Monday, 30 June 2014

Rules and Regulations.

Bruce Springsteen has apparently said that Suárez was wrong to bite the Italian team member. Biting, declared the Boss, has no part in sport. Well, that should sort it all out then. I am quite relieved to hear that. 

And FIFA have banned him, Suárez, not Springsteen, from playing for four months. The decision means the Liverpool striker, who has also been fined £66,000, will miss the rest of Uruguay’s World Cup campaign and the start of the domestic season. He is banned from Uruguay’s next nine competitive matches in total, and from entering any stadium during this period. 

I wonder what football fans feel about one of their heroes being fined more than some of them earn in several years! Just a thought! 

On the other hand, Diego Maradona doesn't agree with the ban. He likened the "punishment" to sending him to Guantanamo. Rather an odd way of looking at things if you ask me, but I suppose if you are Diego Maradona you might see the world in your own special way. 

And then there are already the "copy cat" bitings! I have seen headlines about a seven year old boy who has bitten a member of the opposing kids' football team! Shock! Horror! So it goes. 

 Laws are funny things, whether they be football's laws or a country's laws. 

 Iceland has strict laws about what children can be called? I read about this in the newspaper. There are so few surnames there that all the numbers in the telephone directory are listed by first names rather than surnames. Mind you, there are few enough people for them to be able to do that. It might not work in other more populated countries. Christian names have to be able to be linguistically declined, Icelandic fashion. Consequently foreign names cannot be accepted, except possibly as second Christian names, because they don't adhere to the linguistic norms. This doesn't affect most people but it made the news because a child called Harriet is having difficulty getting an Icelandic passport. She has one Icelandic and one British parent and has had to get an emergency UK passport in order to go on the family holiday to France as the Icelandic authorities won't accept her name or, indeed, grant her a passport. How very odd! 

It's not as if she had one of the modern, invented names or was called after a London borough or something like that.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Biting stuff.

So Spain’s out of the World up, England’s out of the World Cup and even Italy’s out of the World Cup. A German friend of mine has started rooting for Greece. So is Germany still in or already out? I’m finding it hard to keep up; European teams are disappearing at a fast and furious rate. 

There’s been in depth analysis here about why the English team can’t make it work. Too many youngsters accepted into “football academies” is one suggested reason. Apparently these are not “elite” enough and so budding football stars expect to get away with a lower standard, or something like that. From the discussion of the need for counselling when boys are rejected from these academies or, later, by football clubs, it’s clearly not that they aren’t hungry for success. Who knows? 

And then there’s the biting. I was astounded when I saw film of Luis Suarez sinking his teeth into the shoulder of an Italian player.Perhaps HE was hungry! (There was also footage of Suarez himself holding his mouth as if his teeth hurt. I can’t say I’m surprised!) I admit to not keeping up to date with the doings of football players and so had to be old that this is the third time he’s bitten an opposing player. The THIRD time? I am left speechless! This is nursery school behaviour. In fact the last time I heard of a biting incident was when our daughter was in nursery school and a small boy bit her, embarrassingly the son of a former colleague! Before that it was my elder sister, also in the nursery class, who was the victim. In that case the culprit was taken to the head teacher who bit him to show him what it felt like. You don’t get punishments like that in modern schools! Maybe someone should bite Suarez! 

I suspect that the Spanish royal family might feel like biting someone in sheer frustration today. Just when they’ve managed an abdication and the handover of the crown to a younger king, so far one without a tarnished reputation, along comes a judge saying that the Infanta Cristina can, after all, be called as a witness in the corruption / money laundering / general malpractice case her husband is involved in. It never rains but it pours! 

 Meanwhile back in the north west of England, life goes on through the sunshine and the showers. Out jogging this morning along the local bridle path, I came across two young women pulling up plants. Vandalism? No, a public service! The plants in question were Himalayan Balsam, also known as jewelweed or, around here anyway, policeman’s helmets, because of the shape of the flowers. 

It’s a very pretty flower when in bloom and in some parts of the USA it is sold as an ornamental plant; at least that’s what one website told me. And they can grow to an impressive height. However, it has been added to the Washington State Noxious Weed list due to its invasive nature and in Britain it is considered extremely invasive and is one of the "top 20" non-native weeds. The trouble is that it takes over huge areas, establishes amazing ground cover and prevents anything else from thriving. It’s just a good job that the bluebells bloom before the policeman’s helmets or they would stand no chance at all. 

It has featured in BBC radio nature programmes where its true nature has been revealed. One house owner even found that the value of her house was reduced because of this plant growing in her garden. How weird is that?! There have been campaigns to encourage people to pull it up. These have been going on for some time as I can remember our granddaughter, now almost 17, coming home from primary school all fired up by a talk about how important it was to rid the land of this scourge. 

So that’s what these young women were doing. And they were truly relishing it, delighting in the rather satisfying crunch you hear when you stamp on the stalk, which looks rather like rhubarb, just more watery when crushed. There was a definite air of ridding the area of a serious nuisance. 

