Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Goings-on in Manchester ... and elsewhere!

In the late afternoon yesterday, I set off for Manchester. There was a plan; there usually is. I was going to meet our eldest granddaughter when she finished work, have a bite to eat with her and then see if I could find a friend who was headed for the anti-Trump-Muslim-ban protest, before going to a book club meeting. Quite a schedule, in fact! Of course, the plan quickly went wrong; they often do. My granddaughter changed her mind; she decided to go straight home and do some sorting out and tidying up, maybe because her boyfriend was not around. So we had a chat on the platform of the tram stop and I sent her on her way and went and found myself a sandwich in a cafe. 

Then I found my protesting friend earlier than expected and we made our way to Albert Square, collecting other friends of hers along the way. Albert Square was very full. Passionate speeches were being made and people were cheering them. Unfortunately we could not make out more than an odd word of what was being said. If there was a public address system in place, it was not working well. We were at the edge of the crowd, partly because we arrived after the crowd was already established and also because my friend has some mobility problems and needs to sit down from time to time. I did worm my way into the crowd at one point but I still could not make out what the speakers were saying. I think you needed to be in the front five rows to hear properly.

This was rather a pity. Not just because it would have been good to hear all the speakers but because I later found out that one of them was a young friend of mine. I would have particularly liked to hear what he had to say. So it goes.

When the protest gathering turned itself into a protest march, setting off along Deansgate, I think, I went in the opposite direction to meet another friend at The Briton's Protection, the pub where the (aptly name for the times we seem to be living in) Winston Smith Reading Group meets. We were a small group; our organiser has been having difficulty finding a time to suit all the interested parties. It was probably just as well we were not more numerous as one of the back rooms of the pub was booked for a private party, incidentally providing us with free left-over sandwiches later in the evening. 

So we settled into a corner and had a good chinwag about "Diary of a Nobody". My nicely illustrated version of the book was much admired. We all agreed that the book was very funny, in a very British way, or perhaps a European way but certainly not an American way. Reviews from the time of the book's first publication show that our transatlantic friends could not really grasp what we found so amusing about it. We may speak the same language (well, sort of) but that does not mean we are exactly the same. Which is probably just as well really.

Today has dawned wet and gloomy. The paper and cardboard collection I put out for recycling will be papier-maché by the time the binmen come! Modern recycling problems! I suppose I should request a blue bin (specially provided by the council for paper and cardboard) instead of the old-fashioned blue bag (also provided long ago by the council) but it would mean another unsightly bin in my garden. There is already a grey bin (general rubbish) and a brown bin (glass and plastic) which have to sit in the front garden, and in fact have to be put by the gate, as the binmen will not go and retrieve them from the back garden - not in their job spec, apparently! It's all because time management and efficiency stuff!

The news is as gloomy as the day. President Trump has sacked the acting Attorney General for telling justice department lawyers not to defend his executive order banning entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. She is accused of being unpatriotic, betraying her country. It begins to seem that if you do not agree totally with the new president you risk losing your job. So long as it is only your job you risk losing, then I suppose that is something to be grateful for.   Here is a link to the estimable Paul Mason's view of the UK's situation vis-a-vis the Trump rule of law.

And finally, on a lighter note, I have a new phobia definition to add to my collection. Bathmophobia is a (presumably irrational) fear of stairs or slopes. This apparently explains Theresa May's willingness to hold Donald Trump's hand during her visit to the White House?  The new POTUS, unafraid to fire off executive orders and to fire people from public office is afraid of walking down stairs. Who knew? 

Monday, 30 January 2017

Some more about opinions and invitations!

Taking up something I mentioned at the end of yesterday's post, we should be wary of putting people into categories. We've seen suggestions that some people's opinions are perhaps less important because they are "only actors". Now I've been reading about a young journalist, Lauren Duca, who writes for Teen Vogue. Be careful not to dismiss her as fluffy and frivolous because she gives advice on make-up and boyfriends.

She has been explaining how people are being "gaslighted" by the mass of stuff coming out of the White House. She says all the "alternative facts" have a purpose: “The goal is not even to convince the public of their ‘alternative facts’ so much as it to sow doubt on any account. That way, they can convince the public to throw their hands up, and say ‘well, I can’t get any of this straight’. So then there’s no accountability.”

The term “gaslighting” takes its name from the 1944 Ingrid Bergman film Gaslight, which has gained currency as a metaphor for shifting blame for dishonest behaviour onto victims. “Suddenly, I’m beginning not to trust my memory at all,” Bergman says in the film as her husband’s deceitfulness causes her to question her sanity.

Lauren Duca has argued that Trump's contradictory claims during his election campaign are responsible for undermining democracy. “Trump won the presidency by gaslight,” she wrote. “His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalising deception.”

On Fox news an interviewer tried to dismiss her as young and frivolous and said she should stick to fashion commentary about thigh boots. To this she replied, "A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics,” and went on to dismiss her host: “You’re actually just being a partisan hack who’s just attacking me ad nauseam and not even allowing me to speak.”

Good for her!

At a time when mosques go up in flames - in a place called Victoria, in Texas - and gunmen attack people going to pray - in Quebec - we all need to speak out.

Maybe people would rather read what more established journalists have to say. This is journalist Jon Snow's post on Facebook:

"Facebook asks me 'what's on your mind'! I hardly dare say what is on my mind. Trump's ban on Muslims from seven countries, which effects many hundreds of thousands of dual citizens...including Israelis who have dual citizenship with Syria and other Muslim countries. So I suppose we have to say that Trump has now decided to ban Israelis. Britain's abject failure to condemn the ban immediately is also on my mind.

I'm thinking too about the reporting of 'truth'...as I have already Tweeted...some of Trump's behaviour is so far-fetched that one fears that, in reporting it, one will be damned for editorial bias!

These are the most dangerous of times - for those of us born since the Second World War. It behoves us all to speak the truth and to call out the prejudice, the hatred, and the bigotry that beset the world.

As we seem to be so fond of referenda...how about a referendum to ask which Head of State we should subject the Monarch to inviting!"

On a much lighter note, here's someone who should be turning down an invitation, according to Stuart Heritage, writing in the Guardian about Bradley Wiggins, indeed SIR Bradley Wiggins, who is seemingly about to take part in a reality TV show called The Jump. As I understand it, those who agree to take part go through some kind of ski lessons and training and are then filmed going down a ski-jump. Most are minor celebrities, escapees from other reality shows, who maybe don't realise what they are letting themselves in for. Proper athletes, like Sir Brad, should know better, especially as several people have sustained quite serious injuries.

Read all about it in this article.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Having our say!

In today's Onserver magazine, the writer Stephen Poliakoff is the subject of the "This much I know" feature. With a name like that of course he is from an immigrant family. That does not of itself guarantee tolerance and liberal thinking but it often helps. In his case I suspect it did. Anyway he appears to have been a Remain voter in the EU referendum. Here is what he wrote about Brexit in the magazine:

 "I watched Brexit through a fog of rubble mixed with tears. Just before the polls closed, my wife and I were by the telly and part of our ceiling fell down, like an extraordinary metaphor. We watched David Dimbleby, the air thick with dust, along with the disintegration of the Remain cause."

I wonder what he thinks about the continuing madness of our world.

There's our PM running round the world buttering up bullies. What exactly is she doing selling weapons to a country which has been refused entry to the EU for so many years because of its poor record on prisons and human rights? Does diplomacy demand that you express "delight" in the, OK elected but not necessarily very compassionate, president of Turkey overcoming his difficulties? Does diplomacy force her to congratulate President Trump on his sweeping victory? Was it really so great? And why did she not ask him about the women's rights issue, among other things?

Maybe she will soon start to agree with the Russian decision that domestic violence is not so much of a crime as previously thought! But then, she hasn't started buttering up Putin yet!

And then there's that immigration ban and the Prime Minister's refusal to say any more than that the USA's immigration policy is their business! Not ours at all! But I'm pretty sure we have the right to comment on it.

Here's Mo Farah's reaction to the ban on certain people entering the USA:

"On 1st January this year, Her Majesty The Queen made me a Knight of the Realm. On 27th January, President Donald Trump seems to have made me an alien.

