Saturday, 30 April 2016

Ancient and modern vehicles!

Our daughter has a new car. A brand new car. Not just a "new to you" but already used by someone else car. She has acquired it on one of those lease-hire deals where you pay so much a month and at the end of three years either you buy the car or you set up a new deal for another new car. I know a number of people who do this. No MOT. No car servicing bills. Worth considering, although for the moment we remain carless. There seems little point in leaving a car parked outside the house here when we fly off to Spain for a few months at a time. 

So our daughter has a spanking new vehicle. The only fly in the ointment is that she cannot drive it. She has a broken bone just above her elbow and, although improving daily, still cannot drive. She signed the deal to purchase/lease the car on a Saturday and fell at work on the Monday. Her partner had to take delivery of the vehicle a week later. 

She cannot drive it but I, on the other hand, can do so because I am a named driver on her insurance policy. I feel quite justified in this, having provided financial assistance for the purchasing of vehicles in the past. 

So today I have been driving this formidable vehicle. It's a big beast, something in the Nissan range, but it is not its size that is formidable. All cars seem to be getting bigger these days. Even the Mini should really be called a Fairly Maxi. But with modern steering technology you can drive a large vehicle and the high seat gives you a lovely view of the road. 

No, it's not the size but the technology. Whenever you drive an unfamiliar vehicle you have to get to know its technological idiosyncrasies. Where are the windscreen wipers? Where is the horn? How do you turn the heating/air conditioner on? I remember having a minor panic in a hired car in Mallorca as we approached a tunnel, which demanded lights, and I had no idea where the switch was to turn them on. And after the occasion when I spent a good half hour trying to get into reverse gear, I always check that before setting off in an unknown-to-me car. 

But this one is special. First of all, provided you have the "key" on your person, you can simply press a button on the driver's door and the thing unlocks itself. And then there is no ignition keyhole. Instead of turning a key, you depress brake and clutch pedals and press a start button. Neither is there a handbrake, just a little tiny switch that you lift up when you put the car in neutral, at traffic lights for example. And to set off again, putting it back in gear tells the handbrake to release itself. No trying to set off with the handbrake on. No, just some amusing moments when I scrabble about trying to find a non-existent handbrake! 

And it talks to you, after a fashion, and I don't just mean sat-nav, although that comes as standard. It beeps to let you know there is a speed camera coming up. It beeps if you cross a white line or drift out of lane. It beeps if someone has not fastened their seatbelt. It beeps frenetically as you reverse into a parking space. And it's fitted with a whole lot of technology on the steering wheel to do with using hands-free mobile phones. That's the bit I am still not sure about; even hands-free, using mobiles when driving is not a good idea, in my opinion anyway. But the rest of the technology is fine. 

Driving along in this huge, technologically advanced, almost cleverer than the driver vehicle, our paths crossed a little red 2CV going in the opposite direction. From the sublime to the ridiculous - our very first car was one of those. No technology to speak of, very little security, light enough for four teenage boys to try to lift it off the ground on one occasion! 

We loved it and we had it brand new on the road, paid for, taxed and insured for less than our daughter has had to put down as a deposit on her new beast.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Weathering the storm!

 It's odd how the weather affects one's mood. A bit of sunshine and everyone is out there, smiling at the rest of the world. You find yourself serving light salads, smoked salmon and crisp, dry white wine. 

Today by contrast, with the garden still completely white and occasional flurries of snow still falling, I had an urge to go and cook hearty stews and thick soups. It was most definitely a day for hibernating. The seasons are seriously out of flunter. Having posted photos on Facebook, I now have friends sending me comments about temperatures of 21 degrees in Galicia and 27 in China. 

And so I was not moving from the sofa unless forced to do so. Plans to go to the bookshop for a last-minute extra birthday present for the small boy of the family went by the board. 

Instead some comments on news from here and there. 

Last night on the TV programme This Week, I swear I heard the host Andre Neill speculating about whether there is a Tory plot to discredit the Labour party. Well, they will certainly take advantage of any blunders. And I did read that the original tweet about Israel by Naz Shah would not have been causing all the furore if it had not been republished by a Tory person! Such is modern politics. 

At the other end of the world, I read about someone returning a library book 67 years late. She took the book out in 1948 when she was a child and has just got round to returning it, much to the librarian's surprise. They no longer even have records of the lady's membership as it was so long ago. But her conscience mist have been troubling her and on a visit to family she took the book back. Because she took it out as a child, fines do not apply. If she had had to pay them they would have amounted to almost £12,000! Amazing! Sometimes having a conscience works. Although the book, a collection of Maori myths and legends, is probably not of great value, it is being evaluated and will be added to a special collection in the Auckland library. 

Someone who does have to pay up is the father of a 28 year old Italian. This father has been ordered to continue to support his son through university despite it having taken him much longer to complete his first degree course than originally estimated. And the young man has now embarked on post-graduate courses! Sounds to me like a case of putting off the dread day when he has to declare himself a grown-up. When his father suggested he should start to look for a job and support himself, the young man took him to court and was backed up officially. 

This an example of "bamboccioni", literally big babies, which is the term the Italians use to describe such young people. In the UK apparently we have "Kippers" - "Kids In Parents' Pockets, Eroding Retirement Savings” and IPODs – “Insecure, Pressurised, Overtaxed and Debt-ridden”. France has young adults still living at home who are known as the “Tanguy” generation after a 2001 film about a 28-year-old man who drives his parents to distraction by refusing to move out. 

We have been known to refer to ourselves as the Bank of Mum and Dad but on the whole I think Phil and I may have got off lightly. Neither of our offspring have tried to move back in yet.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Stormy times and running achievements.

March winds and April showers bring on May flowers. Thus goes the old saying. Well, it's very nearly May and I can't say I am impressed. 

