Thursday, 31 May 2018

Some thoughts provoked by famous people in the news.

The best headline I have seen today is this:

Trump holds prison reform summit with Kim Kardashian West.

First of all, I find myself thinking that, of course, that will be the well known academic and expert on prisons, Kim Kardashian West! Perhaps not. And then I reason that a reality TV star president is probably quite likely to choose his advisors among other reality TV stars. But when I read the article I discovered that Ms. Kardashian (or is it Mrs Kardashian West?) had been to see the President to ask for a pardon for someone in prison. That makes more sense but the headline writers clearly could not resist the temptation to have some fun.

Another famous person making headlines today is Germaine Greer, coming out and saying that punishments for rapists should be reduced. Here’s a link to the article. She has been speaking at the Hay literary festival and, as ever, she seems to have set put to be controversial. You can agree with some of what she says, such as when she said that a big part of the problem was that the world was full of bad sex, that people were not talking and loving as they should. “Love-making is not a matter of an organ, it is a matter of communication and somehow we’ve got to rescue it. It is in deep trouble, heterosex.”

And she is probably right that sometimes rape is not so much violent as just non-consensual sex. But she must remember that women have been fighting to make everyone aware that no means no. And that even if she felt more annoyed than destroyed by being raped, some women, many women, feel traumatised by it. Maybe what she should say is that there should be more of a sliding scale of punishment.

And then there is Roseanne Barr who has been in trouble for tweeting racist remarks, comparing an African American woman to an ape. She apologised and gave as an excuse the fact that she was tweeting under the influence of sleeping pills! Really? But surely, as with alcohol removing your inhibitions, when you speak or tweet while taking sleeping pills, what you say at that point comes from something inside you that really believes what you say. Even the company who made the sleeping pills have apparently said that becoming liable to make racist remarks is not on their list of possible side effects. I think the company is called Ambien, or maybe that’s just the sleeping pills.

Which reminds me, on a less serious note, about something called Ambient Television. This is another thing about tv sets that I forgot to mention yesterday. I have been seeing adverts for sets that blend into the wallpaper when not being used. This is Ambient Television which allows your set to match the furnishings instead of being a big black empty screen when not switched on. Of course, for your tv set to do that blending stuff it needs to be wall mounted, which apparently is the modern thing. No more standing your tv on a table or a sideboard or a special stand. It needs fixing to the wall, so that you sit on the sofa and stare upwards at it, pretendin to be at the cinema and probably munching a bucket of popcorn at the same time.

Personally I think I would prefer the option to have my tv screen show a work of art. But then we don’t have a gigantic wall mounted television set anyway. That’s all.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

21st century, electronic age, computer-driven stuff.

I just heard an item on the radio about voice-activated systems for switching on various electrical devices. We don’t have a really smart television; we upgraded our television set just before the really smart sets came along, the ones that just connect to your home wifi system. So ours needs a gadget to make it “talk” to the computer. And so we have a dongle which lets us have access to Netflix and the like. What’s more we can talk to it. Once it’s switched on you can instruct it to connect to Netflix, BBC iPlayer or whatever you want it to do. That’s the only voice-activated thing we have.

Some people have a whole lot more. Almost their whole life is “connected” and so they can walk into their house and tell the lights and heating to switch on. Really advanced people check up on their home via their smart phone while they are out and tell it to switch things on ready for their arrival. All very futuristic.

However, the radio item informed us, some people have been ffinding that the voice activated system did not let them listen to BBC Radio 4. When they requested it, the system simply told them it could not find any such thing or that Radio 4 was not available. So the Radio 4 people did some investigating and discovered that one system, possibly Hey Google, demanded extra politeness; you had request “BBC Radio 4, please”. Without the magic word, no Radio 4 was forthcoming. Another system, probably Alexa, demanded firmness: it was necessary say “Find BBC Radio 4 NOW” and then the system worked.

These clever devices are all very well, but ... There is almost always a ‘but ...’.

Here's one

Our daughter’s car has no key. At least, not in any conventional sense. It has a fob. With the fob in your pocket you can lock and unlock the car just by pressing a button under the door handle. Similarly you start the engine by pressing a button, which works while the fob is close at hand. Most new cars work this way, or so I am told. Clever stuff! Except that I heard a warning recently about thieves who have a device which manages to unlock the modern car provided the fob is within range, for example inside your house while the car is on the drive. Then they can enter the vehicle, pinch stuff or even drive away, while the owner thinks the car is safe and sound.

Modern problems!

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books there is a character known as The Luggage. It is, as it’s name suggests, a suitcase that follows one of the other characters around, if I remember correctly. (Time to reread the Discworld books, I think!) And now the people who invented the Vespa scooter have invented a suitcase, the Gita, that will follow its owner around. Essentially it’s a robot on wheels that can carry up to 20 kilos of stuff. The news article about it suggested other useful things that the modern traveller needs:-

  Smart glasses
On arrival at your destination, they switch to the local language and project phrases of your choice across them, such as “I am lost” and “Are you showing the World Cup here?”
  Home spray
Developed by specialists, it captures the scent of your home or a loved one to spray on your pillow if you get homesick.
  A tranquilising stun gun
For use on all forms of public transport to avoid boredom, children, discomfort, jetlag, etc. Enter age, weight and how long you want to be out for, and it’ll calculate exactly how many electrodes you need.
  Alarmed flip-flops
If someone tries to steal them, your phone vibrates.
  An easy-fit catheter
In case someone falls asleep next to you on the plane. More polite than waking up a stranger, and reusable if you follow the hygiene guidelines.
  Online beach booking
Split the beach into a few hundred identical-sized areas, clearly define said areas using lasers, then let people use the free hotel wifi to ensure that spot 12 in row D is theirs and theirs only for three hours the following day. Add swimming for €5.
  USB ports in all plug sockets
No need for an adaptor. How does this not already exist? How?”

Very good but we really should be careful what we wish for. Once the smart devices get really smart, who knows what could happen. Once more I am reminded of Hal, the computer in the film 2001 Space Odyssey, politely but firmly telling the spacemen what they could and could not do.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Being “obesist”? Perhaps!

In one of the newspaper magazine sections this weekend there was an interview with Jane Fonda. At the age of eighty she is looking rather fabulous. She is probably one of the best arguments for starting to exercise young and keeping up the fitness regime. All the twenty-somethings (including our granddaughter) who think they can put off exercising until they are older, should look at Jane Fonda and think again.

In my twenties I bought her workout book. Together with a book on yoga it made up what was probably my fitness bible at the time. I no longer have it. It made its way to a charity shop during one of my periodic clear-outs. If I still had it, I expect it would be worth something now. In fact, quite a lot of our ancient books might well be worth money as period pieces now.

Jane Fonda’s photo on the front of the magazine is in profile, possibly because that is a good way to disguise any incipient droopiness. She looks pretty taut, no sign of any chicken skin just under the chin. Mind you, she admits in the interview to having had facelifts - for professional reasons, she explains. “They bought me an extra ten years.” Anyway, it seems to have been well done and probably not too excessively. There are people who look as though they have been seriously mangled in the process. 

Exercise and getting very actively involved in political causes seem to be the secret of her success. 

Then this morning I saw a headline that made me smile: “Obese people should start work later to ease rush hour anxiety, government adviser says.”

And he was perfectly serious.

It seems that Britain’s obesity problem is the worst in Western Europe. Not only that, but it is expected that the number of people in England, Wales and Scotland diagnosed as obese will double by 2035! Consequently, we should now begin to regard obesity as true disability and overweight employees should be offered flexible starts and should have the right to sue employers if they are not offered jobs or promotions because of their weight. “Some people say that obesity is the last characteristic that it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of. There is a widespread belief among doctors, employers and society that obesity is self-inflicted and is a lifestyle choice,” explained Professor Stephan Bevan, of the Institute for Employment Studies. “They don’t believe making adjustments for people with obesity is as important or deserved as someone with what they regard as a ‘proper disability’.”

Well, okay, there are some people who have physical conditions that make them put on weight but that is not the case for everyone, not even for the majority. And really, would it not be better to continue to combat obesity rather than pander to it.

Other people see it my way as well. Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute for Economic Affairs, said, “Being fat is not a disability and the majority of people get to work by car so it is difficult to see why obese people should be given an extra hour to arrive. If obese people are to be given special privileges, should we not also give special privileges to smokers, alcoholics and compulsive gamblers? Where does it end?”

Quite so!

