Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Modern day problems!

Oh boy! So now someone has come out and accused Kevin Spacey of sexually abusing him thirty years back. This took place at a party in Spacey’s hotel room. Spacey was in this 20s and the young man was a 14 year old impressionable adolescent actor. Kevin Spacey says he doesn’t remember, it was a long time ago, he might have made a pass at him when he was drunk and if he did so he apologises. He has had relationships with both genders and now declares himself properly gay. This brings the gay lobby down on him for bringing them into disrepute, by suggesting that that somehow excuses bad behaviour. Of course it doesn’t, but I do wonder what bandwagons are being jumped on. And maybe I am doing the now not so young actor an injustice. He may well have been truly traumatised by the whole business!

It makes me glad I never wanted to get into show-business!

By contrast, the actress (I still like to call female actors actresses, by the way) Claire Foy seems to be taking a fairly sensible view of things. She has been on the Graham Norton chat show and Adam Sandler repeatedly put his hand her knee while telling an anecdote during the performance. She gestured to him to remove his hand, he did so but then forgot and put it back. So she had to tell him again. A spokesperson for Ms Foy said:"We don't believe anything was intended by Adam's gesture and it has caused no offence to Claire." Thank goodness somebody can be sensible. I would have thought that over the top, extravagant touchy-feely stuff would be expected on the Graham Norton Show!

Meanwhile Theresa May is apparently planning to take measures to crack down on all the sexual harassment in parliamentary circle. It really does seem as though all the predators are crawling out of the woodwork. More and more of them are being revealed every day. Is it an epidemic? Is it taking her attention away from Brexit?

The men I know are not all sexual predators, at least as far as I know. But perhaps they all have secret lives and nasty secrets will be revealed any day now. Or maybe the men I know are not powerful enough to get involved in such activities. But truly I begin to despair of men in public office.

I wonder as well how soon it will be before they start to find a similar stick to beat powerful women with. Oh, no, that’s not necessary. It already happens with nasty tweets.

And now, here are some comments from people who have smart phones, from an article about smart phone use:-

 Tom 28

Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and I’ll end up not even watching it because I’m too busy on my phone. It takes up a lot of my time, just scrolling through Facebook and stuff. I’ve thought about having a year off, deactivating Facebook and not looking at my phone that much.

 Freya 30

I’ve got friends who ban phones on a night out or when we’re having dinner because everyone is obsessed with using social media. I was even at a wedding recently where the bride banned people from uploading photos before the end of the ceremony. I climbed Kilimanjaro recently and I was looking forward to not having my phone for a week. It was so nice because it meant I had conversations with the people I was with. When I came back, I wasn’t that bothered about using my phone but then it slowly crept back in again.

Maria 69

I only use my phone for practical things or to call people. I don’t just watch what’s happening on there, so I don’t see any need to cut down.

 Shashi 32

I use my phone quite a bit – it’s in my hand right now. I use it for emails, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. I have tried to cut down but I can’t because I get emails constantly. Some days I don’t carry it, but then the work piles up.

It seems to me that a little more self control is needed in the modern world!

Monday, 30 October 2017

Talking about food!

I decided it was time to talk about food again.

When we arrived here on Friday and the heat knocked us put, we almost forgot about food and only into the evening did it dawn on us that we had not eaten since breakfast. We were rather looking forward to revisiting an old favourite place here, A Caçarola, a restaurant whose name I totally misread first time around and assumed it mean The Snail. In fact it means The Saucepan, The Stewpot, The Casserole. They do an amazingly good fish soup. Imagine our consternation when we discovered that it was shut, not only for the weekend but for holidays. It would not re-open until November 7th. We will be gone by then.

What to do?

Well, go to Caçarola 2, of course.

This is it’s posher cousin round the corner, refurbished last year and bow doing quite splendidly. It might appear a little posher but the prices are still very reasonable. Phil had the fish soup. I had a cream of shellfish soup followed by fanecas, small fish which I also eat in Spain but whose English name I never can remember. Phil ordered squid to follow his soup. Then came a question: would he like his squid grilled, or stuffed with mashed potato? What? Stuffed with mashed potato? Is that even something you do to squid? So he opted for grilled, not being a mashed potato man at the best of times.

The squid, when they arrived, were enormous. No wonder they could be stuffed! Quite tasty but a prodigious amount of squid! The fanecas were also tasty but fiddly, a little dry, a lot of effort for little reward. So it goes.

On Saturday I rose early in order to have time to wash and dry my hair before breakfast. Then we went shopping for the items on the list we had made the previous evening: chocolate (for the chessplayer to take to his games), fruit, toothpaste, toothbrushes (Phil had left his at home), deodorant (I had left mine at home), bottle of water, suntan lotion (29 degrees out there!) and mugs (our room has a kettle but only expanded polystyrene beakers to drink out of). We also acquired sunhats - not on the list. The last of the big spendsrs.

At lunchtime we went to a little place called Buzio, located in a back street. We had come across it accidentally a few years ago, spotted it had a menu do dia, tried it out and found it good and gone back several times. We had a soup made with unidentified vegetables and containing floating strands of grelos, the ubiquitous greens that crop up in so many northern Iberian dishes. Very good! Then came bifes de frango, chicken steaks (maybe bife comes from French biftek which comes from English beefsteak!) served with chips AND rice. Very good too.

Very good except that I was feeling odd. Not quite in my plate, as the French say. I did not finish my wine; I gave it to Phil. I thought a fruit salad might refresh me. It did. It was a good fruit salad. We ordered coffee. Just the smell put me off. I gave it to Phil as well.

The bill arrived and we had a small but amicable disagreement with the waiter. We had been charged for olives and a tomato salad which we had not consumed. He went off and changed the bill. Then we were consumed with guilt as we realise that we had not been charged for the unidentified vegetable soup! It was a small items, only €1.50 or so but we felt churlish, having quibbled over olives and tomato salad!

And so we set off back to the hotel but I was definitely not right. We took the lift instead of the stairs - a sure sign that something was wrong. I made it to the room and promptly threw up my lunch and slept the rest of the afternoon. What a waste! I wondered of I had suffered from a mild heat stroke and dehydration from the travelling!

By the time Sunday came around, with an extra hour’s sleep, courtesy of the clocks going back, I seemed to be recovered and ran down the promenade as usual. At lunchtime we planned to go to A Caçarola 2 again but the queue was immense: victims of their success. So we went back to Buzio. It was just as well that I was sure it was me and not their food that was wonky on Saturday.

I had a fine salada de camarões with grilled prawns and pineapple. Phil manfully tackled a huge fish, robalo, and an enormous plate of chips. No wine, only water, as the chess games were beginning that evening. Nothing untoward ensued! Hurray!

And the chess tournament started.

And Phil lost his first game against a stronger player.

To begin woth a win would have been nice but today, to misquote Scarlett O’Hara, is another day!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Protests and reading matter - food for thought!

It would seem that even as I write this, 11.45 am Portuguese time, a big anti-independence rally is going on in Barcelona. Carles Puigdemont is reported to be pretending that nothing is happening apart from lunch with family and friends in Girona. Goodness knows where it will all end.

I also read that a small part of Catalonia is talking about bidding for independence from Catalonia. We should perhaps revert to city states everywhere. Maybe we could even declare our house an independent state!

The reading group I attend when in the UK meets on Monday or Tuesday of this week. It does not matter which evening as I shall not be there, being happily ensconced in Portugal, which continues to be fine and sunny.

The book chosen for discussion is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, set in the American south and dealing with questions of racism. Curiously enough, I read yesterday that a junior high school in Biloxi, Mississippi, removed the book from an eighth-grade lesson plan recently because the language in the book “makes people uncomfortable”.

Eighth-grade is for 12-13 year olds, I think. Our 12-13 year old grandson can hold quite sensible conversations about topics like racism, gender equality and fairness in general. Of course, it is possible that he is a genius but mostly he seems like a reasonably normal child of that age.

If youngsters are “protected” from controversial topics than they will never learn to think about them rationally at all. Well, that’s what I think anyway.

In the end it was decided that junior high school students will be allowed to study “To Kill a Mockingbird” after all, but their parents need to give permission. I wonder if anyone has considered asking for parental permission for Hallowe’en parties!

I have been reading David Nobbs’ autobiography. Interesting stuff. At various points he talks about who he considered to be the best writer in the world at various stages of his childhood and youth. The “Biggles” books were firm favourites for a good while, only to be replaced by “Swallows and Amazons”, supplanted in his late teens by the works of Thomas Hardy.

I too read lots of Hardy in the sixth form: not a writer to read of you are at all depressed as fate will always get you in the end.

In his childhood, our son was a great reader of the “Swallows and Amazons” books. Do smallish boys still read books about fairly privileged children messing about in boats in the summer? I wonder. Or is there too much description and not enough modern technology in them.  

Maybe they should be set texts, studied to remind today’s youngsters that there was a time when mobile phones and their apps did not exist.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Some odd things in the 21st century!

Despite what their president might say about climate change being a myth. US scientists and weather monitoring experts say that winter has grown shorter by one whole month in the last hundred years. The first frost of the winter comes gradually later and later.

