Tuesday, 30 April 2019

More fires. Interesting TV.

Grandma’s cafe remained empty this morning. Usually on Tuesdays, when my daughter doesn’t work, she drops her teenagers at school early and comes for breakfast with the smallest grandchild. Today I was getting organised when a message came through. There was a small industrial complex on fire not far from our house. The teenagers’ school, quite a few miles away but apparently in line with the way the smoke was drifting, was closed because all their smoke alarms were going crazy and they could not allow pupils in a smoke-infested building. Also the road was probably closed. She hoped we were not suffering from smoke!

I took a look outside: blue sky, sunshine, not a hint of smoke on the air! After some searching, I finally found a report online about it. A fire was reported at something like 3.15 am. Ten houses nearby had been evacuated. Three hours later they reckoned it was under control. The road was closed. Judging by the lack of smoke or smell, it would seem to be all over bar the clearing up. So far I have resisted the temptation to walk down the toad and see for myself. I just hope buses are running through our village later today.

So my daughter has her day off with all her children, except for the grown-up, independent working girl eldest child. The teenagers are quite pleased to have a bonus day off school. The smallest wants everyone, including her 14 year old brother, to be princesses. I think she is on a loser there!

There have been altogether too many fires around here lately! We are not doing much for the environment!

On the recommendation of a friend from the Italian class, we have been watching an Italian detective series on Netflix: Carlo and Malik, called Nero a Metà in Italian. Set in Rome, it is one of those series where there is a case to solve in each episode but with a developing back story concerning the main characters. Very nicely done.

Carlo is a middle-aged Italian Italian. Malik is a younger detective, black Italian, an immigrant from the Ivory Coast rescued from the sea as a small child (we discover in about episode 3) and adopted by a white woman. They have a difficult working relationship, to say the least.

 In between times it deals with topical problems like young people, especially girls, sucked into stupid and dangerous challenges via the internet, marriages (and quick divorces) arranged to give people Italian citizenship, illegal testing of medical drugs and a whole lot more.

What has struck me is the racism evident in the society portrayed in their bit of Rome. When Malik first enters the police station, it is assumed he is there to register as an immigrant, or that he is a suspect in or witness to an ongoing case. And his is the only non-white face in the police station. People questioned in cases frequently comment nastily on the fact the “even Africans can become policemen now”. Some people refuse to be interviewed by him. He is regularly referred to as “the negro”. Chinese people are treated no better on the whole. There is one scene where a policeman comments to a young man being questioned, “Do you not do things this way in China?” To which he receives the retort, “I am as Italian as you are. I was born here.”

Interesting stuff! Especially as a relationship is developing between Malik and Alba, daughter of Carlo.

I shall keep on watching.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Fat cats! Schools. Health.

Here’s an interesting fact that I gleaned from the newspapers today:

“When Eton College and Winchester College were first established 600 years ago, it was written into their charters that all pupils would be poor scholars taken from the community. But they were hijacked by the wealthy, who used them to school their own children and in so doing their charitable purpose was corrupted to accentuate the advantage of already privileged children.”

Well, I suppose that was to be expected. And as Leonard Cohen might have said, “the rich have got their channels in the schoolrooms of the poor”.

Is this why so many private schools can claim charitable status and therefore not pay various taxes? Interesting!

Add to that the argument that parents who pay for their children’s education are saving the taxpayers huge amounts of money as we (the taxpayers) do not have to pay for those children’s state education. Or the one that says that parents who pay for their children’s education are effectively being taxed twice. As if they were forced to do so!

Nice try by the rich guys!

Here’s a statistic: a child at a secondary private school has up to five times more money spent on their education than one at a state school.

There you go!

Abolishing private schools would not rid us of privilege and inequality - parents would still pay for extra private tuition - but it might lead to more pressure to improve the state school system.

Obesity is in the news again as well. One in four of us in the UK is overweight, they tell us. I think I could have told them that just by walking around Manchester.

On a recent TV programme I saw them do what they called the “string test”. They measured people’s height with a piece of string, cut the string in half and checked to see if the half length would go round their waist. If your waist measures more than half your height, then you are officially obese. Now I know a whole lot of people who consider themselves a little overweight but definitely not obese - oh, no! Heaven forbid! - who would fail that string test.

The comedian Sofie Hagen says she wants to “reclaim the word fat.” She says, “I know not everyone likes it. I used to say ‘overweight’. But fat is a neutral word. If you look it up, it doesn’t say good or bad. I want to remove the negative associations, that’s why I put it in the title.”

The title referred to is her book, Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You, which documents her own experiences as a fat child and adult, from crushing weight-loss attempts that were always “95-98% likely to fail”, to dating men who were looking to “settle for a fat girl”. She writes about the problems of flying while fat (do you book two seats or risk not being able to fly at all?); and the “hell” that is summer, with warmer weather bringing chafing, sweat and the increased scrutiny that leaves fat people feeling forced to stay indoors.

Hmmm! It’s all very well reclaiming the word but the problem still remains. And yes, fat can still be beautiful but that doesn’t stop it being a health problem.

Mind you, I have probably been contributing to the problem, having spent the last few days making birthday cakes (we have a lot of April birthdays to celebrate), decorating them with butter icing and chocolate eggs, feeding them to members of the family and inevitably consuming them myself!

Time to get everyone exercising again!

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Jobs for the girls?

I have just listened to a programme about technology on the radio. The main focus was women and technology.

When computers were first around the people working in IT were mostly women, possibly because they had the keyboard skills. Besides, nobody thought the software was all that important commercially. The hardware was where the money was.

Inevitably male managers were brought in and the men took over, as they have tended to do in culinary stuff and haute couture. But they often had to be taught how the technology worked by - you’ve guessed it! - the women.

Home computers came along and suddenly things changed. Parents bought computers for their sons rather than for their daughters. Boys played computer games more frequently than girls. So when they all went to college and needed to use computers the boys already had a leading edge. The girls had more to learn. And there were the role models: mostly rather geeky men. And the study or work environment tended (probably still tends) to be make dominated.

College course recruiters recently held an experiment. They interviewed students for computer courses. One group was interviewed in the computer room decorated with Star Wars posters, pictures of hi-tech machinery and so on. Another group was interviewed in the same room but this time decorated with gender neutral posters of nature scenes, animals and such.

A higher percentage of girls enrolled from the second group.

Interesting!

Characters in computer games tend to be designed from a male perspective. Which is why the female characters are often skimpily clad, not to mention being about to fall out of their clothes! Moves are afoot to change this.

Women are needed in technology to prevent gender bias messing things up. For example, when airbags were first introduced some women died, suffocated because the airbags had been tested on bulkier male dummies. Similar things happened with seatbelts. No doubt there are other instances of that sort of thing.

Maybe things are changing. Girls deal with mobile phones just as well as boys, although they might play fewer games on them and post more photos. Our eldest granddaughter, 21, has gaming friends online all around the world because she plays a lot of games and she’s good at it. But in the real world some people still react with surprise that she has that skill.

Change is slow to happen!

Stereotypical reactions abound. But sometimes they surprise us. I read this today about the writer Martin Amis reacting to the film ET:-

Martin Amis wrote, “Towards the end of the ET, barely able to support my own grief and bewilderment, I turned and looked down the aisle at my fellow sufferers: executive, black dude, Japanese businessman, punk, hippie, mother, teenager, child. each face was a mask of tears.”

