Friday, 30 September 2016

Some crazy thoughts!

Phil and I seem hardly to have seen each other this week, which is odd for a couple who live together in the same house. Of course, we've both been around in the daytime, doing our individual routine stuff in various parts of the house. But in the evenings, with meetings of various groups we belong to all happening in the same week, we seem to have simply met up at the end of the evening to swop notes.

Last night it was Phil's turn to be out and about. When he returned in the late evening, the television news had just moved on to the increased number of young women suffering from mental illness. Why, we wondered, should young women now be so particularly vulnerable? One explanation is the pressure from social media. One television journalist talked about today's 16 to 24 year olds as being the first cohort to grow up totally immersed in the social media morass.

Women have always been judged on how they look. Doris Lessing wrote about it forty or fifty years ago. It still goes on in all sorts of spheres, maybe more so than ever. There are more roles for older, fatter, uglier male actors than for female ones. The kit of female athletes is more frequently assessed from a fashion point of view than that their male counterparts. Male politicians can be old and scruffy and still have ideas but an old and scruffy female politician is frumpy and her ideas consequently have less value. (Having said that, poor old Jeremy Corbyn came in for a lot of stick for his style of dress!) The difference now is that the criticism (no, judgement!) is immediate, constant, unrelenting, and above all huge, via social media. A negative value judgement can spread and grow exponentially on Twitter in what seems like a matter of minutes.

And girls have always been bitchy towards each other; let's not deny it ladies. But before social media it was a lot less easy for a school year group to run a poll on who is the ugliest girl in their year and put the results put for everyone to see. This was a case I read about recently!

More than ever before the pressure is there to conform to size, looks, style, makeup, hair and even sexual behaviour. And that last is perhaps a new and disturbing one. Apparently young men watch pornography on their phones or iPads or whatever and expect their girlfriends to do the things that they have seen in the downloads. It makes me glad to be no longer young!

 Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett,  writing in the Guardian described today's young women in this way: "We are the generation at risk of being “left behind”, with both genders battling to find some kind of stability amid a housing crisis, unstable working conditions, mounting student debt, and, on top of all that, for women, that infernal biological clock and, if you have children, attendant childcare responsibilities and the unfair division of domestic labour."

She went on to write about how she and her women friends talk about all sorts of problems, in a way that young men seemingly do not, and how useful that is. The sceptical bit of me wonders to what extent some young women can talk themselves into an emotionally fragile state. I say this partly from my own experience; I long ago found that I could persuade myself out of feeling depressed and even out of feeling ill. The power of persuasion is a wonderful thing. But that's probably/possibly just me and there is no denying that the world is more openly rough and even brutal than it used to be. The streets are more dangerous. Young women, and men, are attacked and, like Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett after being attacked by a stranger, suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Her article continued at one point: "Eight months ago, when my PTSD came back after the Paris terrorist attacks, I couldn’t get onto a train without Valium and beta blockers. I would stand in the vestibule hyperventilating, convinced I was going to die. Looking back now, I realise I was completely and properly mad. I was seriously ill. And now I’m not, thanks to medication and 16 sessions of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy."

Recognising a condition is a first step on the road to recovery. Maybe putting the statistics out there will provoke a response from our government. Or am I mad to think so?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Rain and managing stuff!

Raining! I looked out of the window and the bit of blue sky had gone. The rain was just starting. In no time at all it was the kind of rain that children put in weather pictures: diagonal stripes across the garden. Within minutes, however, it was all over and the mix of cloud and blue sky was back. Come day, go day weather!

Like the flash in the pan rainstorm, Sam Allardyce has come and gone as England manager. I always thought he had a face rather like a potato. Now it seems he also has a brain rather like a potato, a mashed potato, and allowed himself to be flattered into explaining to some "businessmen" that he knew how to get around football association rules. When they turned out to be reporters he realised how silly he had been but by then it was too late; his England job was gone. What a mess!

Talking of mess, our two eldest granddaughters both have the messiest bedrooms in the world. Stuff is piled around. The floor is covered with a blend of papers, homework assignments in the case of the younger of the two, discarded bits of creative writing, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, clothing that has been worn or that has been tried on and rejected, hairbrushes complete with hair, whichever book they are currently reading and goodness only knows what else. If anyone dares to enter and pick up rubbish or attempt to find homes for the stuff that is hanging around, there is an outcry when that action is discovered. Accusations fly around: "Someone has been tidying my room!" As if that were a major crime! On one occasion the older of the two blamed me for the disappearance of a pair of jeans. I had simply hung them up with other jeans but, clearly, that was not where they were supposed to go and she was unable to find them for weeks. Or so she claimed.

Their mother finds this messiness hard to understand or accept. Other faults there may have been but messiness was not one of them. She was the kind of girl who liked to rearrange her room every so often, moving the furniture around to new positions and finding new ways of organising her den. So having two daughters whose bedrooms really are like animal's dens is hard for her to fathom. However, Tim Lott, writing in the Guardian at the weekend, comes out on the side of the untidy girls. Teenagers bedrooms, he maintains, should be left alone. This is their space and parents, and grandparents for that matter, should let them stew in their own mess, only intervening when there start to be rat droppings and mould!

I remain unconvinced! I had to share a bedroom with two sisters and there was no chance of any of us leaving stuff lying around. It was a communal space and anything left around became communal property. We all three longed for a bedroom of our own. So much so that when our brother, who had a bedroom to himself as he was the only boy, went to scout camp we took it in turns to take over his bedroom for a few nights and have our own space for a brief while! Ah, nostalgia!

In Manchester the other day I took myself off to Harry Hall's cycles to buy myself a new helmet. The old one has been around so long that I doubt it has any protective qualities left. As I tried one on, a bright yellowy-green one, the same colour as those hi-visibility jackets, the sales assistant told me it also came in black, if I wanted something a bit more restrained. Well, actually no, I didn't want something more restrained. As well as protecting your head, a helmet should help make you visible to those crazy car drivers who look through cyclists. If I am going to look silly in a helmet, something hard to avoid, then I also want to be easy to spot.

Now I just need some  more fine weather so I can get the bike out!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Political stuff?

Watching pundits on the television news last night discussing the great debate, the one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I heard an American analyst point out arguments Donald Trump could have used against Hillary Clinton but failed to do so because, the analyst said, "he has the attention span of a fruit fly". Well, that's one way to put it, I suppose. It is rather frightening to think that someone with the "attention span of a fruit fly" could perhaps be POTUS before the year is out! 

