vehicles and didn’t slither around anything like as much as they did. However, it still took us a good couple of hours or more to make it home. We tucked the trusty 2CV away in the garage and trudged the last couple of hundred yards up the lane and then tucked ourselves away for the night. 

Next morning we dug our way out of our house and went round to the garage, only to find that there was a huge snow drift in front of the door, not to mention the snowdrifts all the way along both lanes leading out of the valley. Well, we thought, no work for us. So we phoned our respective schools, explaining that we were snowed in and spent the rest of the day enjoying the winter weather. By next day the roads were cleared, we were able to get out and about again and we put the whole thing behind us. Until, that is, the next pay day when we discovered that we had lost a day’s pay. Had we said we were exhausted after our arduous journey home, all would have been well and we would have received sick pay but as we were merely “snowed in”, we should have walked to the nearest cleared road, caught a (possibly non-existent) bus and made our way to work. All this even though half the pupils had also been snowed in!! A crazy situation that, fortunately, made us laugh more than rant and rave. 

Anyway, the young man I was talking to asked the name of the school I was working at and revealed that his mother was a pupil there at that time: Anne, the daughter of the librarian, my now “almost friend”. For, both retired and still living in the same area, we come across each other and reminisce from time to time. 

And that is what we did at the station and on the train. A little nostalgia trip! 

I went to my Italian conversation class as usual and travelled back, again by train, this time packed like one among many sardines into a train that should have had four carriages but only had two. When I had arrived at Victoria Station in Manchester to catch the train I was surprised to find that my train was due to depart from the same platform as two other trains at almost exactly the same time: one to Liverpool, one to Kirby and my train, final destination Huddersfield. The platform was full to bursting: loads of people watching the electronic boards and listening to the announcements. 

When you see shoals of fish in the sea, they all move in unison, suddenly changing direction all at the same time. Flocks of starlings, and indeed other birds, do the same in the sky. Well, when the announcement came that one of the trains, the one to Liverpool, was departing from another platform, masses of people turned in unison and made for the stairs, amazingly avoiding collision with those of us who remained standing on platform 4. Shortly after that the Kirby arrived and took away another group of people. But just before that, our train was changed to platform 5 and once again, when the announcement came, a host of people turned round all at once and stepped towards the newly allocated platform, for all the world like fish in the sea or birds in the sky. 

I cannot say that our journey home was pleasant – and I’m sure many people had to wait for the next train – but I had a strange chat with a music enthusiast, swapping notes on which artists we had seen live. This is what happens on trains! 

My evening ended in Stalybridge Buffet Bar where the poetry group I attend meets on the last Friday of each month – although not next month as that will be New Year’s Eve. The bar was all decked out ready for Christmas and ready to celebrate having been selected as Manchester Pub of the Year for 2013. And, as it was our last meeting for the year, we had mince pies with our poetry. 

 
Not bad!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Winter is coming?

You know that winter is really coming when people start wrapping up their VW camper vans against the frost. This is a step further than just an insulated windscreen cover to avoid having to scrape frost off at seven in the morning to go to work. This is serious coverage. No more weekend jaunts to faraway places until next year for these people. 

 Mind you, there are still one or two tents in the campsite – caravan park not far from here. Those must be hardy souls, the sort who go for long hikes even when the rain is lashing down. They will need good warm sleeping bags at the moment; the nights have been very cold. Sleeping out at this time of year is not my idea of fun. 

I think the coldest camping I have ever done was over 35 years ago. A friend and I were supervising a group of 14 year olds doing a practice overnight camp as part of the Duke of Edinburg’s Award Scheme. We camped next to Hollingworth Lake, a local reservoir and beauty pot. It was April. The day had been bright and clear, even warm. Because it was so clear the any warmth there was just disappeared when night fell. I have never felt so cold. My friend and I zipped our sleeping bags together, got in and piled all our clothes on top to keep warm. Happy days! 

I’ve had wet and even stormy camping nights in Brittany but never one so cold as that. It’s a long time since I’ve been under canvas though. These days I prefer to do my camping in hotels and the only stars I need to see are the one by the hotel’s name. 

Another group of people fighting off the cold are the dog owners. Dogs of all shapes and sizes seem to have coats to keep them warm – and I don’t mean their own fur coats. Their owners feel the need to make sure their dogs are well wrapped up in warm coats which seem to come in a range of colours. OK, I exaggerate; I have yet to see some of the larger breeds of dogs in winter coats or raincoats for the wet days. I wonder how the dogs of my childhood kept warm. You didn’t see such a range of doggy haute couture in those days. 

It isn’t just the dogs either. I read that keen knitter, Katie Bradley from Vancouver, Canada makes woolly suits for pet tortoises. Two points: I didn’t know they had tortoises in Canada and surely tortoises come equipped with a shell that they withdraw into when they need to hibernate to avoid the cold. 

As I said, winter is obviously coming. Maybe it’s already here.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Kindling

The other day I caught the tail end of a programme on the radio, possibly about electronic gadgets as they went on a little about e-books among other things. Some small bookshops in the USA have, according to this programme, been persuaded by Amazon to sell Kindles alongside their usual stock of conventional books. In the UK large bookshops like Waterstone’s have Kindles on sale but as a rule small bookshops don’t do so. They have a hard enough time keeping going as it is without contributing to their own demise by selling e-books as well. That was partly the conclusion of the radio item as well. 

