Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Begging in the 21st century!

We have a new beggar outside the supermarket next door. He’s not very efficient as beggars go: no badly written notice, no whine, no hangdog expression, merely a weary lean against the wall and the sudden realisation that he should stick his collecting box out so that passersby know he is not just waiting for a friend to come out of the store.

Since the new, bigger Mercadona opened at the other end of the street we have fewer beggars here. And as for “Soy muy pobre”, the young woman who was always here for several years, she seems to have moved on.

I read about a new problem for beggars and sellers of the Big Issue on the streets of the UK. More and more people are telling them, in response to a request for spare change or an attempt to sell them the newspaper, that they have no cash on them as they only ever use their card.

 This is common across the board. Cash payments, I read, are in steep decline across Britain. In 2006, coins and notes were used for 62% of all transactions. Last year that fell to 40%, and by 2026 cash is expected to account for only 21% of purchases. I have seen people pay by card, especially contactless, which is so easy, for items costing less than one pound. My daughter-in-law, like the queen, rarely carries cash on her person.

Now, one Big Issue seller I read about has responded to this trend by buying himself a contactless card reader. He has seen his sales of the Big Issue increase. The problem was not that people did not want to buy, it was that they really did not have cash with them. I have to confess that my first reaction was to wonder how this could be. Surely, I reflected, to be a Big Issue salesperson you were supposed to be homeless. For the card reader to work you needed a bank account but to open a bank account you need to have an address. Catch 22 strikes again!

But then, I went on to think, nowadays there must be a fair number of people who have been made homeless but who still have their bank account from more fortunate times. You even hear of homeless people who are in employment, not very well paid but still employed. Some of them live in, and out of, their car. They are often still members of a gym and so manage to shower at the gym before work. Some move around from friend to friends, sleeping on sofas or in spare rooms. So, yes, a Big Issue seller with a card reader is not as strange as it seemed at first.

Charitable organisations are doing it too. An organisation in Bristol called the Rough Sleeping Partnership was looking for a “modern fundraising solution” to keep night shelters for the homeless open. So they tried out setting up two contactless donation centres in a local shopping district. “Come rain or shine, the terminals would receive donations of £2 and provide information about Streetlink, an outreach programme for rough sleepers. “From May to November [the terminals] raised, on average, £370 each a month,” explains one of their workers. “That’s considerably more than a small cash collection tin would have been able to do.” A third terminal has since been installed on the city’s waterfront. They are already fielding inquiries on how to install new donation points from interested parties up and down the UK. “It’s new technology,” says their spokesperson, “but I think it’s within the grasp of all charities to be able to embrace it and see if it works for them.”

Such is modern life!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Points of view about this and that.

Back in the Northwest of England, a friend has been expressing concern about whether she can get out to her poetry group meeting this evening because of snow. Our daughter has sent photos of the view from her classroom window - a good two inches of snow. However, the school has stayed open, unlike many in the UK when snow falls.

Here the cloud has moved in and rain is forecast. In the Froiz supermarket I overheard conversations about a storm on its way. Well, I reckon that’s Spring over and done with and we are perhaps back to Winter. Opinions vary, of course. It’s still showing 10 to 12 degrees on the various temperature gauges so it’s not really wintery.

On Saturday, walking along in the sunshine I heard a small boy on a scooter comment on the heat to his mother: ¡Qué calor hace aquí! She replied that it was beach weather: ¡Para ir a la playa! Just a little further along the road we came across a lady all muffled up in her winter coat, a big, think scarf round her neck and a woolly hat with pompom! She was clearly ready for the snowstorm! Just in the wrong place. But I suppose that if you have gone out and bought a wooly hat and scarf set, you really feel you should get some wear put of it before summer arrives. Rather like English girls shivering in sundresses on a summer’s day when the temperature struggles to reach the 19 degrees we had here in Vigo the other afternoon!

In Iceland, where they have volcanoes and hot geysers but presumably some cold weather in the winter, it’s not the weather they worry about. One of their big concerns I read about is the disappearance of their language. Theirs is apparently one of the few languages to try to insist on using their own words for information technology but they are fighting a losing battle, especially amongst the young. Young Icelanders, like young people everywhere, enjoy computer games. These exist in Icelandic but it is often easier for youngsters to download the English version onto their iPhones and iPads and tablets. Besides they often play against other gamesters all over the world and the international language is English. An odd consequence of this is some youngsters are not really literate and competent in Icelandic or in English. Here’s a link to an article about it.

Such are the consequences of modern technology.

Back in the UK experts are once again complaining that children are being introduced to technology too soon. “An overuse of touchscreen phones and tablets is preventing children’s finger muscles from developing sufficiently to enable them to hold a pencil correctly, they say. “Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” said Sally Payne, head paediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust. “Now, children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not be able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills. “To be able to grip a pencil and move it, you need strong control of the fine muscles in your fingers,” she added. “Children need lots of opportunity to develop those skills.”

Some of this is because tiny tots are given phones and tablets to play with at an age when they should be stacking bricks and playing with shape-sorters and threading large beads on strings - developing dexterity in other words instead of learning how to use a touch pad.

Of course there are some who argue that children no longer need to be able to write as they will be able to do everything on a keyboard. But how sad that would be! How would the artists of the future learn the fine motor skills to be able to draw properly? What about the poets who feel a direct connection from the brain to the pencil?

And what about the handwriting experts? No more would they be able to analyse someone’s character and personality according to their handwriting style. I don’t think the font you use on your computer really says a great deal about what sorts of person you are. Unless, that is , you type in BOLD all the time.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Wifi, renovation, figs and stuff!

Yesterday we discovered a new wifi cafe. Well, we didn’t really discover it yesterday. We already knew it was there but sometime last summer it closed. And now it has re-opened, which is good because it is rather depressing to see empty shops and closed down cafes in an area. It makes it all look rather run down.

What we didn’t know was whether the newly opened Patuá (that is its name - is this a Spanish spelling of the French “patois” or does it have something to do with ducks, “patos”?) had wifi or not. Yes, it does! So now we have another place within easy walking distance to go and access the internet.

Our area can manage to look a bit rundown without having empty shops and shut down cafes. Over the last couple of years, almost all of Calle Aragón has been repaved, smartened up with bright, clean stone slabs. Clean and bright, that is, until they get splatted with a polka dot pattern of spat-out chewing gum! That is a different matter!

Anyway, the repaving stopped about fifty yards from our building and didn’t pick up again until after the small roundabout with the lighthouse affair on it. Maybe it’s because there are a number of car repair workshops on the ground floor along this stretch, meaning that cars are driven over the pavement. But surely a dropped kerb would be all they would need. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, we still have the old, ratty-tatty, ridged paving stones, some of them cracked and broken. The “gentrificación” of Calle Aragón has passed us by and we remain, a kind of blot on the smooth new look of the street.

The municipality has, however, planted some new trees in what used to be empty tree spaces outside our building. I am unsure whether to take this as good sign, a sign that they are trying to make the place look nice, or as an indication that they have given up totally on repaving our stretch of the street.

Walking down from Calle Aragón to Travesía de Vigo, the next street down, you pass through what remains of the district as it presumably was before tall blocks of flat were built: individual houses with their own bit of land where vegetables are grown as well as flowers. In one of the gardens stand two fig trees, so close together that their branches are interwoven. When the trees are in full leaf you are easily misled into thinking it is one big old tree. At the moment, though, they are completely bare, in strange contrast to the lemon tree in the same garden, in full leaf and covered in lemons.

When I was a child, indeed for quite a lot of my adult life, I never saw a fig. Figs were something that you got in those odd fig biscuits, which I am convinced my grandmother bought because nobody really liked them. She could not be said to have failed to offer biscuits but it was not her fault if no one ate them. Okay, I exaggerate a little!

Nowadays I look out for them in season and have a range of recipes involving figs. Of course, after the UK leaves the EU (if it comes to pass) figs may become again a fruit that another generation of children never sees! Be that as it may, I found a bit of information about figs, under the heading, “Figs are made of wasps. Sort of.” That’s a rather off-putting idea, so I read on.

First of all, it seems that the fig is not technically a fruit but really a bundle of flowers and seeds sealed up inside the fig shape. Because the flowers are not open to the air, pollination is difficult. That, it seems is where the wasp comes in. Literally! There is a type of wasp called - would you believe it? - a fig wasp. The queen fig wasp burrows its way in through a tiny opening, pollinating the flowers and laying its eggs before giving up the ghost and being absorbed into the fig. The eggs hatch, a new generation of fig wasps eat their way out and the whole process starts again. YUCK! 

