Friday, 31 May 2013


It’s official. This has been the coldest spring since 1962. It must be true; I heard it on the BBC news. I can’t say I remember the spring of 1962. I was too busy being a teenager. Anyway, this spring has officially been cold. We knew that already, of course, but I suppose it’s good to have things confirmed. 

Today by contrast dawned bright and sunny and at 8.30 I was out running in the sunshine. I had been woken a little earlier by insistent knocking on our front door. Strangely, people ignore the doorbell which resounds nicely through the house; they either tap gently on the ridiculously small doorknocker or bang furiously on the door itself. And so I was woken by the aforementioned insistent knocking. 

 I opened the door to find a delivery man with a parcel: a replacement electronic gadget for one which had proved faulty. It was very good to get such prompt service but we had been told by the manufacturers that it would be delivered between 9 and 5. Consequently I was not expecting it at just after 8 o’clock. When I pointed this out to the delivery chappie, he told me he didn’t know why they had said that as he had been told to deliver before 10. They couldn’t give a precise time, he explained, because it all depended on how many other deliveries he had to make en route to us. A clear case of one bit of the firm not talking to the other. 

Still, his early arrival meant that I had the rest of the day free, at least until the grandchildren are parked here for babysitting purposes later this afternoon. 

The cold spring has not prevented bargees getting out and about on the canal. I seem to be collecting members of the family in barge form. My daughter started it some time ago when she saw a barge called Phyllis May, my mother’s name. It turns out that this is a well travelled narrowboat; this photo shows it returning from the Gulf of Mexico. I never even knew narrowboats could go out to sea. I suppose we should have felt honoured that it was on our bit of canal. 

Then last week I came across the Patricia, clearly named for my sister and just in time for me to send her the picture for her birthday. 

Yesterday it was the turn of my older sister. There it was, the Lady Carole, rather selfishly blocking most of the width of the canal. It must have been imperfectly moored andone end had floated out. Goodness knows what would have happened if another boat had come along. 

 I wonder if I’ll see any other family members on my rambles. 

As for me, I’ve already been a shop in Sanxenxo, photographed a couple of summers ago. 

They tell us that summer starts this weekend. Apparently, March, April and May are the months of spring and so summer begins on June 1st. 

Someone needs to tell the weatherman.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Out to lunch.

Yesterday I went to meet my friend Heidy for lunch in Manchester. Heidy is an elusive person. I always know where she is but she is something of a workaholic and is usually busy when I am around in Manchester while I have often disappeared to Galicia when she is available for lunch. Yesterday, however, I caught her on half term from one of the colleges where she works, where we used to work together, and on a lunch break from marking at the other college where she works but which doesn’t seem to take a half term break. 

So we set off for lunch at The Mark Addy, geographically in Salford although it feels like Manchester. There is a point where the two cities merge and it’s hard to tell exactly where you are; quite probably you have a foot in both cities at the same time. We found a bridge over the River Irwell which appears to be a recent addition to the area as it doesn’t figure in this photo. 

Across the bridge we went and in through the front entrance and down the stairs into the pub. In other years we might have sat outside at the end of May but not this year; winter clothes and umbrellas were the order of the day. The food is fine in the Mark Addy. £5.15 for a substantial sandwich seems quite reasonable as it comes with chips and salad – rather more than I usually eat at lunchtime but there you go. 

The prices seem more reasonable than at our local hostelry which recently charged us almost £12 for a couple of pints of beer, a half of lager and an orange juice along with a packet of crisps. I think it was the orange juice that pushed the price up. It seems to me that they catch you at both ends pricewise: city centre prices are elevated for being in the city centre and then places in the outskirts, like our local hostelry, charge you for being out of the city. You can’t win either way. 

Anyway, Heidy and I had a very nice lunch for a sensible price just outside of the city centre. All good. We caught up on all the gossip of my former place of work: who is being promoted, what we think of the promotion, who is feeling stressed, what’s going on with the organisation as a whole. 

Do I miss the hurly burly? Not at all. I quite enjoy being permanently out to lunch.

Sunday, 26 May 2013


  The horse chestnut trees here are finally in flower – only about two weeks later than in some parts of Manchester and two months later than in Vigo. But then, Vigo is a lot further south. 

The bluebells have also started to make their presence felt. 

So have the dandelions, as I know to my cost having pulled a huge number of them out of my garden. It’s almost a shame to pull them up, they look so bright and cheerful but they will insist on turning into dandelion clocks and then get blown all over the garden. Before you know it you have nothing but dandelions! 