Now, I know people in Galicia who regard eucalyptus trees in the same way. Unfortunately for the Galician, they cannot so easily rid themselves of their unwanted horticultural immigrant. 

Personally, though, I feel much more like campaigning against the leylandii trees, also imported and far more ugly and intrusive. But that’s just my opinion!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Text messages, donkeys and summer celebrations!

My phone pinged at 7.30 this morning. As a rule, if that happens it means that my assistance is required: taking a grandchild to the doctor’s, looking after a sick child who is not unwell enough to need to see a doctor, collecting a parcel from somewhere or other, doing some shopping or something of the kind. This was not the case today. Instead there was a message along the lines of, “The sun is shining. The train is about to leave. See you tonight. Maybe watch a movie in bed. XXX.” So who was sending me saucy messages at that quite early hour? My son!!! Obviously the message was meant for the other Mrs Adams. But I was probably the last person he texted yesterday and he clearly didn’t check before pressing send. Now, what was I saying yesterday about witchcraft and the electronic media? 

Eventually I got up and went for my morning run/jog around the village and beyond. Going past the library I noticed that the window was full of donkeys. Something of a surprise! This was the end of the Delph Donkey Scarecrow Trail. Most of the donkeys have disappeared from shop windows now that the Whit Friday festivities are over and done with. The winners, however, continue to be displayed in the library window with awards for artistic merit and the like. I wonder who organises it for there is no official librarian any longer as far as I know, at least not on a whole week basis. Most of the time it is staffed by volunteers, as is happening in many places these days. 

Maybe even that will be unnecessary before long as automation takes over; in the slightly larger library in the rather larger village of Uppermill you can pop your book into a machine which reads its barcode and lets you borrow, renew or return the book, all without the need for human intervention. I wonder if they can programme it eventually to give people suggestions on books they light like to read! 

Well, we’ve passed the longest day now. It’s all downhill towards autumn from now on. Maybe it’s the lack of sunshine today that is provoking gloomy statements. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to sunny days. Over the last week it has been very pleasant and I think we had convinced ourselves that it would last a little longer. But no, today the clouds are back! 

This year we have missed the celebrations of the summer solstice in Galicia. For the last few years we’ve been there for midsummer. Of course, they don’t acknowledge that they’re celebrating the summer solstice. No, it’s the feast of Saint John. However, bonfires are lit all over the place, idiots leap over them and a good time is had by all, eating a lot of sardines and drinking perhaps a little too much. 

Some people try to continue the celebrations into the following morning, as this picture of Vigo’s Samil beach shows. 

And one of my Vigo friends has posted on Facebook that she has washed her face this morning in water in which she soaked the “hierbas de San Juan”, a collection of plants and herbs supposedly guaranteed to give you a wonderful complexion. 

I’m not so sure about that. I think I’ll stick to the lotions and potions sold in Boots.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Bits of beauty, bits of madness!

Here's a definition of Skype, culled from my weekend newspaper reading: "It's like two yoghurt pots joined together with string but using webcams instead of yoghurt pots and witchcraft instead of string." Delightful! We used tin cans when I was a kid, probably because there were no yoghurt pots then. Come to that, I don't actually remember when I first ate yoghurt! But I agree with the witchcraft bit. There is definitely something of the dark arts in the way all things computer and mobile phone related work. I mean, they even get their own back sometimes, "accidentally" sending emails to the wrong people, the very people who were NOT meant to receive them. And the same can happen with text messages. 

Don't get me wrong; I almost never go anywhere without my mobile phone and I am well known for posting photos of wherever I happen to be onto Facebook. That, of course, is in line with the principle that there are bits of beauty everywhere and usually they are worth sharing. 

Out jogging one morning last week, I had reached the point where I go off the bridle path, do a short stretch on a side road and then get back onto the bridle path to head for home. Just as I came out onto the road section, I heard a voice cry out, "Run faster!" Not the usual sort of thing you expect to hear as you run along. Then I spotted the culprit: an old friend in his van. He must have spotted me and slowed down to shout his message of "encouragement". Maybe I could charge him with sexual harassment, well, just plain harassment anyway! 

The harassment thing is very odd. I keep listening to reports of supposed harassment that just sound like casual complements. At what point does telling a woman she looks good in a particular outfit turn into harassment? Maybe it won't be resolved until it becomes the norm for women also to pass casual comments about men's appearance, looks, outfits and general attractiveness as they walk along the street! Gender equality! 

We had some of that gender equality in our garden this weekend. The grandchildren were around again and at one point our grandson, who had been kicking his football around for some time, made a wrong move and kicked the ball over the wall. This might not be a problem for some people but in our case there is a fairly deep drop on the other side of the wall. Our children grew quite skilled at climbing down to retrieve lost objects and now we had to introduce the grandson to this noble art. So, with Grandad's help he scaled the wall and came back with his football ... and the branch of a tree, a rather slender branch but a branch nonetheless. 

Grandad proceeded to show him how to strip off the twiggy bits and whittle the branch down to a smooth piece. This then became a longbow and suddenly the girls were there as well, wanting to join in the activity. A neighbour provided some better string for the bow and, best of all, a proper arrow, with flights and everything. 