After sitting outside eating fish and chips at lunchtime yesterday, truly the last thing I expected to see when I looked out of the window early this morning was snow on the roof of the shed. And yet there it was. After the sun came up properly the snow disappeared and I managed a run in the sunshine. But after that the day deteriorated rapidly into grey and gloomy. And cold!

Now, middle evening, there is a thunderstorm going on outside and the garden is white over again. Stormy times! 

Stormy times for the Labour party here as well with accusations of anti-Semitism and general racism flying around and members of the party suspended pending investigation into things they have said which have been perhaps misinterpreted - perhaps deliberately so. I am left wondering why the Left so often manages to tear itself apart publicly when troubles come along while the Right usually closes ranks and deals with its problems as far as possible in private. 

Onto happier matters. Last Sunday, when the sun managed to shine, we watched bits of the London Marathon, some of us on TV and others actually there, cheering on people they knew who were taking part. Those of us watching on TV gave up with the idea of actually seeing a friend or relation running and "followed" them on the website. How amazing to be able to feed in the name of a runner and see how quickly they had dealt with the first half, and then their final overall time. The people we knew in the race all did very well. It makes my little morning run seem very paltry! 

And then I read about a 12 year old girl in the USA. She was supposed to be running in a family 5 kilometre race which set off fifteen minutes after the New York half marathon and, the decisive factor, from the same bridge as the half marathon. She saw people lined up on the bridge and thought she had arrived late. So when they set off, she went with them. 

Somewhere round the course she realised she was in the wrong race but kept on going. Her parents were imaginably very upset when they didn't find her at the end of the five kilometre course and alerted the police and race officials. They discovered what had gone on and reassured the parents that all was well. So instead of running 3.1 miles, this young lady ran 13.1 miles. She completed the half-marathon in 2 hours, 43 minutes and 31 seconds and got a race-finishers medal for her troubles ... and possibly a place in the race annals. 

Pretty good going!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Reviewing the days activities and a staple of the British diet!

Well, it has been an odd sort of day, I must say. Up at the crack of dawn - just before 7.00 am still counts as the crack of dawn for me - to catch the bus to my daughter's house to do a bit of D.I.Y. for her, I shared my transport with a host of schoolchildren, something I have not done for a while. And something I don't relish doing again in any great hurry. When did 12 year old boys become so foul-mouthed? Probably not long after they got rid of bus conductors. You see, I knew the answer all along! 

 D.I.Y. completed, I contacted my brother-in-law, who was supposed to be picking me up, to tell him that I was no longer where he expected me to be. We arranged a new pick-up point near the local market, but he must drive faster than I thought as I saw him arrive there while I was still juggling fruit to be weighed at the market stall. Such was my confusion and haste that I bought sugar-free biscuits for him instead of gluten free and only noticed after we had arrived back at our house for a cup of tea. 

The rest of the day was split between a walk to the Diggle Chippy - a tiny fish and chip shop in what surely used to be a wooden garage - some more D.I.Y - at our house this time - quite a few cups of tea and some unsuccessful D.I.Y - this time back at my daughter's house where her newly purchased kitchen blind proved impossible to fit without proper tools. 

The weather was as mixed as the activities. The sun shone beautifully in the frost in the garden first thing and remained shining until some time just before lunchtime. As we arrived at the diminutive fish-and-chippery we were caught in a hailstorm, which helpfully disappeared so that we could eat our lunch in the returned sunshine by the Diggle duck pond. 

The sun managed to stay out until we returned from our walk. Here are some photos of the nice bits of the day. 

This evening we have had snow. I am very confused about the weather! 

Thinking about a light meal in the evening - we had had fish and chips at lunchtime, after all - I spotted a review of baked beans in one of the online newspapers. What else would you expect in a newspaper on a Wednesday? Some of them waxed quite lyrical. Here are a couple of examples: 

" Tesco baked beans: There is a real 1980s school dinners feel to Tesco’s beans. The sweet, bland sauce is fractionally thinner than you would normally expect and, frankly, barely distinguishable as tomato-based. It does not adhere meaningfully to the beans, either. They look pale and exposed, like bald English bathers in a Costa Brava hotel pool. The dominant flavour is of marginally overcooked, mushy haricot, which, while not actively unpleasant, definitely makes this taste like the cheap option it is. Heinz is a purring Jag next to this third-hand Honda Jazz. 4/10" ("pale and exposed, like bald English bathers"!?!?)   

"You know when you’re in a meeting and everyone starts talking at once? And you don’t know what’s going on? That is Co-op’s baked beans. The sauce is a bewildering muddle of peculiar flavours: something almost sweetly corny; a certain mustiness; gentle spiciness; tomatoes thrown off-kilter by interloping astringent notes. The beans themselves taste tired. They fulfil their iron-rich obligation, but with little of the vibrancy displayed in the Duchy Organic or Morrisons samples. A minority of those beans are a bit hard and chewy, too. Not great. 3/10" ("interloping astringent note"?!?! Beans that "tasted tired"!?!?) 

Heinz beans won the greatest praise, of course. I know people who swear by them and declare that Heinz baked beans on good wholemeal bread toast is the basis of a well-balanced diet! Personally I would grow bored but that's how it is. Each to his own!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Festivities and other stuff.

Here I am on the train from London to Manchester. Amazingly, my journeys this weekend have been completely hassle-free. Of course, having said that, this train will probably now be delayed somewhere en route and I shall rue the day I ever expressed optimism about travelling. So far, however, it has all been good and I have even had an internet connection courtesy of Virginwifi. This does not mean that I can post this while in he train as my iPad continues to refuse to connect me to blogger properly. So it goes. 

