Sunday, 31 May 2015

Another Saturday.

Saturday. I looked out first thing and there was a big cruise boat down at the harbour. When I looked again towards the end of the morning there were two. The second one was enormous. Perhaps it is one of the promised "Queens" that a friend of mine has been saying are due to arrive in Vigo over the next few weeks. They are coming here separately, unlike their visit en masse, three queens together, to Liverpool. I know somebody who made a special trip to Liverpool to see them arrive. I suppose it could seem quite spectacular in its way but, really, I suspect my friend should get out more! 

Saturday. and the sun was shining again and the sky and sea were both beautifully blue. The weather witch bread shop lady told me this would continue on Sunday as well. In fact it was her mother who told me this. Perhaps they are a family of weather witches. Apparently rain is forecast for Monday though. We agreed that it has to rain sometime but would prefer for it to be just one day and have done with it. 

Saturday. Our son and his little family were due to arrive later so I did a bit of a runaround making sure we had everything necessary. One result of our rather gipsy-like life, going to and fro between the UK and Galicia, is that we have the minimum requirements in our kitchen here. Planning to serve gazpacho at some point, I remembered that we have only three soup bowls, having broken one some time ago, and there would be four of us. (It wasn't likely that the tiny girl would be eating gazpacho.) So, it was off to the Chinese bazaar to look for bowls, a couple of light bulbs and other odds and ends. A quick visit to the ATM to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate (not quite as favourable as last week but there you go) and then I came home via the Mercadona supermarket next door to the flats. 

Saturday. So "I'm only a poor little beggar girl" was back, with her usual litany of "soy muy pobre, señora". I have been looking out for her since we arrived on Tuesday but I have not seen hide nor hair of her until yesterday. Does she in fact have a job during the week? Is the "soy muy pobre" incantation just an act? Or does she do a kind of begging circuit: a different venue for each day of the week? Anyway, she was very pleased to see me. I should think so too as I usually give quite generously and ask after her little boy. She gave me the Spanish kiss on the cheek; that's where the relationship stands! Should I immediately shower and check for nasties, I wondered? But she looks clean and tidy, if a bit shabby. As well as spinning me the usual line about the bills for water and electricity that she has outstanding, she moaned that people are not giving. In fact, she suspects that everyone is now going to the new Mercadona that has opened at the other end of the street. An old bodega that stood empty and derelict for years has been taken down and carefully rebuilt (we saw all the stones being numbered when the work began) as a shopping centre, mostly supermarket, with a gym on top. The building looks better than expected, although I am not enamoured of the top story where the gym is situated. I can't say that I have noticed our Mercadone being any emptier as a result of it but then I am not sitting outside begging. 

Maybe all the generous folk have gone away and left only the meanies! 

That's Saturday for you!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Trivia, of sorts.

Our habits and lifestyle change when we are in Spain. Some things remain the same. I still get up earlier than Phil and he still sits up late at night doing chessy things on the computer. Breakfast here is coffee and fresh bread, bought every morning from the bakers at the end of my run. Back in the UK our main meal of the day is in the evening but here it is at lunchtime, in practice any time after two. This can mean as late as four if one of us gets busy doing something or other. 

I go through the day without checking email or Facebook or the news online, all of these over-breakfast activities for me in the UK. This is largely because here we have limited internet access via the mobile dongle and it is not used for such trivia. Chess related emails have to be dealt with (at one time I thought chess was just a pastime or hobby whereas it is in fact an all-consuming way of life!) and Phil lets me know if anything of importance has come in for me. I may even get to answer it at once. There may seem to be a certain gender imbalance there but it does not concern me. Few emails of great significance come through for me; updates from stores like Gap and The Body Shop can be ignored and the Facebook trivia can wait until later. 

And so it is not usually until the evening when we head for an internet cafe that I get to check my electronic media and read the papers. All the people who are desperately trying to get me to connect with them through Linked-In will have to wait. Most of them are already on my mailing list or friends on Facebook anyway so I see little point in another bit of media connectivity. If the family wan to getting touch urgently they know to send me a text to my iPhone. So it goes. 

Reading the paper online yesterday I came across a report of a Jewish community in London where the rabbi has told mothers that they should not drive their children to school, as this goes against traditional practice. If a mother feels she absolutely has to drive her child to school, perhaps for medical reasons or some such, she can appeal to the council for permission and they will decide whether this can be allowed. Presumably by the time the decision has been taken and then transmitted to the mother in question, the child will have missed several days' schooling. All sorts of things go through my head when I read reports of this nature. Does tradition not permit women to drive at all? Or is it just the school run? Or does tradition just prefer women not to drive? Or is this an answer to the problem all schools have these days of too many parents blocking the school drive with their cars. (It is certainly a problem at the school on my morning running route here in Vigo. I have to time my run so that I reach the school gates before they all turn up or after they have finished their dropping off chats with all the other mums and dads.) 

Getting back to the minority group question, the whole idea of traditional ways is a problem. I can understand a group of people united by religious beliefs wanting to live in their own way, possibly isolated from the wider community. I would prefer a greater degree of integration but that is a different matter. But when the elders of that community start railing against the trappings of "modernity" I find myself wondering where they will stop. Will they opt to live without electricity and running water because traditionally such things were not available? Will they give up electrical gadgets altogether? What about computers and mobile phones? How are their children supposed to get to school? Indeed, traditionally should they go to school at all? 

Of course, all of that has nothing to do with me. Provided they don't try to impose their way of life on me I guess I'll just let them get on with it!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Stolen identities.

Having sent an email to our landlady on Tuesday suggesting we should meet on Thursday or Friday to pay the rent (We pay her several months in advance as we don't have a bank account here. This suits her as well as us. Are we part of the black economy?), Wednesday seemed a good day to go the hairdressers. It's a lot cheaper here than at my hairdressers in the UK. 

So there I was, waiting for the colour to "take" on my roots, when my phone rang. It was Phil to tell me that the landlady had turned up. He finds it hard to understand her South American accent so he prefers me to deal with her. He had fobbed her off with a promise that I would return within the hour, so would I please get a move on?! Typical! You plan things quite carefully and someone comes along and messes it up. As it was I got home in record time and was able to phone her and arrange for her to pop in almost immediately. 

Included in the rent for our flat is a parking place in the garage area in the basement. Now, we never use this and have tried several times to rent it out, all to no avail. Our landlady told us that she had discovered on a recent visit that someone was using the place!! The cheek! I can understand how it has happened. Someone has noticed that it is never used and decided to take advantage. The landlady had challenged him and pointed out that it was not his spot. He has a parking place but ours is more convenient. OK. Having sorted him out she went on her way. On her next visit she found he was in the spot next to ours, also attached to one of the flats owned by our landlady. So she admonished him once again, yesterday he was back in ours!!! It is becoming urgent that we sort this as our son and his little family are turning up with a hire car on Saturday, expecting to have a parking place. The offending vehicle has been plastered with notices, giving him my phone number and telling him which flat we have. We will be happy to rent our spot out to him, just not on Saturday of this week. So I await his phone call! Or perhaps a knock on the door! 

Our landlady tried to report the matter to the police. Once they discovered that the offence is taking place on private property they lost interest and said they could do nothing. She should make a "denuncia", in other words take him to court, a matter that could take months. How very infuriating. 