This continued into Sunday with further whittling of branches to produce staves and spears, or just whittling for whittling's sake. 

Amazing! Busy children in the open air and not an electronic toy in sight ... apart, that is, from the teenager's mobile phone. 

So, Saturday was archery day in our Delph garden. In the Philippines it was apparently “Go Skateboarding Day” and hundreds of people took to the streets on skateboard. 

Bits of madness everywhere! 

This was confirmed for me when I read this morning about "El Salto del Colacho"' which means the devil's leap. This is the annual baby jumping festival held in the village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos in the north of Spain. Babies are laid on mattresses in the street, blessed by the priest and sprinkled with rose petals. Then people jump over them. This is apparently a way of Celebrating Corpus Christi!!! Whose idea was it? And which mothers are crazy enough to let people leap over their babies, risking having some clumsy fool trip and squash the child? 

The world is an amazing place!

Friday, 20 June 2014

The education rant!

My Spanish sister (well, her passport still says she’s British but she’s lived longer in Spain than she ever did in England so I’m no longer sure) nominated me into a game on Facebook. Unlike the build-your-own-farm type of games which I take no interest in, this one involved posting photos of your childhood, so for once I accepted the invitation. Searching through the photo collection for something relevant, I found a picture of my primary school class: close on 50 children!!! 

 When we started teaching, back in the early 70s, we were busy agitating for the reduction of class sizes to below thirty. We thought we had made progress but class sizes have crept up again. My daughter tells us of primary school classes that she’s come across in the upper thirties. Head teachers manipulate the figures so that their teacher-pupil ratio looks ok but classes still remain large. So, nothing has really changed. 

My fifty-strong class was so large because we were the top class and expected to behave. Our school had four classes in each age group and the less able had smaller groups, more manageable and allowing for more teacher attention. We in the top class were expected to sit still and silent unless answering a question. Art lessons and sewing lessons (yes, sewing lessons; we combined with the class below ours and the boys did woodwork while the girls did sewing) were the only ones that were slightly more relaxed and a modicum of chat was allowed. Astounding! 

The writer Alan Bennett has been joining in the education debate recently, declaring that private education is fundamentally wrong, creating a privileged class to lord it over the rest of us. OK, I’m with him on that; if everyone had to go to state schools you’d soon have pressure groups pushing to improve things. Mind you, there would still be that post-code lottery thing going on and some schools would still achieve more than others but it could be a step in the right direction. 

Mr Bennett also made his opinion plain on university fees. Had he had to pay for his university education, he said, he simply could not have gone. His parents could not have afforded to help him out and he would have had to get a job on leaving school. He’s not the only one. On many occasions we have declared ourselves the fortunate generation (despite my super-size primary school class) because we had a free university education and plenty of jobs to fall into when we graduated. And no-one insisted on teaching us British values! 

Of course, there is a problem at the moment with defining British values. It’s all very fine to say schools should ensure that their pupils adhere to them but everyone has a different idea about them. Talk of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs is bandied about but no-one yet knows how to incorporate this into the national curriculum. And some people are now saying that a concrete definition of “British values” might lead to those of some faiths not being able to be governors of schools. Where does that fit in to tolerance? 

Hugh Muir writing in the Guardian pondered about who would, or indeed should, decide on the definition. Should it really be just one man? Should it be Mr Gove? Hugh Muir wrote, “He (Michael Gove) preached a doctrine of returning schools to local communities, but it apparently never occurred to him that Britons other than those he might encounter at evensong might avail themselves of the opportunity. The contract was signed. Retrospectively he adds the fine print.” 

Hmmm!!!! How much simpler life was back in my huge primary school class!

Thursday, 19 June 2014


So Spain has lost at football (and England might well be losing to Uruguay as I type this) but gained a new king today. 

Prince Felipe became King Felipe in a rather understated ceremony, a sort of austerity signing in. They still had the regulation royal-family-on-the-balcony photo. 

And austerity or no, lots of money was spent on clothes for the ladies involved. A good deal of reporting in La Voz de Galicia went into details of what Letizia (now queen) and Sofía (presumably now queen mother) and even the little princesses Beatriz and Leonor were wearing. The Infanta Cristina, still in disgrace, didn’t get to dress up and attend the ceremony; she had to watch it all on TV. There was even reporting on the behaviour of the little infantas: the older child sat quietly through the speeches and seemed to listen intently while the younger child fidgeted, wriggled and moved around a lot. Someone’s probably tipped the older daughter the wink that she has a good chance of becoming queen one day and needs to learn how to do it. 

We should watch these two in the news over the years to come. If you think about our two princes, William and Harry, the older of the two was always reported as a bit of a goody two shoes while Harry was the one who wore inappropriate fancy dress costumes and was seen to be ogling the bridesmaid’s derrière at his brother’s wedding. We shall see!! 

Back to the football: my nine year old grandson has been telling me about all the brilliant players on the Uruguay team, reassuring me that I shouldn’t be too disappointed if we lose. I must say that I’m not very likely to be disappointed but I haven’t disillusioned him. He enjoys the whole thing so much. As for Spain, well, I just don’t know what happened to the team who won four years ago. Maybe it’s the death of Paul the octopus! 

