Saturday, 8 May 2021

Wet and windy weekend weather. Braving public transport. A little bit of post election thought - but not much.

Today has sort of slipped away. To begin with there was torrential rain. I lay in bed listening to it and for the first time in ages and ages opted to stay in bed and simply listen to the rain. That didn’t last too long but I chickened outt of going for a run round the village in the rain and wind. Instead I got up and spent some time on the rowing machine and doing a bit of yoga. Indoor exercise! Probably not enough for my bossy Fitbit to even recognise as exercise. 

Late in morning I got myself together - mask, keys, purse, phone, something to read, list of errands I wanted to complete and, an important item which has been unused for over a year, my bus pass - to go into Manchester city centre. I have an appointment with my city centre-based hairdresser on Tuesday and they have brought in a new requirement: if you have not had your hair dyed in the last three months you must have a skin test a couple of days beforehand. According to my daughter, just about all hairdressers are setting up this requirement. Fear of being sued if someone reacts badly to the hair colouring must be pushing their hand. Maybe there is a theory that Covid, or the vaccine, or simply not visiting the hairdresser for the best part of a year has made us all ultra-sensitive. 

So I took myself off to the bus stop and caught a bus to the tram stop just outside Oldham town centre. It was all quite civilised, everyone masked and sitting at intervals on the seats designated. The tram was a little less well organised - no indication of seats not to be used, just a reliance on good will, I suppose. A couple of Transport for Greater Manchester tram police got on a couple of stations along, not checking tickets and passes but scanning round for use of masks and reminding people, even occasionally handing out masks from their supply. All was well. 

Manchester was not too crowded, although when I left mid- to late-afternoon it was beginning to get busier. I took the opportunity to visit a few places and pick up supplies: Boots the Chemist, Bodyshop, the health food shop, to name a few. I also picked up a few bits of craft materials . I intend to introduce my penfriend-granddaughter to the concept of unbirthday presents by sending her something to make. After that I was ready to catch the next tram heading through Oldham. 

According to the notice on the tram station display a tram for Rochdale was “approaching”, but it seemed to be at snail’s pace as the approach took a good 5 minutes, even though we could see it in the distance. This tram was rather fuller than the one I travelled into Manchester on but everything was OK.  Mind you, everyone studiously ignored the notice to KEEP THE WINDOWS OPEN. Too wet and cold for fresh air!

I arrived at Oldham Mumps tram station just in time to see my connecting bus sail through the traffic lights and on its way to Delph ... without me! How very annoying! Faced with a half hour wait, I set off to walk a few stops. Oldham Mumps bus and tram interchange is a bleak and miserable place at the best of times. Some ten or fifteen minutes later, I was standing at a bus stop when I heard my name being called. My daughter and partner and the small people were out and about, preparing to call in at McDonalds and then a chippy and had spotted me waiting. So I had a ride home after all, with fish and chips for Phil and me as well. 

There is nothing quite so sophisticated - or should that be decadent? - as fish and chips with a nice glass of chilled white wine!

Labour seems to have fared better in mayoral elections than in others. Perhaps we should hand leadership of the party over to Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan. But steps appear to being taken to try to improve matters generally. Angela Rayner looks like being one of the blame hounds, sacked from her role as chair of the party and campaign manager. They say she will be offered another role. Is she still too left-leaning to do well? We shall see! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 7 May 2021

What to do on the day after elections.

So Labour seem to have been truly trounced in a whole lot of local elections, not to mention the Hartlepool by-election. A friend of mine sent me some figures regarding Labour votes in Hartlepool:-

Total Labour votes

2005           18,251               Blair

2010            16,267              Brown

2015            14,076              Miliband

2017             21,969             Corbyn

2019             15,464             Corbyn

2021              8589               Starmer

She’s trying to work out how they can blame it on Jeremy Corbyn and has decided that a new political phenomenon is about to be discovered: “Long Corbyn”. 

I guess he will serve as the blame-hound for a while yet!

We still don’t know the results of the Greater Manchester mayoral elections. All the sources on the internet tell us that the results will be available on the 8th of May. Tomorrow! Can they invent a name for that day as well? Solemn Saturday?

I’ve been avoiding media analysis of the elections. It’s enough that I have a friend who has become obsessed with the whole proceedings and sends me regular updates. It all gets rather wearing and so I have pushed it all to the back of my mind for the time being. So I don’t know what has been going on in Scotland and Wales.,

Instead we have been out on a family adventure, yet another Diggle Chippy Hike. Some of the family chickened out’ Phil with a cold and the eldest granddaughter because she was digging - or helping to dig - or supervising someone else digging - a pond for frogs in her garden. She really needed to do this as she rescued some frogspawn from a rapidly drying puddle weeks ago and has been fretting over it ever since. The frogspawn has gone though basic tadpoles , to tadpoles with legs,  to tadpoles with legs and without tails - in other words, tiny frogs. They need to be in a pond before they start climbing out of their indoor container and exploring her living room.

