Sunday, 30 September 2018

Out and about in Manchester! And self-monitoring!

Yesterday was swallowed up by a visit to Manchester. I went mainly to have my hair done but also had a list of things I planned to do, nothing urgent but stuff that I might as well do while I was there. Then, not long after I arrived in Manchester, my daughter contacted me to say that she was also on Manchester and did I fancy meeting up?

So after I left the hairdresser’s I went and found her and we wandered around looking at this and that.   And drinking coffee in Pret, about which establishment more later. And suddenly it was the end of the afternoon! And I had achieved none of my this and that objectives on the list of “things I might do in Manchester”.

My daughter and her partner and the small child were off to get something to eat. I could have joined them but it would have been rather mean to leave Phil to eat alone again.

So we parted company, despite protests from the small child who is at that stage when she thinks ALL her people should be at her beck and call ALL the time. I hoped I might catch a train to Greenfield, in which case I would phone to suggest that Phil should set iff walking and meet me half way. That would give him some exercise and me some company as I walked.

Good plan but the only problem was that there was no train.

On to Plan B: tram to Oldham and then bus. Another good plan and partially successful. Unfortunately there was no direct bus to Delph for about 40 minutes after I arrived there. In 10 minutes, however, according to the timetable, there was a bus to Uppermill, from where I could walk home. Once again, I could phone Phil and request some company on my walk.

This plan was also scuppered, as the bus to Uppermill failed to show up until a few minutes before the bus to Delph was due, which was clearly the faster option.

Obviously I should have left Manchester sooner and caught an earlier bus to Delph. Or I should have stayed iin Manchester a little longer and achieved some of my this and that objectives on the list of “things I might do in Manchester” and still arrived in Oldham in time for the bus I eventually caught. Still, I had some interesting chats with equally frustrated travellers at the bus stop.

It’s just a good job that I don’t have to pay for my travel around Greater Manchester!

Finally home again, I caught up with some bits of Saturday’s newspaper as we ate. I found this article    about insomnia by Zoe Williams. Last in her list of hints on things worth doing to improve your sleep was this:

“And keeping a sleep diary. It’s stupid, really, but when I look at a load of numbers - the Fitbit app logs REM, light sleep, deep sleep and wakefulness, then makes them into a graph – I feel as though I’m in charge. Because it’s the powerlessness that gets you in the end .”

I know how she feels. I don’t really suffer from full-blown insomnia but I am a notoriously light sleeper and confess that I check my Fitbit sleep record every day, especially when I have woken at six and not really gone back to sleep. It is curiously reassuring, despite the fact that my Fitbit tells me I have been in light sleep. But what does IT know?

Only a limited amount as it turns out and you can play “Fool a Fitbit”. If I use the exercise bike, the Fitbit might well register my heart rate but that’s all. The rowing machine, however, fools it into thinking I have covered quite a distance. Just that little to and fro motion is enough to convince it that I have been moving along.

By the way, I have just received an email from Fitbit, congratulating me on achieving my Great Barrier Reef badge, which apparently signifies that since I have been wearing the Fitbit I have walked 2,574 kilometres - the length of the Great Barrier Reef! There you go!

On one occasion I walked a fair distance pushing the small person, our smallest grandchild, in her buggy. According to my Fitbit I had been for a bike ride. On the one hand, what does it really know? But on the other hand, there remains this question: how did it know there were even wheels involved?

And finally, today I read that Prêt à Manger (probably trade marked as Pret a Manger without the written accents but, hey, I’m a linguist and think that words in titles should be used correctly) is about to open a new veggie branch on Deansgate in Manchester. I think that makes it the fourth such branch in the UK? Manchester is clearly the new London!

Quite why vegetarians need a special branch of their own, however, escapes me. Why can’t Pret just extend the veggie range in their perfectly good premises on Cross Street in Manchester?

My other reaction to the news is that I hope they label everything correctly. I know people who have severe: allergic reactions and they need stuff to be clear. Careless labelling has had tragic consequences!

Having said that, I hope they do well. My eldest granddaughter and I have been Pret fans for quite a long time now.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Fostering a love of literature!

I spent this afternoon strolling around in the sunshine with my daughter and her smallest daughter. We quacked at the ducks and she pointed out Mummy Ducks and Daddy Ducks, quite correctly I hasten to add. She played on the playground in the park. She showed us interesting leaves.

And, most importantly, we went to the library.

She lay down on her front on the floor, feet in the air, head up, and “read” books. She’s quite happy and relaxed in the library. As we left, having borrowed about six books, she received a sticker from the librarian, stuck it carefully in her library borrowing record book, thanked the librarian politely, said goodbye and showed us the way out.

She is two years old!

When I got home I found this that someone, a secondary school English teacher, had posted this on Facebook:

“This is Biff.

This is Chip.

This is Biff and Chip's homework. Biff and Chip are required to write down ten examples of fronted adverbials.

Biff and Chip have not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is.

This is Mum.

Mum has not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is either.

“We don't know what a fronted adverbial is," whinge Biff and Chip. "This homework is impossible. You will have to help us."

 "It's not my homework, it's your homework," says Mum, thanking her lucky stars that she did not have to engage in any of this fronted adverbial bollocks when she was at school.

This is Dad. Dad still struggles to distinguish between a noun and a verb, and would not know a fronted adverbial if one came up and punched him in the face.

 Biff and Chip think for a moment about asking Dad for help.

They decide to Google instead.

This is Mrs May. When Mrs May went into teaching she honestly believed she would be able to spend her time helping children to love learning. And putting on plays. Mrs May loves a play. She did not realise that a love of learning would not feature on the National Curriculum at all, and that she would instead be forced to meet a series of impossible and continuously moving goalposts which successive governments would put in place, and have to teach her classes about ridiculous concepts such as fronted adverbials which, in all honesty, are only ever likely to be of use if they end up becoming professors of linguistics. Or primary school teachers. If truth be told, Mrs May has not a fucking clue what a fronted adverbial is either.

This is Floppy the dog. Floppy holds no truck with fronted adverbials. Floppy eats the fronted adverbial homework sheet.

Floppy knows that he is a fucking liability, and waits to be told so.
No one is more surprised than Floppy when the entire family gather around and tell him "Oh GOOD dog Floppy."

 Floppy feels this is proof positive that some good can come from fronted adverbials after all.

Later at school, Biff and Chip are, for the first time, able to legitimately use the excuse: "My dog ate my homework."

Mrs May breathes a secret sigh of relief that that is one less set of incomprehensible and entirely incorrect homework that she has to plough through, and suggests to the class that they will all put on a play instead to celebrate.”

 Somebody else replied with this:

 “Manically, Mr Gove chuckled as he rubbed his hands together in glee. Arrogantly, he had always suspected that he would be known across the land. In cavalier fashion, he didn't care whether he was loved or hated just as long as he had power! Sadly, Mrs May and other good teachers up and down the land abandoned teaching in favour of easier professions such as lion taming or quantum physics.” 

It’s that kind of fronted adverbial (a term unheard of until Mr Give had it invented) nonsense that can put children off reading and writing for ever!

And then they might never have the chance to appreciate Shakespeare, whose works, by the way, should be seen rather than read.

I got round to this because last night I went to see King Lear. It was not really at the theatre but the next best thing: a live performance from a London theatre transmitted to selected cinemas around the country. I saw it at Home, in central Manchester, with a few friends. It was introduced by Kirsty Wark, who took the opportunity to tell us about future such transmissions.

This performance starred Sir Ian McKellen who at eighty years old decided he wanted to have another go at Lear, being the same age as that unfortunate king. The performance was electrifying. All the actors did a tremendous job.

The actress who played Regan portrayed her as edgy, nervy, highly sexed, almost nymphomaniac, unable to keep her hands off her husband and then off Edmond, illegitimate son of Gloucester. It was interesting to see such a portrayal of a woman using her sexuality to gain power. Well, I thought so. Did they direct her to play it this way particularly on this age of #metoo?

 But it was Sir Ian McKellen, of course, who impressed most. At eighty years old, to be able to keep up that performance for almost three hours is quite something. In some scenes he was soaking wet. They used 2000 litres of water during the performance. Later I found myself hoping that they had warm towels ready for him as he came off stage; surely they needed to make sure he did not catch pneumonia. At the time though there was no time for such reflection.

In the final scene he walks onto the stage carrying Cordelia on his back. Now, the actress playing Cordelia was only very slight but even if she weighed only six or seven stone that is a phenomenal amount for an old gent to carry onto the stage! What an honour for all those younger actors to be able to say they were onstage alongside such a man! What a privilege to have seen it.

And that is why, in my opinion, we should be teaching our children to love reading, to love words, to love language and not burden them with nonsense.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

The oddness of the modern world!

We have been watching The Handmaid’s Tale, series two, which we set to record while we were away for most of the summer. It’s harrowing stuff. Elizabeth Moss, as the handmaid whose tale it is, is phenomenal. We have to try not to binge-watch, it’s so compelling, because we might find it all too depressing. Will it have anything like a happy ending this time?