It is to be hoped that our politicians have a slightly longer attention span. And that they have realistic hopes and not just dreams. I wonder! Faced with arguments that some countries might veto the UK's negations with Europe, our Theresa said, “The 27 will sign up to a deal with us. We will be negotiating with them. And … we will be ambitious in what we want to see for the UK. A good deal for the UK can also be a good deal for the other member states because I believe in good trading relations and I have said I want the UK to be a global leader in free trade.” Fingers crossed for all of us!

I continue to have doubts about all politicians at the moment. I watch them mould their policies to bring them in line with what the opinion polls say the people expect and want, when it is fairly obvious that much of what the people "expect and want" is moulded by the tabloid press. What happened to politicians having policy ideas and, more importantly, principles which they stand by and which they argue to persuade the people that that should be what they "expect and want"? Oh, yes, of course: they have members of their own party say they are unelectable and bring motions of no confidence against them!

 Meanwhile, life goes on. Yesterday the Italian conversation classes began again. We all swopped news: who has just retired, who has a new grandchild (guess who that was), who has almost, but not quite, won the European Orienteering Championship, pensioners division, who has been on holiday in faraway and interesting places and the like. One of our number tried to bring up the referendum and Brexit but our teacher vetoed that topic on the grounds that it would depress her too much. She limited her comments to telling us how relieved she is still to have her Italian passport and expressing the view that if we end up having to pay for visas to visit Europe, then that is the EU's way of "punishing" the UK. It's a theory.

 So there we are, back to politics again, one way or another!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Feminist stuff!?

Well, Hillary Clinton seems to have stood up to Donald Trump in the first TV debate in the USA presidential election circus. Good for her. I confess to being a little afraid that she might let herself be knocked off kilter by his blustering, badgering, interrupting, shouting-over-everyone style. However, she appears to have kept her calm and come out as the reasonable one. There are more debates to go, though, so maybe next time Mr Trump will be better prepared.

The whole live debate system is a very odd one. I find myself in two minds about it. Election by sound-bite. And by all accounts the debates can have quite an influence on how people vote. On the TV news last night someone was explaining that in some states they start voting almost a month early. That means that some people could be voting in the presidential elections in a couple of weeks' time. Who knew that you could stagger elections in that way?

Here are a few Guardian Reader reactions to the debate:

"A Trump presidency certainly looks like more of a possibility now than say, six months ago, which is a worrying thought. But honestly, through this whole pantomime it's become abundantly clear that they're both villains. Whatever we think of Westminster, the US political freakshow is a million miles from where we are."

"This was kind of like a shark fighting against a guinea pig in deep, ocean water.
In that: Trump kind of looks like a guinea pig, and smells like a guinea pig (probably), and talks as much sense as a guinea pig.
(No shark-related comparisons for Hilary, she just ate the guinea pig. Simple.)"

"Trump should have watched "The West Wing", season four. "Ten word answers can kill you in debates.""

"Dear Obama could you stay on for another four years please? It would give both parties the time to maybe train or educate some candidates to show themselves worthy and have some statesmen like qualities the American people and the world deserve and can vote for."

While the shark-guinea pig comparison is pleasing, I particularly like the last two. I have heard a number of people say it's a pity Obama cannot stay on. Failing that, they would like Michelle Obama to run for president, something she declares she has NO interest in whatsoever. And as regards the West Wing, well, it would be lovely to live in the world of that fictional America.

Personally, I rather hope Hillary Clinton manages to win. It would be interesting to see another woman in charge of a country. Would she turn out to be a feminist? In this country we have Harriet Harman declaring publicly that Prime Minister Theresa May is no feminist. Donnatella Versace, on the other had says that SHE, Donnatella, IS one because "I show women, you can do it". There you go!

Spain's Guardia Civil, predictably, are not feminist or even really egalitarian. Here's part of their story:

"A failure by Guardia Civil to provide female officers with bulletproof jackets specifically designed for women is discriminatory, dangerous and is affecting their ability to protect the public, a major Spanish policing group has said.

The United Association of Civil Guards (AUGC), which has 30,000 members, has launched a campaign demanding the nationwide police service affords equal protection to male and female officers.
It comes as a female Guardia Civil officer in Salamanca province faces disciplinary action for allegedly disobeying a superior’s order to put on a bulletproof jacket for men. According to the association, the guard was working at a police checkpoint in August when she asked if she could wear the €500 (£430) women’s bulletproof jacket she had bought herself rather than an official-issue men’s one that did not fit. Despite being refused permission, she put on her own jacket. The guard is now facing insubordination charges under Spain’s military penal code as the Guardia Civil is overseen by both the interior ministry and the ministry of defence. "

But then, we never expected them to be feminist, did we?

Monday, 26 September 2016


I have been going through my wardrobe, selecting clothes which I know I will never wear again. When I retired from teaching, I got rid of a whole host of formal clothing: smart suits which would have no place in my new life as a lady of leisure. And yet, some still hung around in the wardrobe, hiding behind other garments. And now there is another bag full of stuff to go to the charity shop.

I have a friend who claims she goes through her wardrobe every two years, ruthlessly throwing out anything she has not worn in that time. If that is true, how very admirable! But I don't think she tells the whole truth. Besides, there are clothes you only wear once in a blue moon. Does such a rule apply more to women than men? If that were not so, then Phil's suits would be thrown out on a regular basis, only to have to be replaced whenever a wedding or a funeral comes along!

There is something quite therapeutic about going through your stuff in this way. Proust might have had his madeleine buns to evoke old memories, but there is nothing quite like rediscovering an outfit that you bought for a specific occasion to make all the old atmosphere rush back into your head. Okay, I exaggerate a little but there is a grain of truth in it.

Then there is the size question. I don't just mean how pleasing it is to find that you can still fit into something that you last wore ten years ago. No, it's the odd discrepancy between what was, for example, a size 12 ten years back and what is a size twelve now. Have they become bigger to con ladies into thinking they are one step closer to the desired size zero? I have no proof of any of this but my memory tells me that a size 12 used to have a 24 inch waist. Such a waist does not exist except amongst the skinniest these days. Has body shape changed as well?

Now that I have decluttered (to some extent) the wardrobe, I need to set about other areas as well. There are all the books: far too many of them! In some cases we have more than one copy of the same book. This may be because both Phil and I have bought it within days without telling each other. Sometimes I have read the blurb on a book cover, skimmed the first few pages and bought it on impulse, only to discover three chapters in that I have already read it and that there is a copy on the bookshelf. On top of that, Phil loves a good hardback (perhaps nostalgia for the books aunts and uncles bought for us children of the postwar age as Christmas and birthday presents) and so we have hardback copies of books that already exist as well thumbed paperbacks on our bookshelves.