Fortunately, humans have been domesticating figs longer than they have been cultivating grain crops and the figs you buy in the fruit shops and supermarkets will not have been exposed to waspish invasions. That explains why the figs don’t have little holes where the baby wasplets have made their escape.

Thank goodness for that! However, I might be a little wary of figs grown in a friend’s garden!

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Some Sunday thoughts.

A fine and sunny Sunday morning in Vigo and so before midday the sailing school was out in the bay. Lots of tiny little boats took to the water, perhaps not quite so many as in the summer months but still a good number. It may still be considered chilly enough to need the hood of your winter coat up and a big scarf around your neck, not to mention those woolly gloves, when you walk the dog, who also has a coat on, but it does not deter the intrepid apprentice sailors. Unless, of course, they are forced out there by their parents.

The boats seem tiny, one person, one SMALL person, affairs. But I imagine that even a little, tiny boat like that costs a pretty penny. I wonder if there is a market for second hand little boats, as there always used to be for second hand bikes, as you progress to something bigger. And does everyone here learn to sail? Or is it just the yuppies, the “pijos”?

It must be rather fine to get out there in the bay in your boat. There is a bit of me that would love to do it - cue the soundtrack: Carly Simon singing “I’m bound for the island, the wind is with me ...” - but there is another bit of me that is terrified at the idea. What if the boat overturned? I’m not sure that I am a strong enough swimmer to make it back to land!

I think I’ll just continue admiring from afar. We get a nice view from our seventh floor balcony. I’ll confine myself to walking and jogging instead and a bit of swimming in the nice, safe swimming pool in the summer!

Back onto some more serious stuff. One of the young people who spoke out after the Florida school shooting, Emma Gonzalez, age 17, declared, “We are going to be the last mass shooting”. Unfortunately, since then on February 16th there was one in Oklahoma City, 1 dead 3 injured, on February 17th there was one in Memphis, 5 injured, on the same day there was one in Kansas City, 1 dead and 7 injured, and on the 18th there was one in San Antonio, Texas, 5 injured. It’s now the 25th. Have there been more since then?

They need to get on with doing something about gun control! Even aome of the US airlines are pitching in, cancelling the discount they offered to NRA conventions and asking for their details to be removed from the NRA website.

But apparently it’s not all that clear cut. They view guns differently over there. Gary Younge, Guardian columnist and the author of a book called Another Day in the Death of America, writing in the Guardian, had this to say:

“When reporting for my book about all the children and teens shot dead in one random day in America, I asked each family an open-ended question: what did they think had made the tragedy possible? Not one mentioned guns. When I asked the more leading question, of what they thought about guns, most had an opinion: they were too easily accessible. After a while, I concluded that they looked on gun deaths as being a bit like traffic fatalities. If your child was run over by a car, you might call for a traffic light, speed bump or lower speed limit – and no one would claim that was unconstitutional. But you wouldn’t call for an end to traffic. Who could imagine a world without traffic? To these parents, that would be as bizarre as a world without guns.”

Sometimes America, despite supposedly speaking our language, is much more foreign than Spain or Italy.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Modern life out and about!

It’s been another fine and sunny day here. This is the fifth day of sunshine on the run since we arrived. We obviously chose the right week to come here. The sunshine is just a little deceptive. It’s claiming to be 12 degrees outside but it feels decidedly cooler. Maybe it’s twelve degrees in the sunshine but less than that in the shade. It was only 4 degrees at 9.00 this morning. Just a bit nippy!

But yesterday, after lunch, we sat in the sunshine on Plaza de Compostela, Vigo’s rather fine alameda. So no complaints! Very pleasant indeed!

Today we walked up to the Castro, stopped for a little refreshment and spotted an friend. He was with a group of people we don’t know so we just exchanged greetings and news and went our separate ways. His group of about a dozen were almost all busy with their mobile phones - but still chatting to and fro at the same time. Modern life! Very modern in their case - most of them were plugged in to those portable chargers which allow you to keep your apps going without your phone running out of energy! Impressed!

In the paper a couple of weekends ago somebody wrote about her odd condition: she sometimes lost all sense of where she was and could not recognise familiar locations. She learnt to recognise when this happened and discovered that spinning put her right. So she would take herself off to somewhere quiet, usually the loo, and spin herself back to rights. In the following weekend’s paper someone wrote in the letters page that she too had this condition but thought for a long time that this was normal and that everyone could spin and change their sense of place as she could.

I was reminded of a couple of colleagues who suffered from, or perhaps it would be better to say were blessed with, synesthesia. Letters and numbers and sometimes sounds have colours. Days of the week, months of the year are seen as being in certain positions. Sensory perceptions are mingled: a poet’s dreamworld. One of them only realised that she saw the world differently from most of us when she happened to ask me one day, “What colour do you see Tuesday.” She was surprised that my days don’t have specific colours. In her case, as well as all the days having colours, she “saw” them arranged in a circle. The other colleague chimed in with her colourful view of the week. Other members of staff gaped in amazement but I knew about this phenomenon from having read the poet Rimbaud.

I suppose we all expect our “reality” and “normality” to be the standard one. A colleague of mine, who grew up in Wessex, “Hardy country”, once confessed to her amazement on discovering that it was not the norm all over the country to study a novel by Thomas Hardy every year in secondary school. She felt quite foolish, she told us, when she asked her fellow English students at university which Hardy novel they had studied at various stages of their high school career. Oops!

Here are a couple of examples of people who might be excused for seeing the world from an odd perspective. Two women:-
  • Tara Westover - she was oddly and strictly brought up by Mormon parents, and had no birth certificate until age 9. There were no visits to doctors. She did not go to school; she and her siblings worked in their father’s junkyard instead. However, she escaped into education at the age of 17 and largely taught herself through reading. Aged 27, she now has a PhD in intellectual history and political thought from Cambridge and has written a book:- “Educated”. 
  • Maude Julien - she is the child of an experiment in turning a child into a superhuman. Her father Louis Didier persuaded her grandparents to hand over their daughter Jeannine to him to be educated. He brought her up to be his wife and partner in their odd cult experiment. There was no affection and no love. A superhuman does not need such things; they only make you vulnerable. There was willpower training, some of which was tantamount to abuse. And there was musical training. And so she escaped to a music school and away she went. She observed the behaviour of others to learn what “normality” might be. Now over 60, she too has written a book:- “The only girl in the world”. 
 You just have to look beyond the immediate!

Friday, 23 February 2018

Another rant about guns!

I find myself moved to rant again - yes, again! - about the stupidity of mass-gun-owning culture. So here it is.

This is a quote from somebody talking about the pupils of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, Parkland Florida:

“They have lived through “active shooter” drills at school and have seen the introduction of bullet-proof backpacks with child-friendly colours and patterns.”

Imagine feeling that you need to buy a bullet-proof rucksack for your offspring. Your only concern should be that it is waterproof and, in most cases in the UK, a certain annoyance that secondary-age students have to carry so much stuff around with them that it is a wonder they don’t all have back problems.

Imagine having to have “active shooter drills”. Fire drills disrupt the education programme quite enough but we all recognise the need for those. Having “active shooter drills” must increase the anxiety of pupils and staff alike.

I read an account of a teacher discussing with her class what they would do in the event of a crazy person with a gun coming into the school. Her classroom has two doors, one of which remains locked at all times. They could lock the other door as well but both these doors have glass panels (probably the result of a different sort of security need - making what goes on in classrooms visible to all) and there are no corners out of sight of the glass panels. The teacher concluded that she would lock the class in the storeroom, which is lockable from the outside only, and slide the key under the door. One of the pupils pointed out, amazed, that this would leave the teacher on the outside. That is what teachers are prepared to do!

And now Donald Trump proposes arming 20% of all teachers.

Part of his reasoning is that if the sports coach who lost his life trying to tackle the Florida gunman had had a gun in his hand at the time he could simply have shot him. This, of course, assumes that he had the gun in an easily accessible place, a dubious proposition in a classroom, or that he carried it on his person at all times, again a dubious proposition in a teaching situation. Imagine a potential shoot-out in every classroom!

And of course, I watched POTUS say, these teachers would be trained.

A journalist in the Washington Post pointed out that “Trump’s proposal, if taken literally, would mean giving guns to about 718,000 teachers. That’s almost as much as the army and navy combined.”