In the meantime, I have twice now had one of the banks on the phone to me asking if they could speak to a certain Señor Morrano, or some such name. The first time I was in the supermarket and just told them briefly it was a wrong number. End of conversation. The second call occurred while I was at home and the conversation went like this: 

Bank: Can I speak to Mr Morrano please? 
Me: I am sorry there is no Mr Morrano on this number. You have a wrong number. 
Bank: Oh, can you give him a message? 
Me: No, I don't know Mr Morrano. 
Bank: Can you give me his number? 
Me: No, I don't know Mr Morrano. 
Bank: Oh, you don't know him? 
Me: No. 
Bank: So this is not his number? 
Me: No. 
Bank: Oh, we'll make a note of that. Sorry to have bothered you. 

Clearly not a very bright bank employee. Which part of the conversation did she not understand? I think I can work out a possible scenario. Phil and I have had Spanish mobile phone numbers cancelled in the past if we have failed to use the phone for more than a certain length of time. We have then had to buy a new SIM card and get a new phone number. I can only assume that I was given the number of someone whose phone was also "caducado" for lack of use. Unfortunately that person's bank thinks he still has that number. I wonder if the gangsters and mobsters in films who buy cheap throwaway "burner" phones also receive random phone calls from people expecting to speak to the former holder of that phone number. You never see that happen in the films. It could be an idea for a comedy film though. 

Incidentally, we try to avoid the problem by switching on our Spanish mobiles every few weeks when we are in England and sending each other messages. It seems to trick the networks into thinking we are really using the phones. 

In this modern age of identity theft, does the "borrowing" of our parking spot and the passing around of phone numbers count as a form of taking over someone else's identity?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Back in Vigo.

It's something of a shock to the system to go from Delph, where we still needed to put the heating on most evenings and where the flowers in my garden are still being very slow in coming into full bloom, to Vigo, where the temperature yesterday soared to 28 degrees. Not that we are complaining; it's just rather an extreme change. 

We got up at some silly time yesterday morning. Our flight was leaving Manchester airport at 7.20 and so we needed to be there by six. Easyjet suggested arriving two hours before the departure time but as we never have hold luggage to check in, that seems a little over the top. Our daughter volunteered to drive us to the airport. This we accepted without compunction. We have been running around a lot looking after grandchildren while she has been doing her final placement for her degree in education and we had delayed our departure for that reason. Now she has successfully completed the placement and is on half-term holiday so we had no qualms about her getting up early to see the aged parents off. 

Our pilot congratulated himself for having arrived at Oporto twenty minutes ahead of schedule. All well and good, but by the time he had taxied along just about every runway at Oporto's Sa Carneiro airport any time advantage had been lost. In the airport we played the game of swapping from queue to queue at passport control. Unfortunately, just as when you change lanes on the motorway your lane immediately gets snarled up and all the others move much more quickly, so we found ourselves forever in the slowest moving queue. We were in no hurry though. The bus to Vigo was not due for another 40 minutes or so and, even then, it turned up late. 

And so finally we arrived at Vigo's dingy bus station. The only change there was that the escalators were actually working, for a wonder. As a rule they just serve as an awkwardly sized staircase. But the sun was shining and we had a chatty taxi driver take us to our flat, telling us about his visit, or perhaps visits, to Germany, a place he remembers as very cold, temperatures well below zero in November! I wonder where exactly he went! 

Our postbox was full of several months' worth of advertising, a vast collection of waste paper to get rid of. Standing out among this was a flier for someone who might be a witch doctor, declaring himself able to solve all your problems, especially concerning love, and would even do the job long distance. Among other things he promised to remove the evil eye - el mal de ojo. I was unaware that people still believed in such stuff. 

Sadder than this was the advert from a woman of Cuban and Spanish nationality, a responsible university graduate who could offer references if required. What kind of work was she seeking? Well, the list was endless: running errands, doing the shopping, walking the dog, cleaning, looking after hospitalised relatives, taking your children to the park or caring for them in her home while the parents went to weddings or other such events. Then there were the private classes she could offer: dramatic art and elocution, improving communication and expressive skills. In fact, with her experience in theatre, cinema and television, she would really offer to do anything at all. I felt a certain desperation coming through her advertisement and was almost sorry not to be able to offer her some task to complete for me. How many more people are there out there, putting fliers in people's letterboxes In brave attempt to make ends meet? 

By the time I went through this pile of junk mail, we had already done a range of things. Fist priority, after dumping the suitcases was to go and eat. Chipirones encebollados - baby squid in a wonderful mess of fried onions - was our treat for day one in Vigo, at the Cafeteria Rosalía down near the port. 

Then we had to visit two phone shops. The first was the Vodaphone shop to renew our mobile internet dongle, efficiently sorted by a young lady in their shop at one end of Príncipe. In one corner of the shop was an area called "Zona Applicadora", presumably where you buy Apps for your phone and are persuaded to spend more money. We were a little concerned that the Vodaphone shop we have usually gone to has closed down in the time we have been away. This is what happens when you absent yourself. 

We were more concerned, however, when we walked along Príncipe, heading to the Movistar shop to sort out Phil's Spanish mobile phone. Almost every time we come, his phone decides to have a little wobble. In this case, when he tried to use it, it asked him to call their customer service people. naturally, in the shop it worked perfectly and has done so since then! But, back to the Príncipe problem: there seem to be more empty shops and boarded up premises than there used to be. Also lots of these shops are badly daubed with graffiti. Príncipe is one of the main shopping streets, a street that folk like to stroll along and as a rule it's a pleasant walk, a reasonable tourist attraction - for tourists who like to shop anyway. But there is little point in the town decking it out with fine flower pots and the like if they do nothing about the graffiti, which really makes the place look scruffy. 

Well, that's another little rant out of the way. A quick visit to the Mercadona next door to the flats for a few essentials finished the afternoon off. We shall see what tomorrow brings!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The joys of travelling!

I have often been known to go on at some length about the failings of our local bus service. Infrequent. Unreliable. Expensive (for those who have to pay). I could go on and on. Yesterday, however, excelled itself in being a problem travel day. 

We had a number of things to sort out in the town centre and had thought about going in on Wednesday. When Wednesday came round, however, we both found other things to do, especially Phil, who was having a rather stressful week. Thursday was also a busy day, with too many commitments all round. Yesterday, finally, seemed like the day to sort out all this stuff that needed doing. So, after Phil had caught up with the Friday repeat of stuff he had missed on the radio on Thursday evening, we set out with the idea that we would catch the 2.27 bus. We missed it. 

We might have missed it anyway but there was an outside chance that we might have caught it had one of our number (not me, so it will be easy to work out who it was) decided to make sure there was a radio playing in the house when we went out. In justification I have to say that there has been a spate of burglaries in our area in recent weeks and so the need for security measures was high! So I set off for the bus stop, with Phil planning to run after me as soon as possible. As I reached the corner, the bus was at the stop. Had we been together, we might have made a run for it and, by dint of frantic arm waving, persuaded the driver to wait. But Phil was too far behind for this to be a viable option. In reality, we were always too late for that bus. 

So we returned home for a twenty minute wait, the necessary time for us to be able to be at the stop for the 2.57 bus. We left the house in plenty of time and made our way "hot foot" to the bus stop. Before we were anywhere near the crossroads, though, we saw the bus sail round the corner and disappear in the direction of Oldham town centre ... a good five minutes early. Two buses missed! We were not impressed but decided to make a virtue of necessity and walked around the village. At least we were getting some exercise out of our misadventure. 

