Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Some thoughts about eggs and pancakes!

Pancake day! Today is Pancake Day. Really we should call it Shrove Tuesday but I am willing to bet that loads of people don't actually know that. (Is that ignorance one of our British Values?) Indeed, if you google Shrove Tuesday, this is what you will find on Wikipedia:

"Shrove Tuesday (also known in Commonwealth countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is the day in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent."

Is it some throwback to puritan times that we have Shrove Tuesday, a name that comes from the word "shrive", meaning absolution for your sins, making today a day for confessing all the awful stuff you have done before eating pancakes as a symbolic eating up of the remaining sweet stuff that you plan to give up for Lent?

The countries that refer to it as Fat Tuesday go about giving stuff up for Lent with a good deal more style with carnival parades and masked balls and other grand goings-on. I was going to say that climate might have something to do with it but then I remember having seen some very chilly carnival parades in Vigo, Galicia. Dancing through the streets in skimpy costumes which consist largely of feathers is one thing in Rio de Janeiro and something completely different on a wet and windy evening in North West Spain. Goose bumps don't do a lot for a body!

Anyway, we did pancakes early this year. Today most of the family are working or at school so everybody came to tea on Sunday and I made pancakes. The thirteen year old decided that she did not like pancakes any longer. Considering how few things she will eat and how very many she will not, it seemed rather a shame to cut put pancakes as well. We persuaded her to try one. She became reconverted. We reminisced about the times when she and her brother were smaller and for a while were dropped off at my house for breakfast before I took them to school. It became a tradition to have pancakes for breakfast, followed by a game of tig around the kitchen table. On Sunday we dispensed with the game of tig!

Today being Pancake Day, there was an article about eggs in the paper. Apparently this is the day of the year when the greatest number of eggs are sold. The UK consumes an estimated 52m eggs on Pancake Day, more than double the normal rate. This is because of people making pancakes. Really? I find that hard to believe. On Sunday I made enough pancake mix to provide six people with several helpings each and I only used one egg. Maybe all the people who rush out to buy eggs for their pancake mix never buy eggs the rest of the year. Or maybe they simply do not know how to make a good pancake mix.

Besides, for those people who truly do not know where to start there are packets of pancake mix on sale. All you need to do is add milk or water. Then comes the hard bit: putting just the right amount of mix in the frying pan to give you a nice thin pancake (a crêpe - surely that's why we call that thin, crinkly, coloured paper crepe paper) and tossing the thing successfully without throwing it around the room. I confess to flipping my pancakes over with a spatula; it's a lot less messy but not so spectacular. In my kitchen pancake making is not really a spectator sport!

The article about eggs was not really about Pancake Tuesday at all; it was about free range eggs not being so free range as we might think. It stated that about half the eggs sold in supermarkets are usually free range. Who knew that? Because of an outbreak of bird flu, chicken farmers have been  advised to keep their birds indoors. Consequently free range egg boxes will carry a sticker explaining that the box contains “eggs laid by hens temporarily housed in barns for their welfare”. How thoughtful!

The egg producers hasten to reassure us that their normally free range birds are not being badly treated by having to move indoors. They said, “While free-range egg farmers would prefer their birds to be outside, they also wouldn’t want to risk the health of their birds. Their sheds have plenty of room for the birds to move around freely and include scratching areas so birds can still display their natural instinctive behaviour.

Farmers have also put in additional stimulants like footballs, cabbages and even Christmas trees to keep the birds happy.”

Perhaps they could arrange a little carnival for them while they are at it!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Counting the cost!

For what seems like months, but is probably only weeks, we have been hearing that "La La Land" was going to win the award for best picture at the Oscars. Then some people started going on about "Moonlight" and "Lion" and "Fences" and "Hidden Figures" and goodness only knows what else. Now, I have seen none of these films, although I have seen certain clips from most of them umpteen times over. So I am not best qualified to comment on any of them but it does strike me that it is hard to decide which is the best picture of a variety of types.

How can you say that a musical is better than a serious drama is better than a film about real events is better than a comedy is better than a film with a political message? Which do you prefer: ham or fruit or cheese or ice-cream? Well, it depends on what stage of the meal I am at. And surely the same goes for films and books and music winning awards.

Personally I am not desperately keen on musicals. The music has to be good. "West Side Story" and "The Blues Brothers" work well for me. i am sure that Abba fans love "Mamma Mia". I have been assured that "La La Land" is not so much a musical as a film with some decent music in it. That may well be so. Some friends who have seen it loved it while others said it was not worth all the hype. 

Anyway, the Oscars ceremony arrived and it was announced that "La La Land" had won the award for best picture. Except that then ... it was announced that it had not in fact won. "Moonlight" had won the award. So the award had to be made again. It was all a mix-up by the organisation that counts the votes. The wrong envelope was given to the award presenter. So the "La La Land" people were all excited and delighted and then disappointed. And the "Moonlight" people were disappointed and then excited and delighted but with the edge taken off. Their big moment had effectively been stolen. Apologies are being made all over the place - to film crews, to actors, to presenters, to the audience, indeed to all the world!

Yesterday I listened to Katherine Grainger, or Dame Katherine Grainger to give her her full title, on Desert Island Discs. She talked about having her rowing team having won the silver medal in a world championship competition I think or possibly the Olympics. She and her team wept at having come second best, feeling that they had worked really hard but had not been good enough and had let people down. And then, some time later, the gold medal winners were found to have been involved in a doping scandal and were stripped of the medal. The Great Britain team moved quietly up to gold. But it wasn't the same.

All right, the change in medal status was reported in the papers but, as Katherine Grainger said, they were not awarded it up there on the podium. They were robbed of their moment of glory. And, equally, if not more, importantly, their supporters didn't get to see them receive the gold medal. All of them missed their moment in the sun.

And there must be some of that for the "Moonlight" team. The tinsel-town tinsel was a little tarnished. The land of fluff and froth got it wrong.

 Now, I wonder if the organisation who counted the votes had anything to do with counting our referendum votes or the USA presidential election votes.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Geting on in the world, literacy and stuff!

You have to hand it to media-savvy young people; they do seem to know how to make money out of odd stuff. Take Zoe Elizabeth Sugg who will be 27 next Tuesday and seemingly earns £50,000 a month (yes, per month, NOT per year) from what are called her "lifestyle channels". Apparently she started blogging in 2009, talking about important stuff like make-up. It quickly turned into a vlog and within a year it had a thousand followers and by september 2015 it had received more than 540 million visits. She is surrounded by like-minded young people, having a sibling who vlogs and being in a relationship with a young man who vlogs.

And Zoella, as she is called professionally, appears to have made a successful career out of putting inconsequential stuff out there. What's more it is appreciated by some of the powers that be. In 2013 she was named as one of the ambassadors for National Citizen Service, a British voluntary personal and social development programme for 15–17 year olds in England and Northern Ireland, funded largely by government money. And then in 2014 she became the first "digital ambassador" for Mind, the mental health charity.

She has even written a book, "Girl Online". (There seem to have been a lot of books lately with titles that begin with "Girl...") Released in November 2014, Zoella's book broke the record for highest first-week sales of a first-time novelist since Neilsen Bookscan began compiling such records in 1998. So, a great success then! But not everyone is totally impressed with her writing. Indeed, she has been blamed for the declining teenage literacy rate.

I'm pretty sure she cannot be held single-handedly responsible for such a decline. After all, stick-in-the-muds like me have been going for ages about texting, and I suppose now also tweeting, doing horrible things to spelling, punctuation and grammar. Just a minute, isn't that SPAG, one of the things they check up on in SATs?

I haven't read anything written by Ms Sugg, or listened to anything she says for that matter. So I shall try very hard not to condemn her out of hand. Here's a link to an article about her.

And here is a very short excerpt from that article, just in case you din't get around tomreading it all:

"Her delight in the inconsequential is perversely infectious; there’s something rather relaxing about the company of a person who will say out loud anything that pops into their head. But the depth of her fascination with herself is also rather alienating. It can’t be right, can it? Looking through your own photo album, fondly critiquing your own face?"

I find myself in some sympathy with the questions at the end there.

However, not all is lost in the world of fluff and fashion. I have read that Teen Vogue is turning into the go-to magazine for young people who want to know about political comment. Will Teen Vogue be the next publication to have its journalists banned from the press briefings at the Whitehouse, along with the BBC, CNN and the New York Times? Watch this space.

Getting back to literacy and encouraging reading and so on, alphabet books are often used to encourage children to begin to read. Here's a link to a quite horrible alphabet book. So horrible that I love it. But really  not the sort of thing you want to buy for your grandchildren!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Out and about!

