Sunday, 26 June 2022

A bit of wind. Parliamentary ambitions. Brexit “benefits”. Concerts I’m not seeing.

The trees at the bottom of the garden are being blown around in a most spectacular fashion. My weather app promises ‘sunny intervals and a fresh breeze’. Well, the breeze is certainly fresh! It’s not a bad day though. Maybe we’ll go and investigate the forest path again, now that the bluebells are long gone. We shouldn’t get blown away there. 


“Trees at the bottom of the garden” - that sounds rather grand, doesn’t it? In fact the garden is quite small and would be even smaller if we and the next door neighbours decided to erect a fence between our respective bits of garden. 


On the radio news I heard talk of Boris Johnson’s aim to remain prime minister into the mid 2030s. Perhaps that explains why there were plans to build a tree house in the grounds of Chequers. Here’s a section of a report about it:


“Boris Johnson planned to build a £150,000 treehouse for his son at Chequers but was stopped when police raised security concerns, it has been reported.

The prime minister and his wife, Carrie Johnson, wanted to install the structure during autumn 2020, according to a report in The Times. But they were forced to scrap the plans for the treehouse – which would have been built using expensive bulletproof glass – due to concerns it would be visible from the roadside, it has been claimed.

It is understood there were discussions about the project being funded by David Brownlow, a Tory donor, and that designs had been prepared.


The proposals were cancelled after Johnson’s close protection officers raised security concerns. However, Downing Street sources claimed the prime minister was also warned about the optics of spending £150,000 on a treehouse.

It was far from certain whether permission would have been granted by the Chequers Trust, the body that runs the Buckinghamshire manor house, due to the number of protected trees surrounding Chequers.”


When I first saw this suggestion my reaction was that he and Mrs Johnson need to be reminded that this is not their “forever” home but clearly he has ambitions for that to be so. A Tory party spokesman said that Mr Johnson wants to continue doing good things for the country. This had me spluttering into my cup of tea as I tried to think of the good things: the rich have grown richer and the poor have grown poorer! It’s rather like looking for the benefits of Brexit, such as this one:


“On 23 June 2016, Geoffrey Betts, the managing director of a small office supplies business in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, had high hopes for his firm, and the British economy, when he voted for Brexit.

“I thought we would be like … ‘here we go, here we go. We are going to become the most competitive country in Europe and we are going to be encouraging business.’ Now I think: ‘What have we done?’”


His firm, Stewart Superior, has survived, but not without major restructuring and huge efforts to get around obstacles that Brexit has put in the way of the export side of the business.

In late 2020 Betts decided there was no option but to set up a depot inside the EU single market – in the Netherlands – at considerable expense, to avoid costly delays in transit, mountains of Brexit-related paperwork at the border, and VAT issues when sending goods to customers on the continent.”


For more details on that story, here’s a link


We watched a bit of Glastonbury last night, accidentally tuning in to the televising of Paul McCartney on the famous pyramid stage, but we didn’t keep going long enough to see the surprise appearance of Bruce Springsteen which we might have enjoyed seeing. The vastness of the crowds is astounding. I’m not sure I would enjoy being so packed in. I have though enjoyed open air concerts in Hyde Park in recent years. Tonight I won’t be seeing the Eagles or Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, two performances I would have liked to see. So it goes. 


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Saturday, 25 June 2022

A bit of indignant spluttering about the overturning of Roe v Wade.

Just over fifty years ago I stood up in a teachers’ union meeting and made a speech arguing for a woman’s right choose to have an abortion. The meeting was one of the best attended we had had for a while. The agenda had, of course, gone out to schools in advance. The local primary school teachers had turned out in force, in numbers rarely seen at the time, to boo and hiss when I stood up to speak. I don’t think I could stereotype primary school teachers in the same way nowadays but this was the early 1970s. 


On last night’s TV news I saw footage of young women, still young enough to react to things by squealing with delight, jumping up and down and hugging each other, doing exactly that - squealing with delight, jumping up and down and hugging each other. They were well dressed, quite affluent-looking young women, clearly not homeless or worried about where their next meal was coming from. I assume they have all been able to complete their education, although I wonder what kind of education they have had. They were celebrating the overturning of Roe v Wade by the Supreme Court of the USA.


