Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Looking for art.

I was listening today to Grayson Perry giving the Reith Lectures on BBC i-player. The wonders of modern technology! Grayson Perry was apparently dressed up as his alter ego, Claire, who he declares is not a work of art. I know this because his attire was described by presenter Sue Lawley. She asked him whether he regarded Claire as art and he denied it. So there it is. He was talking at length about what makes something into art. Very thought provoking. 

I wonder what he makes of vampire and zombie movies. I mention this because we went for a walk on Monday and found our way partially blocked by the paraphernalia for filming. We spoke to a friend who lives close to the filming site and he told us that they were filming part of a vampire series. I find it hard to understand why so many vampire and zombie movies and TV series are being made at the moment. But then, I am not a teenage girl. 

Among other things Grayson Perry talked about a film made by Werner Herzog about a cave in the South of France full of prehistoric art. The film’s title is “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams”. What a wonderful title. This is the second delightful title I have come across in the last few days. The other belongs to a poem by Australian poet Les Murray. It’s title: “The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever”. Another dream but calling up a completely different set of images. 

I had to read the poem for a meeting of Stanza, the poetry society which meets at the Station Buffet on Stalybridge railway station. It meets on the last Tuesday of every month and this is the first one I have been able to go to for a good while. This is what happens when you go off to spend the summer in sunnier climes. We had a good meeting with somewhere between fifteen and twenty people attending. 

The Station Buffet there is an amazing place, an old-fashioned real ale pub decorated with old railway signs and photos of all sorts of things such as visits by members of the royal family. I have spent quite a lot of time there recently, waiting for a train to take the grandchildren home after school. They make a mean bacon sandwich, as my youngest grandchild would be able to tell you. 

Last night the Station Buffet was also hosting a knitting circle: half a dozen ladies sitting there chatting and clacking their needles. They meet there every week apparently. As a knitter I suppose I could join them and spend even more time in the buffet. 

As we left at the end of the evening I noticed one of the staff toasting crumpets over the roaring coal fire in the main bar. A grand old English tradition being continued in a grand old English institution! 

Is it art?

Monday, 28 October 2013


I look out of the window to find that the rain has stopped, albeit briefly, and notice the downstairs neighbour (the house next door is divided into a house and a basement flat) outside in the garden, huddled in her dressing gown smoking her morning cigarette. Her rental contract states that it is a no-smoking flat and so she goes to smoke at the bottom of the garden, allowing her little dog to do his doggy business at the same time. Today, as well as picking up the doggy business in little plastic bags, she also inspects the garden for storm damage. 

We have none. The storm has been fierce down in the south and east of the country. It is likely our son has arrived late at work in central London as he is at the end of the Metropolitan Line which I read has been closed for a while to remove fallen trees from the line. And the papers are full of pictures of huge waves, 

trees on railway lines 

and cars squashed by fallen trees. 

For once we are fortunate enough just to have heavy rain and a bit of strong wind. Maybe the fallen trees will come later.

Over the weekend I’ve read the papers. It’s only on Saturday and Sunday that I read the papers properly. If I did more than skim headlines and select articles online the rest of the week I’d never do anything else but read newspapers. 

In The Observer Magazine I found an article about ladies in Qatar who insist that traditional Muslim dress is no more than a fashion statement. The “abaya” (cloak), “niqab” (face veil), “burqa” (whole body covering) and “hijab” (head and shoulder scarf) are all items of clothing which can be personalised and given a touch of “bling” to be made into an expression a woman’s personal fashion preferences. 

Yes, I imagine that is the case. And yet in Oldham and Manchester, where you see a fair number of women in traditional Muslim dress, I’ve never seen anyone dressed like this. And I’ve yet to notice such high fashion footwear under the traditional dress either. However, it may be that younger women here will also want to personalise their dress in that way. 

 The trouble really lies in the places where the traditional dress is not just a question of choice and fashion but is obligatory and inspected. And where women have to break the law to try to assert their rights at all. And so today I have read about women in Saudi Arabia protesting by driving cars around and being arrested for it. There is no specific law against women driving. They just can’t apply for driving licenses. So they’ve taken to the streets in their cars once again. 

The whole question of women’s image in the media, in the music business and in life in general has been in the news again. There’s Sinead O’Connor giving young Miley Cyrus advice on not letting herself be forced to “sex up” her act in order to make career progress. I’m not sure how much the young lady will listen. I’ve stopped watching music videos because it doesn’t seem possible to record one without making it almost pornographic, no matter what the song is about. Maybe I’m growing old and grumpy. 

But it’s not just me. I read an edited extract from a speech made by actress (no, I won’t call her an actor) Natasha McElhone to the Wired 2013 conference in London recently. She bemoaned the state of equality in the world, principally from the women’s point of view but also expressing concern at the condescending attitude that still exists towards full-time fathers. She commented on mothers at the school gate telling her that education is less important for daughters than it is for sons. Really? This is 2013, isn’t it? It’s not 1913? And then there are the Kinder Surprise eggs that come in blue wrappers for boys and pink wrappers for girls!! 

As regards the reporting of events and interviewing famous people she had this to say: 

 “If I were a journalist, I would ask every man I interviewed if he was worried about his hair loss, his weight, how he managed his work/home balance, what his neuroses were – and skip over the content of what he actually did. And I would ask all my female interviewees about their aspirations, their favourite music, the biggest influences in their lives. I would – yes I know I would be fired – but I would neglect to mention her physical appearance. Just until the tide turned a bit.” 