Britain might be the fattest country of Western Europe but statistics show that other places are catching up. The much-vaunted healthy Mediterranean diet had been coming in for some stick lately as it turns out that places like Spain, Italy and Greece are now seeing an increase in the number of obese children.

A number of factors come into play here. More working mothers have less time to prepare traditional Mediterranean dishes and rely much more on fast food. Youngsters prefer fast food. (I can vouch for the latter. Just over ten years ago I accompanied a group of sixth form students from Salford on an exchange to La Coruña on an exchange holiday. On one of our excursions the Spanish staff wanted everyone to go to a tapas to sample regional delicacies. The Spanish students all refused point blank and took their young English guests off to the nearest McDonald’s for burgers and chips. Enough said!) And then there is the exercise factor - or rather, the lack of exercise in our busy modern life! 

Which brings me back to Jane Fonda and her workout books.

 Of course, I might be completely wrong in all of this. Perhaps it is all down to the “obesogens” I read, and ranted, about recently.

Or, while we are inventing words based on “obese”, maybe I am just “obesist”!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Crazy stuff!

Who knew that there were still a lot of flat-earthers still around? But there are apparently enough to merit a convention in Birmingham. Not a very big convention though. This is the first Flat Earth Convention in the UK and around 200 have attended. I get this information from today’s Observer magazine.

The main belief, obviously, is that the earth is flat and round like a pancake. So why do we not fall off? Because it is surrounded on all sides by the Antarctic, a huge impassable wall of ice. (Clearly the explorers who made it to the North and South Poles were delusional or made it all up.) The whole things is protected by a dome and is not hurtling through space but rooted to one spot.

Another theory is that the earth is not round but diamond shaped and supported by huge columns. Better still. If you walk off one edge you will appear, through a strange quirk of time and space, on the other side. Now that must be really confusing: you trip off one country and find yourself in another.

I find myself wondering if the conventioneers have read Terry Pratchett’s Disc World books. They could stand as a kind of bible for the flat-earthers.

Those who attend the convention are not old fogeys who gone a bit do-lally. Young people attend and search their phones for photoshopped images of the earth as seen from space, because, of course, flat-earthers are another kind of conspiracy theorists and often believe that other similar “lies” have been told to us over the years, if not centuries.

They are also people who have found a meaning to life by discovering the Flat Earth movement. They tell how they were “bored and frustrated with life”. As a rule, they feel better for having had their flat earth epiphany. One of them says, “I think a big part of it is to do with lies we’re being told. And not being in control of your own life.”

So it’s all part of a protest movement is it? I bet they’re all Brexiteers as well.

Quote different from the conventioneers are the rich men with super-yachts who, when the whim takes them, send their chef off in a helicopter or seaplane to purchase a particular item of food they fancy for lunch. Althpugh theybprobably don’t believe they can sail off the edge of the world, theirs is still an entirely alien way of living.

If a boat is big enough to need an elevator between floors, can it really still be called a yacht? Indeed, does a yacht have floors? 

Life is said to be less than super for the people who work on these super-yachts. Why do they put up with it? Because it is often their dream job. Crazy people!

Yesterday I read about De Clérambault’s syndrome:- a well documented mental illness, a delusional disorder in which the affected individual, most usually a woman, falls in love with a man, with whom she has little or no prior contact, and convinces herself he is in love with her. The man is often older and of higher social status. I was reminded of the film “A la folie, pas du tout” (English title: “He loves me, he loves me not”) starring Audrey Tautou. A young art student falls for an older man, decides he is also in love with her and almost wrecks his life. I never knew it was a recognised mental condition!

The world is obviously full of mad people, convinced that their belief is the true one. I am tempted to say that they are mostly harmless but, unfortunately, some of them affect the world runs.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Saturday morning ramblings.

Well, that’s another Whit Friday celebration over and done with. And it rained, as we all hoped it wouldn’t but expected it would. Instead of the day getting brighter, it got gloomier and gloomier. But our old friend turned up, we walked to the pub at the edge of the village under our umbrellas, had a pint, walked a bit further into the centre of the village and watched a few bands march in.

And even in the rain it was quite spectacular. There is something very fine about a marching band. Most of the bands we saw were very disciplined and marched in step in their smart uniforms. One went very New Orleans on us and didn’t so much march as boogie their way in, playing a very jazzy piece. Not a matching outfit between them. We agreed they would probably win o prizes but, boy, did they have your foot tapping! And they seemed to be having fun, which surely, is what it’s all about. 

Then we went home and ate and drank probably rather too much and listened to lots of different music, courtesy of Phil, who decided to be DJ for evening. Lots of nostalgia was indulged in.

This morning dawned fine and windy, and surprisingly warm. Wouldn’t you just know it would do that. So I took our friend on a walk round the village, pointing out some of my favourite bits and even spotting the heron fishing on the millpond. Back home, we gave him coffee and toast and sent him on his way. 

In the wider world, Ireland appears to have voted to relax its laws on abortion. The anti-abortion voters are predictably devastated and declare it to be a disaster for their country. Someone should point out to them that it is possible to be pro-choice and never actually want to have an abortion yourself. It’s all about giving women control over their lives.

I was going to remark that Donald Trump had perhaps given up in the idea of winning the Nobel Peace Prize as he had cancelled talks with North Korea! But now it seems he has decided that the talks will go ahead as planned. However, there is plenty of time between ow and June 12th for any number of decisions to be taken and changed again and again.

And finally, the other day I watched a young man come down the stairs at Piccadilly Station in Manchester carrying a little scooter. As he hopped onto his scooter at the bottom of the stairs and scooted away, I thought he was wearing angel wings. Very odd! Then I realised that he had his skate board jammed between his back and his backpack. Not wings but something much more substantial. 

Maybe he was on his way to the skateboard park not far from the station, a place where twenty-somethings recapture their childhood. Oops! Can I say things like that about young men? Yes, I can.

But you never see female twenty-somethings playing with dolls.

Or maybe you do, but they are real babies.

And maybe they have replaced playing with those paper dolls you dress up in fashion clothes with actually going out and buying clothes.

At least the young man with his skateboard wings was getting some exercise.

Friday, 25 May 2018

You’ve got to have friends ... and ideally continued good weather!

At some point yesterday Phil commented that perhaps the fine weather we have had for the last week was probably this year’s British summer. And so, in that way, he put a hex on things and today it has rained. It’s not been very heavy stuff but enough to be annoying. We are hoping it might stop before this evening’s band contest gets going.

For today is Whit Friday, a day of Whit Walks and band contests. I felt rather sorry for the people waiting in the village centre first thing this morning. They were waiting for the Whit Walks to start and hoping that the drizzle would stop. Local brass band members walked around in their band uniform, also hoping for an improvement in the weather.

We have an extra reason to hope for an improvement in the weather as have a friend coming over to be wined and dined and taken into the village to see the bands. Typically, having invited him to come over, we now find that we might all have to huddle under our umbrellas this evening. Tomorrow’s forecast is back to fine and sunny, rather like yesterday. How do me manage to have a gloomy day sandwiched between two good ones?

Still, having a friend over is always good. According to this article friendship is one of the important factors in combatting unhappiness and loneliness. Especially eating with friends, and not even necessarily close friends. It seems that more people than you might think regularly eat alone and this is one of the major factors in unhappiness. People who eat socially are more likely to feel better about themselves, various studies found, and so are less likely to be depressed.

I had my doubts about one finding, all about rates for surviving more than 12 months after a heart attack. “The best two predictors, by a long way, are the number and quality of friends you have and giving up smoking,” say the experts. “You can eat as much as you like, you can slob about, you can drink as much alcohol as you like – the effect is very modest compared with these other two factors.” I remain unconvinced about the slobbing about and drinking as much alcohol as you like. But the friends thing is probably very true.

Unsurprisingly a consultant clinical psychologist said this: “Austerity has a huge influence on the loss of happiness and wellbeing.”

Now, there’s a surprise!

“Homelessness and unemployment in particular takes us out of contact with others,” she continued, “In addition to the obvious harms of homelessness, it does massively increase social isolation and anxiety.” I think I could have told them that.

Of course, your friends have to be more than virtual. Some people have so many “friends” on social media that it is hard to imagine how they keep up with them all. Here’s a link to an article which equates the rise in teenage depression, mental illness and even suicide with the advent of the smart phone. Of course, it’s not just the social isolation of spending more time on your phone than actually interacting face to face. It’s also the pressure to conform to the standards that they are bombarded with via the phone.

