Saturday, 31 January 2015

Snow (again), gnomes and indoor gardening.

January draws to a cold close, although not quite as cold as the weathermen predicted for today. Not the kind of temperature where you might choose to wander about in shorts, although some do, but not several degrees below freezing, which is what we had been led to expect. So I walked into the village to buy the newspaper this morning without having to worry about icy pavements all the way along. I still wasn't risking running as there is a prodigious amount of snow lying there. Others are clearly braver, or more foolhardy, than I for I saw at least two or three joggers out and about. One of these was running in the road, not one of my favourite places to run; motorists have some difficulty seeing anything that does not have four wheels! Another was running on the snowy path through the trees and past the old millpond where I often run myself. Under the snow, however, is a inch or two deep layer of cold mud. I really wasn't in the mood for cold, wet feet this morning. 

My running may have to be put off until we return to Galicia. We have, or rather Phil has, been spending time investigating flights for next weekend. We will travel via London and visit the offspring down there en route. A few weeks in a more southerly location, even if it should give us Galician rain, will be very welcome. 

And by the time we return, hopefully the snow will have gone and the spring flowers might even be making a start. I may, however, miss the snowdrops in the garden, currently under a layer of snow but ready to bloom briefly as soon as the snow clears. 

In the review section of the newspaper we came across a picture of Gnome Chomsky, a garden gnome modelled on the linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky. For $195 you can purchase a 17 inch high Noam to stand in your garden. For $95 you can buy an unpainted version and paint him in your own choice of colours. Apparently the popularity of the garden gnome puts Noam Chomsky ahead of the field amongst big thinkers with a merchandising range. Who knew that people who like garden gnomes were even aware that Chomsky existed? Life is full of curiosities! 

On my kitchen window ledge I have a quite large avocado pear plant. I grew it myself from an avocado pear stone, half burying the stone in compost, watering it frequently and eventually seeing a straggly shoot appear. The first one I ever grew was often neglected. I was a busy working girl and mother back then. Whenever I forgot to water it for some time, it would shed leaves. Watering it again would lead to further flourishing but it ended up as a tall, thin plant with just a few leaves at the top, not a pretty thing by any means. I returned home one day to find that Phil had decided that it needed some radical pruning to encourage it to put out shoots lower down its straggly stem. Unfortunately decapitation has the same effect on avocado pear plants as it does on people. 

Since then, I have been more careful and more successful. Several have been nurtured and passed on to friends. And when we go away for long periods I leave the plant standing in a large pot of water so that it does not dry up too much, this works more effectively than relying on my daughter to pop in and water it! She too is a working girl and mother and tends to neglect pot plants. The current version has in fact two plants in one pot. One of my seedlings having just begun to grow before we set off on our travels on one occasion, a couple of years ago now, I repotted it into a larger plant pot, left it in its bain-marie and went away. What I had forgotten was that the larger plant pot already contained a hidden avocado stone, which sprouted in my absence. Consequently I came back to find two for the price of one. 

I mention avocado pear plants because in the Guardian magazine today Alys Fowler writes about "sprouting an avocado pip". A pip? Surely "pip" is too small for what you find inside an avocado pear! Apples have pips. Ordinary pears have pips. But cherries have stones and I am pretty sure that avocados do as well. She offers sprouting avocado "pips" as an occupation for frustrated gardeners who are itching to plant seeds outside but cannot do so because of the foul weather. One of her methods is identical to mine. I stumbled across (invented it) it by accident because sticking cocktail sticks into an avocado stone and balancing it over a pot of water, the other method recommended, just seemed too hit-and-miss to me. But then, I am not a gardener. People, mostly grandchildren, have often asked if it will ever grow pears for me. Alys Fowler finishes her article with this comment:: "Don't expect fruit though. Avocados are native to Mexico and Central America, can easily reach 20 metres, and your house is too cold and too dark." 

20 metres???!!!! Just a bit tall! And how long does it need to grow so high?

Friday, 30 January 2015

Language, books and weather.

Someone in one of the newspapers online was talking about people's tendency to confide in strangers, quite often the person sitting next to you on a plane. Such a person is, of course, a captive audience. He cannot even get up and find another seat or even stand at the other end of the transport, as he could on a bus. "Ask around," the journalist wrote, "and you’ll discover a mysterious truth about travelling on planes and trains: almost everyone can recall being stuck next to a stranger who wouldn’t stop boring on about his health, job or marriage, yet almost nobody will admit to being that seatmate themselves." 

So that's why so many people tell me all sorts of rubbish on the bus when I am travelling around, is it? Maybe so. And I thought it was just that I have the kind of reassuring face that people feel they can talk to. Note the use of language: "a stranger who wouldn't stop boring on..." I know that things can be "boring" and that you can say that someone is "boring you" but is it possible to use it in that way: "boring on about something"? The English language is odd in that way. 

I have just read that George RR Martin's "The Winds of Winter", sixth novel in the "Game of Thrones" series, is not to be published in 2015. Three earlier novellas, set in the fantasy world of Westeros are to be published, with beautiful illustrations, according to the source of the information. Personally I don't necessarily want novellas about knightly deeds of derring-do. And I don't need illustrations to make it all come to life for me. Illustrations are all very fine but not really necessary. I can visualise stuff quite well for myself. However, I would just like to know what happens to the characters I have followed through the earlier books. I suspect the author is too busy with the TV series. The books need a lot of work and thought but so does the TV series, which has subtle differences, inevitably, from the novels. Will the sixth book reflect more the events of the original books or the events of the TV series? 

 That is quite an important question. We have been watching the wonderful TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies". The whole thing is very well done. I find myself tempted to say it is sumptuous. Some scenes look like paintings from the period. The clothes and settings are tremendous. And the faces of the actors are quite perfect. I occasionally wonder, as I often do when I watch the dramatisation of a book I know well, how much those who have NOT read the books actually understand. And then I have a sneaky feeling of superiority. Anyway, what I was getting around to is that Hilary Mantel is also writing a further novel in her series. On one of those TV arts discussion programmes someone suggested that Hilary Mantel might be influenced in her writing by the "life " given to her Thomas Cromwell by the actor Mark Rylance. The general response was that Hilary Mantel was undoubtedly well above such things. 

I wait quite impatiently for both of these books. In the case of George RR Martin, who is quite ill, according to something I heard, I hope he manages to complete it before he gets too ill to write. My inner selfish child is coming out! 

Weather report: the snow stopped falling some time in the night. The day began very dull and cloudy but by early afternoon had become clear and sunny but still cold: that combination of snow and blue sky. The weekend is forecast to be very cold indeed. Here are some pictures of the snow and the blue sky. 



Thursday, 29 January 2015

The best laid plans.

I got up yesterday with every intention of doing my run to Uppermill market. I looked out of the window. It was bucketing down with rain, intermingled with hailstones, all driven nicely by the wind. No good! I got dressed and caught the bus to the market. A five minute journey cost be an astounding £3.10! Because it was not yet 9.30 I had to pay for my bus ride instead of using my old dear's bus pass. But how do they arrive at these fares? I know that for £4.00 I could have bought a ticket that would allow me to travel all day, all over the place but I didn't need such a ticket. My return journey was going to be on my bus pass! How do people manage to pay such fares all the time? It's a crazy system! 