I suppose that tallies with the reduced snowfall we have seen in our bit of the Northwest of England where we used to get snowed in back in the 1970s, something that simply does not happen now. This does not prevent everything grinding to a halt when it snows but the snow rarely stays on the ground for 12, let alone 24, hours.

And here in the Iberian peninsula, even though this year some people complained that the summer in Galicia did not get going until later than usual, the good weather seems to be lingering on and on. With blue sky and sunshine and temperatures in the top 20s, we have just bought sun hats and suntan lotion! No doubt this will provoke a rapid meteorological change! Fine weather we certainly hoped for, but we are seeing people wandering about in short shorts and vest tops. I clearly should have packed sun dresses.

In the 1960s, when I was a grammar school girl - yes, one of the privileged, upwardly mobile! - my school had a strict uniform code. Bottle green almost everything, including knickers but you really only had to worry about that on days when you PE, and prefects strategically placed along everyone’s route home to make sure you were wearing your bottle green beret correctly and did not pop into the sweet shop for a snack along the way. Heaven forfend that we should let the headmistress down by being seen eating on the streets and in uniform. She would spin in her grave to see our local high school kids queueing outside the baker’s or walking along with a portion of chips!

I mention all this because I heard about a school in Japan which excludes not only pupils who dye their hair a funny colour but also those who happen to be born with brown rather than black hair who neglect to dye it properly black! One poor girl has had to miss school because of an allergic reaction to the hair dye. She is sueing the school for compensation. What a topsy turvy situation!

That school may be extreme but it is not alone. “This year a survey of high schools in Tokyo found that almost 60% asked students with lighter hair for proof that it was naturally that colour. Ninety of the 170 schools surveyed by the Asahi newspaper said they asked students to provide photographs of themselves taken when they were infants or attending junior school to prove they had not coloured their hair.”

And finally, here’s a link to an article about a judge in Canada who suggested that the victim in a sexual assault case might have been “flattered” by the advances of her aggressor. Although she had a pretty face, the 17 year old was a bit plump, he suggested, and so might have welcomed the attention! The man in question was a 49-year-old, who the judge said “looks good and doesn’t seem his age”. 

This is still the 21st century, is it not? And we have had a lot of stuff about sexual predators in the news lately, have we not? The mind boggles!

Friday, 27 October 2017

Getting to Figueira.

When I stuck my head out this morning, it was fine and sunny with a beautiful blue sky, but rather chilly. A perfectly good October day in fact!

We set off for Liverpool airport midmorning with the sun still shining and our daughter’s car registering a temperature of 6 degrees.

At around 2.30 this afternoon we landed at Porto where the temperature was 28 degrees. Talk about a shock to the system! It’s lovely, to be sure, but it’s not natural. Even the locals agree with us. I wasn’t surprised. A friend in Vigo had already broadcast a temperature of 27 degrees yesterday. She was wondering when the rain would arrive. Well, as we are heading there next week, it’s quite likely that we will make the rain turn up.

We arrived at the airport, expecting to be collected and driven to Figueira da Foz, where Phil is playing chess over the coming week. We hung around and hung around, trying to look conspicuous but nobody showed.

A terribly elegant lady in killer heels came over and asked if my name was Elena. She must have been getting desperate. I had already walked past her several times, noted her sign saying “ELENA” and ignored her. Surely she had noticed that. Besides, she was so elegant that she must have been expecting someone more suave and sophisticated looking that me in my travelling best with a little backpack!

Eventually we phoned got through to the chess organiser, who assure dus that we had not been forgotten. Our driver was about to arrive. And sure enough, he did. He had been stuck in traffic because of an accident.

And off we went, speaking a mix of my bad Portuguese and his better, but not perfect, English. I did try. I managed to say a fair few things but his replies were incomprehensible! Not to self: must try harder.

We drive through a few places that had had fires recently, at the time that Galicia and Northern Portugal had seemed to be burning up completely. Maybe this is just a little further south but the devastation did not seem as great as I had expected. Maybe we just did not get close enough. Our driver told us that Figueira itself had had problems over about four days with fires raging. As I go exploring, I shall see what I can discover.

We arrived at our hotel to find that they had no record of our booking. This was not a problem, the receptionist assured us, he could find us a room. But we did not want to book just in case it turned out that our driver had made a mistake and brought us to the wrong one of several hotels patronised by the chess organiser. So, back to the phone we went. All is well. Thank goodness for modern technology.

Meanwhile, in the wider world, Catalonia has had a go at declaring independence and Spain has taken over. Direct rule from Madrid. It never did look as though it was going to end well. Now we shall have to wait for further developments! Simon Jenkins in the Guardian says it”s a problem for all of Europe. 

And Alistair Campbell is writing fantasy speeches in which Jeremy Corbyn turns around and pulls the UK out of Brexit.

A world gone mad! Or perhaps not!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ain’t that a shame!

Fats Domino has died aged 89. There goes another legend. Last night on the news they showed film footage dating back to 1956 when the “King of Rock’n’Roll” was only 28. A round-faced, fresh-faced very cheerfully enthusiastic looking Fats Domino sang “Ain’t that a shame! My tears fell like rain”, bouncing all over his piano and looking as far from tears as it is possible to look. An audience of equally cheerfully enthusiastic looking teenagers clapped in time to the music. They were all white teenagers, of course, since black and white audiences could not mix. Ain’t that a shame!

It was going to be a fair few more years before the Beatles went along and insisted that they would not sing to segregated audiences in the USA.

And still now black sportsmen are “taking the knee” instead of standing to the national anthem in protest at police brutality towards African Americans. Ain’t that also a shame!

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not sports events are the place for socio-political protest. But so many people watch American football that itvseems the ideal place to get a point across.

Then I read today about African Americans being advised to boycott American Airlines in protest against their racist treatment of African American passengers.

But, of course, that is happening in America. Surely such things could not happen here, or could they?

It’s enough to stress anybody out.

Stress is in the news too. And this time it is not just stress for drivers going past roadworks. MP Tim Loughton is co-chair of a cross-party parliamentary group on mindfulness. Yes, I am as surprised as anyone but this seems to be a real thing - is this really what MPs are paid for? Anyway, he says he considers showers to be “one of the greatest causes of stress”. He starts the day with a good, long bath, reading the newspapers and composing his thoughts. Lucky him! Back when I was a full-time working lady I would have had to get up at silly o’clock to have time for a bath before setting off into the cross-Manchester traffic!

Then there are new rules being proposed to make house buying, always seen as a major cause of stress, “cheaper, faster and less stressful”. Gazumping is one of the things they want to sort out. 

Maybe the cross-party parliamentary group on mindfulness could join in the discussions.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Words and spellings and grammar and understanding!

I have been reading John Humphrys’ book “Lost for Words”, a kind of book long rant about all the things that intrigue, fascinate and/or annoy him about the English language as she is spoken. Perhaps I enjoy it because I mostly agree with what he says. I wanted to take issue with his wondering when “daily” changed from an adverb into an adjective. His particular example was to the use of “on a daily basis”, instead of simply saying “daily”. And yet, I found myself thinking, what about the Lord’s Prayer and “give us this day our daily bread”?

At one point I wanted to give him a bit of possibly helpful information. He was going on a bit about people saying things like “if I would have known” instead of the simpler, and probably more grammatically correct, “if I had known”. Phil and I are pretty sure that this phenomenon has arisen from speakers of Spanish, Italian and perhaps German or Yiddish, although I cannot claim knowledge of the grammar of the last two, translating directly from their first language when learning English. And so, we hypothesise, the structure slid into American English. In Spanish, for example, you would say, “si hubiera sabido”, using a pluperfect subjunctive. Technical terms - you have to love them. We have decided that this bit of English should be called the New York subjunctive.

At the moment I have reached a point in the book where the good Mr Humphrys is talking about ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. When we were children in school this was not heard of. Some children just could not sit still and pay attention. They were just cinsidered “naughty”.Then in 1991 the syndrome was identified and since then masses of children have been diagnosed as suffering from it and can be prescribed drugs from quite an early age. I once had a boy in a tutor group who had been so diagnosed. It was evident from the word go that he had difficulty simply staying in his seat. And he was seventeen and, you might think, quite old enough to know better. He used to apologise on days when he was really twitchy, telling me, “I’ve not taken my Ritalin today”. He didn’t like taking it; it dulled his senses.

John Humphrys comments, “Many of the greatest men in history showed all the symptoms of ADHD. We might wonder what would have become of them had they been treated with drugs to “cure” their symptoms. Among them were Beethoven, Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Picasso and Thomas Edison.” Precisely!

With words and spellings in mind, here is a link to a prize-winning short story. For those who can’t be bothered to follow the link, here is an extract:-

“Deer Reeder:

First may I say, sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect. But here is how I lerned to rite and spel as gud as I do!

One day, walking neer one of your Yuman houses, smelling all the interest with snout, I herd, from inside, the most amazing sound. Turns out, what that sound is, was: the Yuman voice, making werds. They sounded grate! They sounded like prety music! I listened to those music werds until the sun went down, when all of the suden I woslike: Fox 8, crazy nut, when sun goes down, werld goes dark, skedaddle home, or else there can be danjer!