When I first read Margaret Atwood’s novel years and years ago the story really was set in a dystopian future. The television series, however, presents us with a dystopian alternative present. The people of Canada, the country some escapees from Gilead manage to escape to, are clearly of the present; they dress like we do, protest like we do, make shrines with lots of candles and photos to missing people like we do. And even within Gilead they use computers and modern technology, or at least the men do. Women, of course, are not allowed to do such things.

And so it is really strange, and more than a little worrying, to switch from a fictional weird misogynistic society to news broadcasts where the leader of the free world is defending a man accused of sexually assaulting women in his youth. POTUS generously said:

“We’re giving the women a major chance to speak. It’s possible I’ll hear that and I’ll say: ‘Hey, I’m changing my mind.’ It’s possible.”

But he went on to say that he viewed the accusations against Kavanaugh “differently” because he himself had “had a lot of false charges made against me”.

“You have a man who is great, outstanding, but he has charges against him,” Trump said, adding: “It has happened to me many times.”

There you go!

Interestingly, not one but two men have come forward in the USA to say that they were the person who was involved in the incident with Christine Blasey Ford all those years ago. How does that come about?

And just today on the radio news a Conservative MP was saying that our security services need to target people who write articles and blogs criticising government policy. They might influence people’s thinking and undermine the government! So much for freedom of speech and a free press! Before we know it, will we see armed security guards on our streets as a matter of course, listening out for those of us who speak out of turn and dealing with us accordingly?

We find ourselves turning more and more to other sources of information than the regular news media. Freedom of the press does not seem to mean freedom from bias.

Apparently some of the political leaders feels the same way. I read this today in a report about the end of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool:

“The Labour leader also showed his attitude to the media by simply skipping much of the press round, which usually accompanied a party conference speech, such as a traditional interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Newspaper reporters learned the hard way about how they were now perceived by the party – their desks at the conference were situated outside the main building, in a tent in a car park accessed by following signs for a “dog exercise area”.”

The world has become very strange!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Plant life!

Today I threw out my avocado pear plant. In fact my two avocado pear plants since there were two in the same pot, although we have always had a tendency to refer to it in the singular. It used to be a fine thing with lots of luxurious foliage, a splendid specimen. Then our daughter borrowed it, and a number of other plants, a few years ago to use as a visual aid in the science lesson in her final teaching practice.

She assigned some pupils to water it but they did a poor job. Maybe it just needed a lot more tender loving care than junior school children could provide. They were perhaps not made aware that when the leaves start to droop, such a plant needs a lot more water. The leaves are a bit like arms: drooping by the side they indicate extreme thirst but raised up and sticking out they indicate happiness. Anyway, the poor thing came home in a sorry state and gradually leaves fell off. It made a reasonable recovery but it was a shadow of its former self.

Every time we go away, our daughter pops in fairly regualrly to take care of the plants. As a rule it works well. This summer the heat was just too much for the poor avocado plant. It still has a leaf or two at the top of its two straggly stems but it has lost all its grace. So I am afraid it has been relegated to the garden to take its chances with the weather. Its central place on the kitchen window ledge has been taken by the aloe vera plant which apparently loved the summer and thrived beautifully.

Two avocado stones have been placed in pots if damp compost to see if they will decide to germinate. I am aware that some people recommend suspending the stones, balanced on pins, over a jar of water until they start to sprout roots but that has never worked for me and so I have gone back to my tried and tested stone in compost, with its pointy end uppermost half out of the compost. My green-fingered eldest granddaughter has also tried both methods and found that mine worked best. There you go! Of course there is no knowing how well modern avocado stones, from fruit no doubt grown in huge greenhouses as there is such a demand for them, will fare. We shall see!

Another plant that failed to survive the summer sun through the kitchen window was my mind-your-own-business. For years I told the tale of my grandmother having a plant that looked like cushion of tiny green leaves. Whenever I asked whatbit was, she told me, “Mind your own business!” WHich i considered rather rude from my usually polite grandmother. But it turned put to be its name. No doubt it had a Latin name as well but we were  it bothered about such niceties.

My granddaughter thought I was making it all up until she found one in a garden centre earlier this year and purchased one for me. It was doing beautifully when we went away to Galicia for the summer, just as extreme summer hit the UK. My green-fingered granddaughter and I discussed getting her to care for it in my absence, given her mother’s record for blatantly failing to look after the avocado. In the event time ran away with us and the plant stayed at my house. When I returned briefly in July my daughter apologised for its rather bedraggled state. It was clearly on its way out and had given up the ghost before I set off once more for Spain. A sad story!

But my kitchen window ledge looks much better now than yesterday.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Getting stuff done today. Healthy living and food fads.

It’s taken a long time to get around to writing my blog today. I was up bright and early, not to run but to head for the bus stop and make my way eventually to the dentist’s for a check-up. Like the rest of my circle, my dentist is now also heading for old age and decrepitude and consequently has opted to work only three days a week. This is fine but makes scheduling appointments difficult. But we manage!

I had arranged to phone my daughter on leaving the dentist so that she could meet me in her car as I walked down the road towards the bit of town where she lives. This worked well. The sun was shining and I could not make out which cars were coming towards me until she was almost on top of me. The sun was shining but it was still rather chilly. There was frost again first thing. It strikes me that we are having frost much earlier than usual. But the forecast is good for most of the week. Not really what you would call hot but more hot than cold!

Having got some shopping done, we went back to her house for lunch and then took the tiny person off for her two-years-old assessment. There was a whole list of “can she...” questions, most of which could be answered with a resounding yes. At stacking bricks, threading beads, copying lines that her mother made on paper, recognising pictures in books and even tidying up, she passed with flying colours. Clearly on track, as we expected. Apart from an inability to jump as yet!

After my daughter dropped me off at home, there was still time to go for a walk before the sun went over the hill. Since Phil had a minor operation recently we have slowly been getting him back into the routine of a daily constitutional. Every day we have gone a little farther, pulling up Indonesian Balsam as we go. We realise that it is probably too late for this year to attack the spread of this rather beautiful but pernicious weed but it makes us feel that we are doing a little to help!

And suddenly we are into the evening and finally I get round to posting today’s blog.

In the car, travelling around today, my daughter regaled me with tales of children she teaches who clearly have never been read to, in some cases barely talked to and a few who regularly turn up at school having had no breakfast. It’s hard to know what to do about cases like that. Labour is promising to look at childcare and how to improve it, bringing down costs and providing more free care for children from really poor families. Time to vote them in and see what they can do. Then we shall see what they can do.

On the other side of the Atlantic, POTUS has been amusing the UN people by telling them how much more he has done in two years than any other president before him. Apparently he was serious and did not expect to raise a laugh. The man is a master of hyperbole, if nothing else.

My daughter and I also discussed diets, as you do. She has been rather successfully following quite a strict one, and carefully avoiding the box of chocolate goodies that her partner has stored away in a kitchen cupboard. We both agreed that really the only way to avoid eating such stuff is simply not to buy it. Or, as she does with the box of chocolate goodies and as I do with the biscuits, you have to hide them somewhere inaccessible in the kitchen.

The tiny person’s eating habits were discussed at her assessment. She eats just about anything. The health visitor people were impressed. They were impressed also by the fact that she only drinks water and milk. No juice for her. Juice is a big factor in wrecking small children’s teeth. And even more so an early introduction to fizzy drinks. It’s not sweets alone. Oh, and it seems they should use grown up toothpaste, not the special children’s stuff which does not contain enough fluoride. Who knew?

Then I read this about Gwyneth Paltrow  who seemingly likes to down a glass of whiskey in the bath every day. A good way to relax, it seems. I don’t think I could find time to have a bath every day. Showers are soooo much quicker! But I never had la Paltrow down as a whiskey drinker. I thought she was one of the healthy living proponents. I would have thought that this new food fad would be more up her street.

“Aquafaba” turns put to be the water you cooked your chickpeas in. Or if, like me, you really can’t be bothered with soaking chickpeas for hours and then boiling them for hours to soften them up but buy them ready softened in a tin, then it’s the water from the tin. Of course it is. Aqua is water and faba, like the Spanish haba means bean. But if you give it a fancy name then it can be promoted as the latest foodie thing that vegans can use. Apparently it can replace egg white in recipes, even in meringues.

There you go. A little something new to learn every day.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Frost. Parenthood. Names.

There was frost on the shed roof this morning when I looked out of the window. When I went out running there was still frost on the grass in the places the sun had not yet reached. It strikes me as a little early to be getting ground frost but there it is. Otherwise it is a fine sunny, blue sky day. Rather “autumnial” as a friend of mine overheard someone say the other day.

On the Donkey Line bridle path where I ran this morning there were five youngish trees or bits of trees blown down by whichever storm had just blown its way through the area. Not major storm damage but dramatic enough for me.

In the “Lost in Space “ column in the Guardian I read that the actor Richard Gere is about to become a father at the age of 69. I know that 69 is not as old as it used to be. 69 is probably the new 49! And I know that the child will be well provided for financially. And I assume that Richard Gere is still fit enough to play a bit of football with the child. And I also know that it is none of my business. But still, I can’t help thinking that even if Richard Gere lives to be 90, that child is probably going to lose his father before he has had chance to grow up - the child that is, not the father! Mind you, this is showbiz so there is no guarantee that the father will be around too long in the child’s life anyway.