And then, when I arrived at the market, half the stalls had been put off by the weather. The fish man and the veg man were there but that was about all. The stall that sells biscuits, cheese, muesli - one of my main reasons for going was their muesli with hazelnuts, probably the best in the land - was taking the day off and everyone else seemed to have followed suit. So it goes! 

I can't say the weather improved greatly after that. I had to go and collect our small grandson from school later. Fortunately the weather stayed reasonably fine for the walk up and down the hill between the school and the railway station. The small boy was on good form, amazingly chatty despite frozen feet (why do small boys always get their feet wet?) and earned his traditional dandelion and burdock drink and packet of crisps at the station buffet. 

On the bus to the railway station to collect the boy, I once again had an odd travelling companion. My bus does a round-the-houses run between Oldham and Ashton, weaving its way in and out of various villages and housing estates. It comes into our village, round the council estate at the top of the village and back out of the village to continue its route. Instead of standing in the cold waiting for the bus to return from its run around the village I caught it at the entry point. 

As I sat down, a voice from behind me asked, "Does this bus go to Dobcross?" So I explained that it didn't actually go into Dobcross village, that we were about to go through Delph and out again towards Uppermill and beyond. I then had to explain more or less the bus route to Ashton from Delph: Uppermill, Greenfield, Mossley, Ashston. All was quiet for a minute or two. Then as we left Delph behind, the voice resumed: " So now we are going to Delph?" I replied that we had already been through Delph and were on our way to Uppermill. "So, where is Dobcross then?" At that moment we went past the road that leads uphill to Dobcross village. I pointed it out. "Does the bus not go up there?" I refrained from making sarcastic replies about that obviously being the case and just said that you would need to walk. We had a little discussion about how long it would take, the difficulty some people would have, the steepness of the hill and so on. 

And so the conversation, halting and odd, going quiet and then resuming, went on. At each turn she wanted to know where we were, where would the bus go next, what was the name of the school we went past, who did the football field belong to, where was I going, and so on and so on. Having discovered that I was going to the small Tesco in Greenfield before catching the train, she engaged me in a discussion about the merits of that Tesco as opposed to the big one on the way into Oldham and why it was less convenient for me to go there en route to catch the train to Stalybridge. It was exhausting! 

Just before I got off the bus I asked where she was going. Ashton. Did she live in Ashton? No, Middleton. She was just out for a bus ride, hence all the questions about the places we passed through. Although she looked about thirty, her mind was like that of a young child, with that same odd logic about things. Perhaps everyone else on the bus had ignored her. Was I the first person to answer her questions? Why do I attract these odd conversationalists? And, given my earlier comments about the price of bus fares, how was she affording to go on this excursion? I can only imagine she had some kind of disabled person's bus pass. She seems to be making good use of it! 

Out in the wider world, Lots of bigwigs have gone to Saudi Arabia to pay homage to the new king. Apparently Michelle Obama is refusing to wear a headscarf to cover her hair. Her principles may not stretch as far as refusing to go to the country but she is refusing to conform now she is there. Well, that should stir things up a little! Mind you, reports in the news today are trying to play all this down, assuring us that Michelle Obama is simply following USA protocol. Laura Bush, Hilary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice all set went scarfless. And nobody made Angela Merkel wear a headscarf. OK? Fuss over? 

Today the snow is back. We don't seem to have too much but then, I am only looking at from inside my house since I am not obliged to go anywhere. Our daughter's school, in a higher spot of the region, has closed for the day as has our middle granddaughter's, so they are all home for the day. 

More is promised. Good job I laid in supplies yesterday!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Getting back into the routine of things.

Ok, so today has been Tuesday. All day, or so I am led to believe. In my efforts to get back to normal, I got up this morning and ran. Too late to meet old Jack and his dog Rosie, however. As I approached the cricket club, I could see his car just setting off. Clearly he had already walked the dog, or dogs, and was off home for a cup of coffee and hot buttered crumpets, his usual post dog-walking breakfast. If I want to catch up with him, I must not snooze my alarm when it rings but leap out of bed immediately, don my running gear and set off. But the bed is so inviting first thing in the morning! Must try harder! 

On the positive side, I did manage to run once again. That's three days now. Getting back to normal! 

Late in the morning I caught the bus to Manchester, without any untoward incidents. No weirdos on either bus or tram today. In the Italian class we have been listening to songs from the time of Mussolini. Would-be anthems and marching songs, full of martial language and with a good rhythm to get you parading down the road. Our teacher told us of her horror as a child when she finally realised what was meant by the songs she had been chanting away merrily, with garbled lyrics, as a smaller child. One of my companions commented afterwards that perhaps our teacher has chosen to have us study popular music from Italy's past so that she could lay a few ghosts of her own. Maybe so! 

After the class I did not go straight home, as I usually do, but indulged myself with a buttered scone and a cup of coffee in Waterstone's cafe before going to Stalybridge for the monthly poetry group meeting. It still feels odd having a cafe in a bookshop but I thoroughly approve of the idea. What could be more civilised than looking at a book you are thinking of purchasing and having refreshments of some kind at the same time? It's a lovely place to meet friends as well. 

A bit of spare time killed in a pleasant manner, I caught the train to Stalybridge and met up with the poets of the Stanza group. We were supposed to be anonymously criticising each others' poems. These had all been submitted to the organiser and sent in an email to all who sent a poem. Mine had been accidentally missed off the list. Apologies from the organiser. So it goes. We had an interesting evening anyway. 

So that's Tuesday over with. We are crossing our fingers that the promised snow does not arrive tomorrow, especially as I plan once again to go to the market in the morning. Mind you my American friend has been posting photos on Facebook of the mounds of snow, at least 15 inches deep, in her garden. 

How can I whinge about the weather after that?

Monday, 26 January 2015

Everything is relative!

So, another day without snow, although the weathermen promise us another cold spell coming in later this week with the possibility of yet more snow. However, a friend of ours in the USA was commenting about a weather warning they have had over there. Her house, she says, is on the edge of the zone which is in imminent danger of having 18 to 24 inches of snow! Yes, 18 to 24 inches! That's INCHES not CENTIMETRES! That is a lot of snow. Good grief, it's up to most people's knees. I am tempted to say that I will stop whinging forthwith but that would just be empty words. 

The snow might have gone but there is still quite a prodigious amount of water around. Little streams are overflowing and mud puddles abound. This I discovered on my second run of the year. More of a leap over the mud patches in some places, not to mention the point where I had to tiptoe round the edge of a puddle with aspirations to become a small lake. Be that as it may, I did manage to run and plan to do so again tomorrow, weather permitting. I also saw our local heron while I was out and about, even though he had flown off by the time I got my camera sorted. Perhaps he too has decided to get out and about more, getting more exercise between two cold weather sessions. 

