Sunday, 31 January 2016

What's in a name?

My German friend Heidy posted this on Facebook :

 "I tried to look up the German idiom: "Heute musste ich wirklich *meinen inneren Schweinehund überwinden*" and came across some reasonable translations, such as "to overcome one's weaker self", but I also found this one: "to conquer one's inner pigdog"... lol"

I also took a look in an online dictionary and found: den inneren Schweinehund überwinden - to conquer one's inner self. 

Funnily enough, I remember "Schweinehund" as a common insult in all those old WWII movies you used to see on television in the fifties and sixties. I found this confirmation online: 


 1) an German insult, that is more popular in British movies than in Germany itself. 

2) "blutiger Schweinehund" (bloody swinehound), even more popular in British movies. 

3) "innerer Schweinehund" (your inner swinehound), means the enemy inside yourself that makes you passive. 

John Cleese is a bloody Schweinehund." 

Heidy and I have decided that we are going to try to introduce the expression "to conquer your inner pigdog" into everyday English usage. After all, stranger things happen in this language of ours. 

There is an actress called Tuppence Middleton!! She is one of those people-of-the-moment, suddenly to be seen on screens all over the place, at present playing the wicked Hélène Kuragin in the television version of War and Peace. It seems she was called Tuppence because that was her mother's childhood nickname. How could her mother inflict that on her? As a nickname I'm sure it's fine but would you want it on your passport? Most of us grow out of our childhood nicknames! Or they are used only in intimate family moments, not exposed to the ridicule of the wider world. Mind you, it may be that being called Tuppence gave her a sense of being different and may even have helped her acting career. I must admit, I thought at first that it was her stage name and that she must have a "proper" name as well. Apparently not! 

Names are funny things. Recently Phil huffed and puffed about someone being called Holly, a name which has become very popular in probably the last twenty years. As he protested about it, I had a flashback to a children's birthday party some fifteen years or more ago. My niece was hosting a party for one of her children and one of the small guests was called Holly. My niece's older sister (also, of course, my niece - in fact, the first one I ever had), rather the worse for having downed several glasses of wine too many, declared in a loud voice, "HOLLY!? What kind of name is that? It's not a person's name; it's a tree, for goodness sake!" Well, yes, quite so. 

And yet, there are loads of Hollys (or Hollies) around now. And way back in 1958 Truman Capote named the protagonist of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Holly Golightly! 

And here's another thing: nobody found it odd that there were girls called Ivy forty or fifty years ago. (Maybe that will be the next name to be revived!) 

We have Holly and we used to have Ivy. We just need Mistletoe as a name and you could name your triplets in a good Christmassy way!

Saturday, 30 January 2016

That sinking feeling.

A friend on Facebook posted that one of her sons had run up a bill of over £1500 on his iPhone. How do you manage to do that? I wondered. Then I read about an update on the latest iPhone operating system that, unless you tell it not to do so, will decide on your behalf that the internet connection you are using is too slow and switch your phone automatically to 4G and charge you accordingly. Wow! How glad I am not to have that sort of contract. On the one occasion that I inadvertently used up the internet allowance that I have agreed with my phone provider, they sent me a text telling me that was the case and told me how much I might have to pay if I continued using it. So I was extremely careful and waited for my next month's allowance. 

But then, I am not a teenager busily playing games, downloading music and video clips, snapchatting or whatever it's called, and generally being unable to live without being connected. And I say this as a person who checks email and Facebook several times a day, not as someone who never ever goes online! But there have to be limits. How do you cope with unexpected bills of £1500? 

We have managed to get through today without losing power. Phil tells me that there was a brief power cut some time in the small hours of the morning but I was well away in the land of nod and knew nothing about it until I spotted the clock on the electric oven telling strange times. The generator has disappeared and we are now connected to the mains once more but there is still a trench in our garden and a rather large hole in the pavement outside out gate. We have electricity board barriers all over the place, including on our garden path. Quite where people approaching our front door are being diverted to, I do not know. 

According to the workmen who dug the holes and fiddled about with cables and connectors, the problem was probably caused when they built the new houses behind ours and connected them to the mains supply. As I already have some suspicions that the water that has been flowing down the road for months now is not going down the drains because those building works collapsed parts of the drainage system, you can imagine how unkindly I feel towards the company who built the houses. This is without going into the fact that they seem to have been built on what was formerly, I am fairly sure, a flood plain! Such is life. 

I have been reading some material written by the Swedish writer Henning Mankell, who died of cancer in 2014. Writing about his feelings on discovering that he was suffering from cancer, he said that it reminded him of a childhood fear of quicksand. He had heard stories of soldiers inadvertently stepping into quicksand and gradually being sucked down until they suffocated. Later, when he had, as he described it, "finally conquered the urge to give up, to allow myself to be swallowed up into the abyss", he did some research into quicksand. Thus he discovered that the idea of someone being sucked down into quicksand and not being able to escape is a myth; all the stories are fabricated. 

And yet, I remember as a child being continually warmed not to go onto certain sections of the beach of my hometown because I would risk being swallowed by the sinking sand, never to be seen again! How curious!

Friday, 29 January 2016

In the dark!

Last night the electricity went off shortly after midnight. Staggering around in the dark, using our mobile phones as torches until we located the actual torches, we could hear neighbours exclaiming to each other about the sudden onset of total darkness. Except, of course, that it wasn't total darkness because the street lamps were still operating perfectly. Houses further up the road seemed to be still connected. Just our little row then! 

The last time this happened, a couple of weeks back, it lasted for about 45 minutes. So we expected it to be much the same. However, when it got to 1.00 am and there was still no power, even Phil gave up and came to bed. There was little point in using up the computer battery, especially as the internet connection had gone with the power. 

This morning, to my surprise, there was still no electricity when I got up at 8.30. I spoke to one of the neighbours not long afterwards. Usually she complains about the over-brilliant new street lamps they installed last year. Taller and more powerful than the previous lot, one of them is right outside her bedroom window and prevented her sleeping until she put up blackout curtains. This morning, she said, she was glad of the brightness. At least she could find her clothes and make sure she had matching socks and so on. 

Ever efficient, she had already spoken to the electricity people, who confirmed that it was just our little block that was suffering. They thought it might be a fuse box on the end wall of our house causing the bother. They needed to go and get ladder as they had not come equipped for such eventualities. 

So I walked into the village to buy milk. If we might be condemned to a diet of cereal, and sandwiches, we needed to get supplies in. And I walked rather than ran because electric showers don't work during power cuts. A cold shower in January is not to my liking. Besides, I prefer to get out to towels that have been on a heated towel rail. How quickly we accustom ourselves to little bits of luxury. 

