Monday, 29 February 2016

Weather, wonky drivers and words.

Blue sky and sunshine all day today! Lovely! Eeyore, the bread shop weather witch, told me it would be so when I bought bread this morning. And she was not misinformed. This afternoon it was mild enough to stroll out without a coat. Of course, there were still plenty of fur coats and thick scarves in evidence but there were also a lot of sunglasses. 

Eeyore told me it will be fine and sunny again tomorrow (which perhaps means a rather cool night tonight) but by Wednesday the rain will be back. She had a little moan: "¡Qué poco nos dura el buen tiempo!" How short a time the good weather lasts! You can see why I call her Eeyore. Even when summer comes she will not be satisfied unless the temperatures soar to 30+ degrees for weeks at a time! 

But she is right about the inordinate amount of rain there has been. On Saturday I met a young friend at Pontevedra station and we walked into town along the path that runs beside the river. I don't think I have ever seen the river Lérez bouncing along like that before. My young friend is working in La Coruña and told me that she didn't think they had had an awful lot of rain there over the winter months. Now, I know that October and November were unusually delightful all over Galicia but I saw pictures of floods in parts of Vigo in December or January. And I had the impression that most of Galicia had caught some of the storms that hit the UK recently. 

Maybe, as Sarah herself agreed, she is influenced in her view of what constitutes a lot of rain by the fact that she comes from Greater Manchester (well, Salford) and also lived for two years in Santiago de Compostela. And that city is the rain capital of Spain! You can tell when you are approaching it on the train as the cloud cover grows thicker! This is a well known fact. 

Returning from the bread shop this morning, I witnessed one of those bits of silly, stubborn driving you sometimes see around here. My attention was drawn by the honking of horns. And there it was: a car trying to execute an almost certainly illegal u-turn through a pedestrian crossing. The lights were green in favour of the traffic but he had stopped anyway, sort of half-turned into the gap in the central reservation, waiting for a pause in the traffic on the other side of the road. Despite the fact that there are two lanes on each side of the road he was managing to block both lanes on his bit of the carriageway. 

 Eventually he managed to make his u-turn, followed by a string of insults (the usual stuff about doing disgusting things to the milk of the mother who bore him - standard Spanish swearing!) from the driver of the car that had had to wait behind him. The irony of it all is that in the time he had waited for a suitable gap, he could have driven maybe half a mile to the next roundabout and done a perfectly legal turn! 

One of the fruits if my recent trip to Vigo central library is a book by Isabel Allende, "El Cuaderno de Maya" (Maya's notebook). The Maya of the title, a young girl from California, ends up spending time in Chiloé, an island in an archipelago off Chile. Despite the fact that her father and grandmother are originally from Chile, Maya has only limited Spanish when she arrives there. She grew up in California, after all. As her Spanish improves she discovers that the people of Chiloé use vocabulary and grammatical structures that are not to found in any handbook for learning Castilian Spanish. Even people from mainland Chile (if such a long, thin country can be described as having a mainland) would have difficulty with some of it. This is because Chiloé has long been somewhat isolated and still uses structures from ancient Spanish. 

That brings me back to a recent conversation with my friend Colin about some oddities in American and Canadian English that can only be explained by their being old English usage that has been maintained on the other side of the ocean. Language is a funny thing and cannot be bullied into conformity. 

Rather like Spanish drivers and Galician weather!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Flirting with power.

I am growing a little weary of professional politicians. There's Tony Blair pontificating about how neither Jeremy Corbyn nor that transatlantic socialist Bernie Sanders has a chance of becoming leader of their respective governments because they are "unelectable". Isn't that up to the electorate to decide? Isn't that what a democracy is all about? And when was politics a beauty competition? 

David Cameron clearly gives a lot of importance to sartorial elegance, having commented angrily in the House of Commons that Corbyn should buy himself a good suit and fasten his tie up properly. Obviously these are things that you learn at posh schools! 

Keir Hardie, the first Labour MP, speaking in 1906, apparently said, "A working man in Parliament should go to the House of Commons in his workday clothes. He should address the speaker on labour questions, and give his utterance to the same sentiments, in the same language and in the same manner that he is accustomed to utter his sentiments... Above all, he should remember that all the Conservatives and Liberals are joined together in the interests of capital against Labour." 

But, of course, we should not expect David Cameron to take notice of anything Kier Hardie said. 

If it were left up to me, I would demand that all candidates should have worked at least ten years in a proper job, whatever party they belong to, before standing for parliament. That's not going to happen though. 

On the other side of the Atlantic there is an African American Republican would-be candidate for the presidency who has been saying that Obama cannot possibly understand the problems of black Americans because he was brought up "white". Presumably that means that he did not grow up in one of those big city estates that they refer to as projects. This is a little like saying that a male writer cannot properly describe female protagonists in their novels, never having been female, and vice versa of course. It's amazing what a little intelligence can do! And there's a part of me that wonders why, if that African American candidate has such experience of growing up properly black, he is a Republican and not a Democrat! 

Of course, that candidate has to defeat Donald Trump before he even gets to presidential elections. And, amazingly, Trump begins to look like a possibility. Has anyone questioned HIS electability? Despite his ravings against immigrants, it turns out that his wife is a former model of Slovenian extraction. So it's only Mexicans he wants to keep out then. This is a man who, according to an article I skimmed yesterday, claims that he could have taken Diana, Princess of Wales, to bed. Apparently she made eyes at him. Mind you, she is also supposed to have flirted with Clinton, Blair and Dustin Hoffman, among others who claim that honour. 

Perhaps those gentlemen should realise that just because a pretty girl bats her lovely blue eyes at you, it doesn't necessarily mean she is ready to hop between the sheets with you. A little flirtation is a good game, especially when a girl realises she has that power!

Friday, 26 February 2016


Since we arrived here in Vigo, just over a week ago, I have not seen hide nor hair of "Soy-muy-pobre", the young woman who was our regular supermarket beggar for the first few years of our having the flat at this end of town. The last time I saw her she was complaining that fewer people come to our Mercadona supermarket since they opened the new, bigger, shiner one at the revamped old "bodega" at the far end of the street. So maybe she has gone elsewhere in search of richer pickings. She is not the regular supermarket beggar at that new Mercadona, at least not when I go past it. That store has an older, equally gipsy-looking beggar woman. 

Conceivably "Soy-muy-pobre" might have decided to speak in straight Castilian all the time (instead of sliding into the dialect which I can only call "beggar's whine" and which annoys me intensely!) and has somehow found herself employment. However, given the employment situation, I think that is unlikely. 

Yesterday we had a new supermarket beggar, an old man. As I left the supermarket I gave him some small change and only managed to get away from him with great difficulty as he tried to give me his life story. It seems he is younger than I am, although he looks about 80. He is living on the street despite suffering from prostate cancer. Surely there must be some kind of shelter for people like him but he told me he has been to the municipality in Teis and in central Vigo and they have no help for him. The local church just offers sympathy. As, I must confess, so did I. It can't be much fun getting into old age and illness and living on the street, especially with the rain that keeps on falling. For he told me, as if I were unaware of it, that it had rained in the night! 