I also read that the annoying TV personality and supposed comic Chris Evans, at 54 still a tad old to be embarking on fatherhood, has become the father of twins called, apparently, Ping and Pong. Later I read that Ping and Pong were temporary names, used by the parents during the pregnancy. They are actually called Walt and Boo.

Walt is an example of those boys’ names which have become popular in recent years, using an abbreviation and only an abbreviation of a longer name. What kind of name is Boo though? The poor little girl will jump every time anyone says her name!

I can’t help feeling that all the little Freddies will object when they are grown-up s to having been given that version of the name. But at least they can shorten it further to Fred. Quite what you do if you are called Boo, goodness only knows. Change it as soon as you are legally able to do so, I should think.

On the bus the other day I was chatting with one of my nodding-acquaintances. At some point he told that he has always hated his name: Edwin! Fortunately for him, his friends all call him Eddie and his wife calls him Ed. Only family members of his parents’ generation give him his full name, and there can’t be very many of them left these days.

His mother chose the name Edwin because she thought it sounded regal.

Parents have a lot to answer for!

Sunday, 23 September 2018

How the Indian summer got its name. And going walkabout.

My sister has been sending me videos of her small grandson cavorting on the beach in the far south of Spain where they live. She tells me they are having a “veranillo del membrillo”, which literally is “little summer of the quince”, the Spanish equivalent of an Indian summer.

It has this odd name because the quince ripens at the end of September. In some parts of Spain they name it for St. Michael, “el veranillo de San Miguel”. Maybe they buy it at Marks and Spencer. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

In France it’s Saint Denis who gets the credit and in Italy Saint Martin. In Spanish-speaking countries in the southern hemisphere they call the same phenomenon “el veranillo de San Juan” because their extra-late summer starts around the feast of Saint John at the end of June.

In the USA they have a theory that the expression Indian Summer comes from Native American Indians’ belief that such weather came from one of their gods. They didn’t know about the jet stream, or it hadn’t been invented, back then.

Some people think the term Indian summer relates the the UK’s colonial past. An American website is quick to correct such a notion:

“The term Indian summer reached England in the 19th century, during the heyday of the British Raj in India. This led to the mistaken belief that the term referred to the Indian subcontinent. In fact, the Indians in question were the Native Americans, and the term began use there in the late 18th century.”

It seems that the Old Farmer’s Almanac has a saying, “If All Saints’ (November 1) brings out winter, St. Martin’s brings out Indian summer.” Considering that Saint Martin’s day is November 11th then the Indian summer can be pretty late in the year.

A BBC website tells me this :

“Before the middle of the last century, such a spell of fine weather would be linked to ancient weather lore and the church calendar. In mid-October, for instance, it would have been called "St Luke's Little Summer" as the feast day of St Luke falls on 18 October, while in mid-November it would be "St Martin's Summer" as St Martin's feast day is 11 November.
Shakespeare also used the expression "All Halloween Summer" in Henry IV part I for a period of warm sunshine as October gives way to November.
A more generic but now (sadly) politically incorrect idiom is "Old Wives' Summer".”

If it can occur so late, maybe there is hope for us yet. Of course, it may no longer be politically correct to talk about an Indian Summer. But somehow Native American Summer lacks a certain je ne sais quoi!

Today we have the sunshine but not the warmth. Woolly hats are in order when out walking.

Phil and I walk all over the place, leading some people to think that we are a little crazy. We, however, regard it as a good way to get to know a place. Forget about those tourist buses; to get to know a city you have to do what we have come to call “walking the walk”. Consequently, we know ways around the city of Vigo that people who were born and grew up them have no idea of.

Some people must agree with us on this as this article from the Guardian demonstrates.  I just realised that the article originated with something they called Walk the City Week, asking people to send in their experiences of walking round cities. Loads of people walking around in cities: how good is that? I do, however, draw the line at the activity proposed by this article.

Following strangers is all very well but it could turn out to be quite dangerous.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

The artificial look!

Today’s Guardian Weekend Magazine is themed around the human body, asking “how we control, improve and future-proof what nature gave us. Now, I have to confess to being a bit of a fitness freak myself. I think I always have been: running to and from school as a teenager, cycling up a long, slow hill to work in my early twenties, following Jane Fonda work-out regimes and going to aerobics classes in my thirties and forties and getting into running in my sixties. But some of the people they write about in the magazine are total nutters.

There’s a Silicon Valley millionaire entrepreneur who has his health checked every three months on the grounds that when you actually notice the signs and symptoms of degenerative diseases it’s already too late. He wears special hearing aids to enhance his perfect hearing, he wears specially tinted glasses in the evening to counteract the effects of blue light and he takes 60 pills a day. These include all sorts of stuff he does not currently need but which enhances his performance.

Surely he spends so much time checking his health and preventing ageing that he is not actually getting much out of life. He’s 32 and plans to live forever! But I do wonder about the quality of that eternal life.

Other people are on the way to becoming bionic. One has special sensors on her feet so that so that she can detect seismic activity. Was the decision to do this prompted by a deep-seated fear of earthquakes? Another has an antenna implanted in his skull so that he “hears” colour waves. This makes him see colours more intensely! It sounds to me like artificially induced synesthesia! Yet another has extra senses in his ears so that he can detect atmospheric pressure and work out what the weather is going to be like.

I just use the app on my phone.

Apparently tens of thousands of people have a chip implanted under the skin. Quite why they do so is not clear. Presumably it registers performance (my Fitbit does that) as some companies encourage their workers to get chipped, “so bosses can better track workflow”. That sounds ominous! And a German company which makes prosthetic limbs for medical use - surely what all this technology should be doing - is now making exoskeletons for VW workers to enhance their performance in the factory!!!

This is all beginning to sound rather like science fiction, especially the kind of disturbing stories that you see on the TV series Black Mirror.

Of course, to have implants and sensors and antennae and other weird body-enhancing stuff you need to have a fair bit of money. Will we end up with the rich people living forever while the poor folk grub around in the dirt not being able to afford even basic medical help? Or am I just too pessimistic?

Meanwhile, in another aspect of artificial body-enhancement I found this, written by someone called Funmi Fetto:-

“Sacrilege for a beauty editor to admit, but weeks into September and I’m finding applying makeup tiresome. I spent a good proportion of summer without makeup, because a full face in 35C can never end well. They say it takes 28 days to form a habit; try three months. I became so minimalist that looking at my bulging makeup bag this month made me want to take to my bed.
But after a season of festivals and late nights where we all deluded ourselves that we were much younger and hipper than we are IRL, it’s time to go back to being a grownup.”

Oh dear! I guess I never made it into being a grownup. Even when I worked full time I did not paint my face every day. Teachers clearly don’t have as much face-painting time as beauty editors! And it took me a moment or two to realise that IRL = in real life!!

She went on to suggest a gentle re-entry into what she calls “a more polished look”. It seems that “a bright lipstick is the perfect transitioning product”. For this she recommended a number of “bright lipsticks” with prices ranging from £19 to £35!

The world is crazy! I shall keep to my habits of checking my Fitbit from time to time and using the occasional smudge of eyeshadow when I go somewhere special.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Spider update. La tromba. Postal problems. Doorbells.

Well, I caught the spider this morning. (See yesterday’s post.) She was a big one! The glass and card trick worked a treat but I did not take her to the bottom of the garden to throw her out. It was raining so hard that I simply stood at the door and threw her out. I have my fingers crossed that she won’t find her way straight back in. My daughter has a theory that they can follow their own pheromone scent back to where they were previously. Personally I have my doubts.

The rain that has been falling here has been of the type that in Galicia they refer to as “la tromba”. It doesn’t really stop to rain, it just falls in a continuous stream. You can park outside your own door and be soaked by the time you reach the door. The “tromba” continued on and off for most of the night, together with intermittent thunderstorms.

I woke at my usual time, listened to the rain and gave up on the idea of running today. So I rolled over and had an extra half hour in bed and then walked into the village. By then I could probably have run as the rain had eased but it began again as I made my home.

I had to go to the post office to collect a parcel. Yesterday we found a card pushed through the letterbox which said that they had tried unsuccessfully to deliver a parcel, which we could collect on the next working day. In other words today. Now, we were at home when the card was pushed through the door. So quite what attempts were made to deliver the parcel are not clear. I suspect that, as has happened before, the postman ignored the bell and tapped gently but inaudibly on the door.

Our eldest granddaughter, now officially a grown-up and a proud first-time buyer and home owner, has a most efficient doorbell. It is conveniently placed at eye-level in the middle of the door. This enables her to look through a peephole to see who is there but also means that anyone calling at the door cannot fail to see it. What is more, it makes a fine jangling sound which can be heard on the outside as well. We need one of those!

Anyway, I walked into the village and then back through the renewed rain, which continued for most if the day, until now, as I type in the late afternoon, when we actually have some blue sky! How long it will last is a different matter.

Further up the road from us, at the cricket and bowling club they are preparing for the thirteenth “Party in the Park”, a mind of mini music festival, probably organised by the Wake Up Delph Committee, which will take place tomorrow. They have a lot of tribute bands performing, stalls selling food and drink are set up and there are bouncy castles and such like for the kids. People seem to enjoy it. We just hear the music from a distance.