The rest of us had a mix of sunshine and a few showers - notably as we finished off our fish and chips at the duckpond. But on the whole a good time was had by all and the views were still fine. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Super Thursday thoughts. Problems in the Channel. Celebrating other things.

Super Thursday! That’s what they have dubbed today. Presumably it’s because it’s the first voting day since we all went into lockdown. Maybe it’s because they want to inject a little excitement into the proceedings.

I suspect Mr Johnson has been doing that by sending gunboats to the Channel Islands. It must be an election stunt. Surely he doesn’t seriously want to start a war with France. Another bit of posturing. The fact that Jersey gets most of its electricity via undersea cables from France just underlines how closely tied we really are to Europe and what a piece of nonsense Brexit is turning out to be. We’ll take back control and ignore the fact that lots of people, and not just in the Channel Islands, have EDF as their electricity supplier, many not even aware that EDF stands for Électricité de France! 

Hey ho!

By the way, I find all this Super Thursday and similar naming really annoying!

We’ll go out to vote a little later today. Our 18 year old granddaughter has already done so. She was quite excited at the prospect! Good for her!

She’s having a good day - a super Thursday, in fact - having just received the results of her latest History exam: a grade B! I’m a little confused about how they are organising things this year. I think this latest exam result is not her final A Level grade for the subject but will contribute to that final grade. But for the moment, we are celebrating a success, especially as she came away from the exam rather gloomy, having, she said, gone blank on one of the questions. 

All’s well that ends well!

I am baking a chocolate cake. It’s not specifically to celebrate her success but it will serve that purpose as well. It is in fact a late birthday cake for her brother’s 16th birthday, which was last Thursday. Apparently a few days ago he said to his mother, “Am I having a birthday cake? If Grandma is making one, I would like chocolate.” I think that was a large hint. Mind you, if he were to turn up on the doorstep right now, I might not recognise him as we have not seen him since Christmas. His siblings, both older and younger, have been on frequent family adventures but her has been sequestered in his room playing computer games for the most part. 

That probably explains how I managed to forget to give his present to his mother until after his actual birthday, not to mention neglecting to bake a cake for him until today. I am not entirely sure how I came to become cake-maker-general in any case. But that’s how it is.

The radio news tells me that France has now sent navy vessels to Jersey to match Mr Johnson’s show of force. The fishermen are not happy about anything at the moment. They say they just want to fish as they have always fished. In fact they want their old lives back. Don’t we all?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

After the rain. Fresh air questions. Vaccine matters. And some odd news items.

Over the last few days of rainy weather there has usually come a point when it all brightens up sufficiently for us to go for a brisk walk round the village, getting at least a little fresh air and stretching our legs. At the end of the afternoon yesterday, somewhere around 5.30 or 6.00, the sky cleared and we considered going out. Then we decided to have an early tea and go for a stroll later. Mistake! By the time we had eaten, the rain had set in again and it was there for most of the evening. 

Today, by way of a contrast, dawned bright and clear. It was still a little chilly but perfectly acceptable for a cycle ride to Uppermill market. As ever, my Fitbit does not think I have exercised much - a cycle ride to Uppermill and back only registers about 1,500 steps!

Thinking about fresh air, there is this. I went on a little about various types of inequality yesterday. Here’s another example. According to this articleresearch has been going on into the effects of air pollution on older men’s brains. There is no doubt that this is valuable research. We are all more aware than ever in the past that air pollution is a major problem. But what I want to know is why there was no mention of women! We also breathe. And have brains. 

We are still getting very mixed messages about “opening up”, “relaxing restrictions” and so on. India probably needs to go into full lockdown as they battle with the worst conditions imaginable. We in the UK are seeing numbers of cases falling - mostly - there are odd pockets of increase still going on here and there - and vaccination is still going on apace. The government is optimistic but experts are urging continued caution. 

Here’s something from Michael Rosen -  who else?

“Just think - they're talking of a 3rd jab and yet there were high-ups who thought we'd all get to be immune (bar about 200,000 dead) if we just did nothing.”