Maybe all interviewers should listen to what she has to say.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

In search of fish and chips.

In line with meteorological predictions yesterday began wet and rainy. When I went out at the crack of dawn to take the grandchildren to school I did not hold out great hopes for our proposed quest to walk to Diggle Chippy later in the day with my brother-in-law. However, by the time he arrived the rain had stopped, amazingly! What’s more, he assured us that the latest forecast said it was going to improve even further. 

So we set off in the late morning but, in view of the amount of rain that had fallen, we decided against going up hill, over fields and along bridle paths. Instead we went up the road not far from our house, over the hill and eventually onto the sweetly named Sugar Lane to take us down into Diggle. 

En route, we admired the autumn colours in the trees and trudged through piles of fallen leaves, so many that we wondered that there were any left on the trees. Surprisingly large amounts but if the promised wind and storms come this weekend I doubt they will last long. 

 Diggle is one of those ribbon-development villages, originally little more than a row of houses alongside the road, almost all serving to house workers at the local mill. The mill has disappeared but there are still some old industrial buildings in operation. Nowadays housing estates have been built behind the main road but it remains a village without a true centre, more a kind of stop along the way over towards Huddersfield. 

At the end of the village stands Diggle Chippy. If you were to apply for planning permission now, explaining that you intended to put up a kind of prefabricated shed and turn it into a fish and chip shop, I doubt if it would be granted. And yet, there it stands. And it has been there for quite a while. 

We were a little concerned that we might arrive to find it closed as the last time we did this we arrived just on the last minute and they had run out of fish. We were obliged to make do with their home-made pies and pasties. Such hardship! However, on this occasion they were still open and we were able to buy our fish and chips, along with cans of traditional dandelion and burdock and cups of tea to wash it all down with. 

Inside, the walls are decorated with photos of Diggle in times past, class photos from the local primary school back in the fifties, pictures of the Whit walks, train crashes and goodness knows what else. A mini-museum in a converted garage. And the chipshop lady fills you in on historic details!

 As usual, we ate al fresco, heading for a nearby duck pond with a picnic area. The fish and chips were excellent as usual. Here is a link to some very favourable reviews of the establishment.

Suitably refreshed, we continued our walk along the canal towpath, taking us past fields that have been converted into riding schools and meeting friendly horses along our way. 

Inevitably the route went past numerous lock gates and places where the water is wider, presumably to allow crossing in the past but now also used as turning circles for pleasure trips along the canal. Here and there it goes through tunnels and you also see reminders of the canal’s former use for transportation: bits of our industrial past. 

And so we made our way homewards, a leisurely stroll for my husband and his brother, reminiscing about this and that. I, on the other hand, had to step up the pace so that I could get home and leap in the car to go and collect the small people from school. Just in time. 

 Such is the life of a busy grandmother!

Thursday, 24 October 2013


Today was one of those autumn days that are almost perfect. After the early morning low cloud shifted we had blue sky and sunshine with a bit of wind, perfect for being out and about. So in our neck of the woods people got a load of washing done and hung it out, started raking leaves and sorting out the garden: autumn activities. 

I was up at the crack of dawn again but this time I had my daughter’s car to drive about in. So I took the small people to school, stopped at the supermarket on my way back and was home before 9.30. Since I was up already I changed into my running gear and took advantage of the fine weather. Tomorrow has rain forecast so I had to grasp the opportunity. By 10.30 I was home once more, showered and into a second breakfast, the first having been little more than half a cup of coffee at 6.30. Almost a whole day’s activity and it was only half way through the morning. 

In Oviedo, Prince Felipe and his good lady Letizia were not so lucky weatherwise. They arrived there ready for presenting the Principe de Asturias prizes tomorrow and had to use a big black umbrella to protect themselves from the rain. 

However, I mustn’t gloat. We are forecast nasty weather for tomorrow. This is almost inevitable because my brother-in-law has made plans to come and visit us. He does this from time to time and we usually stomp off across the hills and end up at Diggle Chippy, one of the best fish and chip emporiums in the area. I suspect that tomorrow we may need to drive there to pick up lunch and that will be that. Still, the weathermen may be wrong. It does happen occasionally. 

 Many areas of Galicia are also promised bad weather tomorrow. Yellow alerts are in operation so maybe it’s just as well we’ve not managed to organise out travel to get over there for the half term holiday. 

Here I find myself going past shops wishing people a “Happy Hallowe’en”. When did this become the kind of festivity where you wish people a happy time? I thought the modern version was just a chance for children to get dressed up and go round pestering people for sweets. And I’ve already seen some houses decorated with pumpkins, presumably to keep the evil spirits at bay. Oh, and I keep coming across children in fancy dress. And it’s not Hallowe’en for a week. 

That’s not all. Christmas is rushing up to us. I found this photo in one of the newspapers online. This is Selfridges on Oxford Street in London. 

What can I say? How soon will I see the first Christmas tree? The first house lit up with fairy lights and model Santas?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Rain. Foxes. Colour co-ordination.

I thought we were having a lot of rain and then I saw photos yesterday of floods in parts of Galicia and realised that we were getting off quite lightly. We have had rather a lot of the wet stuff though. 