As we completed the circuit and approached our house once more, I suggested that we might as well have another try and see if we could catch the 3.27 bus. Some might have given up but we were undaunted and, what's more, we were working on the "third time lucky" principle. And yes, we successfully caught the bus. Things seemed to be improving. 

Then we arrived at the Mumps Interchange, where there is often a change of driver. We had a change of driver. Our jolly lady driver got off and a young man got on. He fiddled around with the ticket machine and other gadgets in the cab before re-starting the engine. This took up several minutes. There was a kind of ping. The doors opened and closed. The engine revved for a while and stopped. More fiddling ensued and he started the engine once more. Another ping was heard. The doors opened and closed once more. A little more engine revving led to another total stop. The young man spoke to someone on his phone. Another driver got on and they had a little consultation. By now the passengers were beginning to comment. We could have walked almost to the stop where we wanted to alight by now. Some wag suggested asking the jolly lady driver to come back. After one more ping, opening and closing of doorstep revving of the engine and another stop, a consensus was reached: our bus was broken! 

We all got off and were thinking of walking the rest of the way into the centre when another bus, of a different number but still heading for the right place, turned up. Everyone trooped on, chatting with that kind of British camaraderie that comes of sharing a broken-bus experience! And so ended the bus saga. 

Eventually we achieved the objectives of our trip into town: visit to the bank, spare keys cut, new shoes for Phil and a few items bought from the supermarket. And then we had to organise the return trip!

Friday, 22 May 2015


Today I have been updating my recipe scrapbook. (There I go, like a Victorian lady with my scrapbook!) I don't buy recipe books any longer. I have one or two old favourites that I keep and a couple more that were bought for me as presents and which it would seem churlish to throw out. Never let it be said that I might be a churl! But in the case of most recipe books I bought over the years I found that I was using maybe one recipe and that was all. So I kept a copy of the one recipe and sent the books off to a charity shop. And that, more or less, is when the recipe scrapbook began. 

Most weekends we buy newspapers, a proper printed version. The rest of the week we read the papers online but the weekend has to be marked out as special in some way and this is one of our ways. Besides, it would be impossible to get on with life if we tried to read a whole newspaper every day of the week. In the weekend papers there is usually a cookery page, sometimes several pages, sometimes a whole cookery supplement. I always scan this for ideas and it then follows a process of elimination. 

If a recipe attracts my interest, I will cut out that page and stack it with other cuttings for review later. Closer inspection will make me remove some recipes because they include ingredients that can only be obtained if you live in the great metropolis. No doubt all these esoteric ingredients would be available somewhere in greater Manchester but it's rarely worth making a long expedition just for an experimental cookery session. 

Then I consider the practicality of the recipe. How realistic is it that I will spend as long as the recipe calls for in preparation? How likely is it that Phil will eat the dish once prepared? This last has led to the ruling out of many a recipe with too much cooked cheese. Cooked cheese is a serious no-no in our house. I do keep recipes with a bit of goat's cheese grilled on top and just serve up one section of it without the cheese. 

Any recipe that looks as though it is never likely to be tried out has to end up in the bin. Eventually, if a recipe appears to be a "keeper", out come the scissors and the glue stick and it is added to the scrapbook. A rather haphazard scrapbook, it has to be said. Dessert recipes are side by side with soups and meat dishes. Properly printed recipe books have different sections for each type of course. Not so my homemade version although it has got to the point where I have a kind of index so that recipes can be found in a hurry. Some of the charm of such a book, however, is leafing through and rediscovering recipes you have forgotten about, recipes with memories attached, such as the ones I have tried out on friends. That's how you discover that certain friends will not eat, for example, parsnips, not on any account or in any mode of preparation! 

The first version of the scrapbook had to be cannibalised and the salvageable pages put into a new book as the first one had become so splattered with gravy and sauce and such a variety of ingredients that it truly was becoming a health hazard. Not the sort of thing you really want to have in your kitchen. From that original scrapbook I preserved a recipe for ginger wine, handwritten by my mother. Her ginger wine, I hasten to add, is non-alcoholic but it was always very good if fortified with a little whisky or brandy. Interestingly, the list of ingredients begins with a number of items that have the instruction to "get the above made up at the chemists". I wonder if chemists still provide this service. Sometime before next Christmas I will try it out. It was always just before Christmas that she made her batch of ginger wine. 

What I don't have, although I am pretty sure I used to, is her ginger beer recipe, another non-alcoholic beverage. It was usually referred to as a ginger beer "plant" and needed feeding with sugar and ground ginger until bottling time came along. I know that I once had the recipe because many years ago I had a batch go noisily wrong. Somewhere in the process of straining the mix to get rid of the yeast, some of that yeast was left in and we were woken in the small hours of a summer morning to the sound of corks blowing out of bottles and hitting the underside of the kitchen units. What's more, the yeast that had made it continue to ferment also made the brew taste foul! Maybe that's why the recipe disappeared. 

Anyway, the recipe scrapbook is now up to date again. An amazingly large amount of paper is now being recycled! But at least it's not a whole book, bought on impulse and never used. 

Finally, here is a link to an article giving a solution to the Vietnamese children's maths problem I mentioned the other day. I didn't understand a word of it. Well, I exaggerate. If I had sat down and really studied it and dredged up my old O Level maths equation solving skills I might have understood it. 

In the end I decided life is too short for that sort of thing and I went back to rereading books I read years ago. Oh, and sorting recipes. Much more satisfying!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Mysteries and discoveries.

Looking for some thing light (literally, physically light as I would have to carry it along with other stuff I was taking on the bus) I came across a book I had not seen before on the shelf. It was a Penguin book, "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar" by Roald Dahl. A set of short stories, first published in 1977, this version dated from 1982. Relatively recent, I thought. After all, the price on the book was £6.99, unlike he odd 3/6d that we have on some very old Penguins. Then I stopped and thought about it. It's 35 years ago after all. All is relative! Anyway, I had never seen this book before. When Phil saw me reading it, he asked where I had got it. He had never seen it before either. I wondered if one of us and picked it up in a second hand book shop but there was no penciled price on the inside of the cover, which usually happens with second books around here. So it is a complete mystery where the book came from. This is quite appropriate since the book is described on the flyleaf as follows: "The seven stories in this collection are brilliant examples of the macabre, the sinister and the wholly unexpected." 

The story of the title tells of a rich young man with little purpose in life who discovers yogic methods of seeing without using his eyes and so manages to make millions in casinos, only to use the money to set up orphanages around the world. Learning to control his mind and body gave him a new insight into life. Very Roald Dahl! It's interesting to find something new (to you at any rate) by someone whose work you thought you knew. Although I have to say I only knew Mr. Dahl as a children's writer. So a mystery book! Very good. 

In similar fashion some time ago I discovered that another writer whose work I had enjoyed also did other things. I had gone to an art gallery with my granddaughter and found an amazing painting of a glass blower. Very dramatic, full of colour and movement! It turned out to be by the writer Mervyn Peake. I had read his Gormenghast trilogy years and years before and been transported into a strange and different world. I had read "Mr. Pye", a book I had been attracted to because my maiden name was Pye. This Mr. Pye turned out to be a character who found that when he was exceptionally good angel wings started to grow on his shoulder blades. When he was bad they disappeared and he began to grow horns and a tail, turning into a devil. Somehow he has to maintain a balance between good and evil in order to keep an ordinary human appearance. Very odd! 

