Monday, 30 March 2015

More weather, election fatigue and duchesses.

Sunshine this morning when I got up. However, earlier in the morning I had looked out and seen the garden covered with snow. I know I didn't dream it because when I went out running I met my old friend Jack walking his dogs and the first thing he said to me was, "What about that snow this morning then?" So it wasn't just me. 

It was quite pleasant, therefore, running along my normal route. It remained indeed very pleasant later in the day when I walked to the supermarket and then ran for the bus home carrying two bags of shopping. It must have looked quite amusing to the bus driver as it's very hard to run in a dignified, or even sporting, fashion with bags of shopping. And it was still very pleasant when I arrived home. 

Imagine my surprise, in that case, when I went out later to put the dustbin out ready for emptying tomorrow morning and found that it was raining steadily once more. What happened to the forecast that said we were going to have fine weather over the Easter period? I shouldn't be surprised really. I have long known that we live in an unpredictable-weather zone. 

The radio news is full of the start of the general election campaign. David Cameron has been to Buckingham Palace and requested a formal dissolution of parliament. (Didn't we already know that the politicians were dissolute?) I'm already tired of hearing about it and it's only just getting started. It may be because they seem to have been talking about it for weeks already. 

So I looked for other stuff in the newspapers online and found the delightful Hadley Freeman's fashion column. People send her questions about fashion items and she gives them wry and often amusing answers. Today she was asked for her judgement on the Duchess of Cambridge's fashion-in-pregnancy. Hayley's view in the end is that her Kateness is something of a superhero to be up and about and appearing in public in a state of advanced pregnancy. Hadley doesn't seem to take into account that hundreds or thousands or even millions of women do this all the time in ordinary life. What's more, they don't as a rule have somebody on hand to take care of the toddler while they do so. 

What amazes me most, having seen a photo of Duchess Kate in her polka dot maternity dress, is the fact that she is wearing the most enormously high-heeled shoes imaginable. Forget about the difficulties of finding nice clothes to wear, my problem was always finding comfortable shoes!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Changing time.

This morning an hour was stolen from my life! Again! It happens every year and it's most annoying. I know I will get it back eventually but it's today that I am missing the hour, especially as I went to bed a little later than usual last night. What's more, it's still raining! On Monday BBC1 is showing a programme called "The Ark", a version of the Noah story. And there has been a film about Noah recently as well. Is something going on that they haven't told us? 

Be that as it may, between not setting my alarm and consequently getting up late and the rain still falling, I opted not to get soaked through again and did not run this morning. Instead I walked into the village for the paper, later than usual and under a large umbrella. 

As you come out of the village there is a sign letting drivers know that the road is closed. Because of the resurfacing work that is going on, the crossroads is completely closed. Buses are not running through the village. In fact they are not coming anywhere near the village. Anyone who wants to catch a bus has first to walk a couple of miles to Uppermill. 

The sign does not deter some drivers however. Maybe they see cars coming in the opposite direction and decide that the sign is a joke or a mistake. What they don't take into account is that those cars might come from the houses in that stretch of road or even that they could be driven by other people who ignore signs. And so they drive round the sign, zoom down the road, reach the point where there is a big barrier and then have to turn round and go back again! Which part of ROAD CLOSED do they not understand? 

The rain didn't stop until much later in the day, by which time it was too late for our grandson to come and play football in our garden. Once again, he has been texting to ask if he could come over. Mind you, his mother would have had to drive the long way round to get here, the crossroads being closed. But it's probably just as well he didn't manage to come. The garden is almost certainly a quagmire as yesterday there were huge puddles all over the place. 

So much for British summer time! Something of a misnomer, I think.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Reflections on a damp day!

Another rainy Saturday morning! Looking back over the last few weeks, we have not really had much serious rain. We have had damp days, when the very air seemed to have water hanging in it, and drizzly days, but not many pelting down, big-chief-rain-in-your-face rainy days. A fair amount must have fallen during the night because everything was extremely soggy by the time I was out and about this morning. 

Further up the road from our house, where successive re-surfacings seem to have raised the actual road to the level of the pavements and consequently there is no proper gutter for water to run down, a veritable river ran along the pavement. Running in the rain is one thing; running through a river is much more miserable! However, I did run and came back from the village with a rather soggy newspaper. 

The weather has not improved since then. I almost feel sorry for the workmen who are re-surfacing the road outside our house. It's probably not so bad for the men who drive the huge, noisy machines but for those who stand around directing operations and moving traffic cones about it must be pretty horrid. I have little real sympathy though. The noise of the machinery reverberates through the house far too much for me to feel truly sorry for them. 

We have been a little surprised to find them re-surfacing around here at all but we suspect that this is the usual dash to use up any outstanding local authority money before the end of the financial year. Use it or lose it! If you have any let over at the end of the year, they don't let you carry it over. Oh, no, that amount of cash is cut from the next year's allocation. 

Speaking of cuts, a friend of mine has commented on a man who shouted "No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts!" at David Cameron and has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service. This took place sometime last year in Glasgow where David Cameron was making a speech to a Conservative Party meeting of some kind. Granted the young man who shouted had hidden himself in the toilets of the building so that he could get into what was a private meeting. And he had form, having thrown paint at a politician during a student protest of some kind. But there are those who might say that by protesting about public sector cuts the young man had already done his community a service! 

A woman called Helen Morrissey has come to my attention in today's soggy newspaper. CEO of some company or other, she has 9 children, aged 6 to 23. She has been a busy lady! Her husband is a stay-at-home dad and Buddhist priest. With nine children around, even if the older ones are able to share his burden, I expect he really does need to meditate from time to time. She, meanwhile, still is a busy lady whose average day starts at 5 am and finishes at 11pm. I am tempted to ask why she does it? There are so many in the family that they sometimes text each other from room to room to find out where everyone is. Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary and minister for women says, "Women like Helen Morrissey are an absolute inspiration. She is a role model to millions and a shining light of what can be achieved." 

A number of questions spring to mind. 