Some states of the USA had legislation waiting for that decision so that they could put it into force immediately and ban abortion from that point on. Others will follow suit, no doubt!


Apparently the constitution of the United States does not say anywhere that a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion. Therefore Roe v Wade was unconstitutional. The constitution does say that everyone has the right to bear arms. So it is perfectly fine to have an automatic weapon and shoot a bunch of school children. Unborn children seemingly deserve more protection than the already born!


Next under threat could be contraception and gay marriage - I bet they’re not protected by the constitution. What else? The right to travel to another state for a medical procedure? A woman’s right to have open a bank account, have a credit card, have a job without the permission of her husband or father? The age of consent?


It all sounds a little farfetched but most of us have seen the Handmaid’s Tale - some of us have read the book, long ago and again since the TV series came out - and a lot of their troubles began with women finding their bank accounts closed on them and their jobs disappearing! 


If those celebrating young women ever find themselves ‘in trouble’ (there’s a euphemism for us) no doubt a solution will be found. If they stand by their principles and have the resulting baby there will almost certainly be a supportive family to help them along, to ensure that there is childcare if they want to continue with their studies or their careers. They are not likely to find themselves going to food-banks and charity organisations to feed and clothe their babies. They will probably be able to afford the health care needed as well. 


Of course, I may be doing them an injustice. They may all be young women of modest means and deeply held religious beliefs.


It does seem to me though that throughout history so-called Christian organisations intended to “help” the poor have been austere at best and cruel at the worst. Think of workhouses, where elderly couples who had been married for donkeys’ years were separated in extreme old age, as described by Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie. Think of the homes for unmarried mothers where the expectant mothers had to work, had their babies taken from them and in some cases remained locked up for the rest their lives. Think of the single mothers shunned by respectable society. All those things should be left in the past. 


I’m not going to write about the cost and difficulty of finding good child care. 


I’m not going write about families overwhelmed by the problems of feeding their children. 


I’m not going to write about abuse of unwanted children. 


And I’m not going to rant about a return to back-street abortions. 


All I’ll say on that last is that you can’t actually ban abortion, only safe abortion. 


That’s it.


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Friday, 24 June 2022

Election results. Remembering the Brexit referendum. Marie Antoinette syndrome. Work experience.

Well, the Conservatives have lost the two by-elections held yesterday. Mr Johnson seems unperturbed by the losses and says he will “keep going”, even though former Tory leader Michael Howard says he should resign and despite the resignation of Oliver Dowden, Tory party co-chair. We’ll see how things turn out. All in good time, I suppose! 


However, judging by the poor turnout at Wakefield (I had emails from the Labour Party in the weeks leasing up to the by-election asking if I was willing to go canvassing there, presumably because their local people were unwilling to do so!!) I don’t think the result presages a Labour win if we had a full scale election now. 


It was amusing though to watch a Liberal Democrat and a Tory being interviewed at Tiverton on TV last night as the boxes of votes came in to be counted. As the Tory spoke of all the good things his party has done for the country the Liberal Democrat lady’s face was a picture as she restrained herself from interrupting! Neither managed to answer the question about what their respective parties need to do to improve but merely spouted standard policy lines!


Meanwhile, it’s six years since the Brexit referendum. Six years ago I posted a photo of the beach at Sanxenxo in Galicia, with the caption ‘I am still in Europe!’. If only things were that simple. Priti Patel has been publicly celebrating six years since what she described as a great moment for democracy! One such post showed her doing that Johnson thing, taking part in an activity she would never do in real life, in her case pretending to drive big red bus, emblazoned with ‘taking back control” - are we not a little out of control? I have no intention of adding that photo to my blog. It seems that she and Johnson like to be seen doing stunts like that. Wasn’t there also a photo-shot of Rishi Sunak serving burgers? Maybe they all suffer from a sort of Marie Antoinette syndrome, playing at being ordinary workers! 



