Sunday, 18 December 2011

Let it snow, let snow, let it snow.

This morning I had every intention getting up reasonably early, running the long way into the village to buy the paper, then returning home for to shower and read the paper over a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. And then I looked out of the window to discover that White Christmas had come a week early. Around two and a half inches of snow lay on the pavements, the road, the shed roof, everywhere. So a radical re-think was called for. Earlier in the week I had read an article about running in the rain and snow and although it was full of good ideas somehow this did not seem like the moment to put the advice into practice.

Instead I did the indoor exercise routine, had my shower and read my book ove
r a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. Sometime later in the morning I put on an extra pair of socks inside my boots, wrapped myself up in coat, scarf, hat and gloves (two pairs) and ventured out, camera in hand, to walk the long way into the village to buy the paper. It was well worth all the wrapping up as the sky was a wonderful clear winter blue and the views were rather fine. Here is a selection. I was particularly impressed by the group of walkers in Santa hats.

On Friday I listened to Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4 going on at length, and in quite an interesting manner, about Christmas carols. Part of his thesis was that we should be accepting of new arrangements of old Christmas carols and he played some pleasant variations on old themes. I am all in favour of such ideas but I had to disagree with a part of Mr Lawson’s reasoning.

One of his arguments was that we should welcome these new, fresh versions because everyone knows the old traditional ones as they are taught in schools. This was where I had to part company with him. The old traditional carols are no longer automatically taught in schools.
Over the last few years I have been to a number of school Nativity Plays.

In fact I went to one on Friday morning and saw my small grandson play the part of an innkeeper who, on being asked by a small Joseph if he and the small Mary could stay the night, had to say, “No, we’re full!” He did it quite well, as well as you might expect from such a limited role, but I really felt that he would have been better cast as the shepherd who declared, as they sat around the campfire, “I’m BORED!” Now, this would have been the perfect part for our young chap as this is one of his favourite complaints. In fact, he has been banned from saying it in our house and has to resort to saying, “I’m B-word.”

Getting back to the rant in hand: traditional Christmas carols. In the various Nativity Plays I have seen over the last few years the only traditional carol I have heard is “Away in a Manger”.

In Friday’s performance, as Mary and Joseph and a small boy with an Eeyore head-dress walked to and fro across the stage, did they sing “Little Donkey”? Oh no, they sang something called “Plodding towards Bethlehem”.

While shepherds sat on the pretend hillside, the children sang a song about shepherds warming their toes and having a little doze by the campfire which went reassuringly, “Crackle, crackle, crackle”. What’s wrong with “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”? I ask you!

The reception class children were all appealingly dressed as stars. So, of course, they had to sing “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. Now I seem to remember that “Little Donkey” has a chorus that goes something like,

Ring out those bells tonight
Bethlehem, Bethlehem
Follow that star tonight

Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

So if they had sung “Little Donkey” the stars could have had their day and the children who jingled the sleigh bells in yet another new and unknown song could have done their bit too.

No, I haven’t got anything against new Christmas songs but they didn’t even manage “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem”. And you can’t even tell me that small children can’t learn the words to the old songs. I remember being an angel (what else?) in a Nativity Play and singing “Oh. Little Town of Bethlehem”. It’s mainly that the new songs the children sang all seemed a little bland and anodyne.

Now, our grandchildren go to a Church of England primary school where they are taught a fair bit about religion. My Phil has been heard to mutter about them "ramming religion down their throats". Even as a non-believer, however, I think they should learn the Bible stories. They are part of our heritage after all. But the old traditional Christmas carols are also part of our heritage.

And besides, if they don’t know the original versions of “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night” and “We three Kings of Orient are” how on earth are they going to appreciate these variations on old themes?

While shepherds washed their socks by night,

All seated round the tub,

The Angel of the lord came down

And gave them all a scrub.


We three kings of Orient are,

One in a taxi, one in a car,

One on a scooter,

Blowing his hooter

And smoking a fat cigar.

These too form apart of our rich heritage!!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Where DOES the time go and do you know where your liver is?

Retired ladies are supposed to have loads of time for everything. So why have I found it hard to snatch a moment to post a blog recently? Between grandchildcare, doing the ladies-who-lunch thing with various different groups, running errands for my daughter who assumes that as a retired lady I have loads of time available and knitting small garments for babies recently arrived or about to arrive – to my daughter’s friend and to my friends daughter in law respectively – there just doesn’t seem to have been a moment.

And then, the weather has continued cold and wintry. I know I should expect such
stuff in December but even so ... And yesterday I came across my Phil getting all nostalgic looking at a website which lists property available to rent in Vigo. On the list was the flat we used to rent in Vista Alegre with its beautiful view over the bay of Vigo. Very tempting! Maybe he just wanted to cheer himself up as he is suffering from his second cold in as many weeks.

Which brings me to an item featured on the BBC’s “From Our Own Correspondent”. This time it wasn’t from some war-torn part of the world but from Italy, not quite war-torn but suffering from economic stress and strain. My Italian teacher told us a friend of hers, also Italian, plans to take food parcels when she goes to visit her family for Christmas as four of the supermarkets in their small town have been forced to close recently.

Anyway, Dany Mitzman commented o
n the fact that she was cycling around Bologna in a lightweight jacket while all the Italians have got their fur coats on and about a million thick scarves and glove and mufflers. But then the Italians apparently have to protect themselves from something called “cervicale”.

She went on to explain, “ "Soffro di cervicale (I suffer from cervicale)," they tell me, making it sound particularly serious.

people over the age of 30 seem to have the condition, but I am still at a loss as to what exactly it is and how to translate it.

I have looked it
up in the dictionary and found "cervical" - an adjective referring to the cervical vertebrae, those little bones in the back of your neck - but as an ailment, there is simply no English translation. We do not have it!”

That sounds about right, not just a stiff neck from being in a draft but a full-blown malady with a fancy name.

She went on
to marvel at the way Italians have an amazing anatomical knowledge, knowing the whereabouts of parts of the body the rest of us have never heard of. I found myself nodding in agreement because in my experience the Spanish and the French are just the same. Loli, my yoga teacher in Vigo, used to refer to bits of the anatomy that I had only the vaguest idea about but everyone else in the class appeared to know exactly what she meant. This included, interestingly enough, “los cervicales” – as the BBC’s Italian correspondent discovered, some part of the neck where it joins onto the spine.

