Friday, 27 January 2012

Food for thought.

I’ve been re-reading Dickens. It’s something I’ve planned to do for a while and finally I have got round to it and I am thoroughly enjoying it. My copy of Great Expectations dates from 1965, a Penguin Classics edition, original price £1.75. Those were the days! It would probably cost more than that to by it from a second hand bookshop now. At the end of the book, along with various explanatory notes about the text was a comment on the ending, which went like this:

"Dickens, at the last moment, changed his original ending to Great Expectations. His friend, Edward Bulwer Lytton the novelist, pleaded with him to unite Pip with Estella.”

Since then, only George Bernard Shaw has ever reprinted the book with the original ending where Pip declared that the only good thing he had ever done was to help Herbert Pocket establish himself and that was all.

And there I was, thinking that giving a “happy ending” to stories, putting a positive spin on things was a modern invention, probably coming from Hollywood. I’d even heard stories of film makers coming up with two alternative endings, trying them out on a test audience and going with whichever seemed the more popular. Well, apparently it’s been going on a little longer than I thought!!

I’ve also been reading about Italian cookery. We recently watched an excellent series about Sicily where the art expert Andrew Graham Smith and the celebrity chef GiorgioLocatelli went on a tour of the island looking at ... yes, you’ve guessed ... food and art. At one point the art expert showed his mother’s old copy of Elizabeth David’s book, Italian Food, with illustrations by Sicilian artist Renato Guttuso. This inspired my Phil to get me a copy, unfortunately without the famous illustrations, for my birthday.

In the introduction to the first Penguin edition of the book Elizabeth David writes about traditional English attitudes to cookery, especially back in the 1960s. This is part of what she said:

"The French, we believe, have been forced to perfect the art of cookery owing to what we like to think is a necessity to disguise poor materials. We ourselves have, we comfortably imagine, no need for either art or artifice in the kitchen. Our basic ingredients are too superb to need the application of intelligence or training in their preparation."

Now, I think I’ve heard that argument somewhere else more recently. Where could that be? Oh, yes! Galicia!!

On a more serious note, they’re having a rough time of, not just in Galicia but all over Spain where unemployment has reached over 5 million. Emigration is back to the rate it was at 10 years ago as more and more young, and sometimes not so young, Spaniards go and seek work abroad.

In the same week that this news has come out, it seems that the Argentinean footballer Carlos Tevez is trying hard to recoup from Manchester City the fines imposed as disciplinary action. He’s down £9.3 million, I understand.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of those unemployed Spaniards would love to be ABLE to lose that much money!!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Point of view

On Saturday my granddaughter and I visited the Manchester Art Gallery. We’d been planning to do this for a while and Saturday was the right time. Her small siblings were off doing something with their father. Her mother had a 2,500 word assignment to complete for Monday for her teacher training course and so getting the teenager out of her hair was a good idea. Besides, the teenager and I enjoy doing things like this together and it’s useful for her GCSE course.

So we tramped across a rather rainy Manchester city centre and spent a good afternoon looking at the paintings and having a bit of a chat about this and that.

At one point we
came across this piece of sculpture.

The teenager asked me, “Why does he have smiley faces in his eyes?” I did a double take, but yes, she was right, he had what looked a lot like a smiley face - :) - in each eye, right where the pupil should be.

We speculated on the possibility of graffiti of some kind but in the end
decided to ask one of the art gallery employees. She was completely amazed and confessed that she had made a series of drawings of that sculpture for an art study project and had never noticed this thing about the eyes before. Further assistance was needed so she made a call to a man who knew.

He told us that many people thought that it was a strange case of modern graffiti but dismissed it. The gallery has photos of the work dating back to the 1930s and the detail is already there in the eyeballs. This doesn’t mean that it wasn’t OLD graffiti but smiley faces are a relatively recent phenomenon. Received wisdom is that the artist did this himself as a way of making people notice the eyes but without realising why they did so.