A bit of ruthlessness is called for!

Putting stuff away in the kitchen after a big family meal yesterday, I decided that that is another area that needs some care and attention. Plates and bowls, cups and saucers, dishes and platters that never see the light of day. They have to go! Whatever happened to the young couple who had to scratch around to have enough place settings to invite the in-laws to tea?

It must be a genetic thing as well. Ever since our eldest granddaughter has been working - in her first "proper" job - she has been buying stuff. Our daughter says that barely a day goes by without a parcel arriving for the new spendthrift: clothes, books, collectable items!

She is storing up decluttering work for the future!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Autumn and stuff like that.

Autumn officially started some time last week. I can't say I noticed much difference until  this morning. Up to today the mornings have just felt fresh. Today, for the first time, there was a definite chill in the air. Time to put the sundresses away and get the winter woolies sorted out, swop sandals for boots and dig out the warm tights.

Apparently the Indian summer we have been having has messed up sales of clothes. Too little sun
when summer clothes were in the shops meant that fewer summer clothes were sold and too much now winter clothes are there means nobody is bothering yet to buy warm coats. Zara is the only retailer reported to be keeping up with things. One reason is that they rely on their own factories to
produce clothes and they have a fast turn-around: catwalk ideas, production in their factories, off to the shops all in a matter of days. Nothing stays in their shops for long if it is not selling and they have a very quick reaction to trends. Some years ago I went round their factory near La Coruña with a bunch of studnets. I was impressed.

I've been reading about slaves again. The Centre for the  Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (who knew such an organisation existed?) has revealed links to all sorts of families, from Sarah Ferguson to George Osborne by way of Jane Austen. Their new analyis "highlights the extent to which slave-owners and their families permeated every stratum of British society in the late 18th and early 19th century." Really? Every stratum? I can see that most old wealthy families might have a link but do families of folk who worked in the mills and coal mines and factories have such a link? I have my doubts!

And then there is the responsibility and apology aspect of this, not to mention compensation. Should we really judge people living today by what happened in their family generations back? It all gets a bit biblical: the sins of the fathers and all that sort of thing.

And now, to add to all the other oddities about the modern world, books about Brexit are being published: "Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of the EU Referendum" and "All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class". Lots of mud-slinging no doubt. Stories of who left who in the lurch, who flip-flopped from one camp to another, who told the most lies and so on. I am just amazed at how quickly some people are managing to make money out of it.

How soon before we get books about the Labour Party Leadership Contest?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Recipes for interesting times

.Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour Party leadership election ... again. Now the fun begins. Will he be able to wipe the slate clean as he has supposedly promised to do? Not that I doubt his willingness; it's just that the party does have form at the moment. Will they be able to break the cycle of nasty niggling that they have got into?

Friends who have joined, or in some cases rejoined, the Labour Party in the last year are expressing their delight all over Facebook. I am maintaining a discreet distance from it all, although I actually believe he should be given a chance. It's time a realistic opposition was working in this country. I wait with bated breath!

Another country, Iceland, seems to be considering suing Iceland, the frozen foods company, over the use of the name. It's not that Iceland, the country, wants Iceland, the company, to change its name. They are quite happy for the name to remain. What they don't want is for Iceland, the company, to have sole rights to the use of the name. Should some company in Iceland, the country, want to use that name to promote its goods in Europe, then Iceland, the country, doesn't want Iceland, the company, to stand in their way and have legality of their side. Fair enough!

I like to collect recipes from the weekend papers. There is quite often something worth considering, which I cut out and put on one side, only to revisit it later and decide whether I am ever likely to make that dish. In that case, I stick it in my recipe scrapbook. It's just one of those things! Nothing nerdy about it at all. In fact my granddaughters quite enjoy looking through it.

This morning the Guardian gave us a whole supplement of recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi. The pictures of his dishes always look enticing. And yet, I approach them with trepidation. Why? Because they
often have wild ingredients that I know I have no chance of locating without travelling all the way across Manchester or even further afield.

Today's interesting-looking recipe called for edamame. I was not even sure how to pronounce it. So I looked it up and found that it is a "preparation of immature soybeans in the pod". It features in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. And presumably in the cuisine of trendy folk who can find such stuff close to home.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia: "Outside East Asia, the dish is most often found in Japanese restaurants, some Chinese restaurants, and health food restaurants. In the United States it is sold packaged in frozen sections of grocery stores, in cans, or fresh in the produce sections of health food stores."

No chance of finding that in our local Tesco then!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Dogs and tablets and slaves.

Out running first thing this morning, in the bright autumn chill, I stopped and had a chat with Jack, one of the gentlemen with whom I have a nodding acquaintance around here. His little dog Rosie, who usually waddles, came running to meet me. Jack, a stiff but fundamentally fairly fit 78 year old, is delighted with his dog's reaction to seeing me.  Now that she knows me, he says, she gets a new burst of energy when she sees me. This is just as well since he has been having to cook, or have his wife cook, fancy bits of meat in which to bury tablets so that Rosie will take them.

She has now finished her course of medicine but Jack has discovered a new problem: she has a wobbly tooth. When he consulted the vet about this, asking if the vet could remove the tooth, the animal expert checked up on which dog they were talking about before committing himself. Reading between the lines, we understood that the vet is quite prepared to put his hand in Rosie's mouth to extract the tooth as she is a small and mostly quite docile old creature. His willingness to do the same with a younger, larger and fiercer dog seems to be in doubt.

Rosie has finished her course of tablets. Jack has also run out of his regular dose, he told me, and was off to the chemist to see if his repeat prescription had arrived. In the event of there being no prescription, he has an arrangement wth the chemists that they will "lend" him a few tablets to tide him over until the prescription arrives from the surgery. They will then deduct the same number of tablets from the lot they plan to dispense to him. This is the kind of arrangement you can have in a small place where the chemist knows the regular customers. 

On the BBC Radio 4 arts programme this evening they were talking about Barack Obama opening the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington on Saturday. One report I read said it has been planned since 2003 but the radio report suggested that the idea goes back a lot further than that. I wonder if it can go some way to make things better for African Americans.

Oddly enough, since that museum will inevitably have a lot of stuff about slavery in there, I came across an article about an earlier bunch of slaves in America: Irish people. Back in the 17th century Irish people were being sold as slaves and sent off to the West Indies and the New World. Here's a link to an article about it.