Out in the wider world, Greece has been putting the cat among the pigeons with her elections, shaking up attitudes to the EU a little more. Their situation is another that should make us stop and take stock of our own country and our own lives. The newly sworn in president has promised to reconnect electricity to families who have been months without it. In the twenty first century we find ourselves with people in first world countries unable to have what we consider the necessities of life! Of course we could get by without electricity if we had to but, given that it is there and that we have grown accustomed to all the labour saving devices, we expect to be able to continue using it. 

More importantly, more shockingly, there are people in first world countries unable to feed their families adequately. And I don't just mean in Greece. 

 In the UK, despite the fact that certain experts assure us that the average wage has risen faster than inflation, averages include both above and below average. Consequently, a lot of people don't feel very happy with their situation. Here is a link to an article about who are the happiest and unhappiest workers in the UK. 

Interestingly nurses and teachers, two groups who are always praised for their sense of vocation, are included in the least happy. 

Also interestingly, they do not seem to have included bank and business executives who receive huge bonuses among the happiest, maybe they just take that as a given. 

Or maybe it is true that the more you have, the less satisfied you tend to be with your life.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Happy New Year

Today I went running for the first time this year. Between coughing and sneezing on the one hand (me) and snowing and freezing on the other (our ridiculous weather), I have simply not got my running gear out. 

But the coughing and sneezing appears to be on the wane and the snow and ice are visibly withdrawing. So this morning, there being no rain either, I set off and ran round the village. I am getting back into my normal routine and the New Year has now officially begun for me, appropriately enough on my birthday. 

This being my birthday, the family are coming for tea. I have baked a cake. This is what you do at my age, you bake your own birthday cake! As I beat up (beat together?) cake ingredients in the kitchen, I could hear mayhem from the basement flat next door. In the space where we have our kitchen and dining room, the house next door has a studio flat, currently occupied by a lady, probably my age, who appears to have far more grandchildren than a sensible person could want or need. She has four children and all of them appear to have followed suit. (My mother also had four children but the four of us only produced six grandchildren between us, a much more reasonable way of doing things!) 

At times the grandmother next door has a large number of them to stay overnight at the weekend. Where they all sleep remains a mystery to me. It works fine, I am sure, in the summer time when they can run around in the garden, but at this time of year, even now the snow has gone, the garden is seriously quagmirish! Everyone has to stay indoors (apart from the small dog who is probably sent out to reduce pressure on space). Hence the mayhem! 

Note to self: as sound travels so well, be sure not to raise voice above the gentlest of tones! 

The world is an odd place at times. I read about a young man of about 22 who set up a website called "Ship Your Enemies Glitter". The idea was to send an envelope full of glitter (the stuff you used to play with as a kid, putting paste on card and sprinkling the coloured, sparkly stuff on top to make Christmas cards for your adoring parents and grandparents) to someone you don't like or to a person who has annoyed you in some way. The recipient opens the envelope and gets covered in glitter. Anyone who has ever supervised children doing craft work knows how hard it is to remove glitter from furniture and carpets, not to mention clothing. Even if you just need to sweep it up off a tiled floor, it still hangs around for days and days and your dustpan and brush are contaminated with the stuff so that wherever else you sweep gets glittery. So I suppose it's quite an effective way of getting your revenge on someone. 

Except that I find it hard to think of anyone annoying me in such a way that I would need to send them an envelope full of long distance revenge. I seem to be in the minority in this. The site was so successful that he has sold it on to some bigger concern. I wonder who now dispatches envelopes full of sparkly malice. What a strange thing to do! And besides, you wouldn't even have the fun of watching the recipient get covered in glitter! 

How did people go about creating strange businesses that nobody knew we had a need for before there was the Internet? Nowadays, someone has an idea, puts it out on the net and, before you know it, the idea goes viral and the creator has the potential to make a fortune. 

Then there is declaring your undying love in public for a person you will probably break up with in a very short time. I caught a short extract from a radio programme either about Verona or about Romeo and Juliet. In Verona you can visit "Juliet's house". We have been there. I am pretty sure it isn't a real Juliet's house but it is equipped with a suitable balcony from which from time to time actors perform bits of Shakespeare for the tourists. The passageway leading into the courtyard is now festooned with graffiti along the line of "Sam loves Mabel forever". Where there isn't space for more graffiti notes have been stuck on with chewing gum (how romantic!) or sticking plasters (also very romantic!) especially on the notice that says not to stick notices. 

Couples have always done this, of course. Think of the numerous trees with names carved inside hearts that are now much higher up the tree than even a tall couple could reach and weirdly bent out of shape by the tree's increased girth. But now people travel a lot more and do it on an international scale. 

There's the Pont des Arts in Paris where so many couples have attached padlocks as symbols of their love, and thrown away the key, that the weight is endangering the bridge. Bits of the guardrail have broken off and landed on boats going under the bridge. Declaring your love can obviously be a dangerous business! The last time we went to Sicily we saw the same phenomenon on the guardrail of a viewing point above the town of Modica. There were none there when first we saw it about ten years ago. 

It's a funny old world!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Fraud, guns and more fraud!

Moaning and complaining about a bit of snow here, I feel like a complete fraud. This is because I came across this set of pictures of snow and ice, more ice than snow in fact, in Michigan, USA.

Frozen lakes and lakesides are always impressive. Around here at the moment we just have frozen millponds and the ice is rapidly melting. thank heavens! 

Still on the subject of the USA, I came across two stories about guns today. There was a two year old who found his father's gun in the glove compartment of the car, pointed it at his own chest and managed to pull the trigger. No one felt that the father, who worked as a sheriff and so had every right to carry a gun, was in any way negligent. Just a tragic accident. 

Imagine being so complacent about carrying guns around that you can leave it in the glove compartment of your car or carry in it in your handbag, just like your mobile phone. And I even get annoyed when I see people giving in to their toddlers' demands to play with the mobile phone. You have an expensive piece of equipment and you let a toddler get his sticky finger on it??!! 

The other story was in an article about the photographer Robert Zuckerman and his Hollywood photos. It concerned the death of Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee. He was accidentally killed on set because the gun they used in the filming was loaded with live ammunition by mistake. By mistake! What were they even doing with live ammunition on set? Did they think they might need to defend someone from an attack? 

This is the moment when you feel reassured by the health and safety nuts in the UK who would not doubt have someone doing a risk assessment before allowing a gun, let alone bullets, on the set. 

 Of course, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that someone deliberately put the live bullets in the gun. Oh, no! That way conspiracy theory lies! Enough of that. 

Today I took the tram out to Chorlton where my friend Heidy picked me up and took me off to her house for lunch: her famous onion soup and left over stollen from Christmas. In Chorlton and in her part of Stockport there was no snow and I seemed rather overdressed with my woolly hat and scarf and double mittens. 

