Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Lunar activity, possibly lunatic behaviour and strong women!

Some people I know are getting very excited about the moon this evening. Posts like this one are appearing:
 “Ready for a shake up with the beautiful Full moon, Supermoon, Blue moon, Total eclipse. Visible from 5pm, best view 12.40am weather permitting!”

 Here’s a link to some information about it. I am not getting too excited about it, because whenever they announce that there will be a supermoon, a meteorite shower, aurora borealis or ufos visible in the sky of the Northwest of England, well, you can guarantee that around here it will be too cloudy to see anything at all.

So there it is!

It is, however, possible that the moon is having an effect on me despite my scepticism about ever seeing its interesting qualities in our night sky. According to my diary I should have been having lunch with an old friend in Manchester today. I got up bright and early, at my daughter’s request,  to escort one of the grandchildren to the doctor’s surgery, and went on from there to Manchester city centre.

I did a bit of window-shopping and a bit of inside-the-store-shopping and took myself off in plenty of time to meet my friend at the appointed time in Waterstone’s cafe. I ordered a coffee and placed myself strategically so that I could spot her as she came in.

The appointed time came ... and went .... and my friend failed to show. This is most unlike her so I checked my diary. It clearly said January 31st. Eventually, to be on the safe side, I checked my emails. There it was, in the email trail: some discussion of Wednesday 31st January but an eventual decision to go for Wednesday 14th February, since neither if us expects to be whisked away for a romantic Valentine’s Day shindig!

Either I am going completely doo-lally or the moon, as I already suggested, is messing with my head. But I had a little wander around the centre, watched the weather go from windy rain to windy sun to windy hail and then cycle around again and again, and then caught the tram and bus back home. 

Further to my post from the other day all about my love-hate relationship with technology, here is a link to Michele Hanson writing about the same topic. I have long admired Michel Hanson, ever since I came across her column. “Treasure”, in the 1990s. That column recounted the trials and tribulations of life with a teenage daughter, so similar to my own experience that it made me see the funny side of everything.

And here is a link to the Guardian’s “Long Read” for this week, all about Mary Beard, historian, academic, TV personality - but never in reality or quiz shows - and feminist unafraid to buck the trend and prepared to say that, far from accepting abuse as “the norm back in the day”, she simply did not consider herself abused as a young woman:-

 “As an undergraduate, she “went out and got pissed – sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and all that. But I worked really, really hard. I am not of the view that people get firsts effortlessly.” These were different times. She found herself drawn to older, sometimes married, men. “I had relationships with people who were technically in different levels, in positions of power,” she said, “and I am fucking well not having my agency removed from that. You could say: ‘Beard, you are engaged in massive self-deception, you were being exploited within a power structure and you’ve just not seen it.’ But when I look back at the late 1970s and early 80s, that’s not how my relationships with these guys felt. You can accuse me of, and I can never defend myself against, mammoth miscognition.”
She doesn’t feel damaged by scenarios that would plainly be unacceptable today, she said, though “on the other hand you’d have to be blind as a bat to see it didn’t work like that for everybody”. One of the great problems of today, she said, was deciding how far current rules of behaviour could be projected back on the past. This question also informs her academic work: she is more likely to point out how different we are from the Romans than how similar. “As soon as you say things were different 40 years ago, people start to say you’re a harassment denier. But actually, they were. I do not think that the lives of women of my generation as a class were blighted by the way the power differentials between men and women operated. We wanted to change those power differentials; we also had a good time.””

Good for Mary Beard

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The stuff that dreams - or nightmares - are made of!

I’m a retired lady and, as such, have very little stress in my life. Stress is a thing of the past. I inhabit a stress-free zone. Gone are the days when I had deadlines to meet, reports to write, huge, great documents of planning to produce for my line manager, immense piles of students’ coursework to assess and a million other things to do. Even back then when I had all those things, I used to pride myself on “not doing stress”. I used to work on the principle that if you made a list, prioritised it and the worked through it, it would all get done eventually. That does not mean that I never burnt the midnight oil at times, but even midnight oil can be burnt calmly! 

So why do I have anxiety dreams?

As a rule my anxiety dreams involve turning up to teach a class and finding that it is completely different from what I had planned for: a different subject area, a different topic, a different group of students, a different place even! Or there is the classic one where I stand there delivering a lesson and nobody, absolutely nobody, takes any notice of me, nobody even acknowledges that I am there. Sometimes it involves trying to find my way around a building, a building I thought I knew, in an attempt to deliver a lesson at a specific time. A variety of scenarios but always teaching related.

But last night was different:  it was bank cards and PIN numbers. As is usual with dreams, I remember none of the details, just that I could not match PINs to cards. Goodness knows where that came from!

Those PIN numbers, “el numero secreto” the Spanish call them, can be the bane of your life. When they first came into being I sort of ignored them. You couldn’t use them when purchasing stuff by card as you can nowadays and I just carried on going to the bank to withdraw money directly. The only cash machine around was outside the bank and so it was just as easy to pop in and get cash.

And then we went to France on holiday, with a stash of French francs in hand. (This story pre-dates the Euro.) All was fine until we realised that we were going to run out of ready money. We had our bank cards with us but neither of us had ever used a cash machine. So eventually we went along to a branch of our bank in a French town and asked for help. Goodness knows what we would have done had we not spoken French.

The bank people could not understand our problem and pointed us in the direction of the cash machine outside. Ah, but we needed the magic number, the PIN, the number we had never memorised and certainly did not have with us. I am not sure quite how we persuaded that French bank manager but he made a phone call to our branch in the UK and eventually conceded to let us withdraw some cash. We were very frugal for the remaining few days of the holiday and kept our fingers crossed that we had enough. It all worked out.

Back home in the UK, we rediscovered the PIN numbers for our bank cards and, dragging ourselves kicking and screaming into the 20th century with its modern banking, we taught ourselves how to use cash machines.

And now we all have PINs and passwords for a while range of things: not just bank cards but online banking, online accounts for this and that, magical numbers and passwords to unlock phones and computers and programmes within computers. And we are supposed to memorise them all! Another nightmare!

After a prolonged stay Spain I once discovered that I had completely forgotten the PIN for my credit card. I had not used the card for months and my brain had shunted the memory into a back drawer, indeed into the very bottom of that back drawer. Quite frightening! I had to request a new one when I returned to the UK.

Now I have rather more cards and a series of mnemonics which are supposed to help me remember them. All the advice is not to write them down. No wonder I have anxiety dreams!

Of course, nowadays contactless shopping gets around some of the problem of PIN number remembering. The iPhone can even do some of it for you. You just show your card or your phone screen to the card reader and, bingo!, the money slides out of your account. A kind of modern witchcraft!

Eventually it will be like the science fiction films and we’ll do it all with a finger print or a thumb print or retina recognition technology.

How soon before they find a way to hack into finger prints and eyeballs?

Monday, 29 January 2018

Being prepared!

Back in the early to mid 1980s, when I had two small children, and Raymond Briggs had written his graphic novel (but we didn’t call them graphic novels then) “When the Wind Blows”, I used to worry at times about the threat of nuclear war. My main concern was that one child was in primary school, one was at nursery, Phil was out working as a teacher in a school on the other side of town and I could be in any of several community centres teaching adult classes. If we had the attack warning, who would I rush and collect first? If we were going to die, I reasoned, the four of us should be together. The same applied if we were going to survive in a post-nuclear situation. And then time moved on, the threat faded away, the children grew up and we all got on with our lives.

I was reminded of this by reading about a group of people who call themselves “preppers”. These are people who never have less than half a tank of petrol in their car, who have stores of bottled water, who have stocks of food sufficient for a couple of months. Here are a couple of quotations:

“We see prepping as a way to increase our chances of survival if something happens. And we’re all ready to get out of the way when it does”.

“I started to store a tin a week - sweetcorn, beans, tinned tomatoes - and, over time, added cases of pasta, bags of rice, boxes of long-life meat and bottles of water. Most people keep a few things in their cupboard - soup, beans, things like that. It’s just that I’ve got 70 of each, stored in a brick outhouse that my husband converted”.

Wow! That sounds serious!

Some of them have a “go-bag” permanently packed, just in case they need to make a run for it at short notice.