I have a Kindle. In fact, we are a two Kindle family. It’s the only way we can transport all the books we want to read, while travelling on a 10k luggage allowance. And besides, we are seriously running out of space to store any more books so I am trying hard not to buy more of the paper variety. It’s very hard though. And I like to have books around. A house without books on shelves looks odd to me. 

The radio presenters were of the same opinion. (How odd, to find myself so much in agreement with media pundits.) One of them commented that when you see pictures of houses and their oh-so-beautiful interiors in style magazines these days they rarely seem to feature shelves full of books. They often have large tomes on tables, the popular coffee table books that the presenters wondered if anyone ever opens, but it’s as if they are placed there to look lovely, rather like a tastefully placed frilly cushion toning in with the sofa and curtains. Books on shelves, however, are supposedly no longer the thing. 

And then I found this picture in today’s Observer magazine. This was in a feature about the home of a certain Amanda Brooks, a fashion guru I’ve never heard of. Mind you, I don’t think I could name another fashion guru so that’s not really surprising. Maybe all the books on her shelves are about fashion but at least the books are there, on show. 

As for us, we seem to have book all over the house. There’s even a study full of chess books. And both chess books and other kinds of books have overflowed into piles in the attic bedroom. Sometimes it’s a major battle to find the book you remember you possess and what to re-read but don’t remember where it’s stored. The occasional reorganisations of the shelves, putting books into alphabetical order by author, rarely last very long. And then publishers will keep on sending Phil chess books to review: free books but still books that need storing somewhere. 


No doubt there will be even more if chess takes a popularity leap with the success of Magnus Carlsen, the glamorous new world champion. According to one source of information, “Magnus Carlsen has everything you might expect of a superstar athlete: a modeling contract, endorsement deals, a dedicated female fan club, a growing bank balance and millions of fans watching his every move.” Masses of people followed the matches on internet, including about one fifth of the population of his native Norway. I wonder if a similar proportion of the population of the UK would have followed the progress of a British contender! Maybe, if s/he had the sponsorship deals that young Magnus has. 

Meanwhile, I still have this book storage problem. And I contribute to it, of course. After all, I’ve just been through the review section of the Sunday paper making note of the “good reads” recommended by a host of writers. What can I do? Wait until they’re available as e-books?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Words.

In my time as a teacher in sixth form, whenever I interviewed potential students for places on A Level Modern Foreign Languages courses I used to ask them what their favourite word was in the language they wanted to study. Some of them looked at me in a bemused fashion, clearly wondering if I might be completely mad or just mildly eccentric. Other waxed enthusiastic about words like “muchedumbre” (Spanish for crowd) or “malheureusement” (French for unfortunately). The latter were immediately accepted onto the course while the former might find themselves accepted only conditionally. 

Having a favourite word is a mark of enthusiasm. If you enjoy studying a language, you take pleasure in the sound of the words, in the construction of expressions and the sheer code-breaking fun of language. A friend of mine told me about causing havoc when watching a Spanish film with French subtitles. (Don’t even ask me why she was doing this.) At some point a Spanish actor was heard to say, “Estamos todos en el mismo barco”. The French subtitles read, “Nous sommes tous dans le même bateau”. Whereupon my friend said, out loud and enthusiastically, “Oh, we’re all in the same boat: you can say it in all three languages”. That’s the level of language-fixation I’m talking about. 

I was reminded of all this when I made the following discovery: - “Selfie – "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website" – has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors, after the frequency of its usage increased by 17,000% over the past 12 months.” 

It’s not the word in itself that enthuses me; rather it’s the concept of Oxford Dictionaries having a word of the year. 

On their shortlist for this year was the verb to “binge-watch” – I like this one. By analogy with binge-drinking and binge-eating, you can now binge-watch TV series. You buy a box set of whichever series you didn’t manage to see when it appeared on the small screen the first time round and watch all the episodes in one sitting. 

The “selfie” has a number of spin-offs. There’s the “belfie” (a photo of your bum – yes, people do this!), the “helfie” (a photo of your new hairdo), the “welfie” (a work-out “selfie”), the “drelfie” (a “selfie” while drunk) and even the bookshelfie (a snap taken for the purposes of literary self-promotion). There you go! 

A couple of writers who appreciated the creation of new words for new circumstances are George Orwell with his “newspeak” in his novel “1984” and Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World”. Both writers would probably recognise elements of their created futures in the world of 2013. Here’s a link to an article by John Naughton in the Guardian, suggesting that as well as putting a plaque up in Westminster Abbey for C.S. Lewis, we should be remembering Aldous Huxley too.

I came across another language related article, also in the Guardian, this time about bad language. Someone called Lola Okalosie was asking this question: Can you stop people swearing in front of children? Apparently nine out of 10 parents reportedly swear when children are around which probably explains why the habit is reportedly growing in schools. Lola Okolosie is worried that her fifteen-month-old’s first words are likely to include some choice swearing unless she can curb her own bad language habits. You only need to travel on a bus full of school children to understand her concerns. 

Here’s a little of what she had to say: “Swearing is fine if you are able to articulate yourself well without it. It is saddening if that is not the case. In general it has become much less of a social taboo. I have been taken aback by its presence in situations where my instincts are to self-censor. (...) Too many of us can't or won't modify our usage depending on the context. If we are truthful, it is not just parents who need to mind their Ps and Qs. Most adults are implicated. I am sure many reading this have used the f-word and only realised too late that they were in the presence of a child and a suitably reproachful parent. But asking adults to stop swearing en masse won't and can't happen. Best to leave it to those whose sense of shame and anxiety is so easily pricked: parents.” 