Life goes on, however, and we still have Ascot. On Tuesday, as I waited for my Italian teacher to arrive for our last class of the year, I half watched on a huge screen in the foyer of the venue in Manchester the arrival of the queen at Ascot in a fancy coach, accompanied by Prince Philip, possibly Prince Charles and certainly Prince William. The commentator was gushing about how nice it was to see the Duke of Edinburg waving his hat around and how lovely it was for the queen to be accompanied by three generations of royal males. It was almost enough to have me out on the streets calling for a referendum on having a republic (forget about one for staying in Europe) as some Spaniards have been calling for!!! 

Calming down a little, here are a few pictures of Ladies’ Day and the hats. 

Some are traditional froth. 

Others clearly get into the spirit of this being about horse racing. 

And others are just plain silly. Well, really they are all silly but some are sillier than others. 

That’s all!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Another Monday.

It seems a long time since Friday. 

Amazingly Friday was mostly bright and fine and sunny, even though it did get a little dull towards the end of the afternoon. I say amazingly because it was Whit Friday, the closest we come to a fiesta around here, which usually means that the weather turns wet and windy, not say bleak and cold at times. 

Whit Friday starts off with Whit Walks, a kind of procession of witness from the churches and Sunday schools, not restricted to this area. I can remember doing this as a child but I’m pretty sure we walked on Whit Sunday not Whit Friday. Decked out in new white pleated skirts, white cardigans and white sandals (the little girls) and crisp white shirts and Sunday best trousers (the little boys), we marched in pairs between ropes of paper flowers, with our little church’s curate at the front and assorted parents bringing up the rear. Somewhere along the way we joined the larger procession from the Mother Church of Saint John, to which we all marched together for the Whit Sunday family service. 

(Our smaller church was the “Daughter Church” of Saint Mary, originating as a Sunday school on the recreation ground and progressing to a temporary church building as the congregation grew along with the housing estates at our end of the town. My sister was the first child christened there and always planned to be the first to be married there. However, church attendance fell off and the temporary building was never replaced by a permanent one. I never found out what happened to the funds we worked so hard to raise! And eventually the temporary building was removed, the land deconsecrated and two houses built in the space left in the road. As for my sister, she was married in Spain and, our little church having disappeared and the vicar of the Mother Church having long since passed away, ended up having to appeal to the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool for certificates of baptism and confirmation so she could be married in the church in Andalucía. I wonder if she would have to do the same nowadays!) 

Anyway, here in Saddleworth the Whit Walks take place on Whit Friday morning, accompanied by the local brass bands and causing mayhem to the public transport system as roads through village centres are closed for at least a couple of hours. I wanted to go to the local Tesco and set off on foot, knowing that I would have trouble catching a bus. 

At 10.30 in the morning there were already people waiting at the side of the road out of Uppermill sitting on folded canvas chairs and equipped with flasks of coffee and sandwiches and goodness knows what other supplies as well. They had a long wait. As I went past the park in the centre of Uppermill, they were gathering the masses (surprisingly numerous masses), groups from the various local churches and brownie packs and so on. A chap with a loud speaker was urging the children to come to the front and get ready for a good sing. But, as yet, there was little sign of movement and I went on my way towards Tesco in nearby Greenfield. 

Coming home, I thought I might be able to walk from Greenfield to Uppermill, pick up a nice loaf from the baker’s and catch a bus the rest of the way home. No chance! There was a police road block preventing traffic from making their way through, the place was jam-packed and the procession was just making it’s way out of the park. This was about 12.15 so the spectators on their folding chairs must have been a bit fed up of waiting. I hope they had a book with them. 

I pushed my way through the crowds, managed to buy my loaf of bread, admired the procession and decided to carry on walking homewards, crossing the river via the stepping stones and getting onto the bridle path that way. 

Imagine my amazement to find a barrier across the access to the stepping stones: “Stepping stones closed for Friday 13th of June”. Goodness knows why! Maybe they were afraid of drunks falling into the, currently not very deep, river later in the evening and feared legal come-back! Fortunately, the barrier was not very substantial and was easily circumvented. On the other side of the river, where the access point is narrower, someone had simply pulled the barrier away. The place is getting more like Spain every day: a sunny day for a religious fiesta and a little bit of anarchic disregard for petty authority! So I crossed the river and went home with my purchases. 

One reason for the Whit Walks taking place on the Friday here is because it coincides with the Saddleworth Band Contest. Saddleworth is made up of a collection of distinct villages which have not yet managed to join up into one huge conurbation, despite increased building in recent years. Brass bands from all over the country, and from various places in mainland Europe as well, travel from village to village by coach, stop just outside each one and march into the village centre in their band uniforms to play the requisite set piece and be awarded points. And, as we all know, points mean prizes! Many of the bands are traditionally work-place based and some have achieved national and international fame. I have worked in at least two educational establishments with prize-winning bands. And our village, Delph, featured in the film “Brassed Off” starring Pete Postlethwaite, with the band marching over the bridge into the village centre. Here’s a link to a clip of the Grimethorpe band (I think) playing the Concierto de Aranjuez.

