Sunday, 29 April 2018

So they have named the latest member of the British Royal family Louis, have they? A good French name. After all, the French royal family, when they had one, had an awful lot of ‘Louis’s. However do you write the plural of names like Louis that end already in ‘s’?

Which brings me to pronunciation. One of the ladies I Iunched with on Friday regaled us with the tale of something she overheard in the post office. It went like this:-

1st speaker: They’ve named the new prince Louis. (pronounced like the Isle of Lewis)

2nd speaker: I think it’s Louis. (pronounced Looie x to rhyme with screwy).

1st speaker: No, you’re wrong. It’s Louis (pronounced Lewis).

2nd speaker: How do you work that out?

1st speaker: Easy. It ends with an “s”.

Enough said!

We all agreed that it is hard to resist the urge to correct odd things you overhear in the post office. 

Goodness knows how that 1st speaker deals with names like Sean, Sinead, and above all Niamh!!

As regards the NAME, the child is Louis Arthur Charles. Now, his big brother in George Alexander Louis. Is it usual to give more than one child in a family the same name? I’m glad I was not made to share names with my siblings. But then the royal family seem to have a small number of names they share around:-

Charles is Charles Philip Arthur George.

William is William Arthur Philip Louis

Prince Harry is Henry Charles Albert David

It seems to me that there must be a lot of elderly relatives who would be offended if their name was not given to a royal offspring!

And John Crace, writing in yesterday’s Guardian wrote about friends of his who held off naming their newborn until the royal newborn was named. They didn’t want anyone to think they named their child after the little royal baby.

And now, here is someone advocating that little Louis should be the first royal child to be sent to a comprehensive s would make him truly a “people’s prince”. An interesting notion. Tony Blair did it, I seem to remember, selecting a “good” comprehensive for one or more of his offspring. Did that make the little Blair a true “people’s politician’s offspring”? Maybe it would make politicians look again at funding for state schools, other than academies that is.

It might be a little early in royal evolution for such a move though. After all Charles was the first one to be sent to school. Before him they were home-schooled.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Terminology, interpretation, amother DAY and being nice to people!

Yesterday I went out to lunch with a group of female friends, and friends of friends, to celebrate the (significant) birthday of one of our number. The young man behind the bar referred to us at one point as “ladies”. One or two of our party objected to our being called “ladies”. They deemed it condescending and said we should be called “women”.


Do feminists in other countries have the same problem? Should the French start addressing people of the female persuasion as “Mafemme” instead of “Madame”? I can see that causing some confusion. Should the Spanish start speaking of groups of women as “mujeres” instead of “señoras”?

And, my oh my, was it condescending of me the refer to the young man as a young man? Am I being ageist?

As for me, I quite enjoy being one of a group of “ladies who lunch”. I have no objections to the label whatsoever.

I hear quite a lot about a loneliness epidemic, in the Uk and in other countries. This seems to be a product of the busy lives everyone leads. We all rush around and have no time to meet and greet people properly. There is little time to establish proper friendships in the workplace and everyone is so afraid of being regarded as odd that they won’t talk to anyone on public transport.

But it’s not all negative. In today’s newspaper there was an article pointing put the difference between loneliness and solitude. They interviewed people who have jobs that mean they spend a good deal of time alone and who actually appreciate it.

One person commented on the practice of sending children to their room as a punishment for misdemeanours. According to this writer, being sent to your room should be a privilege not a punishment. Children should earn the right to go and spend time alone in their own space. I can understand that. Our four year old granddaughter often asks if she can go and play in her room, on her own, away from everyone. Even when she stays in our house, she will take herself off and do her own thing in what becomes “her” room while she is here. Occasionally she organises it into some kind of fantasy space and invites selected adults to go and visit her there.

This is partly, I suppose, the result of being an only child - and one who is not plonked in front of a tv set for entertainment purposes except at specific times.

Even the idea of having you own space is a relatively modern concept. When we were children, back in the dark ages, it was the accepted norm that same-sex siblings shared bedrooms. Consequently I shared a bedroom with my two sisters throughout our childhood. Our brother had his own room, of course, which we used to take turns in “borrowing” when he went off the scout camp or some such residential visit. I didn’t have a room of my own until I went away to university. There you go!

Today is another “DAY”. Facebook invites me to help celebrate “Pay it Forward Day”, a day for doing nice things to others. As if we all needed a special day for that. The name comes from a book by Catherine Ryan-Hyde which I discovered years ago, the story of a boy who invents, for a school project I think, a plan where one person does something good to or for three others, who then have to “pay it forward” by each doing good to or for three others and so on and so on, spreading good will around the world. Some cafes have a system where you can “pay forward” a coffee for a homeless person.

We are none of us really alone; we just need a reminder sometimes to do things to make life a bit easier.

No doubt tomorrow will be another DAY!

Friday, 27 April 2018

The coincidence of institutionalised thoughtlessness

We have been watching Ken Burns’ TV series “The West” telling the story of how the west (wagon trains, cowboys and Indians, rawhide and all that) was “won”. Interspersed with stories of individuals’ endeavours to make a new life for themselves is the ongoing saga of how the native Americans were cheated and mistreated all the way along.

Much of this we had read about already but the relentlessness of it all is still overwhelming.

There is the mix of greed and hope in the gold rush. Everyone who dashed off the pan for gold thought they could strike it rich, rather like everyone who buys a lottery ticket imagines they will win millions. Some of those who went were comfortably off before they set off on the great adventure; the adventure was all. One man went, dug and panned, found little, suffered a lot and eventually went back home to the family farm in the east. But until he died he regaled family members with tales of his adventures. Maybe that’s what it was all really about - the spirit of adventure!

There were the Mexicans as well, the ones who had lived forever in places that became part of the United States and who found their way of life disrespected, undermined and marginalised. It was as if everyone had to conform to an ideal of being American!

But it was the series of broken promises to the native Americans, the First Nations, which were the most heartbreaking. They were promised territory over and over again, only to have it stolen because settlers needed homesteads. If such a thing as institutionalised carelessness and thoughtlessness exists, this was it.

Coincidentally I have been reading “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave”. He tells of how slaves did not know their birthdays and his indignation about this: “The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege.” Even asking about it was considered “improper and impertinent and evidence of a restless spirit”. A restless spirit might be fine in a white man, a sign of ambition and of a sense of adventure, but in a slave it meant that he might become “unmanageable”. Heaven forfend!

Frederick Douglass, when he became a town slave in Baltimore rather than a plantation slave, gave food to poor white children who did not have as much to eat as he did. But he recognised that fundamentally they were more fortunate than he because on e they reache the age of 21 they would be independent. Not he! He had to run away to achieve that.

And in the northern States he was amazed to find that people could be rich without being slave owners - such was the institutionalisation of the slave!

But he did escape and helped others to do so.

And then I came across this article on lynchings, which is very disturbing.

Here in the UK we have all the scandal of the Windrush business and people being told they don’t belong here after all.

 It’s a rather cruel old world!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The state we’re in. Weather, politicians, escapism.

Well, if it weren’t for the gradually lengthening evenings I might not believe the rumours going around that this is Spring. There are signs of Spring aplenty: little lambs in the fields, bluebells beginning to flower in my garden, new green on the trees, adverts for summer clothes collections! But that cold wind keeps bringing the clouds across and I begin to wonder just where all the rain has been coming from. Each time the bridle path starts to dry out and I can run without having to dodge the mud-puddles, we have another rainstorm and the quagmire returns. So it goes.

I got my summer sandals, and bare legs for that matter, out last weekend. As a rule I tell myself that when I start to wear sandals that’s it for the year and that’s my footwear until September. Not this year! Warmer clothing has come out again, and warmer footwear! My only consolation is that other parts of Europe seem to be suffering as well. Surely things will pick up next month!

Our politicians appear to be continuing to lie about things. Nobody knew about Windrush ... and then we discover they knew about it for the last few years. The home secretary denies that there were targets for deportation and then, lo and behold, admits that in fact there were. And in the meantime, people’s lives have been turned upside down!

Some of the world’s politicians look very young. Not all of them by any means but I saw Justin Trudeau on the television news, talking about the horrible Toronto truck attack on pedestrians, and was struck by how the fact that he does not look old enough to be in charge of a country. I checked. He was born in 1971, so he is not so ridiculously young after all. But he is the second youngest Canadian Prime Minister ever. He must use all the right face creams!

President Macron of France is even younger, born in 1977. It was interesting seeing him address the American Congress, quietly telling the Americans what they should be doing. His English is quite good. Here is a link to some photos of his visit to the USA with his wife, with some rather interesting commentary about them.  

