Monday, 31 December 2018

End of year stuff.

A friend sent me Happy 2019 greetings this morning. I can only assume she is getting ahead of herself, anticipating the social media crush there will be at midnight tonight when nobody’s messages can get through to anyone anywhere. The problem is that she has included me in a “group”. This is a social media thing, very useful for sending the same message or the same email to a number of people at the same time.

Usually groups are made up of 6 to 15 people, unless it is a workplace thing, when it includes just about everyone on the staff of an establishment. My friend’s group is purely a social thing, as she is a retired lady like myself. However, her group appears to include just about everyone she knows - well, about 50 people at least. Consequently my phone keeps sending out a little “meep” every so often as masses of people I do not know, and indeed have never heard of until today, send New Year’s greetings!

This is a form of madness! At any rate, it is the kind of thing that can drive a person into madness!

Here is another form of madness. I saw a headline this morning: 200 die in three days on Thailand’s roads as holiday carnage returns. Goodness! Has there been a spate of killings on the roads of Thailand? Were tourists being attacked? Was this another case of local people feeling overwhelmed by foreign visitors? A new form of terrorism? No, it was a matter of people moving around because of the “holidays”, i.e. Christmas and New Year, and the roads being overcrowded and the drivers impatient and incompetent!

My reading of the headline was too Europe-tourist-centred. And there I was thinking I was an open-minded, tolerant citizen of the world!

Finally here is an example of some tiny artwork in various cities around the world, by a Spanish artist, Isaac Cordial.



"The Spanish sculptor Isaac Cordal sees the city as his playground. He specialises in miniature street art, producing tiny figures as a social commentary on the spaces they inhabit. “My work is a filter to try to understand and change the world we have created,” Cordal says. His sculptures, about 15cm in height, often represent a social stereotype as a critical observation on capitalism, power and bureaucracy.
In one installation in a puddle in Hackney, east London, for example, a group of men dressed in suits with apathetic expressions represent “a very archaic form of patriarchy, and capitalism”, he says. Cordal first models the sculptures in clay then reproduces them in cement. “As a material, it seems very symbolic because it is one of our most recognisable footprints against nature,” he says. “Today we have turned cities into a kind of natural habitat.”
These tiny cement figures have appeared in cities across Europe, found sitting on top of bus shelters or drowning in gutters, small interventions in the big city." His work can be seen on the Instagram account @isaaccordal.

That's all for 2018. See you next year!

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Celebration styles!

As New Year’s Eve approaches I came across this headline in today’s newspaper:-

        German police seize 850kg of fireworks from Hamburg home.

The occupant of the house was 23 years old. Young enough still to enjoy a good display of pyrotechnics I suppose. What did he plan to do though? Blow up his whole street?

Thinking back to the days when my father insisted that any fireworks we bought ready for November 5th, Bonfire Night, had to be kept in a securely sealed tin box, I wonder how the young man from Hamburg intended to ensure that his fireworks were not set off prematurely.

Back when my father was being so obsessively cautious, of course, the only time of the year you could buy fireworks was in the run-up to Guy Fawkes Night. Nobody had fireworks for their birthday parties or weddings; at any rate nobody in our social circle.

And fireworks for New Year’s Eve only came into fashion on Millennium Eve when everyone went bonkers celebrating the end if the 20th century. That night, turning 1999 into the year 2000, it was crisp and cold and clear. We had a fine view of fireworks all over the area. The last few years it has been damp and dull on New Year’s Eve. The fireworks have been something of a damp squib.

I suspect tomorrow evening will be much the same. We’ll just have to make our own sparkly with some bottles of fizz! We can do that!

Today we are having a day of calm and quiet, interspersed with frugal meals. Most of the last week has been a round of rich meals, corks popping from bottles of fizz, and more sedate wines to drink with the food.

Our grandson contributed a tiny Christmas cake which he made at school in Food Tech(nology). This subject was once called Home Ec(onomics) and before that just Cookery. New-fangled labels. The cake was not bad. We assume he made it himself but our daughter tells us that it originally had a label saying “To Matt from Seth”. Seth, Matt’s best friend, took home a cake labelled “To Seth from Matt”. I am assured that this was their idea of a Christmas joke but it could well be that they did indeed exchange cakes!

Our eldest granddaughter contributed her left-over sprouts with chestnuts on the day after Boxing Day, mostly so that we could see how well she had followed the recipe she borrowed from me.

This morning our son and his gang went back home to Buckinghamshire, managing to leave behind only a bag of books and chocolate, given to his small daughter by his uncle, and one small bead from a jewellery-making set. This is an improvement on the last visit, when he left behind a pair of trainers.

I have ventured out into the dull and damp outdoors today to purchase the ingredients for my contribution to the New Year’s Eve meal at a friend’s house. We began this regular celebration on Millennium Eve, which was her husband’s 50th birthday and have kept it up ever since. He always did the cooking and since he died, several years ago now, we continue to celebrate his birthday but share the preparation of the food. Around here this is known as a “Jacob’s Join”. I have hunted on the internet for the origin of this name. The only conclusion that my research has thrown up is that nobody has any idea why it is so called!

And that will put an end to my cooking frenzy for a while!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Approaching the end of the year. Bits of oddness!

Damp December makes its soggy way to a close. People around here make the best of it. I walked to Uppermill this morning - the baker there makes a very fine rye loaf - and as I tramped back along the rather muddy Donkey Line bridal path I saw loads of people out walking their very dirty dogs. One little dog was fitted out with a bright red jumper. Not your usual dog coat but an actual jumper with “sleeves” for all his legs. The owner said the intention is to prevent the dog from getting a muddy underbelly and needing a shower after his walk.

Such are the joys of dog ownership! A friend of mine in Vigo let me know that there are boat trips from Vigo to the Islas Cîes this weekend. Usually they only run during the summer months, with occasionally a special service for the Easter weekend, depending on the weather. The mild, calm weather they have been having has been a factor in the decision to run boats this coming weekend but the main reason is demand from tourists.

Apparently the city had an influx of tourists coming into the centre to see the Christmas lights. I remember reading criticism of the mayor of Vigo for spending too much on the lights and his justification being that it attracted tourists. It seems he was right. Coach parties have come in to see the Christmas illuminations. Some have stayed for several days. Hotels, restaurants and shops have benefitted. Who would have thought it? Now, I thin’ Christmas lights are all very fine but I would not go out of my way yo make a special trip to a city to admire them. And how many days can you truthfully spend gazing at electrical representations of parcels, baubles and Christmas angels?

No wonder they are seeking something else to do. And good for the Nabia company for seizing the opportunity and organising the boats.

Some other friends of ours have just recently come back from a cruise. They like cruises and have been on quite a few. This one was a cruise round places with Christmas markets. Like the Christmas lights, these markets are all very fine but is there really so much variety from one to another that it merits doing a major boat trip? Surely a tat-stall in Hamburg is not very different from a tat-stall in Oslo. Each to their own, I suppose!

In Greece they re contemplating the need to count parrots. Parrots are not native to the Greek islands but they like the climate or so it seems. There are now so many of the birds that the Hellenic Ornithological Society is conducting a Christmas parrot count into the new year in the hope of learning the extent of this aerial invasion. “It’s a very important census that we’ll be carrying out in Athens, Thessaloniki and urban areas on islands like Rhodes and Crete,” said Panagiotis Latsoudis, who heads the society. “In Crete we believe parrot populations have increased greatly in all major cities.”

Parrots do not migrate as a rule so it is thought that these are birds which have escaped from captivity and bred. I have seen parrots in El Puerto de Santa María, in Andalucía, where my sister lives, but also further north, in Cangas, across the bay from Vigo. And I am reliably informed that there are some living in parks in central London.

Are parrots taking over the world.?

Finally, from a collection of photos of things going on in 2018,  here are a couple of examples.

Gun toting christians.

"The gunwomen of Pennsylvania

Spencer Platt/Getty Images 29 January

This was taken in Pennsylvania just weeks after the Parkland shooting [in which 17 students and staff were killed at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida]. It’s a “commitment ceremony” in this fringe church, where guns are the centrepiece of their faith. I was on my way out when I saw the woman in the photo. There was something in her expression that was different – an almost religious bliss. It was surreal. Turn one way and you’d see an 80-year-old woman struggling with the weight of an AR15; turn the other and you’d see a young woman with a pistol in each hand. I grew up a 30-minute drive from Sandy Hook – the shooting that killed 28 people. I covered it, and I have a child, so it’s embedded in my consciousness. As a journalist you try your best to understand, but to see guns used in mass shootings being celebrated is a little disorientating"

And American nationalists.

