Saturday, 23 September 2017

Bureaucratic shenaginins!

On the one hand we have Theresa May standing up in Florence and assuring all the Italians currently living and working in the UK that their situation is secure and their rights will be preserved, as will those of all the other EU nationals living in the UK.

On the other hand we have banks being required to check bank accounts to see if they can root out any illegal immigrants. This has led to at least one person who posts things on the Forum for EU residents in the UK to receive a letter from her bank which included the following information:

 "We need to check your permission to be in the UK.

We are currently required to check your immigration status when we open a current account for you. From January 2018, we will also have to conduct these checks on all of your existing current accounts with us. If you no longer have permission to remain in the UK, the UK government may require us to close your current accounts and all other accounts, services, mortgages or loans (including any joint accounts or accounts where you are a signatory or beneficiary) you have or are associated with. If you cannot hold an account or any of these products and we have to close the accounts, we may be forced to delay returning any funds from your accounts to you."

Now, that is hardly friendly and reassuring! Especially when it seems to be a difficult and lengthy process to get the documentation that gives proof of permanent residency. I can imagine the stress caused when the mortgage on your house, the loan you took out to buy a car, your standing orders to the utilities companies and all the other stuff is suddenly in jeopardy. And this stuff applies to joint accounts as well! Most frightening is the last sentence, which talks about possible delays in returning funds to account holders! What!!! How can that be legal?

As ever, this state of affairs will affect ordinary working people far more than it will the rich. No doubt their money is held in international banking businesses. They won't have to worry about how the mortgage and other bills are to be paid. And, besides, they have financial advisers to sort everything out for them.

I know that the banks have not made the laws but they are the ones having to apply them. We have been catching up on the television serialisation of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale", which we recorded while we were away in the summer. In an episode we watched the other evening, in a flashback sequence before the whole of their society went dystopian, the female protagonist is seen unable to use her credit card. She goes on to discover that she is no longer able to hold a bank account. She is a woman and women are now unable to have a job or a bank account. The funds in her account will be transferred into her husband's account. She is now dependent on him for everything. (Of course, things go on to get a whole lot worse for her; she must look back nostalgically to being a dependent wife!) This whole business with bank accounts reminds me of that situation.

Mindless bureaucracy will trample over people's feelings and over their lives. Just where is our country going to?

Friday, 22 September 2017

Things to complain about.

Well, some of the newspapers are saying that nobody is turning up for Theresa May's much talked about speech in Florence. When they say "nobody" they mean no EU people of any importance. Her own people will be there, of course. It's a bit like inviting people to a party and having only your mum and dad and siblings turn up. So basically she could have made the speech in London and saved on airfare and hotel bills. In the broader scheme of things what she spends on trips to Florence is pretty small beer but in this age of continuing austerity surely every little helps. Especially when we are faced with the prospect of continuing to contribute to Europe even as we exit. It's beginning to be a bit like the Hotel California: we seem to have signed out but we might never leave. Chance would be a fine thing!

I wonder if anyone has pointed out to the Catalans what a hard time the UK is having in its attempt to go it alone. If they ever get their referendum underway, and if it eventually has them voting to separate from Spain, will they live to regret it? Of course, Catalonia/Catalunya is different from the UK but it still seems to come down to people not wanting to be told what to do by a higher authority. I still fail to see what exactly they would gain by way of autonomy though. And the whole thing is a great mess at the moment. The Spanish government is in the position of a parent who has said no to a recalcitrant child, or perhaps teenager. The more they say no, the more the teenager insists on his right to do what he likes. And the longer this goes on the harder it is for the parent to change stance without losing face.

What a difficult world it is!

Just when everyone seems to have accepted Uber as a fact of modern life, Transport for London has turned around and said that they will not renew Uber's license for the coming year. Some people are protesting about this already but passenger safety is one of the reasons TFL state for doing this.

They are clearly having a big push on passenger safety at the moment. One thing they have been doing is to paint green line on underground train platforms at the point where the doors will open, this is so that people waiting to get on the train know to stand back and let people get off. Some people will see this as an indication of where they should stand to be the first to get on. In fact some regular commuters are not happy with the idea at all. One of them tweeted, “20yrs of personal tube platform expertise and competitive commuting advantage rendered useless by some green paint."

Who knew that tube travel was a competitive activity?

Still no progress on posting photos from my iPad!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Drainage, plates, kidology, sleep!

When I returned from Spain some weeks ago it was obvious that our bit of the Northwest of England had been having a reasonably dry spell. They may not have had a great deal of summer sunshine but the bridle paths were all dry and passable, free of mud puddles, and the grass in our back garden was dry enough for us the sit the smallest member of the family down there to crawl around and try to eat plants and flowers.

And then the rain came back, neatly coinciding with Phil's return from Spain and persuading him that our tales of reasonable weather were all fairy stories. And with the rain came the streams of water running down the road, overflowing from roadside gutters and causing general havoc. The problem of where the run-off rainwater, and the debris washed down from the hillsides, goes to has clearly still not been solved. And so, in a small way, I have taken matters into my own hands - or perhaps that should be feet.

As I have been out and about I have noticed roadside grids so completely clogged with dry leaves, then covered over with dust and dirt, that water could not get into them but simply washed over them. I discovered that scraping at the clogging layer with my foot would effectively remove this plug and allow the water to go down the drain. Simple! Of course I only do this when wearing trainers, generally old, well-worn trainers; more fashionable footwear is not subjected to such treatment. Neither can I do anything about the water that bubbles up through a small hole in the road surface or the manhole cover that have become a fountain, spurting water outside the pub next door. But I have been doing my bit.

When I go out running in the early morning in Spain, I usually see street sweepers removing dirt and debris from pavements and gutters. Such a system here would prevent the clogging of roadside grids. Why can Spain do it and we can't? Very occasionally a motorised roadsweepers comes round here and can't do much because of parked cars. Ineffectual!

Perhaps miscreants sentenced to community service could be set to road sweeping. Or it could be proposed as a solution to people who cannot discipline themselves to take exercise.

I recently heard of someone who proposed a solution to the obesity problem: crinkly plates that give the impression that they hold more food than is really the case. “You are tricking the brain into thinking you are eating more.” He also proposed heavier cutlery, designed to slow down the consumption of food. “We tested this and it took 11 minutes to finish a meal with this cutlery rather than seven minutes,” he said. “Our brain takes at least 20 minutes to receive the message that we should feel full, so if we eat really fast we think we need more food – if we eat slowly the message gets through sooner so we eat less.”

Do people really eat a meal in seven minutes? Do they taste the food?

And then there is sleep. A review of a book about sleep points out that it is harder to lose weight if you do not get enough sleep. I could have told them that. You can do without food, to a certain extent, or sleep, again to a certain extent, but you cannot manage without both! Common knowledge among ladies! Sleep disturbance, it seems, also makes you more susceptible to memory loss, poor concentration, Alzheimer's, heart attack, depression and goodness knows what else. The article also talked about sleep patterns. Night owls cannot be converted into larks just because schools and work places and modern society demand it. Amazingly, it told us, about half of public schools (i.e. State schools) in the USA startbtheir day before 1.20 am.

And, finally, my husband commented on the lack of photos in my blog recently. This has been largely because I have been posting from my iPad (someone else being busy with the laptop) and having difficulty with uploading photos. So I have been experimenting again.

Here, I hope, is a photo of the sunshine in Manchester the other day.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

SOme thoughts on the state of the weather and the world!

Yesterday I went into Manchester early, on the bus at 8.30, just a little cross with myself for organising things so that for once I was having to pay for my transport around the area. I suppose you can't always get exactly what you want. Everything comes at a price and I wanted to be in the city centre before 10.00 am.

It was a beautiful morning: clear blue sky and sunshine. When I arrived at Oldham Mumps interchange, where I was catching the tram, once again grumpily paying for my transport, that part of town was shrouded in mist. The closer the tram got to Manchester the more mist there seemed to be around.this was a strange phenomenon. It is very rare for Saddleworth to have better weather than Oldham and Manchester. As a rule if it is fine and sunny in Manchester it will be fairly cloudy in Oldham and dull and gloomy in Saddleworth. Proximity to the Pennines does that for us.

By the time I came out if the hairdressers later in the morning the sun was shining nicely over Manchester as well. The fine weather continued for the rest of the day all over the region. I was almost convinced that we were having an Indian summer after all. The weatherman soon dashed my hopes. .promising rain coming in the most places today.

But today dawned fine and dry, if rather dull. So I ran round the village as I often do, coming across my old friend Jack and his little dog Rosie, neither of whole I have seen since May. I have been on the lookout for him since I returned form Spain. I was concerned that something might have happened to the little dog. She is, as Jack reminded me, 17 years old, a good age for a small dog. "She doesn't look, does she?" he commented. "Indeed not", I assured him, "she's very sprightly". "But then", he continued, "you wouldn't think I was almost 81, although I don't think you could say I was sprightly". Such harsh realism. I went on my way, leaving him to make his unsprightly way back to his car and then home for coffee and crumpets. I was glad to see them both still around!

Later I walked to Uppermill. The weather continued dull and cloudy but dry. Various acquaintances I met en route commented in the weather. We all declared ourselves fortunate that we are not suffering hurricanes and earthquakes as in parts of the world blessed, or perhaps cursed, with more extreme weather. Do we really have the right to moan about the lack of an Indian summer.