Why did she choose to have so many children? Especially as she must rarely see them except for when the family gathers for a film on Saturday, according to the newspaper article. And why do they not do something more interactive than passively watching a film together? And where do they all sit? And do they have a home cinema unit? 

How did she manage to get up to her CEO position in between being pregnant and giving birth to children? I have always been amazed at the idea of women having so many children that they must have spent years and years either pregnant or just-delivered of a child. Babies can be delightful but surely you can have too much of a good thing. 

Is there also a minister for men in the government? Of course, I know all the arguments about positive discrimination and so on but surely in this age of equality the chaps should be represented as well. 

Does Helen Morrissey ever relax and how? 

Do women really want a role model like that? 

These are the things that go through your head on wet days!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Key problems!

I suppose it had to happen some time. I locked myself out of the house. 

When I go out for run in the morning I usually take a minimum of stuff with me. So I do not take with me the ridiculous bunch of keys that sits on my handbag most of the time: keys to our house - two needed to open the front door for some reason - the key to my daughter's old house - still being sorted out - and the key to her new house and the key to my bike lock! In addition to all that, there are mini versions of a couple of store loyalty cards and a similar mini version of my library card. 

Someone somewhere decided that it was good to have such cards as a key fob. I think that is the correct term. In reality what they do is give me the opportunity to confuse Tesco's system completely by trying to swipe my Go Outdoors loyalty card at a Tesco till. This makes the till go into overdrive. Great fun! 

Oh, and in addition to all that stuff, there is a little Spanish bull hanging from the key ring. This was a present from my small grandson when he went to play chess in Madrid. He seems quite pleased that I carry it around with me most of the time. Anyway, when I run I usually remove from the key ring just the two keys to our front door and pop them in the front pocket of my bright pink bum bag. The other morning I thought I had done that as usual. When I arrived home and looked for my keys, I discovered I had a ring which held my Tesco card, my Go Outdoors card and my library card. No keys! And the cards are quite useless for opening doors. So I had to ring the doorbell. Which did not increase my popularity as Phil had been up late the night before and was still in bed! Oops! 

This is not the first time I have locked myself out of this house. The first time was years ago when the children were still quite small. We returned from a walk, or possibly from walking home from school and found that I had no key with me. At that time there was a pane of glass in the back door and I knew that the key was within reach if I could remove the glass. I almost managed to do this without breaking it but at the last moment a corner broke off. But we did manage to get into the house. Of course, this made it extra evident that a burglar could have got in the same way so the space where the pane of glass had been was covered temporarily with a piece of wood and not long after that a stronger door was installed. 

My most spectacular locking out occurred in the house we lived in before we moved to this one. That house was situated a little further out in the countryside, nestled prettily in the bottom of a valley. The children were even smaller than they were on the lockout described above. One was still in a baby buggy and even the bigger one was not yet old enough for school. We arrived home from somewhere or other only to find that I had successfully locked us out. To add to our woes, Phil was away in Germany with a school exchange party and not due back for about ten days. Otherwise we might have parked ourselves at a friend's house until he returned. 

After a moment's panic, I walked the three of us round to the back of the house where we found that I had indeed left the kitchen window open. Just what I had hoped for. It was one of those small top windows, the sort you open to freshen the place up more than anything else. I was younger, skinnier and more athletic in those days and so I sized up the situation and decided that I could almost certainly manage to get in. Onto the outside window ledge I climbed, reassuring the older child that all was well and that he was to look after his small sister. I wriggled my top half through the window gap, lowered one hand down onto the inside window ledge and sort of flipped myself in. Some part of my brain must have remembered the manoeuvre from gym lessons at school, where we had to flip ourselves over parallel bars. Never did I think I would have occasion to be grateful to my much-disliked PE teacher! And then I was in, located my keys, unlocked the back door and collected the children from the back garden. They were completely unfazed by the whole procedures. 

Needless to say, I never again went out leaving the kitchen window open. There are skinny, athletic burglars out there as well! 

Since those two incidents I have managed to go somewhere between 25 and 30 years without locking myself out. This is not counting hotel rooms, of course; that is a different matter and much more easily solved. And, of course, cars. 

I once succeeded in closing, and locking, the door of my (by then rather rickety) Renault 4 with me on the outside, the keys in the ignition and the engine running. Fortunately the sliding window on the passenger side of the car was notoriously unreliable and easy to slide open if not completely fastened. So I was able to get back into the vehicle. And no, there was not much danger of the car being stolen. It was too disreputable-looking even for joyriders, although we loved it dearly. And none of us had mobile phones or laptops or tablets to leave on the seat to attract thieves. 

Until I locked myself out the other day, I thought I had become a much more respectable and responsible member of society in my older age. Clearly I am mistaken!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Working together.

Watching the American version of House of Cards and seeing Claire Underwood, First Lady, wife of President Frank (she calls him Francis always) agonise over her own career success, or lack of, has made me thoughtful. In this third series, she is briefly a UN ambassador, a position she obtained through her husband's pulling strings. (It's an extreme example of what the Spanish call "enchufe", getting on because of a connection with an important person.) She is later very resentful of the fact that she was unable to get enough support under her own steam to gain the position without needing his direct intervention. She didn't seem to take into account that even if she had been selected without his string-pulling it still might not have been a total "honest" selection. Some would have voted for her just because she was the First Lady. 

And besides, I went on to reflect, what were her credentials? She had run a non-profit making charitable organisation in an earlier series but that would seem to be more an example of her organisational skills than of her diplomacy. Did she have qualifications in legal or political studies? It's all very unclear. She appeared to work hard at the job but wasn't terribly successful, sometimes causing more havoc than anything else. 

Which brings me to my main grouse: why do politicians' spouses nowadays have to take such an active part in the life of those politicians? After all they are not elected into office. And yet spouses, especially wives, are regularly to be seen standing next to the politicians as they make important announcements. I'm sure Samantha Cameron has lots of good qualities (well, I suppose she must have some) but she isn't an elected politician. Neither are their children, who are very occasionally touted around as accessories, proof of the politician's humanity, I imagine. 