Now I feel quite inadequate. My only bit of “prepping” is having a store of candles and matches, and knowing where they are, in case we have a power cut. And that’s only because there was a time when we had frequent power cuts in the winter time. We haven’t needed them often in recent years but it’s nice to know where they are. Oh, and we could, in a pinch, remove the clever electric fire from the fireplace and restore the old grate and keep ourselves warm by burning the furniture. But we would have difficulty cooking meals!

Apparently there are a lot more “preppers”in the USA, where they do have serious snow cutting people off from time to time. And masses of people have guns so it might be necessary to take refuge of some mind. And then there is the increased threat of POTUS getting them into a war with some other country! 

The whole “prepper” movement, if you can call it that, must say something about the state of anxiety that many people live in nowadays.

As for me, my family is spread rather further than it was back in the 1980s. It will be a lot harder for me to gather everyone together in the event of major disaster! I guess I’ll just carry on hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

A bit of a rant about education funding!

What a sad world it would be if the only education available were the immediately and obviously practical and applicable. Robert Halton, chair of the Commons select committee on education, has been expressing his view that students should get discounts on fees for degrees in subjects that address skill shortages, subjects such as healthcare, coding, construction or engineering. He singled out medieval history for special attention: “If someone wants to do medieval history, that’s fine. You still take put your loan and pay it. But all the incentives from government and so on should go to areas the country needs and will bring it most benefit.”

Presumably the same criteria would apply to courses in music, art, literature, maybe even foreign languages - after all, every other nation seems to manage to learn to speak English perfectly well! Without going into arguments about how a degree in almost any discipline trains you to analyse material, weigh arguments for and against matters, make reasoned decisions and so on, it is worth noting, as a professor of medieval history at King’s College, Cambridge pointed out, that few cabinet ministers in the past 30 years have had degrees in science, technology, engineering or maths.

Music and art are already being squeezed out of primary schools all over the country. Why not take it to its logical conclusion? We could come down to teaching basic reading and writing - just enough to cope with the everyday stuff, nothing fancy - and basic mathematics - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - no need for complicated geometry and algebra.

That would substantially lessen the teachers’ workload as they would not need to prepare faddy topic-based lessons!

After all, we can rely on private schools to educate the potential artists, actors, architects, scientists and politicians!

Okay! Rant over! Almost!

Here is a link to a story about rich people asking animal lovers everywhere to help pay vets’ fees for their dog.

“The chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and his fashion designer wife have raised more than £5,000 to get their Instagram-star dog treated by a celebrity vet, after asking followers for donations on a crowdfunding website.”

You see, you have to know how to get people on your side by putting pictures of your dog out in the media and then appeal to their bump of sentimentality when the poor dog needs attention. What I fail to understand is why the dog needs to go to such an expensive vet. Surely there is a more economical option that would fit into the boundaries set by the pet insurance.

But how impressive to be a rich person and manage to organise crowdfunding to pay your bills! They must have had the right kind of education!

Listening to the radio news, I just heard about an attempted robbery of bitcoins, or maybe even a partially successful robbery of the same. I am having some difficulty understanding how it is possible to steal a virtual currency!

That must be because I have a degree in modern languages and not in technology!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Confessions of a technophobe / reluctant technophile!

I have always had a kind of love-hate relationship with technology. When I stop and think about it, it goes way back. My mother had a sewing machine, one of those where you had to turn a handle to make the needle go up and down, which i used frequently. As a young teenager, I was moderately happy with my grandmother’s treadle machine but I was decidedly reluctant to use the electric machines they had in school. I was not in the least disturbed if other girls beat me to them and I had to use the old-fashioned hand-turned machines. Of course, eventually I grew accustomed to the electric machines. The very idea of using a different kind of machine now seems truly odd.

A similar thing happened with word-processing. I received a portable type-writer for my 21st birthday and thought it was a wonderful device. It was a terribly useful tool for preparing teaching materials. It was adaptable and could be used to prepare “banda” sheets and “roneo” skins (two methods of mass producing work sheets that young teachers nowadays are totally unaware of) for making multiple copies of the great ideas I had to try to teach my young pupils to speak French. And then some time in the 1980s we acquired an Amstrad word processor. I maintained a determined lack of interest in the thing. What did I need that for? My trusty type-writer was fine. I think it took about a week for me to be converted. Oh, the joy of being able to store your ideas on a disc, to be able to go back and alter the layout! Poor type-writer! And of course, the Amstrad in its turn was superseded by other, better, clever machines. Which I also learnt to use.

As information technology became more and more habitual in school and colleges, I had to attend numerous IT training sessions. I HATED THEM!! I do not say that lightly. My dislike of these seminars was visceral. I always went along, however, prepared to give the new development a chance. We would sit down at computers. An expert would take us through the steps of the new systems we needed to learn . And every time, every single time, I would find myself struggling to get my head round step three, for example, while the trainer was already moving on to step eleven. Even worse, everyone else in the room appeared to be able to follow the instructions - including people who were no good at Maths and who could not possibly string a sentence together in a foreign language or even spell correctly in their own native tongue. My frustration was immense!

Don’t get me wrong! I went away with the training booklet and worked it out in my own sweet time. I could do what I could do very well indeed. I was a whizz at making tables for all sorts of purposes. I was not at all bad with the Publisher programme. I used to produce newsletter which we sent out from our sixth form Modern Foreign Languages department to all our feeder/partner high schools, telling them what their former pupils had achieved. I worked my language laboratory with aplomb. No, I was not bad when I got going. I was just a bit of a slow learner. And maybe, just maybe, the training sessions should not have been run by IT experts!

Neither am I a total Luddite. I may not use Instagram and Photoshop but no doubt I could learn. And I take photos all the time. I still have, gathering dust somewhere, a very nice analog camera. It served me very well. The delight of collecting the developed photos is a fond memory. But my digital camera is one of my favourite toys! The freedom to snap a mass of pictures and then select the very best, just as if I were a proper photographer, is one of the best things!

My iPhone goes just about everywhere with me. I am well known among my friends for snapping a picture just about every day and posting it on Facebook. I text people all the time. However, I rarely use text-speak and have had arguments with my daughter about the past tense of the verb “to text”. Every time she says “so-and-so text me yesterday”, I want to correct her and long to say “you mean texted!”. I am growing more tolerant and manage to restrain myself these days.

Another of my favourite toys is my IPad mini: such a handy gadget to carry around with me and log into the internet in cafes. There I keep a stash of photos, collections of writing, lists of this and that. I would not be without it for the world. The same goes for my kindle, although I have to admit to a very real preference for reading proper books, with proper paper pages to turn. However, my kindle lets me take a whole library travelling with me.

The fact remains, it must be said, that I still rely heavily on someone else for all the technical stuff relating to these toys of mine. My main technician is Phil, who just knows how to do this stuff. He is the one who can tune the radio and television, even if he is not as good as I am at recording stuff! 

And so, when he bought me a Fitbit for my birthday the other day, I had to wait until he was available to sit in as I worked through setting the gadget up. Together we got it sorted, although we had to some hurried calculations to convert my height in feet and inches into metric measurements. Oddly enough, it was quite happy to accept my weight in stones and pounds. All this so it could work out how long my average step would be.

Such fun! A new gadget to play with. I have had a secret hankering for such a device ever since my daughter’s iPhone counted our steps in Pontevedra and more recently told us that we had walked eight kilometres around Manchester Christmas shopping. Already it has told me that last night I slept for 6 hours and 34 minutes, and that I have waked over 12,000 steps and more than 9 kilometres today.

Oh dear, I hope I am not going to become an obsessive step counter! We have to be careful not to let technology take over. As I said, a bot of a lobe-hate thing!

Friday, 26 January 2018

A bit of sunshine and a bit of madness!

We have had a day of blue sky and sunshine here. It’s about time. I thought yesterday was going to be one of those days but after a promising start it rapidly went downhill. Today, however, the blue sky managed to remain all day. Excellent!

And so I went off and met our daughter for a stroll around. We visited the library and acquired a library card for the smallest member of the family. The children’s room at the local branch is quite impressive: boxes of small-child-appropriate books all nicely accessible for small people to look at them, paper and crayons for those who wantp to scribble and on the higher shelves a nice range of books for older children. All good stuff.

We went on to play on the swings - the smallest member of the family, that is - visit a toyshop to look for a present for the second smallest who is going to be four before long and finally we went to have coffee and a snack, later joined by Phil at the end of a walk and one of the teenage grandchildren at the end of her school week. A most satisfactory Friday.