I have been told that Storm Doris blew across to Germany and became Storm Thomas. Is this the first example of a transgender storm? It seems that this has something to do with us alternating male and female names as individual storms come along while the Germans alternate male and female names according to years. So if there are two or more storms in one year they will all be male or female, depending on which year it is. What a load of nonsense? When did we start naming storms anyway? What's wrong with talking about, for example, the storm of February 23rd 2017?

I have a friend called Dorice, not Doris at all and yet her quite grown-up son took great delight in informing all his friends that his mother was not responsible for the havoc caused by the storm.

Among the other stuff that was blown around by the strong winds, trampolines in people's gardens took to the air. I saw some video clips of these quite large trampolines leaping around. In one case a man narrowly escaped being trapped underneath a flying trampoline. And I read that London Fire Brigade dealt with around 20 storm related incidents, presumably not all flying trampolines but including a trampoline that blew from a garden onto a roundabout in the south-east of the city. Surely these large trampolines should be tied down anyway to prevent problems when large numbers of children start bouncing on the.

London fire brigade gave this advice: “To help stay safe during windy weather people should always clear gardens, balconies and window sills of anything that could be blown away. They should also take extra care if they venture outside and be careful using candles in the case of a power cut.” So when the next storm comes along, whatever it is called, we can all be better prepared.

I was just glad that I was not travelling from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly by train. Euston looked as though it was in a state of total chaos with all the stranded passengers. In fact, I just stayed at home, not venturing out into the weather at all.

Today has been a much better day, bright and crisp with plenty of sunshine. I accompanied my daughter and her brood to a zoo near Barrow-in-Furness. They had advertised free entry until the end of the month. Everyone and their grandmothers must have heard about it as we had to stand a long while in the queue to get in. Free entry and half term combined to fill the place up. But we had a pleasant drive, apart from a long queue to get past roadworks when we were less than five miles away from the place. And we saw some interesting animals and bird. All good!

Something else altogether: I have often been intrigued by pictures of drained swimming pools. They seem to represent total abandonment. It probably comes from watching the film "Empire of the Sun". So, to finish off, here is a link to a series of photos taken by someone who set out to make use of empty swimming pools as skateboard parks.

Skateboarding is a sport (is it a sport?) which I find hard to comprehend but I am prepared to ket everyone have their own enthusiasms.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Locked up!

Phil and I have just finished watching our latest HBO box set. Knowing that we had in the past enjoyed watching NYPD Blue, Homicide - Life on the Streets and The Wire, our son bought is The Night Of. Or perhaps its full title is What Happened The Night Of. Whatever its actual title we just finished watching this gripping, tense, depressing series.

It tells the sad tale of Nasir Khan, a young man of Pakistani American family who, in the process of just getting on with his life in New York, finds himself accused of murder. All the circumstantial evidence points towards him and the police do not investigate any further. Denied bail on the grounds that he has extended family in Pakistan and, despite being born in the USA, never having been to Pakistan and possibly not even having a passport, he might be a flight risk, he is remanded to Rikers Island to await trial.

There he has to learn to survive. Which means that he learns to be brutal when he has to, shaving his head and gradually acquiring more and more tattoos. He learns to help smuggle drugs into the prison and becomes addicted.

Even when the trial falls apart and the system finds him not proven guilty, which is not quite the same as being found officially innocent either, we know his life will never be the same as before. Everything around him is tainted by the events of The Night Of. His community regards him with suspicion. His relationship with his mother is ruined. His father has lost his livelihood. His family's life has been changed utterly. And even the young attorney who defended him has seen her professional life and opportunities reduced.

All in all it is a sad indictment of the police investigation system, the judiciary system and the prison system in the USA.

Years ago I read Cormac McCarthy's book All the Pretty Horses in which young John Grady Cole ends up in a Mexican prison and has to fight for his life every day of his stay there. The brutality of the prison guards and their turning a blind eye to violence meted out by those prisoners who were at the top of the prison hierarchy shocked me. But well, that was Mexico and it was years ago, 1940s to 1950s. Surely things like that did not go on now.

Apparently they did and still do.

Of course, all I know of American prisons comes from novels and films and TV series. I knew the name Rikers Island and knew it was a prison but little more so I googled it.

It "has a budget of $860 million a year, a staff of 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians managing 100,000 admissions per year and an average daily population of 10,000 inmates." So the prison is the size of a small town.
Here's some more:

"it has become notorious for abuse and neglect of prisoners in recent years, attracting increased media and judicial scrutiny that has resulted in numerous rulings against the New York City government. Rikers Island is also notorious for numerous assaults by inmates on staff (uniformed and civilian)
resulting in often serious injuries making Rikers Island one of the most dangerous places to work. In May 2013, Rikers Island ranked as one of the ten worst correctional facilities in the United States."

And more:

 "Violence on Riker's Island has been increasing. In 2015 there were 9,424 assaults which was the highest number in 5 years.On the other hand, murder is rare on Riker's island with none recorded in 2015 or 2016 as of the end of November."

So what we see in films and TV series may be quite true to life.

Are things any better in the UK? I have to confess to knowing less about our prison system, or at least to having watched less stuff on TV about it. But news reports suggest we have many of the same problems. Possible to a lesser degree still there and, by all accounts, growing. Here's a link to a news report about proposed legislation to "shake up" some aspects of prison administration.

I notice that it talks about the introduction of league tables and performance standards. Having seen league tables in operation in education, I have more than a few doubts about their effectiveness. As with schools and hospitals, I find myself wondering if running prisons on a business model is really the best idea. The fact remains that too many people are locked up in institutions that are too big and which are understaffed.

This is the 21st century. Can we not find a better way to run things?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Food for thought!

Today I went into Manchester to meet some friends for lunch. We do this every four to six weeks. We have some nice food and catch up with each others' rather less busy than they used to be lives. As my tram made its way into Manchester, a group of women with a baby came and sat near me. I chatted to them about the baby, a pretty, solemn child of about eleven months old. They were a group of Asian women, the older woman wearing the headscarf, the younger women bare-headed and carefully made-up. They spoke a mix of English, the two younger women to each other, and whichever was their Asian language, in conversations between the older woman and the younger. They spoke both to the baby. The mother of the child spent a good deal of time taking selfies, sometimes with the child, sometimes without. Pride in your baby and the desire to put the photos out there is multicultural.

I met my friends and we decided to go to Jamie Oliver's restaurant. Both my friends have loyalty cards, or Jamie's Club cards, or something of that nature: a gold card which gives certain privileges. One of these is a free glass of prosecco for everyone at the table of the cardholder. And a free tiny starter. All good! It's just as well the prosecco was free. When we asked for our bill we found that they had in fact charged us for it. At just over £5 a glass, we felt that we had to remind them of our entitlement. No problem! And the food was very nice, as you might expect from Mr Oliver's establishment!

And so, after a stroll along Market Street we began to wend our way homewards, one on a tram towards Altrincham and two of us on the one bound for Oldham and Shaw. At the tram stop, the same group of ladies with the baby were waiting to make their way home as well. They greeted me like an old friend. The baby had had a thoroughly enjoyable first trip to Manchester. And the mother continued to take a further batch of selfies most of the way back to Westwood, where they got off the tram.

During our journey my friend was trying to get through to her daughter on the phone and, failing that, to her husband. She had just remembered that it was Wednesday and that the complicated arrangements for collecting her grandchildren from various after-school activities had not been confirmed. The ten-year-old needed to be taken to and from gymnastics whole the younger twins, after French club, had swimming at an entirely different venue. And the times overlapped. And everything got complicated. This is the kind of difficult life young mothers have to deal with in the modern world!

In the end, it transpired that nobody was going to French club, swimming or gymnastics because they were all having a quick bit to eat and then going to church. On a Wednesday? And not Ash Wednesday either! Pancake Tuesday, sorry, Shrove Tuesday, is next week! All I found out was that today is Thinking Day. I didn't have a chance to ask for any more explanation as we had reached my tram stop and so I googled it.

It turns out to be a Baden-Powell related thing. World Thinking Day, which used to be just Thinking Day, is celebrated every year of the 22 of February by all Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. Mysteriously, my information told me: "It is also celebrated by Scout and Guide organizations and some boy-oriented associations around the world". (Not Boy Scout organisations, please note. Boys have "Scouts" while girls have "Girl Scouts"!) They are supposed to think about their "sisters" (and presumably "brothers") everywhere, the meaning of Guiding, and its global impact. A theme is chosen each year and donations are collected to help Girl guides and scouts all over the world.

So why the 22nd of February? Because it was the birthday of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who started the whole scouting business" and his wife, "Lady Olave Baden-Powell. Some people call it Founders' Day.

This year's theme is "Let's Grow". This is what their website said, "In 2017, we would like to grow the World Thinking Day celebrations, and invite more girls and young women around the world to experience what it means to be part of the Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting Movement! TheWorld Thinking Day Challenge for 2017 will be a journey of growth, supporting Girl Guiding and Girl Scouting groups as we introduce our Movement to new members.