This is before you even start to budget for arming teaching.

I am pretty sure that there are some teachers who are gun enthusiasts and who might approve of Trump’s proposal, just as there are teachers who still believe that we should have corporal punishment in schools. However, I am equally, if unscientifically, sure that they are in a minority. 

Teachers just want to teach!

When we saw the original TV reports of the shooting, I was struck by how many students were filming the attack on their mobile phones. An example of the ubiquitous nature of social media, even in crisis situations. One student journalist interviewed people while the shooting went on. He explained, “I recorded those videos because I didn’t know if I was going to survive. But I knew that if those videos survived, they would echo on and tell the story. And that story would be one that would change things. And that would be my legacy.”

Student survivors of the shooting went to confront lawmakers to demand gun control reforms. Thousands of teenagers walked out of lessons in other high schools in solidarity. About 100 students from the Parkland school travelled 450 miles to the state capital of Tallahassee to spend the morning meeting with Republican and Democratic party legislators.

“Some heard us loud and clear, others did not,” said one of the students. And rightwing commentators have attacked the protest, expressing the belief that their sorrow was being “hijacked by leftwing groups who have an agenda” and suggesting that the students were “in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases”.

This is the the response of the National Rifle Association:

“The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and schoolchildren. If they truly cared, what they would do is they would protect them. For them, it’s not a safety issue, it’s a political issue. They care more about control, and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the second amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms... They hate the NRA, they hate the second amendment, they hate individual freedom.”

So it’s all about an personal attack on freedom-loving gun-toting American citizens, is it?

After all, other countries also have guns, don’t they? Well, here’s a comment on that:

“Gun advocates like to point to countries like Israel and Switzerland where gun ownership is relatively high but shootings are rarer. Both countries, however, still manage to have lower rates of gun ownership than the US and impose far more stringent restrictions – mandatory background checks, for example – on acquiring weapons than Americans do.

Public-carrying permits are rarely issued to the Swiss. In Israel, gun control is strict. Any individual who has access to a weapon must undergo some military training. Gun hobbyists don’t really exist. Few Israelis can obtain licenses for automatic weapons.”

Young people are making their voices heard in all sorts of political situations. It’s time POTUS and his government started to listen to their young people!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

At the peluquería.

At the hairdresser’s yesterday I scanned the scandal magazines as usual. They were full of details of the lives and loves of famous people most of whom I have never heard of. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are apparently divorcing amicably and insist that they remain the best of friends. Goodness! I wasn’t even aware that they had married. There is speculation about Poor Jennifer, as she is often called, and whether she and Brad Pitt will perhaps be reconciled. Anything else she may have done in her acting career is forever overshadowed by the story of the man who first broke her heart. It may have been mended several times since then but that question will always be there. How sad and silly! 

Harry and Meghan (does she really spell her name with the letter “h” in it?) figure largely:- ”What a lovely couple!” “They hold hands in public, something other royal people never do!” “So romantic!” “So daring!” So what?

One thing that struck me is that Harry is almost always referred to as Harry whereas his brother William becomes Guillermo, just as his father becomes Carlos. Is this because he is less important? More ordinary? (Not that. Few “ordinary” people live like he does.) Or is it just that nobody realises that Harry is a variant of Henry and can be translated into Enrique? Which I am pretty sure used to happen when reporting on his doings? Maybe it’s because nobody knows how to translate Meghan.

How many little Meghans, or Megans, will there be over the next few years?

I found a little article about new words that have been accepted officially into Castilian Spanish:-

“Posverdad” for “post truth”.

“Gentrificación” from the English word, with an explanation that this comes from “gentry”, the English for “burguesía”.

And a completely new one for me: “aporofobia” - fear of poor people! Do we fear that they will rise up in protest? Most of those you see around Manchester look more fearful than anything else. But then I do know people who are somewhat afraid of walking along certain streets as there are so many beggars. Not to mention so much evidence of the places where the homeless bed down for the night. 

In the centre of Vigo yesterday there seemed to be fewer beggars than I remembered from previous occasion. Maybe I just did not walk in the right places. Maybe they found sunny places to pass the day.

And we have been fortunate to have had three sunny days on the run since we arrived. It might be cool at night and a bit chilly first thing in the morning but 15 degrees in the afternoon is nothing to complain about. Here are a few pictures of places looking picturesque in the sunshine:-

Not bad!

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Small changes?

You go away from a place for a while and expect to find things more or less the same on your return. Small changes are inevitable. The Cairo cafe has updated its wifi password so that it now ends in 2018 instead of 2017, keeping up with the year. The goats I see in one of the allotments I pass on my run appear to have acquired a new member to their little flock, a small brown goat, and the oldest goat has become a lot more vocal. Well, she was this morning anyway. And the sheep on the other side of my running path have lambs already - spring is clearly in the air.

However, you don’t expect to find that your favourite bread-shop, your source of local gossip, to have closed up in your absence. But that seems to be the case. The blinds were down and the doors firmly closed yesterday morning and again today. So either they have gone on holiday - unlikely - or they have shut up shop! What a disappointment! I had to go elsewhere and may have to experiment, trying different panaderías until I find a suitable replacement.

Some people might say we should not be eating bread for breakfast but good, fresh bread does make a very nice start to the day. Besides, I came across this recently: -

“If you never eat gluten, you will find yourself ‘allergic’ to it faster than you think,” Guy-Hamilton says. “When your body is not exposed to something for a very long period of time, that once-a-year bowl of pasta may very well make you sick.” Instead of forgoing gluten and dairy completely, try peppering in small amounts in your meals every now and then. “Eating high-quality yogurt or aged cheeses is a great way to keep yourself exposed to dairy while not necessarily eating it every day,” she says. “The same goes for gluten; a high-quality whole grain sourdough in an appropriate portion will do you far more good than completely abstaining and in turn, regularly eating processed versions of gluten-free products.”

So there you go.

I seem to remember also reading something a while ago about changing attitudes to exposing babies to small amounts if nut products to prevent nut allergies. Scientific/medical opinions change over time.

Another food related thing I found was all about the speed at which we eat. It appears that studies show that it takes up to 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full. So the people who eat slowly, chewing everything thoughtfully, become aware that they have had enough to eat before they have consumed vast quantities. Speedy eaters, who gobble down their food, shovelling it in as fast as possible, do not realise that they have had enough and continue eating more than they need. That way obesity lies!

Eating difficult food helps: they did a study with pistachio nuts. One group had to shell theirs, the other group received them ready shelled. The shellers ate fewer pistachio nuts before feeling full than the other group.

Having a good conversation over your food also slows down consumption. And, of course, eating more slowly allows you to savour the flavour more completely.

The writer Will Self, talking about how to live well, concludes: “All you have to do is walk a bit more and eat a bit less and you’ll be fine. And don’t smoke.”

I bet he is a slow, reflective eater too.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Back in Galicia.

So here we are, back in Vigo. What is the first thing we do? Head out to a wifi cafe for a beer, some free tapas and to connect to the internet.

We seem to have been travelling all day.

Well, in fact, that is just about the case.

We set off on our travels with the 9.24 bus to Oldham - and a friendly bus driver who only charged us for the section we would travel before 9.30, at which point our old biddie passes became valid.

Next stage: tram to St Peter’s Square, Manchester. For a good deal of the journey we listened, couldn’t help listening as it was so loud, to the conversation, live and on their mobiles, between two apparently feral teenage girls. They were talking about how they had to go and “see to some girls”. So it’s not just boys who get into physical fights. We were very glad to get off the tram and leave them behind.

Stage three: train from Manchester Oxford Road to Liverpool South Parkway.

Stage four: bus immediately available to John Lennon airport at Speke.

All this because none of our usual lift providers was available. It all worked out very well.

Stage five: Ryanair flight to Porto, with priority boarding to ensure being able to take our little suitcases and a smaller bag into the cabin. This is the latest scam to get money out of passengers. 

Stage six: AUTNA bus to Vigo.

That was where the fun started. We arrived at Porto just before 4.00pm but there was no bus for a good while. At something like 5.15 I popped out to check the timetable on the wall. There was an AUTNA bus waiting! So I ran back into the airport to find Phil and we rushed back out, hoping to get to Vigo before the supermarkets closed. No such luck! This bus was coming FROM Vigo.

So we went back in and waited. But this gave us an introduction to a couple of people also going to Vigo with whom to pass the time of day and swap travellers’ tales. We did them a favour as well because they were unaware of the discount on bus tickets for the over-sixties.