Parents, they say, need to limit the time youngsters, some of them still in primary school, spend on their smart phones.

It’s easy to say that but, like with so much in modern life, it’s going to be a difficult task putting that into practice. The phone is out of the box and we aren’t going to be able to out it back quickly.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Flying the nest!

When I went away to university at the age of eighteen, I effectively left home. Home was still there but I really only went back for visits. After university I had a job and that was that. I lived where my job was and went “home” to visit the family from time to time. My husband did the same. Most of our friends did the same. Our son did the same. Our daughter’s case was a bit different but she always did things her own way and, yes, she too left home, and when she came back she never planned on it being anything other than temporary. And it only even was temporary.

I thought about this when I read this item about a set of parents in New York taking their son to court and having a legal order organised to force him to leave home at the age of thirty.

And here is Guardian columnist Tim Dowling’s opinion of the whole matter.

Funnily enough I remember a case I read about last year or the year before of a French couple who were told by the court that they HAD to provide a home and economic support for their unemployed son, also thirty I think. The French system would not let them just wash their hands of him. Different countries clearly have different views about family responsibility.

Opinions vary and opinions change. Two friends of ours got married. This was years ago, He had no children. She had a couple: a daughter the same age as our son, perhaps about ten at the time, and a son a few years younger. Someone asked the new stepfather how he felt about suddenly becoming a parent. He declared himself unfazed by it; after all, as soon as they were eighteen they would no longer be his responsibility. He firmly believed children should get off their parents’ (and step-parents’) hands and out of their hair as soon as they were legally adult.

Funnily enough he changed his mind over the years and he became a major support to his stepchildren well into adulthood. When he died, too soon, a few years ago, his stepson, then aged thirty, wrote and read out at the funeral a poem to “the only real father I have known”.

My parents never threw me out. I always knew I could go back at any time. We never threw our children out. They keep coming back, but only to visit these days. When we consider selling our house and buying something smaller, our son reminds us that we need room for him and his family to come and stay from time to time. Our daughter and family live close enough to drop in at any time.

Occasionally I fantasise about getting somewhere big enough for all of us to live together, each of us with our own section of the big house. Rather like the Windsors all living in different wings of the castle.

It’s not going to happen. They have happily flown the nest and we are quite happy for them to have done so. But it’s nice to get everyone together for high days and holidays and pretend that we all live together.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Healthy ideas.

A couple of things about health in the news struck me this week.

The first is a serious one: studies show that our modern obsession with cleanliness is contributing to childhood asthma, leukaemia and allergies. Because we sterilise, cleanse, sanitise and antiseptic wipe everything to do with children to within an inch of their lives we are preventing the development of immune systems and leaving children vulnerable to diseases, especially leukaemia.

And as third world countries adopt first world practices their children too become more susceptible.

How awful!

Children who go to nursery and playgroups of different kinds are less likely to be affected as they are exposed to a range of bugs and microbes just by meeting lots of other children. Children who are encouraged to play outdoors are also less susceptible.

I notice that my daughter regularly carries around with her hand sanitiser, which she applies to her tiny daughter’s hands after she has played on the swings at the playground.

Curiously, the generation of super-sanitising mothers do not seem averse to posting pictures of their tine child snuggled up, or even kissing, to a dog or cat. Now, I would be much more concerned about an animal that licks it’s own behind giving my baby a kiss than I would about my children picking up a toy, or even a biscuit, that they dropped on the kitchen floor.

Once again I find myself grateful to belong to the fortunate generation who got to roam free, to grub around in the dirt and then, later, to have some of the best music ever to listen to.

The other health news thing seems more laughable to me. It appears that experts have discovered, or perhaps invented, things called “obesogens” which do their bit to make people fat. These “obesogens” are found in packaging, in the stuffing that goes into furniture and even in dust and fluff that collects under furniture and in corners. Wooden or tiled floors are better for us than carpets and, once again, sitting down on the sofa is obviously bad for us.

It’s a novel idea to be able to say, “I am overweight because of the obesogens that surround me. It has nothing to do with overeating.”

However, a professor somewhere or other reminds us that what makes us put on weight is putting food in our mouths. Too many calories in = more pounds on the bathroom scales. Or is it all the obesogens jumping on the scales with us?

I might well laugh at obesogens but obesity remains a serious problem. They reckon that by 2045 it is likely that one in eight people in the world will have type 2 diabetes, caused by obesity. Last year, 14% of the global population was obese and 9% had type 2 diabetes. By 2045, 22% will be obese and 14% will be suffering from type 2 diabetes, according to estimates presented at the European Congress on obesity in Vienna.

But it can be remedied by persuading people to lose weight, according to a new study by Newcastle and Glasgow Universities. They ran a trial and found that nine out of ten people who lost 15 kilos (two and a half stones for those, like me, who are metrically impaired) or more put their type 2 diabetes into remission and no longer needed to take medication.

Two and a half stones! That is a lot of weight to lose. A whole small child! But clearly worth the effort to lose it.

The fashion world may not be quite so pleased. Big bums and thighs are fashionable, so they say. However, the big bums and thighs are supposed to go with a narrow waist and many women, like me, would find that having a great big backside would mean that their waist would pretty much disappear. Consequently, some are turning to plastic surgery and implants to “enhance” their rears.

How very strange!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Thinking about working together to combat violence.

They’re still going on about the new Duchess of Sussex, the actress formerly known as Meghan Markle, being a champion for feminism. Well, good for her. I hope she can continue to do so. Meanwhile, in France they seem to be taking it very seriously. Men can now be fined for wolf-whistling women in the street or making making offensive comments, even if they think they are paying the women concerned a compliment. This is part of new tougher legislation to combat lecherous behaviour. Those who break the law will face on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (£655). France's president, Emmanuel Macron, said the law was meant to ensure "women are not afraid to be outside." Personally I have never objected to the odd wolf-whistle but I do think measures need to be taken to prevent men from going too far, following women down the street and so on. President Macron himself, though, gets some stick for not being egalitarian enough.

The Brexit fiasco continues apace. Nobody seems to know where it will end. An Israeli academic, Yuval Noah Harari, has written a book in which he singles out the EU as a model for how national interests can be balanced and what is at stake if it fails. He doesn’t think much of the idea of Brain leaving the EU. “After centuries of terrible bloodshed, French, Germans, Italians and Britons have finally built a mechanism that ensures continental harmony – only to have the British public throw a spanner into the miracle machine,” writes Harari. “We have a global ecology, a global economy and a global science – but we are still stuck with only national politics,” he adds. “To have effective politics we must either deglobalise the ecology, the economy or the march of science – or we must globalise our politics.”

I was a little miffed at an Israeli giving us advice on how to run things but then I went on to read that he is not best pleased with his own country’s performance lately. He lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was critical of the killing of Palestinian protesters. “If every nation thinks about itself, then who is thinking about the global problems?” he said. “I don’t see Israel making any significant contribution to confronting the main challenges of humankind.”

Here’s a link to an article about him and his book. There are some interesting bits about the failings of religious schools in Israel, in which little real science teaching takes place. Fundamentalist education of any kind is never really inclusive.

Over in Texas they have had more trouble with school shootings. The lieutenant governor of the state has said that violent video games and films, abortion and divorce are behind the US school shooting epidemic. He said: “Should we be surprised, in this nation? We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the break-up of families, through violent movies and particularly violent video games, which now outsell movies and music. Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitised to violence, may have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games. Ninety-seven per cent of teenagers, according to psychiatrists and psychologists, watch video games and 85 per cent of those are violent games.” 

Since television was first introduced into almost every home there have been warnings about the stuff available to watch making young people violent. I tend to agree that there is a certain amount of desensitisation. And I know that there was not as much stuff around when we were kids but when we ran about playing cowboys and Indians or Germans against English, I am pretty sure we knew the difference between games and reality.

What still worries me much more is the availability of guns. This latest troubled young man used his father’s legally-bought weapons. Why were ‘t the guns locked away where the 17 year-old could not get them. If there are no guns available to use, no matter how much influence violent TV shows and computer games have on you, you can’t actually take that violent action.

On a day when people have come together in Manchester to remember the victims of last year’s bomb, we should all be working on reducing violence in the world.

Monday, 21 May 2018

British problems!

