Friday, 30 September 2022

Stormy times - whose fault is it? A little gentle satire. And serious protesting.

Yesterday afternoon I walked into the village to buy a couple of things from the coop store. It was sunny when I set out. It rained on me as I approached the first millpond. And then I was rewarded with a huge rainbow! Splendid!

Walking back on the path that leads onto the industrial estate near our house I saw a boy running along, frantically shouting, “Luna! Luna!” He was probably about 11 or 12. It’s hard to tell. Some of the junior school children are enormous but the other day I saw children from the local comprehensive waiting for the bus and some of them were so small they didn’t look old enough to be in secondary school. Anyway, this child of indeterminate age was clearly chasing a crazy dog, a small black creature which proceeded to jump up at me excitedly, leaving muddy footprints on my light-coloured trousers. It’s a good job they were destined for a wash today anyway. Perhaps Luna was short for Lunatic! A little further along I came across a worried-looking woman of indeterminate age but old enough to be the grandmother of the child of indeterminate age. We agreed that chasing the dog probably just encouraged her to think it was a game. He caught her and brought her back to safety. 

This morning there was no sunshine but neither was there any rain. The percentage chance of rain forecast for today increases as the day goes on. By 3.00pm it stands at 100%. But I managed my run without getting wet, always a bonus! Apparently there is a storm on the way: the first of the “winter storms” and we!re only a week onto autumn! So it goes!

I read that global warming has contributed to the strength of the storms we have nowadays. One explanation is that storms and in particular hurricanes gather energy as they pass over open stretches of ocean with water heated by global warming. And so Hurricane Ian picked up speed and strength before hitting Florida and in similar fashion Storm Fiona braced herself to hit Canada more strongly than any other storm they have suffered. Scientists have argued about the influence of global warming on storms but the consensus of opinion seems to be leaning towards the worsening storms being largely our own fault … once again! Certainly I don’t remember storms as such in my childhood. Rain and fog  feature in a big way - walking to school with my school scarf wrapped round my mouth to prevent breathing in the fog - but not what ypu could call storms!

And then I went away to Leeds to study at the university and discovered what a real Yorkshire winter can be like!

Out in governmental world the economic storm continues. To help us put things in perspective the estimable Michael Rosen has begun to post extracts from the “DiAry” of a certain Liz Truss. The spelling is especially pleasing. And the punctuation is sometimes interesting. Here are a few examples:

Liz Truss 

My DiAry

Sept 29

Its bean a hard day to day. I've torqued to lots and lots and lots of radiostations and told them that its all going trifficly well. The economy is going to grow and grow and grow cos we've made rich people richer. This economics thing is easy peasy.

Bedtime diAry

by Liz Truss

Sept 30

Catched a bit of BBCQT. Lots and lots of peole being horrid to us. They dont get that when we give rich peole tax cuts etc etc they spend all there extra money on growthy things. They dont pop it into tax heavens an buy2rent towerblocks. o no.

My diAry

Liz Truss

Sept 29-30

Middle of night. Insumnia. Cant stop thinking about the Party big boys ganging up on me. Probs best next stop for me is some lovely little snaps of me on Dover beach in a lifejack saying these immigrants are doing what Adolf Hilter couldn't do.

My DiAry

by Liz Truss

Sept 30

Such a busy busy busy day today. Big meeting with the OBN. Must remember my I'm-the-boss face. Kwazz says we can pay for evrything using benefits - when peole stop getting benefits, they have to go to work. Simple. Economics is so easy peasy, tra-la.

My DiAry

by Liz Truss

Sept 30 in PM's car (oooo, look at me!)

Am doing sums. 67 billion from the Bank of E is awfully big. That's a jolly lot of £ notes. Am worried some peole will say Y not spend that on things that stop peole being poor. Kwazz phones: says we're doing great.

My DiAry

by Liz Truss

Sept 30 

Super muffins at the OBN. Kwazz wispered in the brake: there are too many peole on benefits. I said, mebbee its simpler than that: there are just too many peole. And we both laughed. A lot. Now for the hardwork. How to get rid! We have good laughs.

There it is! 

In more serious vein, here’s a news report of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe cutting her hair in protest at the death of Mahsa Amini. In solidarity with women in Iran who have been doing the same thing, she quietly said the names of women who have suffered because of discrimination against and maltreatment of women, especially in Iran. I saw it on a television news report on Wednesday evening. It was possibly the calmest, saddest act of protest I have ever seen.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well everyone!

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Some stuff about wildlife and nature conservation.