Over in France madness seems to have been rife. Shopper have been fighting each other, fists have been flying, shelves have been emptied, but only of one product. A supermarket chain put out a special offer, reducing the price of jars of Nutella by 70% and the French went crazy to buy as much as possible.Now, I am sure that Nutella is very nice, if you like that kind of thing. Personally I can take it or leave it. Too much gets a little cloying, in my humble opinion. But then I am clearly not as sophisticated in my taste as the French. I can think of nothing that I would get into fisticuffs over in an attempt to buy it.

Has anyone looked at the sugar content of Nutella?

Here’s another story of a bit of foreign madness. A photographer called Lauren Pond has published a book called “Test of Faith, Signs, Serpents, Salvation”. It chronicles the time she spent with the “sign followers”. These are people who take literally a passage from the Gospel of Mark in the King James Bible: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

These believers handle venomous snakes during their services, confident that should they be bitten the Lord will protect them. Unfortunately, one of their pastors was bitten by one of his snakes, Old Yeller, and died. This is not the first time this has happened either. Oops!

In the TV series “Justified” there is an incident just like that. When we watched it, we thought it had been invented for the series. Apparently not!

Who would have thought that in the 21st century in a country like the United States people could still really believe such stuff? Do they also cast out devils and burn witches?

It makes me quite relieved that we just have the madness of Brexit to deal with.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Foodie stuff!

Oh boy, I have been hearing about the Impossible Burger. It’s a fake burger for people who dan’t want to eat actual meat but still want the taste. Personally I find this a bit of a silly idea but I am prepared to listen to the arguments. Apparently providing a realistically meaty artificial meat is going to be good for the environment. We are eating too much meat, the production of which is using up too many of the world’s resources. Well, personally I am not contributing to this problem as I have not eaten red meat for years and years. But a lot of people cannot live without their fix of red, bloody meat and the Impossible company is producing something which they might find acceptable. What an odd world we live in!

A young friend of mine claims to have lost almost a stone in weight by going on a meat-free diet since the start of the new year. A fish diet seems to be doing the trick. I do wonder, though, just how much meat he was eating before if cutting it out has made such a difference. Or is he just eating fewer chips, mash, roast potatoes and the like?

I am frequently surprised at the quantities some people are able to eat at one sitting. Packets of fresh pasta which allegedly serve two people usually contain enough for two meals for Phil and me. The first time we went to Italy to a language school we stayed with a delightful old lady, Donna Antonina. She lodged students from the language school, providing company for herself and extra language practice and excellent evening meals for the students. However, we had to ask her to reduce the portions she was serving. A huge mound of pasta was simply too much, even for Phil, who was praised by Donna Antonina for being a “buona forchetta”, a good and appreciative eater - literally a “good fork”.

We were discussing visits to language schools in the Italian conversation class the other day. One of our number, self-confessed antisocial, declared that she could not possibly stay with a family - too much stress after working hard wrestling with language classes. Phil and I really enjoyed our stays with families, especially with the crazy, Che Guevara-admiring Maria, with pictures of her hero all over her house!

Another member of our group is off to Venice at Easter, returning to stay with the family who have hosted him on previous occasions, happily cooking for him fish that he bought fresh from the market. We told him that it was just as well his host family were prepared to do this as some people have had problems eating put in that fair city.

Four Japanese tourists had a bill of almost £1,000 for their meal. And they didn’t even simply get ripped off on the wine; they only drank water. Another three tourists, presumably in a different restaurant but you never know, paid just over £300 for three plates of seafood pasta. All of them coughed up and then lodged complaints later.

The police chief and the mayor of Venice have promised to take action but the owners of the restaurant say they have no recollection of problems with Japanese customers. Hardly surprising if they just paid the bill and left.

I wonder why they meekly paid. Even if they had very little knowledge of Italian a simple refusal to get out their wallets would have got the message across. We would have kicked up a stink immediately. But then, much as we love Venice, we avoid eating anywhere near St Mark’s Square. Even without unscrupulous restaurateurs selecting certain tourists for extra charges, the prices are way too high.

A cup of expensive coffee and a splendid view of the square is the most we would go for!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Some supermarket reflections!

We don’t have a Waitrose in our neck of the woods. Just in case I was being unfair, I checked online. The nearest store is a Little Waitrose near Piccadilly Station in Manchester city centre. Just as I thought. Maybe we are just not posh enough for Waitrose. After all, I know people who maintain that Sainsbury’s is too expensive and too posh for them.

Even the names of the mini versions of the supermarket stores are perhaps indicative of this poshness. Tesco have Tesco Express, suggesting a place you drop into as you hurry past, possibly in your way back to work at the end of your lunch hour. Sainsbury’s have Sainsbury’s Local, reminiscent of the corner shop that supermarkets forced out of business. Waitrose, on the other hand, has the rather twee-sounding Little Waitrose.

Even it’s loyalty card is sweetly called “myWaitrose”, implying a personal, selective service. Mind you, Sainsbury’s have “Nectar”, with a hint of poshness. Tesco’s “Clubcard”, on the other hand, suggests the kind of Christmas clubs some local stores organise to help people save money towards their big Christmas food shop. And the Coop just has it’s members’ card, which until recently still paid you a dividend into your bank account, reminding me of going shopping for my mother and giving her ‘divi’ number to the shop assistant who wrote down in a book how much dividend that particular member was entitled to.

I started thinking about all this when I came across an article in which the writer grew indignant about being singled out for a scan check in Waitrose when she had used their self-scanning system, Quick Check. According to their website, “Quick Check makes shopping at Waitrose easy and quick and as a myWaitrose member, you won't need to register to get started. Simply scan and pack your shopping straight into your bags. You’ll see a running total of your spend and when you’ve finished, just pay and go, with no need to unpack at the checkout.” This particular shopper had her trolley singled out when she went to pay. It was whisked off to a conventional checkoit and re-scanned. Bang went her time-saving!

Part of the store’s response to her indignant outburst was this:

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that retailers are losing millions from “self-scanning thieves”, which is why supervised checks are carried out. Our understanding is that if a random scan (triggered in roughly one shop in every 200) reveals a noticeable discrepancy between the total triggered by the shopper’s self-scan and the subsequent one carried out by staff, a “red flag” is raised on your registered card. This means you will be subjected to further re-scans to find out if an error was a one-off, or deliberate behaviour. You would have been better prepared and less shocked if you had read the terms and conditions.”

However, the writer felt humiliated by the whole business. I rather get the impression that people who shop in Waitrose don’t expect to be suspected of shoplifting. It also crosses my mind that it might not be really worthwhile filching one or two items when your whole trolley is quite expensive. Or am I letting my prejudice show? Maybe I am doing the store a great injustice!

Another aspect of all this self-scanning and the self-check out systems that most supermarkets, and W. H. Smith stores, have is the employment issue. Each time we self-check our shopping we reduce the number of till assistants needed! But that is another matter altogether!

Maybe the writer should visit some stores in Spain which will not let you take into their premises shopping bags from other stores. You have to leave them in a locker. Or there are the ones that shrink-wrap or staple shut your plastic carriers of purchases from other shops. That, together with demanding ID when you pay by card, is a really suspicious attitude to customers!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Some testing age-related matters.

On the one hand we have people shouting about how the voting age should be reduced to 16. On the other we have those who say adolescence goes on until you are 25. Here is an article about that.

Which ones are right?

I have known some pretty well-informed 16 year olds in my time but I still have my doubts about letting them vote. Even the clever ones can lose their bus tickets through just plain silliness. But then, I know some supposedly very mature people, old enough to have a bus pass anyway, who can still be very childish.

Mind you, if we are all going to be living longer, perhaps it is understandable that adolescence should continue as long as possible. Maybe the government will introduce a test to determine when maturity has been reached. After all, they seem to like testing at many other stages of development.

Here is an article about the proposal to test reception-age children. Teachers and child-development experts wax indignant about the very idea. After all every cohort has children with birthdays ranging from the start of September to the end of August. It makes a difference at all stages of education but in a reception class summer-birthday children are very different from autumn-birthday children.

We know this from personal experience, having had to point out on a number of occasions during his first year at school that our July-born, but rather tall and very smart, son was almost a year younger than a September-born child with whom he was often compared. Our daughter, in contrast, was April-born, perhaps not quite so ideally mid-academic-year as being January/February-born but still with that little bit more emotional security that comes as they grow older.