So here we are with another day of warm sunshine. As I walked through the village centre I overheard a lady sitting at the bus stop comment, “When it’s like this, you can’t fault it!” However, we are British and will almost always find something to moan about concerning the weather. One of my acquaintances around the village, Mike the dog-walker, told me earlier this morning that this (ie the warm, sunny weather) has been going on too long now and that it’s time we had some rain. This is in line with national policy which seems to declare a state of drought if we go a week without rain. Mike also predicted that it will be raining by Friday.

Friday is Whit Friday, almost a day of fiesta around here. In the morning the local churches organise the Whit Walks, when the children from the Sunday School and regular church-goers walk through the villages following the Sunday School banner. We used to do this on Whit Sunday when I was a child. Most significant for us children was the fact that we all got new clothes for the occasion, inevitably a pleated white skirt and a demure blouse for the girls, and smart white sandals, of course. The boys outfits were less special, just a white shirt and a smart tie with their usual school short trousers.

It takes place on Whit Friday around here because in the afternoon there are the Band Contests. Brass bands, local, national and international, travel from village to village (by coach), march into each village with their banner and playing something jaunty, and then play a special piece for the judges who will award prizes at the end of the evening.

People come from far and wide and walk from village to village to listen to the bands. Years ago the pubs were open from first thing in the morning and lots of drunkenness ensued. Lately this has been more controlled but, if the weather is fine, it’s the closest thing we have to a fiesta. Usually it rains. Often it is quite cold. People turn out anyway, all wrapped up in coats and scarves in a very British way. However, this year, good weather seems to be forecast, by all except Mike.

In recent years we have been away in Spain and have missed Whit Friday but this year we shall be here. We have contacted friends who are regular attenders. Ironically, they are not available this year. So it goes!

Traffic is, of course, disrupted in a big way by the Whit Friday celebrations. When I was a professional lady I always had great difficulty parking. No such problems now. Unlike what seems to be going on nationally today. For weeks I have been seeing notices warning us that train timetables were due to change today. Consequently, chaos has ensued all over the place. This is an extract from something I saw in the newspapers online this morning:-

“Here’s a roundup of the morning’s events:
* Govia Thameslink Railway, which operates Britain’s largest rail franchise, covering a quarter of all journeys and carrying about 500,000 passengers daily, rescheduled every train as it brings in more than 400 extra services a day.
* The changes – along with driver shortages – caused delays and cancellations in the south east and north west, with commuters calling it a “shambles”.
* The RMT union branded this morning’s commute “Meltdown Monday”, claiming a lack of planning and shortage of crews was jeopardising the new timetable.
* GTR, which operates Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern trains, apologised to customers for the delays and cancellations.
* The mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, has called for the transport secretary to take action after widespread cancellations across Northern this morning, which he called “appalling”.”

It’s a good job the disgruntled commuters have not had rain to contend with as well!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Some wedding afterthoughts!

So that’s it, another royal wedding out of the way. All over bar the shouting and we can return to worrying about Brexit, bombing places, mental illness and violence in schools.

The first royal wedding I remember is Princess Margaret’s. It may have been the first televised royal wedding but I am not sure. I read in today’s paper that “the royal wedding”, as we now know it, was born on 1922. It was Princess Mary marrying Viscount Lascelles. Five years earlier the the royal family, the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, had changed its name to Windsor, to distance itself from its German lineage. After all, the royal families of Europe are all related. The (executed) Russian Tsar was a cousin of the Queen’s grandfather. Our Prince Philip is related to Queen Sofia of Spain (both from the Greek royal family). No doubt there are a whole lot more interconnections.

Princess Mary’s wedding was seen as an opportunity to connect with the public - the media may not have been so omnipresent and all-powerful as now but they were still influential - and it was covered by Pathé News. Princess Mary’s brother, the future King George VI wrote, “It is now no longer Mary’s wedding but (this from the papers) it is the ‘Abbey Wedding’ or the ‘Royal Wedding’ or even the ‘People’s Wedding’.” So there you go.

Royal weddings are useful politically. When the Infanta Elena of Spain (Elena María Isabel Dominica de Silos de Borbón y de Grecia, to give her her full name - and we thought our royal family had elaborate names!) in 1995 in Seville cathedral it was probably the first big royal wedding in Spain since before the Civil War and almost certainly the first televised. And it helped cement the royal family in the country’s affections.

Similarly when her sister Cristina Federica Victoria Antonia de la Santísima Trinidad de Borbón y de Grecia) married Iñaki Urdangarín in 1997 in Barcelona, it was seen as a way if bringing together main castillian spain with the Basque Country (Urdangarín is a good Basque name) and Catalonia.

It’s rather a shame that both these marriages ended badly one way or another but Elena, once regarded by the spanish as the unattractive, rather dim princess, seems to have represented her country well abproad while her sister and her husband have been so scandalous that she has been ejected from the family.

Spain could probably do with a bit of spectacle to keep people’s minds off scandals about corruption and bits of the country wanting to break away. However, I suspect that al the younger members of the Spanish royal family are not likely to marry just yet.

I have one last thought to add today. Why do strong, intelligent, independent-minded women adopt coy, little-girl poses for photos? Among the pics of the great wedding was one of Amal Clooney (I have unfortunately forgotten her own name) doing that downturned face, looking up under her brows expression. All her body language, coy set of shoulders and that modest gaze reinforced it. Why?

Of course, I may be completely mistaken and maybe it’s just a random photo but the fact remains that it’s out there now.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Saturday (wedding) morning thoughts.

Out and about early - well, quite early - before nine o’clock anyway - I noticed that the village centre is decked all about with Union Jack bunting. There are signs that the local pubs, as expected, are getting prepared for a little bit of a pub party, if not a full blown street party. In the co-op store a surprising number of people are buying fizzy wine of one kind or another. A surprising number, that is, for before nine o’clock on a Saturday morning! Maybe they just like fizzy wine. I can think of no reason why one should not drink sparkling wine on a fine summer’s late afternoon into evening. But that doesn’t quite explain why so many are buying it before nine o’clock in the morning. I don’t suppose it has anything to do with that national distraction-from-serious-stuff that is going on in Windsor.

Over breakfast Phil speculated as to why we have not been invited to the royal wedding. This was something of a surprise as he isn’t a great fan of weddings at the best of times. I think his remark was prompted by the fact that the royal wedding was all over the internet, like a bad case of acne or a measles rash. And then there was the fact that David and Victoria Beckham seem to have been invited and Phil was finding it hard to make a connection between the Beckhams and the Windsors. I suggested that if Harry were a chessplayer then maybe Phil would have been invited. But would he have gone? I seriously doubt it!

The media have been going mad about these nuptials for weeks. One paper last weekend fan a headline along the lines of “Megan is just like Diana”. Really! Diana was a naive 20 year old who had done nothing when she married Charles. Megan Markle is in the mid thirties, wealthy in her own right, an established actor and with a record of speaking out on a range of topics behind her. On a television news programme the other evening they were debating whether this mixed-race, feminist, independent young woman, confident in her own opinions could change the royal family and, more significantly, this country. There was a lot of huffing and puffing but in the end she probably won’t change things greatly. She may be a mixed race commoner but she hasn’t had the same life-experiences as the majority of mixed race commoners in this country, or in the USA for that matter.

In the end, it’s just another celebrity wedding. Lots of commentators say the happy couple are obviously “so much in love”. Well, I hope they are. And I hope they continue to be so. I hope they have a lovely day, although I suspect that a wedding that attracts such media-hype cannot be anything like as much fun as a perfectly ordinary wedding party.

But they have a lovely day for it. The sun seems to be shining all over the country.

And in the meantime, my wild garden is coming on nicely.

My favourite tree is blooming nicely, although the lambs that I normally see ‘neath the spreading chestnut tree seem to have been moved to another field.

And the bluebells are putting on a splendid display along the bridle paths.

A day to go out and enjoy the sunshine - without a royal wedding anywhere in sight around here.

Friday, 18 May 2018

A bit of a rant about education!

I always enjoyed being a teacher. Well, okay, there were certain times with certain classes when I seriously wondered what I was doing and if I could stand it. That goes without saying really whatever kind of job you have. On the whole, though, I felt lucky that i could earn my living doing something that mostly I got a load of pleasure from.

I loved teaching those first year (year 7) classes, introducing them to a foreign language and seeing them having fun with words. Even the dreaded third years (year 9) had their moments, when I managed to get them to see the point of whatever it was we were struggling to get our heads round. I had great fun organising weekend residential courses to get a bunch of bright fourth year (year 10) kids from schools all over the borough to spend a few days doing all their activities, even eating meals and playing sports, in a foreign language. And when they put up the school leaving age and youngsters who had previously been able to leave at age 15 now had to stay on into fifth form (year 11) even though they were it academically up to taking the exams, it was an interesting challenge to devise something to keep them motivated in the classroom. Teaching sixth form was probably the best: seeing them prepared for the next stage. All good.

