Thursday, 31 March 2016

All kinds of crazy.

Donald Trump, would-be USA presidential candidate believes that women who have illegal abortions should be punished. 

Stephen Crabb, Secretary of State for Works and Pensions is said to believe that homosexuality is a disease which can be cured. 

There is a priest - or maybe a bishop, I don't remember now - in Spain who has stated that most domestic violence is caused by women. They don't obey their husbands and therefore provoke a violent reaction. 

Well, that all makes sense doesn't it? These people have influence, or at least would like to have influence, on what goes on in the lives of ordinary people. 

Here's a link to an article about a place somewhere along the fence between the USA and Mexico, where families who are divided by that barrier can meet once a month and see each other, maybe pass items through the fencing, but cannot hug.  It's called Friendship Park. 

It's scary how long that barrier has been there and how it has changed. It's worrying that presidents who promise to get rid of it long ago failed to do so. It's very frightening to think that Donald Trump would like to make it even stronger and more impenetrable. Goodbye, Friendship Park. 

Mind you, he has said today that he would not rule out using nuclear weapons against Europe. Goodbye, special relationship. So he can contemplate such a possibility but other countries are to be prevented from developing nuclear capabilities. Hmmm! 

That's enough of that! Here's a possibly more frivolous bit of outrage and indignation: 

Marks and Spencer, that eminently sensible store, has been criticised by the fashion mogul Pierre Bergé and by France's women's rights minister for including a burkini in their range of swimwear. 

A burkini is an outfit that women can wear to go swimming which covers their arms and legs and has a hood so that their hair can also be hidden from view. Now, I don't want to purchase such a thing but then I don't want to purchase a bikini either. However, so long as nobody forces me to wear either of these I have no objection to their being on sale? And why shouldn't Marks and Spencer, and other clothing stores as well, cater for all tastes and a range of cultures? 

It would seem that it's OK for fashion to make lots of money selling all sorts of ridiculous items - pre-ripped jeans, for example - but only of they conform to certain norms. 

And, while I am getting all worked up about prejudice and discrimination and nonsense, here's a link to a few tales of men and women working in education and being treated differently when their modelling jobs on the side are discovered. 

The world is a crazy and increasingly unfair place. 

Oh, and here's a cartoon about the right to wear guns at the Republican Convention in the USA. 

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

¿Cómo te llamas? and other stuff.

Mumsnet has produced a list of the 20 poshest baby names around at the moment: 

1. Horace 
2. Hector 
3. Millicent 
4. Django 
5. Merlin 
6. Tristan 
7. Inigo 
8. Tybalt 
9. Cosmo 
10. Merville 
11. Algernon 
12. Araminta 
13. Jago 
14. Lucious 
15. Mungo 
16. Crispin 
17. Cuthbert 
18. Octavia 
19. Tuppence 
20. Otterly 

(What Is Mumsnet anyway? Wikipedia says: "Mumsnet is one of the UK's largest websites for parents. It hosts forums where users share peer-to-peer advice and information on parenting, products and many other issues. Mumsnet also has a Bloggers Network with 5,000 registered bloggers and a network of 180 local sites run in partnership with local editors". Apparently someone had a "disastrous" first family holiday with one year old twins and on returning to the UK got together with friends to build the website. 

Golly gosh! Whatever did I do without such a network when my children were small? Well, actually, I got together with a bunch of friends, physically got together, meeting in each other's houses and swopping notes, baby clothes and theories. So I think we already had a Mumset. Had internet existed then we might have gone online as well! Who knows? 

And what constitutes a disastrous holiday? Our first "family" holiday included such delights as our one year old son crawling round and round the tent until it got dark and a lot of walking up and down the beach, bent over holding the hands of the aforementioned one year old so that he could practise his walking: a great way to get a suntanned back! Was it disastrous? I don't think so. The photos show the three of us smiling anyway.) 

Some of the names on that list are just plane silly. I have commented before that Tuppence is truly NOT a name but a nickname. What sort of name is Otterly? Otterly ridiculous. Lucious looks like a misspelling: Luscious or Lucius? Tristan and Tybalt and Merlin and such like smack of literary aspirations. Even Cuthbert for that matter, but only referring back to the Bash Street Kids. 

However, children are being given these names. At a gathering of small people to which I accompanied our smallest granddaughter recently I came across a small Hector (no hero this one but a small bully who pushed other children over!) and a Caspian - maybe his parents were C. S. Lewis fans. 

From the Independent, here is another list, this time the ten worst baby names: 

1. Elizabreth 
2. Mhavryck (Pronounced Maverick) 
3. Aliviyah (Pronounced 'Olivia') 
4. Baby (Author's note: 'Yup. That's the name') 
5. Little Sweetmeat (Author's note: 'Swear to God') 
6. Nevaeh (Note: Read it backwards) 
7. Danger 
8. North West 
9. Harley-Quinn 
10. Beberly 

There you go! 

I was thinking about names before I came across these lists. My friend Colin has been commenting in his blog about certain female Spanish names. There are an awful lot of religious names: Pilar ( the pillar of salt), Asunción (the Assumption - think of the name Assumpta), Concepción Imaculada (the Immaculate Conception), Belén (actually one of my favourite names - it means Bethlehem) Cruz (the cross), Dolores (the pains of Christ) and undoubtedly many more, without mentioning all the Marías and Martas you come across.  

In England we do that less. instead we turn our daughters into a garden: Primrose, Rose, Rosemary, Pansy, Daisy (originally a diminutive of Margaret but now a name in its own right), Poppy, Violet, Lily, Holly and Ivy, although that last one is a little dated and I've not heard of any little Ivys. Clover and Buttercup tend to be reserved for cows and horses at present but you never know. 

In the meantime, our daughter's latest bump is being referred to by his (or possibly her) siblings as Otto. Goodness knows what odd name will be bestowed on him (or her) when he (or she) emerges later his year!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Catch 22 is alive and well.

The UK is suffering from a teacher shortage. It's reaching crisis point. Young teachers are leaving the profession burned out after just a few years in the job. In fact, in the case of some newly qualified people my daughter knows, they are leaving after only months or even just weeks in post. 

Quite a large number of my former students have become teachers. My friend and former modern languages teaching colleague Heidy and I recently worked out that between us we have helped boost the numbers quite well. Some of these former students appear to be enjoying the job. However, there is a shortage and not just in those specialist areas like Maths and Physics which have had a hard time recruiting for ages now. 