I read about an American woman, Liz Quain, from somewhere near Seattle, who took the decision to leave her country and take her 9-year-old twins travelling the world. Once Donald Trump was elected, she decided to move out and is now thinking of starting a business selling stuff through Amazon as a way of financing their itinerant lifestyle. “If the G.O.P. gets out of office, if our education system improves, if we get universal health care, I’ll move back to the States because we’ll get tired of traveling,” Ms. Quain said. But until that utopian day arrives, “We’re unplugging from the Matrix.”

Apparently she is not alone in this. There is a whole network of people fortunate enough to be able to upsticks and leave behind a political situation they don’t like. They chronicle their adventures on social media and occasionally some of them get together. They are not worried about their children’s education, regarding themselves not as “home-schoolers” but as “world-schoolers”, providing an alternative education.

Such is the way of the modern world!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The consequences of weather. Having babies. And the symbolism of berets.

Weather does strange things to people.

Last weekend’s sunshine brought out strappy tops - understandable, I suppose, as you get so few occasions when you can flaunt your shoulders in the NW of England - and men in shorts. It also brought out all the big-boy’s toys, the sporty convertibles driven almost always by increasingly ageing males. The garden section of the pub next door did a roaring trade and by the end of the day a large number of people had very pink shoulders!

Then the sunny weather came to an abrupt end and the cloud returned!

Yesterday’s rain led to even heavier than expected traffic in central Manchester at the end of the day. I was offered a lift from Ardwick, where we have our Italian class, to Piccadilly station, a trip which usually takes less that five minutes. We crawled along through extremely slow-moving traffic, slowed even further by traffic turning right across our lane to get onto the slip road for the Mancunian way, which we could see crossing the road a short distance ahead of us, crammed with standing traffic. It took us a good twenty minutes to reach Piccadilly.

It might have been quicker to walk but we would have got very wet!

Various friends were moaning on social media about their buses being stuck in traffic and their homeward journey being seriously delayed. No event seemed to be going on, so I am assuming it was simply a consequence of the foul weather.

I need to amend some of my comments about how good it is that the NHS provides such excellent maternity service at the hospital where the new princeling was born on Monday. Apparently a one-night stay and delivery package in the Lindo wing costs £7,500! And that’s excluding consultants’ fees! How the other half live!

Other people do use the services of the hospital, not just members of the royal family. Some newspapers ran photos of couple leaving the hospital and being greeted by crowds of well-wishers, which must have been a bit of a surprise.

It must be a bit hard to have your own special day and special delivery overshadowed by the arrival of a tiny celebrity. I remember a friend of mine, almost forty years ago now, feeling rather miffed that she and other “ordinary” women having babies received rather cursory attention during their delivery because the maternity ward was all agog with the arrival of little Louise Brown, the first test-tube baby!

Jess Cartner-Morley, a fashion-writer in the Guardian whose comments on clothes and styles can be amusing, was writing today about Meghan Markle’s hair. It seems that Meghan is an ordinary working girl who twists her hair up into a messy bun, just like any of us might do. This is seen a sign of her independent spirit, along with her unwillingness to conform to wearing flesh coloured tights or stockings but going bare-legged instead. The flesh-coloured tights things is something expected of royal or royal-connected women! How hard to be such a woman and to have to stick to all these rules and regulations. Ms Carter-Morley reckons that Ms Markle is wearing slightly longer skirts and more muted colours since she became officially a royal-connected woman!

Be that as it may, what really struck me in Jess Carter-Morley’s article was a thing about berets. Unknown to me, and perhaps to many other beret wearers, Meghan Markle wore a white beret to some photo opportunity in March. This was taken as a tribute to Princess Diana, who must also at some time have worn a white beret, something else which escaped my notice. There was then a little in parenthesis in the article: “(the same milliner, Stephen Jones, designed both womens’ berets)”. Gosh! That must have been hard work for the milliner! How much design effort is needed to make a beret, a sort of felt circle? It probably is no longer the case but when I was a schoolgirl every girls’ school uniform included a beret in the school colour. Ours was bottle green. I have a collection of berets in a range of colours. I bet if you put them all together they did not collectively cost as much as one milliner-designed white beret worn by a royal-connected woman.

The other surprising thing I found out about beret is that they are a feminist symbol, “berets being a standout accessory of the latest collection from the house of Dior, whose designer Maria Grazia Chiuri has put feminism at the centre of its world”. (That quote, by the way, came from another in parenthesis from the fashion article.)

I wonder if all the Basque beret-wearing men, and a fair number of older gents in Galicia for that matter, are aware that they are sporting feminist symbols.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

This modern world!

When we were pre-teen / almost teenage kids my older sister used to run away from home At the drop of a hat  if she had any kind of disagreement with our mother. It was a time when there was a fashion for girls to have what they called “vanity cases”, small cases into which you could fit your toiletries and maybe a change of clothes, provided you didn’t wear huge-sized clothes. So she would pack her little vanity case and set off determinedly.

Our mother never seemed unduly worried. This was because my sister would walk round the block and go in the back way to her best friend’s house, which was actually just a few houses along on the opposite side of the road from ours. Her best friend’s mother would then signal her safe arrival by waving discreetly to our mother from an upstairs window.

Modern children, it seems, do this sort of thing with a good deal more panache. A 12-year-old boy from Sidney, Australia, had an argument with his mother and ran away to Bali. He stole his parents’ credit card and tricked his grandmother into giving him his passport. (I wonder how he managed the latter; maybe grandma was just trying to annoy the child’s mother.) He was savvy enough to research an airline that allows 12-year-olds to travel unaccompanied and apparently the only time he was asked about his travel was at Perth airport when he had to prove that he was over 12. Who knew that any airline allowed unaccompanied minors to travel on their planes?

He told his family he was going to school and off he went to Indonesia.

All of this was made possible by the existence of the internet, which allowed him to book train tickets, flights and hotel rooms. And, of course, a semi-complicit grandma and parents who leave their credit card around must have helped. Added to which the boy needed to know how to do all the booking. Clearly a young man who will go far!

Here’s another oddity of the hi-tech world. I came across an article which informed us that two-thirds of men are affected by male pattern baldness, with 40% experiencing noticeable hair loss by the age of 35, and then went on to offer possible remedies, or at least ways of slowing it down. Amongst the possible medical treatments (with scitificxsounding names) and advice on not standing too long under a hot shower (it removes essential oils apparently and discourages hair growth - so why do the women who shampoo every day not suffer from incipient baldness as well?) and suggestions about changing shampoo and conditioner, there was a recommendation to use a laser comb.

Yes, a laser comb!

I never knew such a thing could exist but studies show that passing a laser comb over the scalp two or three times a week led to an increase in hair density. They don’t know how this works. Suggestions are that low-power lasers have an anti-oxidant effect on hair follicles. Personally, I think it’s a form of magic, the laser comb being a kind of fair wand.

This treatment, unfortunately for balding men who had got their hopes up, is not available on the NHS! So it goes!

And finally, lots of people got very excited yesterday about the arrival of a new little prince - a good weight, by the way, and seemingly an uncomplicated arrival. Now, that’s another thing that has changed in the modern world. His little highness arrived at just after 11.00 am and by late afternoon / early evening mother and baby were on their way home. Rather different from when my mother was expected to stay in bed for a fortnight after delivery.

Mind you, she didn’t have quite as much childcare help as the Duchess of Cambridge undoubtedly has!

Monday, 23 April 2018

Yet another - rather longer-established - DAY!

Today is Saint George’s Day. Yes, another DAY! Here is a link to a quiz about Saint George.
I did really badly. Does that mean I am unpatriotic and have no right to fly a flag of Saint George anywhere near my house?

Saint George was a Roman, some say of Greek origin, but he may have been born in Turkey where his father came from. His mother was from Syria. He never came to England. I wonder if he went to the other countries whose patron saint he is - Portugal, Malta, Romania, a few bits of Spain, among others. He is a Christian saint and a Jewish and Muslim prophet.

On reflection he sounds like the perfect mix to be the patron saint of a country like England with its racial and religious diversity. It’s just a pity that some of the more racist elements of our society are not aware of this. A young mixed-race friend of mine has proposed that we should change our patron saint to Paddington Bear, a native of Peru but who did at least come to live in England. Altogether a more peace-loving, less warlike figure that George the dragon-slayer. My young friend’s main argument in favour of such a change is that he has never suffered racial abuse from anyone with a marmalade sandwich tattoo!