What with hurricanes and earthquakes, if we were a primitive people we could be forgiven for thinking that the gods were angry with us. But we are not a primitive people and instead of those angry gods we have angry politicians, possibly godlike figures we have elected, blustering and threatening to destroy countries. It's a rather frightening world we live in at the moment and we just have to make the best of things. We need to keep telling ourselves, Candide-like that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps we can convince ourselves. But Stephen Hawking says we have to colonise a new planet if we are to survive. So it goes!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Erratum. Awards. Prizes.

I have been taken to task by my husband for describing David Warner as portly yesterday. I confess to not having sought out recent images of my former idol but I have a distinct memory of seeing him in something or other where he had definitely become a man of substance, as some might say. Not, however, on the lines of Gérard Depardieu, who unfortunately went well beyond portly. So, having looked for recent pictures of Mr Warner, I stand corrected: not portly but decidedly craggy!

This morning, running along the Donkey Line, one of our local bridle paths, I came upon a deer. She was standing in the middle of the path but ran away up the hillside before I was able to get out my phone and take a picture. We have lived in this area for about forty years now, originally in a little hamlet in the valley between two of the Saddleworth villages. You never used to hear about deer around here. Then, last year or the year before, someone told me about walking in that valley and seeing quite a lot of deer and having to keep his dog under control. Not long after that I saw a couple on the hillside near our house and then today, there she was, a deer on the Donkey Line. Internet sources tell me that roe deer are an increasingly common sight (or "site" as one source put it!!) in the local woodlands. Who knew? Clearly not the roadsignage men as there are nor warning signs of the roads.

 It's the season for awards to be given out. Elisabeth Moss received an Emmy for best leading actress for her role in The Handmaid's Tale, a series we have yet to finish watching. We started watching before we went off to Galicia for the summer and left the TV programmed to record the rest in our absence. The joys of modern technology! We know the basic story, having read the book years and years ago, but the rest of the dramatisation still awaits us.

On the awards front, I came across an article about the National Fish and Chips Awards. It's amazing! I never imagined that such awards existed. Apparently “The Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award is one of the highest honours a fish and chip business can receive, and it is renowned for its competitive nature rewarding only the best of the best in the industry." This is a quote from Marcus Coleman, the chief executive of the Seafish Industry Authority. He went on: “Having watched our 10 finalists progress through the competition, I can safely say that their skill and dedication is outstanding - they are a true representation of the crème de la crème of our industry and sum up perfectly why British fish and chips are, and will always be, the best in the world.”

Why has no-one nominated Diggle Chippy, in our opinion one of the best in the land? Of course, we are not great frequenters of fish and chip shops, so maybe we are not the best judges. We simply call in there whenever Phil's brother comes over and we go for a long hike, pausing for fish and chips al fresco. It doesn't quite match up to the standards of Blackman Lane Chippy, a place we used to frequent as students at the University of Leeds, a chippy long since demolished in the process of the development of the one-way system around that fair city.

Anyway, to qualify for the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Award, shops were judged on their frying skills, menu development and innovation, marketing, and staff training. Owners also had to prove they source fish sustainably. Oh dear! That all sounds rather a lot for a tiny little chippy that operates in a converted wooden garage on the main road of one of the Saddleworth villages. Mind you, it does have its own Faceook page and it has been rated 43rd out of 250 Oldham restaurants on TripAdvisor! 

So what have they missed out on? Well, the 10 finalists win an all expenses paid trip to the Norwegian port city of Alesund, to learn about how fish travels to the UK, including the fishing process from catching to filleting. 


Sunday, 17 September 2017

SUnday morning thoughts!

I was having a domestic Sunday morning - baking, making soup, cleaning the kitchen - and listening to the radio at the same time.

On Desert Island Discs the film maker Paul Greengrass was talking about his life and choosing his records: a bit of film soundtrack, a bit of Mozart's "Magic Flute - a bit you could imagine old Wolfgang having great fun writing, a bit of Beatles, a bit of Springsteen, a bit of Dylan. The soundtrack of his life coincided with mine quite a lot.

He reminisced about seeing David Warner in "Hamlet" back in the 1960s. He is the second interviewee I have heard in the last week remembering seeing David Warner in "Hamlet" in the 1960s. I have been racking my brains to remember who that other interviewee was, to no avail. The thing is that I too saw David Warner in Hamlet in the 1960s, probably 1966. I was in sixth form, studying "Hamlet" as part of my A-Level English Literature course, and the school had organised a trip to Stratford. We visited all the tourist places, marvelled at Ann Hathaway's cottage and watched David Warner perform in the evening. Of course we all fell in love with as this was when he was young, tall, slim and mysteriously dangerous-looking, not the portly gentleman he became later. Unfortunately he did not age well.

Paul Greengrass also spoke about the magical (for him) experience of going to the cinema, watching a story unfold on the big screen, the watcher isolated in the dark. And I wondered if perhaps something of that experience has been lost. Of course, you can still go to the cinema and lose yourself in the dark but many modern cinemas indulge the modern way of film watching with a cup-holder next to the seat so that you can have your super-size soft drink or perhaps pint of beer to accompany the popcorn or crisps you will almost inevitably munch through the film. But, in this age of streaming and Netflix, some may not even get to the cinema but will watch the latest blockbusters on the small screen, even at times on their mobile phone.

Later I listened to a news report about Wales and heard concerns expressed about whether funding for a whole range of projects there will continue after Brexit. I kept hearing about one thing after another that was made possible through EU funding. Blue plaques with gold stars seemingly abound in Cardiff. Why was more not made of all this during the referendum campaign? Nobody seemed to truly address the question "What has the EU done for us?" And the Brexit negotiations continue and seem to be coming to no decent conclusions. We shall see.

Meanwhile on the forum for EU citizens on Facebook, I keep coming across things like this:

"I hope you can help me. The company I work for is currently doing some restructuring and for employees that have old contracts of employment (including myself) they have been offered to sign a new contract with some added benefits, which is fine. However, I have compared my current contract with the new one and in the new one I did notice a new sentence: “We may terminate your employment with immediate effect without notice and with no liability to make any further payment to you if you cease to be eligible to work in the United Kingdom”. Is this normal ? This clause is not present in my current contract. Not sure if should query further or not."

And like this:

"I'm in the catering trade and this is real. There is a severe shortage of staff. Why would anyone come for two years only and have no rights? Restaurants are struggling to get staff right now, and brexit hasn't even happened, and probably won't. Its a house built on sand and doomed to failure."

On the other hand, I also see things like this:

"So we constantly hear what burden to this country EU citizens are. There is rarely a mention of how much value we bring and how we help shape the UK society. So just a reminder that immigration from Europe has brought some fantastic entrepreneurs, who came to the UK to set up the following: Easyjet- set up by a Greek immigrant
M&S  - set up by a Belarusian immigrant + his British partner
Tesco - set up by a son of a Polish immigrant
Schroeders -set up by a German immigrant
WPP group -one of the largest advertising/marketing groups set up by a son of immigrants from Russia and Romania
Bloody EU migrants, coming here setting up some of the biggest British brands, creating jobs and growing the UK economy...😎"

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Words and labels and stereotyping!

According to a news report linguistics experts have been researching words which have disappeared from use in the English language. They include words like "quacksalver" - a person who "dishonestly claims knowledge of, or skill in, medicine; a pedlar of false cures". A useful term, no doubt. Then there is a "percher" - someone "who aspires to a higher rank or status; an ambitious or self-assertive person".

I particularly like "snout-fair", which means "having a fair countenance; fair-faced, comely, handsome", and "sillytonian", which means "a silly or gullible person, especially one considered as belonging to a notional sect of such people". I can't help hearing the name of a certain school in there! "Merry-go-sorry" is another good one, a phrase describing a mixtures of joy and sorrow.

 The academics concerned would like some of the words to be brought back into everyday use. However their final list includes "slug-a-bed" - meaning a late riser - a term I use frequently. Does this mean my language is antiquated?

In this age of cuts in so many areas of education, I don't know whether to be relieved or annoyed that academics can still spend vast amounts of time on such stuff, and presumably get paid for doing so.

A school has been in the news because it decided to that made its uniform gender neutral so that transgender teenagers did not feel discriminated against. They did this by opting for trousers for everyone. The columnist Hadley Freeman wondered why they did not choose skirts for all or just keep the options open and let boys wear skirts if they chose just as girls can wear trousers. A much less socially acceptable option. Why do we feel more threatened by the idea of a boy in a skirt than that of a girl in trousers?

Hadley Freeman got onto this from considering the difficulty of buying gender-neutral toys for her two-year old twin boys. Clearly this gender-neutral stuff still has a long way to go.

And was it gender role-models that made the groups of boys on the bus I travelled on today behave as they did? There were half a dozen of them, probably aged about 12, having difficulty sitting still. I got on the bus and the first thing I did was ask one of them to stop hanging from the standing-passenger straps with his feet on two seats. I wasn't especially bossy about it, just reminding him that other people had to sit on those seats.