We often meet some friends in the centre of the village to listen to at least one band and then have a beer. This year we had invited another friend to join us and planned a pleasant “grown-up” evening. Then our oldest grandchild decided to sort of join us. She wanted to use us as a base, then meet friends in the village and eventually sleep at our house as there would be no buses back to her house – roads closed, as above. That was ok. although she did have some problems getting here as the bus she caught to come here stopped and threw its passengers off so that it could take a diversion which did not go through the Saddleworth villages. She ended up walking most of the several miles here, occasionally phoning me to rant at length about “annoying bus drivers”. 

In he midst of all this, and while I was still walking home with my shopping, my daughter called me. Her almost-mother-in-law had been rushed onto hospital and was in intensive care. She and her fiancé wanted to go over to Lancaster to the hospital in question. Could she drop the younger grandchildren off for the weekend? Well, what could I do? By 3.30, I had a grumpy, hot and tired older grandchild, recovering from a long walk and two younger grandchildren, promising their mother that they would be super-good, super-co-operative and so on while she rushed off on a mission of mercy. 

So some extra bits and pieces were added to the planned early evening meal, extending supplies to accommodate three grandchildren and the older grandchild’s best friend. The walk into the village involved taking along a football so that one rather grumbly grandson could have a kick-about the pub garden. Our “grown-up” evening became a “family” evening but, give or take a couple of arguments, a good time was had by all. 

On Saturday the younger grandchildren and I went on a mission to find “loom bands”, the latest trend for kids throughout Europe, or so Sunday’s newspaper told me. We successfully bought packets of tiny rubber bands which kids weave into friendship bracelets. Our rather macho, football-loving grandson sports about eight of these on each wrist and asks me to admire his colour combinations! And in the evening we recorded the England-Italy football match so that the football-loving boy could watch it on Sunday. 

And suddenly it’s Monday and it seems a long time since Friday!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

This and that.

Running (oops, sorry, that should be jogging, as agreed some time ago) round the village this morning, I came across old Jack walking his dogs as usual. Unexpectedly, he told me rather too much about his constipation problems. So we swapped dietary ideas for keeping regular. But, truth to tell, there are some things you don't need to talk about on a fine sunny morning. 

A little further along the route, my phone pinged. A message from the daughter. Could I collect an item from a house in Delph? Oh, and did I mind paying £65 for it. She would reimburse me later. It's a good job I had my bank card with me so that I could get enough money to pay for said item. There's a sort of group on Facebook called something like "Things for Sale in Saddleworth". Our daughter, and various other people I know, buy and sell second hand items. A bit like eBay but without the postage as all the buyers and sellers are within a smallish area. It seems to work. 

So I withdrew some money while I was in the Coop and called in at a complete stranger’s house to do a little informal trading. Networking of sorts, I suppose. 

I must remember to take this item with me when I go to my daughter's house later. And to reclaim my £65!! 

Today I learnt my latest bit of Spanglish, via my Vigo friend Brendan on Facebook: el "chill out". How long will it be before we speak a strange mix of all languages? 

We are all international now! So why are there bits of the UK, and Spain for that matter, still agitating for independence? Yesterday waiting for the bus to Oldham, I got into conversation with an old lady of 92. We often meet this old lady, a former land girl during the Second World War. She is always immaculately turned out - white raincoat and smart white hat yesterday with a sturdy furled umbrella in lieu of the stick she really needs but won't carry - and drops hints about a dramatic past. Anyway, yesterday she was railing against the prospect of "losing Scotland", as she put it. Part of her justification for our staying together is that in the event of war we need the men of Scotland to fight for us. Ok, that's an argument I've not heard before! 

Later in the day I heard that the writer J.K. Rowling had donated a million pounds to the campaign to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. How nice to have a million to donate but good for Ms. Rowling. I'm with her on this. Once it became public knowledge that she had donated this sum, however, she started to get abusive tweets. This is one of the disadvantages of the social media world we live in: instant criticism! 

It's rather a sad indictment of our modern world that criticism has to be accompanied so often by nastiness. 

I shall continue to refuse to tweet and twitter!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Bits of nostalgia, bits of silliness!

There are some things you just don’t forget how to do, assuming you learnt to do them in the first place: riding a bike, swimming or, in the case that sparked this reflection, using a sewing machine. (If you haven’t learnt to do these things earlier in life it often gets harder to do so as the years go by.) No doubt there are a load of other things that fall into this category. 

This was all prompted by my deciding to do a bit of repair and renovation on the curtains in the study. This is a task I have been putting off for some time but finally this week we took the curtains down and I set to work. I used to sew a good deal but on the last twenty years, at least, the sewing machine has largely stayed tucked away in a cupboard in the attic. And, just as when you sit on your bike and have your balance at once, so I looked at the sewing machine and threaded it without even thinking. 