I’ve been listening to and reading items about lost or almost lost species being returned to European countries. Beavers are being reintroduced to farm lands here in the UK as a way of solving some of our waterway problems. Bison were introduced ( or re-introduced? Did we originally have bison here?) to a place in Kent, with a view to establishing a proper herd. I’ve written before about the benefits specialists feel such herds will bring to the countryside. Bears - brown bears rather than grizzlies - are a protected species in countries like Spain and Romania. But what struck me most was wolves. Here’s something I read:  

“The grey wolf has been the fastest to return among carnivores. For centuries they were killed by humans, until a low-point during the 1970s when there were only a few populations hanging on in pockets of south and north-eastern Europe. Since the introduction of legislation to protect them, and more public tolerance of living alongside them, numbers have increased by 1,800%. There are 17,000 individuals roaming almost all of continental Europe, with calls to reintroduce them to Britain too.”

It’s that last sentence that worries me. Do we really want wolves roaming around our island? I remember my daughter being traumatised by a book she read as a child, “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aitken. Nowadays my daughter has a dog, saying she hopes to prevent her own children from being afraid of dogs, as she claims she was. How would she cope with the idea of wolves running around?

No! Beautiful animals they may well be but I don’t think we need them here!

Maybe they need them in New Zealand though. “Marauding feral pigs have blighted a central suburb in New Zealand’s capital, killing kid goats at an urban farm, intimidating dogs and turning up in residents’ gardens.

The owners of a goat milk farm in the hills of the suburb of Brooklyn, 10 minutes from the centre of Wellington, has lost about 60 kid goats to pigs in the past few months. Often, all that is left of them are gnawed bone fragments and parts of the hooves or head.

“It’s a murder scene,” said Naomi Steenkamp, the farm’s co-owner. “If they find something they like eating, and it is a free feed – like a newborn kid – they are going to keep coming back.””

At the other end of the scale are slugs! This year has had one of the hottest, driest summers on recordwith most of England still officially in drought, despite recent showers. Also despite the fact that when the little fellow and I went out into the garden this morning we lasted maybe 15 minutes before it started to rain. But my rain barrel is still only half full so perhaps there is still a problem. I need to take another walk around Dovestone to check out the reservoir. Getting back to slugs: one consequence of the drought is that slug numbers are down, apparently. 

“I went to survey a woodland site last week and it took me over 30 minutes to locate a slug. Usually, I would expect to find them under almost every log in that habitat,” said Jake Stone, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge. “I thought that there would be fewer around, but I’ve never seen this low a number. But I suppose that’s to be expected, because it’s rarely been this hot and dry.”

As a matter of fact since we’ve been back to having occasional rainshowers I’m seeing slugs on the bridle paths around here. And the snails are still attacking my flowering plants. Grrrr! I suspect more southerly parts of the country - the bit they mean when they talk about England in the news -  are still a lot drier than here.

In the places where slugs are still around, we are reminded to be tolerant of them - if you put down slug pellets, the poison int pellets kills of hedgehogs and other such creatures that like to eat slugs. It seems that only nine of the 44 recognised species in the UK actually eat garden plants. Who knew? And how do you tell them, apart? “The majority are very beneficial in the garden because they break down dead plant matter and turn it back into compost,” said Paul Hetherington of Buglife, an organisation devoted to the conservation of invertebrates. “There’s also the knock-on effect on things that eat slugs and snails: song thrushes, amphibians, hedgehogs – all of these creatures are in decline at the moment.”

There you go. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

I cycled to the market in the sunshine this morning. Mind you, I needed my windproof jumper and my cycling gloves. It was CO-O-O-OLD! There was frost on the grass along the Donkey Line bridle path! But what a splendid day to be out and about quite early in the morning.

And then I returned home and on the online news read about Hurricane Ian which managed to wipe out Cuba’s already rickety electricity supply system. The whole country was without power as a result. It may not be a huge country but still it’s hard to imagine a whole country blacked out and there are over 11 million people there. Ian is on his way to Florida where people have been warned to evacuate certain areas and to take steps to stay safe. If you’re an island like Cuba, however, you can’t drive to another state to escape. As I read about tobacco farms being flattened I thought back to the trip to Cuba my good friend Dee and I made not long after we turned 70. One of our excursions was a visit to a tobacco farm. The drying sheds, mentioned in the article as being destroyed by Ian, didn’t look as though they could resist a gentle summer breeze let alone a hurricane. 

Thank heavens we don’t suffer from such extremes of weather here in our bit of the UK!