By the time I came back from the village there were ladders against the end wall of our house. However, the electrician told us that there was no problem with the fuse box. It must be something to do with the cable from the box to the mains supply. Further investigation was needed. Power would be restored asap. If he failed to locate the problem with the mains supply he would organise a generator to be connected to the fuse box and light - and heat, and cooking facilities - would return to all our houses. 

As the efficient neighbour with the streetlamp outside her bedroom window filled a flask for us so that we could make a hot drink - she has a gas hob - and then went across the road to ask a neighbour with power if she could charge her mobile phone, which was completely out of battery, I wondered if this is what the end of the world could be like. The prefect scenario for a science fiction story. Our central heating is gas fired but needs electricity to fire it up. We have no cooking facilities. The neighbour with the gas hob can use the hob but not her gas oven as that needs electricity to ignite it. Goodness knows how dark it is in the basement flat next door as the only source of light today is the French windows. For once I am relieved not to have been organised enough to have a gas fire (almost certainly electrically ignited) installed in the living room. We still have the necessary materials to light a fire there! 

In the post-nuclear holocaust science fiction world our electronically charged devices will gradually fail. As the generators gradually stop working our electricity supply will go and we will not be able to recharge our computers, mobile phones and iPads. The instantaneous communication we have grown used to will disappear. The poor idiots who can only cook in the microwave will be condemned to eat cold food. The rest of us might improvise some kind of cooking over open fires. But the owners of modern houses that have been built without chimneys or fireplaces. will have something of a problem there. 

Time to start laying in stocks now!

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Toilet talk.

On BBC Radio Four they have a comedy programme called "The Museum of Curiosity". Basically a few famous people each week propose an addition to the hypothetical museum and explain why they think it should be preserved for posterity. A sense of humour and pictures from a satellite out in space are among the things suggested. The other evening an Australian offered a toilet. This led to some discussion of the lack of facilities in the UK (see my recent post) and the cost of those which do exist (once again, see my recent post on this topic). 

She had quite specific requirements: f

loor to ceiling doors - she did not want to see anyone's feet, knees or heads. 

soft loo paper - none of the shiny, greaseproof paper stuff for her. 

background music - an essential requirement apparently. 

I can recommend to her the ladies' loos on one of the Porto railway stations: pots of flowers, pot plants AND music. Also the ladies' loo in the Manchester Deaf Institute, where they have proper towels. And then, as I have mentioned before, the ladies' loo at the SanFrancisco cafe in Pontevedra; to reach the ladies' loo you go through a veritable library - shelves of stuff, presumably in case you need some inspiration while you sit. 

Now, who knew that the word "tart", not in its use as a pie but as a derogatory term for women, started off as a contraction of the word "sweetheart", used to address women much as "love" is used nowadays? (Interestingly, in some parts of Yorkshire men are also frequently addressed as "love". Male friends of mine university in Leeds were seriously miffed by this!) It was only towards the end of the 19th century that "tart" came to have its modern meaning. Here is a link to an article about words that denominate women, words which have changed their meaning, sometimes quite subtly, over time. 

I particularly like the fact that "hussy" came from an old English word for "housewife". I suppose a "shameless housewife", one who did not look after her house properly, might have been negligent on the cooking and cleaning front because really she was a "shameless hussy". 

I was reminded of all the Spanish animals - zorro (fox), lagarto (lizard), perro (dog) and others - whose feminine forms - zorra, lagarta, perra - are commonly used to mean prostitute. It's rather like the use of bitch (female dog) in English. Maybe the tendency for feminine forms of words to become derogatory terms goes some way to explain why actresses nowadays prefer to be called actors: one term for both genders. Especially when you think of all the jokes about things "the bishop said to the actress". 

Language, from almost any nation, is apparently still very sexist. But then so is much of society and its customs. I seem to remember reading somewhere that if France ever elects a female president, she will still be LE Président and not LA Présidente. 

Here's another bit of politico-linguistic oddity: dead cat strategy. It seems that this comes from what is described as the rich and fruity vocabulary of Australian political analysis. 

"Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”. ‘That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says the writer's Australian friend, is that everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief'." 

Is David Cameron's referring to people in Calais as a "bunch of migrants" an example of this? Some people have suggested that that is the case. Devious!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Wind, rain and work experience!

Yesterday, with high winds forecast and the possibility of heavy rain, I carried my big, strong umbrella round Manchester like a talisman to keep the rain away. Small, more portable, folding umbrellas are no use in the wind; they just blow inside out and end up wrecked. The talisman/lucky charm element of my umbrella worked; it stopped the rain falling on me anyway. I just carted it around and tried to leave it in only one place. As a rule when I have the big umbrella with me, I end up having to run back to shops I have been in to retrieve it from where it has been propped next to the till while I pay. 

I was out and about for the day, well the afternoon and evening, which is more or less the whole day when you take travelling into account: Italian class in the afternoon and Stanza poetry group in the Stalybridge Railway Station Buffet in the evening. Consequently, there being no time to go home between events, I ended up snacking in Waterstone's Bookshop Cafe before going to the station for the train to Stalybridge. I now have yet another loyalty card to add to my collection. If I remember to get it stamped each time I have a coffee in the bookshop cafe, eventually I can claim a free coffee. The difficult thing is remembering where you have put all the loyalty cards. 

 In the cafe, earwigging on an earnest conversation in Spanish on one table and a very camp conversation about studying acting on another, I skimmed the newspapers online. There I read that the Spanish bullfighter Francisco Rivera is being investigated by the child protection agency in his native Andalucía after he posted a picture online of him fighting a bull with his five-month-old daughter, Carmen, in his arms. As expected, animal rights groups came out to say how awful he is and bullfighting aficionados praised him – some even nominating him “father of the year”. As María José Sánchez Rubio, the equality minister, said on the radio: “A fireman wouldn’t dream of taking a child to put out a fire, nor would a football player run around with a child in their arms during a match.” 

But Rivera denied he had put the child at risk. “It’s outrageous to say I put my child in danger,” he said. “There is no safer place for her to be than in my arms. This is Carmen’s debut, the fifth bullfighting generation in my family. My grandfather did the same with my father, my father with me, and me with my daughters Cayetana and now Carmen.” Other bullfighters, such as El Cordobés, posted photos of themselves with their children in the bullring. Crazy people! But I suppose you have to be a bit crazy to enter such a profession. 

You can't even say, "only in Spain". There are aficionados of fox hunting who take small children out with the hunt. It would seem that if you are keen on a potentially dangerous and definitely harmful-to-animals sport, you feel that children should be initiated into it as soon as possible. 