He stepped down but my remarks prompted one of his mates to comment that people did not "have to" sit on those seats; they could sit there or there or there (indicating empty seats) but not there (indicating the front seat occupied by a stiffly disapproving older lady). Another chimed in at that point: "She's miserable, threatened to slap me. That's #child abuse." So I joined in the game, telling him that what he said could be seen as #cheek. We "hash-tagged" to and fro for a bit, while the boys leapt around the bus like feral creatures. Not threatening but barely civilised. It's a good job the bus was mostly empty: just me and the miserable #child abuse lady.

Maybe they had simply had too much sugar. Maybe they had never been taught how to behave on public transport. Maybe they were just "being lads". But were they "being lads" or am I guilty of gender stereotyping? Would a bunch of girls of the same age behave in the same way?

I wonder!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Being born at the right time.

Our youngest grandchild was one year old a couple of weeks ago, right at the start of September. I mentioned this in conversation with a friend who commented that it was a pity she was not,born a few days earlier as then she could have had a full year extra in school. Oddly enough, before this little girl was born, when it became clear she was going to be born by Caesarian section, my daughter was offered a choice of dates: late August or early September. She quite deliberately opted for September, wanting her child to be one of the oldest in her school year rather than one of the youngest.

Both my friend and my daughter have worked, and in my daughter's case still works, in primary education. So both of them have seen the difference that can exist in a reception class between the September-born children and and the August-born children.

Our son was born in early July and consequently when he started school he was four years and two months old. In his class was a child whose birthday was early in September. Thus, when he started school he was almost exactly ten months older than our son. They were pretty much the same height and build, both had wild curly hair and were amazingly similar in looks. I can remember having to remind people when comparisons were made - and they WERE made - that it was quite understandable that this other little boy might be better co-ordinated than our child, emotionally more mature, had greater dexterity and so on. He was almost a year older and at that age that makes a tremendous difference. 

On the radio there has been a series of programmes on the subject of summer-born children: Whodunnit: the Calendar Conspiracy. Phil kept telling me about it, usually after the event, but today I caught the last programme in the series. I may need to go onto iPlayer to catch up on the rest of them. Statistics show that on average the younger you are in the academic year, the more you will have difficulties with academia. Of course there are exceptions. My friend's daughter, born in early June, just a month older than our son had no problems whatsoever. But would-be parents are trying, apparently, to time their children so that are not summer-born.

On today's programme they interviewed a number of parents of summer-born children, children who in the next couple of years will be starting school. They asked if these parents were concerned and if they felt that something positive should be done to help summer-born children cope. Mostly they felt that they could be supportive enough to their offspring but that teachers should be aware. And perhaps their children would need no more help than a September-born child in the class.

What surprised me, however, was contributors to the programme, not necessarily the parents, talking in terms of children, very young children, being told, "You might find this hard as you are one of the youngest in the class." Or, "So-and-so might be better at this than you because he is older than you." Wow! Talk about setting children up for failure! Do tiny children really need to have it pointed out to them that there is a pecking order even in primary education? Life will be competitive enough without it starting in the reception class.

Our son, by the way, turned out fine! So did his wife, a September-born child!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Outdoor entertainment thoughts.

They were putting up barriers around the local cricket club when I ran past there this morning. It's not that cricket matches are terribly private. No, they were getting ready for Saturday's "Party in the Park", which is not really a party and not really in a park. But we are not going to denigrate them for that. Poetic license and all that kind of thing! This is the twelfth year, apparently, amazingly, that they have organised a kind of mini music festival just up the road from our house, with tribute bands and fun and games for all. Well, for all who pay the price of a ticket.

I have never been. I have only heard the music from our house and seen some of the debris, most but not always all of which gets cleared up on the day after the "party".

If they are lucky they will have a day like today, sunny and breezy with cloud from time to time but so far no more rain to speak of. We had enough of that yesterday and the day before. If they are very lucky, the day will be sunny and warm well into the evening. If it manages not to rain between now and Saturday, the ground will not be too sodden. Fingers crossed for all concerned.

Here is not really the best place to organise a music festival. Mind you, I sometimes wonder if anywhere in the UK is the ideal place to organise a music festival. Think of all the muddy pictures of Glastonbury! This year they were lucky and had no mud, so lucky that there was relatively little clearing up to do afterwards and there was a bit of a scandal about people who had been "contracted" as litter pickers and then told that there was no work for them after all.

We were tremendously lucky when I came home to the UK to help our son celebrate his birthday by going to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Hyde Park. We had a fabulously sunny afternoon and evening. Ideal dancing barefoot in the park weather! And some of us did dance barefoot in Hyde Park.

I suspect that when they first began organising these local Parties in the Park they were lulled into a false sense of security by all the lovely Septembers we used to have. Back when I was teaching, it was regular thing for September to be a hot and sunny month. No matter how miserable August might have been, once the autumn term started the sun would start to shine and the temperatures would soar. Students would moan about the heat in the classroom, especially in a west-facing classroom with fairly low September sun shining in during afternoon classes.

Not only that but the wasps would invade the classroom as soon as you opened a window, giving rise to squeals of terror from girls and boys alike and then squeals of disgust if you splatted the stripey beasts against the window! A teacher's life is never easy!

So, yes, maybe the Party in the Park organisers were influenced by such memories of sunny Septembers. Of which there have been increasingly fewer since I abandoned the classroom. Last year was better than this. This September is proving wet and windy and rather cool.

I wish them lots of luck for Saturday.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

To fight or not to fight?

Journalist Scott Atkinson wrote about his mixed feelings when he refused to get involved in a fight following a road-rage incident. Part of him was self-congratulatory - how civilised he was in his approach to life - but another bit of him felt shame and inadequacy - he had never been in an actual fight. He had done martial arts training and won medals but he had never been in a serious stand-up fight. Or even a less serious fisticuffs for that matter.

His research put it down to ancient instincts, a primeval male urge to protect what is yours. But even understanding it, he still felt a certain shame, slightly unmanned.

Do any women feel that way? Certainly the last time I was in a physical fight was when I was about seven. And it was a bit of a girly fight even then, more slapping than punching, and a lot of flailing arms. The girls I was friendly (or temporarily unfriendly) with and I were not the sort to scratch and bite. I don't feel a need to exchange punches with anyone these days. Other women might feel differently.

I recently had a visit from my possibly crazy niece. Every family has a crazy member somewhere along the line. This is ours: seriously unstable, liable to lash out physically. Her own mother had to have a restraining order put on her at one point! Anyway, she popped up on my doorstep. Or rather, her boyfriend popped up on my doorstep, with some tale of looking for an address around here. I was no help and off he went. A few minutes later the doorbell rang again: the crazy niece. She had sent the boyfriend, she told me, to see who would open the door. Why? Is she afraid of Phil, who, like the writer of the aforementioned article, is quite able to look after himself but does not get into fights? Be that as it may, fininf only me at home she, and the boyfriend, came in for a cup of tea.

I listened to her tale of woes, the trials and tribulations of her life, and a whole diatribe about the list of people she declares she hates. Such vehemence! My daughter, who was supposed to be visiting, did not show up. When I spoke to her later she commented that it was just as well, as her cousin might have hit her. Ellen, my daughter, did not figure on the list of people-I-hate but there is a long and complicated history of disagreement and aggressive text messages and phone calls from my niece to myndaughter. And when I spoke to my sister even later, she also said it was just as well: my daughter might have hit her daughter. No, I don't think so! But my sister is clearly one who believes in fighting!

It's a strange world and perhaps we are only a small step away from uncivilised.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Unforeseen consequences!

I saw on the news news film footage of looters in Florida and found myself wondering what the looters planned to do with the goods they had taken from the shops. If your home has been flooded, how much help is it going to be to have umpteen boxes of designer trainers? Surely the people you might sell those trainers to have other, more important, things they need to replace in their messed up lives.

And yet it happens all the time. Riots or natural disasters which leave premises vulnerable to illegal entry almost inevitably bring out an element of society that spots a something-for-nothing moment which they can't resist exploiting. Unforeseen but also foreseeable consequences.

Fortunately such situations also brings out the best in a whole lot of people; unexpected heroes pop up and communities pull together to put things right.

We have severe weather warnings in place for the Northwest of England; we are due for strong winds and torrential rain this evening. There is the possibility of flooding. Nobody has yet been told to leave their homes, so it can't be too bad.

There was already flooding yesterday; the Manchester to Huddersfield rail connection had to be suspended because of flooding on the line near Stalybridge. Vast amounts of leaves and silty mud are being washed down from the hillsides, clogging up drainage grids all along our road. I am surprised there are any hillsides left.

And there I was, hoping for a reasonably fine day. The weather forecast I looked at late last night suggested it would be cloudy with intermittent sunshine until the evening. It was fine when I went out running first thing. By midday though, rain showers had set in and the wind was already howling around the place. So much for weathermen's promises.

On a different tack altogether, here is a link to an article in the New statesman about Jacob Rees-Mogg. I have long maintained that the rise and rise of UKIP was in part the consequence of the inordinate amount of media coverage Nigel Farage received. He began as a figure of fun, the butt of lots of people's jokes, on a par with the Monster Raving Loony Party. But as he was more and more in the public eye, more and more people began to listen to him and suddenly he was a "serious politician". The same is happening to Jacob Rees-Mogg and suddenly hebis a contender for party leadership.

Mass media is a powerful thing. It can give publicity and encourage support or withhold it (the early days of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, for example). If we are not careful we could have Jacob Rees-Mogg as Prime Minister.