It was raining again this morning. The weather witch bread shop lady told me gloomily that it is set for the day. Not only that but there will be storms tomorrow! In fact, she said, if it were not for her son being in school, she would emigrate. Where would she go? Oh, the Canaries or Cadiz! I refrained from asking do they not have schools in the Canaries and Cadiz, both part of the same Spanish system! After a week of her daily doses of gloom, I have decided to rename her Eeyore! 

A decidedly un-Eeyore like character is Paul Daniel, conductor of the Real Filharmonía de Galicia, the orchestra whose concert we went to last night. A bit of Mendelssohn and a bit of Schubert. Very nice! Paul Daniel, an Englishman in charge of the Galician orchestra, is more of a Tigger than an Eeyore, although Phil has decided he is really a BFG lookalike. Tall and unbelievably skinny, he positively bounces in front of the orchestra. No baton. He uses his long-fingered hands to coax the musical effects he wants from the musicians. Presumably they understand the different hand gestures perfectly. Even in quiet sections of the music, you can see him mouthing the rhythm softly to himself, all the while putting his finger to his lips to indicate a gentle approach to the music. At times, he leans over and seems to be listening to specific musicians or sections of the orchestra. At others, he sways to one side or the other. And then he even leaves the floor in enthusiastic jumps! 

 It is not just his skinny height that makes him a perfect candidate to play Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant, although that is the first thing. He has a longish face with a quite high-domed forehead, which enhances the BFG effect. Pointed toes on his shoes make his feet seem longer and thinner but his hands need no help; I swear his fingers are quite preternaturally long and expressive! But mostly it is his odd mobility, sometimes fluid, sometimes jerky but almost always as if his limbs are not quite joined together as they should be. And he really appears to enjoy his work. 

 Forget about the music; just watching him conduct is enough entertainment!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

In the library

With some trepidation I took myself off to Vigo central library on Tuesday morning. This library has always been a confused and confusing place with books on shelves according to no order I have seen elsewhere. Presumably there is an order as the books all have catalogue numbers but I have always found everything higgledy piggledy, do-it-yourself books alongside poetry alongside classical literature alongside theatrical works. Fine if you know exactly what you are looking for and can seek it on the computer system - awful if you want to browse. 

So I looked up a couple of authors on the computer and found lists of books. Not available! Not available! Not available! So it went on, until finally I came across two books with catalogue numbers, both seemingly available. When I got to the relevant sections of the shelves .... neither book was there!!! Grrrr!!!!! 

About to give up in frustration, I was making my way towards the exit when I spotted a section called "Narrativa". And there I found, ¡que sorpresa!, novels arranged in alphabetical order of author!!! What a novel idea! Quite what was meant by "narrativa" remains unclear. This was not a collection of what might be termed "light reading" for it included classics of literature, although I suspect that many of these are also included in the "literatura" shelves. 

Who says things never change? At last it is possible to browse in the Vigo central library! All they need to do now is sort out the heating system; the place is always far too hot! 

Another innovation in the library was the sign that read: Desde marzo 2016 prestamos E-Readers (aparatos lectores para libros eléctrónicos). I find myself amused by the fact that they advertise their intention to loan a bit of technology that they have no Spanish name for and in fact feel obliged to explain underneath the English name. Surely someone can come up with a pithy Spanish name for E-Readers, something other than "machines for reading electronic books". Ah, well, I have seen a number of kindles and the like around when travelling by train so as they become more widespread, someone will undoubtedly come up with a good Spanish name or a weird version of an English word to use instead or the term E-Reader will be adapted and adopted into the Spanish language! 

Thinking of the lady who was speaking admiringly about self-checkouts the other day, I wonder what she would make of the library in Oldham town centre: bright and airy and with machines where you can check your own library books in and out! No laborious checking your ticket, stamping the book and passing it over a magnetic reader. 

Inglaterra es un país moderno and we don't have funcionarios (civil servants) with protected jobs in the libraries!

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Do it yourself!

At the supermarket the other day I had bought just two items and found myself at the end of a long queue. Looking around I saw that all the tills had long queues. The lady behind me in the queue started moaning about the cashiers. How they never work fast enough! How they chat too much with customers! To some extent that is true but that is because, certainly in our bit of Vigo, almost all the supermarkets, even the big Carrefour, are rather like our local Co-op store back in Delph. The cashiers know most of the customers because they are regulars and regular customers are almost like friends. It also reflects a slightly slower pace of life. 

And then, out of the blue, my queue companion made a comment about Carrefour where a cashier had told her that in many other countries of Europe they have these magical tills where you just swipe the code yourself. So I told her that just about all our supermarkets in the UK, apart from places like our local Co-op store, have self-checkouts. On discovering that I am English she went on to tell me, "Inglaterra es un país moderno". She followed that with a comment on how sensible we were not to get into be in the euro zone. As if that made a difference to self-checkout tills and the speed of service! 

I would not be at all surprised to find that supermarkets in Barcelona have self-checkouts. I must ask friends who go there regularly. Of course, one problem with self-checkouts here would be customers paying by card and having to show their ID to do so! Not very "self" checkout.

One of the differences, as well, is that in the UK there has long been a move towards big supermarkets in shopping complexes on the edge of towns. And although recent years have seen small versions - Tesco Express, Sainsbury's Local and so on - opening in city centres, they remain as impersonal as the big put of town places. Here in Spain, on the other hand, even in large cities like Vigo, each district retains something of the atmosphere of the separate small community it used to be. And so districts like Teis at one end of the city and Calvario at the other still have their own market hall. For that matter they have their own local festivities, their own mini carnaval and Easter processions. 

Small places in the UK are trying to revive that sort of thing. Our village has a "Wake Up Delph" committee that organises switching on Christmas lights and a sort of music festival that they call "Party in the Park". 

All good stuff. Spain should try not to rush into being too much of a "país moderno".

Monday, 22 February 2016

Ants and other oddities.

On Saturday morning we had ants. Not everywhere. Just in a couple of places in the kitchen, clustered around the honey pot and the tea pot. The honey I can understand but I was unaware that ants liked tea! How did ants get up to the seventh floor? You have to admire their determination. Or has some child on another floor broken his ant farm and the little beasties are now roaming the building? 

Much as I might admire their tenacity, I really didn't want them in my kitchen. So I am afraid that they had to be eradicated. Or at least dissuaded from continuing to visit us. So, after a major clean up of all surfaces and a search for possible entry points, we sprayed insect repellent under the sink and around the washing machine. Fingers crossed that they do not return. I always associate ants with summer infestations. What are they doing up and about in mid-February. Have the slightly higher temperatures (9 degrees down at the Carrefour roundabout at 9.30 on Saturday morning, up to 10 day, a significant increase on Friday's 4!) woken them up? 

Saturday and Sunday saw blue sky and sunshine. We were strolling around carrying our jackets? Positively spring-like! Of course, the temperature has gone up because on Friday I went and bought warmer bedding, Thursday night having been rather chilly! 