 However, I suspect that if I were about to embark on my working life, I might not now follow the same path. There seems to be little room left for fun. But then again, maybe I would still do it. Here, in any case, is a link to an article about the stress faced by staff and students with the new tougher GCSE examinations.  

Back when I was doing O Levels myself, only a minority of us took the exams. Those who did not do so left school at 14 or 15 and found a job. The exams we sat were tough, and some students did get very worked up about them and had some sort of nervous breakdown. But we were generally buoyed up by the knowledge that we were the bright ones who should be able to cope with it. And it has to be remembered that there were jobs available for those who ended up with no qualifications. And if the exams were tough, it was what we expected. Nobody said education had to easy or even entertaining - if we enjoyed it, then it was a bonus.

Over the years I watched the exams change. In my own subject area, Modern Foreign Languages, I watched some elements of the exams get easier - most elements to be completely honest - but saw some grow more demanding. There were students I was at school with who achieved decent grades in O Level French without being able to string a sentence together and who would have been horrified to have to go through the spoken exams that I have inflicted on later generations. And they keep on tinkering with the system.

Someone in the article I linked to questions why we still make students sit exams at 16 when we now insist that they stay in education of training until they are 18. These people claim that other European countries do not do so. And yet, in fact, those other countries do do so. Testing at 16 may not be so nation-wide organised as it is here, but if youngsters are to continue to baccalaureate level, they have to prove that they have reached a satisfactory level in all subjects at 16 - a kind of school leaving certificate. They do that by assessment within their own schools. Okay, it’s open to abuse, but so is our formal nation-wide system open to cheating.

Yet some kind of assessment is needed if students are to progress to the right mind of post-16 education. Years ago anyone who passed the Bachillerato in Spain could go to university. University courses began with huge classes, sometimes up to 100 in a class, which gradually reduced as students dropped out, realising they could not hack it. So they introduced “Selectividad”, an exam which decided which sort of university course students are suited to. There was outcry at the time but it’s accepted now. And I suppose students get stressed about it.

And unfortunately for today’s youngsters, those who have no qualifications have no chance at all. So almost every student faces more and more exams and the stress levels rise.

I truly don’t know what the answer is but maybe it is better to put the stress off as long as possible.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Some stuff about children and labelling.

It has taken me a long time to start referring to school years by numbers. The reception class has no number. I am pretty sure that this is because in most other European countries obligatory schooling starts a year later, even though most of them also have pre-school classes which most children attend. After that we have years 1 and 2 in what used to be called the infant school, years 3 to 6 in what always used to be the juniors. This is followed by years 7 to 11 in secondary school, now called high school for some reason. And finally we have years 12 and 13 which some people still call lower sixth and upper sixth, because we still talk about sixth form college, despite the fact that some people now call university “college”, American fashion.

I may have acceepted this numbering system but this does not prevent me from having to refer back to the labelling I grew up with when I want to work out how old children in a particular school year are. It’s a bit like the formulae I have to use when converting to and from metric measurements. For inches to centimetres, I rely on my knitting experience; to check your tension is correct you cast on a certain number of stitches and knit a certain number of rows, forming a square that measures 4 x 4 inches or 10 x 10 centimetres. I base my calculations on that. I then just do the maths. Similarly I know that 5 miles is 8 kilometres - another straightforward calculation. Pints to litres and pounds to kilos are both more complicated.

And although I think and dream in the foreign languages I speak, I cannot “think” in metric. I always have to translate back to the measuring system I am used to from childhood.

I feel the same about the nomenclature of school years. And I wonder, now that we are (unless someone finally sees sense) leaving the European Union, whether we can change back to the old way of referring to them. Unlikely! Too many of today’s teachers, like our daughter, have grown up in the new way of doing things.

Anyway, Year 6 / fourth year juniors / junior 4 / top juniors are gearing up for Sats this week. Our daughter has had to explain to her Year 4 / second year / junior 2 class that they must be very quiet and considerate as they go past the school hall, which they cannot use for certain usual activities, because their 10 to 11-year-old schoolmates are doing tests in there. In fact the school hall has been unavailable for most mornings for weeks because the Year 6 class teacher has had them doing daily practice tests. Surely this is not the best preparation for Sats, which I think stands for Standard Assessment Tests. Surely the word “standard” suggests that it should be a routine matter, not something to get the children all worked up and stressed out about. Surely that teacher has read some of the statistics about children’s stress!

Here is an article about letters that teachers have sent to pupils and their parents reassuring them that Sats are not the be all and end all and that they, the teachers, are aware of other qualities that their pupils undoubtedly have.

As well as finding items concerning stress about tests, I keep reading about children stressing about gender identity. Packs of advice and guidance are now being produced for teachers about how to deal with this in the school situation. Inevitably, as well of the easier question of what to call a child, it raises problems about PE changing rooms and use of toilets. This article points out the two differing views on approaching the question.  I was relieved to see that one of the experts giving advice to teachers spoke sensible from her own experience. She remembers clearly having wanted to be a boy, having indeed been convinced she was a boy for quite some time. As she grew up, she changed her mind.

She is not suggesting that we should believe that all transgender children will “grow put of it” but rather that we should not rush into too-permanent solutions such as hormone treatment and even surgery at too early a stage. Accept and respect the child’s point of view, ensure that others, especially other children, do the same, but don’t make to much fuss about it.

 Let children be children!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Ranging free!

When I buy free range eggs in Spain, I usually get a box of six eggs of completely different sizes, just as if, even though I bought those eggs at the supermarket, they have just been plucked from the grass wherever the free range bird decided to lay them. When I buy them at the supermarket in the UK, on the other hand, I get a box of six equally sized eggs. Clearly, someone here sorts eggs in a way that doesn’t happen in other places.

We have free range chickens in our village, so free range, in fact, that they wander all over the village centre. I suspect they are escapees from the nearest farm. It is not an unusual thing to see traffic held up at the end of the village closest to the farm as a couple of truant fowl cross the road. This morning a splendid cockerel, a children’s storybook cockerel with brilliantly coloured feathers, was crossing the road. A car slowed down and pipped its horn to urge the cockerel to hurry up. Instead, the cockerel stopped in front of the car and looked the driver in the eye, for all the world as if challenging him to dare to run him over. Then, all dignity, he continued to the other side of the road, where he gave a splendid storybook cock-a-doodle-doo! Splendid!

On the radio I just heard that Thomas Cook is planning to sell off its Club 18-30 Holiday concession. Now, many years ago I taught French to a vocational Catering course at a local college of technology. When I say I “taught” French to this group of young people, that is something of an exaggeration. They needed to know how to pronounce certain French catering terms and had to have a very basic understanding of other things French-language related. Nobody was to fail the course! That was made plain to me from the word go.

These were advanced catering students, probably destined to management positions in catering institutions. So they were not going to be throwing flour around, which I was told was something that happened in Bakery courses! But neither were they very interested in learning French. Most of them had studied it in high school, a few had even passed GCSE, but they had not planned to continue doing so. So we had to come to an agreement that they would tolerate my efforts to make them say things in French and I would tolerate their amused lack of interest. Organising a test that all could pass - with the correct proportions of Passes, Merits and Distinctions - was a challenge, to say the least.

Anyway, on one occasion I walked into the classroom to find a girl student on the floor and a boy student straddling her body and doing press-ups. He was demonstrating to the class activities that he had been involved in during a recent Club 18-30 holiday! He must have just met the age criteria; I think he was a year or two older than the others in the class, so he would be 19 or 20, a younger participant in the 18-30 group then! That is the sum total of my knowledge of Club 18-30.

Who knew that such an organisation belongs to a respectable sort of organisation like Thomas Cook? Apparently, the travel company now feels that the 18-30 age group, now referred to as millennials, no longer want such shenanigans. They are not interested in boozy parties in the beach, but prefer to go to locations where they can take selfies against an exotic background and post them on Instagram! 

There you go!

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Cricket - parking - other stuff!

In the late afternoon yesterday we went for a stroll, up the main road, past the cricket and bowling club, down a lane off to the left, along a bridle path by the former millponds, down into the village and back home. it’s a route we quite often follow, a pleasant walk. There was a cricket match going on at the cricket club, all very traditional picturesque stuff, with cricketers in “whites”. No new-fangled coloured cricket gear! Very picturesque! Very English!