Even the tadpoles have been swimming around merrily in the stream next to the bridle path. It must be spring, at last! In fact today is the second consecutive day of sunshine. I am quite impressed. 

Quite why this couldn’t have started a day earlier is beyond me but Friday was more like March than May. Friday really needed the sunshine as it was Whit Friday. Whit Friday around here means Band Contest. In the morning the local churches organise the Whit Walks, a kind of procession of witness when all the Sunday school children parade through the streets in their Sunday best. Then in the evening brass bands from near and far come and play in all the villages of Saddleworth and are judged on their musical ability and general performance. This year the children must have been frozen as it was blowing a gale, freezing cold even when the clouds cleared and the sun came out but also horribly wet at regular intervals when the clouds blew back in. 

We saw people straggling back from our village’s Whit Walks as we waited for a bus to go into town. Forewarned that the village itself was closed to traffic for the morning, we went to a different bus stop from our usual one. An old chap there told us he had been waiting for an hour without any sign of a bus going in the direction we wanted. Three had gone in the other direction so we all assumed that the roads were actually open. It was only when we phoned for a taxi, after waiting for well over half an hour, that a bus actually came. Taxi hastily cancelled, we boarded the bus and went on our way through the decidedly un-spring-like weather. 

In the evening we went into the village to meet some friends of ours who have endowed a “deportment prize”, judged presumably on the bands’ marching ability as they enter the villages. We’ve never enquired to closely as to why someone from Prestwich felt the need to spend his money on a brass band contest prize but here is our friend Stanley talking to the Cheshire Constabulary Band who have won the prize in other years. 

It was slightly less wet than in the morning but still rather too wintry for my liking. Others must have felt the same way as the village was relatively empty. 

And then Saturday dawned to a blue sky and sunshine, prompting me to visit the garden centre and pick up plants for the pots on my garden wall. Now we no longer have pots of weeds but colourful pots of pansies. 

On my way home I opted to trespass through a section of my favourite walk which has been closed to the public. The bridle path follows the route of an old railway line, closed long ago by Dr Beeching. The last section has never been smartened up like the main part of the pathway and recently whoever owns the land has put up barriers and large notices telling all and sundry that this is private land and that they must keep out. This worked for a while but someone has opened ways in and out of the area, making the direct route available once again. 

As a rule I am an obedient citizen and take the long way round but yesterday I chose to trespass. The local youth clearly still get in there and set up impromptu ramps for their bikes and leave their graffiti tags in this bit of industrial wasteland. 

Traditionally the Whit Friday Band Contest has been followed on the Saturday by the Beer Walk. Teams would apply to the local Round Table group to take part in this glorified pub crawl. Their subscription fee entitled them to walk or run in fancy dress from Saddleworth village to Saddleworth village, collecting money for the charity of their choice as they want and stopping at almost all the local hostelries for a beer en route. As I said, a glorified mass pub crawl. 

 Last year the Round Table organisation decided that enough was enough and that they would no longer organise the Beer Walk. However, some people didn’t seem to be aware of this and late yesterday afternoon our village was full of Vikings, pirates and giant cockroaches, all milling around trying to buy beer. Or course, because it was not an official beer walk but what someone referred to as “the pretend beer walk”, minor chaos ensued. There was no police escort to stop traffic while revellers walked into the village or to chivvy said revellers on their way after their stop at the pub. Oh, no, there were just crowds of would be carnival folk spilling out into the road and generally blocking the way. 

Minor mayhem ensued as you might expect. Is this a new local “tradition” in the making?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Goodbye, Georges, we’ll miss you.

I had every intention of writing about other things but then I read the news that the singer Georges Moustaki has just died in Nice. 

When I was a student in France at the end of the 1960s, my Moustaki record was one of the few that I had to play on my portable record player. His songs about liberty and solitude  rang true, naturally, to the rather romantic young person I was then and cheered me up if I felt lost and abandoned in the middle of nowhere in a small place in the Ardèche in southern France. 

Originally called Giuseppe, he changed his name to Georges as a tribute to his hero Georges Brassens, about whom he also wrote songs. He was born in Alexandria but went to Paris in 1951 and started his career singing in clubs in the French capital. I always think of him as a French singer. However, he sang in a whole range of other languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, English and Arabic. He wrote about 300 songs and it was he who wrote the song “Milord” for Edith Piaf. 

And now the man who sang about the death of the young postman who delivered his love-letters is also dead. 

He may have declared his philosophy to be “nous avons toute la vie pour nous amuser, nous avons toute la mort pour nous reposer” (basically: enjoy yourself now as you’re a long time dead) but in fact he was a life-long advocate of left-wing causes. 