I feel especially sorry for those in care homes or with relatives in care homes. As the rest of us gradually creep out of our Covid shells into something approaching normality, some care home residents are still not having visitors or trips out, often because the care home people are terrified of the insurance question. Will they be covered of there is a sudden surge? Will they survive such an occurrence? Better stay indoors!

Meanwhile Cuba is making its own vaccine:

“Hit by the double whammy of US sanctions and a pandemic, Cuba is going through its gravest economic crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Pharmacy shelves are barren. People queue for hours to buy chicken. It’s hard to find bread.

And yet this island under siege could become the smallest country in the world to develop its own coronavirus vaccines. Of the 27 coronavirus vaccines in final stage testing around the world, two are Cuban.

“To have our sovereignty we need our own vaccines,” said Dr Vicente Vérez, director of the Finlay Institute, which has developed Sovereign 2, the most advanced of the country’s five vaccine candidates. “In nine months we have gone from an idea to a vaccine in phase three clinical trials.”

About 44,000 volunteers in Havana are currently participating in phase three trials for Sovereign 2. A similar number in the eastern city of Santiago are volunteering for phase three for Abdala, a vaccine named after a poem by José Martí, the island’s official “national hero”.”

Apparently they had something of a surge after Christmas. With relaxation of travel restrictions over the festive season it seems rather a lot of former Cubans, now Florida residents, flew over to visit, and to hug, Cuban relatives, bringing a special present with them! 

Whatever your opinion of the Cuban regime, you have to admire their spirit. And in the midst of all this, they have been able to send doctors to help our in other parts of the world.

Amongst all the depressingly serious news there are also some odd and amusing and interesting tales. There’s the Belgian farmer who got annoyed with a border marker that got in the way of his tractor. So he moved it, allowing his tractor to continue and inadvertently pinching a bit of France for Belgium.

You couldn’t make it up!

And then I found this story about a young woman who gave birth to nonuplets! 

‘A woman in Mali has given birth to nine babies – two more than doctors had detected inside her womb – according to the country’s health ministry, joining a small pantheon of mothers of nonuplets.

Halima Cisse, 25, had been expected to give birth to seven babies, according to ultrasounds conducted in Morocco and Mali that missed two of the siblings. All were delivered by caesarean section.

The pregnancy of Cisse has fascinated the west African nation and attracted the attention of its leaders. When doctors in March said Cisse needed specialist care, the country’s transitional leader, Bah Ndaw, ordered that she be sent to Morocco, where she gave birth to five girls and four boys, according to Mali’s health ministry.

“The mother and babies are doing well so far,” Mali’s health minister, Fanta Siby, told Agence France-Presse, adding that she had been kept informed by the Malian doctor who accompanied Cisse to Morocco.

They are due to return home in several weeks’ time, she added.”

And to think I know people terrified at the prospect of twins! Nine is surely rather excessive. How do nine babies fit in one womb? It’s hard to imagine such a pregnancy and it’s hardly surprising the scans miscounted the babies. More seriously, it is to be hoped that the tiny siblings survive and thrive!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!  

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Morris Dancing - equality issues! Weddings and other celebrations.

It’s funny the things you don’t think of as being affected by the lockdown, usually odd, peripheral stuff, not mainstream everyday stuff. Neither do you think of them especially as regards equality matters. One of these is Morris Dancing. Apparently Morris Dance groups have been very glad to be able to get back together and perform in public again. They have had to observe social distancing rules, using longer sticks than usual for clacking against each other and not getting too close or hooking up into pairs. 

But they have been out and about once again. May Day is, of course, one of their big days to be performing in village centres all over the place and it’s only reading about it that I stop and think of all the occasions when they have NOT been in our village over the last year. “Members of the Hook Eagle Morris Men performed near the village of Hook, Hampshire, to mark the May Day dawn on Saturday, in their first show since January 2020.” They were quite surprised to have a few spectators. It was 5.00 in the morning!

It seems that they are a group who usually perform in blackface but, influenced by Black Lives Matter, they have changed from blackface to blueface. Not all Morris Dancers use blackface. I’ve rarely seen it around here but I hear it’s common in some parts of the country. Some people explain the tradition by looking back to the 1400s when peasants would smear soot over their faces to hide their identity if they went out begging as the activity was illegal. That doesn’t really explain how it got into the dancing. Another theory is that originally Morris Dancing was “morisco” or Moorish dancing, possibly coming into English via the Flemish “mooriske”. This makes sense if you think of Shakespeare’s Moors and Blackamoors. 