After all a euro discounted is a euro saved. Every little helps!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Gender stuff.

In one area it seems the gender gap is closing – and a new statistical analysis of life expectancy in England and Wales since 1950 suggests that, by the year 2032, men can expect to live as long as women, with both sexes sharing an average life expectancy of 87.5 years. There you go!

I read stuff yesterday about Helen Sharman. In 1991 she was the first Briton to go into space. A lot of people forget this and assume that Tim Peake was the first. But, no, it was Helen Sharman and she has now been made a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. She commented, “While I’ve always been delighted to be a role model in whatever way, I think it’s very powerful that I was the first British astronaut regardless of gender.
While I never get involved with gender-specific events let’s say, I think it’s quite clear to girls that I just get on with it. Was it any more difficult for me? I don’t know because I don’t know what what it’s like to be somebody else, but I can certainly do and so can they.”

So girls should just go out there and do things.

This is interesting because on a TV news report the other day I came across something called the Gender Equality Paradox. This is all about women with lots of opportunities still NOT doing jobs traditionally seen as a male preserve. Apparently the more gender equal countries do not necessarily have more women in traditional masculine professions in science and technology. This is, oddly enough, not necessarily the case in less gender equal countries where women still feel the need to push their way into male preserves.

In general, women figure highly in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science but not in technology. Why? Maybe they prefer caring professions - or are they persuaded that this is the case?

One expert on the television said girls really enjoy studying physics, further maths, etc once they get into it. And yet, in my experience, in our sixth form colleges girls remain a minority in Maths and Physics classes. This must surely influence the numbers studying the subjects at university and then moving into related professions. However, two girls I knew who studied both Maths and Physics for A-Level went on to study Physic at university and now both have a PhD in Physics. It can be done!

I wonder though if part of the answer might be to go back to single sex secondary schools where subjects are not seen as “boys’ subjects” and “girls’ subjects”. There’s an idea!

And finally, there is research going on that suggests that the gender of children can be picked up from their speech from as young as five years old. Mind you, some of this might be down to our preconceptions of what is a male voice or a female voice.The researchers also found that adults heard differences in the speech of boys who prefer male friends and traditionally “male” toys compared with boys who prefer friends of the opposite sex and toys culturally associated with girls. Once again, I wonder about preconceptions.

The article (here it is) goes on a bit about gender identity disorder, now more commonly referred to as gender dysphoria. I find it interesting that this article refers to boys and indicators for boys who might have gender identity problems. No mention of girls! On the plus side, one of the researchers rejected concerns that speech traits in childhood could be used to predict future sexual orientation. Instead, he said, understanding why children pick up sounds from certain people could help researchers aid children who have difficulties learning language.

Thank goodness for a bit of common sense.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Running in the rain and further comments about shootings!

I went running in the rain this morning. Had I realised it was actually raining before I left, I might never have set out However, I was in my running gear and out of the door before I noticed the rain. Looking out of the window earlier, I had not seen signs of rain but it was that quiet, gentle rain, which possibly explains my not noticing it. So I just put the hood of my running waterproof up and ran. In fact it was probably better than running in the cold, and certainly better than running in the snizzle!

I stopped off to buy milk at the Co-op. Co-op Radio was playing a song called “Why does it always rain on me?”, sung, I am pretty sure, by Rufus Wainwright. If it wasn’t him then it was someone with an equally mournful voice. Sometimes I really like listening to him. At others, he just sounds like a dirge! Today, I thought the song and the voice were very appropriate.

On to other matters. Much has been said and written about gun-ownership over the last couple of days. Examples have given of countries that banned handguns after shooting incidents such as the Florida school shooting and never had another such incident in their country. Here, for example, is a link to a video clip about why Japan has no mass shootings.

Much has also been said about the gun being a part of the American identity. It is interesting that there is a large difference in gun ownership between city dwellers and non-city dwellers. The BBC reporters said that many of the people who live in the big cities do not own guns. Small town dwellers are a different kettle of fish.

But the oddest thing I heard came from a repeat of a BBC radio news report from 2012. At the time of the Sandy Hook school shooting a BBC team investigated how easy it would be for them to purchase an assault rifle. Quite easy as it turned out. The problem was, the apologetic seller told them, that he had no ammunition to sell them. Sold out!

Apparently, in response to President Obama making noises about restricting access to guns, lots of people had been laying in stocks ... so that they could protect themselves ... against the government!!!

Further investigation and interviews led them to the conclusion that many people want to have guns for just that purpose: to protect themselves against the government!

I wonder what we have to protect us from Theresa May!

Friday, 16 February 2018

Some cheerful thoughts about lifestyle choices!

I sit here typing while having a coffee and a toasted tea cake. Maybe I deserve a snack as my Fitbit tells me I have exceeded my number-of-steps goal for today and it has just awarded me the Ferris Wheel Badge for having “climbed” 75 floors. It already sent me the Helicopter Badge for having “climbed” 500 lifetime floors, whatever “lifetime floors” are, and thus having reached the altitude of a helicopter. So now I am confused as to the period of time during which I am supposed to have “climbed” 75 floors. It’s not just today. Is it maybe this week? What Fitbit doesn’t know is that just moving around our house involves climbing, going up and then down - which Fitbit ignores - flights of steep stairs. It’s all entertaining nonsense!

And so I ate my tea cake with a clear conscience. However, news reports at present are telling us of more and more foods we should not eat, making busy mothers feel guilty for sending their children off to school with a breakfast of toast and cereal inside them. I missed the bit of the TV news report that said just what they should be having for breakfast but I got the impression that it involved cooking. And possibly it involves expensive ingredients.

It’s a little like the interview I heard with a woman who has cut plastic out of her life altogether. Well, not quite because she did talk about using Tupperware containers but she seemed to disregard that as it is all re-usable stuff. She buys her fruit from a greengrocer’s shop, where she can put her purchases in paper bags or directly into the canvas shopping bag she carries. I am pretty sure she said she was vegetarian so she doesn’t buy meat. No problem with packaging there then. When she buys cheese she asks the man at the shop to put it into her Tupperware container rather than plastic-wrapping it. She has begun to have her milk delivered in glass bottles by a local milkman. She even makes her own shampoo and conditioner, which come in bars like soap. And she concocts deodorant from a number of ingredients she probably buys from the healthfood store - even her husband uses it and he cycles to work every day!!

It’s all tremendously admirable but even she admits that some aspects - toiletries in particular - are more expensive than the stuff that people buy readymade. She maintains that buying fruit and veg from the local greengrocer is no more expensive than buying them at the supermarket. This is certainly the case hereabouts if you buy fruits and veg from the stall in the market in the town centre.   However, that involves going into the town centre as the small greengrocers around here shut up shop long ago.

The main problem as I see it is probably the time it takes to run your life that way. It wasn’t clear how old and what gender her children are but I am willing to bet if she has daughters they will demand other sorts of shampoo and such as they grow into their teenage years.

But, as she said, if we all do a little bit to reduce the use of plastics, then we might be able to save the planet after all.

The news report on the television about carcinogenic products mentioned one fact that they failed to explain: they said that wearing flipflops can cause cancer. So I googled it and found this from the Telegraph:

“Specialists say that wearing open-toed footwear can increase the chance of getting lesions as the skin becomes exposed to intense sunlight, a key cause of skin tumours, or melanomas.
Cancer that affects the feet is known as "acral melanoma" and typically occurs on the sole of the foot, between the toes or under the toenails.
Research shows that only half of patients with foot melanomas survive, compared with four out of five people who develop cancer elsewhere on their legs.
Doctors advise applying factor 15 sunscreen or above to feet, including the soles.
One clinic has seen at least two patients with sun-related foot cancer in the past three months.”

I suppose that makes sense. Fortunately I have got into the habit of putting suncream on my feet in the sandal-wearing months.

The report in the Telegraph finished on this cheerful note:

“Bob Marley, the reggae singer, died from a melanoma on his foot he believed was a football injury. The singer refused to have his toe amputated for religious reasons and died when the cancer spread.” 

So it goes!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

A little rant about guns and knives - but mostly guns!

Another crazy, mixed-up teenager has gone on a spree in a school in the USA, this time in Florida. Crazy, mixed up kids have changed a lot since I was a teenager!

I read that this is the 18th school shooting in 2018 and it is only mid-February!! And it’s the 48th in Donald Trump’s presidency! So they must be happening so frequently that we only get to hear about the big ones.