But I was fast and nated by those music werds, and desired to understand them total lee.

So came bak nite upon nite, seeted upon that window, trying to lern. And in time, so many werds came threw my ears and into my brane, that, if I thought upon them, cud understand Yuman prety gud, if I heer it!”

The spelling is, as the opening paragraph warns us, idiosyncratic. It helps if you read it aloud, as I used to do when I first started to read in Italian. Also I was reminded of those posts that people put on social media along the lines of “If yoo caen reed this then yoo had a gud Inglish teecher”.

It is, by the way, worth reading the whole short story for its environmental message.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Mechanisms of control!

Co-leader of the Green Party, MP Caroline Lucas was writing in today’s paper about the need to reverse Brexit before it’s too late. I feel the same way but that’s not what I want to go on about at the moment. In her article she wrote this:

“More than 70% of voters aged 18 to 24 voted for Britain to remain in the EU, as did 62% of those aged between 25 and 34 and 52% of 35 to 44 year-olds. Those who will live the longest with the country’s decision were – just – outnumbered by an older generation who have enjoyed the benefits of EU membership for many years.”

How does Caroline Lucas know this? I’m pretty sure the figures are correct but I want to know how they work it out. I was under the impression that we all vote anonymously. So do they take exit polls and surveys and extrapolate figures from there? Personally, I am a little fed up of being blamed for Brexit. Some of us “who have enjoyed the benefits of EU membership for many years” actually wanted to continue doing so.

I don’t like all the watching and spying and reporting that seems to be around in the country at present.

There’s a Tory MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, a staunch Eurosceptic, who wrote to vice-chancellors of universities asking for details of who is teaching about Brexit, asking for a copy of the syllabus and access to any online lectures on Brexit. It doesn’t matter what his opinion is about Brexit, he doesn’t have a say in how and what is taught in universities here. Surely we can trust academics in the universities to give a balanced view and encourage a proper discussion. Big Brother is already watching us closely enough!

There’s the Guido Fawkes website going around unearthing facts from people’s fairly dim and distant facts. This has led to Jared O’Mara resigning from the women and equalities select committee because of homophobic and sexist remarks he posted on a forum fifteen years ago. Some people wanted him suspended from the Labour Party but this move has so far been resisted. Last night on the television news I heard two young women writers going on about how he should not be forgiven. Had he been 14 at the time of making the remarks, they said, he might be forgiven, but once you are in your twenties you are an adult and you should know better. I have known some very irresponsible 20-somethings in my time.

Later last night I delayed going to bed because my attention was caught by Chris Packham, nature expert and environmentalist, talking about his life and how it has been affected by Asperger’s. Here, I hope, is a link to a review of the documentary, 

When he was growing up, Asperger’s was not much talked about. In fact, he had no diagnosis until much later in his life. He was just aware of being an oddly obsessive, but very bright kid, who was bullied for being a geek and went through secondary school and university not relating much tomother humans simply concentrating on studying what he enjoyed: animals and nature. Almost accidentally, he ended up on children’s television, talking about what he loved and so he was able to live as he chose.

The documentary followed him to the USA where he observed centres which try to “treat” and “cure” autism. Visibly disturbed by the methods he saw, he expressed his view to the camera that you should not try to change what a person is. Yes, he recognised that some of the children he saw were much more severely affected than he is. But he does not want to be “cured”.

He also visited Silicon Valley, where they employ a whole lot of “geeks” on the autistic spectrum, responsible for many developmental in IT. Chris Packham reckons that they, like him, are what they are, doing the work they do because of Asperger’s not despite it.

And I wondered about depression. If some of the great artists, poets, writers that we now recognise as great had had their depression “cured”, many of their works might never have been completed.

We need more understanding and less control in the world!

Monday, 23 October 2017

In praise of apples!

Recently I commented on the fact that Steve Jobs went through a period when he lived on apples and carrots. Well, I think he would have appreciated the little nugget of information I picked up over the weekend: last Saturday, the 21st of October, was Apple Day!!!

I read about it in yesterday’s paper. There I discovered that it is an annual celebration of apples and orchards, celebrated mainly in the United Kingdom. Hardly surprising since it seems to have been invented here back in 1990, the brainchild of a British environment group, Common Ground. They were concerned about the ongoing disappearance of orchards. They say that things are improving now although marketing British apples seems to be a problem: “supermarkets were always a problem and they still are. Only one in three apples we eat comes from the Uk and they are still selling apples from Australia. They are just not thinking. They could do much better.”

However, they seem pleased with Apple Day, which they say has become a new harvest festival. Here’s a bit of detail:

 “It traditionally falls on 21 October, the date of the first such event in 1990, but events are held throughout the month. It is commonly a weekend event, usually taking place on the Saturday and Sunday closest to 30 October.

Apple Day events can be large or small, from apple games in a garden to large village fairs with cookery demonstrations, games, apple identification, juice and cider, gardening advice, and the sale of many hundreds of apple varieties.”

Clearly there is the makings of a real, Spanish style, food-item fiesta there. Perhaps the whole thing could serve as a run-up to Hallowe’en. I remember social gatherings at our local church at this time of year when I was a child. Because the church could not be seen to be supporting such pagan rituals as Hallowe’en, it was always advertised as a “hotpot supper”, serving traditional Lancashire hotpot, of course, with pickled red cabbage, in the church hall which was decorated with pumpkin lanterns. The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides would put in entertainments and there would be silly games like “bobbing for apples”. Apples were floated in a tub of water and people who were not afraid of getting wet were encouraged to make fools of themselves trying to catch an apple with their teeth. Oh, we knew how to amuse ourselves back in the time before Hallowe’en was all about “trick or treat”.

Maybe someone should introduce Apple Day into Asturias, where they make a lot of cider and serve it in their own idiosyncratic way, holding the glass low and the bottle high and looking away from the whole thing as they pour.

And then there could be a day for each fruit in turn. After all, there is already the Magosto in Galicia, a celebration of the chestnut harvest.

One website waxed poetical about the whole thing:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,

Whence thou mayst bud

And whence thou mayst blow!

And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!

Hats full! Caps full!

Bushel—bushel—sacks full,

And my pockets full too! Huzza!
South Hams of Devon, 1871

Braeburn, Discovery, Red Jonagold, a million varieties with a million evocative names, and each one more delicious than the last. Every year the orchards spill forth a cavalcade of crimson, gold, and green, and it’s not just the leaves of Autumn. On the heels of this rolling bounty comes the rich smell of apple pies, spicy ciders both alcoholic and not, and all the tastes and smells of this seasonal treat.” 

No mention of Coxes Orange Pippins though - the best apples in the world.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Sunday. And the world is still crazy!

Well, the world continues in chaos.

We have the crazy situation in Spain where the Madrid government wants to take direct control of Catalonia, prompting huge demonstrations in Barcelona. While I believe that really the whole of Spain should have a say in deciding whether Catalonia becomes a separate country (and I would say the same about the UK and Scotland, by the way), I can’t help feeling that the heavy-handed way Rajoy’s government has gone about things has not helped the situation at all. In fact, it has probably made some Catalans want to leave Spain.

And then Brexit staggers along towards a NO DEAL conclusion. Or rather, the staggering looks rather like a headlong slide into that outcome. There are some who still hope for a NO BREXIT outcome. I fear that we shall end up paying huge amounts of money whatever happens.

Donald Trump has been tweeting about Britain’s crime figures, blaming it all on terrorism. This has prompted some people to make rude comments about him. Newspapers tell me that “Conservative backbencher Nicholas Soames, grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, called the US president a "daft twerp" who needed to "fix gun control". Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson also responded to the president's tweet, accusing him of "misleading and spreading fear". The Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, said the statement was "inflammatory and ignorant", while ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband said Mr Trump was "a moron".” That’s another bunch of people for him to fall out with.

Moves are afoot in the UK to raise the speed limit for traffic going past motorway roadworks, from 50mph to 60mph. They have done tests involving dashboard cameras and other equipment monitoring drivers’ stress levels and have decided that a higher limit is better. On the television news last hight I heard a spokesman for some organisation expand on the stress factor. It went something like this: (my words, not his)

Lorries are often speed restricted so that they cannot go at more than 56 mph. When speed limits of 50 mph are imposed going past roadworks these lorries, travelling at 56 mph, will often tailgate cars. This makes car drivers stressed and nervous.

And so, instead of imposing the 50mph speed limit on the lorry drivers, they decide to raise the speed limit to 60 mph for everyone. Car drivers can escape tailgating lorries.

They might be more likely to cause problems for the workmen because of accidents.

However, the lorries will be sorted out.

I wondered if I had heard this correctly or just made it up and so I looked it up on the internet and found this:

“A spokesman for the RAC said the new speed limit was good news for motorists. 'It should help to improve the flow of traffic, which often builds up well ahead of motorway roadworks,' he said. 'Where safe to do so, increasing the limit through roadworks will provide better, more reliable journeys … [it] also enables motorists who feel threatened by the close proximity of HGVs in roadworks to free themselves.'”

As I see it the bullies win. Meanwhile bullying storm Brian is battering us. I looked out of the window first thing, saw the rain pouring down and the trees blowing around and decided that running was out if the question. By the time I had done some indoor exercise and later sorted myself out to walk into the village, it had calmed down a little and I could have run after all. But it was still fiercely windy, the puddles were immense and the river was bouncing along full pelt.