But I never knew Mervyn Peake was an artist. It turns out that he first made his reputation as a painter and illustrator in the 1930s and 1940s. During the Second World War he was commissioned as a war artist to paint war scenes. In 1943 he was commissioned by the British Ministry of Information to paint the glassblowers at a Birmingham factory: hence the picture I discovered. In 1945 he was sent to Germany and France. The paintings and poetry he brought back with him record the deep impression made on him by the victims of the war, notably those in Belsen. So far I have not located his poetry. This can be a future project for me. 

In the mystery Roald Dahl book, there is an account of his childhood experiences at a minor public school. In particular I was struck by the punishments inflicted on him as a small boy of only eight years old. Punishments were meted out for minor offences like not having polished his shoes or tidied up his bed properly. How did anyone ever think that such treatment was appropriate? And yet there are still people today who would argue for the return of corporal punishments in our schools. Small wonder that Roald Dahl wrote so many children's stories in which the underdog eventually triumphs and the bully gets his, or quite often her, comeuppance. 

I wonder what else I can find hidden away on the bookshelves.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Words, numbers and phones!

Today I came across a new verb: to excerpt. In a review of some writer, whose name escapes me and whose book didn't sound all that interesting, I found this strange expression: "her book is excerpted today". It looks as weird as it is difficult to say. It is an extreme example of a phenomenon that perhaps began with the idea of being able to "table a motion" and to "chair a meeting". Call me old fashioned, but I still think that tables and chairs should be nouns not verbs, objects not actions. 

Here's a link to an article about a maths puzzle for 8 year olds. Well, it was set for 8 year olds in Vietnam anyway. Our daughter, doing her final teaching practice for a degree in education, says some in her class of 8 year olds have difficulty with column addition and subtraction. I wonder how they would get on with this. Presumably the children in the Vietnamese school are used to being presented with this kind of problem. I have so far failed to complete it, despite my sudoku experience. 

In this country a topic for debate at the moment is the use of mobile phones in schools. On the one hand, there is a report that says that results go up by significant amounts when schools ban mobile phones in the classroom. On the other hand, there are people who say that we should harness the mobile phones, accept that they are there and make active use of them. Teachers should factor into their lesson plans the moment when they can say to the class, "Let's see who can find the information we need on their smartphones!" When schools can't afford to replace IT equipment they should remember that students have powerful computers in their pockets. So say the pro-phone lobbyists. But, the cynic in me asks, what about those pupils who do not have a smartphone? Is this not another pressure on parents to provide their children with equipment they simply cannot afford? It's a tricky one! 

I remember one student in particular in one of my classes who would occasionally go glassy-eyed, seemingly paying close attention to what I was saying and yet not quite there. Every time I asked her quietly to put her phone away she would huff and puff and bluster for a while and then grudgingly ask how I knew she was texting under the table. A sixth sense that teachers develop, of course. I have to say that I admired her ability to text without looking. Or maybe she just texted messages that were complete gobbledegook! 

That brings me back to where I started: nouns that morph into verbs. In the case of the verb "to text", I even have arguments with my daughter and granddaughter about the correct use of that so-called verb. Is the past tense "I text" or "I texted"? They say the former while I maintain that only the latter is acceptable. 

Clearly we need the kind of institution that many other European countries have, like the Académie Française, which stands guard over the language and tries, usually unsuccessfully, to keep it pure and grammatically correct. Fat chance of that!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Odd news items!

Today has been a day of changeable weather. It was reasonably fine when I set out on my run this morning and then within five minutes it was raining steadily with occasional hailstones mixed in. It didn't last long but really that set the pattern for most of the day. Having said that, it did clear up somewhat towards lunchtime and managed to stay mostly fine, although windy, while I was in Manchester for my final Italian conversation class before heading out to Galicia next week. 

Curiously enough, as Phil and I are soon heading to one of the parts of Spain where they insist on the use of the local language (or is it a dialect?), we have been looking at Italian dialects. Today we read about the Lega Nord, a party made up of various regional political parties on the north of Italy, who are proposing that schools in their area should teach in the local dialect. I suppose there could be a number of reasons for wanting to do this: regional identity, a chance to gain support for their party from the local people and so on. But the main reason turns out to be a way of keeping teachers from the south of Italy from getting jobs in their area. To teach there you have to be able to speak Ladino. Now, that sounds like a familiar story! 

Here are some other odd goings-on that I have heard about over the last couple of days. 

In Waco, in the United States, a restaurant has been the scene of a shoot-out between rival biker gangs and the police. Like something from a violent film or television series, hoards of leather clad men on motorbikes turned up and had a battle, but with real guns. People were killed. I read that the restaurant was one of a chain of Twin Peaks themed restaurants. That in itself is weird enough, as anyone who saw the original Twin Peaks series on television long ago will understand. Even more strangely, the senior management of the chain is supposed to have commented about this event: 

“Unfortunately the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants. We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee.” 

Since when do restaurants need to be able to ensure that their customers are safe from shoot-outs? As if armed gangs are normal! This is not quite like making sure there is a handrail so you don't fall down the stairs on the way to the loo. Health and safety gone mad?

Then I read something about legislation Obama has been trying to bring in which will prevent police being equipped with grenade launchers. Really? Do police need such high powered weapons? Do they even THINK they need them? 

On the one hand, then, we have extreme violence going on. On the other there is a move to protect the delicate sensibilities of some people from just such violence. I read about a lecturer in literature at an American university. For nigh on twenty years she has been teaching courses at university level but in the last couple of years has been receiving complaints from students if she has not warned them in advance of scenes of violence coming up in the books they are studying. Suddenly coming across the description of a rape scene, for example, leaves them traumatised apparently, and they feel that they should know in advance that this is going to happen so that they can be prepared. She thought long and hard about showing the film "Thelma and Louise" because of the attempted rape scene but, as she said, removing the surprise/shock element would seriously detract from the film as a whole. Here's a link to the whole article.

Much of that lecturer's course was about equal rights and the treatment of women. I wonder how she would feel about this. It seems that women have been turned away from screenings at the Cannes Film Festival because they were not wearing high heels. Not that the women turned up in trainers and track suits. No, they had posh frocks on and were all dressed up but were wearing flat sandals instead of killer heels that nobody can walk in. But it has been decreed that formal dress for women means high heels. So no entry for them! How silly! 

And finally there are the pandas. For years we have thought they only liked bamboo shoots. And now scientists have discovered that panda bears are poorly adapted for digesting bamboo, despite the plant being almost the only thing they eat. The research shows that two million years after shifting to a herbivore lifestyle, the giant panda still has carnivore-like gut bacteria, which is better at breaking down protein. There they are, cute and appealing, trying desperately to get by on indigestible (for them) bamboo when they don't have the kind of stomachs cows have which process such stuff properly. They really need a good chunk of meat but they don't know it. They went off it long ago. So they try all day to get a good square meal, eating every hour or so, to no avail. No wonder they have no energy left for reproduction. 

Life is just full of really strange things!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Healthy living.

Contrary to their earlier suggestions, health people are now telling us that drinking three to five cups of coffee a day does not harm you and may in fact protect you from type 2 diabetes and one or two other diseases. Or at least that's what some of them are saying. This benefit does not apply to fizzy drinks containing caffeine as they usually contain enough caffeine to give you insomnia and palpitations, as well as probably rotting your teeth. Neither does it work if you drink what the report I read describes as "the creamy, sugary versions from coffee shops". No, just ordinary black or white coffee. So you should still feel bad about drinking caramel lattes in huge cups! 