And then there was Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife enthusiast. He grew up in a wildlife park run by his parents and later made a series of TV shows about wild animals. Both my granddaughter and a former student of mine, when asked what they wanted be when they grew up, would tell me, "I want to be Steve Irwin". My granddaughter was only six or seven at the time; my student was sixteen going on seventeen! Anyway, Steve Irwin used to take his daughter to work with him. He was criticised for putting her at risk when she was only a toddler and, like the bullfighters, declared that she was perfectly safe with him. It gives a whole new way of looking at "Take your Child to Work Day"! 

Today dawned windy and grey but dry. So I followed my Wednesday routine for non-rainy days and jogged to Uppermill to buy stuff at the weekly market. Imagine my surprise when I found the square empty apart from the fish van. The young lady who helps the fishman said that it had been pouring with rain and blowing a gale in Fleetwood when they set off and wondered if the weatherman's promise that such weather would come our way might have put the other stall holders off. Who knows? One of life's little mysteries. 

The promised wind and rain did arrive later in the morning, proving once again that you have to get up early to get the best of the day!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Wild boar, political bores and me being boring about language use!

Bring back Astérix and Obélix! Why? Because they were famous hunters of wild boar ... as well as famous harassers of Romans. Their help might be appreciated in Chianti, Italy, where producers of Chianti Classico are having problems with wild boar invading their vineyards and causing mayhem, uprooting vines and generally being a nuisance. 

And it's not just wild boar. Apparently small deer are also in on the act. It never used to be a problem but both species have bred like rabbits over the last decade and are now all over the area. Hunters are supposed to keep the numbers down and do go out shooting the animals. There is an illicit trade in wild boar meat so they do quite nicely out of it. (No doubt, our heroes Astérix and Obélix would appreciate the popularity of their favourite dish.) Because of this it seems that some hunters are actually feeding the wild boar, thus encouraging them to remain and breed in the area. Shocking! 

Such are the problems of the rich wine producers! 

I am constantly amazed at how important religion has become in politics. I'm pretty sure there is nothing in the American constitution that says the president has to be a good Christian but it seems to be more and more the case that candidates have to show their faith. To that end - well, I assume it was to that end - Donald Trump made sure he was seen at a church this weekend. Apparently the Reverend Dr Pamela Saturnia gave a sermon that pointed out the Christian values of helping the outsiders and those discriminated against. Such as immigrants and refugees. Mr Trump commented later, “I don’t know if that was aimed at me … perhaps." 

Mr Trump has been trying hard to get the church people on his side, getting himself introduced on the campaign trail by the president of one of the countries evangelical universities and campaigning with the Rev Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas, a megachurch. No doubt this is because he is up against Texas senator Ted Cruz, a conservative preacher’s son who is getting a lot of support in some areas of the country. 

What I would like to know is what is an evangelical university? Does it do other courses as well as religion and how to be a preacher? I bet the science courses are interesting! And how about a "megachurch"?! America - where everything is super-sized! Oops! prejudicial stereotypes alert! 

Something odd, but rather pleasing, has just happened. I was about to have a little rant about this kind of thing that I was growing tired of seeing on Facebook: "Fred Bloggs has updated THEIR profile picture". Someone must have warned Facebook because when I went to look for an example I found that they had changed to correctly organised or differentiated versions: "Laura has updated HER profile picture" and "Paul has updated HIS profile picture". I really don't like the use of "their" in place of "his" or "her". 

Okay, so we don't have a neutral possessive adjective in English. Okay, so it's easier in gender based languages where you make "his" or "her" agree with the thing that belongs to him or her. Okay, so it's even easier in Spanish where the word "su" is used for "his", "her" and "their". But the modern trend to use "their" in English is driving me bonkers! 

Right! That's enough of that!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Bits of nonsense!

At around 3.30 this afternoon I heard the gentle plinky-plonk melody of the ice-cream man! Now, I know the weatherman has said that the cold snap is over and we can expect temperatures to get into double figures but I am still wearing two pairs of socks some of the time and we still have the heating turned up. It really is not ice-cream weather. When I was a child that annoying tinkly music was a sign summer was officially on its way, even if you still needed a jacket when you went out. But now, Mr Softee turns up all year round! More sensible European countries used to say that you should only eat ice-cream in the summer months but I have noticed that ice-cream parlours now seem to stay open all year round in Vigo, for example. Maybe they are catering for the holiday cruise market! 

Our downstairs next door neighbour has two small, yappy-type dogs in a basement flat the size of our kitchen-dining area. (The house next door, total area the same as ours, is divided into two dwellings: the main house occupied by a couple with two almost grown-up children and the basement flat occupied by the lady with the dogs. I occasionally feel almost guilty that Phil and I have so much space at our disposal.) The small, yappy-type dogs frequently race up and down the garden like things demented, leaving tracks in what cannot truly be called a lawn, tracks akin to sheep paths across fields. 

 For I don't know how long now the owner of the small, yappy-type dogs has maintained that it is perfectly fine for them to run around freely as they cannot get out. She has tried to persuade our daughter when she visits to let her dog join in the fun. Our daughter, however, is not convinced about the security and the reliability of the fences and barriers. Today she appears to have been proved right. 

I heard our neighbour's frantic cries as she disappeared out of the garden in pursuit of the younger of her two small, yappy-type dogs. He had clearly discovered a breach in the fence and made a bid for freedom. Now I notice that she only allows him to go around the garden at the end of a long lead. Small, yappy-type dog is grounded! His friend, older and wiser but equally noisy and even more prone to pointless running up and down, is still permitted to hurtle around the place, getting progressively muddier and muddier! 

Of course, if we did not own our house, we would undoubtedly be subjected to the dreadful "bedroom tax" to penalise us for having sleeping areas which are unused except for when friends or family stay over. Well, I read today about further restrictions on tenants by some landlords - not even government enforced! In some parts of London tenants have to pay £10 extra per night if they have a friend come and stay over! And in some cases they have to pay an extra charge every time they cook a meal or use the washing machine! 

How does the landlord know if and when his tenants have friends to stay? Does he pay someone to check up on them? That could explain his need to charge them extra. As for paying extra to cook meals or wash your clothes, surely the tenant usually pays the utilities bills and as a rule pays a hefty deposit from which landlords deduct charges for wear and tear on items such as washing machines. The level of greed is astounding! The exploitation is astounding! 

Add to that estate agents who charge would-be tenants quite large amounts for showing them accommodation to let - in addition, most likely, to charging the owner for finding them a tenant - and my faith in humanity takes another nose-dive! 

I remain amazed at the tenacity of young people trying to make their way in the capital. And I am extremely glad not to be a young person trying to make my way through that jungle.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Public (in)conveniences!

In London's Spitalfields a former public toilet has gone on sale for £1,000,000! It had already been transformed from public toilet into night club but was closed a few years ago because of drug problems. How appropriate, considering how many public toilets have been closed on the grounds that drug pushers congregate there to do their trading! The million pound former toilet is, I have to say, a very ornate building and should probably be preserved but the price for 600 square feet of property is a little over the top. Apparently 600 square feet is round about the minimum size of a newly built one-bedroom flat in London. When the toilet was a night club it could only hold 60 customers. Now it's being marketed as an ideal venue for a bar or restaurant. 