He ended his singing career in 2009, later telling newspaper La Croix that he was suffering from an irreversible bronchial illness that made it impossible to carry on. 

Moustaki told French radio RTL in December that he wanted to be buried in Alexandria, Egypt, where he was born in 1934, and where "there is a cemetery that is the cemetery of free thinkers, and it is there that I want to rest for eternity." 

So there it is. No comments about the “bling” stolen at the Cannes film festival nor about the horrible things going on around the world. Just a farewell to Georges Moustaki, whose albums we still listen to all these years on.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Local amenities

Today Phil and I set out to catch a bus at the crossroads about two or three minutes’ walk from our house. The bus was due to leave at 12.02. Knowing the vagaries of our local bus service well, we set off in plenty of time but had to run as we saw the bus leaving the stop at 11.59. After some pleading glances and furious pointing at watches, we managed to persuade the bus driver to open the doors and let us get on. He countered our complaints about his leaving early by pointing out that he had done us a favour by opening the doors at the crossroads, breaking various regulations. The fact remains that he was a good three minutes early, despite his protestations to the contrary. We were proved right when he stopped for a three minute period a few stops further along the road so that he was back on the correct schedule for the rest of his journey. 

These buses always used to come late, reliably late, consistently late. It was a surprise when they were on time. The problem is that the bus route simply covers too large an area and involves a number of detours onto housing estates to pick up people in out of the way places. Recently, however, one section of the route has changed, taking a back road – but still quite a major route in some ways – instead of the very over-used A62 route into town. It probably picks up more passengers on this new route but it does seem to have affected time keeping in the opposite direction and now the buses frequently arrive (and leave) early. And as buses are only every half hour – every hour after 6pm – we have got into the habit of being at the bus stop in plenty of time. Much time wasting and related grumbling have resulted from this. 

We were on the bus so that Phil could make the connection with the tram into Manchester and so that I could complete various errands. When we had our kitchen remodelled, years and years ago, we had fancy under-the-unit lights fitted, the sort that have tubes rather than light bulbs. When one of these expires it is the devil’s own job to find a replacement, not helped by the fact that I usually buy them in threes or fours and by the time I need to replenish stocks I have completely forgotten where I bought them. So the plan was to try Tesco, a “home goods” store just near the supermarket (and the closest thing we have to the Chinese shops of Vigo) and failing that Oldham Market. 

The first two let me down totally so I headed for the market hall. Another of my tasks was to try to have repairs done to our eldest granddaughter’s red leather satchel. Now this is not truly a satchel such as I had when I was in secondary school. Mine was a tough brown leather thing which started life new and shine when I was twelve and ended up battered and scratched when I was eighteen. No doubt, if I still possessed it I could sell it as vintage on E-bay and make a small fortune. No, the granddaughter’s red leather satchel is a fashion item. You see a lot of them around in a range of colours, including seasick green and neon pink. Unfortunately the granddaughter chose to use hers for the traditional satchel purpose and loaded it with far too many school books. For nowadays pupils do not seem to have desks or even lockers where they can leave stuff in school but have to carry masses of gear around with them. In all probability they will all suffer from dislocated shoulders and bad backs in the future. 

The result of using a satchel as a school bag and not as a receptacle for bits of makeup, a mobile phone and just possibly a purse was that the strap-attachment gave way under the strain. I had already carried out one small repair but this was too big a job for me. However, I knew that in Oldham’s Tommyfield Market was a traditional shoe-repairer’s stall. So that was where I went. 

 Oldham market has been there almost forever. The first market was founded there in 1788 and open markets were held in field belonging to a certain Thomas Whittaker: hence the name Tommyfield. The first purpose-built indoor market was erected in 1856 and was replaced in 1908 with the Victoria Market. Here’s a rather grainy picture from the 1960s. 

This was burned down in a rather spectacular fire in 1974, which I vaguely remember as by then I was a young teacher in Oldham. Great consternation was expressed throughout the town. What would they do without the market? A temporary building was put up until a smart new market hall was finally built in the 1990s and renamed: Tommyfield Market

The open market is a bit of a sorry affair these days, open three days a week with some of that dedicated to second-hand goods and flea markets. The indoor market, on the other hand, seems to be holding its own quite well with good fruit stalls and cheese stalls along with one of the few places where you can buy knitting wool without it having to some fancy designer yarn that costs an arm and a leg. 