I travelled down to southern parts on Friday to spend the weekend with our son and his family, part of the ongoing campaign to ensure that his small daughter feels quite at home with us. I suspect that there is a bit of an ulterior motive here. Next month the little family will travel to Galicia, spending a night with us on their way to Baiona, where they are hiring a holiday flat. Part of the plan is for the young parents to abandon the child with us for one night while they go off and have a night alone together, possibly remembering the romantic proposal that took place several years ago in Pontevedra. It sound like a good plan to me. 

So Saturday morning, Saint George's Day, saw me in the centre of Chesham where we had been assured the mayor of the small town was going to slay a dragon. We were a little sceptical, especially as on Friday evening he was appealing on his website for a damsel prepared to be in distress on Saturday morning. Anyway, we made our way down to town and came across a small group of people gathered around a chap decked out in pretend armour and the mayoral chain of office, a dragon statue- thing, recycled from Chinese New Year, and a "damsel", somewhat past her sell-by date. 

Oh, and there was a town crier as well, a lady town crier in this age of equality, telling the story of St George and the dragon and the damsel and announcing that said dragon would be slain and said damsel rescued. Which duly happened! After a fashion. 

It was, however, all very low key, despite the sunshine and the flags and bunting. One of the flags was a knitted thing, made by the mysterious ladies who deck the town centre there with knitted paraphernalia at the drop of a stitch. 

I couldn't help feeling that the Spanish might have done it all much more effectively. We reflected that perhaps next year someone should suggest that one of the local schools make a dragon out of papier maché, a hollow thing that could be filled with sweets and treats, rather like the Mexican piñata. That way, all the parents would turn out with their children. Good old St George could slice the dragon's head off and sweets and treats could pour out. A good time would be had by all. 

In that way a new tradition, the Chesham St George's Day re-enactment fiesta, could be born. It's an idea. 

Later: the train was not delayed but I arrived in Manchester to find that the Metrolink system was at a standstill. Consequently all buses were extra crowded and slow. It took almost as long to get from Manchester to Delph as it had from London to Manchester! Wonderful!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Reflections on birthdays and obituaries.

This morning a friend of mine posted this on Facebook: 

"Shouldn't the Queen's birthday celebrations be curtailed? Victoria Wood has died, show some respect!" 

Most of last night's ten o'clock news was full of those two things: the queen's 90th birthday - all sorts of sentimental stuff with other members of the royal family - and tributes to the comedienne Victoria Wood - someone I have never really appreciated although lots of people I know rate her very highly. 

Maybe I need to take another look at both of these ladies, because the trend has continued today, more for the royal personage than for the comedienne, it has to be said. 

Masses of people turned out to sing happy birthday to Her Majesty on the streets of Windsor this morning. Whatever your feelings about how much easier it is to live to a ripe old age if you live a life of privilege, you have to admit that it must be just a little annoying not to be able to celebrate your birthday quietly with your family but to have to go walkabout and carry out public duties. 

And then in this evening's news came the announcement that the performer Prince has died at 57 years old. Another one I've never truly followed but, all the same, 57 is no age to shuffle off this mortal coil. 

There have been radio programmes about the huge number of famous people who have disappeared so far in 2016. Obituaries right, left and centre! And it's still only April! The general consensus is not so much that more people are dying than ever did in the past but that there are just more famous people than there used to be. And they don't just mean those who are famous for being famous. Although there are rather too many of those. (I recently heard Sandi Toksvig and Roy Hudd discussing the fact that in their youth they just wanted to earn a living as performers, not necessarily become famous. Fame came as a bit of a by-product.) 

The theory about the disappearing famous folk is that before the advent of television, the only "celebrities" most people heard of were film stars. Relatively smaller numbers. Then along came television and, in particular, soaps and regular series, providing a whole host of household names. Add to that the arrival of pop music on a grand scale and suddenly the world was full of names to remember and people to admire. All of this started to happen in the 1950s and 1960s and inevitably those famous folk, like the rest of us, have been getting older. And many of them lived wilder lives than the rest of us. 

So it goes!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Ladies in waiting!

Quite a lot of today has been made up of waiting. To begin with, I was going over to my daughter's house to do some painting for her. So, to kill two birds with one stone, I hopped on a bus just before 10.00 and went to Uppermill, where I purchased one or two odds and ends at the market. That bit of the day dealt with, I calculated I could walk part of the bus route before the next bus came along to continue on my way to my daughter's house. At my chosen bus stop, sure there was insufficient time walk further, I then waited for twenty minutes for a bus which should have arrived within minutes. 

Eventually, painting tasks over for the time being, I headed homewards. No bus due for a while, so once again I walked part of the way along the bridle path. It was a lovely day for it. Just as well, for once again my bus decided to be about 15 or 20 minutes late. 

Later in the afternoon, I waited once more, this time at our crossroads, for my daughter and her partner to collect me. My daughter managed to break a bone in a fall at work last week and has been unable to drive. Her partner's car, which she was driving in the day of the incident, remained in the work carpark and today, finally, we were going in her car to collect the other car and have me drive my daughter's car home, since I am a named driver on her insurance. Such a convoluted lot of messing about. 

Why had we not done this sooner? Because the car which I am insured to drive was being repaired after my daughter's partner had managed to bump it. All this before the bone was broken, giving rise to my driving skills being needed! 

Having acquired the car, I took advantage of it to run my chess playing husband around, after which I dropped the car off at my daughter's. For some odd reason it needs to be there tomorrow morning instead of outside my house. Nobody was available to run me home so I hung around until it was time for one of the rare buses back to my house in the evening. Phew! What a palaver! 