Later in the morning I listened to Desert Island Discs on the radio. Kirsty’s guest this week was Edna Adan Ismail, former Foreign Minister of Samaliland and once married to Mohammed Haji Ibrahim Egal, Prime Minister of Somalia (1967–69) and then President of Somaliland (1993–2002). More impressively she is the founder and director of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in her country and yet more impressively a pioneer in the struggle for the abolition of female genital mutilation. Her description of undergoing this herself at the age of eight was harrowing. Her doctor father’s reaction on discovering that his own mother and his own wife had colluded, indeed arranged for this to be done, was confirmation for her of the wrongness of this act. An amazing lady, she is worth listening to.

And finally, in the midst of all the craziness of the world, here is a reminder that we still find bits of beauty everywhere.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

On universities and the problems of being made to think!

Who would have thought that all these years on from when my classmates and I were applying to university the same discussions would still be going on about Oxford and Cambridge universities not accepting enough candidates from state schools? If fact, it might not just a state school thing; there is also that North-South divide thing going on. Apparently candidates from London comprehensives do better than those from North of England comprehensives. But still the major difference is between private schools candidates and state school candidates.

According to one of the speakers on Any Questions on the radio, it still comes down in part to a confidence issue and the fact that candidates from state schools aren’t as well prepared for the interview they will have to go through and to some extent they don’t really expect to get in. In some cases schools are discouraging pupils from applying for fear of being disappointed. Still? In the 21st century? (See lower down about protecting people’s feelings.)

One person who spoke on the Any Answers programme bemoaned the loss of the initiatives that I remember existing in state secondary schools, such as the Gifted and Talented programme, which selected pupils early in their secondary school career and kind of groomed they for greatness. Quite so!
The sixth form colleges (state institutions) where I worked had a specific member of staff assigned to encourage and oversee applications to Oxbridge. In both cases these were people who had actually studied there themselves and had experienced the system from within. Perhaps every school and particularly every sixth corm college should have an Oxbridge graduate on their staff for just that purpose. Of course, that would involve finding idealistic Oxbridge graduates prepared to work for a teacher’s salary!

Cambridge has been in the news as well for issuing what they call “trigger warnings” to students in advance of lectures to help prevent distress. Thus, students of English were given advance warning that a seminar on Titus Andronicus would contain discussion of sexual violence and sexual assault. Surely, since Cambridge expects students to have read the texts under discussion, you might think those bright and confident enough to get there might be able to work that out for themselves!

It’s all part of a process they refer to as making universities into “safe” spaces. I am not quite sure what they mean by this but it seems to involve removing stuff that might upset some people. And so there was a controversy about the Christian Union - I think that is who they were - not being allowed to have a stall at a freshers’ fair in case it caused offence!! And certain people have been banned from addressing students in prearranged meetings because of certain “disagreeable” opinions they have expressed.

Maybe films and books should also come with warning they might just possibly make you cry, make you angry, or, heaven forbid, make you think!

Now, I am all for keeping people safe but I like to think this means physically so. It should not mean that we don’t allow students to be confronted with ideas and opinions that they might disagree with or that might upset them. Isn’t studying at university supposed to be about learning to discuss things rationally and, from another angle, to prepare students for life beyond their studies?

Or am I just being old fashioned about it all?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Coffee addiction and other food fads.

Years ago, when David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" was first seen on British TV, we were amused by Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, and his love of coffee. At least once an episode he was heard to declare, "This is damn fine coffee". We still echo him from time to time.

Now I think that Agent Dale Cooper was simply an alter ego for David Lynch who says that his "relationship with coffee" began at the age of three. Modern mothers would throw their hands up in horror at the prospect of their three year old drinking coffee but I can remember people who gave their small children weak milky coffee in a bottle. No wonder they sometimes had trouble sleeping!

David Lynch reckons that at one point he was drinking as many as 20 cups a day. Nowadays he averages 10, but the size of the cup has increased. I wonder what size of cup he drinks nowadays, considering that what Starbucks calls "small" seems to me to be enormous! A good coffee, David says, “should have no bitterness, and it should be smooth and rich in flavour. I like to drink espresso with milk, like a latte or a cappuccino, but the espresso should have a golden foam. It can be so beautiful.” A coffee lover!

I thought of him the other day when I drank coffee with my German friend in the Vienna Coffee House in Manchester. She was drinking an Americano and expressing her annoyance at the Americans having claimed ownership of the large black coffee, which she said should rightly be called a German, or possible Austrian, filter coffee. Nonetheless she enjoyed coffee, declaring it to be very good. Which is ironic as in her house she serves rather poor instant coffee.

Of course, the other big irony is anyone laying claim to coffee as belonging to their nation, apart from tropical Africa where it originated. I wonder if Donald Trump knows that this so American drink, served with just about every meal and cups refilled frequently in diners, is really an immigrant!

I have to confess that Phil and I have become awful coffee snobs. Instant coffee has not been seen in our house for a long time. We remember, with a shudder, my mother making coffee with milk but no water and the merest sprinkle of instant on top of the hot milk. She more or less showed it the coffee jar and that was it. No doubt she would really enjoy the caramel lattes, cinnamon lattes, vanilla lattes and all the other abominations that are offered in coffee shops these days.

Other famous people are known for their eating fads too. Steve Jobs was vegan most of his adult life, believed in fasting, and had periods of being a fruitarian, eating nothing but fruit and nuts. He is said to have believed his diet prevented him from sweating and so did not always wash regularly or use deodorant - not really advisable when you work closely with others! He is also known to have sometimes lived on nothing but apples and carrots, convinced that they gave him everything his body needed. I could almost share that belief, having lived on almost nothing but apples at times during my student life. I am doubtful about the carrots side of it ever since a friend of mine went on a strict carrots and potatoes diet and found his fingers beginning to turn orange from a surfeit of carotene! 

Jackie Onassis is said to have eaten one baked potato a day stuffed with beluga caviar and soured cream. She watched the scales “with the rigour of a diamond merchant counting his carats”, according to her social secretary Tish Baldrige. If she went a couple of pounds over her usual weight, she would fast for a day, then confine herself to a diet of fruit until she was back to normal.

Such are the oddnesses of people's eating habits!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

On punishment and presents.

I read today that Scotland is banning the smacking of children. Well, good for them, say I. I have always been against smacking, which in the end serves to show children that might is right, that the strong rule and having the ability to lash out physically is better than making a rational argument about things.

The article I read said that England is one of four EU countries where corporal punishment is not forbidden. I tried to find a list of countries that forbid smacking but could only find a list of about eight or ten EU countries, nowhere near the number you would expect of we are one of the only four who still smack kids.

Spain was not on the list. I mention this because recently as I walked through St. Ann's Square in Manchester I saw a small child, a very small child, no more than 15 months old, do that thing that tiny people do, pull off her hat and casually drop it over the side. The mother, young and smart, leaned round and said to the child, "¡Olivia! ¡Dame la mano!", grabbed the proffered hand and delivered a sharp slap. I almost intervened. After all I could tell her quite clearly in Spanish that smacking a baby is wrong. However, I was not in busybody mode and refrained.

 It is worth noting that the child was in an outward facing buggy. Phil and I have a thing about buggies; we firmly believe that small children being pushed around in buggies should face the adult pushing them. It's hard to ignore a child if you are making contact with him/her and conversation takes place which is much better for language development. Had little Olivia been facing her mummy, then Mummy would have known that she was pulling her hat off before things went far enough for it to be dropped. Instead she was busy talking to her friend and ignoring the child. Of course, it is quite possible that little Olivia would have received a smack anyway!

On the subject of punishment, I was rather pleased to hear that a couple had been jailed for making false insurance claims. Twice they claimed to have suffered from food poisoning on holiday and wanted compensation. Unfortunately for them they also posted lots of pictures on social media, letting all their friends know what a good time they were having. You have to be careful what you post. Social media is a fickle friend and sometimes turns round and bites you in the leg. Now someone needs to sort out the whiplash claimants and perhaps insurance premiums will reduce a little.

Apparently Theresa May once baked brownies for the BBC team when she went on Test Match Special. Did she really bake them with her own fair hands? I suppose it's quite likely - a little bit of domestic relaxation. Anyway, on a second appearance recently, asked about these treats, she commented that Geoffrey Boycott still had her Tupperware. He has made amends by sending her a gift of plastic boxes embossed with gold labels reading "Property of Theresa May". I lose plastic containers all the time - they migrate to my daughter's house - and I have never yet received personalised boxes in return. What usually happens is that she turns up one day with a bag full of the borrowed Tupperware.

It is much more common for Theresa May to receive gifts of shoes rather than plastic boxes. As female politicians' choice of attire is much noticed and commented on, she has become well known for her love of shoes with kitten heels, or so I have read. Consequently fashion designers such as Stella McCartney send her shoes. But these gifts come at a price; government ethics rules mean the prime minister, ministers and special advisers must declare gifts received above the value of £140 – and pay for any of the gifts they wish to keep. So when these fashion designers send gifts which are well received they benefit twice: the items are paid for and presumably they are able to say "as worn by the Prime Minister".