Well, I never would have expected that. I know the film made my sister cry but she gets soppy about stuff. Perhaps I don’t have the sentimentality chip. I saw the film with my children, who didn’t cry either, when my daughter was about 6 or 7. We enjoyed it. The main reaction, however, was my daughter wanting to change her name from Ellen to Elliott, the name of the child who befriends the lost extraterrestrial, and be a boy. Nowadays I suppose I would have her in therapy but then we just took it in our stride.

Another report of tears came from an article about cleaning as therapy and the rash of youtube and TV stuff about it. In three days a “cleanfluencer” (that’s the technical term apparently), somebody called Mrs Hinch, has sold 160,000 copies of her book, all about “How a spot of cleaning is the perfect way to cleanse the soul”. (Well, yes, it can be therapeutic to clean your kitchen and look around with satisfaction at the results. But completing a difficult crossword or sudoku is also therapeutic!) Here come the tears: thousands queued at her book-signings - many cried when they reached the front of the line.

I am constantly amazed by such things. The woman is writing about housework, for goodness sake!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Words! Words! Words!

We have spent a chunk of today travelling across town so that Phil could consult a doctor and get some antibiotics, hopefully for nothing too serious. We had to travel across town because our own doctors, after a long session of hanging on the telephone, were only able to offer an appointment in a month’s time. After some huffing and puffing, they told him of a system of emergency appointments on, as I already said, the other side of town.

This is why people go to A&E and clog up the system, people sitting around for hours breathing in other folk’s germs!!!

Not impressed! It’s a far cry from the days when the doctor called on the patient at home. And yes, that WAS part of the NHS service!

Anyway, this has led to much reading of the Saturday paper.

In one section was a selection of poems about insects, “curated by Carol Anne Duffy”, who is coming to the end of her time as poet laureate. The poems are interesting, if you like poems about insects. More interesting for me is this verb “curate”, which never used to exist as far as I know, but which I hear all the time instead of “compile” or “collect” or even sometimes “research”.

Obviously it is connected to “curator”, so I did a bit of research of my own. According to Merriam-Webster, this is the definition of a curator:-

 : one who has the care and superintendence of something especially
 : one in charge of a museum, zoo, or other place of exhibits.

The website gave me this nugget of information:

Did You Know?
In a good-sized art museum, each curator is generally responsible for a single department or collection: European painting, Asian sculpture, Native American art, and so on. Curatorial duties include acquiring new artworks, caring for and repairing objects already owned, discovering frauds and counterfeits, lending artworks to other museums, and mounting exhibitions of everything from Greek sculpture to 20th-century clothing.

It also had a section called “Other Words from curator”, which gave me these:-

curatorial - adjective

curatorship - noun

But it did not give me :-

curate - verb

Of course it’s a fairly obvious creation from curator and I know that new words are being created all the time but some, like this one, sound a bit odd and possibly unnecessary!

Also Wikipedia told me that in Scotland, the term "curator" is also used to mean the guardian of a child, known as curator ad litem. Who knew?

And, of course, it all comes from Latin originally.

On the subject of words, here’s a very odd new meaning for an old word:

the word “cancel” can be used to mean “withdraw your admiration”, from a person for example.

On this subject, the novelist Brett Easton Ellis someone I confess to never having read, apparently said this in an interview this week: “I mean, what is millennial culture? There’s no writing. They don’t care about literature. None of them reads books.” I bet that went down well with the millennials. Mr Easton Elliswent on to claim that millennials only have “cancel culture”, as in, “We’re going to cancel this person, she shouldn’t have tweeted that, she’s cancelled”.

How weird! I am clearly completely out of touch with young-people-speak!

But here are some words which someone has invented and which I find rather pleasing:

 Buchendschmerz - encroaching melancholy as you approach the end of a good book.

 Leichtlesbucheifersucht - envying someone enjoying a light, fun book while you struggle through a long, worthy one.

 Stapelschuldgefühl - guilt felt upon buying new books when you have a pile of unread ones at home.

Buchverlusterleichterung -relief upon finding that you have lost your copy of a book that you weren’t really enjoying.

Now I want a word for a book you buy because the blurb looks interesting and the first few pages grab you, only to discover you already have a years-old copy on the shelf at home!

 Suggestions please!

Friday, 26 April 2019

Getting agitated about things!

It’s odd the things people get worked up about.

A new law comes into effect at midnight making it illegal to shoot crows, jays, woodpigeons and a dozen or so other birds without a licence from Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog. People who are indignant about this seem to have blamed Chris Packham, the BBC’s Springwatch presenter, for this. As far as I can gather, all he did was say he supported this move to bring legislation into the 21st century. As a result, some people have glued his gate shut and hung dead crows to it. I wonder what they hope to gain by that. And not all of them are farmers, who might understandably regard certain birds as lest, but people who think it’s fun to go out shooting birds. 

Then there are beards. How about this:

“Beards have a mixed reputation – men with beards are more attractive, said one study last year, yet 43% of women would not sleep with a man with a beard, according to another. Now, a report says men with beards carry more germs in their facial hair than dogs carry in their fur. These are the same dogs that eat discarded chicken bones off the pavement.”

Surely it is possible to keep a beard clean. It must not be beyond the wit of bearded men to give their facial hair a scrub in the shower. Personally I find it strange that so many men have their head clean shaven but wear a flowing beard. And there are those who shave off all but a funny little tuft just below the bottom lip. But then, who am I to criticise beard fashion? Men have as much right to wear their beards in odd ways as I have to dye my hair a colour to suit me.


More serious is the question of tax. We have been hearing a lot about firms moving their headquarters out of the UK. One after another they seem to have gone, not unlike rats leaving a sinking ship. And rich people keep threatening to follow suit. Here’s a bit of a report about one of them:-

“John Caudwell, the billionaire founder of Phones4u, has vowed to leave the UK for tax-free Monaco if Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister to avoid higher taxes. With an £1.6bn fortune, Caudwell, 66, is the UK’s 87th richest person, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. He said he and other wealthy Britons would emigrate to escape Corbyn’s proposed wealth tax.

Caudwell, who built his fortune importing and selling mobile phones in the late 80s and early 90s, said a Corbyn-led government would be “a complete fiasco”.

“If Corbyn wanted to start taxing more extensively than already, my appetite or tolerance to pay much more than I’m already paying is not very big,” Caudwell said.”

I find myself wondering just how much money a person needs. Like dragons sitting on their hoard of gold and jewels, some people just like to have it there for reassurance, even if it too much to spend. Even paying more tax, he would surely have enough to maintain an expensive lifestyle. And they don’t appear to mind paying accountants to help them avoid taxes!

Here’s a story about a young woman who conned her way into an expensive lifestyle.

“Using the name Anna Delvey, Sorokin deceived friends and financial institutions into believing she had a fortune of about $67m (60m euros) overseas that would cover her high-end clothing, luxury hotel stays and trans-Atlantic travel.

She claimed her father was diplomat or an oil baron and went to extraordinary lengths to have others pay her way. Prosecutors said she promised one friend an all-expenses paid trip to Morocco but then stuck her with the $62,000 bill.”