Now I had looked at the sculpture and not seen the eye-feature, the gallery employee had drawn the work and not noticed it but the teenager spotted it straight off. The gallery employee was probably in her twenties, young enough to be into regular electronic communication. However, the teenager is that bit younger again, not quite another generation, a sort of half-generation maybe and as such of an age to use emoticons – smiling :) - winking ;) – scowling :( -on a regular basis and therefore to notice them more readily than the rest of us.

It’s all down to the way you see the world.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

British utilities.

Sitting reading the other day, I could hear snippets from the radio which was playing in the next room. One little bit that impinged on my consciousness was something about China investing in Thames Water. Rather like a little dog hearing the word “walkies”, I found my ears pricking up and eventually I got round to investigating.

Sure enough, the China Investment Corporation has bought 8.6% of the company which owns the UK utility group Thames Water. Apparently one advantage of this is that less public money needs to be spent on ongoing repairs and maintenance; they can spend Chinese money instead.

However, I find the whole idea rather strange. I know that this is getting into the strange alien universe of stocks and shares where unreal sums of money change hands buying and selling something called “futures” among other things. Personally I rather like to think that my future is my own and not something that you can put a price on.

I have accepted that my bank, which used to be a building society, was bought out by a Spanish bank long ago. Somehow you expect banks to be in the business of making money. I did rather naively think that banking with a Spanish owned bank might make dealing with financial matters easier while living in Spain. Load of rubbish! They might trade under the same name but effectively they run two separate banks and still charge huge amounts of money for transferring money from one country to the other. On the whole though the UK bit of it seems to have fewer bank charges than the Spanish end where they slap charges on for almost every transaction: pay your electricity bill through the bank and pay an extra €3 for the privilege!

And then there are the airports. BAA, the operator of Stanstead and Heathrow was bought out by Ferrovial, a Spanish company. And it seems that NCP car parks are now owned by Australian bank Macquarie. But once again these are the kind of enterprises that you expect to have profits as a major concern. And, goodness knows, NCP charges so much it must be raking in the profits.

Somehow, though, I feel that supply of things like water, gas and electricity should be dealt within a different way. Oh, I know that we have to pay for it and unless you go down the nationalisation route someone will want to make a profit out of it. And yet, I find myself wanting these organisations to be run by British companies where there is a remote possibility that they might understand our way of life.

Of course I am being naive and idealistic about this. After all, this is the country where schools and hospitals are supposed to run on a business model! But it still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

I have already been indignant in the past that some of our electricity supply can be administered by the French company EDF, which I always pronounce according to the French alphabet - E as in the, D as “day”, F as “eff” – instead of English fashion. After all, it stands for √Člectricit√© de France. On further investigation I find that npower has been bought by Germany’s RWE.

But then, it turns out that Thames Water is owned by a company called Kemble Water, a consortium of investors led by Australian bank Macquarie. (So they have the car parks and the water company – this is starting to sound like a Monopoly game.) It’s not just Australians and Chinese, though; in December the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority bought 9.9% of Kemble. And in August a Hong Kong-based investment firm made a £4.2 billion takeover of Northumbrian Water.

It’s almost a kind of reverse colonisation. The rest of the world is taking over UK utilities.

So maybe when the Olympic Games finally arrive in London, there should be a public notice that says (like at the end of those foreign language films which say they are sponsored by TV companies form various countries), “Sponsored by China, Australia, France, Germany, Abu Dhabi ... and anywhere else that has an investment here”.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Spreading the knowledge!

Although yesterday was cold enough for me to light a fire for only the second or third time this winter, today, as the weathermen predicted, is milder. The clear blue sky has been replaced by a matt grey one. The crisp frosty surface has gone and the mud has returned. Somehow this weather exchange does not seem to be working in our favour. If anyone wonders where all the melt-water has gone from the reducing polar ice caps, I think I have may have the answer. It has almost all been falling on the North West of England and is being stored in the ground in all the places where I like to walk.