This must be a day for reading about health because almost immediately after reading that I came across an item about how much healthier it is to go the loo squatting instead of just sitting. Actually I knew that already. The Romans used to squat apparently. According to what I read today, if you don't fancy perching on top of the toilet seat to squat, putting your feet on a little stool and leaning forward is almost as good. Amazing what you can read about in the papers! 

Bad for your health is something called BASE jumping or B.A.S.E. jumping. BASE jumping is an extreme sport. As far as I can tell, extreme sports are practised by people with no sense of what might happen to them, or possible just with no sense! B.A.S.E. is an acronym - Building, Antenna, Span and Earth (i.e. cliff) from which idiots jump. My attention was drawn to this by a headline about two well known BASE jumpers who died in Yosemite National Park in the USA over the weekend. Well known in the extreme sports world anyway. When they failed to return from their jump at the weekend, friends reported them missing and their bodies were found some time later in a gorge. Base jumping in Yosemite is illegal and those who attempt it risk being arrested and fined. Maybe the illegality of it just added spice to the activity. 

Presumably sending out planes and a search party to find them cost their friends a fair amount of money. But then, I suspect this extreme sport is probably a pastime of the rich, as ordinary working people don't have the resources to get to the venues and pay for the equipment. Once again I am obliged to ask why anybody wants to jump off a high building with a parachute or a set of "wings". Oh, I know all the arguments about how climbing places and getting yourself into and out of difficult situations is something that people do "because they can", "because the mountain is there" and such like but it doesn't mean I am convinced by them. 

I read about this after having watched a gutter man climb up ladders to clear out our blocked downspout. Our house is perhaps a little odd - although it's style is quite common around here - in that it has two stories at the front but three at the back. The ground slopes down at the side of the house so that you can go in through the front door, apparently at ground level, and then go downstairs into what should be a basement but which in fact opens onto the back garden: hence the difference in number of floors. Recently we have noticed that when it rains the water running down the sloping gutter at the back of the house fails to go down the downspout but kind of cascades down the wall, increasing the possibility of damp affecting the building. And so we arranged for a man to come along and poke about at the top of the down spout and clear away any collected gunk. This he duly did, with Phil supporting the bottom of the ladder and risking having the aforementioned gunk land on his head. The rain now runs nicely down the downspout. 

Now, this chap went up the ladder as part of his job, something he gets paid for. OK, nobody forces him to do this job but still, he is doing it to earn money, not paying out a sum of money to risk his life by climbing up into a high place. We spoke about the fear of heights thing and he said that he has on occasion found himself freezing - with nerves, not cold - at the top of a ladder in a high place. I suppose that every once in a while up at the top of a ladder or on the roof of a house a workman's imagination can suddenly kick in and he finds himself visualising the plummet down to earth. Our gutter man said that in such a situation he simply has to bite his lip, settle his nerves and get on with the job, because after all he will still have to get down that ladder when the job is finished. It's definitely not a job I would want to do though. 

I think I'll just stay in!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The price and value of stuff.

Sitting on the train waiting for it to set off from Newcastle to Manchester, I listened to the routine announcements all about seat reservations, numbers, looking after your luggage and so on. Amazingly, unlike the last time we travelled on this particular service, they actually opened the doors to the train a good five minutes before departure. Last time it was only about one minute in advance, barely time for people to stow heir luggage before setting off. We arrived at the station in plenty of time, following the advice of our friend in Gateshead who suggested we should leave her house at 1.45 to ensure catching our 3.10 train without any stress. I suppose we could have had more delays, this being Sunday and buses running on a reduced schedule, but we caught a bus just before 2.00 to the Gateshead interchange, hopped almost immediately onto the metro to go to Newcastle Central Station. As a result we were there by 2.15, plenty of time for coffee and wander around a bit before being able to board the train. 

This train takes us through our local station, Greenfield, but does not stop there. So we wave to all the familiar places and continue to Manchester, from where we have to make our way back by tram and bus. I suppose a so-called express service can't stop at every station along the way, just for our convenience! 

Reading the paper this morning I found the usual sort of fashion anomalies. On one page there was an interview with a Radio 1 presenter who apparently owns 52 pairs of trainers. Why does anyone need 52 pairs of trainers? I freely admit that I have more shoes than are really necessary but they are not all of the same kind. However, it is almost certainly true that I could manage with fewer pairs. On the same page in the newspaper was some advice from the "ethical editor". I was unsure whether this was the editor who just happens to be ethical or a specific editor who deals with things ethical. Probably the latter. Anyway he, or possibly she, was giving advice on clothes buying, stuff like checking where the garments were made, what sort of dyes were used and so on. The one that struck me was this: "Only buy if you can commit to wearing the item at least 30 times". How many years before the radio presenter has worn all her trainers 30 times? I wonder!

Perhaps we should all stop and examine our wardrobes in the light of this advice. How many things have we bought on impulse and only worn a couple of times? Funnily enough, my friend and I had been talking along just those lines. She had been roped into helping a couple of friends buy an outfit for a wedding. One of them could afford to buy the sort of items that feature in colour magazine articles: jackets that cost £225 and so on. The other had to set herself a limit to what she spent on the whole outfit - dress, jacket, shoes, hat and all the other trimmings. We both stopped and thought about expensive items we had bought and the number of times we had worn them, the price-per-wear going down with each time the outfit came out of the wardrobe. As if, my friend reflected, there were not more important problems in the world, and indeed in our own lives, than the value per wear of our clothes. 

But if you stop and think about it, if you buy a dress for £120 and you wear it 30 times, that makes it £4 per wear, much more reasonable. However, it does mean you have to go to 30 posh events before you change your dress size and discover you can't even get into you pricey frock!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Weather reports and train travel.

Yesterday I ran into old Jack and his little dog Rosie, something that happens once or twice a week when I go out for a run. After chatting about this and that for a while, Jack told me that it was his birthday. He was going home to help his wife tidy up as he fully expected lots of visitors. His daughter had already been round with an electronic weather predictor, a gadget into which you feed a certain amount of data about where you are and so on and it tells you what the weather will be like. I suspect his computer could already do that for him but his daughter had probably been at a loss for what to give him. We laughed about the days when children's comics used to give you instructions for making a rain detector out of blotting paper. You usually had to make it in the shape of an American Indian and call it Big Chief Rain in the Face! But in the end we agreed that boys need new toys for their birthday, even when they are 77! 

Later Phil and I set off to catch a train to Newcastle, on our way to visit an old friend in Gateshead. The train was only moderately full until we reached Huddersfield, where it filled up and people with reserved seats had to go around asking others to move out of their places. Opposite us was a group of young women, talking nineteen to the dozen with a young man they had clearly got to know only as they waited for the train. As the refreshment trolley made its way through the compartment they insisted on buying bottles of wine - okay, only small bottles - even bought it soon became clear they were only going one stop along the line. Clearly their weekend was beginning there and then. And they obviously we're of the school that says you can't enjoy yourself without alcohol. Pretty soon most of us learnt that they were going to do some kind of parachute jump. The last time they had tried to do this it had been cancelled because of bad weather but the weather forecast was good enough for them to give it another try. One of them was very nervous. She had, she said, given herself some training by going on the Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool, one of those rides where you are strapped in, taken up to a great height and dropped suddenly. It had not gone well as she had started to panic and hyperventilate half way up. So how was she going to manage from a plane? And then there was the speed thing. She had never been in a car at 100 miles an hour, let along the speed a plane goes at. How would she cope? 