Apparently, Irish slaves were cheaper and, therefore, less valued and less carefully looked after than the African variety.

Odd facts that I knew nothing about! 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Not all bad news.

I've often heard talk of a storm in a teacup. Now we seem to have a tornado in a cake tin. I am talking, of course, about the hoo hah surrounding The Great British Bake Off. 

First of all, I was amazed at the amount of money involved in transferring it from BBC to Channel 4. Then there have been all the cheers that have gone up because some of the presenters have said they won't go with the programme. This has led to all sorts of talk about loyalty and winning formulae for programmes and so on. 

 What I find most incredible of all is that this is apparently the most popular programme on TV. How does that come about? The most popular programme is all about watching people bake cakes! Don't get me wrong; I love to bake cakes. I do so quite often. And I love to try new recipes. But the idea of watching other people baking cakes and then seeing whose cake is the best strikes me as quite ridiculous. It's a bit like a media-age version of the church flower show cake competitions of my childhood! 

I know there are lots of channels to fill with stuff to watch but can we not do better than this? And here's another thing: instead of watching other people bake, dance, sing, or whatever else comes up in a competitive situation, it might be an idea to actually do all those things yourself! 

Meanwhile, bad news stories keep coming to my notice. Here's a link to one about a young man who was stabbed for speaking Polish.  Talking about his attackers, the young man said, "One of them said he had a daughter living round the corner and he didn’t want her to hear us talking Polish.” What a strange thing to say. This makes talking Polish on a par with dealing drugs, selling pornography and organising prostitution. 

As I have been heard to say before, we live in a very odd world. 

Having said that, we are enjoying a mild sort of Indian summer here. This has given us the chance to go for long walks along the local bridle paths, stopping for pleasant refreshment along our way. So,it's not all bad. 

And here are some photos. I have still not mastered the art of attaching photos via my iPad so I have used the laptop instead. So it goes. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Stuff in the news.

And the big news yesterday was ........ Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce!!! Normally I only see this sort of stuff in scandal magazines when I go to the hairdressers. This bit of scandal, however, was deemed so momentous that it appeared on the television news. Pity the poor people who, like Brad and Angelina, live their lives under constant media scrutiny. As if going through divorce was not bad enough, you have all the pundits speculating on they whys and wherefores of your case.

And then there are the children, six of them in this case. Speculation is going on as to whether Daddy Brad will fight for sole custody, joint custody or just visiting rights. Of course, these are not ordinary children in a divorce case. They must have got used to the fact that both Mummy Angelina and Daddy Brad go off from time to time to make films or to do charity work. Surely they have grown accustomed to being cared for by highly qualified, and probably highly paid, professionals. So, personally, I am not too worried about them. Just as I don't worry about the children of the rich and famous having odd names like River and Summer. They are far less likely to be teased and laughed at in their schools than the little Rivers and Summers off the council estates.

Susan Sarandon, a great campaigner for all sorts of causes, had a go at CNN for their massive coverage of the Brangelina divorce. What got her goat as well was the fact that they ignored another shooting of a black guy by police, this one apparently not responding fast enough to their commands alongside his broken down car in Tulsa. Thank goodness our police don't carry guns as a matter of course. Who knows what might have happened to the chap who apparently had his windscreen smashed in by an irate policeman recently, somewhere in the London area I think?

Still with the news, I read about a food waste supermarket in Leeds. I think this works by organisations collecting food that supermarkets are throwing out because it's close to its sell-by date and then putting it on sale at much reduced prices. In this case, people pay what they can, what they think the food is worth, or just by offering some kind of service. Apparently supermarkets throw out £230 million worth of still edible food.

Here's a link to an article about it.

The irony is that, at least in the version I read online, the article was interspersed with adverts for diamond jewellery, at a bargain price of course.

What makes the media magicians who decide who to target with which products think I might be interested in diamonds?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Some thoughts about loneliness.

It's a funny sort of world we live in these days. I read the other day about a man who "walks" people for a living. Just as some people walk dogs and get paid for it, so he walks people. It's not the same as doing a guided walk around a place. I know someone who does that around here but he isn't earning his living that way; I think people make donations to the Peace Movement in return for his informative walks around the area.

The other chap I read about accompanies people who fancy a walk but maybe feel odd walking on their own, or who might want to be walked home through an area that they regard as bit unsafe. So there is an element of bodyguard work about it. However, most of his work is going for walks with people who just want someone to talk to as they ramble along, often walking the same route on a number of occasions. And he is making enough money to consider "people walking" as a profession.

Personally I have no qualms about going for a walk on my own. It's a good way to get my thoughts in order while having a little exercise as well. But that's just me. Anyway, the man I read about is based in Los Angeles and I am afraid I dismissed the whole thing as one of those American oddities you read about from time to time. And then, this morning in fact, I came across an article about how people can make money out of all sorts of aspects of loneliness. You can pay for cuddles, for a chat, for someone to go shopping with you. Here's a link to the article.

Apparently loneliness is one of the contributing factors to the increase in mental illness in our society. And they are not talking just about lonely old people here. They mean younger people as well. Lots of people are too busy to make friends. So there is a niche market there to be exploited. What a sad indictment of our society.

Coincidentally, one of my son's friends put a post on Facebook today, celebrating the fact that twenty years ago today he met a group of friends, including my son, at university. That particular group of friends went off to London together after graduating, touting their cvs around various agencies in search of employment. Many of them still live and work within shouting distance, or at least a tube ride, of each other. And those who have moved away return for weddings and birthdays and celebrations of babies being born and so on.

So, is that not happening any longer? Was there a cut-off point when it stopped being the norm to get to know a group of people, at university or in the work place, and remain friends with them for pretty well the rest of your life?

Maybe the increasing need for university students to maintain a very time-consuming, supposedly part-time, job was a factor. Maybe it was the move away from leaving home to study in a distant place, where you had to get to know new people, to staying at home and studying in your local
university. Perhaps that led to more students simply going home after lectures and classes and not
actually bonding with their fellow students, while at the same time losing touch with many of their friends from school and sixth form.

And did those who went straight into work simply have to work such long hours that they had no time to create workplace friendships?

Or is everyone so busy with their virtual friendships that they have forgotten how to form actual face to face friendships? It's no good having thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram if you can't meet any of them for a coffee and a good chinwag when you are feeling down.

Of course, I am just speculating but that doesn't stop me repeating my belief that it's a funny old world!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Singing (or speaking) for your supper.

