Sunday, 22 September 2019

The aftermath of the party. Decision making ideas.

In contrast to yesterday, when I ran in brilliant sunshine and under a clear blue sky, today I ran in the rain. I was not surprised. After all, the weathermen had promised us rain - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and goodness knows how many days after that - and besides I had heard it pounding down in the early hours of the morning.

At the cricket club they were dismantling the fencing that had prevented people from just climbing the low wall into the ground for the Party in the Park. Perish the thought that people should get in for free! I saw a lorry set off with a deflated bouncy castle loaded on the flatbed. There was surprisingly little litter on the road outside the cricket ground, far less than when there is a cricket match. On those occasions it is no surprise to find abandoned mobile min-barbecues! But for the Party in the Park either they had efficient litter-pickers or it was all contained within the enclosure.

There were, however, vast numbers of cars parked on the grass verge where I wanted to run. And they went on well beyond the road where I turn off to the left. Surely some of them must have been almost i Marsden! I doubt that all of them were from people helping to tidy up as there were few people on evidence. So were they all cars in which people had driven to the event yesterday. Had the drivers sensibly decided they had imbibed too much and abandoned their vehicles, setting off to walk home? If that was the case, if they lived close enough to walk home, why had they not walked to the venue in the first place?

As I completed my running circuit, approaching the house from the other direction, I spotted what was clearly car debris on the road not far from our house - bits of a bumper, a number plate, other odd metallic bits and pieces. In front of the debris was a large vehicle, a Land Rover Freelander I think, with a dent in its rear wing. In front of that was a small silver Nissan, possibly belonging to our next door neighbours. This car has a fine dent in the rear, looking remarkably as though the Freelander had rear-ended it. Thinking back I remembered waking in the wee small hours, probably around 1.30am, to the sound of a “crump!”, followed by a car alarm, a short-lived car alarm. So the evidence suggests that someone did a bit of car-crashing in our street last night. When I see the next-door-but-one neighbour she will no doubt fill me in on all the details, as she is always well-informed! I am quite pleased that we do not have a car as it would almost certainly have been larked in the same row of vehicles.

At the other end of the country the Labour Party conference has been going on apace. Promises abound - free prescriptions for all, replacing Ofsted with some superior form of inspection for schools - but Brexit is still a bone of contention. And members of the party still fall out with each other. Life is hard for politicians these days! All that decision-making!

 I was reading about a baby called Anoush, whose parents have decided to raise their offspring gender-free. The child can decide for itself, when it reaches the age of reason or when the parents decide it is old enough, whether it is male or female. I refuse to use the pronoun “they” for this child and so will stick resolutely to “it”. Presumably the parents have registered the child and must have had to put a gender on the birth certificate but they are not revealing that gender to anyone. One of its grandmothers found out when she changed a nappy. I assume that she has been sworn to secrecy. What about the midwives and health visitors from early stages of Anoush’s little life? Also sworn to secrecy? Anoush’s parents, John and the unlikely named Hobbit, live on a houseboat so, I were them, I might be more worried as Anoush finds its feet about it falling overboard.

But that’s just me.

I can understand the opposition to gender-stereotyping but there are ways to deal with it. Our three year old granddaughter alternates between playing with cars and playing with her dolls’ house. And I know about baby-led weaning, where the child more or less decides which of the foods offered are to its liking. But baby-led gender is perhaps a step too far. I should have thought childrearing was complicated enough without adding extra problems along the way.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Festivals - of one kind or another. Sunshine. Some odd facts. Spiders. Dealing with anxiety.

Today is the day! The day of Delph’s “Party in the Park”. Well, really it should be “Party on the Cricket Pitch” but I suppose that lacks a certain cachet. It’s organised by the “Wake Up Delph Committee”. Tribute bands, such as a Blondie sound and look-alike, are booked months in advance. The wicket is covered up. A stage is set up. Stalls and children’s rides are erected and all the parking spaces in the neighbourhood are filled up for the day.

This is the umpteenth Party in Park and today must be the first time in ages that they have had a brilliantly sunny day for it. As a rule it is damp and drizzly, as it usually is the Band Contest in June. So hooray for a bit of sunshine! Tomorrow it is forecast to rain.

I am not attending the Party in the Park. Instead I have been for a long walk, taking in some fine canal towpaths and a visit to Tesco. I caught the bus back. One lady on the bus asked the driver if he stopped at Delph Station. He was nonplussed. So we had to explain to him that there used to be a railway. Long ago, with a station at Delph Crossroads. All that remains now is the station building, now a private house, complete with platform and a few notices. The line itself is now a bridle path, the Delph Donkey, much walked by yours truly!

Today I have added to my collection of silly names. There is a comedienne I have never heard of called London Hughes and a model who goes by the name of Seashell Coker, surely a professional name if ever there was one.

And here are some odd facts and figures. It seems there are 14,456 centenarians in Italy, 1,102 over 105 years old and 21 over 110. The city of Genoa alone has 288 centenarians. What is the cause of such longevity? Diet? Lifestyle? Who knows?

We have been watching “Peaky Blinders”, the series about a Birmingham gang and their exploits. Consequently we now address each other in bad Brummie accents. Everyone wants a bit of Peaky Blinders- Brad Pitt would like a role! You can download a podcast, if the series itself is not enough for you. And there has been a festival going on in Digbeth, Birmingham - the Legitimate Peaky Blinders. Thousands of people got dressed up in period attire in tribute to their favourite characters. Amazing!

It’s spider season, spider-mating season I am told. I keep catching them and throwing them into the garden of the pub next door. A young friend of mine posted this about spiders on Facebook: “Wish people would stop posting pictures of spiders suffering from arachnophobia after finding one in our flat, last thing I want to see scrolling through Facebook, thanks lol.”

Either she cannot write in proper sentences - which is probably the case, despite my best efforts to teach her to do when she was one of my A-Level French students - or she has discovered that some spiders are afraid of themselves.

If so, said spiders should try conscious, connected breathing. Don’t hold your breath. See below!

If you thought you knew how to breathe, think again. 2,000 people recently attended a breathing workshop run by the “Breath Guy”, aka Richie Bostock, someone who must be doing quite nicely going to festivals and being paid to teach people to breathe. They even have workshops in the House of Commons. The head of the International Breathwork Foundation (yes, that is actually a thing) says, “Conscious, connected breathing is now reaching the world. People are always seeking to find happiness, joy, real love and to be healthy.”

It’s been around for a while apparently. Someone called Hannah Goodman trained as a breathwork facilitator four years ago. “We’ve known about the benefits of conscious breathing, mindfulness and meditation for a long time but we haven’t implemented them,” she says. It’s said to be good to help deal with stress, anxiety, addiction and other health problems.

I think my mother knew about it as she would often remind us to “take a deep breath”.

John Crace, he of the Digested Week in Saturday”’s Guardian should perhaps try it. He writes, “Brexit is definitely doing nothing for my mental health. I feel depressed and my anxiety levels are sky high. I wake up in the morning with a sense of dread - it often takes a huge effort just to get out of bed - and I feel out of control most of the day.”

That probably applies to most of us. Especially arachnophobic spiders!

Friday, 20 September 2019

On decluttering! And photos!

Every so often I half-heartedly start to sort through stuff.

On the one hand there’s that Marie Kondo telling us to declutter, to get rid of anything that does not bring you joy. Well, the dustbin doesn’t exactly bring me joy but I don’t think I should get rid of it. However, it does work with the clothes and I now have a bag of stuff to go to the charity shop.

And then, on the other hand there are those earnest programmes on the radio where they go on about the difficulty of sorting out your deceased parents’ belongings. And I think that maybe I should reduce the stuff that the offspring might eventually have to deal with. I remember my mother going through stacks of photos when she was seriously bed-bound and feeling she didn’t have much time left. She distributed the photos among the four siblings, thus adding to our clutter!

Anyway, yesterday evening I did sort some stuff and I threw out a modicum but I also found a range of photos, photos that have been taken out of albums for one reason or another and never put back in their proper place. So that’s another job lined up for me: get out the old albums and see whether I can put any of the strays back in place.

But the whole business got me thinking about photos. I swear that our new grandson in his, what?, eleven days on the planet has been more photographed than I was through umpteen years of my childhood. Mind you, part of the reason for that is my elder sister having got hold of the camera when she was about four years old. My parents had one of those old box-brownies and whenever they took a picture they would tell us to watch the birdie, so when my sister got her hands on the gadget she began looking for the well-hidden birdie. That was the end of the camera!

But even when it was replaced, it was only used on special occasions and on holidays. Which in our case, as we lived in a seaside town, meant when the Yorkshire relatives came to stay. But there is something about actual printed photos, whether in an album or stuffed into shoe boxes and put away in a drawer. They are a tangible reminder of stuff that went on, as I said usually on memorable occasions.

