Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Looking back - looking forward!

2019 seems to be ending with a set of fine, sunny days. I was going to say it is a bright end to a rather miserable year but that would not really be true.

On the political front, yes it has been miserable. Although not everyone would necessarily agree with me. As promises are broken and cuts continue to bite, maybe they will change their minds.

But on the whole, on the personal front, it has not been a bad year at all. We’ve had some interesting trips to Spain and Portugal. Phil has won prizes at chess congresses. My friend Dee and I had a spectacular trip to Cuba and Phil and I had an equally but differently spectacular trip to Sicily. We’ve acquired a new grandson, now a smiling 3.5 months old, and we’ve seen our offspring and their offspring over this Christmas holiday without any fights or arguments or other trauma. All good!

This article about what the future might be like begins thus:- “In 2004, when the year 2020 sounded futuristic”. Oh boy, the writer must still be quite young. I can remember when 1984 seemed like the far future - an odd dystopia that we thought could never happen. And then we watched 2001, A Space Odyssey and wondered at how far away that year seemed. The article goes on to point out all the predictions we got wrong and thinks about what life might be like in 2050, by which date I will either be phenomenally old or simply not around to see it.

But let’s not get maudlin and depressed about all this. There’s still plenty to enjoy.

On The Archers - surely the longest-running soap opera in the history of the world - I remember listening to it with my mother, for goodness sake! - three young people are running a project to “re-wild” Ambridge. Re-wilding is the buzzword of the moment. Now I read this:-

“Half of the nation’s farmland needs to be transformed into woodlands and natural habitat to fight the climate crisis and restore wildlife, according to a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government. Prof Sir Ian Boyd said such a change could mean the amount of cattle and sheep would fall by 90%, with farmers instead being paid for storing carbon dioxide, helping prevent floods and providing beautiful landscapes where people could boost their health and wellbeing.”

There you go! Paying farmers to do nothing! But a good idea. A universal basic income would make the whole idea fairer though.

Here is more of his thinking.

Meanwhile some people are concerned about what will happen to English in the EU after we leave, always assuming that we manage to do so smoothly.

We shall see! Tomorrow is another year!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Thoughts and activities on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

Fashion trends come and go. Some of them come around again and again. I have stuff in my wardrobe that can come out again now as those particular items are no back in fashion. Vintage shops do a roaring trade. However, one fashion idea that somehow I don’t think will catch on again is the codpiece. This article shows some of the wonderfully ridiculous pieces of clothing that have been invented to incorporate the codpiece. But perhaps it was trendy just too long ago to make a real come-back. After all the 16th century was a long time ago.

I wore much more sensible clothing to be out and about today. And I seem to have been out and about quite a lot. I got up bright and early, well, too early to use my bus-pass, and set off to walk to Uppermill and visit the baker’s shop. From there, enough time having gone past to mean I could now travel for free, I caught a bus to our local Tesco store. I was on a mission to buy ingredients for a dish I am going to cook and then transport to a friend’s house tomorrow evening.

Twenty years ago, a good friend of ours decided to celebrate his 50th birthday, which fell on Millennium Eve, with a party for a select group of friends. We all stood outside in the cold at midnight and watched fireworks all around our town - his house is on one of the high spots of the town. And so a tradition was born and every New Year’s Eve the same friends got together and celebrated a birthday and a new year in one. Time passed. One of our number died of cancer. We got together and drank a toast to her memory. Then, just under five years ago, the instigator of the whole thing finally succumbed to the COPD that had been making life hard for quite some time. Since then, the rest of us still celebrate his birthday, each one of us taking one dish to the feast.

That explains my early morning run to the supermarket.

Some time after I returned home, Phil and I walked onto the village to pick up a prescription for eyedrops. While we were doing this, my daughter texted me: did I fancy a walk out with her and various of her offspring? A visit to the library. A stop-off to feed the ducks.

Well, why not. My Fitbit is just going crazy about the number of steps I have taken today!!

So tomorrow, we’ll take a fancy chicken dish to an old friend’s house. Four of us will eat and drink, toast absent friends and finally wish each other a Happy New Year, trying to ignore the crazy state of our country and of the world.

Usually on the television you see the celebrations in cities around the world, as they move onto 2020 before we do and set off masses of fireworks, regardless of the environmentalists’ warnings. However, I heard something on the radio news the other day about the authorities in Sidney, Australia, seriously considering cancelling heir usually impressive display of pyromania this year. There is a strong feeling that seeing fireworks explode in the sky will be too stark a reminder of the flames that so many have seen leaping into the sky, indeed that many are still seeing today.

 Perhaps we need to rethink the whole celebration.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

As the year rushes to an end, a few thoughts.

Today and yesterday have been fine and even sunny, on and off at any rate. Good days to be out and about, bearing in mind that we have a long way go before Spring comes along.

Veganuary is about to be upon us, that New-Year’s-Resolution month, when people decide to try being vegan. It makes a change from Dryanuary, when you don’t drink. Of course, it might include that because someone is bound to come up with something in wine production that goes against vegan philosophy. I read about one ardent vegan who walks to his destination if it is doable in an hour, “to avoid accidental crashes with i sects or birds that may occur when taking a bus”. Similarly, he will not use the new bank notes as they have been manufactured using animal products. Thus he elevates a dietary thing into something akin to religion. Each to his own!

I wonder what that vegan makes of the story of Jolyon Maugham QC, a prominent Remainer lawyer, who apparently clubbed a fox to death on Boxing Day. Rather an extreme thing to do, in my view. The fox was seemingly trying to get at the chickens the lawyer keeps in his garden (it’s what foxes do) and got trapped in the netting. The lawyer phoned the RSPCA after the event. Why did he not phone them beforehand and have someone come and humanely remove the animal from the netting? Surely that was possible and a much better outcome than taking a baseball bat to the poor creature, who clearly had not managed to access the chickens.

On the radio yesterday I heard part of a programme where people talked about what had been the cultural highlight of their 2019. One person selected the Sorolla exhibition in London: a roomful of Spanish sunlight on a grey London day, she said. We saw that exhibition and I would totally agree with that assessment. I discovered Sorolla in an art gallery in Havana, Cuba, when an old friend and I went on girls’ adventure to that country. We had never heard of him before and were quite blown away. Perhaps I had never heard of him because Batista had kept so many of the paintings for himself.

I also like Goya, a much more ancient Spanish painter. Now, according to this article a whole lot of what we think are Goya works were not actually done by him. And I find myself thinking, does it really matter? If it looks like Goya’s work, if it is worth looking at, then let’s appreciate it anyway. After all the great man isn’t going to lose any money that way. And, after all again, we watch Disney cartoon and know full well he had a team of people drawing his creations for him and nobody starts to cry, “This is not Disney!”

 Okay, not on the same level of art but even so...

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Some thoughts on environmental stuff, local rules and regulations, and honours.

Like something from a science fiction story, it’s raining plastic. Well, microplastic. Fibre made from acrylic, probably from clothing, tiny particles that we breathe in and which get into our bloodstream. London has the highest level measured in any city so far. Who would choose to live in London then? And those of us who live in the very outer areas of big cities like Manchester should not be feeling smug. Particle have been found in Arctic snow and mountain soil, and deep down in the ocean. Research indicates that particles can be blown across the world. Oh, boy! It might just be too late! The stuff that made life easier is gradually taking over.

Such is modern life.

Here are some things banned by some local councils:
tree planting (really? Do people randomly plant trees? Maybe so, perhaps trying to counteract the particles!),
uprooting trees, swearing (I would support such a ban, having stood at bus stops and listened to conversations where every third or fourth word was f*** or f******, a word that was only heard in extreme expletives when I was young. What do these people say when they are REALLY annoyed? Or are they always in a state of high annoyance?),
littering (again, yes, I would support that.),
cycling “in a wanton or furious manner”
and a whole host of other stuff.

In Southend-on-Sea “sleeping in a manner which has a detrimental impact on the quality of life of others” is prohibited. This refers, of course, to rough sleeping outdoors. For a brief moment I had an image of Southend-on-Sea councillors checking on people who snored or who tossed and turned too much.

In Gateshead racing and skidding cars in carparks, known as “doughnutting” is prohibited, as is revving car engines around Manchester’s Trafford Centre.

And a surprising number of places make it illegal to “gather” in groups of two or more, apart from couples, dog walkers, runners, keep fit groups, sports teams or community groups. Oh dear, they should keep tabs on the people who “gather” outside the door of the Old Bell Inn next door to us, people who find it impossible to say goodbye to each other and block the pavement in a decidedly Spanish fashion.

While I find much of this banning and prohibiting rather amusing, deep down I am concerned that our society has come to this. Do we really feel the need to ban so many things?

It’s that time of year when honours are distributed. Elton John, already a Sir, is now part of the Order of Companions of Honour. Olivia Newton John is becoming a Dame. The winner of Bake Off, Nadiya Hussain, and the TV chef Ainsley Harriott both get MBEs.

It’s curious the different sorts of things people get honours for.

Some honours and Lordships are coming in for a bit of criticism. Here’s someone writing in the Independent:

“My family have lived in Richmond Park for 20 years and my children have attended our local state schools. I believe in our community and our local politics. But it appears our former MP, Zac Goldsmith, and our prime minister, Boris Johnson, do not.
In making Goldsmith a Lord, allowing him to continue as a government minister despite a thumping loss at the ballot box in Richmond Park, Johnson’s ludicrous branding of this Tory party as the “people’s parliament” is laid bare. The fact that both individuals are on record arguing vociferously against this kind of appointment leaves them no place to hide.
For Goldsmith to be able to sidestep democracy in this way is manifestly an abuse of power and a poisonous example of an old boys network being alive and well. It is taking back control, to coin a phrase, by the landed gentry over the revolting plebs and it should be condemned by every democrat right across the political spectrum.
Goldsmith is also not an expert – one explanation that has been used by some to defend the PM’s poor decision making in keeping him in the cabinet. If the prime minister and his advisor Dominic Cummings really want experts at the table, let them appoint a climate scientist to that role.”