She must have had supreme self-confidence and a glib tongue. But she has had her comeuppance. There is a touch of Hollywood about the story. I wonder if they will make a film of it one day! It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing had happened.

And maybe that will make her a legitimate fortune. Who knows?

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Running (or not) in the rain. Age-related stuff. And a good put-down!

I listened to the rain beating against the window at 7.30 this morning and decided that I wasn’t likely to be running anywhere today. So I reset the alarm for a little later. It’s not that I mind getting wet, it’s the initial act of stepping out into the rain and starting to run. At heart I think I am a fair weather runner. However, by the time I got up the rain had stopped and I ended up putting on my running gear anyway, just a little later than usual. It still hasn’t rained enough to re-establish the mud puddles which usually appear at the first hint of a raindrop. That says something about how little rain we have had recently.

I still don’t run very fast. Fast enough, however, to convince my Fitbit that I am actually running and not out for a walk. It will sometimes misinterpret my activity. Once I pushed the smallest grandchild out in her buggy and the Fitbit old me I had been for a bike ride. What was there about my stance and pace that made it recognise wheels turning, even if they were pram wheels? I have to remember that it is just a bit of machinery which basically measures my heartbeat and uses some kind of satnav to tell it how far I have moved.

Neither do I plan on doing any marathons. It is almost certainly too late for me to start now and, besides, the serious training routine might be a step too far even for me, fair weather runner that I am. This does not stop me reading about running and marathons and the like. Here is an article about running at different ages.  It was the headline, “Why are middle-aged marathon runners faster than twentysomethings?”, that attracted my attention. Then I remembered that I am not middle-aged any longer. The “older” people referred to are the over-40s, not the over-60s and into their 70s. But apparently we might still have more stamina than the 20 - 30 year olds!

Age or rather perception of age is a funny thing. My niece’s 19 year old son has a 16 year old girlfriend who looks about 25. She is planning to study “Fashion and Beauty” at college next year and I think she has already started practising dressing and wearing makeup in accordance with the her proposed career. At the other end of the scale is Greta Thunberg, the Scandinavian eco-warrior, also 16, who looks about 12 with her Pippi Longstocking plaits. Somewhere in the middle is my 16 year old granddaughter - this is beginning to be a like a weird version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: this sixteen year old looks too old, this one looks too young but the middle one is just right.

Greta (Pippi Longstocking) Thunberg is quite a powerful little speaker when she gets going. She has come in for some criticism, however, from journalist Toby Young who maintains, on Twitter, that we should take no notice of her because she is the “privileged daughter” of a Swedish Eurovision star. As if that somehow makes her words meaningless. Others, such as food journalist Jay Rayner, rallied round on Twitter to point out to Mr Young that he has had some privilege in his own life and that maybe his words are pretty meaningless!

Toby Young told Jay Rayner on Twitter:

“I’ve know you for over 35 years @jayrayner1. I’m sorry that means so little to you. If you were being mobbed on Twitter I would come to your defence (and still will when it happens, as it inevitably will). But you got over 2,000 likes so that’s the main thing, right?”

Journalist Sarah Vine joined in and eventually Jay Rayner tweeted this:

“The two of you have both made a terrible mistake here. You've have confused me knowing you, with holding either of you in any regard whatsoever. And Toby, if I'd done something so terrible that you coming to my aid might help, I'd deserve to be left for dead.” 

A pretty good “I may have known you for years but ...” put-down, which I must reserve for future use.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Summer madness!

When summer extends well into autumn we call it an Indian Summer. In Spain and Italy, and perhaps other European countries as well, they call it the Summer of Saint Martin. Does anybody have a name for the summer that arrives in April? True, it is a bit different in that it stays around for a few days and then, rather than spring returning, winter comes back with a vengeance. That is what has been happening around here. I would not be at all surprised the hear frost and snow forecast before long! 

Okay, I exaggerate somewhat but I was back in long running trousers and a long-sleeved top this morning instead of the light weight knee-length shorts and sleeveless top that has been my running-gear for the last few days. So it goes!

Rain is forecast for later in the day. Which may be no bad thing. It’s not the gardens I am bothered about, although it is true they probably need a bit of irrigation. No, I am hoping it might put a stop to the fires which have continued to spring up on the moorland around here. Last night I walked home from nearby Greenfield at 7.30 and saw smoke billowing from the hillside. Not long after that I saw a fire engine on it’s way up the back road to the golf club. Someone told me that Knott Hill, just outside Delph, has been on fire as well.

Now, nobody is going to convince me that fires that start at 7.00 in the evening, or even 9.00 as an acquaintance told me she saw from her window, were started by careless use of portable barbecues. Yesterday was mostly fine but hardly barbecue weather. And who barbecues in the dark? Besides, some of these locations are not exactly picnic spots. Someone is going round setting fires!

Crazy people!

And it’s all a bit close to home now.

The spectators have been out in force as well. On one occasion earlier this week fire engines could not immediately get to the fire because there were so many parked cars - cars parked by people who wanted the excitement of watching the fire!

More crazy people!

Now for some more craziness but of a harmless variety.

Yesterday I read that Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, an old gent who took part in the D-Day landings and fought hard against the Germans in the Second World War, had died. He was 98, a grand old age. This, of course, has nothing to do with craziness. The craziness comes in his full name: Jean Benoît Guillaume Robert Antoine Louis Marie Adolphe Marc d’Aviano.

Wow! Imagine being a small child and having to learn how to write all that. Or indeed, merely having to remember your full name! And then I think of him being naughty as a child, the kind of situation where your parents, or in his case probably a nanny, call you by your full name so that you know they are being really serious!!

And here is more: white jeans!

I have nothing against white jeans ... apart from their being decidedly impractical. Jess Cartner-Morely goes on at some length about them here. As usual, it’s not so much the fashion as the price quoted that astounds me. She talks about a brand of jeans I have never heard of, Acne Mece straight-fit jeans, selling for £240 a pair. No doubt I have never heard of them because it would not occur to me to seek such a pricey item of clothing.

 And to think that I used to think Levis were expensive, back in the day when you just had to have a pair of Levis! Jess C-M tells me you can buy cropped Levi 501s, which she describes as “ a perfect summer shape” for £85.

A bargain!

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

A little topical rant about testing!

Our daughter and family have just returned from a holiday in America. The sixteen year old weighed down their suitcases somewhat with revision guides for almost every subject she is taking for GCSE. She is due to start exams imminently. I am rather proud of the fact that she has been taking this seriously.

There is more though. Since about Christmas she has been going to school early several days a week for something the school calls “interventions”, in other words extra classes for certain subjects. This has become the norm in many secondary schools. I have my doubts about this practice. Do the teachers get time off in lieu for the extra lessons they provide? Probably not!

I certainly remember organising revision sessions for my A-Level students but not so much during the Easter holidays. What we tended to do was arrange for session during the “exam leave” time, a rather lengthy period before exams actually started. During this time students were supposed to be revising sensible at home but what often happened was that their employers in the part-time jobs most of them had would pressurise them to go and work even longer hours for them. Having revision sessions to attend gave them an excuse without risking their jobs.

Now I read about primary schools offering SATs revision sessions for year 6 pupils (10 - 11 year olds) over the Easter holidays. They may be voluntary but you can bet your life parents are vying with each other to make sure their offspring attend. And they may sweeten the pill with some fun activities but it’s still putting pressure on the children to perform. And much of it comes from the league tables and the desperate need for year on year improvement. Year 6 children should be playing out, going to the zoo, running around, doing fun activities in their Easter holidays! No wonder so many of them are stressed!