Anyway, it was to the traditional cobbler’s stall (open since 1890 something) that I went. I arranged for the red leather satchel to be patched and stitched and then asked, as the stall holder knows every other stall on the market, where I could get watch batteries replaced at a reasonable price. Right here, was the reply. Jolly good, thought I. Next question: is there anywhere on the market where I can buy tubes for my kitchen light. Well, yes, as it turned out. So I followed the directions given and found a man who sold me a stock of fluorescent tubes. Hooray! Then it was back to the cobbler’s to collect the watches whose batteries had been replaced. 

As I waited, eavesdropping on the conversation going on between the stall holder and his customers, I realised that I knew the customer in question. This was someone I used to work with back in the 1970s, around the time of the Great Fire of Oldham Market. So we caught up on what we had been up to in the intervening thirty-odd years. Small world syndrome struck again. 

After my old friend and his wife had gone the cobbler’s wife filled me in on a bit of gossip. It turns out that my friend’s wife had been adopted and had only recently been able to trace her twin sister, unfortunately only after the twin’s death. They wanted to cobbler to produce a traditional metal memorial plate to add to her grave. The cobbler’s wife says she hears everyone’s stories. She fears that internet shopping and the pace of the electronic-communication-obsessed world we are increasingly living in will put an end to this. 

She might be right. Long live the old traditional markets.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

A day of ups and downs, comings and goings.

Yesterday was a funny sort of day. As it was Monday I got up, as usual, at the crack of dawn to drive to my daughter’s house and deal with getting the offspring up and dressed and to school while she makes her way to Ormskirk for a day of university study. 

 Usually I then make my way homewards and have a late second breakfast with Phil. I then get on with this and that – reading the paper, doing sudoku, catching up with email and so on – until it’s time to go and collect the grandchildren and get them home again. 

Yesterday, however, I was booked to go and talk to Radio Tameside, handily based in Stalybridge where the small people go to school, about our poetry group at the end of the morning. There wasn’t time to go home from Stalybridge and back again in between appointments so I filled time in a variety of ways. 

First, being a good girl scout, I located the offices of Radio Tameside; it would have been embarrassing to be unable to do the recording because of faulty orienteering. Then I caught a train to Ashton, only about five minutes down the line, and looked for inspiration and possible bargains in IKEA. No bargains, no home-building inspirations were available yesterday. I did visit their food shop though and there I bought Peparkakor, which probably translates as ginger biscuits since that it what is in the packet. I can recommend these “ginger thins” (there we go – when did the adjective “thin” become a noun?) and buy a box whenever I visit the store. In fact, that was probably the underlying motivation in going there in the first place. 

After a leisurely stroll back to the station I caught the train for the return journey to Stalybridge. By now my old biddy’s bus pass was operational, although the first leg of my journey had only cost me £1. In our area train travel seems much better value that bus travel but the bus pass is, of course, best of all. 

I returned to Radio Tameside’s headquarters and watched the proceedings there until it was time to record my little interview. Quite interesting, maybe I should do this sort of thing more often. 

After that, I treated myself to a very inferior cup of coffee in Tesco’s cafe. I only went there because there is precious little else in Stalybridge centre and it was rather early to find a pub and go drinking alone. It really is time the UK started copying the cafe culture of Spain where killing time is far more pleasant, usually because the coffee is better. In between reading my book and doing sudoko, I listened in to the conversation of three ladies of about my age who had clearly planned to meet in the Tesco cafe: progress of the grandchildren, films they had seen, the difficulty of finding clothes you like, the inconvenience of getting to Marks and Spencer in Ashton and so on and so on. You really would have thought that they could have chosen a better location than Tesco’s cafe to have their reunion. No accounting for taste. 

Eventually, I walked up the hill to collect the small people from school. The sun had come out and, despite the wind, it was a pleasant walk. After an initial inclination to argue, both small people agreed not to continue with any unpleasantness and we had a very enjoyable walk down to the station where their older sister was waiting. 

She had already phoned and texted me a few times to see how long we were going to be and whether we had any chance of catching the early train. She clearly put a hex on that for we missed it by about two minutes. 

We were about five minutes away from the station when the thunder started, a low rumble across the now grey sky, a low rumble that went on and on. And then came the hailstones. We had to stop and get coats put of bags and hurriedly try to get three of us under a small umbrella. This delay probably cost us the early train but so it goes. 

By the time we reached the station we were rather wet and the rain and hail continued. If anything, the thunder and lightning were getting worse. Having checked that the early train had indeed been on time and that we had indeed missed it, I bought tickets for the small people for the next train and we headed for the station buffet where things suddenly got better again. 