I did manage to go for a walk yesterday without mishap despite the crisp frosty surfaces. Washing the white items of clothing from Monday’s fun and games has so far been only marginally successful. The still grubby items are currently soaking in one of those miracle solutions which claim to remove all stains and restore your whites to pristine brilliance. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile Mr. Gove has been attracting my attention again. This time it’s an article about his plan to give every school in the country a copy of the King James Bible, personally inscribed by him. If it goes ahead I think he’s got a bit of writer’s cramp ahead of him. However, as with his support for a new yacht for the queen, this project is getting somewhat guarded support from Mr. Cameron. Basically, it’s a case of “go ahead but find a private sponsor to fund it”.

I doubt very much that David Cameron could have spoken out against it. After all, in December he said: "The King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage. Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. Third, we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so.” He’s not really likely to do a u-turn on that position, is he? Not if he knows what's good for him.

Personally, I have a feeling that many of our schools already have a copy of the King James Bible. It’s probably in the school library somewhere. It’s just that it’s a little difficult to write it into the lesson plan for all subject areas. I wonder if it could become another of those boxes that teachers have to tick when making their lesson plans for inspection.

Differentiation – tick. Diversity – tick. Variety of activity – tick. Catering for different learning styles – tick. Intro to lesson that states aims – ticks. Plenary session that checks aims have been met – tick Dividing everything into bite-size 15 minute chunks because students apparently have short attention spans – tick. Juggling and standing on my head to make the lesson entertaining and fun – tick. Now, what else? Oh, yes, King James Bible – tick.

Oops, cynicism coming through again.

While on an education thing, here’s a little something I had confirmed. My weekend papers included supplements about memory. One of the aspects they talked about was testing. Here’s a little quotation:
“The American psychologists Jess Carpicke and Roddy Roediger investigated the most effective method for learning languages. They found that repeated testing during the learning period resulted in 80% accurate vocabulary recall when examined a week later, whereas strategies used in language study guides saw success rates drop to 30%.”

So all that time when I gave my students a quick vocabulary test at the start of each lesson I was doing the right thing. The students thought it was just another way of getting at them but also as an opportunity to win lollipops for being vocab champ of the month but really I was spot on in methodology. How good was I?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

What’s in a name?

On our ill-fated walk yesterday (well, ill-fated for me anyway as I ended up sitting in a muddy place at one point) we went past a house which called itself “The Monastery”. As the area is known as Friarmere, we wondered if it had in fact been a monastery at some time or if a monastery had stood in that spot. So, as you do, I went and googled it.

It turns out that the whole area we know as Saddleworth
was divided into a number of “meres”: Friarmere, Quickmere, Shawmere and Lordsmere. In the seventeenth century they were administrative districts but records show them as manors in the middle ages, each with a lord and tenants.

Friarmere, as its name suggests belonged to the church, having been granted to Roche Abbey by Robert de Stapleton (there’s a nicely mixed name for you), Lord of the Manor of Saddleworth in the thirteenth century. When good old Henry VIII set about the dissolution of the monasteries, Friarmere reverted
to the crown and was sold in 1543 to two Rochdale men, Arthur Assheton and Roger Gartside There are still lots of Ashtons and Gartsides or Garsides around here to this day.

In spite of the land belonging to the church, there was never a monastery here. They did have what they called a “grange” – one of the French words for farm – from which the monks, probably based over
in Rochdale, administered the land and demanded taxes from the tenant farmers. And there is a hamlet called Grange in the area, oddly enough.

It wasn’t until 1765 that someone decided that Friarmere should have its own church. Before that the residents had to go to Rochdale in one direction or Saddleworth Church in Uppermill in the other. But as the population of the area grew the
people in charge decided that what they called a “chapel of ease” was needed, a daughter church to Saint Chad’s in Uppermill. And so the chapel of Saint Thomas, Friarmere was built, probably using the labour of the local residents. Nobody refers to it as Saint Thomas’s though. It’s always just Heights Church.

Apparently the chapel was declared “redundant” in 1970, probably because it was easier to go to the church in Delph village, but it is a listed building and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. People still get buried up there and I believe that of you know how to go about you can get married there.

