Friday, 30 October 2015

Letter perfect!

Encouraging (otherwise known as forcing) our middle granddaughter to do some Maths homework today instead of leaving it until Sunday might, just before she returns to school on Monday, I suggested that she might make an effort to improve the presentation of the work. All she needed to do was write the numbers and letters concerned with a little more care instead of being satisfied with the scrawl she put on the paper. How foolish of me! She sort of sneered at me something about that being the way she wrote and what was I going to do about it? I pointed out that it's good to take pride in whatever you do and that intelligent people usually have two writing styles: a scrawl when they write in a hurry and a neat version when they write with a little more care and attention, intended for public consumption. She didn't seem to see the need for making her work look attractive! 

In similar vein, my daughter reported on a recent parents' evening for her youngest child. His teacher was very pleased with him. He seemed to be doing really well all round, even in English, a subject I thought he might do less well in as he had been a reluctant reader to begin with and even now avoids books in favour of a screen. I commented that since the reports were good, all he really needed to do was improve his writing. When he was seven he wrote more clearly than he does now. At least that's how it seems to me. My daughter, who is now a qualified primary school teacher, after all, and supposedly knows what is what, replied that it really did not matter. When he gets to secondary school next year, any important stuff he needs to write will be word processed and so his hand-writing can be as scruffy as he likes. Really?! 

I have heard theories about the disappearing need for children to learn to write at all! Indeed some places may already have decided not to bother to do so. There are statistics that say that half of the teenagers in the UK have never written a letter in their lives. That probably does not matter. After all, most of us communicate more by email and text messages than by letter. But surely children still need to learn to write clearly and legibly. Some experts actually say that there is a link between learning to control a writing instrument properly and the ability to learn at all! 

Surely learning to write goes hand in hand with other aspects of dexterity. People who have not learnt to write might not learn to control a pencil in order to paint and draw. Are we going to lose a whole level of creativity? On a wider level, they might not learn to hold a knife and fork properly! 

I always carry a notebook around with me, just in case I need to make a note of something important. Two journalists whose articles I read today, say that if they need to remember something, they send themselves an email. Shopping lists are made on their phones. One even confessed to having difficulty signing his name as he does it so rarely! Isn't your signature one of those personal things, a mark of your individuality? Finger prints, retina identification and who knows what else will clearly replace that. So what will we do instead of asking our musical or literary idols to sign their CDs or books? Of course! We'll ask if we can do a selfie with them! 

Now, I have spoken to people about writing. I go to a writers' group and a poetry group. The general consensus seems to be that most of those I spoke to use a keyboard to write prose but they prefer pen/pencil and paper when they write poetry. Of course, most of those I spoke to are over fifty. All of them learn to write at school as I did, painstakingly copying letters of the alphabet, progressing onto what we used to call "real writing", in other words the joined up stuff, instead of printing. All of us learnt to use a keyboard later, mostly on that old-fashioned device called a typewriter. Today's children can probably use technology in some way before they ever learn to read but surely they still need to learn to write and to do so properly! 

The bottom line is that we might one day face that science-fiction scenario where all the machines stop working. Where will we be then if nobody knows how to write!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Half term.

It's the Autumn half term, so we have put the clocks back. All over Europe, I believe. We got an hour's extra sleep last night but when the children go back to school next week the days will be noticeably shorter. No playing out after school as it will be too dark. 

I heard that Turkey, where they had got into the habit of changing their clocks in line with the rest of Europe, decided this year not to do so. Perhaps it's a kind of protest against the EU's continued refusal to accept Turkey as a member. Whatever the reason, they took the decision. However, some of the automatic devices with clocks did not seem to be aware of the decision and put the time back an hour. Consequently, everyone is confused and no one really knows what time it is. 

It's half term and so all the travel companies and budget airlines have put their prices up for this week. And so the question arises again of the rights and wrongs of parents in the UK taking their children out of school during term time. Again! How exactly does a week on the beach provide a valuable learning experience? With teachers increasingly having to show in their lesson planning how children benfit from this, that and the other, are they going to have to show how they ran catch-up because little Billy's mum and dad took him to Benidorm and he missed the intro to the new topic? And what about teachers who are also parents? They don't get to benefit from cheap holidays in term time. 

Of course, this problem does not appear to arise in other European countries. They all seem to have had strict rules about attendance at school for as long as I can remember. In fact, many of them don't have half term holidays and so the question of going away for a week's skiing at the end of October does not come up at all. 

All right, so many of them are able to trot off for skiing weekends, but that's more a matter of geography than school organisation?

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Opinions and judgements.

Poor old Jeremy Corbyn can't win. Lord Mandelson says he is failing to show professionalism as Labour leader. Even his choice of spin doctor is wrong, according to Lord Mandelson, because Seumus Milne has views that are outside Britain's political mainstream. Maybe someone who is not a professional politician and thinks outside the box is what politics needs. 

I wonder what Lord Mandelson makes of the professionalism of Justin Trudeau, Canada's dynasty prime minister. Before he got into politics he worked in teaching, engineering, coaching bungee-jumping (is that a job!) and acting. Apparently his campaign manager was surprised at the things Monsieur Trudeau did not know about the political system. One Canadian journalist has said of him, "It is quite true that if someone like Putin or Angela Merkin or any of the dozens of different leaders were with Trudeau, he would probably be the least cosmopolitan person in the room, he would be the least savvy in terms of great affairs of state. It's not something that really interests him. I could see him leaving that to the professional corps." Hmmmm! Hardly a ringing endorsement. Let's hope he's a quick learner. 