Preparation for doing these repairs involved a trip to Oldham’s indoor market to seek out a haberdashery stall so I could buy that tape you put at the top of curtains to gather them and then to attach the hooks to hang the curtains. Time was, I could have popped into the village and bought it from the wool shop but that shop has long since changed into a beauticians and then an estate agents. Most of the other shops in the village have also changed from something useful on an everyday basis – butcher, baker, greengrocer and others– into a cafe, a birthday cake shop (yes, a birthday cake shop, not an ordinary cake shop!) and, most commonly, private houses. But wool shops and haberdasheries, like hardware shops, are the hardest to find these days. When I’m in Spain I find these shops all over the place but in the UK they are a dying breed! Am I alone in missing them? 

On the television news last night I heard a discussion about fish. There was an American woman who maintained that fish, like larger creatures that we eat, should be killed humanely. Farmed fish, she said, should be stunned before being killed, as happens with cattle and sheep. She’s even written a book about it. Pressed to consider the wider application of this idea she agreed that it would be difficult to apply this principle to fish caught out at sea but she really felt that it should be possible to develop a system to make that possible. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not at all in favour of making our food suffer unnecessarily. And I am aware that fish can feel pain. However, there is a difference between a fish and a large mammal. And it’s not just that fish are not very cuddly. I’m afraid the poor lady just came across as a crank! Sorry! That’s just the way it seemed to me. 

And then there are fashion cranks. One fashion trend for this year is the formal gents’ suit ... with short trousers!!!! Apparently this is meant to make gentlemen who have to wear formal suits feel more comfortable in a heat wave. Really!! I would have thought that it’s not so much the long trousers that cause the discomfort as having to keep the jacket on and the tie fastened up. But I’m just a humble blogger so what do I know? Well, I do know that pictures of models wearing these suits look for all the world like overgrown1950s schoolboys stuffed into a formal school uniform with short trousers. Daft! 

Also daft is the fad for lovers to fasten a padlock to a bridge in Paris, the Pont des Arts. Fastening the padlock to the bridge means that the couple can never be separated; their love will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, there are now so many padlocks on the bridge that a chunk of it has fallen off into the River Seine. Maybe these are all the padlocks of people whose love has proved less than durable. You never know! 

When we stayed in the city of Modica in Sicily we went up to a viewing spot we had visited before, a place where the road overlooks the city, giving a beautiful panoramic view, ideal for photographs. On the safety barrier up there we came across a number of padlocks, just like on the Pont des Arts. The first time we went up there, about seven or eight years ago there were none. By September 2012 there was the beginning of a fine collection. 

I wonder how many are there now. 

I wonder if someone should warn the inhabitants of Modica, especially those who live immediately below that viewing spot!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Parenting and language stuff.

Far be it from me to delight in a father and his child falling out. However, when I heard that Jean-Marie Le Pen had been criticised by his daughter for making disparaging comments on the Front National website about a singer of Jewish origin, I’m afraid I could not help but be a little pleased. Daughter Marine Le Pen has worked hard and quite successfully, unfortunately, to make their party seem more acceptable, less horribly xenophobic, giving right wing extremism a softer, gentler face. And along comes Dad and puts stuff out there that makes them seem as nasty as ever. So she said he had made a political gaffe and ordered the video to be removed from the website. (I wonder if she managed it fast enough to prevent others putting it out into the wider electronic media world on you tube and the like.) It’s really quite pleasing when they start to fight among themselves. Long may it continue! 

Maybe Monsieur Le Pen was never a truly hands-on dad, as the terminology of today has it, and therefore Marine feels she has the right to boss him around. He was perhaps too busy being a right wing extremist to take much notice of her. He did manage to inculcate her with his views though, also unfortunately! 

Apparently more and more modern fathers are being hands-on dads these days. I was reading about it in an article by someone complaining that stay-at-home dads get lots of praise while stay-at-home mums are often criticised for being self-indulgent or derided for being silly enough to give up career opportunities. You can’t win, you see! Stay-at-home dads, on the other hand, are viewed as noble creatures, worthy of praise. At one point the writer stated, “Despite the uptick in fathers’ involvement in parenting, women still do the vast majority of domestic work, from housework to child care.” I couldn’t argue with the content of the article: all good stuff, absolutely spot-on. 

However, and it’s quite an important however in my opinion, I do have to object to her use of language. “Despite the uptick in fathers’ involvement in parenting,” she writes. “The uptick”??? Where did that expression come from? Wherever it came from it should be sent back there at once. It’s really not proper English. Phil and I spend a small amount of time getting cross about stuff like this. One of his bugbears is the use of “going forward” instead of “in the future”! We don’t spend a lot of time stressing about this. It’s just a minor irritation and we recognise that there really is little we can do about it but there it is. 

While we’re on the subject of words, here’s another odd one: adorkable. It is a blend of “adorable” and “dork” and means “socially inept or unfashionable in a charming or endearing way”. Originating from Twitter, it has made its way into the next edition of the Collins English Dictionary. The compilers of the dictionary say that the word “has settled into a steady and rising pattern of use, establishing adorkable as a popular word in general use which is here to stay”. 