So, getting back to the original point of inquiry, there was never a monastery in Friarmere. Maybe the folk who live in the house of that name feel so isolated up there that their life feels monastic at time. On the same lane, how
ever, is a house called Paradise Cottage. Perhaps the owners of that one have a better view, of life as well as scenery.

In the course of my investigations I found another little story. Here it is. Saddleworth church, founded in 12
00 and dedicated to St Chad has a legend associated with its location. It is said that the original site for the church was on nearby Brown Hill, but every night the stones were mysteriously moved to their present position. Eventually the builders gave up moving the stones back to Brown Hill, and built it where the stones were placed each night. The fairies (who were held responsible for the nocturnal moving of the stones) were said to have been driven out of Saddleworth when the church received its bells. The loud chiming knocked the smaller fairy bells out of tune, and they went off in a "huff" over Stanedge towards Marsden, Slaithwaite and other districts.

And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Sparkling weather and diamond jubilees.

The splendid weather that we had over the weekend – crisp and cold with blue sky and sunshine – has continued into today. I must say that I am in favour of such perfect January weather and hope it goes on a bit longer. It’s lovely to replace the soggy mud puddles with crisp frozen mud. I have, of course, been making the most of it, taking myself off yesterday for a walk around Dovestone Reservoir: quite excellent.

This morning I got up and went for a run as I often do. Well, this morning part of it was a walk as I have decided that running up Lark Hill, a steepish and very stony path going past an old quarry, is rather out of my league. However I did run the rest of the way. When I got to the top of Lark Hill a small yappy-type dog came to investigate me. His owner, muffled up in a long coat, big scarf round her neck, looked me up and down in my running gear and asked, “Where’s your dog? Have you not got a dog?” When I confessed to lacking such an accessory she went on, “Are you just walking on your own then?” She sounded rather accusing as if there were something quite perverted about walking around the countryside on your own without a dog. When she discovered that actually I was running (hence the running gear and the water bottle and so on) she was baffled and told me I should just take it easy. I suppose madness takes a variety of forms.

As my own form of madness involves getting out and about while the sun shines, I persuaded my Phil to get his hiking boots on later in the day and we set off to stomp around the bridle paths and old farm tracks around here. We were getting along fine, managing to avoid the major icy places and feeling quite pleased that the cold spell has hardened all the places that were quagmires only a few days ago, when we got our comeuppance. Well, I did anyway.

Many of the old farm tracks around here were originally laid with stone slabs, presumably so that carts could be pulled up and down them. Now most of them have fallen into disuse and are fairly grown over. Like much of the stone in this area they have been covered with the ubiquitous “Saddleworth green”, a kind of moss or lichen which is treacherous when wet. Whether this was what I put my foot on or whether it was a small patch of black ice is neither here nor there; the consequence was the same, me sitting down in a cold soggy place.

Sod’s law inevitably came into play here as I was wearing a long white jumper and a white hoodie. What better to wear when you are going to sit down in a cold soggy place? So when I got home I had to peel soggy clothes off and try to remove the worst of the mud before putting everything in the washing machine. So it goes! If it doesn’t wash out maybe I could just make a style feature of the muddy bottom look.

After finding the expression “food insecure” in yesterday’s paper, today I find Nick Clegg making comments about “the haves and have-yachts”. This is all because of Michael Gove, Education Secretary who has suggested that we, the British people, should help the queen celebrate her Diamond Jubilee by giving her a new royal yacht - £60 million. Now, isn’t that nice of him? I didn’t know that came into the remit of the Education Secretary. My feeling is that if there is a spare £60 million around then maybe Mr. Gove should suggest spending it on education.

Mr. Gove’s boss wasn’t very impressed either, by all accounts. Mr. Cameron has said that in this time of austerity such expenditure isn’t appropriate. He didn’t suggest spending the money on education or telling Her Majesty to buy her own yacht though.

And now it seems that Mr. Gove has added, “If there is not sufficient public money, then we should look for generous private donations to give every school a lasting memento of the occasion." Any suggestions? A ship in a bottle maybe? It could be a small version of the one on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

The queen’s old yacht, the Britannia, was taken away from her in 1997 and is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh. Now, if Scotland goes independent, will England want the yacht back? That’s another important consideration when you start to talk about breaking up the Union!