 Is there perhaps a hidden agenda? Hmmm!

Friday, 27 December 2019

Public holidays. And remembering a local character.

My Spanish sister phoned yesterday. Her Spanish nephew (properly Spanish, child of her properly Spanish sister-in-law, not just Spanish by virtue os living there for forty-odd years),who has recently returned to Spain after several years working in the UK, had been complaining, she told me, because they don’t have Boxing Day in Spain. He had to go to work, whereas when he worked in England he had the day off.

My son-in-law has recently started a new job, working for Transport for Greater Manchester, and as one of the most recently appointed employees had not been able to book specific days off over the Christmas period. So he had to work on Boxing Day. Only until 4.00 in he afternoon, but still working on Boxing Day! He was also a little disgruntled, but was receiving extra payment for working anti-social hours.

The Spanish, of course, have lots of other feast days to compensate for not having Boxing Day. And then they have that habit of “making bridges” to extend the days off into the weekend if a feast day falls on a Thursday.

But I have often thought, both here and in Spain, about the people who work in bars and restaurants, as well as anything transport related, and have to work when the rest of us have days off! It always seems unfair.

Of course, for me the whole days off things is now immaterial, as all my days are days off. I do fill them up with self-imposed tasks, but that is a different matter altogether.

This morning, as most mornings, I got up and ran, this time around the village, stopping at the co-op store for milk and a couple of other items. En route I went past the local fish and chip shop, a place of some renown, as people enjoy their fish and chips. It’s a fine old building too, all black beams and whitewashed surfaces, possibly.dating back a couple of hundred years, certainly catering for shorter people than the present clientele judging by the height of the doorframe. A notice on the door said that chippy would be closed from Christmas Eve until January 4th. Jolly good for them, I thought, giving themselves a decent holiday.

Not long after I got home from my run, I received a text from my daughter, asking if I had heard that Mary from the chippy had died on  Christmas Day in the evening. Now, my daughter often gets all sorts of local news long before I do. I think she has an app on he phone, not just for national or regional news but for also local gossip. She knows when shops have been burgled and fancy cars stolen way before I do. I’m pretty sure she knows who is getting married or divorced as well.

She went on to fill me in with some background information about Mary from the Chippy, who was already an established figure in the village when we moved here in the mid 1970s. It seems that Mary was born somewhere in Ireland in 1945 and had been brought up in a Catholic orphanage. She was perhaps more fortunate, or at any rate less unfortunate, than some children in the same situation. She had musical talent, which was recognised. And so she learnt to play the violin, had singing lessons and while still of primary school age was selected to go to the United States with a group of Irish children who sang in various venues, including Carnegie Hall. She even appeared on the Ed Sullivan at the same time as a young Elvis Presley, by all accounts.

But fame and fortune were not to be her lot. By the time she was fifteen she had begged, borrowed or stolen a bicycle and run away from the orphanage. Somehow she made her way to Liverpool and then to Manchester, where she met a certain Graham. At sixteen she married him. In her late twenties they took over the chippy in Delph village and the rest in pretty much fish and chips all the way. Worse fates could have awaited her, I suppose, especially when you think of what could have been in store for a fifteen year old girl on the run.

When we moved to Delph, Mary was a slight, dark, rather fiery, gypsy-looking woman. A friend of mine once rather cruelly described her as the only woman she had ever come across who could wear designer clothes and make them look cheap. Certainly it seemed that the chippy was doing well enough to provide designer clothes. Her little daughter Grace was always immaculately turned out. And when, some fifteen years ago, Graham was diagnosed with cancer there was enough spare cash to buy him a brand VW Beetle, and again the next year, and the one after that. This was the car if his dreams and a dying man deserved to have his dreams cone true. Graham is still hanging on in there. He no longer drives a Beetle though.

Some time last year, out running, I stopped to chat with a young woman who was walking a young boxer dog. As my daughter once had a boxer I stopped to admire the dog. Boxers are very friendly and gently. The young lady commented that she had always had boxers, ever since her parents had one that lived with them above the chippy. This was Grace, all grown up, with young children at the primary school she had attended along a couple years behind mine and my rather cutting friend’s offspring. And the boxer dog from her childhood was, of course, Bruno, who used to wander the village - it was a lot quieter than and he did not run the risk of being run over as he would today. And so one of the village’s personalities has disappeared.

Will the chippy re-open on January 4th? Somehow I doubt it.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Boxing day thoughts!

It’s quiet at our house today. My daughter and family have gone to visit her in-laws. So, a day of calm. Also a day to assess the leftovers and decide what to do with them.

I went out running rather later than usual. There were rather a lot of runners out and about - more than usual - running off the Christmas lunch presumably.

Some people were up very early this morning. Loads of them were queuing outside the Trafford sentence at 4.00 am. The Next store apparently opened its doors at 6.00 am. This despite this bit of weather forecasting:-

“Shoppers hoping to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales are likely to face a deluge of rain across parts of the UK, the Met Office has said. Christmas Day’s clear skies will give way to cloud, wind and rain on 26 December, with the south-west of England experiencing the heaviest downpours.”

I read that shoppers are expected to spend more than £4bn in the Boxing Day sales but experts say that is less than in previous years. “Boxing Day has been slipping down the hierarchy of shopping days for a number of years,” said Diane Wehrle, an insight director at the shopper monitoring firm Springboard. “Last year the volume of shoppers was 30% bigger on Black Friday.”

Diane Wehrle went on to say that “the rise of more complex families, with ex-partners and more in-laws to visit, meant more people used the bank holiday to visit relatives, with 27 and 28 December now much busier shopping days.”

So my daughter is right to have gone to visit her in-laws.

But what I want to know is where do these people who will spend £4bn today get their money. Surely they spent enough on Christmas presents!

Personally, I resolved on Tuesday morning, as I picked up a bottle of milk from the local co-op that I was not going into a shop until Saturday at the earliest.

In today’s papers online I also came across this:-

“A new $15m tourism campaign featuring Kylie Minogue is aiming to lure Brexit-weary Britons to Australia with the perennial promise of cute marsupials, white-sand beaches and locals who “speak your language”.
The three-minute musical advertisement aired on televisions in the UK before the Queen’s message on Christmas Day, with Minogue and another well-known Australian export, Adam Hills, addressing the nation from Sandringham – a beachside suburb of Melbourne, Australia.”

I can understand the idea of appealing to people who are sick and tired of Brexit but, really, would you choose to emigrate to Australia as the country goes up in flames?

Here’s a story from across the Atlantic, a story about migrants or rather about some people trying to help would be migrants. The woman in the news item ended up in trouble because there was a box of ammunition in her husband’s car, which she was driving that day to deliver Christmas presents to children in refugee camps. It is against Mexican law to enter their country with guns and ammunition. She had no idea the ammunition was there. Fair enough! Part of the problem, of course, is her living in a society where having a gun is normal and, therefore, having a box of ammunition rolling about in a car is also normal!

Crazy world! I’ll get back to sorting the leftovers!

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Another day gone!

Well, that’s another Christmas overeating session over and done with. All the northern branch of the family was there, almost! The oldest granddaughter is now a N independent home-owner and does her own thing with the boyfriend. We shall see her on Friday, probably to enjoy the delights of turkey hotpot or some other offering of leftovers.

We’ve not had a white Christmas, not even a frosty Christmas but there is still time in the next few days. They keep reminding us that Christmas is a time of giving and being kind and  considerate to everyone.

So, how about this account from a post to a group on Facebook, Campaign to rejoin the EU?

 “Would a website be useful to this group maybe? It’s my job and would make one completely free with no ads, no self-promotion etc and give admins here admin status on the site. Just thinking we could have a forum, petition hub, pro-EU blog, etc etc and link it in with FB. Just want to do my bit.

I’m a British citizen and I was effectively kicked out of my own country by the Tories for the crime of falling in love with someone ‘foreign’. My American wife was deported from the UK whilst 7 months pregnant with our British son. She’d never claimed a penny in welfare, spoke native English and lived here after escaping her abusive family in America. Even her maternity care was private. 

They booted her out because I didn’t earn £18,600/year at the time (new Tory rule for anyone wanting to get a spouse visa for their other half - effectively means your right to family life doesn’t matter if you’re on a low income), despite the fact she had thousands in savings herself.

I have a signed letter from Theresa May from when she was Home Secretary telling me “if you really love her you’ll have no problem leaving the country with her”.

The EU stepped in and after 2 years living in Ireland (beautiful, amazing country by the way), we were allowed to move back here under an obscure EU law. I owe my entire family life to the EU. For me when people praise Brexit it’s a very personal attack.”

 No further comment.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Christmas is coming. Not getting stuff done. Pension thoughts.

Yesterday was supposed to be a quick shop for turkey and an few trimmings. It turned into an all day marathon shopathon. This is what happens when you go shopping with your daughter, with a baby and a toddler in tow and a teenager who decides she wants to spend time with her other and grandmother. Oh boy! After buying a bottle of milk this morning I do not intend to set foot in a shop until at least Saturday. No Boxing Day sales for me!

Today was going smoothly - quite a lot of preparatory stuff for the Christmas meal tomorrow - all under control and then my brother-in-law turned up and stayed and chatted for about two hours. It was splendid to see him but really I needed more time. However, he did bring bottles of wine with him. I guess we might forgive him.

Now, have I missed something in recent years? Have our main political leaders always addressed the nation at Christmas time? Whatever the truth if the matter, this has been another thing to beat up Jeremy Corbyn over. Apparently his speech was a bit down in the dumps. Understandable really! Boris Johnson was seemingly very chirpy - well he would be wouldn’t he? Besides, he did just win the election.

