Saturday, 15 June 2019

Eavesdropping!

On our plane yesterday, sitting just behind us was a woman who kept talking through boarding and take-off, directing her travelling companions to their seats, commenting on what they could see through the window. She did a repeat performance as we came in to land. “Can you see the river yet? There’s Porto. We’re just passing Porto. You can see the sea. We’re coming in to land. Yes, we’re definitely landing. We’ve landed.” This last presumably in case we perhaps thought we were still up in the air. “This is Porto airport.” Just in case we thought we had gone back to Manchester?

I couldn’t work out whether she was a nervous flier or just a busybody chatterbox.

Later, as we sat in the airport cafe waiting patiently for hours for it to be time to catch our bus, I listened to a family at the table next to ours. They might have been talking something Eastern European or it might just have been very dense, unintelligible Portuguese. At least three times the father of the group read out long texts from his phone, or maybe stuff he had found on the internet, quite lengthy pieces anyway. These he read at breakneck speed. I doubt that his listeners could really take in what he was saying. They didn’t seem terribly interested anyway but I simply did not know anyone could speak at such speed!

After they had left, their place was taken by a group of young Frenchmen. Hipsters by the look of them, shaven heads and those very fashionable beards. Late twenties I would think. They drank beer and discussed drinking habits, going into details of their taste in champagne, the different sorts of wines to be drunk at different times of day and with different types of food. All very technical and knowledgable. All rather loud and cheerful. Do young British hipsters talk so authoritatively about wine and food? In public and at top volume?

When we arrived at Vigo, finally, we decided to walk from the bus station to our flat. We had spent a good deal of the day sitting down and it was a fine evening. A brisk walk would do us good. En route we stopped off at As Cobas, one of our regular cafes-with-wifi. This one has the added advantage of serving very generous, and usually very good, tapas with a glass of beer. As it was too late to buy supplies at the supermarket, this seemed a good way of having a little something before retiring for the night.

The table adjacent to ours seemed to be hosting a discussion group, about five men and one woman. At first it looked like an fairly ordinary, in other words loud, Spanish conversation over drinks but it became clear that there were some dominant personalities. The token woman was not backward in coming forward, talking at length about some topic or other and not at all reluctant to criticise her companions. One of the men was quite forceful too.

Most impressive however was the man nearest to us who on several occasions went into what I think of as teacher mode. He obviously felt he had something important to tell the rest of the group and was determined not to be interrupted. So he raised his voice and slowed down his delivery but maintained a rhythm that did not provide any opportunity for others to butt in with their rebuttals or confirmations. Wow!

When we left the cafe he was still going on and on and on.

We left him to it and went on our way, inspecting the improvements to our street as we walked along. 

The last time we were here they were in the throes of replacing the pavements, something which had been completed in other parts of the street in the previous year, leaving our stretch in a parlous state. Now it is quite pristine, fine white paving slabs all along the length of it. Very smart indeed. I much prefer this to the increasing British habit of replacing old-fashioned paving stones with tarmac. At least that is what seems to go on in Saddleworth.

Full marks to Vigo for providing a pleasing street environment!

The plants in the central reservations need a bit of attention now but no doubt that will come. And this morning the street cleaners were out with their brooms and trolly-bins, keeping the place tidy. 

Now, why is that not done in the UK?

Friday, 14 June 2019

Efficiently inefficient travellers!

Here we are, back in the Iberian peninsula.

We very efficiently booked ourselves tickets for the AUTNA bus to take us from Porto to Vigo. Just not quite so efficiently as we thought. All will be explained.

We got up at the crack of dawn, after the worst night’s sleep I have had in a long time. Why is it that when you know you must get up early your sleep,pattern is totally disrupted?

We needed to be at Liverpool airport for maybe 10.45. And so we caught a bus at 8.20, a tram at around 8.50, and a train at around 9.45 to Liverpool South Parkway, where we caught yet another bus to the airport.

All went well. The sun even came out and the weather improved the closer we got to Liverpool.

It was in the airport that we made the discovery that we had accidentally booked tickets for a bus from Porto to Vigo that left three quarters of an hour before our plane landed.

Someone had misread the information on the boarding cards. He described this as “a rare glitch in an otherwise distinguished record of organising travel”.

I was quite amused. He tried to,put it right by emailing AUTNA - to no avail.

And we considered spending a further €30 on tickets for an ALSA bus, a more expensive service and one which takes longer to reach Vigo.

Update: After arriving at Porto and refreshing ourselves with orange juice, sandwiches and coffee, we finally received an email from AUTNA. Exceptionally, they told us, we can use our tickets on a later bus provided we show the email they sent us. Hurray for the internet!!!