So now we know!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

'Tis the season!

Spring must be here, or at least just around the corner. I am ignoring the weathermen's delight at temperatures reaching double figures - not around here, they aren't! No, what I am going by is the fact that there are two blackbirds having regular arguments/fights in our garden and that I was nearly dive-bombed yesterday by two quarrelsome rooks, quarrelling with each other that is, not with me, I hasten to add. Presumably they are vying for territory and showing off to the female of the species.

It did feel as though I had somehow wandered onto the set of Hitchcock's "The Birds". I can't abide birds getting too close to me at the best of times and even get more than a little freaked by pigeons psuddenly taking off in front of me. So two rooks being so aggressive with each other that they almost fell out of the sky onto my head was not what I liked at all!

Another indicator is the frogs which are back in the sluggish stream that runs alongside one of the local bridle paths. I thought I heard a certain amount of croaking as I drew near to their usual spot on my run yesterday. Then I caught sight of movement out of the corner of my eye. So I stopped to look and there they were, the first of this year's amphibious returnees. They are pretty well camouflaged, blending in very well with the soggy brown leaves in the muddy brown water, but with a modicum of patience you can see them, going about their froggy business. What I want to know is where the newly hatched frogs go when they have stopped being tadpoles and are large enough, barely if you have ever seen them on the move, to leave the watery nursery. And how to they always find their way back? Nature is pretty clever really.

Spring this year seems also to be open season for harassing the far right. Long may it continue!

 You could almost feel sorry for UKIP's Paul Nuttall. First of all he had to admit that he did not in fact lose close friends and family in the Hillsborough disaster and now nobody will even believe he was there. Possibly because he appears to have only just decided to make a statement to the investigators about it. That and the fact that former school mates have no memory of his being there. Hmmm! Clearly nobody told him the story of the boy who cried wolf when he was a little lad! As I said, you could almost feel sorry for him ... but not quite ... no, not at all!

And across the Channel Marine Le Pen is feeling got at as well. Her offices have been raided by the police, looking for evidence of fraud and misuse of funds. She, and her father too for that matter, are being asked to pay back vast amounts of European funding which they are said to have wrongly .paid to people purporting to be their political assistants and so on. Ms Le Pen says this is deliberate harassment, an attempt to derail her bid for the French presidency. It couldn't happen to a better candidate!

Except that it has been happening to other candidates. And, of course, from time to time our UK MPs are involved in similar scandals about misuse of funds and allowances for one thing or another. I imagine that most of this funding was originally introduced to make something like a level playing field. After all, at one time you couldn't vote if you didn't own land or have a certain level of income. And in order to stand for parliament you need campaign funds. Then, once elected, you can't keep up your day job (oops, that makes it sound as if being an MP isn't a proper job) and go and discuss matters in Parliament, unless you are a column writer for a swanky newspaper.

So, in order to make it possible for those who don't have sufficient independent means to pay secretaries and researchers or to run two houses, one in London and one in their constituency, you need allowances and expenses claims and so on. It sounds like a good idea. Some people hardly claim a thing. Inevitably, however, there are those who regard fiddling expenses as a perk of the job.

It happens in every sphere. I've been on educational visits with colleagues who carefully save every single receipt for money they spend during the trip and claim it all back on their return. Travel expenses: yes! Eating out: yes ... but maybe you don't need to go to the most expensive restaurants! A couple of beers in the evening when the students are safely tucked up in bed: isn't that pushing it a bit too far?

That way corruption lies!

Monday, 20 February 2017

The truth is out there - sort of!

I came across the name Roger Stone in the paper and decided to find out a little about him. According to Wikipedia "Roger Jason Stone Jr. (born August 27, 1952) is an American political consultant, lobbyist, and strategist, noted for his use of opposition research, usually for candidates of the Republican Party". That'll do.

Roger Stone has written a book about Donald Trump. "The Making of the President". That was quick! Maybe he always planned it, whatever the outcome of the election, but now, with so much attention on how chaotic or otherwise the presidency is proving to be, depending on which truth you believe, must seem like a good moment to get a book out there. You never know, even people who do not as a rule read books might buy this one.

Roger Stone worked on Trump's campaign from the beginning as a senior advisor but clashed with others in the team and left. One of his revelations is that trump trademarked his "Make America great again" slogan back in 2012. Was he already planning to run then? Quite possibly!

 One of the things Roger Stone has said is, “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation." Here's an example of a trick, found on Wikipedia: "In the first grade, Stone claims, he broke into politics to further John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign: "I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays...It was my first political trick". Little Roger started early!

As the man said, “One man’s dirty trick is another man’s civic participation." It's one way of looking at life, I suppose, although I prefer people who don't deal in dirty tricks at all. Some people argue that any means to an end is justified but I still think that a bad means to a good end undermines the goodness of the end. Once you dip into sleaze it tends to spread.

His idea that we choose which truth to believe has a frighteningly real quality to it however. He quotes the example of the death of President Kennedy. “There used to be only one version – the government’s version – about the assassination of President Kennedy: Lee Harvey Oswald killed him acting alone. There was no argument over that until the internet got into full swing. Today, a majority of Americans do not believe Oswald killed Kennedy acting alone – it’s amazing, the people have come to what I believe to be the correct conclusion. Without an alternative media today, you wouldn’t even have this debate.”. Choose the version of the truth that suits you!

And we all do it to some extent, choosing to believe the reality presented by one news source or another. We can try to remain unbiased by reading and listening to a variety of sources but there are only 24 hours in a day and the news sources are proliferating at a furious rate.

But we have to keep on trying because it's that uncertainty about the truth that has helped bring about Brexit and the continuing arguments about how to sort it all out.

(By the way, here is a little something I found about that:

 At a glance | Theresa May's 12-point Brexit plan

* Provide certainty about the process of leaving the EU
* Control of our own laws
* Strengthen the Union between the four nations of the United Kingdom
* Maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland
* Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe
* Rights for EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU
* Protect workers' rights
* Free trade with European markets through a free trade agreement
* New trade agreements with other countries
* The best place for science and innovation
* Co-operation in the fight against crime and terrorism
* A smooth, orderly Brexit

 Is that a plan?)

As well as Brexit that uncertainty also helped bring about the election of the 45th POTUS and we have his government which is either a smoothly oiled machine or total chaos. You can choose the truth you want to believe.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Commenting on things!

It's a rather grey and damp day. My daily photo posted on Facebook reflected that fact. A friend in not too far away Rawtenstall commented that it was much the same there. Not very surprising! More surprising was my sister commenting that it was also grey and gloomy in El Puerto de Santa María, Andalucía, where she lives. Maybe it's all over Europe!

I'm not letting any of this raise my stress levels. These days I refuse to do stress. I came across a Forbes list thing about stress levels. Forbes seem to do lists of anything and everything. It turns out that the least stressful occupation in the USA is hairdressing. "How stressful is it to be a hair stylist? According to CareerCast, a career information and job listing website based in Carlsbad, CA, it’s the least stressful job in America. “You work one-on-one with people, and you get the satisfaction of helping them,” says the site’s publisher Tony Lee. Hair stylists set their own schedules, enjoy a lot of positive feedback and they tend to make friends with their clients, he adds."

Is being president the most stressful?

In Spain Princess Cristina got way with it. While her husband, the once heroic handball player Iñaki Urdangarín, is facing a prison sentence (how long will he actually serve?) the judge believed that the princess knew nothing about what was going on. My sister, the same one as earlier quoted, comments: "El mismo juzgado que ha absuelto a la infanta Cristina condenó hace un mes a un joven a 3 años de cárcel por robar una bicicleta" - a month ago the same court which found the infanta innocent condemned a young man to three years in prison for stealing a bicycle. No doubt there is a back story behind the bicycle thief incident but there does seem to be one law for the rich and one for the poor. And I expect the Urdangarín family could afford better lawyers!

Today my sister also points out his little fact: "¡¡Qué nadie olvide que mientras se perpetraba la estafa del caso Nóos, la Infanta Cristina disponía de una asignación pública cercana a 100.000€ al año!!... ¡¡La pobre...!!" Basically, she reminds us that while the fraud that became the Nóos case was being perpetrated, Cristina was receiving an allowance of €100,000 from the public purse. After all a member of the royal family has standards to maintain. As she has been disowned by the family, I assume she no longer receives money from the public purse.

With the legal profession in mind, my daughter, a teacher, drew my attention to a company called Match Solicitors who offer help to parents who feel that their child's progress in school is being impeded by the behaviour of some other child in the class. I thought about giving a link to their website but I decided not to give publicity to this latest version of ambulance chasing!