There was a post on social media pointing out differences between us and the French. President Macron proposes putting up the pension age to 65. The French go on strike. Prime Minister Johnson proposes putting ip the pension age to 75. We vote him in for another 5 years. There you go!

I read that President Macron is planning to give up his own generous presidential pension in an attempt to calm anger over politicians’ privileges, as French transport strikes caused chaos for Christmas travellers. If he does so he will be the first president in more than 50 years to give up the automatic pension of more than €6,000 a month that all French leaders receive after leaving office, regardless of age or wealth. €6,000 a month!

Good grief! How much does a retired president need, for goodness sake? If they are paying that out to all retired presidents, no wonder the French want to sort out their pension system!!

Macron’s office added that he would not take his seat in France’s constitutional court, where former presidents are members for life and receive a monthly allowance of €13,500. I find it hard to believe these are MONTHLY allowances! I deed I am gob-smacked!

 But good for Mr Macron for trying to make a gesture.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

No politics. A little moment of calm amidst the chaos of small children visiting.

It’s quiet again at our house. Well, briefly! This is the quiet period between our son’s Pre-Christmas visit and the arrival of “actual” Christmas on Wednesday.

For the last couple of days the house has been full. Whenever our daughter comes, she brings along with her the clutter that seems to have to a company mothers of young babies these days: the carseat/baby carrier, a huge rucksack full of changing mat, nappies, wet-wipes, spare clothes and goodness only knows what else. It’s a good job she is breastfeeding for if she had to carry around baby bottles as well she would need a huge van just to transport everything. Then there is the toddler and her smaller rucksack of toys and other essential stuff.

This last two days, as their uncle was here with his small daughter, our daughter’s older children came along as well. Catering for everyone was complicated - small children’s choices of food and a faddy teenage to be dealt with - and just seating everyone was difficult.

And then the place seems to have been full of small girl activity - a three year old and a five year old learning that even when you love your cousin sometimes sharing stuff is hard. The three year old is the second youngest in her family, surrounded by older siblings who give in to her and will act out roles according to her instructions in imagination-fuelled games with small toys. The five year old is an only child, accustomed to organising imaginary game situations according to her own rules. Two quite strong-willed young ladies who each needed to be reminded that the other was not necessarily going to do exactly as instructed.

Mostly, however, the play has been peaceful, if occasionally loud with excitement. And my kitchen-diner is now festooned with paper chains, the product of a creative session organised by my daughter.

This morning my son and his five year old set off back to the south and I have set about putting the house to rights. It’s quite amazing how family visitors always think they can better organised the storage of pots and pans and kitchen implements! And while it has been delightful to have everyone together, a small oasis of calm before we repeat the feast on Wednesday is very nice too. For the next few days I think we will dine on gourmet leftovers.

I never got around to looking at papers or properly listening to the radio yesterday. So today has been a catch-up day. I read that Shirley Hughes, creator of many lovely children’s books, has written another Dogger story. Published in 1997, the original Dogger told the tale of a lost soft toy, recovered thanks to a helpful older sister. Every family must have lost an important and much-loved soft toy at some point. Our son found one on his visit, a rabbit belonging to his daughter, the toy trapped inadvertently down the back of the bed. He himself famously left his imaginatively named Brown Teddy at a friend’s house. The following morning he woke and informed me that without doubt Brown Teddy was already walking back from his friend’s house. Such is the power of a child’s imagination.

Listening to the radio reminded me that I really regret the near-demise of the letter “t”. On Desert Island Discs Lauren Laverne said that a Joni Mitchell song was “beau’iful”. She said many another word lacking the central “t”. I don’t object so much to the letter being rather faint at the end of words like “without”, or should I say “withou’” but it’s really a pi’y what otherwise very articula’e people miss the letter in the middle of words. Too young-people-trendy for my liking!

Another bugbear of mine is the confusion of “I” and “me”. Tim Dowling in The Observer began his column today with the words, “An argument between my wife and I ...”. Really! He should know better, even if he is an American.

And finally, it’s very good when famous people prove to be just as out of date about films as I am. On “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”, on Radio 4, in the bit where one team have to guess the name of a film or book “enacted” by the other, Sandi Toksvig failed hopelessly to guess “Deep Impact” and then declared “I’ve never heard of it. I’ve not been to the cinema since ‘Bambi’!”

So it goes!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Odd weather for the winter solstice.

This morning I looked at the weather app on my phone. It said: “Oldham - tornado”. Tornado? Whatever next? The house carried away? Quests to combat the Wicked Wizard of Westminster? Eventually clicking the heels of our red shoes together and declaring that there is no place like home?

I was so astounded that I wanted to show someone else in the family this strange phenomenon. There was not a breath of wind outside. By the time another family member appeared my phone had switched itself off and by the time I switched it on again the app had changed its status to read: Oldham - mostly cloudy.

The rest of the family would not believe me. However I have read since that there have been tornados, not to mention storms and floods, in other parts of the country. Just not around here!

In fact it was fine enough for my so and me to take his small daughter for a walk into Delph village to buy the newspaper and to marvel at the immense number of “flying Christmas trees”, her description of the trees bracketed to the first floor of just about every small business, and a good number of private houses, on the main street on the village.

The sun even came out at some point but it was not until some time later, after sunset - which comes early on this the shortest day of the year - that Phil and I went for a rather faster walk round the village. Thus satisfying my Fitbit that I have had some exercise today. No matter how many steps I might do in a day, if I have not walked or run at a rate sufficient to get my heart going a bit faster and for longer than ten minutes it will consider that I have not met my exercise goal.

We have been doing an early Christmas with a visit from our son and family. A big family feast, Christmas cake, jelly and ice-cream and, of course, crackers, despite their not being ecologically sound. We will repeat it all, without the southern branch of the family, on Christmas day.

For the moment, this being December 21st, I wish you all a happy Winter Solstice.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

On being noisy!

We spend a good deal,of time in the north of Spain and have often been astounded at the volume and speed of spoken Spanish. Groups in bars often seem not so much to have a conversation as a competition to see who can speak the loudest. Then there is the habit of all talking at the same time. There is little waiting for someone else to finish making their point before others launch in with their refutation of the argument they have not really listened to.

The article below by Tobias Jones suggests that it is not just a Spanish trait.

“Can Italians be persuaded to speak sotto voce on the train?
Tobias Jones

The announcement that Italy’s high-speed train franchise, Frecciarossa, is introducing “quiet carriages” has been greeted with relief and irony. Of the many stereotypes about Italians, one that refuses to die is that they are loud, and even many Italians doubt that a “quiet carriage” will ever remain so. Frecciarossa’s quiet carriages were previously only available for business passengers, but they proved so popular that they will now be available to passengers in economy class too. They will be called “Standard Silenzio”.

In some ways, Italy has earned its reputation as a rowdy country. A 2015 survey of global noise pollution placed Italy second for racket. “Noise music” – replacing classical harmonies with modern clanking – was pioneered by the Italian futurist Luigi Russolo. And no self-respecting pizzeria is without a loud TV in the corner. As Francesco De Gregori once sang: “Poor me – I’m scared of the silence but can’t stand the noise.”

Yet many Italians feel the stereotype is absurd. Italians are only perceived to be loud because of their language: it’s vowel-based, requiring the vibration of vocal chords – hence its melodious quality and aptness for opera. Unlike English, Italian has no reduced vowels (called “schwa” in linguistics), so nothing is diminished or squashed. It’s a syllable-timed language, whereas English is stress-timed: we eat words, they say – we cluster consonants and elide; they don’t. Italian isn’t necessarily louder, it just sounds so to an Anglo-Saxon ear because we’re simply unused to so many syllables.

Recent research has also suggested that Italian is a high-speed, low-density language. The amount of information communicated per syllable is lower than in English, meaning it’s spoken faster and, as all musicians know, when you pick up speed you sometimes, inadvertently, go loud.

There are also historical reasons why Italian is, or appears to be, voluminous. Stefano Jossa, author of a brilliant book on the language, says that “in Italy a linguistic act is always performance”. Because the language was invented by writers – from Dante to Alessandro Manzoni – it is “artificial, artful, made for the purpose of beauty. It’s cunningly and cleverly constructed.” You only need to watch a few minutes of the country’s TV talkshows to appreciate how much admiration there is for what writer Luigi Pirandello called “the wardrobe of eloquence” where “naked ideas” get dressed.

That performative element means that the acoustics are important. A friend always says that “Italian is spoken for the sounds, not the meaning” and in his book Jossa writes that Italian is “like a harpsichord”. That centrality of sound is the reason that rhyme – much outmoded elsewhere – endures in Italian poetry, advertising and football banners. Lexical chiming is all part of that aestheticism about which Lord Byron got so soppy: Italian, he said, “sounds as if it should be writ on satin”.

Because Italian has never been a language of the streets but of the salons, many Italians – according to writer Italo Calvino – feel a “semantic terror”. It’s often been suggested that the peninsula’s high volume is the revenge of the streets, a verbal insurgency against that refined and erudite language. It’s a drum to drown out that harpsichord. It’s been suggested that the peninsula’s high volume is the revenge of the streets, a drum to drown out that harpsichord But there’s also a different attitude to noise.

Glen, a friend and applied linguist who has lived in Italy for 40 years, believes that noise here “is perceived as convivial and inviting. It lends a sense of sharing and participation and means that something is working OK.” But noise is also admitted when it’s evidence of unease. Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, a writer in Parma whose next book is Silence and Silences, says that “high volume is accepted or understood when it’s a response to stress and anxiety. I don’t find this tolerance exists in middle-class Anglo-Saxon culture.”