I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn to make my way to my daughter’s house and take her offspring to school. Usually it’s raining when I set off from home but by the time I have to do the long walk from their school to the railway station it’s been fine and I’ve managed not to get soaked. Sometimes it just works out. 

 Today I didn’t need to get up at the crack of dawn for one reason and another so I slept a little longer and got up in time to do my usual Wednesday morning run from home to Uppermill where there is a market. There I buy fresh fish from the fish van and various other odds and ends and then catch the bus back home. It was barely raining when I set off but by the time I was halfway to Uppermill it was turning a little torrential. Good job I had my waterproof jacket on! But I was still rather wet. 

Fortunately I did not have to wait too long for the bus. In fact, I barely had time to snatch my change from the hand of the man on the cheese and biscuit stall before leaping onto the bus which I had not expected for another 10 minutes. Either it was very early or it was the previous bus arriving amazingly late! Somehow I suspect the latter. Anyway, I was relieved not to have to wait around in rather damp running gear. 

The day got better later, just as the weathermen had predicted. 

Last night I saw a TV programme about urban foxes. I haven’t seen any around here for ages. Time was I used to see them crossing the by-pass when I was returning from late meetings. Nowadays I don’t do those late evening drives and so I don’t get to see the foxes. In some parts of the country, however, it seems that foxes are causing havoc. Not just attacking farmers’ chickens either. They have learnt to scavenge from dustbins in the suburbs of many cities. Maybe the programme should have been called Suburban Foxes. 

Then the problem has been exacerbated by people who think they are cute and pretty. These people put food out for them, some of them spending large amounts of money on cat food and dogwood for them. One chap was even able to call the fox to come and get her evening meal. Another couple had a cctv set-up which filmed what was going on in their garden and spent hours watching it. Seriously! They should get out more, obviously. Not everyone was happy to have them around. 

Some people employed professional pest-removers to shoot them and take them away. One woman, disgusted by the smell, waited up, unsuccessfully, camped in her garden with a big stick to knock out the fox which was using her lawn as a toilet. When that failed she agreed to let the programme makers put motion-sensitive cameras in her garden. The resulting film revealed not a fox but a large ginger cat using the lawn to leave his calling card. I always thought cats buried their leavings but this one left it splat in the middle of the lawn ... in several different places. This is what the lady could smell when she opened her door. I can vouch for the nastiness of that, having had a cat use our sandpit for a litter tray years ago when our kids were small. 

And then there are the cat-flaps. There have been reports of houses invaded by foxes who get in through the cat-flap. How disgusting is that?! Of course, in a society where the majority of people live in flats and cats are kept indoors this sort of thing could not happen. Maybe the Spanish have got it right. 

Here’s another bit of news. Little Prince George has been christened today. I suppose it had to happen. He is, after all, going to be head of the Church of England one day. So here is a picture of mother and baby co-ordination. I know some people regard their babies as accessories but this kind of colour-matching is a little over the top. 

And as if that’s not enough. the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have got in on the co-ordinated act. 

Mind you, it doesn’t seem to have rained on them.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Running around again.

Last week notices started appearing on lamp posts on our street: CAUTION RUNNERS. We wondered briefly what “caution runners” were. Could they be like the people you see in American films who hand-deliver subpoenas to ensure that they are actually received? When someone has received a caution form the police, does a runner take a notice of this to them? Of course, we were just playing around with language again. A couple of exclamation marks would have done it: CAUTION! RUNNERS! And, of course, we knew exactly what was going on, especially as it had a date underneath it: today’s date. 

So when I ran the long way into the village this morning – my usual Sunday morning routine to buy the newspaper and get some exercise into the bargain – I wasn’t surprised to see race marshals along the road as I approached the crossroads. There was a half marathon going on but none of the runners had arrived yet. 

And then I realised that I knew one of the marshals, someone who used to work with Phil long ago and whose son was for a while a close friend of our son, as well being a Doctor Who fan and a computer games fanatic. Small world syndrome strikes again! So I stopped to say hello and catch up on bits of family news. Both our sons work in London (Small world syndrome strikes again!) but haven’t been in touch really since they left school. At that point the runners started to arrive so we cut short our chat and I went on my way. 

My exercise routine, in fact my routine as a whole, has been disrupted by grandparental duties over the last couple of weeks and will continue to be so for a fair few weeks yet. Our daughter is doing a teaching practice placement at the junior school she herself attended (Small world syndrome strikes again!) and needs me to collect the small people form their school This is more complicated than it need be because her car was smashed into by a loony boy racer several weeks ago. As she still does not have her own car, which I am insured to drive, but is driving a courtesy car, which I could drive if I opted to pay at least £5 a day to cover the insurance, I am using public transport once again. 

 This is not usually a problem. I get my exercise by walking up to their school form the train station and then walking them back down again to catch the train home. On Friday, however, I needed to get home quickly and wanted to be sure of catching the early train, which we frequently miss because of tired-leg syndrome. So I booked a taxi to collect us. I thought I had booked it in plenty of time. What I hadn’t taken into account was that it was about to start raining. Strictly speaking this should not have made any difference but apparently it did. 