 I have probably explained in previous posts that Stalybridge station buffet is worth a visit. It is in fact a pub that serves real ale and excellent food. If you are undecided about which ale to drink, the landlord will serve you a small sample to help you make up your mind. The walls are decorated with old railway signs and memorabilia, intermingled with railway related photographs: pictures of visiting royalty back in the 1930s, notable train crashes, famous engines making their way through the station and things of that ilk. There are piles of those old brown suitcases they people carried long ago, the ones that look as though they are made of pressed cardboard and ended up tied together with string. My father had one. Some of the tables alongside the walls are in fact old treadle sewing machines. 

On this occasion we ordered a bacon sandwich for my small and rather hungry grandson, hot chocolate for the granddaughters and one of his specialist lagers for me. While we waited for the hot stuff to arrive, the landlord made a fuss of us, putting the wet coats close to the fire to dry off, chatting to the children about the various artefacts and advising the “young ladies” that if they thought this room was nice they should go down the corridor and look at the Ladies’ Room, where ladies in the past could wait in seclusion if they so chose, unafraid of unwanted attentions from not so gentlemanly gentlemen. 

When the hot chocolate arrived it consisted of cups of very hot milk together with a spoon stuck into a block of what appeared to be chocolate spread: a do-it-yourself kit. The girls had to stir the chocolate into the milk. The boy was growing impatient but his bacon sandwich turned up at last with a choice of tomato sauce or brown sauce. The only problem then was ensuring that he did not wipe his fingers and his mouth on the sleeves of his school clothes. 

On the whole it was a fine adventure and not a bad way of spending the three quarters of an hour we had to wait for a train which arrived several minutes late (unlike the earlier train). Everyone thanked our host for his kind attentions. 

The eldest granddaughter now wants to go back with her camera. I feel another art project coming on.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Hard times.

This week has gone from summer back to winter in a matter of days. Sunshine and high temperatures on Monday and Tuesday have been followed by wind and rain ever since. I fully expect to see all the new leaves falling off the trees. 

It’s been an odd week in other respects as well. Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United. Ever since the news has been full of eulogies to the gum-chewing Scotsman. It must be strange and rather disturbing to read your obituaries before you’re even dead but that is surely what’s happening. 

Personally, I like the suggestion from one of the panellists on BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz that he’s only leaving Manchester United in order to take up employment as personal trainer to Prince Charles in preparation for kingship. This is, of course, because of the presence of the Prince of Wales alongside his mother for the Queen’s speech, followed by the decision that he will replace his mother at the Commonwealth Conference. Speculation about abdication is in the air again. 

I commented recently on the proposed new five pound note featuring Sir Winston Churchill. Now I read that there is the possibility of court action to prevent this happening on gender equality grounds. Sir Winston Churchill will replace Elizabeth Fry, currently the only female on the currency apart, of course, from Her Majesty. A feminist campaigner and free-lance journalist by the name of Caroline Criado-Perez has collected 23,000 signatures on an on-line petition to reverse the decision to get rid of Elizabeth Fry and is now taking steps a stage further. It’s all very worthy, I’m sure, but aren’t there more important issues around than whose face is on our five pound notes? 

Over in Galicia, according to one of the newspapers I have been reading on-line, on Thursday they relaxed the rules which forbid “botellón” (mass drinking parties in public parks) in Santiago de Compostela on the occasion of the Feast of the Ascension. Now, why would a festivity celebrating Jesus going up to Heaven cause the authorities to turn a blind eye to young people going out and drinking in the city’s rather fine alameda? Apparently the botellonistas were shooed away from the main section of the alameda to a lower area away public view but were then allowed to get on with it. 

From the newspaper article I learnt a new word: “drunkorexia”. This is a different kind of drinking on an empty stomach. Many young (and some not so young) people don’t bother eating before they go out drinking so that they can get drunk faster. This has long been considered the English style of drunkenness but has been catching on in Spain for a while now. “Drunkorexics”, on the other hand, don’t eat because they are replacing the calories from food with those in the alcohol. It’s a fine distinction. I wonder how you tell the simply drunk from the “drunkorexics”. 

The young people interviewed rationalised their drinking in the park on economic grounds: you can buy a whole bottle of gin in a supermarket for what it costs for one gin-tonic in a bar. I have no doubt that this is so. I suspect that the principle reason we don’t see more “botellón” in the UK is the climate. Sitting around in the park in the rain with temperatures not far above freezing loses its appeal. 

Apparently the economic situation is also affecting the population of Galicia as a whole. The population stopped increasing in 2010 but in the last year has lost 17,999 residents. Of course, the older members of the population have an unavoidable tendency to die off but there are 8,285 more deaths than births each year. Add to that the increase in emigration as more and more young people seek work elsewhere and you have a greater problem. And because of unemployment people are postponing having families. 