On the tram I found myself once again seated next to one of the local eccentrics. I must have the kind of face that encourages people to talk to me and to tell me their life stories. I was sitting there quietly writing stuff down in my trusty notebook when he leaned over and commented on how neat and clear my handwriting was and how he wished he could write so well. There you go, time to put the notebook away! Most of us have been tempted to cast a glance at what someone has open on their iPad or iPhone; it has to be admitted. But most of us try to resist the temptation and certainly don't comment on what is being typed. So when someone tells you that your handwriting is nice and clear, they are obviously reading your words so you stop writing and put the notebook away. None of their business what you write about! 

So he proceeded to engage me in conversation about his life as an investigator, first working as a customs man in various parts of the world and then in other places and in other areas of investigation. He told me how to spot a fraudster and produced documents, photocopies of marriage certificates, to demonstrate to me how you can tell they are false. An odd things to show off about to a complete stranger on a tram! 

He went on to tell me about the lack of help he receives from church officials in these investigations, how they all work together to cover up corruption. And in the next breath he commented about the cheek of such priests, guilty of all sorts of stuff, telling him to say five Hail Marys when he goes to confession. 

Now why, if he thinks the church is so corrupt, does he still go along to confession? It beggars belief!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Snow, rubbish and elephants!

Well, it finally stopped snowing some time yesterday afternoon. Far too late to think about doing anything constructive. And apparently too late for the dustbin men to come and empty our general rubbish bin. One branch of refuse collecting emptied the bag of paper and card for recycling and hid the bag under the snow so that I've had to retrieve it this morning. However, emptying the general rubbish bin was clearly the responsibility of another refuse department, presumably with a different type of dustbin wagon, one that cannot deal with snowy road. 

It's complicated enough keeping track of which bins you are supposed to put out each week: food waste and compostable rubbish (el compost, as my friend Colin informs me it is now called in Spanish) every week, recyclable glass and plastic on alternate weeks and recyclable paper and card together with the general rubbish bin on the other alternate weeks. They give us a handy chart so that we know what is going on, very helpful. But if they start missing collections for weather related reasons, the whole system will fall apart. As it is, our general rubbish bin is full. I swear someone else is adding their rubbish to ours because, with all the recycling we do, we actually generate very little general rubbish. 

This is one of the problems of the streamlining of refuse collection. Back in the golden age of refuse collection, bin men used to go round to the back of houses and carry the bins to the front pavement for emptying. Now you have to put them out on the pavement ready for collection, causing a nuisance to passersby. Consequently most of us now keep the bins in the front or side garden - an elegant addition to the floral displays and the garden gnomes and such - so that it is easy to drag them out of the front gate. However, this leads to bin piracy! Shock, horror! On the street where our daughter lives, there is a regular race on refuse collection day to retrieve your bin, usually marked with the number of your house so that you don't get someone else's scabby, smelly bin by mistake, before some antisocial neighbour fills it up again. 

There is quite a lot to be said for the large refuse bins you see on Spanish streets. It avoids possible dustbin wars in neighbourhoods. 

 So, making my way out to replenish our food supplies from the supermarket today I had to squeeze past an un-emptied bin by our garden gate. It was still there when I returned. Hopefully they will catch up with themselves before too long! 

I walked along the local bridle path on my way to the supermarket. There was a steady drip of melting snow from the trees and the temperature is less severe than it has been but there is still plenty of by now rather sorry-looking white stuff around. 

In the meantime, I have been helping Phil out with some of his translation work. Yesterday I came across a section that said, in Spanish, "The British have a proverb that can be useful to all of us, 'an elephant cannot be eaten in a day'". 

Really? Do we actually have such a proverb? It sounds quite a sensible one but I can't say I have come across it. And like one of the characters in the French film "Amélie", I am usually pretty good at proverbs. 

So I googled it. The best I could come up with was an old joke. Well, not really a joke, more like the kind of thing you get in crackers at Christmas. It goes like this: question - How do you eat an elephant? Answer - Well, one bite at a time, of course! It fits in with the idea the writer wanted to get across: Rome wasn't built in a day; do things little by little; slow and steady wins the race. 

 In my googling I found lots of business advice pages, using the metaphor of eating elephants. Here's a quote from one: 
"Take small bites out of your elephant. Take the right bites. But most importantly, determine what your elephant will look like when you’ve eaten the whole thing this will help keep you focused on the results, not the work." 

You see what I mean? Somewhat overcooking the elephant in my opinion. 

That's all!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Culture? And more snow!

Well, the plan for today was to get up and walk the half hour to the market in Uppermill. I woke up and looked out of the window to see ... yet more snow, falling gracefully from the sky. Proper goose feather flakes! None of that thin sleety stuff! Judging by our path and pavement, now covered again after our good citizen clearing and gritting the other day, it's been going a while. 



The road is beginning to be covered as well. It's a good job I didn't have to take the small grandson to school today. I would not have relished waiting for a bus at 7 am in the snow. I wonder, though, if it was snowing when my daughter got up to drive to Ormskirk in the small hours. If so, she may have difficulty getting back. We shall wait and see what the rest of the day brings. 

The centre of Manchester yesterday had no snow. I know this because I was there. A good number of us came in from outlying bits of Manchester to the Italian conversation class this afternoon. Most of us left snow behind us and returned to it at the end of the afternoon but in the centre there was nothing. It was still pretty cold mind you. This did not prevent young men from going around in shorts. Where did that fashion come from? All muffled up with warm jackets, hats, scarves, gloves and then legs bare from knee to ankle! Even in my mini skirt days I used to wear warm tights when the weather was cold. Crazy young men! 

We had been asked, in preparation for the Italian class, to research interesting facts about the Italian city of Bologna and talk about it to the group. Amazingly none of us chose the same as anyone else. So we had the unsolved mysteries of the bomb in Bologna railway station and the plane that went down into the sea off Sicily on a flight from Bologna to Palermo, both in 1980, a treatise in the canals of Bologna, a list of Bolognese food, the rather obsessive artist Giorgio Morandi who painted mostly pots, bottles, jars and vases (in fact in his museum in Bologna you can see the pots, bottles, jars and vases that inspired him!) and stuff about the university. 

Not only is Bologna University the oldest in Europe but it was the first to allow women to graduate and the first to have a female professor, and that hundreds and hundreds of years ago. In fact she was the first woman to work from home in a professional capacity. That's pretty impressive considering that, according to the lady who talked about it, the University of Cambridge didn't properly accept women students until 1948. What's more, the Bologna lady professor also had 12 children - hence the need to work from home! I wonder who did the washing up in her house! 

On the subject of women, I was reading about "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios", Pedro Almodóvar's wonderful film. It has been made into a into a musical with the actress Tamsin Greig. I'm not sure I want to see it, although Almodóvar probably appreciates the weirdness of it. One of the wonders of the original film was the homage paid by the cinematographer to earlier works that had gone before. That and the splendidly outrageous storyline. 

I do wonder about the desperate need to remake everything. The sequels and prequels are surely enough without having to do a revamp of a perfectly good film. Perhaps live theatre is different since it is a fleeting, impermanent thing. But a film is set in stone, or at least in celluloid. 