And so schools have taken to recruiting teachers from abroad. Not just from the EU but from the USA and other such far flung places. But there is a problem. Under immigration rules that come into force next month, skilled workers – including teachers – from non-EU countries will need to earn at least £35,000 to remain in the UK permanently. While it is possible for teachers to earn £35,000, the average teacher’s salary in the UK after 10 years is £29,500 according to a 2013 OECD. This is a bit short of the required £35,000. 

So schools can solve the staffing crisis by recruiting from elsewhere but the teachers can't stay because they don't earn enough! Just a small snag! 

Of course, if teachers were paid a decent salary to begin with then it might be possible to recruit more within the UK to begin with. Oops! Isn't that part of the idea of sending back non-EU workers who earn less than £35,000? Hmm! 

But then, the myth of how easy the job of teaching is still persists. With short hours and long holidays, how can they possibly deserve to earn a decent salary? I recently found myself in an online argument about the demands of the teaching profession and had to withdraw before I went apoplectic! 

Here's another example of double-think, Catch-22 or whatever you choose to call it. 

An academy chain has been stripped of at least some of its school because of financial mismanagement. This is being used as evidence of how good the system is: “This shows the academy system is working, with the EFA identifying issues and regional schools commissioners intervening and rebrokering effectively, as part of a robust system of oversight.” Here's a link to an article about it.  

Of course, the schools concerned are not going back into local authority control. Oh, no! They are being given to another "trust" so that someone can make a going business concern of them. 

We have a theory: the plan is to mess up the education system to such an extent that those who can afford to do so, and some who really can't but will make sacrifices, will send their children to private schools. This will prove that what really works is private education and all schools can become private. As can the hospitals for that matter. And all the prisons! And social services! And anything else that deals with people!

Monday, 28 March 2016

Stuff seen on TV.

Last week we watched Almodóvar's "Amores Pasajeros" again. It was on television but we saw it ages ago at the cinema. I have been told it's a satire on the state of Spain: total chaos, corruption, not knowing where it's going, all represented by a plane flying in circles over the country trying to find somewhere to land. It needs a safe place because it's landing gear is damaged. Even if you don't understand the satire, which is not really very obvious, the film is a splendid example of Almodóvar being outrageous, entertaining and just plain silly. There's a lovely cameo appearance by Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas (who accidentally cause the chaos with the landing gear) at the start of the film. The "dance" sequence by the gay cabin crew to "I'm so excited" is ridiculously funny. Here's a link to a website where you can see the dance sequence. And there are some shots of the white elephant Ciudad Real Airport in Castilla La Mancha, the one that never made a profit and went into receivership very quickly! 

By way of a complete contrast, last night we watched the final episode of the BBC dramatisation of Le Carré "The Night Manager". Dodgy arms dealings, corruption, government officials turning a blind eye and accepting a huge payment to do so, millionaires, violence and a haunting theme tune. It was so tense I could hardly sit still. Phil kept having to remind me to breathe! It was almost a relief when it all came to a surprisingly happy ending. As a rule in John Le Carré stories the spy/underground element gets worked out but the personal/emotional side ends up in disarray. But this time the good guys won - for the time being anyway - and bad guys got their comeuppance - until more bad guys spring up to take their place. Not only that but the "love interest" looked as though they had half a chance of living happily ever after. 

In the travel section of the weekend they were advertising the chance to go and stay in the hotel in Llucmajor, Mallorca, where some of the filming had taken place. A fancy hotel there with rooms for at least £140 a night had been used to play the part of a luxury hotel Istanbul, or possibly Cairo. 

After so much tension I watched the news, which just depressed me: bombs in Lahore, peaceful mourning in Brussels disrupted by marauding skinhead hordes, police with water cannons. The least violent, physically anyway, was the Tory MP explaining how they have improved performance in schools in the UK by making children learn ridiculous grammar terms (see an earlier post for a serious rant about this) as if reluctant readers will be encouraged by failing to pass tests! 

 I shall have to go back to the make-believe world of films and TV series. At least there I know the tension will come to an end!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Odds and ends.

Crazy modern "professions": vlogger. You post your ramblings on YouTube. If it takes off and you have enough followers, then you receive payments because of the advertising that is attached to your stuff. One young man I read about had some difficulty convincing passport control at the Canadian border that vlogging was a legitimate profession. He googled himself to convince them and they let him in. He reckons he has a level of fame similar to the Beatles or One Direction and can no longer go out in his hometown without being recognised. Almost everyone in his immediate circle seems to make a living in the same way: his girlfriend, his sisters, his twin brother. I wonder what his parents do

I have often gone on about the difficulty of obtaining blackcurrant jam in Spain and having to make do with blueberry jam, in my opinion a much inferior product. Somebody writing a gardening column in the newspaper (I wonder if he vlogs as well) has been praising blackcurrants as having "a whopping 38 times more vitamin C than blueberries". He wonders of they might be the "new blueberries". I always thought that blackcurrants were here first and that blueberries were a sort of trendy but inferior replacement for them, brought in from the USA or somewhere. Vindicated!!! 

Of course, some people might prefer blueberries. I don't object to them per se. In fact, I quite like eating them fresh and I often add dried blueberries to scones and cakes. For jam, however, you really need the tang of blackcurrants. It's all a matter of taste. 

On the subject of taste, I was reading about anosmia, the technical term for having no sense of smell. People who have lost their sense of smell through some accident, usually involving a blow to the head, often feel that their whole personality has changed. A food writer, author of about twenty cookery books suffered a real feeling of lost identity. One woman watched her husband go through a bout of increasing depression until his sense of smell returned. Lose your sense of smell and you lose awareness of a lot of the world around you and, what's more, you also lose most of your sense of taste. And without that good old Proust would never have written his nostalgic memoir. 

 Apparently doctors don't take it very seriously, or at least they haven't up to now. I suppose the are worse disabilities but think of the joy that goes our of your life if you can't smell things. Think of all the occasions when food is the centre of a celebration. However, there is a help group called Fifth Sense, established by an anosmia sufferer. 

Meanwhile, Easter in the Northwest of England is proving to be a mixed bag weatherwise. Some time ago the weather gurus promised us really nice weather over Easter. They quickly changed their minds and now it seems that another named storm, Katie this time, is on its way. So my plan is to cheer everyone up with food. that usually works. provided they can taste it.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Odd goings on all over the place.

It's a funny old world. Sometimes the past comes back to bite you. I read a news report about a man in Minnesota who was stopped by the police because one of the tail lights on his car wasn't working. They took his details, fed them into their computer and found there was an outstanding arrest warrant from 2002. What was it for? Failure to return a video to a rental shop. Wow! Who knew you could be arrested for that? All the way back to 2002! Time to return all those overdue library books. Not to mention the books you "forgot" to return to school when you left. I have a copy of the poetry of Keats on my shelf that belongs to the girls' grammar school I attended. 