According to my Italian teacher this is not taught at school; you just kind of absorb it from your mother. (My mother never taught
me stuff like that!) But even Adalgisa, my Italian teacher, expresses surprise now when she goes back to Italy and everyone knows a whole range of medicines and tablets you should take for every ailment under the sun.

On the other hand, maybe this reference to obscure bits of the anatomy is just another ploy to confuse the foreigners, or maybe just the English. It’s another version of the fish menus (and fish counters in superma
rkets, for that matter) with species of marine life we didn’t know existed let alone have any idea of what they might taste like (or how to cook them). It’s a kind of Europe-wide conspiracy: “These English, some of them think they can speak our language but we’ll show them by talking about internal organs they’ve never heard of and serving them food which is completely strange to them.”

Or maybe the ailment thing is just part of the Europeans’ hypochondria. (We can call them just
"Europeans" now that David Cameron has effectively isolated the UK from the mainland!) I remember a French friend of mine many years ago warning me of the dangers of drinking too much tea and coffee. Apparently she did this one day and her stomach turned inside out. I didn’t know stomachs could do that!!!

Meanwhile, back here in the (non-European)
UK Christmas advances on us at a furious rate of knots and I still have no idea what buy my six year old grandson. What do you buy for a child who seems to have room full of stuff he doesn’t play with and then declares he is bored?

But am I downhearted? Not at all.

I have co
mpleted the home-made Christmas wreath and bought a very small Christmas tree (“Don’t you want a bigger one, Grandma?”) which has now been decorated.

I was
tempted to leave it at stage one of decorating when it just had the lights on. However, the oldest grandchild insisted that it needed more.

So there it is.
Christmas has officially started in my house.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Running up to Christmas.

This morning I joined the ranks of the crazy people who run in the rain and snow. This was not deliberate on my part. Oh, no! My plan was to run to Uppermill, the biggest of the Saddleworth villages, visit the excellent baker’s shop for a loaf, pick up some milk from the coop and then catch a bus home. It was a kind of “carpe diem” exercise: run while the weather is fine for tomorrow it may be snowing.

The important bit is “run while the weather is fine” for when I set off the sky was actually blue. OK, the wind was a little chilly but I planned to keep moving so staying warm was not a problem. Five minutes down the road and onto the Donkey Line, a local bridle path cum nature trail, and the clouds moved over and the hail started to come down, followed by the rain. So, as I said, I became one of the mad women who run in the rain and snow.

Fortunately most of my route goes through a lightly wooded area so I was protected from the worst of it and by the time I reached Uppermill it had largely blown over. So I made my planned purchases, got to the bus stop and was just wondering whether my bus had gone or was running late as usual when it arrived at the stop. Such a masterpiece of timing is very unusual!

The cold winds and snow and such are the result of December coming in with a blast of weather to remind us that it is in fact winter. November may have lulled us into a false sense of security by giving us some delightfully clear and sunny days but December so far is getting its own back on us. There was snow on top of the car on Monday when I got up to drive to my daughter’s in the early morning. And, yes, there were still some mad runners out and about.

But December has arrived and while everyone appears to be rushing round buying stuff, I just seem to be eating out. The various groups of people I meet occasionally for lunch are all arranging a pre-Christmas get-together. Am I complaining? Not at all.

A certain Miss Pippa Middleton has apparently had her Christmas present early. She has reportedly received a £400,000 advance on a book about party planning. Now I know that her parents are in the party planning business so she probably has festivities in her genetic make-up but even so I am a little suspicious. I really can’t help wondering if being the sister-in-law of the second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom might not have something to do with it. Or am I just getting old and cynical?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Words, words, words.

We discussed the vagaries of the Italian political system in our Italian class yesterday and one of our number read out the contents of some cartoons she had found. Now, Angela is the sort of lady who just does not swear. She’s rather older than I am, very intelligent – I believe she read PPE at Oxford – and very well informed. But she is of the generation of educated, emancipated women who just don’t include swearing like a trooper in there idea of gender equality. She’s practically the first person I have met who is even less likely to swear than I am. And I have been known to cause laughter when I do swear; on one occasion in a departmental meeting at college I was provoked into uttering that expletive that begins with F***. The young teacher sitting next to me grinned broadly and turned to say to me, “Oh, say it again, Anthea, say it again!”

Anyway, Angela was reading out her cartoon and, from her script, read the word
“merda”. There was an almost audible but quite deliberate intake of breath as everyone was more than a little mock-shocked to hear such language from our very own Angela.

Coincidentally I seem to have been reading and hearing quite a lot about swearing recently. Mark Lawson was writing in the Guardian newspaper about how taboo words have been progressively losing their power. A judge has even ruled that swear words should not be considered offensive of it could be demonstrated that the speaker uses them so often that they are such a habitual part of his language that he doesn’t realise he is swearing. That sounds a bit like giving in to me! Mark Lawson wrote:

“Recently, in a move that still surprises me in retrospect with its potential riskiness, I asked a supporter at a League Two football match if he might consider minding his language. The bloke had been vocal throughout the first half, hollering the C-word and F-word in various combinations at the referee, assistant referee and the home team.

Although all 14 men had more than earned this derision by their performance, I was present at the game with a 12-year-old and there were other much younger children in what is commonly considered the family section of the ground. At half-time, in the queue for the loo, I mentioned to the man that, while there was widespread support for his views, it might be better for the children to hear a bit less swearing. His non-ironic response: "Swearing? I ain't been [sexual adjective] swearing, you [genital noun]."

I have had similar arguments with my teenage granddaughter who assures me that “bloody” and “damn” are not swear words at all. Maybe I am just getting old and cranky.

The BBC has been joining in with a featurette on Radio 4 about words that people use to replace swear words. “By the Duke of Argyll” was mentioned quite frequently. Many families have their own collection of such euphemisms. “Oh, bobbins!” and “Oh, poodle-droppings” have been heard in our house on a regular basis for quite some time. And the other day, in an attempt to put a stop to the use of “idiot”, “stupid” and so on, I persuaded the small grandchildren to come up with some new insults. It’s quite amusing to hear them say to each other, “You Thomas the Tank Engine”, “You Sponge Bob Square Pants” and “You Squidward”.