Beware of unforeseen consequences!

Monday, 11 September 2017

Serious weather stuff!

Feeling virtuous, I went out running in the rain this morning. Once you accept that you are going to get wet it's not so bad. I avoided the footpaths and bridle paths I usually run along; a few days ago the mud puddles were forming nicely so by now they will have joined up and the paths will be impassable. The river, I noticed, was coming close to overflowing. Later in the day I heard of several roads in our area being flooded. And it keeps on raining - with periods of bright sunshine in between the showers. Most confusing!

In old stories dragons came swooping in, seemingly from nowhere, and caused devastation wherever they went. Beautiful creatures but incredibly destructive. News programmes have been showing photos of hurricanes seen from space. Beautiful swirling creatures, even if they lose a little strength as they cause havoc on land they build it up again as they cross the ocean, ready to swoop in like a dragon on their next target. Is our rainy weather a swish from the tail of the Irma hurricane-dragon? 

Here comes the scientific bit, courtesy of yesterday's paper:

 "Climate change cannot be blamed for the hurricane count in any single season, nor for the occurrence of any single storm, but there are three ways in which it is making the consequences worse.

First, although the intensity of a hurricane depends on many factors, warmer seawater tends to promote stronger storms. Average sea surface temperatures have been rising, and some parts of the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico are warmer that average at the moment, which is a key reason why both Harvey and Irma became so strong so quickly.

Second, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour, which can result in heavier rainfall. That is true not only for hurricanes but also for weaker storms across the world. Even relatively mild tropical storms can cause great damage by dropping huge volumes of rain over one area.

Third, apart from strong winds and heavy rainfall, hurricanes cause damage through storm surges as their winds push seawater ahead of them. Storm surges can inundate extensive low-lying coastal area, sweeping away everything in their path. Se levels have been gradually rising globally, making storm surges bigger and deadlier."

Eat your heart our climate change deniers!

Over in the sunshine state a young man called Ryan Edwards, in a moment of boredom apparently, posted on Facebook an invitation to people to shoot at Hurricane Irma and turn it around! He never expected this to be taken seriously - “The response is a complete and total surprise to me,” he said. “I never envisioned this event becoming some kind of crazy idea larger than myself. It has become something a little out of my control.” But 53,000 people expressed an interest in the event and 25,000 said they would participate. A Florida sheriff has had to plead with citizens not to do this. Shooting at hurricanes doesn't work!

Other suggestions have been whirling your arms very fast to blow it away or putting ice cubes in the ocean to cool the surface temperature. Crazy people!

Back here in the land of much more reasonable weather, I selected a rain free moment to pop to the next door pub/restaurant where I was meeting a friend for lunch and a catch-up. She reminisced about going to Barbados years ago with her then husband to visit his family there. They did not experience a hurricane but he told her about living through one when he was a child. They all took shelter in the church, the most stable building in their district, and emerged to find their house blown away. They had to collect the various components and rebuild it.

She and I are planning a visit to Cuba some time next year, to mark our both reaching a significant birthday. Some research is needed so that we do not go in the hurricane season!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

People talking sense about gender matters.

I switched the radio on his morning and found myself listening to a Radio 4 discussion about transgender children. There was a transgender person called Lily talking about her experiences at school, about not being accepted as a girl and how hard this was. There was also a former school teacher. Because I tuned in half way through I have no idea who she was but she was mostly talking sense. Her argument was that many children and young people go through identity crises, unsure about who and what they are. It needs dealing with sensibly and sensitively and with tolerance. And we need to teach our children tolerance and sensitivity. However, she said, we are in danger of going to an extreme and almost planting the idea in children's heads that they should be questioning their gender.

Well said, that unidentified lady! I can remember deciding I was a boy called Andy. Our daughter was determined to be a boy called Elliott. In both cases the idea was accepted without fuss, tolerated and then largely ignored. Both of us grew up to be women without significant bother. While I applaud shops which no longer categorise clothing and toys as specifically for girls or boys, I think parents and carers should be careful about putting the transgender label on a child too soon. Let children be children as long as possible without too mcuh interference.

Here's more about gender-equality. Amelia Hill wrote this in yesterday's Guardian:

"My pre-school son and I were snuggled up, reading, when it happened for the third time. I had mentioned that our new book was written by the same author as one of his old favourites. The author was a woman and my son frowned: “But that’s not usual, is it?” he asked. “I mean, for a woman to write books?”"

Where do pre-school children pick up these notions?

She went on to talk about the fact that books now exist reinforcing for girls the idea that they can do anything - although there are still fewer heroines than heroes - but there are few that reminding boys that this is the case. Here is a link to her article.

How complicated life is these days! How hard to be a child of the 21st century. Time was that Heidi and Jo from Jo's Boys were role-models enough for us.

Still on the feminist tack, I learnt a new word this morning: grossophobia. This is apparently the French for sizeism. I suspect that the actual French word is "grossophobie" but that might just be me being picky. A lot of people go on quite a bit about how all French women are slim and elegant and manage to remain so effortlessly. I have long had serious doubts about that but as I have not spent much time in France lately I can't even comment on what you see on the streets of that fair country. But an article about a woman called Gabrielle Deydier, who has written a book about her very negative experience of being fat in France says that obesity has doubled in the last ten years.

"In France, she says (and all the facts of her experience seem to bear this out), being fat is considered to be a grotesque self-inflicted disability. At any given time, 80% of Frenchwomen are thought to be on a diet. In the south of the country, there’s a lively gastric-band industry (50,000 operations a year)."

That's a prodigious amount of concern about weight!

I have read statistics about how being overweight can impede women (much more so than is the case for men) in the UK from gaining promotion, getting top positions in their profession or in some cases getting a job at all. Gabrielle Deydier's experience, actually being fired from a teaching post, bears that out.

So both the UK and France need to sort that out!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Food-related conundrums!

Theresa May made brownies for BBC Radio's Test match Special and claims this as proof that she can multi-task; ie run the country and bake at the same time! I'm betting she has someone to clean number 10 for her and that she doesn't do all her own food shopping, meal planning and preparation. Not quite the same as a working mum!

And when did we start cooking brownies? When I was a child, brownies were 7- to 11-year-old girls in brown and yellow uniforms, doing activities with Brown Owl and Tawny Owl, earning badges for being able to clean shoes, make cups of tea, do rudimentary first aid and so on before "flying up" to become Girl Guides. They were divided into little teams of up to six members, called imaginatively "sixes", led by a "sixer" and all named after magical, mythical creatures such as gnomes and elves. I was a "Pixie" and eventually got to be a sixer. We were certainly not chocolate cakes!

Coconut water is the thing to drink. More and more people are drinking it, including famous folk like Madonna and Rihanna. The UK is the third biggest market for it, after the US and Brazil. I have never drunk it. Am I in a minority? I am used to that. Ten years or so ago I took a bunch of students to Paris to a conference on Europe. One of the sessions was run by one of the founders of the Innocent Drinks company, talking about how they had built up the their company. They began by asking if anyone had never had an Innocent smoothie. There was me and possibly one other person. My students were highly amused.

This was before all the health pundits started saying that smoothies were not necessarily the best way to get your "five a day". That has not stopped people drinking smoothies and buying them ready made. The Innocent Drinks company is now run by Cocacola. The founders sold a 10-20% stake kn the company to Cocacola in 2009, retaining operational control, becoming richer by £30 million pounds and almost instantly losing their ethical rating from Ethical Consumer magazine. Such is the price of success.

Since then Cocacola has gradually bought more and more of the company. The three founders have lost control of their creation but they have made a lot of money!

Here's some more food related stuff: beware of salt! Sea salt is becoming contaminated by plastic pollution. Statistics reveal that people who consume 2.3g of salt a day ingest 660 particles of plastic every year. British adults on average eat 8.1g of salt per day. I am fairly sure I eat less and I barely use it in cooking. I have no idea how harmful 660 particles of plastic are - the scientist don't seem to know either - but I am pretty sure we are not meant to consume it.

Be careful what you put in your mouth!

Friday, 8 September 2017

The perils of social media.

We live in a funny age. Funny peculiar not funny amusing. Results of votes and elections in the last year or so appear to have convinced some people that it's perfectly okay to make racist comments (and sometimes actions) in public where in the past it was just not acceptable. Pretty soon it will be socially acceptable to call out to people you pass on the street remarks about their size, their looks and what you think of the clothes they wear!

One sphere where this already takes place is social media. MPs and public figures, especially female ones, receive a prodigious amount of abuse on social media. Not just comments about their opinions but about their looks, their clothes and their lifestyle, often with threats attached. And yet it seems that it's increasingly hard to succeed in the big wide world without being involved in social media, having your own twitter account and a load of followers.

I heard someone on the radio this morning saying how much fun twitter is, what good company it is if you travel a lot and are often alone in a hotel room. How odd. I wonder what is wrong with reading a book. How do I survive without twitter and Instagram. I saybthis somewhat tongue-in-cheek since I regularly post on Facebook but I am told that Facebook is seriously passé!

One offshoot of this absolute-right-to-say-whatever-springs-into-your-head is that the loony fringe, particularly the loony religious fringe, gets more of a hearing. I read that a number of Christian leaders in the United States are finding people to blame for the extreme weather they have been having. When these reports talk about "Christian leaders" they don't mean the Pope or any archbishops of different branches of Christianity. No, they mean the evangelical Christians who have their own radio stations and regular followers.