This means we arrive at Vigo after the supermarket has closed but, hey, there are worse things happening in the world.

And besides, we can go out to a bar with internet, have a beer and some tapas, and post this blog. Unless I decide to post it on airport wifi.

It’s a good job we always have plenty to occupy us on our travels.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Preparing to run away again.

So Boris Johnson looks like being the next leader of the Conservative Party. He has won the first ballot at any rate. They seem to think people will vote for him in the event of a general election being called.

Sometimes I despair of people.

In the meantime there is this:-

“The US Just Threatened to Move Against Corbyn: Where Is the Outrage?

WRITTEN BY CHRIS NINEHAM ON 10 JUNE 2019. POSTED IN NEWS & COMMENT

The Secretary of State of the world's most powerful nation has promised to 'push back' against the possibility of the leader of the Labour Party in Britain getting elected. He suggests US agencies will try and intervene to stop that eventuality because "it's too risky and too important and too hard once it's already happened".”

As far as I can tell, the world has gone even more crazy. 

And just to cheer us up, it continues to rain! Not as heavily here as in some parts of the country but wet nonetheless!

But we are opting out for a few weeks, taking ourselves off the Galicia, where the weather forecast does not promise a great heatwave but where even if it rains it will likely be warmer rain than we have here.

In just over a week we’ll head for Sanxenxo, where there is a chess tournament. We rely on the organisers to arrange for decent weather while we are there. They are usually quite good at that.

In the Italian class on Tuesday, while we shivered in the Manchester gloom, Piero, our guide during our recent trip to Sicily, contacted us with a “saluto” for the men of the group and a kiss for the girls, “un bacio per le mie ragazze”. We did not object to being called girls.

He went on to tell us that temperatures there had reached 40 degrees C. A little too hot for the site-seeing we did during our visit! But better than Manchester’s 10.

One of my travel companions from the trip asked me if I was already packed for our journey to Spain. Not at all! She has already packed for a trip to Wales. I can never understand being packed a week in advance. Making lists of stuff to take is fine but actually putting it in the suitcase is a bit excessive.

And so today I have scuttled round collecting this and that - and bullying Phil into doing the same - and doing last minute cleaning jobs. I wonder why we have a mania to leave the house sparkling before we go away.

But that’s how it is.

And tomorrow we hit the road again. Further adventures await us.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Just a few thoughts on the unfair distribution of wealth.

Kylie Jenner, famous for being a member of the Kardashian family, a “media personality” and for her cosmetics company - does she invent them all herself? Surely not? People are employed to do it in her name, are they not? - has invited people to her Handmaid’s Tale themed birthday party.

You can almost feel the excitement from here. A fancy dress party is always fun. “We can dress up in those cute red outfits but make them just a little bit sexy!” And there is a certain frisson of daring because, after all, everyone really knows that the Handmaid’s Tale is about female subjugation but, well, when you are rich and famous such things can never happen to you. 

It all smacks of privilege!

Sometimes it seems that when the rich and famous are not being outrageous they are giving us their words of wisdom on how we should run our lives. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, likes to remind us that we should wash up after the evening meal and not leave it til tomorrow. All those nast germs sitting in the sink! “I can’t sleep at night if there are dishes in the sink,” she said. But then we already knew she is a bit obsessive.

Experts suggest that there is no real harm in it, apart from chopping boards that have been used for preparing meat and fish. They need cleaning properly straight after use.

I suspect Ms Paltrow has ulterior motives when she talks about washing-up though. Her lifestyle business - yes, he lifestyle business!! - is called Goop and sells washing-up liquid as part of a cleaning kit – yours for just £64.

There you go!

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, just appears to obsess about her cats, Ginger and Snow, which she likes to take out and about with her. “I’ve just got one of those carriers,” said Kidman. “Have you seen those? Those backpacks that you can put them in? A cat carrier that’s a backpack and it has a window that they can peek out of and it’s got air and everything and they love it.”

Now, I see people, quite ordinary people, not famous at all, carrying small dogs in baskets, dog carriers and even handbags but I have yet to see cats being transported in this way.

Ms Kidman’s reported actions have got the animal rights people a little agitated. They see thhings from a feline perspective. Despite cats’ love of curling themselves up into small containers - think of all the cute photos you can see on social media of cats in shoe boxes, saucepans, fruit bowls and the like - they are very independent creatures and like to do things in their own terms.

But no doubt the rich and famous can ignore that as well. There is one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

Journalist Arwa Mahdawi, not so rich, hears her biological clock ticking and bemoans the fact that really only the rich and famous can afford to have babies in the USA, where she lives. A straightforward, no complications, no operations birth can cost £20,000. Any birth problems send the costs up. And in that case only the best health insurance plan will cover it. One couple faced a bill of $770,000 for the care of their premature triplets.