I leave you with that thought.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Security matters

I read in the Observer today that film and media stars at the Golden Globe ceremony are being served with a very riche dessert. This fantastic pudding, slaved over for an equally fantastic six months by the chef who crated it, consists of chocolate, almonds, berries, honey and … wait for it … edible gold flakes!!!! Yes, that was EDIBLE GOLD FLAKES!!! And they cost $135 a gram!!! Apart from a sneaky curiosity as to what edible gold flakes taste like, I’m not really sure I could stomach it.

Apparently adding gold to food goes way back to the Romans: a nicely ostentatious way of making people realise how wealthy you are.

Back in today’s world, there is some speculation about whether the more politically aware and even politically active of the stars will be happy to be fed such rich fare. An American “food poverty campaigner”, Joel Berg, has already commented on the uncomfortable contrast between rich people who enjoy eating very well indeed and the 50 million American citizens living in households that he calls “food insecure”.

Don’t you just love the terminology used there? First of all, I am astounded that someone can be described as a “food poverty campaigner” but then to go on and talk about people being “food insecure” is something else again. What is wrong with saying that people are going hungry or don’t known where their next meal is coming from? I am almost tempted to say that it takes the biscuit.

Meanwhile, other aspects of life in the US of A have also been coming to my notice in the Guardian newspaper. People of my generation will probably remember being threatened that if they didn’t behave a policeman would come and deal with them. I have even recently heard a mother on the bus telling her child that if he didn’t sit still, the driver would come and tell him off. Well, in some schools in Texas children are being arrested for disruptive behaviour in class!

The schools employ a police officer to patrol the corridors. Not only does he intervene if there are fights in the canteen or if something occurs involving weapons or drugs. Oh, no! If a child answers back in class the teacher can pick up the phone and send for the police. The officer then arrests the child on the spot or issues a ticket and the offending pupil then has to appear in court. Fines are issued which must be paid, quite a difficult thing for families who might already be “food insecure”.

If fines are not paid, when the offender reaches 17 s/he will probably face a prison sentence. And then, there’s the small matter of having a police record. This means that the offender will probably not be able to get a college place on leaving school and certainly can’t expect to qualify for any kind of scholarship to help pay for their studies. So, as a result of throwing a paper aeroplane when you are 11 or 12 or retaliating in kind when another pupil pushes you, you may never be able to escape from the spiral of poverty and crime that your family lives in. Now, I suppose such people are “education insecure”.

And this is not just happening to secondary school age youngsters. Children as young as six have been arrested for disruptive behaviour in class. It’s a good job such a system doesn’t operate here or my youngest grandchild, who is going through a rather bad patch at the moment, would have quite a substantial record already.

But still, our government looks to the USA for ideas on how to deal with the supposed gangs who caused last summer’s riots. American ways of coping are held up as models to us. Maybe our government is “ideas insecure”.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Words, words, words!

At some point in the Christmas holiday season someone, quite probably my Phil, was heard to say, “Humbug! Humbug!” One of the grandchildren then remarked that she thought a humbug was a kind of sweet. Yes, indeed. Why, she went on to ponder, is it called a humbug. It did spring to mind that maybe, humbugs being striped, they were so called because of similarity to bees, a bug that hums, well, after a fashion. OK, so it’s a little farfetched but there you go.

The upshot of this discussion was that eventually I got around to googling “humbug”. This is the kind of anorak-inspired thing you do if you’ve spent just about the whole of your life learning and teaching foreign languages. It may well be a form of madness but, if so, it’s a fairly harmless one.

Anyway, it seems that “humbug” first appeared in student slang in 1751, originally meaning “hoax” or “jest”. It also came to mean “nonsense” or “gibberish” and can be used to indicate a fraud or imposter. Charles Dickens helped to spread the use of the word by putting it into the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”, of course.