On the other hand, I have a sneaking admiration for Miriam González Durántez, wife of Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg. She is a busy lady in her own right, partner of an international legal practice, and determined keeping herself and her children separate from her husband's political life. She was interviewed at length in one of the weekend papers and came across as shining example of a hardworking, successful career woman, juggling professional and family life with the inevitable occasions when she does have to be "wife of important man". Good for her! 

Enough of that! Today we have been checking out museums with a view to spending a day in Manchester next week with a bunch of Spaniards. Old planes in the Air and Space Hall of the Museum of Science and Industry? 

Or T-Rex in the Manchester Museum? 

Or both? 

We can work together, or so it seems.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Bits of madness!

The Richard III madness continues in Leicester by all accounts. Thousands of people have been filing past his remains in Leicester cathedral. Some people queued for four hours! One woman has come from Australia. It seems that she won some kind of lottery to allow her to attend the special service in the cathedral this morning. She is overjoyed. She says it is a unique experience. A unique experience that she appears to be sharing with thousands of other people. Amazing! And when interviewed by the media, some of the people standing the queue admit to knowing nothing about Richard III. So what are they doing there? I remain totally gobsmacked!! 

I suppose listening to such stuff provides light relief from hearing tales of the shenanigans of politicians. The latest is the would-be conservative candidate who tried to persuade the English Defence League to stage a demonstration against a planned mosque in his would-be constituency. This was just so that he could then persuade them not to do so or to cancel the non-demo, if you follow my story, and so make his party of choice look really good. I suspect he has been reading too many boys' adventure stories. It's the kind of convoluted thinking William might have got up to in the Just William stories. He claimed that he had been the victim of a sting by the EDL but surely serious people don't mess with the likes of the EDL The poor chap has withdrawn his candidacy. Not at all surprised! 

Our flurry of activity continues here. We have carted stuff to the tip, built flat pack furniture (we are considering applying for a job as the fastest flat-pack sofa constructors in the region), entertained and fed our offspring's offspring while she does preparation work for her teaching placement and managed today to fit in a visit to the bank to have the meeting that they failed to diary last week. I even succeeded in inculcating some memorising techniques into our eleven year old granddaughter, resulting in a score of 10/10 in her Spanish vocabulary test! We are feeling particularly noble! 

As regards the Spanish vocabulary learning, I was quite dispirited by my conversation with the eleven year old. She had a list of weather expressions to learn. So I enquired as to how they had beenlearning the expressions so far. Had they had weather picture cards to respond to? Had they played memory games around the class? Had the teacher done spot month-related weather questions? You know the kind of thing: "What's the weather like in January/ June/ etc?" "Does it usually snow in August?" Well, no, they didn't seem to have done any fun stuff. The teacher had told them to open their books at the relevant page and copy the list of expressions down. Oh my! Such dull stuff! I know you shouldn't take a pupil's word as absolutely gospel, but the complaints are getting a little too frequent. 

Teaching first year secondary modern foreign languages should still be fun. I always used to find it fun, for the teacher as well as for the pupils. If you can't, or perhaps won't, play games with language when they are eleven going on twelve, they are going to be soooooo bored by the time they are fourteen! 

Something has clearly gone wrong in the languages classroom!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Kings and stuff.

In 1485 King Richard III lost the Battle of Bosworth Field and incidentally his life. In 2012 they found his remains when they were excavating ground prior to building a car park in Leicester. Much excitement ensued. First they had to establish that it actually was Richard. Descendants of the family were found and DNA evidence was obtained. Then they had a big argument as to whether he should be buried in Leicester or in York, both cities declaring they had the right to his remains. 

Leicester won. Today they are reburying him with great ceremony. Or perhaps today is just a pre-re-burial rigmarole. I hear they are burying him properly on Thursday. Today his remains are being touted around the city with great ceremony. Crowds are expected to turn out and watch. Are there really so many royalists? So many followers of the House of York? Do they really want to make good the "harm" done by the Tudors? Have they all been watching too much "Wolf Hall" on television. 

Whatever the case, stuff is going on in Leicester, the Bishop of Leicester will preside over the goings-on and presumably he will lay Richard to rest and all will be well. Apparently! On the radio news a reporter was going on about restoring dignity to Richard. Now I know he was supposed to have been bundled off the battlefield and put in an small and unmarked grave. Not much of an end for a king but, after all, that was the 15th century and there was a lot of rough stuff going on. And old Richard was no angel. I have to confess to finding the whole thing a little tedious. Bury him properly by all means but don't go on too much about the need to atone for things that were done to him long ago! 

Of course, most of this is really good for boosting tourism to Leicester. No doubt you can now go on Richard III / Battle of Bosworth Field tours. However, I do get a little tired of hearing about the need to atone for the past. Apologising for events that took place long ago has been rather overdone, in my opinion. Of course, we should not forget about slavery, the holocaust and the like but some of the apology ceremonies ring a little hollow. 

Still, they have a nice day for their parades and processions and dignity-restoring. And besides, if all this historical violence had not happened, whatever would Shakespeare have based his history plays on. And according to some, George R. Martin would perhaps not have written Game of Thrones. And then where would we be?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eclipses, appointments and modern communication.

Up bright and early yesterday morning, I went out for a run, determinedly NOT looking up at the sun in the sky to see what was going on with the eclipse. Amazingly, we had mostly blue sky. Other parts of Greater Manchester had cloud, thin enough to allow the eclipse to be seen and not enough to hide it completely. I was expecting it to grow darker as the eclipse progressed. It that didn't happen. On the radio they talked about it being a kind of dusk but I wouldn't even say that. Not a great deal of change in the light levels at all. 

When I got home, before showering - in case the promised cloud moved in - I decided to try out the colander eclipse viewer, as recommended by the BBC's scientist. And it worked. I was like a big kid, ever so pleased that my bit of elementary science had worked so well. I don't think my photos were all that impressive but that's how it goes. In fact, the image looks rather like a strange alien. A moonbug perhaps? Almost immediately after the eclipse excitement was all over, the cloud moved in, the temperature went down and general gloominess was restored. So much for the Spring Equinox. 