And still some people think it will be OK for the US to interfere in the running of our health service!!

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Adverts and giving in to media pressure!

Every so often when we are watching something on some channel on the TV, PBS America I think it is, there pops up an advert which drives us crazy. A lycra-clad young woman on an exercise bike screams into her headphone microphone something along the lines of “Come on, Peloton!”, followed by very urgent instructions. We both wince, Phil throws a hissy-fit about how he really can’t stand this advert, and we turn the volume down or even channel-hop until we think the adverts are over.

So we never discovered what this is an advert for.

Then I found an article in the Guardian Weekend Magazine all about exercise bikes. There I read put that “Peloton sells smart, connected exercise bikes, to which it streams spinning classes from its Manhattan studio”. The bikes, which incorporate big touch screens, cost £1,990 and riders pay £39 a month to access the classes. So people set up sort of mini-gyms somewhere in their home and “spin” at home instead of going to a class. Then there is “Zwift” which lets users pretend they are following a route, such as going up the Alpe d’Huez, one of the really, really hard stages of the Tour de France. Oh boy!

We have an exercise bike and a rowing machine. Together they came nowhere near £1,990 to set up. Yes, it can be a bit boring perhaps to sit for ages on an exercise bike. This is where the iPad can be really useful. I usually just play music but Phil sets his up to play chess videos for him. It seems to work for us.

It’s funny how fads come and go.

How long will Peloton keep going? I wonder!

I sometimes go on a bit about my Fitbit but I mostly do it tongue in cheek, although there was a moment when Phil and I seemed to be getting a little competitive about who had done the most steps in a day - usually me, by the way, because I go up and down stairs a lot and move around the house a lot during the day. Also I have usually clocked up 5,000 on my morning run. But I am always amused by the analysis of my sleep, telling me how much deep sleep, light sleep and dreaming sleep I have had, not forgetting the time awake in the night!

It’s a good job I am amused by it because, from what I have read this weekend, if I took it too seriously I could become properly insomniac. Apparently some people are getting so anxious about what their various sleep trackers are going to tell them that they really begin to suffer from insomnia.

Oops! there it is again, that influence that social media and related apps can have on real life.

There are more serious things to worry about in modern life. I just listened to a programme on the radio where a young medical doctor talked about her experience working, and being overworked and overstretched, in emergency medicine. She is about to emigrate to Australia, I think, where she will work with the flying doctors service, where there will surprisingly be less stress. Emergency medicine in the NHS is her first love though and she expects to return to it sometime in the future. That assumes, of course, that there will still be a NHS to return to.

And I found myself thinking how wrong it is that dedicated doctors and teachers in this country, people who have a passion for their profession, are being forced out because the pressures of the job make a normal life impossible!

And now here is an odd story I came across the other day, a story which I find hard to believe:-

“It was May 2006, and I had just been swimming. I was on my way from my home in Hastings to work as a revenue executive for HMRC. It was raining hard, and the visibility was terrible. I was crossing the road when a white van drove into me and I fell, hit the side of my head, and rolled under a parked car. I have no memory of it. In fact I didn’t remember anything from a year before the accident until four years afterwards; I began to work out what had happened to me from what other people told me.

I was in an induced coma for three weeks in the neurological unit attached to Haywards Heath hospital. The medical staff tried to bring me out of the coma after about 10 days, but it was too early. I’ve got no medical notes about my time in hospital, but my family and friends were there every day. My coma was marked grade 3 in the Glasgow Coma Scale: the deepest one you can be in but still be alive; luckily I didn’t need brain surgery.

When I started coming round I was moved to my local hospital. The strangest thing was that the first words I spoke were French. A friend asked the nurses whether he should speak to me in French; they thought it was a good idea, to encourage communication. So he would ask me a question in French, and I would reply in fluent French. No one knew why, but I had done both German and French at O-level almost 30 years earlier.

After a while, the doctors decided speaking French was not helping me, because I’m English. So posters were put on the wall asking people not to speak in French.

Before my coma I’d never heard of foreign accent syndrome, which can occur when people wake up from a coma and their speech is affected; people sometimes perceive it as a foreign accent. What happened to me is different, because I really was speaking French, and not just for a few seconds – for two weeks.”

Why don’t I quite believe it? Well, to be fluent in a language you need a bit more in your memory than the stuff you learnt for O-Level thirty years ago. It sounds like a load of stuff and nonsense to me!

Monday, 10 June 2019

The birds! The birds!

Birds! Large, black, raucous birds! Rooks or crows or jays or all three together! There are masses of them in our neck of the woods! We see them flying around and Phil comments, without fail, “Flying school!” regardless of the time of year and whether or not there are any young ones involved.