I remember as a child being tucked up in bed, tightly trapped under a weight of blankets, barely able to move. This was especially so during a stay in hospital. I suppose it was meant to be reassuring, to make you feel safe. To some extent it worked. Even as adults we sometimes feel the need to have that weight of bedclothes over us on a cold night. 

Then came continental quilts. Before that, quilts were things grandmothers made out of old dresses and other items of clothing, patching pieces together in set patterns. In some societies they had quilting parties, where ladies got together and made a quilt together, each one sewing a little until the whole was completed.. I made a small one for our son's pram. A patchwork quilt, a proper one, is a kind of memory bank. Each bit of the pattern remembers an old item of clothing. 

(My grandmother also made rag rugs. Strips of material were pulled through the open weave of hessian to make a rug that would be displayed in front of the fireplace. Another memory bank. This is a traditional skill that some people have been reviving. A friend of mine made one recently and has been inundated with requests from friends and relations to make one for them.) 

But continental quilts were different: like eiderdowns but thicker and fluffier. The idea was sold as something that made bed-making easier. All you needed to do was shake up the continental quilt and sort of throw it onto the bed. And it was a "continental" quilt for quite a long time. Obviously it was not an uptight British thing - blankets needed tucking in properly with the corners neatly folded. "Continental" quilts were altogether looser and freer. Oddly enough, here in Spain, well, in Galicia or at least in the Chinese bazaars here in Vigo, they are referred to as " nórdicos": something from the North then, not a Spanish thing at all. How interesting! 

Our smallest grandchild has always slept, indeed still sleeps in her recently achieved two-year-old status, in a bag. Not just any old bag but a sort of warm, padded affair that her legs are tucked into and then it is fastened at her shoulders, leaving her arms free. There are different weights of bag for different times of the year. Our children slept in similar things when they were tiny babies but it didn't continue beyond their being a few months old. One consequence of this extended bag-sleeping is that our granddaughter can sit up in her cot when she wakes and even stand, although that is a little awkward. What she can't do is what her father achieved almost as soon as he learnt to walk: liberate herself from the cot. 

Almost as soon as he could walk, he set about climbing out of the cot in the morning. Having his legs free, he was able to hook one foot up and hoik himself over the side. Fearing that he might injure himself, we lowered the side of the cot so that did not have so far to let himself down to the floor. Having made sure he could not do the same trick over the stair gate, we were quite happy for him to get out and play in the morning. This was especially useful when his small sister came along as he used to find things for her to play with as well. 

So it goes!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Back in town and so on.

The first full day back in Galicia, so I get up and run: down to the lighthouse roundabout, left up the hill towards San Joan do Monte, another left round the back of the area, down towards the Carrefour store and a final left to end up at the bread shop and then back to the flat. There was frost on the grass round the back of the area but then it is half way up the hill towards San Joan do Monte, one of the higher places of Vigo where you might expect it to get a little chilly overnight in February. The temperature given on the advertising hoarding down by Carrefour 4 degrees, which is quite cold enough for me. That was at 9.15 this morning before the sun had properly got itself over the top of the hill. 

Out and about yesterday, I noticed that the drivers here are as cavalier as ever in their attitude to traffic lights, especially red ones. As the little green man appears at pedestrian crossing, you don't take it for granted at traffic will automatically stop. Sometimes you have to make sure you catch their eye, ensuring that they have actually registered that you are there. Otherwise, some drivers will regard the light telling them to stop as an arbitrary thing, something they can ignore if they feel there is time for them to get across the stripes of the crossing before pedestrians get to that point. Just before the bottom of Gran Vía, in the centre of the city, there is a set of traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing. On the other side of the crossroads there is another pedestrian crossing, controlled really by the same set of lights. 

Whenever stand waiting at that crossing we feel compelled to stand well back as cars hurtle down the final few yards of Gran Vía, across Urzáiz, swerving into Lepanto Street opposite Gran Vía. One miscalculation, one failure to steer properly and a car is going to mount the pavement and scatter the folk waiting to cross the road. And when the lights change and the little green man appears at the crossing on Lepanto, you always have to allow for the half dozen drivers who have jumped the red light at the end of Gran Vía and, therefore, need to get across the pedestrian crossing so that they are not obstructing Urzáiz. 

Roundabout etiquette or rules or whatever fox drivers too. there was a bit of a bump at one our roundabouts this morning. 

 And people wonder why I don't want to drive in this crazy city! 

Out in the wider world religion keeps up its own craziness. The Pope, visiting South America, has decreed that use of condoms is permissible during the zika crisis. How very enlightened. However, the Vatican has also decreed that for those women who carelessly conceived before he made that pronouncement abortion is still not an option. Meanwhile some 4000 babies have been born with microcephaly!!! 

The Pope has questioned Donald Trump's Christian faith because that politician has said he wants to build a wall between the USA and Mexico! Donald Trump is a bit cross about that! 

And then Phil found out about a women's chess tournament in Iran. Well, that's good. Women are being accepted as thinking beings. However, all women taking part must wear the headscarf! I don't suppose they would be allowed to play against men! 

The world still has some way to go!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Getting back to Vigo!

Here we are back in the land of the eucalyptus trees. Oh, I know they are not native to Galicia but our bus had barely left Porto and we started seeing little woodlets. I think one term for them is "stands" of trees. Why such a weird term? Anyway, here we are, back in Galicia. The sun shone on our arrival but we did get some rain later. Just a little! 

I heard a radio report in the taxi from the bus station, all about the cost of repairing the damage from the storms that have hit Galicia. Presumably the same ones as hit the UK. Quite a lot of ports have been hard hit and will need financial help to put things right. Here in Vigo, there is a back street carpark that always has a large puddle in the middle of it, unless there have been weeks and weeks without rain. Even in summer, it is often a puddly place. Today the puddle is a lake! Almost the whole carpark is full of water! So it's not just Saddleworth that has been getting a soaking. 

At Porto airport, we discovered that the number of bus services providing transport from the airport to a variety of places has double, at least. It might have tripled. Unfortunately they are of no use to us as they only seem to go to places like Braga and Viana del Castelo. Nice places, no doubt, but not where we want to end up. 

 Our bus, the Autna service, was almost half an hour late. Had we known, we might have treated ourselves to a second breakfast while we waited. And to think that we had been concerned that we might miss it. This was because Easyjet insisted on putting my suitcase into the hold. Because of fog during our journey to Manchester airport, we were on the last minute. As we approached the gate, I could hear the employees discussing how many bags had gone through already. When it got to me, mine was syphoned off to go in the hold. It's years since I have had to wait for luggage at the carousel. 

But all was well: I retrieved my suitcase, we caught the somewhat belated bus and finally arrived in Vigo in the early afternoon. Some five or six hours later we feel as though we have had a full day. Food shopping. Making a late lunch. Recharging our pay as you go Spanish phones. Ditto the dongle for the computer. Good news there: because of a special promotion we get double the amount of internet access for the usual price! 

Sometimes things just work out right! All we need now is a bit more sunshine!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Stuff and nonsense!

