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!!!