Saturday, 23 October 2021

Cardboard cutouts. Knowing your onions. Learning about money. Progress.

 Our coop had no cranberry juice this morning but on the whole, despite notices about shortages doesn’t seem to be doing too badly. I hear that some bigger supermarkets are apparently finding a novel solution to empty shelves. Rather than have a big gap, an expanse of empty metal shelving, they are filling the spaces with cardboard cutouts of the missing products. What exactly is the point?

On the subject of photos of vegetables, my granddaughter posted a picture of a man with a prize winning onion, prompting comments about people knowing their onions. So I googled the expression and got this bit of etymology:

“The English grammarian and lexicographer C. T. (Charles Talbut) Onions was an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1895 and continued to write reference works throughout a long and distinguished career. His last work was The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1966, which was published a year after his death. If I knew as much etymology as he did I could certainly claim to 'know my onions', and it is tempting to assume that this is where the phrase originated.

If the 'onions' referred to in the phrase is indeed human rather than vegetable, there is another Mr. Onions that could be our man. S. G. Onions (they were strong on initials in those days) created sets of coins which were issued to English schools from 1843 onwards. These were teaching aids intended to help children learn £.s.d. (pounds, shillings and pence). They looked similar to real coins and had inscriptions like '4 Farthings make 1 Penny' or, as in the example pictured, '12 Pence make 1 shilling'. We can imagine that 'knowing your Onions' might be coined, so to speak, in those circumstances.

The first known use of 'know your onions' in print, in the 1920s, tends to argue against either of the above men being involved. While it is true that the phrase originated at a time when C. T. Onions had established a reputation, the match between the phrase and his name is just a coincidence. Know your onions is in fact an American phrase. There are many references to it in print there from the 1920s onward, but none in the UK or elsewhere until the middle of the century; for example, this from Harper's Magazine, March 1922:

"Mr. Roberts knows his onions, all right."

There you go! 

I wonder if those who insist that we should abandon metric measures and only ever use pounds and ounces, feet and inches would like us also to return to pre-metric currency. Pounds and pence are much easier to deal with. I remember those sums we used to have to do involving pounds, shillings and pence. It was very good for our mental arithmetic though. Of course all this dealing with coins might become a thing of the past as we pay for more and more items with our contactless cards. 

I heard an expert of some kind on a radio current affairs programme, bemoaning the fact that it is now harder for children to learn the value of money as they don’t get to handle it. Even children as young as 8 can have a bank card of sorts to use in shops. They asked some teenagers what they thought the average working person earns: about £80,000 on average was one suggestion! Mind you, I think it has always been hard for teenagers to imagine what wages are all about, how much you should expect to be paid. On a more positive note, my daughter-in-law tells me that our 7-year-old granddaughter went off to her Hallowe’en disco equipped with the little bag and little purse with money so that she could purchase drinks and snacks. That’s how they learn!

Here’s another bit of positivity: my Covid vaccination record was finally updated and ai now have a vaccination certificate on my phone. So long as Portugal don’t ban flights to the UK in next week or so, we are travelling again!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Friday, 22 October 2021

Is it Hallowe’en yet? Cashing in on stuff. Lorry driving!

My daughter-in-law has sent me photos of our 7-year-old granddaughter dressed up to go to a Hallowe’en disco at her junior school. A most charming witch she is too. It’s not actually Hallowe’en until a week on Sunday but it seems to have arrived. The local coop is festooned with spiderwebs and large spiders. A house up the road has put Hallowe’en decoration all over the place. The cafe and gift shop in the village is selling Hallowe’en greetings cards. And my oldest granddaughter, the one who is terrified of spiders, has sent me a photo of her window festooned with stick-on bats. Her black cat got on on the act as well. 

On the radio news they were talking about Hallowe’en attractions. People pay to be frightened, to be chased down alleyways by axe-wielding monsters. One woman interviewed at one such venue declared: “We had none of this when I was a kid. I don’t want my daughter to miss out so I’ve brought her to this today.” A young girl protested that the shops are already full of Christmas stuff: “What about Hallowe’en? That’s what I want to know”, she declared. How odd! 