I accidentally find out stuff via Facebook that otherwise I would never come across. Here's an example. One of my former students, a very talented musician, posts all sorts of interesting musical stuff. Unfortunately she also posts a lot of nonsense because she "follows" Hello Magazine. And so today I discovered that someone called Tom Fletcher, a singer-songwriter for a group called McFly, and his wife Giovanna, who blogs for the magazine, have just produced their second child, another son. The first one, I found out, is called Buzz. And now Buzz has a small brother, Buddy. 

These are not names! Excuse me, but I have to say it! Buzz and Buddy are perfectly good nicknames but they cannot be considered to be proper names. Never in a month of Sundays! 

Here's another bit of nonsense. Not found out from my musical ex-student. A peer, Lord Richard, once chief of the Benefits Agency, thinks that pensioners should prove that they are contributing to society or have their pensions cut. "Older people who are not very old could be making a very useful contribution to civil society if they were given some incentive or recognition for doing so,” he told a committee of MPs. He feels that if it's okay to "incentivise" job seekers in this way, then it should be okay to do the same to those who have finished working all their lives and are now in receipt of a pension. In that way we are no longer a "negative burden on the state". 

Whoopee! That should help the unemployment figures no end! 

Lord Richard, by the way, retired at 53 and has a very large pension. Presumably pontificating in this way counts as contributing to society! 

And while we are at it, if that is how things ought to be, can someone work out a way for me to reclaim some of the National Insurance contributions I have paid over the years? I haven't seen my GP for years and years. I have not been to A&E for anything. For a short time while I was having children, I have to admit that I availed myself of the services of the state but apart from flu jabs, I simply have not made use of the local doctors' services in recent years. I am sure I have not had my money's worth. 

So please don't start messing around with my pension. I already pay tax on it and that's quite enough, thank you! 

Here's more. Prince William has been making a speech to British diplomats in which he spoke of the importance of international partnerships. This has been interpreted by media know-it-alls as this young man who might possibly one day be king coming out in favour of the EU. At the same time, actress Emma Thompson has said much more directly that she is in favour of staying in; she thinks we would be mad to leave. 

So that's all right then. We can stop worrying about Brexit!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Some travel reflections and getting out and about.

This weekend I paid a flying visit to our son's house. The occasion was a party to celebrate his little daughter's second birthday. By a masterpiece of planning I arrived just as the first wave of total mayhem had calmed down. Ten minutes or so prior to my arrival, eight or more very small children had been running round and round through the interconnecting rooms of the ground floor, squealing with glee and waving teddies and other toys in the air. By the time I got there, however, several mummies had whisked their little dears away homewards and the birthday girl herself had fallen asleep and been popped in her cot for an energy restoring nap! 

And so there was time for the adults to have a chat without fear of accidentally treading on a small person. Those small people who remained had settled for quieter activities (well, less energetic anyway) such as tipping the Duplo all over the floor trying to build towers. 

On my way there on the train, I had been amazed at how much sustenance some travellers need to consume. The couple opposite me went through a pack of sandwiches and a salad bowl with breadsticks to dip in humous. After a brief pause, the female of the pair leaned towards the male and said, in a quite clear voice, "Choc, choc, choc! Choc, choc, choc!" Whereupon he produced a large pack of M&Ms (whether peanut or chocolate, I could not say!) which she proceeded to consume, fairly quickly. 

Now, I realise it was only mid-morning and that they might have come out without having had any breakfast. I was, after all, drinking my second cup of coffee of the day on the train instead of at my kitchen table. But the "Choc, choc, choc!" incident left me queasily embarrassed. Many couples, indeed many families or groups of close friends, have endearing little terms or catch-phrases that they use among themselves. Most of us, though, don't use them loudly in public! 

Despite such trauma, I survived the journey, made my way to our son's house and joined in the fun and games, admiring his offspring and those of his friends, many of whom I know from the days of ferrying said son to and from university, more years ago than any of us will admit to. 

Yesterday morning we visited what remains of Berkhamsted castle, largely some bits of old wall, a mound where the keep would have been, a sort of hollow all around where the moat would have been (indeed photos on Wikipedia show the moat full of water) and a quite impressive well, thankfully covered with a metal grill with holes too small for any but the tiniest of animals to fall through. 

 My son assures me Berkhamsted is where William the Conqueror formally accepted the final surrender of the Anglo-Saxons. I have no reason to doubt his veracity. He has always been great fan of castles (designing them in great detail as a child) and he did study history both for A-Level and as one of his university subjects. Wikipedia suggests that the castle was built by, or at the command of, William's half brother, Robert of Mortain. There you go. 

Apparently I should have been able to see the remains from the train which carried me back from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly but Virgin's Pendolinos thunder along far too fast for you to pick out bits of castle wall, unless by some happy chance you are looking in the right direction at precisely the right time. 

 During my return journey I was not subjected to any displays of gluttony, although there was a snorer! There seems to be no way of ensuring that the stipulations of the "quiet" carriage - no phone calls, keep your use of electronic devices as unobtrusive as possible - can be extended to include a snoring ban!

Today dawned fine and crisp and cold with a bright blue sky. As Phil was off to a friend's house on an errand of IT-related mercy, I suggested to my daughter that she might care to accompany me on a walk round the local reservoir cum beauty spot. Too busy! Maybe another day! So I hopped on a bus and then walked round the reservoir on my own. 

My photos seem to have taken on a trees-against-the-sky theme but I have to say that I am not really bothered.


Friday, 12 February 2016

Feeling my age.

It used to be that people commented, semi-despairingly, on how young the policemen were becoming. Of course, that was back when there were regularly bobbies on the beat and you even got to have a nodding acquaintance with your regular policeman. I thought I had heard that they intended to bring back bobbies on the beat but I can't say I have seen a whole lot of them. 

Anyway, nowadays it is beginning to seem that the go-to group for resignedly admitting that you are getting older is journalists: not any old journalist but the ones who write specialist columns on politics, economics, the environment and social issues. There is always a photo of the journalist at the head of the column in a newspaper, so even if they are not bright young pundits giving their views on the television you can still have an idea of what they look like. 

Such a one is a certain Owen Jones. I looked at his head-of-column photo the other day and decided that either he has not renewed his photo for some years or he is far too young to be doing his job. Or perhaps, like a 21st century Dorian Grey, he has an ageing photo posted to a special Facebook page in a virtual attic somewhere. Far from looking old enough to be writing deep and meaningful stuff, explaining the economic problems and hi-jinks of the modern world, he looks as if he should be sitting his A-Levels in Politics and Economics this year! 

A good friend of mine went to hear Owen Jones speak at Home, the multi-media arts centre which has replaced The Cornerhouse in Manchester. I think it was last night as she was enthusing about it on Facebook this morning. The last time I saw her she was expressing her surprise at how much she had to play for a ticket to hear him speak: something like £15, I seem to remember. When I told her that this was a cheap deal, she laughed and said that another friend had told her the very same thing. After all, we pay around £60 to go to classical music concerts at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and anything between £50 and £100+ to see individual musical artists of our choice. Indeed, I know of people who pay upwards of £150 to see singers and groups I would pay never to hear again! All is relative! 