While new words are in the air, I note with interest that the Académie Française has just added some official neologisms to that wonderful language. They have always been picky about allowing foreign imports to be included in the official French vocabulary. Football and computer vocabulary has given them big headaches. But this article was about some interest
ing new additions to the language:

aigriculteur – a farmer (agriculteur) who is not happy with his lot and has become embittered (aigri)

phonard – a pejorative word for someone who overuses the mobile phone

photophoner - to take a photo with your mobile phone

ordinosore - an out of date computer (ordinateur + dinosaur)

The next two are my favourites:

bête seller – a particularly awful literary work that becomes an instant hit

attachiant – an adjective to describe someone you cannot live with but cannot live without. It combines attachant (endearing) with chiant (a bloody nuisance).

Getting back to Italian cartoons, here is one posted on Facebook by an Italian friend of mine:

The crusty old gent says to the small boy, “Just think, when I was your age, I was already working”. Small boys replies to crusty old geezer, “Just think, when I am your age, I will still be working”.

And that is one of the reasons why a reported 30,000+ people marched through Manchester today and through a whole lot more cities throughout the country. Time for the words of protest to be heard.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Women’s work.

A (male) friend of ours has been round this morning asking for help with his computer, not from me, I hasten to add, but from our resident ID expert, my Phil. When the problem was sorted he took his leave, declaring in passing that he had a pile of ironing to do. His parting shot: “A woman’s work is never done!”

Meanwhile, I read in today’s Observer that young women are now earning more than men. I find this hard to believe as for so long the pay gap has been there, relegating women to the lower scale. However, according to Gaby Hinsliff, statistics show that women in their 20s now earn 3.6% more than men their age. This might prove to some that finally women’s superiority is being rewarded.

I can remember, back in the days of the 11+ exam, learning that the pass mark was lower for boys than for girls. Otherwise more girls than boys would have made it to the grammar school. The poor boys would have been relegated to the secondary modern and, who knows, maybe women would have ruled the world. But, no, it was accepted that boys were late developers and so the bar was lowered for them.

Nowadays it appears that girls on average still do better at GCSEs and A Level exams than boys. Examinations are geared, it seems, to reward girls’ ability to knuckle down and get the work done. What a surprise!

In the past there was resistance to giving women equal pay although not universal. According to Gaby, the mayor of New York way back in 1911 supported giving women teachers the same pay as men because this would encourage the employment of more male teachers by removing the financial incentive to employ women. It’s funny that there are still more female than male teachers, although still more male than female head teachers.

Women clearly still have their problems.

Now, the other day our doorbell rang. On opening the door I found a young woman with a large bag over her shoulder and a laminated card in her hand. On the card in large letters it said, “HAWKER”. She explained that she was on a job creation scheme and asked, with resignation in her voice, whether I might like to take a look at the goods she had to sell. I’m afraid I did not want to look at her wares and wished her the best of luck, thinking inwardly that maybe they should just have given her an ID card stamped with the words; “REGISTERED BEGGAR”. Presumably she has to tramp around form house to house like this in order to claim her Job Seeker’s Allowance but is this really the best kind of thing that a Job Creation Scheme can come up with?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thank you.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. Here is this year’s pardoned Turkey. If he really is that big then I’m not surprised President Obama wanted to stay on the right side of him.

We were talking about this during the coffee break in our Italian class the other day. Well, we weren’t really talking about Thanksgiving Day as such, and certainly not turkeys, but it came into the discussion.

What started it all was talk of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in London which quite a lot of us wanted to go and see. My Phil and I had plans to go and stay with Offspring Number One down in London and take in the exhibition while we were there. However, not one of us has managed to get tickets.

The exhibition has received so much splendid publicity that all the tickets are sold out. There has been so much activity by ticket touts, some of them selling tickets for up to £500, that the gallery now plans to institute checks on who purchased the tickets and people may be denied entry as a result. They have apparently reserved a certain number of tickets for direct sale each day but I imagine you have to get up at the crack of dawn to queue for these. Somehow I don’t see the night owl I am married to doing that.

Talk moved on from that exhibition to other places where we have all queued (or refused to queue) at some time in our lives. One of our number said that right now is a good time to visit exhibitions for which you normally have to queue for hours. His reasoning was that the British won’t be there en mass because they don’t go to many places when there is not some guarantee of sunshine and warm weather and the Americans won’t be there because they’ll all be back in the good old US of A celebrating Thanksgiving and eating turkey. All we need to do, he finished off, is to find some reason for the Japanese to stay at home in the third week of November and we’ll be laughing.

Walking back to the station later I heard a heart-warming story from another member of the class. Years ago she had taken her small son to London for the day to see the Tutankhamun exhibition. After queuing for some time she resigned herself to just taking him in to see the regular exhibition of Egyptian mummies. At some point one of the museum attendants overheard her say to her son that it was a pity they had not managed to see all the King Tut stuff. The attendant asked where they had come from and on learning that they had travelled form Bolton he told them to stand against a wall, join hands and close their eyes. On his command they were to take a step backwards and only then could they open their eyes.
They did as they were told and found themselves inside the Tutankhamun exhibition. The museum chappie had opened a partition for them and got them in. Now that is a story to restore your faith in humankind.

On the subject of restoring faith, we finished watching The Way. And yes, the Martin Sheen character does find inner peace and has his faith restored. Just about everyone finds inner peace and even the annoying Irishman with writer’s block regains his faith. Not only that but the American father changes his whole life style and apparently does not go back to being a pressured ophthalm.... eye doctor somewhere on America. In fact, the last time we see Tom Avery (aka Martin Sheen) he is still carrying a rucksack but this time has a big grin on his face, instead of the frown which he carried through the north of Spain, and seems to be making his way through Morocco.

Time to give thanks?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Finding the way.

We had a rather interesting discussion in the Italian conversation class yesterday, all about the new Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, whose name is an anagram of “rimontiamo” – we rise up again. Is this a good omen for Italy? the Euro? the Eurozone? the European Union? We shall see.

All of us were a little disturbed about what one Italian journalist described as a “colpo di stato” – a coup d’état – effectively giving Italy an unelected government. This was carried out by the Italian President, Mr Neapolitano. Maybe this is what happens when your president sounds like an ice cream.

Most upset was the Canadian in our group. This lady was very worried by the fact that Mr Monti has worked/works as an advisor for Goldman Sachs. According to her all those connected to such an organisation must be “ladri” – thieves.

There followed a certain amount of national stereotyping: Northern Europeans being more organised and Southern Europeans being a bunch of tax evaders. On that basis we found it hard to know where to put Ireland and how to explain its precarious situation. Our resident Italian says that many, if not most, Italians will actually feel more in common with the now departed Mr Berlusconi than with Mr Monti who is better known in European financial circles than he is in his own country.