My other query is why there seems to be the desperate need to make a song and dance of stuff. There's opera, high brow stuff with classical stories and music written specially. Some lovely music but the peasant in me finds the whole thing quite hard to comprehend. And it's not because it's in a foreign language! Then you have "musicals", which always seem a bit like the poor man's opera. Not quite so high brow, a story with some good songs thrown in. Opera for the common people? 

Sometimes I have my doubts about the stuff that has been made into musicals. There has been some inspired work, like "West Side Story" reworking the Romeo and Juliet story. But how did they ever turn "Les Misérables", the book, into a musical? Surely the most unprepossessing material you could think of for a musical entertainment. Unless, of course, you go back further to "Oliver". Who would have thought that you could make Oliver Twist into a musical. And yet "Les Misérables" goes from strength to strength and schools all over the place put on productions of "Oliver"! 

I remain baffled. Maybe we should all just go back to watching panto!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Pictures of snow and some reflections on words.

Well, the snow is still around. Apparently the temperature hit record lows last night. I looked out at some point in the middle of the night and the sky was clear as clear could be. Stars everywhere. Hence the low temperatures. Apart from little forays to buy essentials from the local shop, we are staying in. Here are some pictures of the snow, taken during our most recent forays. 


 


 






The other day, after I had expressed my disappointment in the pope, Perry commented on the words disappointed and disgruntled. If "dis" means "opposite of", where do we get words like that? So I did a little research. Here we go. Disappointment: "The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of hopes or expectations to manifest." It seems that it comes from old French "desapointer", literally to remove from office - to "unappoint", as it were. By the late 15th century it came to mean a sense of general frustration and by the mid 18th a sense of dejection. There you go. 

Disgruntled, disgruntlement - first used in 1862 - are a different kettle of fish. I always like to include disgruntled in my set of words which look like negatives but don't have a positive. Just as people can be "unkempt" but never "kempt", so you never hear of any just being "gruntled", but apparently that might have been possible in the past. It is believed to come from a Middle English word "gruntle", meaning to grunt. "Dis" is used here as an intensifier (technical language stuff this!), making an emotion stronger. So if you are gruntled, you are grunting and moaning about something, and disgruntled, means that you are even more dissatisfied. The Spanish use "re", usually implying a repeated action, is used in this way sometimes: "rebueno" = really good, not good repeated. I think I have come across "rematar", not to rekill but to kill off. Oh, the joy of language! 

In the post office the other day, they were selling coins and replicas of medals, all listed as "collectibles". Phil stopped and commented, somewhat disgruntled, that it surely should be "collectables". (He is just as picky and pedantic about words as I am!) Finally I got around to googling the whole business. One source told me this: "Both are considered acceptable: Although "collectable" is the spelling listed first by the Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary observes that the "-ible" form is also valid, and has come to be common usage in the United States." 

So it's probably another Americanism that has crept in. One forum about spelling said the answer was simple: you just had to use your spellchecker, which would give you the "..ible" form. Well, of course! Just as it gives me "color" and "center"! That doesn't make it correct though. By the way, my much-maligned autocorrect just tried to change "center" to "centre". I love it! 

Here's another bit of nonsense. Daniel J Levitin in the Observer yesterday was writing about the overload of information we are faced with in the modern world and how our brains do not cope with it. Not just me then? We are at a point where having an unread email in your inbox while working on your computer can prevent you from concentrating on the job in hand. 

Multitasking is not good for you, according to this article. One lot of research shows that "the cognitive losses from multitasking are even greater than the cognitive losses from pot-smoking". Who knew? Neuroscientists, seemingly! 

A neuroscientist has found that learning new information while multitasking "causes the new information to go to the wrong part of the brain". (He doesn't say that for some people getting new information into the brain at all is very difficult!) He goes on, "if students study and watch TV at the same time, for example, the information from their schoolwork goes into the striatum, a region for storing new procedures and skills, not facts and idea. Without the distraction of TV, the information goes into the hippocampus, where it is organised and categorised in a variety of ways, making it easier to retrieve." 

Why did I not have this I formation when I used to argue with my daughter about doing her homework while watching Eastenders? Would she have taken any notice? I doubt it. 

And finally there is this: "most people under thirty think of email as an outdated mode of communication used only by 'old people'. In its place they text, and some still post to Facebook." However, "many people under twenty now see Facebook as a medium for the older generation." 

Suddenly I feel very ancient. I need to go and write an old fashioned letter to a friend.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Odd phone calls, selling stuff, weather alert!

The phone rings early on Saturday morning. I mean really early. It's still dark. Nor just a bit dark but pitch black still. If the phone rings at that time of day you expect it do be something important. So I stagger out of bed and down the stairs. "Hello," I say. Silence. "Hello?" Still silence. And once more, "Hello?!" Finally, a would-be sultry voice says, "Goodbye", slowly and almost like an insult. I dial 1471 to see if there's any clue as to who it was. The automated voice tells me, "Telephone number bla - bla- bla ( no number I recognise) called today at 6.46 am. Please hang up." No option to press 3 to return the call, which is what you usually get. No, simply, "Please hang up"! 

When I comment on this later to Phil, he tells me he has had that call before. How weird! Maybe there is a wake-up service, rather like your hotel reception giving you a wake-up call, that calls people's home phone numbers. Maybe they dialled the wrong number. Or maybe there's a loony out there who gets a strange thrill out of waking people early in the morning and confusing them. I doubt that I will ever find out. 

I spent a good part of yesterday helping my daughter sort out her younger kids' bedroom, putting together bags of rubbish, sets of toys that belong together, bags of toys that are no longer played with but can be sold or given away. It's amazing how much clutter two kids can accumulate. The enormous quantity of soft toys. And the incomprehensible collection of small plastic creatures, both realistic and fantasy. And how many notebooks one small girl can collect. I should not be surprised at this last one. She is clearly her mother's daughter, who is clearly my daughter. Is delight in stationery hereditary? Maybe even genetic? 

Later my daughter drove me home. It was dark again by now. Not that it had ever really been what you could properly call light. Mostly a thin, whitish grey cloud-covered day with intermittent sleety snow and hail showers. So we drove through the dark, over roads with a fresh fall of snow, looking for a particular house on a little back street where the street lighting was not good and the house numbers unclear. 

My daughter was selling some item on a local network for buying and selling stuff. These seem to have sprung up everywhere, taking over from e-bay within restricted areas. Much of the system depends on smartphones so that pictures of the items for sale can be broadcast around the network. Purchases are delivered or collected personally. No postage costs involved. The wonders of modern life! I must sort out saleable items from my cupboards and supplement my pension. 

Anyway, we drove several times round the snow filled crescent until we eventually found the house and went on our way. She dropped me off at home and set off for her own house once again, with admonitions to drive carefully in the continued nasty weather. 

When I got up this morning the world looked like this. 


 


Very pretty and very impractical. 

And as I write, the snow is falling again. Time to hibernate or emigrate, methinks!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Dentists, bargains and disappointment.