Also, in Elizabethan times, there was significant cultural contact between Italy and England, and it has been suggested that much of what is now considered traditional English folk dance, and especially English country dance! is descended from Italian dances imported in the 16th century. Oddly enough, looking at Italian festivals for my Italian conversation class, I have found examples of dances and costumes very similar to our Morris Dancing. 

So that’s the racist bit of Morris Dancing. How about the gender equality thing? It seems very much a male preserve, but for males who don’t mind donning silly costumes with bells on their clogs and flowers in their hats. The stuff with swords, however, suggest that maybe some dances could have originated as celebratory victory dances, another traditionally male preserve! But that’s another matter. 

It would seem that the activity had a big revival in the early decades of the 20th century, with a sort of competitive element around 1934 with the creation of the Morris Ring, founded by six rival men’s groups. By the 1960s women wanted to get in on the act, although I can’t really see why, and there was much discussion of the propriety and even legitimacy of women dancing the Morris. Maybe they were expected to stick to maypole dancing. On reflection, that very discussion was probably why they wanted to join in. A gender equality matter!

Incidentally, Oliver Cromwell’s puritan government banned celebrating such occasions as Whitsuntide with dancing and drinking Whitsun ales. When the crown was restored, however, Charles II was happy to have springtime festivals such as Whitsunday back again, apparently because the date was close to his birthday. There you go!

Here’s another bit of gender equality stuff: marriage certificates in England and Wales will from now on include the name of the bride’s and the groom’s mother, not just their fathers’ names. Presumably this concentration on the father was a throwback to marriages often being arranged as a kind of alliance between families, with the offspring, especially the daughters, as a kind of possession of the head of the family. So now we have got rid of that bit of nonsense! 

This provokes a question: Are we about to see a rash of weddings as we stagger out of lockdown? At the moment weddings can take place with 15 people present. If all goes well with the roadmap, in a couple of weeks up to 30 guests will be allowed. And after the 21st of June there will be no limits. Happy couples can invite the whole world and their grandmother if they so choose. Wedding planners must be really happy!

It’s not just weddings, of course. Families and friends will be able to get together to remember and celebrate the lives of people they have lost in the last year, pared down funerals having taken the place of such get-togethers. Christenings or naming celebrations can take place again. Or at any rate, families can get together to coo over new arrivals. And largish groups of old friends will be able to meet just for the sake of it, reminiscing about our youth and catching up on how we have all fared over the last year.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 3 May 2021

Window cleaning and other adventures. Pubs with no beer!

There was a story in the newspaper about the actor Adrian Edmondson getting stuck on his outside window-ledge while cleaning the windows. He had to ask a passerby to fetch help. You would think he could afford a window cleaner rather than risk life and limb clambering about on outside window-ledges, especially one obviously too high to simply jump down from, since the fire brigade had to come and rescue him. 

I’ve never risked standing on an outside window-ledge. I watch people in Spanish flats leaning precariously out of windows to clean the outside panes. As a rule the windows in modern flats are designed to slide so that it is possible clean the outside panes without risking life and limb, well almost without risk! It always seems a little precarious to me. Consequently the windows of our flat in Spain are never as clean as those of our neighbours. The other Spanish housewifely activity that fills me with trepidation is hanging washing on those outside washing lines, arranged just below the windows and with pulleys to move the lines along. I see women, rarely men, lean quite far out to peg out their washing, and marvel at their sangfroid! 

The first flat we rented in Vigo had that sort of arrangement for hanging out the washing over the central well between all the flats. On more than one occasion I had to go knocking on the door of the ground floor flat, asking if I could retrieve odd socks or a pair of underpants that had slipped through my fingers as I pegged washing out. Some blocks of flats won’t allow washing to be hung on the outside of the building. No doubt it lowers the tone! I am always amazed when I see washing hung so close to the building that it blows against the wall. Surely the washing comes in dirtier than when it went out! Personally I favour a fold-up clothes drier - a clothes maiden I suppose it really should be called - on the balcony of our flat. It does, however, need to be weighted down at its base to prevent the wind from overturning it or, heaven forfend, blowing it over the edge of the balcony. I have visions of our washing festooned all over the main street.  

When Ade Edmondson posted his misadventure on twitter he asked how his followers' bank holiday weekend was going and in reply received stories of mishaps this weekend or on other occasions: people falling down manholes, being goaded by their offspring to try skateboarding or roller skating and doing prat-falls as a result. You know the sort of thing!

One follower described being locked in the back garden by her husband, not in an act of domestic bullying but because he was popping out on an errand and did not realise she was outside the house. Did he not bother to say goodbye to his missis as a rule when he left the house. She knew he would not be long, fortunately, and waited on the doorstep with their cat! 