Now, I know some would say I am a bit of a wishy-washy liberal about this but in fact I have no objection to testing. My infant school (reception to year 2 in modern parlance) reports had a series of boxes teachers ticked (yes, ticking boxes!) to show that we could count to a certain number, do certain arithmetical things, read to a certain level and form letters correctly. But it was all informal and we children knew nothing about it.

When we progressed to junior school (years 3 to 6) we had school exams in every subject twice a year. We used to keep a running total of our exam scores and average marks, working out our position in the class. I don’t remember anyone getting overly stressed about it. Mind you, I was never bottom of the class, so maybe my memory is coloured by that. And again it was all informal, exams carried out in the classroom and marked by our class teacher. Maybe we all extra well-disciplined and could be trusted to get on with the History exam, for example, while the teacher marked the Maths exam at the front of the class.

The 11 Plus exam was the first formal, and possible stressful, exam we went through. And even then most of us just turned up and sat the exams, possibly having worked our way through som “progress papers”. Only later did it become clear that some of our number had had private tuition, largely so that they could also sit the entrance exam for a smart and exclusive private school. For the most part though we just went along and were tested.


And we were tested on sensible stuff. We didn’t have questions like these, which come from Year 6 SATs:-

 QUESTION 1:
 Circle the relative pronoun in the sentence below.
 "It's too rainy for the picnic today, which is a shame."

 QUESTION 2:
 Circle all the determiners in the sentence below.
 "The man's hair was very long, so my uncle cut it using a pair of the clippers he owns."

 QUESTION 3:
 Underline the subordinate clause in this sentence.
 "I don't need a school dinner today because I have brought sandwiches."

 QUESTION 4:
 Circle the modal verb in this sentence:
 "If I can leave early, I would like to meet Anna at the park, as she said she might be there."

 QUESTION 5:
 Tick one box to show whether the word 'before' is used as a preposition or a subordinating conjunction:
 "We left the cinema before the film had ended."
 "Simon finished before Paul in the race."
 "Train tickets are often cheaper before 9am."

The mind seriously boggles! Do eleven year olds really need to be able to do such stuff? Does it help them read and write more effectively? Please don’t get me started on fronted adverbials!

And here’s another thing. At what point does the desired year on year improvement reach its limit. Nowadays we must all strive to be above average. Unfortunately the very fact of having an average implies that some are going to be below average.

And no amount of league tables can change that!

Monday, 22 April 2019

Burning environmental issues.

I hear that it has been wet on the Spanish costas, very annoying for the people who spent money to go and get some Easter sunshine. Especially so as we have had lots of sunshine here. Yes, even here in the Northwest of England, even in rainy Manchester and dull and cloudy Delph. The pub next door to us has been doing a roaring trade, with people sitting out in its garden area late into the evening, sharing their laughter with all the neighbourhood.

Out running this morning in the already warm sunshine, I saw what I thought were clouds piling up behind the hills to the North. Then I realised that they were clouds of smoke. Another area of moorland on fire. Back home I found this report in the Guardian online. 200 hectares up in smoke!

A friend of mine who lives at the top of a hill posted about it on Facebook. She could see not just the smoke but also the flames from her window. Apparently the firemen believe that this fire was started accidentally by people lighting barbecues in a popular picnic spot in the area. Someone added this comment to my friend’s post:- 

“Barbecues should be banned, for environmental reasons, full stop. What's this obsession with barbecues? Every sunny day and everyone wants to either undercook or cremate meat outside. The carbon emissions of charcoal barbecues is ridiculous. A standard garden barbecue releases around 15lbs of CO2 into the atmosphere each time it is used. Imagine that, multiplied by every other household across the country lighting one up, every sunny day. And on top of that there's the risk of environmental catatrophes like this occurring. Burned heather moorland takes decades to recover, notwithstanding it is nesting season. How many ground nesting moorland birds have perished because of these selfish, no common sense idiots, lighting a barbecue?”

Quite so! I have always considered barbecues seriously overrated but then I don’t eat red meat so really barbecues are wasted on me. There must be something in our genetic memory, however, that remembers cooking outdoors over a fire. Almost everyone I know enjoys a good bonfire. As children, we used to beg permission to light a campfire at the bottom of the garden (which incidentally is where folks should light their barbecues instead if doing so on dry moorland which will then burn and burn and burn) but we rarely got to cook anything on it; maybe we used the wrong kind of fuel. We also had a coal fire in the house and sometimes we would make toast the old fashioned way, using a toasting fork over the hot embers. There is something special about food cooked over a fire. Hence the popularity of barbecues - it’s not just so that can show off their outdoor culinary skills.

As I watched the smoke this morning, I reflected on the frequency of these moorland fires in recent times. There was a big one last summer and this year to date there have been at least four that I have heard about, and as we have been out walking we have spotted areas if hillside closer to home which have clearly been burnt, just small areas which presumably have been quickly extinguished.

We have grown accustomed to hearing of forest fires in Galicia and Portugal. Now it seems we must get used to regular moorland fires here. In both cases there is very flammable stuff involved, eucalyptus trees in Galica and Portugal and the peat here, which people used to dig up in slabs and burn it in their home fireplaces.

And this year the peat is extra dry. Forests and moors may not seem as spectacular as cathedrals but we don’t want to lose them to fire either. And neither can we easily rebuild them!

We need to support those environmental protestors!

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Escaping from the problems of the modern world!

I have a friend on Facebook - well, really a friend of a friend but, in the way of social media, she has become my virtual friend as well - who reads a lot. She is always posting her delight at receiving another delivery of books. The odd thing is that much of what she reads seems to be stories for adolescent girls, stories set in boarding schools with names like Mallory Towers or St Botolph’s.

I remember really enjoying such stories when I was about nine or ten years old and really liking the idea of being sent away to school to have adventures solving mysterious crimes and then having midnight feats in the dormitory.

Now, I have long assumed that this fondness for children’s literature was a bit of oddness on my virtual friend’s part. After all, don’t most people grow out reading such stuff and move on to proper murder-mysteries or even established works of great literature? You don’t even need to spend all your time reading Tolstoy and Dickens. There’s a whole lot of grown-up but a bit less weighty stuff out there.

But now it seems that my virtual friend is not alone.

UK book sales monitor Neilsen says that in 2018 10.5 million works of children’s fiction were bought by readers aged 17 or over. 39% of children’s literature is bought by readers over 16 and millennials have been identified as the biggest adult consumers.

I am not totally averse to reading books aimed at children. Some of them are very good. When our children where 9 or 10 I remember reading to and with them some really good books: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Moondial by Helen Cresswell, goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian to name but a few. I thoroughly enjoyed them.

But these are not the kind of thing that the millennials are buying. They seem to prefer Paddington Bear and similar books that I always felt were for much younger children.

A lecturer in English one of the Cambridge University colleges explains it in this way:

 “Adults who read children’s fiction can glimpse the beauty of thoughts pared down to their most naked and vulnerable. Adult literature often revels on complexity, ambiguity and doubt. But some of the most enduring children’s works reveal the world as we seek to view it, in a distilled and clear, focused. They provide us with the narrative tidiness we yearn for and the clarity of focus that so often eludes us in adult life.”