I am a British citizen who has lived in America for the past six years - working hard, contributing to society, paying my taxes and bringing up our four children in the place they now call home. Now, me and many others like me are being told that we may not be welcome. It’s deeply troubling that I will have to tell my children that Daddy might not be able to come home - to explain why the President has introduced a policy that comes from a place of ignorance and prejudice.

I was welcomed into Britain from Somalia at eight years old and given the chance to succeed and realise my dreams. I have been proud to represent my country, win medals for the British people and receive the greatest honour of a knighthood. My story is an example of what can happen when you follow polices of compassion and understanding, not hate and isolation."

Perhaps Mr Trump can discuss all that with the queen when (or perhaps if) his state visit comes off. After all, he doesn't want to talk to Prince Charles about climate change. I have a sneaky feeling though that Her Majesty doesn't like being dictated to about how state visits should go.

And dictating is what Mr Trump seems to be about at the moment. I am having trouble getting my head around the executive orders business. I saw one explanation that said that all presidents have used them. It's a way for them to circumvent laws they don't agree with and to hurry legislation through. But somehow it seems to me that Trump is issuing an awful lot of them, as if ideas occur to him and in his head he is an absolute monarch who can just issue an order - Off with his head! - and it will be done.

Will we see a fight back from Congress?

Meanwhile, protests and demonstrations continue. Here's a link to an article where Carole King talks about her part in the women's protests on January 21st and her release of an old song of hers all about the power of one small voice. The song is worth listening to as well.

Mind you, there are some who would say that we don't need to listen to her. After all, she is just a singer/songwriter! Mo Farah is just an athlete! We are all just people!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Cutural differences - cultural values!

A couple of months ago, the 16 year old daughter of a friend of mine defined middle-aged for us as 35 to 40! Suddenly my children were middle-aged. Presumably that makes me ancient! Now I hear people talking about the possible swan song of either Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer as they face each other in the final of the Australian Open. After all, both players have been around for a while and are over thirty. In fact, I think Federer might even fit into my young friend's definition of middle-aged. Everything is relative.

Remembering that I used to use Nadal as part of introductory activity in an AS Spanish course I taught ( biographical details of the then up and coming teenage tennis player), I checked up on his details: born in 1986! So at the most he is 31 now and he seems to have been around forever. So he must have been only 22 when he won Wimbledon in 2008. The television coverage showed him climbing up through the spectators to reach the private box where King Juan Carlos was watching. He and his monarch exchanged a huge hug! At the time I wondered how our queen would have reacted to a young sports star climbing up and hugging her. Cultural differences! Spanish values and British values!

Buying the newspaper this morning in the local shop, I ran into an old friend. Our daughters (now middle-aged, remember) have been best friends for almost thirty years. My friend, despite being my age, is still working. She teaches jewellery making in community education and each time she considers retiring, they ask her to do one more course ... and one more course ... and one more course. At that rate she could still be going when she is eighty!

She is growing a little tired, however, not of the teaching per se but of all the peripheral stuff, the evidence-gathering, the form-filling that goes along with it. Most people on her courses are there because they enjoy it; it's a hobby and a way to meet people with the same interests as themselves. So why, she wonders, do they have to produce evidence of meeting certain targets as if they were on a degree course? And then there's the small matter of funding: she receives a pittance per student to buy the materials needed for the course. And so it goes on!

More importantly, she wonders, why does each course have to start with a session on British Values? She understands that this is partly another funding issue. Some of the people on the course are asylum seekers and have poor English. The college has to show that they are following government directives. And so she does a session on British Values, discussing things that the home-grown, native-British members of her class have no idea about! But another box is ticked! And some people are put off the whole idea and don't bother coming back for the next class!

Out in the wider educational world, teachers in schools are asked to report un-british activity. So when a little boy, one of a pair of brothers aged five and seven, told his teacher that he had been given a toy gun as a present, his teacher wondered if she needed to report it. The boys were of mixed Indian and Middle Easter heritage. Goodness me, did a toy gun indicate the beginning of radicalisation? The police were called in and the boys were questioned after school, a process involving keeping them away from their mother for two hours! In the end it was decided that the toy gun did not constitute a threat.

The boys' mother was understandably upset. They are being brought up with no religion and at home they speak English They have picked up a few words of their father's language but now feel afraid to use it outside of the home. Their mother overheard one say to his brother, "You can’t say foreign words at school, because you don’t know who you can trust". How very sad to have to feel so aware of the need to be careful at such a young age.

Significantly, the boys are in a minority of non-white children in the school. Would the teacher have reacted in the same way to a similar story from a white child? Would the teacher have reacted in the same way if s/he had greater experience of experiencing other cultures? The local authority concerned has agreed that this was a case of racial discrimination and will pay damages. The mother will not be taking the case any firther as she cannot get legal aid!

Personally, I would not have given my five or seven year old a toy gun in the first place but that's a different question. Presumably the primary school teacher involved is supposed to be teaching her class British Values! That's clearly a bit of a struggle!

 What a crazy world we live in! More hugging is obviously needed.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Understanding stuff!

Sitting in the cafe of Rochdale infirmary while Phil sees a consultant about an eye operation, I've been watching the day open up. And what a nice day it is - lots of blue sky, a few pastel coloured clouds in the sky - so I shall try not to worry about Theresa May possibly selling our NHS to the USA and think about other things instead.

I asked in the cafe if they have wifi. "Oh, I don't think so," came the reply. "Is that where you need a password? I can never make it work." Great, I thought but I had a go anyway. Free WIFI, it popped up. Just log in. So I did and there I was, surfing the net! Well, checking my email, anyway.

I came across a site about the ten ways learning a language can ruin your life. As I have spent going on for sixty years learning and teaching languages, I was just a little intrigued. Here's a selection:

"You have to decide between sounding pretentious or pronouncing it wrong when you order foreign food:
You refuse to pronounce it ‘choriTSo’ but your beautifully pronounced ‘chorizo’ with a rolled ‘R’ will leave the waiter silently judging you."

Their example - the Spanish chorizo - is one that drives me crazy. I have to bite my tongue in restaurants and at supermarket delicatessen counters when I hear people ask for "choritzo'. It's Spanish, not Italian for goodness sake. But I don't hold back with family members. They all know how to pronounce it properly Spanish style.

Mind you, Ibiza annoys me even more so. For a while there was a song around, sung in English but by a German group, I think, all about a holiday in a place called Eye-bits-a! At the time I was teaching AS and A-Level Spanish. One of my students, despite numerous corrections, spoke in his oral test about visiting, yes, you've guessed it, Eye-bits-a! I was more than a little furious. And I suspect it lost him points for pronunciation. Serves him right.

"You become a habitual eavesdropper:
It can happen anywhere. You’re just casually grabbing a coffee and then BAM; someone speaking the language you’ve learnt sweeps by, and you freeze, listening in. Whoever is having a coffee with you will be confused by your blank expression and coffee mug hovering halfway towards your face."

I started earwigging when I was about 12, desperately trying to understand any French I heard on the bus and then, a year later, I added Spanish to the nosy-parker group. I even stayed on the bus beyond my stop. I followed people through the town centre. It happens less now. Experience has made me blasé (or should I, as a linguist, make the agreement and say "blasée"?).

"Friends and family use you as a translation resource:
 “Could you just have a read through my CV in English?” “I want this part to be in French as well, can you just quickly translate it?” PEOPLE. This stuff takes time and effort!"

I have translated utility bills, threatening letters, and all sorts of stuff. Once I translated instructions about the use of an epi-pen into French, Spanish and Italian. I did not object to that as the friend who asks me has three children who ALL have serious allergy problems - nightmare scenario!

If you are interested in the rest of the stuff, here's a link. But on the whole, langauge learning is more fun than this site suggests. I would recommend it to anyone.

Now, here's an odd story. Barcelona is complaining that it has too many tourists and is passing a law limiting the number of beds on offer. Under the slogan “Barcelona isn’t for sale”, protesters are calling for an end to property speculation, which is pricing residents out of the city, and to low-wage jobs in tourist service industries. Those who work in hotels and restaurants in the city apparently receive less than half the minimum wage so, although it sounds a bit like biting the hand that feeds you, I suppose the move is understandable.

Too much of a good thing perhaps! They want their city back.

That sounds like a refrain I have heard before!

Thursday, 26 January 2017


Various friends of mine are posting on Facebook lists of things that Donald Trump has been up to. I did think about copying and pasting but the lists made such nasty reading that I gave up on the idea.