As for me, I have a near pathological fear of locking myself out. This dates back to a time almost forty years ago when I returned from a walk, or maybe a shopping trip, with a baby in the buggy and a toddler trotting alongside. Arriving home I realised I had left my key in the house. Under normal circumstances I could have camped out with a friend or neighbour until Phil came home but on this occasion he was in Germany with a bunch of school pupils. A week was a long time to wait on the doorstep! So, with fingers crossed, I walked the children round to the back of the house to see if I had left the kitchen window open. I had! Being younger and more agile then than now, I climbed onto the window-ledge, squeezed my way in through the top window and lowered myself onto the inside window-ledge. Fortunately, the toddler was not one of those twho run off at the drop of a hat like my smallest grandson, and so I was able to unlock the back door, secure in the knowledge that he was waiting there, busily entertaining his small sister in the buggy. 

Never again did I leave the kitchen window open, even though that house was in a quiet country hamlet. If I could climb through that smallish window, so could a reasonably skinny burglar! Mind you, in that same house we did go to bed one summer’s night leaving the front door wide open. The inner glass door was closed so we did not get invaded by foxes or other wild life. It was rather a shock to find the living room flooded with morning light when we got up in the morning though. 

Anyway, that is why I double, triple, quadruple check that I have keys whenever I leave the house. 

This is rather a disappointing Bank Holiday Monday weather-wise. I managed to go for a run before the rain set in. It’s been intermittent since then and is not forecast to stop properly for the rest of the day. Will this stop people sitting in the carpark/beer-garden next door? I doubt it! I should think they will need to be wrapped up though. However, the landlord has set up a system of heaters. Quite what they and the wood-fired pizza stove do for the environment is a different matter!

Apparently some publicans and breweries are worried about keeping up with their customers’ overwhelming thirst for beer and wine and goodness knows what else (probably gin in the pub next door to our house as they pride themselves on being a “gin emporium” with hundreds of different kinds). Some pub-goers have even reported pubs which have sold out of beer. Presumably the breweries have had to adjust from making no deliveries at all to a sudden demand for extra as the serious drinkers get back in training.  Modern problems!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Pings and delivery scams. Employment issues in hospitality.

PING!!! It’s about 4.00am and my mobile goes PING!! “We have difficulties delivering your package no. ......... due to unpaid shipping freight: .....” with a web address, presumably so I can sort it out. And pay somebody an unreasonable sum of money. 

Now, I have not ordered anything for weeks. We don’t order a great deal of stuff. But imagine being the sort of person who orders things all the time, or someone who has ordered something special for a friend’s birthday or wedding or whatever. You receive that message and do a little panic and can’t remember what your order number is. So you go to the website and if you are lucky you just pay them a limited, but probably still unreasonable, sum of money. If you are unlucky, or foolish, they get your bank details and clear out your savings!

It’s not the first time I have had such a message. I’ve also heard of other people receiving them. It’s the latest scam! Fortunately most of the stuff I have ordered over the past year has communicated with me via email, so I usually have a record of the order number, only sending a text to confirm delivery time on the day of delivery. But a fair few people have been caught out. 

I also received a text message about a supermarket delivery yesterday: “Out for delivery: Your Morrisons order will arrive from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.” Again with a web address. We had ordered nothing from Morrisons. Indeed, we have never ordered anything from Morrisons. No delivery materialised. I suspect somebody made a mistake giving their mobile number and the delivery people ended up with mine. However, I asked myself what I would do if the order turned up. Would I be honest and turn them away? Or would I assess the contents and decide to keep it? Probably the former. I am basically an honest person. Or at least concerned about embarrassment if found out!

My eldest granddaughter had a delivery from Tesco go to the wrong address, a house on a parallel street to hers. Tesco must have contacted her to confirm delivery or something and somehow she found out where it had gone. She met the delivery man at the mistaken address, where the residents were busily unpacking all her groceries!! These things happen!

In a bit of Covid irony, I read that the hospitality industry is facing a staffing crisis. Goodness! I thought there were people looking for work. “Pubs and restaurateurs agree that there is a particular challenge in the south-east of England and London as a lack of supply of skilled people from the EU, post-Brexit, is causing issues with hiring staff, especially in the kitchen.” So maybe it’s more Brexit irony than Covid irony.  

The staff at the pub next door to our house seem to be very busy but there are plenty of them. There are times when the car park / garden restaurant is quite empty but that doesn’t happen often. How they will fare if the weathermen are right and the weather gets colder again remains to be seen. But soon they’ll be moving indoors again. We’ll see how that goes!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!