With ticket prices in mind, I was interested to read about the football fans who walked out of the Liverpool match recently at the 77th minute, in protest at the £77 ticket price. Liverpool's owners have apologised to fans but did try to justify the prices on the grounds that they put a lot of it back into the club. But they have now set a top price of £59 and have ended the system which meant that fans paid more if their team was playing a high-ranked team. 

Good for them! 

And yet, £59 still seems an awful lot of money to me, even if that is the top price. How do fans afford to pay these prices. I imagine a family, a couple of fans who want to take their two kids to the football match. A good family day out! Except that it must cost close on £200 for that really good day out, and that's before you factor in transport costs, hot drinks and snacks, and possibly a proper meal on the way home. 

Goodness me! It all makes me feel tired and old!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Learning from the young, or at any rate the younger than us!!

Concern is being expressed about children nowadays not being out and about enough in the natural world. According to a two-year study funded by the government 10% of children in the UK have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year. Cue apocryphal stories of the urban child who is asked where milk comes from and answers, "The supermarket". Cue also all the harrumphing about children nowadays spending too much time on electronic entertainment gadgets. 

Well, there's at least one youngster who manages to combine technological know-how with an interest in wildlife. He is 13-year-old wildlife blogger (here's a link ) and has said that schools and parents are partly to blame. Too many parents, according to this young man, stop taking their children into the natural world when they go to secondary school and the schools let their students down because they don't make the environment a core subject. "Once children hit high school they become more independent and might think being interested in the natural world is uncool,” he said. “If they can, parents need to keep their connection with their children and continue to take them outdoors." 

I am sure he is an exemplary young man but he is not, of course, the parent of recalcitrant teenagers and so does not know how hard it can be to "take them outdoors" if they don't want to go. You have to start when they are a lot younger and encourage them with your own enthusiasm for being out and about. 

As for schools, well, things have just got harder, with everything tied up in the red tape of national curriculum and ticking boxes. One of the things I remember with delight about primary school is being taken out for "nature walks". If it was a fine day our teacher would decide it was time for the whole class to go out for a walk to some local beauty spot, pointing out trees and plants, making us collect leaves and flowers and other such stuff to make some kind of display later. Nowadays, teachers would have to plan it weeks in advance, write it into their yearly plan, complete a specific planning form which explains the educational objectives of the outing and slotting it into the demands national curriculum, and then do a risk assessment, of course. This last requirement would probably lead to them not being allowed to walk the children in pairs through the streets but demand the ordering of a bus to transport the children safely to wherever they might then encounter nature in its raw state. It makes me tired just thinking about it! 

In secondary school, we did not do such things as nature walks but occasionally some of our teachers would decide, often after much badgering on the part of the class, to conduct the lesson outside, sitting on the grass. We were fortunate enough to have large playing fields surrounding our girls' high school and I can only assume that it did not rain as much then as it does now. Once again, of course, the strictures of modem educational practice come into play to prevent such arrant nonsense. Lessons all must have a lesson plan, usually demanding evidence of use of IT (pupils researching stuff on the internet, teacher using the interactive whiteboard - you know the kind of thing), group or pair work and a pile of other necessary modern methods. 

Still, it's nice to see a young man advising the older generation on how to do things. 

There was an article in the New Statesman the other day that suggests that we should look to the young for examples in other areas of our lives as well. "Over a quarter of those aged 16-24 today are teetotal; just 29 per cent drink heavily in an average week, compared with 44 per cent a decade ago. Only 23 per cent of under-25s smoke, a 10 per cent decrease since 2001. Conception rates among under-18s are at their lowest since records began in 1969, and the number of sexually transmitted infections among those under-25 has also declined in the last five years. Today’s youth haven’t been resorting to narcotics, either: drug use among under-25s has fallen by over a quarter in the last decade." 

Time to get rid of the stereotype of the irresponsible young person, it seems. Presumably all the drunks who were falling down in the streets of Manchester on New Year' Eve, having photos taken that were compared to works of art, were all over 25 then. 

One factor nowadays is money; if you don't have a well-paid job, indeed any job at all, you can't afford to go out and get drunk and buy drugs. Another is social media. If you do go out and get drunk, you shouldn't tweet about it or post pictures on Facebook. Apparently about half of recruiters in the UK look at candidates' media profile and a third of recruiters have rejected candidates after finding evidence of binge drinking or drug use online. It's a hard life! 

Jean Twenge, writer of a book called "Generation me" explains it like this. "In past decades, teens might have smoked, drunk and had sex because they didn’t have much else to do. Now, teens have a world of entertainment and digital communication available on their phones 24/7.” I would like to take issue with that. In the pre-computer entertainment age, not all of us resorted to smoking and drinking and promiscuous sex put of boredom. There was a lot of music, places to go and dance, cinemas, bowling alleys and even odd places called youth clubs that were not just for pre-teens as they seem to be now. And quite a lot of us read books as well. 

According to the New Statesman article those of us who grew up in that less technological age, especially the over-65s, are apparently the ones more likely than any other group to drink alcohol at least five days a week. Of course, the fact that fewer of us have to get up to go to work the next day might have something to do with it. And the reports don't suggest that these irresponsible over-65s are getting roaring drunk five days a week. 

Mostly we grew up at a time when you have to learn about moderation in all things!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Pancakes and poppycock!

I didn't make pancakes for dessert last night, despite it being Pancake Tuesday. Today, however, I have seen photos of David Cameron dropping a pancake, or rather, not succeeding in catching the thing when he tossed it. And I have seen pictures of clerics in Ripon, looking silly running down the street in their red robes as they took part in a pancake race. I suppose I should give them full marks for taking part. 

However, there is a part of me that feels that politicians, and clergy for that matter, should stop trying to convince us that they are just like the rest of us. I don't go around tossing pancakes in public. In fact I don't toss pancakes at all. I find less messy ways of turning my pancakes over. And there are a myriad other ways in which David Cameron is not at all like me. 

As for the clerics, well, I sometimes wonder about the red robes, even the robes in general. And then I came across something from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. According to the Bishop of Tenerife, there are adolescents, thirteen year olds, who not only consent to abuse, presumably by clergy, but actually want it to happen and set out to tempt the clergy. And here I was, thinking that clergy in the Catholic church took vows of chastity and abstinence and were supposed to resist temptation! Silly me! It's all down to those naughty adolescents! No suggestion that youngsters who do set out to tempt adults might need help rather than abuse. 

What century does this bishop live in? Obviously not the 21st, judging by his comments on homosexuality. He comments that it is no longer "políticamente correcto" to say that homosexuality is an illness but clearly he still believes it is. He goes on to say, "Eso que decía cualquier diccionario de Psiquiatría diez años atrás, hoy no se puede decir" (Nowadays one cannot say what any dictionary of Psychiatry said ten years ago.) I suspect his dictionaries of psychiatry are more like 50+ years old! What we should do, according to the bishop is "promover la educación e inculcar los valores de la feminidad y la masculinidad". In other words, education should teach and inculcate the values of feminity and masculinity. 