I suppose the timing is partly decided by having to get the cricket season out of the way first but there is always uncertainty about the weather. We never seem to have the promised Indian summer. This year half of the fencing they erected yesterday seemed to have blown down in the night. The weather forecast for tomorrow is not great and I suspect that even if the day proves to be reasonable, the ground will be so soggy that they have a very muddy mess.

But that will probably be appropriate for a mini-Glastonbury!

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Some stuff about spiders.

Apparently it is the spider mating season. At least that is the only explanation I have ever been given for the fact that we see more spiders indoors at this time of year than any other. Someone told me that they come indoors looking for somewhere clean and dry to mate. Oddly enough we never see them in our flat in Vigo, not even at this time of year. Is the seventh floor too high for spiders?

I have been pursuing a large spider through the house over the last few days. At least I assume it is the same one and hope that we do not have several of the beasties around at the same time. He or, more likely, she is about the size of a 10 pence coin; that’s leg-span not body size. I am not sure how I would react to one with a body the size of a 10 pence coin!

My plan is to pop a glass over her, slide a card under the glass and then walk to the bottom of the garden to release her into the wild. This is a tried and tested spider-catching method. My father instilled into us as children the rule that spiders are not to be killed as they are useful creatures. Fine so long as they are not stalking across my bedroom ceiling when I want to go to sleep and cannot do so for fear that the useful creature will descend on a web and crawl all over my face!

The current spider is being elusive however. I first spotted her in the kitchen, high up in an inaccessible corner. Well, it was inaccessible without getting out the stepladders and even then it was not a position where I could easily have popped a glass over her. The next time I saw her I was sitting on the rowing-machine at the back of the kitchen-dining-room, fighting the flab. There, in a little nook next to a bookshelf was the spider, once more rather inaccessible. By the time I had grabbed the dustpan and brush with the idea of sweeping her out, she had disappeared. The last time I saw her she was strolling across the rug in the living room as we watched television. I pointed her out to Phil and the spider must have sensed what was going on for she put on a burst of speed, climbed up the edge of the fireplace and scuttled underneath the electric fire. We have not seen her since but I am on the lookout!

Out running the other morning I took this photo of a spiderweb. Strung out with raindrops I thought it looked rather fine. A spiderweb where it should be - outside in amongst the bushes and brambles. 

Then this morning I read about Aitoliko in Greece, where the beach and the vegetation alongside the roads leading to the beach have been covered with huge spider webs. Again, this is because of the mating season.

“However, the spiders of Aitoliko, which is 300km from Athens, don’t pose a threat. “These spiders are not dangerous for humans, and will not cause any damage,” molecular biologist Maria Chatzaki told Greek news websites.

She explained that the seasonal phenomena occurs when the spiders are mating, and that an increase in the mosquito population this year had lead to perfect conditions for a population explosion among the spiders.

 “The spiders are taking advantage of these conditions, and are having a kind of a party. They mate, they reproduce and provide a whole new generation.”

She noted that the phenomena had been seen before in the region in 2003, and that the spiders would soon die off, and the web would degrade naturally, leaving the vegetation undamaged.”

So that’s okay then.

As we are going to Greece in a few weeks, I trust the spiders’ mating season will be coming to an end and the place we visit will not be similarly infested. But maybe Phil, who is loved by mosquitos and reacts badly to them, should take his antihistamines before we set off.

Last word: I was pleased to find that my studies of Greek enabled me to read the caption in Greek on the you-tube clip in the news report!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Weather, running, street food - and possible consequences thereof - Facebook and the interconnectedness of things!

When I set off to run to Uppermill market this morning I put on my lightweight waterproof and a wooly hat. It was windy and rain was a distinct possibility. Some ten minutes down the road the hat came off - don’t let anyone call me a hot head! Five minutes after that I stopped to take off my waterproof and tie it round my waist. The sun was fighting to come out. There was some blue sky. And it was positively warm - too warm to run in a waterproof.

The day has deteriorated since. By lunchtime the grey cloud had consolidated and it feels a lot cooler. My weather app tells me it is still 17 degrees but I have trouble believing that!

As I waited for the bus home after going to the market (a bus which failed to arrive by the way and so obliged me to catch a later one that goes along the scenic route through our if the way housing estates - I knew I should have set off walking instead of waiting the two minutes until the bus was due but by the time I realised it was not coming it was just too late!) I spotted a sign outside the pub on the other side of the road. “SADDLEWORTH STREET FOOD”, it announced.

Now, people travel to far flung places and come back with tales of how wonderful the street food is. We have sampled street food in Palermo and very good it was too. But “Saddleworth Street Food”? Just what does that consist of? Fish and chips? Pasties and pies from the bakers? Or does the pub produce more exotic snacks for people to nibble, presumably outside the pub. Otherwise it would not be street food!

Of course, there have long been stalls in town centres selling baked potatoes, hot dogs and the like. It’s just that we never used to call it street food. Walking home from the pub we didn’t buy street food; we bought a portion of chips from the chippie on the corner and ate them from the paper as we went on our way.

I first wrote “there have always been stalls, etc” but then I changed it because there have not always been hot dog stands in the middle of shopping streets. People used to do their shopping without having to buy sustenance to eat as they walked along the high street. (My mother would never have allowed us to buy anything anyway; she regarded eating in the street as “common”.) Nobody seems to have commented on this in articles about obesity but I can’t help wondering if the habit of constantly grazing does not contribute to the fatness epidemic.

And nowadays, of course, it’s not just women who are supposed to watch their weight, as this article demonstrates. I read articles of this kind and marvel at the amount of weight some people have to lose!

Facebook gets a lot of stick these days. All sorts of things are supposed to be wrong with it. Young people are said to be moving away from it in droves, using Instagram and other newer social media instead. But me, I am an older person and am quite happy with Facebook keeping me in touch with old friends and storing photos for me. (Yes, I do know I can storm them on the Cloud and stuff like that.)

I even quite like the fact that it regularly sends me photos I posted years ago, reminding me of good times or making me wonder why on earth I posted that particular photo. (This week it has been sending me photos of a trip to Sicily we did six or seven hears ago - time to go back there, I think.)

I don’t even mind that it sends me messages to my phone telling me that certain friends have commented on or “liked” some post of mine. But I draw the line when it starts to send me emails with the same messages. Which has just started happening over the last few days.

That is taking the interconnectedness of everything just a little bit too far!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Even the storms are unfair!

Storm season is upon us again. Storm Ali is approaching the North of England, we are warned. There might be winds of 80 miles an hour. Beware of flying debris, they tell us. It was certainly windy when I ran this morning but not yet strong enough to blow me away.

In one of the odd anomalies of the unequal world we live in, the people most affected by the floods caused by hurricane, later storm, Florence, are the ones with the least likelihood of escaping easily. The poorer people live in the lowest-lying areas of the towns in the path of overflowing rivers. There are stories of family being evacuated but having to trudge to shelter through the rain, carrying food and clothing with them. This is a country where we somehow imagine every family having a car.

We should think ourselves lucky only ro have to dodge some flying debris!

I read two reports yesterday about making amends.

The University of Glasgow feels the need to “make amends for having had funding from slavery centuries back. All the stuff from the past keeps coming back to bit us in the leg. What kind of amends can the university make? And would it exist today without the funding it received in the past?

On the other hand there is this story about Dorothy Counts, a black girl in America selected to go to a white school as part of a desegregation programme in the 1950s. She must have been amazingly strong to walk into the school with white students spitting at her, encouraged to do so by their parents in some cases.

A man who appeared as a boy in the photo of Dorothy determinedly ignoring the catcalls and abuse apologised to her years later as an adult. They worked together on fighting segregation. Now that kind of apologising and making amends, on a personal level, makes a lot more sense to me than an institution like a university making a big thing about it.

Unfortunately the article about Dorothy Counts points out that the segregation in schools that she fought so hard to combat is creeping back in. Parents who have moved to smaller towns like Charlotte, for a better life for their children, living in gentrified suburbs (safe, no doubt, from flooding) are withdrawing their children from schools in the state system. The state schools then become segregated once more.

I wonder what happened to the idea of contributing to the community you live in. If all the children are educated together then all parents can strive to improve the education system for all. And the children can learn tolerance and acceptance of others at the same time.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Some thoughts about culture.

I like collective nouns, especially the ones that suggest some attribute of the, usually, birds or animals concerned. A pride of lions. Very fitting for that animal. A gaggle of geese for the noise they make. A murder of crows - because apparently crows are rumoured to judge some of their number and peck them to death. Clearly not very nice birds, crows. A parliament of owls - because the owl represents Athena, goddess of wisdom. Gosh! Does that imply that parliaments are wise? I have only ever once seen more than one owl at a time and that was a mother owl trying to persuade her fledgeling to fly back to the nest. I only ever see one heron at a time but it seems you can have a battery of herons.

I rather like an lincontinence of yellowlegs”. Yes, I too wondered what a yellowleg is. It turns out to be some kind of Canadian sandpiper.