I went to see my dentist this morning. Some time ago, some time in August I think it was, I bit on a crusty piece of bread at breakfast and found myself with fragments of tooth in my mouth. Very annoying. I fully expected to start having toothache but nothing happened. The tooth had been filled ... in a big way ... Years ago. The filling was still in place. Some of the remaining original tooth enamel had given way. But no pain! And so I ignored it until I went for a check-up some time before Christmas. Even my dentist felt there was no need for urgent treatment but it clearly needed stabilising, if only to get rid of the sharp edge of amalgam filling that my tongue kept exploring. 

So finally, this morning, off I went to keep my appointment with the dentist. Did I want an injection, he asked me, or should he just carry on regardless? With no hesitation whatsoever, my inner coward came to the fore and asked for an injection. Better a numb mouth for a while than the humiliation of begging the dentist to stop. I would make a terrible spy. I would tell all the secrets at the first stage of any nasty interrogation. But all is well now. 

As I lay back in the dentist's chair and he inserted instruments of torture into my mouth - even a mild scale and polish is a nasty business as far as I am concerned - I reflected on how amazing it is that we so completely put our trust in people most of us see only twice a year. All right, I have known our dentist for a considerable time, ever since my children were quite small, but even so I know precious little about him, truth to tell. I can fully understand the reaction of the small daughter of a friend of mine, many years ago, when invited to sit in the dentist's chair and let him take a look at her teeth. "No way," said the small girl, "He's not putting his finger in my mouth. It might be dirty!" Her mother was understandably mortified but ... 

Dentist's visit over and done with, I stopped off in the shopping centre with my numb mouth and had a look at the sales rack in a local store. For once, a bargain! Something I was looking for and at a reduced price, a third of the original price. This is such a rare occurrence in my life. A friend of mine used regularly to find excellent and unusual, even quirky, items of clothing for under a tenner from a bargain store in Manchester. Whenever I went, however, they only had tat, complete and utter tat. Another friend trawls round the reduced price racks in the shops and finds bargains galore. Not me! At least only very rarely! Part of the problem is that I find cut-price racks really off-putting and dispiriting. I rapidly grow bored with the sordid business of looking for the nugget of bargain-gold among the dross of sales goods! It was pure serendipity that I found what I wanted so quickly this morning. 

So, having achieved two goals today, I came home and dealt with email and reading the papers on line. Answering an email to our landlady's daughter in Vigo led me into the frustration of autocorrect on my iPad. It's bad enough when I type in English and my machine thinks it knows better than I do what it is I really want to say. When I type in a foreign language, though, it really has a field day. Sometimes it changes one Spanish word for another, one with which it is already familiar. Thus, "piso" (apartment) became "pozo" (well) or "peso" (weight). Why would my iPad know "pozo", surely a word I use less frequently than "piso"? And why has it just offered me another alternative to "pozo", namely "Pazo", with an incomprehensible capital letter. All I can think for that one is that at the demented little machine remembers me referring to a stately home in Galicia by name, such as the Pazo Quiñones de León in Vigo. 

Best, however, are the weird English alternatives to Spanish words that it offers me. Here is today's crop: 

entras - extras or entrap 
hicimos - hi imps 
insoportable - insipid table. 

I really love the last one!!! 

And, yes, before anyone comments, I am aware that I can turn off autocorrect. I just have not got around to it. Besides, what would I have to moan about? 

Then there are the news items. 

I am feeling somewhat provoked by Pope Francis, a pope who so far has seemed a very reasonable, right thinking man. Apparently he has seen fit to imply that it might be possible to understand the attack is on the Charlie Hebdo premises. “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,” he said. He justified this by going on, “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal." I know he's from Argentina where they no doubt feel as strongly as all other Latin-based people about insults to their mothers but I think he's overdoing things. I wasn't aware that Christ went round punching people. What about turning the other cheek? And according to Wikipedia, Francis is known for "his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs and faiths". But, no, a punch is normal, apparently! 

And then there's his visit to the Philippines, where he has reiterated his opposition to contraception. His only concession appears to be to ask priests to be understanding and compassionate when it comes to confession. This in a country where there are just too many children, where young women in their twenties are physically exhausted from having a child every year and emotionally exhausted from not being able to feed them. 

I'm rather disappointed In him, I'm afraid!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Difficult things.

I know quite a lot of people who state proudly that they are no good at Maths. I even used to work with a mathematician who told us she could not do mental arithmetic; her speciality was statistics! I have yet to meet someone who declares with the same pride that they are rubbish at reading, although I do know a fair number who make a point of saying that never read. I wonder how they get on in life! I have also met a surprisingly large number who seem to feel no shame about not being able to spell. An even more surprisingly large number of these are people I have met who work in education. Basic abilities, all of them. You never hear anyone broadcasting to the world that they are unable to dress themselves!! Odd! 

 I also know mathematicians who talk about the sheer joy of working out a difficult equation. I once watched a class of A Level Maths students happily solving equations just for fun. I can relate to that; I have always felt the same way about translating a difficult bit of prose from one language to another. It must be our inner crossword solving geek! 

What got me onto this was an article I found about a mathematician who has discovered new shapes and patterns related to maths and geometry. The language used is almost poetry in itself, full of references to golden squares and golden rectangles. Wonderful! 

Many people think of arts and maths/science as opposing fields. Indeed in my old girls' grammar school our sixth form tutor groups were split into those two camps. And the idea that someone might want to study A levels in Maths AND Modern Languages or Maths AND Music was considered really strange. This is no longer the case, thank heavens, as the connection between the pattern recognition of all those subjects is now accepted. 

Anyway, Art and Maths. I have always loved geometrical patterns. They are very pleasing but I have to confess to thinking in terms of straight lines rather than curves. The curves and spiral patterns that Mathematician Harriss has come up with are like old Celtic symbols. Here's a link to the article.  Bits of beauty everywhere! 

Another area of artistic delight is cooking. I am a firm believer that food should be a thing of beauty, appealing to the eye as well as to the taste buds. Today I managed to come across two things regarding food. First of all, Jay Raynor, a food writer whose recipes I borrow on a fairly regular basis, has been saying that messy is good and expressed his belief that often stuff that looks quite horrible can taste fabulous. OK, I won't argue with that. However, as a rule I like my culinary delights to look good as well. And then Jack Monroe, who became famous for her blog about managing to feed her little family on about a fiver a week, wrote about crisp sandwiches. I ask you! Crisp sandwiches? Chip butties are bad enough but crisp sandwiches? That truly takes the biscuit! Anyway here's a link to that article as well.

And my final oddity for today has been about educational publishers warning authors of educational books off mentioning certain topics in case they offend students in other countries. Apparently there is even an acronym for topics to be avoided? It is PARSNIP: Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, Isms (communism for example) and Pork. 

Naturally enough there has been widespread criticism of the very idea. But the best is the story of an atlas that had to be pulped. Why? Because the decision was taken to omit Israel from the map. It was a decision that reflected "local preferences", the inclusion of Israel being "unacceptable" to the publishers Gulf customers. Yes, a country just disappeared! Somehow it smacks of Orwell's 1984 with its Newspeak that controlled expressions that could be used. History books and old newspaper articles were rewritten by the Ministry of Truth so that they always showed the government in a favourable light and followed the party line. 