In the Guardian, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett was bemoaning the lack of public conveniences in the UK. Not just the lack but the appalling state of some of those that remain. She also bemoans the fact that so often you have to pay to spend a penny these days. Of course, we talk about spending a penny (now 30 pence on Victoria Station and Piccadilly Station in Manchester) because that is what you had to put into the turnstile to get into the public toilets. This was back in the day when they employed someone to keep an eye on what was going on there as well. 

Those little jobs that have disappeared - the loo keepers and park keepers - actually kept the loos and parks open. Nowadays many parks lock their gates at the end of the afternoon to prevent them being taken over by gangs of hoodlums, drunks and drug sellers. What a sad world it is! I wonder if you still see the ladies who used to sit in the entrance to the public toilets in Paris - Ladies to one side, Gents to the other - collecting a small fee which you discreetly dropped into her saucer, barely acknowledging her presence. I wonder if they would be considered sufficient to prevent mis-use of the toilets nowadays. 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett praised public loos in other countries. She clearly has not seen the ladies toilets in Vigo bus station. They are free but you really only ever want to use them if you are desperate. She also perpetuated the myth that you can pop into any cafe on the continent and use their toilets. I know of at least one small cafe bar in Vigo where the owner turns away people who just want to use the toilets. I also know people here in the UK who pop into cafes and pubs to use their facilities, without ordering anything. And in our particular neck of the woods the disappearance of public toilets (and the fact that the ones in the park in Uppermill are so frequently padlocked) is being countered by denominating certain pubs' toilets as available for use by folk who are out and about. I suspect that at least some of the walkers and shoppers who pop in for a pee also stay for a pint. Winners all round. 

Oh, another thing: Ms Cosslett wrote that the Spanish call public toilets "necesidades". Really? Who knew? Not this Spanish speaker anyway. I have yet to hear someone asking for the loo saying, "¿Hay necesidades por aquí?" It doesn't appear in phrase books, not to my knowledge anyway. I have yet to see a signpost with an arrow pointing to NECESIDADES. I should be interested to hear other people's views on this. However, a toilet bag is called "un neceser". 

Just the other day I ranted a little about the cost of public transport, another public inconvenience. Well, today I found an article by Own Jones in which he said this: 

 "Travel outside London, however, and Britain’s deregulated bus system reveals itself as the source of widespread, justified disgruntlement – an overpriced, inefficient, poor-quality mess. According to a report to be published this week, since deregulation in 1986 – unleashed with the promise that “more people would travel” – bus trips in big cities outside London have collapsed from 2bn to 1bn a year. In London, on the other hand, where everything from how much we pay to which routes exist is decided by the mayor and Transport for London, bus use since the 1980s has gone in the opposite direction: from around 1bn to more than 2bn trips a year. Britain’s bus privatisation disaster is a story of profit before need, and a discomfiting tale for those who believe the private sector automatically trumps the public realm." 

Here's a link to the whole article for those interested.

Further examples of the North-South divide and the swings and roundabouts aspect of that divide. All property, including former public toilets, is unbelievably more expensive in London but their public transport system is cheaper and all round better than in the North.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Getting the shopping done.

Overheard in the co-op in Uppermill this morning: 

"How are your driving lessons coming along?" 

                    "Not so bad but I'm having trouble parallel parking. It's really hard." 

"Never mind! You only need to do it once to pass your test and then you don't need it ever again. I never parallel park!" 

Wow! I wonder where she drives if she never needs to parallel park. Maybe she is the driver of the car I see parked near our house, regularly a good metre away from the kerb. A lot of people find it hard. My daughter reckons her fiancé can't parallel park properly because he has come to rely almost totally on the sensors on the back and front of his car, which tell him when he is getting too close to another vehicle. 

I appreciate that you might never again be quite so precisely careful a driver as you are when you take your test; familiarity breeds a certain contempt and possibly overconfidence. But as a rule the skills are still required. I wonder what else that lady in the co-op would consider redundant. Reversing round corners? Doing a three point turn? 

I ran to Uppermill first thing to shop at the market, planning to catch the bus back home afterwards, the first bus I could catch without paying. It was a splendid morning for a run. In the event, I finished the shopping so quickly that I also walked half way home before the bus came. It's very hard to run with a bag of fruit over your shoulder but I didn't want to stand almost fifteen minutes at the bus stop in my running gear. Running gear is fine for running but not terribly warm for standing around at bus stops. 

Last week I picked up some jumpers for our grandson in the sale at Gap in Manchester. He wore one jumper just once and the seam began to unravel. He suggested that I should "knit it back together", something that I could quite easily have done, but I was going to Manchester again yesterday and so chose to return it to the shop. Not only did they happily replace the item but they refunded what I had originally paid and charged me yesterday's sale price, another 20% off the marked sale price. So the skirt I had picked up off the sale rail for our younger granddaughter cost me a grand total of 39 pence. 

Now, that was an unusual occurrence because I keep hearing that women's and girls' stuff costs more than men's and boy's stuff. Inequality means that disposable razors are more expensive if you buy them in girly colours to shave your legs and underarms that if you are buying them to shave your face. The same model bike for small children will cost more in girly pink, probably with tassels and streamers and a pretty basket at the front to carry essential girly stuff around in, than in blue or green. There are even ballpoint pens with a price hike. The Bic biro company produces Bics and Bics for Her. You can guess which comes with the higher price tag. 

The moral, of course, is that girls don't need pink bikes, or special Lego for that matter. And any woman daft enough to believe she needs a special "feminine" pen deserves to pay more for it!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The difficulty of being out and about!

Today I went to the hairdresser's. Time for a new look, chop a few inches off and see how it goes, you know the kind of thing. My hairdresser was so pleased with her own work that she took pictures of it! How odd is that? Not odd that she should take pictures of her own work but that it turned out to be my head of hair! 

Anyway, I had to get up rather earlier than usual, with a couple of results: one expected and one unexpected. The expected one was having to pay for my public transport because I was travelling before 9.30, after which time I can travel free with my old biddy bus pass. Shock! Horror! £3.90 on the bus from the corner of our road to the tram stop in Oldham and £3.50 on the tram to Manchester. How do people pay these fares every day? 

Yes, of course I know you can buy saver tickets that allow you to travel all day on the bus for not much more than I paid for one bus ride, but that doesn't always work on our bus route. The service is provided by one bus company during the day and by another after 6.00 in the evening. The route was put out to tender some time last year and that was the result. The law of unforeseen consequences, however, leads to people buying a saver ticket from one company in the morning and then discovering that they cannot use it on that very same bus route after 6.00 pm. So, if they return home from work after that time they have to pay all over again! Nonsense! I have seen young people reduced almost to tears by intransigent bus drivers who play a power game of threatening not to let them travel and them "magnanimously" accepting their saver ticket at the last moment. Quite sadistic! 