I got onto this because a friend of mine, an oceanographer who has worked for the European Fisheries Commission and therefore knows something about fish, posted a list of collective nouns related to fish.Here goes:-

A shoal of fish. Well, we all knew that one, didn’t we?
A bind of salmon.
A company of angel fish. How nice!
A family of sardines.
A fleet of bass.
A float of tuna.
A flotilla of swordfish.
A glint of goldfish. Of course!
A herd of seahorses. What else?
A party of rainbow fish. Well, naturally!
A school of cod.
A shiver of sharks. Doo doo da doo! I must tell my grandchildren so that they can add it to the “Baby shark” song!
A shoal of mackerel.
A squad of squid. Nice! Football players?
A swarm of dragonet fish. What is a dragonet fish?
A troupe of shrimp. Heading for the stage or the circus?

Even if these were invented by someone, I particularly like a glint of goldfish. And, anyway, expressions have to be invented sometime.

Maybe these should be on the national curriculum. All SATs should include a section on collective nouns. Well, it makes as much sense as some of the stuff kids are tested on. And they could be included in tests for “Britishness”. Again, it makes as much sense as some of the stuff people are asked about. Oh, and proverbs should be included as well! There is a scene in the film “Amélie” where a young man is tested on his knowledge of proverbs as a checking if he is a nice person!

I read this morning about about a study carried out to find out people’s attitudes to immigration. Four out of ten people, it seems, believe multiculturalism undermines British Culture, whatever that is. Perhaps they mean knowledge of proverbs and collective nouns!

Here’s an interesting fact:

“The study found that people in large cities were the most likely to be positive about immigration, with scores declining as settlements became smaller, with rural residents the least positive.”

Which just shows that people are often scared of what they don’t know.

Also in the paper at the weekend, cookery writer Jay Rayner had a little rant about how boring it is to eat nothing but the food of one particular region or country. Britain is often sneered at, he says, for not having a rich, individual cuisine such as other countries have, but what makes British food so interesting, he maintains, is that we have assimilated so many other cuisines.

That’s what multiculturalism does for you!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

A bit of hostility!

All the nasty stories are being spread around about the post-Brexit possible no-deal situation:-

  •  The uk driving license may not be valid in Europe. 
  •  If your passport has less than 6 months left on it you might not be allowed into europe. 
  •  You might have to pay ridiculous roaming charges on your mobile phone once again. 
  •  You might need a visa for every visit you make to Europe. 
  •  Life might get really difficult for British people living in Europe, problems with pensions and all sorts of stuff. 
Why, oh, why is Europe being so mean to us? That’s another question Inhear quite a lot.

And then you hear stories like this one  about a Russian married to a German who wants to visit his daughter, who has official residency on the UK, because she has recently had a baby. So he sent off all the paperwork he had been told was necessary to get permission to enter the UK, including his marriage certificate. And then he was told that as he had not included photos of bis wedding 30+ hears ago they did not believe he was really married to an EU citizen and had made it all up.

Entry to the UK denied!

Now, if that is not a hostile environment then I am a Dutchman! And does it not explain some hostility from the EU in return?

And even if, as Sadiq Khan and others are calling for, we have a fresh referendum and vote to stay in Europe, maybe the damage has been done.

And perhaps we have broken the whole thing irrevocably.

Of course the EU has things wrong with it but it allowed rather magical family combinations where a Russian could be married to a German, have a daughter living in the Uk and a grandchild who could well turn out to be a British citizen.

And I just feel rather sad that a degree of freedom has probably disappeared from our lives and that my grandchildren are going to have more restricted horizons than the ones I grew up with.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Some things about language learning.

I am having a go at learning Greek with the Michel Thomas method. Many famous people have used this method, which worked very well for me for learning Italian and quite well for Portuguese. I need to take the Portuguese to a higher level to really assess how well it has worked. But for now I am trying Greek, prior to a trip to Greece next month.

The method involves listening to recorded material which introduces you to various elements of language and then asks you to put them together in simple, and then increasingly complex, sentences. The constant repetition and reviewing helps the language go in. The recording includes two “students” who have a go at the tasks set by the teacher. The listener joins in as a third student and can pause the recording to try to complete before checking with the recording. The two recorded students serve to ask questions the listener might plausibly raise.

I am not sure if the two students on the Greek course are the same as on the Portuguese course. They sound very similar. If they are the same, then these two must be polyglots by now!

At the point I reached yesterday the cd teacher introduced us to the Greek equivalent of the French “n’est-ce pas” or the Spanish “no” at the end of a statement. This is the expression used at the end of a statement to confirm it: You don’t like eggs, do you? You go on holiday a lot, don’t you? You are English, aren’t you? In English we have a whole range of questions, but other languages make do with one all-purpose expression. This can lead to some confusion; we have a Spanish friend who insists on using “not” in English in the same way as he uses “no” in Spanish. For example: It’s a lovely day, not? That was a nice meal, not? We keep explaining it but he always forgets. Bad habits become ingrained very easily!

Anyway, on the Greek recording one “student” asked for a repeat of the explanation. The teacher was floundering a little when the other “student” suddenly said, “Oh! It’s Greek for “innit?” The Greek teacher was delighted and enthused over how well he had explained the expression.

And I am afraid my heart kind of sank. I first encountered “innit” when I worked in a college with a high percentage Indian and Pakistani student intake. I was at first amused at their use of “innit?, a contraction of “isn’t it?”. Gradually I started to hear it more and more. It became a standard part of young-people speak. But until now I never heard it used by sensible grown-up people. Things have moved on, clearly, if I am hearing it on a language learning course.

 “Innit? has gone from young people’s slang, and originally young Asian male slang in my experience, into everyday use, has it? Or perhaps I should say “innit”?

This language learning stuff is important. Many people apparently think that the ability to speak English is an integral part of being British. Apparently it is an important requirement when you apply for British citizenship. I can think of people I have come across, people born and brought up here, people of long-established British families, whose standard of English leaves a fair amount to be desired. The same thing applies to questions about British culture. If they set me a test on Coronation Street and Eastenders, I would fail. Would they throw me out as a consequence?

The problem with a big emphasis on use of the English language is that it can give rise to racism. I read that the UK’s 2011 Census included questions about language for the first time. The results showed that 138,000 UK residents (0.3% of the population) reported that they could not speak any English. Apparently some of the press reporting on this ignored the 99.7% who answered that they could speak English and printed headlines along the lines of “Migrants shun the English language”. Some people only see the headline and don’t read the detail!

Politicians declaring that immigrants to the Uk should be “made” to speak English don’t help matters.

Personally, I would be interested to know how many of the British who live in Spain or France speak the language of the country where they have chosen to live!

Friday, 14 September 2018

Educational visits.

My Italian friend and teacher put a request out in Facebook to other language teachers asking if anyone knows of good agencies that coordinate sixth form trips abroad. She wants to,take her A Level Italian students to Venice for Carnevale.

It’s a lovely idea. You make your students read and learn about these events and it strikes you that it would be wonderful for them to experience them first hand.

But then, I find myself thinking, maybe she hasn’t seen this article about the problems in Venice with their attitude towards tourists. Venice, like Barcelona and Prague and other cities that have become popular weekend tourist breaks and destinations for stag/hen parties, is suffering from a tourist glut.

It’s one of the strange things about the modern world that what once seemed like a huge benefit - in this case tourists coming and spending money in your city - gradually turns into a negative thing.

And Air b’n’b hasn’t helped at all.

That’s another thing that was a brilliant idea that has turned out to have a downside. It no doubt works really well for tourists looking for cheap accommodation close to city centres but it’s pricing ordinary working people out of the cities. Young people can’t afford to live independently in the places they were born and grew up in, or where they have found work and sometimes families are being evicted from flats they have lived in for years so that the owners can make money out of casual holiday lets.

Getting back to the Venice trip question, I wonder about visiting at carnival time. We visited Venice a couple of times, ten years or so ago now and found it quite crowded even at relatively quiet times of the year. In fact, reading the article I linked to earlier, we reflected that we had been at the right time. Now it must be hard to move around the city. And at carnival time it will be impossible.

It’s a bit like thinking about visiting Pamplona in Spain and deciding to go during the San Fermines so that you can see the running of the bulls. Okay, I exaggerate a little!

The thing is that I have organised student visits abroad and know how hard it is to be responsible for a bunch of teenagers who all want to do their own thing. Taking a bunch of teenage girls in strappy tops around the market in Malaga was fun. The catcalls from the stall holders, even though expressing appreciation of my girls’ feminine charms, were quite something!

On the other hand, maybe my friend should organise her Venice trip before Brexit makes that kind of educational visit even more difficult.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Fighting for fairness!

According to Gordon Brown we are staggering towards another world financial crisis. Well, he has been Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer so I suppose he might know a thing or two. Although, being an important person in a government doesn’t necessarily mean that you know much. He clearly does not think much of those in power at the moment as he says we are without leaders! 

His comments on austerity and bonuses and banks and the like got me thinking. In the past it was a regular thing for workers to receive bonuses at Christmas time. It was rather like the employers equivalent of e householder giving the postman and the milkman his “Christmas box”.