We went into town later for an appointment at the bank. We wanted to ask questions about ISAs and duly set off to catch the bus and get there in plenty of time. We stood in a queue for some time while one amazingly calm young lady fielded questions from one customer after another. She even dealt most diplomatically with the case of the customer who complained, ever so politely in good British fashion, that the lady who had been attended to before her was in fact a queue jumper! It struck us as odd that there was no system of triage: greet a customer, find out what the concern is, pass the customer on to the relevant person and be ready to greet the next one. No, there appeared to be just her. If a customer's query took a while to deal with, the others just had to wait patiently. Although I did see one walk out in a huff. 

There were no security guards either. The Spanish branches of this bank have impressive-looking security men placed at strategic points. Do they fear a large number of armed robbers or do they plan to terrify the customers into submission? Although not as grand as some of the branches I have been in over in Spain, there was almost as much empty space, simply not being used for anything. A perfect space for a flash-mob to do a protest dance, I thought to myself! I had to think about something as we stood and waited. 

Eventually our turn in the queue came around, we explained that we had an appointment. The young lady asked if we had an appointment card. No, we didn't; the young man who made the appointment for us had not given us one. What's more, it transpired that he had not bothered entering out appointment into the diary either! There was no appointment for us with Donna at 12. How very annoying! Much abject apologising took place and we made a fresh appointment for Monday. And this time we made sure we got a little card! 

We could have gone back later in the afternoon if that suited us but I had arranged to pick up our grandson and take him to our house. We had had a quite lengthy text messaging conversation the evening before, he on his iPod and me on my iPhone. Isn't it amazing how quite young children just get accustomed to using the communication systems. Basically he wanted to come and play football in our garden, the garden of their new house being woefully inadequate for his purposes. Fair enough! 

So I went along and met him out of school and drove away in his mother's car, leaving her to cadge a lift off a friend/colleague. We took advantage of the holes left all over the back garden by the studs of his football boots to get him to plant grass seed for us. Time will tell whether that was any use or not!

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Things to think about.

Apart from serious international news items, budget pronouncements and electioneering, here are a couple of things that appear to be worrying the media at the moment: 

1) the state of children's teeth - a largish percentage of over 12 year-olds don't smile because they are self-conscious - about their bad teeth. I find myself wondering if one of the reasons for this is the increase in HUGE bags of sweets being sold. 

At one time - OK, back when I was a child - when sweets were sold loosely for the most part, you went into a shop and asked for a 1/4 of whatever sweets you fancied: mint imperials, sherbet lemons, bonbons, pineapple chunks or whatever else there was on offer. 1/4 meant a quarter of a pound. Four ounces. If you were eking your pocket money you bought two ounces. And you took away your purchases in a paper bag. The thing was that the amount you bought was limited. And so the number of sweets eaten was limited. Nowadays you find enormous bags of sweets, enough for a whole family, being bought by one person. There are parents who limit how many their offspring can eat from this bag but it's a lot harder to do. 

And there are increasing numbers of "old fashioned" sweetshops popping up, specialising in old fashioned sweets sold at extortionate prices in little paper bags. (I even saw one recently called "A Quarter of Sweets". How many of the younger generation will understand the name, I wonder.) But, given a choice between a small paper bag of sweets from a fancy shop or a huge bag of the same sweets from the supermarket for the same price as the small one, most people opt for the supermarket super-size me bag! 

2) the partial eclipse of the sun tomorrow morning. News programmes are giving us all advice on how to view this phenomenon without ruining our eyesight by looking at it directly. The best one I heard was using a kitchen colander. You stand in such a position that the sun's rays shine through the holes in the colander and project an image of the eclipse onto the pavement. It's a bigger version of the pinhole camera. If the sky is not full of clouds tomorrow morning I will try it out. However, there is a strong chance that it will be cloudy. 

Today, by contrast, has been fine and sunny. They must not be expecting the cloud cover to move in over the next few hours because I saw a gritter out an hour ago, spreading grit to prevent accidents on potentially icy roads. Mind you, earlier today when I was out and about a chap sitting sunning himself in his front garden told me that snow is forecast for next week. He puts it down to global warming! This is the scapegoat for all our weather problems at the moment, of course. 

I also came across a barge selling pots of spring flowers on the canal in Uppermill. It looked very picturesque. And I must say that it seems like an enterprising idea. If they manage to sell just a few they will make quite a lot of money. I don't think I saw a pot costing less than £15. 

Back to the market for me!

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


I woke up to frost this morning. Blue sky and sunshine but very cold. There was ice on the puddles again along the bridle path. I wondered as I ran if the cold affects the frogspawn in the slow moving stream alongside the path. (Random thoughts go through your head as you run!) Maybe it just goes a little more slowly. Rather like the snowdrops which got started in January, went into suspended animation when the snow came down, bloomed properly in late February and are only just dying off now. 

In the middle of the grass is a little clump of darker green leaves, twice as many as last year. This is where there will be bluebells, eventually. For ages I contemplated digging up some bluebells from along the bridle path, a completely illegal activity, or so I have been told, as bluebells are an endangered species. Proper English bluebells, that is. In a pot on the garden wall I have some inferior Spanish bluebell. Well, I was told they are Spanish. Definitely smaller than "proper" bluebells. They came in a pot of spring flowers bought last year or the year before from the market. But the true, British bluebell appeared all on its own in the garden, the year before last I think it was. I never got myself sufficiently organised to take a trowel and a plastic bag with me to kidnap wild-growing bluebells. Nor did I get around to buying some, at an extortionate price, from the local garden centre. And then one popped up of its own accord. 

Actually, I think a squirrel may be responsible. Somewhere there is a confused squirrel going around looking for a mislaid bit of food he buried long ago. Doubling up every year, it is gradually becoming a bluebell patch in our garden! Nature's powers of regeneration and renewal never fail to amaze me! 