I think I was most shocked by his saying that he doesn't really think that waterboarding is so very unacceptable. He believes torture works. And besides, ISIS use torture and so we should fight fire with fire. There is nothing quite like getting down to the lowest possible level, is there?

And as the new president sets out to reduce rights all over the place, other people in lesser positions of power, but still positions of poer, folow suit. And so we have the Mississippi governer signing laws to allow businesses to refuse servises to gay people

And our Prime Minister is pleased, indeed seems to feel privileged to be the first, to be going to meet Peesidnet Trump. Will she protest about any of his extreme policies? According to Polly Toynbee, "As his thin-skinned narcissism takes instant offence at the smallest slight, at the end of their talk if there is no obvious chill, no outburst from him, we shall know she never said what she should about that long list of near-criminal policies he is signing into law."

It's all rather disheartening.

So instead of printing lists of the horrid things POTUS has done, I decided to print this instead:


Statement of Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, the U.S. civil and human rights organization among Anne Frank organizations worldwide:

"As President Trump prepares orders to wall out Mexicans and shut out refugees from America, today marks one of the most hateful days in our nation’s history. Donald Trump is retracting the promise of American freedom to an extent we have not seen from a President since Franklin Roosevelt forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II. Today the Statue of Liberty weeps over President Trump’s discrimination.
President Trump is beyond the wrong side of history. He is driving our nation off a moral cliff.
When President Trump uses national security as a guise for racism, he doesn’t strengthen our national security. He compromises our national security by engendering disrespect for America by people around the world.
Make no mistake, suspending visas for citizens of Middle Eastern and African countries is not called national security. It’s called prejudice.
President Trump is now exacerbating the largest global refugee crisis in history. His slamming America’s doors on the starving, the wounded and the abused is a grotesque blot on our nation’s history of freedom. The President’s actions are an embarrassment to the timeless vision of America as inscribed by Emma Lazarus to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Demonizing refugees and immigrants, and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them out of our nation, will go down in American history as one of the most tragic deviations from our national conscience."

And I think that says it all!

 I shall just be thankful that I have this sort of thing to wake up to in the morning: -

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Some birthday thoughts

I like the Instituto Cervantes. We have a branch (is that the right word or does it make the Instituto sound too much like a bank?) in Manchester. A number of my friends have done or are, indeed, still doing Spanish courses there and I have been to some of the cultural events organised by the Instituto. Years ago I went there to hear one of my favourite Spanish women writers, Ana María Matute speak about her work. Great stuff! Will their status, I wonder, be affected by Brexit? Who knows? Well, none of us because we still don't know what Brexit is really going to be like.

Now, the Instituto has produced a new study based on statistics they have compiled about Spanish speakers around the world. According to this study, there are now more Spanish speakers in the USA than in Spain itself, where we know that some people regard themselves as Catalán/Gallego/Basque speakers first and Castilian speakers second. (But, of course, we should not make the mistake of forgetting that those minority languages are also Spanish.) The United States is now the world’s second largest Spanish-speaking country. Mexixo is the largest. Anyway, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the USA and a further 11.6 million who are bilingual: the children of Spanish speaking immigrants.

Some of their statistics come from the US Census Office itself so they should be reliable. Unless, that is, the Census Office deals in Alternative Facts! The US Census Office estimates that by 2050 one third of their citizens will have Spanish as their mother tongue. Most of the Spanish speakers are, as you might expect, in the former Spanish colonies in the south and southwest of the USA. 47% of people in New Mexico are Spanish speakers, as are 38% of Texans and Arizonans. 18% of New Yorkers speak Spanish - I wonder what percentage of Londoners and Mancunians do so. Surprisingly 6% of Alaskans are Spanish speakers. Interesting stuff!

I thought for a long time that the USA would have a hispanic president before a black one (and certainly before an orange one) but perhaps I have hust seen too much of The West Wing!

Maybe, however, it's time to think about making Spanish an official language of the USA. I think I know of someone who won't like that idea. Indeed, I have read is morning that he plans to start work on THAT WALL today! Trump tweeted last night: "Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!" Is this also part of his plan to make sure there is work for every US citizen. If he kept the construction work as little mechanised as possible, then there could be manual work for ages and ages. It is, after all, quite a long border!

Okay, that's enough of that. Today is my birthday. I have a fine card selected by my three year old granddaughter. According to my son she said, "Grandma will like that one. It's Hello Kitty and it's pink!" The wonderful logic of children.

The sun is shining and I am about to go out to lunch with an old friend.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Having your say! No matter who you are.

It seems that the actor Ewan McGregor has decided not to appear on a morning television show because he realised that one of the hosts is Piers Morgan, journalist and television personality. Piers Morgan made some comments about the women's march against Trump, talk of letting the "nasty women" (a Trump expression, if ever there was one) win and so Ewan McGregor opted not to go and talk to him on TV. Here's their exchange of tweets:

Was going on Good Morning Britain, didn't realise ‪@piersmorgan‬ was host. Won't go on with him after his comments about ‪#WomensMarch

‬ ‪@piersmorgan‬
Sorry to hear that ‪@mcgregor_ewan‬ - you should be big enough to allow people different political opinions. You're just an actor after all.

So the man who is, after all, just a journalist and television personality can put down Ewan McGregor for being "just an actor". I wouldn't go on television with Piers Morgan and I am not even an actor. 

Why shouldn't actors have the right to express their opinions and choose the people they want or, more importantly perhaps, don't want to speak to? Of course they are "only actors" but they are well-known public figures, looked up to and admired by many, and have as much right to make their opinions known as journalists do. I wonder if Mr Morgan regards all the performers who turned down invitations to play their music at the inauguration as "only singers" who should be "big enough to allow people different political opinions".

We are all entitled to our opinions and the more different opinions that are put out there, the more discussion there can be about all the important things that affect us all.

And so I am even happy to see the Prince of Wales co-authoring a book on climate change, to be published by Ladybird books next week. I confess to being surprised to see it described as "intended as a plain English guide to the subject for an adult readership" but this is because I always thought Ladybird books were intended for children. Maybe, however, the recent popularity of spoof Ladybird books and mock Enid Blyton stories will lead to adults buying the book. Will that very popularity lead to people not taking this one seriously though? I wonder.

But we should take it seriously. After all, Charles is also entitled to express his opinions even if he is only a prince.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The truth - or something like it - is out there!

I read this morning that Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" are regularly top of the list of books that parents want banned from the US school curriculum. Another book frequently top of that list is Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". I wonder which books people would like to ban from UK schools.

Apparently one reason for objecting to "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" is Twain's use of the "N-word". While I can understand objections to its continued use, that word was in common use at the time when Twain was writing. Think of Joseph Conrad producing a novel called "The Nigger of the Narcissus". Maybe we should go back and change all the words, as happened recently with Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" being changed to "And Then There Were None".

It all begins to smack of Orwell's "1984" where Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue in Newspeak, the language of "1984"), altering past news items so that they reflect the reality required by the present leader. After all, we already live in the Post Truth era, where false news abounds and where officials talk about Alternative Facts.

Back in 1946 Orwell wrote about the decline in standards of English, criticising the bad English of his day, citing dying metaphors, pretentious diction and rhetoric (does that sound familiar?), and meaningless words, which encouraged unclear reasoning and doublespeak. Towards the end of an essay on that topic he wrote, "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions.” Oh dear!

Meanwhile the Alternative Facts continue. Here's a link to an article about the new White House press secretary's claims that the crowds at the inauguration of the new president were the greatest ever, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

I particularly liked the writer's reference to Sean Spicer as the "official Donald Trump spokesgoblin", a term that would fit nicely into Newspeak.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Links to things that might be of interest.

Having been out in the rather chilly, almost snowing Saddleworth morning, I thought it might be nice to compare it with this short video of my friend Brendan cycling around the Vigo area.

If anything, it looks as though it might be colder there than here at the moment but they are having a bright cold while we are having a gloomy, grey one. There is evidence in the film that Brendan actually signals and obeys traffic signals and the like when he is out cycling, unlike an awful lot of cyclists. I was going to compliment him on riding on the road, like a grown-up cyclist, rather than the pavement. This is one of my bugbears. I know the roads are dangerous but if all the cyclists give in and ride on the pavement then there will never be a proper system of cycle paths. What's more, the pavements will become dangerous places as well. But then, at the end of the video, it became clear than Brendan only rode on the road in places where there was virtually no traffic and, indeed, virtually no pavement. Back in the city, he was back on the pavement. ¡Qué desilusión!