(By the way, here are some possible explanations for our calling December 26th Boxing Day:-
* A ‘Christmas Box’ in Britain is a name for a Christmas present. Boxing Day was traditionally a day off for servants and the day when they received a  ‘Christmas Box’ from the master. The servants would also go home on Boxing Day to give ‘Christmas Boxes’ to their families.
* A box to collect money for the poor traditionally and placed in Churches on Christmas day and opened the next day - Boxing Day.
* Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. Were the voyage a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor. )

The Christmas bonus for the ordinary worker has disappeared. Was it thought to be condescending? Did employers just become too mean to pay the bonuses? Who knows?

It used to be the case in Spain that in certain, maybe all the “funcionarios”, state employees, would receive a double salary in December, to pay for Christmas and, in some cases a double salary again in June, presumably to pay for summer holidays. I wonder if that is still so. Somehow I doubt it.

Nowadays the only people who seem to receive bonuses are bankers and CEOs of big companies. All of them, of course, are people who earn enough money not to need bonuses, and as a rule the bonuses are ridiculously huge! No wonder the world seems unfair! 

Talking of unfairness, here a few stories.

Earlier this year I heard of restaurants, especially the kind of family-run restaurants you find frequently in Spain, suffering from “sinpa”, short for “sin pagar”, which means without paying. People would eat and drink and then disappear without paying, especially if eating outside on the terrace. Wel, in Los Angeles a certain Paul Guadalupe Gonzales put his own spin on this practice.

He became known as the dine-and-dash dater because he would get to know women online, offer to treat them to a meal in a top class restaurant and then half way through the meal go off to answer an important phone call or simply to go to the loo, and not come back. His dates were left to foot the bill.

However, as he was seemingly more interested in food than in women he never tried to hide his identity. He has just been sentenced to a couple of years in prison. If the prison food in the Los Angeles areas is any good, maybe it was all a ploy to get all his meals for free.

Then there are the Rees-Mogg children who have been harassed by activists, who shouted at them that people hated their daddy and things of that ilk. No matter what your opinion of Rees-Mogg, and mine is not high, it’s not on to traumatise his children. The youngest one is already going to suffer from having the silly name of Sixtus!

Similarly, the “other woman” in the Boris Johnson divorce case has been getting some very sexist coverage in the press. They have apparently trawled through her social media to find the most embarrassing photos possible, feeding the public’s desire for a little titillation. Now, personally I can’t understand what she saw in the man to begin with, but it’s none of our business and she should be left in peace.

Women MPs, both Tory and Labour, have written an open letter protesting about it.

 Good for them! Combat unfairness wherever you find it!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

About online violent games and family connections.

Helen in the Archers has been getting very agitated about her small son Henry having been allowed by his uncle to play violent, shoot-‘em-up games on the computer, against his mother’s wishes, as his uncle was fully aware. Henry is probably about seven or eight years old, old enough to be aware of computer games but not, in my opinion anyway, old enough to be playing shoot-em-up games. But then I am a bit old fashioned in that respect.

Helen in the Archers wants to shield Henry from the violence of the world. After all he has seen enough domestic violence to traumatise a little chap. So her reaction, while a little on the extreme side - she stopped talking to her brother for a while and banned his access to his nephew - is understandable.

In the real world, meanwhile, Kirstie Allsopp has been in the news, well, on social media news, for her answer to the problem of her children being somewhat addicted to an online game called Fortnite. This game apparently involves players teaming up with other players to build massive forts and do battle against hordes of monsters. This sounds better than the kind of games where they seem to reenact real battle scenes with people, but not having seen it I could not really comment.

Anyway, Kirstie Alsopp’s offspring did not keep to the house rules about playing time and so she smashed their iPads! A bit extreme! Of course, you have to have a certain level of income before both your kids can have their own iPad and even more so that you can think of breaking them without qualms because the kids don’t obey the rules.

She posted something about it on twitter and received a whole lot of criticism in return, all about what a bad example that was, showing kids that violence is a way of ending an argument, etc, etc. She had so much criticism that she withdrew from twitter!

Now, I had no idea who Kirstie Allsopp was and I had to go on the internet to find out. She’s television presenter of such shows as “Location, Location, Location. That explains why I have not heard of her.

It turns out she is the daughter of a baron and could be referred to as The Honourable! Titles all over the show! That sort of family gives you connections to this and that. Consequently she worked for Country Living magazine and Food and Homes Magazine as well as working for her mother's business, Hindlip & Prentice Interiors, and studying at Christie's. We could all study at Christies of we had a family connection, couldn’t we.

In 1996 she set up her own company, focusing on top end purchases in Central and West London. And then along came the fad for programmes about houses on television and there she was, ready to be a presenter.

But the likes of me never watch her stuff. Neither do I play online games!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Some of the oddness of the world! Or the country, anyway!


In the article:-

Britain’s glorious summer is set to make a return this weekend with temperatures soaring up to the mid-20s and sunshine expected throughout Saturday. Barbecues could be dusted off once more with London and the south east expected to enjoy a bright and warm Saturday, the Met Office has said.

A little further in the article:-

 “You can almost split the country into three bands on Tuesday,” said Ms Diamond. “In Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England, there will be occasional sunshine but mainly cloudy with showers. In Wales and the Midlands, it will be cloudy with just a scattering of rain and some breaks of sunshine. And in the south, it will be bright and warm with occasional cloud cover.”

So when they write UK, or Britain, or England, at least in weather forecasts, they really mean London and the South East!

To give the lie to the whole thing though, today in our bit of the Northwest, began grey and gloomy, after a night of intermittent rain showers - rain on the roof can’t half disturb your sleep - but by early afternoon had turned into a fine, sunny day. No complaints!

Meanwhile, here is something about a proposal to make it easier for the people who absolutely have to walk along the street using their mobile phones:-

 “If we are thinking about injury prevention and the dominant ‘safe system’ approach used within road safety, there is actually a strong case for redesigning infrastructure over relying on other methods of changing behaviour.” So says Shaun Helman, chief transportation scientist at the Transport Research Laboratory.

But what particular problem could he be addressing? Cyclists taking their lives in their hands every time they mount their bikes? Drivers who sit in the middle lane of motorways, steadfastly going no quicker or slower than 50mph, thereby causing other drivers to tear their hair out?

No - Mr Helman is addressing those zombies who are glued to their mobile phones, to the discomfiture of anyone else within 15ft. You know the sort - there they go, faces glued to their little screens, oblivious to anyone who might actually want to be getting somewhere, except Mr Numpty has just received a vital message and must stop in his tracks, causing an inevitable collision and dudgeon from Mr Numpty that you have tail-ended him.

Yet far from taking a well-justified cudgel to the back of Mr Numpty’s head for his selfish behaviour, it seems there might be a nannyish solution, namely embedding strips of red lights on kerbs to tell mobile phone users to stop at junctions or special lanes on pavements marked as “text walking lanes”.

Has the world really come to this, that pedestrians with a seriously bad phone habit have to be cosseted and mollycoddled? Far better to have a bloke with a loudhailer, at busy places, ready to bellow: “Oi, you, the selfish halfwit, watch where you are bloody well going. Do try acting like a human being and put that phone back in your pocket.”

Failing that, I shall insist on my democratic right to barge into these plonkers and cause maximum annoyance. You have been warned, Mr Numpty.”

The world is just a little bit crazy!

Monday, 10 September 2018

Avoiding bad news and being happy!

I am attempting to avoid the bad news items in the papers: anything about Boris Johnson, the ongoing is-it-or-isn’t-it-antisemitism? question, and the growing popularity of right wing parties all over the place. Watching TV news last night I almost wept to hear a Swedish journalist ranting about the invasion of her country by immigrants. Because the interview was being filmed as they walked along a street, they kept being interrupted by people who wanted to give their opinions, both for and against immigration, in astoundingly good English.

In a similar sItuation television reporters in this country would be unlikely to be interrupted by a series of fluent speakers of French or German or Spanish, let alone Swedish.

So, as a distraction technique I have been focussing on more light hearted items.

Somebody called Gerrard Gethings went around Britain looking for 50 canine-human lookalikes with characteristics – mostly hair, sometimes eyes – in common. Interestingly the project was originally commissioned as a card game, presumably a matching pairs game of some kind, and will be released 10 September. Here is a link to photos of some of the couples.

In the Observer Magazine yesterday, on the “Beauty Spot” page I found this little gem:-

“Unfairest of them all?
A voice-controlled mirror that analyses your flaws has been labelled ‘dangerous’ by mental-health campaigners. The HiMirror Mini (£239, claims to offer results similar to a clinical skin analysis, and includes contouring and eyebrow-shaping tutorials.”

Personally, I feel that anyone who spends, or even contemplates spending, £239 on a mirror already has mental health issues.

And then there is this item by someone called Brad Rassler who attended a course in California (where else?) on happiness. It gave links to advice on keeping a journal of “three good things” which occurred every and avoiding the four horsemen in relationships - criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

So we have Dr Steve Peters, sports psychologist, telling us about our inner chimp and now Berkeley, California going on about four horsemen. Emotional life is just one big metaphor.

Here’s a sample of the advice on happiness. This one is entitled “Random Acts of Kindness”, which sound to me like bits of ordinary everyday life. But maybe that’s just me. Here’s the sample:-

Varies depending on your acts of kindness. Could be anywhere from several minutes to several hours.