And finally, a friend of mine who is a history graduate, history teacher and writer of history textbooks found some statistics about which degree course works its students hardest. Architecture comes top of the list with History and Philosophy joint second. I have always maintained, indeed I still do, that students of modern languages work very hard. We had to deal with grammar, translation from one language to the other, history, culture, literature, philosophy, phonetics, stylistics, history of the language, all of them subjects in their own right. I could go on and on. Those of us studying two languages had a double dose. We come about fourth in the list, along with Law.

So which degree courses are the least hardworking?

Well, Communication Studies seems to be bottom of the class!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Spreading the word?

I like to think that I am a tolerant person. People have the right to believe in all sorts of things. Which is fine so long as they don't impose it on others. What I find hard to stomach is the smugness of some believers.

The centre of Manchester is over-run at present with Jehovah's Witnesses. I don't think I am exaggerating. You leave Victoria station and there they are, just outside the station and again on the path that goes past the Football Museum and Chetham's Music School, one or two on either side of the path. You see them again on Market Street and in Piccadilly Gardens. They look glossy and well fed, standing by their portable bookcases, holding out copies of the Watch Tower magazine. The only thing in their favour is that they don't call out to passers-by but just stand there, secure in their belief. They make quite a contrast to the miserable homeless, even more ubiquitous, huddled on the pavements in their sleeping bags. I've not yet seen the JWs talking to the homeless but maybe I do them a disservice.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that it is a fundamental thing about the Jehovah' Witnesses that they are supposed to go out and spread the word. Okay, I can accept that. What I object to is the suggestion, not just from the JWs but from many confirmedly devout groups that it is not possible to be good without a belief in a supreme being. Oddly enough, belief in a supreme being does not seem to rule out being bad! I wonder how many good American Christians hold fast to their belief in the right to bear arms and, indeed, own a gun or two!

This morning I came across a news item about someone called Pat Robertson who wondered if President Obama and other Democrats may have participated in a grand conspiracy to bring down President Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned on Monday over his communications with Russia’s U.S. ambassador. Another good conspiracy story!

I read on and discovered that he believes God is on Trump's side.

Referring to a quotation to one of the psalms, "The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed”, Robertson said that those challenging Trump are really fighting against God:

"I think, somehow, the Lord’s plan is being put in place for America and these people are not only revolting against Trump, they’re revolting against what God’s plan is for America. These other people have been trying to destroy America. These left-wingers and so-called progressives are trying to destroy the country that we love and take away the freedoms they love. They want collectivism. They want socialism. What we’re looking at is free markets and freedom from this terrible, overarching bureaucracy. They want to fight as much as they can but I think the good news is the Bible says, “He that sits in the heavens will laugh them to scorn,” and I think that Trump’s someone on his side that is a lot more powerful than the media."

Well there you go!

Mr Robertson gives his views on The 700 Club, a long running series on the Christian Broadcasting Network in the USA. On the air since 1966, The 700 Club is one of the longest-running television series in broadcasting history! Amazing!

For a supposedly secularly governed country, the USA seems to set great store by its public Christianity. All presidents frequently say, "God Bless America". All right, that is gross-denominational, cross-religion but for most it implies the Christian God, I am pretty sure. We would be rather surprised to hear Theresa May suddenly ending speeches with, "God bless the UK".

And so I wondered where we stand on religious broadcasting and found put this stuff:

"British broadcasting laws prohibit religious organisations, political parties, local government and trade unions from running national analogue terrestrial stations. Some religious radio stations are available in certain areas on the MW (medium wave) or VHF (FM) wavebands; others transmit using other methods, some of them nationally (such as via digital terrestrial TV broadcasting, satellite and cable)."

I then found a list of ways to receive religious broadcasting in this country.

And my source of info ended with this:

"Although there are tight restrictions on religious groups setting up their own radio and TV stations, there is a legal requirement for the BBC and ITV to broadcast a certain amount of religious programming. Some commercial local radio stations carry a limited amount of religious programming, particularly in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland"

So now we know.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Changing things and being the same!

So we are going to have a new pound coin, are we? Look out for the new twelve-sided coins next month and spend all those old-fashioned, outdated round ones by October 15th. Why do we need new pound coins? Is it to differentiate from the euro, a coin very similar to the pound coin? Surely it will cause havoc with all the slot machines. Think of all the payment machines at the exit of carparks and the self checkin machines at supermarkets, to mention just a couple of things. And then there are all the supermarket trolleys. Will we all have to carry one of those smiley-face tokens on our key rings so that we can liberate a trolley to our use?

I hope they use all the right ingredients when they mint the new coins. We have had quite enough uproar about the new five pound notes which use tallow in their production and are offensive to vegans and a number of religious groups. It has been decided, however, that these various groups of people are not numerous enough to persuade the government of the need to withdraw the notes and produce them without animal products. I have no objections to them personally, although they still don't look like real money!

Do other countries have similar problems when they produce new currency? Or is it a peculiarly British thing?

For all our cultural differences, fundamentally we remain vary similar in our various countries. All right, some are VERY different but similarities keep,popping up. My sister, who has lived far longer in the south of Spain than she ever did in the northwest of England and is probably more Andalusian than Lancastrian by now, commented recently about voting patterns in Spain.

Her comment regarded the difficulty she had in understanding how working class people in Spain could even consider voting for the right wing Partido Popular. And yet they do! A fair number of them anyway! This led to replies from myself and a number of her friends about the numbers of working people in the UK who puzzlingly vote for the Conservatives. I suspect the same sort of thing happens in other countries as well. And I don't mean just USA!

Then there are the fallen idols. When Franco died and Spain wrote itself a new constitution and everything changed, my sister and her Spanish husband were delighted to see Felipe Gonzalez become the country's leader. He was a bright, shining star, indicating a new and better future for the country. Now I find her despairing at the corruption that her former hero has fallen into. How many people here in the UK cheered when Tony Blair became PM? And look at him now! Cries of "How dare he?" arise when he puts forward his views on Brexit and the lies that were told during the referendum campaign.

We are all much the same under the skin!

Yesterday, or maybe the day before, my friend Colin wrote about names of films and posted a link to an article in the English version of El País about names of films in different languages. It's something that has always fascinated me. "Gone with the wind" became "Lo que el viento se llevó", literally "What the wind carried away": not a bad translation at all. Almodóvar's "Amantes pasajeros" had a crazy play on words to do with the lovers (amantes) being passengers (pasajeros), not to mention the fact that both words could be nouns AND adjectives, giving us "loving passengers" and/or "fleeting lovers". They gave up on getting that into English and just opted for "I'm so excited"; the song did feature quite importantly in the film. I never managed to understand why the Disney film "Up!" did not become "¡Arriba!" when it was released in Spain. For some kind of copyright reasons it remained "Up!"

Anyway, my friend Colin's link gave me this information about the title of the film everyone is apparently talking about, "La, la, land" (not "La-la-landia" but "La Ciudad de las Estrellas"):

"In the musical La La Land, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fall in love while dreaming of making it big in Los Angeles. The title is a play-on-words that even an advanced student of English might miss. To be in “La La Land” means to be detached from reality, a state in which the film’s protagonists often find themselves, especially during the musical numbers. At the same time, ‘La La’ is a reduplication of Los Angeles’ initials – L.A. – which is often how people refer to the city that is home to Hollywood. The title even works on a third front: ‘La’ is the typical sound that Anglophones give to music notes, which stresses the fact that this movie is a musical, while in Spain ‘La’ is not necessarily the sound of choice for singing music scales or forgotten lyrics."

It was the last point that struck me. I am sure the newspaper people are correct about "la" and it's musical use. They are Spanish, after all. At least, I presume that is so. But I remember 1968 when Spain won the Eurovision Song Contest with a song called "La, la, la". It had a lot of quite patriotic stuff where the young Massiel sang about how she was singing for her country, which had been good enough to let her be born there and lots of optimistic stuff about how she was singing to LIFE and how wonderful it was. But they clearly ran put of ideas for the chorus because it just went on and on with a whole lot of "La, la, la, LA, la, la, la, la, la, LA" and so on.

Not so much forgotten lyrics as non-existent lyrics!

So we are more similar than we might at first appear.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Age-related stuff!

We used to have an aged neighbour who could barely totter around. Walking his little dog to the corner of the street was enough for him. And yet he still got behind the wheel of his car several times a week to drive his wife, even more doddery than he was, to the shops or to visit relatives. He would peer over the steering wheel, looking for all the world as though he could barely see where he was going, and edge his way, with some trepidation, out into the traffic.

Every time I saw him do this I wondered if he would make it safely back. Fortunately, there is not an awful lot of traffic on our road as a rule but still enough to make it a dangerous business to be a aged driver. Fortunately, he tended not to go out at rush hour when the road does get busy. Also fortunately, his car was as old and rickety as he was and so would not go too fast anyway. Or maybe that should be unfortunately; it was in no condition to make a quick getaway if a speedy driver came zooming down the road.