And to think I had never heard of it before!!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

The way you see things!

Up the road from our house is the local cricket and bowling club. The car park isn’t very big so people who want to watch the cricket tend to park under the trees on the grass verge/pavement at the side of the road. This is fine. Well, actually, no, it’s not fine if you fancy walking up the road because you have to walk IN the road. Just a little inconvenient, not to say dangerous. 

My real gripe, however, is with the litter they leave behind. You might think they would get out of their cars and go down to the cricket club for a drink and a snack. But no, that would be too sensible. Instead they sit in their cars or, if the weather is good enough for them, alongside their cars and consume McDonald’s, pre-packed sandwiches, huge packets of crisps, cans of assorted drinks and those throwaway paper cups of coffee. 

The trouble is they leave the evidence behind them. Under one of the trees at the moment, along with other assorted detritus, there is one of those throw-away barbecue kits. You know the kind of thing: a metal foil tray with a grill on top. They even provide the food to barbecue I think. You light it, cook the food, eat the food and throw away the barbecue kit. Except that these barbi-lovers have left it under the tree. How hard is it to pack up your rubbish and take it away? There’s even a litter bin just by the car park! 

I wonder what the cricket club thinks of all this. After all they are missing out on the custom from these litter louts. 

According to various sources, the British are increasingly a nation of racist fatties. Apparently the proportion of Britons who admit to being prejudiced against immigrants has risen considerably in recent years. I find myself wondering if maybe it’s also becoming more acceptable to admit to such sentiments and this is what the statistics reflect. Just a thought! 

As for the fatties, we are probably the fattest nation in Europe or so we are told. Well, we’re not all the fattest in Europe but our average size is the biggest. What a sad thing to be best at! I have recently read about a 10 year old who weighs 14 stone and a 5 year old who weighs 10 stone. How do you pick up for a cuddle a child who weighs as much as an adult and more than some? Needless to say both these children have ended up in the care of social services. It makes you wonder if our society is somehow broken. At my most pessimistic I wonder if it can be mended! 

I listened this morning to Tamara Rojo, the ballerina, artistic director of the English National Ballet, talking on Desert Island Discs. Born in Canada of Spanish parents, she speaks excellent English with a delightful Spanish accent; “words” is pronounced to rhyme with “swords”, for example. At one point she expressed the view that her generation of Spaniards is probably the most educated, the best educated in Spain because their parents so much wanted them to succeed – to have the chance to go to university, to learn languages, to get on in life. It seems to have worked for her. 

According to journalist Kirstie Allsopp, on the other hand, girls should not go to university straight from school but should get a job, save some money, find a husband and have a baby while still in their twenties. This is all to do with fertility and the problem that young women are increasingly having of waiting too long to have babies because they need to finish their studies and establish themselves in their careers. Kirstie Allsopp reckons you can go back to studying at any age. Which is, of course, true but her view doesn’t take into account meeting a like-minded someone to be your life partner and the father of your babies. I’ve come across a number of women who had babies young and returned to studying later in life, only to find that suddenly they didn’t have anything in common with their life partner and father of their babies. Maybe Kirstie Allsopp doesn’t intend women to have a life partner. 

I really don’t know quite where she’s coming from. Besides, I don’t think she’s advocating this for everyone; she simply said that that was the advice she would give her daughter. I do know, however, that our daughter had her babies young and is now, in her thirties, combining part-time (almost full-time) work with studying and looking after said babies, now rather bigger, and it’s not easy! 

In any case, it’s all down to how you see things!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Saying hello.

Recently I have read a number of articles about how the British greet people. It would seem that since “How do you do?” has gone out of fashion – too stuffy, too old school – we don’t have a proper greeting. The French have “Ça va?” and the Spanish “¿Qué tal?”, both really non-questions that don’t demand a true response about the health and well-being of the person addressed. In fact, the proper thing to do is to repeat the same back to the greeter. I hear a lot of “How are you doing?” and “Are you all right?” but, according to the articles I have read, this is insufficient as a replacement for “How do you do?” and can lead people to think that (Heaven forbid!) you are making a genuine enquiry about the person you are speaking to. What a load of nonsense! 

And then there are the gestures. We British, or so I read, never know whether to shake hands, kiss, hug or just stand there looking sheepish. It’s that standoffishness that says, “Don’t you dare touch me; I don’t do that sort of thing”. Continental Europeans, on the other hand, know exactly when and who to kiss, and how many times, when to hug and when to simply shake hands in a formal manner. The writers of these articles have clearly never watched teenagers, especially female teenagers, who seem to have adopted the habit of hugging and squealing on meeting and hugging at such length on taking their leave that you might think they were not going to meet again for at least six months. 

The best thing I found in all this was criticism of “hello” itself. This greeting is apparently inferior because it does not contain the word “good”, unlike “BONjour”, “BUENOS días”, “BONgiorno” and “BOM día”. Good grief, even the Germans manage it with “GUTEN Tag”. The writer admitted, somewhat grudgingly, that we do say “GOODbye”. Obviously he or she (I don’t remember which it was) has never heard anyone say “GOOD morning”, “GOOD afternoon” or “GOOD evening”. 