But nowadays we point and click at every opportunity. I do it myself. This morning on my run I stopped to take photos of spiderwebs and of the local heron - he must love me as I managed to frighten him into flight at least three times before he finally settles on the other side of the millpond. And I post a lot of them on Facebook. Indeed, I have a friend who says she looks forward to my almost daily updates - they remind her that there is life after teaching!

I don’t do selfies though and I don’t do Instagram. I’ve not quite sussed that out. Do the photos posted on Instagram disappear into the ether after a while? If so, what is the point? And so I also find myself wondering about all the masses of photos taken on mobile phones, the photos documenting children’s progress through life, all the milestones they reach. I know they are stored on the mysterious “cloud” but does anyone go up there and look at them? And what about children looking back at their baby photos? I know that our three year year old granddaughter can very ably swipe through photos on my iPad or on my phone but it’s still not quite the same as looking through an album.

Then last night on the television news they interviewed the McCartneys - Paul and his daughters Stella and Mary - because they have just had published a collection of Linda McCartney’s family photos. There are photos of family members doing family things, shots of the cottage they lived in up at Mull of Kintyre, of horses, of Paul cleaning his teeth. Many of them are polaroid pictures as apparently Linda was always taking instant pictures.

(Our daughter had a polaroid camera, briefly, in her mid-teens. It was a requested birthday gift and she was very pleased with it. Unfortunately it was short-lived as she took it out on one of her rambles with friends. A careless friend dropped it down a hillside and it crashed into a rock. Another camera bit the dust!)

No doubt McCartney fans will go out and buy the book even though really those photos are of most interest to the family. But at least the McCartneys now have a lasting record of those family moments. I found myself quite inspired. I should go through all my photos and make a similar family memory book. There are computer programmes that will do this for you, provided I can digitise all the photos. But then I can give both offspring a copy and throw all the old photos out.

All I need to do is organise myself!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Seasonal nonsense.

A friend of mine, a retired English teacher so he should know a thing or two about matters literary, tells me that 200 years ago today John Keats wrote his Ode to Autumn. Apparently he, Keats that is, not my friend, wrote to a friend a couple of days later about a splendid walk he had taken and how it had inspired him to write his famous poem. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that sort of thing. Time was I could recite the whole poem from memory!

I guess John Keats must have been walking about in the kind of weather we have had over the last few days. It’s nice to get some good September weather. This morning fulfilled the “season of mists” criterion; everywhere around here was shrouded in mist, just a little damp and chilly for my morning run. By late morning, however, the sky was uniformly blue, not a cloud in sight, and the sun was shining nicely. I may need to go and forage some of that “mellow fruitfulness”, otherwise known as blackberries, once again.

The fine weather has inspired us to go out walking up the quarry road, as we call Lark Hill, not far from our house. It’s quite a steep walk in the early stages, up a road where you need to watch your footing as so much of the soil between the old stone surface has been washed away by heavy rains at regular intervals. It’s got so bad that I wouldn’t even like to tempt it in a four-wheel drive vehicle these days.

When we had got to the flatter stages up at the top of the hill, heading gently towards Dobcross village, we spotted a lady walking a couple of dogs. As we got closer, she and I said in unison, “Oh, I didn’t realise it was you until we got close.”

This lady used to be the librarian in our village library, now manned by volunteers in an attempt to prevent complete closure. But I knew her because I had taught both her daughters in the early days of my teaching career. Now, that is going back rather a long way.

And we swopped family news without making any reference to the nonsense going on with certain politicians at the moment.

There’s the nonsense of Boris Johnson being challenged during a hospital photo opportunity by the angry parent of a young patient. The father was outraged by the lack of provision in the hospital and was clearly annoyed at the PM creating a press opportunity. In a supreme moment of daftness, Mr Johnson declared that there were no press present, this despite the photographers and cameramen all around. Perhaps in his mind the fact that reporters were not asking questions meant that the press were not there. I bet photojournalists feel a bit miffed by that idea.

Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political person, tweeted later that it “turns out the man who challenged the PM is also a Labour activist”. As if that somehow undermined his parental indignation! A doctor tweeted back nicely, “Thanks Laura, next time any patient gets substandard care I’ll make sure to check their political affiliation I listen to their concerns.”

On the other side of the world, President Trump complained about the presence of homeless people while speaking to reporters on Tuesday, saying they live in “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” where people “pay tremendous taxes”.
He said LA and San Francisco “destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening” and that some residents want to move away because of tent encampments. I wonder if it has ever occurred to him to use some of those “tremendous taxes” to help solve the problem of homelessness, a problem that is increasing all over the world.

This morning I read something in he Washington Post that said that POTUS has made 10,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office. Of course, this is probably not deliberate lying, just the result of opening his mouth before his brain was switched on.

Meanwhile, over in France, I hear that thieves have broken into Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau where they tied up the owners and escaped with €2million worth of jewels and cash.
The 80 odd year old owners were not harmed. Very good. But imagine having €2million worth of jewels and cash in your home. Surely by their age they should have realised it was a good idea to put some of it in the bank.

 On a linguistic point I was a little miffed to see Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau described as “one of France’s most opulent chateaus”. Not that I am questioning the opulence. I was just surprised by that plural, which surely should be “chateaux”. So I went and looked it up and found that ”chateaus” is a perfectly acceptable English plural.

Not for me, it isn’t!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Christmas is coming ... already!

It’s mid-September. ONLY mid-September. Yesterday I saw mince pies on sale in the local co-op store. In fact, two weeks ago I saw mince pies on sale in one if the big supermarkets, probably Sainsbury’s. But somehow I expect our local co-op to be a little more restrained. And since Hallowe’en appears to have become an acknowledged public festivity, maybe we should get Hallowe’en out of the way before we start selling Christmas stuff.

When I commented yesterday in the co-op that we are still a long way off Christmas, another customer replied with his opinion that mince pies can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Well, no, not really, it seems to me. Some things need to be saved for special occasions.  Hot cross buns all year round I heartily agree with as hot cross buns are really just extra-nice fruit teacakes. But mince pies are rather more in the realm of fancy cakes. That’s my view anyway! Eating them all year round would be like having birthday cake all year round.

Christmas has been in the news in the Netherlands as well, every year they have a Saint Nicholas parade in Apeldoorn on November 16th, which also, by the way, is a little early in my opinion. But it’s not the timing that is in the news but the characters who make up the televised parade. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a group of people dressed up as the Swarte Piets, or Black Petes. The Swarte Piets are traditionally white people in blackface make-up.

Inevitably anti-racist protesters have been complaining for a good while that this is a reference to slavery. And it has to be said that in photos they do have a look of the Black and White Minstrels. See the picture in this link. Some of the protests have been violent.

Defenders of the Swarte Piets say that this is not a case of racism but that the Piets have sooty faces because they accompany Sinterclaas down the chimneys to help deliver gifts to all and sundry. So anyway this year a decision has been taken and the Swarte Piets will not have blackface make-up but sooty faces.

“Today is a beautiful, historic day,” said Jerry Afriyie of Kick Out Zwarte Piet, who has been campaigning against Zwarte Piet since 2008. “This is a victory for everyone who strives for an inclusive parade that will delight all children. We want the tradition to continue for thousands of years – but adapted to the times.”

A happy ending of sorts.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A new age nonsense rant.

For quite a lot of people Madagascar is a cute animated film about a bunch of animals made in 2005. Many of them have no idea where Madagascar is. In the case of small children this is understandable as they probably think it is another made-up place like Arandelle in that other cute animated film, Frozen. And even many of the adults who know that it is the fourth largest island in the world, located off the east coast of Africa possibly think of it only as an interesting tourist destination with lots of unusual flora and fauna.

It’s also the source of a lot of crystals, rose quartz and the like, which are believed by a surprisingly large number of people to have healing qualities. The reasoning seems to go that if contact with uranium can make you seriously ill then contact with other substances can heal you. I have a few friends who are logical and intelligent in all sorts of areas of their life but who maintain this belief in the benefits of having crystals around you. Which is fine. If you want to believe that a highly polished piece of mineral is going to improve your life, then that is your privileged right. You could put the money you spend on crystals towards helping the homeless, for example, but that’s another matter.

The fact is that in Madagascar a large percentage of the crystals are hacked out of the ground by people who are paid a pittance to do so. As well as risking being crushed under landslides when the unstable ground gets wet, they breathe in mineral dust which causes silicosis and lung cancer. It puts your complaints about working conditions into perspective, doesn’t it?

Some of those pulling crystal hunks from the ground are the age of my 14-year-old grandson or younger. My grandson spends his spare time playing games on his X-box. The difference even a small amount of privilege makes!

And a crystal worth a few cents at the point of being pulled from the earth, goes up and up in value as  it is polished and cleverly marketed. For far away from the crystal mines people use the crystals to sort their life out. As Kim Kardashian was recovering from her robbery at gunpoint in 2016, she embraced healing crystals. The model Miranda Kerr has said that she filters all her skincare products through rose quartz “to give the vibration of self-love”. At least Kim Kardashian still had funds to buy expensive healing crystals. And quite how you filter your skincare products through rose quartz remains one of life’s mysteries to me.