Fewer jobs mean fewer babies. Trying times all round.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


 On Monday I went out and about in Manchester with my eldest granddaughter. She is studying Art for GCSE and has become very enthusiastic about the photography component of her studies. For Christmas she received a very fancy digital camera which makes my favourite toy (my tiny digital camera which accompanies me everywhere) really look like a toy. She talks to me about apertures and exposure times and a whole lot of stuff which means precious little to me.
Among other things she has been asked to do by her art teachers are a couple of photography projects, one of the urban landscape and its decay, the other on street people, especially street performers. 

So off we went on Monday, a Bank Holiday and therefore a little less busy in the city centre and a bright sunny day (what was I saying recently about spring having forgotten us?) and therefore rather more busy than might be expected. Certainly some were enjoying the ride in Piccadilly Gardens. 

The budding photographer had a specific goal in mind, as well as just finding suitable targets for her camera. Some time ago, out and about with her mother, she had come across a rater fine building under threat of imminent demolition. In actual fact, she was more interested in the protest signs than anything else. So off we went, in search of a building. 

It turned out to be the Ancoats Hospital which used to look like this :

but which now looks like this:

We had a bit of a history lesson from the protest group located outside the building. It was built in 1873 to serve the densely-populated districts of north and east Manchester, an area of cotton mills. Pioneering work was done in the orthopaedic department and during World War II it was often the first port of call with casualties when the city centre was bombed. 

Now a company called Urban Splash own it and claim that they can no longer find an economically viable use for it and so have asked for permission to demolish it. The protesters tell us that there was originally a plan to transform it into shops, offices and/or apartments. However, again according to the protestors, the developers removed the roof, thus hastening deterioration of the building and now claim the plan will no longer work. They want to knock it down and start again. 

There is some interesting new buildings around there but it seems a shame for a Grade II Listed Building to be destroyed. 

We had an interesting visit and the granddaughter had a history lesson combined with a bit of social awareness and consciousness-raising. Very good! 

And she got some good pictures to boot, including some splendid graffiti. 

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Things they say.

They tell me Spring has arrived. The papers have pictures of people sunbathing in parks in London. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have told our area. We continue to have grey days, rather chilly wind and the occasional shower. We do have lambs in abundance in the fields up the road however. 

My sister in Spain has sent me greetings for Mother’s Day: ¡Feliz Día de la Madre! I’ve not been aware of lots of publicity here, getting us to buy cards, advertising special lunches at local pubs and such. Consequently, I went and had a look on Google. It turns out that our traditional Mothering Sunday, as I always remember calling it when I was a child, is the fourth Sunday in Lent. Here’s a link to some information about its origins. When I was small we used to be given a card at Sunday School to take home and give to our mothers. None of these mass-produced things in Card ‘r’ Us or whatever the card shops are called. Of course, the cards we were given were also mass-produced but on a much smaller scale. We were also told that in the past when young girls were sent into “service”, in other words working as maids in the “big houses”, they always had to work Sundays but had this one Sunday off every year to go home and visit their mothers. We should be grateful, they said to us. 

While we’re on the nostalgia thing, on Facebook I keep finding that my so-called friends have posted something like this: 

"Growing up in U.K. in the 50's/60's"

“I think every family had one of these :D....Do you remember having it around you when you were in the old tin bath...or making a tent with it?” 

I bet my sister, who posted this particular one doesn’t remember having it around her while she sat in a tin bath. We had moved to a nice modern house with a nice modern bathroom by the time she was born. But she’s right, our mother did have one just like that and we did make tents out of it. And she did use it to dry washing in front of the fire, probably because the weather was as unreliable then as it is now. My sister in Spain doesn’t have to do this as she dries her washing on the roof. 

Some of the people on this nostalgia trip though are clearly much too young to remember half the things they post. It doesn’t stop people getting all gooey about those artefacts we no longer use, especially when they post the pictures from their i-phone! 

I recently watched a programme about the mafia in Calabria, or ’ndrangheta as it should more properly be called. Some rather impressive spy planes were used to photograph the hideaways of these mafiosi but one of the ways they caught the elusive boss of the group, who had already been captured and had managed to escape once more, was through his girlfriend. The police were sure he would not be able to manage to remain in hiding for long without football or women. Football couldn’t be smuggled into his hiding place but women could. And so they stared looking for a likely mistress. Finally they identified a young lady who “looked as though she took too much care of herself to be single”. They were correct in their identification and eventually she unwittingly helped them in their search but the criteria used for identifying her left something to be desired. Don’t Italian women dress up for themselves? Do they only do it for their men? 