Reading something about promotion prospects in various professions, I came across this: "you've passed the exam off your own back, no one gave you the answers. .... And then someone says: actually I don't think you're ready." It's not the promotion process that interests me here (although that does have its own fascination) but the expression used: "off your own back", meaning by your own efforts. I always thought it was "off your own bat", a cricketing expression. So I checked it and I was right. The website I looked at had this to say: 

"One question that often gets asked on this website about the figurative expression 'off his own bat' is "should that be 'off his own back'?" Well no, it shouldn't. 'Off your own back' originated as a mishearing of the former expression. It has gained sufficient currency to be considered as a viable everyday alternative of the correct version, but purists dismiss it as a straightforward error." 

I guess I must be a purist then. I must pass this on to my daughter! 

After yesterday's comments on traditions, here's another odd one that has sprung up - names for breeds of dog. I have mentioned this before. Often the names are weird and strange. The one next door to us is a cross between a shitzu and a pug - shug. A labrador - poodle cross is a labradoodle. Today I learnt another one: a puggle - a cross between an pug and a beagle. 

So I looked a little further. A pitsky is a pit bull crossed with a husky. Someone described it as adorable. The pictures I saw were not very pretty. Here are some more: 

Schnoodle - schnauzer + poodle 
Horgi = husky + corgi. This looks like a husky with short legs!!! 
Pugapoo = pug + poodle Chusky = chow chow + husky (what is a chow chow, anyway?) 
Chiweenie = chihuahua + daschund 
Taco terrier = chihuahua + toy fox terrier (quite a witty name this one!) 
Jack-A-Ranian = Pomeranian + Jack Russell 

There was a time when a dog that was not a thoroughbred was called a cross-breed, when it was not just a mongrel. 

How things change!

Friday, 23 October 2015


It's strange how traditions are established and become so much a part of our lives that whole industries spring up to "service them". 

Someone writing in the one of the newspapers about Hallowe'en said, "My 12-year-old daughter, Margaret, said she wanted to be the Cheshire Cat this year for Halloween. The grinning, shape-shifting Cheshire Cat, who made his literary debut in Lewis Carroll’s enduring classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." 

She talked about looking for costumes in Party City. I had never heard of this so I Googled it and found out that it is an American online supplier of costumes for all sorts of occasions. And, of course, Hallowe'en is a very American tradition. Hence the writer's daughter planning in advance what her outfit would be. 

The journalist's main gripe was that she could not find a Hallowe'en costume of any description for a 12 year old girl that was not marketed as being "sexy", as if that was the most important thing for a 12 year old girl. How odd that a tradition that has children, yes, children, going round asking for sweets from their neighbours, should combine that with little girls dressing up to look tarty. As the journalist pointed out, the same criteria do not apply to costumes for boys. 

In the end she purchased some bits and pieces and went, as she often did apparently, to Grandma for some help with sewing a costume to her own standards. 

I wonder about the use of that adjective, "sexy". Looking at the kid of fancy dress outfits you see on sale here, it is clear that girls really are expected to dress up to look as sexually attractive as possible. Sexism raises its ugly head again! On the other hand I have recently heard "sexy" used simply to mean "pretty" or "nice looking". Our 18 year old granddaughter came spluttering into the house recently declaring, " Did she really just tell her dog it was SEXY?" She could not believe that our next door neighbour had just addressed her new puppy, the shug(!), in just that way. I told her, however, that her ears were not playing tricks on her. I had heard the same neighbour telling one of her grandchildren, a tiny boy of about 18 months old, that he was sexy! 

Is the word subtly changing its meaning or is it just my neighbour? 

It's a funny old world.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Reflections on this and that.

I hear that culottes are back in fashion. They do keep on coming around. I have a question: When are culottes not culottes? Surely the answer must be, "When they are just rather too short trousers". Reading a fashion item about culottes, I came across this fashion tip, "Always coordinate tailoring to create a streamlined silhouette and mind the gap between hemline and bootie; no more than three inches". Surely a divided skirt that comes close, but not close enough, to your ankle boots is not a pair of culottes but a sign that you have put on your shorter friend's or sister's trousers by mistake this morning. 

I should stop reading fashion magazines and articles. They just annoy and frustrate me. 

In fact, maybe I should stop reading newspapers as well. 

Today it was another thing about the Mediterranean diet, which apparently slows down the ageing of the brain by up to five years, according to the latest research. I have no arguments with that. I love the Mediterranean diet. One article I read defined it as follows:- 

"The Mediterranean diet typically consists of large amounts of vegetables, pulses, fruit, cereal, fish and monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil. It also includes small amounts of meat, poultry, dairy products and saturated fatty acids, plus mild to moderate alcohol consumption." 

And all of that sounds wonderful. Lentil soup, fabada (a kind of bean stew), dishes with chickpeas and all sorts of stuff like that. Then I stop and think about the times we have commented on the wonderful displays of fruits and veg in the shops in Spain and wondered at the fact that so few restaurants serve much in the way of vegetables apart from potatoes and occasionally a bit of salad. 