After doing this and that, I turned on the television to watch the news and caught the tail end of a programme about the Portland Hospital. Now, this is a hospital I read about recently. It's a maternity hospital. A private maternity hospital. Victoria Beckham has given birth to at least one of her children there. The Duchess of Middleton had both her children there. It's a hospital that gives women in labour a magnificent service: specialist medical attention combined with customer service, food and standards of comfort which you might expect in a luxury hotel. Women come from far and wide to enjoy its luxury. Arrangements can be made for the new father to have a bed in the same room as his wife after the baby has arrived, thus sharing those special moments from the word go. Wonderful! 

Why don't all women receive a version of this service when they go into labour? Well, because it all comes with a bill of around £40,000! 

Amazing stuff! How the other half live!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Odd beliefs!

I was reading this morning about Pastafarians. 

Back in 2005 somebody wrote a letter to the board of education, in Kansas or some similar place in the USA. He was protesting about the teaching of Intelligent Design, AKA Creationism, in science lesson, alongside or occasionally instead of the theory of evolution. One of his arguments was that there was about as much proof of the hand of God in creation as their was of the hand, or possible the tentacle, of what he called the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Here's a quote: 

"I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence". 

He published his letter on his website and, as happens so often in social media these days, it went viral. And before you could say pasta sauce, a new religion was born. The Flying Spaghetti Monster is, of course, the creator. Pirates are revered as the original Pastafarians and the decline in numbers of pirates is seen as another consequence of global warming. 

Poland, the Netherlands and New Zealand have legally recognised Pastafarianism as a religion. This month the first Pastafarian wedding took place, in New Zealand, I think, with the happy couple dressed up in pirate costumes and with pasta hoops for wedding rings. At the same time a federal judge in the USA has ruled that it is not a real religion. Oops! 

And there I was, thinking that Scientology was crazy, even though lots of famous people appear to subscribe to it. Tom Cruise is rumoured to be moving to Saint Hill Manor, the UK headquarters of that other fairly recently invented religion, in East Grinstead. Now, from something else I read, that's a place which has the headquarters of a whole lot of cranky religions. I wonder if any atheists live there. 

 Moving away from "religions" in my news browsing, I read something about television sets. A news reporter / commentator was confessing in print to having given in and bought an enormous set, a 65inch screen affair, the kind of thing you have in a home cinema set-up almost. He seemed a little shame-faced about the whole matter. 

His wife, it turns out, works as some kind of design consultant and is not impressed. She declares that the obsessive need to have a huge television set is a "man thing" and has organised things in their house so that the set is hidden by a work of art when not in use. At the push of a button the painting sinks into a recess and the plasma screen is revealed. Now that is certainly the way to do things. 

I'm not at all sure I could find enough stuff I want to watch to merit a huge television screen in one room let alone sets in several rooms of the house! 

The design consultant wife goes on to talk about the rights and wrongs of television sets in different rooms of the house and is particularly opposed to mega-televisions in bedrooms as this contradicts every rule of feng shui. A feng shui consultant backs her up on this, talking about "the electro-magnetic pollution and the disturbance to sleep caused by late-night TV-watching". Well yes, I would agree with that, without any of the feng shui stuff, however. 

Which brings us back into the realm of cranky beliefs.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Live long and prosper!

Yesterday I accidentally found myself watching the final episode of series five of Game of Thrones. We were at a friend's house in the North East and, after a fine meal at a local Chinese restaurant, we sat down and channel hopped until we found something remotely interesting to watch, a little mindlessly perhaps. I have seen series one to four and read all the books so far. My friend has watched most of series one to five but all in the wrong order and at times she fell asleep half way through some episodes. That alone says something about the television series, does it not? But Sky was re-showing the final episode of series five, prior to beginning series six next week. 

So, anyway, neither my friend nor I was really up to speed with what had gone on in the TV series so far and had a rather silly time explaining to each other who everybody was. Some characters I recognised from earlier series, others I worked out from my knowledge of the books and some we kind of worked out together or made a guess or simply gave up on who a character might possibly be. 

As with earlier series of the programme, I found myself getting frustrated because the storyline varied so much from the books. Entirely different plot lines had appeared for certain characters. Some were in places where they simply did not belong according to the books. Phil commented, when he popped in half way through to see if it was time for Match of the Day yet, that it was like a science fiction story where you have an alternative reality to explore. I just hope that when/if George R.R. Martin ever gets around to writing the final book(s) of the series, he bases his writing on the novels and not on the TV series. 

As the episode ended with the apparent death of Jon Snow - stabbed so many times that he truly had no chance of surviving - my friend's son expressed his hopes that Jon Snow would be revived by the religious magic of one of the other characters: a forlorn hope according to interviews I have read with the actor Kit Harrington. 

On the subject of living to a ripe old age, much is being made of the queen's up-coming ninetieth birthday and what a grand old lady she is: so fit and active, still meeting all her royal commitments and riding a horse and so on. Related to that I found some advice in today's newspaper, an actual paper copy which I read on the train. Here is some of it: 

  • It helps to be rich or at any rate to have money in the bank so you don't have to stress about it. As with being happy, having plenty of cash doesn't guarantee it but it does help. I wonder if our modest savings are sufficient. However, I refuse to stress about it. 
  • "Stay lean, eat "clean". Avoid processed food, eat little meat and more olive oil, fruit and vegetables; drink good coffee and wine." That's a quotation. Well, we seem to do all of that. 
  • Don't smoke. Stay active. All good so far. 
  • Motherhood past 40 is apparently a good indicator. Another quotation: "A woman who has a child naturally beyond 40 has a four times greater chance of living to 100 compared with one who does not - a possible indication that her reproductive system is ageing slowly and so the rest of her body is as well." Too late for me to do anything about that. I wonder about those women you read about who have IVF babies when they are in their mid-fifties. Are they trying to cheat fate or does it not count for anything at all? And how does this factor relate to the statistics we read about infertility and the advice to women to have babies before their biological clock ticks away too far? Hmmm! A difficult one. 
  • In the end, though, a lot of it comes down to family history. It helps if others in your family have lived to a ripe old age, because having good genes is a good thing. Final quotation: "Between 25% and 30% of longevity is attributable to the quality of your genes." 
 So there it is. Only time will tell.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Travel fun and games.