Another thing I noticed in the news last week was a large number of people wearing Orange. This was the population of Holland celebrating the investiture, not the coronation, please note, of King Willem-Alexander (of Orange) on the abdication of his mother Queen Beatrix. Quite a number of monarchs in waiting were invited to the ceremony, Prince Felipe of Spain and our own Prince Charles amongst them. 

I looked at Charles’s face as he strode into the church in all his military finery and wondered if somewhere deep inside he was singing that old song, “It should have been me!”.

Saturday, 4 May 2013


I’ve spent part of this afternoon running round a park, hiding behind various obstacles and then jumping out and “shooting” my grandson. (We also played football and I pushed children on swings.) My gun was my right hand, two fingers making the barrel. He shot me with a similar weapon. This is not my favourite game but it involved a lot of running around and, anyway, children have always played shooting games of this kind: cowboys and Indians, Robin Hood, William Tell, Germans and English in my childhood when you still saw lots of war films on the TV. 

But over in Kentucky a little boy of five has been playing shooting with a real rifle, a child size rifle, called the “Cricket”: a real rifle with real bullets. In his game he shot and killed his two year old sister. Keystone Sporting Arms produce this weapon, marketed as “my first rifle” and sell it in bright colours. In 2008 they produced 60,000 weapons for children and young people. 

In this case, the child had received the gun as a present for his FOURTH birthday!! The parents kept the gun in one of the bedrooms of the house and didn’t know it was loaded. Surely you put such a “toy” out of reach of the child, only let him use it under adult supervision and when you put it away you make sure it’s not loaded. And since the child had been taught how to use the thing, you keep the bullets in a separate place so he can’t be responsible for what was described as “one of those crazy accidents”. 

Meanwhile at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, Texas, which began yesterday, people have been busily looking at and presumably buying, more weapons. 

Here’s a photo of a 14 year old taking a look at a Bushmaster BA50 or it might be a Bushmaster AR-15. 

You can buy one of these for $700 apparently. 

It was a gun like this that killed 26 people in Sandy Hook elementary school recently. 

One convention attender declared, “We need these guns to combat terrorists and protect ourselves”. 

Maybe my reaction is a little excessive but it seems to me that even if you feel the need to have a gun to protect your home and your many belongings from burglars, you don’t really need an assault rife, a weapon of war, for goodness sake. What kind of burglars do they have in the USA? 

And surely, in the event of a terrorist attack of some kind, the forces of law and order are not really going to be helped very much by your average Joe Public running round with a great big gun shooting umpteen rounds a minute at anyone he thinks is a terrorist. 

But, hey, what do I know? My children will tell you that they had to resort to making guns out of stickle bricks because I wouldn’t even buy cap guns. They thought themselves lucky to have water pistols in the summer time, I can tell you. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Austerity measures?

On the tram coming home from Manchester this afternoon, I listened to a young mother trying to entertain a fractious baby in his buggy. She sang to him; it was that old song about the little piggy who went to market, the one where you count the baby’s toes and finally tickle him. This is how her song went: 
    “This little piggy went to market. 
      This little piggy stayed at home. 
      This little piggy had cheese on toast. 
      This little piggy had none. 
      And this little piggy went Wee, wee, wee, 
     All the way home.” 

Now, I’m sure that one little piggy used to have roast beef while the next had none. When was roast beef replaced with cheese on toast? Is this the austerity version of the nursery rhyme? 

In any case, it only worked for a while and after that the baby started to whinge and whine again, possible because it was a sunny afternoon and the mother had placed the buggy with the sun directly in the poor child’s face. 

After getting off the tram, I hurried to the nearest bus stop for the next stage of my journey home. I had, according to the printed timetable, about three minutes to get from the tram stop to the bus stop. There is just time to walk the distance provided you don’t dawdle and provided the pedestrian crossing lights are on your side. I do this every week and each time I have half an eye out for the bus in case I need to run. Today I had a nice series of little green men to see me across the dual carriageway. What’s more the bus was late. 

At the stop I got talking to another young mother, this time with a fairly new baby in a buggy and a toddler alongside. She told me she was only going a couple of stops and would have walked but the little chap had refused. One of the reasons for her outing this afternoon had been to look at double buggies. When I suggested one of those new(ish)-fangled “buggy boards, a contraption you fix onto the buggy so that the toddler can stand on it and be pushed when his/her little legs get tired, she confessed to having spent £60 on one but the little chap wouldn’t stand on it. So she was contemplating spending £500 on a double buggy. I suspect the little chap might refuse to go in the buggy as well. Well, nne of my business and not my problem! 