I suppose it was inevitable that this bit of news would pop up evntually: David Cameron is writing bis memoirs and expects to earn £1.5 million from doing so. Apparently this is rather less than the deal made by Tony Blair but they explain that by telling us that Tony Blair was better known in the USA and so would sell books over there too. The Americans must be even less interested that I am in David Cameron's memoirs. 

If he doesn't make enough from his book, then he can top it up with charging £50,000 per hour to give after dinner talks. That's a phenomenally huge amount of money for an hour's talking. I suppose you might argue that he has to prepare his talk beforehand but, even so, he's hardly going to be working for the minimum wage!

Imagine getting used to being paid to speak after a posh dinner. Then when his wife organises a dinner party, he has to speak for free. How hard will that be?! I remain totally bemused by the whole after-dinner-speaker industry. But then I have a friend who earns large sums of money, not in Mr Cameron's league at all, however, as a "consultant". Having been a primary school headteacher and an inspector, he is deemed to know how the system works and is invited to visit schools and advise them on how to prepare for inspection. 

It's one way to supplement his pension, I suppose.

Having spoken to former colleaugues recently about the state of affairs in sixth form education, I am quite happynto have no more to do with any of it, even if they offer me a huge "consultation" fee.

No, I am quite happy to do my own retirement thing, with no pressure from anyone.

Today we walked around the area marvelling at how many grids were blocked by silt and stines from the huge rainstorm we had last week. Almost a week on and there are still huge piles of mud all over the place. I heard of one near neighbour whose fairly new car was ruined by the storm. His parking area is enclosed on three sides. Mud poured in and covered the wheels of the car, seeping into the engine and fouling the electrical system and, this being a new, modern vehicle, the computer system. Will his insurance cover it? Or does mud count as an Act of God? Who knows?

I would show you a picture but, try as I might, I have still not fathomed how to add pictures when I post from the iPad! 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

It progress.

Well, since my IT wizard returned from Spain, I have discovered how to post my blog from my iPad. This is a great step forward as it means I no longer have to wait until the laptop is available in order to post my ramblings. However, I am still having some problems working out how to add photos. None of my usual techniques seem to work. And I fear that the photos I might, perhaps, be able to post today will come out huge.

Anyway, This is the photo from the report on New York Fashion Week with models in hijabs, the one I didn't manage to attach to yesterday's post.

I have often gone on at some length about my feelings about leaving the EU. There are rumblings that projects such as Erasmus will no longer be available to UK students, thus reducing their chances of living and studying abroad. In yesterday's paper I came across something interesting. Andrew Solomon, writing in the Guardian about the importance of travel as an educational tool ,said a mass of things that I totally agreed with. In particular, he expressed the view that if every single person had to go and live two weeks in another country, diplomacy would improve immensely. How can you understand a nation and its ways if you have never lived there? And how can you understand your own country if you have nothing with which to compare it?

I was struck by his comments about talking to the former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara, when that gentleman was in his eighties. To begin with nobody at the time listened to the Asia experts before the Vietnam mess started. That sounds like a remarkably familiar story! And then there was
the fact that the Vietnamese and the American diplomats all understood everything differently. "We argued the language of war," said McNamara, "which I wrongly thought was a universal language."

That says so much.

Here is a link to the whole excellent article.

And finally this is a photo I took while out running this morning. The mist had a curious arch effect, a kind of albino rainbow, a rainbow before the colour was added. My sister and I have decided that this should now be called a "mistbow". I see no reason why we should not add words to the English language.

However, having looked at the preview of this post, I think I have still not solved the photo problem.

Saturday, 17 September 2016


Somebody brought this mistranslation to my attention:

"In case of volcanic eruption, you will hear mermaids. Do  not ignore the mermaids; they are there for your safety."

This is a translation, probably from Spanish, where the word "sirenas" was translated as mermaids, a perfectly corect tranlsation in another context. Like so many words, "sirenas" has more than one meaning. However, I rather like the idea of mermaids, instead of luring ships into rocks, giving people warnings of volcanic eruptions.

The perfectionist in me objects to "in case of". I would prefer "in the event of" but the former translation is becoming very common. When I see the notice "In case of fire, do not use the lifts", it suggests that you should not use the lifts just in case there might be a fire. I think I might be fighting a losing battle.

This is the kind of nerdy thing that occurs to you when you have spent your adult life dealing with foreign languages. And today I have had my perhaps excessive obsession with perfection confirmed. In a moment of weakness (I almost said boredom, but I rarely confess to such a feeling), I gave in and  took part in a couple of those quiz affairs thatvpop up on Facebook. The first was spotting minute differences between a series of sets of three almost identical images. People with no OCD tendencies cannot see them apparently. I scored 100%. Then there was the English grammar test, far too simole, where I also scored 100%. The OCD test came with the comment that I mighkt be too perfectionist! Perhaps so. If only my typing and proof-reading were as good!

Yesterday I had an emergency dental appointment. Walking down the road to the dental surgery, I went through a part of town with a high Asian population and npticed how elegant some of the ladies look in their different colours and styles of headscarf. The variety was verybinteresting: clearly a way of stamping each one's identity on a cultural stereotype. Later in the day I came across a newspaper article about models on a New York Fashion Week catwalk wearing the hijab: a first in the fashion
industry. This is the work of Muslim designer Anniesa Hasibuan, an Indonesian I believe. She commented, "I believe fashion is one of the outlets in which we can start that cultural shift in today's society to normalize hijab in America so as to break down stereotypes and demystify misconceptions."

Inevitably, there are some who have criticised her and her designs. They are too daring and insufficiently modest. They draw attention to the woman who wears them. Well, yes, I suppose they do but the only parts of the woman you can actually see are her face and hands.
How much more modest do you need to be?

Friday, 16 September 2016

In Manchester yesterday.

As we seem to have been leaving our adaptor plugs all over the place, we decided we needed to buy some new ones. So, as I was in Manchester yesterday, I popped into Boots to see what they had in their travel section. There was no sign of such a section on the ground floor. I began to think that they had given up on holiday stuff, on the grounds that nobody goes on holiday at this time of the year. So eventually I sought assistance. Upstairs was the answer. So upstairs I went. 

Still no sign, so I sought assistance again. I was directed to the other side of a display with baby milk on it. And sure enough, on the other side it said, in large letters, TRAVEL. And that was all there was, apart from a lot of empty shelves, all nicely labelled with a variety of travellers's needs. When I pointed this out, the assistant I spoke to told me that the stuff had been removed so that they could put up their Christmas display! Yes, their Christmas display! In the middle of September! Then she invited me to go downstairs and sit by her counter, which turned out to be one of the cosmetics counters, while she went to investigate where the travel stuff had gone. 