Some news bulletins today are leading with the news that the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour. If she has a boy, and if she didn’t already have a sone called George, she could name this one George. Maybe if it is a girl she can be called Georgina.

There is at least one person camped outside the maternity hospital already. Amazing!

Inside the hospital a crack team is ready for the delivery. Apparently for the two previous births a team of 23 “top medics” were working or on standby. It’s reassuring that Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust – which runs St Mary’s hospital - provides such good care!

I also read that the duchess has been on maternity leave since March 22nd, exactly as if she had a proper job!

She’s not alone in producing babies. According to UN figures there are on average about 250 babies born every minute – more than 130 million in a year. It is projected that there will be 11 billion people by 2100.

Here’s some information about fertility rates:

“The fertility rate is the number of children born for every woman of childbearing age in a population. The things that tend to affect it include female empowerment, wellbeing and the status of children, technological and economic changes, and opportunities for family planning.

The level of education in a society – of women in particular – is one of the most important predictors for the number of children families have. The global average fertility rate is just below 2.5 children per woman today. Over the last 50 years the global fertility rate has halved, as some of these factors bore down on family sizes.

In the pre-modern era, fertility rates of 4.5 to 7 children per woman were common. At that time high mortality rates of young people kept population growth low. As health improved, the population growth rate began to soar, only flattening out as the fertility rate declined towards 2 children per woman.”

So this educated young woman, in a stable economic situation, with plenty of opportunities for family planning, is bucking a trend but is producing high status children.

Mind you, all of this may be completely irrelevant as some of the loonies of the world are predicting once more that the end is nigh. It seems that the doomsday source material is the Bible, and although the holy scripture has been studied meticulously for centuries, only now has one man discovered that it states the world will end on June 24, 2018.

Wait and see!

Happy Saint George’s Day!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Another “Day”! News stories. Problems and solutions.

Apparently today is Earth Day. Various social media sources tell me so. I am always intrigued as to who decides such things. I thought this might be another modern invention but when I looked it up I found this:-

“Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970. Peace activist, John McConnell proposed the day of March 21, 1970, the first day of spring, to honor the earth and the concept of peace. The date changed to April 22 that year and by 1990 it was taken internationally. Now more than 192 countries each year celebrate Earth Day.”

So it’s been around a while then. However, I still maintain that the whole thing about “Days”, always with a capital D, is a very modern concept. When I was a secondary school teacher in the 1970s I never was encouraged to celebrate Earth Day with my tutor group. And yet we are now told that “Earth Day is globally coordinated by the Earth Day Network. Activities might include lectures, learning time in schools and universities, peaceful demonstrations, and sometimes focusing on a key issue like the benefits of recycling.” This year the big concentration is on ending plastic pollution.

Plastic turns up in all sorts of unexpected places and is clogging up rivers and oceans. Part of the trouble is the cost of sorting it all out. I saw a news item the other day on a river in Indonesia so crammed full of plastic waste that you could not see the water. Workers were valiantly removing net-loads of plastic from the water prior to it being taken off to who knew quite what kind of sorting. It all seemed very promising until the reporters discovered that the workers did not have enough lorries to take it all away. So they used machinery to unlock the jam created by the plastic waste and enable it float away downstream. It then became someone else’s problem.

Of course, we could just ignore problems of this kind.

Some of our newspapers do so. One of the tabloids today has a special Royal Edition or something of that kind. The front page headline informed us that Pippa is pregnant. Naturally, we all know who Pippa is but there is a photo just in case. When exactly did Pippa Middleton become a princess? And why do the rest of us need to know that she is having a baby? Congratulations to that young lady and all that but, really, is that news? As I stood in the queue to buy my more sensible paper, the front page of the special Royal Edition, or whatever they called it, revealed a story inside headlined: “Slim Meg needs alterations”. Presumably they are having to alter the wedding dress. Has she done what so many brides do and gone on a special pre-wedding diet? Am I bothered?

More interesting was a report I read yesterday about a certain Günter Schütte in Wolfsburg, in northern Germany. He was a little sceptical of the enthusiastic reception given to refugees in Germany a few years ago but when he read about how traumatised some of the children were by their journey across the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, especially as many of them had barely seen such expanses of water before let alone learnt to swim, he decided that he would do his bit by organising swimming lessons. After all he had experience as a sports teacher. And that’s just what he did. And when some local parents complained about his block-booking of the pool, he pointed out that they were welcome to bring their children along too. Suddenly swimming lessons became a tool for integration.

It’s nice to have some good news stories in the midst of all our chaos.

Today is also the London Marathon, run in the hottest conditions so far, according to one report I heard on the radio. Runner Mo Farrar came third after having some trouble locating his water bottle.  Around here we have had a cycle race going on. It has been announced for a while on large posters warning us: Caution cycling event Sunday 22nd April. I have been tempted to go out and add some punctuation. Unless, of course, “caution cycling” is a new type of sport. Anyway, they had no problems with excessive heat, rather problems of excessive water! After a few days of fine sunny weather, today the rain came down on time for the caution cyclists.

Mind you, they should be used to such unpredictability around here!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Some animal stories!

Just as I was getting tired of updates on the Harry and Meghan situation - who is or isn‘t invited to the wedding, how excited Kate is to have two wedding in the royal family this year, what kind of style icon each one is, even stories about a grey hair being spotted in Meghan’s luscious locks - up pops a different royal topic to keep us all up to speed.

It has been reported that the queen’s last remaining corgi has died. This one was Willow, almost fifteen years old. It is apparently the first time the queen has been corgiless since the end of second world war. She received the first one, Susan, for her 18th birthday and this one last one was a descendant of the first. How nice that consistency of line has been maintained.

All over the world people know about the queen and her corgis. Well, I suppose everyone has to have a hobby and everyone has to be famous for something. But she stopped breeding the dogs a few years ago as she didn’t want any left behind after she died.

Maybe she doesn’t trust the rest of the royal family to carry on looking after them properly.

It must be bad enough having to worry about who will be head of the Commonwealth after one is gone.

It seems Buckingham Palace has declined to comment on Willow’s death, saying it is a private matter, but someone clearly felt the need to put it in the papers.

Here’s another animal story. Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire has been closed to the public because a “very angry badger” took up residence in a cellar tunnel and caused a lot of damage. The castle dates back to the 16th century. You wouldn’t want a badger, especially an angry one, messing about with it.

Badgers always seem grumpy and bad tempered in those children’s stories that anthropomorphise animals. And people used to set them against dogs and bet on the outcome of the fights. What an uncivilised place this used to be!

A friend of ours almost had a run-in with a badger recently. He usually lets his little dog out for a runaround late in the evening, leaving the door open for the spaniel to run back in. One evening he heard him approaching in rather a hurry. On looking out he saw the dog rushing towards the door, pursued by ... you’ve guessed it ... a very angry badger! So he shut the door on both animals and waited until the dog had managed to dodge and weave enough for the badger to get bored and go about his night time business! It seemed to me a rather mean reaction on the part of the dog owner, but there it is! Maybe I am just too sentimental!

Elsewhere in the country, an organisation is re-introducing beavers to an area in the hope that they will help prevent flooding. They are building a “starter home” for a pair of badgers, letting them settle in and hoping that they will breed and proceed to damn the river at a point high enough up the system to prevent flooding of a town further downriver.

There are some clever people around.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

DIfferent kinds of problems.

Imagine going to school in a country, growing up, getting a job, paying your National Insurance contributions, because, after all, you do have a National Insurance number, paying your taxes and in some cases pension contributions, and then suddenly they turn around and say you don’t belong here after all! Some of those involved have even had passports in the past but now are held to be not recognised on the system! And now the politicians are arguing about who is responsible for the mess.

You would think that having paid taxes for forty or fifty years would be enough of a contribution to the country for them to let you stay. And yet, when the whole thing is sorted, would you want to stay? Unbelievable!

There I was, thinking I could get rid of some of the piles of paper records I have had cluttering the place up for years. And now I begin to think maybe I should hang on to everything just in case!

 There was a cartoon I saw in which little Princess Charlotte was asking if great grandad was gong to be sent back to Greece. No, of course not. he just gets medical treatment that many another ninetysix year old would be considered too old to make it worth while.

Different strokes for different folks!

Ant McPartlin, half of Ant and Dec, who began their career as cheeky little Geordie lads in Byker Grove on television years ago, has been done for drink-driving. It was very fortunate that he didn’t actually kill someone. He has been fined £86,000, which sounds like an awful lot of money until you read reports that he earns £23,000 per day. Can that be possible? That stops being real money. So even if he is banned from driving for 20 months, he can well afford to be driven around. Maybe the world will be safer that way.