So there it is!

I am off the reread The Tiger who Came to Tea and then maybe Bear Hunt.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Jetting around the world to save the world!

We’ve been having a bit of a heatwave, courtesy no doubt of global warming. Mind you, we also had a bit of mini heatwave at this time of year 39 years ago when I was waiting for the (almost two weeks late) arrival of my daughter whose birthday is next Wednesday. This global warming stuff has been going on for a long time! And the young people have decided that it has gone on long enough and have been protesting all over the place. Good for them!

The actress Emma Thompson flew from Los Angeles to London to join the Extinction Rebellion protests. She should consider herself lucky to have been able to use the airport. The protesters might have closed it down. It is just a tad odd to fly all that way and then say we should be flying less so that we can preserve the planet. I understand she probably felt her presence would add some weight to the protest but could she not have organised a video conference instead?

(I read that she is sixty now. How did that happen? I remember when she was a bright young thing, a rising star, and now she is a dame!)

According to some survey or other, eight in ten consumers in the UK are trying to reduce plastic waste. Half of us would be prepared to pay higher prices for eco-friendly packaging. Of course, it depends on how much more they expect us to pay.

The Saturday Guardian packages its extra bits - TV Guide, review magazine and so on - in what looks like plastic but is actually made from recycled potatoes, or something of that kind. They remind you not to put it in your plastic recycling but to out it with your compostable waste. Which seems like an odd thing but I suppose it works.

It’s quite hard to avoid plastic packaging when you buy food. At the fruit and veg stall at the market today I had to stop the stall-holder putting my various fruits into individual plastic bags and then into a plastic carrier. I just wanted them to go straight into my rucksack. I won that battle. However, courgettes were only available in pre-packed bags. You win some, you lose some! The parsnips just went in loose though!

Policemen have been criticised for dancing to the music along with the protesters! It must be hard to keep yourself really serious when a protest looks to be quite fun. But a fair few people have been arrested.

I don’t think they arrested Dame Emma though!

Someone else who has been whizzing around the world is Michelle Obama, busily promoting her memoir, “Becoming”. This article gives us the lowdown of what the former First Lady has been wearing on her tour. I wonder if the same attention would be paid to the sartorial elegance of her husband if he were going around promoting a book.

 Just thinking aloud!

Friday, 19 April 2019

Words and actions and reactions!

Smells are strange. Or rather, our reaction to smells are strange. Proust knew all about it, letting himself be carried away on a wave of nostalgia by the taste of the madeleine rather than the smell. But then. Without the sense of smell, they say we would not taste things properly.

So there you go.

Hannah Jane Parkinson was writing about a particular smell, and the word for it, in a section of the newspaper called Health and Wellbeing. (Wellbeing is one pf those bits of modern terminology which i explicably annoys me, by the way. There is really no reason for it to annoy me but for the fact that it is rather twee and precious and smacks of a life spent eating quinoa and other fashion-fad foods. That’s just how it is.)

She wrote:

“There are times when we discover a word that maybe we didn’t even realise we needed, but after we are inducted we’d feel lost without. For me, this word – or one of them – is petrichor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines petrichor as: “A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.”

Scientists in Australia coined the word in 1964, by combining the Greek for stone, “petra”, and the word “ichor”, the mythological blood of the gods. In India they call it “matti ka attara” and have even bottled it!!

I know what Hannah Jane means about favourite smells. For some people certain food smells are the best, wich is understandable. My daughter has a thing about the smell of tiny babies. She also enthuses quite a bit about freshly dried laundry, outdoors of course, and certain types of fabric softener.

Personally, like Hannah Jane, I prefer the naturally occurring ones. There is nothing quite like the smell of a crisp frosty morning and at the moment there is an elusive aroma from a flowering bush. As a rule I become aware of it when I am almost past it and I have yet to identify it.

That’s enough waxing lyrical.

Back in the real world, I read that more and more teachers are spending their hard-earned money on basic equipment to use in the classroom - glue, paper, scissors. It always was the case to some extent but now it’s reaching epidemic proportions. And in some schools they are providing soap and school uniform for the poorest children. not to mention breakfast!

At the same time, certain statistics show a rise in the number of deaths of small babies. Always from the poorest parts of our society. It’s too soon to call it a trend but it’s a worrying sign of the times and of current austerity. 

Julian Baggini in this article expresses a cautious optimism that France’s reaction to the Notre Dame fire is a sign that people still believe in society - less individualism and more collectivism.

Let’s hope he is right.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Unforeseen consequences! And some coincidences!

Victor Hugo’s 19th-century literary classic Notre-Dame de Paris has been selling like hot cakes since the cathedral burned. That may not be the best expression to have chosen in the circumstances but there it is. By Wednesday morning different editions of the novel were in the 1st, the 3rd, the 5th, the 7th and the 8th slots in Amazon France’s best seller list.

Some are interpreting this as an example of France’s tendency to seek solace in literature at times of national anguish. They back this up with the fact that after the 2015 terror attacks, sales of A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of his time in the bars and cafés of 1920s Paris, made it France’s fastest-selling book.

Personally I think it’s more a kind of misguided sentimentality, the feeling of really wanting to do something but not knowing quite what to do and ending up buying (but not necessarily reading, please note!) a work of literature related somehow to the event.

It’s an aspect of the law of unintended and unexpected consequences.

It might also say something about the French education system making students familiar with the country’s great works of literature. I don’t think the increase in homelessness and foodbanks has led many people in the UK to go and read Dickens and his descriptions of poverty!

A history of the cathedral also went up to 6th place in the book sales list. People wanted reminders of what the place looked like in all its glory. I have to confess to googling pictures of the building.

And the BBC has just announced a change in programmes this weekend. On Saturday, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a dramatisation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”!

Copycat crimes, if crime it was, for that continues not to be considered the case, seem to be being at least contemplated as well. A man was arrested in New York when he went into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters. When stopped he claimed his car had run out of fuel and he was taking a short cut through the cathedral, as you do, to go and refill the tank. So they checked his car. Which proved to have a full tank! Oops! Porky pies!

Considerable generosity has also resulted from the Notre Dame fire. Vast amounts of money have been donated. This proves how much good the rich can do when they set their minds to it. A large number of people have been quick to point out that they could do a whole lot more good by donating that money or, indeed, similar sums of MORE money to refugee camps, countries in crisis, the homeless, the victims of the Grenfell fire, to name but a few.

Getting back to unforeseen consequences, here’s another example.

An investigation has revealed that more than 49,000 pupils in a single cohort disappeared from the school rolls without explanation. That’s an awful lot of missing kids. This does not include pupils who were moved off the school roll family reasons, moving house and such like. No, the practice known as “off-rolling” involves taking pupils off the school roll so that exam results statistics look better or in order to reduce costs. I don’t understand how the latter reason works but the exam results thing is one of those odd consequences of setting up league tables and thus effectively making schools compete with each other!

It’s not all schools, thank goodness! No, the investigation showed that some 330 schools, which constitute 6% of secondary schools in England, accounted for almost a quarter (23%) of the total number of unexplained moves in 2017.

There is perhaps still some honesty left out there!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Reminders of Cuba in London!