Some of the people selling crystal products do have a conscience and want their crystals to be ethically-sourced. Julia Schoen, for example, of the crystal drink bottle company Glacce, apparently regards ethical sourcing as “the No 1 priority” but I wonder how aware she is of the child labour involved in obtaining the crystals which will be “blessed” by her staff who burn sage smudge sticks over them and pray to cleanse them before using them. It’s a lot easier to get into the hocus pocus than into checking the validity of assurances that nobody was exploited.

So think about it if you feel a piece of polished crystal calling you to purchase it or if you are tempted to buy a water bottle or a metal straw embedded with rose quartz, amethyst and other crystals, which are supposed to transform ordinary water into a “crystal elixir”, where the water takes on the healing properties of the crystal!

One of the crystal sellers in he USA interviewed for this article  expressed the belief that the circumstances of miners in Madagascar, “makes the pieces a lot more special. Because I know some person in a little baby hut was actually polishing it by hand, and they’re setting their intentions into it, too. People’s intentions and people’s energy are put into the stones as they’re producing it.”
“So the circumstances they’re mined in, they are embedded into the stone somehow?” the journalist asked.
“I think so. A little bit, it has to be. It has to be.”

There’s a hint of magic realism about this, rather like in Laura Esquivel’s novel “Like Water for Chocolate” where the emotions of the cook get into the food prepared - food prepared with love tastes better, we all know that! And suffering makes the crystal more powerful?

Monday, 16 September 2019

Crazy birds and crazy people.

I know a lot of people who cannot abide magpies. There are, it has to be acknowledged, far more of them these days than I ever remember seeing as a child. I swear that around here they are almost as numerous as the rooks. And they always sound extremely quarrelsome. The rooks are just raucous but the magpies sound as though they are having a serious argument about something.

I am amused to see them, along with the rooks, try to balance on the bird feeder in a neighbour’s garden, a feeder intended for small birds such as blue tits, the kind that are good at hanging upside down! I find magpies quite impressive to look at, however, when they are not being stupid and trying to be small acrobatic birds.

Some people though complain that they have become too numerous and have frightened off other garden birds. This may be the case. And I know that they can be quite aggressive at times, stealing fledgelings from other smaller birds’ nest. But that’s the way nature is, red in tooth and claw and all that sort of stuff. There are people who set traps for them, which seems to me to be a bit extreme, especially as you them have to remove them from the traps and wring their necks - human being red in tooth and claw!

Anyway, I found this Australian magpie story in today’s paper:

“A man has died of head injuries after he was startled by a magpie and crashed his bicycle in Wollongong. The 76-year-old was riding a pushbike on an off-road path alongside Nicholson Park at Woonona on Sunday morning when he veered off to avoid a swooping magpie, witnesses reported.

He hit a fence post and was thrown to the ground, suffering serious head injuries. He was airlifted to St George hospital in a critical condition and died in the evening.

Australia is entering prime magpie swooping season with the onset of spring, as the birds target cyclists and pedestrians who venture near their nests. This month a Sydney council shot dead a “particularly aggressive magpie” that had allegedly swooped and injured people over several years, including one case in which a victim had a heart attack.”

I don’t know! Those Australians! Having to have a more extreme version of our birds.

Having said that I have heard of seagulls attacking people who get too close to their nests when eggs are hatching. Not to mention the ones that swoop down and steal your chips at the seaside or try to take you tapas off your table on the terraza of Spanish cafes.

The Americans also like to do things in a spectacular way. In a place called Germantown in Tennessee on September 11th, which the Americans write as 9/11, at 9.11 in the morning a baby girl was born, weighing in at 9lb 11oz. 9. 11 at 9.11 on 9/11 - coinciding with commemorations of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

They have named her Christina and her parents promise to explain the significance of her birth details when she is old enough to understand. “Christina is a little miracle during such a sad time. She is a new life amongst the devastation and destruction,” mother-of-four Cametrione Malone-Brown said. 

I found myself reflecting on the sheer size of the baby! I know they say each baby you have is bigger than the one before. So I think that Cametrione Malone-Brown, mother of four, should call it a day now. Goodness knows what size the next one would be.

Here’s another American story:- It is reported that the incidence of swearing by US politicians on Twitter has increased tenfold since Trump was elected. Members of Congress have seemingly said “fuck”, “shit”, “bitch” and “asshole” nearly 1900 times this year compared with a mere 193 times in 2016.

I am not entirely sure that we can blame it all on POTUS however. It seems to me that people are more ready to use coarse and aggressive language, just as they are more ready to be physically abusive and aggressive, than ever they used to be.

Another factor to take into account is that Members of Congress are probably using Twitter more than they did before. Not only do they have a president who appears to govern via social media but it seems to be de rigueur to have a social media presence. Anyone who is anyone tweets and twitters.

By that rule, I am no-one.

Then there is Lisa Bloom, lawyer, who was hired by Harvey Weinstein for $895 an hour to help him whitewash his reputation when accusations against him started to surface. She advised him on tactics to “shut down” the accusations, how to appear publicly repentant, to do things like pledge a $5m scholarship fund for female film makers at the University of Southern California. Wow, she was a women’s advocate as well!

She has since said her involvement was a “colossal mistake” but maybe she was just swept away by the colossal fees involved!

The French might win today’s prize for odd stories though. A Frenchman recently died from a heart attack after having adulterous sex during a work trip. A French court has ruled that his death was a “workplace accident”. His employers argued that the man interrupted work for the rendezvous but the court decided that sex was part of everyday life , “like having a shower or a meal”. Perhaps more importantly, the worker’s family would receive a better pension and other help.

 Only in France!

I was going to express my relief at being British and not being odd at all but then I remembered that we are going through the continuing nonsense that is Brexit. Living in our current mad glasshouse we have no right to throw stones at anyone else.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Well-dressing and golden toilets. Art forms of one kind and another and a bit of foraging in between.

"Well dressing, also known as well flowering, is a tradition practised in some parts of rural England in which wells, springs and other water sources are decorated with designs created from flower petals. The custom is most closely associated with the Peak District of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

The custom of well dressing in its present form probably began in the late 18th century, and evolved from "the more widespread, but less picturesque" decoration of wells with ribbons and simple floral garlands. The custom waxed and waned over the years, but has seen revivals in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, South Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Kent.

Wooden frames are constructed and covered with clay, mixed with water and salt. A design is sketched on paper, often of a religious theme, and this is traced onto the clay. The picture is then filled in with natural materials, predominantly flower petals and mosses, but also beans, seeds and small cones. Each group uses its own technique, with some areas mandating that only natural materials be used while others feel free to use modern materials to simplify production."

The above information comes from Wikipedia.

Yesterday this appeared in our village, which was once part of Yorkshire.

An explanatory notice reads, “Whilst we are certain there was once a well in the village we have been unable to track down its exact location. Although there are a number of natural springs around Delph, these are in remote areas or on private land so it was decided to site the tableau near the river in a place accessible to the public.”

This is the second year a well-dressing tableau has been erected. Last year it was dedicated to the suffragettes. This year it remembers the Peterloo massacre.

I spotted the tableau as I ran through the village in the morning.

On my run I also spotted a large number of wild blackberries. So later in the day, which had turned out to be fine and sunny, it was a toss-up between doing some gardening or going foraging. Foraging won and very successful foraging it was.

And, of course, the foraging led to the creation of apple and blackberry pies.

Recently I read that Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire was displaying a solid gold toilet as part of a contemporary art exhibition. The public could pay to use the luxury facility but the time they could spend in there was strictly limited - time for number 1 but not a number 2, as we might have said in our childhood.

And now the golden loo, valued at £1m, has been stolen. Someone broke in on Saturday morning early and unplumbed it and took it away. Inevitably this led to some flooding in Blenheim Palace. 

Blenheim palace is the ancestral seat of the Duke of Marlborough. Ahead of the toilet’s installation, the duke’s half-brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation, said last month the lavatory wouldn’t be “the easiest thing to nick”. “Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate,” he told the Times. “So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”

Oh dear! A bit of a mistake there.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Finding craziness everywhere!

Escaping from the political craziness that is going on around us all, I have found some more odd things to rabbit on about.

Tim Dowling’s column in the Saturday Guardian impressed me first of all. His wife discusses house rules with their-returned-from university son, stuff like paying rent (now that he has a job) and keeping the kitchen clean. She finishes up with, “Lastly, I need to know if you’re going to be here for supper,” she says, “Everyday, by 5pm yes or no.” At first I thought she meant they were eating at 5pm but then I realised it was just notification she wanted by that time. But still, “supper”?

I have just about accepted that effete southerners have “lunch” and “dinner” rather than a good northern “dinner” and “tea”. But “supper” at 6 or 7 or even 8 in the evening is a step too far. In our house when I was growing up “supper” was a cup of horlicks or hot chocolate and a slice of toast or a bun before you went to bed. What are things coming to?