It must be hard being rich and famous!

Then there’s Cliff Richard, or Sir Cliff as I should say now. Once he became a national treasure people seemed to forget that he was once a bit of a British Elvis. Never a real rebel but still a bit of a bad boy, in a very restrained British way. This was, of course, before we had the likes of Mick Jagger, and even he became something of an establishment figure.

Anyway, poor old Sir Cliff is having an argument with the BBC about their coverage of the raid on his home following accusations of abuse. Never proven or even charged in the end, by the way. It seems that BBC journalists knew the raid in advance was going to take place and poor old Sir Cliff only found out about it when he saw it on the television. In yesterday’s paper journalist Roy Greenslade was defending the press coverage of this, declaring thatvit would be a disaster if poor old Sir Cliff won the case.

“The majority of journalists, even those who are hostile to the BBC and all its works, understand why. If Richard’s action were to succeed, the ramifications for press freedom and, as a corollary, for open justice, are awful to contemplate. It could create a situation in which the media would be unable to report the early stages of police investigations, such as revealing the identity of arrested people. They would enjoy anonymity until and unless they were charged.”

Am I in a minority to wonder why the media should be able to report the “early stages of police investigations”? The public don’t really need to know the “identity of arrested people”, especially if they have not been charged. It’s more a case of our having got used to examining the juicy details and making often ill-informed judgements.

I am not defending poor old Sir Cliff. It’s the pandering to basic nosiness that annoys me. In the modern age we have taken peeking from behind net curtains to a whole new level.

Mr Greenslade went on: “It is unconscionable to prevent citizens from knowing that police have taken a person from their home and are holding them for questioning.” No it’s not. It is unconscionable that our politicians get us into a possible war and that people who have paid taxes here for all their adult lives might be threatened with deportation.

Now that IS unconscionable.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Rain, rain and more rain!

Friends in Galicia tell me that it has been raining on and off for two months now, pretty much since we were last there. I wonder if it will stop for summer.

Optimistically I hung washing outside this morning. Sunshine is forecast but by midday it had not manifested itself. A neighbour, also optimistically hanging out her washing, told me she had had an email from relatives in Australia who had heard on the news over there that we here in the UK are experiencing a bit if a heatwave, or good weather anyway. Clearly our bit of the UK is being neglected. We agreed that when “weather in the UK” is in the news what they really mean is “weather in the London area”. So it goes!

But the weather is odd everywhere. It may have nothing to do with the weather but in Rome 44 sinkholes have appeared so far this year. And I thought the roads around here were in poor condition! Usually the sinkholes are big enough to swallow a car. In February in Rome six cars were sucked down into the ground as 50 metres of via Livio Andronico gave way! As I said, it may have nothing to do with the rain but I doubt if that helps. The last six months have been the wettest six months in Rome’s living memory. Subways have been closed because of flooding and football matches have been cancelled.

Experts say the rain contributes to the problem because much of Rome is built on soft sediments and unusual extra water washes away small deposits that give the ground rigidity. Add to that an ancient and creaking system of aqueducts and sewers and it’s rather surprising the city remains standing at all. And then there is the increased volume of traffic that the city endures every day.

The other day we took a walk up what we refer to as the quarry road. It has a proper name, Lark Hill Lane, but there is an old quarry half way up the steep hill, hence our family name for it. After the first fifty yards it stops being a properly surfaced road and turns into an old farm track, with ancient cobbles showing through. It’s at least a couple of years since we walked up there and we remarked on how eroded the surface has become. There are great hollows gouged out between semi-paved bits of roadway.

So that explains where all the soil and gritty stuff has come from that is washed down out road and clogs up all the grid every time it rains heavily.

Presumably something similar is happening between the hills of Rome.

Our quarry road doesn’t suffer from huge numbers if vehicles roaring up and down it, although off-road trail-biking probably doesn’t help.

But around here we don’t have ancient monuments in danger of being undermined, just the increasing likelihood that most of the soil from the hillside will end up on the A62!

Monday, 16 April 2018

Madness and mayhem and such like stuff!

Well, the mayhem continues. The bombs have been dropped. President Macron of France claims that he guided Trump’s hand, first in maintaining a presence in Syria and secondly in limited the strikes to chemical weapons sites. I suppose everyone wants to appear to be in control, unless they just want to appear to be at least part of the action and not left behind. Which is one way of looking at Mrs May’s situation. And she has two things to give her attention to at the moment: the bombing thing and the offspring of the Windrush immigrants - our very own “dreamers” threatened with being sent back where they came from!!! But it distracts attention from Brexit!

Something I read this morning suggested that the OPCW people were not being given full access to the site of the Douma bombing. And another report suggested that the Russians are suspected of tampering with the site. Oh boy! Chaos continues! Will we ever really know the truth?

So I think I’ll just get on with things and put off worrying about the state of the world until later.

One of this morning’s tasks was wrestling the futon mattress back into its cover, which has been washed. I have been known to moan about the difficulty of getting kingsize duvets into their covers but the futon mattress takes the cake.

Added difficulty comes from its being rather knocked out of shape. We loaned it to our daughter years back and it returned with the mattress stuffing unevenly distributed. It needs a good shake-up, something quite hard to do single handed. Our eldest granddaughter is about to take the futon off our hands to help furnish her newly acquired house. I shall give her instructions as to how she and her boyfriend, both young and strong, can pick the mattress up and give it a good pummelling to get it back into shape.

That’s another problem dealt with.

I came across a little diatribe about the use of language in yesterday’s paper. The writer started off moaning about how coffee, which used to be just black or white, is ordered nowadays in the UK. He had been peeved to find himself in a queue behind a hipster who was ordering a “triple shot skinny macchiato with almond milk” and trying, unsuccessfully I was amused to note, to pay for it with his iPhone! He went on to be astounded at a notice advertising “handcrafted coffee”, which turned out to mean that a human being operated a coffee-making machine! His best find, however, was about museums “deaccessionising their collection as a quick fix for financial trouble”, which translates roughly as selling off items to make some money!

I reflected further on language when I saw a friend’s comment on Facebook about something in the political world that was annoying her. “What a dickheaded thing to do!” she remarked. Now, she is the kind of person who rarely swears or uses profanities in speech. I cannot imagine her actually calling a person a “dickhead” face to face. So did she write this because as a non-native English speaker she doesn’t actually understand the register of language used? (And there is a school of thought that says that swearing in foreign doesn’t really count!) Or is she, like many people who use social media, quite happy to be more aggressive in her written language than in her spoken? 

Elsewhere in the paper I found reactions to Labour’s proposal/promise to offer free bus travel to the under-25s. Some people thought it would be a good way of getting people out of their cars and thus reducing congestion and contamination. Others thought it would make life easier for young people, actually enabling some of them to continue with their studies or get to work without incurring debt. Yet others saw it as a ploy by Labour to bribe young people to vote for them. Polly Toynbee’s was the best, in my opinion anyway:

“It’s still a lot less generous than older people’s travel passes. In London the over-60s get not just free buses but free tubes as well, even for high earners still in work. So no one should begrudge this modest offer to the young.”

 I can use my Greater Manchester bus pass on London buses. I wonder if I will eventually be able to use it on the tube as well. That would be nice!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A little nostalgia in a crazy world!

As the politicians seem intent on trying to wrexk the world as we know it, I find myself drawn to items about nostalgia.

In an article about old possessions people are inordinately attached to, Will Self talks about the Olivetti Lettera typewriter that used to belong to his mother. It’s nearly seventy years old and he still uses it. He must be among the few who still use typewriters, even though he admits to never having learnt to touch type. (Same here - in fact my teenage granddaughter is highly amused to see me sending text messages as I hold the iPhone in one hand and use one finger to tap out my message. None of this two-thumb stuff for me!)

I received a portable typewriter for my 21st birthday. I loved it. Along with my portable record player, one of those that closed down into a mini-suitcase, it was one of my most treasured possessions. Both Phil and I used the typewriteri for years and years, probably until we acquired a word processor. This was in our pre-computer days.

Will Self thinks regretfully that his precious Olivetti might not see him through his next book. He will need to find another way of composing.

Apparently he used to have a whole collection of typewriters but now just has two Olivettis, both previously belonging to his mother. One of them was for a while with his brother in the USA and has US keys rather than UK keys. Now, I never knew that the USA used a different keyboard to us. Why would that be? After all, they speak what is basically the same language. I can understand that different languages require different keyboards because of the frequency of letters being used and so but surely, despite spelling differences, American English is not so different from British English in the written form.