It makes the UK’s knife-crime seem slightly less horrific. but only slightly. According to Scotland Yard, the 17 year old boy killed in London last night is one of 12 people to be stabbed to death in 2018. That’s two a week!

Something odd is happening to society.

Of course the shootings and stabbings have always gone on but there seem to be more of them and you might think that as society progresses we should grow more civilised and the shootings and stabbings should grow less frequent.

Instead we appear to live now in a world where it is not only acceptable to make horrific threats on social media to people who offend you but it is also the norm for some people to carry out those threats in real life. The sense if right and wrong has got skewed somehow.

Knives must quite hard to legislate for. After all, every household has sharp knives in the kitchen. Most of us, however, keep the sharps out of reach of the small people and try to teach our not so small people to be responsible. And most of us associate with people who don’t carry knives around with them as a standard thing. Even as I write this, though, I think back to our childhood, when it was in fact the standard thing to carry a penknife around. Boys carried them more than girls but girls also possessed them, or at any rate I did. And so did my sisters.

Guns are a different matter. The 19 year old who carried out the Florida school shooting had an assault rifle. The authorities who searched his room think it is possible he had more than one. I have said this before but I say it again: why does anybody in ordinary society need an assault rifle? Why does anybody need a machine gun?

Even if you accept the premise that everyone has the right to bear arms (still in the 21st century) and has the right to defend himself, or herself, surely a weapon of war is not necessary! How hard is it to limit the sale of such weapons? Many of them, after all, are bought legally. How hard is it to ask the purchaser what is the purpose of their purchase? Most people would surely find it hard to justify such a purchase.

It’s almost as if some people live inside a shoot-‘em-up-and-kill-em-‘em video game. Those games are very realistic. Maybe they convince some gamers that it’s the way life should be. But our granddaughter has played, probably still plays, such games and she knows the difference between game and reality.

I came across a cartoon relating to the Florida shooting. Surrounded by bodies of dead schoolchildren is Uncle Sam who has thrown himself on top of a man labeled NRA and is reassuring him that he is safe now. Thatvsays it all! Until the authorities get the gun lobby under control this will continue. 

That’s all! Rant over!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Testing times!

In primary school when I was in what we then simply called “the third year” and which later became “Junior Three” and is now “Year Five” my teacher was a certain Mrs Wild, a mature lady with plenty of teaching experience under her belt. Every morning (unless my memory plays tricks on me and it just happened so frequently that it felt like every day) began with a mental arithmetic test and a spelling test. It was all quite informal but also quite regimented. We swapped papers and marked each other’s; we were the top class and were expected to be honourable and trustworthy and certainly above cheating! Those who achieved less than 7/10 (we were the top class and, as such, expected to strive for and to achieve high standards), however, were called to the front of the class, where Mrs Wild raised skirt or short trouser leg sufficiently to administer a sharp slap to the 9- going on 10-year old thigh. I lived in mortal terror of getting less than 7/10! I never did so but the fear of that slap was always there. She would not get away with it now but, boy, did we know our spellings and our sums. 

For some time that kind of rote learning went out of fashion. What children wrote became more important than whether they could spell. And children should understand the mechanics of multiplication rather than chant times tables. All well and good, but spelling correctly is important, and stops you from looking foolish in later life, and knowing your tables makes all the calculations so much easier.

And now the government plans to introduce a test for times tables in primary schools. It will be tried out on 8- to 9-year olds in a few schools this year and will become mandatory for all in 2020. The powers that be hasten to assure us that the short on-screen test “will last no longer than five minutes and has been designed to avoid causing additional stress for children and teachers” and that “the results would not be published and would not be used by the schools watchdog Ofsted to enforce any changes”. So that’s all right then!

I recognise that our schoolchildren are already tested to within an inch of their lives by maybe introducing testing will ensure that times tables are actually taught. Stuff has a tendency to get squeezed out of the curriculum by the pressure of teaching things that everyone knows will be tested. Maybe some kind of testing for Art and Music should be introduced to ensure that they are given space and time in the classroom. Here is a link to a blog about the importance of starting art appreciation early.

Truth to tell, I am a great believer in learning by heart stuff that will make the rest of education, and the rest of life for that matter, easier to deal with. I often told my Modern Foreign Languages students that learning another language was 5% understanding the system and 95% memorising stuff. And I believe in testing ... within reason! In the A-Level classes I taught we used to do quick verb and vocab tests on a regular basis with a league table and prizes at the end of each month. My lollipops probably did nothing for teenage teeth and waistlines but may have boosted grades. And these were all bright students so nobody was traumatised by not winning a lollipop.

It was all a bit of fun, unlike the formal testing that came later. And the formal testing that seems to come sooner and sooner at present!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Further travel fun and games!

My journey home yesterday, which went fine in the end as far as Oldham, suddenly went pear-shaped at that point.

As a rule, when I travel from Manchester on the tram I cross my fingers that the tram, one of a system that runs every 12 minutes, will arrive in time to coincide more or less with a bus to our village, one of a system that runs every half hour, which becomes every hour in the evening. So yesterday afternoon I was pleased to arrive at the bus stop a good ten minutes before the bus was due to leave.

It actually arrived five minutes before its scheduled departure time. Presumably people arriving at the bus stop in the town centre would just assume the bus had been cancelled, something which happens often enough to make that a reasonable assumption. But that is a different problem.

The driver of yesterday’s bus got off and left. It was driver changeover time. She checked no passes and issued no tickets before she left. Anyone and everyone could get on the bus and travel free. We waited. Just before the bus was due to leave a fresh driver turned up. We all heaved a sigh of relief. By now the passengers had bonded somewhat. Many knew each other by sight anyway from frequent travel or from living in the same area. Stories of travel experiences on the 350 bus had been exchanged. We all felt better for having vented a little frustration. It was, however, late afternoon and everyone just wanted to get home.

The driver started the engine, filled in some paperwork, checked various things in his cab and then switched off the engine and got out his phone. While he did this a couple of new passengers arrived, asking what number this bus was. That went some way to explaining the problem: no outer info screens working. We heard our driver giving details to his superiors: his name and employee number, his location, the number of the bus - not the route number but the longer number that identifies the vehicle itself - and a report of an unspecified technical problem. He then explained that the depot was sending a technician; we should be on our way shortly.

Except that we weren’t!

Other buses arrived at the bus-interchange. Some people got off and went to catch these other buses. Lucky them! Others of us really only had this bus to get us home.

Our driver was walking around outside, talking to other drivers. Earwigging on the driver’s further telephone calls, we gleaned that the technician had arrived but had gone to the wrong bus, discovered his mistake and went back to the depot. Great!

We were beginning to comment that it would soon be time for the next bus to come along. Just then a chap with what looked like a large oilcan turned up. Whether he used his large oilcan or not remains a mystery but he did something at the front of the bus and left.

And so did we!

Only twenty minutes spent sitting on a cold bus!

Is this what happens when public transport is put out to private contract? Are they using defective or worn-out buses? Is some corner-cutting taking place? I wonder!

Monday, 12 February 2018

On the train again!

Travelling back from London to Manchester on the train, I am struck by just how much space some people take up on the seats. The young man sitting next to me is an example. It’s not just the man-spreading - and there is a fair bit of that, so that his large thighs impinge on my space - it’s also the fact that he is generally large. I suppose he must be quite tall as even sitting he seems to give that impression. And he is wide to match.

It’s a good job I am not equally large or we would spill out into the aisle.

Across the aisle sits a young woman who takes up almost half of the seat next to hers. When did people grow so big? Even some of the children on the train seem larger than expected!

I woke this morning to a brilliant blue sky and sunshine to go with it. So we made plans for the morning. But first I had to pack up my goods and chattels. I had thought my bag would be lighter on my return journey. After all, on the way there I was weighed down with a stack of birthday for the small granddaughter. So there should have been a load of space. No way!

Instead I was loaned a number of books and given a bag full of clothing that the small granddaughter had grown out of. This last I am to pass on to small granddaughter’s even smaller cousin. And so we do our bit for recycling.

After breakfast we put my stuff into the car and drove down into town and then walked to the park. There we made shoe-prints in the slight snowfall on the children’s playground. Surprisingly my boots turned out to have swirling sunshine patterns on the soles. Who knew? Obviously I have never looked at the underside before.