Then there's the fool who twittered or tweeted or whatever about having asked a random Muslim woman on the street if she could explain what had gone on in Brussels. When she told him, quite rightly, it was nothing to do with her, he commented that it was a pretty lame excuse, or words to that effect. Because he tweeted or twittered it, he came in for a lot of public shaming: remarks about asking Irishmen to explain the Easter rising or Londonderry and asking Scotsmen about Dunblane, always with the reply, "Nothing to do with me" and the criticism that this was a lame excuse. Just when I thought that he must be feeling pretty stupid and that that was what he deserved, I read that he has "been charged under section 19 of the Public Order Act 1986; publishing or distributing written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting, likely or intended to stir up racial hatred". 

What happened to free speech? 

 Back on the other side of the world meanwhile, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are busily swopping insults and allegations about each other's wives. Is either of them really a suitable candidate for presidency? I found myself wondering, if Trump were to end up as the Republican candidate, would staunch republicans find themselves voting Democrat to prevent him from becoming president. But then, on reflection, if they select him as candidate, I suppose they will vote for him to be president as well. As I said, it's a funny old world! 

Here in Delph, we have had fine, sunny weather for Good Friday. Friends have been posting photos of Easter processions in various parts of the world. One is in Salamanca where about ten years ago we stayed in a pensión on the Plaza Mayor and were woken at 5.30 in the morning on Good Friday by the mournful funeral music accompanying the procession. Despite the early hour, it was impressive. Easter Sunday's meeting of the risen Christ and his mother Mary was even more so. The men carrying the statues managed to make them bow to each other. Such control! No processions here but, as usual, three wooden crosses have been erected on a hilltop appropriately just outside the village. 

And nobody has yet taken offence at their being there!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

One a penny, two a penny.

A friend of mine has had a quite lengthy correspondence going on on social media on the subject of hot cross buns. It began with someone discovering that it is possible to buy hot cross buns containing chocolate chips. Predictably, traditionalists proclaimed their horror at such a thing. One suggested that there was no need for such a thing as you can just spread traditional hot cross buns with Nutella. Personally, I agree with the traditional purists who say that hot cross buns should simply contain dried fruit - raisins, sultanas and such - and be just a little spicy. 

Here comes the rhyme: 

Hot cross buns! 
Hot cross buns! 
one a penny, two a penny, 
Hot cross buns! 

If you have no daughters, 
give them to your sons. 
One a penny two a penny, 
Hot cross buns! 

According to Wikipedia, 

"The earliest record of the rhyme is in Christmas Box, published in London in 1798. However, there are earlier references to the rhyme as a street cry in London, for example in Poor Robin's Almanack for 1733, which noted: 

"Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs 
With one or two a penny hot cross buns." " 

I tried to find out why you should give hot cross buns to your daughters and, only failing that, to your sons. However, although I could find numerous recipes, no source gave me any further explanation! 

Hot cross buns (which my crazy typing skills keep converting into "hot cross nuns", an interesting concept!) are among the things that trigger my Proustian madeleine moment. One of my memories of childhood is going to church on Good Friday morning and returning home to find the house smelling of the buns that my mother had been warming up in the oven. Why did she not also go to church? Looking after my younger siblings? Or simply out of culinary devotion? 

Of course, back then you only had hot cross buns on Good Friday, hence the name! Now you can buy them from early January. This fact led to further social media furore, as you can imagine. The added-chocolate enthusiasts seemed unaware of the Easter connection but the commentators put them right. Purists wanted to go back to the hot cross buns of my childhood. Oddly enough, the hot cross buns, like the chocolate eggs disappear from the supermarket shelves almost immediately after Easter. Curious! Cadbury's mini-eggs also become scarce but their creme eggs seem to carry on throughout the year. Once again, curious! 

Easter eggs have been creating a bit of a furore as well. or at least their labelling. Some people have been accusing the chocolate companies who make the eggs of changing the labelling on many of their products, removing the word Easter, apparently to avoid giving offence to people of other religions. This, they claim, is in line with the move to wish people Happy Holidays instead of Happy Christmas. I remain unconvinced. In fact, I find the theory that the chocolate egg men have opted to omit Easter from their labelling in order to be able to sell Easter eggs all year round much more believable. Especially as in recent years there has been a huge increase in the production and sale of Easter cards, often marketed as "gift pouches" so that you can give your loved ones money as well as chocolate. Capitalism beats religion hands down! 

The whole chocolate egg thing becomes very iffy when you come across the theories that they relate to pre-Christian pagan fertility rites. 

Hmm, I wonder where the traditionalists stand on that one.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Mathematical stuff.

Further to my rant about grammar, style, call it what you will, and children having to learn grammatical terminology, here's another little conundrum. 

When we were in school, sometimes in Maths we were set "problems". These were Maths questions in words, designed to make us apply to supposedly real life situations the theory we had learned using numbers. It included things like average speed of boys on bicycles and who would arrive first at the destination and stuff like that. 

Now, my daughter is currently teaching a class of eight to nine-year-olds and she was telling us about a new super-whizz method of teaching them Maths. Some of this includes ... wait for it .... problems. She and her husband, both intelligent and well qualified, not behind the door in mathematical ability, were having some difficulty understanding how the solution to a particular problem had been reached. So she threw it at Phil and me. 

It went like this: 

"A man saves £3500 in the first six months of the year. His pay for sixth months is double the amount he spends. In the second sixth months of the year he spends £4200 more than he saves. How much does he save in the second six months?" 

This is where I am supposed to say, "If you want to work it out for yourself, don't look at the answer below". 

I quickly worked out the correct answer according to the text book. But my intelligent daughter, her intelligent husband and my intelligent husband could not see how I arrived at that answer. 

All three had done stage 1: 

If the man's pay for six months is double the amount he saves in that first six month period, then he earns £7000 for sixth months work. Check - all good. 

and stage 2: To determine how much he saved in the second sixth months, you first need to subtract what he spent from the total earned: £7000 - £4200. Answer: £2800. Check - all good. 