Unfortunately, for anyone, such as us, who wanted to stroll along the road, there were major obstructions.

Cricketers and cricket watchers had parked all along the pavement and grass outside the cricket and bowling club grounds, forcing walkers to move, dangerously, into the road.

This is also traditional!

Often they also leave behind a trail of debris: pizza boxes, McDonald’s wrappers, even on one occasion a sort of portable barbecue kit. Yesterday’s lot were quite civilised. This morning there was little or no debris to mark their passage. Either they were an abstemious bunch or they took their rubbish home with them. Mind you, it has turned into a pleasant afternoon so they probably ate stuff within the cricket ground rather than sitting in their cars and watching from a warmer place.

Overnight it rained, copiously! The bridle paths, which have been drying out nicely, were once more spattered with mud puddle. It makes for an interesting run, playing dodge the mudpatch!

One of the tabloid papers this morning had a headline along the lines of “Elderly to be cared for by robots”. I wonder if that will happen. Over the last few days I have been hearing quite a bit about robots and their development. Here is a link to a report, with video footage, of a robot which has now learnt to run through a park without falling over. Earlier models had a tendency to trip over uneven ground and tree roots and so on. On the radio news there was a recording of a computer booking a hairdressing appointment for it’s owner. The computer had a very human sounding voice. There was none of the halting delivery we have come to expect of computer voice programmes. It seemed that the receptionist at the hairdresser’s could not tell that she was speaking to a computerised voice. Amazing!

Apparently Marx predicted that such things might happen, not actually robots and computers but automatons. So maybe robot carers are not so farfetched an idea.

Now, a bit of linguistic stuff. There is something called RAS syndrome, RAS stands for Redundant Acronym Syndrome - the joking name for the habit of repeating words unnecessarily - Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome. Here are a couple of examples: -

ATM machine - Automatic Teller Machine
 PIN number - personal identification number

Among others.

French for "ivy" is "le lierre" - originally from "l’ierre" -from latin ""hedera. So “le lierre” really means “the the ivy”. This happens a lot in Spanish where most words beginning with AL come from Arabic originally, “al” meaning “the” but modern Spanish puts a definite article there anyway - la Alhambra and el Alcazar are probably the most famous! And it can work the other way; letters can disappear. I once read that “orange” started off as “norange” - cf Spanish naranja. And so “a norange” became “an orange”.

So it goes!

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Stress relief!

An old friend called in for lunch earlier this week, someone who studied at university with us. He now lives in France. In fact he has done so for about fifteen years now and sometimes feels a little out of touch with life in the UK. He was expressing his amazement at something he had read about British universities providing animals for students to stroke as a way of reducing stress. We confirmed that this is indeed the case.

At some universities students can book into a sort of pet centre and spend some time stroking cats, dogs, rabbits, almost anything soft and cuddly. Studies have shown that this reduces student stress. How we laughed! No such thing in our day. Student Health dispensed the birth control pill and occasionally antidepressants and maybe a bit of advice. But basically, we were supposed to be able to cope with the pressure of our studies.

However, really it is no laughing matter. Depression among young people has become a serious problem. News reports have told of increasing numbers of students actually committing suicide. So what has changed?

  • Student debt spiralling out of control - tuition fees and no maintenance grants! 
  • Increased numbers of students who may not really be prepared for independent study, often having been spoon-fed through their A-Levels. 
  • Reduced contact time between students and tutors as universities try to make ends meet. 
  • Students opting for courses because they think they may offer greater chance of employment, rather than studying something about which they are passionate. 
  • The increasingly gloomy prospect of not actually finding employment after university. 
No wonder they are depressed! And yet, if they don’t go to university, what are their prospects with a clutch of GCSEs and A-Levels under their belts. We consider our oldest granddaughter to have been fortunate to have been accepted onto an apprenticeship and then offered a permanent position. Maybe that is the answer, rather than spending time at the petting zoo as part of university studies.

And then, this morning, I came across a report about Emotional Support Animals, such an increasingly common thing, apparently, in the USA that they are simply referred to by their acronym. Reading between the lines, I decided that the gist of the article is as follows. The USA is a big country and people travel around it a lot by plane. Some people get anxious and find that having a fluffy bunny to stroke during the flight settles their nerves. Animals can travel by plane but it is rather pricey. However, if the animal is designated an ESA it can travel free. So seeing-eye dogs can accompany blind travellers without any problem. If you are simply nervous and stressed and want your ESA to go free you need a letter from your psychiatrist or therapist certifying that Fido or Tiddles is indeed absolutely necessary for your wellbeing.

So far, so good. Except that you can acquire a letter like that from an online service and pet pigs, ducks and even a peacock have been known to travel with their owners. One chap even admitted that he simply wanted to take his dog to visit family in a distant state; the dog was rather excitable and so he had to sedate it to ensure calm travel.

Even one of the therapists tacitly agreed that it was a system open to abuse, including a clause that should the dog turn put to be aggressive then the permit letter was void.

Airlines are having increasing problems with ducks in the aisle, cats urinating on the drinks trolley and, of course, dog poo!

Time for a rethink on the petting therapy front!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Just a bit extreme!

Years ago, back when we were in our thirties, a friend of mine went on an extreme diet. She was recently separated from her husband, was feeling frumpy and overweight, getting a bit desperate because ordinary diets weren’t working and generally her self esteem was at rock bottom. So she tried a diet she had come across in some magazine or other, as we didn’t have Google to tell us how to live our lives.

She ate nothing but hard boiled eggs and drank nothing but black coffee. The eggs gave the high protein content and the coffee flushed out her system and prevented her from becoming constipated. And she lost weight, rapidly and drastically. She was very pleased and all her friends were really worried about what she was doing to her digestive system and various internal organs.

I was reminded about this today when I read about a group of people who are advocating a diet which consists of eating 4 pounds of steak every day, and nothing else. No vegetables, no salad, no fruit. One of the main proponents is a certain Shawn Baker, an orthopaedic surgeon from California, nicknamed the “carnivore king” and with a huge following on social media. The diet is an extreme version of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet – which trains the body to run on fat rather than carbohydrates – that has become popular in recent years. Proponents of the diet say it reduces inflammation and blood pressure while increasing libido and mental clarity.

Mr Baker himslef says, “It can be monotonous eating the same thing over and over again, but as time goes by you start to crave it.” He finds it convenient; the diet is easy because he doesn’t have to plan meals or count calories. “I just have to think ‘how hungry am I and how many steaks do I want to eat’,” he said.

He also believes that vegans could easily convert to it. Well, some vegans, anyway. He says, “most vegans are wonderful people trying to do the best thing”. He reasons that people who eat a vegan diet for health, rather than ethical reasons are good candidates for the carnivore diet. One extreme is as good as another. Well, I suppose it’s one way of looking at things.

A whole lot of experts disagree with him about the benefits of his dietary choice. They also disagree about the value of veganism.

As I see it, the thing with extreme diets is that you have to live alone or at least live with other extreme-diet-obsessed people. Otherwise the difficulty of organising your life must be overwhelming. And it can be extremely boring!

The only time we ever dabbled with an extreme diet was when we were briefly macrobiotic vegetarians, when we were in our twenties. Persuaded by some French friends that this was a good idea we embarked on the macrobiotic trail. You had to begin with a ten-day “cleansing”. During that period you lived on boiled brown rice and fresh water. After that you could introduce some stir-fried vegetables, miso soup, herbal teas and so on.

Well, I think we lasted three days on the “cleansing” and grew very bored. So we took an executive decision and skipped onto stage two, which was more interesting and we did stick to it for a few years. But gradually we introduced prawns to our vegetable stir-fry with rice and eventually fish and chicken found their way back into our diet. And salad never really went away - apart from the “cleansing” time. However, red meat is still mostly absent from our diet. So there is no way we are going to transfer to the 4 pounds of steak a day regime.

Looking back, I don’t think one of us alone could have stuck to the macrobiotic cleansing regime while the other carried on eating a “normal” diet - if there truly is such a thing. I have two friends who grew up vegetarian and then met at university and later married non-vegetarians. One of them “converted” and became an omnivore within weeks of meeting her carnivore-for-life. The other stuck to her guns and to this day, forty-odd years down the line regularly cooks double meals, vegetarian for herself and something with meat or fish for her husband. The children, having reached the age of reason, dip into both.