In her case we just had to keep reminding the school that she was left-handed. A good argument in this area is to give a right-handed teacher a pair of left-handed scissors and suggesting they try to cut shapes put with them. But left-handedness is a different question again.

Anyway, it seems that even test-providers are sometimes reluctant to provide test material for pre-schoolers and reception-age children.

I rather liked this excerpt from the article on testing:

 ‘But a good start at school matters. New research from Durham University’s centre for evaluation and monitoring (CEM), published just before Christmas, showed children who do well in reception perform better all the way to GCSE.
Katharine Bailey, director of applied research at CEM, says: “It’s very beneficial. We don’t know what makes it happen – is it the teacher, the leaders, the culture of the school?”’

Did it not occur to anyone at the CEM that maybe some children are just cleverer than others and will do better at every stage of their education?

Monday, 22 January 2018

Old books, old ladies and old food ideas.

I thought of the writer David Nobbs this morning. In his novel “Second from Last in the Sack Race”, the hero, Henry Pratt, is a great reader and admirer of the Biggles books and wants to write similar tales of daring-do in the skies. What reminded me of David Nobbs? The news that a rare first edition of the very first Biggles book is going to be auctioned.

“The Camels are Coming” was published in 1932 and contained 17 short stories about Biggles, Algy, Ginger and Smyth in the Royal Flying Corps. W. E. Johns went on to write almost 100 books about the intrepid fliers. Those were the days - rather more innocent days than we live in now! The book has a pre-sale estimate of £500 to £600. It’s a pity Mr Nobbs is no longer with us. I’m sure he would have been bidding.

Out and about in the village this morning, in the post office in fact, I realised that someone was struggling to open the door while at the same time supporting an elderly lady with walking sticks. So I held the door open as they entered the shop. This was when I realised that the elderly lady was our former neighbour. Martha, who now lives in sheltered accommodation in the centre of the village.

When we moved into our house, just over thirty years ago, she was at least 60, a short, bustling, occasionally bossy old lady. For back then 60 was a lot older than it is now. For years and years she did not seem to change, apparently frozen in time. The last time I saw her, which must be about two years ago, she was still a bustly, independent old lady, getting around the village under her own steam. And suddenly there she is, a shrunken old lady, with her care-assistant helping her in and put of shops. But then, she must be in her nineties now, still getting around, still chatty and totally compos mentis. Good for her!

When we are on our travels we often hear it said that the British have no true cuisine. This is something I dispute but not everyone agrees with me. Every other country, they say, has signature dishes, things that are instantly recognisable as French, Spanish, Italian and so on. But not Britain, apart from perhaps roast beef. This has sometimes been explained to me as being because our ingredients were so good that we did not need to create fancy sauces or fiddly ways of serving stuff. The quality alone would suffice.

Incidentally, this is the same reasoning I hear for the Galicians serving fish and potatoes as a basic dish: their fish is always fresh and their potatoes are the best in the world so what more is needed? 

Yesterday I came across a different explanation for the apparent lack of British cuisine. First came the Enclosures Acts, in the 17th century, taking away the availability of land to grow food on, and turning peasants into landless workers. Then along came the Industrial Revolution, leading to a mass movement away from the countryside into towns. And people lost touch with growing a variety of vegetables and simply made do with whatever was on sale. It’s a theory.

Incidentally, I read something this weekend about pasta not having been the national dish of Italy until some time in the 20th century. A quick internet search dates the first reference to it as 1154 in Sicily. But maybe Sicily doesn’t count.

So there’s a little conundrum for us!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Thoughts on bilingualism, solutions to learning difficulties and home decor!

I seem to have seen quite a lot over the last week about how amazing little Charlotte Cambridge is. At two years old she can speak two languages! How astounding! From the reactions, you might think she was the first child ever to be able to do such a thing. The only surprising thing is that we are talking about a member of the British royal family.

Here is a link to a very interesting article about bilingualism. It’s quite fascinating how attitudes to bilingualism have changed over time. Well, I think so anyway.

I seem to remember reading that the Cambridges employ a Spanish nanny - British trained and suitable qualified, no doubt - so presumably little Charlotte has learnt to speak Spanish in a perfectly normal way. I wonder if little George also speaks two languages. I also wonder whose decision it was that it was okay for the nanny to speak to her small charge in Spanish; a decision must have been taken, after all. And will her proficiency be maintained as she grows older. We shall see!

On the subject of childcare, I was also reading about the use of sandvests in Germany as a way of helping children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) sit still and concentrate in lessons. These weighted jackets help the children stop fidgeting, much as if someone were holding their shoulders still, and apparently this has improved their classroom performance. The German school trying out the scheme says wearing the vest is completely voluntary and even children who do not suffer from ADHD sometimes ask to wear them. They maintain that children wearing them do not feel in any way stigmatised. The Sun newspaper here, however, headlines this as punishing children with disabilities. There are concerns that children should not wear them for too long - maybe 40 minutes maximum - because the weight might cause breathing problems or strain their shoulders. However, surely it’s a better solution than dosing children with drugs to keep them quiet, drugs that must impede the learning process?

Interior designer Lauren Coleman apparently puts books on her shelves with the white edges of the pages on view. This is not an attempt to prevent visitors from seeing what she has been reading but a means of avoiding dust-jacket colour clashes! Heaven forfend that the books on your shelves should not tone in with the rest of the decor!

What, I wonder, does she do with those books which have coloured edges to their pages?

Why does she not simply keep the books in another room?

Does she do something similar with CDs?

And does she have any vinyl?

 I bet she would hate our house!

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The importance of being in the news!

On Any Questions, the discussion programme on BBC Radio 4 on Friday evening, one of the panelists was Stanley Johnson, father of wild-haired Boris Jahnson. He was described at one point as the “renowned environmentalist”. Really? Why have I never heard of him before? I googled him.

Odd facts: he is the grandson of the last interior minister of the Ottoman empire. Good grief who knew? He does seem to have a creditable record as an envronmentalist - credit where it’s due. He has written books and articles. He even has a website. However, until this week I have not heard much of him. Indeed, I don’t think I had heard of him at all.

And now this week has been on Any Questions and I am pretty sure he was interviewed on Newsnight. What is going on? This man is a fair few years older than I am so he is perhaps a little elderly to be being groomed for greatness, even though he seems to be getting what I have come to think of as “The Nigel Farage Treatment”. This consists of extended and ever increasing media exposure, usually leasing to greater political importance. Rees-Mogg has been getting it recently. So, why Stanley Johnson should get the “Treatment” remains a mystery.

Maybe it is part of giving extra credibility to his son, he of the floppy blond hair, leasing to a possible bid for Conservative Party leadership. Or is it just support for his son’s Channel Bridge project? Our Prime Minister says that’s a no-no!

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is in the news because she is pregnant. People are seemingly shocked that she did not tell all as soon as she found out, about a week before she was elected! Should she have done so? Apparently she was asked when she decided to stand if she might have children, just because she is still young enough to do so! Do they ask potential male candidates if they might perhaps be planning an extramarital affair, a bit of a scandal, some dodgy expenses claims?

I was reminded of a friend of mine who was interviewed for and appointed to a new job and discovered, some weeks after accepting the post, that she was pregnant. So the first thing she had to do when the new tern started in September was apply for maternity leave. These things happen. Women deal with them!

The partner of the New Zealand PM plans to be “first man of fishing and a stay at home dad, if those two activities are compatible. And despite the rumours about pregnancy softening the brain, the PM will continue to run the country.

A newspaper commentator on the tv news last night suggested that none of this matters as in the first few months of life babies are not really aware of their mothers’ presence. Oh dear, that might get the stay at home mums’ hackles rising!

And finally, Buzz Aldrin is 88 today. All that astronaut business must be good for longevity!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Sleep philosophy!

I came across this article about sleep today. In the article a 29 year old woman, working as a solicitor, describes how she goes to bed at 8.30 pm to ensure that she gets her necessary ten hours of sleep. As she doesn’t finish work until 6.30 and it then takes her 45 minutes to get home, she has to organise food to eat at her desk at around 5.00 pm. “I go to Pret a Manger or somewhere about 5pm and grab a soup and a sandwich to eat at my desk,” she says. “Otherwise there’s no way I can get to bed by 8.30pm. I’d rather eat at home, but I can’t sleep on a full stomach.” 9.30 pm is a late night for her and rather stressful.

Even the act of going to bed is stressful, as far as I can see, as she has to drink a fancy milkshake with hops, uses a magnesium infused sleep spray on her wrists and neck and then has to set her sleep tracker. Wow! 