The latest example of this is Minister Kevin Swanson who has blamed LGBT people for causing Hurricane Harvey. He maintains that Houston has suffered because the city sinned by having a "very, very aggressively pro-homosexual mayor." “Jesus sends the message home, unless Americans repent, unless Houston repents, unless New Orleans repents, they will all likewise perish,” he told his radio show. “That is the message that the Lord Jesus Christ is sending home right now to America.”

I wish I knew how to influence the weather in that way.

Another thing I have been hearing about is the increasing popularity of houseplants. Who knew? It's another social media thing. People like to take pictures of them and put them out into the wider world via Instagram. One man on the radio said he had 81 plants in his house. Just think of the time it must take to water all these. And where does he put them all? How many flat surfaces suitable for plants can one house have. Most popular are succulents apparently. They make the best pictures! Crazy world!

Now, if you really want to look at some good photos, follow this link to some excellent and interesting pictures of Barcelona architecture.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

DNA disappointments, new regulations, political correctness!

So they dug up Salvador Dalí because Maria Pilar Abel Martinez was claiming to be his daughter. She said her mother had an affair with the artist long ago and that she was the result of that. She also claimed that she looked just like him apart from not having his crazy moustache. Oh dear! We are all supposed to have a double somewhere, not necessarily related to us. And many people have decided on that basis that they were related to someone famous. In this case DNA samples from Dalí showed no connection with the lady whatsoever. Poor thing! Think of all the plans she had for what to do with her inheritance. All pie in the sky now. And what is more, she is back to not knowing who her father is!

And then there is Ryanair, back in the news because of new rulings on what you can or cannot carry onto the plane with you. We travel hand-luggage only just about all the time. If we go with EasyJet we know that we have to get everything into one bag of the specified size. However, they no longer have a weight limit on that so if you can manage to lift it up and put it in the luggage rack you can put whatever you like in it. Ryanair used to work on the same basis but with a weight limit of 10 kilos.

And then, some time ago, they decided that travellers could take their 10 kilo bag and another smaller bag, such as a laptop bag, a handbag, a bag of duty free purchases. We have to confess to ruthlessly abusing the system: filling the 10 kilo case, of the specified size, and then putting the laptop, iPad,and various other perhaps fairly weighty objects in a computer bag or a small rucksack.

As more and more people began to do exactly the same thing, it became necessary to be at the front of the queue for boarding the plane if we did not want them to stow our little wheelie suitcases into the hold. Even free of charge we prefer not to put our bags in the hold as we often have a bus to catch when we get off the plane, frequently with a small margin of time to get out to the bus stop. The airlines are now finding that their departure is slowed down because of all the passengers trying to stow their hand-luggage inside the plane. Part of the problem is that people ignore the request to put their smaller bags under the seat. After all, they get in the way of their feet!

Consequently Ryanair has taken a decision. If you want to take two bags onto their planes you need to pay the extra £5 for speedy boarding. Otherwise your wheelie suitcase, 10 kilos and of the regulation size, will be taken off you as you board and will be put in the hold. Paying for speedy boarding is something we have resisted doing so far. Indeed we have rather snobbishly sneered at the idea of paying extra just to get on the plane first. Now we may be forced to bite the bullet!

Here is Stuart Heritage's take on it.

Of course, one solution might be to reduce the cost of checking your main (bigger and heavier) suitcase into the hold. At present it can sometimes cost more to do that than to actually fly!

In another area of cheaper living, the supermarket chain Lidl has been in the news first for airbrushing crosses off Greek churches featured on the packaging of some of their produce and then for apologising for doing so. Apparently someone in marketing thought that Christian crosses might be offensive to non-Christians. Crazy!

Now for something else altogether. Like many children, little George Cambridge, third in line to the throne, has his first day in school today. Unlike many children, he is going to a school that will cost his parents, and thus indirectly us, £18,000-a-year. His parents are reported to have spent almost £400 on uniform, rather a lot for a four year old but there we are. Now, what most struck me about this seemingly fine educational establishment, where he will learn to “be kind”, acquire “confidence, leadership and humility” and - here comes the astounding factor - not have a best friend to prevent other children having hurt feelings.

Yes, he will learn not to have a best friend, in case this hurts other children's feelings. Well, really! Of course schools need to ensure that nobody is left out, fostering friendship between all the children, especially in the early years. But suggesting that having a best friend is wrong seems very odd to me. Surely having a best friend is an important development for all children, often providing a lifelong confidante they can turn to when things get difficult. And does having a best friend rule out being kind and having plent of other friends?

Political correctness gone mad!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Some thoughts on immigration controls.

I used to think the world would eventually grow to be a more tolerant place. Now I see things closing up more and more. Those who don't like what people say, or the opinions they express, or the policies they put forward, feel free to tweet the nastiest abuse. When did it become acceptable to be so rude and aggressive? Is it no longer possible to express your disagreement without sounding as if you want to do serious harm to the person whose ideas offend you?

On governmental levels we have President Trump rescinding DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme – which allows undocumented migrants who came to the US as children (the so-called Dreamers). Did he do this because it was an Obama initiative or because he really doesn't like immigrants?

Whatever the motivation, imagine having grown up and gone to school in the USA, coming to think of it as your country, playing taxes and contributing to society, only to find suddenly that they want to send you "back" to a country you don't remember and where you won't know how the society works. 

And now we have a leaked document about our government's proposals for how to control immigration. Here's a link to Jonathan Freedland's article on this topic.

Somebody I have never heard of called Stormzy has said that Theresa May is a "paigon", something else I have never heard of. So I googled "paigon" and found this:

"paigon - friend that lies betrays and isnt true to u

drini: u wana cum cinema
dina: na i woz feelin sik all week includin toai so am stayin home
drini: k den

- hour later drini is walkin to the cinemas - drini see's dina in the near by shop wiv sum of her frenz

drini thinks omg wot a PAIGON SHE LIED TO ME DAT BITCH"

I also looked up Stormzy and found this:

"Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo, Jr. (born 26 July 1993), better known by his stage name Stormzy, is an English grime and hiphop artist. He won Best Grime Act at the 2014 and 2015 MOBO Awards and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC's influential Sound of 2015 list."

Not someone I was likely to have listened to then.

He made his comment as he received an award at GQ Men of the Year presentations. The news item about him went on to say:

"The epithet is popular among black Londoners and generally used to describe untrustworthy individuals; Stormzy’s fellow Mercury prize nominee J Hus had an underground hit with the scornful Dem Boy Paigon, for example. The word confused some in the audience though, with the Telegraph quoting Stormzy as calling the prime minister a “pagan” and Alastair Campbell tweeting that he’d said “pig”. Campbell later apologised, saying it was “good to learn new words.”"

Nice to know I am not the only one thoroughly out of touch with the jargon!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Travelling back in time?

Parliament has resumed today after the summer break. Why do thy have a summer break? Is it because the first MPs were landowners who needed to oversee harvest?

On Women's Hour on BBC Radio 4 today they played an interview from 1963 with someone called Rachel who had walked out on her job and her family one day and set off on the road, hitching her way up and down the country. There was none of the sociological experiment about this, no Road to Wigan Pier. She had just had enough and off she went. One of her favourite places to go was Brighton. She described cooking kippers in a park there, much to the dismay of well-to-do residents of the area who objected to the smell.

She may well have 'just set off' one day but she explained that she always had water and a little cooking stove with her and a change of clothing. She never went dirty, she declared. As for money, in the summer she did casual agricultural work, picking potatoes or strawberries. Winter was harder.

So she was a kind of female tramp (albeit a very weel-spoken one), living a life that some men opted for at that time, very different from the homeless we see on the streets of our cities nowadays.

What about the children she left behind? She said that she saw them from time to time and that they understood that this was something their mother had to do. Of course, the interview did not include the children and their reaction.

Jenni Murray, Women's Hour presenter, intrigued by the interviewer's assumption that Rachel had perhaps reached the point of no return, beyond which she would probably never get back into "normal" society, asked for listeners' reactions. She wondered if Rachel was even the woman's real name and if perhaps one of her listeners might be Rachel's child. Interesting stuff!

Here's some more women's stuff. I saw a headline that said that Missouri was giving employers the right to sack women who practised birth control. After spluttering somewhat about the appalling implications of this, I did wonder how they would know! The article revealed more details:

"A new Missouri bill would target abortion providers and sanction employment and housing discrimination against people who use birth control or have an abortion.

Yesterday, the Missouri House voted to pass SB 5, a bill imposing several highly burdensome and even more unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers; for example, the bill would require abortion providers to send fetal tissue samples to a pathologist within five days. While supporters of targeted restrictions of abortion providers claim they’re supporting women’s health, regulations like these often serve no medical purpose whatsoever. In reality, anti-choice legislators use them as a pretext to impose costs and red tape on abortion clinics, forcing them to close.

But SB 5 has another insidious purpose: to overturn a St. Louis ordinance to that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against people on the basis of their reproductive health decisions. In other words, if SB 5 is passed, you could be evicted in the state of Missouri for having an abortion, using birth control, or becoming pregnant while unmarried."

We are still in the 21st century, are we not? Or have we perhaps taken a trip back in time to an age when only men got to vote and even then you had to own a certain amount of land in order to do so? 