One thing we reluctantly agreed on was that we have not seen the last of the singing, womanising Mr Berlusconi who will almost certainly find a way back. Once again, we shall see.

In the evening my Phil and I settled down to watch “The Way”, the film about the Camino de Santiago, made by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. We had followed all the hype about the making of the film while we were in Vigo and so felt that we should finally see the finished product. The first thing that struck me, I’m afraid, was completely irrelevant to the storyline; it was how amazingly similar to his father Emilio Estevez is. Must be strong genes there.

The film is nicely shot, the scenery is lovely – the Spanish tourist board must love it – and it is well acted. However, it didn’t entirely grab us. There’s a certain predictability about events in the story. We expect Tom (Martin Sheen) to find inner peace and regain his faith by the end of the film.

I say we expect this as we have not yet seen the ending. Our viewing was interrupted by a phone call from a friend who had lost a chess game, stormed out the venue in a strop with himself, taken a wrong turning and got himself lost as well.

So Phil helped him organise his route home and we agreed to meet in the pub next door. So we put the film on hold (more comments after we have seen the ending) and stepped out into a very chilly night, met our friend for a couple of drinks and put the world to rights in our own inimitable way.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Morning Thoughts.

Oh, the looniness of the 6 am runner!! I was driving to my daughter’s house at around 6 this morning and managed not to run over a jogger – running in the road!! Yes, she was wearing a high visibility vest so there was no possibility of my not seeing her. And yes I exaggerate a little; I really came nowhere near running her over. Nonetheless, the fact is that at 6 in the morning it is still very dark in this part of the world. And this morning it was extra dull and drizzly. And she was running IN THE ROAD. And there was a perfectly good empty pavement she could have been running on.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against runners. I run myself. In fact, this very morning after dropping the grandchildren off at school I almost certainly convinced an old colleague that I was quite mad by refusing her offer of a lift home on the grounds that I was planning to run. It’s part of my Monday morning routine unless it’s throwing it down with rain. So I have every sympathy with all who run, especially those truly dedicated ones who run in the dark because they have to set off for work at around 7 am. I feel quite fortunate not to have to be tied to such a routine. Having one day a week when I get up early (no, at the crack of dawn) to help my daughter is quite enough.

No, my argument was with WHERE she was running. I see no point in putting yourself at risk by running where the cars go when there is a perfectly good pavement to run on. I have the same quarrel the other way round with cyclists who seem to think they should ride on the pavement. To my way of thinking, the only people who should ride bikes on the pavement are small children. When I was a small child they even used to talk about “pavement bikes” and “road bikes”. As a rule you graduated from the first to the second when you were about 10 years old. If you are big enough to ride a grow-up bike with all the gears and so on, then you should ride it on the road.

I am aware that some people prefer the pavement because they find the traffic rather daunting. And I do know that there are far more cars on the road now than when I was a small child. Even so, grown-up cyclists should learn to use the road. You do need to wear high visibility clothing but they will never establish a proper system of cycle paths if people keep riding on the pavement. Pavements are for people to walk on and I object to being bowled over by speedy bikes. It’s especially annoying in our neck of the woods as there are many bridle paths and canal towpaths which provide traffic-free cycle routes.

While I’m on the subject of bikes and cyclists, here are a few other things which try my patience:

• cyclists who ride in pairs on the road, insisting on their right to take up the space of a car regardless of the fact that they don’t go as fast as cars and so hold up all the traffic.

• cyclists who ride at dusk, or even in the darkest dark, without lights. Like many pedestrians, they seem unable to understand how invisible you are on the road in the darkness. (I even heard recently of a young teenager who had a big row with his mum over lights on bikes. She said that if he didn’t put the lights she had bought on his bike he couldn’t ride it. He said that it wasn’t cool to have lights and that none of his friends did so. Crazy world!!)

• cyclists who creep up behind you on the bridle path and only at the last minute give a feeble shout to let you know they are there. What’s wrong with a good old bicycle bell?

You may wonder what gives me the right to go on like this. Well, I do have a bike and I ride it on the road although I prefer the bridle paths and have discovered that you can go for quite a distance without having to be in traffic. I don’t have lights on my bike at the moment so I only cycle by day. But I do have a very loud and effective bicycle bell.

Onto other matters. I read with interest at the weekend the story of the passengers who had to pay for the fuel to get their plane to take off for London. I hope no-one tells the RyanAir people. If they get wind of this it will be their next money-grabbing gimick!

And finally, the Spanish have voted out Mr Zapatero and replaced him with the rightwing Mr Rajoy. It remains to be seen whether this bearded chappie can make much progress in the fight against national debt, la crisis, youth unemployment and all the other ills of modern society. At least he has been elected, which is more than can be said for some people!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Numbers and conversations

I understand that rather a lot of people got married on Friday which was the 11th of November. While to most of us this meant Remembrance Day, to some people, especially in far Eastern countries, it meant a palindromic date, this being the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the century, an auspicious day to be married on apparently.

Numbers are funny things. I can remember my son being amused and pleased on his eleventh birthday. He was born on July 6th and the date of his eleventh birthday was 6-7-89. Now his niece was born on his birthday but she won’t be able to manage that nice sequence of numbers for the date of her birthday until she is 86. So it goes.

Yesterday I spotted a lorry unloading Christmas trees in our village centre. There’s always a huge one in the centre itself, another large one at one end of the village and small ones set up on the walls at intervals along the main street. So, Christmas decorations are clearly on the way. This reminded me of a conversation in my daughter’s house. She has the habit of finding odd bits of information masquerading as news on the internet. On this occasion the conversation went like this:

Daughter: “Oh, that’s awful. Someone has stolen all the Christmas lights that were stored in a lorry overnight ready to decorate ..... town centre. How dreadful!”

Granddaughter (the one who shares her birthday with her uncle – 14 and bright as a button): “Well, they’ll soon spot the thief’s house once he puts all those lights up!”

We discovered amusing women by accident on BBC2 late on Thursday evening. This was a series of short sketches in French, featuring women taking a wry look at all sorts of things. Here is a link to a sample of their wares. It’s on BBC2 for the next few weeks if anyone else wants to catch it.