One of my most amusing memories is of a rather pompous, big+headed young Frenchman I worked with spotting my typewriter, declaring that he could type and being amazed to find he had typed a load of gobbledegook. A small victory!

There’s a man called Phil Nuytten in Vancouver who is working on a project to establish a colony under the sea. He’s been fascinated by underwater life since he was a small boy. Back in the 1960s Jacques Cousteau organised people to live in underwater habitats. Jacques Cousteau was a wonderful describer of underwater worlds in his television programmes. Apparently there were lots of experimental under-the-sea projects back then. It was generally assumed that it would be an alternative living arrangement but the whole thing sort of fizzled out and attention turned to space. And for a while we imagined we might have colonies living out among the stars as well. That seems to have fizzled too.

But now Mr Nuytten seems determined to resurrect the underwater colony idea. He expects to get lots of volunteers and tells the story of an advertisement he had heard about which was placed in a UK newspaper which read: “Wanted: people to go to Antarctica. Poor pay. No guarantee of success. Doing things no one has done before.” They were inundated with applications and he expects the same to happen with his underwater colonies. And of course, with social media, any advertisement will receive extreme coverage.

Perhaps it will provide a way of escape from the mayhem that is going on in the world today!

Friday, 13 April 2018

On drinking, sleeping and getting away from the world!

The scaremongers are out in force.

One report I read in today’s paper tells me that every glass of wine you drink over and above the recommended number of units takes half an hour off your life. And then another says night owls - i.e. those who go to bed late and get up late - are more likely to die younger than the larks - i.e, those who got to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn.

This last report seems to change tack part way through. Initially it tells us that “night owls are more prone to smoking, heavy drinking, depression and drug abuse. Oh, and unhealthy eating”. It also warns that “late risers are 30% more likely to have diabetes, 22% more likely to have respiratory problems and 94% more likely to have psychological disorders”. But then it turns around and says that the No 1 underlying factor when it comes to risk of premature death is chronic sleep deprivation. So, as most of us are quite likely sitting up at night worrying about whether our leaders have taken us to the brink of war and beyond, I reckon we are all pretty much stuffed!

 Maybe if we had a properly allotted time slot here on earth, ideally longer than the biblical three score years and ten, we could take a rational decision about whether to have a high old time for a shorter time or to live more moderately for longer!

Or maybe we should opt to live in a radically different way. There is apparently a 72 year old man in Spain, Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja, who was brought up by wolves and now says that on the whole life with wolves was better than life with humans. He was discovered in 1965 living in a cave with a pack of wolves. The story goes that his mother died young and his father sold him to a local farmer.

Note that this was 1965, not 1865! It might seem a long time ago to today’s young people but those of us who were teenagers at the time thought that we were living in really sophisticated times. The music was great, the films and TV were not bad and we were already thinking that soon we would be travelling into space! And there, in Spain, was a child being sold! Yes, SOLD!

After his owner died, when Marcos was about 6, he ran away into the mountains and was adopted by wolves, where he stayed until he was “rescued” in his late teens. He has thought about going back but he says “it’s not what it used to be”. It seems that the wolves have forgotten him. “If I call out they are going to respond, but are not going to approach me,” he says. “I smell like people, I wear cologne.”

I seem to remember there being a spate of stories back in the late ‘60s about feral children, discovered living wild and uncivilised lives. Some of them never truly adapted to life with other people. We don’t hear such stories nowadays. Maybe the open spaces have shrunk, or at least are more visited than they used to be. Besides, everything is more documented and although cases of child abuse still slip though cracks, it appears harder for children just to disappear and go off and live with animals in the hills.

Having said that, in 2001 ANNC News reported the case of the “Dog boy”, who has not been named. This Chilean boy was abandoned by his 16-year-old mother and, after spending a period in care, fled to live among a pack of wild dogs in a cave. The boy would scavenge with the dogs for food and eat out of bins. It is said the boy wanted to remain with his new family so much that he even jumped into the Pacific Ocean to evade capture by the police.

But even that story is almost 20 years old now. We have other, more troublesome, stories in our newsfeeds these days.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

An evening out!

Yesterday I took my fifteen year old granddaughter into Manchester for an evening’s entertainment. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth was being transmitted live to a cinema screen at Home, the theatre and cinema complex in Manchester. As she has been studying Macbeth as part of her GCSE English course, it seemed like a good idea to take her along when a friend suggested that a group of us should go to see the production.

So off we went on the tram to Manchester, the teenager determinedly reading Harry Potter and resisting attempts to make proper conversation. It’s good to see her reading, and she does read a lot, but it would have been nice to have a bit more chat. She opened up a bit more over pizza. Some of it was a diatribe about her younger brother - they niggle and pick at each other constantly - but she also revealed a surprising enthusiasm for Mary Beard, whose feminist principles she admires and whose book, ”Women and Power”, she has just bought. One of the group of friends we met to go to the production was also reading “Women and Power”: cue a brief discussion of feminism before going to see a play where a woman with no real power is a driving force.

And eventually we went into the packed cinema, so packed that we ended up scattered in little groups wherever seats were available.

The play was done in modern dress, which was fine, although we did wonder how you married soldiers on modern battle fatigues and bulletproof vests with the use of swords.

Christopher Eccleston was a rugged northern Macbeth. Some reviews went on a bit about him being forever Doctor Who, but as I have never seen him in that role (indeed have not seen Doctor Who at all since my son was a teenager more years ago than either of us care to think about), this did not bother me. In fact, I mostly just remember him from the 1990s TV series “Our Friends in the North” and, at around the same time, quite literally bumping into him in Waterstone’s bookshop on Deansgate in Manchester.

The witches were three little blonde girls, making me think of John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos”, filmed as “Village of the Damned” but reminding others more of “The Shining”. I thought it worked reasonably well. My friend, a former English Literature teacher and film buff, declared that if children are to be used in such roles they should be made really frightening by giving them blank face masks. And I suppose it may have reduced the power of the witches words, as one critic commented: “Since this a play to which children, or the lack of them, is central, the three witches are incarnated in the form of young girls: a nice idea that underscores a point made by film critic Peter Bradshaw in the programme that Macbeth is the first horror film, but it means the witches’ ominous words go for little.”

Niamh Cusack, described by one critic as “unusually likeable if scamperingly neurotic” Lady Macbeth, was convincingly good until she asked one of the front row audience to take her hand, leading to a moment of blank incomprehension. (Note to self: avoid sitting on the front row in any theatre!) However, her descent from enthusiastic, driven ambition to twitching, unable-to-keep-still nervous breakdown was good.

The drunken porter, constantly sitting or standing at one side of the stage,  kept a tally of deaths, chalked onto the wall, quite a good touch, but his almost pantomime-like direction to the hired assassins to do in Banquo and Fleance, a lot of gesticulating and miming hammer blows behind Banquo, and later pointing MacDuff in the direction of MacBeth seemed a bit unnecessary.

On the whole, we had a good evening but came away mildly disappointed, especially by the final, unconvincing fight scene.

Published reviews I have looked at this morning seem to share our mixed feelings about the production:-

 “... the production bulges with bright ideas, I sometimes feel that Findlay is not simply directing the play but also delivering a lecture on it.”
 “This is a lively production in which there has been much throwing about of brains, yet it all too often advertises its ideas instead of allowing them to emerge subliminally.”

The teenager, who knows the play quite well, declared herself a little annoyed with gender changes of some characters and with what she regarded as tinkering with the script. On the whole, though, she enjoyed her evening out.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

In the eye of the beholder!

I scanned the newspapers online and decided to avoid all the dire and terrible news stories - lying politicians, attacks on innocent children, increasing crime rates, and on and on - by looking at an article in the Guardian about the perils and hardships of being too beautiful. This led me via a link to another article on the New York Magazine’s lifestyle website, a section they call “The Cut”.

I normally only read this sort of thing in the hairdresser’s.

The introduction read as follows:

“Self/Reflection is a week of stories on the Cut about how we feel, versus how we look. Here, a woman in her late 50s tells Alexa Tsoulis-Reay how being beautiful affected her life, and how she feels about her looks today.”

The woman interviewed began: “Around eighth grade people started to tell me I was pretty. I was tall and willowy. I had a great figure and I never weighed more than 120 pounds throughout my 20s. I started modeling in high school and had waist length dark brown hair and brown eyes. When I do the whole makeup, eyelashes, high heels, gown look I am very intimidating.”