Personally, I’m a bit old fashioned about swearing and tend to think that of you use it all the time you have nothing left for the moment when you really need to vent your frustration. 

A friend of mine told me once about taking his five-year-old to a football match and having to cover the child’s ears throughout the first half of the game because of the language of a fan near them. When he asked the chap at half time to try not to swear quite so much in front of the little boy he received the reply: “Swearing? I’ve not been f***ing swearing!”

 Enough said!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Stereotypes

Our eldest granddaughter writes. She has files and folders full of stories, ideas, character descriptions and so on. The majority of her stories go onto her computer and out into the internet where she shares them with young writers’ websites all over the world. And she gets positive feedback. 

I find this quite amazing but I understand that she is not unusual in doing this. I am moved to comment on this because of something I came across in the Guardian. Broadcaster and children’s author Simon Mayo was writing about the fact that boys don’t like to write. The National Literacy Trust has surveyed 35000 eight to sixteen year olds and found that while 35% of girls think writing is cool, a similar percentage of boys actively dislike writing. One of Simon Mayo’s conclusions was that, just as the way to encourage boys to read is to find stuff they WANT to read, so you need to find stuff that boys want to write about. 

I find this dichotomy rather odd, bearing in mind how many more men than women have always had books published. I know that there are all sorts of historical and sociological reasons for this is the past but I rather get the impression that it still is the case today. 

 Certainly, looking at our grandchildren, it seems to be true that the girls write for pleasure – the middle grandchild, a girl, also writes her thoughts down and I recently caught her entertaining her brother by reading out loud her diary from a couple of years ago! – while the boy, youngest of the three, has to be coerced into completing his written homework. Maybe, as Simon Mayo says, they just haven’t captured his imagination yet. I

s it also the case that more women than men use Facebook? I wonder. 

On Facebook today a young friend of mine was asking about the word “tardeo”. She was trying to find an English translation for this term which is apparently a portmanteau word made up of “tarde” – afternoon, evening – and “tapeo” – going out for tapas. This young friend studied Spanish so she understood the idea but couldn’t find an English term that was equivalent. 

It would seem that back in September the Guardian’s “Life and Style” section published an article about a phenomenon which Alicante claims to have initiated: starting Saturday night early, almost immediately after lunch and going out drinking and dancing in clubs. This often means that their night out finishes early as well; the place is often livelier at 4.30 pm than it is at 4.30am, something of a reversal of Spanish social trends. As you might expect, other places, notably Murcia and Albacete, say that Alicante is just copying their idea. The Guardian’s article  also got mentioned in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. 

One thing that the article stresses is the importance of the midday meal – well, 2.00pm onwards meal – in Spain as the main meal of the day, rather than the evening meal as in England. Funnily enough Phil and I change our eating habits from one country to the other, In Galicia, we follow Spanish habits and eat a full meal at lunchtime, just snacking in the evening. Here in England, we generally skip lunch and have an early evening meal. How odd! 

 Through Facebook, once again, I was made aware of a website about how you can tell if you are a “gallego”. You know you are a Galician when you do certain things. One of the principal ones is: “Tienes aldea, eres de aldea, o has pasado gran parte de tu vida en una aldea” – “You have a home village, you are from a village or you have spent a large part of your life in a village”. This is very true of lots of people I know in Vigo. They don’t consider themselves “vigueses” but will tell you they come from Redondela, or Vilagarcía or some small place near Ourense. What’s more, they usually go back there almost every weekend. 

 I know people who feel something of the same attachment to the city of their youth but it’s not usually as strong as what the Galicians, and many other Spaniards, profess to feel. Maybe cities are just too big but individual districts are not quite separate enough. At the moment there are various quizzes around which allow you to assess how “Northern” or how much of a “Londoner” you are. I have not yet given in to the temptation. 

The other proof of being Galician that I really liked was the one that said that you have your own recipe for “licor de café”, one of the favourite after-meal alcoholic tipples, often provided free of charge in restaurants where you have just spent a lot of money, and usually just the final bit of alcohol needed to give you a good hangover. 

 Having your own recipe for “licor de café” is rather like having your own recipe for Lancashire hotpot; every true “Northerner” knows one! 

When my mother was taken ill and my father took over the kitchen – he was a pretty good cook – my mother’s only complaint was that he added garlic to everything. This was a consequence of travelling to Spain too often. For the most part she didn’t really mind but when it came to garlic in the Lancashire hotpot she felt it was a step too far. 

Some things should not be messed about with!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

More on dialect, parking and a bit of a weather report.

When I wrote the other day about Black Country dialect, I knew that there would be some who would wax sentimental about it. Here’s a quote from just such a person, writing in a blog in the Guardian online: 

“I'm also moved to tears as I write these words, recalling words that filled my childhood that I'll never speak again. I've been deracinated, standardised, made – linguistically at least – just that little bit less charming.”

If you want to read the rest of what he has to say here’s a link to the article. 

However, when he started to talk about playing truant from school as “waggin’”, implying that this was a bit of Black Country dialect, I had to take issue with him. They use that term around here as well. 

It got me thinking about when I started to work at a central Oldham school in the early seventies and the fact that I couldn’t understand half of what the children said to me at times. It wasn’t just their Oldham accent either. They would tell me about their “oddie” or pocket money. Apparently when the man of the house received his pay, tradition had it that he set some aside for the rent and other regular bills, gave his wife a sum for housekeeping, made sure he had his beer money, some of the “odd money” he had left over would be given to the children to buy sweets: “oddie”. Some of them tended to use “us” instead of “we”: “Why can’t us do that?” Quite fascinating! Is this an alternative grammar system?