When I was in Cuba in February, my friend and I went to the art gallery in Havana on our next to the last day there. There was a huge collection of work left behind by the fleeing rich when Batista was overthrown. We discovered an artist the gallery there named Bastida, someone neither of us had heard of. Research back in the Uk revealed him to be Sorolla y Bastida, a Spanish impressionist from Valencia, acknowledged by his contemporary artists as a “master of light”, the son of Goya and grandson of Velazquez.


Considered possibly the greatest Spanish artist for quite some time, he was deposed when modernism came along and he was supplanted by the likes of that upstart Pablo Picasso. Now he is making a comeback, specifically with an exhibition in the National Gallery in London, that we went to see yesterday. Well worth visiting, it is continuing until early July.

After our dose of culture, including a short film about the artist’s life, we felt the need for sustenance. So we went to the National Gallery cafe and had coffee and cake, although we could have opted for the special Spanish menú del día that they had put on in honour of the Spanish painter. It included quite a lot of chorizo and something called “pardon peppers”.

Oh dear! Almost certainly this was the result of auto-correct and maybe their proof reader had never heard of “padrón peppers”! It’s usually translations of Spanish dishes into odd English that we come across in Spain. What a surprise to see the reverse in our capital city!

Out and about on Monday I took this photo of a tree which had sort of split open. The interior was gnarled and twisted as if it had been carved.
 

I was reminded of this photo I had taken of a street corner on Havana, Cuba, where the cement corner end had been carved out into s silhouette of a woman but filled inside with carvings of musical instruments, faces, everyday objects.

How strange that nature and art could resemble each other so closely.

Having been caught in the heavy rain on our way back from central London to our son’s house yesterday afternoon, today we have travelled back to a very sunny and warm Manchester. And of course, this being Manchester, England, people are out and about with bare shoulders, bare legs, bare midriffs.

Never miss a chance to start the suntan!

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Sad reflections!

We went into the centre of London today in fine weather. Another good day. Not so spectacularly sunny as yesterday but milder and still bright and reasonably clear. There was, however, a certain haze in the distance, making everything look muted and slightly empty.

By the time we went back to our son’s house in Chesham the rain, which had begun at some point during the return journey, was coming down in bucketsful. Raining stair rods, as we say in the North. La tromba, as they say in Galicia. The drains were not coping and the the roads were turned into rivers in no time at all.

I found myself thinking that this was what they needed yesterday evening in Paris, instead of that fine blue clear spring sky, with smoke and flames standing out against it.

It’s amazing how quickly something that has stood for nigh in a thousand years can be almost destroyed. We were sitting around talking about this and that last night when our son came down and asked had we seen what was happening to Notre Dame. And there it was, all over the evening news, the ancient cathedral in flames. We sat there, simply stunned.

You forget how big such a cathedral is until you see it silhouetted against the sky, with flames leaping out of it. Apparently it came within half an hour of being completely destroyed. But the firemen worked tirelessly and, astoundingly, none was seriously hurt. All the people who were putting off visiting until the restoration work was done must be feeling somehow cheated. Lots of “if onlys” must be going on.

They don’t know for sure what the situation is but some treasures might be saved. There is a Pietà statue by Nicolas Coustou and the Great Organ constructed in the 1730s. The latter is said to have suffered water damage but has escaped the flames. The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.

I doubt at they really have the actual crown of thorns but whatever it is they have as a relic will undoubtedly be pretty old by now.

Some treasures were safe because they had been removed while the restoration work took place.

The relics I can live without. I have never been impressed by that kind of thing.

No, it’s the things of great beauty that we will all miss. Even if they restore everything as closely as possible to the original, it will not be the ancient beams, weathered by time that will there. I understand that with modern technology and the kind of 3d imaging we have now it will be much more possible to make a close a copy as possible.

Fortunately they think at the moment that the three rose windows have somehow miraculously survived the onslaught. I was convinced that the very heat (800C they calculate) would have been enough to crack the ancient glasswork.

Let us hope that some of the beauty has survived!

Monday, 15 April 2019

Working some things out.

Apparently Donald Tusk would like the UK to decide to revoke article 50 and stay in Europe. It’s nice to know someone loves us! Even if we can’t quite work out what we want to do.

Here’s joke (of sorts)someone passed on to me:-

An Englishman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and a German are all standing watching a a street performer do some excellent juggling. The juggler notices that the four gentlemen have a very poor view, so he stands up on a large wooden box and call out, “Can you all see me now?”

“Yes.”
“Oui.”
“Sí.”
“Ja.”

You have to pronounce answers correctly, putting a bit if emphasis on "si", for it to work of course. 

Not the greatest joke in the world.

And here’s a cartoon:-


I don’t have a collection of free tote bags but, like many households, we still have far more plastic carrier bags than we ever need. Lately the best carrier bags are the sort which biodegrade and can therefore be used in the compostable rubbish bin. Then there is a delicatessen near us which sells olives and the like in plastic post which can be put straight into the compost bin! And the Guardian newspaper now puts the various small, losable bits of Saturday’s paper into what looks like a plastic bag but is actually made from potato starch.

Some establishments are doing their bit to save the world.

This morning my daughter in law and I took my small granddaughter on an adventure. Advertised as an Easter egg hunt, it was really a clever ploy to get children to walk around in a wood, finding out stuff about birds and writing down answers to question. When they had collected all the info they returned to the starting point and were given an Easter egg.









A brilliant bit of coordination between Cadbury’s and the National Trust.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Finding the right words.

For the last week and a half, at least, my normally quiet routine has been all over the place. Between errands of mercy to ensure that my grandson had a passport to go on holiday, family and friends coming to stay with us, a family wedding and goodness knows what else, I don’t know whether I am coming or going. One consequence of this is that I have been getting up early most days and going to bed late some days.

So this morning, instead of getting up and running, I decided to combat the bags under my eyes, set my alarm an hour later than usual, and caught up on my sleep. Then we got ourselves organised to catch a train to London and visit offspring number one, but that is a different story.

One of our visitors was my Spanish sister. She has not as yet applied for Spanish citizenship but she is seriously considering it. After just over forty years in the south of Spain, she sometimes speaks rather odd English. Her grammar is fine. Like me she can be a bit of a pedant about it in fact. Both of is cringe at certain common mistakes but we have agreed to ignore the “less or fewer” debate, and we long since gave up on “whom”. (I had a teacher at school, by the way, who would ask us, “With whom are you going to the cinema?” and other such things.)

No, what my sister does is mix up expressions and occasionally vocabulary. She complained about the cost of certain things, telling me they cost “an eye and a tooth”, a direct translation for the Spanish expression for costing “an arm and a leg”. And then, at the family wedding mentioned earlier, a younger member of the family was asking who would be around for her 21st birthday party. My sister said she would have to consult her “agenda”, Spanish for “diary”. Several of us pointed out that the word she was grasping for was “diary”!

So it goes !

Now, Meg Keneally, daughter of Thomas (Schindler’s List) Keneally, may be able to write novels but her grasp of grammar is annoying. She write, or maybe says, talking about her father in an interview, “It being the days before iPads, he used to spend time on long road trips telling stories to stop my sister and I killing each other.” My sister and I would take her to task on that. Such mistakes are offensive to my sister and me.