I have to confess that this put me off a little to begin with; she was just a little too full of herself for my liking.

Besides, who really wants to be intimidating?

She went on: “My looks definitely opened doors for me. I worked in PR and as a news producer, writer, reporter, and talk-show host. I did acting in daytime soaps, TV commercials, and theater. I never interviewed for a job I didn’t get. I had a good degree from a good college, sure, but I think all things being equal I’d get the job above other candidates because of the way I look.”

 By now I was wondering how people not blessed with good looks ever get jobs. And did she send a photograph along with her CV and letter of application to ensure and interview?

However, although she got the jobs, life did not always treat her well, especially in the field of relationships: “Throughout my life, competitive, attractive, wealthy, entitled women really hated me.”

Presumably lesser women, less competitive, wealthy and entitled, were simply ignored and did not come into the equation at all.

She gave details: “At my first job after college, my female colleagues conspired against me. They planted bottles of half-drunk booze on my desk so that it looked like I was drinking on the job. Two women were obsessed with me. They told my boss lies to get me fired. I talked to some of my superiors about it and they put it to me straight: Look, it’s pure unmitigated jealousy. They really do hate you because of the way you look.”

Or maybe she just made herself unapproachable.Nothing like being standoffish to put people off you.

Outside of work it was the same story: “I was once engaged to a man who ended it after his sister-in-law spread gossip about me to his family. They threatened to cut his inheritance if he stayed with me, so he left.”

But on the boyfriend front it was OK really: “I never had any trouble getting guys, but I got bored easily and moved on. I should have taken the good ones more seriously. I can see now that they would have been good husbands, fathers, and providers but I’d just drift away on to the next and stop returning their calls.”

Now that she is in her fifties she is rather miffed to find that she is becoming “invisible”, no longer attracting the admiring glances but having no network of friends to fall back on either. I find it hard not wonder if she should perhaps have worked on developing a personality instead of relying on her much vaunted beauty - which after all is in the eye of the beholder.

How will she feel when she is in her seventies?

In contrast, of sorts, I came across this article reminding those who rationalise being fat as a lifestyle choice that while fat-shaming should truly not be around, it isn’t really healthy to be overweight. What an odd world we live in where you can have eating disorders such as orthorexia - a pathological obsession with eating organically produced foods - and where we have people who are famous as Instagram stars!

Maybe we are all too obsessed with the way we look.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Testing times!

Today I went for an eye test and had certain elements of my test administered by a charming young lady whose name badge announced that she was called Sandra. I spent a good deal of time resting my chin and forehead on gadgets intended to check my peripheral vision, puff air into my eyes to measure pressure, take photos of the back of my eyes before being handed on to a more senior optometrist (when did they stop being just opticians?) for the eye test proper.

Returning to Sandra to select glasses, I felt we had got to know each other sufficiently for me to comment on her ever so slight accent and to ask where she came from originally: Macedonia (country of fruits salads to some people - Macédoine de fruits, etc). She has been away from her country for twelve years, studying here and there, working here and there, and now in the UK for the past year.

Considering that she looks about 18, this was hard to believe but she claims to be thirty? So we had a little chat about Brexit, the progress of her application for permanent residency, and our mutual hope that the whole thing could just go away!

As I was between buses on the route that would take me home directly, I decided to catch a bus to our local Tesco, giving me the chance to pick up a couple of food items and get a bit of a walk into the bargain. And so, supermarket purchses comleted, I walked from the Greenfield Tesco to the Uppermill baker’s shop, where I picked up one of their excellent rye loaves.

Leaving the shop I noticed a bus from the brand new service between our villages parked in the square and decided I would try to catch it. After all, if we don’t use the service someone will decide to take it away. As it happened the bus was broken down and was still sitting there when the much-moaned-about 350 bus came along to carry me homewards.

 The new service has been operational only since yesterday morning.

Is this a record for early breakdown?

Monday, 9 April 2018

Getting the facts right!

I begin to get the impression that our government ministers either do not read or listen to the reports their various advisers give them or they are poorly advised. Or maybe they just choose to take no notice of what their advisers and information seekers tell them.

First we had Boris Johnson stating that he had been given evidence that the Skripal poison must have come from Russia, which was later shown not necessarily to be so. Then yesterday Amber Rudd assured us that the rise in violent crime had nothing to do with reduced police numbers on our streets, while leaked documents today insist that the opposite is the case. Total mayhem!

Maybe they just misread headlines of reports. It’s easy to do.

I saw a headline today that read:

Toronto police hint for woman accused of stealing £12,400 stone.

This was accompanied by a picture of Yoko Ono, giving for all the world the impression that she was the woman sought.

Goodness! I thought, is she reduced to stealing stuff?

I thought she had plenty of money.

It turns out that she owns the stone. It is one of a pile of stones, all nicely smoothed by years in a river, that are part of an art installation. Each stone is inscribed with a message, such as “Love is all you need!” and visitors were encouraged to pick one up, look at the inscription and place the stone on a cairn. The thief simply put one in her pocket!

But how is one stone worth so much money? And will the thief be able to sell it? Does she even want to do so? Or is she an avid Yoko fan who just wants to keep the stone?

Now for some foody, and incidentally ecological, stuff.
Clever people have been developing containers made from seaweed for us to carry our drinking water around with us and then eat the container after use. No good if you prefer to drink water after eating rather than before but a lot better than dropping a plastic bottle along the route of your morning run! Someone else has been working on an edible straw that can last for 40 minutes in a mojito before it begins to dissolve. Clever stuff, but personally I am not into drinking alcohol through a straw. There are also edible plates. Three cheers for ecological thinking!

And here is an item about one man’s way of eating. He is an “ultra runner”,which I suppose is someone who runs ridiculous distances rather than just marathons. Taken from the weekend’s newspaper:

 “Ultra runner Scott Jurek: how I eat! He spent 46 days running more than 2,000 miles through the Appalachian mountains – what got him through it?
  • Breakfast - At home, it’s a smoothie: fruit, greens, nuts, nut butter or flax oil and protein powder. Then, before my morning workout, some oatmeal and wholegrain toast with more nut butter. On a normal day I do 3,000-4,000 calories. When I was doing the Appalachian Trail, though, that went up to 6,000-8,000 cals and I still lost 8.6kg over the 46 days. Breakfast there was at 5am: a banana, a Cliff bar, and, my daily comfort, a coconut-milk cappuccino. 
  • Lunch - I do all the cooking, and lunch is usually leftovers from the night before. On the trail, my wife Jenny and I were living in a van and, twice a day, she’d bring me a sandwich, or something warm – fries, hashbrowns, whatever she could find in the local diners or supermarkets that was vegan. 
  • Snacks - On an ultramarathon, I snack twice an hour on sports gels and energy bars. At home it’s lighter: fresh fruit, popcorn, a second smoothie if I’m doing an afternoon workout. And lots of water, although I go by thirst as opposed to measuring it out. 
  • Dinner - On the trail, I’d long for homely dinners with a beer and some friends – Thai curries, slow-cooked soups, stews …” 
 Okay! I want to know a few things. How does he fund the running? Does he not have an ordinary job? Does he ever eat normal food? Does he enjoy his food? How healthy, or not, is it to survive on smoothies and energy bars?

This kind of thing blows my mind!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

21st century medievalism!

I really thought we were living in the 21st century.

I know that there is still a huge pay gap between men and women and I know that men are still more likely to be promoted than women in many spheres but still it’s the 21st century so things should be getting better. Sometimes things get a bit confused. There was the case of the police male voice choir that was criticised, and I think eventually closed down, because it did not meet equality standards. I think the clue lies in the name. Maybe they just need to organise a female voice choir to even things up. Otherwise it’s rather a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

However, things like that are 21st century problems, an attempt to redress the balance.

Definitely not a backwards step to older and stranger ideas.

So, yes, I thought we were living in the 21st century.

And then I read about witches.

Yes, witches, and not some kind of New Age witchcraft thing either.

In the last decade United Nations officials have reported a rise in women killed for witchcraft across the globe. In India the problem is particularly well-documented, with older women targeted as scapegoats or as a pretext for seizing their lands and good. in Saudi Arabia, women have been convicted of witchcraft in the courts, and in Ghana they have been exiled to so-called “witch camps”, an injustice portrayed in an award winning film, “I am not a witch”.

Okay, you might say, that’s India and Saudi Arabia and Ghana. Faraway places with different ideas about things, different belief systems.