Actually I agree with the young girl as regards her protests about it being rather early for Christmas stuff to be in the shops. Mince pies should not be on sale in mid-October. Neither should Cadbury’s Snowballs and other such specifically Christmas confections. There is plenty of time for us to overindulge when mid-December rolls along. But that’s a different matter. 

Over the last two decades Hallowe’en has become big business - Hallowe’en greeting cards, Hallowe’en costumes not just for children but for adults as well! Some say we’ve imported it from the USA, which is odd as so many parts of the USA are quite devoutly Christian and must be opposed to this pagan festival. More influential, in my opinion, are the scary films and tv series. This too is odd. Back when most films and TV series seemed to be about cowboys, children played cowboys and indians but you didn't see adults joining in. Similarly, ancient tv series about hospitals such as Emergency Ward 10 or Doctor Kildare, and more recently ER didn’t promote everyone to play doctors. However, Dr Kildare did launch a fashion in shirts with back to front collars.

Everything is a money-making opportunity however. One of the latest I have come across is menopause-friendly clothing!! Apparently there’s a big-business opportunity there. All women go through the menopause, some with no trouble at all, others with a great struggle. For the strugglers, help is at hand in the form of advice on what to wear, which colours will not highlight the fact that you are a bit flushed, and all that sort of thing. And alongside it is a range of comfortable but still stylish wear to get you through this problematic time. As I said, everything is a money-making opportunity for somebody!

As if most women didn’t have their wardrobes full of clothes in different sizes, ready for losing or gaining weight, stuff to feel comfortable but stylish in!

Here’s a bit of yesterday’s news: in Bristol a lorry apparently reversed into the harbour yesterday, leaving the container partially submerged and the cab perched on the dockside. This has led to numerous comments about the driver possibly not having had to pass the reversing test in order to get his HGV licence.

Meanwhile, I still wait for news of my Covid vaccination certificate. Fingers crossed! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Lost and found family heirlooms … of a kind. Storm Aurore. Peacocks and sunshine.

The fruit and veg man at the market last week left behind a sort of agricultural tool, a very old-fashioned, and very old, sort of hoe, long in his family.  It has a long wooden handle and then a kind of curved metal end with the hoe section flattened at the end. You could imagine a peasant using it to break up clods of stubborn earth. In fact, I think I have seen Galicians using something similar on their “terrenos”. I think he brings it to the market to reach up and pull his awning over his stall. Anyway, last week he put it down next to the pavement alongside his stall and forgot it. 

To his amazement it was still there yesterday morning when he set up his stall. The fishmongers daughter said that if it had been in their bit of Greater Manchester it would have been long gone. I suspect it was hidden by parked cars in the time between the two market days. 

He was mightily relieved to recover it as he said it’s almost a family heirloom, isn’t really worth much, indeed the handle is probably worth more, but he doesn’t like to lose things that have been in the family for generations. 

I know how he feels. Yesterday I got out my grandmother’s darning mushroom to mend some socks. 

As he was telling us this it started to rain. I had managed to cycle to the market in dull and cloudy but dry weather and was hoping to make it back home before the forecast rain began. No chance! It was several minutes, and a wet front seat later, that the fruit and veg man remembered he had left the windows to the cab of his truck open! A day of mixed fortunes for him. 

So I rode home in the rain and had to change my clothes when I got back. Shortly after that it stopped raining. This did not last long though. Just after lunch time we had thunder, strong wind, and lashing rain with a few hailstones thrown in. I guess this was maybe the tail end of Storm Aurore. On the TV news later they showed footage of a bits of Widnes that was struck by a tornado. It barely lasted a minute but it threw garden furniture around, up-ended wheelie-bins, tore roof tiles off houses and damaged cars. Other parts of the country, indeed other parts of Greater Manchester, had flooded roads. It seems we got off lightly.