I wonder if this also applies to the personalised Tupperware.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The joys of public transport around Greater Manchester.

Yesterday, a fine and sunny but windy day, was one of those days when you get up, get started and just carry on all day. In my case it went something like this: get up bright and early, put a load of washing in the washing machine, do some exercise, shower and get ready for the rest of the day, organise breakfast, hang the washing up to dry, rush out to travel to Manchester, meet an old friend as previously agreed, go on to my Italian class, travel home, keeping my fingers crossed that the travel worked out okay, serve up gourmet leftovers, watch a bit of TV and collapse into bed with my book!

My travels yesterday were full of incident of one kind or another from the very start. I hopped on a bus heading for Oldham in the mid to late morning. The bus arrives at the crossroads, goes into the village, turns round by weaving its way through a housing estate and then goes back to crossroads before finally turning towards Oldham. Yesterday it got stuck weaving its way through the housing estate. Someone had cleverly parked a car very close to a corner, preventing the bus from being able to swing round properly. Well, the driver could have done so if he had not minded scraping or even taking a wing off the car. Several local residents popped out to see what was going on but were unable to identify the car or its owner. The bus driver contacted his company who advised him to contact the local police. The bus was clearly going nowhere, at least not for a good while. Some people got off and went home. Three of us shared the cost of a taxi to Oldham. Thank goodness I had got on before the bus went into the village. Otherwise I might have been waiting for ages for a bus which was unable to get out of the village.

On the tram into Manchester, I was amused to see a very mismatched couple. She was wrapped up in a warm jacket, scarf round her neck, woolly hat on her head, warm gloves on her hands. It was a wild and windy day but this was a little exaggerated! He, on the other hand, wore a hoody with the sleeves pushed up and long shorts: his legs and feet were bare and the latter were pushed into flipflops. Yes, the sun was shining but ... the only thing they seemed to have in common was sunglasses.

The friend I met in Manchester declined my invitation to lunch at the Manchester Art Gallery, where they offer a very good home-made soup. She was happy, she declared, with coffee and cake. We caught up on all our news and set the world to rights. She bemoaned the fact that her daughter, a civil servant, is turning progressively more right wing. Despite having voted "Remain", she has just accepted a promotion that makes her a big wheel in the Brexit committee within the treasury. This slide to conservatism, with a small c or a large C, seems to my friend to be almost inevitable. She was almost inconsolable but the cake helped!

Waiting later for bus to take me from Piccadilly to Ardwick, where my Italian class is now now located, I was treated to the delights of two teenage boys, probably around 14 years old, amusing each other by phoning girls and swearing at them at the top of their voices. I did think about remonstrating with them; you can grow tired of hearing "f...ing bitch" over and over again. However, there was nobody else at the bus stop and I chickened out. I did not want their evident misogyny to turn on me when I had no back-up. Besides, the bus came quite quickly.

My return journey was expedited by a friend from the Italian class giving me a lift to Piccadilly to catch the tram for the first stage of the journey. Waiting for the second connecting tram at Manchester Victoria, I saw a man going round asking everyone if they could sell him a cigarette, despite smoking being prohibited on the platform and his having a small child in a buggy. The tram arrived and he was suddenly joined by a woman, presumably the mother of the child. They did not sit side by side, as might be expected. He sat behind her. The tiny child sat in the buggy and was alternately ignored and growled at by both parents. After belching loudly and resonantly, the father picked up the child and proceeded to use her to torment the mother, dangling the poor little thing by her arms over the mother's head. Eventually she upped sticks and moved further down the tram. The child was returned to the buggy - phew, what a relief! The father later followed the mother down the tram, taking the child in the buggy but leaving his coat on the seat. Drunk as a skunk and in the middle of an argument was my conclusion. They got off before I did, he having retrieved his coat.

The last stage of my journey back from Manchester on Tuesday is always a bit hit and miss. There is a bus from Oldham to Delph at 19.28 and I spend the last part of my tram ride watching the clock. If I miss the bus, there is not another for an hour and I often give in and get a taxi. Yesterday evening I alighted from the tram and spotted my bus waiting at the stop. A sprint got me there before the bus left. In fact the driver and a companion were discussing matters and not letting anyone on board. It transpired that this was not my bus but a completely different bus with a number that refused to change.

My heart sank. I was prepared for my second taxi of the day when, suddenly, my bus appeared, only eight minutes late. Sometimes things work out right. I managed to travel the rest of the way without further problems or items of sociological interest!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Consequences of hot weather?

When I went out running earlier this morning it was strangely warm. I had put my light-weight waterproof on as Ophelia was predicted to be making her way over, perhaps softened a bit by hitting Ireland first but still battering us a little with wind and rain. I hadn't got far before I had to take off the waterproof and tie it round my midriff - too hot. It had a try at raining as I made my way back but it didn't really get going. What wind there was blew hot. Very odd! And now the sky is a threatening yellowy grey colour, for all the world as if we are due for a big thunderstorm.

I shouldn't complain. As I have said many times, we are fortunate to have no real extremes of weather.

Late last night I noticed that a friend of mine had posted something about forest fires in Galicia. This is, of course, nothing new. Every summer there are fires. Warnings go out about not lighting fires if you go for a picnic in the woods and about being careful not to drop still-lighted cigarette ends.

But we are now in the middle of October. What is more, my friend, who lives in Alcabre, a district of Vigo down near Samil beach, was talking about the possibility of having to be evacuated from their home.

None of the British papers seemed to have news of this in their online papers. But by this morning some news outlets carried reports, but still not the main story treatment that the California fires had. And yet, people have died, people have had to leave their homes and some homes have gone up in smoke. Fires have been burning all over the place all over the region, crossing the River Miño to and from Portugal. This satellite view shows how many fires have been burning.

I have seen forest fires from a distance. In August I watched fire-fighting planes scooping water from the sea to dump it on the flames. But always I saw it from a distance. Yesterday, I ma told, the fire made its way into the city of Vigo. People from outlying districts were told to leave their homes and hotels and a sports stadium were made available for overnight accommodation. The flames even made their way to the Castro Park, one of the green lungs of the city, close to the centre.

This is Redondela, the next stop on the railway line from Vigo to Pontevedra.

When Redondela has fireworks for its fiestas, we can watch them from our flat in Vigo. That's how close it is. It's an amazing photo. Fire is a beautiful but dangerous thing.

Hurricane Ophelia has had her part in this event, fanning the flames and helping them leap boundaries. And all around the region there are those eucalyptus trees, ubiquitous intruders, that burn like crazy. A major factor though is the fact that it has not rained properly there for months. Back in June, friends of ours were expressing concern about the ongoing drought. And dry months have gone by since then. And temperatures have remained high through September and October.

Astoundingly some of these fires have been started deliberately. Who does things like that?

Poor Galicia!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

On routines, food fads and gender roles.

Today is a perfectly fine, almost springlike day. According to the online weather forecast, it is cloudy and will be cloudy all day. In reality, the sky is mostly blue, the sun is shining and it is mild, verging on warm. And this is despite the fact that Hurricane Ophelia, now no longer a true hurricane apparently, is supposed to be bringing us high winds. Why there are so many hurricanes is year is one of those things nobody has yet explained to me. Consequently, I put it all down to global warming.

Because today is Sunday and because I am mostly a creature of habit, I listened to The Food Programme on the radio while doing a variety of kitchen-based tasks. Today they were concentrating on people who eat according to strict rules.

There was a jockey who talked about how he maintains his weight at around 8 stone. Now, I know jockeys are not tall and that he might perhaps be my sort of height, 5 feet 5 inches more or less, but even so, 8 stone is skinny. I know because I have been that sort of weight in the past. Apparently when he started jockeying he weighed 5.5 stone. There must have been nothing of him but skin and bone. He likes to have the occasional blow-out Sunday lunch with his family and a glass or two of wine to accompany it. After that he gets back on his disciplined routine and quickly reverts to his low weight, following a diet which he did it specify.

Then there was the former boxer, who used to follow a chaotic routine in the six weeks before a big fight: get up at 6.00 am for a run, no breakfast, back to bed for a while, then a session at the gym, after which he bought a 6 inch Subway sandwich, which he really enjoyed, and then back to bed to sleep some more. Ye gods! Is that a life? He said that his skin was terrible and he was susceptible to cuts but he maintained this routine for a long time until he got involved in something with Liverpool John Moores University. They have him eating six small meals a day, with healthy snacks of nuts and bananas; he no longer shuts himself away in his room but eats with, and interacts more with, his family, feels healthier, has no skin problems and weighs less than when he was on his Subway diet!

The programme presenter also spoke to a Jain nun, who was visiting someone for lunch, something Jainists do quite often, or so it seems.  She was a strict vegetarian, one of the things that goes with the Jain philosophy. Her vegetarianism had an extreme I have not heard of before: Jainists eat no root vegetables because root vegetables have souls. In fact they have not just one soul per veg but the possibility of multiple souls. Who knew? It seems just a little extreme to me and perhaps a bit boring.