When they raised the school leaving age from 15 to 16 in the mid seventies and youngsters who would previously have left school at Easter in their fourth year at secondary (now called Year 10) had to stay there and be occupied for another year. Back in the dark ages these students were not expected to sit any examinations. If they went on to do something like City and Guild qualifications they would usually do those after they left school. And yet they needed to be occupied in school and every subject area had to contribute something. The Modern Languages team came up with a “Why do we speak different Languages?” mini-course, including asking the students to help us compile a glossary of local terminology. I wonder what became of the quite interesting document we produced. 

All of this prompted me to investigate “Lanky Twang”, the “dialect” spoken in what used to be Lancashire, until they changed the boundaries back in 1974. Here’s a link to an article written in Lanky Twang just to give a taste of what it was like. I say “was” because much of it has disappeared, even if the accent still remains. I remember being on the maternity ward after the birth of our son and hearing a very young mother complaining, “Me baby’s skrikin’ and I don’t know what to do”. The baby was crying. It seems that the word comes old Norse: “skika” means scream. I’ve not heard anyone use that expression recently. 

Lancashire poet and playwright Henry Livings used to live up the road from us. He translated García Lorca’s “Bodas de Sangre” – Blood Wedding – relocating the tragedy to rural Lancashire. Mind you, when I say he lived up the road from us, that was not strictly speaking Lancashire originally. Before they moved the regional boundaries, this part of the country was part of Yorkshire, with a different “dialect” all its own. 

So there it is: Lanky Twang has its links to literature. And here’s a link to whole lot of poems written in Lancashire dialect. 

That’s enough of that. 

The local parking problems continue unabated. Here is a picture of what I have to put up with. The cars in the foreground are ALL obstructing the pavement!

On the positive side, despite the marked drop in temperature – down to -1° at around 6 o’ clock this evening – today has been a splendidly bright day. The photos below are from around 9:15 this morning on the local bridle path.



 
 Winter is definitely coming!
 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Trains!

One of my regular running tracks is a local bridle path known as “The Donkey Line”. It used to be a railway line until it was closed in 1963: a big mistake because now it could have provided a commuter link to Manchester city centre but that’s another story. Originally trucks were pulled along the railway lines by horses, hence the derogatory “Donkey Line” label, which stuck even after the horses were replaced by steam engines. 

Be that as it may, this is a track that we have walked for over 25 years. Some time last year I discovered that one of the access points had been blocked. Notices telling us that this was private land were put up. One one occasion I even asked some workmen about it, hoping that they might tell me that the old mill/warehouse building on the site was about to be developed into something other than a derelict ruin. I got short shrift. They merely grunted that this was private land. 

You can still get onto the Donkey Line proper but you have to walk along the road for a stretch and then there are steps up to the bridle path. The former access route cut off a corner but it’s not real hardship, although crossing the road to the steps is a little hazardous. No development of any kind has taken place since then. The old mill building seems to be inhabited only by pigeons to this day and the place is still in imminent danger of falling down. 

However, yesterday, running back along the Donkey Line, when I came to the barrier I decided to follow signs that others were ignoring the notices. At one end the “Keep Out” sign has disappeared completely although the fence is still in place. Scrambling up a rather muddy bit of banking you can get onto a track that circumvents the barrier and allows you onto forbidden bit of territory. There I saw clear and unmistakable signs that boys (well, I suppose it could also be girls but something tells me that it was probably boys) had been building ramps for their bikes. There were also even more clear and unmistakable signs that supposedly respectable citizens had been riding their horses along there but I didn’t bother to get photographic evidence of that. 

At the far end of the track, someone has removed a part of the barrier. Presumably this is how people are able to get in on horseback. The sign telling you that this is private land is still there but a part of the fence has been removed. I imagine that local horse riders got a little fed up of trying to persuade their horses to go up the steps to get onto the bridle path. It would seem that anarchy is alive and well and lives in Saddleworth. 

Moving on to a bit of railway line that survived the Beeching cuts, today I travelled to Manchester by train with our middle grandchild. Originally it was going to be a girls’ day out with both the granddaughters, leaving the grandson at home as he would find shopping boring. But then the older granddaughter decided that the appeal of a friend’s new computer game was more attractive so the middle child and I went on our own. 

We bought a child’s return ticket to Manchester at the local station (I travel on my bus pass on local trains and so do not need to buy a ticket) only to be told that we could go as far as Stalybridge, only one station down the line. There we would have to get onto a replacement coach service to Manchester Victoria or catch a connecting train to Manchester Piccadilly. The Northern Line was undergoing improvement work. OK. Arriving at Stalybridge, we enquired about the bus service, only to be told that it would be better to catch the Piccadilly train as the bus service was very slow. Most people from our original train followed this advice. Consequently we travelled to Manchester Piccadilly packed like sardines into a very overcrowded train. 

To add insult to injury, this second train was delayed by almost 15 minutes. At the time that we might realistically have been in Manchester city centre, had our first train completed its journey, we were still waiting at Stalybridge for the sardine can to arrive. 

Notwithstanding all this nonsense, the middle grandchild and I had a good day out and were able to take a photo of our train taking part in the “Movember” moustache growing movement. 


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Language matters.

I came across a quiz in the Guardian on line today, all about knowledge concerning languages. Here’s a link for anyone who fancies having a go at it.