Katherine Hamnett, fashion designer was the subjcet the Q&A feature. Two of the regular questions struck me, or rather her answers struck me.When were you happiest? Camping with my parents in the South of France. We went every year with the beautiful bell tent they made on a sewing machine.” If you could edit your past, what would you change? Boarding school. It was horrible.

Maybe they had time to sew a beautiful bell tent because they sent her to boarding school. Of course, maybe her parent’s facility with the sewing machine influenced her choice of career later in life.

Then there is the cat hotel with rooms from £20 a night. The owner of a persian chinchilla cat, which has stayed there 5 times in the past year, using the hotel’s £4 per mile chauffeur service to get there tells us:

“She listens to Andrea Bocelli during the journey. She melts when he sings and it keeps her calm. Once she’s there, I can log into the hotel’s CCTV and see that she’s treated exactly as she would at home: like royalty. She always comes back perfectly groomed and rested.”

Cats watch cat-and-mice DVDs, “enjoy” reiki therapy and being read to. Some owners organise their own holidays around availability of rooms for their cats in the cat hotel.

It’s not just pet hotels that are part of this craziness.

Ikea’s pet range includes a sofa bed that extends for “puppy sleepovers”. Sleepovers for children are bad enough, surely! But, puppy sleepovers? Who invented them?

On Amazon, sales of memory foam pet beds are up 107% year on year, while doggy beer and rosé gift sets are up 260%. Beer and wine for dogs?

There are doggy cinemas.“I like to take them to different places for mental stimulation - I perish the thought that they would ever be bored,” says one crazy dog owner. Who by the way seems not to have understood how to use the expression “perish the thought”.

And the trend for doggy clothing extends to dressing-up costumes.

Back to the cat hotel: “One couple recently ordered their cat, and all 14 cat guests staying in the hotel at the time, a premium à la carte dish: the prawn and crayfish tian. Because it was what they served their (human) wedding guests. They all got to celebrate too,” said the hotel owner.

Now, I willingly admit that I am really, seriously not an animal person. I would never hurt one, I hasten to add, and I can grow quite fond, well, a little tiny bit fond, of other people’s pets but I don’t mistake them for babies or children or human companions of any kind. While I have a sneaking admiration for those who are cashing in on this bit of human madness, I think those who spend that cash must have too much of it and need their heads examining!

It is hardly surprising that such madness is around. After all, the USA is led by a man who blames his distinctive orange hue on energy-efficient lightbulbs. Justifying changing regulations on environmentally friendly bulbs POTUS said, “People said: what’s with the lightbulb? I said: here’s the story. And I looked at it. The bulb that we’re being forced to use! No 1, to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange. And so do you! The light is the worst.”

He went on to claim that the energy-efficient bulb needs to be treated as “hazardous waste” if it breaks. “What are we doing?” he said, “It’s considered hazardous waste, but it’s many times more expensive and frankly the light is not as good. So we’re going to sell them, but we’re also going to sell incandescent bulbs. People are very happy about it. It’s amazing.”

The world is bonkers!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Putting things in perspective.

I may complain about a bit of drizzle around here (although today began very nicely and in the late morning I noticed one of the neighbours sitting outside sunning himself) but at least we have not had the torrential stuff which has fallen in some parts of Spain, causing floods in the Southeast. Everything is relative, I suppose.

When I was a child I used to see notices on the upper decks of buses: NO SPITTING. I don’t remember them being put up,on the lower deck. Maybe it was thought that those likely to spit were also more likely to travel upstairs on the bus. Neither do I remember when those notices disappeared. People must have stopped spitting, at least in public. And it is quite shocking if you actually see people spitting on the street.

And yet Michael Morpurgo describes being spat upon by someone who disagreed with his views on Brexit. I tend to agree with Michael Morpurgo that the world’s getting nastier. When DID it become acceptable to spit at someone because you don't like their opinions?

I was amused to read about his father-in-law’s reaction to the young Michael Morpurgo when he wanted to get married. His bride to be was the daughter of the founder of Penguin books and this supicious gentleman sent his son-in-law’s handwriting to a graphologist, in the hope of proving he was a gold-digger. I suppose if you worked in publishing then such a line of investigation might seem logical. Nowadays there would be more hi-tech ways of seeking info about your daughter’s beau.

The results of the investigation must have been satisfactory as the wedding took place and the couple are still together now, all these years on. And rather than being a gold-digger Morpurgo turned into a teacher, poet and writer and critic of things educational. And he says if he were education secretary he would have children start formal learning at seven, eradicate exam pressure and have universal state education for all; private schools, he says, could be turned into specialist sixth-form colleges. Maybe we could start off by taking away their charitable status and having them pay taxes that could be spent on state education.

I read that the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has finished her maternity leave. I find it very strange this attempt to make these privileged young women seem like ordinary working women by claiming that they have been on maternity leave. I bet they have no problems working out if they can afford childcare when they go back to work.

Anyway her “return to work” involves a charity helping provide clothes for women to go to interview for jobs. All very good but I still wonder how many women it actually helps. It seems that the city of Dunkirk might have found a better solution by providing free transport for everyone around their city. Getting tomwork is a big expense.

“For many, the effect has been nothing short of liberating, says Vanessa Delevoye, editor of Urbis, a magazine of urban politics published by the local government. To get around town, you no longer need to look at the schedules, buy tickets or worry about parking, she says. You just hop on the bus.

“It’s become a synonym of freedom,” she says, attracting those who might not otherwise have used public transport. In this largely working-class city, “people of limited means say they’ve rediscovered transport” – a prerequisite to finding a job, maintaining friendships or participating in local arts and culture. But it’s not only disadvantaged or working-class people who take the bus. It is also attracting white-collar workers, students and pensioners, according to Delevoye.”

There you go.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Bits of oddness in the world.

Will it, won’t it be declared illegal? And so the prorogation question rolls on and on even after it appears to have happened. If the Supreme Court backs up the court in Scotland which delayed it illegal, then what happens next? Do all the MPs go back to Parliament and pretend nothing happened?

Some people are more agitated about the question of whether or not Boris Johnson lied to the queen. Shock! Horror! Would even a known manipulator of the truth dare to lie to our venerable old monarch? Well, probably, yes! But personally I am more worried about the future of the country than the protocol of telling the truth to Her Majesty!

Meanwhile, life goes on. I went for a run in the drizzle this morning. En route I noticed that the place up the road where there have been holes for years where the authorities were investigating leaks in water pipes has finally had the holes filled and covered up and the whole area has been resurfaced. I presume this is a prelude to their coming to dig up a whole length of the road to install a better drainage system. This will involve closing the road for several months. Maybe, however, we can at last stop having a river run down the road whenever it really rains. It’s only been going on for at least five years!

I have been in communication, via Messenger, with a friend from the Italian conversation class, asking if I had news of when the classes begin again after the summer break. Well, actually no! I am not the class co-ordinator. So why am I his go-to person for information?

On the subject of Italy, I read about an area of that country where they are offering to pay people to go and settle in villages that are simply running out of inhabitants. This time there is an added factor. They want to establish a proper community so the people who move in must pledge to open a small business, which sounds much better idea than filling the place up with holiday homes.

But Italy has a real problem. For the first time in 90 years, the number of Italian citizens living in Italy has fallen to about 55 million, according to The national institute of statistics. There is the problem of the falling birth rate but also an increase in the migration of young people to other European countries in search of job opportunities. Nearly 157,000 people left the country in 2018. 

Some places have opted to replenish their population by opening the doors of vacant houses to asylum seekers. If the official Eurostat forecast is correct, then within 60 years or, taking into consideration the current pace of migration even sooner, 50% of Italy’s inhabitants will be of African or Asian descent. No doubt this will also happen in other countries.

The face of Europe is changing.

More trivially, I also read an article about a costume designer called Debra McGuire. She designed the wardrobe for the cast of Friends, the TV series from 20 years ago. Recently the series had made a come-back among younger viewers on Netflix. Not only is the comedy finding a new audience with them but the clothes worn by the cast are being sought by the younger viewers. Debra McGuire said this:

 “I now get emails from young people asking where they can get this or that. They just discovered Friends. I answer a lot of them, like, “It is many years ago but that was jacquard, you can buy it at your local fabric store and take it to your seamstress – you’re not going to find it any other way.”

I love the fact that she advises seeking the fabric at the “local fabric store”. I have no idea what the situation is in the USA but here there is a decided dearth of “fabric stores”. Even better is her advice to take the fabric, once located, to “your seamstress” as if everyone has someone organised to stitch clothes for them. Surely that wasn’t even the case in the USA back when Friends was first popular! 

The world is a little crazy!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Reacting one way and another!

Until I saw our next-door neighbour’s small child have a violent allergic reaction to food containing cows milk - an immediate rash around his lips was the least of it - I don’t think I had ever seen anyone react to food because of an allergy in that way. This was close to forty years ago when our son and the neighbour’s son were not yet two years old. I’d never really thought about allergies before. All through my childhood nobody spoke about them. Nobody we knew had an allergic reaction to anything. Oh, we knew a few people who got very itchy when they wore wool next to the skin but everyone said they were sensitive, not allergic. The world just wasn’t heard.