And that is where they should be: flying around outside! Not inside my house!

Now, everyone has something that gives them the heebie-jeebies. Some people can’t stand spiders. My grandson cannot abide wasps; all his courage disappears and he becomes a quivering wreck. Me, I can catch spiders, even large ones, and throw them out at the bottom of the garden, as I have boasted only recently. I am a pretty good wasp dispatcher as well. My kindness towards spiders does not extend to wasps. I have been told lately that I should not squish hem as they are as valuable as bees in the pollinating business. However, I find them much more annoying than bees and far less inclined to let themselves be trapped in jars and transported outdoors. So squishing it has to be.

But things that flap give me the willies! Butterflies I can just about cope with. Moths, which are stupid and seem to fly deliberately towards people, give me the jimjams, but over time I have trained myself not to panic. In a supreme act of bravery I have accompanied the grandchildren into the bat cave at Chester zoo. Pigeons taking off in front of me cause me to shudder and I have to force myself not to scream in horror. You can imagine my reaction to seagulls and pigeons on the terraces of Spanish bars.

But birds indoors are, for me at any rate, the stuff of nightmares!

When we first viewed our house, well over thirty years ago, there was a very old-fashioned gas fire in the living room. In the romantic flush of relative youth we decided to get rid of it and replace it with an open fireplace - coal and logs and such would provide our cheer. And, in addition, we installed, or rather had someone else install for us, a coal-burning stove in the basement kitchen to run the central heating. When the coal-burning stove eventually packed in we had gas-fired central heating put in. Several years ago now we gave in and bought a very realistic-looking electric-powered fire to go in the fireplace in the living room, effectively blocking it.

What has all this to do with large, black, raucous birds? You might well ask.

About twenty years ago, when our daughter and her small daughter were living with us, I set off for work as usual somewhere between 6.30 and 7.00am. All was well. About an hour later our daughter brought her daughter down for breakfast and found a crow, or a rook or a jay, sitting in the fireplace with its baby. She did not panic, as I most assuredly would have done, but retreated upstairs to alert her father to the situation. He came down and calmly opened the living room window as wide as possible and amazingly the bird and its young flew out.

That was bird invasion number one.

A few years ago, while Phil and I were away in Galicia, our daughter, accompanied by the same daughter as before, now in her mid-to-late teens, popped in to check that the the house was fine. It clearly wasn’t. Things were knocked over in the living room but it did not really look like a burglary. Further inspection revealed a certain amount of soot and bird droppings. But no sign of a bird. On going upstairs they discovered a similar sort of mess in the main bedroom. But again no sign of a bird. Like angels, they cleared up the mess and eventually found a poor dead rook, or crow or jay, in a corner of the bedroom. They cleared him up too.

That was bird invasion number two.

One summer, after the installation of the electric fire and thus the blocking of the fireplace, our daughter and her partner came round, again in our absence in Galicia, and heard flapping and squawking behind the fire. Armed with large shopping bags, they gingerly moved the fire and successfully caught a large, black bird, rook or crow or jay, and sent him on his way into the great outdoors.

 That was bird invasion number three.

Yesterday granddaughter number two complained that she had heard a noise behind the fire. It was only hailstones tumbling down the chimney. She did, however, put a hex on the place for this morning it was plain that bird invasion number four had taken place. I was up fairly early as I had an appointment for a dental check-up. Having some breakfast in the basement kitchen, I distinctly heard a squawk, the kind that rooks or crows or jays make. But this one appeared to come from inside the house. Somewhat freaked out, I steeled myself to go up to the living room and check. No sign of anything but a certain amount of noise from behind the electric fire. It was still too early to wake Phil so I put up a fireguard and placed a moderately heavy coffee table in front of the fireplace in the hope that whatever was there would not be strong enough to shift the barricade.

And then I went out. A couple of hours later, my dental appointment over, I phoned Phil and mentioned, en passant, that there was bird in the chimney. Which he had already discovered, of course, but which he had decided to leave where it was as a problem for us to solve together.

On my return home, I spent some time working in the kitchen as I could not bear to sit in the living room and hear the scrabbling and squawking. In the meantime, my hero and knight in shining armour had consulted the great god Google and found instructions on How To Remove A Bird From A Chimney Or Fireplace. And so we carefully moved the fire and managed to drop a towel on top of the by now exhausted bird, clearly a young crow or jay or rook. Phil scooped him up and dropped him out of the window, whereupon the bird flew away. 

Quite traumatised, we had to have tea and cake!

The thing is that after bird invasion number three we spoke to the builder next door and ascertained that he would be able to fit a cage over the chimney pot.