Apparently this is more or less in connection with The Languages Festival, a joint effort by the Guardian and the British Academy. This is part of what they say about it: “The British Academy and the Guardian are holding a national Language Festival throughout November 2013 to celebrate the UK’s diverse cultural richness and raise the profile of language learning among learners of all ages. The aim of the festival is to raise the national profile of language learning – highlighting the academic, cultural, and economic benefits.” 

They’re providing materials for schools to use and ideas for organising events to celebrate language learning. Let’s hope it does something to encourage language learning and to improve the dire state of things linguistic in this country. 

Me, I just found language learning fun from the moment I started to learn French in the first year of secondary school and I still find it fascinating now. So, it seems, do all the people who go to my Italian conversation class. Are we unusual? 

While all this is going on, a head teacher in the Black Country has been making news with his attitude to Black Country dialect. He has banned its use in his school on the grounds that teaching his pupils to speak and write standard English will improve their prospects. 

His list of banned words and phrases includes "I cor" rather than "I can't", and "I day" instead of "I didn't". Other phrases on the banned list include the more widely used "somfink" instead of "something"; "gonna" rather than "going to" and "ain't" rather than "haven't". 

Mr White, the head teacher in question, said: "We had been looking at our literacy standards and we wanted to talk to parents about some of the confusion that happens when children are talking in slang to their mates in the playground. When it comes to phonics and English lessons it can be very confusing for the children." 

He’s even produced a booklet for parents so that they can reinforce things at home. However some parents have complained and say that this is an attack on Black Country culture. 

Now, that argument sounds familiar! 

Anyway I decided to do a bit of research. 

Here’s a bit of geographical stuff. To traditionalists the Black Country is the area where the 30ft coal seam comes to the surface - so West Bromwich, Oldbury, Blackheath, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Bilston, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesfield and parts of Halesowen, Wednesbury and Walsall but not Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Smethwick or what used to be known as Warley. 

The region was described as 'Black by day and red by night' by Elihu Burritt, the American Consul to Birmingham in 1862. Other authors, from Charles Dickens to William Shenstone refer to the intensity of manufacturing in the Black Country and its effect on the landscape and its people. 

Today the Black Country is described as most of the four Metropolitan District Council areas of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton and the term is used as a marketing tool to sell and promote the West Midlands region to the north of Birmingham. 

There are historical bits and pieces as well. The region has its celebrated links with historical events such as the restoration of Charles II to the throne and also the Gunpowder plot. On the evening of November 7,1605, a group of the fleeing plotters arrived at Holbeche House near Dudley. Holbeche was owned by the Littleton family who had been involved in many of the Catholic uprisings, and it was to be the last stand of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators. 

That evening, several of the plotters were injured by an accidental explosion which occurred while they were drying powder in front of an open fire. Between this evening and morning of the following day, several members of the group fled, while others still tried valiantly to rally support from the surrounding area. Just before midday on the 8th of November, the Sheriff of Worcester arrived with a posse of men and surrounded the house. After several attempts to have the conspirators surrender, a skirmish developed. Several were fatally wounded and the remaining known conspirators were apprehended. So there you go. 

Now what about this dialect? Well, apparently it has features of Early Middle English. Think of the word pairs tay/ tea, pays/ peas. Feel your tongue as you say them. The standard pronunciation has the tongue nearly as close to the roof of the mouth as it will go. The BCD version has it a little lower. Then take the pairs fairse/ face, Crairdley/ Cradley. Standard English uses the “ay” vowel here, while BCD has the tongue less close. Now take boon/ bone, gooin/ going. In these vowels the tongue is closest at the back, but again the BCD version is less close. 

Verbs also seem to show persistent features from early Middle English. Past tenses in BCD are often made weakly, by adding –ed, where standard English has a strong past. Consider gi’d/ gave, si’d/ saw, cotch’d/ caught. Weak past tenses tended to happen in lower-class English during the couple of centuries when French was the official language, and nobody was teaching “correct English”. There may be a couple of verbs where BCD has a different strong past e.g. fun/ found. 

Black Country verbs do not seem to have a perfect tense. Think of these sentences: “the glass wuz took out o’ the frairm” and “if er’d a-knew it wuz yer birthday, er’d a-bought yer a present”. The speakers know that their teachers would have corrected them to say “the glass was taken” and “if she had known it was your birthday . . ”, but they consistently use the simple past in all such situations. 

So we’ve got a “dialect” which may be older than Standard English. I can think of people who would start calling this a “language” and set about writing down the rules for its formation. They would just need to find a poet or two and a few texts, other than Chaucer, of course, and they could start calling for it to be used as the language of the classroom for some subjects. I can see a debate that could run and run. 

Oh dear, am I sounding a little cynical? But I’m afraid I’m with Mr White in this one. Of course, we shouldn’t go around stamping out bits of regional culture but if today’s young learners are to become the successful wage earners of tomorrow and, as we keep hearing about in the news at the moment, be able to compete with those who have been expensively educated in private schools, they need to be aware that standard and (dare I say it?) correct English exists.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lamp posts, library and other stuff

On our street they are replacing the streetlamps. Or at least, that’s what they say they are doing. Up to now they have got as far as digging holes (which have filled with water from the recent downpours), sticking a lamp post (without lamp) into some of them and covering some of them with yellow plastic covers (hopefully an interim measure) which become extremely treacherous in the rain. The existing streetlamps appear to be working fine, causing me to wonder why money, essentially OUR money, is being spent replacing something unnecessarily. 