Then suddenly in the late 1970s, when my friends and I were having babies, you started to hear about certain types of food allergies. No doubt they were around before but they certainly weren’t common knowledge. And Phil and I had done a fair bit of reading about foodstuffs when we went through our macrobiotic vegetarian phase. But when our babies came along we were warned about peanuts and how you shouldn’t let children under the age of seven eat them.

And nowadays allergies are all over the place. Planes and trains stop selling nuts in certain journeys because they have someone on board with a severe nut allergy. People die eating food even mildly contaminated with something they are allergic to. A friend of mine has three daughters, all of whom carry around with them an epi-pen kit in case they go into anaphylactic shock as a consequence of one of their allergies. My brother-in-law suffered from minor illness and indigestion and abdominal pain for years before he was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. He seriously misses toast!

Why are there so many more allergies around now?

Is it one of those odd consequences of our obsession with sanitising stuff to within an inch of existence and thus preventing the development of antibodies? Is it because we now eat more stuff that has never ever grown in our own place, stuff that we have not had generations of people developing tolerance for? Goodness knows. Or are we all suffering from a mass-hallucination, having convinced ourselves that more allergies exist than is actually possible?

According to this article  there are restaurants that don’t take food allergies seriously, rather like an extreme version of the many Spanish places I have come across where an “ensalada mixta”, mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, cucumber, onions, hard boiled eggs and a large dollop of tuna fish, is considered to be a vegetarian dish because it contains no meat, only fish! And it’s not only restaurants. Apparently friends, family and prospective in-laws regularly try to slip some forbidden item into the allergic person’s food, to prove that their allergy is just a fad. Oh, boy! Am I glad I have no allergies ... well, not that I know of, and not yet. Who knows how I might react to some new food item.

Then there are food fads. James Wong, self-styled “botany geek” tweeted this:

“Reading that Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘clean beauty’ regime means that she starts every day with a refreshing glass of alkaline water + a spritz of lemon.
(Which makes the alkaline water no longer alkaline and highlights the magnificent level of BS that people will swallow from celebrities.)”

Mind you, la Paltrow is well known for the oddness of some of her recommendations. She manages to look quite good on her lifestyle but I suspect it has more to do with not eating rubbish than with the rubbish she promotes. Here is an excellent article  in which a gynaecologist debunks a whole load of stuff our Gwyneth recommend that women should do.After all, women come under enough pressure to confirm to all sorts of norms without being told that we should do some odd stuff as well.

Margaret Atwood has just published a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

She maintains that her motivation to do so came mostly in reaction to increasing restrictions being placed on women’s freedom to decide what can be done to their bodies.

And she is not talking about the places where marriages are arranged and women are not allowed to drive or work or even go out and about unaccompanied. This is what she had to say:

“What these restrictive laws about women’s bodies are claiming is that the state owns your body. There is a parallel occasion for men and that would be the draft: the state owns your body and you have to go to war. But when they do that, they pay for clothes, lodging, food, medical expenses and a salary,” said a deeply sardonic Atwood. “I say unto them, if you want to conscript women’s bodies in this way, you’re forcing women to deliver babies, forced childbirth, and you’re not paying for any of it. It is very cheap, amongst other things. For a society claiming to value individual freedom I would say to them, you evidently don’t think those freedoms extend to women.”

 One way or another we have to react.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Reactions to new arrivals, to prorogation, to having a conscience and to technically-aided cheating.

Yesterday saw the arrival of our newest grandson, weighing in at 7 pounds 10 ounces, which is not a bad weight but is still astoundingly small when you see it in the flesh, as it were. Small but perfectly formed, thank goodness. His very oldest sister has yet to see him, the consequence of being an almost grown up person with a job and a home of her own. The next one down, on the way to adulthood at 16, was very emotional about meeting him. His brother did the I-am-a-cool-14-year-old act and feigned indifference but later confessed to his stepfather that he was actually scared stiff he might drop the little chap. But the youngest, his three-year-old sister, won the prize for enthusiasm, amazingly gentle admiration and, so far at least, a total lack of jealousy. I was impressed!

Back in the wider world Parliament has been prorogued, with a whole lot of shouting of “Shame on you”, a fair bit of shaking of hands and some singing. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the report said the Plaid Cymru MPs sang their song with harmonies. It’s nice to know that there is still some harmony left in the world.

In a report about how private school should be abolished I came across this:

 “Patrick Derham, head of Westminster, one of the country’s leading private schools, wrote recently that the tragedy of Grenfell Tower highlighted “the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. It made me feel even more uncomfortable about the job I do.””

Well, he could always give up his undoubtedly well-paid job at Westminster School if his conscience trouble him so much. It seems to me that declaring you have a conscience while continuing to promote privilege is just a little bit hypocritical.

Somebody with The unlikely name of Owl Fisher was writing about how feminists should stand with transgender people to defend all their rights. Which sounds about right even though I am still very confused and disturbed in my response to the whole transgender question.

I wondered if the writer could really be called Owl Fisher. It sounds like a very made-up name, one you might choose for effect.

At the foot of the article came this bit of biographical information: “Owl Fisher is a writer, filmmaker and campaigner. They are a co-creator of the My Genderation film project and an adviser for All About Trans.”

And that brings me to a linguistic quirk that annoys me as much as the transgender question leaves me confused. I fully understand that that there is a need to find a non-gender-specific pronoun along with all the other related bits of language. And, yes, “they” and “them” and “their” are all nicely gender-neutral. But talking about one person as “they” offends the linguist in me. I wonder what the French do. I am pretty sure the feminists and transgender folk don’t like accepting the dominance of the masculine “ils”.

There seems to be an abundance of modern problems at the moment. As technology moves more and more into microtechnology the possibilities for cheating increase. And so the Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice, set up by exam boards, is recommending that ALL WATCHES should be banned from exam halls.

 “Smartwatches, mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices are already banned in exam halls. Sir John Dunford, the commission’s chairman, said: “It can look as if it’s a time-telling watch and actually, you press a button and it becomes an email-type watch. If you don’t ban them all I think you’re giving a very difficult job to invigilators who are looking round an exam room. So I think the obvious thing to do here is to ban watches.” The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which commissioned the review, said it would consider whether to ban watches for next summer’s exams, as well as the report’s other recommendations.”

So there you go!

Monday, 9 September 2019

Being over the hill. Bedtime browsing. What to read.

Running in the rain can be quite therapeutic, provided it’s gentle rain like we had this morning rather than the pelting-down stuff that put me off the whole idea the other day. So this morning I donned my running gear and off I went around the village. It was very quiet. On the fine mornings there have been masses of cyclists out and about. Today there was just me. The problem with running in the rain of course is that you are left with wet clothing at the end of it but it’s not really a big deal.

I suppose I should consider myself fortunate to be doing stuff like running at my advanced age. Professional sports people seems to be considered to be over the hill and too ancient to compete at an age when they might just be making a start in other professions. For example there is this a headline to an article about the great Rafa Nadal, still a very young man, in my opinion anyway:

 “Rafael Nadal cherishes moment at US Open as clock ticks on golden career.
The veteran was emotional after winning his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and knows that, at 33, his time may soon be up.”

If he were an actor he might just be getting into his stride, getting the big break and becoming famous. But the likes of Nadal seem to have been on the scene forever. He was a bit emotional and tearful after winning the US Open. And there’s a group of them who seem to have been competing against each other for years. I remember using Nadal and his early successes in AS and A-Level Spanish lessons long ago.

 “We have been here for 15 years almost,” said Nadal. “At some point, these days, going to happen sooner than later that this era going to end. Is arriving to the end. I am 33. Novak is 32. Roger is 38. Andy is 32, too. The clock is not stopping. That’s part of the cycle of life.”
 Is there a group of young players on the up and up ready to replace them? One can only hope so.

 I came across this little gem in the papers online:

 “Bedtime browsing by sleepless Brits in the middle of the night has resulted in a 23% increase in nocturnal spending over the last year alone, according to John Lewis. The department store chain said that online shopping between midnight and 6am now accounts for around one in 15 purchases that use its credit card.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, searches for duvet covers are the most popular item on the John Lewis site in the early hours, while headphones also come into the top 10 buys.
But the most common night-time purchase on the credit card – which can be used at any retail outlet – is for holidays and flights.”

Apparently Saturday afternoon used to be the peak time for credit card use but with the increase in internet shopping all that has changed. Now it's the wee, small hours! And there are odd patterns. People do more nocturnal online shopping when the clocks go back - long dark evenings and all that sort of thing. Also purchases are influenced by the rubbish shows on TV -oops! letting my prejudices show! The Great British Bake Off encourages the purchase of baking equipment and Strictly Come Dancing has people booking dance classes.