There’s a bit of me that says that everyone, especially politicians, should spend a period of time earning their living doing one of those jobs that they’d never consider as a lifelong career. As a teenager I worked in a shoe-shop, experiencing the frustration of getting out five pairs of shoes for people to try on, only to have them walk out without purchasing anything, leaving the shoes for the shop assistants to tidy away. They were two sisters in their fifties working in the shop. It was all they had ever done! I was in the fortunate position of knowing that it was highly unlikely I would have to continue with that job for the rest of my life. Everyone should have that experience. 


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Thursday, 23 June 2022

The Eve of St John. A bit of romantic stuff. Rpelrting strikes and the like.

 Tonight is St John’s Eve. In most part of Spain people will be lighting bonfires, and late leaping over bonfires - supposedly bringing good fortune - unless, of course, you have the misfortune to set your trousers on fire! People will also be eating sardines, unless they are too expensive this year.


When I first read Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s dream, I didn’t actually associate it with The Eve of St John but there it is. A long standing romantic tradition, 


The other thing you are supposed to do today is collect up certain herbs -any good Galician could tell you which - stand them in water overnight and get up at dawn tomorrow to wash your face in the water the herbs have stood in. It’s supposed to be good for your complexion. Personally I’ve always rejected the offer of using such water. I’ll stick to my normal routine. 


I’m pretty sure the bonfire jumping routine also involves finding out the initial of the person you will eventually marry. If you fiddle the number of times you leap over the bonfire, does the magic still work?


While we’re being a bit romantic, here’s something about the singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega: 


“2 songs... one guy...

Suzanne wrote "Gypsy" with her (then) 18 year old love in mind, which she met for the period of a summercamp stay in her native US... Years later, she wrote "In Liverpool", again with him in mind, as this was his home town... and put it on the classic 99.9° F album... He showed up in England at a concert in the 90's, with a bouquet of flowers, and through the magic that is internet, they now remain actively in contact... A beautiful story, she shares everytime she sings it. She also shared a pic of his grandson on her FB page. 

True love, eternal friendship, beautiful music and magnificent lyrics... Incredibly touching for the romantics at heart... 

We all need a true love story like this in our lives... 

This is Suzanne Vega”


In Argentina they have a romantic association with the footballer Diego Maradona. From being a beautiful boy, however, he became a physical wreck far too soon and died at the age of only sixty in 2020. Now it seems eight people involved in his medical care are being investigated for neglect and possible homicide. We need explanations when our heroes die. 


https://www.theguardian.com/football/2022/jun/23/diego-maradona-argentina-eight-trial-football-homicide


In less romantic mood, rail strikes continue today. According to TV news everyone has been having difficulty getting their kids to school because of this strike. Really? In most parts of the country surely kids have gone to school,on the bus, or in the family car as usual. In London and the south east loads of students go to school by train and on the underground. Trams, however, have been running in Greater Manchester as normal as far as I know! News seems to be is London-centric and all the reporting is anti union. 


And finally someone called William Baldwin posted this  in a group on facebook:


“I heard an interesting theory that Johnson is trying to unravel the Northern Ireland Protocol he drafted because NI is the only area of the UK (apart from London) where the economy is growing because it is spared from the full impact of Brexit and it's now exposing the idiocy of leaving the EU.”


That sounds plausible. 


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Out adventuring in the sunshine.

Summer sostice! I think it was officially yesterday but today still feels like a good long day. I do appreciate these days that begin early and make the evening stretch out for ages! 


Today Phil and I went our separate ways - but only for the day, I hasten to add. He had arranged to go and see an old friend and play chess in the old friend’s garden. I had arranged to meet a different old friend and take her for a walk around Uppermill.


I was up and about before Phil was ready to go. Because of roadworks on the Delph - Dobcross road there are no buses to Uppermill. So I set off along the Donkey Line

 


through it’s tunnels

 

 

 

and onto the canal towpath at the Brownhill Visitor Centre.

 


I had decided to reduce my market visit to a minimum as I did not want to carry a load of stuff around with me. 