Each hole, whether covered or containing a lampless metal pole, is surrounded by a barrier providing a supposedly safe passage for pedestrians and preventing them from falling into the water-filled holes while at the same time sticking out into the road and reducing the number of parking spaces available. As I have been driving my daughter’s car around for the last week and a half, I have become more aware than usual of the lack of parking spaces. Parking in odd, often illegal places, is almost reaching Spanish standards. I shall have to start posting photos of some of the worst offenders. 

Down near the crossroads is an industrial park with its own (sadly inadequate) parking area. The overspill goes onto the main road, with cars parked dangerously near the corner of the crossroads itself and causing great difficulty for residents who happen to want to park outside their houses just after 9 or 9.30 in the morning. I swear I had to park almost half a mile away yesterday. 

Because I have the use of the car, my daughter sees fit to set me errands to run for her. Monday’s was the hunt for children’s books about castles. She is currently on teaching practice at a local primary school and her topic of choice just now is castles. So I was sent off to our local branch library with a list of possible titles. Not a single one was available there but the catalogue told me they were all available at the central Oldham library. So off I went with my list, only to find that a large number of them were only theoretically available. No sign of them on the shelves! When I enquired about these missing books, the librarian helpfully looked them up on her computer, which has the borrowing history of the books in question. Almost every investigation came up with the same explanation: no history of “movement” by that book since 2010, 2006 or even 2001, so the book was presumed lost. So why, I ask myself, are they still appearing in the catalogue as available? 

As I was out and about I decided to go just a little further to the B & Q store, no longer in the town centre but handily placed on one of those retail parks on the edge of town. I wanted a new plug for the kitchen sink, one of those which you twist to close it but which will trap bits and pieces in the water as it drains away and stop the pipe from clogging up too quickly. Unable to find what I wanted, I asked an assistant. He asked what make my sink was, explaining that this made a difference as to which “kit” I needed to buy. “Kit”? I had no idea what make my kitchen sink was so he showed me what was available: “kits” indeed, comprising a plug, a plug-hole fitting and a collection of pipes to go under the sink and connect it to the drain. I told the helpful assistant that I really didn’t need all that stuff, retailing at £10 at least, but just the plug. No, he told me, they didn’t sell such a thing individually. I should have known. These huge stores sell everything on a big scale. You may need only one screw but you have to buy a packet of 50. Bring back the small hardware shop, I cry. Long live Spain’s “ferreterías”! 

Today has been less frustrating so far. Once more, I was up at the crack of dawn to go to my daughter’s house and take the children to school. On my way home, I stopped at the Wednesday market in Uppermill. It’s smaller than it used to be: a biscuit and wholefoods stall where I can buy excellent muesli, a fruit and veg stall which also sells winter-flowering pansies (“the colder the weather, the better they like it!”), a slipper stall and this morning a new one, a stall selling bottles of vitamins and homeopathic remedies. Most importantly it has the fresh fish van. Consequently, most Wednesdays we have fish! 

 Today I also bought Cox’s apples from the fruit and veg stall. They boasted that these apples came from their own orchards down in Kent. Wherever they came from, they are splendid apples. Cox’s are almost always the very best of apples but these are quite exceptional and taste like the apples of my youth. Proust can keep his memory-inducing madeleines; Cox’s apple do the nostalgia trick for me. 

Of course, my stop-off at the market meant that I arrived home after the workers at the industrial park had stolen all the best parking places and I had to park a good long way up the road! 

Looking at the papers on line later, I read about a collection of photos of shipwrecks off the coast of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly which has been purchased by the National Maritime Museum. I don’t know whether the Cornish coast equals the Costa de la Muerte at the top of Galicia for danger but I remember reading about wreckers who used to go along the beaches collecting potentially valuable stuff washed ashore form boats that had gone down. Four generations of the Gibson family have been taking pictures of wrecks for around 125 years. 

It was John Gibson who founded the family photographic business in the 1860s, taking his first wreck photograph in 1869. But it was his sons Alexander and Herbert – born four years apart but inseparable brothers – who perfected the technique of photographing the raw drama of wrecks. The images have been featured in newspapers, magazines and on TV and film, as well as in books by John Arlott, John Fowles and John Le Carré. 

If a ship ran aground off the Cornish coast, a member of the Gibson family would be one of the first on the scene. The wrecks include that of the 3,500 ton German steamer Schiller in 1876, which caused 300 deaths, and happier stories such as the British-owned barque Glenbervie, which went ashore on rocks at Coverack – all the crew were saved plus much of its cargo of 600 cases of whisky and 400 cases of brandy. The NMM paid £122,500 for the collection. 

Here is a link  to some of the pictures but I think my favourite is this one:- 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Reflections on a walk.

On Sunday we walked to the nearest Tesco, the one in Greenfield village, about three or four miles away. They’ve been doing some much needed re-surfacing work along the route we took so there were signs up warning people that they should drive slowly as there might be loose chippings. Interestingly some of these road signs were in both English and Welsh. Now I’ve seen this before in parts of Merseyside, not too far from North Wales, I suppose, but never before in Greater Manchester, especially in the bit that used to be part of Yorkshire. Odd! 

Since then I have read yet more articles about the effect of learning languages on the brain. Increasing evidence suggests that bilingualism staves off Alzheimer’s. So maybe putting road signs in two languages is a subtle way of introducing bilingualism into our society, thus reducing care costs in the future. However, I suspect it may be a rather long and slow process and while we might learn the words for “loose chippings”, it probably wouldn’t help when it came to ordering a meal! I think I’ll stick to my Italian conversation classes. 