Does she never read a book, watch tv, go to the cinema, or just hang out with friends? It’s a good job she lives with her boyfriend; otherwise they might never get to see each other. She does admit that her relationship with the aforementioned boyfriend has suffered, as have friendships but she doesn’t think she’s fetishising sleep. “I choose to prioritise my health,” she says.

There just might be something I am missing here, maybe a generational thing which I simply do not understand. I recognise that we all need enough sleep to keep us even tempered. And it is not for nothing that we talk about getting our “beauty sleep”. But surely if getting enough sleep to keep you beautiful and good tempered and all the rest means that you have time to do no more than work, eat and sleep, then isn’t it rather a waste? It’s rather like having a beautiful painting and keeping it in a vault.

The usual healthy-living gurus are in on this sleep analysis business. Gwyneth Paltrow, proponent of “clean eating” refers to this sleep stuff - getting lots of it and monitoring it and setting up the ideal conditions and all the supposedly necessary paraphernalia - as “clean sleeping”. Well, what else could it be? The other thing that strikes me is that you have to be reasonably (or do I mean unreasonably?) privileged in order to give yourself ten hours sleep a night. Anyone who has to take any aspect of their work home with them cannot do it, if you suggested to a busy teacher, with all their marking and preparation and box-ticking to complete, that they could be in bed by 8.30 pm, you just might get a rude answer.

Funnily enough the topic of sleep came up yesterday when I accompanied our middle granddaughter, 14 almost 15 years old, to a hospital appointment for one of her various health problems. The doctor was very kind and considerate, listened to everything the teenager had to say and never made a single negative comment. Totally supportive all the way. I was most impressed. And in the conversation about lifestyle, the topic of sleep came up.

Our Sophie is a notoriously poor sleeper; she has difficulty getting off to sleep at night, wakes up during the night and cannot easily get back to sleep and then is sluggish in the morning. Personally, I put some of this down to watching numerous “shows” on her iPad. It is well known that electronic gadgets emit sleep-impeding light! So when the doctor asked her if she has an iPhone, I was expecting advice along the lines of not using it for a few hours before going to bed, leaving it outside the bedroom, using an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake her up and so on. You know the kind of thing, you have probably read the same articles as I have.

But, no! The doctor did none of this. Instead she told her about an app she can download onto her phone, an app which will supposedly teach her how to relax before going to sleep. There you go! Such is modern medicine!

Another part of the sleep conversation focused on exercise, something that our Sophie tries to avoid, along with eating fruit and vegetables. Having eliminated a whole long list of possible sports, she finally discovered that Sophie does, indeed, enjoy swimming. And so she recommended that she should go swimming “at least three times a week”. While this is an excellent idea, quite how we organise that into everyone’s already busy life is rather hard to work out!

Maybe this lovely doctor is also an advocate of “clean sleeping” - that would explain her sweetness-and-light, no negativity, no grumpiness approach to everything!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Historical/linguistic stuff!

President Macron is going to lend us the Bayeux Tapestry.

Here is a link to an article which points out, among other things, that the tapestry is largely, if not totally, the work of women!

An expert on the radio points out that the story of the arrow in Harold’s eye might be the result of a poor repair to the tapestry. Originally, she suggests, there was probably a sword bearing down on him. The apocryphal arrow in the eye might never have existed. You might say it was a slip of the embroidery needle!

The radio reports of this item talk about the depth of our shared history and cultural involvement. There are two possible views of this. My first visit to France, at age 17, was a few days in Paris followed by a couple of weeks in Normandy, where I was told that England is just “une province Normande”. And then I have come across other folk who say that really France, or at least Normandy, historically belongs to England. Does this make any difference to Brexit!

Oh, and one last thing about the Bayeux tapestry - well, two, since a friend of one keeps going on about it not really being a tapestry (?) - masses of BBC reporters yesterday simply could not pronounce the word. I was hearing BayOO and BayOH, when surely the final syllable should be like the “e” of “the”! Where are their language experts?  

On reflection, I think my friend says the Bayeux tapestry is not a tapestry because it is embroidered rather than woven. Another bit of pedantry!

Somebody drew my attention to a list of words which some people feel should be destroyed. Some of these I have never heard of. Others are just silly:-

Word                                    My comment

Bae                                       No idea
Holibobs                              Baby talk for holiday?
Chillax                                 A combination of relax and chill out - another annoying expression
Totes                                    Totally, completely (annoying)
Amazeballs                          Amazing(ly annoying)
Cray cray                             No idea
Banter/Bantz                       Banter is always annoying
Fam                                     No idea
Nom nom                            A silly replacement for yum yum - partuclarly annoying when   written
Wine o'clock                      Almost as annoying as “waiting for the sun to go over the yard arm”
Yolo                                    No idea
Lolz                                    A texting borrowing - annoying
Well jel                               No idea
Coolio                                Presumably an annoying expression of enthusiasm
Awks                                 Silly
Methinks                           This only really annoys me when people write it as “me thinks”, which is just plain ignorant
Gawjus                              Another silly one
Hun                                   This annoys me as much as my cousin calling me “cuz”
Tellybox                           Daft
Hubs/Hubby/Hubster       Never heard husbands referred to in this way
Staycation                        A pretentious excuse for not going away on holiday
Be like                             An attempt to get down with the kids?
Whevs                             Does this mean “whatever”, said in that scornful way that kids have?
I know right                     Never heard this
Preggers                         Yuk! very annoying!
Epic                                 Another of those fleetingly popular expressins of enthusiasm - cf “magic,  “brill”. The best I ever heard was in French when for a while young people would say “le pied”!

Others added in comments to the above list were these:
manflu - I have recently heard suggestions that this is a real thing, as men’s immune systems are more fragile / less resistant than women’s.
Prolly - apparently short for “probably” - silly
Starting a sentence with 'so'. All the time! - Interviewees use this, to very annoying effect, as a kind of thinking pause at the start of an answer to a question.
Reach out - yes, indeed!I should like to “ reach out” to people to stop using this.

Working the other way, here is a link to words and expressins that might usefully be reindtroduced into the language.

From that list of no-longer-used words, I discovered that “slugabed”, a word I use with reasonable regularity, dates back to the 16th century.

Clearly my use of language is antiquated.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Travels with a moaner!

Yesterday I arrived back from Manchester in time to catch the 7.28pm bus from Oldham back to Delph. (This made up to some extent for the bus that had failed to turn up on my outward journey, causing just a little stress about arriving on time to meet a friend. Snow somewhere else on the route was the excuse!) As I waited for the bus on the rather bitter cold evening I fell into conversation with one of our local personalities. I have come across him on a number of occasions at that bus stop at that time of day.

When I arrived at the stop this time he was busy having a rant about the awfulness of our bus service. This is one of his regular themes and I have heard it on more than one occasion. This time he added a new element to it: why do First Bus, the company who run our particular service, not put any heating in their buses? Other companies in the region heat their buses. First Bus used to do so. He is convinced, however, that since the fares went up at the start of this month another measure has come into play to increase the company’s profits - switching off the heating!

The bus arrived and we set off. I phoned home to let Phil know I was en route. He responded that he had been about to call me to warn me about the snow that had been falling on Delph. And, indeed, as the bus made its way up the main road towards my end of the town, the road became snowier and snowier. We found ourselves in a queue of slow-moving traffic as cars slid around. It took us about an hour to do what is usually a twenty minute journey.

My new friend, the elderly complainer, had a little moan about the inability to clear the road, the silliness of using salt instead of just grit, the daftness of British drivers not having winter tires for their cars and so on and so. He had a theory about the reason for one of the problems with our bus route in wintry conditions. Here it is: - The route runs between Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, thus falling under the jurisdiction of two local authorities, both of which send gritters out to help make roads passable. However, there is a stretch of road on the border of the two boroughs. If Oldham were to grit their bit of road, they would need to continue onto the Ashton bit in order to find a spot to turn round. The same applies in reverse to the Ashton gritters. Neither wants to grit the other's bit of road. And so that section, a quite steep slope, does not get cleared of snow and does not get gritted in icy conditions. and so the bus has problems. It’s a plausible theory!

Eventually the bus arrived at Delph crossroads, where I got off and trudged home through the snow. The bus then did not turn left into the village - too snowy and slippery - but turned right to continue the rest of its route. Too bad for anyone who was waiting in Delph village!