"White nationalist rally.
Georgia

Go Nakamura/Reuters 12 December

I was covering this neo-Nazi rally in Georgia and had heard they were going to have a secret ritual after dark. We all met at this bar, and were told they were planning to set up a big swastika on a cross and burn it. There was a moment when the organiser turned on me because he thought I was there for a leftwing organisation. As the torch was burning and the men were chanting, I got a little nervous – almost high on the adrenalin. It’s a frightening photo because most people, myself included, don’t realise these secret rituals still happen until they see it. I am not Caucasian so I was surprised at how nice the organiser was to me. He thanked me for coming. I don’t know why they let us photograph.”

I am once again convinced that some Americans are more than a little crazy!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Aftermath!

The most watched television programme in the UK yesterday was the Queen’s speech. Who knew that so many British were so royalist? Or maybe it’s just that they are traditionalist.

Needless to say, we didn’t watch the speech. We were busily tucking into Christmas food at that point in the afternoon.

Later in the day, after the marauding hoard, otherwise known as our daughter and family, had departed, we picked up on a news programme. There we saw film of the royal family, minus the ageing Duke of Edinburg, going to and from church. Masses of people had turned out to stare at them. One woman was waxing sentimental about the fact that she had managed to get a phot of Meghan Markle cradling her baby-bump! Not even a selfie with Meghan but just a photo of a random American who as married into the royal family and is having a baby!

Today people have been photographed queueing up to get into the sales at the Trafford Centre for the sales. Presumably the same has been happening at shopping centres all over the country. One photo showed two women, cousins apparently, with six or eight huge bags of bargains they had bagged at Next. I am mystified! First you spend weeks spending money to buy presents for friends and family and then, as soon as the BIG DAY is over, you go out and spend more.

Personally I hate sales. I cannot stand rifling through racks of clothes in search of something that might be he right size, colour, style and, of course, price. Don”t get me wrong. I love a bargain. I just prefer to do my bargain hunting on my own, usually online, without having to push my way through crowds of other bargain hunters.

Besides, isn’t everyone supposed to be short of money?

In our house the ritual exchange of gifts yesterday went well enough, despite our grandson claiming that the shirt I had bought him was identical to one I had bought him last year (it wasn’t, it was just similar, and there was a matching cap this year!) and that I had already given him on another occasion the David Walliams book that was part of his present. The shirt was not a problem and he accepted a monetary equivalent for the book. Fortunately I had kept the receipt and so I should be able to return it to the bookshop.

And today I have been stripping the remains of the meat off the huge turkey (with, as predicted, more meat than half a dozen people could possible eat), a necessary task to make room in the fridge for other stuff, and boiling up the bones to make stock and possible soup. Much more satisfying than standing in a queue hoping for a bargain!

Now I must make sure the bedrooms are organised ready for the onslaught from the other half of the family, driving north from the London area tomorrow. Then we’ll do a repeat performance, with turkey hotpot or turkey curry instead of roast turkey, depending on what I decide to make.

A further ritual exchange of gifts will take place.

Christmas in easy stages! You have to love it!

Monday, 24 December 2018

Christmas holidays. Homelessness.Believing in Santa Claus.

The parliamentarians have “broken up” for Christmas, just like schoolchildren. It always amuses me that they have these longish breaks, very long in the summer, presumably going back to when members of parliament also had estates to run and harvests to sort out. But it makes me wonder if the country stops needing to be governed during the holidays!

Much has been said lately about the increase in the number of homeless people dying on the streets.  I suppose such an increase is inevitable given the rise in the number of people actually homeless and sleeping on the streets at present. One of the pundits on Any Questions the other day was going on about the fact that quite a lot of the homeless choose to be on the streets and turn down offers of accommodation. I am sure some of this is true of some but are there really so many of them?

It must have been very cold on the streets last night. As I went to bed I looked out and saw the almost full moon on a clear sky. Frost was everywhere this morning as I saw the moon setting behind the village.


Coming back from my run round the village, I saw a queue outside Santa’s Grotto, incongruously situated in the middle,of the small industrial estate behind out house. I stopped to chat. The children and I agreed that maybe Santa was having a lie-in this morning as he will have a busy night tonight! 

Someone on the radio yesterday was talking to small children about Father Christmas. Asked where Santa loves, one small child said, “in the big shop in town.” “How do you know?” asked the radio man. “Because I have seen him there,” came the swift and definite reply. No argument about that then. 

And finally, a link to a set of pictures of houses decorated for Christmas. Some of them are a bit over the top but it is good to know that many of them do this to raise money for a range of charities.

The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future seem to have done their work.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Mis-hearing! Crisis shopping! And beggars!

I found this letter in the Guardian yesterday, presumably in response to an article the previous weekend:

While skipping, 75 years ago, I sang “Manchester Guardian, Evening News. I sell a dish and one, two ...” I imagined the dish to be white enamel with a blue rim. Does anyone remember this jingle? “Edition one, two...” does make more sense though.”
Audrey Butler.
Stockport.

I was reminded of a friend of mine who went to teacher training college in the late 1960s. Asked to give an example of a children’s nursery rhyme, she sang,
 “Eileen Dunder. Eileen Dunder.
Hark! Don’t you? Hark! Don't you?
Pitter patter raindrops! Pitter patter raindrops!
I’m wet through! I’m wet through!”

She was surprised by the laughter. Right into her young-adult life, she had never learnt that “Eileen Dunder” was actually “I hear thunder!”

Oh dear, we have all misheard something at some time. My latest is an actress called Tamara Lawrence. In a radio review of a Tv series she is in I misheard her name as Tomorrow Lawrence and went into one of my rants about ridiculous names. Only today did I discover my mistake!

This morning my mission was to go to the local supermarket and buy a small turkey or a a turkey crown. I arrived there at 10.00am, official Sunday opening time. I suspect they opened earlier today as the place was already crowded. Trolleys laden with enough stuff for six weeks, they queued at the checkout. But there was no turkey! A store employee told me that there was a regional problem with supply. All Tescos and Sainsbury’s in the area had the same problem.

So I contacted my daughter, who was supposed to be picking me up anyway, and we made contingency plans. I picked up the few other items I needed, paid at the self check-out and waited to be collected.

We headed to a Sainsbury’s store not too far away. They had loads of turkeys ... at ridiculously high prices. So we went to the M&S store next door for comparison purposes and found a cheaper one.

Crisis averted!

I am amazed at the labels on turkeys. Huge great birds are labelled as being suitable for 5 or 6 people. However much meat do some people plane to eat on Christmas Day!? This is why people eat turkey for a good week after the big day!

Outside each of the bigger supermarkets we visited today was a beggar. Supermarket beggars in Greater Manchester. I have grown used to beggars in city centre Manchester. And now they have started to appear in the outer districts too. We even have a regular Big Issue seller outside the co-op in Delph village. The other day she greeted me with open arms and gave me a hug, wishing me a Merry Christmas. And I am pretty sure I have contributed nothing.

Maybe she is related to Soy-Muy-Pobre, our local supermarket beggar in Vigo, who also greets me with great alacrity!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

How to spend a Friday!

Grandma’s cafe opened for breakfast again yesterday morning. My daughter and I were planning to speed-shop her Christmas. There was some debate as to whether her smallest daughter would go to nursery or not. The oldest offspring is now an independent adult, well, sort of, and the teenagers did not break up from school until lunchtime Friday. So it was a question of whether the tiny one would accompany us on the shopping trip or not. And, as my daughter is a modern mummy, she gave her the choice. More nursery? More mummy time? Well, what sensible two-and-a-bit year old is not going to opt for more mummy time. What’s more, she added in more grandma time.

And so they dropped the teenagers off at school and came for breakfast. The consequence of that was that instead of setting off to shop at 9.00, it was closer to 10.30. We trailed around the shops of Uppermill, my daughter being on a “shop small” mission: i.e. support your local shops. Incidentally I took advantage of having a chauffeur (chauffeuse?) to offload several bags of sorted belongings at a local charity shop.

However, as we had parked next to the children’s playground we had to make a detour (“The park, mummy?”) even though it was wet and gloomy. But we did successfully purchase some Christmas stuff.

Then one of the teenagers phoned requesting a lift home from school as he had forgotten his key and besides he had had to sit for almost two hours through a “boring Christmas assembly”. His older sister has been spared the “boring Christmas assembly” as she is now a year 11 student (formerly known as a fifth former) and they had been given the choice to stay or go - surprisingly Brexitish!

So she had gone home earlier and could, in theory anyway, let her brother into the house, but we took pity on him and went to collect him. We did however inflict a supermarket on him on the way home. 

After that we hit Manchester, a city centre in full Christmas markets mode and full of people who had finished work early for Christmas and were consequently rather merry. One of these was my almost son-in-law who joined us for coffee and more shopping. Amazingly we managed to achieve most of our shopping objectives, despite being hampered by a small person who wanted to walk everywhere. We shall remind her of this when she is a grumpy teenager and wants to be driven everywhere.

At the moment she is at the charming stage where she stops to admire other people’s dogs, looks appealingly at the dog owner and tells them very seriously, “My dog called Baxter!” Conversational skills at such a young age!