That should sort it then! I wonder what the Bishop Tenerife would think of the girls in this article from today's Guardian.  They are studying "boys' subjects", Computer Science and Engineering, so clearly they have not been inculcated with the values of femininity and masculinity. You would have thought that we might have got beyond "boys' subjects" and "girls' subjects" by mow, but apparently not. And it still seems that when a man works in a profession commonly regarded as women's work, he frequently rises quickly to the top while a woman in the reverse situation is regarded as a bit odd! We still have some way to go! 

Finally, a correction. According to Phil, "navvies" are so called because the men who worked on the construction of canals were called "navigators". The contraction to "navvies" comes, he says, from "navigators" and not from "navigations", although he is prepared to accept that there is a connection. Well, I got my information from one of Phil's heroes, the journalist Paul Mason, but I stand corrected.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Words. What they mean. Who owns them.

"Happy birthday to you", the song, has been set free! Now we can all sing it without having to worry about breaching copyright and possibly having to pay royalties. Who knew that we had all been singing it illegally all these years? It's a bit like sayingthat nursery rhymes are copyrighted!

Apparently two sisters sort of composed it back in the 19th century. Some company or other copyrighted in the 1930s. They were bought out by the Warner Chappell music company in 1988 and that company have been collecting royalties every time the song has appeared in a film, a television or radio programme or indeed anywhere open to the public or where a large number of those present were not close friends or family of the birthday boy or girl. In 2008 they collected US$5,000 per day, US$2 million over the year! Now there has been a court case because someone protested about having to pay royalties because she was making a documentary about the song. And the final decision has been that the song is now free as a bird once more!! Huzzah!!! What more can one say? 

It's all words. 

Our Italian teacher was busy maintaining today that there are loads of words in English usage that have no equivalent in Italian but have to be sort of explained. This was because someone asked how you say "creepy". Answer: you talk round it and say something like "which makes you shudder". I wonder what they do with "dingy". 

Then we got onto "macché". An almost untranslatable Italian word. It can be as simple as "Oh, no!". It might be "Nonsense!". Or it can be "What the .... (insert expletive, as mild or as strong and disgusting as you like)!". 

Every language has such expressions. Sometimes they even need explaining to native speakers. Here's an example: 

Why do we call manual workers, men who dig up roads and such, navvies? Well, quite accidentally, reading about something else altogether, I found out. Canals were originally called navigations. The men who dug them, many of them Irish, were given the nickname navvies. Hence manual workers are called navvies. 

That's words for you!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Storms and fashions.

The rain keeps coming down. Storm Imogen has wrecked my umbrella, not just turning it inside out but breaking a couple of spokes. Another one bites the dust! Straight in the dustbin as I got home from Manchester. 

Before arriving home, I snapped this picture just outside the pub next door. It almost always bubbles away, unless we have had several weeks without rain, but this is pretty exceptional. Except that when I went past it earlier today, the water was spouting about eighteen inches high! Rome may have the Trevi fountain but we have this! 

I had been to Manchester to lunch with a couple of friends and to catch up on all our news. We went to the Côte Brasserie, just off Deansgate. Very nice and quite reasonably priced. Of course, UK restaurant lunchtime menu deals bear no comparison with Galician restaurant lunchtime menu deals, but this is the UK after all. It crossed my mind that they might need to redo all their signage now that the circumflex is disappearing from so many French words. I wonder if "côte" is one of them. It almost certainly will be! 

After lunch, my friends and I took a stroll around some of the shops, looking at sales good. This included the Russell and Bromley shoe shop, where shoes in the sale are reduced to £80 and non-sale goods get into triple figures! Amazing! 

I have often ranted about the craziness of high fashion. Usually it's just women's clothes but today I came across a piece by Tim Dowling with his comments on a number of men's fashion trends. In this case, it was not a matter of buying new clothes but wearing what you have in a new and fashionable way. Most of his judgement agree with mine. 

First of all, there was wearing your coat as if it were a cape, just draped elegantly across the shoulders. I can remember doing this with friends when I was a child in junior school. We would drape our school gabardines, not so elegantly, across our shoulders and run around with cloaks flowing behind us. Of course, what we did was fasten the top button so that we did not suffer as Tim Dowling did with the coat blowing away as he walked down the road. 

Then there was the "man clutch". Now I am all in favour of "man bags". I think they are really useful. If a bloke wants to carry his iPad, a load of papers, the newspaper and goodness knows what else, what better than a bag. There are some really nice one. But a "clutch" has always struck me as a singularly silly bag for either gender. They are never big enough to fit anything of any use in and you have to carry it "clutched", as the name implies, in your hand or under your arm. Just a nuisance. 

He moved on to wearing shoes without socks. My almost son-in-law must be really on trend as he seems to do this a lot. Sandals without socks I am quite in agreement with. In fact, I think they are a must. And maybe canvas shoes. But almost any other sort of footwear really should not be on bare feet, in my opinion. It's surely a recipe for sore feet, whether you are male or female. And if you have sore feet on a regular basis, you end up with lumpy, ugly feet. And then, when you want to go barefoot on the sand, for example, you have these embarrassing feet that you don't want to show off! 

Such is the world of modern fashion.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Taking the hat off.

So the French have decided to remove the circumflex, which my students used to refer to "that little hat", from some words, have they? And they have changed some spellings as well! We don't seem to do that sort of thing with English. From time to time we hear that some new words have been included in the Oxford English Dictionary but major spelling changes don't really happen. The Germans did it some years ago and it seems to have been all right. And the Spanish just formalise changes that have been happening willy-nilly. 

When I read about it yesterday, I wondered what the reaction of an old friend of ours would be. He studied French and Spanish at university with us and has frequently moaned about changes in both those languages. I don't think he ever quite got over the demise of the subjunctive in English usage, if we could ever truly be said to have used the subjunctive, apart from in expressions like "if I were you". 

But I am a little surprised (and amused) to hear about accusations that these changes, made apparently to simplify the words for schoolchildren, are an example of the Socialist government dumbing down the language. Obviously a left-wing plot! A student union group has criticised the education minister, Najat Vallaud- Belkacem, for "believing she was authorised to overturn the spelling rules of the French language". They should think themselves lucky to have spelling rules! And the wonderfully named Florian Philippot, vice-president of the far-right Front National, has declared "the French language is our soul". Maybe he is afraid that his surname will be changed to Filippot, giving him even more alliteration, visual as well as phonetic! 

Mind you, I must confess that the French for "onion", traditionally spelt "oignon", looks really odd and somehow wrong when you spell it the new way: "ognon". 

It's amazing how people leap to the defence of the traditional! Talking about the Sanremo music festival the other day, one of the ladies in the Italian class told us that the is something of a furore going on at present about Elton John. He has been invited to be a special judge or something at the festival and some people consider him unsuitable. Why? Well, for one thing he is openly gay. Not only is he gay but he is married to another gay man! Not only is he gay and married to another gay man but they have two adopted children! This goes against all ideals of the traditional family. And, of course, it would be far better for those two children, who seem perfectly happy with their two dads, to have remained in an orphanage! Much more traditional! Oh, come on!!!! 