That tolerance extends to children: eating out with kids is a dream in Italy because they’re always welcomed, tantrums and all. If anything, quietness is often perceived to be more unsettling than noise. “A quiet pizzeria full of people,” jokes Glen, “would be very suspicious.” People relish exuberance.

Perhaps that’s why Frecciarossa’s new carriages are called “silent”: according to Jossa, “a ‘quiet carriage’ would make Italians think it’s a dead place, a wasteland, a desert – basically inhospitable”. And, my Italian wife laughs, the absolutism of that “silence” is very necessary: “tranquillo” suggests unagitated, or chilled out, which is probably, for our fellow travellers, an insufficiently forthright injunction against noise. That appreciation of vivacity also means that conversation is very different: voices overlap because there’s no social disapproval of interruption. Often, the only way to get a conversational look-in (or “to take the word”, as they say) is to raise your voice.

Etiquette about phone use does not exist. Irene, an Italian who lives in London, doesn’t think Italians are any louder than other nationalities. “But there is something,” she says, “about Italians and mobile phones. It’s not just the lack of consideration for other people that amazes me. Italians on the phone on a train seem to be oblivious that whoever sits near them will listen to everything. Maybe we are so committed to the conversation we forget about everything else.”

That, perhaps, is key to understanding the stereotype. It’s not that Italians are loud; just that they’re rarely hushed in situations where foreigners expect it: in church, classrooms, business meetings or on public transport. There’s an authenticity to that refusal to change register just to suit the surroundings, but it doesn’t bode well for the train carriage battle between sound and silence.”

Very interesting! While I appreciate all the arguments about the structure of the language, I cannot help feeling that some of it is a matter of national personality. My sister is more Spanish than English. She has lived in Spain for just over forty years, far longer than she ever lived in the UK. Last year she and I travelled back from London in the quiet carriage of a Virgin pendolino. We thought we were talking in ordinary tones but apparently we were being a little Spanishly loud as another passenger leaned a ross and reminded us that this was a quiet carriage. How embarrassing! However, surely the quiet carriage mode is more about not using your phone or playing loud music than anything else. And we were speaking English, not Spanish.

 So it goes!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Christmas spending. And a bit of serious stuff.

Today my daughter dropped her small daughter at nursery and we set off to “finish” our Christmas shopping. Finish was a bit of an exaggeration. We might need to continue tomorrow. I should say we spent hours trailing around the centre of Manchester, not finding what we were looking for. And we had a quite specific list. Quite what happens if you have no list but simply look for inspiration, goodness only knows!

We bought an awful lot of stuff as our daughter has a bit of a tradition that the children should all have new pyjamas for Christmas. We all have our little traditions. Mine mostly involve stuff to eat - the menu for Christmas day always has to include pigs in blankets, sprouts cooked with chestnuts and pancetta, as well as all the other Christmas stuff. There has to be jelly and, as well as Christmas cake, there has to be my mincemeat cheese cake! And there are certain kinds of sweets that must go in each person’s Christmas stocking. But the Christmas pyjamas thing involved training round Primark looking for bargain nightwear.

I rarely go in Primark. Indeed I used to tell my students not to shop there because of all the clothes being made in sweat shops in the third world. But then more prestigious shoos also have their clothes made in sweat shops in the third world. Short of making all your own clothes, it’s very difficult to avoid that bit of exploitation. We did try to keep spending to a reasonable minimum but there are still some holes in our shopping plans. And we haven’t started on food yet!

I read that people in the UK are set to spend £2.4bn on new outfits for the Christmas party season this year. Just new outfits, not presents! Presumably, if you go to lots of parties you can’t wear the same outfit to all of them. Indeed a survey shows that many items of clothing may be worn fewer than three times. That means that if you spent, for example, £60 on a dress (a very reasonable amount by some of today’s standards) and you wore it three times, that meant it cost you £20 per wear. The more often you wear an item, the better value it gives you. I have to confess to some things that are very poor value per wear! What the various charities are doing is urging us to buy secondhand, to borrow or to hire our Christmas outfits. These days, as I no longer go to Christmas “dos” from a workplace, I no longer need so much glitter and bling, and try to recycle many Christmassy stuff from one Christmas to the next.

Around midday we took a break from our shopathon to have coffee and cake and to feed the baby, who has to accompany us wherever we go as he is only three months old. I had a slice of some kind of lemon sandwich cake, which was advertis as vegan. I am not vegan but it looked quite nice. It tasted all right but whether it had stood on the shelf in the cafe just a little too long or vegan cakes, made without eggs of course, are not quite so fluffy and light as non-vegan cakes. I come across some very good recipes for vegan cakes and desserts. And yet some people seem to continue to have difficulty catering for vegans in the pudding department, as this article explains.

On a more serious note, analysis of the aftermath of the election continues apace. I found this in something from the London Economic, quoted by a friend of mine, on Tuesday 17th Dec:

“The Labour Party has reportedly picked up 20,000 new members since the general election result, tipping the total number back over the half-million mark. The party will undergo a significant rebuilding process over the coming months as a new leader is elected. Members will decide who the right person for the job is, although the shortlist of candidates will be decided by the party’s 202 MPs and, potentially, its MEPs.”

 Names are being bandied around, amid fears that the party will lurch to the left or lurch to the right. Less lurching and more sensible discussion is surely called for.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Social media stuff taking over our lives!

Australia has 40 degrees temperature. We were at zero here at some point in the night as there was a heavy frost this morning. A slippery run in places. But at least it is fine and bright. The weathermen say it will get milder and wetter by the weekend. I much prefer cold but bright but there is nothing qI can do about it!

Stories are bouncing around about Johnson going back on his promise that there would not be a no-deal Brexit. What else? We shall see!

Somebody posted this, an item from a news website called Pressenza:-

“UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize along with Noam Chomsky and Japanese anti-military base activists, yet the award received scant coverage in the British media. The International Peace Bureau presents the Sean MacBride Peace Prize to individuals, organizations or movements for their work in the areas of peace, disarmament and human rights. Corbyn, along with renowned scholar Noam Chomsky and the All Okinawa Council Against Henoko New Base, were deemed this year’s recipients. Corbyn received his award in Geneva on Friday.
The Labour leader was recognized for his “sustained and powerful political work for disarmament and peace.” His longtime work with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK and the Stop the War Campaign was commended, as was his efforts for peace as a politician”

Uh oh! Here we go. More evidence of the media messing with our heads by only publishing negative Corbyn stuff! But when you look into it more closely, you discover that this is from 2017. But then it appears to be quite normal now to dig up news stories from the past and give them importance now.

Electronic news-sites give us all kinds of reports.

I don’t know much about the singer Ellie Goulding. She is one of those singers of today I have overlooked. I am still stuck listening to much older stuff. Anyway, a story about her has been in the news online, a story about events happening now, not several years ago.

It seems that she and her driver, along with other motorists, came to the rescue of a motorist whose car was being pushed sideways down a busy London road by a Royal Mail lorry. The lorry driver, high up in his cab had no idea that he was shunting this car along. He simply could not see it. That in itself is frightening enough. Other motorists were honking their horns and gesticulating and shouting at him to stop. Could he see or hear them up there in his secure place? Eventually he stopped and while some people, including her driver, remonstrated with the lorry-man, Ellie Goulding went to check on the driver of the car. Who must have been pretty shaken up.

The singer commented to her 14.4 million Instagram followers: “On a side note, I can’t believe the first instinct of the other drivers who got out was to instantly start filming on their phones and shout abuse at the poor shocked driver, not even checking the other driver was okay. What on earth.”

Filming incidents and accidents on your mobile phone is the modern way, unfortunately! A Royal Mail spokesman said: “We are very concerned about this incident. We sincerely hope that no one was hurt. We are investigating as a matter of urgency.” In the meantime, beware of lorries!

Social media continue to take over our lives. According to this article you can get templates for how to respond to texts in certain situations. Here is a suggested response to a friend asking for support. “I’m so glad you reached out. I’m actually at capacity / helping someone else who’s in crisis / dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don’t think I can hold appropriate space for you.” Oh boy! Do people really need that sort of assistance to deal with their friends and their social life?

Apparently it’s all about making your life and your relationships as perfect as possible. Really!?

Monday, 16 December 2019

Accommodating small people in the plans. And further reflections on recent events.

The plan for today was that my daughter would call round after her small person’s playgroup, in other words early lunchtime, and we would go shopping for my Christmas present to her. She duly came round and she had a cup of coffee. The baby was fed. The small person was given an early lunch. I set about constructing an envelope for a birthday card which I had somehow managed to buy without an envelope. The small person’s willingness/desire to help me led to an impromptu craft session with lots of coloured paper, small size scissors and a glue stick.

Oh, and I forget to mention the imaginative game involving the small plaster Christmas crib figures bought long ago in a Spanish market. Aided and abetted by a snowman and a Santa from a Christmas cake from years ago and a small Spanish dancer, baby Jesus kept floating off and hiding, necessitating a rescue mission on Santa’s sleigh, aka the lid of the shoe box the figures came in.

Thus did time go past. The day had turned into a bright, clear-blue-sky winter’s day and we weighed up the options: trail round a shopping centre looking for a pair of boots (the present) or go for a walk down the canal path to feed the ducks. The latter option won. We had a fine walk, singing Rudolf, the Red-nosed Reindeer as we walked. Then back to my house for a cup of tea and mince pies. Shopping for boots can wait! A fine afternoon was had by all!

Here are some odds and ends I spotted going through stuff online prior to the small people invasion.

It is reported that Downing Street is threatening the future of the BBC by insisting it is seriously considering decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee, while boycotting Radio 4’s Today programme over the broadcaster’s supposed anti-Tory bias.

And there I was suspecting the BBC of having something of a Conservative party bias.