A fairly long time afterwards, she returned with the relevant information. In compensation for my waiting around so long, she offered me a free beauty consultation on which would be the ideal foundation for me. I thanked her but politely declined as I rarely use foundation. I wonder what compensation would have been offered to a male customer. 

 The main purpose of my visit to Manchester was not shopping, although shopping did go on. No, the plan was to meet some friends and former colleagues and go to Home, the big cinema/theatre/entertainments complex, to watch the new documentary film about the Beatles in their touring years. 

Before the film they were showing all the famous folk turning up to the world premiere of the film in Leicester Square In London. My friend and I had thought about sitting that out, planning instead to have a drink and a chat in the sunshine outside Home. In the event, when she went to pick up our pre-booked tickets, she was advised to go and find seats at about 5.30 as the cinema was fully booked and late arrivers might have difficulty finding seats together. And so, when a couple of other friends turned up, we left them to their pints and went off to find seats for the four of us. Just as well, for it was already filling up. 

And in the end the link to London was quite interesting. They interviewed briefly the interesting people who arrived, those who had been close friends of the fab four, and ignored the rest, just kind of letting the camera linger on them momentarily. Perhaps the most interesting was Dr Kitty Oliver, now a historian but then a young black girl who had never had much to do with white people until the Beatles refused to perform in her southern town if the audiences had to be segregated. 

"I think that the action The Beatles took was such a spontaneous thing that there was probably more of a delayed response to it," Oliver claimed. "The idea that they would come and challenge something [like that] was quite startling to some people, I think. Certainly, for people like me, what they did, opened the door to experiences that I had never had before and perhaps wouldn't have had at that particular moment. It was taking a step, at a moment in time, that ended up having [positive] ramifications." 

 After that first incident, they had it written into their contracts with American organisations that there was to be no segregation in their audiences. Amazing stuff. The film was excellent. The music was, of course, splendid. The Beatles were very YOUNG! Were they really that young? I suppose we all were. A fair proportion of the audience in the cinema were, I suppose, their contemporaries but there were a lot of younger people too. 

At one point they showed an interview with the a tress Sigourney Weaver, who had been at one of the concerts. When they were researching the film, looking at old footage, someone spotted a young girl in the audience and asked, "Is that not Sigourney Weaver?" And, lo and behold, it was . What were the chances of her being caught on film like that. A great evening. 

We all enjoyed every bit of it. Then an old friend of mine, run into unexpectedly at the film showing, commented that he had especially enjoyed the shots of the Beatles' visit to Australia, in particular Adelaide. He and his friends had been in a car just ahead of the Beatles' car as it drove through Adelaide. 

 Little moments of nostalgia!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Spiders, parties, social media and the aftermath of storms.

Spiders are in the news again.  Warnings are out that they will be heading into indoor places seeking mates. So we should be prepared to see more or them around, especially the large lady spiders! We can expect to look up from reading in bed, to see a huge, long-leggedy creature crawling across the ceiling once more!    

There seems to be some truth in the matter. We have seen almost no spiders for ages but last night as we were about to settle down to watch another episode of American mafia violence, aka The Sopranos, Phil suddenly leapt up. What was the cause of this abrupt action? Spider on the floor! LARGE spider on the floor!   

We use a tried and tested method to remove spiders, especially the large lady spiders: trap the beastie under a glass, slide a card under the glass, pick the whole thing up and walk as far from the house as possible before throwing the spider out. The theory is that if released at some distance from the house, the spider just might be less likely to find her way back in.   
So, I was commissioned to keep an eye on the spider while Phil went for a glass. Just as he lowered the glass over the spider, it scuttled across the carpet. It took two more tries to get the glass over the spider, clearly one with Olympic speed record ambitions! By that time I was falling about laughing at the sight of a grown man doing battle with a creature the size of his thumb nail ... and almost losing! Eventually, though, she was caught and duly ejected! 

What makes them think they will find a mate in our houses? Goodness knows! Maybe there is a spider version of social media that sends out messages for all the arachnids to come and party in one place. A sort of spider date night!   

While we were spider hunting, we could hear a vacuum cleaner whirring away in the house next door. The parents of the house have been away on holiday, visiting relatives on the USA. Perhaps, Phil speculated, they were about to return and the offspring were cleaning up. Now, I knew the parents were not due back until the end of the month. So why the sudden urge to clean, when there has been little evidence of such activity since the parents went away? This morning I received the answer from another neighbour, who has been walking the next-door dog every day. (Why the offspring, aged 19+, are unable to do this is another small mystery. If they are old enough to be left in charge of the house, surely they could also walk the dog? However, that really has nothing to do with me!) the offspring are about to go and join the parents on holiday in the USA. They will all fly back together in a couple of weeks. So presumably the offspring did in fact feel the need to be tidy for the parental return.   

The last time the parents went away and left their daughter behind, she organised a party. All well and good, but she made the mistake of commenting on social media about it and the house was invaded by gatecrashers. There were not so many as in the horror stories you read about in the press but still there were enough, and they were unruly enough, to cause a mess. What provokes people to wreck places? I can understand, possibly, just about, inviting yourself to someone else's party - free drinks, food and so on. What I don't understand is the urge to pick up things and hurl them at the wall to watch them break, raiding the fridge for stuff like yoghurt that you can throw around and pour all over the floor.   

This time the young lady is older and wiser and more media-savvy and any mess is her own and her brother's!    

This morning all is quiet. No spiders. No noise of vacuuming. The mess is all outdoors. Huge, sloppy mud puddles abound. Anywhere that soil washed down from higher ground can collect is full of a thick, brown mess. There must be places with no topsoil left to be washed away in future storms. Grids are blocked with leaves and debris. In Uppermill, the Memorial Gardens are flooded at their lower level. The stepping stones are partially covered.   

In spite of this, the day is fine and warm again. Nobody would really think there had been a storm at all!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Weather, location and identity crises!

"UK's hottest September day in 105 years sets 2016 record". 

That's what the headline said. 

Of course, reading on in the article, I found this: "South-east England is enjoying Britain’s hottest day of the year, as a late summer heatwave raised temperatures to more than 34C." So the UK is really the South East. Obviously the North West Is another country. 

Having said that, I have to admit that it was already 18 degrees when I went out for a run at 8 this morning. And, despite the protests of a friend of mine that it was still fairly chilly in Chorlton, we have had a very pleasant, very warm day in Delph and Ashton. My daughter and I took the tiny person on her first bus ride and walked back to their house in our shorts and sleeveless tops, feeling positively summery! 