My grumbly, very informative travelling companion went on his way towards Greenfield. I wonder if I will see him again next week.

Meanwhile here are a few photos of today’s snowy conditions.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ways of making money!

Here is a story I came across in one of the papers the other day:-

“A man has been arrested after a cash machine was blown up in Glasgow.

Police said on Saturday that a 48-year-old man was being held in custody in connection with the incident. It happened on Thursday night outside a row of shops on Glasgow Road in Clydebank. A 51-year-old man who was found at the scene remains in a critical condition at Queen Elizabeth University hospital. A spokesman for Police Scotland said a report would be submitted to the procurator fiscal.

In October thieves blew up a cash machine in a kiosk outside a Matalan store in Darlington. The explosion shook homes more than two miles away and sent debris, including anti-ram raid bollards, flying across the car park. The thieves escaped with an unspecified amount of cash from the machine.

Last April, a gang of seven men who caused explosions at cash machines around England and Scotland were jailed for a total of 92 years. The group had stolen more than £550,000 and caused more than £160,000 worth of damage in attacks on ATMs at 13 banks and supermarkets, Merseyside police said.”

It reminded me of a film I have seen, or perhaps a book I have read, in which a gang of reprobates planned to dislodge a cash machine from its place in the wall and carry it away on a fork-lift truck. Needless to say, the whole thing went haywire. I have been racking my brains trying to remember which film or book it occurred in.

It’s almost as farfetched as the story of a government which kept on giving contracts to a company that was clearly failing. Actually you seem to have a better chance of getting away with a load of cash if you are a top executive in a failing company than if you are an ordinary, common or garden thief. Here’s a quote from a report:-
 “While Carillion’s private sector staff face uncertainty over their pay, the company’s former chief executive Richard Howson is still currently entitled to a £660,000 salary, even though he quit in July over the company’s dismal performance.”

Surely there is something wrong with a system in which a person can go on being paid for a job that he has left and which he did not even seem to be doing well in the first place.

Or am I just being naive?

Monday, 15 January 2018

May ‘68 - fifty years on?

In France they are wondering how to celebrate, if celebrate is the word, May 1968. President Macron is too young to remember it - born ten years after the event. Here’s an article about it. According to one of the historians quoted in the article May ‘68 as such didn’t do much for women’s liberation. He said: “Today, when we talk about the society changes of May 1968, we’re actually talking about the years that followed. There wasn’t sexual liberation in 1968 France, that is false; it was an extremely macho society, where the girls were expected to make the sandwiches while the boys demonstrated. The advances on women’s rights came later in the 1970s.”

And here we are still fighting for those advances all over the place.

I read that in Nepal a woman died in a remote village because she was made to sleep in an unheated hut when she had her period. This is a Hindu tradition based on the belief that women will anger the gods if they remain in the house while they menstruate. The gods will then punish the family with death or sickness to people or livestock. And so women sleep more or less outdoors in temperatures of 0C and below. This woman is thought to have died from smoke inhalation when she tried to light a fire to keep warm.

We should not scoff. It is not not all that long ago that women were considered unclean when they menstruated and had to be “churched”, given a special kind of blessing, after giving birth to ensure that they were once again clean and fit for purpose!!!

All is not lost, however. In Saudi Arabia women are now allowed to watch football matches live ... but only in three stadiums which have been specially prepared to receive women and families. Other stadiums will follow suit by next season and they will have separate cafes and prayer rooms for women football fans!

Step by little step!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Art and food and language!

We have been watching “Rome Unpacked”: Andrew Graham-Dixon (art expert) and Giorgio Locatelli (chef), finally visiting the Italian capital after a fair few other bits of Italy they have “unpacked”. I like the format: Andrew Graham-Dixon reveals art stuff to Giorgio Locatelli who reveals culinary stuff to Andre Graham Dixon.

In Rome, among other things they went below ground under the Basilica San Clemente. At one level they found an ancient, 4th century church, complete with fading frescos. Going a stage deeper they found what was probably a temple to Mithras and a room that might have been a schoolroom dedicated to that religion, with a fairly recently discovered painting on the wall of someone who might have been the schoolmaster. Amazingly he looked remarkably like some of the ordinary folk used as models by Caravaggio, some of whose paintings were also admired. Just another Roman you might come across on any street today!

How fascinating to find something ancient and beautiful under all the buildings of your city!

Both Andrew and Giorgio must have had a lot of fun making the programmes. I have to say, however, that by the time they got around to unpacking Rome, both of them looked a little raddled, not to say debauched. In this latest series we don’t see them drinking much - eating and appreciating food, yes - but in previous series, they did seem to down a fair bit of wine. Of course, like the rest of us, they are not getting any younger.

Giorgio Locatelli has a very good command of usually idiomatic English. He has still not learnt to pronounce the name of his friend though, always referring to him as Endrew. The letter h defeats him. He omits it almost everywhere except on words that begin with vowels! And in one of his cooking demonstrations he talked about cooking something on a slow fire, a fairly literal translation from the Italian, instead of telling us to cook it on a low light. I could listen to him all day!

But then, I am a self-confessed language geek. I find myself collecting words which sound as if they should have a related opposite but are, in fact, stand-alone words. This morning’s word was “incongruous” - nothing is ever “congruous”. You can be “ruthless” but never “ruthful”, although you can do things “ruefully” and you can “rue the day” that you started to think about these crazy words!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A mild little rant about animals

Yesterday I spoke to one of my nodding acquaintances around the village. This a gentleman I know as Mike. Another friend calls him Patrick. Yesterday I heard someone call him Bill. Goodness knows what his name really is.

He was accompanied by his latest rescue dog. The previous one grew old and died. This one he has only had a few weeks and has already spent large amounts of money at the vet’s to help it. He thinks it’s coming along nicely. This is a man who goes out of his way to be good to animals. Credit where it’s due!

He told me about someone whose house was broken into recently. They stole nothing but a French bulldog, one of those squashed-face dogs that are all the rage at the moment. One of the householders was stabbed during the robbery. Mike/Patrick/Bill said he would have defended his dog too. We decided the dog was probably stolen to order and has quite possibly been sold on now for £1,000 or so.

Last week I heard a vet talking about the cruelty of the selective breeding that has produced these oddly popular dogs. She was saying that these dogs now need specialist breeding to unwind some of the genetic manipulation that has taken place to give them their squashed faces and their breathing difficulties. We do strange things to animals in the name of fashion. Not me personally but as a race! 

Someone else I know drew my attention to a report of a hunt - hounds, men in red coats, hunting horns, the lot - charging through a cat sanctuary in pursuit of a fox AND a deer. As if one quarry were not sufficient for them! The people who ran the cat sanctuary said their cats were traumatised and many fled and may have been permanently lost. Volunteers and police had to fight the hounds off the cats! I am not a cat lover by any means but I don’t see that huntsmen have the right to ride rough shod over somebody else’s land causing frightening havoc.

Today I read about someone out running in the Peak District and coming across a group of people hare coursing:- pursuing hares with dogs, often grey hounds, or rather letting the dogs chase, catch and eventually kill the hares. It is a “sport” which is illegal in England.

Now, I am aware that people grow nostalgic for things past and try to turn the clock back. But there are limits.

 Maybe they would like to reintroduce bear baiting while they are at it!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Presidential visits! Royal weddings! Referendum thoughts!

So Donald Trump has decided not to come to see us after all. Cries of “Chicken!” might be heard. Is he afraid of seeing people lined up to say they don’t like him or his policies or his ways in general? He says it’s because he doesn’t want anything to do with officially opening the new US embassy in London. He says he’s cross that Obama sold off the old one and spent a lot of money on a new one, despite the fact that apparently it was Bush who started it all off. Excuses! Excuses!

Another theory is that he is holding out for an invitation to the wedding, you know, Harry and Megan! But then he might have to socialise with the Obamas, since they are supposed to be friends of Harry’s.

How complicated it is to be a person in the public eye.

I came across an article about Princess Margaret. Not my usual sort of reading but I found myself almost feeling some sympathy for her. Like Harry, she was the “spare”, the second child in the royal family, never likely to inherit the throne but still constrained by all the royal folderol! When she wanted to marry Peter Townsend, first there was the problem of his being divorced, then she needed her big sister’s permission and even if she waited until she was 25 and deemed old enough to marry without the queen’s say-so, she would still need parliament’s agreement! Crikey! No wonder she got a bit rebellious! Of course, she could have just given up royal status and privilege and married him anyway but maybe that was a step too far towards being ordinary, just plain Mrs Townsend.