And then they got stuck. So I told them that stage 3 was this: 

Divide that £2800 by 2, giving two lots of £1400. One of these he spent, making his total spending £5600 and his saving £1400 

How did I know that? That is what they demanded. They simply could not see what looked absolutely logical to me. And because it was so obvious, I was hard put to explain it. And it niggled at me until I wrote it down as follows and emailed it to them: 

An attempt at explanation: 

Amount earned = £7000 

Amount saved unknown = x 

Amount spent = x + 4200 

Amount saved (x) + amount spent (4200) = amount earned (7000) 

x + 4200 + x = 7000 
x + x = 7000 - 4200 = 2800 
2x = 2800 
x = 2800 divided by 2 = 1400 
Answer : 
he saved £1400. 

My point is that if three intelligent adults had difficulty getting their heads round the problem, how does anyone expect eight-year-olds to do so? And why should eight-year-olds be having to think about what people earn and spend and save? Where does that come into their experience of the world? 

Has education gone crazy?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Grammatical nonsense!

On Saturday I went out to help a friend celebrate her birthday by visiting. Curry house in Rusholme, Manchester. An excellent time was had by all. We all ate copious amounts and, because the birthday girl got a huge discount for being a regular customer, for having a birthday and for making a booking for ten people, it only cost us £15 each. 

This made up, to some extent anyway, for my having to get a taxi back from Oldham to Delph, rather than waiting for over half an hour in Oldham's gloomy and insalubrious bus station. (If Oldham is the most deprived town in England, then the bus station is one of the most deprived parts of the town - OK, I exaggerate but it is very depressing!) 

Anyway, I had a good meal in pleasant company. Inevitably, since most of our group of ten were either language teachers or learners, some of the talk centred on language study. One person commented that until she learnt German she had no idea about grammatical terminology. I remembered something I had found written by Michael Rosen, poet, writer, columnist, talking about "fronted adverbials". Here is a part of it: 

 "For people wondering what the heck I'm on about with 'fronted adverbials' - and why it matters is this: 

1. Very young children are having to learn what 'fronted adverbials' are and then to make their writing supposedly better, use them in their writing. 
2. 'Fronted adverbials' is a fairly recent term to describe anything 'adverbial' (I'll come back to that) that comes before the verb e.g. 'On the hour, the bells rung out.' 
 3. It's not clear to anyone why writing in this way is better than writing 'The bells rung out on the hour.' As many have pointed out, this is not a 'grammatical' view. It's all about style. 
4. My view also is that it's all based on a false view of what grammar is and how it can be described. That's because the grammatical terms (like 'fronted adverbial') are not connected to meaning and purpose. 
10. By focussing obsessively on this kind of stuff, without it being connected directly to meaning, audience, purpose and function, we give children and teachers a false idea of what is good writing. Booklets and worksheets come out full of exercises in spotting these things, and of course test marks depend on them. That's bad enough. What's just as bad is that it pretends to be about something rule-governed, accurate and quasi-scientific. But it isn't. It's based on a bog of hybrids. Bogs of hybrids in language are actually what make language studies very interesting. You don't have to do it when you're 7 (the age when 'fronted adverbials' kick in in schools by order of Gove, Morgan and Gibb)." 

Here's a link to the whole thing

 "In other words," wrote Mr Rosen in another article on the same topic, "- another dodgy term, implying a rule that isn't a rule, a criterion for 'good writing' that isn't a criterion for good writing, another way to get children to be nervous about writing and for some to fail." 

But apparently in our schools children are supposed to know this stuff. Amazing! Their little brains must be going wild. I was shocked enough when my daughter, primary school teacher, revealed that eight-year-olds are supposed to know about, recognise and use subordinate clauses, and, yes, she confirmed th other day, fronted adverbials as well! Phew, I don't think she herself knew about sentence analysis until she studied A level English Language. 

 I am reminded of the numerous occasions when Spaniards learning English ask me about "Phrasal verbs". I had never heard of them until I had these conversations. It seems to mean verbs with prepositions: get over/under/in/out, give in/up, hand on/over/down and so on. 

But I have just found another wonderful term: "ergative verbs". These are verbs which can be used transitively or intransitively, with or without an object. You can say, "I broke the glass" or "The glass broke". And then there is the "perfect innocence of ergative verbs". When we say "the glass broke", nobody is responsible for the breaking - hence the perfect innocence. 

Put that in the national curriculum. Make seven- and eight-year-old recognise them! Do it now!Bah! Humbug!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Going to HOME.

The other day Phil and I went to Home. This shiny, modern building with lots of glass everywhere results from the merging of Manchester's Cornerhouse and Library Theatre companies. The Cornerhouse, on the corner of Oxford Road and Hulme Street, was for thirty years the go-to place in Manchester to see foreign films, arthouse films, films that wouldn't necessarily make it into mainstream cinemas. For years I took students there to workshops on French and Spanish films. All good stuff. Occasionally students were a little surprised that there was no stand selling popcorn and large bags of sweets. The Cornerhouse, with its several mini-cinema rooms did not subscribe to the idea that seeing a film meant a junk-food binge session. 

 I notice, however, that the seats in the mini-cinema rooms at the new Home come provided with a slot to hold your coffee or soft drink. Still no popcorn on sale though. Standards have to be maintained. 

The new venue has the same sort of set-up as the old Cornerhouse, with several mini-cinemas but also a large drama theatre and a bright and airy bar and restaurant. Phil and I met there at the end of the afternoon, after I had been to my Italian conversation class, and sampled the restaurant menu before going to an early evening film. The food was fine. not exceptional but very acceptable.

 As we sat in the restaurant we speculated on where the funding for the fine new building might have come from. So I googled it: Manchester City Council, Arts Council England and something called the Garfield Weston Foundation. The place operates, I found out, under a service contract with Manchester council stating that HOME will provide social benefit to the community. So now we know. 

As I made my way from the Manchester Blind Institute, where the Italian class takes place, I followed signposts directing me to Home. All very useful. I mentioned this to my daughter, who told me about a recent visit with her primary school class to an exhibition in central Manchester. Her teaching assistant noticed the signposts and asked, "How can they possibly know which is the way home for everyone?" A fairly logical question if you have never heard of Home with a capital H, which my daughter's teaching assistant evidently had not. But then she isn't the kind of person who watches foreign films and she is known for her ability to ask daft questions. 

The shiny glass building was designed by a company based in Delft, in the Netherlands. Why not a North of England based company? We may well ask. This is the way of the modern world. Why the name HOME as well? Apparently there was much discussion and money was spent on consultation firms about this matter. What else did we expect? My research tells me: 

"Home was a reference point for much of the workshop discussions (second home, feeling at home, home of great work) and following discussions with staff and stakeholders it emerged as one of the strongest possible names for the organisation. It evokes accessibility, welcome and warmth, connection, a sense of ownership and personal relationships – all of which came out in our discussions with audiences as essential to the atmosphere and character of the new organisation. Based on what we heard from audiences in the workshops and the discussions we had with staff, we also wanted to avoid anything that tried too hard, that came across as pretentious, convoluted or overworked or that needed a lot of explanation." 