On the subject of tobacco, I’ve re-read some Kurt Vonnegut recently. I meant to mention it yesterday while writing about Madeleine Peyroux. In one of her songs on the album “Half the Perfect World”, a song called “I’m  all right”, she sings:

He made me laugh 

He made me cry 

He smoked his stogies in bed 

But I'm all right 

I'm all right 

I've been lonely before 

Now in “Hocus Pocus”, a sort of critique of American society, Kurt Vonnegut explains about “stogies”, a slang name for cigars. He was writing about covered wagons taking adventuring settlers out into the Far West: 

“… the generic name for the sort of covered wagon that carried freight and settlers across the prairies of what was to become the United States of America, and eventually across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, was ‘Conestoga’ - since the first of these were built in the Conestoga Valley of Pennsylvania.

They kept the pioneers supplied with cigars, among other things, so that cigars nowadays, in the year 2001, are still called ‘stogies’ sometimes, which is short of ‘Conestoga’.

By 1830, the sturdiest and most popular of these wagons were in fact made by the Mohiga Wagon Company right here in Scipio, New York, at the pinched waist of Lake Mohiga, the deepest and coldest and westernmost of the long and narrow Finger Lakes. So sophisticated cigar-smokers might want to stop calling their stinkbombs ‘stogies’ and call them ‘mogies’ or ‘higgies’ instead.”

There you go - a little linguistic history.

Some of the quotations from “Hocus Pocus” still hold up well today:-

“Just because you can read, write and do a little math, doesn't mean that you're entitled to conquer the universe.” 

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” 

“Being an American means never having to say you're sorry.” 

“Any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.” 

A clever man Mr Vonnegut: I must seek out more of his books from our collection and read them again.

Life gos on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Tuesday, 27 September 2022

Manchester thoughts. Music thoughts. And a bit of social media commentary.

Well, we successfully and efficiently got ourselves into Manchester early yesterday evening for the Madeline Peyroux concert at the Bridgewater Hall. My Italian conversation class on zoom finished at 5.30. By 5.55 we were catching a bus at the crossroads to go to the tram-stop in Oldham and so on to Manchester. A masterpiece of timing!

We got off the tram at the Deansgate-Castlefield stop as the Bridgewater Hall is at that end of town. I like the Bridgewater Hall, a quietly elegant building, erected to replace the Free Trade Hall as the home of the Halle Orchestra and concert venue for all sorts of music. Apparently there were plans to replace the Free Trade Hall after it was damaged during the Second World War but in the end the hall was repaired and it was not replaced until the 1990s. The Bridgewater Hall was one of a number of structures built in the 1990s that symbolised the transition to a new and modern Manchester following de-industrialisation and the 1996 bombing.  They must have worked fast because the bombing took place in June 1996 and the Bridgewater Hall held its first concert on 11 September 1996 and was officially opened by the queen on 4 December. 

So there it is, a very pleasing modern building, unlike the cluster of skyscrapers that has sprung up close to the Deansgate-Castle stop since I was last there. I had read about them but not seen them until last night. They don’t add much beauty or elegance to the skyline in my opinion. And then there is this strange building which has popped up close to the former Central Station, converted long since into an exhibition centre known for a while as GMex but now apparently called Manchester Central. It should be safe from demolition as it is now a listed building. 

We arrived at the Bridgewater Hall in time to see the support act, something which I feel we should do if possible. How else will new performers become known to a wider public? It must be dispiriting to have got excited about playing a venue like the Bridgewater Hall only to find that most of the audience has ignored your part of the evening. The smoke machine was going full-pelt on the stage. I was reminded of an occasion many years ago when we saw Suzanne Vega have to leave the stage with an asthma attack as a result of an over-zealous use of the smoke machine. On this occasion it was pumping away because the support act was called Smoke Fairies, two young women who played guitar tunefully and sang well. Unfortunately their sound engineers had not ensured that we could hear the words of their songs clearly so it was a little difficult to judge them properly. 

Madeleine Peyroux and her excellent band sang a mix of songs from her Careless Love album and some other stuff, old and new. Her sound engineers worked fine. A good time was had by all - our first time properly playing out since lockdown. We must do so more often. We arrived back in Oldham in time to have missed the last bus to Delph by about 15 or 20 minutes. Fortunately we can afford the occasional taxi, especially as we get free bus and tram travel. So it goes. 

And today the sun is shining again. And the world, or the UK anyway, continues its craziness. Here are a couple of comments I culled from social media:

“Russ Jones - TheWeekInTory

We begin with our new leader, Margarine Thatcher, who in only three weeks has become PM, finished off The Queen, taken two weeks away from work, ruined our relations with the US, crashed the economy, and started a backbench rebellion to remove her from office.”