We know that around here rooks, or crows, or jays, whatever, like to nest on or in or next to chimney pots. And the young are daft, like all young creatures, and are prone to falling in. The builder next door assured us he would cap the pots. He has not done so and as he promised to do it free of charge I did not like to nag.

I did hear that he has been suffering from vertigo, not a good ailment to have when you plan to do roof work. I know a good do-it-yourself cure for vertigo as I have helped Phil to overcome the problem. It involves moving the head around a certain way in order to perform what the website calls “rolling the stones”, shifting bits of crystal that get into the ear canal and cause dizziness. Who knew we had crystals inside us!?

While I have no intention of helping the builder next door to “roll his stones”, I think I need to ask him once again about putting a cage on our chimney pots.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Getting rid of spiders and other nuisances!

It seems to be large spider season again! I have removed two in the last couple of days. I am, in fact, a spider catcher extraordinaire, using the tried and tested glass and postcard method. This morning’s large spider, body about half an inch long and legs to go with it, seemed very angry at being trapped in a glass. You could almost hear him hissing as he scrabbled against the side. Ignoring his protests, I unlocked the back door and walked to the bottom of the garden to throw him out, hoping to trick him into not being able to find his way back in.

Back inside, I was unable to find the back door key. It was clearly one of those days! Obviously the thing had bounced out as I opened the door, which is always a bit stiff in damp weather. There is the added problem that we only have the one key. Presumably we started out with two and lost one long ago. (Memo to self: get a second key cut and put it in a safe place for emergencies such as this!) So we needed to locate this one. After hunting, without results, in the likely places close to the back door I decided the time had come to investigate the bag of paper and cardboard waiting to be put out for recycling next Tuesday. No luck on the first cursory inspection! So I went into more detail, looking into the Weetabix packet and the cardboard biscuit box that contain other smaller containers. And there it was!

As I said, one of those days. Even the weather is odd.

I ran round the village in early morning sunshine, disposed of the spider a little later when the cloud had moved in, debated whether or not to hang the washing out to dry and felt spots of rain. Once the washing was draped around the house, the sun re-emerged. Not for long though. Before we knew it we had a hailstorm! And now the sky is trying to clear again.

So much for Flaming June!

Mind you, I suspect I am having a better day than some.

Cocaine user Michael Give is still in the news. Here are some comments:-

“In 2014 Michael Give’s education department passed a new code of conduct that included disqualification for teachers convicted of possessing class A drugs like cocaine.
So snorting coke makes you unfit to teach but fine to run the entire education system!”

“Thank goodness Michael Give is only admitting to the serious criminal offences of possession o class A substance rather than necking a can of Marks and Sparks mojito on the train. There’d be hell to pay.”

I wondered what had provoked his admission. Then I discovered that Owen Bennett had revealed it in a new book.

So there are no lies, just a bit of omission. Until forced to reveal all.

Some Tories have gone on about what an unconservative thing taking drugs is to do. Really? I remember reading years ago that the offspring of the privileged classes, educated to be adventurous, were probably just as likely, if not indeed more likely, to try drugs than working class kids.

Anyway, it does not seem to be making him give up the idea of becoming PM, and he is trying to get his campaign back on track. I read that “Gove dismissed as “foolish” the idea that American authorities could ban a prime minister from entering their country, even though some UK citizens have been stopped from going to the US after admitting to having taken drugs.
He acknowledged he was “fortunate” not to have been sent to prison. Asked if he should have gone to prison, Gove said: “I was fortunate in that I didn’t, but I do think it was a profound mistake and I have seen the damage drugs do. I have seen it close up and I have also seen it in the work that I have done as a politician. That is why I deeply regret the mistake that I made.”

We shall see! Some things can’t be caught in a jar and thrown over the garden wall!

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Being delusional!

The weathermen were right: a lot of rain has come sweeping up towards our end of the country. The sound of the rain on the roof and against the windows did rather but me off running this morning. So I switched off the alarm, planning to get up shortly and walk into the village instead. I woke up almost an hour later. Obviously, as my mother would have told me had she still been around, I needed the extra sleep.

By the time I got myself organised, the torrential rain had turned to drizzle. I suppose I could still have run but by then my plans had changed. The rain did not prevent me from taking pictures of the flowers around here en route to the coop for the newspaper.




I went out again later to catch the bus to the nearest supermarket and found a wall fallen down near the corner where the bus stops. It was fine the last time I walked past. It clearly was not the result of a car mounting the pavement as that would have caused the stones to fall into the river. Maybe the wall just gave way under the weight of water falling from the sky.