There is another little matter I wonder about. If I travel on that bus from my daughter's house to our house, it costs me £3.80. Travelling from our house to Oldham on the same bus, i.e. continuing its full-length route, costs £3.90. So, in the admittedly unlikely event that someone might want to travel on that route from my daughter's house to Oldham, however much would it cost???!!! Yes, I know, the answer is to buy a saver ticket! But still, the cost of public transport here is exorbitant! 

Okay, the other consequence of my getting up earlier than usual, the unexpected result, was more of a sartorial matter. I got dressed in the semi-dark and arrived at the bus stop, with only minutes to spare, to discover that the supposedly brown tights I had put on were, in fact, purple. Not a major problem, except that they clashed horribly with the red shoes I was wearing!!! Cue for a lot of comments about the silliness of women and their fashion demands! However, it really was not on! No time to go back home and change! I had to buy a pair of brown tights in Manchester and go and change in the loo at M & S before getting on with the rest of my day. 

I always have something to read on public transport. Some people rely on the ubiquitous Metro, the free newspaper, but I find its mix of celebrity gossip and terminally sad or would-be uplifting stories mostly unpalatable. So I make sure I have a book or my kindle. Now, on the subject of books on the go, the other day I was listening to Open Book, a radio programme about ... wait for it ... books! I heard one of the speakers talk about having to be "time-clever" in order to read at least some of the many books she wanted to read. Audio books came into the discussion as a possible solution. Mariella Frostrup talked about listening to loads of stuff on audio books when she used to drive often to Scotland. I fully agreed with her. I used to do the same driving across Greater Manchester to work. 

Then another speaker went on to say how useful audio books are when she walks the dog! Nooooo! No! No! No! 

Walking is not a time to listen to audio books, or even music for that matter. I know someone who has a device that enables her to listen to her iPod while she swims, a kind of extra waterproof container into which she puts her iPod so that it does not get wet. I can almost understand that; swimming up and down the same indoor swimming pool can be a bit tedious. Swimming in an open air pool is a different matter, in my opinion. And Phil listens to the radio in the bath. This too is understandable although it is hard to listen to the radio in the shower - far too noisy! 

But out walking, part of the pleasure is seeing the world around you, enjoying the peace and quiet, reflecting on this and that. And if you are walking the dog, surely part of the fun, one purpose of the exercise, is interacting with man's best friend. 

Walking is not a boring activity from which you need distraction!

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Restaurants and snow.

Today's Observer newspaper is accompanied by the Observer Food Monthly, usually quite an interesting read for those of us who collect recipes and enjoy feeding friends and family. Jay Rayner, chef and food writer was going on about restaurants, in particular about service in restaurants and the things that niggle him: 

Waiters who don't carry a notepad to write down your order but rely on their (possibly less than reliable) memory; 

Restaurants which have tables too small to accommodate the multiple plates in their "share seven or eight small plates" menus; 

Waiters who insist on pouring your wine for you and then disappear with the bottle until they think you need a refill; 

(I would add, waiters who hover around your table and refill your glass without asking you. Like Mr Rayner, I want to be in charge of my own bottle of wine and my own rate of drinking!) 

Restaurants that hide the reasonably priced wines (something of a rarity in many UK restaurants, in my experience) among the gourmet wines, so that you have to read through all the wine list before choosing; 

Waiters who take the bread away after you have finished the starters, deciding for you that you don't want or need bread during the rest of the meal; 

Restaurants where the lighting is so subdued that you need to use the torch app on your phone to read the menu. 

 No doubt there was more and he undoubtedly made it more amusing. I tried to find the article online so that I could put a link to it but failed completely to do so. Lots of items from previous Observer Food Monthlies but not this one. So it goes. 

As expected, given the overnight weather, I walked into the village to buy the newspaper this morning. En route I met a lady walking her dog. She greeted me with, "Not running this morning?" I restrained myself and did not give a sarcastic answer about how observant and perspicacious she is, but merely pointed out that I thought it might be a little slippy. Running on a couple of centimetres of fresh snow is probably not advisable. 

Here are some pictures of the aforementioned snow. 

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Cold weather and urban stuff.

Well, they said it would be cold and it was cold and still is. I set off out for a run this morning and had to walk a good part of it because the pavements and roads were so icy. These things happen! The ducks and geese were skating on the millpond and all the puddles were frozen. 


Later, I walked along the bridle path. Or, rather, I tottered along at the edge of the path as the mud on the main path has turned into one long skating rink. But at least it was bright and crisp then. The clouds came in towards the end of the afternoon. 

And they promised us snow and the snow has come. It's been rather thin, sleety stuff so far, not what you could properly call snow, but it has coated everywhere with white stuff and the grandchildren of the lady who loves in the basement flat were running around throwing (very small) snowballs at each other. Tomorrow is another day. We shall see what it brings but I suspect that I will walk rather than run into the village for the newspaper. 

With all this cold stuff around, it might be time to think of something else. I read today that Vigo's under-used Peinador airport has a contract with TAP airlines for them to fly from Vigo to Lisbon, starting in June or July. Maybe it's time this summer that we gave ourselves the trip to Lisbon we keep talking about. 

I also came across this headline:   
Vigo - El primer "urban market" verá la luz en la calle Progreso (Vigo's first "urban market" will open on calle Progreso). 

My first reaction was to wonder why they use the English expression when you can perfectly well say "mercado urbano". Then I wondered what makes that market more "urban" than all the other market halls around the city of Vigo. There really is no way you can describe them as "rural". And finally I wondered if it had anything to do with the street markets that they have been running monthly at the top of Progreso Street for the last few years, craft stalls and stalls connected to local shops. 

In fact, it's a new development within the old market hall on the street. It's going to be called "Progreso 41" and it will apparently be a mix of gastronomy and culture, modelled on similar "urban markets" in Madrid and Oporto. There will be 37 "locales" - shops/restaurants/whatever - all dedicated to "degustación" or tasting stuff. 60% of them will be food from other countries, 20% delicatessen and 20% what they call "tiendas pop-ups", places which will not be there on a permanent basis but remain for only a few days, or weeks at the most. 

I so like the way they have made "pop-up" agree with plural "tiendas", just as if it were a proper Spanish adjective! 

Food from other countries, eh? I wonder how well that will fare in Vigo. The Galicians are not noted for their willingness to try foreign food, almost as suspicious as my grandparents used to be of stuff that was not what they were used to. Sushi bars and Indian restaurants tend not to remain open long, for lack of customers more than any other reason. 