We must not, of course, forget greens, a staple part of that lovely broth, "caldo gallego". But what happens to all the other vegetables that are on sale in the shops? 

And yes, a lot of wonderful fish is served. We really appreciate it. But I stop and think about the number of people I know in Spain who feel that a meal is not really a meal without copious amounts of meat, good red meat. Perhaps it's all the returnees from Argentina, still craving some Argentinean beef. 

I suppose I will just have to carry on serving up a range of peppers and courgettes and other veg and plenty of fish. Red meat I can pretty well do without. The fish dishes bring their own problems, of course. There's the smell. Getting ahead of myself late this morning, I pre-prepared a fish risotto ready for teatime. All it would need would be the finishing touches. I knew I would be pressed for time as I was going to collect our grandson from school and then feed everyone before Phil went rushing out to chess club. So what happened? A certain amount of moaning about the smell of fish happened! A certain amount of opening windows nice and wide happened! 

You just can't win!!But the risotto was appreciated!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Just a word!

Call me picky but one of my bugbears is incorrect use of language. It doesn't really matter which language; if there's a mistake in it, then it annoys me. I am aware that say this as someone who often types badly and in haste but I do try to proof read and eradicate errors (if I can!). 

I get annoyed when I open a menu in a restaurant in mainland Europe and find that it has been translated into truly execrable and sometimes incomprehensible English. Ten out of ten for effort though. Few English restaurants (well, almost none of those I frequent) bother to put the menu into any other language than English. It's just rather a shame that some of the European ones have not had their efforts checked by a native English speaker or at least an expert before going to the printers. 

Shop signs with glaring errors also arouse my indignation. So you can imagine how pleased I was to come across this sign as I ran through Greenfield in the rain this morning. 

Presumably the florist wanted to make her establishment look a little exotic or sophisticated, while at the same time trying to incorporate the name of the village into her shop name. Splendid idea but incorrectly translated and grammatically wrong! If you plan to be clever, especially in foreign languages, make sure you have it checked before you go public. 

Sometimes, of course, a deliberate misspelling is part of the charm. In Vigo there is a shop called "Mi Leidy" which sells ladies' clothes. If you say the name out loud according to Spanish spelling and pronunciation rules, then the shop's name is "Milady" of "My Lady". Now, I think that works. And, besides, the Spanish have a tradition of "hispanifying" foreign words. 

Hairdressing salons are the best for clever shop names. I know of a ladies' hairdressers called "Shear Perfection". Above it is the gentlemen's barber shop called "A Cut Above". My all time favourite though has to be "Curling you Softly"! 

There's just something about hairdressing that lends itself to a certain amount of playing with the language. 

All these are the kind of thoughts that go through your head when you go running in the Saddleworth drizzle!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Left speechless in Manchester.

I have been into Manchester again today. It has to be said that at the moment central Manchester is a MESS. Work is going on to improve and extend the Metrolink tram service. As a consequence there are huge chunks of road that you cannot even cross, let alone drive on them. In some places, to get from point A to point B is worse than finding your way around a very complex maze. Last week I almost missed a train as I tried to find my way through the roadworks to Victoria Station. 

And then, in the Italian class, discussing this and that, one of our number told us that the Metrolink service is in fact being organised and installed by the city of Paris! I suppose I should not be too surprised. After all, much of the country's electricity is supplied, or at least administered, by a French company, as is quite a lot of our water. So why not our transport system too? Someone else pointed out that one of the bus companies serving Greater Manchester is in fact German. 

What I want to, know is does this mean that I can use my bus pass in Paris and Germany? No, I thought not! 

As well as the road works causing chaos outside, imminent pagan and Christian festivals are causing mayhem indoors. The shops are all trying put up their Christmas displays and start marketing the goods: reindeer jumpers, special crockery you can only use at Christmas and therefore lose between one Christmas and the next and all the other stuff. The problem is that Hallowe'en has not yet come and gone and so the displays of ghoulish stuff are competing for space and importance in the big emporia .... And in the small shops for that matter. The Christmas colour schemes of green and red (very jolly holly) or gold and silver (sophisticated smart) are clashing horribly with the black and orange of All Hallows. 

It's very hard! What is a shopper to do? 

Well, maybe you should take the opportunity to buy something I spotted today in Selfridge's store. 

This very snooty looking place uses half the space of a building that was originally all Marks and Spencer, before that company ran into difficulties and sold half of it off. At least I think that is what happened. Smart and snootily impenetrable doormen stand at the doors. I like to walk through to get to Marks and Spencer, looking at the expensive handbags arranged in neat rows, usually with one selected for special placing on a sort of raised pedestal. I always wonder who buys such things. 

So what was the object I spotted today? 

Tastefully spread put on a glass surface was a selection of hats. Beanie hats! Those pull-on woolly hats that teenage boys wear and that I put on to go running on cold mornings. These were special though. They had veils attached! Yes, veils! Charming bits of net! I stopped to look at the price : £108! 

What more can I say?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Some thoughts about children.