I have read today that learning to play a musical instrument – and beginning before the age of seven – is also beneficial to brain development. It must be hard to be a determinedly conscientious parent these days. You have to bring your child up to speak several languages, make sure s/he has piano lessons, goes along to baby gym to fight possible obesity and goodness knows what else. When does the child get chance just to play and the parent to enjoy being with the child? 

And in Sheffield I hear that they have started an experiment to encourage breastfeeding. They are offering new mothers from communities where breastfeeding is not the norm a financial incentive to do so – well, up to £200 in shopping vouchers. They seem to be hoping that money will work where explanations about the benefits to the child do not. Maybe they should do the same to persuade people to read to their children and generally be nice to them. It might work. Who knows? 

Also on our walk to Greenfield, we saw holly bushes laden with berries. This is supposedly a sign of a hard winter to come. We shall see. It’s a good job I’ve laid in stocks of fuel for the fire. 

 Later in the day on Sunday I took the small people to the park. The small boy wanted to play football. Having judged that my football skills are not up to his standards he changed the game to shooting baskets and was impressed by my being able to do better than he did. I never used to be good at this when I played netball at school. Maybe some things do improve with age. 

While we did this the grumpy girl, who did NOT want to be at the park and did not see why her brother should get his own way, roamed around taking photos with my camera. Here are a few of her masterpieces. 





Saturday, 9 November 2013

Seeing the light(s)

Yesterday evening they switched on the Christmas lights in Manchester city centre and so the countdown to Christmas can begin in earnest. This seems just a little early to me. Now whenever I go to Manchester I will have to go past collections of Christmas Market stalls, all very picturesque and selling Christmas food and drink from a range of countries but otherwise selling what can really only be described as Christmas tat. 

It’s the seasonal version of the lines of tat-stalls you see at all the monuments you might like to visit anywhere in the world. However, many people enjoy it and some have already entered into the spirit of Christmas. As I returned from Manchester on the tram early on Tuesday evening, I saw bonfires in some gardens – it was November 5th, Guy Fawkes night – and more than a few houses bedecked with Christmas lights already. Have these people not heard that energy prices are going up? 

Next week sees the birthday of our crown prince. Charles Windsor will be 65 and will be able to claim his state pension, as well as a Royal Navy pension. I understand that he is donating both these to charities. How public spirited of him! On the other hand, I have read reports about retired King Albert of Belgium. Since abdicating in favour of his son in July the ex-king has had to survive on a pension if something like $1.5. He is finding this difficult and has asked the Belgian government to think about increasing his pension or, at least, taking over the cost of maintaining his main residence. It must be hard for the poor old chap. Presumably he doesn’t have the large personal fortune that allows our Charles to be generous with his pension. 

I’m not donating my pension to anyone but this does not prevent one of the charity organisations to which I make regular payments from phoning me up, ostensibly to thank me for the support I have given them over the years but in reality to ask me to double my monthly payment. Nice! 

Reading the paper today I came across items about various films. Antonio Banderas and Martin Sheen are involved in making a film about the 33 Chilean copper miners who were trapped underground for 33 days in 2010. There is some kind of litigation going on about possible infringement of the rights of the miners concerned. Then there’s a film called “The Face of an Angel” based on a book about Amanda Knox, the American accused of murdering a British student in Italy. Kate Beckinsale, playing the part of a journalist, assures us that the film is not really about this; the Amanda Knox case is “peripheral”. There’s also Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips”, the story of Somali pirates hijacking an American cargo ship. Now, I have been told that this last one is a really good film. I’m sure it is. I’m sure the others are as well. What I’m not so sure about is the need to make so many films about recent news stories. Are there not enough other sources of materials for films? 

 I also read about a certain writer nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize, a fairly prestigious literary prize for works of non-fiction. The writer was talking about her feelings on being nominated: delighted and flattered, especially as she made it through into smaller and smaller shortlists. Preparing herself for the possibility not winning and having to put a brave face on it at the presentation dinner, she developed a game with her boyfriend: 

“It involved my boyfriend or I uttering the words “Charles Moore” at deliberately unexpected moments – during washing up, say, or tooth-brushing. The other would then have to break immediately into a smile and burst into enthusiastic applause.” 

She didn’t win the prize so I hope her preparation worked well. I haven’t read the book in question. If it was nominated for a prize, it must have some value. However, there is a bit of me that wonders how someone who can write “It involved my boyfriend or I uttering ...” can be nominated for any kind of LITERARY award. Oh, I know it’s picky of me but I do get cross about supposedly well-educated people being unable to get their grammar right. And yes, this “me or I” question can cause problems for some people although it really shouldn’t. All you need to do is ask yourself what you would say if it didn’t involve another person. I’m sure this writer would never say “It involved I uttering ...”. 

And I still keep reminding our oldest granddaughter (who can be something of a grammar fiend herself) that it’s not correct to say “me and my friend do this”. You never hear a Spaniard say “mi y mi amigo hacemos”. At least, I have never heard it. No, it’s always “mi amigo y yo”. I know the French have their “moi” but even they would not say “moi et mon ami faisons”. French politeness puts the friend first: “mon ami et moi ...”. However, I can more easily accept “me” in place of “I” than the other way around. 

And finally, the Infanta Cristina’s problems finally appeared in an English paper today. Maybe they have before but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. It wasn’t any kind of in depth analysis just a short article in the Guardian about the problems the Spanish royal family is having and how King Juan Carlos must be regretting this “annus horribilissimus”. 