“Ali Brady

Traders are referring to Truss as “Daggers” - as in Dagenham, 2 stops past Barking …”

It must be hard living in the public eye and open to all the sarcasm but hey! if they remove her she’ll get a nice fat PM pension! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 26 September 2022

Venturing into Manchester - the difficulties of getting back. Covid boosters. Work experience? Economic matters.

It rained in the night but today has begun with a bit of blue sky and sunshine. The weather forecast specific to Delph offers me sunny intervals and a gentle breeze for most of the week, with varying percentage chances of rain, anything from 10% to 40%. I suppose it means I need to carry my raincoat around with me. Friday, by way of a contrast, offers me thundery showers and a gentle breeze. We shall see. 

I would like the rain to hold off this evening as we are headed to Manchester for a concert by jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux, the first live music we have seen for ages, probably since before the pandemic disrupted all our lives. We will undoubtedly need a taxi back from Oldham to Delph at the end of the evening. Returning to Delph from Manchester is not a problem but the last bus onwards to Delph leaves Oldham at 10.30pm, just about the time the concert is scheduled to finish. So it goes.

A couple of weeks ago I managed to arrange appointments for Phil and me to have booster covid vaccinations. Because the system asks you to do everything on line and because that system does not accommodate two people wanting to book consecutive appointments and because it makes sense for the two of us to do that rather than have two different appointments on different days, I kicked up a fuss and spoke to the receptionist at our local doctors’ surgery. She was extremely helpful (indeed, surprisingly so) and went out of her way to sort it out and call me back with timings. Great stuff! 

It was not possible make appointments at our local clinic in Uppermill, even less so at the smart newish branch in Delph itself, so we were booked into Lees, a bus-ride away. Then on Friday we both received text messages saying our appointments had been cancelled - no explanation - just a notification and an instruction to rebook. I tried. To no avail. When I go to see my GP on Tuesday I shall throw myself on the the mercy of the receptionist once again! 

As regards the smart newish branch of our clinic in Delph village, it strikes me as a great waste of resources every time I pass it on the way to the sandy park with our small grandson. I suspect that the problem is one of staffing as whenever we need to contact the surgery we are reminded of the high demand for their services, the need to be patient and so on. On one recent occasion they told me that they had only two doctors on duty for the whole of that week. Our new health secretary is going to find it hard to ensure everyone an appointment within two weeks of booking at this rate. 

Out in the wider world the pound is plummeting, so say the newspapers. Kwasi Kwarteng is to blame, apparently: Chancellor of the Exchequer without experience. His lack of experience has led, they say, to “schoolboy errors”. How does one get experience of being Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wonder, apart from by actually being Chancellor of the Exchequer? Is it possible to get work experience in such a job? The man has a PhD in economic history, or something of that kind, so you might expect him to have some idea of what the job entails but I suppose knowledge of theory, even at a high level, is trumped by lack of experience. And what a way to gain experience - plunge into the job in the middle of a crisis! Talk about a baptism of fire!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not standing up for him. By no means! You won’t find me standing up in defence of any of the current bunch. No, I am just amused or bemused at the “lack of experience” stuff. Maybe that’s why the mini-budget (which turned out to be far from mini) was so called; it was perhaps meant to be a practice-run for the real thing. 

Thinking of matters relating to economics, here’s an odd little item I found in the Guardian the other day: 

“The Foreign Office, under Liz Truss’s leadership, is facing questions about its spending on credit cards including £1,841 at Norwich City football club online, and £10,000 at Fortnum and Mason.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, wrote to the Foreign Office questioning why spending was up by 45% on its government procurement cards between September 2021 to July 2022.

Thornberry also queried more than £900 to Calm Over Chaos, which appears to supply adult colouring books, and £1,850 to Soul Sanctuary, which may be a wellness app. There were two payments of more than £4,000 in total to a barber company called Finishing Touches, although it is understood this relates to general maintenance rather than beauty.”

Not very careful money management as far as I can see.  

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Bath or shower? Flying the nest. Deliveries. The oddness of the world. Natural beauty.

Today started badly. Well, actually it started in a perfectly normal way: I got up and went for a run in the rather cloudy morning air. The crisp, sunny mornings we’ve had for the last few days had disappeared. It was still crisp but no longer bright. Then I returned home and found the shower was not working. What a pest! Was I going to have to have a bath? I can’t remember when I last had a bath. Fortunately, before it came to total immersion, Phil worked out how to fix the shower. My hero once again! 

Yesterday my daughter dropped her second-born at York University where she will study for the next three years. The new student seems to have settled in fine, taking herself out of her room to meet fellow student-residence occupants. All is going well so far. It will be odd, however, not having her join us on family  chippy hikes or suggesting I go shopping with her. A new era begins!