It would seem that there has been a baby show, the biggest baby show ever, in London's Olympia this week. At one time a baby show was a bit like a beauty competition for babies, a "bonny baby" competition, where judges decided which baby was the best looking. Someone has probably decided that such a thing is no longer politically correct and I must say I agree. Everyone's baby is the most beautiful in the world. That's a foregone conclusion. 

No, this was an event to show off all the wonderful equipment you can buy now to make you into better parents. From such things as a baby buggy that converts into a high chair at the press of a button to romper suits that have magnets for fasteners instead of buttons or poppers. It did not say whether the former cleaned itself up after the baby had finished spreading food over it. And the justification for the latter was that it can take up to a minute, yes, a whole minute, to fasten a baby's romper suit and this is a minute you can use for cuddles instead! 

Unless, of course, you are so busy on your mobile phone that you have no time for cuddles. I mention this because there is a Bluetooth wristband (a positive bargain at £44.95) which lets you know if your toddler has wandered off beyond a pre-set distance. Here is what I read about it: 
" "When parents today are out with their kids, they've got their phones going, they're answering texts and checking Facebook -and if the little one darts off, there's this heart-wrenching moment of panic," said Mark Phillips, father of two and the inventor of My Buddy Tag, a wristband that allows you to track your child's movements on a Smartphone app." 
Or, of course, I find myself thinking, you could just put your phone away and interact, a fancy word for talk and play, with your child instead. 

There's a whole lot more stuff that modern parents seem to need. It's amazing. I really do not know how we managed to raise two children. No wonder they say having children is a very expensive business! 

Another aspect of childrearing in the news has once again been the question of letting children play out. Research tells us that children who are driven everywhere and not allowed to roam freely, occasionally getting into difficulty climbing trees and so on, are less likely to grow up to be self sufficient young adults. Apparently this is one explanation for so many young adults still living at home with their parents. And there I was, believing it was something to do with the economic situation, unemployment and the lack of affordable housing! 

Having said that, I am cautiously on the side of those who say that children need to be encouraged to be independent. Yes, children should walk to school and even do so on their own if that is possible. But there are limits. Nostalgia is a fine thing but it sometimes makes people forget that when they walked to school unaccompanied back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were far fewer cars on the road and it actually was less dangerous! 

The grammar police came out in me today. In the Sunday paper there is a feature where a well known person writes about books, films, art exhibitions, restaurants and such like that have impressed him or her over the last week. Today it was the turn of a writer of books for children. I found myself squirming when he talked about a film he and his wife had seen and not been terribly impressed with, only to find that they could not stop thinking about it. "Me and Emms were texting each other for days afterwards ... " he wrote. "Me and Emms" did a number of other things as well. 

Now, I know lots of people speak this way all the time but it grates on me. There's a bit of me that believes that those who do this consider themselves to be more important and are giving themselves centre stage all the time. If you say "Emms and I did this and that", you give Emms pride of place and put yourself humbly after her. (I might even accept "Emms and me did this and that", but only with great reluctance.)

That's my take on it anyway and I really think that someone who has written very successful books for children, formative books for children, should know better.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Supermarket adventures.

Further to my comments yesterday on pets, here are some more. Today in the supermarket I found a whole section devoted to Hallowe'en for cats and dogs and Christmas for cats and dogs. Why not for rabbits, hamsters, budgerigars as well? Or even tarantulas? Well, some people do have pet tarantulas! 

I could just about understand Christmas stockings for pets. Grudgingly, I might admit that the children in a family would love Rover and Kitty to have their own Christmas stocking. But why would you really want to buy doggie treats at an elevated price, just because they are packaged nicely for Christmas day? 

When it comes to advent calendars, though, my sense of the ridiculous rises up and protests. I grew up with advent calendars that simply showed you a Christmas-related picture every time you opened a little paper door. None of this stuff about sweets and chocolates every time you open the door. Or even, going up the scale somewhat, a mini-present every time you open a door! So you can imagine my reaction to advent calendars for cats and dogs. 

Surely there are going to be some confused pets around after Christmas. For 25 days, their beloved owner calls them over once a day and gives them a special treat. After this has gone on just long enough to be implanted in the small animal's idea of what is routine, the whole thing stops! I imagine the owner saying, "Sorry, Tiddles, Christmas is over now. But, never mind, it'll soon be your birthday and I'll bake you a special cake. And I'll buy you a special Easter egg as well!" 

Leaving the supermarket, I saw my bus sailing away down the road. Faced with half an hour to wait for the next one, and not having too much to carry, I set off walking part of the way home. As usual my route went round the side of the supermarket and through the entrance where the delivery vans arrive. So, to save myself a few hundred yards of bag carrying, I pushed my trolley along to the gate and left it there, donning my rucksack in preparation for a bit of a walk. 

Just after I set off a car driver hailed me and asked in a posh voice if that was my trolley. I resisted the temptation to say that in fact it was not mine but belonged to the supermarket and owned up, wondering what he was after. Why was I leaving it there? Once again, I refrained from sarcasm and did not reply that the supermarket does not like you walking off with their trolleys. Instead I reassured him that the supermarket staff would collect it and all would be well. With that he drove away. 

What did he take me for? Some kind of vandal? My soft answer turned away his indignation but he still seemed a little bemused as he set off again.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Dog days!