A food vlogger they interviewed spoke about her loathing for what she calls "beige" food, by which she seems to mean pasta, potatoes and bread. This is a consequence of her mother feeding her lots of boring sandwiches in her childhood. Food should be colourful, she maintained. I quite agree, but I do think it is possible to add colour to pasta and potatoes. Everything in moderation! The excerpt they played from her vlog was, in my opinion, annoyingly chirpy and sweet, sunny-voiced and more than a little too self-assured. However, quite a lot of people follow her and many even pay £50 to download her week-long diet advice. And so she makes a living in one of the new modern ways!

In yesterday's paper, I came across this article about women earning more than their husbands, not from vlogging but in more conventional business-related ways. The writer explained how he and a number of his friends became stay-at-home dads, working freelance from home and gradually accepting that it was okay for them no longer to be the main breadwinner for the family.

Phil and I have usually been pretty much equal breadwinners. At times one or other of us became the higher earner in the family but it never bothered us. The money always went into a common pot anyway. The fathers in the article had some difficulty initially accepting their "lesser" role in the family finances but adjusted fine in the end. Role-reversal has a lot to offer, they said.

However, I found myself wondering. It may work in professional, creative families but what about the out of work unskilled man whose wife keeps the family going with several cleaning jobs and whatever else she can find? That might be a different story!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

On kissing fish and finding good stuff to watch on TV.

In those moments on the radio when they give you a news headlines recap before the next programme starts, at 6.00pm, 7.00pm and 8.00pm yesterday evening, they included an item about a man who had accidentally swallowed a live fish, gone into cardiac arrest and had his life saved by paramedics. Sensible newspapers like the Guardian carried reports of it.

This is all very good for telling is how great the paramedics are but does it really rate up there alongside news of Trump being ridiculous about Iran and Brexit negotiations coming to a standstill? It's not even when the government is on holiday, for goodness sake! And the bloke in question only swallowed the fish because he was giving it a kiss before throwing it back. I know this because they interviewed him on the PM programme on Radio 4. Who goes round kissing fish? Fishermen, obviously! Good grief!

When you think of demonstrations and other events that go on around the world and do not get reported, this sort of thing makes you wonder what goes on in the minds of programme compilers. Someone actively decided to include this item in the news. Pretty soon the angler, or perhaps the fish, will be appearing on chat shows and Question Time and Have I got News for You? They might even end up leading the country!

On the other hand, maybe somebody simply decided that we needed some good news stories to compensate for all the doom and gloom: Brexit, threats of war, "I too was abused", and environmental issues. So it goes!

Usually towards the end of the evening we indulge in a little escapism by watching some television. Finding less and less stuff directly transmitted that interests us we have been catching up on a variety of series on Netflix. Yesterday evening, having recently finished off House of Cards, we were at a bit of a loss and so trawled through stuff we have recorded onto the television's digibox.

We settled for a programme about Tom Petty; made around ten years ago, it was celebrating thirty years of The Heartbreakers. We had forgotten how long the programme was and found ourselves sitting up way past our bedtime - well, way past my bedtime anyway. I had to have a lie-in this morning!

It was a fascinating programme, full of great music and full of insight into the exploitation rife in the music business and the struggles artists had to own the rights to their own compositions. As Tom Petty said, when he naively gave the record company "publishing rights" he thought it meant printing songbooks, not that he was letting them take his songs away from him. He fought and got them back even though he ended up fighting against not just one record company but practically the whole record industry. Amazing stuff!

The Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert I went to in the summer was part of the fortieth anniversary tour. How amazing that three musicians who became friends at the end of the 1960s, Tom Petty, Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, could continue playing together for so long. Other members of the band had come and gone but the core remained and always it seemed like a family. How many manufactured bands and winners of television reality shows will last so long?

Benmont Tench, asked how long he thought they could continue, said that so long as the other two wanted to be in the band he was ready to continue. He got ten more years out of it and then fate stepped in. I consider myself fortunate to have been there in Hyde Park in the summer!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Stormy times.

I went running before the rain set in this morning. However, a friend of mine commented, quite justifiably in my opinion, that my picture of Autumn colours would look much better in the sunshine. 

It's still not raining properly but more is predicted. The builder who lives next door has promised to put a sort of cap on our chimney-pot to prevent crows from falling down the chimney. Two things are preventing him from getting on: the need for a a new ladder, due to be delivered any day now, and the windy weather. According to yesterday's TV weatherman, today's stormy weather is down to Hurricane Ophelia, following on the heels of Hurricane Nate. Ophelia is the tenth storm/hurricane in a fairly short time. I am growing rather bored with them.

But at least we are not homeless. The National Audit Office reckoned that 4,100 people were sleeping rough in the UK in Autumn 2016. Crisis, the homelessness charity put the figure at 9,000. That's like the population of a good-sized village or very small town. And this doesn't include the homeless who sleep on sofas in the homes of friends and family. Herriott-Watt University in Scotland estimate that if government policy remains as it is now, that figure could go up to 575,000 by 2041. And already it's hard to walk around the centre of Manchester without seeing evidence of the rough sleepers. 

Much of this homelessness is blamed on people being evicted from rented accommodation for rent arrears. This is added to by private landlords' unwillingness to accept tenants in receipt of Universal Credit. Considering the shambles that Universal Credit seems to be in, I am not surprised by that reluctance. Another solution to the housing problem is called for.

Yesterday there was a ring at our doorbell. Phil opened the door and there he found a young man trying to sell stuff door-to-door. I listened in to the conversation, the list of stuff he offered - tea towels, chamois leathers, dusters, oven gloves - a load of stuff all apparently priced at £14.99, although he was prepared to haggle over price a little. In the end Phil bought a pair of scissors, which we don't really need, labelled as the only scissors you will ever need!

We wondered if such young men going round selling stuff are similar to the men, usually African immigrants, who go round the bars in Spain selling stuff no-one wants, and "controlled" by an overseer who takes the majority of the profits. How did we come to this?

Back when I was a child, we used to have regular visits from the "Bettaware man", an itinerant salesman with a battered brown suitcase full of samples of his wares - polishes, cleaning products, dusters and so on. Was this the same sort of thing? I always had the impression that the Bettaware man was properly employed. After all, he came back again and again. And, checking on the Internet I discovered that you can still get Bettaware products. The difference is that nowadays you order online: another type of employment gone!

But at least - here I go with another "but at least" ... - we don't have a President causing further problems by removing the possibility of poorer people getting healthcare subsidies.

 Well, not yet anyway!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Dentistry, pension plans and animal husbandry!

Making my way to the dentist for a check-up this morning, I travelled by bus, tram and foot. At the tram-stop I reached the doors of the tram just as it pulled out - five or six minutes to wait for the next one - and so got into conversation with a lady who had got off the same bus as I did and consequently JUST missed the same tram. We commented on the fact that even though we actually have all the time in the world to get to places we both wondered how we ever used to manage to find the time to work. I must confess to not missing work at all. If I did not keep in contact on a regular basis I would probably miss some of the people I worked with, but I have never felt the need to seek employment to fill my time. And yes, I am aware that I am fortunate enough to have a pension to live on - not huge but definitely adequate - but then I did pay into a pension scheme!

Now, I read recently that David Cameron has got himself a new job, as an adviser for a financial transactions company. Of course, it's not a job in the sense of going out every day and doing the 9 to 5 grind. He'll probably do a few days every month, giving him plenty of time to write his book, for which he is said to have received a nicely generous advance payment, and to go and make speeches, for which he apparently receives up to £120,000 an hour!!! Good grief!!! His words must be truly golden.

Then I read that he does all this on top of getting an allowance of up to £115,000 a year for life, just for having been Prime Minister. And he doesn't even have to wait until he reaches retirement age to receive it. This is an allowance intended to "assist former Prime Ministers, still active in public life. Payments are made only to meet the actual cost of continuing to fulfil public duties. The costs are a reimbursement of incurred expenses for necessary office costs and secretarial costs arising from their special position in public life". This implies, unless I am misreading something here, that all former Prime Ministers are eligible for. How nice! They must have a really good pension scheme. Do they all claim it? Or are some of them good enough to fund their own travel and other necessities in the fulfilment of their public duties? I hope that the latter is the case.

My visit to the dentist, by the way, was uneventful. The dentist and I go back a long way and so we swopped updates about our respective families and stories about our holidays and then I underwent the regular torture of the "scale and polish" and received, once again, advice on interdental brushing. So that's that for another six months.

In the waiting room was an information notice about brushing your teeth, advising no rinsing after brushing, presumably because the toothpaste has some good effect on the teeth. It also said to wait at least an hour after eating before brushing your teeth. Why? I had meant to ask the dentist but after the above-mentioned torture session it slipped my mind!

Now here's something else: what do the outer suburbs of Madrid and the Forest of Dean have in common? Answer: a surfeit of wild boars! Who knew?

Wild boars are common almost all over Spain and always have been but apparently they are now seeking food in the outskirts of the Spanish capital. Here is a link to an article about those who want to cull and those who don't.

In the Forest of Dean they are a more recent problem. Some escaped from a farm, which presumably was rearing them for their meat, a good while ago now, and have been breeding like, well, like wild boar, producing very good sized litters and causing road accidents. Like deer, they have no road sense. Here is a link to an article about culling or not in the Forest of Dean.