We've been doing a bit of renewal at home as well. Throwing out the old three-piece suite and replacing it with something different. Consequently, we spent part of yesterday doing giant jigsaws as we put together furniture which arrived in a flat pack. Why do we put ourselves through this stuff, I ask myself. But we successfully completed the task. I had received a call while out running, announcing the delivery for later in the morning, between 11 and 12. At around 10.45, Phil thought he heard knocking on the door. The delivery, earlier than expected. Such faint knocking though. If we had had the radio on we would not have heard it. There is a doorbell, which chimes loud and clear and can be heard throughout the house but most people ignore it and just tap gently on the door. Why? No idea! I could understand it if we had a huge, impressive door knocker but that is not the case. I need a sign that says RING THE ************* BELL!!! I have just about trained the postman to use the bell. Goodness knows what will happen if they change the staffing! 

Anyway, Phil is now having nostalgic moments about the now-retired suite. The delivery men took it away with them to go a recycling place. So it has moved on. Renewal has taken place. But some people are rather resistant to change. Our eldest granddaughter is threatening to boycott our house. She protested about our cutting down a tree in the back garden (about 18 months ago) and my repainting the kitchen (probably 18 months before that) and reminded me of these protest just the other day. 

She does, however, appear to forgotten that I repainted the front door (probably 5 years ago now) or maybe she has finally forgiven me.

Monday, 16 March 2015


Josephine Quinn writes in the Guardian about the approaching demise of A Level classical languages in state schools. These subjects are still quite healthy in the private sector by all accounts. (Another example of our divided system.) She argues that we should encourage the study of classical language and culture not because it is the basis of our own culture (which she explains it patently isn't, with it's acceptance of slavery, the death penalty and exposing girl babies hillsides) but rather because of how very DIFFERENT it is from our own culture. 

She writes: "And this is where the true value of studying the classical Mediterranean lies: not in its connections with our own culture and experiences, but in how very strange and foreign it can be. A wealth of literary and archaeological evidence gives us the opportunity to see a different world through different eyes, to try to understand and perhaps even find some sympathy with the mentalities of people who think in completely different ways to us, on the basis of completely different life experiences." And personally I think we could use a bit more of that sympathy and understanding nowadays. 

At one point she mentions "Lotto-democracy", a system when government posts are allocated by lottery. Everyone not only can take part but may be obliged to take part in government. Without doubt the power hungry would find a way to circumvent the system so that they had control of a lot of what was going on but as a way of making people get involved it must have some advantages. It beats voter apathy anyway. 

I am not sure if it is still the case, but at one time head teachers in Spanish schools were appointed in this way. Almost any member of staff could be selected, probably voted onto the post by their peers, to serve as head teacher for an allotted period of time. Note the emphasis on the word "serve". Neither did head teachers receive the inflated salary that schools management teams receive in the UK. Thus you did not have people applying for the post because of the enhanced salary. What's more, the head teacher, being elected to the post, was also accountable to his staff. It sounds like a good system, of course, by now it could all have changed and they could be following a UK, or even a USA, model. 

When we are out and about, at various spots on our regular walks we go past old mill ponds where the ducks are so accustomed to being fed that they came rushing to the bank at the first sight of a person strolling by. Feeding the ducks has long been a habit in this country, a way of entertaining small children out on a walk. A meaningful way of taking a break before setting off for home. And better for you that an ice cream from the van. Now I read that we should please not feed ducks bread. It's not good for them. “Try to vary what you give them and swap it for healthier more natural treats like oats, corn, or defrosted frozen peas. And exercise portion control,” said an expert. It just makes life so much more complicated. You no longer just have to worry about childhood obesity but also make sure the local ducks have a balanced diet. It's all just completely over the top. 

Besides, feeding the ducks, in my opinion anyway, makes a lot more sense that feeding pigeons. I grow quite agitated when I see people potentially traumatising their toddlers by having them hold out handfuls of seed to masses of pigeons. If you are only two feet tall, being surrounded by hungry birds must be very frightening. And people really shouldn't encourage these flying vermin! They only come back in greater numbers. As, apparently, do Canada geese. 

In the same article where I read that we are feeding ducks the wrong stuff, there was a comment about geese locally. It told us that Peter Rawson, a resident of Stalybridge in Manchester, said his local waterway had become plagued by Canada geese, despite there being few places for them to graze naturally. “They are only in Stalybridge because there is a ready, and seemingly endless, supply of bread provided by some of the locals and the output from all this consumption can be seen all over the towpath,” he said. 

Now, I have seen geese in the centre of Stalybridge but I wouldn't say the place is "plagued" by them. It's all in the way you look at things. What's more, it's part of our culture. Better to feed bread to ducks than people to lions.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


I gave been spending time helping our daughter move house, going through piles of stuff, throwing out piles of paper, half used colouring books and broken toys. I remember those half-used colouring books from my childhood. You begin a new book, full of enthusiasm, and produce some apparent masterpieces. The book is set aside at some point and when you find it again weeks, or even months, later it has somehow lost its appeal and you no longer want to colour in the pictures. And yet it seems wrong to throw it away. After all, it has so many unused pages!

The teenager in the family is the worst offender. Like her mother and, indeed, her grandmother, she is something of a stationery fan. We all three happily walk around stationery shops admiring notebooks and finding a reason to buy just one more. We all three have collections of notebooks set aside for a rainy day. Forcing the teenager to go through her stuff, I came across piles of old exercise books from high school. Was she emotionally attached to these? Not especially. So why were they kept? Well, they all have substantial sections of unused pages which might come in useful to jot down ideas for stories; she is an inveterate story-writer, submitting them to Internet forums and the like. I had to work hard to persuade her to cull at least some of these. 

And then there are the soft toys. There is a huge dustbin bag full of them in a corner of her room. Surely she can do without some of them. Her younger sister is almost as bad, although she has agreed to send a good number of soft toys to charity shops, provided they are not pandas. She is very fond of pandas! The youngest of the family, a boy, has cheerfully said that almost all his soft toys can be got rid of. And then I heard his mother telling him that he should keep a certain teddy bear as it was the first soft toy he ever received. You can see where his sisters' sentimentality comes from. Their mother has everyone's first pair of shoes, not to mention her son's first football kit. 