It’s a good job we did not put the small person in nursery as we did not escape from Manchester until almost 8.00pm.

Christmas is hard work.

Here is a link to an article about a man whose Christmas tree is 80 years old. It must have been one of the earliest known artificial Christmas trees. He has just decided to sell it as he has nobody to leave it to. He will auction it, having discovered that similar tree was sold for quite a considerable sum of money recently. Amazing as it not the most attractive tree.

And here is a link to a set of pictures of seriously underwhelming Christmas trees.

That’s all. I have parcels to wrap!

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Christmas chaos! And other stuff!

The Spanish have a really useful word: consuegra. It means co-mother-in-law, a term we do not have in English. So instead of saying, for example, ‘this is my son’s mother-in-law” or “my son’s wife’s mother”, I can just say, “esta es mi consuegra” or “this is my co-mother-in-law”.

I thought of this on Tuesday when my daughter was meeting her almost mother-in-law (we also need a term for “fiancés mother”) for lunch in Manchester. As I handed over a Christmas card for her to give to the almost-in-laws, my daughter said to me, “I’ve got a present from them for you at my house.” Consequently, having thought that I had finished buying presents, today I have had to go around looking for something suitable but not too pricey.

This is the ritual exchange of tat! You give someone a token something that they almost certainly neither want nor need in exchange for an equally token something you probably neither want nor need.

Still, it could be worse. We could be sitting in a plane waiting to take off from Gatwick or even worse waiting to take off from Paris or somewhere and unable to do so because it can’t land at Gatwick. 

Drones over Gatwick are causing major disruption. Police are trying to trace them and hopefully put a stop to their antics.

Meanwhile, Gatwick currently has no idea when normal service will be resumed and apparently feels no obligation to pay compensation!

The other day we heard that there has been a huge increase in the sale of drones. To perfectly ordinary man-in-the-street kind of people. People are giving and receiving them for Christmas. Most people will probably use them to take interesting photos from the sky but it sounds as though the ones over Gatwick are just being used to disrupt. Maybe it’s time for drone-owners to need a license. Surely if something is big enough to disrupt the normal functioning of an airport it should be registered and its use monitored.

The spoof news source Newsthump comments that this is Ryanair’s latest cheap flights. Not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Newsthump also offers this comment on Brexit, Christmas and Santa Claus:-

“Changes to Britain’s immigration system after it leaves the European Union may stop Santa Claus from making his annual festive flying visit, it has emerged.

Santa currently uses European freedom of movement rights to fly his sleigh from Lapland into British skies to conduct his annual delivery business. However, with Britain leaving the EU, the jolly old man is likely to face the same immigration curbs as other Laplanders in future.

Work permits are expected to be introduced, and legal experts warn that the tradition of parents providing a glass of sherry and a mince pie in return for Santa leaving presents by the fireplace constitutes an informal work arrangement – thereby making it impossible for the iconic figure to gain permission to enter the country without the correct paperwork.

Any attempt to make deliveries without permission from the immigration authorities could see Santa arrested, according to legal experts.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said, “This is just another example of a foreigner coming over here taking the job of a decent hardworking indigenous British national who could easily spend the night delivering presents instead. I’ll be delighted to see the end of it.”

In a further complication, the government is believed to favour including reindeer in its annual immigration target. Theresa May is believed to favour a quota of four reindeer per year for the whole country, which friends of Santa say would make the job of pulling his present-laden sleigh close to impossible.

The issue has been raised at cabinet level, with one minister said to have raised concerns that millions of children may be disappointed, only to have been drowned out by shouts of “bah humbug!”

Meanwhile, the Sun is investigating claims that hundreds of Laplanders are cheating immigration controls by masquerading as Santa in shopping centres across the country. It has published images it claims to be the real Santa supervising elves back in Lapland in the run-up to Christmas while the fake Santas pose for photos with unsuspecting children.”

There you go!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Be careful what you say. Other stuff in the news. Christmas trees.

Did Jeremy Corbyn call Theresa May a stupid woman? Oh, he supposedly “mouthed” the words, did he? Do we need a lip reader to verify this? Will the Labour Party need a major investigation to check this? Isn’t politics fun?

The lunchtime news on the radio spent five or ten minutes discussing this! Really! A whole lot of stuff about women in Parliament and how we need to encourage them to be there. Conservative women went on about being proud to have had two women prime ministers. And the Labour Party is accused of misogyny. Even the Speaker is accused of favouring the Labour party and being equally misogynistic.

As a woman, I am not offended by Jeremy Corbyn calling Mrs May a stupid woman. I often call her a stupid woman. The emphasis is on the stupid not the woman! Had JC shouted the words across the house then I could understand the outcry. But it was presumably a muttered aside ... which someone unfortunately lipread. Pretty soon the thought-police will be instituted and we will be apologising for all our thoughts. Would it have been different if he had been suspected of mouthing "stupid man"?

But the debate continues. Here are two tweets from Heather Stewart, joint political editor of the Guardian:

 Heather Stewart ✔ @GuardianHeather
 Corbyn’s spokesman: “he did not call her a stupid woman, so I don’t think there are any grounds for an apology”. Says JC said “stupid people”.

 Heather Stewart ✔ @GuardianHeather
 Replying to @GuardianHeather “Lip-reading in these circumstances is always difficult”, says JC’s spokesman. “He is clear that he didn’t say stupid woman”. People claiming he did, should “account for themselves”.

No doubt this will run and run.

The news went on to talk about homelessness. Which reminds me that we had a knock on the door this morning from a young man (possibly homeless, certainly unemployed) selling stuff, sponsored he said by an organisation called Helping Hands. Is such selling legal? I know people around here who have quite aggressive notices telling such sellers not to bother knocking.

This young man claimed to be from the North East. If so, what is he doing in Greater Manchester? Although he has as much right to be here as anyone else. Or did he just adopt the accent in order to sound more appealing?

And the news talked about Kylie Minogue, who is going to be in the “legend spot” at Glastonbury next year. The reporter went on about her having fairy dust which keeps her forever young and appealing. I can’t say the magic works for me. 

Here’s the Christmas bit.

According to this article, we should all be buying real Christmas trees, not using plastic ones. It’s all a question of recycling. You see, I knew I was right always to favour proper trees.

Mind you, I have seen some lovely pictures of trees made out of crocheted squares. This one is in Italy, I think. All very clever stuff! I wonder if I could make one. Maybe next year!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Bus-related paranoia. Christmas madness.

We get just a little paranoid around here about the bus service. Understandably so as the buses are often late, one of the consequences of covering an extremely long route, occasionally leave early, goodness knows why, and sometimes don’t turn up at all. This last, I am told, is because of a shortage of drivers.

I was on a bus last week, en route to my daughter’s house, when it started to emit a high pitched squeal from the driver’s cab. I suspected it was a fault indicator of some kind but the driver ignored it for quite some time. Eventually, about two stops from my daughter’s, the driver stopped the bus, turned off the engine and told us, “This one’s no good. You need to wait for the next one.” Fortunately we were close enough to be able to walk the rest of the way without major inconvenience and - bonus feature - it wasn’t raining! There was a lot of grumbling about how all the rubbish buses are assigned to our bus route.

Then a couple of days ago I caught one of the alternative buses home from the supermarket. There is the main bus service, running every half hour between Ashton and Oldham via a very circuitous route, and an alternative service, Ashton to Delph, which follows an even more circuitous route, making its way round various housing estates and calling in at out of the way places. It takes an age to get anywhere but the driver is prepared to stop in between bus stops to make life easier for old folk who use the bus regularly, a practice probably against company rules! It appears to run only every two hours, so if you live in one of the out of the way places you need to plan your day carefully. 

Anyway, I caught this bus, waved my old biddy bus pass over the electronic card reader and sat down with my bags of shopping. Then I was interrogated by a bus company employee:

What was my destination?

What was the purpose of my journey?

What would I have done if this bus had not come along?

 Everyone who got on the bus was subjected to the same set of questions, answers noted down on a spreadsheet on his phone. One lady passenger wanted to know if this was an investigatory measure prior to deciding to cut the service. She had noted the same thing going on when she travelled in this bus route a few days ago. Not at all, the bus company employee assured her.

However, the understandable paranoia remains.

I mentioned my dislike of e-cards yesterday or the day before. Yesterday evening I received this message from my Spanish sister: “Christmas Card Delivery. Please pass it on to all your loved ones. Send it back to me. Thanks.” It was accompanied by a mini greetings card video which I declined to open, such a Scrooge-like misery am I. The thing is, my sister has already sent us an actual card, a proper one, one you can stand up somewhere. So why does she feel the need to send me electronic nonsense?

I feel the same aversion to the social media posts along the lines of “I am trying to find out who my real friends are. If you are a genuine friend, you will ‘like’ this message.” I ignore them as well. They are almost as annoying as the posts that say, “Cleaned the house!” or late in the evening, “Off to bed. Signing off now!” as if we were all hanging on their every move.