Time to resurrect Astérix and Obélix! They always liked hunting the wild boar!

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Women out and about!

I seem to have been in serious ladies-who-lunch mode this week, catching up with various different groups of friends. And there are more to be organised for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday's lunch was considerably better than Monday's. This is no reflection of the company but rather on the food. On Monday one of our party had booked us into a restaurant that was taking part in Manchester's Food Festival, getting us a special deal. The problem was that the special deal was steak and chips and a cocktail. Now, I have not eaten steak for more years than I care to count and gin-based cocktails have never been my thing. So it goes.

Yesterday's lunch was at La Viña, a pretty authentic tapas restaurant on Manchester's Deansgate, where I had a Catalan dish (not a political statement at all) which they called "suqueta" but which the Catalans call "suquet de pescadors". It had prawns and mussels and clams in a tomato sauce - the Catalans do like their tomatoes. For those who can read Catalan, here is a link to a recipe. I also had garlic mushrooms and what they called a winter salad. My friend had something with aubergines, an over-rated vegetable in my opinion, an Asturian dish with "alubias", white beans, and a winter salad.

We love going to La Viña, partly for the amusement of seeing what selection of tapas they will serve us and whether it actually matches up with what we ordered. Maybe it's because the Spanish waiters are so friendly and chatty that they forget stuff but we have several times had weird and wonderful but erroneous dishes. Yesterday, true to form, they served us one winter salad and one dish of another, less appetising looking salad, which we sent back to be exchanged. The food, however, is always good, especially washed down with a nice glass of wine.

All this eating out plays havoc with your exercise routine. So today I get back on track: a run down the Donkey Line bridle path to Uppermill, a whizz round the Wednesday market, admiring the display of flowers, and a brisk walk back.

On the subject of exercise, I came across this article which maintains that women are often too afraid to walk through city streets and parks because of fear of harassment. This is interesting because one of my companions in my Italian class asked me to meet her at Piccadilly station in Manchester so that we could travel together to the class venue in nearby Ardwick - bus from Piccadilly to the Apollo theatre and then a five minute walk to the actual venue. I have no fears of doing this journey on my own but this lady is clearly made nervous by the look of the place. This, by the way, is late afternoon not late evening.

I walk around the city on my own a great deal without problems. Do I lack imagination or does my friend have an overactive imagination? Which of us is right?

Monday, 9 October 2017

Bits of crazy stuff!

Today I met some friends for lunch in Manchester, catching up on the news. One of them told us about her holiday in Crete that went haywire when her daughter's foot slipped off a raised kerbstone, resulting in a broken leg. The struggle she went through to get her daughter back to the UK - involving a travel insurance company that would pay for the daughter to travel home on a scheduled flight instead of a budget airline flight but would not pay for someone to accompany her - was the stuff of nightmares. My friend forked out for her own flight, while her husband and her daughter's husband took home on the budget airline flight. Her tales of the shambolic attempts by airline staff to locate a suitable wheelchair in Heathrow airport would be funny if they were in a film instead of in real life. The whole thing makes our frustration at having our Monarch airline flights to Portugal at the end of this month pale into insignificance.

As if that were not bad enough on its own, six weeks or so before the holiday fiasco, my friend's daughter and grandchildren had narrowly escaped being blown up by the Manchester Arena bomb. They were physically fine but somewhat traumatised. The oldest grandchild, ten and a half, had some difficulty going back to Victoria Station. She still hasn't talked about it. Her sister, three years younger, wrote in her diary, "There was a bomb. Ariana was not hurt." No mention of her mother or siblings! What a difference a few years make!
Terrorism has become a part of our lives. When a car mounted the pavement outside the Natural History Museum in London the other day, almost everyone's first thought was terrorism. Noted tweeters vented their spleen on social media. One right wing group even turned up with a camera crew ready to film what has turned out to be a road traffic incident.

In the midst of all the reporting of the mass shooting at the music event in Las Vegas one voice of sanity spoke put about how we should be circumspect on how we report events like that. Too much emphasis on what happens glamourises it in a way, he said, and leads to copycat crimes. But how do you find a happy medium? We all want to know what is going on in the world. We also want to know why things happen. And the gruesome side of us, the bit that makes us slow down and take a look as we drive past a road accident, wants to know the gory details. But the speaker was right: we need to find a way of reporting these events without giving hem too much glory. I have no idea what the answer is.

One thing that has been talked about a lot is the mechanism used to convert an ordinary repeating rifle (if that is the correct term for the gun) into something like a machine gun: a device called a bump stock. As moves are afoot to ban the sale of the device gun enthusiasts have been buying them like crazy. Gun owners are hoarding them. One gun-owner is reported to have said, “I don’t even have the gun for it, but I want the stock just to have it down the line. I just like the idea of them and want to see how it feels and if it’s worth it – for $100, it’s almost not a bad investment to buy it, try it out and sell it if I don’t like it.”

These people are seriously deranged. This is not the latest toy fad that you absolutely must have for your child for Christmas. Neither is it the latest fashion in clothing which is selling out in a limited edition. It is effectively a weapon of war.

Meanwhile, life goes on, as it must. On the tram I overheard a couple, not teenagers by any means, discussing what they were going to do for Hallowe'en. I suppose it's a hard decision when you are too old to go trick or treating but don't yet have children you can take out on that pointless, sugar-filled activity. And besides, Hallowe'en, as one of them complained, falls on a Tuesday this year. So difficult to organise!

Why not just skip over it? And skip over bonfire night as well? After all, the Manchester shops are already busily preparing for Christmas!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sunday reflections.

Here are a few things that have struck me this week. 

First of all, the other evening we went to a get-together of people who had been and/or still were members of the NUT in Oldham. This was because the NUT has merged - no, the organisers of the shindig advised us, not merged but amalgamated - with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers to form a new organisation, the National Education Union. The Oldham NUT was disappearing after 144 years in existence.

There were not as many people there as we expected but we saw some old friends. In fact we sat together, some of the oldest in the room, a little group of us wanting to point out to others that we had been a pressure group within the union in our time. Mostly we just sat and listened to the speeches, ate the food from the buffet and chatted.

To commemorate the passing of the Oldham branch, a little book had been produced: a bit of history and some photos. We found very few photos of our era though. We were not really surprised. Back in the 1970s we were too busy doing to keep a photographic record of ourselves. Mobile phones did not exist and we certainly didn't carry cameras around with us all the time. How things have changed!

Then, yesterday in the local co-op I saw a young mother with her twin daughters, pretty little things of around two years old, dressed in matching outfits, with matching flowery raincoats and topped with matching blond hair pulled up into matching topknots on their matching heads. They seemed very well behaved. Their names, I discovered were Rosabella - a perfectly fine name for a little girl even though a tiny bit too Disney-princess-ish for my liking - and Ocean.

Ocean! What kind of name is that? Yes, I know that one of the Phoenix clan is called River. And I have come across a number of girls called Summer. Equally silly names in my opinion! I imagine Ocean, when she is old enough to comment about such things, turning to her parents and asking why her sister has a fairly normal, if rather soppy, name but she is called after a geographical feature!! The mind boggles!

And finally, today I read about Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer of a book called "We Were Eight Years in Power: an American Tragedy". He is a young black man who grew up in Baltimore. He says that Donald Trump is a white supremacist, something few people are prepared to say out loud. He compares those who voted for Trump, not all of them white supremacists by any means, with Germans who, while not believing that Jews were an evil that needed to be eradicated, turned a blind eye to what was going on. Or the French who, again not believing in the basic philosophy of Nazism, let their Jews be deported. Turning a blind eye to evil legitimises it, he maintains.

He says at one point in an interview for the Observer, "I had very little interaction with white people as a kid". This was in Baltimore, a city with over 600,000 inhabitants. We tend to think about people in small places, here as well as in the USA, not having much contact with people of a different ethnicity to their own but somehow we expect city life to be more diverse, or at least I do.

But then, as I have said many times before, America is more foreign than we expect it to be. One example is the recent ruling about employers nor having to provide free contraception as part of the health insurance for their workers. This is the 21st century after all. I find it quite disturbing that an administration that criticises fundamentalists from other religions panders to the beliefs of what are essentially Christian fundamentalists.

How do these things happen?

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Technological stuff.

We have been watching the latest series of House of Cards on Netflix. The candidate opposing Frank Underwood for presidency of the USA is, it becomes increasingly clear, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, making him very tense and irritable at times. In the episode we watched last night poor Will was being offered VR therapy for PTSD. This involves putting on a headset and finding yourself back in your stress situation. Then this morning there is an article in the Guardian Weekend magazine all about VR therapy for all sorts of stuff. What a coincidence!

The whole magazine is technology-themed, so one section is about apps for your phone. I don't buy apps. My grandchildren find this hard to understand. Some of them are quite amazing. You can get an app called RunPee which will tell you when is the best moment to run out for a wee while a film is playing. Of course, if you watch your films on Netflix, you can just pause it and run to the loo. Another uses Google street maps to show you what children's playgrounds look like, thus avoiding getting to on only to find it full of broken equipment and the leftovers from teenagers's get-togethers or, worse, syringes left behind from drug session. There is an app to send you sleep.