Of course, it may be that people are just too busy to greet each other properly. 

I read this morning about a service that will tweet or twitter on your behalf if you are too busy to do it for yourself. There’s an odd thing! How do your surrogate tweeter-twitterers know what to say on your behalf? Mind you, as I neither tweet nor twitter, I have little real understanding of what all this hash-tag stuff is all about anyway. 

This must be a day for finding odd things in the paper. Stephen Bayley, writing in the Guardian, was talking about cars and attitudes towards them. He maintains that he is one of the last generation the remember “going for a drive” as a leisure activity in itself, not going somewhere in the car with a specific destination in mind but just packing the family in the car and setting off for a drive round just for the fun of it. He must be from my generation because I can remember people doing that, back in a quieter age when children could sit on the garden wall collecting car registration numbers because it was quite a novelty seeing them go past. I can remember doing that with my siblings as a little kid. What a waste of time and paper that was! 

Anyway, Mr Bayley says his (grow-up) children regard cars as “unnecessary and expensive encumbrances, not the status symbol and romantic attribute they remain for” him. They almost certainly live in the London area where the public transport system is rather more frequent than around here where most young people regard having a car as a necessity if they are going to get to work and manage to go and see their friends. 

However, I do agree with Mr Bayley about the fun having been taken out of driving. Unfortunately there are now so many cars on the roads that it has become a very stressful activity. 
It's not just in the UK either. Mr Bayley tells me that surveys in the USA reveal that young people feel they could more easily get rid of their cars than their smartphones.

Bring on the self-driving cars as soon as possible! Then it will be possible to use the smartphones - to tweet and twitter - while in the car. And it will be possible to geet people without the need for hugs and kisses. In fact you can probably do it in textspeak!

Monday, 2 June 2014


So King Juan Carlos has decided to abdicate and Prince Felipe could become King Felipe. But apparently the Spanish government has to pass a law creating the legal mechanism for this to happen. Some people I know are saying there should be a referendum to decide whether the Spanish want to continue with the monarchy or become a republic. No-one would have dared to say that in the period immediately following Franco’s death. They’ve come a long way in that respect. 

The Borbón family have been having a bad time in the last few years. Juan Carlos has been a bit let down by his daughters, one getting divorced and the other involved in her husband’s corruption shenanigans. And he’s not done himself any favours either: a bit of scandal and silly behaviour here and there. And suddenly, from being generally considered to be a good monarch, he’s everyone’s target for suggested abdication. Mrs Borbón, Queen Sofía, still seems to be most people’s darling, which is quite good considering that she was much criticised in the early years for speaking better English than she did Spanish. 

So now Spain might soon have a King Felipe and Letizia will become queen: not bad for a divorcee who used to work on television! 

In the midst of all this it shouldn’t be forgotten that back at the time of the transition from dictatorship to democracy Juan Carlos was a great stabilising factor and helped that change go relatively smoothly. He was a good bloke! Credit where it’s due after all! It’s just a pity he didn’t abdicate before going off to shoot elephants! As it is there is sure to be some outcry about the cost of a coronation! We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Talking of waiting, we are waiting for the arrival of new laptop. Changes in the operating systems are driving us crazy and have led to the purchase of a new machine, after much research into what would be best. We even thought of moving over to Apple until Phil spent an afternoon helping a friend sort out her computer and decided that there were too many new tricks to learn if we made such a radical change. However, the new laptop is being very slow in arriving. Not a good sign! 

 Other changes are around as well. According to a certain Stuart Heritage, writing in the Guardian, I must not talk about going for a run. He says that we are not runners, well, not unless we rush fleet-foot everywhere with our hair blowing in the wind. No, we are joggers, pure and simple, “trudging reluctantly from foot to foot, our faces pasted with drool-crust from last night’s sleep...” I don’t think I would describe myself in quite that way but I know what he means. He goes on, “Nobody got faster or anymore co-ordinated. We still just gormlessly plod twice round a park with our cheeks puffed out, but now we seem to have given ourselves a completely unwarranted promotion.” Once again, I might argue with that “gormlessly” but I’ll let it pass. He puts it down to promotional ideas and fancy names for shops selling running, oops, sorry, jogging, gear: shops with names like “Runners Need”. He maintains that runners run because they love running but “joggers jog because they love cake and, to a lesser extent, fitting into their trousers”. Ok, I’ll wear that. From now on I need to talk about going for a jog, not a run. 

And finally, a bit of silliness from the fashion pages of the newspaper. It seems that the UK should be having a good summer (not so far but there’s time yet) and so people need to be prepared and get their wardrobe sorted. One thing they describe as an “inadvisable purchase” is a “bikini bag” which you can buy on the high street for as much as £40. That’s £40 for a plastic bag to put your wet swimwear in for returning from the beach or the pool! Really? I thought that was one of the uses for huge collection of plastic bags from the supermarket that every household has in a drawer or a cupboard somewhere in the kitchen.