Here’s another link, this time to La Voz de Galicia. Catching up with news from my favourite bit of Spain online the other day, I thought I recognised a young man in a still from a video clip. The item was all about a young woman walking through the streets of Vigo wearing a Celta de Vigo football strip and getting reactions from people. Either the young man in the diamond pattern hoodie is Phil’s young chess playing buddy Samuel or Samuel has a double. It certainly sounded like him as well.

Finally, here’s a conversation I had with a postman. I spent Thursday morning waiting at my daughter’s house for the postman to arrive. She had been expecting a parcel. The post office had attempted to deliver it earlier on the week when there was no-one in. Now, this was what they call a “tracked item”. I am unsure exactly what this means; presumably it’s something to do with the post office keeping tabs on where it has got to. However, in the event of it not being delivered a tracked item is not left at the nearest local post office to the parcel’s destination. Oh, no, it has to go back to a main sorting office, open only Monday to Friday and closing at 5pm. Consequently my daughter could not just go and pick it up because of work and child-collecting commitments. So she tried to rearrange delivery. Thursday was the best offer so I was asked to house-sit.

Eventually the postman arrived. He did not knock but, having been forewarned of his arrival by the dog, I was ready and whipped the door open as he moved on to the next house. He following dialogue ensued:

Me: Shouldn’t you also have a parcel for us?

Postie: Oh, yes. It’s in the van.

Me: Could you get it for me?

Postie: Are you staying in? It’s going to be about 15 minutes.

Me: That’s fine, I’ll be here.

And lo and behold, the parcel was brought to the house ... and left on the doorstep! It’s a good job I was in. I did wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t opened the door to speak to him.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Porridge, pay-outs and platforms: why make life difficult?

In yesterday’s Guardian I found an article about porridge. I took a look at it because my Phil likes the occasional bowl of porridge for breakfast. It appears that as well as being very good for you – slow release of energy and keeps your bad cholesterol at bay – porridge has become popular among the rich and famous, among whom are Nicole Kidman and David Cameron. Mind you, I’m pretty sure my Phil won’t appreciate having much in common with Mr Cameron.

There are even porridge making competitions such as the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship, which takes place every October
in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire. What a wonderful notion! Its name comes from "spurtle", a traditional Scottish stirring stick shaped like half an elongated cricket bail. Now, me, I just use a wooden spoon and my porridge tastes fine.

The main content of the Guardian article was how to make the perfect porridge. This includes such things as toasting the oats to give it a "nutty flavour", leaving the oats to soak overnight, steaming the porridge, cooking it in a bain-marie and all sorts of other complicated stuff about the fineness or otherwise of the oats used. The executive chef at the Balmoral, according to the Guardian, claims that "one of the most important things is once the porridge is cooked, to turn off the hob, put a lid on it, and just let it sit there for 10-15 minutes".

Now, this all seems unnecessarily complicated for a br
eakfast activity, even for a retired ladylike myself with plenty of time to spend seeking perfection. Quaker Oats, who must know a bit about porridge as they have been producing porridge oats for ages and ages, produce a perfectly nice quick-cook porridge which takes about three minutes to produce. Why make life difficult?

One thing I did like in the article was the mention of a superstition concerning which way you stir your porridge. It must be clockwise as ''stirring anti-clockwise invokes the Devil." Goodness me! Life can be hard enough at times without stirring the Devil into your breakfast.

Away from
the breakfast table, the difficulty of some people’s lives continues. There’s that very earnest-looking Mr Murdoch trying to convince us all that he had no idea than phone hacking was endemic at the News of the World. The £750,000 paid out to keep a certain person quiet? He knew nothing about that. Well, all I can say is that if he could approve a payment of that amount of money without batting an eyelid and asking what it was for, he really must have more money than sense. Maybe he treats the whole of life as a monopoly game.

We, on the other hand, have just been having a cultural time. On Wednesday, having spent the afternoon watching George Clooney get himself nominated as the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the USA in the film “The Ides of March” – well worth seeing, by the way – we followed it up with an evening of classical music.

We met some friends and went to the Bridgewater Hall in central Manchester, the rather fine modern building looking strangely eerie in the evening gloom. There we heard the Halle Orchestra play some Vaughan Williams, a bit of Dvorak and some rousing Elgar to finish off with, the latter conducted very enthusiastically by Sir Mark Elder.

At various points of
the evening, however, my attention was distracted by the shoes of one of the lady violinists. She wore a pair of extremely shiny black patent shoes with a platform at least one inch thick and needle sharp stiletto heels that must have been six inches high. How she walked onto the stage, I cannot imagine. It’s a very good job she didn’t have to play standing up; she would have been in serious danger of wobbling off to one side and breaking an ankle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like an elegant pair of shoes as much as anyone and these were certainly very elegant, at least when she was sitting down. I can’t vouch for the elegance of the walking style they must have induced. However, as I said about porridge making, why make life difficult?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Long weeks and small worlds.

It’s only Tuesday but this week seems to have been going on for a good while already. Maybe it’s the weather. After all, we appear to have gone from crisp and clear on Sunday to bleak and drizzly ever since. Maybe it’s having got up at the crack of dawn on Monday to defrost my daughter’s car and then drive it to her house before the rest of the world was awake.

Whatever the reason, I am surprised to find it is only Tuesday evening now.
Of course, some of it is having been busy, once again. After dealing with the Monday morning get-up-and-take-the-kids-to-scho
ol routine, I came home, got us both organised and set off with my Phil to go to Huddersfield. Why Huddersfield (Or Oddersfeldt as it was originally called, apparently)? Well, we were meeting our friend Colin there for lunch.

I say Huddersfield but in reality I should just say Huddersfield railway station. It was so cold and damp that when we did stick our noses outside the station complex we felt frostbite coming on and scuttled back inside again. This was no bad thing, however, as the station pub, The Head of Steam, was well worth a visit. The interior had been very nicely maintained as a good old traditional station pub with station decor to match.

Better still, though,
they have a collection of real ales and serve home-made food of high quality at a very reasonable price. Definitely worth visiting. I remember being mildly amused when some friends of ours went for a day out to have lunch at Stalybridge Station where I am given to understand the pub food is also very good. But now I have joined the ranks of those who go to eat in station pubs and can no longer scoff.

Today has been marginally less cold but just as damp as yesterday. Nonetheless I ventured out to my Italian conversation class and serendipitously came across a friend at the local station and was able to catch up with gossip and family news.