Fortunately, I never need to find out the end of that tale. Not long afterwards a young man came and sat next to us, again the refreshments trolley came along and he asked if they had any lager. Yes, indeed. He could have one can for a certain price or two for a reduced price. His eyes met mine and he grinned as he turned down the offer of a cheap rate second can, declaring that he didn't plan to get drunk. But obviously the refreshment trolley guy sold enough that way to make it worth his while offering the deal. 

Lots of people must begin their weekend quite early on a Friday, often starting the celebrations on the train, judging by our experience on this train. But when did the weekend start commencing at three or four o'clock on a Friday? 

Today we have strolled around the excellent Saltwell Park, here in Gateshead. Here are a couple of photos. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Things to protest about!

When we went into Manchester at the weekend we saw a mass of tents behind the town hall. This was apparently a protest against homelessness, with numbers of homeless in Greater Manchester on the rise. Someone had set up a public address system and at the end of the evening, as we waited for a tram to take us home, we were regaled by singers of various and dubious quality. But at least they were trying, I suppose. 

Then today I came across information about something called "Not Just Soup". A restaurant owner called Franco Sotgiu found that homeless people often came to the back door of his restaurant in Manchester's Northern Quarter asking if they had any leftover food they could have. Staff would give them sandwiches and all agreed that they would like to do more. And so for about the last three months his restaurant has provided free soup and other hot food for the homeless one day a week in Piccadilly Gardens. And other restaurants have been joining in. It's good to see people who do well in the city giving something back. 

Down in London, David Cameron has endorsed the proposal to raise lots of money to set up the Margaret Thatcher Library, to be based in or close to Westminster. It will run training courses and exchange programmes for overseas students. Assuming, that is, that overseas students are still made to feel welcome. But then, perhaps they will be expected to pay to participate. It will also house artifacts from her time in power, possibly including her suits and handbags. Do people really want to see such things? And will public money be spent on this project? Will there be protests against this? 

Now, in Spain I hear that on July 1st a new law comes into force, the "ley de seguridad ciudadana". This "citizens' safety law", nicknamed the "ley mordanza" (the gag law), restricts the right to protest, with fines of up to €30,000 for taking photos of the police, among other things. I need to be careful as I go around with my camera. You might think that this is just Spain but it turns out that more and more countries are introducing similar laws. In Canada they passed a law making unofficial gatherings of more than 50 people illegal, with fines of $50,000 for individuals and $125,000 for organisations who transgressed. And many other countries are making protest marches impossibly difficult to organise. It's a funny old world! 

Meanwhile our neighbours have been discussing transport problems around here. Our bus service is limited, to say the least. And now the evening service has been put out to tender and Transport for Greater Manchester has given the franchise to a different company from the one which runs the daytime buses. This means that saver tickets bought during the daytime (day savers, week savers, monthly savers or even year savers) are not actually valid on the buses that run after six o'clock in the evening. I'm okay because my old biddy's bus pass works anywhere in the country - at the moment anyway. I politely asked a driver one evening that the situation is, for example, of our granddaughter who often has to return home by bus in the mid to late evening. Would her year-long saver ticket be accepted? Officially no, but it's all at the discretion of the driver apparently. The chap I spoke to suggested that it would be a churlish driver who declined a teenager's year pass. But there are churlish bus drivers around so he recommended that she should always have a fiver with her just in case!!! This is what my neighbours, all with teenagers on the same situations are complaining about. 

Time to start a pressure group, I think!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

One of those days.

It has been one of those days when you do a load of washing and hang it out to dry in the sunshine and, even better, discover that it is dry only a couple of hours later. It has been a day for going for long walks in the sunshine (both is us), for digging dandelions out of the grass (me - and what long roots they have!) and for mowing the grass (Phil - who hesitates, quite correctly, to call our grass a lawn). One of the results of having such a completely changeable climate as ours is that you have to grab the opportunities as they come along. How boring it must be to know that the sun will shine in exactly the same way every day. But how nice it would be to have that option for a while at least. 

All sorts of action groups are springing up all over the place here. A young friend has added my name to a closed group on Facebook, "Save our NHS Greater Manchester Coalition". He just assumed I would be in agreement - which I am - and perhaps his having known me all his life (he is, after all, the son of a good friend) gives him some right to make such assumptions. A cafe owner has followed the example of the garden centre chap who put up a notice asking for customers who voted conservative to own up so they can be charged a 10% Tory tax. Is this becoming a new kind of political movement? A minister from the United Reform Church in Manchester has published an open letter to David Cameron asking him to consider the human cost of austerity. 

By far the best thing I have come across, though, is the suggestion that the North of England should secede from the rest of the country and go off and become part of Scotland. Some 5000 people are reported to have signed a petition to that effect. Imagine a wobbly line drawn across the country from Liverpool to Hull and that's the idea for a new geography of Great Britain. Interesting! 

Buzzfeed is an American Internet news media which releases stories about all sorts of things. One of their latest releases is a video recording of a 32 year old Hillary Clinton, then still calling herself Rodham, interviewed for television in Arkansas when her husband, whose name she didn't use, had recently become the governor of the state. Apparently she spoke with a real southern drawl at the time and over the years since then her voice has changed, in line with her career progress, some might say. Another person whose voice has changed over the years is our very own queen, no longer quite so unremittingly posh as she once was. Kristen Scott Thomas, in the role of the queen in a play in which the monarch is seen talking to different prime ministers over the years, said in a radio interview that she has had to vary the voice according to the year in which different prime ministers went to request permission to form a parliament. I suppose we all do it to some extent. Fortunately most of us do not have to face video evidence of our former and younger, usually much younger, selves. We reserve that experience for old family photographs. 

 Another American First Lady in the news at the moment is Michelle Obama who has been criticised for the Commencement Speech she made at the University of Tuskegee in Alabama, one of the top black universities in the U.S. She talked about the racism she has faced personally, including since she became First Lady, and pointed out that the students she was addressing would not always have an easy path through life. Some people, right wingers I presume, criticised her "playing the race card". Maybe she is just being realistic, however, and feels that she can now say whatever she likes as her husband isn't standing for election. 

Quite a refreshing change! Let's hope she keeps it up!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Talking to people.

I was reading about an app called Somebody. If I understood it correctly, the idea is you tell the app that you want to send a message to somebody in a specific location. The app then locates another Somebody app user in the vicinity of your would-be recipient and that person locates your recipient and passes on your message verbally. Now, in this modern age when almost everyone, apart from a few total refuseniks, has a mobile, an iPad with messenger and any number of gadgets which will accept email, why would you need such an app? Supposedly to encourage strangers to talk to each other. 

If fact, I suspect that it's somebody's attempt to make money out of getting people to buy yet another app that they don't need. I wonder if, like the various health apps you can buy which measure how many steps you have walked today, how much exercise you have had, how many calories you have consumed and what your body mass index is, this app sells on your data to advertisers so that they can target you. If you send a message expressing your undying love for someone, will you be bombarded with adverts for florists, jewellers and other such purveyors of gifts for your loved one. Although why you would send your message of love via the Somebody app totally defeats me. The recipient of your message might prefer the messenger to you! 