Apparently they handed out printed copies of the national anthem to people attending the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. Maybe someone was afraid that members might not know the words. On the midday news they had Billy Bragg talking about the feeling of solidarity that comes from singing together. During the miners’ strikes they sang songs from the previous century and just tweaked the words. Is there a place for “nation” in there? Yes, he says, and gives the example of singing Blake’s Jerusalem at Labour Party conferences. What about the national anthem? It’s good because it’s short and uncomplicated, he says, but he’s not sure if in our multicultural society we should be asking a supreme deity to preserve the life of the head of the Church of England! Food for thought. 

Phil just received an email telling him that an electrical gadget we had ordered had just been delivered. Odd! Nobody had rung the doorbell or even knocked pathetically at the door. The parcel was left in a black box outside the front door. We usually give instructions to put parcels there, provided they are not too big, if there is no answer at the door. We don’t expect the black box to be the first port of call for deliverers though. In this strange new world where we all buy so much stuff online, something has gone very wrong with deliveries, probably because of the pressure on deliverymen to make as many deliveries as possible as fast as possible. There are probably masses of parcels going to the wrong places all over the country. Our Number One Granddaughter lives in rather out of the way address and her parcels - and she does order a lot of stuff - are always going astray. You would think that modern technology could cope! We live in odd times!

Here’s another example of the oddity of the worldTom├ís Saraceno, an Argentinian artist based in Berlin, whose work is appearing in an exhibition at the national museum of the Netherlands, has persuaded the curator to leave the museum largely uncleaned so that spider webs and other insecty stuff can accumulate. The exhibition explores the changing perceptions of creepy-crawlies. Okay. That’s fine. I can appreciate a delicately spun spiderweb with the best of us but it’s not really a deliberately thought out work of art. It’s more akin to the piece of “brilliant art work” your three year old can accidentally produce … provided you whisk the paper away from him/her before they cover it with brown splodges! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Saturday, 24 September 2022

Another sad loss!

The writer Hilary Mantel died of a stroke on Thursday. She was only seventy. As I write that I am struck by how odd it is to write such a thing. Time was I would never have said that someone was ONLY seventy. I can remember as a new young teacher considering some of the older teachers, the forty year olds, really ancient! Those were the days! Mind you, they were older at forty than my generation was at forty. And my daughter, at the grand old age of forty-two seems a positive spring chicken. All is relative!  

But Hilary Mantel is dead and we have lost another brilliant member of our cultural society. When I acquired a copy of “The Mirror and the Light” the final book in her Tudor trilogy I re-read the first two before tackling the new addition. Total immersion in the life, and eventual death, of Thomas Cromwell. 

Interviewed by the Guardian in 2021 when it was announced that her third and concluding Cromwell novel, The Mirror and the Light, would be staged in a partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company in London’s West End, she said at one point, “It is the job of novelist to work between the lines and I don’t think for a moment that anyone is confused between fact and fiction. Every time I say ‘he thought’, they know I’m making it up, that I do not have access to the inside of a dead man’s head.” 

She knew that, so why do journalists presume to know what kind of emotional turmoil members of the royal family are or are not going through? And yet they insist on interpreting every gesture as proof that certain members of the family are at daggers drawn or are desperately unhappy. All fiction! I prefer my fiction to be about fictional characters or at least historical characters. And I prefer my fiction to be well written. 

Hilary Mantel apparently wrote for years and years before she eventually published. Nowadays I hear of young writers being published to great acclaim in their very early twenties, some of them not writing anywhere near as well as Hilary Mantel, well, in my humble opinion! Different times? Different reading public? Who knows? 

Throughout her adult life Hilary Mantel suffered from endometriosis, a painful female condition which is much better publicised and understood than when she was young woman. She was more fortunate than some who suffer from this condition as she could at least “escape” into her creativity. 

“I started writing in earnest at 22. I thought: I am a wreck and have no money and am in poor health – and so how am I going to impose myself on the world? I was seethingly ambitious, I don’t make any secret of that. I needed to be somebody. The only way I could think of was by writing. Because all you need is paper and pencil and you can do it horizontal. But it was never an escape, nor was it the place I was running to – because it wasn’t a refuge – but it was what enabled me, it was my source of power and it was all I’d got and it was the cheapest source of power. Words are free. And when I think: what do I retain from the old days? It’s a turn of phrase.” 

Just think, wIthout her illness, we might never have had any of her great works, as she was headed for a career as a barrister. One of those strange twists of fate! 

We need some more wise women like her.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!