Assuming this all works, there will be a second phase when the upper floor of the building will be adapted to house little shops: barbers, tattoo parlours and the like. 

It will be interesting to see how this fares.

Friday, 15 January 2016

On social media, celebrity disappearances and the arrival of winter!

The European Court of Human Rights upheld the decision of a Rumanian court that a company was within its rights to monitor the private correspondence of one its employees. Ouch! Granted he was using the work computer to email his fiancée and his brother but even so, it's a very grey area. The fact that you have a WORK computer and sometimes a WORK phone does suggest that those things should be used for WORK. The clue is in the name. But sometimes the edges blur. 

I was always careful to use my own computer and my personal email account to contact friends and family. However, there were people I knew through work who only had my work email. And occasionally they wanted to contact me for social reasons. What do you do then? Or sometimes, colleagues wanted to organise something like, a drink after work. The fastest way to contact everyone was via the work email. Should they lose their job for that?

The whole monitoring thing is very tricky. If your boss trusts you to do your job efficiently and well, should he really need to check your work email? Do you work as well as you could if you feel the steely eye of the boss on you at all times. Once again, ouch! 

And then there is the question of the wider social media. Should your employer have the right to pry into your Facebook or Twitter account. My gut reaction is, certainly not! After all, they would not expect to have access to snail mail arriving through your home letterbox. Most of us denied our parents the right to read our letters from quite an early age. 

And yet, I find myself wanting to tell friends to be a little more circumspect in what they put out there on Facebook and the like. Whether you like it or not, people who are not your "friends" still manage to see your posts on occasion, no matter what privacy settings you put up. 

Stefan Stern, writing in the Guardian pointed out that there might be a plus side to the accessibility of your social media stuff. "For example, your social media presence may not only amuse and impress your friends, but could remind a potential employer that you are available. If we are heading for a “gig” economy, we will need to publicise our services even when we are nominally off duty. How many of your Facebook friends are really friends, for that matter? Are they in fact contacts? Or both? There may be no simple answers to these questions in 2016." It's an opinion, I suppose. 

As for sending the odd private social message on your work computer or checking your Facebook on work's time, is it really so very different from having a private chat with a work colleague at the next desk, also on work's time? 

Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about such things and can be amused by what younger "friends" or friends post. Two such had an exchange this morning where one was bemoaning the fact that so many people just use Facebook to recycle the news, especially when it is about the death of 69 year old celebrities, of which there have been rather too many lately. As one of them said, it's not really just about expressing how upset you are that yet another of your idols has popped his clogs; what it's really about is trying to be the FIRST to do so! 

One of the things that amused me was an item from Newsthump, which can be relied on to take a sideways look at anything and everything:

"Game of Thrones author George RR Martin is responsible for ‘New Year 2016’ in which he kills off all your favourite characters, he has acknowledged. He began writing the work late last year when he bumped off Lemmy in the prologue, before moving on to chapters one and two where David Bowie and Alan Rickman met sudden and ill-deserved ends, leading to an outcry from fans." 

(So that is why George RR Martin has not been meeting his deadlines for writing the next book in the series. nothing at all to do with being busy writing screenplays for the TV series!) 

Meanwhile, serious news items are warning the over 69s, or even possibly the over 60s to keep warm over the next week, when temperatures are expected to plummet to as low as -15!!!! Well, there was already ice on the puddles this morning, frost on the rooftops and a distinct chill in the air. 

But the sky was blue instead of grey which was a good start. It waited until mid afternoon to return to grey and gloomy. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Equality Matters!

Women are supposed to be able to do anything that a man can do. Well, within reason! Let's not get carried away, after all. We all know that there are physiological differences that mean that both genders can never do exactly the same things as each other. 

However, we have got used to women becoming bricklayers and men becoming midwives. As a general rule, we mostly agree that, even if men sometimes get paid more for doing the same job, women can work in most fields that were previously male-dominated. (And vice versa, of course. Except that in the latter case, the men often still get paid more than the women. And they often float to the top of the profession more quickly. There is something fundamentally wrong there.) 

So in the midst of all that, along comes Bernie Ecclestone, maintaining that a female driver “would not be taken seriously” in motor racing. Asked about the possibility of women drivers returning to Formula One racing, he said: “I doubt it. If there was somebody that was capable they wouldn’t be taken seriously anyway, so they would never have a car that is capable of competing. There was a girl that was driving in GP3 for a whole season so it is not something that hasn’t happened.” A reporter went on to ask: “But it is not going to happen in the main event?” Ecclestone replied: “No. I don’t think so.” 

So there we are. He's not against women racing drivers per se; he just doesn't think they will be very successful. In fact he went as far as to suggest the sport may never see a female racer again. And yet there were women in the sport on the past. Almost 40 years ago the Italian driver Leila Lombardi became the last woman to start a Formula One race at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix. In fact she took part in 17 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix and was the only female Formula One driver to have a top six finish in a World Championship race (1975 Spanish Grand Prix). 

But she was in a minority. She was one of the only two women who managed to qualify for a formula one race. The other was the first woman ever to race in a Formula One Grand Prix. She was Maria Teresa de Filippis ( who incidentally only died the other day, at the grand old age of 89), another Italian, who participated in five World Championship Grands Prix, debuting on 18 May 1958, but scored no championship points. Though largely unsuccessful in her Formula One racing career, she won races in other series and is remembered as a pioneer in the sport. 

Personally I can't see the attraction of driving at speed round a race track but, nonetheless, if women want to do so, they should not be discouraged. 

The same sort of attitude seems to apply to women who play what I still think of as computer games. Our granddaughter spends quite a lot of time playing shoot'em up and kill'em games and is often regarded as a little odd for doing so. It's OK for a girl to play Candy Crush Saga but other things are seriously a male preserve! 

How odd!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

One of those Days!

Someone told me today is National Left-handers' Day. Fine! Most left-handed people I know, and I know quite a few, seem to cope well with the so-called handicap. In fact, some of them consider themselves superior to right-handed folk. But, yes, I do sympathise with lefties and feel that allowances should be made for them .... but only while they are at school. Special scissors, seating them so that they don't bang elbows with their right handed desk partner while they work and so on. Once they reach adulthood, however, I think they are quite capable of fending for themselves. At any rate, the ones I know are! 

And yesterday, another source told me, was National Kiss a Ginger Day. Having been a ginger, I can honestly say that this is a load of tommy rot. Being ginger never stopped me being kissed and I really wouldn't want random strangers coming up and offering to kiss me just because I'm ginger. This "girl with orange hair" never saw it as a handicap and just because people in media have conspired over the last 15 years or so to make people think that gingers are odd and inferior does not make it so. 