And yes, I do recognise that such criticisms are perhaps a little hypocritical from someone who outs her random thoughts into a blog almost every day. But that’s just the way it is.

Okay! Christmas comments.

I just read this:

“Wired magazine has shared the “science of decorating the perfect Christmas tree”, including the ideal bauble ratio: about 6.2 baubles to each foot (30.4cm) of tree. Smaller trees will need fewer. About 100 fairy lights to one foot of tree is said to be “a very standard rule in the Christmas tree industry”.” So there are rules to tree decorating, are there?

The writer, who remembered, as do I, having actual candles on the tree when he was a child, went on a little further into his article:

“What about decorating Christmas trees now, though – what’s hot? “There’s a move this year towards more pastel colours – teal, and raspberry, plum and pale pink,” says Helene Webb, who offers a bespoke luxury Christmas decorating service; she also mentions peacock feathers. But most people still choose red, gold and silver, with warm white lights. (She’s talking about ones you plug in, not light with a match.)”

Fashions in trees? Whatever next?

Mine is randomly decorated with bauble collected over the years. No colour co-ordination at all. Our two-and-a-bit year old granddaughter has very carefully examined almost everything on the tree this morning, being very gentle and holding the hand of a dangly metal snowman. You can’t do that with designer trees.

And how about this? People are reportedly charging their families for Christmas dinner. The typical price is £30 a head. Maybe I could make a profit!

Here are some statistics:

last Christmas, the average UK family spent £225 on food and drink;

we eat on average 6,000 calories on Christmas Day;

one woman interviewed calculated she spent £500 feeding her family Christmas Dinner.

It’s a good job it comes just once a year!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Christmas post, Christmas entertainment and Christmas food.

I keep hearing that nobody sends letters any more and that few people send greetings cards. Most people, they say, use internet greetings. Personally I hate e-cards, flash in the pan, momentary greetings. Did anybody ever save an e-card, the way you might save a particularly personal paper greetings card? And you can’t put e-cards on the mantlepiece to make the place look festive. What are you supposed to do? Have all your e-cards playing on a continuous loop on your computer in a corner of the room near the tree?

Now, if it is true that people don’t use the postal service, why was there a problem with the postbox in the village this morning? I needed to post a birthday card, which needs to arrive at its destination by Wednesday. I popped it in the post box. It bounced right out again. On closer inspection, I could see that the box was stuffed to the gills, so crammed with mail that nothing else was going in. So I went back into the post office, reported the situation and asked the postmistress (delightful word) to pop my card into her indoor collection bag. Job done!

The box was overstuffed because the last collection on Saturday is at midday and there is no collection on Sunday. Consequently the postbox held all the cards and letters posted late on Saturday and all day Sunday. No room for today’s contribution!

While I was in the post office a host of small children was marched past in twos, all equipped with hi-vis vests. It crossed my mind that it was a good job this was Delph and not Paris, where the water canons might have come out to deal with the massed ranks of gilets jaunes. Of course, it was just about the whole of the local infant school, off on an outing somewhere.

Those of us in the queue reminisced about how we had been taken on “nature walks” on fine days like today, a stroll around looking at trees and plants, all at the whim of the teacher. No chance of such a thing nowadays. The curriculum is too tightly controlled.

One small boy left the group and dashed into the post office accompanied by a teacher. He wanted to say hullo to his mum, the postmistress. They were all off to the pantomime. The postmistress commented that the family had been to the pantomime yesterday. Someone in the queue said that the small boy would not be very excited in that case. On the contrary, his mum told us, he was really looking forward to seeing it again.

The queuer clearly underestimates the ability of small children to watch the same cartoon or film and to demand the same bedtime story over and over and over again.

Here’s a link to a thing about Christmas stuff: when is Jesus’ real birthday? why do we celebrate on December 5th? is it true that some people have tried to cancel Christmas? stuff like that.

Christmas food keeps popping up in all sorts of articles in the papers. Yesterday I read that in an article about fitness that you need to run for 21 minutes to use up the calories in the average mince pie. (Mince pies, by the way, are explained in the article link above.) I also read that on average we eat 27 mince pies each over Christmas, which means that some people eat a whole lot more as there are people like Phil who eat none at all.

Cheese is another food staple that gets some attention. Apparently we all traditionally eat Stilton and Wensleydale with cranberries at Christmas. What do they do with this cheese the rest of the year?

But the cheese which has been voted the best cheese of the year is in very short supply. It’s called fanoast and comes from Norway, but the farm that produces it only has twelve cows, so stocks are limited.

 I won’t miss it as I am not a fan of that Gouda-style cheese anyway!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Alternative suffragette statues. A bit of a rant about language. And recipe ideas.

The other day, while I was watching them unveil the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst in Manchester with a friend, another friend was watching them unveil another statue, this time in Oldham.

The statue was of Oldham’s home-grown suffragette, Annie Kenney. She was born in Springhead, not very far from where we live now, and was the fourth of twelve children. At the age of 10 she started work part-time in a cotton mill while still going to school. By the time she was 13 she was working full-time, doing 12-hour shifts from six in the morning. She worked in the mill for 15 years, was involved in trade union activities, continued her education through self study and promoted the study of literature among her work colleagues. A busy woman!

 

She and her sister Jessie heard Teresa Billington-Greig and Christabel Pankhurst speak at the Oldham Clarion Vocal Club in 1905 and after that she became actively involved in the Women’s Social and Political Union. That involvement led to her being jailed 13 times in total.

My friend, whose mother also worked in cotton mills in Oldham, said she was moved to tears by some of the speeches during the unveiling.

 Onto other matters.

“Give someone you heart a slim heart wristband with Reminders to Move, call, text & calendar alerts and more.” £79.99. Reduced from £129.99.

This from Fitbit, who send me emails about special offers, in the hope that I might decide to update my current Fitbit for something more complicated and more expensive.

First of all, I hate the use of “heart” as a verb. Really annoying!

And secondly this was a promotion for what they referred to as “stocking stuffers”, which implies the kind of extra “small” gift you put in someone’s stocking but which isn’t the main present. Who buys stocking fillers at that price? Stocking fillers are inexpensive but amusing items or sweets or tangerines!

Here’s something else that annoys me. Eva Wiseman, whose writing in the Observer I usually enjoy reading, had been interviewing Nadiya Hussain, the Bake Off winner who has apparently become a national treasure. This last thing must be so because I read it in the paper.

Anyway, back to the annoying thing. Nadiya Hussain had been describing how she feeds her three children. Eva Wiseman then wrote: “As a child, growing up with five siblings, her mother did the same...” Now, to me that means that when her mother was a child, she did the same but what Eva Wiseman meant was that when Nadiya Hussain was a child, her mother did the same.

Sloppy grammar!

This is the sort of stuff they should be concentrating on in SPaG (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) in schools. Clarity in writing, not putting fancy (often invented) labels on parts of speech.

Okay! Rant over!

When I was child, I had no idea what figs were. We had fig biscuits, a sort of soggy biscuit case filled with mushy brown stuff with tiny seeds in. They were usually served up as a kind of treat but we children never really liked them. In books for small children, the kind of books with brightly coloured pictures of fruits of various kinds, figs did not appear at all. And you certainly never saw them in shops in the UK. Mind you didn’t see mangoes either.

In fact it wasn’t until I was a teenager that you started to see peppers, and to start with there were only green ones.

So it wasn’t until I was getting on in years that I saw a genuine fig in the flesh. What a nice surprise! And, indeed, when I first saw a fig tree I suddenly understood all those references to fig leaves being used to cover up naughty bits on naked bodies. Fig leaves are the perfect shape.

I now have a small but growing collection of recipes involving figs. Figs roasted in a honey and red wine sauce with minced sage leaves as a side dish works very well. And fig clafoutis is a tasty alternative to cherry clafoutis.

Today Jay Raynor in the Observer has provided me with a recipe for baked figs with pistachio biscuits, which looks very interesting. A possible addition to the Christmas Day dessert collection. Nobody in our family eats Christmas pudding so there is little point in serving it.

I am making a list of the food items I need to buy to feed the gang who will be here on Christmas day. Figs and pistachios look like being added.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Looking at the negative side of things!

There is a downside to everything.

Theresa May dodges the no confidence bullet but at the cost of promising she won’t continue as leader of her party after the next election.

And now Professor Lars Gunnarsen has been warning about hygge.

I didn’t know you could actually ‘do hygge’ but it seems that teenagers like to ‘do hygge’ in their bedrooms. Why they can’t just share the family hygge is probably one of those teenage conundrums. You know the kind of thing: they don’t want to go to family trips to the restaurant; they disapprove of their mothers’ (lack of) fashion sense; they won’t be seen dead walking down the road with parents. 