No, instead of buying an app to make us talk to strangers, perhaps I should start a campaign of talking to strangers at bus stops and in lifts, in queues at the bank or in shops. I already talk to all these people anyway. But to make it more pro-active, I would need to explain to the people I speak to that they in turn should speak to a stranger in such a situation, explaining the campaign and passing the message on. It would be rather like the passing on of helpful favours in the novel "Pay it forward" or the system they have in some cafes where you pay for your own coffee and one more, so that a stranger coming in gets a free coffee. Presumably in the end, if that last system works, you eventually get a free coffee somewhere. 

In any case, I have always thought that doing favours and generally being nice to people works that way. If you are nice to someone, eventually the niceness makes its way back to you. (Incidentally, autocorrect just changed "niceness" into "iciness". Is the computer trying to tell me something?) If you smile at people, they feel better and are more likely to smile at others. The world becomes a happier place. Or at least there are more smiles around. 

Okay, that's that out of the way. Now I just need to stop the tap dripping in the kitchen and all will be well.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Life after the Election!

Expressions of disappointment at Thursday's election results are still all over my Facebook page like a rash. None are quite so determined as the actions of the garden centre owner who put up a notice asking any customers who voted Conservative to identify themselves so that he could impose a 10% Tory tax. Our daughter commented that the right wing must not use social media as ALL her friends on Facebook and Twitter had been urging everyone to vote Labour. I thought she was intelligent enough to know there is a wider circle outside your own group of friends!!!! 

And the analysis of what went wrong and how it happened continues in the newspaper. But on the whole life gets back to normal and we just get on with things. 

So, on Saturday we went into Manchester to a concert of Russian music - Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and so on - at the Bridgewater Hall. Because the concert started at 7.30 and it takes so long to get into Manchester from our neck of the woods, I persuaded Phil that we should eat out beforehand, and off we went to Panama Hatty's where they serve an interesting mix of mostly Central and South American food. All good. The conductor at the concert was of the enthusiastic school, jumping up and down on his podium and demonstrating sheer delight in the music being played. Apart from a boring wait in Oldham bus station for the last bus home - listening to repeated reminders that floors can be slippery when wet, that pickpockets might be operating in this bus station despite the fact that this bus station is regularly patrolled by Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive police (really!), all delivered in tones suitable for talking to a demented five year old - we had a very pleasant evening. 

And here are a few odds and ends gleaned from the weekend's newspapers. First there is a man who decided to become a Jedi - not because he was a Star Wars fan but because of the ancient Egyptian Djedi and their philosophy. He designs and makes and wears his own costumes, which appear to be based on the Star Wars outfits, finding them more comfortable than "normal" clothes. He even sells on outfits he no longer wants to wear to people who dress up to go to Star Wars conferences. He carries a light sabre because small boys like to have their photo taken with him and cannot understand if he does not have one. The local police recommended that he should register this "weapon" with them so that he had a licence to carry it. Needless to say, at 45 he has still not found a partner who wants to share this life style with him. On the other hand, his philosophy seems to keep him perfectly happy. Who am I to say he is odd? 

David Hockney, artist with a work ethic who goes to bed at 9 pm, was interviewed at length. He stresses the work ethic because when he decided to go to art college, age 16 or so, one of his neighbours said that most art college students , indeed most artists, do no work. He, however, worked hard from the word go, or so he maintains, and still does so. He sold his first painting in 1957 at the Yorkshire Artists Exhibition for £10. It was a portrait of his father. The proceeds were enough to keep him going for more than a week. In 2009 his painting "Beverley Hills Housewife" sold for £5.2 million. I wonder how long that kept him going. 

How strange is the relative value of money! I remember withdrawing £2 at a time from my student bank account and living most of the week on it. My first job, selling shoes in the summer holidays, paid me just under £4 a week. I blew most of the first week's pay one summer on the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Now I would probably just download it. The songs might not be in the order the artists intended but it would be free! 

Hadley Freeman, journalist, born in New York City in 1978, describes herself as having been "a typical older child from a middle-class Jewish family: well-behaved, anxious, bookish". She was not allowed to watch commercial television but made up for it when her mother finally let her rent videos. She was surprised to be allowed to do this because her mother, she says, was "the dorkiest mother ever, who only ever gave us fruit for dessert". And we thought it was just Woody Allen who had an odd view of the world. 

And then there is rabbit show jumping. Rabbit show jumping? Big in Sweden since the 1980s apparently. Who'd have thought it? And some people want to introduce it in the UK. There are rules and everything, all about not stressing or forcing the rabbit. You're not going to get rich doing it though. One enthusiast, interviewed by Zoe Williams, when asked if she did not think she might find training dogs or horses more satisfying, replied that the big advantage is that you can transport ten rabbits easily to an event while it's much more difficult with ten dogs or ten horses. When not training rabbits she is a driving instructor. Does she make rabbits do an emergency stop? Things to conjure with; mainly it means she has flexible hours that fit around taking ten rabbits to showjumping events. Of the two aspects of her life she declares, "Rabbits are much easier to train, though. Humans don't listen." And rabbits do?? 

The world is still full of odd and interesting things!

Friday, 8 May 2015

And the winner is ....

Last night at just after ten o' clock I switched on the television news. Except that it wasn't really the news; it was "Election 2015", all set to continue until around six in the morning. They were showing exit polls: 

       Conservatives: 316 
       Labour: 239 
       SNP: 58 
       Liberal Democrats: 10 
       UKIP: 2 
       Greens: 2 

Someone, possibly Paddy Ashdown, protested that exit polls are not realistic as they only interview 22000 people. But then someone else pointed out that other polls usually only interview 11000 people. So how does that give us an indication of what is going? Is it all smoke and mirrors? Is it done by a kind of magic? 

The first result came in from Houghton and Sunderland South. They were vying with Newcastle to be the first to get a result in, something they do every election time apparently. Sixth form students acted as runners, passing sealed ballot boxes from hand to hand along a chain and then rushing them to the tables to be counted. They had been practising all day to get it off to a fine art, a smooth operation. And they did win the race: a Labour win with 21000+. UKIP came second with 8000+, the Conservatives third with 7000 + and Liberal Democrats got only a measly 719. 

The first three results followed this pattern. Three nice wins for Labour and the Conservatives and UKIP each time in second or third place with an almost equal number of votes each. But this was the North East where you would expect Labour to win. What was worrying was the number of votes for UKIP. One of the BBC pundits pointed out that UKIP is building up a nice base, not for this time but for the next election. Then they might hope to be a strong second party in the country. Now, that is a worrying prospect! 

There were moments of silliness: Paddy Ashdown said that if the exit poll proved to be correct he would eat his hat. One hour later his hat had its own Twitter account with 600+ followers. This morning he has been presented with a hat to eat. Alistair Campbell went on to say he would eat his kilt. I suspect he did not want to be outdone in silly boasts by a Liberal Democrat. 

I went to bed before midnight, not wanting to turn into a pumpkin, but Phil stayed up until the small hours. At around five thirty I realised he was still watching depressing news coming in. I left him to it. 

Nigel Farage's constituency saw a large turnout, apparently to try to block him. And block him they did, a small moment of pleasure ... until you realise that it meant another Conservative in the House of Commons! 

Labour's Ed Balls also lost his seat. Quite a few important people, or at least cabinet or shadow cabinet position holders, seem to have done this overnight. A sudden career change!