My daughter-in-law and I tried to persuade the small granddaughter to go on the new, space-age, hi-tech chrome see-saw by getting on it ourselves. She would not join in but we did make her laugh.

It was bitter cold so we did not hang around long in the playground but walked downhill to the pond, where ducks and geese and seagulls were busily skating! The ice was clearly not thick enough to support people but the ducks were occasionally fooled as they came down to land on the water and found themselves sliding. Always good for a laugh! We skidded sticks across the ice to see whose could go farthest!

Our progress to the station was slower than planned, so we forewent the planned hot chocolate and I got straight onto the train to Euston Square. Except that as it set off it changed its destination and told us it was stopping at Harrow-on-the-Hill. This did cause me some stress but eventually the driver reassured us that it was just this train that was having problem. It had been badly graffitied earlier in the morning and was being withdrawn from service for cleaning.

There would be another train from Harrow-on-the-Hill within minutes, he promised, and this proved to be the case.

And so I was in plenty of time for my walk from Euston Square to Euston Station to catch a train which was on time and without problems.

Apart, that is, for large fellow passengers!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sunday morning stuff!

In the review section of the weekend paper was review of a book called “The Genius Within: Smart Pills, Brain Hacks and Adventures in Intelligence” by David Adam. There was a lot of stuff about the idea that we only use 10% of our brain, about gadgets you can now buy which stimulate the brain with low doses of electricity - something some people do in the belief that it helps combat depression and other because they believe it will help them perform better at computer games, but which strikes me as a dangerous thing to do - and about different ways to improve brain power.

It ends with a comment: What price culture if you can become talented by swallowing a pill? What strikes me is that it doesn’t point out the difference between intelligence and knowledge. Until we have that science fiction capacity to download knowledge directly into brains we will still need the teachers who recognise that their pupils might be more intelligent than they are while still imparting the necessary knowledge to help them use the intelligence well. Just a thought!

Somewhere else I read about “Lady Doritos”. I am not a great fan of Doritos at the beat of times but it seems that the company plans to launch or may indeed even have launched already a “range of female-centric snacks which were cleaner and quieter than traditional Doritos”. This was all based on research which showed women don’t like to crunch loudly in public or “lick their fingers generously.” This led to a load of online indignation about what women donor don’t like doing and incidentally gave Doritos a load of extra publicity. Maybe it was all a deliberate marketing ploy!

What a strange world! 

I have been sitting here typing and at the same time watching my son and daughter-in-law restoring order to their living-room after yesterday’s birthday party / invasion by small people. I left them to it as they were clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to rearrange the furniture. This is always quite a therapeutic activity, giving a room almost a whole new look without the expense of redecorating!

And finally, here’s a joke for my linguist friends: “Ein, zwei, drei, funf”, said the German fearlessly. I have Facebook friend to thank for that.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The party line!

So here I am in the south of England, among other things helping offspring number one celebrate the fourth anniversary of the birth of his daughter. It’s as cold down here as it is up north. The difference is that red kites fly magnificently over his house and people speak with a different accent.

My daughter-in-law and I successfully completed our sewing project on Thursday and yesterday got down to the business of preparing for the birthday celebrations.

She made astonishing cherry-pink little buns - which are now called cupcakes in an annoyingly American fashion - and I made ridiculous quantities of butter icing with which to decorate them. I was extremely sceptical about how well the butter icing I made would go through the icing bag to make pretty patterns on the buns but my scepticism was unfounded and my daughter turned the shocking pink buns into roses. Most impressive!

I sent a photo to my 14-year-old granddaughter, a great fan of cake decorating. She was rather miffed to find the buns were not at my house but at her uncle’s. I have had to promise we will make, and decorate, similar buns for her 15th birthday

My daughter-in-law and I suspended balloons from the ceiling on cotton threads, forming a delightful balloon barrier for small children to walk through on arriving at the party. This morning the birthday girl, just 4 years old, spent 5 minutes batting suspended balloons around. We then spent 15 minutes untangling the strings before the small guests arrived. This was a strangely satisfying and de-stressing activity. 

For a mad three or four hours the house was filled with just under a dozen small children - some of the almost 4-year-olds had smaller siblings - decorating pizza bases to their own liking, eating the pizzas once cooked, dancing ridiculously to nursery rhymes on CD under flashing disco lights, and managing to have remarkably few disagreements.

The parents drank Prosecco and chatted.

This was a much more satisfactory party than the sort which take place in a designated “play area” with the whole of the year’s intake invited, whether the birthday-child really likes them or not.

I remain amazed at how stressed our son’s friends are about child-rearing. There is a desperate desire to get the while thing right and produce the perfect offspring. I find myself wanting to remind them to enjoy their children now before they grow too big to organise and start to want the parents to be taxi drivers and other kinds of facilitators. And then I remember the kind of almost-competition there was when our children were small: parents wanting to outdo each other in the kind of party they put on for their children and the quality of “party bags” provided for the small guests to take away at the end. 

Nothing much really changes!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

On the train.

Travelling to London on a brilliantly sunny day, I read a proper printed newspaper instead of just browsing online. This is something I usually only do at weekend. I’m not entirely convinced that it really is worth the £2 I paid for the privilege but there it is.

I am travelling down south to help celebrate the 4th birthday of our granddaughter and also to give a kind of sewing tutorial to my daughter-in-law. We arranged this when the southern branch of the family visited at Christmas. So I have my sewing kit in my luggage and a length of fabric to complete a project. There was a suggestion that I might take my sewing machine along but, despite its claim to be portable, it weighs far too much for casual carrying around.

Bits of nonsense I have noticed in the paper:

There is a fashionable-clothing company called Unravel Project. They describe themselves, or at any rate the newspaper describes them, as a “streetwear brand”, whatever that means. Maybe it means that they don’t do nightclothes and underwear. Anyway, their clothes are bought by the likes of Kim Kardashian. The item selected for ridicule by the columnist is a range of legless, crotchless jeans. This is essentially little more than a denim belt, the top bit of a pair of jeans, maybe down to about five inches from the waistband. Or I suppose it could be a very, very mini mini skirt. Like these equally silly jeans shorts, it has pockets hanging down below the bottom of the garment, which has no hem and therefore will fray attractively! You can tell I am not impressed! It sells for £290! You have to have silly money to spend if you are buying such a garment.

Also in the fashion pages, something called Trendwatch, they flag up “How fashion reinvented the kilt”. This is basically putting various different tartans together to make skirts which bear some vague similarity to the traditional Scots kilt. Apart from one from Le Kilt, which markets at £440, most sell at around £50. Still rather silly stuff!

At Piccadilly station I discovered a small improvement on the coffee-selling front, at least in one coffee vendor’s stall. It is now possible to buy a flat white, which is nearly a normal coffee with milk and nothing fancy, in two sizes: small and medium. “Medium” is what most other coffees call “small” but “small” is just about right, the size of a normal cup of coffee such as you might drink for breakfast. Well, what I might drink for breakfast, at least!

Progress of sorts!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Misconceptions of one kind or another!

It seems that Donald Trump has been telling us what is wrong with our health service. Well, not so much what is wrong with it in detail but the fact that it is not working. His tweet went:

“The Democrats are pushing for Universal Healthcare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!”

Apparently he got most of his information from an item he saw on television on Fox and Friends. Where else would presidents get information about other countries and their various social systems? Who needs advisers?

The news segment featured a guest described by a writer in the Guardian today as “everyone’s favourite seven-time failed parliamentary candidate”, Nigel Farage. As you might expect from Mr Farage, he blames the crisis in the NHS on immigration. I am fairly sure that Mr Farage is aware that “of the NHS’s 1.1 million staff, 138,000 are immigrants – a figure which doesn’t include many immigrants and their children who have taken British citizenship”. But I would never expect him to say that in public. Here’s a link to the article. And here’s just a little bit of it, outlining why the NHS is in crisis:-

“In reality, the UK is facing the same challenges as many other developed countries: as people live longer and have fewer children, the population is ageing, and older people are requiring much more and more expensive care than they used to, increasing pressures on the system.”

So far I am still not demanding a lot from the NHS but I would like it to be there if/when I do.

I suppose we should expect Mr Trump to have some misconceptions about things. Other people, however, I suspect of suffering from false memory syndrome.