So HOME it is. 

Anyway, we went there. We saw the new Coen brothers' film, "Hail Caesar". How we laughed! The Coen brothers have the gift of persuading actors like George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson and Ralph Fiennes to make complete idiots of themselves for the delight of the likes of me. 

Wonderful stuff! I highly recommend it!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

On celebrating and learning languages.

Today is Saint Patrick's Day. Facebook wishes me a Happy Saint Patrick's Day and invites me to post something about it. Patrick is one of the few saints whose day is known about and remembered by all sorts of people who have never in their lives taken any kind of interest in saints. And it's a relatively recent thing. Back in my student days, indeed more recently, just 25 years ago, you simply did not see hoards of people wearing green and sporting huge leprechaun hats on March 17th. And I'm pretty sure that there was a huge Irish diaspora back then. The Irish diaspora is not a recent thing. No, somewhere along the way, somebody decided that there was profit to be made out of promoting the celebration of Saint Patrick on his day. 

Here is a cartoon I "borrowed" from someone else's post. 

And here is a link to a number of interesting facts about Saint Patrick, his day and the Irish.  I was interested to read in the linked article that despite all Irish schoolchildren learning to speak Irish at school, the number of people who use the language in their everyday lives is in decline. It's a problem almost all the minority languages have. You can legislate as much as you like about the language being used in the classroom, and even in the workplace in some instances, but you can't make people use it at home, on the bus, in the pub, saying sweet nothings to their sweetheart or cooing over their beautiful baby. It doesn't work that way. 

And I do agree that it can be a cultural loss and we almost certainly need to preserve the culture in some way. However, I am not sure that putting all the road signs in the minority language and making announcements in concert halls only in the minority language (this happens in the big concert hall in Vigo) is the way to do it. 

Here's a link to an article about the need to preserve minority languages.  Mind you, while I don't need convincing that Professor Antonella Sorace is right about the importance of learning other languages, I am afraid that teaching schoolchildren Gaelic, Gallego, Sardinian, Catalan or whatever will only slow down the disappearance of those languages and won't necessarily make those children use the language all the time. Teach them useful languages! 

In the meantime, let's keep on learning languages, any languages, and stave off the dementia as long as possible.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

On being royal!

It must be hard work being a member of a royal family, living your life in the public eye and all that. 

It appears that Prince Andrew - a prince not un-used to a bit of controversy - was a little impatient when the sensors on the gate of Windsor Great Park did not respond properly as he took a short cut home. So he rammed the gates open with his big expensive car. The police have no record of the incident in their log and so were unable to comment. Convenient! 

And his nephew, William, usually everyone's darling, with his charming little family, is coming in for some stick on the one hand for not doing as many royal engagements as his grandfather, a man surely old enough to retire by now, and on the other for hunting. That last one is a bit of a conundrum. He recently went hunting deer and wild boar in Spain on the day before giving a speech about illegal hunting of wildlife. And then just the other day he said it was ok to go trophy hunting (not shields and medals but big game, lions and such) so long as the animals hunted were old and infertile. And some people say it's all a little hypocritical. 

Oh, but it must be hard when you grow up in an atmosphere where hunting is acceptable, even if you wouldn't hunt illegally yourself and you don't personally want to go shooting lions and tigers and such like creatures. You could almost feel sorry for him. 

 As regards his going hunting in Spain, he is sort of related to the Spanish royal family. Queen Sofia (if she were in England, by now she would be the queen mother) and William's hard-working grandfather, our own Prince Philip, both come from the Greek royal family. And if one of your relatives invites you to go shooting wild boar, well, it would be churlish to turn them down. And we don't want our junior royal people looking churlish now, do we? 

Gosh, I bet they wish they could just get on with their skiing holidays and such without all this fuss. But at least they are not being taken to court, unlike some royal family members in a certain country. Not yet, anyway. Although, you never now, perhaps the gate- crasher might end up there yet! 

In our more humble lives, a different mind of royalty - the wealthy - are trying to curry our personal favour. I recently wrote about our travel problems: flooding, water on the lines, trains cancelled and delayed. Well, Virgin have refunded our travel costs in recognition of the inconvenience suffered. Not that we paid a vast amount to travel in the first place. 

Phil did mumble and mutter about how we might have deserved further compensation but really you can only expect magnanimity to go so far! There are limits after all!

Monday, 14 March 2016

On dogs and gardening!

I come across a large number of dog walkers when I am out and about. There are two I stop and chat to on a regular basis. Their dogs know me and are usually surprisingly pleased to see me. (Surprisingly because I am truly not a dog person!) Most, however, I just pass by with a nod and possibly a "good morning" depending on how grumpy or otherwise the dog walker looks. 

It is not unusual to see the dogs carrying sticks and in general the smaller the dog, the larger the stick! Out running this morning, I spotted a small dog trotting happily along, tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth in that doggy way. Not far behind came his owner ... with a large stick over his shoulder. It must have been eight feet long, between four and six inches in thickness, not so much a stick as the trunk of a small tree. Being a helpful soul, I pointed out to him that he had things the wrong way round; as a rule it is the dog who insists on carrying a stick. He told me he had found a smallish tree fallen down across the path and had collected this large bit with a project in mind: rustic fencing. In fact, he was going to go back later and get another similarly sized piece. Recycling in action! 

This is what happens when you get a bit of fine weather - yesterday and today have been fine and sunny - and people are inspired to do all sorts of practical things that they would otherwise leave undone. The sunshine has encouraged masses of people out into their gardens to poke and prod and weed. Bulbs and spring bedding plants are being put into flower beds and everyone is very cheerful and positive about it. I have not been yet been bitten by the gardening bug. The snowdrops are still nicely in bloom and the solitary daffodil that pops up in the side garden is popping up as usual, all on its own, with no signs of splitting itself into more than one plant. The bluebells on the other hand, although still only a clump of dark green leaves at the moment, have clearly been propagating like mad. 

I never planted bluebells. For a long time you could not buy them anywhere and you were not supposed to pick them as they were, and presumably still are, a protected species of wild flower. A few years ago one just turned up, flowering nicely, in the middle of the grass. I can only assume a squirrel brought the bulb, buried it and then forgot about it. Instead of being eaten, it grew, and each year since then there is evidence of increased bluebell activity. Serendipity! 