Personally I simply cannot imagine going to bed, opening up my iPad and starting to shop. What is wrong with people? Have they not listened to the experts saying that spending time staring at a screen before you go to sleep is not conducive to a good night’s rest? Have they not heard of reading books? Much more relaxing and generally better for you ... and for your wallet by all accounts.

Something must have gone seriously wrong with our education system in the last few decades if so many people have been turned off the idea of reading to the extent that they prefer to shop in bed. The school our teenage grandchildren attend insists that each child have a book with them at all times, to read in spare moments or if a teacher is absent and no work has been set or to read in tutor group while the form tutor does form administration work. This seems to be an excellent scheme but our grandson was complaining that his form tutor had told him that his book was unsatisfactory. It was a non-fiction work, explaining politics or something of that nature. His form tutor was insisting that he should have a work of fiction and that it should be something “more demanding”.

Now, I would have thought that a book explaining politics to a 14-year-old would be quite demanding enough.

And surely the important thing was that this was something he had chosen to read, that personal choice being a great incentive to continue reading!

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Initiation rites. Political language. Babies. Dietary stuff.

I read that there is a lot of concern about initiation ceremonies. This is not as a means of joining secret societies but apparently joining sports teams and clubs and societies at university. Some of the mildest seem to be just disgusting - drinks mixed with dog food - while many are just plain dangerous - swimming teams that tape bottles to the hands of new members. I don’t remember any of this from my time at university. Drinking games at parties, yes, but seriously dangerous stuff if you joined a club or society, no. Maybe I am just too old, for it seems that some of the dangerous stuff comes from films and from Youtube videos.

What a strange world!

Almost as strange as the political situation.

It’s very hard to keep up with what’s going on as MPs are expelled from the Conservative Party or walk across the House to join the opposition or resign as Amber Rudd has just done.

The language used by politicians themselves - Johnson apparently calling Corbyn a “big girl’s blouse” - and by those who write about the political situation is interestingly colloquial at the moment. Fintan O’Toole in the Observer wrote:

“Nobody with a stim of wit has ever believed that Johnson tells the truth about anything.”
While I can understand the gist of what he has to say, and even go along with it, I find myself wondering what a “stim” is. Is this an Irish expression? Mr O’Toole does write for the Irish Time after all.

Then Andrew Rawnsley’s comment and analysis headline today reads,
 “Like Macbeth, the PM is too stepped in blood to turn back. Where next?”

“Stepped”? Does he mean “steeped”? Maybe it’s a Shakespearean thing. He does refer to Macbeth, after all. So I looked it up and found that Macbeth says,

 "I am in blood
 Stepped in so far that should I wade no more.
 Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
But Macbeth says “ stepped in”, not just “stepped”. So I think Andrew Rawnsley has been a bit too clever there.

On the subject of Labour’s refusal to back a call for an early election, Andrew Rawnsley also writes, “Tories hope, and some on Corbyn’s from bench are nervous, that Labour will pay the price for appearing “frit”.” A little bit of northern English creeping in there.

Here’s something unrelated to the above. An Indian woman aged 74 has given birth to twins. A donated egg and her aged husband’s sperm, and of course modern medical techniques, made this possible. Asked about the care of the twins, given that the new parents are a little on the old side, they said it was in the hands of God. I must say that I like the mix of faith in both religion and modern technology!

Here are some related statistics, courtesy of today’s Observer:
  • The previous record holder for the oldest women to give birth was a Spanish woman called María del Carmen Bousada de Lara, who was 66 when she had her twins. Her name alone is enough for me. 
  •  Dawn Brooke, from Guernsey, was the oldest recorded woman to conceive naturally. She became a mother at the age of 59.
  •  In 1765 the wife of Russian Feodor Vassilyev reportedly gave birth to her 69th child. I reckon she must have had a fair few sets of twins, even if she started having children at an early age, which is probably the case. No doubt she was married at a very young age. Even so, she must have spent most of her life pregnant.
  •  In 2009 in California Nadya Suleman gave birth to a record eight children. Known in the media as Octomom, she has 14 children altogether.
And we thought our daughter was a little excessive as she is about to give birth to her fifth.

Further my having written about the eating disorder ARFID and the dangers of a severely restricted diet, here is something by Barbara Ellen:

 “Warning to lazy vegans: you may be harming yourselves.

 A study published in the BMJ says that while vegan and vegetarian diets are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, they may increase the likelihood of strokes, partly due to nutrient deficiency. Which reminds me that I need to embark on my clamoured-for food memoir: “Confessions of a Lazy Vegetarian”. The first chapter could be titled “The Crisp Years”, the second “Children of the Quorn” and so on.
My problem was that, as someone who turned vegetarian young because of animals (third chapter: “Virtue Signalling for Dummies”), I didn’t give much thought to nutrition. Actually, that’s a lie: I didn’t give any thought to nutrition. Hence, over the years, I’ve had some health problems that were most probably linked to being a gormless, vitamin-deprived vegetarian.
But that’s my own fault, isn’t it?
Vegetarians and vegans can’t blame their diets for health problems – they can only question if they’re eating properly. Vegetarians and vegans who are scrupulous about nutrition wouldn’t invite needless problems, while also reaping the genuine health benefits. The fact is, doing vegetarianism or veganism properly takes effort, which can be boring, but it must be done. Though really this applies across the board.
No diet (meat or meat-free) is automatically healthy – you always have to work at it.”

Which reminds me of when our daughter decided, aged 13 or 14, that she was an ethical vegetarian. We were prepared to support her. After all, we had been vegetarian for health reasons as well as ethical and environmental. Even now I don’t eat red meat. Our daughter, though, was difficult. Well, picky and particular. Being vegetarian for her meant eating almost nothing but Linda McCartney prepared packet vegetarian meals.


Saturday, 7 September 2019

Envirnmental anomalies, religious professionals, uniform stuff and strange portents!

Global warming stuff - Kebnekaise a mountain in Sweden has two peaks, the northern one reserved for experienced mountaineers and the southern one, glacier covered, suitable for properly equipped hikers. No doubt, as the mountain is inside the Arctic Circle and the Swedes are used to cold conditions, they only get properly equipped hikers, not like the loonies here who set off up mountains in the Lake District and in Scotland in unsuitable footwear and without proper waterproof and windproof clothing.

Be that as it may, the southern, glacier covered peak has always been the higher of the two, but now the ice is melting and it can no longer claim to be the winner.

We’ve been catching up on omnibus editions of The Archers and find that Shula is continuing to pursue her dream of becoming a vicar. I wonder if she knows how many of them are really poorly paid. The Archbishop of Canterbury is okay, from what I have read, with his £83,000 a year, plus a couple of big houses. Most ordinary vicars get a salary of £27,886 and housing thrown in, which is not bad I suppose, but around 3,000 are apparently “self-supporting” and rely on grants and charity handouts. Talk about taking a vow of poverty! Even better, the Church of England reportedly has an investment fund worth £8.3bn which pays asset management executives six-figure sums. I think old Jesus might have something to say about that!

Every so often we have a problem getting through passport control on the eGates with our fancy passports. Well, really Phil has more problems than I do. Now I read that in some cases this can be because there is a known criminal with the same name and the passport control chappies have to double check. Does Phil have a criminal doppelganger out there?

Almost everyone has successfully got back to school as far as I know. At least it is the case with our immediate family. Nobody took pictures of our family offspring in school uniform this year, thank heavens. Five-year-olds may look cute in school uniform but I still think it is unnecessary, but that is another issue. I read about a school in Niagara, Canada, where the school bus arrived 30 minutes late on the first day of term, not because of traffic problems but because the driver had to wait while doting parents took advantage of the school bus photo opportunity!

“Along with Halloween and the arrival of the first pool inflatables of the summer holiday season, “back to school” has become a communal moment when stories are shared around the campfire of social media”. That’s what I read.

And it gets better. Celebrity back-to-schoolers, accompanying their tiny offspring to their first day at school come in for further scrutiny. What to wear on such an occasion is all important. So we have been told that the Duchess of Cambridge, seeing Princess Charlotte into her first day at school, wore a Michael Kors silk dress - judging by the photo in the newspaper, Prince William made no effort at all, just an open-collared shirt and a sports jacket - while actress Sienna Millar wore something fancy by Mango. Oh, the ridiculousness of it all!

Meanwhile parents and pupil have been protesting outside a school in East Sussex because the school has introduced gender-neutral uniforms for all. What this means in practice is that everyone must wear trousers. I don’t see what the quibble is about. In the 1970s we campaigned for female staff to have the right to wear trousers at the school where I worked. But some mothers say it is an unreasonable demand. Perhaps they are insisting on their girls’ right to wear their skirts rolled over at the waistband to make them as short as possible Saint Trinian’s style. 

And finally, how about a two-headed snake? In New Jersey, USA, scientists have found a two-headed baby timber rattlesnake. They have named it Double Dave as it was discovered by two environmentalists both called Dave. Such snakes have difficulty surviving in the wild as they are quite slow-moving and therefore are vulnerable. So Double Dave is being taken into captivity.