Taxi time arrived and I stood outside the school with two children. No taxi. Five minutes later I called the taxi firm again. They checked their system: yes, the taxi should be there in five minutes. Five minutes later I received a text message: Your taxi has been dispatched. It even told me the registration number of the taxi. Five minutes later I called the taxi firm again and was sent directly to a recorded message telling me that the taxi would be there within 6 minutes. I repeated this a couple of times, trying to get through to a human being so that I could have a little rant about the fact that I was going to miss my train!!! 

Eventually, two minutes after the train had gone, the taxi arrived. Because of the rain there was a big demand for taxis and he had taken on another job just before mine. So much for booking in advance. If it had not been raining so hard I would have marched the small people down to the station anyway. As it was I had my little rant and then negotiated a reduced price for taking us all the way to the small people’s home as our next train would not be for another 50 minutes. I was not impressed!!! 

Travel seems to be difficult at the moment. Last week I got onto a train to bring me back from Manchester. This was better option that the tram because I would have a short walk home from the train station through pleasant surroundings whereas I would have longish wait for a connecting bus form the tram stop in less pleasant surroundings. I sat on the train, together with a whole bunch of people, but the train didn’t set off. 

Eventually there was an announcement: the train was cancelled because they had not been able to find a guard/ticket inspector to travel on it! Now, I know the employment situation here is better than in Spain but there are still people looking for work. So why is Transport for Greater Manchester unable to find a guard to ensure that my train runs? So I had to catch the tram after all and wait in insalubrious surroundings for my connecting bus. At least I hadn’t paid for my ticket. My old biddy bus pass lets me travel free. But I hope all those who had paid for their tickets and who didn’t want to wait an hour for the next train were able to get a refund! 

Once again, not impressed! Surely things can only get better!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Speaking in tongues.

I’ve been having some ongoing correspondence about language teaching and learning with a former student of mine, currently teaching English in a school in Madrid, He’s one of those who defied his genetic background (from an ordinary family in the north west of England) and survived the apparently terrible teaching in state schools to go on and study Spanish and French at one of the old traditional universities. He sent me this link to a rather depressing articles about the state of language study in the UK. 

One of our government’s suggestions for improving the situation is the introduction of language learning in primary schools. They seem to have been talking about this for years and years but always as though this were a new and revolutionary idea. Back in the 1970s when I started teaching in a secondary school all our first year classes (what they now call Year 7 – in other words 11-12 year olds) had a handful of children who had learnt some French in primary school When I say a handful, I mean only two or three per class. Maybe it was something to do with the streaming system in my school but they didn’t manage to put all those children in one class so that they could progress from what they already knew. Neither had all the children from those primary schools offering French all gone to the same secondary school. That would have been too simple. No, instead there were these little groups of children in schools all over the borough who were having to go back to square one and start afresh. Of course, if you did the job properly you made use of those children so that the others could learn from them as well. And amazingly they did learn. Three years on from that starting point a large number of them had a reasonable understanding of the most useful tenses. They learnt the grammar, you see, and they had fun doing it. Here’s a link, courtesy of my former student, to another article, this time about how poorly prepared students are when they move from secondary school language classes to sixth form.

As to the effectiveness of such a change now, well, I have my doubts. From what I hear about languages in state primary schools at the moment, it seems to be the responsibility of a teacher who did GCSE in a foreign language some years ago and has been sent on a refresher course if he/she is very lucky. Those who have the language skills are not trained primary teachers. Still no joined-up thinking! 

Just in case anyone thinks I believe the situation is really much better in Spain, where people tell you they are hopeless at learning languages, here’s a link to something I found in La Voz de Galicia, where a team went out on the street asking people how well they spoke English.  I especially like the identification of a picture of “soup” as “soap”. This is probably not a vocabulary problem but a pronunciation problem as many Spaniards pronounce “ou” as “oh” rather than “oo”. A common error, possibly the result of not reading aloud often enough – see the comments on that in the “tip of the iceberg” article linked above. 

Ah, well, that’s enough of that. Rant over for now.

Here’s another cultural difference. We have been collecting conkers (horse chestnuts) and passing them on to the grandchildren. Not that they can actually play conkers at school any longer. The activity of hanging a conker from a string – after first going through various rituals to harden it as much as possible – and then trying to smash your friends’ conkers with it has been deemed too dangerous for modern school playgrounds. Children still knock unripe conkers down from the chestnut trees and our grandchildren are very grateful for the specimens we have found for them. However, no-one really knows what to do with them after that. My daughter tells me that if you place them strategically around your house they can deter spiders from entering. That sounds a bit like hanging up garlic to protect the house form vampires, if you ask me. 

In the north of Spain, instead of battering each others’ chestnuts they roast them and eat them. It’s considered important enough for there to be a fiesta related to it, called “magosto” in Galicia and “castanyada” in Cataluña. Schools close early for the fiesta and the children get to eat roast chestnuts in the school yard. Here’s a link to a song all about it, in Gallego of course! 

If you manage to learn a foreign language, you get to participate in all this fun cultural stuff. It’s worth the effort.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Credit where it’s due.

The Guardian newspaper and the British Academy are making an award: the Public Language Champion Award. 

It’s all about the commitment and passion shown by a public figure for the importance of language to British society. 

It’s also part of the newspaper’s language learning series, a campaign to open up a debate on language learning. 

A range of people have been nominated, including comedians who do their act in French, for example. Here’s a link to the article which tells you who has been nominated and lets you vote for them.  