So much for Tom Petty singing “It’s good to be king and have your own way”! What did he know about it anyway?

And, after all, what are princesses for?

I still remember the fuss about Margaret’s eventual marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. So she got the big princess wedding in the end. That was, I think, the first of the big televised royal weddings, certainly at a time when it was becoming more common for people to have television in the home. At the time of the coronation loads of people either didn’t see it or went to watch it at the home of a more “fortunate” friend or relation. We went to a party in a local park!

But I blame that first big televised wedding for the current mania for big expensive weddings that cost an arm and a leg. That’s where it all started and it all snowballed from there. That’s my theory anyway.

And now we have Nigel Farage suggesting we should have a second referendum about leaving the EU. That’s what he said first of all. Then there was quite a lot of reaction with remainers saying they might win. Now he says he “fears we may need a second referendum”. Both sides think they could win. Will it happen? Theresa May says not. Whatever happens, we have an expensive mess going on. 

Arguments are spinning around. One lot say that with more young people now being able to vote and some old people having popped their clogs, then remain might win. Another lot say that people who came out unusually to vote to leave in the original referendum, people who had rarely voted at all in the past, might not be bothered to turn out again and so, again, remain might win. Farage thinks that people are more convinced than ever that we should leave and a second referendum would simply silence the remoaners once and for all.

Will it happen? Who knows? I am not holding my breath!

The world is crazy!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Delivery problems!

In our front garden is a black plastic box, a medium sized box, originally provided by the local council to put paper and card in for collection and recycling. Some time ago they changed their system to containers that could be more easily left on the pavement, outside the gate, when they decided that dustbin-men’s time could be used more efficiently if they did not have to enter gardens and drag bins out. Now householders do the dragging in and out bit. Cost-effective rubbish collection!!

Anyway, we still have a black plastic box in the garden, not far from the front door. In it there are containers of coarse salt and grit, for sprinkling on the path in icy weather.

This is all background information to the story coming up.

This morning I received an email about a parcel I was expecting. It told me that my parcel had been left in a safe place and had a photo of a hand putting the parcel in question - yes, you’ve guessed it - inside the black plastic box. Now, we have worked quite hard to persuade the Post Office delivery people that the black box is not exactly a secure place to leave parcels. Any passing scally could choose to “collect” the parcel. So they leave them with the next door neighbours or put a card through the door saying we can collect parcels from then Post Office in the village. It works. Apparently we need some kind of notice for other delivery services.

The other thing is that we were at home at the time the delivery was attempted. I can only assume that the delivery man ignored the doorbell, which can be heard throughout most of the house, and opted to tap the tiny little door knocker above the letter box. This door knocker is so laughably small as to be almost ornamental. What is more, you can only hear it if you happen to standing close to the door when the tap-tapping occurs! Another notice is needed, pointing out the existence of a quite effective doorbell. Or perhaps we need to add a new and noisy door knocker.

However, the parcel was safely retrieved and can now be forwarded, together with a couple of other items, to the person it was intended for.

What I really fail to understand is how a company can have the technology to send me an email letting me know my parcel is in a “safe place” and yet fail to make use of the more basic technology of the doorbell!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Out and about early. Political correctness. Attitudes to truth.

Today I got up at the crack of dawn. As a rule, when I talk about getting up at the crack of dawn I simply mean rather earlier than usual. Today was different. The alarm rang at 6.20am. It was still dark. I had been awake briefly an hour earlier. Birds were already singing at 5.00. When they talk about the dawn chorus, they talk wrongly. It is the pre-dawn chorus! And very noisy it is too, especially if you are planning to catch a little more sleep before you have to get up.

So why was I up at the crack of dawn? well, the washing machine repairman, the one who had been to my daughter’s on Saturday without any spare parts of any description, was due to call at her house this morning. Between 7.30 and 11.30.consequently I was catching a bus at 7.15 in the hope that he would not arrive before I got there! Who knew that washing machine repairmen started work so early in the morning? And even though we have passed the shortest day of the year, it is still very dark and gloomy at that time of day.

By 11.00 or not long after, I was back home, having a very late breakfast (well, second if you count the banana I ate on the way to the bus stop at 7.00), having made the public transport system work in my favour for once by chopping and changing buses along the way. I had even managed a stop at Tesco for stuff from their deli counter and another stop at the Wednesday market in Uppermill. It was still very grey, however. In fact the day did not brighten until going on for 1.00 pm.

Elsewhere I notice that the battle for political correctness continues. Altrincham Girls’ Grammar School has decided to stop using the term “girls” when addressing groups of students. This is to avoid offending girls (oops, sorry, students!) who are questioning their own gender. They now want to use gender neutral terminology! Altrincham Boys’ Grammar has no intention to follow suit. Obviously any boys who attend the school and who feel ambivalent about their gender will just have to put up with being referred to as boys! So much for equality!

Catherine Deneuve has been criticised for criticising the #metoo campaign. It becomes increasingly hard to speak out against really well-meaning movements like #metoo even though they sometimes seem to go just a little overboard. You almost feel like a traitor to feminism if you say you haven’t really been abused and don’t object to men flattering you.

The ever so estimable George Monbiot has been sounding off about “no platforming”. He opposes “no platforming” - we need to be involved in discussion of everything, not protecting people from “difficult” topics - but feels that the matter has been given altogether too much attention. There are more important aspects of freedom of speech which need addressing.

Government bodies are quietly suppressing terminology, he tells us:- “Another resounding silence concerns the US government’s deletion from its websites of thousands of documents that mention climate breakdown. The US agriculture department instructs that the terms “climate change” or “greenhouse gases” should not be used in its publications; and the federal government bans the words “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “foetus”, “evidence-based” and “science-based” from an agency’s budget reports. This is real censorship, not a feeble attempt by a few teenagers to prevent their peers using trigger words. Could it be that our free speech crusaders quietly approve?”

What a curious collection terms to be banned! In this age of “false news”, we are in danger of making our own truths. Jeff Sparrow writing in the Guardian reflects on the use of terms like “truthiness”, “truthy”, “alternative facts” and “truth from the gut”.

 Just as it is becoming increasingly hard to know which photo is a genuine snapshot and which has been photoshopped to within an inch of its life, so it grows hard to work out what is the real truth!!!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Winter sun.

Today has been a busy day with some frustrations using public transport. Itvhas also been a rather grey day. So, just to prove that we have, in fact, had some excellent, bright, sunny winter days, here are some photos taken while I have been out and about over the weekend and yesterday.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Some thoughts about socks, washing machines and use of the workplace computer

What is it with men and socks? Our friend Colin recently put a photo on his blog of his collection of “orphan” socks. My husband comes up with a similar collection at regular intervals. As I pair socks up after washing it is not uncommon for me to find that what appear to be pairs of socks of the same colour are in fact a collection of odd ones. Now, I have numerous pairs of socks, in a range of colours and patterns. If I end up with “orphan” socks it is usually because one of a pair has worn out, and only rarely because the washing machine has eaten one. Of course, it is quite possible that the washing machine only likes men’s socks!

Our daughter has been bringing copious amounts of washing to do at our house as her machine decided to break down. I am not surprised at it doing this. It was probably the washing machine equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Brought on, no doubt, by having to deal with the washing created by a household comprising of three adults (we now count the oldest grandchild as an adult), two adolescents and a baby!

Her washing machine is very clever. When something goes wrong with it, there is a panel which lets you know which component is faulty. She has one of those washing machine repair insurance policies and so she contacted them to organise a repair. She gave them all the details, including the machine’s self-diagnosis, hoping thus to expedite matters. But no, they said that a repairman had to come and look at it to assess the situation.

On Saturday, therefore, a repairman came, looked at the machine and, without running any kind of tests, agreed with the machine’s self-diagnosis. Naturally he did not have the relevant part in his van and he will return on Wednesday to fix the thing. This means that our daughter’s insurance policy will have paid for two visits, one at a Saturday rate of pay for the repairman, instead of just one. Presumably is is why such policies’ premiums go up year on year!