On the getting-up routine, I am never as strict with myself as certain famous people, such as Jennifer Aniston, who apparently gets up to do spinning at six in the morning. That’s spinning on a static bike, not actual spinning with a spinning wheel. Others are more extreme and get up to exercise at 3.00am. Madness!

Toyah Willcox, the musician, was in the Q&A feature in the Guardian weekend magazine yesterday. One of the standard questions is “when were you happiest?” She replied, “Between 2000 and 2006. I had a large white rabbit called WillyFred. I was happiest pressing my ear to his fur and hearing his heart beat.”

Okay. I suppose that If you are an “artist” you can be a bit quirky! But I can think of things that make people happier.

We just have to tolerant of the oddnesses in the world!

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Scientific achievement. Political non-achievement. Families.

According to this article, a black hole has been photographed for the first time. Well, okay! A photographic and scientific achievement! An achievement which has had a lot of use already as loads of people have photoshopped the image in order to suggest that it is the first picture taken of Brexit! 

Theresa May has got herself an extension in which to negotiate Brexit, an extension to the end of October, provoking lots of jokes about the Halloween Brexit. Also provoking a lot of anger amongst the extreme Brexiteers in her party. There are also calls for her to step down as Prime Minister, presumably to give other people a chance to further make a mess of things.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine is jumping up and down with delight. She regards every delay as a further chance that Article 50 will be revoked.

We shall see.

I begin to suspect that the news people are trying to divert us with stories about the alleged rift between the Cambridge household and the Sussex household. Apparently there is conflict between William, Kate and offspring on the one hand and Harry and Meghan and bump on the other. Even the Guardian has an article about it.

How do they know this? All right, it must be easy to discover the planned independent household but why must this be interpreted as a “riftl? Apart from the fact that it makes good press!

And Meghan in particular is alternately praised and welcomed with open arms for “breathing a breath of fresh air into the royal family” and vilified for not giving in totally to the Windsor family rules, and especially for things like not wanting to give birth in the same expensive hospital as Kate, not to mention dead mother-in-law Diana!

Personally I can understand Harry and Meghan wanting their own household. It must be intrusive enough having a host of staff and security men around all the time. Hardly a private life for newly-weds, let alone having to share the (admittedly very roomy) house with your in-laws and their children. I am very fond of my two sisters but this does not mean that I would want to share a house with them, even if it were a huge house with staff to deal with all the cooking and cleaning.

Indeed, for the last week we have had first one of my sisters and then some old friends to stay and while this has been very pleasant, it is equally pleasant to get the place back to ourselves once again. 

So this morning, having said farewell and bon voyage to the old friends, I took myself off for a run, admired the view and wondered at the icicles which had appeared overnight alongside the stream in a shady place in the valley.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Making a mess of things!

Someone in our village had the bright idea of putting up a notice on the bridle path reminding people to pick up their doggy do-dos. It told them that there is no Pooh Fairy around here. And then they cleverly adapted old plastic bottles into containers for pooh bags in case people had forgotten to bring heir own. Unfortunately in some cases they labelled these containers “Dirty Pooh Bags”, which some people have interpreted as an invitation to leave their little bags of pooh hanging from the fence post. This leads to a huge mess! Such things happen when labels are ambiguous! And when dog owners are deliberately obtuse!

 Theresa May is off to Brussels again today to talk to the EU about a Brexit extension. And so it rumbles on and on. This German journalist thinks that the queen should step in to sort out the mess.

“In my view”, she says, “there is only one solution: Her Majesty, the Queen must take back control. If there is someone who still reacts in the most difficult situations with dignity and decency, it is Queen Elizabeth II. I mean, this is the woman who survived Hitler and his V2s, the Great Smog, the “winter of discontent” and all the other trials and tribulations of her kingdom over the last nine decades. Surely, some well-placed words from her and this whole mess can be resolved.”

At the moment that solution seems almost as likely as Mrs May has of sorting out her deal! Now for something completely different.

Here is a link to a story about a man who had a huge shark sculpture put on his roof. This could lead to another verse of the “Baby Shark” song.

A big crisis going on at the moment is the future of Debenham’s, the big store. They are likely to close stores all over the place. Manchester’s Market Street would lose a huge landmark and our local shopping centre in Oldham would be left seriously empty.

We don’t need Brexit. We seem able to mess the country up all on our own!

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Understanding or misunderstanding things.

Among the various stories I have come across over the last year or so about EU citizens worried about settled status, I came across one that rather surprised me. Daniel Muijs is Belgian, originally from Antwerp. He applied for settled status, gave them, among other things, his national insurance number, which should enable the powers that be to see that he has paid taxes for the last 22 years. But they want further proof of his residence, such as P60 forms and council tax bills. What does Mr Muijs do? He is head of research for Ofsted.

There you go!

Someone sent me a copy of this tweet sent put by Armando Iannucci:

 “I rather admire the way the EU is defending Ireland’s interests. They really do look after their member states. We should join.”

Enough said!

Here’s another EU related tweet, this time from Jacob Rees-Mogg:-

“If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible. We could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block Mr Macron’s integrationist schemes.”

And there I was hearing all the stories about how we had no power in Europe at all!

And now here’s an example of how the law of unforeseen consequences strikes again. If the UK leaves the EU with no deal then Northern Ireland could have a milk problem. Farmers there sell milk to the Republic of Ireland where it is made into cheese and butter. But in a no deal situation this would have to stop because the EU will not accept creamery tanks containing “mixed” EU and third-country milk. And the UK has not yet passed the necessary statutory stuff to turn it into an “authorised third country”.

Yet another example of stuff that should have been thought out before article 50 time.

It seems the because of the rise in popularity of vegetarianism more eggs have been sold recently. But at the same time more eggs than ever are being thrown away. A lot of the reason for this is sell-by dates. People are so convinced by the validity of the dates that they throw the eggs away. Scientists tell us that we don’t need to do this so hastily.

However, some of the reason is that people are unaware of how to test eggs for freshness. “If eggs sink to the bottom of a bowl of cold water and lie flat on their sides, they are very fresh. If they are less fresh but still good to eat, they will stand on one end at the bottom. If they float to the surface, they are no longer fresh enough to eat. This is because as the egg gets older, the size of the air sac inside increases, making it float.”

I basically knew that. What I did not know was eggs could be frozen! I should have know that because, after all, human eggs can be frozen!

For some time my daughter was obsessed with sell-by dates. She would throw away apples and potatoes that were perfectly usable. She has grown more sensible now.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

A day out! People at the station.

On platform 4 at Manchester Victoria train station yesterday morning, waiting for the train to Durham, I spotted a slim young woman, dressed in green. She wore a figure hugging dress, in a satiny material, long sleeves and a sort of halter neck, leaving her shoulders and back completely bare. On her head a black fascinator. On her feet black killer heels, open-toed. Under her arm a black clutch bag and in her hands a mobile phone and a bottle of water. She was clearly on her way to either a wedding or perhaps the races. Are there races in April in the North East?

It was 8.30 in the morning. Temperature? About 4 degrees! Most people had scarves and gloves and wooly hats. Was she not frozen? She looked very cool, but not in the temperature sense. Cool, calm and confident. But surely she had goosebumps! Such is the price of elegance.