When mine were that age the baby was carried in a sling and the little chap mostly walked but we did have the buggy just in case. 

Anyway, there she was, planning to spend huge amounts of money on a baby buggy. No austerity there! What’s more, if she had had her bigger buggy she might not have been able to get on the bus as there was already one baby buggy on board and they get a bit sniffy about cluttering the bus aisle up with too many baby carriages. 

All of this austerity stuff got me thinking about banknotes. Winston Churchill is going to appear on £5 notes in 2016. News reporters seem to think it will be called a “Winston” or even a “Winnie” instead of a “fiver”. I’m not convinced. 

I still find it strange when I go to a cash machine in Spain to withdraw money and receive €50 notes. I have yet to have a cash machine in the UK issue £50 notes. Even if I withdraw £200, it comes in combinations of £20 and £10 notes. And even the £20 are sometimes subjected to scrutiny in shops, checking their validity I suppose, in the same way as some €50 notes are in Spain. 

I think it was last summer in Sanxenxo that I stood behind an elegantly dressed, extremely old lady at a supermarket checkout and watched her hand over a €500 note to pay for something costing under €10. All credit to the cashier; she didn’t blink but just called her manager over to give her the OK. 

I have since discovered that the last £500 notes were issued in the UK

1943 and stopped being legal tender in 1945. That’ll be why I’ve never seen one then. Mind you, if people are going around spending £500 on baby equipment, maybe they’ll reintroduce them.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The old and the new.

The 1st of May. May Day. In some places they have, or at least used to have, parades on May Day. In Greece they’ve been having demonstrations. Well, with all their problems, I’m not surprised. 

 So what do we get here in the UK? Morris Men up at dawn dancing around a tower at Glastonbury. 

We’ve not had Morris Men in the Saddleworth villages today. Usually they go out and dance at the drop of a hat, preferably one decorated with flowers as they’re Morris Dancers. But then, today is not a public holiday here. The Bank Holiday is not until next Monday. No doubt the dancers will be out and about this weekend. 

Our traditions do seem a little bit airy fairy at times, not to say wet! Dancing round maypoles and clacking wooden sticks has lost its appeal now that the vast majority of us don’t actually believe the pagan stuff any longer. But we do like a bit of antiquity. 

The weekend before last Portfadog in Wales lost a bit of its antiquity when a tree blew down. Yes, I know that trees blow down all the time. I keep coming across them in my travels. I even remember a particularly stormy day a few years ago when I counted about 12 trees blown down on my route home from work in Salford. Some fine old trees came down that day. But what is notable about the Portfadog oak is that it was 1200 years old and absolutely enormous. Its trunk must have been as big as a house. But its root system was shot and couldn’t take the strain. Not so long ago tree surgeons took a look at it and said that some preservation measures should be taken. Unfortunately, they were talking about £5,700’s worth of work and they never managed to raise the money. And then the tree gave in to the wind. Now there is talk of resurrecting it as a monument – how do you resurrect a tree? – or using the wood to make a bardic chair, presumably so bards could take inspiration form the great age of the tree. Alternatively they might just leave it to rot where it fell and wildlife could continue to use it as a habitat for a good number of years to come. 

Apparently, in the UK we have 80% of Europe’s oldest trees, many of them over 500 years old. Let’s hope we don’t have too many windy days to rid us of a few more. It would be a shame to lose them when we seem to be in the lead with something. 

From some very old trees to some of the latest technology: I’ve been reading about something called a mobile wallet project. It’s all to do with advertising and making you spend money. Whenever I go on Facebook or check my email I am bombarded by adverts which are “personalised” to me. They sneak into what you are talking about and up pop adverts for products related to those topics. And then there are particular retailers whose mailing list I am on so that they send me special offers. My husband gets quite annoyed about this but I don’t mind it. 

Now, this mobile wallet project, being “managed” by a company called Weve is an extension of both of those things. It’s basically an app (there’s a lovely modern term for us!!!) on your phone so that you can receive notice of special offers as you walk past shops. The idea is that you then go into the store concerned, select the item in your size, scan the barcode and pay by putting your mobile phone on an Oyster-card style reader which takes the money from your ban account. It sounds terrifying!!! 

 Presumably you sign up for stores you are interested in, rather like having their loyalty cards. They expect the app with the capacity for dozens of loyalty cards to be ready by the end of the year and payment mechanisms will follow shortly. Brave New World, here we come! Big Brother will make you spend your money in new and interesting ways! 

All this is being publicised by the chief executive of Weve, a chap by the name of David Sear, who describes himself by saying, “My background is in disruption”. What precisely does that mean? And do we really want our lives to be disrupted in this way?