After the storm had worked itself out, at any rate the bit of storm we got, the day improved considerably. We went out for a walk later, equipped with just-in-case waterproofs and umbrellas that we didn’t need. 


Today dawned bright and clear, with blue sky and sunshine. 




I spotted peacocks in a garden up the road from us. 


We’ve seen them before but Ii have no idea whether they actually live there. Their tails look rather bedraggled but that’s hardly surprising if they’re living outdoors. 

I’ve still not seen the deer that people keep telling me about in the valley just behind the village. One day… maybe…!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 20 October 2021


An extra refugee arrived on Folkestone yesterday, where she was met with bells and choirs and was welcomed into the country by the actor Jude Law. Quite why Jude Law was involved I do not know but there it is. Little Amal is a 3 metre high puppet, made by the people who made Warhorse. She represents all the refugee children who have mislaid their parents in their flight from war, famine, persecution and has travelled from Turkey across Europe to arrive finally in the UK. Little Amal has been looking for her mother. 

Only in one place has the welcome been less than warm in welcoming her. In Kalambaka, a village in northern Greece, which is home to ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries built into rocks, the village council decided not to receive a “Muslim doll from Syria”, as the mayor described Little Amal. 

It’s strange how intolerant the deeply religious can be. 

Here’s a link to a series of photos of her progress across Europe.

I’m feeling rather sorry that I won’t be able to see her when she arrives in Manchester on November 3rd. I would have liked to be there but we’ll be in Portugal, assuming I get my Covid vaccination certificate sorted out. 

Yesterday afternoon we followed the procedure indicated online to download a vaccination certificate onto the NHS app on our phones. All went like clockwork for Phil: certificate successfully downloaded. So did mine up to the point where it said “1 dose of 2”. So I scrolled down. No sign of dose 2. Hmm! Further investigation gave the advice to phone the GP. That’s a trial in itself: press 1 for this and 2 for that and 3 for the other.  So I pressed the relevant number to request to speak to a real person. Tinkly music ensued and a repeated mantra: “Thank you for your patience. Your call will be answered shortly.” Finally I spoke to a receptionist who checked the records and told me that, yes, my records showed 2 doses.

That was the good news; the bad news was that they have nothing to do with the NHS app - I should phone 119, which I duly did. And I played the  numbers game again and was thanked for my patience once again. This time the music was more strident! But eventually I got to speak to someone: a young man with good but heavily accented English who sounded for all the world as though he was working in a call centre, possibly in Calcutta. And the line was bad to boot! I kept having to ask him to repeat his requests for information. 

The upshot is that I should receive a paper certificate (Did I need large print? he wanted to know, perhaps prompted by my date of birth. And did I need it in other languages than English?) unless I receive a text to say that they have not been able to issue one. So far so good - no text message. I should also expect a phone call from some other bit of their service to sort out the app side of things. So far, no phone call! 

So here I am in a kind of certification limbo, hoping the young man understood everything that I said to him. Just a little travel nightmare! It’s a good job I am quite optimistic by nature!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Running in the rain. Morning routines. And Montalbano.

At various points in the night I woke to hear rain on the skylight windows. Then finally my alarm rang. I could still hear the rain. I snoozed the alarm. And again. And again. The rain was still there, still noisy. I had more or less decided that there was no way I was going running on the rain. 

And then I got up and looked out of the window. It didn’t look as bad as it sounded. So I donned my running gear, put a waterproof on top and off I went. We’re lucky; even in the rain our bit of England looks good. There was a severe shortage of dog-walkers out and about though. Where were all the usual people? Were they waiting for the day to improve. There is little chance of that. Apart from a brief moment at around 4.00pm, my weather app forecasts between a 60% and an 80% chance of rain all day. So it goes!