Also on the station there was a older woman, probably my age. She wore a midi length brown cord skirt, a brown patterned shirt, and a tan suede jacket. Sort of sensible adventurer style. On her feet, equally sensible boots. Round her waist a smart leather bumbag. And on her head a felt hat, small brim, green, brown ribbon trim. Altogether an explorer’s outfit. Dora the Explorer’s grandmother?

Then there was the Terry Pratchett lookalike. A tall gentleman, probably my age. Longish black coat, mid calf length. What could have been a university scarf. And on his head a broad brimmed black hat. Oh, and he wore a neatly trimmed white beard.

The other people waiting on the platform were the usual rather nondescript kind of passengers you expect on an early morning train.

My train took me out of Manchester on the line that practically goes past my home. Out through Ashton, Stalybridge, Greenfield, all places of relatively easy access from home. But the train stopped at none of them. So I had got up early, early enough to see pink dawn clouds in the sky, and caught the bus and tram into Manchester, where I had breakfast on the station. The train did not stop until Huddersfield. I suppose I could have caught a bus to Huddersfield but then I am not sure how well the bus service coordinates with the train service. And the journey via Manchester is quite direct. And it was a fine day for an adventure.

My trip to Durham, renewing a passport of my grandson, a task successfully completed, was serendipitously very good. Durham is a splendid city and here are some pictures to prove it.

















Thursday, 4 April 2019

The madness of politicians!

It seems that our parliament has voted by a narrow, very narrow, ONE vote margin, against a no-deal Brexit. But before anybody thinks that is that, it still has to get through the House of Lords.

And so it rumbles on.

Fifty percent of our MPs, however, are prepared to take the nihilistic step of accepting a no-deal situation and stepping into the void of not knowing where we go from here.

In the event of that happening the European Parliament has just voted that UK citizens will still be able to travel visa-free around Europe, provided of course that EU citizens don’t need visas to visit the UK. Whoop de doo! Surely that makes everything easier all round! 81 MEPs voted against the concession (502 voted for it) but some of that is not so much that they don’t like us. It’s more to do with sovereignty of Gibraltar. All I have to say about thatvis Ceuta and Melilla!

We still wait to see what comes of the May-Corbyn alliance. Both parties have members who are screaming that this is not right - accusations of treachery and possible traps for Labour abound - but there are still voters who say they see no difference between any of the parties.

As for me, I think there has been too much emphasis on “The Party” and not enough on getting the job done. Whatever your feelings about the EU, the whole Brexit business would have been a lot better if David Cameron had been man enough to stay around to sort out the mess he had set in motion and if someone had suggested getting all parties, political left and right and middle, leavers and remainers, together to discuss what the best outcome would be before signing article 50.

But that would have been too sensible!

Meanwhile, I am still coming across people obsessed with the idea that you have to be properly working class to be a left winger. (So what about Tony Benn?) A friend of mine recently related his problems with a coffee maker. He was making coffee in the semi-dark and managed to put his cup in the machine upside down, leading to an unplanned coffee fountain. Bang go his claims to be working class! He is by the way, a teacher, not really an occupation demanding manual labour but as the starting salary is below £30,000 some would count him an unskilled worker and, were he foreign, try to deny entry into the UK. Another friend accused him of creeping embourgeoisification and commented: “The proletariat do not have coffee makers, comrade. The revolution will not be liquidised!” Personally, I think he has simply leapt over middle-class and moved directly into dopey, incompetent, machines-are-a-mystery-to-me upper class!

Does this sort of obsession go on other countries?

Across the Atlantic they have other kinds of odd stupidity. POTUS is against renewable energy and recently spoke about wind turbines during a speech he delivered at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner. And then, apparently, he waved his arm around in what he thought looked like a wind turbine. Later he repeated this claim in a tweet: “If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations your house just went down 75 per cent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, OK.”

The Indy, where I picked up this story, added a comment to reassure readers: “To be clear, windmills do not cause cancer. There are other health problems that are blamed on wind turbines, but cancer is not one of them.”

There you go!

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Words! And running around!

There was an April Fools Day thing going around that suggested that the German definite article (der, die, das, etc) was going to stop having its variety and switch to one form “dot”, to make it easier for foreigners to learn the language. The next idea should be getting rid of adjective agreement in all those “difficult” European languages.

Some people cheered at the idea. Serious language learners and teachers expressed their sorrow at losing some of the fun of German lessons. I think I am with the latter group. Part of the challenge of language learning is that code breaking element.

My Italian friend holds up her hands in amazement that we have no real institution to regulate changes in the English language. Most European countries have an official body, like the Académie Française in France, which tries to keep the language as pure as possible. We just have the Oxford English Dictionary which regularly updates itself and accepts or rejects new words and expressions.

And so we get odd things added like the Scottish “sitooterie”, a splendid word meaning “a place in which to sit out” and dating apparently from the 1920s. Or there is a “bidie-in” for a live-in lover. I read that the dictionary launched its Words Where You Are appeal to the public last year to mark the 90th anniversary of the completion of its first edition. The regional vocabulary suggestions which have poured in from readers ever since span the globe, from the Welsh English term for spring onions, “jibbons”, to the name for the regional dialect heard in New Orleans, “Yat”, which is derived from the greeting: “Where y’at?”

I was reminded of a character in the TV series Breaking Bad who greets people with “Sup”, derived from “What’s up?” which I think is becoming a fairly standard greeting among some young people.

There you go. Aren’t languages fun?

I am taking a break from a run around day to write this. My normally very efficient daughter has been having a crisis. About to go on holiday she has just discovered that her son’s passport expired in February. So I was drummed into service: up early to catch a bus to Oldham to get forms from the post office. For once public transport served me well: bus to Oldham, visit to the post office, the fruit stall at the indoor market, a cash machine, straight onto a bus to Uppermill, visit to the bakery and the fishman on the Wednesday street market, straight onto a bus back to Delph in time for a late breakfast. Amazing!

In about half an hour I have to and collect the passport-expired grandson from school and march him off to get passport photos. Then on Friday I am off to Durham, the nearest passport office with an available slot for fast track passports, in the hope of getting the passport sorted in time! Such chaos!! 

I have never been to Durham. I have only admired it from the train to Newcastle. Therefore I shall take advantage of the trip to visit the cathedral and admire the city and possible meet the friend I normally visit in Gateshead. Perhaps a bit of serendipity is working for me.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Ephemeral bits of beauty.

It’s a long time since I went to Paris. I think I got to see the Louvre pyramid on that occasion but I had a lots of A-Level students with me so I probably didn’t appreciate it fully at the time. This article talks about an art work, a trompe l’oeil representation of the pyramid, made by the French artist JR and 400 volunteers sticking pieces of paper in a collage on the square. It’s a good job he took a picture as within a day it had been walked to shreds by visitors.


I am reminded of the flower pictures laid out on the streets of Spanish towns for certain religious festivals such as Corpus Christi. These are meant to be walked on. You see them in the morning, pristine and beautiful. The the priest and choirboys and such process to the church and the thing of beauty is gone.

Today we walked up the quarry road, Lark Hill, again. This is the third time in the last few days we have done this walk. The idea is that every day it should get a little easier. Perhaps I should set myself the goal of running up there eventually.

On the way back I took a series of pictures of daffodils.













Who knew that they came in so many different varieties?

So many shapes and sizes!