Here’s an odd little item of news from today’s paper:

“More than 24,000 attempts were made to access pornographic websites in the Houses of Parliament since the general election, according to official data.
The figure of 24,473 attempts represents about 160 requests per day on average from computers and other devices connected to the parliamentary network – which is used by MPs, peers and staff – between June and October last year.
It comes amid a sex scandal in Westminster, during which Theresa May sacked her de facto deputy Damian Green, after he made “misleading” statements about allegations that police found pornography on computers in his parliamentary office in 2008. In his resignation letter, Green continued to deny “unfounded and deeply hurtful” claims that he downloaded or viewed the material. The data, released after a freedom of information (FoI) request by the Press Association, shows a spike in September in the number of attempts to visit the sites, with 9,467 requests from both the Houses of Lords and Commons that month.
Parliamentary authorities say the majority of attempts are not deliberate.”

A number of things occur to me:-

  •  MPs do not have enough work to do if they can spend time trying to access pornography from the workplace. 
  • We are electing the wrong kind of people to parliament. 
  • In view of the last line of the article, MPs need better IT training.
That’s all!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Out and about in the chilly weather. More odd eating and drinking habits.

The East coast of the United States is having a pretty cold time of it. Temperatures falling to -1C overnight here are quite enough for me, let alone going down to -20C!

After the chilly night we woke up to bright blue sky and sunshine, frost still clinging to anywhere the sun did not hit. So we took ourselves off to a nostalgic walk up the hill and down the valley, past the house where we used to live thirty years ago, and where we were snowed in at least twice. You had proper winters back then! None of this one day’s snow and a lot of moaning! As luck would have it someone was coming put of the door of our former house, so we had to have a little chat.

Countryside conservation people have been at work in the valley, putting up notices asking people to keep to the footpaths and not stray onto the seeded area. In wonder what exactly they have been seeding. I am told that there are deer in that valley nowadays but we didn’t see any. Perhaps we were too noisy. Otherwise not a lot has changed. We like to walk the footpaths every so often, partly on the principle that if nobody walks them then someone will take away the right of way. These things happen!

Back home we treated ourselves to a cup of tea and a toasted tea cake and a look at the papers. It seems that President Trump’s liking for Big Macs is partly because of his fear of being poisoned. You would have thought that if you were a self proclaimed stable genius and probably the best president the country has ever had, with a huge popular following, you might not harbour such fears. Or at any rate, you could employ someone to be your official taster, as in kings’ courts of old. But apparently McDonald’s food is safe because nobody knows he wants it until he orders it and so there can be no conspiracy. This fear predates his being president. Do other rich people live in fear of being poisoned? I wonder!

I came across another food fad today: raw water. Yes, it seems there are people advocating drinking natural water, water that has not been treated, nothing taken out and nothing added. Farmers feed it to their animals. They use it to irrigate the land. In some third world countries they are trying hard not to drink it as it makes people ill. So in first world countries cranks are saying we should drink it, presumably for fear of what gets added to the stuff that comes out of the taps. And the hundreds of years of developing a safe water system just goes lut of the window!!! Madness!!

Then there are the coffee cups. Not real coffee cups. Not pottery but paper cups that you see masses of people drinking from as they walk along high streets throughout the land. There is a problem with disposing of these cups and it has been proposed that an additional 25p should be added to the cost of a portable cup of coffee so that proper arrangements can be made to dispose them or even to provide more easily-recyclable cups.

People are losing sleep over the rights and wrongs of this. It’s a big imposition expecting people to pay more, to dispose of their cups more responsibly or to carry around with them an easy-to-carry but re-usable cup of a suitable size to hold the regulation half pint of coffee.

Of course, there is another solution: stop expecting to eat and drink as you walk along the street. It’s about time we had the kind of coffee shops where you can pop in and get a quick, small coffee, often standing at the counter so that you don’t lose time from your busy schedule.

It seems to work in France and Spain and Italy!

Saturday, 6 January 2018

The end of the festive season, and odd ideas people live by!

Overnight the Three Kings will have delivered presents to all the good little Spaniards and the Befana, a kind of benevolent witch whose connection to Christmas, rather like that of pantomine, I have yet to understand, will have delivered presents to all the good little Italians. And that’s that. Christmas is officially over!

I ran round the village this morning early - well, not that early as it was gone nine o’clock - and the council workers were already busy in their hi-vis vests removing Christmas trees from their various stands outside shops. The village may have won the award for the best Christmas lights in all the Saddleworth villages but there’s no messing around. When it’s over, it’s over!

So after I had showered and breakfasted, I took all the decorations off the tree and put them in the storage box. In the process I discovered a little box with some of my favourite tree bauble which had been forgotten in the excitement of my three year old helper setting the tree up with me. Still, there ‘s always next year.

And now the lights and baubles and the Christmas crib figures have all been stowed away in the attic, the thirty-odd cards have gone into paper recycling, the tree has been put in a sheltered place in the garden, in the hope it will survive to be reused next year, and even the fallen pine needles have been vacuumed up. All that remains is a stray piece of Christmas cake and a few chocolates!

The magazine section of the Guardian is still full of New Year’s hints - how to get and stay healthy and fit and trim and happy. You know the kind of thing. Decca Aitkenhead was writing in praise of having been vegan for a year and on a regime which sees her getting up for a cold bath at 5.00 am every morning. She says the way to do that is to get in the bathtub and gradually fill it up with cold water, rather than filling it up and lowering yourself gingerly into the icy bath. This is the same principle as putting a frog in a pan of water and gradually bringing it to the boil! She ends her article like this:

 “Friends from LA came to supper recently. They’ve always been a fanatically health-conscious couple, and over the years have taken a very dim view of my eating habits, so I emailed them in advance to say that dinner on this visit would be vegan and gluten-free, and did they have any other dietary requirements? In all honesty, I wasn’t really asking so much as showing off. Gluten free and vegan surely covered all bases; what other dietary requirements could anyone conceivably have?

“Nowadays we only eat foods permitted according to our blood type,” they emailed back.

After I’d stopped laughing about the madness of such pseudoscientific narcissism, a terrible thought occurred. Is this what happens once you set off down this path? If I’m writing about eating according to my blood type next January, someone please order me a Big Mac.”

In case you, like me, don’t believe that such a thing exists as matching your diet to your blood group, here is a link to some information about it.

In case that is not crazy enough, I read this yesterday:-

“In a study by the Innovation Center of US Dairy, it was found that seven per cent of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. That works out at about 16.4m people.

This isn’t the first study to reach a worrying conclusion though - previous research has found that nearly one in five Americans do not know that hamburgers are made from beef.

“At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue,” said Cecily Upton, co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, which brings agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools.  “Right now, we’re conditioned to think that if you need food, you go to the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point.”

And apparently some people don’t feel any huge need to find out either. “We still get kids who are surprised that a French fry comes from a potato, or that a pickle is a cucumber,” Upton said. “

 There seems to be something amiss in their education system!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Getting agitated about stuff!

Posters keep inviting me to get involved in Veganuary. Another silly name! Silliness abounds! A chef called Laura Goodman got annoyed about some customers, vegan customers for whom she apparently concocted some fine vegan dishes. Then one of them went and ordered a pizza margherita, complete with mozzarella cheese - definitely not vegan. Late in the evening Laura Goodman posted on social media that she had spiked a vegan’s food. Oh, boy! The mistake of venting your spleen on social media!

She has since stopped working in the restaurant she ran with her partner but still the backlash continues. She and her partner have been receiving death threats. Death threats!?!? Over what people eat!?!? Even though she has explained that there was no hint of meat involved and she only posted because she was angry about the holier-than-thou attitude of some of the vegans, it was too late. I wonder why so many people feel the need to tell others what to eat!

There are more important things to get worked up about. And while I can understand someone being cross that they have been coerced into eating something against their principles or better judgement, I don’t understand how that merits such an extreme reaction as making death threats. Besides, from what I have been given to understand nobody was coerced into eating anything. And besides, once again, how do a bunch of people who believe it is wrong to harm animals, wrong even to exploit them by eating their eggs or drinking their milk, not see the wrong in threatening violence against human beings?

When did it become acceptable to express such ideas, or even to think such things? Even the stuff that we should be getting really angry about - domestic violence, children being abused, innocent victims of political conflicts and wars - is not something we can personally take direct action on. We have justice systems to deal with that. We can protest. We can cajole those responsible into taking action. But we have no right to take justice into our own hands.

And yet people still get voluble and potentially violence about all sorts of things: political opinions, how people dress, what people eat and, possible silliest of all, what colour our passports should be!

I hold my hands up in despair! Colour of passports!!