I thought of him when I read about Harrison Ford landing his private plane on the wrong runway at an airport in the USA. He misheard or misunderstood or just ignored the traffic control instructions about where to land and wondered why there was a big passenger jet on "his" runway. It's not the first time he has had plane-related mishaps. So I find myself asking whether Harrison Ford, at 76 (I think) should be allowed to continue flying around in real life. It's not the same as piloting a space ship in a film studio.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for older people doing stuff. I plan on being independent as long as possible but I hope I don't become a liability to others.

I have often wondered about the popularity of names. Names come and go. I went to school with a large number of Maureens, Brians, Sheilas ((sometimes Shelaghs) and Kevins. None of those names seem to be around nowadays. Sometimes you can almost guess a person's age by their name. Someone gave me this link to the most popular names in Galicia over the decades. I was struck by how consistently popular certain names have remained.

Maybe it says something about the basic conservatism of the region.

But, having taught classes where up to seven girls could be called Julie, I find myself having sympathy for the poor teachers. Imagine being a teacher and trying to remember which Manuel or María was which in your class!!!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Taxing questions!

I had a letter from the tax office this morning. Nothing unusual. Just the annual thing telling me what my tax code is for the coming year. No surprise there. Everything as expected.

On the back of one of the sheets of paper there is a pretty graph, a nice circular graph, in bright colours, telling me what my tax was spent on last year.

A quite large chunk on welfare and health - obviously not enough on health as the health service is in such disarray!

There is the tiniest, teeniest little bit labelled "UK contribution to the EU budget". If it's so small, why was there all that fuss about the supposedly vast amount of money we pay to Europe? Is somebody else paying more than I do? By more, I don't mean MORE actual money; I recognise that some people pay more tax than I do just because they earn more! No, I mean a greater percentage of their tax going to the EU. And, of course, I know that that is not the case. I am not so economically and fiscally challenged!

 It does strike me, however, that it would be nice to be able to contact someone and say that I don't want MY taxes to go to defence this year, or at least not so great a percentage of my tax. Please can they put more of it into education and/or culture. Cut out some of the government administration and put some more into housing and protecting the environment. I recognise that I might be straying into cloud cuckoo land!

And yet I am not the only one who thinks that way. There is, I hear, a movement in the USA encouraging people to withhold their taxes. Perfectly respectable people who have always paid their taxes on time are stating their intention to pay their city and state taxes but to withhold federal income tax "as a cry of civil disobedience against the president and his new administration". 

Apparently this was quite common during the time of the Vietnam War, as more and more people wanted their country out of that conflict. And even then it was not a new idea; it's a sporadic tradition that has been going on for centuries. Another form of protest and a non-violent one at that!

One of those I read about is an associate professor of English and History at a New York State university. He says,

"My tax money will be going towards putting up a wall on the Mexican border instead of helping sick people. It will contribute to the destruction of the environment and maybe more nuclear weapons. I think there will be a redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy elite and Trump’s campaign for the working man and woman was an absolute fraud. If you pay taxes you are implicated in the system."

There you go!

Some people are afraid that they might end up in prison if they don't pay their taxes but according to a campaign group that encourages such federal tax boycotts very few people have spent time in gaol for not paying taxes as an explicit act of political resistance. They are far more likely to be fined and charged interest on the unpaid tax. Presumably it's a good idea to keep the unpaid tax money on one side so that when the time is right and the political situation suits your way of thinking, you can get fiscally straight once again.

And so America appears to be getting deeper into chaos and craziness. Lies and deceit abound right in the inner circle! What will happen, I wonder, if the whole thing implodes? If the new administration were to fall apart totally and utterly and both president and vice-president were deemed unworthy of office, what would they do?

Would they recall Obama?

Interesting times!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Professional considerations.

The men working on the roof of the building behind our house must have started work at eight o' clock this morning - tap-tap-tapping and bang-bang-banging away. This did not prevent me from hitting snooze on my alarm and staying in bed about half an hour longer than I intended. This is where the time goes!

I must confess to a sneaking admiration for the men working on the roof. They stride around up there, carrying stuff, putting stuff in place and manhandling huge roof tiles. They wear hard hats but no safety harnesses. My conclusion is that they have a great sense of balance or absolutely no imagination. Or perhaps they are descended from those American Indians who worked on the construction of skyscrapers, the ones you see in photos sitting on girders, calmly eating their lunch with about twenty storeys of emptiness below them.

Professional choices are interesting. For example, what do you do when you used to be a dominatrix? Why, you become a sex and relationship counsellor, of course! This is the profession of one Ai Aoyama who runs a small clinic in Tokyo, giving advice to couples. Appropriately enough for Valentine's Day, her first name means Love. Ms Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan's media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome". Her profession is needed in Japan, apparently, because they are having a falling population crisis. A large percentage of men say they are too exhausted after work to think about sex and a largeish percentage of women say they are not really interested. What a sad situation!

Someone else looking for a new job is President you-know-who's security adviser. It is perhaps noteworthy that he was not sacked but resigned. Did he do so before POTUS was forced to sack him or is this because his boss really approved of his having secret talks with Russia? I wonder what he will do now. What kind of job can you apply for when you have been shown to be an underhanded liar? Politician, maybe? But perhaps, like so many of those around POTUS, he is independently wealthy and does not have to worry about working.

I don't have to worry about working, not because I am independently wealthy but because I have a nice, modest pension to keep me going. On Newsnight last night there was a discussion between Esther Rantzen, still going strong and opinionated at 76, and another oldie on the one hand and a couple of younger people on the other. We oldies with our pensions and our large houses that we rattle around in are held responsible, it seems, for many of the problems of the younger generation.

They, the younger generation, all have to work harder and longer to pay our pensions (no mention of various pension funds that were mysteriously lost along the way) and there are fewer houses available for them to buy or rent because we won't downsize quickly enough. I don't think that all of my generation can be held responsible for the cost of housing.

Even if we all sold up and moved into little granny (and grandad) flats, houses would still be just as expensive. Neither can we all be held to account for the lack of social housing, which simply hasn't been built. We might be held partly responsible for the stigma attached to living in social housing. Perhaps we all of us felt it was so important to own our own homes that not doing so looked like failure.

Nonetheless, it remains a fact that housing now, whether to rent or buy, is crazily expensive. There's a house near ours which I have been told rents for around £700 a month. And that was a fact that Ms Rantzen, in her charming way, appeared not have grasped. She went on about young people now wanting too much, how we managed without smart phones and two cars or more to a family and expensive holidays in exotic places. All of this is true, perhaps, but back when we were bright young things, setting out into the world, the cost of housing did not take up over 50% of our earning!

That's enough serious stuff for one day. Here's something else. Just as the Japanese have a term for "celibacy syndrome" so other languages have useful terminology. The Scandinavian countries keep providing us with intersting vocabulary. And so this is from Finland:


KALSARIKÄNNIT The feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear – with no intention of going out. A drink. At home. In your underwear. And there is a word for it. Kalsarikännit.

They even have emoticons to go with it but for some reason they won't copy onto this blogpost. There you go!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Possibilites and opportunities!

It's a funny sort of world to be growing up in at the moment. We have been very relieved about and immensely proud of the progress of our eldest granddaughter. She dropped out of college after AS levels, opting not to continue and, therefore, ruling out university studies, at least for the time being. Then serendipity kicked in and she was accepted for an apprenticeship, which has led on to a permanent job. She's been lucky. At 19 going on 20 she is earning more than some young graduates and doesn't have a stack of student loans to pay back.

When she was 17 she was really interested in photography, even fancying a career in that field. I think that studying photography for AS level dampened her enthusiasm somewhat. And yet, all the careers advice says that you need proper training and development if you want to become a professional photographer. And then I read that one of the young Beckhams, at 16 or 17, has been contracted by Burberry to shoot its latest perfume campaign. Some professional photographers have been a little annoyed at this, saying that it devalues the profession. In a way, it's rather clever of Burberry to do this; their product becomes linked to another successful brand - Brand Beckham, for the whole family seems to be a brand. But for those who have studied photography beyond high school level (like my granddaughter, Brooklyn Beckham studied photography at high school) and have worked hard at developing a career it must be rather galling. Also, there must be masses of talented young 16-17 year old photographers out there who won't get that opportunity.

This is apparently the way of the modern world - for some people anyway! Once again I find myself feeling grateful for having been born when I was, when opportunities were there for most of us and we felt we could go out and make the world a better place. I don't think we were quite as successful as we hoped to be.

Which brings me back to Brexit. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook this morning:

"Unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable, then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum." It was accompnaied bybthe Labour Party logo.

 "Is this actually true?" asks my friend.

At first glance, it looks as if this a new statement. Closer examination shows it to be "Labour policy adopted unanimously by party conference' September 2016". Okay! Things have moved on a bit since then. What a difference a few months make. 