Talking to several of my nodding acquaintances on the bus, I discovered that they were on their way to school fĂȘtes that their children were involved in today. So this is the season of school fĂȘtes. Which explains the rain! In addition to that, next Friday is Whit Friday, Band Contest Day in Saddleworth, when brass bands from around the country, indeed from around the world, go from village to village and march in playing their music, hoping to win a prize. It’s the closest thing we have to a fiesta and on a fine day it is quote spectacular. On a wet day it is still pretty impressive but sunshine is best. Unfortunately I cannot remember the last time we had a really warm and sunny Whit Friday.

Are we all delusional, thinking that we can organise outdoor events in June?

Also delusional seems to be Donald Trump. First of all he said he was very popular in England and had seen no demonstrations against his visit. He must have looked in the wrong places. He has also boasted about having “automatic chemistry” with the Queen during his state visit here. He apparently told Fox News that people had noticed how well he and the Queen had connected. He said: “The meeting with the Queen was incredible. I think I can say I really got to know her because I sat with her many times and we had automatic chemistry, you will understand that feeling. It’s a good feeling. But she’s a spectacular woman.”

He seemed to think the queen enjoyed herself too. “There are those that say they have never seen the Queen have a better time, a more animated time. We had a period we were talking solid straight, I didn’t even know who the other people at the table were, never spoke to them. We just had a great time together.” Trump, when asked if he would keep the conversation going, added: “Yes I am, she is a spectacular woman, an incredible woman.”

He must not have seen the cartoons of the queen peering from behind the curtains and asking Prince Philip to tell POTUS she is not at home!

Meanwhile the struggle to find a new leader for the Conservative party continues. Today brings a fresh bit of scandal. Michael Gove says he regrets taking cocaine. A more unlikely person to be in involved in drug taking I cannot imagine. I can, however, think of decisions he should regret having taken in his political career! We might never forgive him for those "fronted adverbials" - and that's the least of it.

Maybe he too is delusional!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Some bad stuff!

Our Sicily adventure is in the past and I am once again noting the bad things going on. Here are a few:-

The Washington Post reported the other day that the Trump administration is canceling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide, saying the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures.
“The Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun discontinuing the funding stream for activities — including soccer — that have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” said U.S. Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber.
Federal officials have warned Congress that they are facing “a dramatic spike” in unaccompanied minors at the southern border and have asked Congress for $2.9 billion in emergency funding to expand shelters and care. The program could run out of money in late June, and the agency is legally obligated to direct funding to essential services, Weber said.”

It must be frightening enough being a child whose parents have gone missing during your flight from whatever threat you left behind and finding yourself locked up in a detention centre. If they then take away the activities that might give your life some semblance of normality, imagine how that must feel. What are these youngsters supposed to do? Sit still and twiddle their thumbs all day?

Then today I read about refugees in Ireland, young women pregnant because of rape, too frightened to tell anyone until they are more than 12 weeks pregnant, the time limit for legal abortions in Ireland. An organisation called the Abortion Support Network has long experience of helping Irish women to travel to England for terminations but fond that they cannot help refugees because of the difficulty of getting visas. They are guiding people to the Netherlands instead.

Now, that is not really a consequence of Brexit but after Brexit the Abortion Support Network will have the same problem with EU resident in Ireland.

And here is something from the NSPCC. They say that racial abuse and bullying of children has risen by 20% since 2015 -16. More than 10,000 incidents were reported to the police last year. Even babies under one year old have been targeted. As a consequence of this children are trying to whiten their skin to avoid the hate crimes. And many of the children spoken to said that they did nit talk about it at home because they did not want to make their parents suffer. Children are whitening their skin to try to avoid a rising tide of racial hate crimes, in which even babies under one year old have been targeted, a charity has said.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said racial abuse and bullying of children had risen by one-fifth since 2015-16 to more than 10,000 incidents recorded by police last year. The charity said some callers to Childline, its telephone help service, had tried to change their appearance by using makeup to whiten their skin. Some children told counsellors they kept their pain a secret from their parents because they did not want to upset them.

These are all young people and children suffering.

And I feel guilty about moaning about it raining again!

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Everyone is growing older!

Just in case anyone gets the impression that Manchester is all doom and gloom and misery, here are some photos taken out and about in Saddleworth in the last couple of days.







The poppies are perhaps very appropriate to today. The newspapers are understandably full of the D-Day commemoration stuff.

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, expresses the view that this may be the last such international celebration. The veterans are not getting any younger, but still turning up at 90+ years old, and in five years time there may be none left at all. And then there is Brexit, which should not affect matters but could well do so. A celebration at Portsmouth is perhaps a sign, not to mention Trump’s “America First”. All rather isolationist. Maybe we won’t be welcome on the beaches of Normandy in years to come.