One day this week, perform five acts of kindness—all five in one day. It doesn’t matter if the acts are big or small, but it is more effective if you perform a variety of acts. The acts do not need to be for the same person—the person doesn’t even have to be aware of them. Examples include feeding a stranger's parking meter, donating blood, helping a friend with a chore, or providing a meal to a person in need.
After each act, write down what you did in at least one or two sentences; for more of a happiness boost, also write down how it made you feel.”

Wow! By the time you have completed your random acts of kindness and counted up your three good things and written it all down in a journal and reflected on how you feel, you won’t have any time left to wonder if you are happy or not!

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Some stuff about cats.

Years ago, well, about nine years ago, a friend of mine came to visit us in Vigo. Among other things, we strolled through the old quarter, a rather run-down old quarter, in need of renovation, a prime site for gentrification if someone had the money to invest. Since then renovation work has taken place but it still has a long way to go.

However, renovation of the old quarter is not what I had in mind today. During our stroll, my friend took some appealing photos of cats sitting on the top of bits of tumbling-down buildings. Looking very cute, of course, but these were feral cats.

There were lots of them!

On another occasion, at around the same time, a Spanish friend of mine told me, with wry amusement, about the day she helped an elderly lady pull her shopping trolley up a slope on the edge of the town centre. She thought, quite understandably, the old lady was heading for home and my friend was doing her good deed for the day. Towards the top of the slope the old lady asked her to stop. They were outside a derelict site, probably another bit if the old quarter. Surely the old lady did not live there! Of course not! The old lady opened her shopping bags, took our bowls and tins of cat food and proceeded to dish it out for the stray/feral cats which came running. My friend, less than impressed, invented an excuse and left her to it.

I was reminded of this when I came across this article in today’s Observer magazine, all about a couple who run a cat sanctuary on the Greek island of Syros. They advertised on social media for someone to help run the place: housing provided, a car, a salary of £450 a month and a view of the Aegean. For that they wanted some skills: cat-whispering, feline psychology and some veterinary experience.

The name of the place says it all: “God’s Little People Cat Rescue”.

You can probably guess that I would not have applied, not in a month of Sundays, not even for a free house in Greece. 35,000 people disagree with me. The couple have had to employ assistants to go through the applications.

Now, almost everywhere I have travelled in Spain and Italy I have come across colonies of feral cats. Certainly in Spain if people have pet cats they seem to be indoor animals. None of the roaming round that British pet cats get up to and then go home for dinner. Once long ago, my Spanish niece, then about six years old, saw a cat approaching along a wall near my parent’s home in Southport. My children would have gone to stroke it. Her reaction was to back off, declaring, “Es un gato salvaje!” - “It’s a wild cat!”

But I have never come across such colonies of feral cats in the UK. Do they not exist? I have I simply not been to the parts of cities where the wild cats hang out?

So I googled it.

And I found this from 2012:

“Increasing numbers of pet owners are being forced to abandon their animals because they can no longer afford to keep them in the economic crisis. Startling new figures show that the UK is being overrun by an unprecedented number of stray cats as owners can't afford to neuter their animals or care for their litters.
Meanwhile, many owners have become amateur breeders to supplement their income which has caused an explosion in the cat population.”

A more recent appeal asked us to “Support the rescue, rehabilitation and rehoming of cats across England and Wales by sponsoring our cat pods. Put £6.50 a month towards our work with cats and receive regular updates on how you're helping.
With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats - more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined - they need our support more than ever.”

And from this year, I think, I found this:

“Colonies of wild cats, totalling about 200 across six main sites, have been springing up around the Wycombe district since summer. There have been as many as 30 animals in each location. Despite a plea going nationwide after a Bucks Free Press article in August was picked up by BBC television and radio and various national newspapers South Bucks RSPCA is still in dire need of volunteers to help its operation. 
Spokesman Pat Edgar said: "Despite all this fantastic publicity only around half-a-dozen local volunteers came forward and the charity is still desperately seeking more help.
"A neutering programme is currently being undertaken with the aim of controlling and reducing the feral cat population.
"Volunteers are needed to work as part of the team humanely trapping the cats, taking them to a local vet for a health check and neutering, and later returning them to the site or onward for homing on farms.
"If a kitten can be trapped and brought into the charity’s care before its six weeks old, there is a good chance of being able to socialise the animal and re-homing it into a loving household as a domestic pet.
"Left longer, it will probably remain feral for life."”

So, there it is: a feline problem of which I was blissfully unaware!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

We are what people think we are. Sometimes anyway.

The actor Burt Reynolds has died at the age of 82, apparently working-almost to the end on a Quentin Tarantino film. In the news item informing us of this I read; “Reynolds, who famously turned down the roles of James Bond and Han Solo, never-the-less forged a film career that marked him out as a singular talent.”

How curious, I thought to myself, that success should be judged on whether or not one had played James Bond or Han Solo.

Similarly, Alec Guinness, who has played all sorts of roles, seems to be known nowadays as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars films. And Sir Ian McKellen is forever Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. And so a whole acting career is reduced to one role! Curious indeed!

 It can happen to more ordinary mortals as well. At one point in my teaching career I did the training and got the certificate to teach GNVQ, vocational courses. I did this with the idea that the GNVQ coordinator in my college would introduce Language Units to the advanced level courses in Business and Travel and Tourism. However, when the courses got going, the Language Units were put on hold and I found myself shanghaied into teaching, or “delivering” as the jargon had it, foundation level units in Travel and Tourism. As if I knew anything about customer service and marketing and such like! I suppose I knew more than the foundation level students!

When a new member of staff joined the team it must have taken almost a year for her to realise that I was not a Travel and Tourism teacher who also taught A-Level Spanish on the side, but a Spanish teacher who, always rather grudgingly, taught Travel and Tourism on the side.

So it goes!

By the way, here is a link to what the estimable Hadley Freeman has to say about Burt Reynolds.

In the ongoing debate about mobile phones and mass media, President Macron has introduced measures to prevent French schoolchildren from using their phones during the school day. I wonder why it took him so long. It seems to me perfectly obvious that they should switch their phones off in school. Some of the youngsters found it rather refreshing to actually TALK to their friends instead of constantly texting them. Others felt that they had been deprived of a topic of conversation as they spend a lot of time comparing snapchat and instagram photos and felt that they should be allowed to do this during breaks at school. Isn’t it rather sad that some of them regard that as the mainstay of their conversation? Not even what-I-saw-on-tv or the latest films and music. I am discounting totally topics like books and current affairs. Anyway, here is a link to an article about it.

And finally, here is a link to an article about yet another really bad restoration job on religious artwork in Spain. That makes three! My mother always told me that things went in threes: accidents, broken glasses, buses coming along when you have been waiting for ages. And now, making a mess of ancient religious artefacts.

One thing in favour of the bad restorers: at least they care enough about the works to want to try to improve them.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Some odd things I have come across.

A friend of mine found some statistics about parliamentary motions condemning anti-Semitism. On average a very small percentage of MPs supported them all but the man accused of anti-Semitism supported all of them. Quite a good record, you might think.

It’s a little bit of truth that some people won’t face up to.

If you say something often enough, even if it’s arrant nonsense, it becomes an accepted “truth”. We see it all the time!

(Just look at the Novichok story. It MUST be the Russians!  

Here’s a post from James Melville that comments on that and the Brexit nonsense:-

“Theresa May has confirmed that thanks to the EU, Britain has obtained an European Arrest Warrant to arrest the Russian Novichok suspects. Phew, just in the nick of time. In a few months time, Britain won’t be able to do this.”

No comment on that!)

And Tony Blair has accepted the anti-Semitism story, hook, line and sinker. In an interview he “said he could not imagine the antisemitism row taking place “in the Labour party that I joined”. “I can’t imagine that we have had three to four months debating over something where we have profoundly insulted the Jewish community in our country,” Blair said.”

I am currently reading “The Untold History of the United States” by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. In the introduction, which talks a lot about the USA’s empire building, at one point they write about the depression at the end of the 19th century, triggered by the financial panic on Black Friday, May 5th 1893. Here’s a sample:

 “The nation debated the depression’s causes and sought ways to avoid future economic collapse. Those who believed that the 1893 depression resulted from overproduction argued that the United States needed more markets abroad to absorb its growing surplus. Socialists, trade unionists and reformers, on the other hand, believed that the 1890s crisis resulted from underconsumption and proposed a different solution: redistributing wealth at home so that working people could afford to buy the products of American farms and factories.”

Amazingly, surprisingly, few capitalists endorsed that approach! They wanted to keep their wealth, even if they had more than they knew what to do with.

Over a hundred years ago and still the same problems!

Thursday, 6 September 2018

On coffee and clutter.

Sitting in the Aroma Cafe at Rochdale infirmary, waiting while Phil undergoes what they assure us is a routine procedure, I buy a flat white, the nearest thing I can find to a reasonable cup of coffee. It even comes in a fairly normal sized cup. What I cannot fathom is why such drinks are always served at mouth-scalding temperature. At least in the hospital it only cost me £1.60? Much more reasonable than many coffee outlets in this country.

But this is still a far cry from the continental coffee habit of popping into a cafe, downing a quick coffee at the counter and going on your way. I don’t think that will ever come into practice here.

Funnily enough I am pretty sure there are pubs, somebody’s local, where people drop in for a quick half, drink it at the bar and go on their way.