Apparently the two heads of such snakes work independently and sometimes they fight each other for food, unaware that there is only one body for the food to nourish. Polycephaly as it is called is a similar development to conjoined twins, an embryo that has begun to split but then stops before fully dividing. It is quite rare, and two-headed creatures have often appeared in mythology as they are considered to be a portent of disaster in some cultures.

Now, what kind of disaster does this portend for the USA? I wonder!

Friday, 6 September 2019

Far-fetched goings-on!

Today I listened to the rain beating down when I awoke and decided that I did not feel like running in the rain this morning. My weather app promised some improvement later. This proved to be the case. So we went for a brisk walk instead - maybe not quite so energetic as a run but at least I had company on the walk.

In between times I spent some time being a unicorn. This is what happens when a three-year-old descends on you. I had to turn down her invitation to accompany her and her mother when they went to meet Daddy for a late lunch in Manchester. This led to some pouting, on part of the three-year-old, I hasten to add.

Having taken advantage of the gap in the dire weather, we came back and put ourselves masochistically through the process of booking flights with Ryanair. I am aware that it seems as though we have only been back in the UK five minutes, especially in Phil’s case, but experience tells us we should book early. Our return flights at the end of August / beginning of September cost us far more than anticipated because we were doing some last minute booking. We plan to be in Portugal for a chess event at the end of October, so booking now was a necessary evil if we wanted to travel at a reasonable price..

And evil is the word to describe it. I swear that the airline changes its policy from day to day. We had grown used to the fact that in order to guarantee a place in the overhead locker for a small carry-on 10k suitcase it was necessary to go for priority boarding. That would get you the small suitcase in the locker and a smaller piece if hand-luggage to go under the seat. Now it seems to have grown even more complicated however. The size of the under-the-seat has grown slightly. So out came the tape measure to check the size of various bags.

Presumably this accommodates people like me who might decide to travel really light. Then “priority boarding” has changed its name to something I have already forgotten and entitles you to a hold bag (20k), a small cabin-bag suitcase (10k) and the now slightly-increased-size under-the-seat bag. Of course each extra, such as actually reserving your specific seat adds a little something to the price.

So we juggled our requirements and finally booked flight there and back on our second attempt and after a good hour or maybe more of messing around on the airline’s website.

I was exhausted just watching Phil do the booking!

So there we are. All we need to do now is organise my travel to London for a visit to the southern branch of the family. And, of course, there is the small matter of buying bus tickets from Porto to Vigo to coincide with our flights, assuming they arrive on time.

Oh, the stress! How do people manage this and work full time as well?

So now it seems we will be out of the country for Brexit day, if that event happens as scheduled or if it happens at all. The whole shambolic affair is a little out of control as far as I can tell. And will we get back into the UK without problems?

In the meantime here is a link to the Guardian’s “Long Read” feature  describing the evil doings of the CIA back in the 1950, involving mind control experiments and LSD. And we think the government is up to dirty tricks nowadays!!!

Reading the article I was reminded of those programmes you come across on obscure TV channels in which someone tries to determine the exact spot where Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea.Finding the truth of this CIA matter seemed just as unlikely.

And then it included references to something that went on in 1951 in Pont-Saint-Esprit in the South of France in 1951. Known on France as the case of “Le pain maudit”, the cursed bread, it seemed to have involved the whole village having been given LSD. Mass hysteria and some deaths resulted from this. Now I spent time as a foreign language assistant not too far from Pont-Saint-Esprit at the end of the 1960s. I could have researched the story and written my dissertation about it had I known. 

Too late now. It’s all in the past!

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Public family squabbles. Organisational stationery problems. And railway stations.

The mayhem continues. Now Boris Johnson’s brother has turned round and resigned his position in the government and stepped down from being an MP altogether. It’s pretty bad when your brother publicly separates himself from you. Families are, of course, quite notorious for divisions and differences of opinion but one quite so public as this is probably unusual. This is what happens when you all work in the same field, I suppose.

And we don’t seem any nearer to a solution.

In the meantime, we have been advised by a friend who is a GP that it might be a good idea to get our yearly flu jab sooner rather than later. The flu vaccination serum (is that the right word?) might well be in short supply post-Brexit. Just another little problem to contend with!

For several weeks we have been trying to bet hold of cheap mid-year diaries. Well, Phil has been enlisting my assistance to find one, or even two,  for him. Personally I have no objection to paying a little more for a particular brand of small diary to carry around with me in my handbag. But Phil favours a desk diary, week to view per double page, which he can keep on the desk (where else?) next to the computer. Then he wants a smaller one in which he can keep a list of chess fixtures that he has to organise or oversee the organisation of.

Usually we have found such diaries for just a few euros in the Chinese bazaars in Vigo where they sell just about everything from rubber bands to rubber mattress protectors, candles to casserole dishes, pens and pencils to pots and pans. This year we found none at all, despite visiting several such emporia at our end of town.

Out and about with daughter here in the UK, I have found a range pretty pink and fluffy diaries at pretty pink and fluffy prices. Clearly I have not been to the right shops. Time to go into town and visit the cut-price stationery stores!

Over in Paris they seem to be having a little contretemps about the revamping, or perhaps that should be the “relooking” to use a franglais word, of the Gare du Nord, one of the city’s big railway stations. It must be going on for half a century since I was there, so no doubt there have been changes that I am quite unaware of. Now there are plans to create a vast shopping space, a glass structure with tens of thousands of square metres of shops, walkways, split-levels and 105 escalators.

Apparently the Gare du Nord, one end of the Eurostar run, has long been compared unfavourably with St Pancras, the other end of the run. Andy Street, the former head of John Lewis who is mayor of the West Midlands, even had to apologise to France in 2014 after calling the Gare du Nord “the squalor pit of Europe” compared with what he called the “modern, forward-looking” St Pancras.

The thing is that we have grown used to big stations being rather like shopping malls. Manchester’s Piccadilly Station is very mild compared with Euston Station in London but would-be passengers can obtain different kinds of refreshment, browse a number of shops, and buy reading matter from W H Smith, travel necessities from Boots the Chemist or last minutes gifts from Accessorise. And coming back from a journey you can pop into Sainsbury’s to buy milk and bread and so on, or in my case at the start of my journey a bottle of prosecco to share with my daughter-in-law.

But the French seem not to like the idea. Well, we don’t know what the aftual Frenchman in the street thinks but leading French architects have said it would be “unacceptable”, “indecent” and a “serious offence to transport users”. They also said that the vast volumes of the “beautiful” train hall would be “denatured” by adding high walkways. They warned of committing a “serious urban error” in the form of a giant shopping centre that risked killing smaller local trade in the Paris region.

But maybe we should support their objections because the renovation will include working spaces – which some have suggested would allow companies to relocate from the UK after Brexit but stay close to the Eurostar!!

Oops! There’s that Brexit problem again!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Bad manners and grumpiness running the country!

Listening to the lunchtime news I heard the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition shouting at each other, each accusing the other of having no plan for what to do with Brexit. Which is probably quite true!

But it’s the shouting that always astounds me, especially with the volume of yelling and catcalling from the benches. Do they shout at each other more and make more of a pantomime of the whole thing since television cameras were allowed into the hallowed halls? Quite possibly! Everyone is an “actor” seeking a sound bite.

Mind you, there are times when having cameras in the Commons is no bad things. Here is a link to an article about the Rees-Mogg person slouching rather arrogantly on his bench during debate. Is this what you expect from the Leader of the House? Or is this how an expensive education teaches you to comport yourself?

Nowadays, with instant comment on social media to everything that goes on, I suspect that behaviour, in the Commons and out, has deteriorated. Journalist Nesrine Malik, writing in Tuesday’s Guardian, seems to agree with me:-

“How overblown fears of censorship have normalised hate speech and silenced minorities.
 By Nesrine Malik
 Tuesday 3 Sept 2019

“When I started writing a column in the Guardian, I would engage with the commenters who made valid points and urge those whose response was getting lost in rage to re-read the piece and return. Comments were open for 72 hours. Coming up for air at the end of a thread felt like mooring a ship after a few days on choppy waters, like an achievement, something that I and the readers had gone through together. We had discussed sensitive, complicated ideas about politics, race, gender and sexuality and, at the end, via a rolling conversation, we had got somewhere.

In the decade since, the tenor of those comments became so personalised and abusive that the ship often drowned before making it to shore – the moderators would simply shut the thread down. When it first started happening, I took it as a personal failure – perhaps I had not struck the right tone or not sufficiently hedged all my points, provoking readers into thinking I was being dishonest or incendiary.

In time, it dawned on me that my writing was the same. It was the commenters who had changed. It was becoming harder to discuss almost anything without a virtual snarl in response. And it was becoming harder to do so if one were not white or male.”

Coming back to this post after an afternoon out at my eldest granddaughter’s house, I listen to more havoc going on in parliament. It’s not all going Mr Johnson’s way but he is still blustering.

No idea where it will end.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Dietary stuff and babysitting.