The back garden is a different story. The open area that serves our house and the one next door has been reduced to a quagmire with astonishing regularity over the last six months. When it rains for a prolonged period a small lake appears at the bottom of the garden. There seems to be more of a problem with such sogginess than ever there used to be. One theory is that the trees which were cut down to prevent their roots interfering with the drains were in fact soaking up, effectively drinking, much of the excess water. Who knows? Too late now, in any case. 

The situation is aggravated by the two small dogs from the neighbouring house which run up and down frantically and have removed any semblance of lawn, or even rough grass, from parts of the surface. While they continue to run about there seems little point in putting down more grass seed. 

And so I venture into the back garden as little as possible. In the last few days the sun has tempted me to hang washing on the line. Consequently, I now keep a pair of boots by the back door, specifically for forays into the mud patch, desperately trying to avoid treading mud into the house. 

Meanwhile, if the sun continues to shine, surely things can only get better.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The cost of keeping clean!

Years ago, when my Spanish nephew was still young enough to be upset about such things, he returned home from school one day very offended because someone had said that the English were dirty because we don't shower every day. As a rule he did not identify with the English very much at that time, preferring to ignore or even deny his mother's Englishness, but on this occasion the remark was insulting to his mother and insults to mothers cannot be ignored. 

Whenever I hear stuff like that or about how backward the English are because so many of our bathrooms do not have mixer taps, I remind myself that there was a time, well after the period of outdoor toilets and no bathrooms in the UK, when a large number of houses in Spain still didn't have running water. Then everything became very modern and civilised very quickly. 

Having said that, I know of a restaurant in Vigo where you had to ask for the key to the ladies' toilets until last year when they moved to new premises. It quite took me back to my first trip to Spain in 1968. 

Getting back to the English and their showering, some of us do shower every day. My sister's reply to her son's experience of being offended on her behalf was, "Well, maybe we don't shower every day but we do have a good wash!" 

I was reminded of this the other day when I came across an article about how unnecessary it is to shower every day. Indeed, said the article, it is very bad for the environment, as well as for people, to shower every day. Here's part of his justification: 

"The average 10-minute shower uses 60 litres of water. A power shower uses three times that and a bath about 80 litres. So a family of four each having a daily 10-minute power shower (I know that is a very conservative estimate for some teenagers) will consume a staggering 0.25m litres of water every year. The annual average cost for electricity for four 10-minute showers per day would be up to about £400, or £1,200 if a power shower is involved. Even worse, the power-shower family would be emitting a staggering 3.5 tonnes of CO2. As we can afford only one tonne of carbon emissions per person – for everything from food to transport – if we are to keep global temperatures below the critical 2C threshold, this would consume nearly all of the family’s carbon budget." 

And there I was, accepting the argument that having a shower uses far less water than having a bath and now he tells me that my shower uses 75% of the water a bath would use. Of course, that depends on the size and depth of your bath and how long you spend in the shower. It is possible to get clean in under ten minutes. 

The writer reminisced about his childhood, when it was normal to bathe once a week and nobody had excessive body odour as a result. He says he has reverted to weekly showers and what he refers to as a "daily sink wash". But I remember the advertisements for deodorant from that time, advertisements that featured someone, meant to be a friend, approaching another and whispering in his/her ear, "B.O!", in one of those penetrating hissing whispers, and with the letters elongated. That must have been the beginning of the campaign to make us all cleaner and fresher. 

The writer went on about the harmful effects on our skin of the overuse of soaps and shower gels. Some of this is undoubtedly true; why else the successful promotion of so many post-shower body lotions? Indeed, I have often wondered at the irony of washing ourselves clean under the shower only to slather ourselves with other gunk before leaving the bathroom. Except that I quite like the lotions and potions. 

And then there is shampoo, another product that we overuse, according to this Donnachadh McArthy. Our hair, like our skin, has natural cleansing processes. We don't actually need to use shampoo, which dries out the scalp and makes it work hard to produce more oil, sometimes unsuccessfully: hence dandruff and itchy scalp. No, we should just wash it with water. I knew a young lady who did this. She had lovely long, flowing, curly red hair which she had not shampooed for several years by the time I knew her. She said that the first few weeks had been difficult as her hair and scalp adjusted to the new regime but, once that was over, she did not regret the decision at all. Ah, the bravery of youth! She probably saved a fortune in hair products as well. 

All this talk of showering and shampooing is making me feel hot and sticky. Time to go and waste some water again!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Train travel turmoil! Sauve qui peut!

Euston Station in London is a weird place. Large groups of people stand around, staring up at a display, up close to the roof of the place, that tells you which platform trains will be leaving from. As it gets closer to the trains' departure times, each one's bit of the display moves a little further over to the left. The platform rarely seems to be decided, let alone displayed, until about ten minutes before departure time. Quite why it is that way, I have no idea. Yes, it's a busy station, with loads of trains, but surely they have a kind of master plan indicating which platform trains to certain destinations usually leave from. Maybe it's just to prevent people crowding onto platforms too far ahead of departure time. Anyway, that's how it is and we have often been among those staring up, like members of some odd cult, awaiting enlightenment. 

Yesterday we set off from our son's house in Chesham, arriving at Euston in time to join the hopeful throng of departures board watchers. Imagine our surprise to find that the 2.00 pm to Manchester Piccadilly was cancelled, as were a fair few other Virgin and Midlands trains. An announcement told us that this was due to flooding! Flooding? We had woken to a fine day. Morning television had included no reports of flooding. I had been out for a pleasant walk with my daughter-in-law and our smallest grandchild. All was well. So where was the flooding? Somewhere around Rugby and Northampton apparently. Who knew? Later in the day I heard reports about a storm front that had moved across the country causing flooding in some areas but we had had no notion of any such stormy weather where we were. 

After making some enquiries, we found that we could use our tickets on the next available Virgin train to Manchester: 2.20 pm, delayed! No platform at that point in time! Eventually we boarded the train, not long after 2.20 in fact. We got on and so did all the people with tickets for that train and for the 2.00 train and for the 1.40 train, also cancelled! That was fun! 

As we made our way down the train with our thankfully quite small bags, in search of an elusive couple of seats, the public address system of the train welcomed us on board and wished us a safe and comfortable journey. No mention how sorry they were for the overcrowding or the slightly late start. On my last trip by train to London there had been extra passengers because of a cancelled train and the crew bent over backwards to apologise for the inconvenience. On this journey, nothing until. quite some time into the journey, we were held up at signals because of the chaos on the line and when we slowed down to walking pace because of water on the line. 