The modern world is fast becoming a weird and alien place. Thank goodness for the beauty of mathematics.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Reflections on changing society and perceptions.

I can do nostalgia with the best of them. There's nothing quite like looking back to a more innocent age when children roamed freely from breakfast time to teatime and no-one worried about them! Really? My parents always wanted to know where I was going. But yes, there was more freedom. And there are things that should be brought back, like deposits on fizzy pop bottles, an excellent source of income for impecunious kids and a way of discouraging people from just dropping bottles by the side of the road. Ah!!! Nostalgia!! 

What I am failing to understand is some of the nostalgic posts I see more and more frequently on Facebook, harking back to a time when, to quote an Australian friend's post, "every house in Adelaide had an outside dunny". Now a "dunny" is Australian slang for a toilet. So these people are getting all dewy eyed at the memory of having an outside loo! I wonder if they get nostalgic about using torn up newspapers for loo roll!! And having a bath in a tin tub, often sharing the water with several siblings! Oh, give me a nice, clean, modern bathroom with flushing toilet and heated towel rails for when you step out of your nice, clean, modern shower!! 

Sometimes people are hard to understand! 

There's that news reporter in the USA who told everyone that Birmingham, UK, is a totally Moslem city and a no-go area for non-Moslems. He's apologised for that one but on TV last night I heard him state categorically that there are areas of London where you get beaten up if not dressed in appropriate Moslem dress. It must be true; he read it in British newspapers. Now I wonder which ones they were! No doubt there is some tabloid somewhere that has reported an incident of that kind and it has been inflated into a general way of doing things. I know there are people who believe that every word you read in the tabloids is the absolute gospel truth but most of them are not news reporters on well established TV channels! 

Perceptions are strange things, are they not. I once saw a documentary which showed how you could give totally opposing views of just about all cities with a bit of selective filming. Every city has its bits of beauty; film just them and you give the impression of a wonderful place. They also have their really sleazy parts, the tumbledown areas, the dirty places; film just them and no-one would ever want to go there. 

The same goes for dress codes. Remember when a "respectable lady didn't go out without a hat, or at least a headscarf? (Oops, there's that nostalgia thing again.) and then remember the people like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy who made the headscarf a fashion item. I can remember wearing a headscarf so that the ends went round your neck and tied at the back. And there was the Lara-from-Doctor-Zhivago look, where you wore like a kerchief, tied under your hair so that your hair hung loose from under it. (Oops, again! More nostalgia!) 

Well, on BBC Radio 4's " Pick of the Week" on Sunday, they played an excerpt from a programme about "Hip Hijab Wearers". Young Moslem women talked about how they accommodate wearing the headscarf with being fashionable and making a statement about their own identity. As in every family, they get complaints from their mothers along the lines of "you can't go out looking like that" because they choose to pin their headscarf in a particular way or make it as high on the head as possible. ( Nostalgic moment for beehive hairdos coming up.) They even talked about getting into the fashion industry, although they were uncertain about whether they would actually be permitted to do so. But look online and see how many are already doing so. 

They almost certainly couldn't do so in certain middle-eastern countries but I have long thought that the women of our immigrant communities might be the ones to effect a change, and improve integration, maybe with a quiet revolution involving textiles and fashion instead of guns and violence. Oddly enough, I am less optimistic about it now than I was thirty or more years ago, probably more like forty years ago, when I first came across girls from the Asian communities here going through the education system. But, listening to the girls on the BBC programme, I see perhaps a little glimmer of hope. 

None of us need to adopt the life style of another community but we do all need to adapt.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Feeling like a hermit!

I like to sleep with the bedroom window slightly open. A little bit of fresh air makes for a much better sleep. This morning at 3.30, however, I had to get up and close my window as the wind had clawed it wider open than anyone would find reasonable. The curtains were blowing around and the wind was howling round the room. Not good! This is what I have to put up with at the moment; the world outside has become a wild, wet and windy place into which I venture as little as possible. 

If this continues we will turn into the kind of recluses who only sneak out occasionally to buy essentials, eventually not even opening the curtains and spending the whole day in dressing gowns! 

As it is, apart from Saturday and Sunday when we buy proper, i.e. printed on paper, newspapers, much of our contact with the outside world is via electronic media. This must stop! But in the meantime, I am snug inside my little shell, well away from the wild, wet and windy weather! 

As protests go on in various places about the recent events in Paris, our politicians are making their presence evident. This is hailed as one of the first steps in the election campaign. They must not be seen to be making real political hay out of it (Nigel Farage has been roundly criticised for doing that)). They must not be seen to argue with each other; a respectful agreement that the events are horrible will suffice. But they need to be seen. One newspaper expressed it this way: " Such occasions reward incumbency (assuming the incumbent is up to scratch) and make politicians momentarily intriguing, compelled as they are to express what we are feeling, rather than to fight one another. That is one reason why Cameron has been persuaded by aides to post short video clips, not much longer than a minute, on social media. “We know that the spotlight has a much higher wattage since last week,” according to one senior Cameron ally." 

And so, everything becomes a media opportunity! "The spotlight has a much higher wattage" indeed!!! Another reason to withdraw further into our hermit cave! 

In our hermit cave, as well as working on translation projects, we have been catching up on watching TV series we missed in the past. For a largely non-violent pair, we have watched a fair amount of violence, ranging from "Deadwood", Wild, Wild West violence with a prodigious amount of swearing, to "The Shield", American cop-corruption violence with slightly less swearing but more blood! 

In between times we have watched a couple of beautifully made, much less violent films. The first was a Danish film, "A Royal Affair" set in the reign of the somewhat deranged King Christian VII. (Oddly we recognised certain actors from Scandinavian drama we have watched in recent years. I also recognised bits of language. I wonder if I could learn Danish or Swedish from watching films and TV series.) The other was Jane Campion's interpretation of the Henry James Novel, "Portrait of a Lady". Now I feel the need to go and read the book. 

Our latest foray into series catch-up has been "Sherlock", a 20th century version of the old detective stories, where Sherlock uses nicotine patches instead of a pipe. The ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch, much acclaimed as one of the attractive men of the moment, looked a little odd to me as Sherlock. I found myself wondering whether they had done something special in the make-up department to make him look strangely waxy of complexion, thus making him seem even more different from "normal" people. Still, it is an interesting enough piece of nonsense. It makes a change from out and out violence and swearing. 

Stuck in the hermit cave, I shall watch more of it!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Progress reports.

Well, the Vaporub in the socks thing as a cure for night time coughing was only a partial success. But that's how things go. However, we did manage to get out for a walk in the windy sunshine this afternoon. Yes, sunshine! But the wind was very strong and very cold! 