The mind boggles!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Monday out and about.

Today I went on a bit of an adventure. More of a reconnaissance really. My Italian class, due to start in a few weeks, has moved to a new venue. This happens every so often when the Italian organisation decides that the rent they are paying for premises has grown too much. I had located the new venue on the Manchester A to Z but I wanted to check that I knew exactly how to get there by public transport plus a bit of walking.

So I set off and caught a bus to Oldham and a tram into Manchester. On the tram a couple of young men were sharing their music with the whole carriage. I thought about leaning over and saying, "Hey, guys! Can you turn it down or use your headphones." In the end I chickened out and said nothing. Nobody else seemed bothered and the two young men seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Another factor was that I did not want to draw attention to the fact that I had noticed that one of the young men was spending the whole journey watching himself on the screen of his phone. He had the camera set to face towards him and seemed transfixed by the amazing sight of himself, and sometimes his mate, on the tram! Is this selfie-dom taken to an extreme? You could spend all your life watching the movie of your life on the tiny screen.

Fortunately we parted company at Manchester Victoria. They wandered off and I changed onto a tram going to Manchester Piccadilly. From there I had a route planned. It was the long side of a triangle. Going along the two shorter sides would also have reached my destination but, on paper at least, this appeared shorter. And it probably would have been so had it not been for the fact that at one point it reached a dead end, not obvious on the map. However, I had already decided that while the route I was walking was fine at midday in September, it would be less friendly, and considerably darker, in the late afternoon / early evening of October, November and December.

Anyway I had to backtrack to Piccadilly station and try again. This time I walked a short distance and caught a bus along the longer of the two short sides of the triangle. This worked fine. The park I had selected as a landmark was easily identified. Off the bus I jumped and walked the rest of the way, not too far along the shorter of the short sides of the triangle, to my destination.

Then I did the triangle stuff in reverse and caught a bus to Piccadilly Gardens, now much nicer than it has looked for a good while. Children were playing in the fountain in the middle (indicative of how much the day which began with rain had improved) and people sat around having lunch in the open air.

Getting back from Manchester is always more of a problem than getting there. You have to try to time your journey to coincide with the bus service to Delph, never an easy thing to do. I contemplated catching a train instead of the tram from Manchester. This would take me speedily to Greenfield, a reasonable walking distance from Delph if there was no bus available. But the train times have changed and I opted for the tram. Mistake!

I knew I would have time to kill waiting for the bus (one every half hour) and so I got off the tram in Oldham town centre and popped into a couple of shops. I still had five or ten minutes to wait but that was all. Except that the bus never turned up and I and a very old gentleman and a very young lady - going on 18, covered in Labour, Corbyn, Momentum, anti-Tory, "Make June the end of May" badges - set the world to rights, as it might be if a Labour government got in and did the job properly. A bus arrived eventually, we found out that the missing bus had broken down somewhere along the route, and we all went home.

And finally I checked the news. In the news today is the announcement that the Cambridges are expecting a third baby, announced earlier than planned because once again Kate is suffering from severe morning sickness and has had to give up her royal engagements. It's a good job she doesn't have an ordinary job. I suspect that having a live-in nanny makes things easier. However, you might think that as pregnancy hits her so hard she would have decided that she had enough with the two she has already produced. After all they have one of each kind.

The BBC commented: "An addition that will attract considerable global interest. The child's grandmother is the late Diana, Princess of Wales." Well, yes, that is true but the same applies to the other two children!

That's all!

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Educational nonsense!

It's that time of year again: back to school time. My daughter has just spent an inordinate amount of money on school uniform for her two middle children. This includes smart blazers - grey for the boy and purple for the girl - which they will have to wear at all times in the classroom. Amazingly they don't have to wear them for PE. No, for that they have a different bit of expensive uniform. Even the tiny person, now that she has turned one, has to wear a uniform to go to nursery! The British obsession with uniform goes on.

For those who do not have to worry about how much their children's clothes cost, I found an advert (well a bit of an article which is tantamount to advertising) in today's newspaper. For a mere £195 you can buy a pair of shoes which your child can colour in for themselves. With the headline ONE, TWO, COLOUR MY SHOE, it tells us:

"Charlotte Olympia has collaborated with Crayola to create slip-on sneakers for kids. Yes, they're pricey but they come with special pens for the kids to colour them in themselves, and ensure they're the coolest cats at the start of term."

I wonder what kind of world these people live in. Has nobody told them how quickly children grow out of shoes or that schools insist on shoes of a certain colour and sometimes even a specific style? Uniform again! Nonsense!

On the subject of school nonsense, a leading state grammar school, with the wondrous name of Saint Olave's, has been in the news because it has been excluding pupils and denying them the right to return to school for the second year of A-Level studies. On what grounds did these exclusions take place? Did the students kick over the traces a little too often You may well ask. No, it turns out that they did not achieve high enough grades in their AS-Level exams, or in internal exams at the end of the first year in sixth form. This meant that they were highly unlikely to achieve A and B grades at the end of their second year. The school's average pass rate would be reduced. The school wanted nothing to do with such failures!

Unfortunately for the school, most of the pupils at the school come from families with articulate parents who expect to get things their own way. They told the papers. The consulted lawyers. They made a fuss. Now it turns out that schools have no right to exclude students for not getting high grades and they had to back track and say that they would accept these students back to school after all.

This is what happens when fear of league tables gets too great!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Lost and (possibly not) found and other mishaps!

I just listened to a programme on BBC Radio 4 (Punt P.I. for anyone who wants to find it on IPlayer) in which Steve Punt investigates, in a chatty and lighthearted fashion, nuclear weapons that have gone missing. Apparently the Americans over the years have lost at least seven.

There were stories such as the one about a bomb ditched into mudflats somewhere because the plane carrying it was going to have to make an emergency landing. And a plane with a nuclear weapon on board rolled off an aircraft carrier into the ocean. No trace of it now!

The UK is not much better with a bomb, Blue Danube, coming loose in a plane and being ditched in the Thames estuary. Steve Punt warned fishermen that if they had a heavy pull on their line in the Thames estuary they might have accidentally hooked up the bomb!

And then there are the "suitcase bombs", actually more like rucksacks, which the Russians "mislaid". One story says they were all found and dismantled but another suggests that Putin might have them in his hands.

And we worry about North Korea!!!

Surely governments should be more careful.

Mind you, they seem pretty careless in other respects as well. Here is a story from the Independent:

   "Home Office mistakenly gives British history expert at London University a month to leave UK

A Finnish historian who works and pays taxes in the UK, was told by the government that she had one month to leave the country, in what subsequently emerged to be an administrative error affecting scores of people.

Eva Johanna Holmberg, a research fellow in British culture at Queen Mary University of London, received a letter from the Home Office stating that the decision had been taken to "remove her from the UK" because she had "failed to provide evidence that [she was] exercising Treaty rights".

It said that the 40-year-old academic was therefore “liable to be detained” and warned that if she failed to leave voluntarily, directions would be given for her "removal" from the UK to Finland." 

That's not the first story of that kind that has popped up lately. Don't they have experts to deal with stuff like that?

Meanwhile, life goes on. The Northwest might not have the kind of weather the Southeast of England gets but since I have been back we have had enough fine weather to get out and about. And today we have blue sky and sunshine. I have been advised to take advantage of it as rain is promised for tomorrow.

In preparation for a visit to Portugal a the end of October, I have been having another go at improving my rudimentary Portuguese. If I can persuade them to speak slowly enough I can already understand some of what they say, between my Spanish and having heard enough Gallego to fill in some gaps. But I have just about given up on classes here. Every time I sign up for a course it runs for a couple of weeks and then folds for lack of numbers. Most annoying!

So I am back to self study and Michel Thomas CDs. Listening to those teach-yourself-Portuguese CDs, I heard the charming "teacher" tell us that "tenho", Portuguese for "I have", comes from the same root as the English word "tenement". Okay, I can go for that. Then she went to say that "tennis" also comes from the same root. Who knew that? Maybe it goes back to French "tenez" - take or have it - as the ball sails across the net. The game is said to have come from France to the English court. 

Does this have any importance compared to lost nuclear weapons? Not at all!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Floods and religion,

Floods in Texas and floods in Mumbai. Which one had the most victims? Which one got the most media attention? Here's a link to an article about living on the streets of Mumbai in the flood. Both places need assistance.

Here is the headline to an article about aid to the flood victims in the USA:

Why did America's biggest megachurch take so long to shelter Harvey victims?

Joel Osteen, who runs the megachurch has come in for a lot of stick for not opening the doors of his church to flood victims fast enough. Fair comment! Isn't Christianity supposed to be about compassion, among other things. The church finally opened its doors after a few days, providing supplies if all kinds and explaining that the ranks of seating in the building making it a difficult place to offer as somewhere for flood victims to sleep.

America is a strange place. We tend to think that we must be pretty much alike, Americans and Britons, because we share a language. And yet I don't think we understand each other at all. These megachurches are one example. Here's a short extract from the article:

"Osteen is one of America’s richest pastors. When congregations for multiple services are combined, 35,000 to 50,000 people attend services at Lakewood church weekly, and Osteen’s sermons are seen by more than 7 million people on TV and online. His 2004 book Your Best Life Now was on the New York Times bestseller list for over 200 weeks."