What an excellent idea! At a time when language learning is on the decline in the country, it’s good to see someone trying to promote it. Numbers of sixth form students opting to study the traditional French, Spanish or German are down. Part of this is because these are hard A Levels and students are afraid of not getting the points they need to earn a place at university. Or, more worryingly, they are advised against taking a language at A Level for that same reason. 

Another factor is the preparation they get earlier in their education. I read recently that someone in government said the numbers taking GCSE in Modern Languages were going up. Unfortunately, everyone I know still teaching at sixth form level tells me that the new style GCSE means that students turn up even more poorly prepared than ever to study at a higher level. 

Add to that the fact that many universities are closing down or severely reducing their provision of degree courses in Modern Languages and that the cost of studying is going up and up and you can see why I am more than a little concerned. Pretty soon the ability to speak a foreign language anything like fluently will be the preserve of a wealthy elite. 

But that’s ok because this weekend I have read that one of Education Minister Gove’s advisers has made a statement that success in education depends more on genetics than on the quality of teaching and that, in any case, most of the teaching in most of the wealthy countries of the world is mediocre to say the least. So in one fell swoop he denigrates the work of masses of dedicated teachers all over the place and dashes lots of people’s hopes of advancement. 

And then I came across something in today’s Guardian that upset me some more about language and education and goodness knows what else. In their Fashion Blog online the writer was talking attitudes to and the reporting of what stars wear on the red carpet when they accept awards and said this: “I fear that would make my colleagues and I little more than leering middle-aged men in bad suits”. What the attitudes are doesn’t matter at all at the moment. What shocked me was that “my colleagues and I” overcorrection. 

 I have slowly and grudgingly almost come to accept people saying things like “me and friends are going to the pictures” - but only almost. (I still correct my granddaughter on the grounds that she needs to know it’s not correct and at some point she might need to impress someone with her immaculate grammar.) But when I hear “between you and I” or “please do this for Mary and I” or “that would make my colleagues and I look like ...”, well, I see red. Probably red pen putting big red circle round the offending poor grammar. And whether you write about politics or fashion, if you write for a reputable newspaper you should be able to write correctly. 

It’s not too hard! 

Rant over! Bring on the language awards!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Food for thought

Yesterday was grey. One of those days when it never seems to get properly light. Come to that, today has not been a great deal better. Anyway, back to yesterday: the smaller two grandchildren came for the day. Their mother was having her hair done. Quite why that should take all day is another matter altogether which will not be investigated at the moment. 

Among other things, we baked. Apple pie – because I had bought baking apples at the market the other day – and sponge cake. Baking is quite a good activity on a dull day and we certainly weren’t getting out to the park to play football. 

 I was wondering why it is that whenever they want to raise money for some charitable cause such as Macmillan Cancer Support people are encouraged to organise a cake sale. My daughter does it at least once a year at her school and they make quite a lot of money. And yet it seems strange that in order to raise money for something health related you should bake cakes and encourage people to eat more than they need. 

 Maybe it’s part of a national obsession with baking. It used to be just cooking in general but now it seems to have moved on to baking, and baking cakes in particular, with competitive TV programmes like the National Bake Off. Now, I like to cook and I like to bake. I happily peruse cookery books and collect recipes from the weekend newspaper supplements but I can’t say I have ever really enjoyed watching other people do it. Sometimes it seems as though, like knitting, it’s just been rediscovered and lots of people want to show off their new-found skills. 

And then there are the weird hybrid cakes and pastries that are around nowadays. Ordinary terminology has changed too. Biscuits have all become cookies, little buns are called cupcakes or muffins (which are small, soft bread rolls in our part of the UK), some small cakes are called brownies and pies seem to have changed into tarts. I suspect a certain transatlantic influence. But the hybrids are the really interesting names. Here we go: 

 the crookie is a cross between a croissant and a cookie, made by stuffing croissant dough with crushed Oreos and originating in a place called Clafouti Patisserie and Cafe in Toronto; 

a townie is a mixture of brownie and tart; 

the brookster comes from New York and is a mix of brownie, cookie and tart; 

the cronut is croissant and doughnut cross. 

Who knew little cakes could have so many odd names? The cronut is also known as a doissant or a doughssant! And in the UK, our very own Greggs bakeries have their own version: the Greggsnut. 

The original cronut, however, was invented in a bakery in New York. On day one they made 50 and sold out very quickly. By day three they had sold out of the 200 they made by 9,30 am. Not only that but there was an online trade established whereby these delicacies which sold for $5 at the bakery were being resold over the internet for $25. 

 It’s amazing the ways people find to make money. I see it all over the place. On Facebook I have come across a number of people selling crocheted blankets made from the kind of squares I use to teach schoolkids to make. They also sell basic knitted toys, the kind my sisters and I used to make for my mother to sell at the church Christmas Fayre – spelt the traditional way inline with the resurrection of traditional craft skills. 

I should jump on the bandwagon. Maybe I could make a fortune!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Into Manchester

Today I went into Manchester as planned to meet some friends for lunch. It was a just a chance to catch up with old gossip and find out what everyone had been up to. And the venue was just one of a chain of supposedly French restaurants. At least the menus were in French and some of the staff were French. Otherwise it was a fairly typical central Manchester eaterie. We had a good time. 