This was my response to my friend's post:

"Would that it were! There are so many "if onlys" in the whole business. If only a higher than 50% majority had been called for. If only the truth had been told. If only the government had had a plan for what to do if THE PEOPLE voted to leave. If only they had made that plan public before the vote so that THE PEOPLE knew what they were voting for. If only politicians were truly the servants of THE PEOPLE instead of professional charlatans!

That's all!"

Sunday, 12 February 2017

No regrets, coyote!

In the Guardian Weekend magazine yesterday there was an article about women who regretted having had children. Almost all of them had actively wanted children before giving birth and then changed their minds. It didn't seem to be a case of women who had had children because of social pressure. One had so much wanted children that she had had IVF treatment when she failed to conceive naturally. So it wasn't just a case of conforming to an expected, conventional woman's role.

It was more a case of making the discovery after the event, rather as you might find that your dream job did ot live up to expectations. One of them decided just after giving birth that motherhood was not really her thing. Others came to the realisation more slowly. They all professed to love their children dearly. If this was a form of post natal depression, it did not seem to be recognised as such. The women had all functioned fine as mothers and got on with their lives but felt a sort of general dissatisfaction and thought that their loves would have been better without children.

They also had a strong belief that women who say that they enjoy or have enjoyed having children are either telling lies or deluding themselves. Do they really think that or are they finding an excuse to cover up a slight feeling of guilt? Who knows?

But at least the women interviewed don't appear to have neglected their children, just occasionally resented their being there.

I thought at first that it might be a modern malaise: high-achieving young women who need to prove and prove that they can do everything and tick all the boxes and then discover that this one is harder to complete. But it was not the case; some of them had grown-up daughters with whom they had discussed the problem over the years.

It's interesting to think about what people might regret in life. In the final analysis, of course, you can't go back and undo the things you regret having done.

I wonder how many people feel more regret for things they have NOT done rather than what they have.

Personally I can think of any number of occasions when I failed to think of the smart answer until after a conversation was over.

And I regret not having answered letters and thus losing contact with old friends.

But I never regretted having my children. I just adapted my life to them and, importantly, them to my life. I listened this morning to June Brown, the actress probably now best known for playing Dot Cotton in Eastenders, on Desert Island Discs. She will be ninety this week and managed to fit six children around her acting career - she used to take her babies with her and park the pram in the dressing room during rehearsals - and her career around six children. She didn't appear to regret having had those children.

Mind you, Kirsty Young didn't actually pose that question!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A bit of a laugh ... and then some serious thoughts!

As a permanent, lifelong student of languages I can appreciate a good joke about language, especially about how seriously regional languages take themselves. Here's one I came across about Welsh:

"The Welsh language was just made up to wind up tourists, Wales has admitted.

Describing the hoax as ‘like crop circles only way better’, Welsh comedian Simon the Williams told reporters how he and some friends invented the language for a laugh one evening using a bag of scrabble letters with all the vowels taken out.

Since that night in 1983, the whole thing just took off, with most of the country joining in just to piss off people from Hampshire on driving holidays.

"You thought we were speaking a real language all this time”, said Williams,  wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “It’s just run and run and run. You gave us money for it and everything.

"Jesus, you bunch of mugs. We spent it on beer. “

Or ‘Llogryllorhychach’ as we say in Wales”, he added before collapsing into helpless giggles again. 

Tourists are left wondering what else about Wales might just be make-believe to wind them up, and questions are already being asked about Welsh cakes, Newport and Joe Ledley.

In the wake of the revelations, the BBC is looking into the funding of its other regional language services such as Scots Gaelic channel BBC Alba, which receives a huge budget and is run out of the snug of a pub in Dundee."

For any of my Welsh-speaking friends, and I do have a few, I hasten to say that include this in my blog as a bit of fun. Of course minority languages should be preserved. Cultures should be maintained. But we should not lose our sense of fun. That way intolerance lies.

On the subject of tolerance or intolerance, the question of a certain president's state visit to the UK keeps bouncing around. The speaker of the House of Commons spoke out against it, leading to applause, a thing unheard of the House. And now some Conservative MP wants to bring a vote of no-confidence against Mr Bercow because of the apparent inappropriateness of his remarks about Potus. And so it goes on. And suddenly I find myself siding with people I never particularly agreed with before, such as Prince Charles and now John Bercow. It's a funny old life!

They are trying to find a way round the problem by suggesting that the visit should be scheduled when Parliament is in summer recess, thus avoiding the need for POTUS to address the assembled MPs at all. It might be necessary for the queen to rethink her arrangements for the summer but, who knows, she might be more amenable than MPs are.

Then I read this morning about raids on illegal immigrants in the USA in a number of states, enforcing the president's "crackdown". Here's a link.

As I read it, it became clear that President Obama had carried out similar "raids", sending some illegal immigrants back to Mexico. On the whole, they were people with a criminal record and a decision was made not to target people who had done no wrong. Is that going to happen this time around? Now people are afraid. Children are not turning up at school. Those whose work permit is about to run out are worried about their future. Will permits be renewed in the current climate?

The whole thing raises difficult questions. Of course the situation needs controlling but one thing strikes me. When they carry out "raids", do they also target the people who are employing illegal immigrants? Those who get away with paying an illegal immigrants to clean their house, to look after their children, to pick their fruit, to work in their workshops, presumably paying them a good deal less than they would have to pay American citizens, contribute to the problem. Indeed they make the whole thing possible!

And it applies in this country too!

That's my two-penno'rth for today!

Friday, 10 February 2017

Bits of educational stuff.

On Wednesday I went to the cinema with a friend. We went to see "Toni Erdmann", a German film which was nominated for the best foreign language film in the recent film awards. It tells the story of an ageing father (but not all that ageing in modern day terms) and his relationship with his daughter, a hardworking, would-be high-flying business consultant working in Romania. When he goes unannounced to visit her in Bucharest, causing havoc in her professional life, all hell breaks loose.

It's basically a sad story about their relationship and a satire on modern life with its rather skewed values but also very funny in a quirky, surprising and occasionally rather shocking way. The naked birthday brunch has to be seen to be believed! The friend I saw the film with, herself German, was seriously underwhelmed. Despite making her laugh a little, she found it very depressing and apologised, quite unnecessarily, for suggesting I should go and see it with her. Different ways of looking at things.

We didn't have time to discuss it at length as she wanted to dash off home and watch the parliamentary debate on the EU on television. Almost the only comment was about the "typical German nudity" in the film!!!

During all the scenes in Rumania, it was impressive how well everyone spoke English, clearly the international language. Sorry, French people, English has certainly taken over as the lingua franca.

Skimming through stuff on the internet I found a link to photos taken by a Danish actor for Google street view. This actor, Nikolaj Coster Waldau played the baddie Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. His English was so good that you would never have guessed he was not a native speaker. Isn't it amazing how well these foreigners speak English??!

I was talking about all this language learning stuff with a friend today. We met for lunch after she finished her Spanish conversation class at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester. She has really impressed herself over the last year by taking herself off independently to travel around Spain by train, trying put her fairly recently acquired Spanish speaking skills with great success. Giving the lie to the idea that you cannot learn a new language well at a relatively advanced age!

As both of us have a background in education, our conversation rambled over a number of educational topics, among them the fact revealed by some recent study that children in private schools are more likely to be granted extra time in exams than children at privaate schools.

To gain extra time the pupils have to be diagnosed as having some specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia. One reason for the greater number of such diagnoses in private schools may simply be that the private schools have more time and money to devote to such diagnoses than state schools.

My friend, who has worked in the private sector, added that privately educated children are also more likely to have an aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend who is an educational psychologist and willing to supply the necessary diagnosis. So it goes.

Still on the topic of learning and child development, I came across an article which said that first-born children are likely to be more intelligent than their younger siblings. They are also more likely to go on to study at university. All of this is fairly understandable: parents have more time to spend on stimulating activities with their first child than with subsequent children.

My sister, the youngest of four, would argue furiously against the idea that she might not be as intelligent as I am; she has long maintained that she is, and always was, the brightest of the four of us. While disagreeing on who is the brightest of us all, I put her intelligence down to her having an older sister who read to her, told her stories and generally stimulated her imagination and development of skills! The article, however, did inform us that, "the University of Edinburgh and Sydney University study used data collected by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, but experts have warned any results are generalities, which may or may not translate to individual families."

What surprised me most in the article was the finding that first-born children are more likely to be short-sighted than their younger siblings.

Goodness gracious! how does that come about?

Thursday, 9 February 2017

So-called names and such!

Sometimes you can really be led to wonder how people come to have the names they do. And it's not just the chavs either. The toffs are as bad. How does Santa Sebag Montefiore come by that name? Well, the surname obviously comes from marrying the historian and posh tv history programme maker Simon of that name. But who calls their female child Santa? Weird!