There’s definitely something to be said for being up (reasonably) early in the morning, even though it gets harder as the days get shorter; as the sun rises later each morning, getting up with the dawn becomes a different proposition. But even if it means getting up in the semi-dark, it does make you feel more productive somehow. Not that I ever plan to go running in the dark. Journalist Emma Beddington was writing about experimenting with different early morning routines. It’s amazing how many famous people have strange, almost ritualistic, early morning routines, many of which she tried out. Why does Jennifer Aniston want or need to get up at 4.00 am? What exactly is the point of Victoria Beckham drinking apple vinegar? And so many of them seem to drink weird and strange smoothies for breakfast - broccoli is definitely not a breakfast food and should not be made into a smoothie!

But maybe my own routine is no less odd: get up and go for a run (sometimes taking in a quick trip to the local coop for some essential food item we’ve run out of), back home for a shower, have a leisurely breakfast (no weird smoothies, though), do a bit of houseworky stuff, write my blog and then, goodness me! it’s time for the World at One on the the radio along with a cup,of freshly brewed coffee! The rest of the day follows no routine at all!

Last week I spotted a news item about the publication, at last, of the final Montalbano novel by Andrea Camilleri. He wrote it about 5 years ago and locked it away to be published only after his death, which was in 2019. He didn’t want anyone deciding it would be a good idea to cash in on the success of the TV series based on the books by writing “further adventures”. So he decided to kill off his detective in one final adventure. Will it stop some enterprising person having a go at extra adventures anyway? We shall see.

In our zoom Italian class yesterday, a friend of mine revealed that she is now the proud possessor of this last book, both in Italian (with quite a bit of Sicilian dialect in there) and in the English translation. She’s reading them simultaneously. She is a very devoted Montalbano fan and got very excited when we went on a trip to Sicily and visited all sorts of Montalbano places. That was the occasion when we never quite managed to coincide with the film crew making the next series, much to her chagrin. But all being well, touching wood and crossing fingers and all the other superstitious actions we indulge in, our return trip to Sicily, originally planned for 2019 and messed about by Covid, looks as though it should take place next May. Perhaps I’ll buy the Camilleri book while we’re there.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 18 October 2021

In praise of teachers.

 My daughter sent me this:

“It was 1942. Norway was in the second year of Nazi occupation with a puppet prime minister in place. New orders arrived - all teachers were to pledge loyalty to the Nazis, join the Nazi national teachers union, and indoctrinate their students accordingly. Parents protested by the thousands, but teachers did something quite remarkable. They refused. Simply refused. 

The government responded by closing schools and withholding the salaries of 10,000 teachers. Many teachers responded courageously by teaching in their homes. The Nazi retaliation was brutal. Teachers were arrested and sent in freezing cattle cars to concentration camps. Ignoring the danger, Norwegians gathered along the tracks as they passed, singing and offering gifts of food. The teachers were starved, forced to crawl through snow and endured nighttime marches where they were viciously beaten. Incredibly, months of such treatment did not break their spirits, and they were finally returned to their homes and their newly reopened schools.”

This was her source: 

#archaeology #heritage #sharedheritage #heritagetogether #community #HolocaustEducation #ww2

Teachers make a difference. 

In this article the actor Patrick Stewart writes about Cecil Dormand, the teacher who set him on the road to his profession. “Cec passed away a few weeks ago, at the age of 96. He saved me when I was a boy and my education was failing – and has without doubt been the most significant person in my life. If I had not met Cec, what would have happened to me? I am so grateful for his belief in me. Rest in peace, Sir.”

I wonder what would have become of Patrick Stewart if he had turned up for, and passed, the 11-plus exam. 

Writer Michele Roberts passed the 11-plus exam but later failed O-Level art, much to her chagrin as she considered herself quite good at the subject. And so she went on to become a writer instead. She only rediscovered her love of drawing and painting later in life. As for me, I too considered myself quite good at art but was pushed by my schoolteachers to take a science for O-level as an insurance policy in case I did not pass Maths. (I passed Maths but failed the science, by the way.) Consequently my proficiency as an artist was never put to the test and so I have dabbled happily and uninhibitedly all my life. 