I tried unsuccessfully to copy a clip from La Voz de Galicia, inviting us to compare the arrival of the Obamas to take over the White House from the Bush family - Barack Obama waiting for Michelle and escorting her, indeed letting her go first, up the steps to meet Bush - and the arrival of the Trumps to take over from the Obamas - Trump gets out if the car and heads up the steps, leaving Melania to get out in turn and follow meekly, until Obama goes and greets her and brings her into the group on the steps. Correction, I had another go and, hopefully, here it is.

Occasionally Phil gets a little agitated about how people use language. So do I as a matter of fact. It must be something to do with our both being linguists. Phil, however, gets a lot crosser than I do. Trendy expressions such as "going forward", employed to mean "in the future" really bug him. His latest gripe is about the use of "So" as an introduction to an answer. I found this letter in Saturday's Guardian:
'When Seamus Heaney began his translation of Beowulf with the single word sentence "So", he described it as "an expression that obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention". Whenever I hear a politician opening with it, I translate it roughly as "that's quite enough from you, never mind what you think, this is my much more important opinion".'

And finally, while we are on the subject of language, here is a link to an item about a postcard on which someone corrected the English. How rude!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Random reflections.

I have mostly been trying to avoid pictures of that inauguration that went on yesterday. As a rule I avoid watching opening ceremonies of things like the Olympic Games as well. Oh, I know there is a lot of grand, spectacular display goes on at such occasions but in the end that's all it is: grand, spectacular display!

And then, quite accidentally I saw a photo which included Trump's youngest offspring, Barron, a boy of about ten. What struck me was how much he reminded me of the young Joffrey Baratheon, as portrayed in the first TV series of Game of Throne. It was not that he and the actor truly resembled each other. No, it was the sort of arrogant sneer and narrow-eyed stare that the photographer had caught. How sad to be so young and yet to look so hard!

Are the Trumps a real(ity)-life version of the Lannisters? (For the uninformed about Game of Thrones, Joffrey Baratheon, despite his name, has not a drop of Baratheon blood as his biological father is his mother's brother, a Lannister. Yes, it is a bit shocking but then the ancient Egyptians did it all the time. Hmm! Where are they now?) Two rich families taking over their respective worlds!

Somewhere in the midst of all this I found a little nugget of information which told me that Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the Heinz company, was the grandson of Charlotte Louisa Trump of Kallstadt. Related then. Maybe rich families are like European royalty: in the end there is always a family link between them. The important question is this: can I now eat Heinz baked beans with a clear conscience?

Maybe I should stick to other kinds of food such as vegetables and salad. And yet, it now seems there are problems with this. Rain and cold and snow in Spain and other Southern European countries have reportedly been affecting our supply of courgettes and aubergines and salad vegetables. Prices will rise! According to a radio news report last night, a few towns are completely without courgettes. How shocking! The newsreader struggled to keep the amusement out of her voice as she told us that they had not been given the names of the towns concerned. Were they expecting courgette riots? We're okay. Our local co-op is well supplied and the price is reasonable. Phew! What a relief! Aubergines I have no regrets about at all.

 Now, here is something else altogether. A friend of ours said that his Christmas was greatly enhanced by his hearing a young autistic girl singing a reworked version Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I must say that I did not see that as a particularly Christmassy song but someone, presumably a music teacher at the school for autistic children, wrote a new set of words, making it into a version of the Christmas story.

My friend suggested I should include it in my blog. So here is a link.

Friday, 20 January 2017

What goes around comes around!

Things have a way of coming back to get you. They have found a bomb in the river Thames. Near the Houses of Parliament at that! Not an act of terrorism, however, this is a leftover from World War Ii. All those years of sitting around in the mud and they find it now in 2017! I wonder how they discovered it. Did it start to tick? That's what bombs do in cartoons, after all.

A couple of bridges were closed, as were underground stations near that bit of the river, but tourists still went to have a look. There's something about a dangerous situation that attracts people. Think of all the people who go and look at the big waves at the seafront whenever a storm is reported. Inside us all there seems to be a little something that wants to say, "I was there!" My little something is very small indeed. I have grown sensible apparently!

It is by no means the first time that old bombs have been discovered. In February last year they evacuated the area around Victoria Station in London when they found an unexploded bomb, also from the second world war. And in May they found one under a school playground in Bath. Hundreds of people had to spend a night in a shelter set up at the racecourse. In November they did a controlled explosion in Portsmouth, of yet another second world war device, messing up cross-Channel ferries and causing the evacuation of parts of the city. They are finding our bombs in Germany as well. 54,000 people had to leave their homes in Augsburg at Christmas when they discovered a 1.8 tonne British bomb.

I do not remember any of these things being reported in the papers at the time. There must have been too much more interesting stuff going on.

What a dangerous place the world is! Clearly we all need to be careful how deep we dig in our gardens!

But let us not get downhearted. The sun has found its way back to the North West today.

I have discovered that pink is going to be THE colour for men's fashion this year. Here's a link to some photos. Somehow I don't see the men in my life wearing any of these but that's how it goes.

And, this being inauguration day, the papers have even more stuff about Trump, indeed all the Trumps. And so I learn that all the Donald's wives have been fashion models.

At least he is consistent in something!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Transatlantic downs and ups.

This was the headline to an article in Wednesday's paper: "Big freeze in England sees temperatures drop to -6.5C".

Ah, I thought! Are we due for another major cold spell? NO, as it turns out. The article told us that the South East has clear, bright, cold weather, with really low temperatures,while the rest of us have cloud and, consequently, rather milder temperatures. I could get a little agitated about "England" being taken to mean just the South-east! We are also part pf England here in the North West.

I should stop complaining about weather. Most of Europe appears to be in the grip of that cold spell. And then central Italy has had earthquakes as well. As if deep snow was not enough!

Here's something else to get me a little astounded and cross. New officials to all sorts of posts have been having confirmation hearings in the USA. Do we have similar interrogations of people nominated to high office in this country? I sometimes get the impression that the posts in the UK are just swapped around at the whim of whoever is Prime Minister. Anyway, one Betsy DeVos has been nominated to head the Department of Education in the new administration in the USA. During her confirmation hearing it seems that she said the guns should be allowed in America's schools as long as the locals said it was cool. (Did she really say "cool"?) She also gave her support for Trump's proposal to get rid of gun-free school zones, backing it up with the argument that in Wyoming, for example, "there is probably a gun in the schools to protect from potential grizzlies.” I've heard about people offering excuses such as "the dog ate my homework" but the grizzly bear possibility is a new slant on the animals excuses idea.

Getting back to the UK, we have heard a lot about the mess that has been Southern Rail in recent times. Now it transpires that the Southern Rail operator has joined forces with another operator to bid for and win the franchise to run the Metrolink tram network in Greater Manchester. How do they even get to make a bid? How do these things happen? If a caterer gave somebody serious indigestion, not to say food poisoning, you wouldn't even consider, let alone accept, their bid, however economical, to cater for your next big event, would you? Well, I wouldn't but then, I don't run transport networks!

As I seem to be hopping to and fro across the Atlantic for this post, here's a story more to my liking: heartwarming in a wistful kind of a way. One of my heroes, Bruce Springsteen gave a special farewell to the White House concert for President Obama and staff last week, an acoustic performance, accompanied by his wife Patti Scialfa on a couple of songs, with following playlist: 

Working on the Highway

Growin' Up

My Hometown

My Father's House

The Wish

Thunder Road

The Promised Land

Born in the U.S.A.

Devils & Dust

Tougher Than the Rest (with Patti Scialfa)

If I Should Fall Behind (with Patti Scialfa)

The Ghost of Tom Joad

Long Walk Home

Dancing in the Dark

Land of Hope and Dreams 

The Springsteen fansite Backstreets apparently reviews every Springsteen show (that must be a nice job) and this is an excerpt from their review of the White House gig:

 "I have seen Bruce Springsteen a lot of places: front row at MSG, rehearsal at Convention Hall, summer runs at Giants, the last show at the old Giants, a surprise appearance in a shopping mall, 2004 Vote for Change, second row at the Lincoln Memorial in 2008, arenas all over.... But this one was a real personal thing, this thing for staff who sacrificed so much over the last eight years. It was a humble, quiet gesture from Bruce to say thanks to President Obama, the staff, and their families. No pomp, no ceremony, no press. Just the man, the guitar, and the songs."