On the bus the other day I heard two ladies seated behind me discussing, with great enthusiasm, a website one of them had discovered which sold Hallowe'en costumes for dogs. And they were at such bargain prices: only £20!!! 

I could make all kinds of comments about the nonsense that Hallowe'en has become, with the card industry producing a delightful range of gory cards with which you can wish your loved ones a "Happy Hallowe'en (?) and a whole new branch of the tat trade selling special bags in which children can collect the sweets they will be offered when they go "Trick or Treating". These bags are all in black and orange, which appear to have become the colours of Hallowe'en. I blame that on the pumpkins! 

However, I think I have gone on about that at sufficient length. The mere mention of such things is quite enough. 

No, what struck me as especially ridiculous was that these were mature ladies. Now, our eldest granddaughter has a Hallowe'en costume, batwings I think, for her cute but unnecessary little dog but she is still a teenager and can be expected to do silly things. There are far worse things a teenager can get up to than dressing up her little dog. These ladies on the bus, on the other hand, were old enough to know better. 

They went on to talk about Christmas. One of them commented that her daughter, or possibly her granddaughter, had asked what she could buy for the dog for Christmas. Here we go again! It is mid-October, which is already quite early in my opinion for getting worried about what to buy for your friends and relations. In this case, the stressing was about what to buy for the DOG! Oh, I am sure dog lovers everywhere like to give their pets treats on Christmas day but when other members start to enquire about what they should buy for the canine friend, it really is too much. I found myself wondering if the dog gets to write to Santa, signing off his letter with a paw print and sending it away to the North Pole! 

Incidentally, the lady in question suggested that her daughter, or possibly her granddaughter, should by the dog some leads. The dog already has lots of collars in different colours and so some matching leads would be lovely. The dog's owner does love to take the little fellow out in coordinating collar and lead! I do colour co-ordination with the best of them but this is a dog we are talking about here! This is the dog as the ultimate accessory. I imagine some mind of pooch whose fur has been brushed and styled to match its owner's coiffure. 

I am a great believer in dogs being treated as dogs and not as surrogate babies. They should not have ribbons in their hair or fancy coats to wear. Surely dogs have fur coats to keep them warm! Do they truly need an extra coat on top of that? My granddaughter turned up with her little dog wearing a raincoat. She claimed he would not leave the house without it as it was raining! Really? I think we can tell which is the pack leader there! 

Mind you her dog is a fancy breed, a fox-faced Pomeranian or some such thing. The lady in the flat next door has just acquired something called a "shug", which sounds like some light weight item of clothing you put around your shoulders on cool evenings. In fact a "shug" is a cross between a "pug" and a "shitzu". A strangely ugly little thing it is too, although it had my younger granddaughter in paroxysms of delight as she declared how cute it is! 

Where do all these odd creatures come from? When I was a child, people had spaniels and Labradors and boxers and Alsatians and ugly bulldogs. The oddest you usually ever saw was a poodle with its fur cut in that silly way people used to do and possibly dyed a fine shade of peach or apricot. 

But that was as far as it went!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Out and about.

Last week I had several shoe incidents. On Tuesday I discovered that my toe was poking through the top of my running shoe. On Thursday I went out to meet our grandson from school; walking up the hill to the school I looked down and noted that I was wearing one running shoe and one walking shoe, both trainer style shoes, but even so! And not even matching colours! Then on Friday I set off running and realised half way round that I was wearing my walking shoes. So it goes. 

Having discovered the hole in my running shoe, I thought it was time I treated myself to a new pair. So yesterday I went to the running shop in Manchester and explained what I wanted. A friendly, helpful young man offered to see what kind of innersoles would be best in my case, if I had about twenty minutes to spare. So I stood on a fancy glass affair that took a picture of the underside of my foot to show up how flat-footed (or not) I might be. Then the computer went to work and I had to stand on another kind of device which moulded innersoles to the shape of my foot. After this, with a fancy innersole in one shoe and an ordinary one in the other I ran on a treadmill while my running style was videoed. All this so that the charming, helpful, friendly young man could point out how much better, more balanced and so on was the leg with the special innersole shoe on the end of it. 

Eventually, after I had selected a pair of shoes he said, almost as an aside, that there was, of course, an extra charge for the innersoles. How much? £45. £45!!!??? 

So inevitably I opted for ordinary innersoles! And, amazingly, the shoes work really well. I don't run any faster than I did before but I doubt if that would have happened with fancy innersoles either. And do I really care? Well, no! 

I ran in early morning chilly sunshine today. It was fine. The day went off a little after that but picked up again in time for Phil's brother to come round and visit. 

We have established a tradition for his visits. After briefly catching up over a cup of tea we set off for a walk over the hill to Diggle. There we call in at Diggle chippie, the smallest fish and chip shop in the world. Actually I don't know if that is truly the case but it is tiny, located in a small shed, possibly what used to be someone's wooden garage years ago. If you were to try to set it up now you would probably get tied up in all sorts of planning approval difficulties but there it is, a fait accompli. A small wooden chippie, decorated with ancient photos of the area dating back 100 years, if not more. 
 And so we sat by Diggle duck pond eating fish and chips in the autumn sunshine. 

 Not a bad life.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Wheels on the road!