 

So I turned off the towpath abd  popped into the deli for olives and sundried tomatoes and picked up oaty biscuits from Jenny the cheese and biscuit lady. And that was that. 

 

Then I went along to the museum carpark to wait for Heidy. She had boasted that she would be there before me and would bring a book in case she had to wait. In the event her journey took her longer than planned. I snapped cherries on the tree by the carpark as I waited. Is harvest time approaching already?


I had watched optimists drive into the carpark and drive out again disappointed. So I was prepared to hop into Heidy’s car and direct her to some other parking place but when she arrived a place was miraculously available. 


First stop, find a loo - my mother always said you should have a preemptive pee before setting off on a hike. Public loos are in short supply these days but the Civic Centre has very clean loos. I can recommend them. 


This was on our route, as we were going up past the swimming baths and onto another bridle path that clearly used to be a railway line in the pre-Beeching era. 


 

From there we dropped back down, past some fine houses, to the Brownhill Visitor Centre - where the cafe was disappointingly closed - and had a sit down on the bench by the lock gate before following the canal back to Uppermill and beyond.


We finished off with coffee and cake in Uppermill centre. All good. 


Tomorrow looks like being another hot and sunny day. Maybe I’ll just let the little chap run around the garden instead of tackling the park. We shall see. 


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Aliens? Strikes? One way of tackling the economic crisis - a new version of levelling up?

In New Zealand they’ve been getting excited about a strange swirly phenomenon in the night sky.


Around 7.25pm on Sunday (dark there of course as it's winter in the southern hemisphere), Alasdair Burns, a stargazing guide on Stewart Island/Rakiura, received a text from a friend: go outside and look at the sky. “As soon as we actually went outside, it was very obvious what it was he was referring to,” Burns said.


“It looked like an enormous spiral galaxy, just hanging there in the sky, and slowly just drifting across,” He said. “Quite an eerie feeling.” He snapped a few images of the lights on long exposure, capturing the spiral from his phone. “We quickly banged on the doors of all our neighbours to get them out as well. And so there were about five of us, all out on our shared veranda looking up and just kind of, well, freaking out just a little bit.”


I love the fact that they went and told all the neighbours to come out and look too. 


Aliens? Apparently not.mScientists say it’s something to do with rockets launching satellites into space. 


“When the propellant is ejected out the back, you have what’s essentially water and carbon dioxide – that briefly forms a cloud in space that’s illuminated by the sun,” Prof Richard Easther, a physicist at Auckland University said. “The geometry of the satellite’s orbit and also the way that we’re sitting relative to the sun – that combination of things was just right to produce these completely wacky looking clouds that were visible from the South Island.”


There you go. There’s an explanation for almost everything. But we are all more than a little excited at the idea of strange phenomena in the sky. I remember long years ago a friend and I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out what might be causing the strange light we could see in the sky from the staffroom window. We would have been better employed getting on with our marking and report writing but there it is! 


Last night would have been a good time to see interesting things in the sky as it was so clear but there were only the usual stars - not even the moon which seems to be rising very late at the moment.


Back on earth we have the rail strikes, which fortunately are not affecting me at all. Rather concerning is the suggestion that agency staff should be used to drive the trains and man the signal boxes. Don’t these occupations need skill and at least a modicum of training. I’m rather surprised our Mr Johnson hasn’t had a go at driving a train himself. After all, he seems to relish those photo opportunities of himself as a man of action driving a tram or a digger! Just as I had that thought going through my head I came across one of Michael Rosen’s spoof Borisisms:


“Dear Mogg

We won't be put off by what these Communist train drivers say about our splendid agency men. Trains run in straight lines. All you have to do is press a button to make them go and another one to make them stop. I'm going to drive one. Hah! 

Nostradamus ignoramus

Boris”


Great minds … and all that sort of thing!


As we continue to stagger through the economic crisis I read today that Rolls-Royce is going to give more than 14,000 staff a £2,000 payment to help them cope with the soaring cost of living, the first time the engineering firm has made such a move. This is not a pay rise although a pay rise is on the cards as well. No, this is just a one-off payment to help their workers deal with the current problem. They’re mot alone in this apparently: it turns out that Lloyds Bank will give more than 64,000 staff a similar one-off payment, this time £1,000 to help with rising living costs. The payment, due to be made in August, comes after a campaign by the Unite union. Who says unions don’t serve a useful purpose!?