Oh, to have been a White House staffer!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017


I don't tweet or twitter myself but here are some twitter-tweet reactions I found to Theresa May 's speech outlining her Brexit plans:

  •  "I want access to your snooker club but I won't pay for entry. I'll need to borrow your cues. And I want to play pool instead"- T. May 
  •  "I do not seek membership of Shoreditch House but seek the greatest possible access to it." 
  • ‪#TheresaMay‬: "I wanna break up because I hate you" EU: "If that's what you want" Theresa: "But like we're still best friends right?"‪#Brexit‬ 
Who'd be a politician, eh?

But I suppose she can take comfort in appearing in the American edition of Vogue. This is happening in April, I understand. According to stuff I have read, our Prime Minister 'has been very open about her love of fashion and a recent article in Vogue praised her bold fashion choices, including leopard-print kitten heels and statement jewellery, saying she was already “pushing the boundaries of prime ministerial attire.”'

Maybe if it all goes truly pear-shaped on her she can join Sam Cam in her fashion venture!

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, someone is having difficulty organising an inauguration. The Bruce Springsteen cover band set to perform at Donald Trump’s upcoming presidential inauguration has cancelled its performance out of “respect and gratitude for Bruce.” I did wonder, when I first heard they were performing, how someone who as enough of a Springsteen fan to make a tribute band could even consider playing his songs at a Trump event!

Maybe they should just skip the razzamatazz and declare him president quietly. However, I think someone who has a golden lift in his tower wouldn't like to do it that way.

Is there a special term for fear of not being given enough attention?

Here are some nice phobia words I came across:

  • Eremophobia - fear of being alone. It comes from the same root as "hermit", someone who actually chooses to be alone. 

  • Brontophobia - fear of thunder. From the Greek for thunder. A brontosaurus was a thunder lizard! how good is that? 

  • Kakorrhaphiaphobia - surprisingly, not the fear of unpronounceable words but fear of failure. The Greek word kakorrhaphia means a clever or devious plot or plan, derived from kakos, meaning bad or evil. There you go! 

  • Ophidiophobia - fear of snakes. The root for this also gives us the very pleasing word ophiomorphic, meaning "snakelike in form". 

That's enough of that. i am beginning to develop phobophobia - fear of developing an irrational fear of phobias.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Beating the blues!

Today is Blue Monday. It must be true. I read it in the Guardian newspaper. Every third Monday in January (except when someone decides it's going to be the second Monday) is dubbed Blue Monday, the most depressing day in the year. Well, here it's more of a Grey Monday; the cloud has come down and my first thought was that someone had STOLEN my Monday.  

Mind you, if I wanted to feel blue, I could simply read even more stuff about Donald Trump in his interview with Michael Gove. I'm sure they got along famously. I stopped with Trump's opinion on Brexit - a good thing, in his opinion, and an example likely, indeed recommended by Trump, to be followed by other European countries - and his analysis of why it happened: 

“People, countries, want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. But I do believe this: if they hadn’t been forced to take in all of the refugees, so many, with all the problems that it … entails, I think that you wouldn’t have a Brexit.”  

When did we take in too many refugees and who forced us to do it? Can we cope with four years of political analysis of this calibre?  

Anyway, back to Blue Monday: I would like some days of a better colour. They all seem to be blue or black at the moment and all of the colour-specific days are to do with spending money. Blue Monday, it seems, was invented some ten years or so ago as part of an advertising campaign for a travel company. The idea was that you could cheer up the January Blues (there you go, a whole month this time!) by booking a holiday. And since then the concept has been used to persuade us to buy clothes, shoes, cars and just about anything you choose to name.   

Has anyone used it to promote the sales of books? I wonder! When you buy clothes to cheer you up, you just end up with less space in your wardrobe and, in some people's wardrobes that means clothes which are never worn and years later still have the price label on them! Even though buying books also adds to your clutter collection, at least on a grey day in January if you have a new book to read you can have a bit of instant escapism. Just curl up in your favourite chair and start reading! And it's cheaper than a cruise!  

Another way to escape the blues is "hutting". Basically, this is having a hut to which you can escape and think and write or be creative in your own chosen fashion. One of the posh names for a hut is a "bothy". Lots of famous people had them: Roald Dahl, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Wolfe. Gabriel Oak in Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd" had one. And now, thanks to some change in Scotland's building regulations, more people will be able to build huts, and even go and live in them, where previously they were not allowed to do so.  

Where better to indulge in a bit of Danish "hygge" (basic meaning: snug cosiness) with friends, or presumably on your own with the good book I mentioned earlier? And you can eat lots of organic food, being "folkeligt". This is apparently the latest buzzword to come from Denmark, where half the population eat organic food, a much higher proportion than in the UK. They really like organic stuff over there. This is something that I read the other day: "The extent to which Danes have embraced organics is captured by Økodag, or Organic Day, in the spring when almost a quarter of a million people don wellies to witness the so-called “dancing cows” as the animals rush back into fields to graze after the long winter."

Now, I bet that has got rid of some Blue Monday blues!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Media stuff I gleaned while multi-tasking

Today is as grey and gloomy as promised by the weathermen. So it is a day to stay in and do indoor stuff, such as reading the paper, listening to the radio and knitting, all at the same time.

So while reading the paper I have been half-listening to the Food Programme on the radio, where somebody (I wasn't totally concentrating so I have no idea who she was) said she had a WWII binocular case which is exactly the right size to fit two champagne flutes in. Who knew this was possible? Another kind of recycling I suppose. She carries champagne flutes around with her, presumably in connection with her work. I assume this as she went on to talk about how cider should no longer be regarded as just something teenagers drink in bus shelters but should be recognised as sparkling apple wine! Okay!

Quote from the Food Programme: "People eat with their eyes. Food should be beautiful". I'm in total agreement with that. This is why I take photos of food when I eat out.

The wonderful Giorgio Locatelli is one of the judges for the Food Programme's food awards for this year. His Italian accent is absolutely delightful.

Now for the serious stuff. Here's a comment on the power of the media. The lunchtime news on the radio has interviews with people in the USA about the car industry there. Much was made at the time of the wonder of Trump persuading Ford not to transfer more of its car-making to Mexico but keep it in Detroit. Doing good stuff before he was even in office! According to some workers there, however, this move was already underway before Trump put in his two-penn'orth. Much of it comes down to Americans buying fewer small cars (built in Mexico) and more SUVs and other large cars (better built in the USA). One speaker maintained that Car manufacturers wanted to get stuff done before Trump could claim it as his achievement. But then he tweeted about it and claimed the credit anyway. People believe what they see on social media.

Similar stuff, and more frightening is apparently going on with opinions about the holocaust. Holocaust denier David Irving is getting a lot of attention from teenagers, especially in the States according to this article. Some of this is down to Google, which has been criticised because searches for information about the holocaust tended to direct seekers to holocaust denial sites, such as David Irving. Irving himself claims that the young people are simply seeking the truth!

Nowadays it seems that truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Out and about!

Despite a rather gloomy start to the day - lots of cloud and a hint of sleet - the weathermen proved to be right and the day improved. So I decided to put aside the other types of gloom and nonsense that are around:-  

  • Russian troops massing in Poland near the Russian border. Who decided that?   
  • Trumps nominees seeming to be against his interpretation of things. 
  • The general craziness of Trump.   
  • Is Putin causing chaos? Is Trump causing his own chaos?  
  •  Our transport secretary opening his car door and knocking a cyclist over and then some time later declaring more or less that cyclists are not in fact road users. What are they? Cycle path users? Certainly not pedestrians!
  • A yoga teacher being arrested, apparently for "preaching religion", under a new Russian law intended to combat terrorism.    
  • And the nonsense of fashion sweatshirts costing around £700 and yet displaying the hammer and sickle logo.    
So, as Phil was off playing chess somewhere and tomorrow promises rain, rain and more rain, I wanted to take advantage of the sunshine. It did cross my mind that I might jump on a bus and go for a stomp around a nearby reservoir. However, by the time I had done some washing up and tidying up, made a few phone calls and accomplished other small but time-consuming tasks, I realised that I would probably get there in time for the sun to go over the hill.  So I walked the long way round to the local Tesco: along the Donkey Line and then via the top road that looks down on Uppermill and goes past the golf course. 