In the Italian class last week we discussed traditions in Italy to celebrate All Saints. This week we had been asked to talk about traditions, national, regional, local, family and personal, that we regretted seeing the back of. At some point in the discussion I prefaced my remarks with, “I was brought up in Southport...”. Before I could continue my classroom neighbour chipped in with, “So was I”. The discussion continued but during the coffee break we did that catch-up thing.

It transpired that she had lived about 10 minutes away from me and had attended the same girls’ grammar school, albeit a few years behind me. So we had a happy chat about teachers we remembered and the excessively stupid rules and regulations we had suffered from.

And then we got onto our old Spanish teacher, the inimitable Miss Phyllis Brown who my class believed had had an unhappy love affair with a Spaniard, possibly having her heart broken when he went to fight in the Spanish Civil War and she had to return to England. We never did find out the truth of the matter. My new friend Joy had no memories of such things. Maybe her class was less romantic than mine.

However, she did remember the singing and asked me if Miss Brown had regularly made my class sing “the song about the squirrel” at the start or the end of almost every lesson. Yes, indeed! And we delighted the rest of our Italian class with a very tuneful rendition of this delightful little song:

Yo soy una pobre ardilla.

Chiquitilla, débil soy.

Soy pequeña mas risueña.

(Now I’ve forgotten the rest of the words.

We are probably members of a small but select group who know this little ditty. Some might say that that is all for the best but we felt a certain satisfaction at having found the past in common. As I have said on many previous occasions, it’s a small world – el mundo es un pañuelo.

As for the outside world and the events going on there at present, this evening I am expecting to find some comment on Facebook from my Italian teacher, probably overjoyed at the prospect of Mr Berlusconi finally talking about resigning!!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Time and seasons and such.

This week has begun strangely. Yesterday I was up at the crack of dawn. Today I more or less overslept.

Since my daughter decided to return to university on a part-time basis in September we have had to make complicated arrangements for childcare. On Sunday her car stays overnight parked outside my house. I then get up at silly o’clock on Monday morning to drive to her house before the buses have started running so that she can set off for Ormskirk at around 6.30. (Eventually I get the kids up, make sure they h
ave some breakfast and get them all to school on the bus.)

It’s quite interesting (if tiring) being up at that time of day. In Spain you are regularly woken in the small hours by dustbin men emptying the huge rubbish containers on the street corners. This does not happen as a rule in the UK. Instead, when you drive in the early hours you have to weave around all the milk floats as deliveries are being made. You get to see all the dedicated joggers who are up and about running in the dark: quite disturbing! And then there are the loonies who think that as they are driving in the early hours when there is relatively little traffic (apart from milk floats), they don’t need to bother with such things as signalling. Now, I would have thought signalling was more necessary at a time when drivers might still be half asleep but, well, that’s just my opinion.

Today, either I slept through my alarm or switched it off without remembering it. Or maybe I never set it at all. Whatever the truth of the matter, I was woken by the sound of the phone ringing, assumed it was an early morning panic call from my daughter – which of the grandchildren was not well this time??? – and leapt out of bed to answer it only to discover that it was in fact 10.15 and that this was a friend calling. Goodness knows what time I might have woken without the phone call!!

So it was a hasty morning routine today and just over an hour later I was on my way to Manchester. I was due to begin my Italian conversation class, of which more later, but first I wanted to return some library b
ooks to the college which had cancelled the Portuguese class because of low numbers. Half way into Manchester I remembered the library books, still on the bedside table. Botheration!!! Still it was a lovely day for a stroll around Manchester before hunting out the new venue for Italian class.

The aforementioned Italian class was making a late start because of the economic crisis, I believe. Several weeks ago I went along to what I understood to be the first of this year’s classes, only to be told that the Italians had left the building and that I should have received an e-mail letting me know this. It transpired that the Italian government had suddenly decided to close their consulate in Manchester. The organisation which provides Italian classes, not only for interested English people but also free classes for the children of Italian families based in Manchester, had been given a week’s notice to find somewhere new. They considered staying where they were but the rent was too high and they needed to find somewhere cheaper. So, reading between the lines, it would seem that closing the consulate may be part of Mr Berlusconi’s economy drive.

Anyway, classes started again today and we had fun discovering what they did in Italy to celebrate All Saints’ Day before the invasion of their country by the American tradition of Hallowe’en.

“Trick or Treat” seems to have taken over just about everywhere; I’ve seen it in Spain as well, another country where Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day) was what they used to celebrate. It’s a great excuse for children to collect lots of sweets and for adults to throw parties, mostly over the weekend.

On Sunday morning our local village centre was strewn with bits of purple net. Some witch or vampire had clearly shredded her costume on her way home. Children seem to have gone Trick-or-Treating on Saturday, Sunday AND Monday evenings and a friend of mine described having traumatised his small children by making a pumpkin lantern and then switching off the main lights so that they could better see the scary face. Result: two screaming toddlers, too scared to go to bed!!!

I was amused to discover that in Italy, as in Spain they have the tradition of “fare il ponte” (“hacer el puente” in Spanish) according to which if there is a public holiday on a Thursday, for example, you take Friday off as well, making a “bridge” to the weekend and thus extending your free time. This is not skiving. There is no need to phone in sick. It is standard practice.

In Italy both the 1st and 2nd of November are public holidays to commemorate the dear departed and this year, obviously, they fall today and tomorrow. So most places took Mondayoff as well and have had a very long weekend indeed. So why not, I wondered aloud in the class, just take the whole week off? Well, in many places that is exactly what has happened, especially in schools. There you go: half term!!

So, we’ve got Hallowe’en out of the way and now, without even bothering with Bonfire Night, we can move straight on to Christmas. ALL the shops and supermarkets have Christmas displays up, witches and pumpkins having disappeared by magic overnight. When we went to the local Ikea store on Saturday I noted that Ashton town centre has stolen a march on other places as regards seasonal street decoration. They have Divali lights up everywhere, thus ticking the multicultural box. However, both Oldham and city centre Manchester are advertising the switching on if the Christmas lights on Thursday 10th November: that’s Thursday of next week!!!!

It’s time I thought about baking a Christmas cake, laying in stocks of mince pies and buying a Christmas tree!!!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Getting out and about.

As the rest of my family had arranged to do a variety of separate things without me today and as it was, incidentally, a very nice crisp, sunny autumn day, I decided to go for a long walk around one of my favourite local beauty spots. I am sure I have mentioned this place before.