Good for Rolls Royce and Lloyds Bank, say I. We need more big companies to follow suit.


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Monday, 20 June 2022

How my day has been organised. What’s in an accent? Poetical political comment.

Another sunny Monday has come around. Mine started a little earlier than planned as I was woken by a phone call at some ungodly hour: my daughter with a family emergency. Could I collect the small girl from school this afternoon and take her home. The little chap is being taken to the doctors by his daddy. I’m not sure why he can’t take the little chap on the bus in his buggy to collect the little girl. Big sister, who loves to collect the little girl from school, is working. Big brother is presumably in college but  in any case he’s not a named possible pick-up person - the school has a list of people who are designated pick-up people so children don’t wander off with random strangers or, I suppose, estranged parents. Parenting is so complicated these days. Anyway, that’s my afternoon arranged for me! But it IS a lovely, sunny day for going on a bus ride with a small girl. 


Yesterday I listened to Rita Tushingham on Desert Island Discs. She’s 80 years old  ow, like her fellow Liverpudlian Paul McCartney. Apparently she lived more or less round the corner from George Harrison in her childhood. He used to do deliveries for her father’s butcher’s shop. As a small girl, she revealed,  she used to lock herself in the loo, sing songs pretending she was on stage and then flush the loo at the end of each song because ‘it sounds just like applause. I’ll take her word for it. 


She has no discernible Liverpool accent, apart from when she did an impression of George Harrison. Her childhood accent has been smoothed away. I also heard Dame Aileen Atkins on This Cultural Life, on Saturday I think. She has no discernible accent either, in her case Clapton and Tottenham. Her London accent (not Cockney, her mother apparently insisted) was smoothed out through elocution lessons. When Eileen was three, a  gypsy woman came to their door selling lucky heather and clothes pegs. She saw little Eileen and told her mother that her daughter would be a famous dancer. Her mother promptly enrolled her in a dance class. 


Eileen Atkins’ mother was clearly a woman after my own mother’s heart. She too, fearing the evil eye they might put on her, would buy “lucky” heather from those gypsies who used to come round knocking at the door. She also believed any predictions they might offer her, sometimes leading to worries about her mother, the “little old lady” the gypsies expressed concerns about. They never predicted anything to do with my future or that of my siblings! 


Anyway, these were two famous women whose original accents had disappeared. Now, recently I heard someone on the radio saying that regional accents no longer matter.  However, recent studies suggest that “accentism” is still alive and kicking and the British Academy is going to carry put a large scale project exploring prejudice against northern English accents and their speakers. Apparently “People do think that speakers in the north of England are less intelligent, less ambitious, less educated and so on, solely from the way they speak. On the other hand, people in the south are thought to be more ambitious, more intelligent.” Thus spoke Dr Robert McKenzie of Northumbria University. He went on, “This is the prejudice that can dare speak its name. We are not allowed to be biased in terms of gender, we are not allowed to be biased in terms of sexual orientation.”


So, even though the BBC might employ people with a range of accents, the prejudice remains! 


As a teacher of foreign languages, I found that a strong regional accent sometimes got in the way of learning to pronounce foreign words authentically. However I did have a student with a delightful Scots accent which transferred into her spoken French but did not stop her achieving an excellent mark in her spoken examination. Interesting stuff.


To finish off today, here are a few examples of some a Michael Rosen rhyming comments on current events: 


“Grant Shapps

craps

when he thinks how a strike

might win workers a pay hike.”


“Carrie

the woman he'd marry

was offered a job

worth quite a few bob.

(allegedly)”


“This is the story

that we haven't seen

that Boris said, 'No!' to

that the Times wrote

about the job

that Boris offered

to the woman in the office

that his mates said, 'Don't' to

that he didn't offer

that we don't have to worry about

because it's all ethical.”


That’s all folks!


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!