People grow attached to things from their past. Sometimes it doesn't even need to be a past they have really lived through. Recently there has been the case of a woman who divorced her husband years ago. Or maybe he divorced her. Perhaps it was mutual consent. It's immaterial anyway. At the time neither had any money to speak of; no, they had been new-age travellers. In later years he founded a green energy company and made a fortune. Twenty five years along the line, living on benefits, she has gone to court demanding a share of his assets. I believe she has been granted a fairly substantial sum. There was a child but it is not clear how much support the millionaire gave to that child along the way. The child has, however, lived with his father since he was 18 so he's clearly not been cut off without a penny. 

I find myself confused about this case. My feminist self has seriously mixed feelings. Absent fathers should support their offspring, most certainly. Ex-wives who have spent time bringing up children deserve some help. But how far does this support have to go? Doesn't being a feminist also mean taking pride in being independent? This woman was only married to the now-millionaire for a couple of years. Presumably she didn't actually contribute to the creation of the fortune. By the time he was making his fortune, surely their son was old enough for her to go out and find a job. 

It must be a little galling to think that if she had stayed with him she could have shared his good fortune but life is like that. I once knew someone who had been the guitarist with a group who went on to make masses of money only months after he dropped out and got a "proper job". I wonder if he felt he had the right to claim part of their fame and fortune. 

And in the case of the ex-wife claiming from her quarter-of-century-divorced husband, if she had made the fortune and he had lived on benefits, would the courts have granted him a share of the riches?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Weather, walking and talking.

Late last night I googled "Weather in Saddleworth" to get the forecast for today. "Rain/snow - clearing later!" was the gist of what I found out. "Rain/snow"? It's March, for goodness sake, and almost the middle of March as well! I don't expect wall to wall sunshine but I would like a bit better than "rain/snow". 

So this morning when my alarm rang and I contemplated going for a morning run, I looked out of the window and wasn't too surprised, although somewhat disappointed, to see sleety rain coming down at quite a rate. Now, I don't mind running in a bit of drizzle. I don't even moan too much if it starts to rain on me when I'm already out and about. But the prospect of stepping out into that driving nastiness was more than I was prepared to take first thing in the morning. No! I got back into bed and watched the sleety stuff blowing past the window for a while before I got up and did some yoga exercising instead. 

Besides, I walked home from Uppermill last night; it's not as if I was lacking exercise. I had been to a meeting at the chess club about the Manchester end of the chess exchange with Pontevedra that we are helping to organise. Someone offered me a lift back to Uppermill but the driver was a visitor to the area and a little nervous about driving in the dark especially in a place that she didn't know well. therefore she didn't really want to drive all the way to Delph. Anyway, I was happy to be dropped off in Uppermill from where there was a bit more possibility of a bus. But no such luck! Faced with a 45 minute wait, I set off walking. 

Mind you, walking in the dark is quite therapeutic, so long as it isn't raining or too cold. It's something of a zen experience. You are not distracted by fine views (apart from one or two occasions when we have walked home in the small hours of New Year's Day from a friend's house at one of the high points around here - distant lights on a frosty night!) and once you get into the rhythm, one foot in front of the other and so on, you are alone with your thoughts and put the world to rights in your head. Not, however, that I recommend doing this every night. 

So now I am waiting for the promised clear spells so that we can take the air later today. 

In the meantime I have been looking at the papers online. Among other things, I found out that in Naples, working on a new metro station, they came across two Roman ships from the first century. This happens in Rome as well and in some Spanish cities. I find it quite fascinating that you can live in places where there is so much ancient history under your feet. 

And then I saw an article about an actor who has appeared in several things that I have watched on television. Intrigued as to how a person could make himself look so different for these diverse characters, I took a look at the article. Among other stuff, I came across a sentence that began "the old Etonian has played two lords in as many years...". This is an actor called Harry Lloyd. So, another up and coming posh school actor! We have Damien Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dominic West (Dominic Gerard Francis Eagleton West to give him his full name) and goodness knows how many others, all doing really well on the stage. I have no doubts about their acting skills; it just seems a bit like a takeover. What chance do the kids who have done performing arts courses at ordinary schools and colleges have in the modern world of acting? I wonder! 

And finally, here's a little something to cheer us all up. Everyone thinks that their baby is the most beautiful, the cleverest, the most advanced that ever there was. Here's a link to someone's video of their seven-week-old saying hello. Is the child an early talker? A tiny genius? Or is this the linguistic equivalent of the windy smile from a month-old baby?

Thursday, 12 March 2015

These things are sent to try us!

This morning I had an argument, just a mild one, a good-humoured one, with a bus driver. Our buses are not very frequent: one every half hour during the day and one every hour in the evening. They are often late. Occasionally, like this morning's case, they are early. They run at 27 and 57 minutes past the hour during the day. So as I approached the bus stop at the crossroads at ten minutes to the hour, I was expecting to see a bus going up into the village to turn round, not one already on its way out of the village. It was already past the bus stop but I was waving my arms around like a thing demented, signalling to the driver that I wanted to get on. Had I missed it, I would not have arrived in Manchester in time to meet a friend. Some drivers are sticklers for protocol and will not stop and open their doors unless actually at a stop but fortunately this was not one of those. Just a driver with no sense of time. "Are you early?" I asked with my best smile, "I'm sure you're supposed to be here at three minutes to and it's only ten to," "Three minutes to? Here?" he protested, "I don't think so." But I checked the timetable and I was right! These things happen. 

But at least the driver was not controlled by electronic media and gadgets. He was still a human being. I am reading so much about gadgets that monitor our lives that I fear I am becoming a little obsessed by it. I keep reading a lot about the Apple watch and all the things it can do, monitoring your activity to within an inch of your life. It will let you know when and what to eat, provided you have the right APP! It will check that you have exercised sufficiently today. And it will no doubt remind you to do all sorts of things. But mostly it will let you track what you are doing and record your life, if you let it. 