What next? Green/grey/whatever colour you like eyes making a person inferior? 

Mind you, in a world where people might be considered inferior for silly reasons, perhaps it's better to be left-handed than ginger. No one can tell just by glancing at you that you are left-handed. Well, not unless you have been writing with a very smudgy pen and have smeared ink all over your hand while doing so. 

And then, maybe we need National Left-handers Day and National Kiss a Ginger Day to point out to some people the absolute silliness of prejudice of any kind. 

Yesterday I went on a little about pigeon-holing people according to age and other factors. Well, today I found this clip from Antena 3, featuring an old lady of 81 who is assumed to be unable to dance because of her age and arthritis and such. There's a bit of me that wonders if the lady in question was a trained dancer. Is it possible to photoshop videos to make a young dancer look like an old lady as she arrives? 

And then, without wanting to put old ladies into pigeon holes where they have to dress a certain way, you really should take a look at the killer heels the old dear is wearing! No wonder she needs a stick to walk down the road. Not that she is the first old lady I have seen tottering along a Spanish street in shoes that no sensible girl would, or indeed could, wear! I think Italian ladies have a similar stubborn refusal to give up their high fashion items. 

So much for pigeon-holing!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


You can grow a tad tired of being categorised, put in box with a label on it, having people assume that you are nothing but a .... (insert type here). 

Recently when Marks and Spencer were having a change of top management and the usual round of criticism of their stuff - too dowdy, too frumpy, good quality but unfashionable (another example of cubbyholing) - and someone in one of the numerous interviews about it declared that the problem was that M & S tried, unsuccessfully, to appeal to too many age groups. According to the speaker this was a mistake because mothers and daughters never shop in the same place. Oh, no? I mentioned this in conversation with my daughter, and her daughter (18 years old) chipped in, "Well, all three of us often buy similar clothes to each other and often from the same shop!" So there you go! 

And just now I read about some psychological study which has concluded that people over 65 do not understand sarcasm. Clearly no-on has told them that 65 is the new 45, or something like that. And then, their study was based on the responses of just 116 (why that random number?) people of varying ages, which is hardly going to be a representative sample. Any basic knowledge of statistics would tell you that. Over 65 covers an immense age range. And maybe, when the over 65s in their sample responded in a way that suggested they did not understand implicit sarcasm, just maybe those over 65s were being sarcastic in their turn. That would be ironic, would it not? So, we must be careful about putting labels on anyone. That way intolerance and overreaction lie! 

I was in Manchester again today. The city centre still appears to be one huge building site, and looking even more miserable in the chilly damp of a grey January day. In one of the shops I called in at, the shop assistant asked what I was doing with my day. So I told him. I was on my way to an Italian conversation class. He asked where it was and on discovering that it was at the Manchester Deaf Institute (one of the few places where the rent is anything like reasonable near the city centre for a class like ours) he proceeded to ask if that was the place where they do music gigs. After a bit of orienteering and geography we discovered that we were in fact talking of the same place. I knew nothing of the concerts organised in upper rooms of the place and he knew nothing of all the stuff that goes on for deaf students in the whole place. We had different "labels" on the same building. 

We went on to chat about learning languages. He is learning French, gradually moving up through the levels of proficiency imposed by the Alliance Française. His motivation was having spent some time studying Media in Paris. He has a Masters in Media but, like many young people, the only job he has been able to get so far is working in a clothes store, perhaps one where he worked part time as a student. I wonder how many over-qualified shop assistants there are in Manchester alone! 

For today's Italian class we had been asked to write a short biography of someone famous, past or present and of any nationality. So I chose the writer Jhumpa Lahiri because I had recently read an article of hers in which she talked about her experience of learning Italian and her decision from now on to write only in Italian. This was partly as a means of improving her fluency in Italian; it works! I used to tell my students to try to keep a diary in French or Spanish. It helps you begin to think in the foreign language. In the case of Jhumpa Lahiri it was also because she was interested in the way writing in a foreign language altered her writing style. Here is a link to her article .

Interestingly, I read somewhere that Samuel Becket said that he began to write in French to improve his fluency but also that wrote differently in French and in English. Becket translated his own work from one language to the other but Jhumpa Lahiri has her Italian writing translated by a professional and experienced translator. Oddly enough, I also read that the Galician writer Domingo Villar does not translate his own work from Galician into Castilian. Apparently he said that if he were to start to translate his work he would feel the need to alter it. If he wrote his books in Castilian Spanish, he maintained, they would be quite different books. 

A different kind of categorising!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Families, famous folk and oddities about animals.

It must be hard to belong to a family which is always in the spotlight. One member of such a family must have been feeling that this morning when she had to turn up at a court in Mallorca, on charges of tax evasion along with her husband. The UK newspaper in which I read about the story still referred to Cristina Federica Victoria Antonia de la Santísima Trinidad de Borbón y de Grecia – her full title - as a member of the Spanish royal family and sixth in line to the throne. Now, I may be wrong but I am pretty sure they sort of threw her out the royal family at an earlier stage of this case coming to light. She still gets to visit members of the family. After all, you can't actually change the DNA and Queen Sofía is still the grandmother of Cristina's children. Come to that, the current king of Spain is still their uncle. But Cristina and Iñaki no longer seem to get invited to the big royal family holidays or have any official duties. She is no longer truly an Infanta. 

What a come down. I remember the razzmatazz of their wedding, a very glamorous affair. Her sister Elena had been married some years previously in the huge cathedral in Seville; the first royal wedding Spain had seen since before the civil war and a televised event to rival the UK's royal weddings. But Cristina and Iñaki's wedding in Barcelona was heralded as a kind of unifying ceremony for all sorts of diverse bits of Spain. She was from the old royalty (de Borbón y de Grecia, after all), he was from an old Basque family (a troublesome region that needed some TLC) and they were marrying in Barcelona, Cataluña (another troublesome region that needed some TLC). What could be better? Such high hopes! 

I wonder how they managed to get themselves into the morass of corruption and tax evasion. You would have thought that they had people to advise them about such matters. 

Meanwhile Barcelona popped up in another news story. Trade unions there are fighting to prevent Pablo Picasso’s former art school being turned into a museum devoted to the film director Woody Allen, which they say would hold more appeal for the city’s legions of tourists than for its residents. It would seem that the mayor of Barcelona had promised that the building would be restored and reopened as an art school once more. But presumably a Woody Allen museum would make more money for the city. However, I do wonder WHY there should be a Woody Allen museum there. Surely New York is more his city. I know he filmed "Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona" in the eponymous Spanish (oops, Catalan!) city, which incidentally gave him a big chunk of cash towards the making of the film, but I would have thought that was the only real connection. Maybe he should also have a museum in Paris; after all he made "Midnight in Paris" there! Then tourists in both places could take selfies the. 