I like Manchester city centre with its mix of old and new buildings. A Spanish friend once criticised it to me for that very mix, saying that it was wrong to jumble the architectural styles that way but for me it works. And besides, unlike Spanish cities, Manchester doesn’t have a well preserved old quarter but it does have some fine old buildings. So today I took the time to take a few more pictures. 
Tucked between Saint Ann’s Square, one of the nicest squares you could wish for, and Deansgate, one of the main thoroughfares and shopping streets, is the Barton Arcade, a Grade II listed building since 1972. It was built in 1871, a fine example of a Victorian shopping arcade, all glass and wrought iron. It has been described as “the best example of this type of glass and iron shopping arcade in the country”. How about that?! 
I like its exterior with all the fancy detail and the interior with its glass roof and sweeping galleries. 

It’s a pity that the shops inside it are not more interesting but I suppose you can’t have everything. Sadly, for many people it’s just a short cut from St Ann’s Square to Deansgate. They should stop and admire. Like much of Manchester, if you don’t look up as you walk around you could miss it altogether. Bits of beauty everywhere!  

Market Street is a place I once drove down in the wrong direction on a Sunday morning long ago, wondering why the few cars I came across were pipping and the drivers waving. I was a relatively new driver and rather confused but it was Sunday morning. On any other day of the week it would have been too busy for me to make that mistake. Anyway, it has been pedestrianised now for more years than I care to remember. And like such streets everywhere it has its share of buskers (not yet being chased away or fined as far as I can tell), human statues and, of course, beggars. Each beggar, of course, comes with a dog. It’s almost obligatory. So here is one of them. Except that if you look closely you can see that this dog is made of sand. It’s a sand sculpture and not a bad one. 
There’s nothing like a bit of imaginative begging!

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Running around.

The promised cold spell got off to a good start this morning. It was more than a little cold when I went out for a run first thing. Later it got a little less cold but still chilly. However, it was bright and clear: blue sky and sunshine mostly, although the wind did keep the clouds moving. Autumn is coming along nicely. The predominant colour today was red, with a bit of orange and yellow, as these photos show. 

Out running you get to meet some interesting people or at least get into conversation. As I fastened my laces before setting off running, a workman going past congratulated me on my keep fit project. He went on to tell me about the Alexandra Park Run. Apparently there is a timed 5k run every Saturday morning at 9 o’ clock around one of Oldham’s parks. How good is that for promoting sport? This kind of conversation pops up all the time. 

  It’s just as well I go out running as I have managed to go out to lunch twice this week in Manchester, or I will have when tomorrow is over. On Monday I went out with an old friend to a place called “The Alchemist”, quite a nice restaurant rather pretentiously decorated with old, or would-be old-looking, alchemical equipment. 

 Tomorrow I am meeting some more old friends in central Manchester. We have made complicated arrangements to get one of the group into the centre as she has mobility problems and can’t manage to walk from the station any longer. She has been waiting for a hip replacement operation for longer than she really should. Something is wrong with our health system. 

Meanwhile in Madrid they are having a clamp down on what goes on in the streets. Buskers may well be fined as might people who set up camp in the middle of big squares to protest about things. This is a new anti-social behaviour law which will target almost anything from including being careless with pot plants on a balcony or for using a park bench for – perish the thought – “something other than sitting”. Maybe there will be a way to escape being dripped on from careless watering of balcony plants after all. 

I especially like the fact that this is an updating of a law from 1948, the ‘Policing and Good Government law’ which banned just about everything in Madrid from blasphemy (intriguingly defined in the legislation as ‘particularly forbidden’) to woodchopping in public and keeping poultry. 

Interesting stuff!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Stuff going on.

In Fuengirola, a place once referred to as Finger-Earhole by a lady who came to a Spanish conversation class I taught, they are soon going to celebrate the Fiesta de Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Esperanza Oña, mayor of that Andalusian town, has declared that the only music to be played during the fiesta has to be flamenco. Who knew that the Virgin was a flamenco music enthusiast? 

 There are some odd things going on in the world. A couple from Seville, Ana and Sergio, lost their dog while on holiday in Galicia. Thanks to some pictures they managed to have published in the paper the lost dog was identified in Cangas, just across the bay from Vigo. So they travelled back to Galicia to reclaim their dog. Sergio was a little miffed when the dog ran straight past him to go and greet Ana but he soon got over it. A happy reunion story! 

Spanish women in Madrid staged a protest in the Cortes, the Spanish houses of parliament. They were protesting about proposed restrictive changes to the abortion law in Spain. How did they stage their protest? By taking their clothes off. It’s one way of getting yourself noticed. 

Still in Spain, a group of 29 tourists were left behind in Malaga airport. They had tickets for an Easyjet flight to Bristol. Their luggage was on the plane. Their boarding cards had been checked. They were on their way to board the plane along with all the other passengers. Suddenly a security person stopped them and pulled a barrier tape across their path. Being mostly British, they supposed this to be something official and waited patiently. Then one of them noticed that the plane had taken off without them. No-one noticed they weren’t on board. How odd is that? It couldn’t happen on a Ryanair flight; they’re all to busy telling you to stow your luggage and sit down as the flight is fully booked, if not overbooked. Actually, I suppose it could happen on a Ryanair flight. But no-one knows how it actually happened. 