The Daily Squat is a satirical news site founded in 2015, a site that declares, “None of the stories or quotes found within this site should be taken as anything more than an ‘alternative fact’.” It seems to agree with me. Here is a fragment of something posted on their news site:


The Conservative Party today named Laura Kuenssberg as the Secretary of State for Government Propaganda in recognition of her years of service.

The BBC News political editor was promoted to her new title of Secretary of State for Government Propaganda after reporting a rumour that a Labour activist had punched a member of Conservative MP Matt Hancock’s team. Video footage that emerged later clearly showed the team member walking into the outstretched arm of the Labour activist, something that is only considered a punch in Floyd Mayweather fights. Laura apologised for the error but by then the report had already been picked up by several news outlets and was plastered all over Google News whenever anyone searched for ‘Labour’.

‘The secret is to apologise for the “mistake” while making sure these “mistakes” only favour the side you want to win,’ Laura told us, in hushed tones.

While Laura’s job title has changed, her duties and position within BBC News will remain the same.”


Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been writing in the Big Issue about his fears concerning increasing inequality in our society and the fact that minorities have a “much harder time”. He also wrote that the past nine years have hit vulnerable people hardest. Maybe he should have though about that before backing up the rabbi who more or less advised people to vote Conservative!

The campaign to stop Brexit having failed, a new group has sprung up: “The Campaign to rejoin the EU”. A lot of positive stuff has been posted but inevitably there has been some blame-casting and some age stereotyping. A friend of mine posted this:

“Some of the divisive and ageist comments being posted here are extremely disturbing. I am 71, my political views haven’t significantly changed as I’ve got older, indeed the more injustice I see in the world the more determined I am to fight it in any way I can. I am immensely grateful for being of the generation that got free higher education and affordable housing , I was the first in my family to go to university and buy a house.
I naively assumed my children would have at least the same opportunities but successive governments denied them those. Please don’t assume that all us oldies have the same opinions, and I won’t assume that all young people are snowflakes, a term I despise. Let’s see the big picture here and show some unity instead of fighting amongst ourselves.”

 All true, but we can’t actually argue with the figures. An awful lot of people in our age group voted to leave the EU and voted for Boris Johnson and his cronies. However, it must not be forgotten that there are still a lot of us who are young and European at heart.

Sunday, 15 December 2019


Last night we watched the film “Trumbo” a sort of bio-pic about the script-writer Dalton Trumbo and his struggle against the House Un-American Activities Committee. A very watchable film with a supposedly happy ending, although at considerable cost to the family of the award winning writer. It’s quite frightening to see how long that committee remained in existence, determinedly rooting out communist sympathisers. Even more frightening is that there are some who would like such a committee to exist nowadays. And more frightening still is the growing feeling that there are topics on which it is hard to express an opinion without a derogatory label being attached to you.

Modern times!

It’s enough to make you want to move away!

Years and years ago, when we were silly young things, some friends of ours mooted the idea that we should campaign for free rule for Lancashire. This was when Manchester was still part of Lancashire, before all the boundaries changed. Now I read that thousands have signed a petition calling for the north of England to be part of Scotland. The petition argues that northern English cities ‘feel far greater affinity with their Scottish counterparts than with ideologies of London-centric south’.

It was started by someone going by the pen-name of “Stu Dent”, who claims to be in Sheffield, and says:

“The needs and challenges of the north cannot be understood by the endless parade of old Etonions [sic] lining the front benches of the House of Commons. The north of England should join the newly independent Scotland and regain control over its own destiny. We, the people of the north, demand that in the event that Scotland becomes independent the border between England and the New Scotland be drawn along a line that runs between the river Dee and the mouth of the Humber.”

It’s been around since the Scottish referendum campaign but was put away when Scotland voted no. Now it’s been resurrected and has had over 12,000 signatures. I suppose “New Scotland” could be a solution of sorts for those who are wondering if they can now relocate to the old Scotland.

The Manchester Evening News has received the idea with great enthusiasm, coming up with a list of of reasons for and against Manchester joining Scotland. While the paper is likes the idea of a Caledonian-Mancunian cuisine mashup – “deep fried Bury black pudding anyone?” – and thinks the Loch Ness monster could enjoy a change of scenery by swimming in Heaton Park. But it doesn’t fancy swapping a good old Madchester rave for a ceilidh: “Gay Gordons? No, ta. We’ve got the Bez dance.”

Yesterday, trawling through posts on Facebook, I found something on BBC news about looking at accusations of bias in their reporting of the election campaigns. As this was on Facebook where it is difficult to copy the internet link, I copied a section directly:-

“While the BBC has long been a punchbag of right-wing publications such as The Sun and Daily Mail, there has been much more criticism from left-wing campaigners and centrist pro-Remain campaigners this election. BBC journalists based in London, an area with strong Labour support, reported finding it harder now that their friendship groups were increasingly critical of the corporation’s output. Many complained that they had come to dread discussing their jobs at family events or children’s parties because they would find themselves cornered and cross-examined on accusations of BBC bias. One regional BBC reporter said they had noticed many more members of the public refusing to talk to him, although it was unclear whether this was just part of a general anti-media reaction among the public. “It felt like BBC reputation has taken a bit of a hit and not just in the Twitter vacuum. Not that I think there is a bias of course. Just a series of errors have unfortunately fallen a similar way, which gives plenty of ammo.”

I almost felt sorry for them.

Having copied and pasted that bit, I went back to find a little more, something interesting about Laura Kuenssberg, for example. The post had disappeared. Now, I now that things can move fast but no amount of trawling around could find the article for me. Had somebody withdrawn it? Deleted it? Am I being a little paranoid?

Today Stormzy has been editing the Observer magazine. I am never sure how this works. How does someone who has no training in editing suddenly have the skills to make important decisions about content.? What it mostly seems to mean is that the magazine is focused on the celebrity concerned and he or she has to kind of sign off on layout and important stuff like font and colour.

Eva Wiseman was waxing very excited about his visit to the Observer headquarters. So apparently were lots of other Observer employees.

Then she wrote this: “He had forgotten how to write with a pen, he realised quickly - he hadn’t used one since he got his phone.” Now, I presume he has had a phone for quite a while. Has he really never had occasion to write any ideas down, ideas for his rapping, for example? Surely the phone screen is a but small for anything more than a shopping list. I am hoping this was an exaggeration! However, I know quite a lot of people who hardly ever actually write, physically, pen to paper, anything at all.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Displacement activities!

The other day a friend sent me a message asking if it was snowing in our neck of the woods. She was staying with her daughter somewhere in the London area and had looked at the Manchester Evening News website (she spends an inordinate amount of time messing about on her computer) and it had told her it was snowing here. It wasn’t snowing. Maybe it was snowing further north but not on our house. We had a little banter about not believing what you read in the newspapers. Ah, she commented, but they had photos and everything. Further banter ensued about how photos can be doctored, as some famous people have insisted to be the case.

Today I checked the weather on the app on my phone. It told me it was snowing. Which it patently was not! Maybe someone has got at these weather forecasting or reporting programmes and filled them with fake reports! Can such things be hacked? All I wanted to know was if rain was forecast for the next hour as we were going to go and rake leaves in the garden and did not fancy getting wet in the process. We did have to retreat at one point because of hailstones. And snow is forecast for later. We shall see!

The leaf-raking, along with cleaning the kitchen to within and inch of its life, giving the bathroom the same treatment, and changing the beds, is part of a series of displacement activities to avoid reading yet more post-election analysis and blame-casting in today’s newspaper.

As regards the leaf-raking, it was Voltaire’s Candide (no doubt someone will correct me if I have misremembered this) who told us, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”. He had nothing similar to say about housework but he probably had someone else to do that for him or he would probably have expressed a similar idea.

We are just getting on with things.

Now, a favourite ethical discussion to come up in tutor-group activities is the old question about what you would do if you found a bag with a large amount of money it. If it had the loser’s address, would you return it? Would you take it to the police station if there was no loser-identification? Would you just take it home and consider it your own? So imagine checking your online banking and discovering that almost £200,000 had just appeared in your account. Some poor chap gave his solicitor his bank details with one digit wrong and the money he had inherited went to somebody else’s account. Ouch!

The surprised recipient of the large amount of unexpected cash had some debts and first of all convinced himself it was a belated settling of his grandmother’s estate. So he used some of it to pay off some credit card bills - to the tune of about £40,000 - WOW!! And that was small beer compared to what he owed all round. Then his conscience got the better of him and he tried to give it back to the bank, who initially would have nothing to do with it. How very odd! It all got sorted in the end but the poor chap who thought Christmas had come early and that some of his debt problems were solved had to take out further loans so that he had the full amount to pay back.

The original, and eventual, inheritor of the cash should consider himself very lucky! But it does show that there is some decency left in the world. And that you have to very careful with numbers.

Friday, 13 December 2019


Friday the 13th! Running in the rain to combat despair! A very grey day - literally and metaphorically. We didn’t really expect Labour to win but we were hoping it would not be such a landslide for the Conservatives.

I am not listening to any news programmes as they are full of Tory jubilation and Labour recrimination.

I notice that Mr Johnson is no longer hiding from reporters in fridges.

According to Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, there is reason to hope that having a large majority might persuade the PM to be more liberal in some aspects of policy. I remain to be convinced.