On my way home, it was decidedly muggy and threatening. By seven we were in gloomy darkness and there was an amazing electric storm going on, so fierce and so close overhead that we disconnected the computer and various other electrical gadgets, just in case. I don't think I have seen such a spectacular storm since we were in San Sebastián, at least ten years ago. 

We sat in a restaurant which had rain water running through it, watching places just a little lower bailing out their premises. We were also sending text messages to friends in the south of France, just across the bay, who were seeing the same storm from the other side! 

The storm seems to have moved on now but I have seen some splendid photos of flooded streets in Manchester. 

They say the hot weather will continue, although for which parts of the country remains unclear, until the weekend when it will all cool down again. 

Just about everywhere I go I take my iPhone with me. And to a great many places I also take my iPad. I log on at the homes of friends and family. I log on in various cafes around the area. Not quite as many as around Vigo but still quite a lot. And yet, compared to some folk I know, I am quite restrained. 

Then the other day I listened to a programme about the continual online snooping that enmeshes our life at present: "The Online Identity Crisis" on BBC Radio 4. Basically any information or opinion you put on your computer and send out into the ether in one form or another will be stored somewhere and can be used against you in the future. Well, we knew that already, did we not? But the extent to which this permeates our life is worrying. 

Perhaps the most disturbing thing was the fact that the programme makers received an almost identical rejection to their invitation to send a spokesperson to the programme from Facebook, Twitter and Google. It went along the lines that their company thanked them for the invitation but was not going to "reach out at this time". The wording was so close in each case that it could well have been written by an artificial intelligence of some kind, an algorithm perhaps. 

Send no more emails, write no blogs, post nothing on Facebook: Big Brother is watching you!!! 

But my plan is to proceed as usual but to say nothing too indiscreet. 

Here's another thing: make-up. From time to time there are challenges for people, in other words women, to post photos of their "naked" face, the face they wake up to in the morning before they put on their make up. I read about someone who protested when she bought her new phone and discovered that it came automatically with an app to "touch up" any selfies, so that the user always looked her "best". With difficulty she managed to disable it. But apparently we should be using almost professional make up all the time. 

In Sunday's newspaper I came across a feature on advice on how to use "colour correctors" ("Pale green to correct redness, orange to balance greenish shadows, and peach to cover bruisy blues, all followed by your foundation.") correctly, so that you don't go out looking like a clown. The answer, apparently, is carefully. 

 I am clearly living my life all wrong, going out without ensuring I have been on a beauty therapy course first! And, of course, living at the wrong end of the country for the weather forecasters to even truly recognise my existence.

Monday, 12 September 2016

What I think!

The grammar school debate rages nicely here. I've been talking about it today with my daughter. 

There is a sort of nostalgia for something that existed throughout my childhood and still exists in little pockets of privilege around the country. Strangely there isn't a parallel nostalgia for secondary modern schools. Nobody is leaping up and saying how good that side of the old selective system was. 

Various people, however, keep popping up in the media explaining how awful the 11-Plus experience was in their family. In some cases they were very traumatised because the teachers at the private schools they were then sent to after failing the exam singled them out as stupid for doing so. I wonder if they will get around to talking to the "ordinary people" that our prime minister keeps talking about. 

In my case, through the last two years of my primary schooling I watched the new girls' grammar school being built about twenty minutes away from my house, replacing a decrepit building at the other end of town. I wanted to go there. I referred to it as "my school". And then I failed the exam and went to the local secondary modern: classes of forty children, teachers who assumed you were badly behaved from the word go and shouted at you constantly. 

Fortunately for me, my parents did not make me feel that I had let them down. I was not punished, as some of my small contemporaries were. But I was disappointed and not a little jealous of those I knew who had passed and received a new bike as a reward for being so clever! 

Equally fortunately for me, in my town they offered you a second chance: the 12-Plus, with exams in English, Maths, Science and French. My parents had been told that I failed the 11-Plus by one mark and were encouraged to let me sit this other exam. No pressure from my parents, I was simply to do my best. 

I passed and found myself in the second year (year 8 in modern parlance) at the girls' grammar, not in the bottom form where many of the 12-Plus girls ended up but in the middle stream, perhaps thanks to the idealistic young French teacher who had made me love learning a foreign language, and with the chance to begin learning Spanish as well. And that's how I ended up with a career in Modern Foreign Language teaching. 

Small classes (about 24 girls) and teachers who spoke to you reasonably and expected that you would do your best as a matter of course. And so mostly we did. I thought I had found a kind of paradise. And I carried on feeling that way despite the evident faults in the system, especially the elitism that I became aware of. 

I had experienced both sides of the selective system and as I went on through education and became a teacher, I decided that what I had had at my girls' grammar was the experience all schoolchildren should have. Not the elitism but the small groups and the thoughtful teachers and the expectation that you were able to do your best and would do well. And later I worked in a comprehensive school that, like my girls' grammar, had its faults but did allow even pupils who would undoubtedly have failed the 11-Plus to progress through the school and improve sufficiently to go to university, not just any old university but in some cases to Oxford. 

It seemed to work for a while, at least in some places. But we still had to fight, mostly unsuccessfully, for smaller classes.

And since then, successive governments have messed up the system. 

So I don't look back on a golden age of grammar schools. And I particularly do not look back nostalgically to a time when a significant number of children were made to feel like failures at eleven years old. 

No, I don't know what the solution is but I don't think a return to an old system, even in a new coat, is going to work.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Two September days.

On September 11th 2001, I was working in a sixth form college. It was a quiet afternoon. I had free time to mark and prepare. At some point I went down to reception to talk to one of the secretarial staff about something that needed doing. On the ground floor it was remarkably quiet except for a huddle around the reception desk, watching events unfolding on the television screen. 

I drove home early. Everything had come to a stop at college. When I arrived home I found my husband, my daughter and her three and a half year old sitting on the sofa watching film of planes flying into the twin towers in New York. 

And that, 9/11, was the event that changed all our lives from that time on. 

Fifteen years on, I'm retired. There are a few articles about 9/11 but mostly about photographers who took pictures that day and such like. I

t's been a lovely sunny September day here. A friend of mine has been complaining on social media that it is too cold and she needs to put the heating on. On the other hand, I have had the kitchen door open and suffered that September pest: wasps. Two of the nasty, little critters were buzzing round the kitchen and managed to sting me as I put the chicken in the oven. I suspect I just got in their way. Phil went into overdrive and googled "what to do for wasp stings". Answer: not a lot unless you are among the unlucky few who have an allergic reaction or, of course, if it stings you inside your mouth! 