I was advised by one helpful soul that parts of the Donkey Line were very icy. Like glass, he told me. He exaggerated! Nothing like as icy as the occasion some years ago when our granddaughter, then 13, and a friend walked home from school that way in seriously unsuitable shoes and took well over an hour to cover a twenty minute stretch! Parts of it were very muddy today though.   

Lots of people seemed to be using the top road as an alternative to driving through Uppermill itself. I kept having to flatten myself into the banking to,avoid being crushed on this narrow road, really not built for today's large vehicles. Fortunately for them, they all seemed to be going in the same direction. No difficult reversing today!  

On the golf course, the greens had turned into whites. Does anyone even play golf in the snow? Maybe with coloured golf balls! possibly that explains the number of cars on the road. Perhaps they had all gone up to the golf club and decided against a game after all.  

And so I stomped along, picked up some stuff at Tesco and then totally mistimed the buses back. Fortunately I was not carrying much so I chose not to wait at a cold bus stop.  

A longer walk than intended but, boy, did I feel virtuous!

Friday, 13 January 2017

Getting away from the snow!

Well, the promised snow finally arrived sometime yesterday evening. A young friend, who lives a bit closer to the snow-line and gets rather more, deeper and earlier snow than we do was posting her hopes that today could be a snow day. She works in a school and was hoping that her place of work would be closed because of students' difficulty/inability to get there. Today is bright and cold and it looks a bit like a Christmas card out there but I don't think it merits closing the area down.


My daughter, however, tells me she has not sent her children to school; there were no buses first thing and she did not want to take them by car only to be told an hour later to go and collect them as the school was closing. Inevitably she has heard form them since, letting he know that her children have been marked absent. this despite her having sent a message explaining the situation. sometimes you can't win.

Maybe my  posting friend just wanted to stay home and watch tv. A little bit of binge-watching never did anyone any harm. Not that I have heard about as yet anyway. No doubt, some time soon somebody publish an article about the problem of addiction to box sets!

I like the way binge has progressed from simply meaning over-eating to overindulging in all sorts of things. The British became famous for binge-drinking, usually in an embarrassing fashion in Mediterranean holiday resorts but also at home on a Saturday night! And now we have binge-watching, a development I find strange when you take into account that films are rarely over 90 minutes long because they think people won't sit and watch something for much longer than that.

On the radio last night they discussed this phenomenon. Really they were reviewing a new Netflix series, The AO, the story of a young woman who disappears and then returns home seven years later with mysterious new abilities and a secret mission in mind. An interesting feature is that the episodes are all different lengths. The maker of the series was getting very excited about being free from the constraints of working for mainstream television where all episodes have to be 59 minutes so that they can fit into the drama slot before the ten o'clock news.

In the course of the programme they discussed the fact that more drama is watched via Netflix or similar streaming than on mainstream television. This is the new mode. You can watch as much as you exactly want when you want. Some people even set their television to record the whole of a drama series, broadcast in the traditional way, and do not watch any of it until the whole series is finished precisely so that they can watch watch it the new way. And it's not just a matter of watching a couple of episodes at a time. The thing to do is the set yourself up with supplies of snacks and then watch a whole series in one fell swoop.

Now that is what I all escapism! Binge-escapism?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Waiting for the snow!

I looked at the sleety rain falling first thing this morning and decided to forego my morning run and do some yoga indoors instead. Later Facebook reminded me that several years ago on this date I had posted something about going out into the wind and wet. So my younger self was obviously braver and more determined or more stupid and foolhardy, depending on your point of view, than the current me.

Still waiting for the forecast snowmageddon to arrive, I realised late in the morning that I was going to have to go out and into the town centre for a couple of things. Fortunately just as I was about to set off for the bus my daughter rang to say she was on her way back from some kind of baby class (baby massage, baby sensory development or something of that kind - she is thoroughly enjoying her maternity leave and taking part in all sorts of stuff of this nature) and asked if it was all right to pop in for a cuppa. So I persuaded her to pick me up at the bus stop and accompany me to town. Inevitably this involved my paying for a couple of items for her but, hey, isn't that what retired parents with a reasonable pension are for? At some point in the future she can pay for stuff for me. What goes around comes around!

Going around was what we did. As the weather is decidedly inclement we opted for the shopping centre carpark rather than one which would involve our walking through the wet and windy stuff. It's a while since we have been to that carpark, probably a few years in fact, and in the interim the tram system has come through the town centre, causing havoc with the one-way system. Two grown-up people ended up driving round the whole of the centre at least one and a half times before we found the carpark entrance. So it goes!

Having returned with my purchases, I took a look at the papers online and found celebrity chef Jay Rayner, possibly one of the most down to earth of his type, having a little rant about food fads. This is what he had to say about gluten-related stuff: "People claiming to be gluten intolerant still make me want to hit things. You’re not gluten intolerant. That bloated feeling you have when you eat too much bread is because you’ve eaten too much bread. Stop it. You’re just a picky eater trying to control the world around you through food and, in the process, making life harder for people who are genuinely coeliac." Quite so!

How refreshing to have someone pointing out that pasteurised milk is really a good thing and that it is pretty silly to talk about transporting seawater to pizza-making places, a practice that is supposed to make pizza taste better! Who knew that? He went on a bit about different types of sugar as well: the bottom line is that too much sugar of any kind is going to be bad for you.

I would consider adding to his list of things to get annoyed about health-food shops selling in their range of "healthy" snacks chocolate covered nuts and raisins, something I saw recently. Nuts and raisins, yes, ok, but why do they need to be chocolate covered. You might as well just buy a fruit and nut chocolate bar!

And then I came across a story about a rabbit enthusiast, Dorota Trec, accused of animal cruelty for "hoarding" 176 rabbits on a vacant lot in Brooklyn. It all began with one pet rabbit, Snowflake. “By having this one rabbit for 10 years, I noticed how special rabbits are,” she says. “They are really outstanding and cannot even compare to dogs and cats. The day he died [in 2010], I realized that not only did I miss him as a friend, but something clicked in me: I’m a rabbit girl and that I will have rabbits forever.” Ms Trec had found her destiny and she started rescuing rabbits from butchers and slaughterhouses. She tried to keep male and female rabbits separate. Really!? How optimistic was she? Inevitably they bred like, well, like rabbits.

The local community took an interest and people used to go and visit her "sanctuary". When a local paper ran a story about her rabbits, it drew the attention of Natalie Reeves, an attorney and founder of the Big Apple Bunnies rabbit advocacy Facebook group. (Is there really such a thing as Big Apple Bunnies rabbit advocacy?) And that was that. Investigation followed and Dorota Trec faces the possibility of two years in prison.

Now, I would never hurt an animal but really, I ask you, are there not more important things to get worked up about? Some would say that both Dorota Trec and Natalie Reeves should get out more. 

And snowmageddon has still not arrived!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Windy cities and hot air!

The wind woke me up in the night. I had to shut the window so that I could get back to sleep. A young friend of mine has been posting on Facebook that he wants the wind to get strong enough for them to shut down public transport so he can go home early. Do they even do that? Does high wind mean buses and trams and trains around Manchester have to stop running? I thought that was just snow!

We retired people, who do not have to worry about getting to and from work, whether on public transport or in private cars, took ourselves out for a walk in the wind. It might be windy but it has been gloriously sunny, although very cold. (No sign of the promised snow as yet!) The wind turbines have been clattering away nineteen to the dozen.

Meanwhile the Netherlands have been boasting about being the first country to run 100% of its electric trains on wind energy. Clever people these Dutch! I think they may be among the few European countries who do not seem to subsidise their railways through profit from running ours. Maybe we should invite them to take over.

Of course, some of the people who have posted the news about the Dutch use of wind energy have received some negative comments, such as this one:

 "Yea, I'm afraid I must burst this bubble. But the train connection in the east of the Netherlands is run by Syntus and Arriva, and considering there is no network there when it comes to the electricity (it is simply not there yet), I can tell this is BS. (between Zevenaar and Winterswijk + between Ede-Wageningen and Amersfoort is definitely on petrol).