A Labour activist friend of mine, who has knocked on a lot of doors recently, reported that the feeling on the doorsteps was very much that people were fed up of lack of Brexit progress and voted accordingly. Do they now expect that it will all be done and dusted by the end of January? According to this from the Independent, that may not be very likely:

“According to the manifesto, and Johnson’s protestations, we will leave the European Union by 31 January and secure a trade agreement 11 months later. That doesn’t leave much time for the prime minister to pull through this time around. And with so many other missed deadlines in his shadow, few believe it’s actually achievable. Why? Well, for starters, the EU has repeatedly poo-pooed (as he might say) the prospect, with a leak just days ago suggesting that EU leaders have abandoned their promise to finalise a trade deal swiftly. On Wednesday, a leaked recording of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier further poured cold water on Johnson’s ambitions, admitting during a closed meeting that the UK’s timetable to wrap up trade talks by 2021 is “unrealistic” and suggests negotiations will drag on until long after the end of next year.”

I could quote other stuff from that article but I think that I have included enough.

I also give you this from leftinnewzealand:

“Britain dutifully bows down to the ruling elite.
Posted on December 13, 2019 by leftinnewzealand

Congratulations to the people of ‘Great’ Britain for voting the ruling elite into power yet again. You certainly do know your place. Now they have a mandate to treat people with disdain and contempt, for the next five years. I always thought people in the US were dumb, but there is a new kid on the block vying for the title. How can a party offering no credible policies, with a history of inflicting misery on millions, with a leader who hides in a fridge when things get mildly difficult remain in power. I could glibly say you get what you deserve, but that would be grossly unfair to the millions who can see through this charade of thinly veiled fascism.”

Meanwhile, here is something else.

On one of those sections of TV news programmes where they get pundits to talk about the next day’s papers, I heard someone the other day commenting on Greta Thunberg, who had just been named as Time magazine’s person of the year. He more or less said that all her running around the world talking about climate change meant that this “poor girl” had not had a childhood. I found myself wondering if she is having any less of a childhood than youngsters her age who spend hours glued to their electronic entertainment devices, or the ones who hang around in the park under-age drinking. Everything is relative!

She seems to me to be both older and younger than many youngsters of her age. My daughter, who has had more experience with youngsters on the autism spectrum, this is often the case with such young people. But she seems pretty well organised and self-aware to me. Just her command of English is impressive. Some have suggested that POTUS was perhaps jealous of her being crowned Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Apparently he tweeted in less than encouraging terms that it was “so ridiculous” and said Greta Thunberg needed to work on her “anger management problem” and should chill out watching a good movie with a friend.

Young Greta responded by quoting Trump in her Twitter bio as a badge of honor. Similarly, when President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil referred to Thunberg as a brat, she updated her bio to read “Pirralha” – the Portuguese word for brat. After President Trump’s tweet she changed it again to read: “A teenager working on her anger management problem. Currently chilling and watching a good old fashioned movie with a friend.”

Either she has a very good PR manager or she is pretty clever young lady.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Voting in the rain. And parrots.

Today is a rather gloomy day for an election - moderately cold, more than moderately wet, very, very grey. Traditionally such a day is better for the Conservatives. We shall see.

Apparently there were long queues this morning at polling booths in places like Clapham and Balham. Presumably these were people wanting to vote before they went to work. Our polling booth was much quieter - just a steady trickle I think.

A German friend of mine who does not get to vote, despite living in the UK for 40 years, is asking everyone she knows to vote Labour, partly in the hope that they will reform things and she will be eligible to vote next time.

Another friend is driving people to and from polling stations in her area. Very noble?

She plans to stop at around 4.00 so that we can meet in Manchester and go to the carol service at the cathedral together. We have done this for a few years now, a kind of symbolic beginning to Christmas celebrations, and this year hoping our songs might work some magic.

By the time we get home it will be all over bar the counting. I will not be sitting up to watch he results come in but I suspect that both the friends just mentioned might well do so.

I hold my hands up and confess to a reluctance to go out canvassing from door to door. We have, however, actively encouraged all the members of our family who can vote to do so. That’s about all we can do for the moment.

So let’s look at other things. I was reading about parakeets living wild in the UK. I see them at my sister’s in the south of Spain. And I have seen a few in Galicia. But I have never seen any here. I suspect they are only seen down in the southeast of the country. They probably would not like the damp northwest. Although on grey days like today a flash of green in the trees would be quite nice.

There are various theories about where they came from. “One urban legend traces their origin to a pair released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in 1968; another suggests they arrived in 1951 when Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn visited London with various animals in tow to film The African Queen, set in the equatorial swamps of east Africa.” I find these theories much more interesting than the alternative suggestion that quite large numbers of people released their pets into the wild when there was a “parrot fever” scare.

 That’s all for now!

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A mixed bag of weather, food, Christmas, politicians and art.

What a hotchpotch of a day!

I woke up this morning and seriously considered rolling over and going back to sleep. But I was properly awake and it turned out to be a fine morning, so I donned my running gear and set off to run to Uppermill. The sky was blue, the sun was coming up and even though cold it was a crisp cold.

My timing was perfect: a run down the Donkey Line bridle path, a quick stop at the co-op, at the Italian fruit shop - Alimentari Alberti - and on to the market, via the bakers. The fish man had zamburiñas (scallops) and gave me a quick lesson on how to cook them. (That was tonight’s meal sorted:x scallops with garlic, then sea bass on a bed of potatoes, onions and peppers, green beans, a bit of salad and a nice glass of white wine. Fresh fruit for dessert.) Next stop was Oliviccio, another Italian-based place where I bought olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Back to the biscuit stall and then onto the bus home.

The sun was still shining and the sky was still blue at that point. By the time I had showered and organised a late breakfast (breakfast always comes after my run) the cloud had moved in.

Checking in the newspapers online I found a story of our prime minister out delivering milk. What was he doing delivering milk? Presumably this was intended to persuade us that he is a working man just like many others. Then it went pear-shaped on him as a journalist asked if he would be interviewed, one of his aides swore at the journalist and the prime minister took refuge in a refrigerated food storage unit. What is it with this man and his avoidance of interviews, not to mention other weird stunts? And why do people still take him seriously and suggest he should continue to run (or is that ruin?) the country?

Putting all this aside, I had arranged with my daughter to go and buy Christmas trees. By the time she arrived, it was raining. This continued for a good part of the day, except for a short interlude of blue sky towards the end of the afternoon. We really should have bitten the bullet and gone to Tesco or Sainsbury’s and bough one of their trees. But their trees are all bagged up and you can’t see the shape of them. And besides, we really were committed to “shopping local”, as they say.

Shopping local proved unsuccessful - unsatisfactory trees for exorbitant prices. So we ended up at B & Q. Then we needed a stand for my daughter’s tree, as she decided to go for a larger “cut” tree rather than a small rooted tree in a pot. Stands were more expensive than the tree! She has resorted to Amazon to find a cheaper alternative. So much for shopping local!

At the end of the day I have a small tree, decorated only with lights, a very tasteful look that will be maintained until the end of next week when my son and family arrive and his small daughter and my daughter’s small daughter help me “decorate it properly”, as my daughter’s three-year-old put it. Tasteful might give way to small children’s over-the-top. But it’s all part of the fun. Christmas has started and an election is not going to dampen the enthusiasm!

After consuming the meal planned this morning, which was very successfully executed, by the way,  I got back onto the papers online. I found this story about the discovery of a possible Klimt painting, stolen 20+ years ago. I was reminded of the novel “The Goldfinch”, which I reread recently. And I was struck by this fact:

“According to the most recent stolen artworks bulletin, issued by the carabinieri, 8,405 items have gone missing in Italy in the last year alone. These include archaeological artefacts, ancient weapons and medieval texts. Statues and paintings have been taken from churches, which often have no security systems. More than 1m works are still missing.”


Then there was the story of the expensive piece of  art work that consisted of a banana taped to a wall. That piece of artwork was followed by a piece of performance art when another artist ate the banana. Here’s an extract from the article:

 “The initial piece, Comedian by the Italian-born artist Maurizio Cattelan, and the subsequent performance/action, Hungry Artist by Georgian-born David Datuna, may seem too ludicrous to even parody, but all parties are making a good show of taking the matter seriously. In its pre-masticated form, Cattelan claimed that he worked on Comedian for a year, before deciding on exactly how to let the banana manifest itself. (In earlier conceptions, it was made of resin, before the sculptor realized “the banana is supposed to be a banana”.) Gallerist Emmanuel Perrotin explained that the angle of the tape and shape of the fruit were “carefully considered”.”

How odd to think for so long about how to achieve a task. And then not to achieve it. Now, why does this remind me of politicians?

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Some of the oddness of the world.

In the early evening yesterday I stood at a bus stop waiting for the bus to complete my journey home. It was cold. It was bright and crisp and there was a fabulous moon, not quite full or maybe just beginning to wane. There was also a young woman waiting for the bus and phoning various members of her family while she waited. I swear every third or fourth word she uttered was “f***ing”. It was almost impressive. She could have been aiming for a place in the Guinness Book of Records. I wonder what people who routinely swear like that say when they are really, really annoyed.

As promised by the weather forecasters, the cloud moved in during the night and today is as grey and dull as yesterday was blue and bright. I managed, however, to find a rain-free space to run round the village this morning. But it is highly possible I may not move from the house for the remainder of the day.

On the radio I have just listened to interviews with people about how they plan to vote in Thursday’s election. One women interviewed had been considering voting Conservative, despite having voted Labour most of her life. Now she is undecided because she has been online and done a survey about her views and affiliations, a survey intended to show you which party you most agree with. This told her that she is a Liberal Democrat. So now she really is confused!

Do people really need someone else to tell them what they think? This is different from changing your mind because someone has come up with convincing arguments. What an odd world it is! 

Here’s a link to an article by someone who has known Mr Johnson and his ways of doing things for quite some time,

And here is a link to an article by George Monbiot. Despite articles such as this and numerous other articles and posts I have come across where members of the Jewish community express their support for the Labour Party, much of the press still tells us that almost all Jews are going to vote against them.