On one of our recent visits to Manchester to take our granddaughter to the cinema we returned by train. We had earlier met her at the train station. Her train had arrived a good ten minutes late. The train we returned home on was also delayed by five minutes or so. This is a regular occurrence with that particular train service. On that occasion it provoked Phil into commenting something along the lines of "this service is c**p". 

Some time later, Phil received a text message from what is now known to us as "C***p Rail" offering special half price travel over a certain period. So we decided it was time to go and visit an old friend in Newcastle. Trying to book these special half price tickets on the website of "C**p Rail" proved more than problematical. In the end we booked tickets in our usual way, taking advantage of the reduction we get on the Senior Rail Card. 

So off we went yesterday into Manchester to catch the train to Newcastle. Checking the departures board to see which platform it left from. And there it was: 13:51 to Newcastle - cancelled! What??? Making enquiries at the information office, all we found out was that we should catch the 13:29 to Stalybridge (going back on our tracks) and change trains there. Just as well we arrived in plenty of time and looked at the departures board. 

Having arrived at Stalybridge, we discovered that we needed to catch the Hull train and get off at Huddersfield where we would eventually catch a train to Newcastle. Which we duly did. Somewhere along the way we found out that the train we were finally going to Newcastle on was in fact our original train. It had started from Liverpool and because of delays it had come into Manchester at Piccadilly Station instead of Victoria. This was, of course, "C**p Rail" at its best. 

Because of the changes, all seat reservations were cancelled. At almost every station along the way, someone would get on and try to claim an already occupied seat. Such fun! 

In Newcastle, we left the station and hopped straight onto a bus in a new service which took us almost to our friend's door. A talking bus, at that. It announced each stop well in advance. And we had a bit of tour round the sights of Newcastle en route. 

Thank goodness some services are not run by "C**p Rail".

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Money matters.

On the one hand we have the CEO of BP being given a pay rise that takes his salary up to £14 million a year; at least I assume it is per year. I heard on one of the news broadcasts that this is a 20% rise. Workers with a much lower base rate are not allowed a pay rise at all in some cases, let alone 20% of an already huge amount. What, one wonders, does a CEO do to earn £14million? 

 On the other hand there is the suggestion that everyone, every adult, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, should receive a basic income payment of £100 a week. An unconditional basic income or UBI. Quite a lot of discussion has taken place about how much a UBI payment should be. The lowest they came up with was £77. It is proposed as a possible solution to poverty. And as a way of reducing the length of the working week. Which could be no bad thing. People have talked about it for long enough. Here's a link to a whole article about UBI.

It all comes down to the question: how much do you need to live on? And it leads on to this one: how do you spend all that money if you earn £14million. 

My first thought when I saw the headline of the article on UBI was that they were proposing that everyone should have to live on £100 a week per adult in the household. I visualised all the property being confiscated and all the savings and instant equality being forced on us all. I was reminded of a science fiction story I read long, long ago in which the naturally faster-moving people had to wear weights on their ankles to slow them down and good-looking people had to wear masks to hid their beauty. Advantages had to be eliminated. 

This money stuff comes after all the news about off-shore tax havens and politicians whose fathers accidentally dropped them in it. As well as that, we have been having our usual annual review of our rather modest savings and ISAs with an expert at our bank. She kept reminding us that she could only give information and not advice. This was partly because the bank might contact us and ask for our opinion of the appointment with their expert. She didn't want us to suggest, even remotely, that she had advised us? And that, in turn, comes from a fear of being sued if the advice proves less than useful! 

It's a funny old world!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Product placement.

Oh dear! The French are unhappy because Spain has been exporting wine into their country. Cheap Spanish wine! How shocking! Wine tankers have been stopped and emptied onto roads in southwest France. Surely French wines are sold in Spain. That's fine but the French claim that Spain is flooding the market and undercutting them pricewise. Some people just can't stand competition. 

Having written that, I remembered a conversation in the Italian conversation class. We had been talking about "Made in Italy"- all the range of stuff that supposedly is made there. My contribution was about something I had heard on the radio or read in the newspaper about leather goods. Someone had commented that if all the leather goods which claim to be made in Italy were actually made of Genuine Italian Leather, Italy would need so many cows that you would see them drinking from the Trevi fountain. Much of the leather comes from elsewhere, of course. This does not stop the shoes and bags being made in Italy though. But some of them might just be finished off in Italy, like all the "hand-made" clothes and "hand-knitted" sweaters that are all machine produced but finished off by hand. 

Our teacher went on, however, to talk angrily about the oranges that are thrown away in her native Sicily because they can't sell them. Cheaper oranges are imported from Morocco and sold at less than half the price that local orange growers can afford to sell them for. A bit like British steel, I suppose. 

So perhaps the French wine producers have a point. But surely, if they want to export and sell their wines in other countries, such as Spain, they must accept some importing as well. 

While I'm going on about selling stuff and consumer goods and so on, what about the iPhone? 

After the initial thing of mobile phones getting smaller and smaller, replacing the bricks that the first mobile phone users carried around with them, suddenly the smart phone began to get bigger. Some say it was because people were using their iPhone like a mini-tablet and wanted a bigger screen because of all the apps they used. Call me sceptical and suspicious but I think that maybe it was so that people could show off that they had the latest gadget. 

Anyway, there is now a new iPhone SE, which has gone back to being small again, the same size as my old iPhone - not old in the sense of "the one I used to have" but in the sense of "the ancient bit of technology which nonetheless continues to serve me well". 