I came across her name while reading about her sister Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who has just died at the age of 45. Friend of Prince Charles and other, younger members of the royal family, recovered drug addict and former "It" girl, she served to show that being born with it all doesn't mean you get to live happily ever after.

What is an It girl anyway? According to Wikipedia: ""It Girl" is slang for a beautiful, stylish young woman who possesses sex appeal without flaunting her sexuality. The phrase is believed to have originated as in British upper class society around the turn of the 20th century. An early literary usage of the term "it" in this context may be traced to a 1904 short story by Rudyard Kipling: "It isn't beauty, so to speak, nor good talk necessarily. It's just 'It'."

There you go!

I read today about people whose lives and relationships have been turned upside down by the way people voted in the US elections. One couple, now in their sixties, have separated after 22 years because she could not bear the fact that he had voted for Donald Trump. She always knew that they had very different views about a whole lot of things but this was a step too far. Others no longer speak to certain members if their family unless absolutely necessary. I can understand that. I "unfriended" a number of people on Facebook after the referendum. And I have a cousin who I did not unfriend (he is a cousin, after all, and a link to other family members) but took measures to stop his stuff popping up on my page after he posted that he thought the birch and other forms of corporal punishment should be reintroduced! We are in the 21st century, when all is said and done.

This being the 21st century does not, of course, guarantee that we behave in a civilised way. As someone called Chris Edelson pointed put in the Baltimore Sun newspaper the other day (I somehow come across articles from odd newspapers around the world) it was ordinary Americans who carried out inhumane acts for their president at airports which were not allowing certain people into the USA. They handcuffed a five-year-old boy and a 65-year-old woman, no doubt both seriously likely to carry out acts of violence on the spot. The little boy was kept away from his mother for several hours; maybe she would coach him so that he gave acceptable answers! A woman and her small children were held for almost a day without food. No doubt there are further examples.

The journalist went on to say that these employees, people like you and me, probably went home and kissed their wives and read bedtime stories to their children. All this with a clear conscience; they were just doing their job after all. I think we might have heard that excuse before!

One of my nodding acquaintances around the village blames Trump for everything. If the weather is bad: the Trump effect! If there is no lettuce on the shelf: the Trump effect! Even if he forgets what he went to the co-op for in the first place: the Trump effect!

And, finally, here is a link to a series of photos quietly making fun of the so-called president.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Serious stuff and a bit of silly!

There's a lot I don't understand about the world of finance but I think that selling debts is just about the strangest thing I have ever come across. If someone had told me when I was a kid that you could sell debts, I would never have believed them. Of course, I understand that the people who buy the de to hope to make a lot more money by calling in those debts but the very idea of buying and selling debts still seems very odd.

And now the government is selling the student loan book, which is presumably a list of all the (ex)students and the amount of money they owe. They are trying to assure those who have outstanding student debts, almost all ex-students these days, that this will not make any difference to the way their debts are eventually collected. But surely if someone thinks it is in their interest to buy these debts, they must have a plan to recoup the money. The kind of people who speculate on this kind of thing don't do it out of some kind of altruistic desire to put money in government coffers. 

Mind you, the government seems dead set on raising money in all sorts of ways at present. Hospitals are having to set up systems so that they can charge foreigners who don't qualify for free medical treatment if they fall ill in this country. Granted, we should do something about so-called NHS tourism but I remain unconvinced that equipping each hospital with credit and card readers is necessarily the answer.

And after watching news reports about waiting times in A&E departments, I have decided that we must do all we can to remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible in the vain hope that if we can only hang on long enough things might get better. Fat chance!

As it is, the Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that the UK government is on course to impose steep cuts in public spending from April and increase taxes by the end of the decade to their highest level as a share of national income since 1986-87 to combat the UK’s persistent budget deficit. So it looks as though austerity is going to be around for a bit longer!

Okay! That's enough serious stuff. Here's a link to a number of European countries taking the you-know-what of President Trump and America First. I particularly like the Netherlands' offering!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Restoring things!

Yesterday i wrote about Kapka Kassabova, a writer I had only just heard of, and assumed this was a male writer. Wrong! A female writer! Fancy my jumping to stereotyped conclusions like that. That will teach me to check facts before I put pen to paper - or fingers to keyboard for that matter. She seems to write very nicely, judging by the excerpts from her books included in the later article I read about her:-

 "One evening, when mist had risen from the river, chill and clammy on the skin like a ghost, a Belgian guy arrived in the village in the valley."

Describing a flat: "the carpets full of cigarette ash and old sorrows".

Of course, I have no idea how these words sound in the original Bulgarian. Translated, they become the kind of words you would like to have written yourself.

Meanwhile, here I am, still spluttering about the daftness of the USA. On Thursday Republicans voted to overturn a rule that restricted the sale of firearms to people with severe mental illnesses. Maybe it's because it was an Obama administration law that the Republicans wanted to get rid of it but really, how can anyone think it's a good idea for people who are bi-polar or schizophrenic to be able to buy guns easily? But then a whole lot of people have a funny-peculiar attitude to guns in the USA. Here's a sort of vaguely connected link to an article where Rich Hall rants a good deal more amusingly than I ever could about the banning of immigrants to the USA.

Back on our side of the Pond, there has been a good deal in the press about boys being beaten decades ago in summer camps organised by posh schools, possibly in conjunction with the church. Giles Fraser has been writing about his experience in the Guardian. Here's what he had to say.

I was particularly struck by the fact that even though judicial corporal punishment for adults was banned in 1947, it only became illegal for all schoolchildren in England and Wales in 1999!!! As late, as recently as that? I remember being a young teacher in the 1970s and turning down the opportunity to have permission to "strap" pupils. It meant I could not send miscreants along to more senior members of staff if they challenged me because I knew that those senior members of the profession might well get out their leather strap and wallop the aforementioned miscreants. I had seen them practising on tables in the staff room and did not want to have anything to do with it. More and more of us found other ways to persuade our more recalcitrant little dears to do what we said!

I thought it had disappeared from our schools long before the end of the 20th century. It was something from a dim and increasingly distant past. My husband and his friends still recount tales of corporal punishment at their boys' grammar in the 1960s: whacks around the head, slippers (ie gym shoes) on the backside, canes of various thicknesses! But that was the 1960s!

And none of this went on at my girls' grammar school. Were bright girls simply more civilised that bright boys?

Is this one of the things that some people would like to see brought back into our odd world?

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Aiming for a more equitable world?

Our southern grandchild, the one whose third birthday celebration was yesterday, is a quarter Indonesian. Her Indonesian grandfather has been talking to her in Indonesian, teaching her to count and so on. Being a child of independent mind, when he counts one, two, three in Indonesian, she makes up her own version of the words, quite deliberately and consciously transforming them so that they are the same words but beginning with the letter b. This morning she applied the same principle to English, replying to a query about breakfast with, "Yes, bease", explaining that she had said this instead of "Yes, please". A little later she thanked her daddy, "Ba bou". When he responded, "you're belbolm", she told him, "No, Daddy. This is MY language".

Her daddy was most surprised. He did not think she even knew the word language, let alone the concept that she could have one of her very own.

We were talking about this just yesterday, my son's best friend and I. His children are also a mix of races in odd proportions. So are various friends' children and grandchildren. We all hope that this mixing and matching might lead eventually to a more tolerant world. Something needs to swing the world that way as so much that is going on at present seems to be pushing in the opposite direction. 

In an article in yesterday's paper, which I only got around to reading this morning, the American visce president Henry Wallace said in 1944: "a fascist is one whose lust for money or combined with such an intensity of intolerance to those of other races, parties,classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends."

He predicted that American fascism would only become "reallly dangerous" if a "purposeful coalition"arose between crony capitalists, "poisoners of public information" and "the KKK type of demagoguery".

He also warned that if and when facism came to America it would be called "Americanism".

All of this somehow sounds very up to the minute!

I also came across something by a Bulgarian writer Kapka Kassabova who describes himself as one of "the last generation to have come of age behind a hard border". He writes in the weekend newspaper:

 "All my life, I have been haunted by borders - how unjust they feel when you are on the hard side, how alluring when you're on the soft side and how surprisingly small when they crumble."

"Is it unavoidable that we would enter an era of building hard borders, again? No - it is only desperately unwise. The reason why new borders haunt us is because we haven't listened well enough to the stories of the old ones. It is because the barbarians are here, not among us but inside our heads, tirelessly tweeting hatred."

"New borders will fail just as old borders failed. In the wretched meantime, they will not make our world freer or fairer. Only harder, costlier and more haunted."

Let's try to have a bit more multi-culturalism and rather fewer hard borders, please.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Travellers' tales.