Moderation in all things!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Unusual things.

I saw a photo of Donald Trump holding up the presidential order taking the USA out of the Iran nuclear deal. A number of things struck me, not least they sheer SIZE of his signature. However long does it take to sign his name? How much practice has he needed to perfect that art? Is it customary for world leaders to have a HUGE signature? Is it customary for American presidents to have their photos taken with presidential orders? The mind boggles.

It’s a good job that most people pay for things by card these days rather than writing cheques. Donald Trump would need cheques the size of the ones they use for making big public donations to good causes. A normal sized cheques would have no room for his signature!

No comments on the havoc caused by his withdrawing from the Iran deal. Apart from the reflection that he seems intent on undoing anything that his predecessor achieved. Ho hum! 

I also read that Irn-Bru has been banned from Trump’s golf club in Scotland. Why ban a perfectLy harmless drink? Even if it is not, after all, made from girders but just full of artificial colour to make it look rusty. That’s the problem. Apparently the colourants in the drink are really bad and if the stuff is spilt on carpets it is really hard to remove the stain. So a man who often looks orange doesn’t want orange stains on his carpets. The manager who runs the place for him said that replacing the carpets in the ballroom alone would cost £500,000! Wow! What are the carpets made of? How big is the ballroom? Is it usual for ballrooms to be carpeted?

I would have thought that a nice wooden floor would be better for dancing on. Surely you can’t do any nice, slidey steps on a carpeted surface. Of course, it may be that it isn’t often used for dancing but surely if someone hires the golf club (at what cost, I wonder) for a wedding, they will want to have a bit of a dance. It’s traditional, after all, for the father of the bride to dance with his daughter on her wedding day!

Then I read about events in another part of the world altogether. There was a headline about a bus exploding in Rome, Uh! Oh! I thought, is this a terrorist attack? But no, it wasn’t. The driver had smelt burning, realised something was wrong and stopped his bus, telling all the passengers to get off. And then the bus exploded. This is the ninth bus to burn in Rome since the beginning of the year. In fact, bus fires in Rome have become such a common occurrence that residents have begun documenting them by using the hashtag on Twitter #Flambus.

Nobody was hurt! Amazing! I shall not complain about our buses again - well, not for a while anyway.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Out and about in the odd weather conditions.

Yesterday temperatures around here plummeted from 20+ degrees in the morning to below 10 degrees in the afternoon. It was already warm when I went out to run at 8.30. By the time my daughter came round towards the end of the morning so that her toddler could toddle round the garden we were kept busy making sure we had the little one slathered in sun block and I noticed this morning bit of sunburn on one shoulder from sitting on the bench in the garden. By the time she dropped me off at the local tram station at around 3.00 the sky had gone from blue tp grey and the rain had started to fall. Fortunately I was forewarned and had picked up my umbrella on my way out. Some unfortunates I saw in Manchester had clearly not read the weather forecast.

When I say that the temperatures plummeted, it really was the case. When my daughter and I left my house the sun was still shining and we were all fanning ourselves. We stopped off to wait for her teenage children to come p of school and even though the cloud had moved in, we still had to open the car windows to cool us down. The teenagers arrived moaning about temperatures in school. When they dropped me off at the tram station, only about fifteen minutes later, I was wondering if I should perhaps have picked up a warm jacket rather than just a cardigan. So it goes!

When I left the Italian class at 6:30 and walked back to Piccadilly station with one of my classmates, the rain had stopped but the cool stuff was still around. My companion, a gentleman rather older than me, pointed out as we walked a variety of industrial architectural features that he had had a hand in designing. As areas are renovated and gentrified he watches his work disappearing. His past, he said, is being erased!

I have just heard the weatherman on the radio describing today as another splendid day ... in the southeast of the country. Here it has been fine but mostly cloudy with temperatures in the low teens: pretty much what you might expect for this time of year. I went walkabout to the local supermarket to pick up a few things while Phil gamely took advantage of the dry bit of the day to cut the grass in our garden and in those of two neighbours. Local hero!

And now, here are some photos of some of my ramblings over the last few days:-

An increasingly rare sight these days: a bee on a flower in my garden.

Light at the end of the tunnel.

Evening sky.

Articial sunshine - aka dandelions.

Blossom, before the rain and wind blew most of it away.

Bluebells, and interlopers - Himalyan balsam.

More evening sky.

Our local heron.

The heron fishing, quite successfully I think.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

THings to do with being a parent.

Parenting is a complicated business. Actually, parenting is a term I really don’t like. I don’t know how long it has existed but it seems to me to be a very modern term. Instead of saying “bringing up children”, a new term has been invented, one of those take-a-noun-and-make-a-verb terms. Be that as it may, bringing up children is not something everyone finds straightforward.

And nowadays it costs a lot more than it ever used to. Our daughter’s in-laws bought them a very pricey pram for the smallest member of the family. It was one of those that started off as a tiny baby carrier on wheels, had a carrycot attachment, morphed into a full-blown pram and finally into a stroller. Even in the reduced section of the baby-supplies shop it cost about £700. And now it hardly gets used as they have progressed to a lighter weight stroller for the baby who has progressed into a toddler. I look back at the second hand pram/pushchair that we used for both our offspring and which cost us about £25. Were we cheapskates?

 In Finland, I think it is, they provide new parents with a baby box. This contains all sorts of essentials for a new baby and the box itself is of a size that can be used as a crib for the tiny one. Someone once told me that it was common practice in Victorian times for a new baby to be put to bed in e bottom drawer of a chest of drawers, hoping that nobody closed the drawer and forgot the child was there (joke!).

Scotland has followed Finland’s example and organised baby boxes dor new parents, a great idea except that some expert has been questioning the health and safety aspect of such a box. One concern seems to be that it is too high-sided to be used as a decent crib; the parent has to lean right into it to pick up the baby. And then, it has a lid, a closed-fitting lid, which might cause safety concerns. Is anyone really likely to put the lid on the box with a baby inside!!!

Further along the stages of parenting comes the question of how much parents get involved in arguments their offspring have with their school mates. As a rule when kids quarrel, you just leave them to get on with it. All through primary school my best friend and I fell out on a regular basis. Both sets of parents ignored this totally as within a day or so we were thick as thieves, joined at the hip once again. Some parents, most often mothers as they do a lot of the picking up of children from school, get really worked up about it and fall out themselves with the mother of the other child. So you end up with a situation where the children have forgotten what they ever argued about but the mothers look daggers at each other at the school gate. What a lot of nonsense!

 More serious is the case if the father who shot and killed the stepfather of a boy who had argued with and possibly bullied his own son. Here’s a link to the story. Several things strike me.

  • The father, the one who shot the stepfather, had 23 guns in the house! Even for a clay pigeon shooting enthusiast this seems like an excessive number of guns. 
  • Then there is the fact that when the parents of the other boy (mother and stepfather) came banging on doors and windows to try to settle the problem between the boys, if they were really a nuisance why did the father not phone the police instead of selecting a gun, loading it and shooting the bloke when the door was opened? 
  • But most of all, he then persuaded his fourteen-year-old son to take the blame and pretend he had shot the other guy. 
 Good grief! What kind of parent does that?

Monday, 7 May 2018

Bank Holiday Monday Ramblings!

It’s a sunny Bank Holiday Monday and the visitors to our area are out in force. I had taken a walk to the local garden centre to see if they sold privet. Phil has decided we need a hedge in the front garden, to help protect the house - and us - from traffic pollution. Apparently garden hedges absorb a whole lot of traffic pollution. These are the kinds of things he finds out randomly on the internet. The garden centre had no privet, although they did have a lot of fancy bushes in large, expensive pots. So I bought some alyssum to put in the various boxes of flowering plants that sit on the garden wall, and a pot of thyme to add to my kitchen window-ledge herb collection and went on my way to Uppermill.

I had the vague idea that I might buy a loaf from the bakery but, this being Bank Holiday Monday the bakery had made no bread and was selling only expensive sandwiches and various types of meat pies and Cornish pasties - considerably more expensive hot than cold. I resisted the temptation to buy a Cornish pasty to eat in the park. The Cornish pasties from that bakery are very good.

Having been so good at resisting that temptation I then went and bought a very nice ice cream - mint and chocolate chip - from a shop a bit further down the road. I had to do this because surprisingly the ice cream van (which also sells very nice ice cream, not that horrid softee-freeze stuff that is extruded from a nozzle!) was absent from the park. Presumably the lady who runs it must have found somewhere more profitable for today. Although it is hard to imagine that she would have been without customers in Uppermill which was positively heaving with people.