Meanwhile, here it keeps on raining! I ran in the drizzle quite early this morning and later saw a hardier soul running in the truly pouring rain as I waited for the bus to take me to the supermarket. It was still raining when I came back. They forecast something like three inches of rain for today! 

I have consoled myself by reading odds and ends in the newspaper, bought when I jogged in the drizzle this morning. Having reached the Birthdays section, I learn that Rabbi Lionel Blue, whose dulcet tones and bad jokes used to amuse me when he did "Thought for the Day" on BBC Radio 4 as I drove to work, is 86 today. The actor with the unlikely name of Rip Torn is 85. Best of all is Zsa Zsa Gabor who has reached a magnificent 99! 

Hats off to all of them.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Stuff in the news.

Last night I watched Question Time on BBC2. Well, I half watched it and half read a book. There was some interesting discussion about the EU and Brexit among other things. The programme was being broadcast from Bradford which has a large Asian population. Maybe as a result of that a question came up about our prime minister's insistence that immigrants should all learn English and in particular that the "traditionally submissive" (his words, I believe) wives should learn English to prevent their isolation and maybe prevent their sons from being attracted to terrorist organisations. You can imagine the storm. A number of people pointed out that funding for English as a second language classes had been cut by a certain government ruling. A teacher of English told of the women of all ages, not just the young, on waiting lists for the now restricted numbers of classes available. And a quietly assertive young Asian woman listed the occupations and professional positions held by traditionally submissive Asian women. Almost all of the speakers, with the exception of the bloke who almost shamefacedly admitted to coming from Essex, spoke with a Yorkshire accent, including the Asians in the audience. 

One of the panel had a strong Scouse accent. He was the second in command of UKIP. I am afraid I found it hard to take his contributions very seriously. This was partly because he was from UKIP but also because he mostly looked as if he was doing an impression of the comedian Alexei Sayle. The gestures and the facial expressions were there; unfortunately the humour wasn't. I read this morning in the paper that Nigel Farage was supposed to be on the panel but got stuck in traffic, travelling from Wales, I think, to Bradford. Mind you, I might not have been able to take him seriously either. Unfortunately some people do. 

Other things. Joan Bakewell, or rather, Dame Joan Bakewell, is 82. And unless they published an old photo in the publicity for a book she has written, the "thinking man's crumpet" is looking very good. I was amused and rather horrified to read that when young Joan got a scholarship to Cambridge, the headmistress of her school announced the news to the assembled girls with the reminder that “however pleased we are for Joan, the true calling of a woman’s life is to be a wife and mother”. 

This is a little different to the headmistress of my girls' grammar school. She used to interview the girls who had chosen not to continue into the sixth form after completing O Levels. In our year, one of my best friends was leaving to get married to the boy she had been going out with since she was thirteen. We all knew she was having a baby. She could have left school at Easter but had stayed on to complete her O Levels. She returned from her interview in tears. The headmistress, who was very proud of the fact that so many of HER girls went on to university, had told my friend that she was letting herself down letting her parents down, letting the school down and, most importantly, letting the headmistress down! What a difference a decade and a half made in attitude to women's role in society. 

Mind you, I doubt that Dame Joan's head teacher would have approved of young "gals" having sex before marriage! 

Getting back to Dame Joan, when she worked at the BBC she once asked a senior executive what plans he had for a woman to read the news; the answer was, "He had none. And never would have.” End of conversation. Another change of attitude. But only partial. It appears to be obligatory for female news readers to be attractive and always well-dressed and coiffed! 

And finally, some good news stories. The hole in the pavement outside our house, made by the electricity men when restoring power to our row a week ago, has finally been filled in. The bad news is that the plastic barriers are still there. 

 The other story is about a teenager in Germany who found a half-kilogram gold bar in an alpine lake. Being a good, honest girl, she handed it in to the police. Six months down the line, nobody has claimed the ingot and so the young lady finds herself the owner of a lump of gold worth about $20,000. That should pay for a few more holidays by Alpine lakes!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Putting the world to rights.

Almost eight years ago, at the very last "Leavers Do" (a mix of "prom" and party for the students who were moving on to work or university the following year) I went to at the college where I worked, I witnessed an odd phenomenon. A girl from my tutor group - pretty, clad in a lovely and probably very expensive dress, hair beautifully styled, make-up carefully, indeed expertly, applied - spent the first hour of the evening taking pictures of herself and her best friend - equally well prepared for the evening - on her mobile phone. This was before the term "selfie" was common parlance. My own mobile phone at that time didn't even take photos, let alone allow me to post them anywhere! I was astounded, gob-smacked even! I knew these two girls weren't the most academic the college had ever had through its doors but they were not stupid by any means, just a bit more self-centred and vain than I had previously imagined. 

Today I read that a survey carried out last year claimed that the average 16-25-year-old woman spends more than five hours a week taking selfies. Wow! Somewhere along the way the feminist message about what you do being more important than how you look has gone astray. Do young men spend a similar amount of time taking selfies? Is there not something more useful to do with your time? 

Meanwhile, on Desert Island Discs the other day, they were talking to Bill Gates, the very rich Microsoft man. Clever chap with computers, that Bill Gates, he had the good fortune to be clever at just the right time and made a phenomenal amount of money out of it. And he has given a lot of it away. A couple of friends of mine were talking about it after the Italian class the other day. One of them had very definite views about what Mr Gates does with his money. Now, as of 2014, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have donated more than US$30 billion to charitable foundation they set up. And they still have lots to live on. 

My friend, however, was quite indignant about the work of the foundation. What, she wanted to know, gives Bill Gates, Brangelina and other such very rich philanthropists, the right to decide WHO gets financial assistance? Why do they get to play God? It's all very well for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to choose a place in Africa, for example, to receive a sum of money so that they can set up an industry of some kind. But what happens, she wondered, when the allotted time for that financial assistance runs out and perhaps the recipients haven't quite managed to become self-sufficient? Do the very rich philanthropists have the right to pull the rug out from under their feet at that point? All valid questions. 

Surely there is a better way to organise the world so that all that wealth sloshing around at the top gets distributed. It's great that there are rich people who realise that they can't actually spend it all themselves. (Even more so that some of them, like Mr Gates, recognise that just leaving it all to their children might not in the end do their children the biggest favour possible. Those children need to learn to make their own way.) But deciding who is helped by the charitable foundations is a tricky business and perhaps my friend is right to feel it should not just be left up to the very rich philanthropists, much as we appreciate their philanthropy! 

I forget which radio programme I was listening to where I heard someone suggest that monthly pay-checks should be arbitrary for everyone. Nobody would know exactly how much was going into their bank account from one month to the next, no matter whether they were road-sweepers or headteachers or nuclear physicists or prime ministers or whatever. One month they might receive a paltry amount, as if they were on benefits. The next month they could receive the top salary in the land. And, of course, sometimes they received amounts between those two. This would make everyone more circumspect and less rash in their spending. It would also make them more understanding and considerate of others who did not have as much as they did. It would even out the wealth of the world. That's the theory, anyway! 