Meanwhile, back in the UK, there is great concern because English 18-25 year olds have been rated 21st out of probably 22 on literacy and numeracy. Is this a consequence of years and years of tinkering with the system, introducing a “national curriculum” and then changing it every so often? Just what is going on? No doubt our leaders will blame this on the previous government’s way of doing things. 

And on top of everything else, the weathermen promise us an approaching cold spell. Whatever next?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

A life full of adventure.

Last year at about this time we had a letter from our GP telling us that we were entitled to a free flu vaccination: one of the perks of being old fogies! So we went along to the local surgery and found a queue that went half way down the road. It was raining. We abandoned the idea of a flue vaccination. This year we had the same letter but the jab was not available at our immediately local surgery. We had to go all the way to Uppermill, about three or four miles away. Such hardship! So after the rain stopped on Friday we combined a visit to the doctor’s with a walk, taking our kindles along so that we had reading matter if the wait proved to be long. In the event, we waited about 10 minutes and were summoned to the nurse’s room, jabbed and sent on our way: a veritable production line. Since then Phil has been sneezing and snuffling. Did they inject him with actual flu and not just whatever mild version it is they vaccinate you with? 

Yesterday I went off on a trip to Holmfirth with my daughter and the grandchildren. Holmfirth, or the centre of the place at any rate, is a picture postcard Pennine village with stone buildings and winding streets full of tat shops (aka antique shops), fancy bakeries and twee boutiques. It really is very pretty. It’s the place they chose to film the old TV series, last of the summer wine and on the outskirts has a fish and chips emporium known as Compo’s Cafe, named after one of the three retired gents who behave like naughty schoolboys in the aforementioned TV series. 

 The purpose of the visit was mainly so that I could visit the wool shop there. I have a knitting project in mind and wool shops are a dying breed in the UK, few and far between, even harder to find than proper greengrocer’s and ironmonger’s/hardware shops. As for fabric shops and haberdasher’s, well, don’t get me started! All of these things still exist in Galicia. For how long remains to be seen but for the time being they are still around and seem to be doing all right. Anyway, we found the wool shop I was looking for, still in the same place as when I last visited it, some ten years ago. 

Now, I have always knitted ever since I was about eight years old but I have never regarded it as a spectator sport. Norwegian national broadcaster NRK is apparently going to air "National Knitting Night" next month, in which competitors will attempt to break the world record for producing a sweater, from shearing a sheep to final stitches. It would seem that the show is part of the country's "Slow TV" phenomenon, which has previously included a leisurely multi-day cruise through the fjords, and 10 hours' coverage of a train journey between Oslo and Bergen. The most controversial show so far has been "National Firewood Night", which featured showing wood being chopped and then eight hours of a fireplace burning the logs. I will never again complain about British or Spanish television. 

 Anyway, after I had bought my wool, we strolled about Holmfirth for a while, admiring the tat in the antiques shops and wondering who bought huge metal giraffes and suits of armour, until the grandchildren declared that they were STARVING!!! They eschewed the offerings of the fancy cake shops and said that they wanted to visit Compo’s Cafe – see above. So we went and bought portions of sausage and chips and rag pudding and chips. For those who have never heard of this latter dish and wonder at the idea of a dish made of rags, here is a description: 

Rag pudding is a savoury dish consisting of minced meat and onions wrapped in a suet pastry which is then cooked in a cheesecloth. The dish was invented in the 19th century in the Lancashire mill town of Oldham, a centre of England's cotton industry. Rag Pudding pre-dates ceramic basins and plastic boiling bags in cookery, and so the cotton or muslin rag cloths common in Oldham were used in the dish's preparation. Rag Pudding is similar in composition and preparation to Steak and kidney pudding, and may be purchased from traditional local butcher's shops in Greater Manchester. 

Personally, I am not a fan but I am just one person. Neither do I enjoy tripe and onions or black pudding but that does not prevent others from relishing these dishes. 

To accompany the food we also purchased cans of cream soda and dandelion and burdock: fizzy drinks from my childhood. And so, having obtained supplies, we set off for Digley reservoir, a local beauty spot where we sat on or near huge boulders to enjoy the fresh air and the food. Grandchild number three manfully made his way through chips covered in curry sauce (aka spicy sludge) and was about to embark on his rag pudding, to me a rather unappetising-looking thing, as I have already said, but he was looking forward to it. At that moment a small amount of chaos ensued. 

A rather inept chap threw his dog’s toy, one of those balls on a string, in such a silly way that it landed in our midst, much to my daughter’s especial annoyance as it struck her on the arm and left dog-slobber on her sleeve. While the rather inept chap apologised at length, his dog, clearly a crafty beast well able to spot an opportunity, ran round the back of the group and wolfed down the rag pudding. The small boy was not best pleased but did eventually see the funny side. 

These are the adventures that can happen in the currently sunny north west of England.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Waiting for the rain

At 8:30 this morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining. It was quite warm, almost hot. I was a little surprised as the weather forecast had not been good. In fact they have promised us torrential rain but that is for later. In fact, though, as the day has gone on the sky has got progressively greyer and greyer. Maybe the weathermen were right. 