So what’s the problem with hygge? Which I thought was more a state of mind than anything else. It more or less translates as cosiness. To create hygge in your home you dim the lights and light lots of aromatic candles. That’s the problem. The candles give off particles leading to lung inflammation, arteriosclerosis, ageing of your chromosomes, just as if you were exposed to the particles from diesel fuel.

You see, I knew I was right to shun those smelly candles. Someone once gave me one as a present. I took a sniff, said thank you very much and left it on a shelf for ages until I sent it to a charity shop. I can’t go in the shop called Lush as the over-perfumed smell of their products drives me crazy. I have a similar reaction when I walk through displays of aromatic candles in a whole range of stores.

Then there is the fire risk. The number of house fires in Denmark jumps by 35%, according to an expert called Mads Dalgaard. All because of hygge and the candles. This is why they discourage allowing children and teenagers to ‘do hygge’ in their bedrooms, because they are notoriously careless with naked flames. Mads Dalgaard recommends using LED or battery powered lighting to provide the hygge effect.

By the way, don’t you just love those Danish names?

I fully expected to wake up to snow this morning but the weathermen seem to have changed their minds, now they are warning us that when it rains it will freeze. They are worried about this as this is the BIG SHOPPING WEEKEND!

The local supermarket was more than a little full this morning.

Oddly I got into a conversation with someone who must have a sort of managerial role. He began by telling me how sick he is of the Christmas songs playing on a loop all day since the start of December. I told him about Ryman’s, the stationers, in Manchester where they were wearing elf costumes at the start of November. He countered with the story of how he was asked earlier this week to set up a display of Easter eggs in the store entrance. He refuse to do so! Good for him! Consumerism gone mad.

Now for a Christmas dilemma. A young Facebook friend, daughter of a real, not-media friend, a new mummy I have probably mentioned, before asked this: “Question - do you wrap stocking fillers?” Apparently her family doesn’t, but her young husband’s family does, so now they need to decide which path to go down for their tiny daughter. The aforementioned tiny daughter will be about eight weeks old on Christmas Day. I doubt if she will notice whether anything is wrapped or not. They can put off the problem until next year. If I were the young mummy I would just hope for a peaceful Christmas Day!

You see, everything has a downside, even Christmas. You find yourself faced with these difficult philosophical questions!

Friday, 14 December 2018

Optimistic politicians. Votes for women. Christmas stuff.

I have just heard Theresa May on the radio being very optimistic about her “robust” discussions with Jean Claude Juncker about the Brexit deal. She seems to think some tweaking is possible. But reports from European politicians suggests that they have no,plan to help her. So we seem to be still waiting for the vote.

Talking of votes, I went to meet a friend today in Manchester so that we could go to the unveiling of the statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in St Peter’s Square.

 
Lots of people, hundreds(?), maybe thousands (?) marched from the People’s History Museum to Saint Peter’s Square but we chickened out of the march, mostly because my friend has problems with her feet and also because when we planned to meet we were very unsure of what the weather was going to do.

In the event the weather was fine and cold. There was frost around when I set off from home earlier.


By the time we reached St Peter’s Square, it was already very full and we had to wander around a little to find a place where we could see what was going on. It’s a good job they had erected a screen. Even then my friend had problems as she is rather short. But there was some fine singing going on, courtesy of a women’s choir and students from the Royal Northern College of music.

Lots of green, purple and white banners and rosettes were on show. A few women had come dressed as suffragettes. Various dignitaries, including Helen Panhurst, great graddaughter of Emmeline,  spoke about the work involved in getting the statue erected - lots of fundraising - and about the importance of raising today’s little girls to be aware of the struggle women had to get the vote, urging all of us to register and to use our vote.

Eventually they pulled the drapery off the statue and there she was: Our Emmeline in all her glory. 

By then my friend had given in to her cold feet and gone off to catch a tram homewards. We agreed to get back in touch in the new year and perhaps manage to meet between the various travels that both of us have planned.

So I went off on my own to do a bit more Christmas shopping. There is an outside chance I might have gifts for everyone in time for Christmas Day.

I tried to organise a time when my daughter and I can do some Christmas prep together but she is feeling decidedly disorganised, not surprising with work, a toddler and a couple of teenagers to deal with! At the moment it looks as though she will have no time until next Friday, which is dangerously close to the day itself!

Here comes a Christmas legend, a rather “sweet” one:-

“A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas candy cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy. White to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus; and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the foundation of the church and firmness of the promises of God.
The candy maker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd” with which he reaches down into the world. Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes to show the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed. The large red stripe was for the blood shed by Christ.”

Quite why he flavoured it with mint remains a mystery.

We had this legend in Italian in my last Italian conversation class. For the Italians, who call Jesus Gesu, the initial letter thing does not work. So they regard the candy cane as being a representation of the shepherd’s crook, which actually makes more sense when you consider how you hook it onto the Christmas tree.

I now have a tree, by the way. Our daughter turned up with it yesterday evening, a nice little rooted tree, just the sort she knew I was looking for. All I have to do now is decorate it!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

(Political-)Seasonal stuff.

Wow! Theresa May pulled put all the stops and talked to loads of Tories and persuaded them to vote in her favour in the no-confidence ballot. I didn’t think she was going to manage it. Or maybe I just hoped she wasn’t going to manage it. And now nobody, well, nobody in her party, can challenge her for another year.

Jacob Rees Mogg must be spitting feathers, maybe regretting pulling the 48 letters trick a little too soon. He has been heard to say that the 34% who voted against the PM should be listened to and therefore she should resign. Funny that! He never seemed to think that the 48% against leaving the EU should be listened to!

And here we are, back where we were before the no-confidence issue, still wondering what will happen with the vote on Theresa’s Deal and having no idea what they future will hold for us. 

Meanwhile the EU has just made a trade agreement with Japan. Wasn’t that one of the trade agreements the newly free-from-the-EU Britain was hoping to be able to make? Have we missed the boat?

Ah, well, I am not going to be able to sort all that out. And it’s actually a fine, if rather chilly, day so I shall simply put politics put of my mind for now.

Here’s a Christmas story from St Ives. Not the one in Cornwall but a different one in Cambridgeshire. How many St Ives are there anyway?!

In this Cambridgeshire St Ives a “family-friendly rave” (whatever one of those is - presumably some mind of disco for mums and tots) was going on recently in the Corn Exchange building. Coincidentally, but quite separately, an organisation called Festival Event St Ives had arranged for Santa and his chief snowman to be available to visit on the floor above the disco. Why Santa had a snowman with him remains a mystery. I always thought his helpers were little elves not snowmen, even though working for Santa at the North Pole might be a perfect job opportunity for snowmen, a logical career choice.

All was well until something triggered the smoke alarm at the disco and the building had to be evacuated. Santa, possibly annoyed and head-achey from trying to have nice conversations with small children above the noise of the rave going on below, threw a hissy fit. He apparently tore off his hat and beard and stormed out, swearing at children getting in his way and telling everyone to “get the f*** out”.

That must have been a rude awakening for children who still believed in Santa Claus. One mother interviewed told Cambridgeshire Live that she had to tell her children he wasn’t the “real Santa. He was an imposter and will be going on the naughty list”. Always a good explanation in such a situation.

Our children never liked visiting false Santas. They always found them a little frightening and much preferred reading about Santa and his adventures in the picture story books by Raymond Briggs. The one about Santa going on his summer holidays was a facourite.

Incidentally, in Waterstone’s bookshop the other day I saw two versions of Raymond Briggs’s book “The Snowman”. One was labelled “the book of the film” and the other “the original story book”. I was in rather a hurry and did not have time to examine them to see if there were differences in the content. Or in the price for that matter. Maybe it’s a marketing ploy!

More Christmas stories tomorrow perhaps.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Finding ways to escape Tory nonsense!

Well, the Tory babies seem to have thrown all their toys out of the pram. A nice little squabble is taking place.

Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian points out that a change of Tory Leadership will not really change anything. The problem won’t go away even if Theresa May does.

“Tory MPs don’t like hearing that they cannot have their cake and eat it, that there is no Brexit that comes without a severe cost, and so they are taking out their frustration on May. But any prime minister – Johnson, Davis, Raab, Mordaunt, Leadsom, Hunt, Javid – will eventually have to break the same news to them. The problem is not May. The problem is Brexit.”

I can’t say I am surprised that it has come to this. Turning everything upside down and walking away seem to be the main default settings at the moment.

And maybe if they vote Theresa May out she can tell us that it was really what she wanted all along. After all, she went from campaigning for us to stay in the EU to declaring that leaving was the right thing. If “the will of the people” is what she stands by, then she can accept “the will of the party”.

Or she could walk away completely and try her hand at after-dinner speech making as a new career.

It’s all a monumental mess!

So let’s forget about it until the no confidence vote has taken place and concentrate on other things.

Such as some more Christmas traditions.