And so I am left with a slightly swollen red patch on my arm. Oh, and a dead wasp on the kitchen window ledge. Phil went on a killing spree, risking knocking my poor avocado plant for six in the process. 

What a difference fifteen years makes.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Reading the Saturday papers! No serious news comment!

It's Saturday. Phil is home from Spain. Our daughter's partner is at home for the weekend so I don't need to rush off and be useful to the household with the new baby. And so, Saturday settles into its old routine: get up, go for a run, come home and shower, have a latish breakfast, walk to the supermarket and return on the bus with enough food to feed a small army just in case our daughter and family accept the standing invitation and descend on us for Sunday tea. 

And then I read the papers and find snippets of stuff that tickle my fancy. 

Bradley Wiggins, 36, is contemplating what to do with the rest of his life. He's won the Tour de France. He's won gold medals. He was made a knight, for goodness sake! And now he says he's retiring from the sport but he's not sure what to do. It must be hard, not wanting to be remembered as "that cyclist with side burns", not wanting to spend his time going on TV shows like A Question of Sport, but unsure what he really wants to do. 

Ironically, or perhaps quite seriously, Sir Brad says he can't go and work stacking shelves in a supermarket, something he refers to as a "normal job". Maybe he could do what so many models, actors and, yes, even sportspeople, seem to do these days: design clothes. He has already designed bikes for Halfords so he has a head start. But we have to agree with him that 36 is a tiny bit too young to start talking about retiring and doing nothing for ever more. 

I am used to reading recipes in the weekend papers with ingredients that I don't have any chance whatsoever of finding in the local co-op, and not much better chance of finding them in the supermarkets around here. Today in a recipe for "Indian spiced sweetcorn fritters with ginger yoghurt" most of the ingredients listed turned out to be easily obtainable. I was quite impressed and then I came across "one teaspoon of nigella seeds"!! What on earth are "nigella seeds". Has celebrity chef Nigella Lawson been producing a range of products (something that TV cooks do, just as models design clothes) or are they seeds that would grow into little Nigellas if you planted them. I am imagining little Nigellas about the size of Thumbelina! 

 A little further on in my Saturday paper reading I came across a thing about thigh-high boots designed by Kanye West. Another celebrity "creative". (Apart from Paul McCartney's daughter, I have not read anything about any of these famous people having any training in fashion, art and design, how to make clothing, or anything else fashion related!) 

Thigh-high boots always make me think of pantomimes, specifically women playing the male lead and slapping their thighs. 

What amused me in particular about the article was the advice on how to wear them. "The over-the-knee boot has become an important category within our boot range," said a footwear and bags buying manager, "due to the different heel heights and the appeal for many occasions, from day to night." So, not just pantomime wear then! 

The article went on: "They can be worn in different weather conditions (Wow!! Who knew that?) with dresses or skirts, over skinny jeans, sweater dresses and more." Now, that's reassuring! 

It doesn't stop there: "They work well with midi dresses, elongate the leg and are equally stylish in more of a daytime look with luxe knitwear layered with a longer length coat. Or, indeed, worn with no coat at all." 

 Golly! I am so well informed. It's a pity I have no over-the-knee boots!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Summer into autumn thoughts!

Two weeks ago yesterday I flew back to England, leaving Phil to continue playing chess in Vigo, so that I could assist with the preparations and eventual settling in of our fifth grandchild. That evening I wrote a blogpost, describing the fun and games of travel and the like. When I tried to post it, try as I might the system would not let me in properly. I went through all the usual steps, even tried a variety of passwords, but each time I reached a point where the notice popped up: "you currently have no blog. Would you like to start one?" That was a surprise, especially as I had gone into the system via an already existing blog. 

The start of that post went like this: 

"Well, my summer seems to have come to a soggy end. I was up at the crack of dawn this morning. No, in fact well before the crack of dawn, waiting for a taxi to arrive at 4.00 am. Fortunately, it did not arrive on Wednesday morning, as I feared it might. I took the precaution of phoning the taxi company on Wednesday evening, just to make sure it would actually turn up this morning. All was well. The taxi turned up. 

The bus station was in almost total darkness. But the doors were open and I had my ticket for the bus. A noisy group of young people were waiting for the bus as well. Eventually, at about 4.15 am they switched some lights on. We no longer had to rely in the soft drinks machine for illumination. 

And so I dozed my way to Porto airport, where just about everything on the ground floor was still closed. None of the cafes planned on opening until 7.00 and it was still only 5.30 am Portuguese time! Upstairs the queue to go through security was immense. However, there was a cafe open there and I opted for coffee and a croissant before joining the line of hopeful travellers. 

All the way to Porto, the weather had been getting foggier and foggier. But there were no notices of possible problems at the airport so I kept my fingers crossed. All to no avail! It was only after the gate number had been announced and we had been encouraged to gather at the far end of the airport, where the budget flights depart from, that they finally told us that departure was delayed by an hour, at least! Because of the fog, landings and take-offs were slower than usual and our plane had been retained at Manchester until a slot became available for it. 

I seem to have no luck with this 10.15 flight. Or maybe it's the flight itself that is jinxed. I have been delayed at least twice for this flight and a friend of mine was delayed by a good three hours in June! 

But I made it home to a rather damp and gloomy, although not cold, Manchester. Ever optimistic, I hold out hopes of a bit of and Indian summer even yet. September can be very nice. We shall see." 

There followed some reflections on the burkini controversy, which are being cast aside as they are now totally out of date and irrelevant. 

In the meantime, the expected fifth grandchild, a girl, has been safely delivered and all is well. Phil returned to England yesterday on the same 10.15 flight, with no delays whatsoever. So clearly, it's just me the airplane gods are conspiring against. I am trusting that with the return of my trusty IT wizard, I shall have no more posting problems. 

In the wider world, our crazy government wants to bring back grammar schools and selection at age eleven, as if our children did not have enough testing going on already. They also plan to lift restrictions on faith schools so that they can recruit 100% within their faith and have no need for diversity. The education system is in a mess. 

In fact the country is in a mess with the minister in charge of organising our withdrawal from the EU having no idea of how to proceed. No plan seems to be in evidence. 

Spain appears to be continuing without a government and now I read that the rickety old train that runs from Porto to Vigo has crashed, killing at least four and injuring others. 

The world is topsy turvy and the run of sunny days has turned now into rain but, fingers crossed, I can now blog again successfully!