The hoverboard has been declared illegal: too unsafe to use on the road, as well as not meeting any of the criteria for licensing for road use, and too fast and dangerous for use on the pavement. When, I find myself wondering, is someone going to say that bicycles are too fast and dangerous for use on the pavement? Anyway, from now on you can only use your hoverboard on your own turf! 

Predictably, our ten-year-old grandson would like a hoverboard but he thinks they cost around £200 and this is beyond his budget. I have no idea if his idea of the price is correct or not, although his assessment that a hoverboard is beyond his means is undoubtedly correct. Instead he has spent some £12 of his savings on his first skateboard and is trying to master that. He would like to go straight to performing fancy tricks in a skateboard park but his practice session in the factory yard yesterday revealed that he needs to be a little patient and has some way to go before he can perform tricks. He learnt to ride a bike with no problems whatsoever, getting his balance at age two on one of those pedal-less bikes they produce nowadays and moving quickly onto a proper bike without stabilisers. Consequently he is a little cross to find that a skateboard is not quite so easy as he had thought. 

Well, now I can tell him there is no point in his saving for a hoverboard. I fail to understand how anyone can seriously consider it a means of transport. It doesn't even hover! It's more of a toy than anything else: a toy for people, usually men, with money to waste. It has developed, according to what I have read, from the segway, an equally silly means of transport, a kind of motorised scooter which can reach a speed of 12.5 miles an hour. The hoverboard seems to be essentially the same thing but without a handle to hold onto and steer by. In other words, a toy! And one that can only be used in your own garden from now on. 

Mind you, I also have concerns about mobility scooters. I see these being driven on the road close to the centre of Oldham and wonder at the sanity of some of the people driving them. These most definitely should be on the pavement. After all, they are only one step up from motorised wheelchairs. I find the idea of driving one of those in major road traffic, with buses and lorries going past and possibly not seeing you, more than a little frightening! Rather like that film by David Lynch, "The Straight Story", where an old man drives a lawn-mower-tractor affair from one state to another in the USA. 

I mentioned bikes on the pavement earlier. Well, the cycle debate continues in a couple of areas: helmets and cycle paths/cycle safety. I read this morning that in Seattle, USA, you can be fined $102, that's £67, if you cycle without a helmet. Meanwhile in Amsterdam the only people who wear helmets are foreign tourists and the cyclists of Amsterdam find it really amusing and scorn them. However, their city is one of the safest in the world for cycling and you are very unlikely to be crushed by a lorry there. I would still wear a helmet though. If you fall of your bike, for whatever reason, and land on your head you are a lot less likely to be brain-damaged if your brain is protected by a helmet. 

The people who collect statistics about such things tell us that in places where many people cycle there are fewer car-bike accidents. For one thing, the cyclists are more visible just because there are plenty of them and drivers are more accustomed to taking them into account. Also, in such places, car drivers are more likely to be cyclists as well. There is, of course, a kind of catch 22 thing going on here: if more people cycled there would be fewer accidents but while there are still lots of accidents fewer people cycle. And many of those who do cycle do so on the ****** pavement. 

Interestingly, statistics show that car drivers give a wider berth to cyclists without helmets, although I am not sure how they work that out. And Boris Johnson is concerned that cycling in London is seen as a predominantly middle class activity. One commentator said that London cyclists tend to be "Somebody who is quite environmentally friendly, quite independent, maybe a bit of a leftie, vegetarian". There's a sweeping generalisation for you! Boris has stated, "I want more women cycling, more older people cycling, more black and ethnic minority people cycling, more cyclists of all social backgrounds - without which truly mass participation cannot come about." 

All very admirable and I must say I agree with him. Fancy agreeing with Boris Johnson!!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The strangeness of things.

Despite predictions by a bunch of religious fatalists, who said that the world would end on Wednesday, here we still are. This was a continuation of the blood moon predictions from a few weeks ago. When the world didn't end at that point they did a recalculation and said that God had been calculating which of the churchgoers deserved to get into heaven but needed a bit more time to sort out those of us who no longer set foot in his places of worship. The mind boggles! Truly! 

So here we still are and, according to the World Health Organisation, getting fatter by the day. By 2025 they estimate that there will be one billion obese adults, not just overweight but actually diagnosed as obese. Some experts even think there have been metabolic changes. They have done comparisons between people having a certain calorific intake and a certain rate of exercise and worked out that in the 1960s and 1970s those people lost more weight than they do now. 

Personally I feel that it may because we babyboomers are not just the fortunate generation (free university education, maintenance grants, jobs aplenty when we graduated, etc, etc) but in fact we are a special little super-race who just do things more efficiently! 

I have been reading about a strange phenomenon in Argentina. Young people there are not getting married. Well, fewer of them do so now than ever before and a group of friends decided, when they realised that it had been a long time since they had been to a good wedding party, to stage a "falsa boda". This false wedding, at which friends got all dressed up, oohed and aahed at the pretend bride and then had a good knees up to celebrate, was so successful that they have now started to do it professionally. And so they stage weddings with a twist. A third party will turn up, an ex, a spurned lover, someone who knows a secret, and events take a dramatic turn. People pay around £30 to attend these events, probably a lot cheaper than paying for stag and hen parties, wedding gifts and the like. And an added spin-off is that it provides a wonderful venue for hardworking single people to meet possible future spouses! Fact is stranger than fiction! 