Now, here is an excerpt from a review of this new gadget in today's paper: 

"In the hand the body feels sharp and hard, with unforgiving edges which are only acceptable because of the phone’s diminutive size. The hard edges are easier to grip than the slippery rounded sides of the iPhone 6S, and particularly the large 6S Plus, but they hurt my palms after clutching it for an hour or two." 

Really? Who "clutches" their phone for an hour or two at a time. Pockets and bags are useful for putting your phone away when you have finished whatever you were using it for. Work tables and desks are good for the same purpose. And who "clutches" their phone anyway? Don't these people know how to simply hold things? 

 Of course, as phone users grow younger and younger - our daughter is talking about her almost eleven year old needing one, especially when he goes to secondary school next September - children will go straight from the dummy and security blanket to the phone, which they can clutch all day to make them feel safe!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Things that people have been getting worked up about.

I have sometimes been told by friends in Spain that we don't have a problem with corruption in the UK. Maybe they don't count tax evasion, which just might be a kind of national sport on mediterranean countries. But David Cameron has been coming in for a whole lot of stick from revelations in the Panama papers. He doesn't seem to have dealt with it very well. 

Someone who appears to believe in total openness and revelation is the Archbishop of Canterbury, telling us all how he has just discovered that his father, the man he had always considered to be his father, was not his father after all. Exactly why we need to know this is something that escapes me entirely. But then, maybe he is wise to come out and tell the world before someone else makes a big story of it and starts to accuse him of trying to hide it. Unbelievable! 

Equally unbelievable, in my opinion anyway, are the people expressing their surprise that the Pope has not declared in favour of gay marriage and abortion. The man may be very liberal-minded in all sorts of ways but he is still the head of the Roman Catholic church! 

Plastic bags! Here's a link to an article about the plastic bag charge introduced sixth months ago in the UK. One thing that struck me in the article was the fact that people have been stealing supermarket trolleys. In Spain, where there is a supermarket between our block of flats and the twin block next door, I regularly see people walk out of the supermarket with their trolley full of stuff, push it through the doors into the blcok of flats and into the lift. Presumably they return the trolley after they have unloaded their shopping. I have not yet seen abandoned trolleys in the street outside and I can't imagine anyone hoarding them in their flat. 

And then are the plastic bags themselves, only one cent for a small one or two cents for a large one, which seems more acceptable that five pence somehow. Or you can buy a larger bag, a "bag for life" kind of bag rather than a small plastic one. They cost a bit more but they last longer. Here in the UK I have them from several supermarkets. At first it seemed odd to take a Tesco bag to Sainsbury's and vice versa but you soon get over it. In Spain they mark the bar code in the bag to show that you have paid for it. This may be more indicative of their mistrust of people going into supermarkets with their own bag. Who knows? 

You might slip all sorts of stuff into the bag instead of into the trolley. Many people leave their bags in the little storage lockers at the entrance and rush to get them while their purchases go through the till. Pull-along shopping trolleys are similarly tethered to special places at the entrance, as are wet umbrellas for that matter. And some places insist on your leaving purchases from other shops in those storage lockers. And stores like Mediamarkt encase your shopping bags from other stores in plastic. 

Are spaniards more prone to shop-lifting or are the British shopkeepers just more carefree about it all? Or is it just a national Spanish belief that corruption is rife everywhere?

Friday, 8 April 2016

Minor frustrations.

 Computers do strange things sometimes. Now I am not a complete novice as regards computers. It was almost an integral part of my job and I must say I was quite adept at producing tables and columns and various layouts and so on. However, from time to time technology leaves me somewhat flabbergasted. 

For various reasons our home computer thinks it only belongs to Phil: someone has to be named and have passwords and the like and he is more willing than I am to do all the messing around involved. And all the electronic bits of gadgetry are linked together without this causing a problem as a rule. And then odd things happen such as some programme demanding a specific password, which Phil remembers easily because he works on a kind of code that he understands completely (because he invented it) but which I have to work to remember. 

The other day he set up some kind of extra security thing - computer obsessives always do stuff like that - and, as a result, when I went to post my blog, blogger popped up with a version compatible with the Arab Emirates. Really! Lots of very confusing Arabic script looked very weird alongside my blog. So we had to back track so that I got the UK compatible version instead. But why Arabic? For a brief moment I wondered if I had been hacked in some odd way. 

And then there's the inconsistency of social media like Facebook. Out and about I often snap a possibly interesting or amusing photo on my phone and post it off to Facebook. Up pops a little message: "Your photo will be posted". And then, hours later, I find that the one I posted hours ago in the morning has not appeared - some never do - while the one I posted half an hour ago or even five minutes ago has already appeared. Facebook clearly lies! Of course, if I repost then the photo appears twice over! How frustrating! 

Here's another little computer thing that annoys me: if I want to make a comment on my friend Colin's blog, the system asks me to prove I am not a robot. So I tick the little box and up pops a series of photos. I am then asked to select all the pictures of mountains, for example. Quite what this proves, I am not sure. Could I not be a very clever robot? 

No doubt computer geeks will tell me that all of this is perfectly normal!

Thursday, 7 April 2016

City living.