We were able to find seats together eventually, and miraculously, given the number of people sitting on the floor in some parts of the train. And the journey was not uncomfortable after all, although we arrived in Manchester, not at just after 4.00 as planned but at about 6.00. After that the rest of the journey home was smooth and painless without long waits for tram or bus. Such waits might have been just too much for us. 

Much later in the evening, Phil read a report of total chaos at Euston station later in the later afternoon. The crowds waiting for train announcements had grown so large that the police were brought in to control what was going on and to prevent people from storming onto platforms. How little it takes for civilised behaviour to crumble into anarchy! 

We should consider ourselves lucky to have got away when we did. Such are the adventures of these intrepid travellers!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Expectations and disappointments!

Apparently today is International Women's Day. Cue jokes and cartoons in various places about men being disappointed as they try to break the record for how many International Men's Days they could have on the run. The disappointment comes from discovering that once more they had been thwarted by the women insisting on having a day of their own. 

To mark the day, a "Suffragette ride" was organised in Manchester, with women dressed up as the original suffragettes riding around on bikes to highlight the gender imbalance in cycling. The original suffragettes, it seems, often used to attend demonstrations on bikes but nowadays research shows that there are four times as many men who cycle as women. Of course, there were fewer cars around in suffragette times than in the modern world. I'm not entirely sure how much of an indicator of inequality the statistics about cycling are. (I wonder how the statistics pan out for numbers of men and women who go out running.) Maybe women have more sense than to be out on the road in today's traffic. But I do agree that something needs to be done about cycle lanes and cycle safety. 

The actress Emma Watson, UN Women Ambassador, says she is giving up acting for a year "focus on feminism". Critics have labelled her a "feminazi" because she won't give up her work on campaigning about feminist issues. In an interview she said: “We are not supposed to talk about money, because people will think you’re ‘difficult’ or a ‘diva’. But there’s a willingness now to be like, ‘Fine. Call me a ‘diva’, call me a ‘feminazi’, call me ‘difficult’, call me a ‘First World feminist’, call me whatever you want, it’s not going to stop me from trying to do the right thing and make sure that the right thing happens.’ Because it doesn’t just affect me.” Good for her! 

This next has nothing to do with feminism. 

While we were in Spain, Phil managed to break his glasses. Unusually he did not have a spare pair with him and so was reduced to using an old pair of prescription sunglasses, not quite the right prescription for nowadays, uncertain whether he looked cool or just like a fool, wearing sunglasses on gloomy, damp days. 

Now we are back in the UK, spending a couple of days with offspring number one and his family at their house in Buckinghamshire. Looking out of the window in the early afternoon, I saw a number of large birds, hovering the way hunting birds do, floating on the spirals in the air. On other occasions our son has pointed put to us red kites hovering in the distance so I assume these were more of the same. Quite impressive! So I pointed them put to Phil. No use, he had misplaced the old prescription sunglasses. Without them, the hovering birds were just amorphous blobs against the cloud. By the time he located them the birds had gone. How useless! What a wasted opportunity! 

I would like to point out the use of exclamation marks at the end of the previous paragraph. A recent ruling from the minister of education says that seven year olds must be taught to use exclamation marks only at the end of comments beginning How... or What..... In assessments of their writing ability, they can be given no credit for using exclamation marks in other situations. These are the things that are expected of our seven year olds today! 

How gobsmacked I am!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Nothing but ...

Nothing but ... In one of Doris Lessing's books - I forget exactly which one - most of the main characters are seeing psychiatrists. Now I suppose we would say they were "in therapy". Whatever the terminology, one of the important things was to be diagnosed. Once you became "nothing but ...." whatever disorder they labelled you with, then you could get on with your life. 

In the years since Doris Lessing wrote her books we have done a lot more labelling. Children's behaviour or learning problems are explained away because they suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or they are "somewhere on the (autistic) spectrum". When I was teaching in sixth form colleges, certain of my students were equipped with various coloured plastic overlays to put on top of printed handouts. This helped them deal with their previously undiagnosed dyslexia, which had not prevented them doing well in high school. Or so I was assured. 

I was, and in fact still am, more than a little sceptical about how many of these so-labelled young people actually deserved that label. (No, I am not denying the existence of dyslexia, just the prevalence of the condition!) But it gave them a kind of comfort blanket to hang onto so that they could cope with the demands of studying and in many cases it worked. Now that they are out in the big wide world, many of them holding down proper jobs, I wonder if they still hang onto the label and the coloured plastic sheets to help them deal with life. 

Now I have come across a new and interesting label: Narcissistic personality disorder!!!! 

This is characterised, I am told, by a lack of empathy, a tendency to self-regard, and a radical overestimation of one's own talents and likability. Many politicians suffer from it but not all of them, obviously. There are still some rare idealists around. And the politicians who do suffer from it vary in the degree of their affliction. No doubt, however, you have to believe that people will vote for you or you would not stand for office in the first place. Some of the people who are famous just for being famous make a point of displaying the disorder, taking a perverse pride in not caring for others and letting their audience know they do not care. Here comes the philosophical bit: do they really not care or do they want to be famous for not caring? Either way, they enjoy the notoriety! 

Strangely, according to the article where I came across this term, another element of "narcissistic personality disorder" is the public outpouring of grief and concern about great tragedies or the death of the likes of David Bowie. You post something on your social media of choice about how upset you are over whatever is going on and all you are really doing is showing off to everyone what a wonderfully sensitive and caring individual you are! 

Aaaghh!!! We can't win! We are all of us nothing but the victims of modern labelling. 

 So, to cheer us all up, here's a link to an article with views of the London skyline before the fire of London and comparing them with views from the same perspective today. Fascinating.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Words and stereotypes.

The Spanish for Youtube is Youtube but some people pronounce it "yootoobay". I know this because of a conversation in the bread shop this morning. Eeyore has a son called Aron. Well, I assume that's how you write it as that's how she said it. It's not a name I associate with little Spanish boys. It seems more wild west America or North of England somehow. But then, I think it's another of those Old Testament names so there is every reason for little Spanish boys to be so called. 

Eeyore had had to have words with her son after she overheard him saying to a small friend that all black people are bad. This astounded her as he has very good friends who are mixed race - "tiene un par de amigos que son mulatos". Now, that's term (mulatos) you don't hear in English these days. Goodness me, they even had to rename Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Nigger Boys" for a recent stage production, calling it "Last Man Standing" instead. Anyway, when Eeyore challenged Aron about his comments he told her, "Pero Mamá, si en Youtube los negros siempre son malos, siempre están peleando". And I suppose it's reasonably true that black men in clips from films and so on are often portrayed as violent and always fighting. Stereotypes! 