Clive James, Australian poet, writer, "personality", has been apologising for not being dead. Last year he wrote a poem, Japanese Maple, stating that his leukaemia would have finished him off by the time the maple turned red for the autumn. New medication has kept him alive to see another autumn. Another who has avoided the end of the world! 

Out running this morning, I stopped to chat to Jack and his little dog Rosie. A huge lorry stopped and the driver asked us the way to a local small industry. We were happy to oblige and as the lorry went on its way we talked about sat navs. Jack said he might need to get one after, despite a quite lengthy resistance. Yesterday he set off to Christie's Hospital for a check up (he is another who has cheated the end of the world) and got lost. One way systems, changes to buildings over the last year and who knows what else got him confused and he ended up in the middle of nowhere. And missed his appointment to boot. For the return journey he opted to do M60 and M62, coming off up the road from here at Denshaw. In retrospect this was a mistake as he took the long way round the M60 and finally got home at around 4 in the afternoon, having left home at 10 in the morning. Goodness knows how many miles and how much petrol he consumed! 

Life is more complicated than fiction!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Words and opinions.

Yesterday I learnt an Italian slang expression for calm down: "Camomilati". Mixture of the actual Italian for calm down, "calmati" and "camomila", the herb used to make a calming infusion. I have to confess that I find camomile tea quite revolting but continental Europeans swear by it. The French give it to colicky babies to settle their stomachs. My stomach, however, is thoroughly upset by this herb. Nonetheless, the Italian expression is very pleasing. 

When you look out and despair of the rain falling down and the river rushing by in spate, just tell yourself, "camomilati", and all will be well! 

Words were clearly in the air yesterday. Later, over a glass of wine, out of nowhere Phil suddenly commented, "Why are people who make hats called milliners?" So, of course, I had to Google it. Back in the 14th century, I discovered, the best hat makers came from Milan. In Middle English people from Milan were called "Miliners". And so today we still have milliners and millinery. with a slight spelling change. 

 This led me to think about haberdashers. Back to Google I went. It's another word of old Middle English origin with a bit of French thrown in. Back in the day, in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, "small goods", caps and ribbons and such, were called "hapertas". Sellers of "small goods" were called haberdashers as a result. And so the name was created. Sometime in the 17th century someone tried to make a verb "to haberdash" but it never caught on. but we still have the haberdashers. 

There you go. 

 There's an American who has visited England and tweeted, I think, his impressions of the country. However it was he put his opinions out there, it all went viral and a friend of mine posted it on Facebook. Here are a few of his opinions and impressions: 

"Everyone is very polite. 
There are no guns. (This was reiterated - several times!) 
Everything is just a little bit different. 
Pubs are not bars, they are community living rooms. 
People don't seem to be afraid of their neighbours or the government. 
Refrigerators and washing machines are very small. 
Everyone has a washing machine but driers are rare. 
There are hardly any cops or police cars. 
When you do see police they seem to be in males and female pairs and often smiling. (He obviously went to nice safe parts of England! I have friends who view our police in a different light.) 
The reason they drive on the left is because their cars are built backwards. 
Black people are just people, they didn't quite do slavery here. (Hmmm!?) 
Obama is considered a hero. Bush is considered an idiot. 
They eat with their forks upside down. 
It's not unusual to see people dressed different and speaking different languages. 
Everyone knows more about our history than we do."

I could go on and on. His comments say as much about his own country as about ours. 

I just found the whole thing quite fascinating!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Trouble shooting.

In Texas an eleven year old boy looked out of his window and asked his eight year old neighbour if he could look at the puppies he had heard she had just got. When she said no he went and got his father's shotgun and shot her in the chest. They tried to save her life but failed. Who teaches an eleven year old to respond with such an action? What was his father doing leaving a gun where his son could get hold of it? 

Some police shootings of civilians in the USA are being described as "suicide by cop". The "suicidal" civilian provokes the police into a standoff, does not actually fire a shot but causes the police to shoot him. What happened to disarming or shooting to disable? 

I find these reported events quite disturbing! In many ways these people, who speak the same language as us, are amazingly alien. 

Having said that, I was equally disturbed by photos of sharp shooters on the tops of buildings in Manchester observing Sunday's protest demonstrations against the Tories and their conference. One excuse was that you get a better view of the crowd through the sights of a gun than you do through binoculars. Really? No suggestion that they might pick off trouble makers and frighten the rest into going home? 

(I was tied up with family obligations and did not take part in the rallies. A large number of my friends did though. Huge numbers turned out and the protests still continue today. In Manchester this afternoon I did not see anybody famous, or indeed anybody obviously connected with the conference. Mind you, I didn't go very near the conference venue so it's not really surprising. There was a helicopter hovering over the conference venue but you didn't need to get very close to see that.) 

On the other end of the gun question, Jessica Valenti was writing in the Guardian about a question her daughter asked. They have this routine at bedtime where the little girl can ask about anything that worries her. In this case it was guns. Do guns exist "in real life" the worried five year old wanted to know, as if she thought, or maybe hoped, they were only for the baddies in stories. So they had a little talk about it and the questions only got harder from there. The little girl, quite logically, wanted to know why, if guns hurt people, they were “allowed.” She wanted to know if only the good guys have guns, and if cops are good guys. Still living in a fairy tale situation! 