We could end up like those tourists who never actually see the place they visit because they are so busy monitoring and recording. If you walk round Venice, for example, with your video camera fixed to your eye, do you see the sights? And when do you actually get to watch the videos. It's a strange place, the modern world! But some places are fighting back. The Louvre has banned the use of the selfie stick in the museum, as has, I believe, the National Gallery in London. 

After my little contretemps with the bus driver this morning, my travel went super-efficiently. With only a two minute wait for a tram, I was in Manchester within 45 minutes of leaving home. Possibly this was a consequence of the early bus. 

When I returned home from a catch-up lunch with friend I have. It seen since before Christmas, post, or rather, spam was waiting for me, in the shape of a leaflet urging me to "let Jesus in". This was from an organisation calling itself "". The pedant in me wonders why these people can't punctuate! Surely that should be "it's"? Of course, it may be that web addresses don't accept apostrophes but it offends my inner picky person. 

Similarly, I am upset by sloppy, over-corrected English on other fliers that have come through the door. They are doing some major road resurfacing and were tell us about road closures, appealing to people to please move their cars promptly and so on. Among other bits of advice was this: "... I would advise all residents to check the soles of their shoes for Bitumen and loose chippings before entering one's house". "One's house"? Not "their house"? Oh dear! 

These are the problems I have to deal with!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Invented words, memories and who knows what else.

Invented words are very interesting. I listened to a very articulate young writer on the radio yesterday, telling us that his story is set in the "premath" of the war. Presumably he meant "the years before the war". Reluctantly, I have come to accept the use of the word "prequel". A "sequel" is the story of what happens after the events of a novel or a film are over. A "prequel" tells you what happened before the events of that novel or film - in the premath? But I can't say that this new word pleases me. And anyway, if you have an AFTERmath, should not the new word be BEFOREmath? 

Here's another little oddity. The longer your ring finger compared to your index finger, the more likely you are to cheat on your partner. So now we should all start looking at our partners' hands to see how long their fingers are. The writer of the article where I found this little gem suggested that many marriages fail because people made the wrong choice of partner in the first place. Quite likely I suppose, especially if they didn't measure their fingers? 

She also went on to say that you need to work at a relationship if you want it to last. That's a novel idea! I bet few of us were aware of that!!! Hmmmm! This was part of her advice: 

"Here’s one way to practice: Once a day at least text your partner an appreciation. Tell them something you like about them, that is special and unique to them. Even better, do it in person when you get home." 

It's amazing what scientists start to investigate and make statements about. How about the following for a headline? "Scientists insert happy memories into the brains of sleeping mice." My first reaction was to wonder how they knew that the mice had the happy memories. Did they squeak with smiley faces? Did they wake up jumping for joy? Have they secretly bred speaking mice? None of these possibilities. Somehow they identified the neurons in the mice's brains that help form spatial memories about specific locations. They fed in false memories about getting food from certain places (they were not too clear about how they did that and who made sure that the mice understood English) and when the happy mice awoke they went to those places looking for food. Did they have nightmares if there was no food there after all? Were they confused? If the technique can be developed to be done by remote control, can it be used as a way of getting mice to leave your house instead of infesting your kitchen? Ok, that might be a step too far! 

However, the suggestion that this technique of inserting false (happy) memories could be used to treat depression is one I find rather frightening. Yes, a cure for depression would be a wonderful thing but this smacks of mind control and worries me more than a little.

Perhaps we are approaching the situation you find in science-fiction stories, the ones where a person who wants to learn something new, for example how to speak a foreign language, just goes to a laboratory where they fit on a special helmet and electrodes feed the skill or information into the relevant part of your brain. But who knows what other  reasons they might have for manipulating our memories?

Just a bit frightening!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Doing things the right way!

A decision has been taken. I read about it in the newspaper. The queen will not attend the main VE Day services in May (on the day following the general election) as she usually does. This is in case anyone thinks she might appear to be favouring one party leader or another in the event of a hung parliament and negotiations for coalition having to take place. She might smile at one leader and not at another. She could speak for a longer time to one than to another. Well, excuse me for being a little naïve, but even if she did, would it really make a difference. Protocol? Humbug! 

Some other "senior royal", perhaps Prince Charles, will represent the royal family instead. If it turns out to be Prince Charles, is there not more possibility of his indicating a preference? This is, after all, a man of strong opinions and one who likes to air those opinions. So it goes. I suppose it gives someone something to worry about. After all, the people employed to make sure the royal household runs smoothly must have something to do to justify their existence. 

Last Thursday was World Book Day. (Come to that, there seem to be an awful lot of special "days" at the moment!) In schools all over the place children were encouraged to dress up as characters from their favourite books. A whole host of Harry Potters, Charlies (of Chocolate Factory fame), Annes (of Green Gables), Pippi Longstockings and Cinderellas turned up at school. One little boy dressed up as Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey and was told it was not on, inappropriate and altogether the wrong sort of thing. I do believe he was sent home. 

But is that really one of his favourite characters from one of his favourite books? His mother maintained he had not read it (well, one would rather hope not!) but that he had chosen the character as there is so much publicity about the film at the moment. His mother is apparently a school teacher. Hmmm! It raises all sorts of questions! 

While we were in Vigo on our recent visit, Phil ordered a chess book from a company in Barcelona. They promised delivery within 3 to 4 days. There seemed to be plenty of time. By the time I left on Thursday 26th it hadn't arrived. Nor did it come on the Friday or the Saturday. So Phil set off for England on the Monday without delivery having taken place. Of course, the inevitable happened: they tried, unsuccessfully to deliver on the Monday. He received an email saying that they had been unable to deliver. Then another email came telling him which post office in Vigo would have the parcel, if he cared to go along and collect it. So we forwarded the details to a friend and asked him to pop along and pick it up. So far so good! 

On Friday, the friend emailed to say he had been to the post office but that they had refused to hand over the parcel to him, despite his having details of the order number and such like stuff. So I tried to phone the relevant post office. They must close early on a Friday. I tried again on Saturday morning. Still no answer. Obviously they don't open - or at any rate don't man the phones - on Saturday morning. So this morning bright and early I tried again. At first I got the engaged tone. Progress - of sorts! At least it suggested that someone was there. Ten minutes later I tried again. Success! 