Some reports have noted the absence of the Duke of Edinburgh from both Trump’s visit and from the D-Day celebrations. He must have been judged too old and infirm now. Rather a pity! He could have simply come out with one of his sarcastic faux pas and put Mr Trump in his place.

Another old royal gent not participating in celebrations is King Juan Carlos of Spain. He abdicated in favour his son Felipe five years ago but was planning to accompany his son to their national annual Armed Forces Day last Saturday. The younger king decided this was not a good idea and eventually Juan Carlos agreed, sending a letter to Felipe telling him it was time to “start a new chapter in my life and complete my retirement from public life”.

It’s rather a shame. He began so well, steering Spain into democracy rather than following Franco’s style, and appealing personally to the armed forces not to escalate matters when there was an attempted coup in 1981. It all ended in scandal and abdication though. Having taught my A-Level Spanish students about him so often in the past, I felt almost personally let down.

Old age comes to us all, I suppose. Even Madonna has hit 60. What is more, she has been criticised for continuing to be Madonna. Her critics seem to think she should slow down. They make a great fuss about “dignity”, “appropriate behaviour” and “growing old gracefully”.

It’s funny how male musical artists don’t face the same criticism. Mick Jagger can still strut his stuff and Bruce Springsteen can still slide on his knees across the stage.

Even ageing is sexist!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

And we’re back - until the next adventure!

Two days back in the UK: that’s how long it’s taken me to get around to writing this. We arrived home eventually at about 2.00am on Tuesday morning. So, what do you do on such a day when you finally get up? You wash a million things out of your suitcase! And then I went into Manchester for my Italian class. If our teacher was going to make it after getting home at 2.00 in the morning and then going to teach a bunch of high school students before coming to our adult class, then so could we. Besides, those of us who had been to Sicily wanted to tell those who had stayed at home what a treat they had missed!

Our final day in Sicily, Monday, was not to be wasted. Suitcases loaded into the minibus, we set off for the final surprise of our trip. The extras on this trip have been quite magnificent.

This one turned out to be a farm visit, specifically Masseria Posto di Blocco 452. The farm is just next to a crossroads where checkpoint 452 was situated in the Second World War. On July 10th 1943 some twenty Italian soldiers fought there against American paratroopers and, greatly outnumbered, inevitably all perished. The son of one of the soldiers, Soldato Giuseppe Rinaldi, found out where his father had died and had a monument erected there on July 10th 2014. And the farm keeps the name of the checkpoint.


The farm is all organic and has around 25 milking cows to make cheese - ricotta and the like - and a variety of other animals just for show. They used to have more cattle and sold milk as well but for various reasons it was not economical and now they make cheese, which they sell largely to restaurants, and run a bit of tourism with farm visits and fine food-tasting sessions. And so we got to see how their cheese is produced and sat down to eat yet more Sicilian food.

Their canneloni were splendid, and I am not a great canneloni fan as a rule.

It’s a wonder any of us fit in our clothes now.

After lunch we went to Caltagirone, but first we visited a quite baroque cemetery on the outskirts on the city.

In Caltagirone itself we admired the pottery and discovered the legend of the “Teste de Moro”, the pairs of ceramic planters made in the shape of a blackamoor’s head and a white woman’s head.


The story goes that in 1100 or thereabouts, during the time when the Arabs dominated Sicily, a beautiful young woman who rarely left her home was spotted watering the plants on her balcony by an Arab who fell in love with her. He managed to get to know her and declared his love to her, a passion which she returned. The inevitable seduction happened. Eventually the Arabs decided to leave Sicily and when the young lady discovered that this was on the cards, and that he had a wife and children back home, she chopped off his head and made it into a plant pot which she placed on her balcony! Just a little gruesome!

We also saw fine buildings, masses of shops selling a vast range of ceramic produce, including huge tables costing over 1000 euros.




Almost accidentally we visited a church which contained examples of nativity scenes - Caltagirone is famous for its thirty or so nativity scenes displayed around the city at Christmas time - and curiously a electric train set running round a model of the city!


The church was next to an amazing set of steps, each with a different ceramic design on the step. We opted not to go up the steps but went for a refreshment break instead.

This was in a covered square at each end of which was a huge ceramic picture. Astounding!



Running out of time, we took a flying visit to Catania, made even shorter by the traffic jam in the way. Yet another cathedral to admire, and an elephant, symbol of the city I think, in the main square. Pictures of these another day.

And then off to the airport - no traffic jams on the way out of Catania. Rather tired, but still laughing and singing silly songs, we arrived back in Manchester, where the skies are grey and it has rained on us.

We know we’re back!

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Almost the end of the Sicilian adventure!