I remember trying to put off the day when my children would have toy guns. I didn't think they were appropriate. (Mind you, I didn't think Barbie dolls were appropriate either!) My children grew up with very little television. We didn't have a set and so they only saw it occasionally at other people's houses. And yet they still learnt to shape their little fists into gun shapes and play shooting games. Eventually, after watching them make guns out of stickle bricks, among other things, and after my young brother in law bought them water pistols one summer's afternoon, I gave in. But we did have some conversations about the rights and wrongs of it. 

How much harder must that be in a country where it is accepted that quite ordinary people own guns?

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The silliness of things.

We only ever buy newspapers at the weekend. Well, occasionally, if we are travelling by train in the UK we buy one to read on the train. This is especially so if Phil spots one that offers a free bottle of water. Otherwise, as I said, only at the weekend. Life is too short to read a whole newspaper every day of the week. So, today being Sunday, when I ran through the village this morning I stopped at the Co-op to buy the paper, among other things. 

It was only as the cashier totted stuff up that I realised that I had accidentally picked up two copies. The cashier was gaily ringing up two copies without a concern in the world. I suppose it was conceivable that I was picking up a paper for a neighbour but you would have thought she might have asked if I really planned on reading the same paper twice. Fortunately I noticed in time! 

Looking at the magazine section over breakfast I spotted some things about fashion. First of all, in an item called "We love", one of those features that selects things you might possible covet, there was a coat that looked as if it was made up of rejects from the kind of rugs my grandmother used to make. In reality, I think it was made up of sections of lambskin dyed in a range of colours and patchworked together. Part of an exclusive collection by Net-a-porter, it had a ridiculous price tag. Sorry, fashionistas, for just over £1,500 I expect more than something that looks like my grandmother's old rug! 

Then there was a so-called teddy bear being sold by Harrods. This is the Burberry Thomas bear, another exclusive item, made of cashmere (woven fabric, not even fur!) and retailing at £425. Who buys these things? You couldn't give it to a child to cuddle and chew and drop in its breakfast Weetabix! 

I moved on to "10 things we learned at London Fashion Week. The first thing I learned is that the models all look androgynous and miserable. Are they not allowed to smile at all? Is it like passport photos? Nothing else of great import was included in the article. One fashion designer is promoting the wearing of bumbags. Not, however, the kind that make you look, to quote the article "as though you are an American tourist in fear of being mugged for your passport" but an enormous thing with "room for everything in there from your supersized mobile phone to a spare pair of shoes". There are two odd things there: mobile phones, which everyone wanted to be as small as possible, are getting bigger and people expect to carry spare shoes around with them! How odd!! 

Later I found an article called "What does this dog say about me?" It featured a young lady called Nicola who owns a Pomeranian, the same kind of small dog that our granddaughter turned up with recently. This young lady is 22 and works as an administrator for Dior. What exactly does a 22 year old administrator do? Anyway, she has this dog and apparently people often tell her, "That's not a real dog - it's a teddy bear." Which is also my reaction. The other bit of my reaction is that it might be cheaper to have a teddy bear, even one of those exclusive Harrods teddy bears. 

The journalist writing the column was quite impressed at one so young as Nicola owning a dog at all. According to her it shows commitment and the ability to love something other than herself. She also commented that you can tell Nicola works in the fashion industry as "she's wearing one of those weird no-sleeved coats which are supposedly cool at the moment. Nobody non-fashion wears those, because they're silly". I second that ! 

Here's my final bit of silliness for today, a sad bit of silliness: a friend of mine posted on Facebook an item about the shooting in Oregon. A gun shop owner in the USA has been stocking up on assault rifles. Why? Because "there is always a rush after a shooting". 

What can I say?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Another week comes to a close.

And so the weekend comes around again. The end of a remarkably sunny week. It has been very pleasant strolling around catching up with people in the sunshine. Monday doesn't count as it was only the dentist. Tuesday it was my Italian classmates and Wednesday lunch with a couple of former work colleagues. All good stuff. 

Yesterday I took an old friend for a walk around Dovestone reservoir. There were a fair few people there but not as many as you might see if it had been Saturday. Mind you, today - Saturday - is grey and gloomy and not a good day for strolling round reservoirs and having picnics in the sunshine. 

Having been taught by my daughter in the summer how to take panoramic photos with my phone, I just had to take a couple of the view from the path between the two reservoirs. 


Apart from people's dogs we saw no interesting wildlife, not even the odd rabbit or pheasant. Unlike the other day. Out walking on Monday, Phil drew my attention to something on the hillside opposite: two young deer! A number of people have told me about deer around here but until then I had never seen them. I have no idea where they came from. In the late 1970s, early 1980s we lived in a house in the valley between Delph and Denshaw. From what people tell me, that valley is teeming with deer now. Back then there were none! Strange! 

No animal life to speak of up at Dovestone, but we did see some fine views. 
Now, imagine making your way of the tube station and coming across this view. 

Apparently it is street art. Of a most spectacular kind, I must say. Here is a link to more examples of the same kind of thing.

 Life is just full of interesting stuff!