Which leads us onto ownership of selfies and a silly story. A US court has ruled that a macaque called Naruto cannot own the copyright to “selfies” that he took with a nature photographer’s camera, throwing out a lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), which sought to use proceeds from the photograph to help other monkeys. Here's a link to the story behind the court case. Well, of course monkeys are clever enough to work out how to use a camera and take selfies and the story is quite amusing but, as the person who wrote the article where I found this story said, surely the PETA organisation should be spending the donated money on more important things than monkeys owning the rights to photos. Even if they took the photos themselves! 

And finally there is the story of a Chinese tourist who tried to kiss a snake. She went to a show organised by a Thai company and decided to lean forward and kiss one of the pythons. The snake was clearly not the sort to be kissed by just anyone and bit her on the nose. She has been paid £2,200 in damages. 

And there I was, thinking the silly season didn't start quite yet!

Sunday, 10 January 2016


Apparently David Cameron plans on calling for all parents to attend parenting classes. "In the end," says he, "getting parenting and the early years right isn't just about the hardest-to-reach families it's about everyone." It's true that children don't come with an instruction manual. Neither do puppies but it is probably easier to find a nice, straightforward, easy to read how-to-look-after-your-puppy book than it is to find a similar tome about child-rearing. So maybe, just maybe, he has a point. 

As a rule the owner of a new puppy is not usually exhausted after giving birth and so has more energy to put into studying what to do. And you can more easily take time off, putting the puppy in his nicely equipped puppy cage and going out for a drink. Now, I know there are people who would say that you really should have a babysitter for your puppy as well, so he doesn't get traumatised in your absence, but it's not the same as popping your tiny baby in his carry cot and leaving him on his own while you go out for the evening. 

And when you think about the kind of training that the best professional nannies receive, then maybe it is a little unrealistic to think that new parents instinctively know how to look after children. 

Coincidentally, before reading the news item about parenting classes, I had been talking to my daughter about one of the children in her class. This child is a physically large nine year old who mostly does what he is told in school, perhaps a little clumsy, perhaps not terribly well co-ordinated, perhaps a bit distracted on occasion, probably not the brightest button in the box but not a major problem. His mother, however, thinks he should be statemented as being somewhere in the autistic spectrum. She has a litany of things he does and doesn't do at home, all of which indicate to her that he is a problem child. Only after a long parent-teacher consultation did the mother concede that her child was actually not a problem at school but she still feels he needs support if some kind, which in fact he already receiving according to my daughter. 

It may be that this mother needs some training in parenting but how do you make her understand this without making her feel that you are patronising or even insulting her. Even David Cameron agrees that it will be necessary to incentivise parents to learn how to do it. "I believe we now need to think about how to make it normal - even aspirational - to attend parenting classes." 

Then there are the children getting no parenting at all in refugee camps like the one in Calais. I was reading about the case of a 15 year old Afghan, Massud, who suffocated in the back of lorry as he tried to get into the UK. He got fed up of waiting for someone to help him process his claim to join his sister in the UK and took matters into his own hands in the period between Christmas and the New Year, with fatal consequences. 

And yet, it turns put that he was one of a list of unaccompanied minors in the camp who were forming part of a test case, a legal challenge against the Home Office which will be heard on January 18th. He was handpicked as a desperate case, a vulnerable child who deserved to be reunited with a family member already in the UK. I wonder if anyone told Massud that this was going on. 

He was 15, still a child but quite old enough to understand the processes that were taking place. Children need to be talked to. Had someone told him, he might have lived to find put the results of the challenge! 

Post script on a lighter note. After my rant about sportswear yesterday, here is a link to a cartoon called "Things I have learnt from ... taking up jogging" by Simone Lia.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Working out.

Years ago I used to go to an aerobics class. It was kind of a follow-on from a do-it-yourself fitness programme using Jane Fonda's Workout book. That book had lots of good ideas but I sent it to a charity shop a good while ago, although I still do some of the amazing Ms Fonda's exercises. 

Anyway, I signed up for an aerobics class, in the local church hall if I remember correctly. It was very good. Fun, lively, fast moving exercise to music. The accepted "uniform" was leotard and tights. In my case, that meant basic black. I was working part time, we had a couple of kids and little money to spare on fripperies. I soon discovered that this was not the case for some of the ladies in the class. 

They appeared in a different colour combination every week. Granted, some of them went to several classes and so needed a change of exercise wear while the other was in the wash. But it soon became very tiresome to hear the repeated conversation along the lines of " What a lovely leotard!" "Where did you buy that outfit?" "Don't you think (insert brand name) do really nice colours of sports wear?" Good grief! This was clothing to get hot and sweaty in! All the people in the class were women so there weren't even any men to attract! But then, some of them were also immaculately coiffed, manicured and made-up! Just a bit of feminine competition then?! 

I was reminded of this today by this item in the Guardian Weekend magazine, which is full of features about exercise and fitness. Some of the sportswear featured costs silly money. Leggings for £108! Vest tops for £68! I can just about understand the high price of running trainers; after all, your feet and legs need proper support if you are not to suffer joint problems. But the rest is just fashion nonsense. 

And it has become hard to find stuff reasonably priced, especially if you want the kind of fabric that wicks away sweat. So I tend to buy my running gear when they have a sale at the running shop in Manchester. You can usually find something to suit in the right size at a reasonable price, so long as you are not particular about colour and don't insist on everything coordinating. 

That's all!

Friday, 8 January 2016

The rain in Spain has been falling on Galicia!

Just when I had had enough of reports of floods in the North West of England, lo and behold, a friend on Facebook let me know about floods in the North West of Spain. Bits of Vigo that we know well have been under water. Vigo has had more rain that Santiago de Compostela, a place that gets rain when other places are basking in sunshine. Here come some statistics: Vigo had 181 litres of rain per square metre on Thursday but, on the other hand, the minimum temperature was 13.5, the highest recorded since 1957. More rain is expected over the weekend. 

Just as well we have not organised to go there at the moment. I don't think we would really appreciate swapping one damp, grey place for another, even if Vigo is rather warmer than here. Just as well also that our flat in Vigo is on the seventh floor and in one of the higher streets of the city! 

 So for the moment we are still in Saddleworth, which did manage to see a little sunshine today after a rather gloomy start. By the time I had persuaded Phil to leave his computer and go out for a walk the sun had already sunk rather low in the sky but at least most of that sky was blue. 

The North of England has been in the news today for another reason: the restoration of the steam train, the Flying Scotsman. They have been restoring this amazing engine for about ten years and today it was back on the rails. Here is a link to an article about it, with video footage. I wonder if a century from now people will be getting nostalgic about the high speed trains of today and organising associations to raise money for their restoration. Somehow I doubt it. 

 Nostalgia is not what it used to be!