One of the candidates for the position of Mayor of London has been criticised for being unable to answer a question about stations on the underground system in the centre of London. Does the Mayor of London really need to be good at Mornington Crescent, the crazy game played on the Radio 4 panel quiz show "I'm Sorry, I haven't a Clue"? (This game involves panellists naming London streets and tube stations linked in some incomprehensible way until one of them wins by naming Mornington Crescent.) The point made in criticism of the mayoral candidate is apparently that any regular user of the tube in central London would be able to answer the question, naming a specific station because they would see it every day on their journey. The fact that he was unable to do so is being taken as an indication that he is not a tube user because he is rich enough to go everywhere in central London by taxi. Would such a man, they wonder, be able to understand the needs and demands of ordinary Londoners? For more arguments about this, here is a link to an article

Will the same sort of arguments crop up if ever Greater Manchester has its own mayor? Would a mayor of Greater Manchester understand the needs and demands of public transport users such as me? Could he solve the problem of buses which simply do not turn up, as happened this morning? I went out to catch a bus to the house our daughter is renting out, so that I could do a little painting and general tarting up before her new tenant moves in next month. I was on a tight schedule: bus to the house, a bit of painting and decorating, bus into the town centre for an appointment with the optician. The non-arrival of my bus knocked all my timing into a cocked hat. I would barely have time to get started on the painting before I had to leave to catch the bus to the town centre. So I went back home! Mission aborted! Such are the problems of living on the edge of town. 

Doubtless such problems do not exist for those who live in the centre of Manchester, which is now more inhabited than it ever used to be. Twenty years ago almost nobody lived right in the centre. When I attended evening classes at a central college I would walk briskly through almost deserted streets to the bus or train or wherever I had parked my car. But now buildings originally used for other purposes have been converted into apartments for those, mostly young people, who choose to live in the centre. And the streets are much livelier as a result. 

And then, I read something written by a "chugger", which investigation tells me is someone who goes round knocking on doors fundraising. The writer told of the trials and tribulations of such a life, how hard it is to get people to sign up to give their money away and the insults and churlish responses "chuggers" have to put up with. Doors slammed in their faces and such like. She (somehow the article felt as though it had been written by a woman) went on: 

"City centre apartments are the only exception to that rule. They’re filled with impressionable twenty-somethings with plenty of disposable income. But knocking apartments is a risky strategy. It’s a race against time before I’m forcibly removed by the concierge." 

Who are these "twenty-somethings with plenty of disposable income"? I thought young people were being forced back home to live with their parents because they cannot afford to live independently. On reflection, maybe it's because of signing up to make too many charitable donations that they cannot afford to live independently. 

Personally, I really dislike "chuggers" coming and knocking on my door. As a rule they don't like leaving their papers with you so that you can think about it and then sign up later online if you agree to donate. They know that you are quite likely to change your mind once they go away. My problem though is that I don't want to give my bank details to some random person even with an official "chugger" ID badge. 

On the whole, however, I am polite and friendly to them, with the exception of certain types of "God-botherers", who simply get on my nerves and are usually given short shrift.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Some success and some annoyances.

We successfully took ourselves off to see Kurosawa's film Ran yesterday. What a relief! It was worth the effort: a very impressive if rather stylised film. Many scenes involving extensive dialogue seemed to be filmed exactly as they might have been played on stage. But it worked; all the careful movements appeared to add significance to what was being said. The huge outdoor scenes, including battle scenes with castles burning, were particularly impressive, the more so when you consider that they were done without computer generated images. Astounding! 

Getting to the cinema was not a problem. Getting back was a different matter. The film was due to start at 19.50 and was supposed to be 2 hours and 40 minutes long, a length that no film comes even close to nowadays. We had calculated that if we hurried to the nearest tram stop as soon as the film finished, we had a good chance of catching the last train from Manchester Victoria station to Greenfield. We already knew that, no matter which means of transport we chose from Manchester, it would already be too late for a bus to Delph. A taxi from Greenfield would only cost half as much as a taxi from Oldham; so the train to Greenfield was preferable to the tram to Oldham. 

Of course that did not happen. In the first place the screening began ten minutes late and then there were the trailers for the films which are "coming soon". This last bit took at least another five minutes off our timing. Nonetheless, as soon as the film was over we hurried out and hot-footed it to the nearest Metrolink station. The clock there showed 22:56, four minutes until the last train from Victoria was due to leave. But the next tram to Victoria was not due for another six minutes. That plan was not working! However, we could still catch a tram and then take a taxi from Oldham and be home before midnight, the witching hour or the time when fairy tale princesses turn back into raggedy-dressed kitchen girls, coachmen into mice and fancy coaches into pumpkins! 

Leaving the tram in Oldham we headed for the taxi rank. There was a taxi available. So far so good. Then, not even five minutes into the journey home the taxi made a curious kind of banging noise. I wondered of we had gone over a particularly large speed bump. No! A puncture was the cause of the thumping! We sat in the taxi while the driver made phone calls. It's a good job we are not paranoid or we might have suspected a possible kidnapping plan! (I think I have been reading too many detective stories and novels involving mafiosi!) 

So we waited for about ten minutes for another taxi, summoned by our apologetic driver, and finally completed our journey, after our midnight deadline but at least we did not turn into white mice or pumpkins! 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The best laid plans.

Yesterday, as planned, we went off to Manchester and met our eldest granddaughter at Victoria Station so that we could go to the cinema together. The transport worked out fine, despite her train being five or six minutes late. 

While we waited for her to arrive we looked for the much vaunted improvements to the station. (It was closed last week to allow work to go on.) While it is much better than it was, for example, two or three years ago, there does not seem to have been much change since the last time I was there, a couple of weeks before the closure for improvements. Even the new W.H. Smith (sort of) bookshop was not properly open yet: locked doors and employees busily stacking shelves. 

There is a piano in the station forecourt. It has been there for a while but now sports a huge notice in a variety of languages inviting people to "Play me!" Unfortunately I spotted mistakes in the French, Spanish and Italian versions. Friends have since confirmed that the German and Arabic are seriously flawed as well. What chance do the other languages have? But then, maybe it's only pedants who notice! What's more, though, a station employee told us that the piano is basically ruined because they neglected to fasten down the lid that allows access to the insides - not the lid to the keyboard - and things have been put inside, wires have been pulled out and general mayhem and bits of vandalism have been wrought. What a shame! 