According to one source the word also exists in German, Swedish, Hungarian, Finn and French, but the online dictionary only confirms this for German and Dutch, giving me “fumiste” for the French translation.

So where does it come from? In Old Norse, “hum” meant night or shadow, while “bugge” was a kind of bogeyman. In Old English, to “hum” meant to deceive. So that’s one possibility.

There was a suggestion that it was derived from “Hamburg” as false coins were minted there and shipped to England during the Napoleonic wars, presumably to destabilise the economy. However, this etymology is dismissed as inaccurate because the word had already appeared in print fifty years before the aforementioned wars occurred.

I think my favourite is the idea that it came from the Italian “uomo bugiardo” which means “lying man”. Apparently there was a good deal of Italian influence on medieval English; after all a fair few of Shakespeare’s plays were based on Italian stories.

There was even on source that said it refers to a small humming insect: something small and unimportant that makes a lot of noise. So maybe the granddaughter and I were not so far out.

I also liked the Google source that simply said, “1751, student slang, “trick, jest, hoax”, also as a verb of unknown origin. A vogue word in the early 1750s, its origin was a subject of much whimsical speculation even then.”

There we are: “whimsical speculation”!!!

Words seem to have been in the news quite a lot recently, with footballers being reprimanded for insulting each other and football fans upsetting players by calling them insulting names and politicians getting into trouble for tweeting stuff that they really should have thought twice about.

In the Observer at the weekend, journalist Miranda Sawyer spoke to young people about language that they see or don’t see as insulting. One young man had to have the term “mong” explained to him as he couldn’t see why it was upsetting. This is because an earlier stage of political correctness stopped people referring to Down’s Syndrome children as “Mongols” or “mongoloid”.

And then some of the young people interviewed found it difficult to see why it might be wrong to use “gay” as a generally derogatory term if you thought something was no good.

The general consensus though was that it doesn’t really matter if you use insulting terns among your friends provided, of course, you don’t mean them in an insulting way. So one young man declared he would tell his friends, both black and white, “You are my nigger”, but in no way could he accept anyone from outside his circle referring to him in that way. Everything comes down to perceptions in the end.

It doesn’t stop me, though, from being offended when I hear loud young women on the train liberally spattering their conversation with “f***ing”, as if that were the only adjective that could be used. It sounds like a lack of imagination on their part.

Mind you, it’s beginning to sound as though I am turning into a grumpy old person. Heaven forbid that!!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The real world and a small world once again.

We switched on the radio this morning to find the Sunday omnibus edition of the Archers coming to an end. As the dum-de-dum-de-dum-de-dum faded away, the radio announcer informed us that if we went onto The Archers’ website we could see photos of Will’s and Nick’s “going away” outfits. Hmmm?!

Now, I seem to have listened to The Archers on and off for most of my life. I remember listening to it with my mother back when it was described as “an everyday story of country folk”. Like all good soap operas, once you know who the main characters are you can go years without listening (or watching if it’s a TV soap) and still slot back into the story line without major difficulty. But we must not lose track of the fact that these are “soap operas”, a made up story, not real life, no matter whether they keep to a real life timeline or not. They may be slightly more real than so-called “reality TV” (now that’s a rant for another day) but they are, in fact, totally invented.

So why on earth would anyone want to go online to look up The Archers’ website and look at the “going away” outfits of two invented characters. Even though I seem to recall that Will was named after another William who has also recently got married, I still don’t quite get it. It’s bad enough that we are frequently reminded of how elegant the Duchess of Cambridge is and how well that young lady dresses. But who said that a gamekeeper from a fictional estate in a fictional bit of England in an "everyday story of country folk" and his wife were style icons?

And then, surely the whole point of radio is that you LISTEN to it. Each listener, like each reader of a book, can have their own idea of what the characters look like. A character could be played by an actor with two heads and it would make no difference whatsoever. In fact, I understand that two of the actors from The Archers are married to each other in real life although only vaguely related in-laws in the soap opera. What on earth does that do to the people who insist on doing things like sending presents when a new baby is born?