And then you discover that in the United States, a Gallup pole found that 21% of people believed in witches.

Well, I said to myself, that’s the United States, where there are still a lot of fervent believers who take the bible as, well, gospel truth! But surely things are different in the UK. And then I remembered Victoria Climbié and I found this: “The first ever Government statistics on the issue showed that witchcraft and possession were linked to almost 1,500 potential abuse cases across the UK in a single year but the figure is thought to be an underestimate.”

Which brings me to exorcism.

Apparently there have been increased requests for exorcism to be carried out in Italy, and also in France. So the Vatican is doing something about it. “The church is particularly alarmed over the uneven skills of some of its current exorcists and worried about priests who are no longer willing to learn the techniques.”

If I were a young priest in training, I think I might not want to learn how to do exorcism either. Even staunch believers accept that antibiotics, unknown when the Gospels were written, work better than prayer alone.

There are some voices of reason:

“People are in need of a prayer, a blessing,  liberation, healing, and, fortunately, not necessarily exorcism. The fact is that people sometimes feel bad and there is no place where they can go to be heard out. There are fewer priests, so there is less time to talk with people. The health care reform has led doctors to adhere to  time limits during patient appointments, and they also do not have time to listen to people. We are responsible for what happens to us. But how much easier it is to find an external reason — the devil is to blame for everything. This removes our own responsibility.”

But I was disturbed to read that the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists in 2014. Surely that gives exorcism 21st century credibility.

Apparently a week-long course on exorcism will be held in April at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, a Catholic educational institute in Rome.

It is to be hoped that they discuss the likelihood of people being possessed (!!!!), the whole idea of a need for exorcism and don’t just talk about refining techniques to ensure it’s done properly!

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Rain. Antisocial actions. Lost and found.

I went running this morning under a largely blue sky: bits of cloud here and there but definite attempts by the sun to break through properly. So I just put on a light windproof/showerproof jacket and set off hatless and gloveless. By the time I was halfway round my route the cloud had moved in and thickened. I stopped off at the Co-op to buy the paper. By the time I came out of the shop it was spitting with rain. By the time I was half way home it was properly raining. I found myself tying a plastic carrier bag round my hair to keep it dry! Such elegance!

Since then I have been nowhere, but have stayed in and read the newspaper.

Howard Jacobson was writing about antisemitism, talking about changing attitudes over his lifetime. One interesting thing he reported was about having been spat at in the street in Clapham, south London, some time in the late 1980s. What surprised him was that the perpetrator was a woman. Instead of a feeling of physical danger, he said he felt sadness. “i am a mother’s boy and expect a woman to nurture, not abuse me. My sadness encompassed both of us. It was as though, un the act of aspersing me, she was violating her own nature.” And I find myself wondering if that reaction is a generational thing - Mr Jacobson is just a few years older than I am - for I still find it more shocking to hear a woman swear or behave violently. Do my children have the same reaction? I must ask them.

In another section of the paper, a columnist wrote about “stealing” stuff from hotel rooms. Mostly she was talking about freebies: toiletries and the like. I know people who regularly collect the shower gel and stuff like that from hotel rooms. A small way of making up for the price of the room. We have done so ourselves and have a collection of little tubes of shower gel in the bathroom, ostensibly for visitors but mostly because the hoarder in me hates throwing stuff away. Nobody ever seems to use them. The only thing I keep nowadays are shower-caps, which visitors do ask for. The columnist, however, admits to stealing slippers and taking the battery out of the TV remote. “I’m not as bad as others,” she declares, “I’ve never taken a robe, or any of the furniture or appliances. Not yet anyway.”

We once were questioned about a cushion which went missing from our hotel room. Fortunately I was able to explain that Phil had taken it down to the chess tournament room and forgotten to bring it back. By her time we remembered and went to fetch it, the wretched thing had disappeared. We have been back there since and have been more careful!

Here’s a story of a man in Frankfurt who forgot where his car was parked and eventually reported it stolen. It was never found until twenty years later when an industrial building was being demolished and the car was discovered in the garage. Ideally, the story should have a fairytale ending of the now 76 year old getting in the car and driving off into the sunset. Or maybe not as there could be some outstanding carpark fees to pay, but, no, it was not to be; the car was unusable and had to be scrapped.

I once lost mine, temporarily I am glad to say, in central Manchester. I had parked the car on a side street off Deansgate. Back then you could still find parking spots where you did not have to pay. Off I went to whatever meeting I was attending. A couple of hours later I walked up and down every side street hunting for my vehicle. There was no way I could report it stolen as I simply did not know which street I had left it on. Just before panic set in, I was reunited with my trusty, and unstolen, car. Phew, what a relief!

Something to finish with. As the discussion of the Skripal poisoning continues I have a couple of questions. First of all, if it was administered via the door handle of their house, why did it not take effect until after they had eaten until after they had eaten? And just how “deadly” was the deadly nerve agent if both Skripals are now recovering? And will we ever really know what happened?

Friday, 6 April 2018

Life imitating art!

So Boris Johnson lied. Well, maybe not so much lied as made assumptions and decided that his assumptions were the truth. How amazing to be so confident that you can feel sure that what you think happened must be correct. So confident that you can tell the world that that is so. This is the confidence you get from a good education, I suppose!

If it all leads to another cold war, well, that’s how it goes.

Rather like a spy story! 

And then we have bits of London turning into Baltimore, USA, the parts of Baltimore that we see depicted in “The Wire”. For I am sure there are parts of Baltimore that are perfectly and not at all dangerous to live in. In fact, if I remember rightly, many of Ann Tyler’s excellent novels are set in Baltimore and it seems to be a very nice, ordinary place. Anyway, London has seen 50 killings this year so far and it’s only April 6th! Not at all unlike the gangland, drug-selling Baltimore from the TV series.  

Getting into the realms of science fiction we have already had the first driverless car fatal accident. A driverless car somewhere in the United States failed to register a cyclist, I think it was, and went on its way into a collision with the cyclist. The robots taking their revenge perhaps?

I read that NASA has a project in hand to replace the “rovers” which up to now have carried out remote exploration on far way planets with robotic bees. The plan is to produce swarms of micro-bits, called Marsbees, studded with sensors and able to move quickly over the surface of Mars collecting data.

We keep on hearing that bees are endangered. Numbers are dropping and, according to some, the worst case scenario is that when the bees have died out, humankind is doomed. It’s not the lack of honey that is the problem. That would really only affect Pooh-bear-types like my husband, who uses honey instead of sugar, and our eldest granddaughter, who still loves honey and banana sandwiches! NASA has two teams of researchers working to design a robotic bee that can fly on Mars. No, the problem is the pollination work done by bees.

And so lots of scientific agencies are busily working on robot bees which could be programmed to do the job. In fact, Walmart has already filed a patent on robotic bees to pollinate crops. Cynics are already saying this is because Walmart want to have control of food production as well as distribution. Who knows!

I do, however, know that there was an episode of the very dark sci-fi series “Black Mirror” where someone hacked into the robot bees and reprogrammed them to carry out a revenge plan for him.

Be careful what you wish for and what you say. Fact is stranger than fiction and may come back to bit you in the end.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Weather, washing, visits and buses!

Apparently we are due for a heatwave this weekend. Temperatures as high as 18 degrees are forecast, a temperature that in some parts of the world is still considered to be quite wintery. But then, everything is relative.

The weather app on my phone, by way of a contrast, forecasts rain for our area for the weekend. So I suppose that as usual the weather forecast for Britain really only means the Southeast. We shall see!

Today has been a good start to a patch of fine weather - blue sky and sunshine from the word go. However, in view of my phone app’s predictions I am not planning any picnics for the next few days.

So what have I done with today’s fine weather? Well, what every north of England housewife does: wash everything that is not neatly folded away in a cupboard. You can’t waste a good washing day after all.

Halfway through my washing and cleaning spree we were interrupted by the arrival of someone we have not seen for a fair few years: a young man who used to play chess for Phil’s teams and incidentally supplemented his pocket money by babysitting for us. I refer to him as a young man but, considering that the babies he used to sit will be 40 and 38 this year, I suppose he cannot be so very young. Mind you, compared to us he is a veritable spring chicken. Everything is relative, once again. 

So we gave him tea and biscuits and caught up on news. He and Phil swapped stories about backache and vitamin deficiencies. All good stuff. And we criticised the education system in depth (despite having primary school teachers as parents and therefore knowing how hard teachers work, he has become a teacher) and proved to our own satisfaction that we could sort it all out in a much better fashion.