Different countries and different habits!

The other day Phil commented, in frustration at not laying his hands quickly enough on the shirt he wanted to wear, that he has too many clothes. So yesterday I pulled ALL his clothes out of the wardrobe and made him decide what was for keeping. Failing that, I would take an executive decision and throw almost everything out. And so we ended up with a couple of bags of stuff still in good condition but which he never intends to wear, (However did it occur to me that might wear linen trousers or a linen jacket? Just not his thing at all!) which will make its way to the charity shop. And then there was a mound of stuff for simply throwing out: stuff kept out of inertia, or in case it came in useful to wear when gardening or decorating!

And suddenly all the stuff he wants to wear in accessible with ease.

It was quite cathartic! It must be time I did it again with my stuff as it must be almost a year since I went through it all.

All of us end up cluttered up with belongings.

I really should go through the kitchen cupboards and give away to a good home the various pots and dishes bought on impulse and rarely, if ever, used.

Earlier thhis year I carried out a similar procedure with collections of photos. Pictures of Christmas trees from twenty years ago serve no useful purpose, especially when they all look the same and you can’t tell one year from another. Ditto pictures of cute lambs in fields!

My phone forces me to do this from time to time as it starts to tell me that the storage is almost full. And there I was, thinking it was almost infinite! So I have deleted stacks of messages from the dentist or the hairdresser, reminding me of the time of my appointment, routine messages about where to meet people and other non-essential clutter.

Decluttering is the name of the game!

Now I need to pluck up courage and attack the VAST collection of books!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Some thoughts about food.

This morning I did my usual Wednesday run to Uppermill to buy fresh fish and some fruit and veg from the Wednesday morning market. My quest for tasty apples (I am very picky about apples) was rewarded with a hybrid apple from the fruit and veg man. He is my usual source of Coxes apples at this time of year but the apples on his stall, although they had a Coxes look about them didn’t quite convince me. So I asked and was informed that they are a Coxes cross. He wasn’t sure what they were crossed with and told me that they grower has not yet decided on a name for the resulting fruit. However, he assured me that they were tasty and so I bought a few to try. Sampled in our late breakfast, they proved to be a good buy.

Here’s something I found about sweet hummus, a concept I find rather odd:

“There is, it has to be said, something slightly unappealing about the thought of sweet hummus. Chickpeas are a natural bedfellow for tahini, garlic and cumin. But chocolate? Mixed berries? Banoffee? It would help if Harry Tyndall had a rootsy backstory with which to sell his sweet hummus – if he were reviving an ancient Levantine dessert, say, or had been handed down a family recipe through 17 generations. But no – when he first had the idea, he struggled to find others who had tried anything similar (one US company, Delighted By Hummus, served as inspiration with its chocolate, vanilla and snickerdoodle flavours). His company, Hou Loves Hou, is the first to sell sweet hummus in the UK. Could the hot fudge brownies and creme brulees of this world really be defeated by hummus?

Actually, Tyndall hopes to disrupt the spread market – compared with jams, nut butters and chocolate spreads, Hou is healthier, boasting lower sugar and saturated fat content, thanks to its virtuous chickpea base. Still, sweet hummus … would you put that in your mouth? I gamely opened the first of three nicely branded tubs (£2.99 for a 180g pot). All are smooth in texture, but the chocolate Hou is especially thick, thanks to the coconut milk included in its ingredients.”

But there it is. In the modern world there is a tendency to make everything sweeter. Our taste buds are trained from an early stage to prefer sweet over savoury.

The article continued:

“Health is Tyndall’s main concern. He had a reckless youth, microwaving whole tubs of Ben & Jerry’s and drinking them as smoothies. Now 30, he suffers from kidney stones and gout, possibly as a consequence. He had to reinvent his diet – no red meat, no red wine and definitely no ice-cream smoothies – and that is where the idea for Hou came from. He is especially excited about entering the children’s market; I can confirm that my two-year-old was particularly enthusiastic about the mixed berry flavour, shouting “more hummus” repeatedly in a way that definitely wouldn’t sound sickeningly middle-class if aired in public. Plus, the team behind Hou will be pleased to hear that, with no prior chickpea associations embedded in her head, she had no problem putting it in her mouth.”

Now, the two-year-old in our family eats with delight ordinary, plain, old-fashioned hummus without needing to have chocolate or fruit flavours added. And we don’t feel “sickeningly middle class’ about it.

Personally I have just discovered beetroot hummus, which is interesting, but I prefer the original version.

I have also recently discovered almond butter. I have never been a fan of peanut butter, even though I could eat peanuts until they come out of my ears, but almond butter, no added sugar or artificial flavourings, thank you, I find very good spread on my morning toast.
On the subject of almonds, I found this stuff about almond milk, one of the trendy substitutes for proper milk from cows:

““But what people don’t know is the environmental damage almond plantations are doing in California, and the water cost. It takes a bonkers 1,611 gallons (7,323 litres) to produce 1 litre of almond milk,” says the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s Pete Hemingway. Over 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, which has been in severe drought for most of this decade. Hemingway describes a situation in which farmers are ripping up relatively biodiverse citrus groves to feed rocketing demand for almonds, creating a monoculture fed by increasingly deep water wells that threaten statewide subsidence issues. That leaves rather a bad taste in the mouth.”

Here’s a link to the article that came from, an article about sustainable eating, or indeed sustainable living.

You could go crazy thinking about how to organise your life, your eating habits and all the rest. In the end, I suppose, what we need to do is eat sensibly.

Moderation in all things!

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Getting in tune!

At the Paul Simon concert in Hyde Park in July my sister and I sang along with the best of them. At one point a chap standing just in front of us, with whom we had had a bit of conversation already, turned and said to me, “You have a beautiful singing voice”. I thanked him for the compliment (at least, it sounded like a compliment, not an ironic comment!) and tried not to show my surprise. We laughed about it later as my sister and I swapped stories of music lessons where we were advised to sing quietly or not at all. But it’s hard to be at a concert in a park and hear songs you love and not sing along with everyone else!

When she was small, our eldest granddaughter used to sing along to songs by Ana Belén and Rosa León in Spanish. She had no idea what she was singing. But then, when she snag along to songs in English there were signs that she had no idea what they were about either; “I need a miracle” became “I’m in America”, a concept that made much more sense to a three year old. But her Spanish was delightful. This was just one of the consequences of spending time in the kitchen with me.

As she grew older my brother-in-law started taking her to folk music concerts. She became almost friendly with the folk singer Cara Dillon. She even dabbled with learning to play the tin whistle, the guitar and the keyboard but she was a little too dilettante to persevere properly. And she heard a range of music at our house, especially “music to wash up by”, usually something lively from the sixties. Consequently, as a teenager and now a young adult, she has always had a broad taste in music and knows artists others her age have never heard of.

She too sings Paul Simon songs.

I have no idea what her younger sister listens to. She wears her headphones and clearly listens to something but she doesn’t talk about her music with the passion shown by her older sister. In fact, she doesn’t talk about her music at all.

Her younger brother shares his music with all of us by having the volume turned up too loud. He is thirteen and seems to listen to rap and beatbox (at least I think that’s what it is), stuff with a doomph a doomph beat and incomprehensible, to me anyway, lyrics. But then he also gets sentimental about slow ballads on the car radio. So it goes.

Our four year old granddaughter, cousin to the three mentioned above, has always sung, in the car, playing her games, out and about. She makes her own sings up, sings songs from films like “Frozen” and has gone through the nursery rhymes learnt at preschool: “The wheels on the bus”, “incey wincey spider”, “Twinkle, twinkle little star” and so on. The other day she sang, or rather, recited, for me a version of the “Three bears” story which she had learnt for her “graduation day” from preschool. (Don’t even let me start to talk about my feelings on “graduation days”, “graduation ceremonies” and so on for four year olds!!!)

Now she has progressed to songs like “You are my sunshine”, complete with a whole set of actions. But the most surprising in her range of show tunes is “I love Paris in the springtime”. She knows all the words and ends with a hand on heart emotional “because my love is here!” Where did she learn that?

Our youngest grandchild is mostly still at the “Row, row, row the boat!” stage but I noticed that we were getting a lot of “doo doo, doo doo doo doo”. With a lot of arm waving as well. Puzzled, I asked my daughter what this was all about. “Oh, it’s Baby Shark”, she told me, as though that explained it all. It turned out to be a kids’ song on youtube from South Korea which has gone pretty viral and made it into the UK top 40. Here is a link to the song.   And here is a link to a Guardian writer’s exasperated opinion of it.  I love his description : “The Baby Shark song and dance video has had more than 1.6bn views on YouTube, by the simple expedient of creating something that sounds as if it was designed specifically to make adults want to yank their own teeth out with rusty pliers.”

So how does a two year old know this! Easy! She has teenage siblings who find it amusing to show her stuff like that on their iPhones and she loves to join in. Very little encouragment is needed to make a child show off!

Now, according to this article, with the right app on your phone you can dress in tune with your musical tastes. So goodness knows how my grandchildren should all dress.

As for me, I already have a hat rather like Leonard Cohen’s trilby - or is it a fedora - so I reckon I am already sorted.