Now, one thing struck me as odd when I read Michele Roberts’ description of her school experience. She wrote: 

“At primary school, we learned to write using slates and chalks, with wetted sponges to hand. Writing seemed another form of drawing, scrawling loops and curves. We shaped individual letters into repeating lines. They were abstract forms, delightful but meaningless patterns. I had trouble learning to read clumps of letters as words, but I could draw them.”

Slates and chalks and wetted sponges! When WAS this? I googled the writer just to check. She was born in 1949, so she’s the same generation as I am. Nobody I knew learnt to write using slates and chalks! We didn’t have computers but there was plenty of paper and enough pencils for everyone!

Michele Roberts describes her feeling of rejection when she failed O-level art and says who she understood then the feelings of those of her primary school  classmates who failed the 11-plus exam. I was one of those, not Michele Roberts’ classmates but an 11-plus reject. I had watched “my school”, a new building for the girls’ grammar school being built and was devastated not to be able to go there when it opened. 

Like Patrick Stewart, though, I had a couple of inspirational teachers at the local secondary modern school: the English teacher who insisted on high standards from all of us and refused to be addressed as “Miss” but always by her full name, and the enthusiastic young French teacher who instilled a love of foreign languages in me. And my town had a 12-plus exam, which I sat and passed, largely I sometimes think because of that inspirational French teacher as I achieved a high enough mark to go into the higher class (it was quite strictly streamed) where I was able to learn Spanish as well as French. And that’s how my life as a linguist began.

Teachers make a difference.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Some things about children.

It’s a rather grey and gloomy Sunday here. Maybe it will improve later as it did yesterday. The sun didn’t really come out but we did manage to go for a walk up Lark Hill in the late afternoon. Of course, it will need to stop raining if we are going to go out for a walk again today. 

Emma Brockes wrote in yesterday’s Guardian about the difficulty of keeping her family to a routine. If she can get the children to school half an hour early they get breakfast at school. Oddly, and surely she was exaggerating, the school opens its gates to non-breakfast club children at 8.30 and locks them at 8.33, causing difficulties for late arrivals. Obviously life in New York is challenging. And as I read, I wondered what someone living in New York is doing writing regularly for a newspaper over here. Such is the modern world of work.

Later I read this article about Stella Moris, who is married to Julian Assange. She has two children, kept secret the media for most of their life so far. She has to explain to them that there are people who don’t want to let daddy come home. What a sad situation for her, for Julian Assange and perhaps especially for her children. 

And then I read this, from the Telegraph:

“British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has lost an appeal against a second jail term in Iran after spending more than five years in detention, her supporters said on Saturday.

The 43-year-old project manager, who lived in London with her husband and now seven-year-old daughter, has been held in Iran since 2016 and served a five-year sentence.

In late April, she was sentenced to another year's imprisonment and banned from leaving the country for a further 12 months.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's Iranian lawyer was told in a phone call on Saturday that "the appeal on her second case failed", according to the #Free Nazanin Twitter account run by her supporters.

The judge made the ruling without a court hearing, it said, adding that so far there is no summons date for her return to prison.

Iran has not issued any official statement, following its usual practice.

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents the constituency where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband and daughter live, tweeted that she "could now be returned to prison at any time".

The MP urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to "act now to #Free Nazanin".

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is one of a number of Western passport holders being held by Iran in what rights groups condemn as a policy of hostage-taking aimed at winning concessions from foreign powers.

The project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency and data firm's philanthropic arm, was arrested in April 2016 while visiting family.

She was convicted of plotting to overthrow the regime, a charge she strenuously denied.

She completed that sentence in March this year, only to be given a fresh one-year jail term for "propaganda against the system".

The UK's then-foreign minister Dominic Raab condemned the second sentence, saying that Iran's treatment of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe amounted to torture and she was being held unlawfully.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been living with her parents in Tehran while her appeal was under way, barred from leaving the country.

Her husband and daughter last month took part in a protest organised by Amnesty International near the Houses of Parliament to mark her 2,000th day in detention.”

So now the family is depending on Liz Truss and Boris Johnson to try to sort things out. But once again, that’s another story of a child growing up without a parent and the other parent having to explain why this is happening. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!