I’ve just read about another eating disorder. We’ve had anorexia and bulimia around forever it seems. Now comes ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder). Sufferers become sensitive to the taste, texture, smell and appearance of certain types of food.

 There’s a young man in Bristol who has refused to eat anything but sausages, chips and crisps for around a decade. As a result he is now blind and deaf. Apparent.y such a restricted diet affects the optic nerve and other bits of brain function. It’s not junk food per se that causes the problem, although it’s pretty bad, but eating nothing but causes manor trouble. You need to take vitamin and other supplements to make the diet somewhere near balanced.

 And I think of the students I taught who survived on a diet of “chip balms” in Salford, “chip balms” being a bread bun stuffed to the gulls with chips - carbohydrate sandwiches. Most of them did go home to a fairly normal meal in the evening though. And I think of my own granddaughter who refuses to eat any fruit or vegetables. Just handling them gives her the jumjams. And, yes, she has a range of health problems but her diet is helped by vitamin supplements. She seems to have survived reasonably well to 16 and has a decent clutch of GCSE grades to her credit.

 Today my smallest granddaughter, three years old yesterday, has spent the day with me. Settling down to watch Frozen for the umpteenth time in her case - she knows all the songs - she informed me that my television is very small. It’s a perfectly good size. It’s just that in her house they have a HUGE screen, obscenely so in my opinion. But it seems to be the modern things to have in your living room the sort of screen pubs use to show football matches.

 So I have spent part of the day playing with My Little Pony toys. I now know the names of a whole range of small plastic toys, whose names I never learnt when my own daughter played with them. But then she only had one or two. The range was not so great then. Neither was there a TV series with intricate stories. However, the smallest granddaughter plays imaginatively with her little friends. She understands all sorts of stuff about their comolex personalities. So I am not complaining.

 We set out for a walk, only to have the rain start to fall on us. This led to some protest as I had to manhandle her into a waterproof suit which she objected to on the grounds that it is “too lumpy”.

 So it goes.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Some thoughhts about music, novel-writing, education and the influence of political comments.

Further to my remarks yesterday about listening to Ana Belén, here is a link to Ana Belén singing García Lorca’s “Pequeño vals vienés”. It was translated into English, set to music and recorded by Leonard Cohen. Ana Belén uses Leonard Cohen’s musical arrangement. And here is Leonard Cohen’s version, for comparison purposes. Leonard Cohen so admired García Lorca and his poetry that he named his daughter Lorca. Not used as a name in Spain, as far as I know, it works in the English-speaking world.

Lorca’s poetry lends itself to musical interpretation. I have been hunting through our CDs for my copy of Ana Belén’s “Lorquiana”, a collection of Lorca poems set to music. So far I have been unable to locate it. This is the problem with having too many CDs.

Is it truly possible to have too much music though?

Here's another question: is it ever too late to publish your first novel? I read yesterday that playwright Alan Ayckbourn, 83, has just published his. A novel set in a dystopian future, it began life as a six-hour two-part play, which was receieved with little enthusiasm by the critics. One of them suggested it would work better as a novel. And voilà! Next question: would just any old 80-year-old have received a publishing deal? Or do you have to be already established?

I have been in communication with one of my companions from the Italian conversation class, who is asking if I know when classes start again. I am unsure why I have become the fount if all knowledge but there we go. All I really know is that it is not this week as our teacher is still posting photos from Crete and other exotic places. As I pointed this out we had a further discussion about the security of posting your photos for potential burglars to see!! Hmmm!

No doubt our Italian teacher will be back in the UK this week, she also does some work at a high school and schools are due back later this week.

Out and about today I have seen lots of families clearly taking advantage of a last chance to get out and about together, walking the bridle paths and towpaths. All good stuff!

More back to school stuff. Some parents are finding the cost of school uniformas ridiculously prohibitive. Some state schools have a uniform list that runs to £250 before adding on shoes and coat! Having contributed to the cost of uniform for my daughter’s offspring I know that this is true! Crazy stuff!

About university-level education, here is a link to an article about a young lady who opted not to apply for Oxford, preferring instead to go to Leeds, where the Fine Arts course she wanted to study seemed better. Good for her! A young lady who knows her own mind! It was interesting that one of the reasons she gave for eschewing the advantages and connections an Oxford degree might have given her was that so many of the current government are Oxford-educated and she does not want to be associated with the likes of them.

Talking of Oxford-educated politicians, here is a link to an article which maintains that anti-Muslim attacks increased as a result of a certain Mr Johnson’s burqa comments.

 Enough said!

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Start of September stuff.

September 1st. Some people say this is the actual start of Autumn. Is that so? No real idea. This morning did not feel radically different from yesterday. As I returned from my run it started to rain, real rain, torrential stuff falling down and soaking everything in minutes. Some time later the sky cleared, the sun shone, the temperature rose and I hing washing out. By late lunchtime the clouds were on the way back in and the rain had another go. I brought the washing in and the sun promptly re-emerged! So it goes!

Today I have been listening to Ana Belén cds, something I have meant to do ever since I saw her in Pontevedra in August. It has to be said, she is pretty good.

Eighty years after the start of the Second World War, Sadiq Khan has been writing about the fact that we are losing sight of the lessons of that war.

Here’s something from today’s Observer:-

“London mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Saturday denounced President Trump as the “global poster boy for white nationalism” in an essay that warns against forgetting the lessons of World War II.

“An entire generation of brave men and women around the globe sacrificed everything to defeat the singular evil of Nazism and fascism,” Khan wrote in The Guardian to mark 80 years since Nazi Germany invaded Poland. His essay goes on to highlight the role Britain and other nations played in winning the war and establishing peace in the ensuing years. But he writes that he fears the lessons of World War II “are genuinely at risk of being forgotten or, worse still, being rewritten.”

He notes that international bodies like the European Union and NATO are facing "unprecedented attacks" and that "support for democracy is at a record low across the western world."

"This comes as a new wave of extremist far-right movements and political parties are winning power and influence at alarming speed – fueled by Donald Trump, the global poster-boy for white nationalism," Khan argues. "Politicians across Europe are following his example by seeking to exploit division to gain power."

He later admonishes Trump for his attacks against the press and the judiciary, saying that those institutions are under daily verbal attack from the president "and other far-right leaders around the world." "The impact can also be seen in the UK, where the outsize influence of Nigel Farage and his Brexit party has pushed the Conservatives, under Boris Johnson, to become ever more rightwing, illiberal and intolerant," he writes of the British prime minister.

Khan acknowledges that the current era isn't anything like the 1930s, but he stresses that "alarm bells should be sounding." "We have a special responsibility to honor the memory of all those who sacrificed so much to protect us all those years ago – by defending the ideals they died for and ensuring the more peaceful and stable world they built lasts for generations to come," he concludes.

Khan has repeatedly criticized of Trump, referring to him earlier this year as a "poster boy for the far-right movement around the world." In June, he said that the U.K. was on the “wrong side of history" ahead of the president's visit to the country. The statement prompted Trump to call the Muslim mayor a "stone cold loser."”

European leaders, including Angela Merkel, are gathering in Poland, where commemoration ceremonies will take place in Warsaw. They moved everything there from Gdansk to accommodate President Trump who was to give the keynote speech. But Trump isn’t going. He’s sent his VP in his stead. Okay, there is a hurricane, Dorian this time, causing some havoc. People thought Trump would be a Camp David to monitor this but it seems he can do so from his golf club.

Is this part of what Javid Khan was on about? 

Here’s another odd action by a country’s leader:-

“Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is vowing to stop using disposable pens made by the French company Bic amid an ongoing feud with French President Emmanuel Macron over how to confront the raging wildfires in the Amazon rainforest.

 "A pen (of the Brazilian brand) Compactor and no more Bic, will work," Bolsonaro said on Friday, adding that he would stop using Bic "because it is French," according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

AFP noted that Brazil's presidential office declined to comment when asked whether the remark was a joke.

A Bic spokesperson told AFP that the majority of its pens sold in Brazil are manufactured in Manaus, a Brazilian city in the Amazon region. The spokesperson would not address Bolsonaro's decision to boycott the brand.

 The move from the Brazilian far-right leader comes as his administration faces international scrutiny over the surge in wildfires in the Amazon, which serves as a vital carbon store for the rest of the world.”

 We have our own oddnesses continuing to happen here. Dominic Cummings, the PM’s closest aide, sacked an adviser to the chancellor of the exchequer, without consulting him about it, because she was seen speaking to her old boss, former chancellor Philip Hammond, a known no-dealer. Accusations of bullying and of a reign of terror have been made.

 More encouragingly discussions about the Elgin marbles continue. I like the new Greek PM’s suggestion that we loan them back our bits of the marbles (France has some as well, by the way) and they will loan us other stuff, some of it newly discovered. Oh, to live in a olace where you can dig up bits of ancient history! But then we have the recent story of the metal detector people who discovered a vast amount of silver coins dating back to King Harold.

 And, finally, a Frenchman’s view of the UK.   That’s all!