Of course, it's all utopian! And we all know that utopias don't really exist. But sorting out a fairer world beats spending several hours a week taking pictures of yourself.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Weird and wonderful stuff!

In the Italian conversation class today we talked, among other things, about the kind of music we don't like. It's too easy if you do the question the other way around. So we had disgust at over-sentimental songs, a thorough dislike of modern classical dissonant music and, in the case of our lively teacher, a horror of what sounded like "jets" but turned out to be really just the Italian pronunciation of "jazz". Another lady and I shared the strong belief that rap should not be called music. I know all the arguments about the protest messages included in the best rap music (if it's not an oxymoron to talk about good rap music, let alone the best rap music!) but what I usually hear at top volume from stationary cars at traffic lights is NOT any kind of political or sociological protest; it's just noise. 

Looking up stuff to do with rap, I discovered that the word itself was used back in the 16th century to mean talk. It must have fallen out of use but reappeared among Afro-American youth in the 1960s, again the mean talk or communicate. So when they needed to communicate a message, they had a word: rap. I also learned the word "turntablism", which is the art of "scratching" records to produce that weird sound beloved of certain kinds of DJs. 

Phil and I decided to have a bottle of wine with our evening meal (coincidentally hearing reports in the radio about the Health Minister warning about cancer risks!). On the label I read this: 

"An intense full bodied Australian red wine with enticing flavours of cassis, mint and eucalyptus." 

I am afraid my reaction is probably not printable but it was something about that being a load of nonsense. If I wanted blackcurrant (cassis - even more pretentious that an Australian wine producer had to put it in French when there is a perfectly good English name for the fruit) I would open my jar of jam. Or possibly have some French liqueur. I'm blowed if I could taste it. It seems like good red grape stuff to me. As for mint and eucalyptus - I really don't want my wine to taste like cough sweets! 

The description went on: 

"A touch of oak has added texture to the tannin and refreshing acidity to this persistent and highly appealing wine." 

Why do they put this stuff on labels? 

It was a nice wine, very fruity and so on but really had none of the flavours claimed on the label. I wonder if I can take it back and ask for compensation! 

It was suggested that you should/could drink it with "a wide choice of dishes from sausage and mash to crispy aromatic duck". If I were to eat sausage and mash, even really good sausages like the Cumberland variety, I'm not sure I would be drinking wine. Too pretentious altogether! 

And then how pretentious is having your picture taken with celebrities? I "follow" Leonard Cohen on Facebook. Not a stalker, I simply see occasional posts relating to Mr Cohen, a singer I much admire. Today there was the story of a lady in Los Angeles who was driving along the road when she spotted an old chap in a cap and a suit strolling along: Leonard Cohen. She stopped her car, got out and approached him to confirm that it really was the singer/songwriter. "Are you Leonard Cohen?" she asked. "I used to be," he replied. Almost a line from a song. So she had her photo taken as she gave him a kiss on the cheek. How nice! 

In London it seems they have bicycle paramedics. Presumably they can weave through the traffic more easily to administer first aid. One of these was waiting for an ambulance to arrive to take her patient to hospital when they spotted David Beckham. He also spotted them, moved off and returned with hot drinks for the paramedic and her patient. So she took a selfie with her patient and David Beckham. 

Not all the rich and famous are bad. Some of them have a nicer side, if you are in the right place at the right time to discover it and take a selfie. 

And finally a man and his son took a selfie while out for a walk and found that a grinning horse had got in on the act. They entered the picture in a selfie competition and won a £2000 holiday. The owner of the horse is now claiming the right to a share in the prize, especially as no-one asked permission to,publish a photo of the horse! 

Sometimes people take things to a level of weird that is truly beyond me!

Monday, 1 February 2016

None of my business, anyway!

The papers are reporting that David and Samantha Cameron are considering sending their son Elwen to a top private school (£18,000 per year) which is a recognised feeder school for Eton. Someone or other has reported that David Cameron "wants to send Elwen to Eton but can't do it while he's still in Downing Street". I wonder why not? Anyway, by the time ten-year-old Elwen is old enough for Eton, his father will no longer be Prime Minister, according to his own declared plans. 

Now, his daughter goes to a very good state secondary school in Westminster, rated outstanding by OFSTED. I wonder why that is not good enough for his son. Perhaps it doesn't confer the same career privileges - oops, I mean opportunities - as Eton. But do girls not also need good career opportunities? What exactly is the equivalent to Eton for young ladies? And can young ladies who go to Oxford join the Bullingdon Club? And, apart from my instinctive dislike of seeing privilege perpetuated, what business is it of mine where the Cameron children go to school? 

A young woman called Tessa Cooper writing in the Guardian about her decision at 18 not to go university. Here is a link to her article. It's odd how things turn out and how opinions and requirements change. My younger brother began a degree course in the 1970s and dropped put, deciding it wasn't for him. He found employment in banking and throughout his career found himself overtaken by people with less experience but more paper qualifications. And yet now it seems that there are companies like Penguin who are no longer making a degree a necessary qualification for working with them. 

Through the 1990s and the 2000s, working in sixth Form colleges, I advised young people to go to university. I helped them write personal statements and choose the university course to suit them. Maybe it was a mistake to persuade so many young people to go and get a degree in whatever discipline would accept them, devaluing the degree to some extent in the process and leading to a glut on the market. The law of unforeseen consequences also led to employers demanding higher qualifications for all sorts of jobs. 

Tessa Cooper, now I imagine in her mid-twenties, says she has recently decided to study for a master's degree, not because she needs it but because she wants to study and feels ready. There it is, that important thing of going into study with passion. 

The easiest students to help, I always found, were those who had a burning desire to study a specific subject, not only because they realised it might help their future employment prospects but mainly because they loved that subject and wanted to continue learning more. Perhaps I was right when I advised student to do just that, apply for the subject they loved - even though my own son told me once that I should have advised him to study Business instead of History! 

In the end, however, it has to be the decision of the person filling in the application form! 

Then there is the pyjama debate. For some mothers it would seem that just getting their children fed, dressed and off to school every morning is a miracle. It's too much to ask them to get out of their own jimjams and into proper clothes before jumping into their four by four to take the kids to school! I wonder how my daughter does it. She doesn't turn up to work in her pyjamas, at least not unless it's a charity event when everyone wears nightwear to school or work. 

The debate has been taken to a higher fashion level, with famous people being photographed in very expensive pyjamas. And it's not just women. Some male television personalities have been seen leaving television studios in what are clearly pyjama bottoms. But then, I suppose that if you spend over a thousand pounds on pyjamas, you won't just wear them to sleep in! 

None of this has anything to do with me, of course. I simply remember my grandmother, who never stepped outside of the house unless she was immaculately dressed, and usually had at least her second-best hat on. Italian friends of mine tell me that their mothers live by the same philosophy, taking it a step farther: they are usually beautifully made up and have their killer heels on their feet!