We got onto other stereotypes, all children-related. How quickly children learn to use technology - probably because parents let them play with mobile phones. Also because small children are just little sponges when it comes to learning. It's just a shame some have the sponge-like qualities knocked out of them. How girls learn to speak more quickly than boys, and learn to do other things more quickly too - this one, I think, an educationally recognised fact; in the days of the eleven-plus exam they set a lower pass mark for boys than girls. 

As regards words borrowed from other languages and pronounced Spanish fashion, some of them change their spelling eventually. "Croissant" has become "curasán", which is just odd. But I doubt that Youtube will change. 

And I wonder about the communication app "Whatsapp". Is it so called because someone thinks that that is how you should really pronounce " what's up?". 

It's a theory!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Fog and stuff.

When I got up this morning, the world outside had disappeared. The cloud had come down and covered everything. It was not just raining, the cloud was almost palpable. This is what happens around here and it can happen at any time of year. The only difference is the temperature of the descended cloud. Today it was rather low, this being March. 

Eeyore in the bread shop told me it was set for the day but, although it came and went in varying degrees of obscurity all morning, by mid afternoon it had more or less gone. There were still clouds but they were back up in the sky where they belonged and the sun was managing to shine a little. 

Just as well, as I needed to return my library books and a walk in the rain was not what I had in mind. 

I have been having a South American thing going on with my reading. First there was García Márquez and "Love in the time of Cholera", which I have almost certainly read before and which I mostly enjoyed reading again. As I approached the end, however, I almost set it aside unfinished. The protagonist, Florentino Ariza, waiting for the love of his youth, the love of his life, Fermina Daza, to be free to realise that she should love only him, has a series of dalliances, almost love affairs, with a surprising number of other women. This is fine; you accept it as part of the storyline. And then, the very last of his list of lady loves turns out to be a fifteen year old girl. By this time he is a man in his late seventies and the affair leaves a bad taste in this reader's mouth. I wonder if García Márquez would include the schoolgirl América Vicuña in his tale if he were writing it now and not at the end of the 1970s. 

My other library find was a much more recent book, this time by Isabel Allende, published in 2011, "El Cuaderno de Maya". This is the story of a recovering addict and alcoholic hiding away from drug-pushing, money laundering counterfeiters and the FBI in the island of Chiloé off the bottom of Chile. As Maya comes to terms with herself, she discovers, and reveals to us, details of the disturbing past of some of her family in the Pinochet years in Chile. Quite readable, the book, with its series of flashbacks gradually unfolding more and more of the story, had me wondering if it was written with a possible film in mind, as so many books are these days. 

Well, that's my Spanish reading over for a while. There was little point in getting more from the library as we head back to the UK on Monday. Time to see what I have lurking unread on my kindle. But now at I have discovered the improved arrangements at the library here, I shall go back on our next visit.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Some of life's mysteries!

Another blue sky day today, as predicted by Eeyore. The temperature gauge on the advertising hoarding this morning at 9 only gave 5 degrees. Rather cooler than yesterday's 11. So the clear night must have brought the temperature down as I expected. 

 I am always astounded by the blueness of the bay on days like this. I know that scientists will tell me that it's all to do with the water surface reflecting the sky colour. That's why we get that cold silvery water on cloudy days and almost black on really stormy days. But the sky is never the deep blue of the sea. One of life's more beautiful mysteries! 

Another mystery is the stuff that scientists spend their time researching. Yesterday I came across this in one of the papers online:- 

"Too little sleep may bring on a form of the marijuana “munchies”, say scientists who found that sleep-deprived people craved crisps, sweets and biscuits far more than healthier foods. 

The US researchers believe that skimping on sleep alters brain chemicals in much the same way as the hunger-boosting ingredient in cannabis, which has long propped up snack sales at 24-hour convenience stores. 

After several nights of poor sleep, healthy volunteers who took part in the study reached for snacks containing more calories - and nearly twice as much fat - than ones they favoured after sleeping well for the same period, the scientists say." 

This was only the beginning of the article. I thought everyone knew that you can do without sleep or without food but not without both at the same time. Any student who has sat up all night catching up with the work she neglected to do because of social commitments knows that you need chocolate and crisps to keep you going. We didn't need scientists to tell us that. And the fast food outlets who stay open 24 hours must surely be aware of it; it's a big part of the secret of their success! 

So we just need to make the population at large sleep more and perhaps we can cure the obesity problem!! Hmmm!!! 

And then I came across this: 

"The amount of stuff the UK consumes has fallen dramatically since 2001, according to official government figures." 

So, if we are consuming less, why is there an obesity problem? 

Of course I KNOW it doesn't mean consumption of food but of stuff in general. It's stuff like wood, metal, construction materials. Because the UK no longer actually produces much stuff, neither do we consume much raw material. Neither do we build as much as we used to apparently. 

The only country in Europe that uses less material per capita than the UK is Spain: another country that is building less than it used to! And sometimes when they do build you find yourself wondering why. The block of flats down the road from us, completed some time in the autumn, remains completely unoccupied. This despite the fact that there are people sleeping rough! 

 Other factors that come into it are things like electrical appliances such as fridges and washing machines requiring less metal in their construction than they used to. Who would have guessed that? Especially when you consider how heavy fridges and washing machines are! And sales (and consequently production) of stuff like records and CDs, even of music systems to play them on, have gone down as everyone seems to prefer digital consumption these days. Even books come into this as even regular readers opt for kindles and eBooks rather than paper copies. 

What a sad world! I actually enjoy reading a "proper" book and selecting an album to play from the collection on the shelf. 

And finally, a bit of silliness over a name. The name in question is Kylie, a name nobody had ever heard of until Ms Minogue of that ilk became famous. And then suddenly there were lots of little Kylies all over the place. An American Kylie, a certain Kylie Jenner, someone who appears in reality TV shows, is trying to trademark the name in the USA. Ms Minogue is, naturally, putting up a legal fight to prevent this happening. Her legal team claim that "allowing Jenner to take the Kylie name will cause confusion for Minogue fans and dilute her brand". Kylie Minogue fans must be easily confused. 

 Now, I knew you could trademark the name of a product but I had never imagined that you could do the same with a person's name. If she were to be successful, would it mean that any American who wanted to name their child Kylie would have to get Ms Jenner's permission? Would all the producers of key rings, bracelets, necklaces and tatty mugs with names on have to pay royalties? Would parents even have to pay royalties every time they spoke their daughter's name in public? 

The ramifications are truly mind-boggling!