Also Dutch trains are notoriously late with s***e service and expensive.

This story is feelgood lies that we only wished was true."

Maybe such commenters should read the whole thing. It doesn't say 100% of trains but 100% of ELECTRIC trains!

Stop and think before you react! A lesson to be taken to heart by all sorts of people.

On the other side of the world, we have an outgoing president making reasoned and reasonable speeches of farewell. Here's an excerpt from a news report:

 “In 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy,” Obama said. That elicited some boos, but he pressed on: “The peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to the next.” Now there was applause. “I committed to president-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.”

And at the same time an incoming president has been saying that the intelligence services are rubbish and that, of course, the Russians have nothing on him. Apparently he still believes Putin is his big buddy!

And Hollywood is mounting a defence of Meryl Streep. Robert De Niro sent her a letter:

"Meryl –

What you said was great. It needed to be said, and you said it beautifully. I have so much respect for you that you did it while the world was celebrating your achievements. I share your sentiments about punks and bullies. Enough is enough.

You, with your elegance and intelligence, have a powerful voice – one that inspires others to speak up as they should so their voices will be heard too. It is so important that we ALL speak up.

We love you.


And George Clooney has been responding to somebody's tweets: "Aren’t you supposed to be running the country?”

He's trying to talk sense to people:

“We have to get back to talking and telling the truth, understanding that not everybody is an enemy, and that not all people who voted for Donald Trump are bigots – not even the overwhelming number of people who voted for Donald Trump? They’re disenfranchised, they’re mad, they’re losing their jobs.”

Our politicians need to learn some sense too. We have to be careful not to be blown away by it all.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Celebrity ranting!

Well, the Golden Globes have been going all political! There's Meryl Streep railing against Donald Trump and being tweeted about by him. An "over-rated" actress who doesn't know him at all has no right to criticise him, or so he says. Cue for masses of people to tweet and twitter lists of all the awards the "over-rated" actress has won. Oh, dear! Poor President-elect Trump is going to have to develop a thicker skin. I'm pretty sure he'll come in for a lot more criticism when the United States of Trump gets going.

Then our own Hugh Laurie put in his two-penn'orth. He expressed concern about the future of award shows. Accepting his award he said, "I suppose it's made more amazing by the fact that I'll be able to say I won this at the last ever Golden Globes. I don't mean to be gloomy it's just that it has the words ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Foreign,’ and ‘Press’ in the title. I just don't know ... I also think to some Republicans even the word ‘association’ is slightly sketchy." And then he accepted the award "on behalf of psychopathic billionaires everywhere.”

Tom Hiddleston just got criticism for suggesting that he was proud to have been able to provide entertainment for doctors and nurses from Mèdecins sans frontières" in South Sudan who binge-watched The Night Manager. This led to a storm of criticism on social media, accusing him of something called "humblebrag", presumably pretending to feel humble while actually boasting! It's a hard life for these rich and famous people!

An old friend and I had a bit of a rant on the bus yesterday about the state of the world - refugees, Blair, Brexit, Trump, you name it, we ranted it - but we are not celebrities and therefore did not get tweeted or twittered!

Celebrity watchers will be relieved to learn that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have reached an agreement to handle their divorce in a private forum. Well, maybe the celebrity watchers will be disappointed not to see a lot of dirty linen washed in public but the rest of can be relieved.

On another kind of celebrity-related matter, I read that there has been a 41% rise since 2011 in the use of botox among young women in the USA. I assume you have to be pretty rich to afford it. Apparently you have to start in your twenties to combat ageing and then it becomes almost addictive. And some people, such as Danni Minogue using botox to hide their feelings. Well, that's what they say. And I suppose that if you physically can't frown, you can't show your annoyance.

I wonder what happened to self control and not over-reacting!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Getting the snow drift!

The weathermen have predicted a cold snap, as they like to call it, for the end of the week. Snow is possible. It will not, they assure us, be as bad as the cold weather currently afflicting the south of Europe. Imagine the plight of those living in tents in the refugee camps there!

Even though we know there are ski resorts in all sorts of places in southern Europe, somehow we don’t expect the fountains of Rome to freeze! And yet I remember one Christmas we spent in Florence; we had blue sky and sunshine but the cold was intense. And, yes, I still missed that blue sky when the cloud came in and the temperatures went up a little.

The first time we went to Italy we were in Taormina, Sicily, at a language school. It was Easter time; there was still snow on the upper slopes of Etna but down in Taormina itself we could stroll around in light weight clothing. Some people even went in the sea at Giardino Naxos. And now I have pictures of the Greek theatre in Taormina covered in snow. Who’d have thought it?

Coincidentally a friend tagged me into a post from the Manchester Evening News with a link to a set of pictures of Manchester in the snow, going back years and years. Pictures with the old horse-drawn trams in some cases. She tagged me in as there were pictures of Saddleworth, where we live. I was particularly impressed by the photos of Diggle, not very far from us, with enormous snow drifts in 1947. Before my time but Jack, the old chap with the little dog called Rosie, my morning run nodding acquaintance, had told me all about this the last time we had snow.

Back in 1947 he was a boy of 9 or 10 and he remembered the huge amount of snow that fell that winter. There was so much in Delph, he told me, that the council sent men with spades to clear the drifts and load the snow onto lorries. it was dumped on waste land just outside Oldham town centre where a huge snow mound was formed. Well into the spring of 1948 Jack and his mates used to go and slide down the artificial hill, which proved slow to melt.

Whether or not this apocryphal tale is true, it reminded me of my mother’s stories of her childhood in a small Yorkshire village where they dug pathways through the snow drifts connecting houses to the post office, the village shop, the school and so on. snow drifts you could not see over! I was all the more impressed as in my childhood bit of Ainsdale, Southport, we did not see snow. Frost and ice, yes, but if it ever snowed it never stuck. I can remember the sea freezing one year; well, the beach is so long and shallow that when the tide came in and the cold struck, it just froze into place. But it wasn’t a regular occurrence.

As with hills (Southport is notoriously flat), it wasn’t until I went away to university in Leeds that I really knew snowy winters! We have, however, experienced being snowed in while living in our first house in Delph: quite exciting provided you have sufficient supplies in hand and can look out at the Christmas card scene from a warm interior. not quite so spectacular as snow drifts up to your waist but perhaps more beautiful in a way was the day the wind blew the snowstorm against our front door and then the layer of snow froze. Opening your front door to find the sun shining through a sheet of frost patterns is quite astounding! Nothing so spectacular has happened in our current house, although we did once build an igloo in the back garden.

And so I wait to see what kind of weather adventures await us this time!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Yorkshire attitudes!

I read about a secondhand bookseller in the Yorkshire Dales who has been much criticised for his rudeness to customers. His rudeness in general, it seems, is well known but someone went and complained to the local council about him when he called that particular customer, who came in as the shop was about to close and insisted on having a chance to browse, a "pain in the arse". Not the best customer service, perhaps, but then he is a Yorkshireman and they do have something of a reputation for being curmudgeonly. Before anyone takes issue with my regionism, I hasten to add that I am half Yorkshire myself!  

Stephen Moss, commenting about this in the Guardian, reckons that it is no surprise that this chap is the "bookseller from hell". Secondhand booksellers, he maintains, have a hard time of it, much of their clientele having been stolen by internet sales. They get very upset when people go into their shop quite obviously just to get out of the rain. He also believes that secondhand booksellers don't really want to sell books. They like books, not people; the books in their shop are their friends and they do not really want to lose them. All of these factors, he says, account for their being grumpy.  

While I can agree with some of Stephen Moss's arguments, I have to say that the ones we have around here are for the most part friendly. (There is, however, one that we no longer go into very often, ever since Phil managed to demolish some of their shelving with his rucksack - embarrassment beats the desire to find a bargain.) And I think he may have an over-romantic idea about booksellers' attachment to all their books.  

Anyway the "bookseller from hell" charges people 50 pence to go into his shop. If they buy a book they get their 50 pence back. Now, the Lello bookshop in Oporto, the oldest bookshop in that city, charges €3 if you want to enter their premises. This did not used to be the case but they found that the shop was often so full of people who wanted to take photos of the magnificent interior that book buyers, i,e, customers, could not see the shelves. And, as in the Yorkshire bookshop, if you make a purchase, the entry fee is deducted from the price.   