Cyclists and runners on the towpath were in danger of falling into the canal as there were just so many large groups of dawdlers! People were also in the river or at least they were encouraging their children to paddle and their digs to leap in and retrieve balls.

If you don’t fancy a dip in the river, you can indulge in something they are calling forest-bathing. It does not involve getting into water at all, but bathing your spirit in the atmosphere of the forest. Here’s a link to an article about it. Now, I like a good walk in the woods and I can do that communing with nature thing with the best of them but when it comes to an organised trip where you are asked to select a tree that “talks” to you and go and hug it, well, I start to feel a bit silly. And once they start passing a pine cone around and asking whoever has the pine cone to express their feelings about the whole experience, I just stop taking it seriously altogether. Passing something impressive like the conch shell they used in Lord of the Flies to give the holder the right to speak is one thing, but a pine cone is a bit naff, even if it’s quite a large one. Well, that’s what I think anyway.

In the weekend papers they were still on about that Meghan Markle. This time it was a writer called Margo Jefferson pointing out that this is no rags to riches story. I never really thought it was but Margo Jefferson gave some background detail: Ms Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, a white man, is an Emmy award-winning cinematographer and lighting designer. Her mother is Doria Ragland, a black woman, a social worker and yoga instructor who “focuses on community mental health”. So Meghan is part of what the writer calls “a modern and ever more varied biracial bourgeoisie”. Meghan studied at Morthwestern University, Illinois and majored in international relations and theatre - an odd combination perhaps but probably a good one for someone who became an actress and a feminist who worked for UN Women as an advocate for political participation and leadership. Come to think of it, her studies were probably a perfect preparation for joining Team Windsor. 

Mainly, however, it was the Cinderella thing that began to annoy me. People keep going on about the fairytale romance. Margo Jefferson comments: “But Markle has not been plucked from poverty or - like the heroines of such romcom adaptations (of the Cinderella story) as ‘Pretty Woman’ or ‘Maid in Manhattan’ - from the low-status toil and trouble of working-class life.” But the fact is that if you go back to the original Cinderella story, she wasn’t exactly “plucked from poverty” either. She might have been forced into a menial position but that was because of a wicked stepmother - you just can’t trust those stepmothers! Poor old Cinders’ mother died and her father, a king or duke or some such bit of “nobility”, remarried and then was clearly too wimpish to prevent his new wife from mistreating his dear daughter. I really don’t know which is worse, the father or the stepmother.

Anyway, when Cinders married the prince, she was just getting back to her original social status. Very little fairytale about it. And maybe if she had had a bit more Markle and a bit less fairy godmother sparkle she might have remedied the situation a whole lot sooner!

And besides, the whole social status thing is surely a little passé by now.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Not good enough!

I’m sure a whole lot of people are really pleased to see that the Cambridges have put out a couple of pictures of their new baby. For those people whose offspring have not yet given them grandchildren it must be like receiving photos of surrogate grandchildren. In some ways it might be better than having actual grandchildren as you don’t have to buy them presents, although some probably will do so, and nobody is going to ask you if you can babysit or if you can take care of them when they are too sick to go to nursery but mummy and daddy have to work. Anyway, he looks like a perfectly nice baby, which is what you would expect from a healthy, wealthy set of parents.

It was convenient that little Louis managed to get himself born in time for the wedding of his uncle Harry/Henry. Now his mummy can wow them with how well she has got back into shape. Not that anyone will be looking at her. Now, that is a big piece of nonsense. Of course eyes will be upon her. She’s bought into the lifestyle and now she’s stuck with it. But really the focus should be on the bride.

I’m feeling a bit sorry for those peope who have been selected to stand outside St George’s chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Even if you’re not a royalist, you must feel quite excited at having been selected to be there. After all, we all like to be CHOSEN for something. It makes you feel special. In some cases, it must feel a bit like a reward for having worked at something Prince Harry approves of. And then they go and take the edge off it by saying that you have to take your own food. There won’t even be stalls selling food in the grounds. So you’ll have got all dressed up in your wedding finery and you’ll have to carry a picnic basket with you. It sounds like a bit of a cheap trick to me. I’m glad I wasn’t invited.

I hope at least they can post pics of themselves standing around with their dried up sandwiches. Mind you, it’s a dangerous business posting pics of what you are up to. I heard a story of a woman who took pity on a child who had no money to buy an ice cream from the ice cream man. So she bought him an ice cream, probably to stop him wailing, and posted on social media that she had done so. And in return she received loads of flak because she is a vegan and bought the child an obviously non-vegan ice cream. What was she supposed to do? Start lecturing all in the queue for ice creams about the crime of buying non-vegan 99s?

It’s a crazy world!

Here’s another bit of craziness. It tells the tale of the student who had her MacBook stolen as she went through airport security. We must all of us have wondered at times how safe our valuables are as we put them in plastic trays and consign them to the x-ray machine while we go through the human scanner and hope we don’t beep. She was delayed and by the time she got through her MacBook had gone. Somehow we imagine that all airport travellers will be honest and, if not totally honest, at least in possession of IT equipment of their own and therefore won’t need to steal ours.

We’ve been planning our own summer travels and discovered that flights to Galicia have become a little pricey. Our daughter had been considering travelling out to join us for her half term together with three children. It turned out that travelling there and back for four of them, for only just under a week’s stay, was going to cost close to £2,000. A no-brainer, as they say. And then we decided to put off our departure until prices are more reasonable after the half term holiday.

There is something profoundly immoral about putting prices up by such a large margin, just because a larger group of people will want to travel then. Imagine if the buses did that with rush-hour travel! It’s almost as bad as airports that have inadequate security measures in place to prevent theft from security trays.

Or royal weddings that fail to provide at least a minimum feats for the commoners who turn up to cheer the happy couple on their way

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Stuff that is spinning around in my head.

On Thursday we voted in the local council elections. We found ourselves voting for someone who used to go to the chess club that Phil ran for a while years ago at the local primary school. We were a little concerned about voting for someone so young, only a few years out of university, and relatively inexperienced but none of the other candidates had anything much to offer and at least that young man seems to have a brain and to be thinking the right way.

As the results came in yesterday mainstream media outlets started to talk as if it had all been a great failure for Labour. Defeat for Jeremy Corbyn, they cried, or perhaps crowed, success for Theresa May. But Labour now has 2,299 councillors across the country, up by 57, while the Conservatives have 1,330, down by 28. No, Labour didn’t win over the strong Conservative boroughs they hoped to win in London but London isn’t the whole country. Oh, I know that weather reporters think that when London has a heatwave the whole of the UK needs sunscreen, but political reporters should know better.
Spin, spin, spin!

 UKIP won only 3 council places, down by 123. One of their own people said they have been like the Black Death, coming in, causing disruption and then fading away again. An odd thing to compare your own party to but who am I to expect rational behaviour from such people? Now, Radio 4 broadcast a regular programme which looks at statistics and how they are interpreted. Yesterday looked, among other things, at the number of times Nigel Farage has been invited to appear on BBC television’s “Question Time”. Some people had been suggesting that he had appeared more often than anyone else.

Not so, surprisingly. I think the overall winner was Shirley Williams. However, she had been on the political scene for a long, long time and her appearances had been spread over many years. Nigel Farage’s appearances, diminishing now, were concentrated over a much shorter period. Like Caroline Lucas, of the Green Party, he could be guaranteed to say things that would get other panel members going. So, lots of invitations and lots of appearances. But those many appearances brought him more and more into the public eye and probably led to an increase in popularity for his party. Or at least, gave them a boost. (No, it hasn’t worked as well for the Greens, although they increased their total councillors to 39, up by 8. And Caroline Lucas does not appeal to rabid right wingers in the same way as Farage does.)

Whenever I reflect on the rise of Nigel Farage, and now on the rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is receiving similar media coverage, I am reminded of a science fiction story I read long ago. In the story, time travel had been properly sorted out and travel companies had branched out into time-tourism, taking tourists on trips to significant moments in history. One of these was to that hill without a city wall where the crucifixion took place. The tour guide noticed that over the years that he ran the visits the numbers at the site grew and grew. More and more people shouted for Barrabas to be freed and for Christ to be crucified, speeding up the decision to release the thief. Might things have gone differently, he wondered, if tourism had not developed there.

Similar comments might be made about media influence on political standing and even about the televising of Parliament, for that matter.