The SNP made the predicted huge gains in Scotland, despite Nichola Sturgeon's modesty when the exit polls were first given. 

And the Liberal Democrats have been crushed across the board. You could almost feel sorry for them, were it not for the fact that you cannot feel sympathy for anyone who climbs into bed with the Tories. 

This morning, facing a Conservative 325 (the latest figure I have seen) seats in Parliament, both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have declared their intention to resign as leaders of their parties. 

We are faced with another five years of David Cameron and the opposition parties are leaderless. Headless chickens time seems to be here!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Running, rewilding and voting.

Running yesterday, before the rain set in, I saw a thrush, who confidently didn't seem to be in any hurry to fly away as I approached. This was the first I've seen in a long time. Blackbirds galore are seen and heard around our way but thrushes are a lot less common. Then today I read George Monbiot, waxing very enthusiastic about seeing otters and Eagles in Scotland. His enthusiasm, and his frequent indignation, is always quite inspiring. 

Here's a link to Simon Worrall of National Geographic talking to Mr Monbiot about this and that. I really love his ideas about rewilding, not just reintroducing species into areas where they used to be but also the idea of "rewilding our own lives", in other words, recapturing our sense of wonder at the natural world. 

However, while I appreciate his arguments about why we shouldn't fly, I might have to point out to him that most people don't have the leisure to travel to distant places by other, slower means of transport. I think flying is here to stay and we just need to work on making it as green as possible. 

Anyway, today has been a much more satisfactory day than yesterday. It still is not really possible to say that warm weather has arrived but yesterday's rain has abated, for the moment at any rate. And so we walked to Uppermill where Phil had a doctor's appointment and had a late breakfast at the cafe where our granddaughter occasionally works. She was not there but maybe that's just as well. She might have been embarrassed. On the awning outside the cafe it tells you in several languages that you can get coffee and cakes or coffee and food. The Spanish version says "café e comida". Unless this is not in fact Spanish but some other language, they seem to have an error in there; surely it should be "café y comida". I have often been tempted to pop in and tell them but as this is one of a chain of cafes I doubt if it would make any difference. I would probably just be noted as the local cranky pedant. 

After that, we walked into nearby Greenfield were Phil had his hair cut. Feeling slightly lightheaded after that, he opted for a bus home, via our own village polling station to put our X on the voting papers. Many of my Facebook friends have been fiercely reminding anyone who cares to look at their posts that it is our duty to vote, that people campaigned long and hard, went to prison, suffered and even died for us to have that right. Quite so! 

Tomorrow we shall see what kind of results we have. And how long it takes for them to sort it all out.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


A rather nondescript day! No, a somewhat disappointing day! It didn't begin badly. I was very strong and got up and ran to Uppermill - maybe three miles - to go to the market and buy fish, among other things. It even managed to stay mostly fine and rain free although the wind was bitter. My timing was perfect, however. All the shopping done in time to catch the bus home and have a late breakfast. 

After that the weather went downhill. Drizzly rain turned to heavy rain turned to a very steady downpour. This did not prevent me from sallying forth to go and buy Euros from Thomas Cook before the values change, as is predicted to happen after tomorrow's election, and suddenly we don't get such a good deal. Thomas Cook even gave me free insurance, not for my holiday but for my cash. "If anything happens to your money", the Thomas Cook lady told me, "follow the instructions on this document." Does this include my spending it? Can I claim that it mysteriously slipped through my fingers? Does frittering it away count as "something happening to my money"? Curious! 

If the rain continues tomorrow it might have an adverse effect on the elections. People don't like to go out and vote in the rain. I read somewhere that bad weather favours the Conservatives, who have more cars available to go and ferry people to the polling stations. Perhaps we should have obligatory voting as I believe that do in Australia. I do wonder, though, how they enforce it. Are you fined if you fail to turn up at the polling station? 

In some countries, all canvassing has to stop in the week before the election. Here the party leaders are still rushing around from place to place, drumming up support and urging people to vote for them and keep out the other horrible parties! We have been advised by the Labour Party candidate that even if we don't vote for him we should not vote for the Independent candidate as that party has done a deal with the Conservatives, making it sound like a pact with the devil, which indeed it might as well be! Then we had what was made to look like a hand-written letter from the Liberal Democrats, thanking us for our support over the years. What makes them think they have had our support? I am amazed. At the bottom, also looking as if it were handwritten, was an acknowledgement for their printer. So, clever printing to try to win us round! Otherwise their poor candidate would not be able to shake hands with anyone as his hand would be too tired! 

Tomorrow we will go out and vote. Maybe by Friday we will have a result but probably not; all the pundits are predicting several days of negotiations before a government can be formed. 

Such is modern life!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Lack of joined-up thinking!

So, in Garland, Texas someone had the bright idea to hold a competition to see who could draw the best cartoon of the prophet Mohammed. Is it even possible to pretend that this was somehow artistic? The organiser didn't come from the town but someone in the place agreed to let her hold it there. Did no-one do the joined-up thinking that tells you that such an event was bound to be provocative? There's nothing quite like publicly insulting someone and then being surprised when they react. The organiser had the effrontery to claim that her exhibition was meant to be in defence of free speech. 

Not that people in the UK are necessarily much better at joined-up thinking. According to reports into the investigation of the child abuse cases in Rotherham, police didn't follow up the first reports they had because they didn't understand what was going on. They thought it was a case of young people out of control, running wild. They thought child abuse was child prostitution and that the young girls concerned were involved voluntarily. Really? When did child prostitution became acceptable? Surely young people out of control and running wild need some kind of attention. I didn't know we just ignored bad behaviour in this country, 

Both of these cases just leave me totally astonished. They never should have been allowed to happen. I wonder once again what our modern world is coming to. 

Then there are the food banks. It seems as though every day we read more about people queuing for food because they cannot afford to feed their families. And, in similar vein, there are teachers who are subsidising their places of work. The cycle course our grandson is attending at school is paid for by parental contribution. Judging by the cars that turn up to collect the children at the end of the afternoon I don't think they have many who need assistance. But it appears that in many school through the country that is not so. 

Reports tell of school spending huge amounts of money to provide food, clothing, funding for day trips and much more for the children in their care. I can remember working in school which had "uniform banks"; parents were encouraged to donate items of school uniform that their children had grown out of and then children from poorer children were given this clothing so that they had a decent school uniform. Nowadays this kind of thing extends to underwear as well. Haircuts, laundry, head lice treatments are all paid for out of school funds in some places. It is estimated that up to £43.5 million of support is being provided. In some cases, teachers are paying for some of this out of their own pockets. 

There have always been teachers who paid for stuff in this way. Often it was only extra bits of equipment for lessons but sometimes much more. I knew teachers who scrupulously kept accounts of whatever they spent and claimed everything back from petty cash. Once, on a trip to Paris the organiser carefully kept receipts for every cent he spent: meals, snacks, beers. Then he submitted his accounts and claimed all of it back when we returned home. It struck me as vaguely immoral. Had we been in college, surely he would have paid for his own food. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. 

But mostly, people like him were in the minority. Teachers have always subsidised the education service one way or another. But how did we reach the present situation where head teachers are siphoning funds off to ensure that the children in their schools are not too hungry to learn? Something in the system is broken. 

Okay, that's enough pessimism for today. Here is a link to pictures of the wardrobe of the artist Frida Kahlo. It thought it might give a little light relief.