First of all there was Jenni Murray, someone I enjoy listening to on the radio, featured in one of the weekend papers. Here is something she said in her interview:

“Late in the decade, the sexual revolution did have an impact as we children of the 60s went to university. The pill felt out of reach. It was expensive until the early 70s and only prescribed to married women. The Family Planning Association was a source of barrier contraception but, again, only if you could demonstrate you were married or about to be. Woolworths did very good business in cheap wedding and engagement rings, and I recall having a rather good time.”

It’s a funny thing but I remember that Student Health at my university would happily prescribe the pill to unmarried female students. Was the University of Hull, Jenni Murray’s university, very different from Leeds, where I studied at around the same time?

Then there was Harriet Harman.

It’s 100 years since (some but not all) women got the vote in this country and the news media have been making a thing of it, naturally enough. Last night’s Newsnight lined up politician Harriet Harman, artist Tracey Emmin, writer Anne Atkins and someone else whose name and occupation escaped me. Harriet Harman spoke first and was asked if she remembered a time before feminism, or something along those lines, as if, as Anne Atkins later pointed out, feminism was invented in the late 20th century.

Harriet Harman started to go on about remembering a time when a woman’s only ambition was supposed to be to find a husband! She spoke of advice to girls to get an education but not too much of an education as nobody wants to marry a clever girl! I was somewhat flabbergasted. So much so that I almost stopped listening to the other women on the panel.

Now, Harriet Harman was born in 1950 (I checked!), not 1920. So we are almost contemporaries. Nobody ever suggested to me that my main ambition in life was to find a good husband. The headmistress of my girls’ grammar school would be spinning in her grave at such a suggestion. We were HER girls and we were going to go out and conquer the world! A bit “Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, I suppose.

I wondered where this idea of  Harriet Harman’s had come from. Certainly not from her mother, a solicitor, who surely must have encouraged her daughter to go out and be independent. And I doubt if it came from her school or university. Maybe she meant to refer back to time before ours (hers and mine) but it didn’t sound like it.

Sorry, Harriet, there was a lot wrong with the sixties seventies but we young women of the time thought we were out to change things. We got our qualifications and entered our professions, we were union reps in the work place and we stood up and spoke in meetings.

And it’s still going on. And it still needs to go.

Polly Toynbee, writing in another article about the centenary of women’s suffrage wrote:

“In the 1970s we thought it done and dusted with the Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. But laws and votes are only steps on the ladder. #MeToo is another step up in brutal honesty. No more grid girls, darts walk-on girls or Presidents Club dinners – that’s another rung, though Miss World 2018 will strut on, and-the POTUS is a pussy-grabber.”

Monday, 5 February 2018

Weather forecasting, friends, motivational awards and virtual life!

The weathermen are telling us that this week will be the coldest of the winter. Temperatures are about to plummet, they say. Yet when I went out running in the snizzle (did I explain already that snizzle is to snow what drizzle is to rain?) again this morning, it did not seem as cold as yesterday at the same time. There was no ice on the mud puddles either. Perhaps the cold front has not reached us totally yet. Or maybe the weathermen were only referring to the Southeastern bit of the UK. That does happen!

Facebook tells me that 34,819,606 awards have been given around the world for “Friendship Day”, a celebration created, as far as I can tell, by Facebook. I was invited to give awards to people for being a “Great Audience” (reacting frequently to posts with “Wow” or “Haha”), for being a “Big Liker”, or for being “Full of Love” (not just “liking” but “loving” posts). I must not be a very faithful Facebook user as I failed to award anyone with anything. Neither do I “share” the videos Facebook created for what they call a “Friendversary”, when they tell you that you have been friends with someone for a certain number of years - but only the years you have been Facebook friends! So far they have not managed to dig far enough into our lives to discover how many actual pre-Facebook years our friendships have survived!

My Fitbit - still a very enjoyable toy - also invites me to celebrate things. It sends me congratulatory messages for reaching certain goals: number of steps taken in a day, distance covered, floors climbed and more. It tells me I have achieved my “Urbanist” badge or my “Alpinist” badge and suggests that I should announce it on Facebook so that all my friends can be aware of how great I am. I decline to do this as well but it amuses me that my little gadget is working so hard to motivate me!

And yet so much of what we do nowadays we deliberately do in the public eye. Here is a link to an article about this modern need to draw attention to ourselves constantly. It suggests a connection between the media attention given to mass shootings, for example, and the increase in the number if such shootings. It’s the fifteen-minuets-of-fame syndrome.

It also points out an increase in isolation and loneliness as more and more people live surrounded by virtual friends but find it hard to relate to real people.

It’s a funny old world! We even have a Minister for Loneliness nowadays, for goodness’ sake!

Friends, real ones, not the virtual variety, and I find ourselves increasingly astounded by changes in modern social behaviour and the gadgets now involved in our lives. How did we ever manage in the past? This must be a reflection of our increasing maturity - or do I mean age? So I should like us to consider this quotation from the ever-insightful Douglas Adams:

 “Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things.”

We just need to keep things in perspective!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

On getting up early(ish), getting around and getting enough sleep!

Today gave me further evidence that the best part of the day is frequently the first part. I was up and about early, well, quite early. I rarely get up at seven in the morning these days, unless someone - i.e. my daughter - has given me a task to complete, but I was up and running when many of the neighbours’ curtains were still closed.

And it was beautiful - blue sky and sunshine. It was cold, however. One section of my route slopes downhill and was decidedly slithery. And on my way back, walking by this time with a bag of bits and pieces from the Co-op, my feet almost went from under me on the roadway through the industrial park: black ice!

Nonetheless it was a beautiful morning, cheering everyone up. It’s amazing how many people want to comment on how lovely the day is, greeting total strangers just to tell them the totally obvious! Of course, this might be a reaction of surprise, as it s so often dull and gloomy. A bit of blue sky and sunshine puts a smile on people’s faces!

By 11.00, however, the blue sky had disappeared under a bank of grey cloud, which hung around for a good while. Having said that, an hour and a half later the blue sky was fighting back. But I still stand by my belief that the start of the day is often the best part.

Yesterday, of course, gave the lie to that. I went out running in what I have decided to call “snizzle”. If it had been rain I would have called it drizzle. This was the snow equivalent. I see no reason why more northern countries should have the monopoly on words for snow!

The snizzle kept up for a good part of the day. It didn’t stop me getting out and about though. As I returned from the supermarket on the bus yesterday, in the snizzle, I reflected once again on the difficult job the bus drivers have around here. I often moan about the bus service but the fact remains that the drivers have to negotiate quite narrow roads in some places and these roads are often clogged up with parked cars, especially at the weekend.

There may eventually be a solution to that, one that could happen all on its own. Eva Wiseman, in her column in the Observer, informs me that driving has declined dramatically in the past twenty years. Between 1992 and 1994 just under half of 17- to 20-year olds had licences, but that dropped to 29% by 2014. Even over a wider age range, 21- to 29-year olds, the percentage decreased from 75% to 63%. Are people walking more? That seems unlikely.

I remember when I was teaching in sixth form colleges it was a regular thing that once a student had their 17th birthday they instantly began to have driving lessons and before you could say “traffic congestion” they were taking up space on the college carpark. Apparently that has changed. Maybe the cost of insurance is off-putting. Maybe parents are less willing to share the family car with the adolescents. Who knows?

But maybe there will be a knock-on effect and there will be fewer cars on the road. Or maybe not, since so many of us older drivers will still be around pottering to and fro!

And finally, since I seem to be batting statistics around, here are some statistics I came across about sleep.

1. An afternoon nap increases the brain’s learning capacity by 15-20%.

2. Sleep improves your memory, halting forgetting by 30-50%, relative to staying awake.

3. Not getting enough sleep increases sweet and salty cravings by 30-40%.

So there it is, we need to get enough sleep. Early to be, early to rise and all that sort of thing.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Headlining food matters!

Front page headline in today’s newspaper:- “Half of all food bought in UK is ultra-processed.”

It seems that 50.7% of UK household food purchases is processed food. Germany comes second with 46.2%. Then comes Ireland with 45.9%. Lots of northern countries have a high percentage. Mediterranean countries do much better: Spain 20.3%, France 14.2% (I wonder if there is a difference between the North and the South of the country), Greece 13.7%, Italy 13.4% and Portugal 10.2%. Malta bucks the trend with 27.6%. I wonder why?

It would be interesting to compare other aspects of lifestyle in all the countries. Does a longer lunch hour make it possible for people to go home and have a properly cooked meal? If so, who cooks it? There is also the we-love-local-food factor to be taken into account. If you are intent on keeping up local food traditions, I suspect you are more likely to buy fresh ingredients. It’s just a thought! 