Yesterday evening we all caught the “navetta” shuttle bus from Ragusa to Ragusa Ibla to join in the celebrations for the least of San Giorgio. I asked why it was that Saint George has his day on April 23rd in England but on June 1st in Sicily. They said it was because it is a different Saint George. If that is the case then both of them went around killing dragons!
After waiting with a happy crowd of mostly Sicilians we got on the bus and made our way down to the old part of town where Ragusa was before the 1693 earthquake knocked a lot of stuff down. We admired the lights, although some of our party suggested that maybe the Sicilians should take a look at Blackpool for ideas. We had some more nice food, but were unable to talk much as a concert was taking place in the square.

Actually it was more of a talent show to begin with. Local heroes got up on stage and performed. Three young girls reminded me of the girls who act as backing singers in the film “The Commitments”. A very young boy band - aged 12 to 15 - called Blackout performed enthusiastically and with some talent. We applauded them and wished them well for the future. After them a professional pianist-cum-crooner entertained us all. Perhaps a little too much entertainment! 

Eventually San Giorgio made his entrance. It was the statue from the church. He had been in the rounds of the town and was returning to the church. Every so often the men carrying the statue, a great heavy thing, stopped and joggled him up and down to give the impression of cantering. A great green dragon, dead of course, was beneath the feet of his horse.

Not far behind came a huge silver chest, containing the bones of Saint George apparently. I was reminded of the description in the later chapters of “Il Gattopardo”, where the holy relics collected over years by the “principessa” and then preserved by her unmarried daughters, are examined by a specialist from the Catholic church and mostly dismissed as worthless. Such a shame!

Then came the fireworks and the whole shebang was worth while! You have to hand it to these Southern Europeans - they really know how to do fireworks or how to send a lot of money up in smoke, depending on your point of view.

We got back to our hotel late because the queue for the shuttlebus back to Ragusa was about ten miles long. Consequently we were all a little tired this morning.

This did not prevent us from meeting at 10.00 am to go off the Piazza Armerina to visit the Villa Romana del Casale.

I had seen this place on television, an extensive Roman villa, covered by a mudslide in the twelfth century and rediscovered in the 1950s.





Our guide told us that most of the good stuff was pinched by the locals before they told the archeologists that there was the possibility of a Roman villa there at all. The wonderfully preserved mosaic floors are still being uncovered. They are quite spectacular, especially the ladies in bikinis at the gym.


And finally we ate far too much at an “agroturismo” restaurant.







Amazing!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Sicilian Adventures at the Seaside!

Today we went to the seaside. Our Italian friend and teacher taught us a song for the seaside, all about showing off your white buttocks:-

 Tutti a mare, tutti a mare
A mostrar le chiappe chiare...

So we taught her “I do like to be beside the seaside” in return.


More specifically we went to Punta Secca, where there is a house which they use as the home of Salvo Montalbano in the TV series. Had we gone there yesterday we might have seen them filming the series. Had we gone to Scicli two or three days ago instead of yesterday we could have seen them filming there as well. Mind you, we might not have got onto the set in either case. So we could have felt quite frustrated and probably would not have seen as many interesting things.

And besides, yesterday the weather was not so good as today for going to the seaside. So we all took pictures of each other standing near Montalbano’s house. Since the last time we visited, five years back, the place has tarted itself up a little for the tourists. There is a plaque on the wall of Montalbano”s house. It may be possible to go and stay there, no doubt at an extortionate price.

Some of our party stripped off, well down their swimsuits and swimming trunks, and went in the sea. The disrobing in the cafe quite shocked some others in our group, who felt that pale British skin really should bot be displayed on cafe terrace. The act of going in the sea shocked and worried the Italian in our group as they thought it was too early in the year to be in the sea. There were, however, quite few other brave (or foolhardy, depending on your point of view) folk in the water.

As for me, I just went and bought me a summer dress for the grand total of 12 Euros from a stall in the square.

Punta Secca is a nice spot to wander about in and the beaches are fine.

When the swimmers had dried off and made themselves decent we walked along the promenade to a restaurant used in the TV series. Trading in on the popularity of the series, they have a dish called “Commissario” something or other - the most expensive item on the list! We did not choose that but were all quite sensible.

I had something with sardines and Phil opted for linguine with shellfish.



Dessert we put off until we had moved to Marina de Ragusa - a more economical move. Phil, however, made up for this by having the biggest ice cream possible while I had a more sensibly-sized “granata di mandorla” - a sort of almond flavoured slush. 



There was some nice street art to admire!

 

 And finally I got my feet in the sea!

Tonight we head for Ragusa Ibla, where we will hear a piano concert, probably while we eat. Certain people, though, want to find a bar where they can watch football. Some people are never satisfied!