OK, rant over!

Back in the real world I have been working my way through a list of jobs that have needed doing for years. The kitchen has been repainted. Various piles of old rubbish have been taken to the tip. My grandmother’s old rocking chair has been repaired; an overweight friend sat down on it too vigorously years ago and went through it. I even persuaded my son during his recent visit to go through piles of old computer games, university notes, boxes of photos and other memorabilia and throw out unwanted stuff and take away with him anything left over. I still have to go through the wardrobe once more and get rid of clothes I am never again going to wear. We still have to do a major cull of books, of which we have far too many. But I am managing to tick items off the list.

One such item is mending a display cabinet given to us long ago by my husband’s grandfather. This rather fine piece of furniture had two of its glass panels broken when my Phil sat down on a dining chair which collapsed, catapulting him into the door of the cabinet.

It begins to sound as though we have a whole collection decrepit furniture which falls apart when sat on. This is not the case. The collapse of my grandmother’s rocking chair and the aforementioned dining chair are isolated and unrelated incidents.

When the cabinet door was broken I was too busy (and my Phil admits to being too idle) to do anything about repairs. And then we took ourselves off to Spain for a while, putting possible repairs and other such jobs on hold for a while.

Finally, the other day I got my act together, made templates of the sections needing new glass, parcelled up the door and took everything off to a local glaziers’ shop. My plan was to have them cut me some glass according to my templates and then with the help of a friend have a go at mending the door. The glaziers, however, had other ideas. I was, they said, naively misinformed and overly optimistic about my skills a furniture restorer. No way were they going to cut me any glass but they did give me the name of a retired cabinet maker who would almost certainly have a go at fixing it for me.

So, I phoned him and left a message on his answering machine. And then I phoned him again because I had neglected to leave my phone number. Over the next few days Mr Fogg, the retired cabinet maker, and I kept phoning when the other was unavailable and leaving messages. Eventually, though, we managed to speak to each other and arranged for him to call in on his way back from Huddersfield or some such place.

When he arrived yesterday morning he told me, in tones of some surprise, that he had been here before but hadn’t realised that was the case until he pulled up outside our door. It turns out that he has brought his grandson here for chess lessons on a number of occasions. Small world syndrome strikes again!!!

Anyway, Mr Fogg took a look at the cabinet door, ummed and aahed a little and eventually said that he had not yet come across a repair he had been unable to complete and declared that he was looking forward to the challenge of this one. Excellent!!

We now wait to hear from him, hopefully with a successful outcome.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Here we go again.

Today is the birthday of King Juan Carlos I of Spain. He spent his 74th birthday going about his kingly duties, reviewing military parades and so on.

It’s also the feast of the Three Kings. Today the Wise Men are supposed to bring presents to all the good girls and boys, leaving them for the most pa
rt on the balcony. Like good old Father Christmas they have magical powers and can fly through the air and get through locked doors. And, according to this cartoon, Spanish children expect excessive amounts of presents from the kings, just as British children do from Father Christmas.

Mama says, "Don't you think t=our little boy is a it over-optinistic about the Kings this year?"

It’s another excuse for a bit of a fiesta as the Kings lead a parad
e through the streets, distributing sweets to all the children. The latter go equipped with plastic carrier bags so that they can collect in one night enough sweets for the coming year. So much for a healthy diet. Here’s the route of the parade through the streets of Vigo.

While the festivities continue in Spain, it's all over and done with here. I have taken dow
n the tree, vacuumed up the pine needles, put the decorations away for another year and deposited the Christmas cards in the paper recycling. So that's it for another year. The boy and his girls have visited and gone back to London. The small people have gone back to school and everything is getting back to normal.

2012 has begun with storms and high winds here. Time to start planning some more travelling, I think.

Meanwhile, I have just found that Spain continues to have problems with paperwork and documents. According to an article I found in La Voz de Galicia a young woman of Gallego family but born in Venezuela is having difficulties dealing with the bureaucracy necessary to give her Spanish nationality.

It’s rather reassuring to discover that things don’t change.