Headline on an inside page of today’s newspaper:- “Public gets taste for vegan food - as sales in supermarkets surge.”

It’s been a trendy thing to do: get involved in Veganuary. Also statistics show that more than half the adults in the UK are now adopting “vegan buying behaviour”, whatever that means! And the number of full time vegans in the UK has grown four-fold in the last ten years. How do they know this? Do people register themselves as vegan? And do you have to keep it up for a certain period of time before your are officially accepted?

Putting the two headlines together, I find myself wondering if vegans, especially the new Veganuary converts are buying vegan ready-meals. And then I found it in the article: a buyer for Waitrose said, “Shoppers had a big appetite for Veganuary, with sales of some of our vegan ready meals twice that of vegetarian dishes”. There you go!

I am reminded of our daughter, at the age of 13, deciding that she was vegetarian. This should have been easy as I cooked a lot of vegetarian dishes. But, no, being vegetarian meant living on Linda McCartney ready meals!

Odd fact: there was a 36% increase in sales of vegan-friendly haggises at Waitrose in January, presumably for the celebration of Burns Night. Now, I find the very concept of haggis quite repulsive and completely fail to understand why vegetarians, whether vegan of not, would want to eat a pretend haggis. Not even to jump on the bandwagon celebrating a poet from Scotland!

There was also a 3% increase in the sales of vegan wines at the Co-op. Presumably this increase was only small because some people don’t even realise that wine can be non-vegan (it’s something to do with animal products used in the clarification process, I think) or it just might be the difficulty of getting hold of it, even in the Co-op.

It doesn’t feature very prominently on the wine shelf in our local Co-op. But then gluten-free products are also hard to find there. Supply and demand I suppose!

That’s enough of that. Time to go and make a vegetarian tomato sauce, with a dash of non-vegan red wine, to accompany the non-vegan pasta (there’s egg in it) that we’ll be eating later!

Friday, 2 February 2018

Flame-throwers and stress-relievers!

Here are some of the odd things I have come across recently:-

An American businessman called Elon Musk, who sells a variety of things such as cars and has a kind of side business that he calls The Boring Company, has been selling “boring” flame throwers. Marketed as being really good things “to liven up a party”, they sold for $500 dollars and in the space of a few hours some 7000 of them were sold. What kind of parties do they organise in the States? Who uses a flame thrower to make a party go with a swing? Am I missing something here?

The University of Bristol is to open a puppy room to “aid relaxation and calmness” and help students through the stresses and strains of revision. Some 20 dogs and puppies will be rotated through the day on May 18th, which is, of course, pretty close to the exam period in universities. Students can book 15 minute slots, making a donation of £2 to the Guide Dogs charity, which helps run the event. Three other universities - Nottingham, Aberdeen and Central Lancashire - have also offered puppy rooms in the past.

Oh dear! This is one of those things that wake up my inner cynic. If the students wait until just before the start of the exams to find some way of dealing with their stress then maybe it’s a bit late. Do students really suffer from more stress than we used to do all those years ago? Everyone talks about it a lot more. All the media go on about it. Is the power of suggestion contributing to the number of students suffering from stress? But maybe all the stuff about stress and so on is working; after all, far more first class degrees seem to be awarded nowadays than back when we were students! Oops! There goes my inner cynic again!
I would be interested to see some statistics about precisely who uses the puppy room. Are there more female students than male students who do so? Does my question count as gender stereotyping?

On the topic of gender stereotyping, Formula One has apparently decided that they will no longer employ girls to hold umbrellas at pit stops and in other situations around the race tracks. This has caused some outcry from girls who like to do this work as they feel they are losing an employment opportunity.

How long before the Tour de France follows suit? Will we no longer see girls in matching outfits presenting bunches of flowers, soft toys and jerseys to sweaty riders? A certain amount of pageantry might be lost.

Getting back to pets and stress and the benefits of being around animals. People who have pets apparently tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rate and heart-disease risk than those who don’t. Some of this comes from actually having to take your dog out for a walk and thus getting some exercise, so I think I will stick to going for a run in the mornings. This means I do not have to buy a birthday present for a dog, something that half of dog-owners in the USA do! But then, according to a recent poll, 95% of then think of their animal as a member of the family!

And scientists are now digging up evidence that animals can also help improve mental health, even for people with challenging disorders.

“Though the studies are small, the benefits are impressive enough that clinical settings are opening their doors to animal-assisted interventions–pet therapy, in other words–used alongside conventional medicine. “It used to be one of the great no-no’s to think of an animal in a hospital,” says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, citing the fear of causing infection. “Now, I don’t know of any major children’s hospital that doesn’t have at least some kind of animal program.” The rise of animal therapy is backed by increasingly serious science showing that social support–a proven antidote to anxiety and loneliness–can come on four legs, not just two. Animals of many types can help calm stress, fear and anxiety in young children, the elderly and everyone in between.”

And here’s another related thing:-

“In one study, a stressed-out group of adults were told to pet a rabbit, a turtle or their toy forms. The toys had no effect. But stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, relieved anxiety. It worked for people regardless of whether they initially said they liked animals”

I have a few questions and comments.

First of all, is it really possible to stroke a turtle? Isn’t their hard shell just a little off-putting?

I am not sure this therapy would work on me, but then I am not really a stressed person.

As for stroking toy animals, I wonder if it possible to persuade yourself that it works. After all people squeeze stress-relief balls and convince themselves it works.

That’s all!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Out on the streets!

We appear to have acquired our very own Big Issue seller in Delph Village. Does this say something about the status of the village? Have we increased in size sufficiently to merit a Big Issue seller?

She was standing outside the Co-op at 9.30 this morning.

In fact, she looked rather like the Big Issue seller who stands outside the Co-op store in Uppermill, the largest of the Saddleworth villages and which was upgraded from village to town some time ago. Until a couple of years ago Uppermill had no Big Issue seller either. The one who stands outside the Co-op in Uppermill comes on the bus from nearby Lees. I have seen her do so. Presumably our Big Issue seller has also come on the bus. It is, of course, possible that she is the very same person and has decided that a change of scene is a good idea, that even if Delph does not provide rich pickings, at least there will be pickings of some kind.

As you can see, the advent of this Big Issue seller in our village has brought out the cynical side of me. I am not not hardhearted. I go around Manchester with a pocketful of loose change to give away and stop and talk to young people sleeping rough on the streets. But the Uppermill and now the Delph Big Issue sellers must be doing all right if they can afford the not inconsiderable bus fare to get to their selling positions.

And I do recognise that I might be doing them a serious injustice! 

Anyway, the seller outside the Co-op this morning was well wrapped up against the cold and had good strong boots on her feet. Unlike our Prime Minister in a photo I spotted yesterday. She too was well wrapped up, walking out of a building, possibly a church. She wore a padded coat with a hood, black trousers and silly little shoes leaving a vast expanse of what looked like BARE foot and ankle exposed to the weather!

I see a surprisingly large number of women in similar footwear. The shoes are those thin-soled ballet-slipper style things, usually worn with bare feet, goodness only knows why. No doubt they are perfect for tripping around the office in. In fact, I know women who keep a pair in the office for just that purpose. But they usually wear something warmer to reach the office. Pretty little ballet slippers offer no insulation or protection against cold pavements and icy wind.

I can only assume that the women I see tripping along Manchester’s Market Street in the wild and windy, wet winter weather in their unsuitable footwear have just popped out for a couple of minutes and have forgotten, or could not be bothered, to change their shoes. Or maybe sturdier footwear would not match their outfit!

Of course, it may well be that such women never travel on public transport and therefore never have to stand at a bus- or tram-stop with their feet turning to blocks of ice. They must go everywhere by car and never walk more than a few yards from car to office and back again. Such is probably the case for the Prime Minister as she goes about her Prime Ministerial business. Certainly, when you see photos of her striding out across the hills and moors with Mr Prime Minister (First Gentleman of the UK? Or is that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh?) she appears to be sensibly shod.

But perhaps the vagaries of fashion will remove all this silly footwear from our city centre streets. I hear that Ugg boots are coming back into fashion, despite experts in osteopathic medicine expressing concern at the lack of proper support such boots provide, leading potentially to ankle, hip and back problems. But at least they are warm.

Personally, I think that Ugg boots, like flowery-patterned leggings, should not be worn by anyone above the age of five but that is a different matter. Fashion is a fickle thing!