Anyway, back to our trip to the cinema: having checked that our granddaughter's train ticket entitled her to travel on trams in the city centre zone, we caught the next tram to the Castlefield station and crossed the road to Home, in plenty of time to buy our tickets for the film. That's when things went a little awry. Our plan was to see Ran, Japanese director Kurosawa's take on the King Lear story. It's out in a newly remastered version. However, Home, the specialist cinema/theatre complex had underestimated how many people would want to see it and were showing it in their small 33-seat cinema instead of one of their larger cinemas, of which there are about 5 in the complex. Did they not know that the film has been getting reviews in all the quality papers and arts programmes? The upshot was that we, and a rather large number of other people after us, found ourselves unable to buy tickets. They had sold out! 

Nothing daunted, we looked for something else to watch instead and eventually opted for High Rise, based on a story by JG Ballard about the breakdown of society and civilised values in a huge, virtually self-contained block of luxury flats. The block contains a gym and a swimming pool, its own supermarket on the 15th floor and an immense roof garden, complete with shepherd's, or possible shepherdess's hut, and several animals, including a horse! The bottom twelve floors are inhabited by the less wealthy - you could not really call them poor although they all massively in debt with credit cards maxed out as they attempt to live the lifestyle of the tower block. 

Ironically this film was shown in one of Home's larger cinemas to an audience of probably no more than 30 people! 

High Rise, a wonderful view of another dystopia, we enjoyed it. The cast was impressive: Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth Moss - for me always the President's youngest daughter in The West Wing or Peggy in Madmen - her English accent was very good, if a little disconcerting when you are used to hearing her speak American - and the currently ubiquitous Tom Hiddlestone. 

It's curious how young actors like Mr Hiddlestone come to the surface and are seen everywhere for a while. At the moment they all seem to be ex-public school boys, which is strange, and one bunch all went to the same private prep-school in Cambridge, not all at the same time but even so .... Tom Hiddlestone, whom we recently watched in The Night Manager on TV, once again played a very controlled, well-spoken, clearly expensively educated young man. It's hard to imagine him as a different sort of character whereas Dominic West, another public school escapee, very convincing played a not-so-upperclass, wild-drinking, womanising, charming rascal cop in The Wire. Maybe we just haven't yet seen enough of Mr Hiddlestone to judge his range. 

Phil and I decided to have another try at seeing Ran this evening. The teenager opted out. Clearly she had had enough culture for the time or maybe just had other plans. So when we bought our tickets for High Rise we also booked tickets for this evening's showing of the Japanese film. As I made the booking, they asked for my name so that they could put me in their system. Fine, no problem! Then, as they fed in my details, I popped up as already registered, dating back to when I used to take groups of students to see French and Spanish films at the old Cornerhouse. 

Name, date of birth, phone number: all correct. But my address was the college where I used to work up to eight years ago and the email was my old college email. Except that it wasn't quite. The year after I retired, the college merged with two others to become a larger entity. Everyone's email address was updated to include the new college name. And mine had been altered in the same way on the records which had gone from the Cornerhouse to Home, despite the fact that I had never worked with that email address. 

Suddenly I was in an alternative reality: the me who might have been had I not retired in 2008! 

This was probably quite appropriate for someone who was about to watch the strange, dystopian alternative reality created by JG Ballard!

Monday, 4 April 2016

Surprising things!

It was with some surprise that I read a headline about Jeremy Corbyn being invited to speak at Glastonbury. It is a pop festival after all. I imagined the Labour Party leader on the pyramid stage and the massed festival-goers waving their mobile phone torches in the air as they listened - cigarette lighter flames are so last century! 

And then I looked at the article properly and found it began like this: 

"Following the Glastonbury festival’s tradition of fusing pop music and politics, Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have been asked to speak at the festival’s 2016 event." 

Well, that's put me right. So there is a tradition, is there? Who knew? Probably everyone except me. But then I have never been. Our son has. Years ago he borrowed our largest tent so that he and his friends could camp there. (This was before everyone had those round tents with pop-up frames, the ones like those tunnels you get for small children to crawl through, but it was a fairly modern, lightweight affair.) We never saw the tent again. Maybe it was too mud-sodden to return to us. 

Anyway, Glastonbury has this tradition and Jeremy Corbyn will be the first UK party leader ever invited to speak, although some say it is because of his links to CND. 

Last year it was the Dalai Lama. 

I have mixed feelings about Glastonbury. I like the idea of a music festival. I love concerts in the open air. And yet, this takes place in England in June and the climate is not great, which means there will almost certainly be loads of mud. No, not my thing at all. 

Mind you, what I really find hard to understand is people booking their tickets, which are not cheap, before they even know who is going to be playing. Imagine paying your money and camping out in the mud only to find that you don't really feel enthusiastic about any of the performers. Talk about buying a pig in a poke! 

I reckon I'll just stick to my normal routine. Which has been somewhat disrupted by a series of "events": being conscripted to help my daughter clean and paint the property she rents out; waiting around for the washing machine repair man - who marvelled at how old our machine is and still operational, if in need of a couple of parts; the arrival of an old friend from university, parking his wife on us so that she did not have to sit in the car while he went to watch a local football match. 

Imagine coming all the way from France to watch Lancaster play Mossley, one of our local teams! Okay, they came home from France to visit family as well. I confess to being given to exaggeration. 

This afternoon we are going into Manchester to watch a Japanese film with our eldest granddaughter. I have checked travel arrangements on the GMPTE journey planner so that we can co-ordinate our arrival at Manchester Victoria from different points at this end of the Greater Conurbation. The internet is a wonderful thing! 

But the most amazing thing is that our eldest granddaughter has morphed into a grown-up young person who arranges to meet us for an early evening cinema session. It's bad enough that one's children suddenly become adults without the grandchildren doing the same thing!