Do we have similar organisations in the UK? Do masses of people listen to sermons on television and online? I am aware of radio and television religious programmes and services but do people make money out of it? Does the idea of making money out if it even fit in with the tenets of Christianity? 

Here's another bit of the article: "His wife, Victoria, is co-pastor. The Osteens are thought to be worth millions of dollars and live in a part of Houston of that makes Beverly Hills look understated. Their net worth was calculated at over $55m in 2012, and although the church draws revenues of over $70m a year, Osteen says his only salary comes from book sales. His Night of Hope worship tour has appeared at venues such as New York’s Yankee Stadium.

The Osteens preach a distinctively American form of Christianity: the “prosperity gospel”, which holds that God rewards the deserving with material success. Immense wealth, they might argue, is not only compatible with their beliefs but a validation of them. The logical reverse side of such gospels is that poverty is in essence a matter of individual responsibility.

“I preach that anybody can improve their lives,” Osteen, a youthful-looking 54, has said. “I think God wants us to send our kids to college.” It clearly chimes for many residents in Houston, a city that touts a can-do, dynamic capitalist ethos inflected by the get-rich-quick spirit of Texas’ periodic oil booms.

With a huge choir, expert musicians, slick preachers, giant screens and audio-visual flair that rivals anything you might find on Broadway, the church’s emphasis is firmly on scale and spectacle. That Lakewood’s services feel like the intersection of religion and entertainment is thanks in no small part to the venue itself, the onetime home of the NBA’s Houston Rockets."

Donald Iloff Jr, Lakewood’s chief of communications, defended their not offering immediate shelter on the grounds of safety concerns. He went on to add: “You have the haters. There are people who don’t like our ministry, don’t like Joel, don’t like Lakewood church specifically. And then there is a significant portion of the population that hates faith and religion.”

Of course, it could be that some of the "haters" just dislike the idea of the church as a business venture.

Here is another aspect of the megachurch business:

"The selection procedure for Pastors is quite different from anything... a young American Pastor told me: he had applied to a Church who'd given him a 'Pulpit Call', and then paid for him to come to Oxford to read theology. After the first week, he realised it was way beyond him, so he sat in his room [private house] for the rest of the time, emerging for meals, and occasional walks. Nothing could encourage him to speak to his Tutor, or to find help - he just waited it out. But when he returned to US he would of course, have 'studied theology at Oxford' even if he had nothing to show for it. Perhaps this helps explain why, for some, there is a curious interpretation of what God says/means/intends... Short of theology [among other skills]."

And "just about anyone can start a religion/church in USA and get tax free status, as S Colbert showed one night. Legacy of all the religious types unwelcome in Europe (Quakers, Puritans, etc) manning colonies. I tried reading at Oxford, a guide book, but got motion sickness on the tour bus. If just reading, sounds fine, but if one has to submit papers, oral exams... that's a fish of a different color".

What an odd situation!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Princess thoughts.

It's twenty years since Lady Diana Spencer, for a while Princess of Wales, died. I remember my son calling the news up the stairs early that Sunday morning (at least my memory says it was a Sunday) and wondering if she had committed suicide. This shows how little I was following the royal family stuff. I had no idea she was busy with love affairs and thought she was still going through depression.

But no, not a suicide, it was a stupid accident that could have been avoided. I have long thought that all they really needed to do was pay no attention (different from ignoring) the attendant paparazzi. Of course they were a nuisance but if the famous couple had driven away calmly, just sitting in the car, giving the journalists no scandalous photo opportunities, the cameras would have tired of clicking and they would have reached their destination and been able to shut the doors on the world. Instead, they joined in the game, scuttling away in an over-excited fashion, driven by a chauffeur inexperienced in security work and possibly the worse for drink. An avoidable and unnecessary end. 

That's my take on it anyway. I didn't join in the public outpouring of grief at the time and right now I am heartily sick of the fuss that is being made all over the media. I feel for the two young men who were left motherless when they were still very young boys. And I am sure that their talking about it now has probably helped them a good deal. But I don't want to know intimate details of what Diana said about Charles and their relationship. And that is that.

I switched on the radio this morning to find that Radio 4's Women's Hour appeared to be dedicated to Diana: busily gathering people's opinions of and reactions to the "momentous event". Lots of sad memories and tales of taking flowers to the gates of the palace but one caller said how horrific she found the week of the death, not because of grief but because it was impossible to express any opinion that did not praise Diana and show great sorrow. I remember that! Apparently quite a lot of people let them know that they were switching off as they found it all rather boring and annoying. As for me, I found myself listening somewhat fascinated by the ideas discussed:

Diana as a feminist.
Diana as a role model to women in bad marriages.
Diana the fantastically wonderful mother.
Diana as a fashion icon. I particularly liked the black American who said that Diana is greatly admired by black American women because, like them, she did style flamboyantly and with attitude - she had the walk and everything!
Diana the great compassionate humanist - one of the programme pundits pointed out that the queen as a young woman had visited lepers in hospital but that her compassion did not receive the same publicity as Diana's to AIDS victims!
Diana the great beauty.
And on and on and on!

Of course, one of the main things is that she appeared on the scene at the start of the great obsession with celebrities. We were just starting to get 24 hour rolling news and huge media coverage of the lives of the rich and famous. And the ongoing soap opera of the simple ordinary girl who became a princess and then found that it was not all a Disney fairytale but more like the Brothers Grimm was fascinating stuff for many people.

And the myth of the sad princess was created and lives on. HIlary Mantel writes about her in this article:

"From her first emergence in public, sun shining through her skirt, Diana was exploited, for money, for thrills, for laughs. She was not a saint, or a rebel who needs our posthumous assistance – she was a young woman of scant personal resources who believed she was basking with dolphins when she was foundering among sharks. But as a phenomenon, she was bigger than all of us: self-renewing as the seasons, always desired and never possessed. She was the White Goddess evoked by Robert Graves, the slender being with the hook nose and startling blue eyes; the being he describes as a shape-shifter, a virgin but also a vixen, a hag, mermaid, weasel. She was Thomas Wyatt’s white deer, fleeing into the forest darkness. She was the creature “painted and damned and young and fair”, whom the poet Stevie Smith described."

Had Diana not died so dramatically and had the public not responded with the mass hysteria of grief, would the royal family have changed to become more media friendly? Would Charles have been able eventually to marry Camilla and have an apparently happy relationship? Would William have gone off to university to meet a seemingly ordinary girl and make her into a modern princess? Would Diana have been invited to that wedding? Or would she still be a thorn in the side of British royalty? Who knows? That would be a different reality.

On the day of the Royal Wedding (note the capitals!) we attended a friend's "stuff the wedding" party. The television was put away in the attic for the day so that nobody could give in to the temptation to switch it on. We did not watch Diana's funeral on TV. Indeed, I drove through empty streets that day, one of the few disrespectful people out and about on such a day. We also failed to watch that other royal wedding when Kate Middleton turned into a princess, but I suspect rather more knowingly than Diana Spencer.

For a person who finds it hard to understand why we still seem to need princesses in the 21st century, I seem to have gone on quite a lot about them today. That's all!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Running, cycling, flying - phobias!

This morning at the local market I ran into someone I taught about forty years ago. She was a pupil at the first school I worked at. We quite often run into each other, often almost literally. As a rule she is running in one direction and I in the other and so we only have time for a quick panted hullo. She runs a lot faster than I do. She regularly runs marathons while I do a gentle jog round the village and back. My running is like my swimming - rather slow but it gets me there in the end.

Today neither of us was running and we were both in civilian clothes. It's probably a wonder we recognised each other. So we stopped on the corner of the street and caught up on what we have both been up to. She told me about her holidays in France, saying that I and a friend of mine, another of her former teachers, would have been proud of her for managing conversations in French!

She also told me about cycling up the Mont Ventoux, often one of the more challenging mountain stages in the Tour de France. This was where Tom Simpson collapsed and died during a stage of the Tour in 1967, probably as a result of taking amphetamines. As you can imagine I was seriously impressed that she and her husband, both of whom must have turned fifty, had made it to the top, albeit not so fast as the Tour riders! She said that the descent was perhaps harder than going up: certainly more scary. By the time she got down, her hands were cramped from frequently gripping the brakes and they had to cool the brake blocks down by pouring water on them.

I have been up the Mont Ventoux, not on a bicycle, I hasten to add, but by car, walking the very last section. It must be one of the bleakest places in Europe but the views are fantastic on a clear day. The day Lyn, my former pupil, went up the temperature was 37 degrees. I was even more impressed. Mind you, she and her husband do a lot of this sort of thing, running and cycling all over the place. 

She also told me of her fear of flying. Apparently, who has cycled up and, more scarily, down the Mont Ventoux, she goes into total panic mode just getting onto a plane. Various members of her family have tried to cure her of this phobia, to no avail. They have given up on her. She and her husband now drive everywhere, making the journey a part of the holiday.

Fear of flying is an odd thing. It was triggered in a friend of mine by 9-11. After that he would never consider flying anywhere. But for some people it is an irrational, innate fear. Lyn told me that she is continually annoyed with herself for being irrational but there it is.