Our local bus service reached a new low this morning. Phil had to dash into the town centre for a checkup at the eye clinic and the hurry back in time for us to set off to catch a train to London. Had there been a major delay, plan B was for me to grab the bags and meet him at the tram stop to go into Manchester. However, as he is a perfect gentleman, he preferred to come hime and do some of the bag toting himself. For all the more rabid feminists out there, I have no objection to somebody volunteering to carry bags, especially if some of the stuff in the bags is his stuff. I feel no urge to prove that I am super strong when I know that it is not so.

Anyway, his dash in was no problem. His checkup at the eye clinic went fine, on time, no waiting around. There was a handy bus only a few minutes after he left the clinic. So far so good! Then the bus reached the Mumps interchange. The driver got our. It was the end of his shift. Another driver was due to take over. Fifteen minutes or more later the passengers were informed that the driver had been held up in traffic somewhere. in fact other buses had been he,d up by the accident causing the delay. This explained the presence of drivers who were hanging around without buses. And so they were cancelling the bus Phil was on and sending it somewhere else. All the passengers were simply advised to catch the next bus. Presumably the bus route coordinators must have known there was a mismatch of drivers and buses. Driverless buses and bus-less drivers should be a solvable problem. Apparently not. Even though one of the bus-less drivers, when asked, agreed that he did know the route for Phil's bus and so could have driven it. but it was not in his schedule. It was more than his job was worth to depart from his schedule. Well, yes, that is understandable. You can't have anarchy in the bus service. However, surely it is not beyond the wit of bus management to sort it out! You would think so!

In the event, the delay did not cause any problems. We got into Manchester in plenty of time, got on our train and has the usual silly conversation about booked seats. Somebody was occupying our seats so, rather than kick up a fuss, we sat in a couple of empty ones nearby. Inevitably someone else came along and pointed out that he had reserved one of those seats. Another little discussion ensued and he sat in yet another empty seat nearby, all of us prepared to move if the situation grew more complicated. Or if there was an officious guard insisting onus all sitting in our rightful places. It began to feel as if we had strayed into an odd version of the Red Riding Hood story.

A very British problem! I say that but I have witnessed funny scenes on the bus that does the journey between Vigo and Porto. When you book your ticket, it does say that the seat number is not indicative of where to actually sit. It merely serves to tell the computer how many places have been booked. And yet I have often seen people, usually British or American, walking up and down the bus looking for "their" seat and being given short shrift by bemused Spaniards who always disregard that mind of thing!

Such are the joys of travel!

Once we safely reach our son's house ( we are travelling to a birthday celebration) I shall try to post this.

Please note the restraint: no rants about any politicians today.

Tomorrow, however, is another day!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

(Mostly) heartwarming stuff.

In the midst of all the gloomy stuff that is around in the news at the moment I found an odd story with the headline: "Mais wee, monsieur: Paris finds eco solution to public peeing". It seems that in some parts of Paris, tired of the smell of urine that seeps into stone pavements no matter how much you wash the area, they are trying out a system of boxes on sticks for men to per in. The boxes are full of straw and when enough pee has been added this can make compost to be used on gardens. If it proves successful, the experiment will be extended.

It might be an eco-solution but the very problem provokes the question, why do men need to pee in the street? It happens all over France. And, for that matter, it is very common in Spain too. Behind rubbish containers is a favourite spot. Shop doorways are also popular, which is one reason why so many shopkeepers have to swill out their doorways with bleach in the morning. I suppose it must happen in the UK as well but I am pretty sure it is too a much lesser extent. Does our British reserve lead to a restraint that our less inhibited continental cousins do not have?

Perhaps the "uritrottoir", as this box of straw is being called, will be something of a solution. The inventors themselves admit that it is not a solution for women who are desperate for a pee. Fortunately women seem less inclined to pee al fresco; it's generally more difficult, far more inconvenient and potentially embarrassing.

Here's another story I have found: an artist called Kia La Beija was interviewed by the Guardian. Kia LaBeija was born HIV positive in 1990 and was raised in NewYork's theatre district. So although she is clearly a young lady with a big problem in her life she had some advantages in being surrounded by all sorts of artistic possibilities. She is described as a multidisciplinary artist whose work "explores the intersections of community, politics, fine art and activism. As a visual artist she stages digital portraits as theatrical and uses her photos, self portraits, her self-portraits to show the reality of living with AIDS today. “I had felt incredibly silenced for many years on my battle, and as I got older that began to manifest in other unhealthy ways,” says Labeija. “I have slowly begun to share these parts of me through my work as an artist. I feel incredibly vulnerable, and sad at times. But this is how I know I'm doing something right. I believe all the great artists are great because they are honest. This is as honest and real as it gets for me.”

Here is what she regards as her best photograph: an HIV check-up in a prom dress. I should have found this last week when my homework for my Italian class was to research and present to the class a contemporary artist. She would have been a good subject.

There have been lots of photos of protest in the news lately. Pictures of people protesting accompanied by their children are always appealing. This is one that I find particularly good, since it shows a Jewish child and a Muslim child getting friendly during a demonstration at a US airport. Even better is the fact that the fathers of he two children, realising that their offspring were getting friendly, started to chat, exchanged mobile numbers and have arranged for their families to get together. Perhaps they could send pictures of their cooperation to Israel! Just an idea!

And, while we are on the subject of all getting along together, here is a link to a video from Danish television all about how we should put our differences aside and concentrate instead on what makes us similar to each other. For some reason there are subtitles in Italian!

Heartwarming stuff!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Out of the usual routine!

It's been a funny sort of Wednesday. Usually I get up and run to the market on Wednesday morning early but today I had had a request to go to my daughter's house. So I walked to the market, bought some stuff, left my gloves on the fish stall and had to go back for them, and eventually found my way to the bus stop to travel to my daughter's house.

There, at the bus stop, I had one of those odd conversations about the reliability of buses, which routes they follow, including the fact that the lady I was speaking to, despite having lived in Uppermill for donkey's years, had only recently discovered that one of the local buses, if you catch it on the other side of the road, takes you to Oldham, via Delph. "I went the other day", she said, "It's a pretty place, Delph, isn't it? But there's not much there!" She needs to get out more!

The main reason I was going to my daughter's was so that I could accompany her to the dentist's surgery and hold the baby while she, my daughter, that is, not the baby, went and had some treatment. Now, that little possible confusion over which "she" was having dental treatment would be avoided in Spanish by use of the demonstrative pronouns "esta" (this one) and "esa" (that one). You can do it in English with "the former" (that one) and "the latter" (this one) but when did anyone hear those terms used in everyday speech recently? Okay, language lesson over!

After the dental visit, which went well apart from residual numbness, we went back to my house, where my brother-in-law was paying a hastily-arranged-at-the-last-minute visit. That involved another change of routine. As a rule, when he comes we go for a long stomp to Diggle chippy (a converted wooden garage I may have mentioned several times before) and eat fish and chips al fresco before stomping back home again. This time the visitor went off by car to Diggle chippy and brought fish and chips back for everyone, except for the person suffering from residual numbness! Very good but somehow never as nice indoors as al fresco!

We did manage a stroll around the block when the sun came out mid-afternoon but that was the whole extent of our stomping today.

Later, checking Facebook, I "liked" a post by my young friend who spoke at the anti-Trump's-Muslim-ban rally. His small daughter had congratulated him on his speech, which she said she had seen on video, and told him she was proud of him. To my surprise, I noticed that another friend of mine, from a completely different section of my life, had also "liked" that post. This just proves what a small world we live in: two bits of my life coinciding via social media. Or, as my young friend commented, "it's almost as if the left is a small incestuous cabal isn't it?! 😉"

Well, I appear to have managed to write all this without a rant about POTUS. So here is a little something I pinched from some newspaper or other:

"California Democrats are considering creating a state-wide sanctuary rule that will prohibit police officers from working with federal immigration authorities in opposition to President Donald Trump's migration policy. A number of cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, already operate such a policy – but it does not cover the entire state.

It means they do not cooperate with US Immigration and Customs enforcement—for example, by not notifying immigration officials if an illegal immigrant is about to be released from custody. Around 300 US jurisdictions are believed to currently have sanctuary status.

Mr Trump issued an executive order threatening to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities if they "harbour illegal immigrants" and San Francisco is already suing him on the basis the order contradicts states' rights provisions under US law. The new plan, drafted by California Senate president Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, was due for its first airing on Tuesday. The city of San Francisco said the executive order could result in the loss of more than $1bn (£794m) in funding.

Mr Trump's crackdown was foreshadowed not long after his victory in November's election.

Chief of staff Reince Priebus said cities that "ignore federal law" should not expect "federal government to help them in any way". Ending cities' sanctuary rules was a Trump campaign promise.

Mr Trump has ordered the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by immigrants to "better inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions".

There we go!