On to other things. I accidentally clicked on one of those articles online that give you information you don’t really need. This was about who were the richest members of the royal family. I did not read all of it but I saw some stuff about Prince William, his personal fortune and the like, and then this:

 “Prince William also receives an annual salary of almost £48,000 from his time as an East Anglian Air Ambulance pilot. But the Prince reportedly donates this money back to the EAAA charity. When announcing his retirement from being a pilot, the prince said he decided on this in order to dedicate himself fully to his royal duties.”

It’s very nice that HRH donates this money back to the charity but is it normal for air ambulance pilots to carry on being paid after they leave the job? I had to work a lot longer as a teacher to qualify for a reasonable pension and even then it was a mere fraction of what HRH has been given.

And then there is this, from an article in the Guardian:

“When Thomas and Jenny approached a couples therapist before their wedding, they weren’t expecting it to become a long-term commitment. “Initially we decided to see a counsellor due to some trust issues in our relationship,” he says. “We found premarital therapy incredibly helpful, because it gave us a safe space to communicate with each other without fear of repercussion. It became an important part of the relationship – even when things were going well.”
After their wedding this summer, the couple continued to attend sessions while they settled into marriage. By discussing potential problems with an unbiased third party, Thomas says they both felt confident to be more open with each other. It also helped them to work on their communication styles, which has further strengthened their relationship. “It’s not just what you say, but when and how you say it. Before therapy, I might say something critical first thing in the morning and Jenny would immediately become defensive. We’ve learned that we communicate better when we allocate a time to sit down after dinner and rationally discuss things.””

Some people sign prenuptial agreements about wealth. Others have prenuptial therapy about their relationship. However have I managed so long without either of those things?

Monday, 9 December 2019

Busy Monday stuff!

Today, a bright and sunny day, I got up and went to the dentist for a check-up. This involved a torture session, otherwise known as “scale and polish”. We pay £20 or so for the dentist to torture us. All in a good cause, of course, putting off the possibility of dentures some time in the future. Long ago, when my younger sister was born, my mother took advantage of the NHS free dental treatment for a mother during the first year of her child’s life and had all her teeth taken out and dentures fitted. Later in life she said it was the worst decision she ever took but at the time it seemed the right thing to do. That may well be so but at least she got her free treatment. Will that free dental treatment for a year continue for mothers of the country votes the Tories back in? I nearly wrote “if we vote the tories back in” but that would imply that I might be voting for them!!

Having undergone my torture session I went to catch a tram into Manchester where I was going to try once again to nail the Christmas shopping thing and then meet my eldest granddaughter from work. I feel quite flattered that my 22-year-old granddaughter is willing to meet her grandmother casually for coffee after work!

On the way in I earwigged on a conversation on the tram. This is what you do if you are an inveterate nosey parker. I listened to the banter going back and forth about voting or not voting Labour in the forthcoming election. These were people who said they had voted Labour all their lives - one had been a Labour councillor, for goodness sake! - and were now contemplating voting Conservative. Somebody else was eavesdropping as well, for we both chimed in when bus-passes were mentioned and the possibility of them being taken away, and we both declared that voting the Tories in was a pretty sure way of losing that privilege, among others.

That was when the conversation got into small-world territory for the ex-councillor starting naming people I knew, people I had been friendly with in the past, people whose children had been to school with my children. I think we all agreed in the end that we don’t want any more years of Tory austerity.

And I went on and did my shopping and met my granddaughter. We then went on to meet her mother, my daughter, and her in-laws for more coffee and a chat and some admiration of the small grandchildren we have in common.

Eventually I made my way home and found this on the news online:

 “Boris Johnson has been accused of not caring after he repeatedly refused during a TV interview to look at a photo of a four-year-old boy forced to sleep on the floor at an overcrowded A&E unit, before pocketing the reporter’s phone on which he was being shown the picture.
In an ITV interview during a campaign visit to a factory in Sunderland, the prime minister was challenged about the plight of Jack Williment-Barr, who was pictured sleeping under coats on a hospital floor in Leeds as he waited for a bed, despite having suspected pneumonia.
Johnson refused to look at the photo and, out of camera shot, eventually took the phone from the reporter and put it in his own pocket.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, responded by tweeting a video of the exchange with the message: “He just doesn’t care.””

Enough said! Tomorrow is another day! Maybe the PM will run away from another confrontation situation.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Reactions to Sunday morning stuff.

Australia is burning. The Victoria Falls in Africa is reduced to a trickle. I just heard of loads of tourists trapped somewhere in New Zealand because a storm has caused flooding. The world is going crazy. It makes our weather here seem extremely moderate, whatever it does! That said, I had to wait for the rain to stop before going running this morning. They are predicting high winds for us now, possible the first named storm of the winter. And snow is forecast for the end of the week.

We shall see!

We need to watch the weather on Thursday. Cold and wet can prevent people turning out to vote. And here we are, only days away from the election and pollsters offering all sorts of possibilities. The politicians are running around still trying to persuade the undecided to vote for them. The son of a friend of mine is taking his nine year old daughter around with him campaigning for Labour. She’s already got a lot of the arguments sorted out and regularly cheers Mt Corbyn. In some countries they don’t allow polling or campaigning in the last days leading up to an election. I tend to agree with them.

I forgot to mention on the craziness front the state of things in France, where transport strikes are causing chaos to reign.

On the Christmas front, journalist Barbara Ellen has been writing about Peleton, the exercise bike people with the annoyingly enthusiastic advertising campaigns, putting out an advert where a man gives his wife a Peleton bike as a Christmas present. Barbara Ellen’s feeling is that the wife would be insulted at this gift which is surely hinting, in a not very subtle way, that she needs to lose some weight and get fit. “Astonishing as it may seem,” Ms Ellen writes, “women don’t fantasise about being presented with the opportunity to strive to look hotter for you.”

My Italian friend would agree with that. In her opinion, “presents are jewels, perfume, flowers, chocolate.” She would be insulted to be given, for example, a vacuum cleaner for Christmas or for her birthday. And yet, I know people who have done that as well. Surely biggish purchases like exercise machines and household equipment should be a joint decision.

Here’s a link to an article about art and Spanish exiles fleeing Franco’s Spain after the end of the Civil War. The list of those who died or suffered because of the Civil War includes the poet García Lorca, executed early in the war, another poet, Antonio Machado, who died in the French Pyrenees after fleeing Spain, the writer Arturo Barea, reduced to a nervous wreck and exiled to England, and, or course, the masses of ordinary people photographed by the jpirnalist Robert Capa as they fled. 

Probably an exhibition worth visiting Madrid again for.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Round tables. Debates. Christmas nonsense!

Yesterday we went out to lunch with a bunch of old friends. This particular group gets together two or three times a year, sometimes just to eat and drink and chat, sometimes to go on trips on steam trains - a bunch of old young-at-hearts out having fun. Yesterday we were a somewhat depleted group - some of our number are off on holiday or busy doing this and that in other places - only eight of us sat down to lunch. But we had a round table and decided that a group of eight at a round table is probably ideal for the kind of conversation where everyone can join in.

King Arthur had the right idea. Long oblong tables lead to the group splitting into factions. Is this of significance in the design of parliamentary chambers. Ours is a long oblong with a big enough space between the two sides so that nobody can reach over with a sword and poke an opponent. Other countries, but not all by any means, have a semi-circle. Maybe we should have more government in the round.

One or two of our party yesterday expressed an interest in getting home in time to watch the Corbyn-Johnson debate on television. One had organised for her husband to record it for her in case she did not get home in time. I decided to give it a miss. Another friend has expressed her disappointment that Jeremy Corbyn did not call Boris Johnson out for a liar - probably not his style. The newspapers seem undecided as to who “won”. In the end, of course, the only winning that counts is next Thursday’s.

Not thinking of Christmas is an impossibility at present. In a magazine article this morning I read this:

“The festive season is a frenzy of spending: in 2018, according to a survey by Deloitte, we spent an average of £299 per person on gifts in the UK, many cast aside on Boxing Day.”

Wow! Some people must spend an awful lot.

A dancer interviewed about life in general, spending in general, not just at Christmas, said, “I spend like a man with three arms”. What a strange but very descriptive expression. A friend and former colleague of mine always used to describe profligate spending as spending like a wild gipsy.

Some people don’t just spend on family members at Christmas but also on their pets. Pet owners are now going to shout at me that pets are members of the family too. Research shows that pet owners spend an average of £44 on Christmas treats for their pets (a national total of £528million!!). Now I read that Tesco and Sainsbury’s are selling special own-brand mince pies for dogs. Tesco is also selling macarons for “small breed pooches”, filled with a dog-friendly “yoghurt”. Whatever dog-friendly yoghurt is! Pet owners don’t want their animals to feel left out in all the Christmas festivities and want to share with them. They can’t share “human” mince pies with their dogs because the raisons are poisonous to dogs. Hence special “mince pies”.

There are also pet advent calendars.

And you can but Pawsecco from Tesco, a kind of pretend Prosecco for cats.

I am astounded!

It is estimated also that 52% of Britain’s pets are overweight. So they really are just like humans!

And here is something I found pointed out in letters to today’s Guardian: the expression, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” should read “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a dam!” A dam, it seems, is a worthless Indian copper coin and the expression comes from the days of the British Raj. Who knew? Was Rhett Butler aware of this and did he give a dam/damn?

Finally: our heroes grow older; Noam Chomsky is 91 today - proof that thinking and philosophising is good for longevity!

Friday, 6 December 2019

Being out and about. And some people who apparently refuse to be out and about.

Overheard yesterday in the local co-op store: “Are your apple pies vegetarian?”  

Well, I suppose that if the pastry was made with butter rather than margarine then the pies might not be vegan. Otherwise, what non-vegetarian ingredients does a fruit pie usually contain? The mind boggles!