They call it Dovestone Reservoir because, so I am given to understand, of a rock formation which
is said to look like a dove. Personally I have always thought it bore more of a likeness to a duck but I suppose Duckstone Reservoir lacks a certain something.

Be that as it may, I had a happy stomp around bot
h the lower and the upper reservoirs, trying to avoid an annoying family being bossed about by a mother who felt that she had to train her children to ride their bikes and her dog to walk properly to heel in ringing tones which I am sure could be heard from the other side of the water.

The local birdlife was sunning itself very confidently – so confidently that I wondered for a while whether I had taken a picture of a bird that had just accidentally popped its clogs in a photogenic perching posture. But no, I think it was just resting.

On my way round the upper reservoir I was just reflecting that it was a good job we had had a few days of dry weather to get rid of some of the larger mud puddles which were still there in reduced form on the path when I successfully put my foot in one of them up to the ankle. This led to some rude words being said, not I hasten to add in ringing tones which could be heard from the other side of the water, and gave rise to a “Which shoe has had the mud bath?” photo.

Fortunately I had already rolled my trousers up so I did not end up with muddy trousers as well.

By the time I reached the end of my
walk my shoe and sock had dried off nicely so, despite this small mishap, a good time was had on the whole and I returned home without further incident.

Earlier today I read with only a modicum of interest that aging French singing star Johnny Hallyday is making his UK debut next year, coming to perform in the Albert Hall. Not that I have a burning desire to see this man who was a star in France when I went there for the very
first time while studying A Level French more years ago than I care to remember. I am just rather surprised that he has not been here before.

I suppose it’s a measure of the insularity of the British that most people here have never heard of him. But then, unlike la Bruni (aka Mrs Sarkozy) he was not able to marry a French president to promote himself internationally. Mind you, I suspect many people still don’t know who Carla Bruni is either.

I do wonder about the advisability of dressing in all that glittery gear at the
age of 68 but he does still seem to have all his hair which is more than can be said for some of his age. Of course, if he were British he would be now be Sir Johnny and would probably appear alongside Sir Cliff (Richard), Sir Elton (John), Sir Paul (McCartney) and even Sir Mick Jagger.

That's how it goes; you start off as a rebel and end up a pillar of the establishment. I suspect that on theo ther side of the Channel you have to do something rather intellectually challenging beofre they give you honours and titles.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Back to the blogging board.

Having been reminded by my friend Colin that I’ve not blogged for a while, I decided it was time I got going again before the world collapses around me. And collapsing is certainly what it seems to be intent on doing.

There’s the Eurozone going strangely berserk and looking as though it’s about to implode. The sums of money talked about stop having meaning for me and when they discuss “buying” countries’ debts, well, my m
ind just gives up on the whole thing. And just where is all this “extra” money to shore up failing economies and guarantee loans going to come from. A part of me wants to run to the bank, demand all my money and then go home and hide it under the bed.

Then nature is going a little crazy as well. We’ve had a period of continuous rain which reduced everything around her
to one huge muddy puddle. Then, in a surprising reversal of what usually happens, we had about a week of sunshine (well, part of the time) and fine if windy weather while other often more weather-fortunate parts of the country still had rain. This meant that we have been able to take ourselves off on long walks, admiring the autumn scenery. And then, as the autumn leaves pile up everywhere I noticed something odd about one of the bushes in the garden. Having gone through flowering in the spring, produced its crop of little white berries and lost most of its leaves, it is now flowering once again. Madness.

We saw a
different aspect of nature’s crazy diversity the other night. We had spent the evening at the home of some old friends of ours where we had been very well fed and watered and then sat around talking and listening to music until the small hours. Eventually we decided that it was time to call it a night and as the night was clear and fine we opted to walk off the alcohol instead of spending an extortionate amount of money on a short taxi ride. So off we went, staggering slightly but definitely not rowdily drunk. Imagine our surprise as we got a shortish way down the road and discovered we had company of sorts. On the opposite side of the road a fox was busily scavenging in the bins in a pub car park. He looked up, weighted up our threat-potential, clearly judged it to be absolute zero, finished his rummaging in the rubbish and went on his way with scarcely a backward glance. I half expected him to swish his tail at us disparagingly.

With all this exciting stuff going on in Europe, my life seems very pedestrian: a fair amount of babysitting (including some amateur nursing as ALL the grandchildren managed to be ill at the same time) while my daughter discovers the delights of combining work, studying A
ND motherhood; some very pleasant early morning runs and later in the day long walks; a good deal of DIY (I have become an expert painter and decorator); and making clothes for teddy bears and producing strange woolly animals for the aforementioned grandchildren.

I am not complaining. We have managed the odd lunch with friends and we have been to the cinema to see Woody Allen’s latest offering, “Midnight in Paris”. Very good it was too. We really enjoyed it, even the cameo of Mrs Sarkozy as a sort of travel guide. This was still slender Mrs Sarkozy before she started to reproduce. Since then she has done her bit to boost her hubby’s popularity by being the first President’s wife to give birth in France. Jolly good show, Carla! Now let’s see if she can keep that little girl out of the public eye. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like Carla Bruni and discovered her as a singer long before she set her sights on the Elysée Palace.

All in all, life could be a lot more difficult and unpleasant. My friends in Vigo were complaining of storms yesterday. And then Ireland and Italy have had to suffer floods on top of their monetary problems. And then, the poor Italians have to suffer the embarrassment of Berlusconi on top of everything else.

That’s all for now. I have to get ready for the arrival of a number of small people who need entertaining for the afternoon.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Is it really so bad?

Is it really so bad? OK, so now it’s official: the UK is the worst place to live in Europe, well at least in the countries included in the uSwitch quality of life index. Apparently we have the worst weather, the second lowest hours of sunshine, the highest cost of living, the fourth highest retirement age and fewer days holiday than other places. (Once again, I have occasion to be glad to be born when I was and so to have been able to retire at 60. Phew, what a relief to be old enough to do these things.)

We even die sooner than the French do and our government spends less on health and education than many other places. We even come behind the Irish with all their current economic problems. And still we’re not out on the street protesting?

(At least we don’t live somewhere like Saudi Arabia where you can be punished for protesting, not just with time in a cell or a fine but with a number of lashes. Women are banned from driving because freedom of movement puts them in danger of sinning – just by giving them the opportunity to do so – and so they need protectin
g. Men of course don’t need such protection. Is it because they are all strong enough to resist temptation? A woman who protested by getting in her car and driving around was sentenced to 10 lashes. Her sentence was removed by order of the king who is described as “gently pushing for reform”. There has been no official confirmation of the ruling but it seems that Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, tweeted: “Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved king. I am sure all Saudi women will be so happy. I know I am.” Maybe she should also get in a car and go for a drive instead of being so very grateful!!!)