I have visited Lello a couple of times, the first time for free, and I must say it is worth seeing. While the Yorkshire bookshop appears to be housed in a fine old building, I doubt that the interior is quite so splendid as Lello's. Maybe that is why the entry fee is 50 pence as opposed to €3! Maybe the bookseller should be more grateful for custom.   

On the subject of gratitude, we were given a basket of hyacinths as a Christmas present. The flowers are blooming beautifully. They are a stunning hyacinth blue. However, they have been relegated to the kitchen as the perfume is quite overpowering. Having found that Phil was opening the living room window to let the smell dissipate, I decided that radical measures needed to be taken. He still harrumphs over breakfast. Maybe he is in touch with his inner grumpy Yorkshireman.  

And finally, I would like to know how we went from this  

to this  

over a matter of days.   

Maybe it's because we used to be part of Yorkshire!  

And why do the weathermen seem to think that foggy gloom is an improvement on crisp and cold but bright and sunny?

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Book problems.

As a rule, on a Saturday I stomp along to the local supermarket, stock up on this and that, so that I can feed the family when they turn up for Sunday tea, and then catch the bus home in time to skim through the newspaper. Having stocked up the other day, however, today was the day when I was going to tidy the kitchen, read the paper peacefully, and in a bit more depth, for a while and then do a variety of other things that have been on the list for rather too long.

Apart from a cursory tidy-up of the kitchen this did not happen. Instead I spent a good three hours moving books around. This too has been on my list for far too long but it was not on the do-today list. How did this happen? Well, thereby hangs a tale.

I belong to a reading group that meets once a month in a pub in Manchester. It's a nice occasion to meet old friends, talk about the chosen book and have a general chinwag about all sorts of stuff. Earlier in the week I had mentioned to Phil that I had ordered the January book, Diary of a Nobody, from the local library. He informed me that we have a copy, which I vaguely thought was the case but as I had not spotted it in the appropriate place on the shelf I could not face hunting through the stacks of out-of-place books we have around the place.

This morning he asked if I had located it. I commented that I had no idea where to start looking. So he decided to help. This meant removing from the shelves piles of books that have been placed willy-nilly in front of other books and putting them on the sofa. It was at that point that we realised that we were both visualising a completely different book.

In my head, it was a paperback copy, an old Penguin, the price of which, when I eventually located it, was the grand total of £1.95! Oh, to be ableto buy books for such a price now. The book Phil remembered, on the other hand, was a hardback, which he claimed to have given me for Christmas or a birthday some years ago. I have no recollection of this (old age and decrepitude on my part or false memory syndrome on his?) but thanked him profusely for the delightful gift when he located it. It is illustrated by Paul Hogarth, whom wikipedia describes as having a "distant connection" to William Hogarth, he of Rake's Progress fame!

At almost the same moment, from separate rooms in the house, Phil and I gave a cry of "Got it!". Neither of us had any memory of the copy the other had found. My paperback copy has illustrations by Weedon Grossmith, brother of George of that name, with whom he co-wrote the book. The illustrations in the hardback copy are, it has to be said, far superior and are in colour rather than in black and white. When I attend the reading group, I shall have to take both copies along so that all can admire the beauty of the hardback.

This is not the first time we have found that we have a hardback copy of a book previously purchased in paperback. Phil went through a phase of buying "beautiful copies" of books he had enjoyed. Maybe this was a kind of nostalgia for the books he did not receive as a child but would have liked copes of. Who knows? This happens less frequently now as we are in danger of disappearing under piles of books! He is far more likely to buy to Kindle! However, the discussion about which is preferable, kindle or proper books, is not for today.

Anyway, having located the books, I was left with a sofa covered in heaps of books. And so books that had been removed from high shelves and never restored to their place were duly sorted. Inevitably this involved some rearranging of the books still there but in the end places were found for most of them and the double-shelving was reduced to a minimum. There are still the books in piles in the attic bedroom which need sorting but that is another story. And a task for another day.

I am unsure whether climbing up and down stepladders counts as proper exercise. If so, I have done plenty today. And I feel very virtuous, of course. Now, I shall return to my newspaper. The other tasks on the list will have to wait. Besides, I have The Diary of a Nobody to reread and think about!

Friday, 6 January 2017

The end of Christmas!

Well, that's it then. The tree has been taken down and put back in the garden to grow a bit more ready for next time. Christmas is officially over. All that remains is a rather straggly poinsettia and a pile of cards waiting to see if this year I manage to follow my cousin's example and cut off the bits I like in order to make my own cards for next Christmas.

As regards the poinsettia, I truly do not know why I bother. Every year I buy one. It looks fine. I follow the instructions. Then the leaves start to fall off. Have I underwatered it? Have I overwatered it. Absolutely no idea. It now has no green leaves at all although there are still some quite healthy-looking red ones. There also seem to be buds that are in the process of opening up. The poinsettia is one of life's mysteries!

And those cards. Well, they are sitting there in a pile. What usually happens is that eventually I get fed up of them and put them in the paper recycling bag. This Christmas just gone I managed to recycle a few into a scrapbook project for the three-year-old in the family: scrapbook, scissors, cards to chop up, glue-stick to stick them in - perfect crafty present. Goodness only knows what will happen this year.

Oh, and there is also a "Despicable Me" advent calendar that somebody gave us half way through December. Quite what strange yellow creatures (minions?) have to with Christmas escaped me. So far nobody has opened a single door. And there are two boxes of chocolates, one of them huge. Also gifts. I am waiting to see how long they remain unopened.

And so, as the Three Kings give presents to children in Spain today and La Befana flies over Italy doing the same job, Christmas therefore continuing a little longer, here we have put it away: done and dusted until next time. And the schoolchildren have been back at their desks for two, and in some case three! Days.

The folk across the road, first to put up massive decorations in their garden, removed everything on New Year's Day. Maybe they wanted to beat some kind of record. Or maybe they were afraid of forgetting to remove them. After all, there is a superstition that says that if you do not take them down by January 6th, then the decorations have to stay up all year. Otherwise, bad luck will ensue.

It seems to me, therefore, that an awful lot of people must have missed the luck deadline after Christmas 2015 because 2016 had more than its share of bad things going on! Fingers crossed for 2017!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Some things that strike me as odd!

Dreams are strange things. Anxiety dreams are even stranger. Usually my anxiety dreams take me back to the classroom, usually a far worse classroom that I ever had the misfortune to teach in. Last night, however, it was my sister dumping her grandchildren, none of them their actual ages, all smaller, on Christmas Day for some unknown reason. The outcome was a mass of children all in the bath at once, getting more and more towels wet each time I turned my back or tried unsuccessfully to get Christmas dinner cooking. Eventually I recognised it all as a dream and clawed my way back up to a waking point surface, convinced that it must be almost time to get up. 2.15 am!!!

Why was I having anxiety dreams? No idea!

Here's another odd thing. If I leave a comment on my friend Colin's blog, the blogger system asks me to prove I am not a robot. This is achieved by ticking a box labelled "I am not a robot". Surely if I were a robot, I would have the nous to tick that box. Unless, as a robot, I had been programmed only ever to tell the truth. Or perhaps if I were robotist, A bit like being a feminist, and really wanted to assert my robotness! Too silly!

I came across a quotation from Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451. Farenheit 451 is the temperature atbwhich books burn in in that distopian society. Here'/ the quotation: "The problem with our country isn't with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." Very true in our media-driven age where almost all of us believe the stories that abound on social media.

So we were very relieved the other day when our thirteen-year-old granddaughter enthusiastically informed us that she had completed one of the books we bought her for Christmas and was halfway through another one. Which she spent the rest of her visit curled up on the sofa reading. She has an extensive collection of books. I know because I have regularly contributed to it. Her mother and, indeed, her schoolteachers comment on her being a "real bookworm" and yet in recent years whenever we have seen her she has been more interested in watching "shows" (usually American tv series involving high drama or vampires or both) on her iPad.

She's not the only child who spends a lot of time on social media stuff, of course. Here's a link to an article about the problems of children as young as eight signing away their rights on Instagram and Facebook and the like. I still find it quite frightening that children as young as eight have access to all this stuff and often unsupervised.

 On that note, this being a fine, crisp winter's day, I am posting this and going out and about.