Another friend has a daughter with the same kind of fear. On one occasion, after several years of holidaying always in UK destinations, he booked a family holiday in Mallorca. After some discussion with the flying-phobic daughter it was agreed that her grandmother would accompany them to the airport and, should she still panic when she got on the plane, the daughter would be escorted back to grandma in the departures lounge. The airline staff agreed to this. The daughter tried her best, for she really wanted a holiday in the sun, but her fear was too great. She went back to grandma while her siblings went off for a holiday in Mallorca.

My fears are much more rational, I think. I simply refuse to go on roller coasters, which I regard as much less reliable and trustworthy than planes. As for flying, I enjoy the whole business, especially if I get a window seat!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Holiday practices. Holidays' end!

My son has been explaining how AirB'n'B works. Sounds okay. I was told that the name comes from the person who came up with the idea, in California, I think. Apparently there was a conference going on in LA or somewhere and some people had difficulty finding hotel accommodation, so this chap offered them an airbed on his floor. The next time it happened, they needed even more accommodation and he advertised for people willing to help out, for a small fee. And so airbed and breakfast came about. And the rest is (recent) history. That's the story I was told anyway.

My son and his family have used AirB&B successfully a number of times and he clearly thinks we should give it a go.

One reason for opting for AirB&B might be this gruesome story I came across:

"Experts are warning people not to boil their underwear in hotel kettles in case it spreads potentially deadly toxins. It's a revelation that’s bound to have you regretting every cup of tea you’ve ever had in a hotel room; the act of underwear-boiling is apparently a practice that exists. Highlighted by Gizmodo, who spotted someone asking on Twitter, “Real question: does anyone I know clean their underwear in a kettle while travelling?”
Evidence of people using hotel kettles to boil their unmentionables has, worryingly, also been spotted on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
And, while the theory behind it might seem, kind of, logical, one expert has warned that it's “super, super, super, super gross", particularly for anyone who used the kettle for a cup of tea afterwards.
Dr Heather Hendrickson, a senior lecturer in molecular biosciences at the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University in Auckland, says there are some bacteria that are resistant to high temperatures and could be damaging to people's health should they come in contact with them.  “These don't cause sickness if they are consumed, but their presence in certain environments can encourage them to produce a toxin that can be deadly,” she said. “Who knows how long that water, with nutrients that have been introduced and then sterilised, sits around in the kettle before someone else uses it?” Hendrickson continued, calling the act “unbelievably irresponsible.”  The fact that hotel kettles are communal and by no means industrial-strength cleaning facilities means that there are just too many unknowns to encourage blanching your underwear in this way. " 

All I can say is YUCK!!! Do people really do such things?

The holiday season is coming to an end. Some parts of the country had a very warm snd sunny Bank Holiday yesterday. Even here it was fine and warm. Some more sunshine would have been even better. Today, however, I ran in the drizzle, which has fortunately stopped since then.

I am not complaining about the weather we experience, considering the horrors of extreme weather over in Texas. 22 inches of rain in 24 hours and another 20 inches expected before the weekend. That's their summer coning to a completely bad end.

The forces of nature are amazingly strong and very hard to combat.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Mythologies and other stories!

You hear some odd things when you are out and about.

The other day I went past some children leaping about catching floating dandelion seeds. When we were small my sisters and I used to pretend we believed these were fairies. Of course we knew exactly what they were but it is the job of a child to be cute and charming and to pretend to believe all sorts of nonsense. The mother of the children clearly also believed all sorts of nonsense as she squealed at the children not to touch them: "They're dandelion seeds. They're poisonous!"

I commented on this to my granddaughter, the oldest of the bunch, the one who keeps assuring us she is now an adult, and therefore the one who should know better than to reply as she did: "They do make you pee though!" Another myth. She spoke in all seriousness and quoted evidence: one of her friends at junior school was picking dandelions one day and when told about the "powers" of dandelions, promptly wet her pants. I know the girl concerned, always a bit disturbed and definitely open to suggestion.

Today as I walked hime along the Donkey Line, one of our local,bridle paths, I saw two women with a small girl. The little girl was carrying a fishing et and stopping hopefully every now and then to poke about in the muddy stream beside the path. As I got closer, one of the women went up to the water's edge and peered in. "I can't see any tadpoles," she declared, "I'm very disappointed". Also very late, I thought to myself but did not say out loud. Nobody likes a know-it-all, especially when you are out on a country walk with a hopeful child with a fishing net!

As regards fairies, I read recently that an Irishman, possibly a politician, has been blaming subsidence in a road near Kilarney on fairies. Well, little people do abound in Irish lore, don't they? But maybe in this case there is a grain of truth behind his claim. Here's a bit of explanatory journalism:

"As the 1937-39 Schools’ Collection of the National Folkore Archives makes abundantly clear every community in Ireland believed until recently in its local spirits, who lived in the surrounding bushes, banks and, in particular, the fairy forts.

After eons (potentially millennia) of living side-by-side with these spirits, aka the Little People, Gentry, the Good People or Síoga, and coping with their divilish interferences in our lives and landscapes we have now cast them aside over the course of a few paltry decades. It is the abrupt denial of fairies by the vast majority of society that is more pathological than Healy-Rae’s continued belief. After all, our first Uachtarán (Irish for President), Douglas Hyde, and two of our Nobel Laurates, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett, all believed in fairies.

It is true that science has now proven that the fairy forts (also known as a ringfort, lios or rath) were not in fact the abode of spirits, or entrances to their underworld realms, but instead are the remains of the most common form of one-off housing and defensive outpost in Ireland from the late Iron Age right through the Bronze Age, Early Christianity and up to the Medieval era in some places. Yet that does not mean that these areas are not sacred - if for no other reason that they’ve been used as burial sites for unbaptised babies for centuries.

These circular embankments are all that remain of the defensive structures that would have surrounded the farmsteads and lookout forts of our pastoral ancestors. Think of the buildings as fortified ranches, surrounded by either one or more ditches and banks, which would have had been crowned by a wooden palisade to keep livestock in and wolves and raiders out.

Again, there is countless anecdotal evidence for Healy-Rae’s assertion that there are real-world repercussions for interfering with fairy forts. Why else would rational, sophisticated farmers still go to the trouble of leaving unproductive patches of weeds and wild nature in their meticulously manicured, expensively fertilised and pesticided fields? It is widely believed that the demise of Sean Quinn’s cement and insurance empire in Cavan and of John DeLorean’s sports car industry in Belfast were directly attributable to the conscious destruction of “sacred” ringforts.

For once, the Healy-Raes are not necessarily succumbing to out-dated begorrah-esque Oirrishism, but are reminding us of our strong bond to the land and customs of Ireland that we disconnect from at our peril."

There you go. Irishmen are stranger that Saddleworth folk!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Spending money and time on stuff that really doesn't matter!

According to some statistics I saw today, families spend an average of £329 per child on school uniform each year. That means that some parents spend an awful lot more. i remain unconvinced by all the arguments about the usefulness of school uniform. As far as I can tell, the only really useful thing about uniform is that when you take the kids on an excursion some where it is easier to identify your lot if they go in uniform. Ironically enough, the school I went to did not insist on our wearing uniform if we went on a trip, just about the only time they didn't. But I suspect that the argument about uniform will run and run. The British are a bit obsessed by it. Even the nursery our tiniest grandchild goes to insists on a uniform.

Still, there are worse things to spend money on, I suppose. Reports are running around about French President Macron having spent €26,000 on make-up during his first three months in office. I know that in this age of equality men have just as much right as women to wear make-up. I know that he has to make public appearances, including on television and wants to look his best. I don't know how he has managed to spend so much in so short a time. Did he spend money on make-up in this extravagant manner before he decided to run for president? He must use really expensive brands of beauty products. I don't think I could spend so much in a lifetime. It's like when I used to find statistics on the thousands of pounds Princess Diana spent on knickers in one year and found myself wondering how many pairs of expensive knickers a girl needed.

It turns out that his predecessor spent even more on average, although his included hairdressing costs. And to think that they criticise female politicians for spending huge amounts of money on clothes. I shall have tonrethink my position on those £1000+ leather trousers Theresa May wore for a photo shoot!

I wonder how much time he wastes every morning sorting out his face. Here's something I found last week on that very subject: "How long did you spend in front of a mirror this morning? If you woke up in Zadie Smith’s house, it had better not have been more than 15 minutes. Speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival, Smith shared why she has given her seven-year-old daughter, Kit, the stringent quarter-of-an-hour limit: “I explained it to her in these terms: you are wasting time, your brother is not going to waste any time doing this. Every day of his life he will put a shirt on, he’s out the door and he doesn’t give a shit if you waste an hour and a half doing your makeup.”

Some might find it shocking for a seven-year-old to be aware of makeup at all, but in this brave new world of teenybopper YouTube strobing tutorials garnering views in the millions, it is often reality. As Smith remarked, “From what I can understand from this contouring business, that’s like an hour and a half, and that is too long.”

 According to a 2016 survey, the average British woman spends 38 minutes, putting on her face every day. Over the course of a week, that is just less than four and a half hours; in one year, that makes nearly 10 days (and nights). Over a makeup-wearing lifetime (say, 75 years), that is two years. Two whole years. Just think how many glass ceilings we might have smashed if we hadn’t been so busy with blusher."

The article ended with this comment: "Just think of the time it must take Trump to maintain his skin tone and signature coiffure – perhaps he is doing his bit for gender equality after all."