I explained the situation to the chap at the post office. A bit of indignation ensued! Well, of course they wouldn't hand over a parcel to just anyone who turned up asking for one - even if they knew exactly who it was addressed to, the name of the sender, the post office parcel delivery number, and even exactly what was in the parcel! No, it required a signed authorisation document, saying that the person picking up the parcel had been granted the right to do so. And that person would need a copy of the identity document of the parcel destinatee (is that a word or have I invented it?) so that they could check that the signature was the same. Then, with a bit of luck and a following wind, the parcel should be handed over! OK, he didn't say anything about luck and following winds. I exaggerate ... a little. The parcel would be there until Monday 17th March. 

Don't you love bureaucracy? And protocol? And rules and regulations? 

So I invented a Documento de Autorización, which Phil duly printed and signed. We took a photo of it and one of his passport and sent them off to our friend in Vigo. Now we wait with bated breath to see whether the parcel will finally be handed over!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Televisual headaches!

Elections are coming up in the UK in May and so there is a lot of talk on TV about the format of a televised debate between party leaders. I was amazed to hear someone on the radio talking about our "traditional" televised debate. "Traditional revised debate"? When did that become a tradition? I thought there had only ever been one. Clearly it doesn't take much to create a tradition these days. 

Anyway, David Cameron is being accused of cowardice for refusing to have a one-to-one debate with Miliband. He prefers a debate involving all parties at once. That sounds ok to me, except that if UKIP is going to involved then so should the Greens and so on. But I don't want to get started on UKIP. It'll give me a headache and a pain in the neck. 

Which brings me to Nurofen, the painkiller people. In Australia, so I have read, they are taking the producers to task because they market Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache. The problem is that people think these are different products but in fact they are all the same. Shock! Horror! Maybe if we ask them nicely, they will produce a Nurofen Party Political Broadcast Debate Pain! 

Or perhaps it's too complicated. Someone called Brian Millar was explaining in he newspaper that if things are designed to be easy we stop thinking. Thinking is good for us. Who knew? 

He wrote: "We live in a world where almost everything is designed to be simple. When I work with designers, I often come across a kind of religious belief summed up in the mantra: don’t make me think. Slick web design keeps us in a kind of unthinking trance, where we buy things on Amazon or post photos on Facebook without ever having to stop and consider what we’re doing. While this is great for retailers, it’s also good for fraudsters. Phishing scams rely on our trance-like state: please reset your password. Follow this link. Enter your password. Thank you. Click, click, click, oops. 

Something similar has happened to driving. It’s possible to hurtle down a road at 50 miles an hour without thinking at all – until it’s too late. One of the most successful safety design campaigns of recent years aimed to tackle this. The shared space movement puts ambiguity back into road use, for pedestrians and drivers alike. In South Kensington, all street furniture and crossings have been removed and replaced with ambiguous regions where it isn’t clear who has right of way. Drivers and pedestrians snap out of their trances, cars slow down and the accident rate has fallen by 43%." 

I don't know about making everything complicated. Personally I like my camera, my iPad, my washing machine and other such appliances to be as simple as possible. Our television is immensely complicated and no amount of

 thinking about it stops me needing Nurofen Electrical Appliance Headache painkiller. However, I am all in favour of anything that will make our roads safer!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Travel and words. Progress?

Here we are back in Delph. It may be raining today but at least the snowdrops are there in the garden to cheer things up. 

We arrived in Manchester in the sunshine yesterday. Blue sky and brightness. Very nice. We even managed to catch one of the few buses at does a direct run from Manchester to Delph. Perhaps it was a mistake as it seemed to take forever to reach its destination. Perhaps it was just rush hour. And the driver was grumpy. This was a limited-stop bus, which seemed to mean that the driver could choose where he wanted to stop. On one occasion he warned the passenger who rang the bell that his next stop was at such and such a distance down the road. And someone wanted the stop before ours, the stop where she said she always got off, but he sailed on to the next stop, disregarding her polite protestation. Granted that stop was only just around the corner but even so his manner was far from courteous. 

Travel is a funny thing. Phil and I followed exactly the same itinerary for our return journey from Spain. We just did it on different day. I travelled on Thursday and Phil on Monday. My journey went like clockwork: the plane departed exactly on time and even arrived a little early at London Gatwick, I made my way, albeit lengthily, to the railway station, caught a train within five minutes of getting there and made good connections to tube trains for the rest of the journey. Phil's plane was late arriving at Oporto and, naturally, was late leaving. It made up time during the journey but never really caught up with itself. Consequently, he did not catch the early train into London. And then there had been some kind of incident which caused signal failures all over the London network, his train was held up for ten minutes outside its final station, all the tube trains were disrupted, delayed and disappointingly full. All in all, a nightmare journey that took a good two hours longer than mine had. What a difference the day makes! 

We travelled separately because Phil was playing chess on Saturday while I was booked in to babysit the youngest grandchild. So I have spent the last few days watching said youngest grandchild working hard at learning to walk and talk. The walking has come on fine, a few steps here and there. Next time I see her she will no doubt be running everywhere and running everyone else ragged. The talking developed into extended babble with some new noises. Her proud parents are convinced that she has a number of "real" words, among which is "owl". However, this seems to be less the specific name for a type of bird and more a general term to use when she wants to draw attention to something. Still, progress is being made in the fascinating field of language acquisition. 

 In other areas, it would seem that words are disappearing. I was reading an article by someone called Robert MacFarlane, a nature writer who has been collecting words for landscapes and natural phenomena - from aquabob to zawn, whatever they are. Anyway, some time ago he came across a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary and had discovered that a whole range of words connected with nature had been culled, deemed no longer relevant to modern childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture and willow. How will they m anage without these words? The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. Children no longer need to know what a blackberry (lower case b) is because there is a greater need to be aware that a Blackberry (upper case B) exists and know how to use one. 

How very sad! Surely technology is supposed to enrich our world, not reduce it, enhance our vocabulary not impoverish it. Or am I just old-fashioned in my outlook?