What about Christmas trees? As with a lot Christian traditions, this is another that has links to pre-Christian times. People apparently used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter. The greenery was supposed to remind then that plants would return in abundance when spring came around again. Personally I suspect the smell of pine and other evergreen branches would mask the closed-up smell of houses where you had to keep the doors and windows tight shut to keep the warmth in. No aerosol air-fresheners in those days!

Gradually the practice was absorbed into Christianity, rather as the date of Christmas moved over to coincide more or less with the winter solstice. In Germany in particular Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. (Now, that is a fact we hear very little about these days. Who celebrates Adam and Eve Day?)

Immigrants took the tradition with them, including German members of the British Royal family. However, it was Queen Victoria who really spread the word about Christmas trees, not just in the UK but all over the place. By 1900, 1 in 5 American families had a Christmas tree. And nowadays 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. I have no idea how many are sold in the UK.

Then there are Christmas jumpers, a tradition I have never understood. Why buy a ridiculous sweater that you wear for such a short time? Apparently we have the Canadians to blame for this fashion mistake. According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

My source of information tells me that, although nowadays it is almost de rigueur for everyone to have a Christmas sweater, in the past this was a habit embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents.

This grandma has never worn a Christmas jumper. Nor did I do such a thing when I worked as a teacher.

Christmas ear-rings are a different matter altogether though!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Traditionally speaking!

The French have quite a tradition of protesting. And of having their protests met with water cannons and tear gas.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, once a rebel, now a friend and advisor to President Macron said this about the stuff going on with the “gilets jaunes” in France:

“This movement is very different to May ‘68. Back then, we wanted to get rid of a general (Charles de Gaulle); today these people want to put a general in power.” He points put another important difference: “And nobody in ‘68 made death threats against those who want to talk. All those on left thinking this is a leftwing revolution are wrong: it’s veering to the right. To hear the gilets jaunes who want to negotiate are receiving death threats is evidence of this authoritarian right.”

That may well be true but death threats seem to be common parlance on social media when someone disagrees with the ideas and politics of someone else. In general people seem more willing to offer violence than ever they used to.

But now Monsieur Macron is making moves to raise the minimum wage, which might help calm things down.

Over here on our side of the Channel, where discussion of Brexit has been going on so long it has almost become a tradition, Mrs May has postponed the Brexit vote in Parliament. Quite what that will achieve remains to be seen. One thing it means is that we will have the thing hanging over our heads until mid January, all over the festive season. The ghost of Christmas Present will be with us for all that time!

And so in the Italian class this afternoon, last of the term, we decided not to speak about it. Well, once the two lawyers on the class had expressed their views at some length, we decided not to talk about it any more.

Instead we talked about the origins of Christmas traditions. Here are a couple:-

In Bethlehem there was a very poor street artist who could not afford a present for Baby Jesus. So he juggled for the baby and made him laugh. And that’s why we hang shiny round baubles on our Christmas tree.

Another tells of a poor little shepherd boy who made a crown out of laurel leaves for Baby Jesus. But when he got to the stable he decided his crown was a miserable item and put it down and began to cry. The newborn Baby Jesus reached out and touched it, changing the dull leaves into shiny holly leaves and the little shepherd boy’s tears into red berries. Ahh!!! So that’s why we have holly!

It strikes me that this legendary baby can do some amazing things fpr a newborn: smiling, reaching out. Whatever next!

I have been going round with cards to hand out to friends we have planned to meet. When I did this on Saturday, some people said they had not started yet. One said she had decided not to send cards this year, nor to send greetings via social media. Clearly turning into a grumpy old person! Another told us his card was in the post: not so much a card as a group photo of all his family.

He explained that his parents had begun this tradition when they were just a couple. As children were born they just added each child as they came onto the scene. Gradually there was a whole host of them. He and his wife have followed suit and now one of his daughters is doing the same.

Presumably this is in case people forget what they all look like!

His “card” arrived, now with half a dozen people in the photo.

It did occur to me that we could make an art piece out of all the photos we have collected over the years: family through the ages! Maybe that could start yet another tradition.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Changing times. Problems. Technology. Traditions.

Yesterday we had a brief bright interlude in the winter gloom. For what seems like weeks we have had rain, rain and more rain. Then along came yesterday with blue sky and bright sunshine. Okay. It was intermittent. The wind kept blowing the clouds over but ot was good day to be out and about for a change.

Here’s the village in the morning sunshine yesterday.



And even the heron turned up again.



Other people have more serious stuff to contend with. As we stagger towards some kind of conclusion to the Brexit business, EU citizens here who want to apply for settled status keep finding obstacles in their way. As if there weren’t aleady enough problems, they are faced with things like this, reported by one of the members of the Forum for EU Citizens (The Three Million) on Facebook:

“Just wanted to share an issue regarding the EU Exit: ID Document Check app. I had problem with my Samsung Galaxy S7 which was not recognising the app. The problem was that my Google Play account was made when I was still in Italy over 3 years ago so when I tried to download the EU Exit: ID Document Check, Google Play would not recognise it because my account was still registered in Italy. I haven't yet scanned my documents but I have finally been able to download the app! Thanks to my partner who is a little better at phone technology than I am!
So the app can only be downloaded if your Google Play is registered in the UK and NOT abroad!”

So there is even discrimination in technology. Who knew?

Technology rules increasingly large areas of our lives. I watch young people buying their bus tickets with apps on their phones and paying by card for ridiculously small items such as packets of chewing gum. “By 2026,” I read, “it is predicted cash will be used for just 21% of transactions, according to figures from UK Finance. Although rumours of 1p and 2p coins being phased out is a bit of a stretch, wallets or purses could disappear altogether and be replaced by phone covers, according to (Guardian) money experts. Dutch company Mujjo has just launched its line of iPhone cases with built-in wallets that are selling like hot cakes, it claims. Like Sweden, the Netherlands is virtually cash-free.”

This is reflected in the fashion industry by the trend for handbags to become smaller and smaller, just big enough to carry a mobile phone, a card wallet, a comb, a lipgloss and a set of house keys. It just needs women's to start to have proper pockets and handbags can disappear altogether. I don't think accessories manufacturers will  let THAT happpen.

Will ATMs disappear or become rarer, as bank branches have done already? Stubborn older folk who insist on sticking to the habit of paying in cash will be complaining that not only do they have to travel miles to the nearest branch of their bank, but that the same applies to finding a cash machine. 

Our children used to be amused by the look of pre-decimal coins, not to mention the old system of pounds, shillings and pence. Hoards of youngsters do not recognise an audio cassette if they see one and have no idea what it was used for. The same will soon be true of CDs and DVDs as more and more music and films are downloaded via streaming. Some time in the future, will wallets containing notes of various denominations also be held up as examples of strange artefacts used by previous generations? And will society have occasional breakdowns like the very recent occasion when O2 stopped functioning?

Life is odd!

Here comes a bit about Christmas. Apparently there is a North-South divide about Christmas cake. People who have moved from the North to the South have been amazed to find that southerners regard it as very odd to eat cheese with your Christmas cake. Really?!

“Yorkshire-born food historian Peter Brears traced the combination as far back as Victorian times. In Joseph Lucas’s 1871 book, Studies in Nidderdale – Nidderdale being a rural enclave in the Yorkshire Dales – a passage reads: “On Christmas Eve one Yule cake is given to each member of the family, along with a piece of Christmas cheese. As a rule, part of it is left for Christmas morning, and eaten at the breakfast.”
To some, particularly southerners or others unversed on the matter, this might sound an odd medley. But cheese lends itself to fruit (see: chutney) and back then marzipan and icing, perhaps less satisfactory accompaniments, wouldn’t have featured. Today, the partnership is not confined to Yorkshire alone. At The Courtyard Dairy in Settle, Yorkshire, which first found the passage above, cheese to partner Christmas cake outsells Stilton during December.”

Now, I can understand the nice combination of cheese and Christmas cake - personally, I am partial to a toasted fruit teacake with a slice of cheddar cheese - but I can’t say I recognise it as a specifically Christmas tradition.

So it goes.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Some thoughts on food, demonstrators and reactions to change.

Chestnuts - the food programme on the radio has been going on about them, mostly as an Italian thing and the importance of sweet chestnuts in cooking. What about the magosto, the chestnut festival in mid-November in Spain? Also in Portugal. That’s what I want to know. No mention of it at all.

France was mentioned with the comment that in France they began as a food for the poor. Only later did they become a trendy food item. We discussed this sort of thing during our weekend jaunt. One of our bunch had enjoyed goose barnacles. We have tried them in Galicia where they are harvested in dangerous cliff to sea conditions and sold to restaurants at high prices. Like snails and frogs legs, these must have started as food for those who had nothing else. If you have no food, no crops to harvest, no vegetable plot of your own, you eat whatever nature throws up as a possible source of nutrients. And now those things are sold as gourmet dishes for those who can afford to buy them.

Personally, I think goose barnacles are over-rated. I feel the same about oysters, by the way.