I have moaned a good deal over the years about our local bus services. We have spoken to local counsellors about the problem and have even had communication with our MP. Now it seems that we are about to have a new service, specifically for our village and our closest neighbouring villages. The following claim has been made: “The timetable has been scheduled to coincide with rail services at Greenfield station into Manchester, connecting with the last train in from the city centre. Perfect for your daily commute or some evening shopping.”

Ambitious stuff! I wait with bated breath!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Some thoughts about plastic.

Here are some statistics about plastic: 

  • Time it takes for a styrofoam cup to biodegrade - 50 years. 
  •  Number of plastic bottles sold globally in 2016 - 480 billion. 
  •  Amount of recyclable plastic most families throw away each year - 40 k 
  •  Weight in tonnes of plastic waste that will be in landfills or the natural environment by 2050, if current trends continue - 12 billion. 
  • Tonnes of plastic generated annually in the UK - 5 million. 
Plastic, that eminently useful and ubiquitous stuff that figures so largely in our lives. We can recycle but could be actually live without plastic now?

My daughter has proudly shown me food storage containers, now often just called tupperware (with a small t to differentiate it from actual Tupperware, the stuff that was sold, and maybe still is, by party plan - I remember my mother hosting Tupperware parties!), made from bamboo instead of plastic.

She and her partner and children also use toothbrushes made from bamboo.

But she still uses those handy resealable plastic bags.

She has tried to avoid too many plastic toys for her latest offspring - wooden baby toys are so much more pleasing - but how do you avoid Lego and Playmobil, high quality, imagination- stimulating playthings?

I found myself wondering yesterday about vegans and plastic. What do they do for footwear? It always seemed acceptable to wear imitation leather shoes and carry imitation leather bags - pleather, as my daughter calls it. But presumably this has a high proportion of plastic and an eco-conscious vegan should be avoiding plastic if possible. Cloth bags are an easy substitute for leather ones but shoes are more difficult. Maybe they should all wear espadrilles: rope soles made from good old hemp and cloth uppers.

I keep hearing reports of people who make their own shampoo - it comes in a bar like soap - and even their own deodorant. The latter sounds quite horrid, made with bicarbonate of soda and other ingredients. All this to avoid using plastics.

There are some lengths to which I will not go. And I suspect that most people’s lives are too busy to spend time making their own shampoo and deodorant. No doubt someone will make a small but ecological fortune marketing such products, in suitable biodegradable packaging.

In the meantime we can take up “plogging”: jogging while picking up litter. Oxford Dictionaries explains plogging’s Swedish derivation, from “either plocka upp (pick up) or plocka skräp (pick up litter) and jogga (jog)”. We often pick up litter while walking but around here I fear you would not get much jogging done as you would have to stop every few yards to pick up other people’s mess. 

Still, the idea is good and the word is pleasing.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Celebrating religion and dietary terminology!

So that’s Easter out of the way.

Well, not quite in the Uk because we still have Easter Monday to contend with. And Easter Monday this year is cold and bleak with snow and/or rain all over the place. I looked out at the snow-covered pavements and the sleety rain - not even gentle enough to be called snizzle this morning - and decided that a run was out of the question.

Here is a link to pictures of Easter celebrations in various parts of the world. I particularly like the description of a procession in Granada:

“The procession of the Risen Holy Child, a Spanish tradition, sees about 150 people light 10,000 firecrackers to celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.”

You have to admire the Spanish for combining religious celebrations with an element of fiesta. In Santiago de Compostela on the eve of the feast of Saint James the set off a massive firework display on the front of the cathedral at midnight. It’s an amazing sight! But a firework display is one thing and firecrackers, the crashing, banging essential of so many non-religious fiestas, is something else again.

Only in Spain!

Yesterday’s paper was going on a lot about veganism. Here are some odd facts:

  • The term “vegan” was coined by a woodwork teacher in 1944, Donald Watson. Here’s some information about him, his obituary: he died at 95. 
  • Terms he rejected included “dairyban”, “vitan” and “benevore”. 
  •  There has been a 350% rise in the number of vegans in Britain from 2006 to 2016. 
  • 60% of the 168,000 people who took part in Veganuary in 2018 were under 35. 
  • Even Jeremy Corbyn has done his bit for veganism; vegetarian for 50 years he has piblicly expressed admiration for vegan friends. 
  • Veganism is now linked to a thirst for justice. 

I am a former (long ago now) macrobiotic vegetarian and now more or less a pescatarian, with a bit of chicken-eating thrown in there. I am a little wary of anything too extreme. Trying to find a term that fits my current eating habits I came across a couple of interesting bits of information:-

  • The difference between vegetarian, vegan, and other diets The word vegetarian sprouted up in 1839. Fruitarian ("a person who lives on fruit") ripened by 1893. In 1944, vegetarians who consume no animal or dairy products began calling themselves vegans. Then, in 1993, those who eat fish but no other meat chose pesce, the Italian word for "fish," to create the designation pescatarian. In that same year, meatatarian was served up as a word for those whose diet largely includes meat; that word is rare, however, and is usually used in informal and humorous ways, making it the type of fare not included in our dictionaries. Another fairly recent dietary word is flexitarian, a person who follows a mostly vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.Are Pescetarians the Same as Semi-Vegetarians or Flexitarians?  Not really, but sort of. A "semi-vegetarian" -or a "flexitarian"- is someone who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, occasionally supplemented by meat, though there's no real agreed upon definition of how often one can eat meat and still call themselves a semi-vegetarian or a flexitarian: Once a day? Once a week? Once a month? Pescetarians are not restricted to "occasional" fish and may eat fish as little or as frequently as they prefer. 

Some people call “pescatarians” “pescetarians” or even “piscatarians”, depending on the etymology you choose to work by. Then there are the really picky etymologists:

  • Pescatarian: surely that means an eater of peaches. Pescetarian would be pronounced pessetarian, since c before e is almost uniformly soft in English words of Latin origin. Sounds like something rude. Of course it is pescetariano in Italian. The Italian word for fish is pesce, with soft c. But pesca with a hard c is a peach. Piscatarian is a modern coining. So to some extent spell it how you like and see what catches on. But if you want a hard C it makes sense to place an A after the C, because c before e is almost uniformly soft e. 
 I give up on the whole labelling thing: just eat what you like - within reason, of course.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Processions and pilgrimages.

Easter Sunday. I read that a church somewhere ordered some posters to put outside today inviting people in to celebrate the resurrection. Unfortunately the printers omitted one important letter and delivered banners which read “Chris is risen”. It’s just as well that someone noticed in time.

The year that we spent the Easter weekend in Salamanca I witnessed the “reencuentro”, the moment when the risen Christ meets the Virgin Mary, in the square below the balcony of our pensión. It’s very cleverly done. The statue of the Virgin comes into the square from one side and the statue of Christ Resurrected from the other. The floats are, of course, carried by men from the various cofradías. As the statues approach each other the men at the front of each float bend their knees so that the Christ and Mary appear to bow to each other in greeting. It must take some practice.

The following morning we set off from our pensión to walk to Salamanca railway station, en route for Mérida and then further south to visit my sister. On the way to the station we stopped for breakfast in a cafe and picked up the local paper. There was a photo of the “reencuentro”. Behind the statues you could clearly see the building with our pensión on its first floor. And on the balcony of the pensión there I was! Fame at last!

The friend I lunched with last week talked a lot about her experience of doing the Camino de Santiago, not from a religious but definitely a spiritual point of view. The BBC has had a bunch of celebrities walking the Camino. One of my sources said they complained about having to go over mountains to get from France onto Spain. This may be one of the reasons I decided not to watch the series.

Fewer people seem to believe in the religious side of it but the numbers of people who find a kind of peace walking the camino are said to increasingly greatly. The British Pilgrimage Trust is apparently getting in on the act, promoting what is described as a mini pilgrimage. They want to re-establish The Old Way, an ancient pilgrimage route which was rediscovered from Britain’s oldest road map. The whole route is 217 miles from Southampton to Canterbury and they say it takes about two weeks to walk it. The last three days go from Ham Street to Canterbury Cathedral, going through ancient woodlands, past a medieval castle, a bit of what used to be the shoreline in ancient Saxon times but which is now miles inland. There are holy wells and incongruously a safari park. I bet ancient pilgrims did not see lions and the like.

As regards the spiritual peace, I sometimes think any long walk, away from the beaten track and away from the stresses of everyday life, will provide it. And although much is made of the community of the pilgrimage, I thoroughly enjoy the solitude of good long walk, letting my thoughts wander where they will.