Maybe someone should make a film about it.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Frost, walks, beards and so on.

Up at the crack of dawn for grandparental duties, I saw frost on the shed roof, frost on the cars parked outside our house. Clearly winter has arrived. 

After I had taken the children to school, done a quick supermarket shop and, taking advantage of having my daughter’s car to drive for the day, bought in supplies of coal and logs for the fire in the living room (preparations for the arrival of winter before it gets too severe) I went home for a late breakfast. By then the sun was shining out of a clear blue sky. This is why there was frost of course: that clear sky! But it was too good a day to sit indoors so I persuaded my husband to abandon the computer, leave his translation work until later and to go for a walk with me. 

So, once again taking advantage of having my daughter’s car to drive for the day, off we went to one of our local beauty spots: Dovestone Reservoir. We drove up and down the road to the reservoir a couple of times, trying to find a way of avoiding paying parking. In the end we went onto the pay and display car park. As I approached the ticket machine, an old chap sitting in his car wound his window down and offered me his ticket. He and his wife were about to leave and had a ticket good for another couple of hours which we gladly accepted. Small acts of kindness still abound in the world. 

A surprisingly large number of people were out and about, considering that this was Monday morning. Not all of them were retired folk either. Judging by the number of children around, either some schools are having their half term holiday a week later than everyone else or there are a lot of parents condoning truanting! It was a splendid day to be out for a walk. The wind was a bit fresh but out of the wind it was positively warm, reminding us that despite the frosty start it is still only the beginning of November. Here are a few photos of our foray into the Saddleworth beauty spot:- 







November has turned into Movember, with many gentlemen growing sponsored moustaches to raise funds for research into prostate cancer. I have read that our Mr. Cameron has decided not to participate this year. Over in Germany, near Stuttgart, where they have The World Beard and Moustache Championships,  some gentlemen have made a good start on this. 



Yesterday I wrote about the “thigh gap”. Here is some comment from Hadley Freeman in today’s Guardian.

That’s about it for today. My busy day continued with an afternoon school run to bring the grandchildren home again and then a detour to collect their mother from the school where she is doing her teaching practice. 

Tomorrow Granddad is doing the afternoon school run because I am attending an Italian class in Manchester. That will be interesting for all concerned. 

I have ended the day by baking a cake. Such is the busy life of a retired lady!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Rain and appearances.

According to La Voz de Galicia “octubre fue el más lluvioso desde hace ocho años” – this October was the rainiest for eight years. And even though the month has ended the rain has not. Here is a link to a TV news report about the effect of the rain over the bank holiday weekend (Friday was All Saints – Todos los Santos) on tourism on Galician beaches.

At least I know that it’s not just here in the UK that you have to time your outings for moments between rainstorms. And people keep telling me it makes up for the dry summer. OK but I think we’ve had enough for the time being. 

Anyway, on to other things. 

Over the last few days I’ve been hearing and reading about women in the media again. BBC Radio 4 did a feature on women in broadcasting, taking us back to the days when women were considered too emotional to read the news. And besides, our voices were considered too light for effective broadcasting. As for television, well, women watching the news would be too distracted by looking at the fashions the newsreaders were wearing. 

That last point has a ring of truth behind it, not so much the women being distracted but the importance of what women on TV are wearing. A few years ago we had the chance to take a look behind the scenes at one of the TV news broadcasts. The female newsreader must have spent about 10 minutes spraying her hair so that it did not move out of place while she faced the camera. At the same time she was taking instruction on points she needed to make, questions she needed to ask and how much time and importance she should give to various interviews. A woman, you see, multi tasking! 

Her male counterpart just had to make sure his tie was straight. 

All right, I exaggerate a little. The pressure on men in the media to conform to certain presentational norms keeps on growing, albeit a little more slowly. Nowadays, male politicians and news readers all conform to a kind of corporate image: smart suit, well groomed hair and at the moment a poppy in the buttonhole. You don’t see politicians in duffle coats like Michal Foot wore any longer or even many very large ones like Cyril Smith. They’ve had to adapt to the style rules. 

Facial hair is largely frowned on as well although Jeremy Paxman appears to have made something of a fashion statement by appearing on Newsnight sporting the beard he grew over the summer. This provoked some comment  about how it “aged” him but nothing like the kind of comments female commentators, stars, singers and so have to put up with. 

 The latest body problem selected to harass women in media with is something called the “thigh gap”. A fashion journalist commented about this: “"About four hours ago, as far as I was concerned a 'thigh gap' was something anyone could have if they stood up and placed their feet wider than hip distance apart. A thigh gap is actually the hollow cavity which appears between the tops of your legs when you stand with your feet together. It also means that your body is underweight." 

You just can’t win. 

I caught the tail end of a report on the radio about a film star, now in her late 50s, possibly early 60s, appearing on the front of a magazine, all slender neck and smooth jowl-free chin, wearing skinny jeans and clearly enjoying looking good. She was criticised for this. So, on the one hand you are criticised if you let yourself go – all those photos of famous young women not quite getting rid of their “baby bump” fast enough – while on the other it isn’t permissible to look too good beyond a certain age. 

And then the feminists waged in with the opinion that women who do keep themselves fit and attractive are somehow betraying the feminist cause. But does growing old gracefully have to mean growing old frumpily? And isn’t it possible to be a good-looking feminist? 

Thank heavens I managed to listen to an interview with Shirley Williams, an interview in which she wasn’t asked to comment on what she was wearing!