Despite all the talk of how awful it is to live in the UK, it really doesn’t seem
so bad at the moment. The sun has been shining nicely all week. So what have I and all the other ladies on our row of houses done? Washed everything that wasn’t pinned down, of course. There’s nothing like a bit of good weather to get us filling those washing machines and pegging stuff on the line. It’s just as if it will stop you having to wash it all on dull, wet days.

But that’s not all I’ve done. We’ve been out and about, taking the kids to paddle in the sea last weekend – only the British paddle in September, I’m sure.

And yesterday we were off having lunch with friends in Manchester where we saw that the deck chairs were out so that the workers could catch some midday sun. Splendid.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sunshine and shipwrecks

September has begun, as predicted, with sunshine. Whether or not this will continue remains to be seen but today has been delightful and I have spent most of it ferrying two smallish grandchildren around the bridle paths and towpaths of our area from one children’s playground to another. Not a bad way to spend the day. Even into the evening the day remained bright and mild.

Before we began our wanderings, however, I checked my various forms of electronic communication and found that my sister had put a sad little post on Facebook. Now, my sister has lived longer in the Andalusian town of El Puerto de Santa María than she ever did in the northwest of England. I first went to see her there almost thirty years ago when she was still teaching English at a language school across the bay in Cádiz. So we would get up quite early, walk through the quiet morning streets of El Puerto down to the harbour where we caught the little ferryboat known as el vaporcito – the little steamer - across the Guadalquivir to Cádiz.

Around eleven years later my children also made that journey across the bay and years after that my eldest granddaughter also travelled on the ferry but I doubt that she remembers as she was only two. Just about all our family has crossed the bay that way at some time in the last thirty-odd years. On one famous occasion my father forgot his sunhat and got serious sunburn on his bald pate.

My sister’s Facebook post was lamenting the sinking of that very ferryboat. Apparently the boat ran into the quayside, making a hole somewhere near the bow and in seven minutes the boat was sunk. Just like that! ¡así de rápido! They managed to get all the passengers and crew off the boat but couldn’t prevent the poor little vessel from going under. The pilot has been breathalysed and found not to be under the influence of alcohol. This has not prevented fifteen passengers from making a denuncia, an official complaint against the pilot. Some of them claim that he fell asleep and had to be warned by passengers of the imminent collision. Whatever the cause, the boat was holed and down she went.

By nine o’ clock this morning, however, some 2000 people had already signed up to a Facebook page campaigning to get el vaporcito back to the surface. All the political parties seem to have affirmed that it would be a pity to lose the boat permanently and Pepa Conde, spokesperson for Izquierda Unida declared that refloating what she described as una de nuestras señas de identidad would be an investment in the future of the area. We shall see.

In the course of my investigations I discovered a little bit of the interconnectedness of everything. The ferryboat known generally as el vaporcito and really called Adriano III was built in Vigo in 1955, probably in one of the boatyards we know from our two years in Vigo.

As I have said many times before, el mundo es un pañuelo – it’s a small world.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The end of the summer?

As August rushes to a rather damp and dismal close here in Saddleworth, we ask ourselves if this is all the summer we are getting. It has certainly been a bit of a washout so far. Yesterday was a bank holiday so, of course, after a moderately promising start it rained! My tomato plants, which are thriving nicely and producing quite a lot of fruit (fruit? or veg?) need some warmth now to ripen up the tomatoes. Otherwise we’ll be eating fried green tomatoes. So what we need now is a bit of an Indian summer. In the past we’ve had some nice Septembers and I would like this year to follow suit.

It’s no consolat
ion to read that Galicia is expecting rain and lower temperatures today. I’ve even read a report that they have had more cloudy days that sunny but I bet it’s been better than here and that no-one has felt the need to put their heating on.

Not that we hav
en’t had some good days, however. Last weekend offspring number one and his wife came to stay for a few days. We had a long and sunny walk around the reservoir and later along the canal towpaths to the garden centre which was very good.

And then on T
uesday we went off on an excursion to Fountains Abbey near Ripon in Yorkshire. We went in two cars and managed variously to get lost, one load from following SatNav too faithfully and the other from following instinct and getting tangled up in the Leeds one-way system.

Still, we had a good day out and I can heartily recommend a visit to the
remains of what King Henry VIII didn’t quite manage to destroy completely. There was a rather know-it-all chap selling tickets who had been confusing some Japanese tourists by saying odds and ends in Spanish to them. When he started on us I threatened to speak proper Spanish to him and ended up doing so, successfully settling his hash! He then settled down and advised us quite knowledgeably on which was our best route, although he wouldn’t allow the smallest member of our party to ride his bike around the place, another thing which annoyed us somewhat.

We set of
f on a bridle path which took us to the rather charming St Mary’s church with quite excellent stained glass windows, a well-preserved tiled floor which you were not allowed to stand on without putting on protective slippers and a spiral staircase which we all wanted to take home with us.

Leaving the church we admired the view in a straight line down towards Ripon Cathedral, too far distant to appear as more than a blur in my photo.

We went past the rather delightful
Chorister’s House which we were disappointed to find is a private residence as we would have loved to sneak a look inside.

Eventually we made it into the very fine gardens, some of us taking a detour to see the “surprise view” from Ann Boleyn’s seat. She must have visit
ed before her head was chopped off.

And finally
we reached the abbey itself and spent ages exploring the ruins. My children had a trip down memory lane watching the youngest of our party – aged 8 and 6 – running around inventing games in the different rooms of the place, doing exactly what they had done the last time we visited there when they were also aged 8 and 6.

Tired but happy we settled down to tea and cakes in the cafe and then the obligatory visit to the SHOP. No museum visit is complete
without this marketing exercise but we escaped without too much outlay. Don sabelotodo – the know-it-all – from the entrance found us there and asked us if we had had a good visit so we forgave him for being somewhat overbearing at the start of the day. And so we set off for home.

The SatNav followers switched it off on the way back and succeeded in taking a wrong turn in Ripon and ending up going miles out of our way on the Leeds ring road. Such fun!

Arriving home rather later than planned we finished the day with a fish and chip supper. All’s well that ends well.