Across the Channel, France sounds as though it is building up to a riotous Christmas. Are we keeping such events at bay by opening more and more food banks? And then there is this sort of thing: “baby banks” providing essentials for mothers, especially very young mothers, who simply cannot afford the stuff they need.

During our free-ranging conversations on Friday evening, one of our group talked about having been involved in presenting an award of some kind to an enterprising young scientist. They were having some problems with student demonstrators who felt that the award should not be given at all as the patrons of the award were connected to someone who had been a prominent Nazi during the Second World War. The patrons found a solution: they went out and addressed the student demonstrators and invited them to come in and join the awards party. The promise of lots of free food took away all their wrath.

It crossed out minds that Monsieur Macron might try to use a similar technique with the gilets jaunes demonstrators. Probably not really feasible.

(Language note: on the BBC radio news earlier today one of their newsreaders pronounced “gilet jaunes” as “gilets jeunes” yellow gilets became young gilets! I thought the BBC had people they paid to prevent this sort of thing. Mind you, they have difficulty differentiating between “wonder” and “wander”, so what hope to we have of their pronouncing foreign words properly.)

Phil took me to task this morning for not mentioning in yesterday’s post that we also visited Manchester Art Gallery, always an enjoyable experience. The member of our group who has been longest away from Manchester did quite a lot of complaining because a fair number of paintings which she remembered from her youth had disappeared. Our oldest granddaughter is only 21 and even she does the same thing; she has favourite paintings which have, presumably, been loaned to other galleries and she is seriously miffed and disgruntled to be unable to locate them.

Most of us are a little reluctant to change. There is something reassuring about continuity. However, our granddaughter is probably an extreme case. She was quite furious years ago when I repainted the front door, changing it from black and white to a fine royal blue. When we replaced the old three piece suite with new furniture she almost refused to visit us. And when we removed the old open fire in the living room and installed a very realistic-looking electric fire she walked into the room, took a look around a declared, in quite furious tones, “Something is very wrong here!”

She seems to have adjusted over time and has no qualms about expecting us to accept that her hair, naturally a light brown colour, changes from pink to purple to blue on a whim.

Finally, here is a picture of Emmeline Pankhurst, a photo-mosaic made up of many photos of women, by an artist called Charlotte Newson. It’s on display in Manchester Town Hall.


Worth seeing in its full glory.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Recapturing our lost youth - sort of!

We have spent a good part of today and all of yesterday evening with a bunch of friends all of whom have known each other for at least 50 years, some for a good deal longer. Every so often we get together and reminisce and set the world to rights.

Last night we went and stuffed our faces with Turkish food at a restaurant in Prestwich, and incidentally drank rather a lot of wine. The food was excellent. The wine was pretty good too. One of our number stood on the table at one point in the evening.

This is the kind of thing that happens when a bunch of baby boomers start recapturing their youth. 

Today we met at around 10:30 am, a remarkably early time for people who had eaten and drunk a lot the night before. Even more remarkable was the fact that we all made it to the meeting point more or less on time.

The original plan had been that we would go for a ride on a steam train from Bury to possibly Ramsbottom. Last year we did the journey from Rawtenstall and a very good time we had too. This year, however, such has seemingly been the success of the Christmas steam train rides that there were no tickets left for today, despite attempts to book a few weeks ago.

And so we had to think again.

A sort of guided reminiscence tour of Manchester city centre was proposed, one of our number having been away from the city for a good while, and was enthusiastically accepted. Half a dozen old age pensioners (a few of Friday night’s revellers had had to set off for home earlier in the morning) rather over-excitedly caught a bus and went and sat upstairs, something unheard of most of the time. Those of our party who reside on Wales or Scotland had a little moan because their Welsh and Scots bus passes are not viable here. But we had the reverse problem when we met in Wales a few weeks back.

We visited the cathedral and admired the stained glass, especially the blitz images. And we appreciated the organ music - a new and expensive organ!

We moved on through the Corn Exchange, now a collection restaurants of a variety of sorts, to the Royal Exchange, for a long time now a theatre, straddling Cross Street and St Ann’s Square. Some of our party spent money in the shops there. Others of us used the loos.

Next stop, St Ann’s Church, third oldest building in Manchester. Very pretty.

We kept losing members of the group as people stopped to admire things, to reminisce, to wander off on their own to find some personal memory. It’s a good job there were only six of us.

We were on the lookout, among other things for St. Mary's church. The Hidden Gem, as it is known, probably because it’s off the beaten track, was founded in 1794 in the centre of what was then, the poorest quarter of Manchester. It is now thought to be the oldest post-Reformation Catholic church founded as a church in any major centre of population in England. The Relief act allowing Catholic churches to be built again as churches was passed in 1791. The building of St. Mary's was begun in 1792. We found it but we didn’t stay long as a service was in progress.

Eventually we reached Albert Square and threaded our way through to St Peter’s Square, stopping en route for refreshments at the cafe in Manchester Central Library, where quite a few of our gang had done revision for A-Level exams in the dim and distant past - the library that is, not the cafe.

And finally we arrived at St Peter’s Square, where we went and looked at the empty spot where next Friday they will unveil a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. By then some of the excursionists were feeling the need to drink beer. Besides, it was starting to rain. So we sought shelter in a local hostelry.

There was a suggestion that we might go on to the cinema later in the afternoon but we were all a little frazzled by then. So four of the gang went off to find food while Phil and I went to the tram-stop and caught the next tram back to Oldham. Another successful jaunt!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Am I the only sane one around? Bits of craziness!

This morning we received two Christmas cards from the same person. Someone has not been keeping track of which people she has sent cards to!! And then there was a card from Phil’s old chess playing mate, Jim. Jim’s is usually the first card we receive each year. This year he was beaten to it by two other friends. Phil recognised the writing on the envelope. What’s more Jim had put his initials and his post code on the back of the envelope. All of this is good as he completely forgot to sign the card. If we were really cynical cheapskates we could re-use that card!

Here is a link to a list of the best Santas in films. Well, it’s someone’s opinion of the best Santas in films. While I find it hard to,imagine Gene Hackman as Father christmas, it has to be accepted that Richard Attenborough makes a very, very good one.

That’s enough Christmas stuff for the time being.

Political correctness continues to be crazy. It seems that vegans are objecting to our using expressions like “bringing home the bacon” and “flogging a dead horse” on the grounds that it trivialises cruelty to animals. They would like us to talk about ‘bringing hime the bagels”. As I eat neither bacons nor bagels, I wonder what I should bring home.

Then there is the case of a chap who was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports because he disclosed that the organisation invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing. Apparently he drew management’s attention to the fact that some of their investments were in such firms and when they did not change their investment policy, he went public. So they sacked him. And now he is claiming to have been discriminated against because he is a vegan.

He says he is an "ethical" vegan. "Some people only eat a vegan diet but they don't care about the environment or the animals, they only care about their health. I care about the animals and the environment and my health and everything. That's why I use this term 'ethical veganism' because for me veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life."

And now a tribunal is to be asked to decide whether veganism is a "philosophical belief" akin to a religion. The League Against Cruel Sports denies the sacking was because of his veganism and says he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Yesterday O2 had a big breakdown and people were left without access to social media. On a more important level, transport systems were also left without the means to announce times of travel and the like. But the social media question threw up funnier stories.

There was a man interviewed on Radio 4 news. He is a you tube star and was protesting, in a rather amusing fashion, that he had had no way to take and post photos of his breakfast. How would his fans know what he ate? There was no way to post videos of what he was doing. Another problem for communicating with his fanbase!! He wanted to go somewhere but could not send for an Uber as the app on his phone was not working. So he set off on foot but soon got lost because the google maps app was not available.

Do people really earn a living this way?

Seemingly so. Earlier this week I came across the story of a small boy who has earned millions doing reviews of toys on you tube. Basically he is filmed playing with toys and the videos are posted.

The world is full of crazy stuff that we could never have imagined fifty years ago! Or even twenty-five years ago for that matter!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Happy Saint Nick’s Day! A bit of pre-Christmas cultural commentary.

Today, December 6th, is the feast of Saint Nicholas.

Of course, here in the UK we ignore it completely, as we do all saints’ days, with the possible exception of Saint Patrick’s day, when masses of people go bonkers, dress in green and get as drunk as possible.

And we must not forget Saint Valentine’s Day, although most people don’t associate it with a saint and just call it Valentine’s Day, sometimes without the apostrophe. Nowadays the anonymous aspect of Valentine’s Day (Valentines’ Day) has largely been forgotten. Nobody sends anonymous valentines (no capital letter, as you have no doubt spotted) but lots of people expect to receive cards and expensive and romantic gifts from their acknowledged partner in life, be it boyfriend/girlfriend, fiancé(e) or spouse.

But other saints are mostly ignored, probably because of good old Henry VIII declaring us all Anglicans and therefore having no truck with papist traditions such as saints’ days.