 As I walked along the canal towpath yesterday I came across a group of men in hi-vis vests collecting bottles, cans and plastic or polystyrene food containers out of the undergrowth at the edge of the path. Admirable! They may well have been only doing their job but still admirable! Somebody should be praised for the initiative. I get quite agitated about people who keep their own homes and cars clean and tidy but think nothing of littering the highways and byways with their detritus! 

I see that the Infanta Cristina is still likely to stand trial for aiding and abetting her husband Iñaki in fraud and money laundering. Do they still get to keep their titles as Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, I wonder? Everything has gone quiet here on the royal misdemeanour front. Mind you, there have been other things taking over the news in the last few days. 

The film "Mr Turner", a splendid film in my opinion, did not make it into the nominations for outstanding British film for the BAFTA awards! "Paddington" did. Granted I haven't seen "Paddington" so it's difficult for me to judge it's excellence. But it's based on the Paddington Bear stories which, splendid as they are for children, are not really greatly demanding stuff intellectually. Are we down to lowest common denominator judgements? Or am I growing old and jaded? 

I shouldn't be surprised at the lowest common denominator aspect of things. It seems at the moment that our political parties make up their policies in line with what they think the public want to hear. Surely they should be wooing us with their magical oratory to persuade us that their ideas are sound and worth voting for. 

Modern technology. You can now buy sports gear that measures your performance and sends comments in a signal to your smartphone. There are socks that track a run using pads on the soles of the feet. They cost £130 pounds! They can only be washed 35 times! Limited life span then! I suppose though, that if you can happily contemplate paying £130 for a pair of socks, you probably don't mind having to replace them fairly quickly. I guess I'll just go on wearing ordinary sports socks ... and ordinary other sports gear for that matter. I think I can just about manage to rate my own performance without the need for lots of technology. 

Last night we watched a programme about singer-songwriters at the BBC. Lots of singers and songs from our youth. A lot of very earnest, serious stuff about how we would change the world, even if it turns out we haven't managed to do so. Lots of very good stuff. And all the female singer-songwriters sang their songs without any need for semi-pornographic dances and performances. 

Amazing!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Words and theories about curing coughs and being fat!

Before waking up coughing in the middle of the night became our default setting, we heard something about a strange cure for night time coughing. It involved rubbing Vick's Vapor Rub into the soles of your feet and putting on a pair of socks before retiring to bed. Somehow, the healing qualities of the Vapor Rub would permeate from the soles of the feet to the chest or lungs or wherever the cough generator is situated and prevent the coughing from occurring. Maybe it's in some way connected to alternative medicine, pressure points on the feet, acupuncture and all that sort of thing. Who knows? 

Our son said that they had tried it on their eleven month old daughter. To no avail. It didn't work on her. She continued to cough herself, and them, awake at night. Our daughter, on the other hand, tried it on her eleven year old daughter the other night and it worked like a dream. Maybe it only works on people whose age is measured in years instead of months. Maybe you need to be old enough to be aware of what's going on and thus give it the help of your faith in the methodology. Another mystery! 

However, as Phil continues to cough the night away, we plan to try it tonight and see if he manages to stay asleep. He got as far as trying to make an appointment with the doctor today. Nothing until the week after next! If he phones first thing on Monday morning they just might have a cancellation slot to offer him. This is perhaps one of the reasons why hospital A & E departments are currently experiencing such chaos! Here's another medical anomaly. On a radio programme we came across a new word: obesogenic - an adjective meaning pertaining to or tending to cause obesity. A recent medical term for factors tending to make people fat. Example: we live in an obesogenic environment. I googled it and found some common sense stuff and some totally weird stuff. First of all the common sense stuff. An obesogenic environment is, in simple terms, an environment that encourages people to eat unhealthily and do too little exercise. So shops where the lifts and escalators are easy to find but the stairs are hidden away behind door at the back of the store fit into that category. As do large out of town shopping areas (I hesitate to call them shopping malls or shopping centres) which are really huge barn-like stores in an immense car park with no pedestrian-friendly way of getting from one store to another. 

Then there is the average high street that is full of places to buy food. To begin with there are cafes and restaurants. That's OK. You do your shopping and pop in for a sit down, even for a meal, making your shopping trip into a social occasion. Next come the fast food outlets like MacDonald's and Burger King, a poor excuse for a restaurant, truth to tell. Then you have bread and cake shops, places like Gregg's, which call themselves a bakery but where you would not go to buy a loaf of bread as a rule. No, you go to buy sandwiches, packs of sausage rolls, pasties and pies - snack stuff to eat instead of, or as well a chocolate bar. Some people purchase their lunch there and head back to the office to eat it; others just pick up something to eat as they walk along the road. And you see an awful out of walking-along-the-road eating these days. Contributing to that are the far too numerous hotdog stands, baked potato stands, and assorted-greasy-food stands! 

And don't let me get started on so-called book shops that sell sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks right next to the till! 

Here's a little nugget: a chap from the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence tells us, "... Research shows that the number of takeaways in an area has an impact on obesity". Really? You needed research to tell you that? My astoundment knows no bounds! 

What is a person with absolutely no self control to do? Just eat and eat and eat! 

Of course you could try just walking past these food outlets without buying anything. Or is that too sensible? 

 Now for some of the weird stuff about things that make you fat. Because it turns out that it's not just the obvious - eating a lot of sugary stuff. There's all sorts of science involved. 

First of all there is something called Bisphenol A (BPA). " Studies in the lab find that BPA has the ability to accelerate fat-cell differentiation, disrupt pancreatic functioning, and cause insulin resistance, leading to obesity problems. In addition, other studies have linked BPA exposure to neurological development problems and sexual reproductive problems, including male infertility in humans." 

It sounds like dangerous stuff and apparently it is found everywhere, yes, everywhere, and in high volumes. And in some odd places. My source recommended handling cash-register receipts as little as possible because some have a high BPA content. So why are all cashiers in supermarkets not really, really fat? Enormously fat? They must handle till receipts all day long! My source suggests telling cashiers you don't need a receipt. Let them keep their nasty, toxic bits of paper. 

You should also choose fresh or frozen food rather than stuff in tins. Glass jars are ok, it seems, but metal cans contain BPA. Clear all canned good from your kitchen cupboards at once! (Not quite so weird that one!) 

Next I came across Phthalates. I can't even say that! They are "hormone-disrupting chemicals tied to obesity, and they are ubiquitous in the personal-care product industry, particularly due to the chemicals' use in synthetically fragranced products". So there it is: get rid of air fresheners, scented candles (I can't abide them), cleansing products with added fragrance - probably shampoo and deodorant as well! Not to mention shower gel, body lotion and a whole mass of creams and potions! Aaargh!!!! 

The unpronounceable Phthalates are also found in vinyl, I am told. Does that mean that we need to get rid of our old vinyl record collection? Avoid vinyl. Avoid Teflon and other non-stick products. You should even avoid grease-proof paper. It's getting silly! 

OK, let's face it. You should just avoid everything. Undoubtedly, everything you look at, touch, go within two yards of will make you fat. Go and live in a bubble somewhere!

And of course, remember that it's not your fault if you put weight on. It's all down to that obesogenic environment we all live in!!!