Even better, the shop assistant could not actually tell the customer; she was not allowed to. She had to give the customer the packet so that she could decide for herself. Rather like the occasion when I went to collect our granddaughter from nursery and she had fallen asleep just before I arrived. The nursery nurse told me that she could not, was not allowed to wake her up. I had to do it.

This is the litigation age! Everyone is afraid of some kind of come-back!

We have been out and about today, meeting a bunch of old friends for lunch in Prestwich. A fine lucn it was too.

We were given to understand that Labour’s Angela Rayner was also out and about in Prestwich but we did not see her. At least one of our party would have liked to see her to praise her - this person in a Momentum member - but another wanted to heckle her. Phil and I heard her speak, not terribly impressively, at a teachers’ union event some years ago but I think she has grown in stature sincee then and comes across quite well.

Anyway, we did not see her and just carried on with our rather fine lunch, embellished with lots of reminiscence from times past. We have all known each other rather along time!

The only damper on our day was the final stage of our return journey. Travelling back towards Manchester Victoria on the tram, we had to decide whether to change to a tram to Oldham, where we would wait maybe ten minutes for a bus, or take a tram to Manchester Piccadilly, the a train to Greenfield and hop onto the shuttle bus. On balance the first option seemed faster. But then the bus from Oldham failed to turn up. When it was fifteen minutes late we went to the taxi rank and requested a taxi to Delph. At that point the bus sailed past the taxi rank! Too late for us!

So it goes!

Here is a little something from today’s Independent:

“Boris Johnson has cancelled a speech to members of the public in Rochester after a small number of protesters turned up. The prime minister was due to give a stump address to Tory supporters near the Ye Arrow pub in the Kent town. A small number of protesters - which The Independent counted at five - also arrived holding signs which read “Tories out”, “Austerity killed over 130,000, the blood is on your hands” and “No to racism, no to Boris Johnson”.

Conservative officials claimed the speech had been cancelled on police advice after the late running of the event prompted security concerns. They said "security officials" had voiced worries about some members of the crowd, and were wary of members of the public being aware of the prime minister’s planned location so far in advance of his arrival.

Ahead of the visit, the handful of protesters mingled among the roughly 50 Tory activists, plus several Conservative MPs.

The crowd grew as Mr Johnson’s scheduled arrival neared, and police moved the protesters outside the small pub car park where he had been due to speak. It soon emerged that the PM was delayed, and Tory officials were seen holding close discussions with Mr Johnson’s security team.”

It seems that he has also been failing to show up at hustings in his own constituency. One of our number today now lives in Mr Rees-Mogg’s constituency. He too has been keeping a low profile in his home territory.

One could begin to wonder about these posh boys.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

On noise, the Princess and the Politicians, TV drama and annoying adverts.

The roadworks on our street have progressed to almost outside our house. Consequently from being more quiet than usual because of their being less traffic, and in particular fewer big lorries, it has suddenly become more noisy. Heavy machinery clunks continuously, digging trenches, transporting huge pipes, filling in trenches and generally making a row. Not to mention the parking problems, which don’t affect us directly but do affect anyone coming to visit. The people in the house opposite are in danger of finding themselves with their car trapped on their drive or not being able to get it knot the drive, depending on where it is as the works progress further along! I just hope all this kerfuffle actually solves the drainage problem.

Looking at news reports of the NATO summit and fancy receptions at Buckingham Palace with, apparently, jokes at Mr Trump’s expense, I notice that Princess Anne has been rolled out into the public eye. As a rule she has kept a low profile for a good while now, quietly getting on with her royal jobs without making or demanding any kind of fuss. And suddenly there she is, being gestured at by her mother to join the meet and greet line-up, getting into conversation with foreign dignitaries and sharing a joke with them. Is she replacing her brother Andrew to some extent and is her good reputation being used to repair public perceptions damage? Or is that just me me seeing deviousness where none exists?

Meanwhile Philip Schofield, once a children’s TV presenter, now a morning chat show host, appears to have become apology-demander in chief. First he nagged Jeremy Corbyn into apologising - not for the first time regardless of what the media might imply - for anti-Semitism. Now he has made Boris Johnson apologise for comparing Muslim women in burkas to letter boxes. Who will be next? I would like to volunteer Rees-Mogg but that would be to give him too much importance.

Partly in an attempt to avoid seeing too much election coverage, but also because it is worth seeing, we have been watching an Italian TV series, La Mafia uccide solo d’estate, a very good black comedy series set in 1979 Palermo, Sicily. It mixes real fact with fiction. Real-life mafiosi are featured, as are real-life mafia-related events, mixing old television footage with the modern series to underscore the serious stuff beneath the comedy. And, as it is in part a coming-of-age drama, they use a fantastic bunch of juvenile actors. Well worth watching!

The downside of watching this series is that it is available on More Four, or All four, or whatever the catch-up for Channel 4 is called. This means that we are subjected to adverts. Lots of adverts, splitting the programme quite arbitrarily. Occasionally on American series, seen in the UK without commercial breaks, you can almost see where the breaks have been programmed in, usually at a natural scene-change point. In the series we have been watching the breaks just happen, sometimes mid conversation, not even at a cliffhanger moment.

And there are masses of adverts for gambling - always with a soppy-voiced reminder to “Gamble responsibly” and to “keep gambling fun”. I find myself growing quite huffy and stuffy about this and stating over and over again that advertising for gambling should be banned. You no longer see commercials for cigarettes on television, and gambling can be just as addictive as tobacco.

Another frequent feature at the moment is the John Lewis Christmas advert, which reportedly cost something like £6million to produce. Some people find it charming but you can really go off a story about a little dragon who sets fire to everyone’s Christmas, even if he miraculously manages to reform and learn to control his incendiary nature in time to set the christmas pudding alight. Other people are grumbling that it is, if not actual plagiarism, extremely similar to an already published children’s story about a small girl and an impetuous, almost uncontrollable dragon!

In fact, I am sick of Christmas adverts altogether. Marks & Spencer have a singularly silly one about choosing a jumper to wear to the work’s Christmas disco! “Go jumpers for Christmas!” Really! Who wears a jumper to a Christmas disco?

Oh dear, I seem to be turning a little Scrooge-like" So here’s a link to an article about a much less expensive advertising campaign.  That’s the way to do Christmas - shop local, give everyone a screwdriver as a present - the advert is for a family-run hardware shops.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Local travel fun and games!

Yesterday was swallowed up by my being busy. I was up bright and early to go off the the hairdresser’s in Manchester. Yes, I know I could go somewhere local and pay less but I like my Manchester hairdresser’s. There I caught up on the gossip magazines, most of which were a little out of date and so I did not have to plough through stuff about Prince Andrew.

The royal family came into it though, as there was an interview with Helena Bonham-Carter, currently playing Princess Margaret in the TV series The Crown. By all accounts she does it rather well. She had met the princess in her youth. I suppose her name is a bit of a give-away, suggesting that her family might have mixed in highfalutin circles. As well as reading biographies of the apparently rebellious princess, Ms Bonham-Carter said she consulted a spiritualist who put her in touch with the dead princess. It seems her dead royal highness thoroughly approved of Helena playing her in the series. You could not make it up!

My hair sorted and my gossip-reading (about lots of folk I have never heard of - I am seriously out of touch!) completed, I went off to do a bit of half-hearted Christmas shopping and then on to my Italian conversation class. There we did what adult classes always do in the last class before Christmas; we had a bit of a Christmas party. And, as this was an Italian class we had to drink Prosecco and eat panettone. And, quite exceptionally, we had arancini, cooked by one of the men in our group. He explained that he had been to an adult-ed cookery class which began with simple stuff like shepherd’s pie but moved on eventually into more exotic foreign dishes. Hence the arancini, which were declared to be very authentic by our resident Italian! Very good they were too!

My Italian class finishes at 6.30. From Manchester Piccadilly station I can catch a tram to Manchester Victoria station, where I catch another tram to Oldham, usually arriving just in time to miss the bus to Delph. So I have taken to waiting at Piccadilly for the Huddersfield train which stops at Greenfield, arriving there about five minutes before the shuttle bus, a minibus which follows a scenic route around the Saddleworth village but which is designed to coincide with the trains from Manchester. 

The train left Manchester on time and then stopped and waited, just outside the station, for several minutes. When it set off again, it crawled along at snail’s pace. The public address system kept reminding us that this was the Transpennine Express. Really? Never was there such a misnomer! The computer display on the train informed us that the train had been delayed by 5 minutes, 6 minutes, 8 minutes and kept recalculating the time at which it was expected to arrive at various stations along the route. Finally it was due in Greenfield at the same time as my shuttle bus! Ouch! I did not relish running over a possibly icy bridge.

There was no sign of the little bus so a few other people and I compared notes and agreed to cross our fingers. After all, I was able to advise them, the bus had arrived late every week for the last three weeks. One couple gave up in despair after five minutes and hopped in a taxi. As their taxi set off, the little bus came round the corner. Hurray! I had a pleasant chat with the friendly driver, a young man from Hull, or ‘Ull as he says in his broad Yorkshire. I have chatted with him on more than one occasion. There is nothing quite like a minibus with a friendly driver.

Today I got up and ran to the market in Uppermill, today being Wednesday. My timing was fine and I was at the bus-stop in the square in time to make my way home in the same shuttle bus. Which went sailing by! It was held up at traffic lights, where I caught up with it and knocked hopefully on the door. The driver (not the young man from ‘Ull but a lady driver) indicated, as I expected, that she could not open the door and that the stop in the square was out of action.

I was rather annoyed as there was no sign that I could see to inform me of that decision, presumably because of the road works traffic lights. But I picked up my shopping and walked to the next stop, probably half a mile up the road. When the next bus (not the shuttle bus) came along I had a little moan to the driver. He said he was unaware of the stop being closed!