Be that as it may, today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas. In other parts of the world the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day is an important part of the run-up to Christmas.

In Germany, it’s traditional to leave out your slippers on the evening of the 5th December and, if you’ve been good, “der Heilige Nikolaus“ will visit and pop some treats in them for you. Some children leave boots out and receive small toys. In some parts of the country Saint Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus, a devil-like creature who decides whether or not children have been good. 

According to the Dutch, Sinterklass lives in Madrid, Spain, (probably warmer than the North Pole, although in winter I’m not so sure) and travels to the Netherlands by boat. He is accompanied by his servants, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters) who, like Krampus, have kept a record of children’s behaviour over the year.

Sometimes children are told that the Zwarte Pieten keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas, but bad children will be put in a sack and the Zwarte Pieten take them to Spain for a year to teach then how to behave! How to traumatise your children! Or give them an opportunity to become fluent in Spanish!

Mostly, however, it’s a matter of a parade through the town and lots of sweets being distributed. Obviously this is to punish the parents as the children will all get a sugar high and refuse to go to bed!

In France Saint Nick is accompanied le Père Fouettard, a chap with a whip who punishes bad children, or leaves them lumps of coal instead of treats. One explanatory story goes that three children wandered away and got lost. A butcher lured them into his shop where he killed them and salted them away in a large tub. According to legend, St. Nicholas revived the boys and brought them home to their families. The butcher became le Père Fouettard and now works for Saint Nick, delivering lumps of coal and occasional whippings!

There seems to be a bit of a judgemental theme here. And I thought it was the Protestants who were supposed to be puritanical!

In Greece (as well as Albania, Serbia, and Bulgaria), St. Nicholas’ day is known as Shen’Kolli i Dimnit (Saint Nicholas of Winter). In these cultures, this day is one of fasting, not gift giving. In fact, on this day, most people abstain from meat or fast completely or prepare a feast to eat just after midnight. That all sounds a lot more serious!

The real man behind the fictitious modern day Santa Claus was apparently St. Nicholas of Myra. Born in 280 A.D. in Asia Minor, he lost his parents at an early age, though they left him great wealth when they died. He was known for giving anonymous gifts to help those in need and was eventually made a bishop. And so a legend was created.

And no doubt it got all mixed up with all sorts of older traditions and possible pagan celebrations.

All of that nowadays, cynics might say, has become a great feast of consumerism!

Time to go out and buy some more presents!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Winter madness!

Today we received our first Christmas card of 2018 through the post.

The pub next door has a fine Christmas display around its fish pond : sparkling snowflakes, a couple of blobby-looking what must be polar bear cubs as they are smaller than the reindeer, and a sparkling snowman.

A couple of houses up the road are festooned with lurid blue lights, a disturbing choice for Christmas decorations but that’s the modern world for you.

And while I waited for a bus this morning somebody asked me if I have put my tree up yet.

It’s December 5th!

There are still a few weeks to go until Christmas!

I have just about got round to buying some cards and making lists of possible presents for people. And my tree never goes up this early!

I was actually hoping to recycle last year’s tree. It was a living tree in a plant pot, a bit on the small side perhaps but that is no bad thing. Those huge trees take up far too much room in an ordinary household, in my opinion.

All over the Christmas period we kept it watered. It did not shed many pine needles, which is always a good sign. After the festivities were over we put the tree in the garden, in a spot where it was quite sheltered and not likely to be blown over during whatever named storms came along.

And it seemed to thrive.

And then came summer 2018!

Need I say more?

We now have a tree skeleton. Absolutely no use to us although maybe we could sell it to Melania Trump. I hear she likes to make strange and unusual Christmas tree displays.

The upshot of it all is that I need to acquire a tree for this year.

More importantly, I probably need to acquire a new oven before Christmas is fully upon us. I have perhaps mentioned before that it has become temperamental and needs sweet-talking to switch on. I have visions of Christmas dinner ready to go into the oven and the oven pouting and folding its arms and saying: NO WAY!!

In the meantime people might be dreaming of a white Christmas but I am visualising a very wet one.

On Wednesdays I usually get up and run to the market in Uppermill. Today, however, it was pouring with rain and besides we were expecting delivery of a new laptop, or at least notification of a more precise delivery time than “between 8:00 and 18:00”. And as I am the only one in the house who can manage to get up before 8:00, there I was, having breakfast and waiting for further news.

Eventually an email arrived specifying delivery between 14:35 and 1:35. The rain had reduced from torrential to steady and so I donned a waterproof coat and set off walking. Of course, I miscalculated how much stuff I was going to buy, or at any rate how heavy the stuff was going to be. As I stood in the chemist, my final stop, I checked the time and decided I was just in time for the next bus home, due at 11:04. Sometimes my timing is immaculate.

At the stop I met a near neighbour, the one who then asked if I had put my tree up yet, who assured me that the bus had not yet come and gone. An elderly lady (i.e. rather older than I am) told us she had been waiting since 10:30!

So we waited.

And we waited!

And we waited!

Finally a bus turned up, on time as it was due at 11:34!! The poor driver was heartily sick of being asked if he knew what had happened to the bus before his. Vanished into thin air obviously!

Despite the rain, I am still seeing men in shorts on a regular basis. There were a few wandering around the market. Yesterday I saw some in central Manchester. It used to be that at this time of year you only saw postmen in shorts, their excuse being that they walk around so much they keep warm. And besides, wet legs are easier to cope with than wet trousers. But now you see ordinary non-postmen walking around in shorts. And it’s not confined to the younger generation either. I frequently see men of the baby-boomer generation showing off their calf muscles to the world. Neither are they all obviously on their way to or from the gym. They are just going about their everyday business in shorts.

Is this the latest thing macho-chic? Or is it that most of these shorts have those big side pockets, cargo-pants style? Another of life’s mysteries!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Things I am thinking about.

On this rather foggy Tuesday morning, two things strike me from reading the papers: continued inequality and the uncertainty of our future.

Firt of all, inequality.  Why do actors get paid more than actresses? Why do sportsmen get paid more than sportswomen?

Georgia Hall, a golfer who won the Women’s Open Golf Championship, said, “It’s getting better but it could do with more [equality]. On the LPGA our prize money’s going up every year but I don’t think it’ll ever be the same. What I won at the British Open is great but look at what the male winner gets. It’s roughly a million more than me.”

Women’s sport in general gets less attention than men’s. Some might say it’s because men take more interest in sport than women. This might be true. Others might say that it’s because women have better things to do than watch sport. This also might be true. Yet others might say that it’s because of the traditional role of women giving them less time to take a big interest in sport. This too might be true.

And then there is the fact that men and women do not compete against each other in sports, simply because of the difference in physical strength.

In many professions women start off with the same salary as men but when promotions and progress are taken into account the average wage for women soon falls behind.

It’s one of the facts of the still male-dominated world. Whenever George and Amal Clooney appear, much is made of his being an actor and much is made of her being beautiful but not so much about her being an International civil rights lawyer and activist. Surely that’s a more important career than acting!

Anyway, getting back to sport, you have to be pretty dedicated and have very supportive parents to get on in whatever sport it is - and probably a fair amount of luck! This is what Georgia Hall had to say:-

“I did cross-country and football and I was in the boys’ cricket team. I was the only girl. I was a pretty good batsman because I would swing my bat like a golf club. I used to really whack it. I didn’t know it at the time but it was tough for my parents. They didn’t tell me this until a few years ago. But they always had to sell some things for me to have enough money for golf lessons and tournaments. We lived quite far down south and so dad would drive me for four hours to get to a two-hour lesson and then drive me back – on top of working.

What I won at the British Open is great but look at what the male winner gets. It’s roughly a million more than me. “Golf is one of the most expensive sports you can play. You need to pay a lot to join a club, you need golf clubs, all the equipment, lessons. It was hard and I missed three majors I’d qualified for because of a lack of funds. I was in the top three in the world as an amateur but we couldn’t afford to get to me there. I could only get to the British Open.”

So it goes. But she was fortunate. Not everyone gets to make a living doing something they really love.

Meanwhile the Brexit vote creeps up on us. Debate continues about what can and cannot be done.

Today’s newspaper tells me this:-

“The UK can unilaterally abandon the article 50 process, a senior adviser to the European court of justice (ECJ) has said, in a significant boost to anti-Brexit campaigners. Campos Sánchez-Bordona, the court’s advocate general, said he believed EU law allowed a country to revoke article 50 – the provision of the Lisbon treaty invoked by the UK to give two years’ notice that it intended to leave the union – without requiring the formal agreement of the European commission or other EU member states.

In his formal opinion, Sánchez-Bordona said it was essential MPs knew they could stop the Brexit process, dismissing the UK government’s claims the issue was hypothetical. The UK government and European commission had insisted the Brexit process could be stopped only by unanimous agreement, even though EU treaties were silent on how an article 50 application could be withdrawn.”

We shall see!