Most amazing, for me anyway, is PoopLog, which tracks how ofetn you go to the toilet for what the writer tweely calls a "number two". "Every time you do a number two, instead of absent-mindedly picking fights with strangers on Twitter, you can open the app, look between your legs and measure consistency (based onthe Bristol Stool Scale), size, time and location." Good grief! Too much information! I can see how certain medical conditions might find that useful but really, how anally-fixated do you need to be? Taking your phone to the loo is the best way to risk dropping it into the toilet. My mind boggles.

There is also an article about the addictive qualities of iPhone use. Some people, it tells me, "touch, swipe or tap their phone an average of 2,617 times a day." It talks about concerns regarding cognitive facility and attention span, "continuous partial attention"which limits the ability to focus and perhaps lowers IQ. Significantly many of those who work in silicone valley are working at weaning themselves off their own products and sending their children to schools where iPhone, iPads and even laptops are banned. Most of these are youngish people in their thirties, the age to have children starting school, who acknowledge that they are the last generation to remember a time before mass technology everywhere.Top executives, notably, are not bothered by any of this are bothered by any of this. Like the sellers of any addictive products they are more interested in making lots of money. 

And finally here is a link to Howard Jacobson's comments on technology. Interestingly (well, I think so anyway), he begins with a story of giving a child a conker and the child then trying to eat it, much to the parents' consternation, rather then recognising it as a thing to hang on a string and play/fight with. This reflects some of my remarks yesterday about children not recognising flora and fauna.

Mind you, there are plenty of countries where children are more likely to think that a chestnut is something to eat than something to play with.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Some stuff about children.

"Children born since the 1980s are up to three times more likely than older generations to be overweight or obese by the age of 10. The number of overweight children admitted to hospital has risen from 872 in 2000 to 3,807 in 2009. And over the past decade, the UK has seen a four-fold rise in youngsters needing medical attention as a consequence of being obese."

The above is an extract from this article

Whatever poor opinion I might have of Jeremy Hunt, however, I don't think we can blame all the obesity problems on him. Part of it springs from the simple ever-present availability of sweet stuff. Sugar is addictive - they have proved that to be a fact - and it's everywhere. I swear there is a far greater variety of sweets and chocolate bars and biscuits and, of course, fizzy drinks, than there ever were when I was a kid. And mostly we didn't shop in big supermarkets with their aisles full of temptation, tempting mum to buy £1 bags of fruit pastilles, tangy-fruit sweets, mint imperials or whatever it happens to be, just to keep the kids quiet. What's more, although that £1 might be a smaller portion of the family budget than the 3 old pence I used to get to spend when I was eight or nine, you can bet your bottom dollar that the sweets don't always have to last the week like mine had to.

There I go, in grumpy old codger, it wasn't like that in my day mode! So here's a bit more of it: we all used to run around outside a lot more too, further staving off the obesity.

Robert Macfarlane, in one of last weekend's papers bemoaned the fact that children are losing touch with nature. They recognise Pokémon characters more readily than they do plants and trees and flowers. Only a third of eight- to eleven-year-olds in a National Trust survey could identify a magpie but 90% of them could identify a Dalek. The survey quoted was from 2008 so the situation is probably worse now. Adults are no better; of 2000 adults, only half could identify a sparrow, a quarter didn't know a blue tit or a starling. The writer himself admits, "My own children can name a moorhen but nit a collared dove, a blackbird but not a starling. They know oak but not hawthorn, beech but not ash."

It's not all our fault. Around here we don't see many sparrows or starlings, birds that were everywhere in my childhood. You do, however, see so many magpies that the old rhyme about "one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy" is just irrelevant. What does it mean when they get into double figures?

I suspect that the writer's children see rather more examples of the specimens they can name than those they can't.

Maybe someone should re-introduce the old I Spy books, which encouraged children to roam around looking for examples of whatever the particular I Spy book's theme happened to be. Of course, for that to work children would have to be let off the leash a little and allowed to roam a bit further than the garden gate something which is not going to happen any time soon.

Schools could do their bit too. When I was in junior school t was not uncommon on a fine day for a teacher to decide to take the class on a "nature walk". Off we would go, in a crocodile-type straggle of pairs, to walk to a local park and collect items of interesting specimens of flora and fauna. But of course, as my daughter the primary school teacher would undoubtedly hasten to remind me, the school day (and week, month and year) is much too tightly scheduled to allow such things. Unplanned and unscheduled activities are proscribed! 

Which brings me to this article  about a school in Bradford where the head decided that music should be given priority, indeed music should be involved in just about every lesson in one way or another. All the children learn to play a musical instrument. Everyone sings songs, from all cultures. And if particularly religious parents objected to their children learning about other religions in this way, they were soon convinced of the benefits when their children's test results improved. And besides, surely if a religion is worth anything, it should be able to withstand a bit of comparison with another one (my comment, I hasten to add).

So there we are; that's my take on a few childhood matters.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Continuing stories!

After my abject failure to collect the parcel which was not delivered to our house, despite our being home at the time, Phil went along to the designated Royal Mail office early yesterday evening and successfully picked it up. (As I suspected, it was a chess book; it was appropriate, therefore that he collected it?) There was quite a queue of people collecting parcels. The staff complained that their workload had gone up this week, largely due to a management decision that parcels unable to be left at Delph Post Office should be redirected to them for collection. There is a perfectly good Post Office at Dobcross, the nearest Saddleworth village to Delph. Sending undelivered Delph parcels there would have been more convenient for just about everyone. Nobody told management that!

En route for the Royal Mail office, Phil has a little misadventure: a contretemps with a dog. As he walked down the road in the pouring rain, umbrella up, he noticed a man about to unlock his front door. The man in question was accompanied by a young Alsatian dog, rather bouncy and perhaps not well controlled, so Phil gave them a wide berth. Not wide enough, however. As he passed by the dog lunged at him and grabbed him by the arm, hard enough to cause bruising and some scratching. The owner of the dog failed to apologise. Indeed, he berated Phil for carrying an umbrella. The dog does not like umbrellas feels threatened by them and reacts accordingly. Understandable ... to a certain extent.

I know dogs who object to people in hats. My daughter's dog thoroughly dislikes vacuum cleaners and sweeping brushes. However, he does not attack the welder of such implements. Oh, no! He alternates between cowering at the other side of the room, growling furiously, and harassing the vacuum cleaner, preventing cleaning from taking place. He has to be shut in another room or put out in the garden. When your dog is unreasonable you take measures to prevent it causing problems. Training is a really good idea!

So today we have been checking the address of the dog owner and making reports to the police, what the Spanish would call a "denuncia". After all, had Phil been a less robust individual, he might have been knocked to the ground. Had the passerby been someone with a child under an umbrella, what might the consequences have been? So steps have been taken!

Meanwhile, on a rather more serious note, during Theresa May's coughing speech yesterday someone called Simon Brodkin handed the prime minister a fake P45, claiming he was following the instructions of Boris Johnson. Indignant comments have been made about security measures. How had this happened? How was it possible to sneak a piece of paper past security checks? More importantly, perhaps, how had he got credentials to be in the conference at all and been able to worm his way to the front and interrupt the PM.

She appeared, by the way, to be unaware of what it was at first as she just accepted it, put it on the floor and continued with her speech, before she recovered enough to make jokes about giving Jeremy Corbyn a P45.

Mr Brodkin was arrested, dragged from the conference hall indeed, but will not be charged with anything. It seems his alter ego is a character called Lee Nelson, well known as a prankster. In 2015 he showered the then Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, with fake banknotes, and last year at the reopening of Donald Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland he hijacked the then US presidential candidate’s speech with golf balls emblazoned with swastikas. None of this came up in security checks! How could that be? Fortunately so far in this country you don't get a criminal record for plying practical jokes on famous people. No doubt that might change now.

Even more seriously, the Catalan situation rumbles on. Spanish, and non-Spanish but Catalan-supporting, friends of mine have been posting evidence of police violence in Barcelona and other cities. Others have been posting stuff from a different point of view.

One post included this: Cataluña no está "oprimida". Es una de las regiones más prósperas de España y sus ciudadanos disfrutan de un alto nivel de vida y uno de los más altos grados de autogobierno de cualquier región de Europa. Roughly translated: Catalonia is not "oppressed". It is one of the most prosperous regions of Spain and its citizens enjoy a high standard of living and one of the highest levels of self-government of any region in Europe.

My Spanish niece, an Andalusian, posted something about Grazalema, a town in the hills not far from where she lives, which once had a thriving woollen industry but lost it when investment in Catalonia led to the work moving there.

Another friend published a letter from a 30 year-old Catalan living in London, in which he expressed his feelings of having been brainwashed from an early age by separatists. Going to London on an Erasmus scholarship made him realise that there is a wider world that Catalonia. And besides, he went on, some of the Catalan traditions were invented at the end of the 19th /beginning of the 20th century. These included even the "sardana"', the "national" dance which was invented by someone from Alcalá la Real in the province of Jaen.

Oh dear! Who to believe?

None of this excuses police violence or makes Rajoy's mismanagement of the situation any less serious. But it does does give you food for thought.