I clearly benefitted from the best of the day. I got up and ran to Uppermill, the nearest place to here with a proper greengrocer’s shop. In Vigo they are every hundred yards or so but here they are a dying breed. In the shop I chatted with a lady cyclist I see quite often. She cycles my running route. Later, as I went home on the bus (it’s difficult to jog with a bag containing oranges, grapefruit, plums, a bottle of milk and a loaf!) we overtook her. As the bus got close she moved from the road to the pavement, a wise move as the road is just wide enough for the traffic to get past the parked cars. In general, however, I am opposed to adults cycling on the pavement. This is something I see more and more frequently, in both my places of residence, and it generally causes me to mutter (and occasionally say out loud) comments about the cyclists needing to get off the pedestrian area!! 

On that subject, I read recently that the actress Nicole Kidman was knocked over by a cyclist on the pavement in Manhattan. He was a paparazzo, so eager to capture the star on film that he bowled her over. A nice way of showing your devotion. Although unhurt Ms Kidman did consider bringing charges against the cyclist but changed her mind when the policeman on the scene refused to arrest him. He fined him for riding on the pavement but not for dangerous cycling! “Accidents happen” apparently. But at least he fined him for cycling in the wrong place. That doesn’t seem to happen here. 

Other stars in the news: Mia Farrow has been declaring that her son Ronan could well be Frank Sinatra’s child and not Woody Allen’s, her husband at the time. Are we bothered? Is anyone bothered? Why did she tell the world? Is she trying to upset Woody Allen? Too many questions! 

Spanish art is in the news as well. “Las Meninas”, the painting by Velazquez which shows the artist at work and the king seen taking at look at what is going on, is one of my favourite Spanish paintings. You can see it in the Prado in Madrid. Now it seems that that one may not be the original. A Spanish art expert has said that what was assumed to be a copy in a National Trust property in Dorset is probably the original sketch or trial run by Velazquez himself which was then copied and presumably improved by him before being given to the king of Spain. Goodness me! I wonder if it’s easy to spot the difference. It could be like one of those “los siete errores” games that you find in the newspapers along with the sudoku and crossword. 

And then there’s a chap called Francisco de Pájaro who is going round London making works of art out of rubbish he finds on the street. De Pájaro moved to London to escape the economic crisis in Spain and restrictive laws outlawing street expression. "Painting trash in London is certainly not making me any money but it is great fun," he says. "I don't feel exploited by anyone in this, I can say what I want to and many, many more people are getting to see my work than if I was in a gallery. I thought it was absurd to paint pictures that no one would buy. I began to see that the art market was flocked with vultures and my notion that if I didn't hang in a good gallery, I was a nobody. I turned my thinking on its head and took to the streets." Another Spanish emigrant! 

While I have been typing this, the rain has arrived. What more can I say.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Running around.

After the relative trauma of our return flight to the UK, I have been trying to get myself into my UK routine. This should be easy but this has not proved to be the case between visits to and by the grandchildren and various jobs that need sorting out. There’s the big one: the freezer that has decided to give up the ghost in our absence. Before it can be replaced I have to steel myself to empty it, throw stuff away and clean it up a little. Not a job I relish. 

Then there was the spider in the bath. Not just any old spider but one of those huge ones. Fortunately I have a technique: place a glass over the spider, watch her panic, slide a card under the glass, throw her over the wall into the pub car park next door and hope she doesn’t find her way back. This was a job that had to be done at once or I was going to be unable to shower. 

This task leads me to wonder how it is that I have never seen one of those huge spiders in Galicia. Bats inside a building, yes. Giant spiders, no. Mind you, from the way that one seemed unable to climb out of the bath tub, maybe they would be unable to climb up seven flights to our Vigo flat! 

 I have managed to go out running ... once! On day one I just slept until I woke after arriving home in the small hours of the morning. And then there were loads of things to be done. Day two: I got up and ran and it was fine. Today, day three, I woke up when my alarm rang and promptly re-set it on the grounds that I had been up late the previous night. By the time I got up, running would have set the day back too far and so I made do with my indoor exercise routine. Besides it was raining rather hard! 

 Tomorrow, my daughter will come and collect me at six in the morning so that I can get the grandchildren up and off to school while she goes to spend most of the day at university. Optimistically I will dress in my running gear and hope that the rain keeps off so that I can run from the children’s school to the railway station to catch the train back home for a late breakfast. 

Yesterday, as well as running, I made it into Manchester for my Italian conversation class. Great fun! We were guessing the meaning of new words which have made their way into the big Italian dictionary – the equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary. My favourite was “adultescente”: a term for the 30 – 40 year olds who don’t have jobs, don’t particularly care and still dress, adorn their bodies with tattoos and piercings and go out and get drunk like they did when they really were adolescents. 

Out running, shopping, heading for my daughter’s house or the supermarket or my Italian class I have seen a disturbing number of signs of the imminent arrival of Christmas. The restaurant round the corner is advertising Christmas meals already. After all, you need to book early or all the good slots will be taken and your works do will have to take place in early November or some time in January! 

 And the mince pies have appeared on the supermarket shelves. Surely if you buy them now they will be stale by the Christmas gets here. So you buy them, along with packs of mini-chocolate treats, and eat them from now until December 25th, when they will disappear to be replaced by Easter eggs. So even before Christmas you can start feeling fat! Amazing! 

When I protested that it was too early, my sister informed me that I was protesting too late. Apparently the mince pies have been around for about three weeks, along with Christmas cards in the bigger supermarkets!!