Thursday, 31 January 2019

Being in denial!

The panic continues:-

Barclays are moving to Dublin just in case there is a no-deal brexit.

Asda, Lidl and Sainsbury’s warn of possible empty shelves and soaring prices.

Stories abound of EU citizens living here having problems applying for settled status.

A German friend is asking if she really needs to acquire an android phone to apply for settled status. She does not want an android phone. Can she not do it on the computer? And why does she have to do it anyway as she was granted indefinite leave to remain more than thirty years ago?

An Italian friend is determinedly refusing to register for settled status until the absolute last minute. This is partly her rather bolshy character but also the result of a tiny bit of hope that at the last minute someone will turn round and say that we are not leaving the EU after all.

Mind you, she wouldn’t be much better off in Italy, which seems to be going into economic meltdown.

In fact, the Eurozone appears to be in crisis.

Everything has been destabilised!

Here is a story from yesterday’s newspaper:-

“A 90-year-old man with crippling arthritis, diabetes, and who is frequently confused, could be forced to return to the US to apply for a visa to live with his British wife in the UK. Albert Dolbec has been married to his wife Dawn, 84, for 25 years, and they divided their time between the US and the UK for many years, but when their health declined three years ago they decided to locate permanently in the UK so Dawn’s family could help look after them.

Albert, however, mistakenly entered the UK on a visitor’s visa, thinking he could convert that to a spousal visa from inside the UK. For the past two and a half years, the family have been trying to persuade the Home Office that he should be allowed to rectify his mistake without returning to the US.

Albert has no home and nowhere to live in the US. His wife is too frail to travel with him and his family are convinced he would not survive the experience. It is, the family’s lawyer said, “a terrible failure of common sense”.”

This is the sort of thing that keeps happening at the moment. We have become an unkind country.

As regards being unkind and inconsiderate and just plain odd, I read that one in 20 British adults do not believe the Holocaust happened, and 8% say that the scale of the genocide has been exaggerated, according to a poll marking Holocaust Memorial Day. That poll found that one in three people knew little or nothing about the Holocaust, and an average of 5% said they had never heard of it.

It’s  not just in the Uk. In France, 20% of those aged 18-34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust; in Austria, the figure was 12%. A survey in the US last year found that 9% of millennials said they had not heard, or did not think they had heard, of the Holocaust.

When I was at school it wasn’t taught in History lessons but, perhaps because we were post-war babies, we mostly knew something about it anyway. And then there were all those films about the war, Colditz on the television and stories about the Resistance in France.

The Second World War is taught in secondary school History these days. Surely the Holocaust forms part of that. The sixth form colleges I worked at invited Holocaust survivors in to talk to students and I know that this has also happened in secondary schools and even primary schools.

So how do people not believe it happened? Do they think that Schindler’s List was just a work of complete fiction? Probably so!

Maybe it’s another aspect of the me-me-me-centred modern world. All of that happened long ago and in another country. Perhaps if we pretend hard enough that it never happened, then that will become the new reality.

In fifty to seventy-five years’ time, will there be Brexit-deniers or even EU deniers? I imagine groups of people stating that none of it ever happened!

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

To panic or not to panic? That is the question!

The panic began on Monday.

I received a message early in the morning from a friend from my Italian conversation class. He lives in Wrexham and heroically makes the journey ever Tuesday: bus from Wrexham to Chester, train from Chester to Manchester, brisk walk from Manchester Piccadilly to Ardwick, where the class takes place. He usually leaves the class early to ensure catching a train back to Chester in time for the bus back to Wrexham, thus avoiding a £25 taxi ride! Ouch! And I thought my journey was difficult!

Anyway, he sent me a panic message on Monday because heavy snow was forecast for Wrexham and Manchester for Tuesday. He was concerned, not so much that he might not get to Manchester, but rather that he might not get back from Manchester! In the event, he managed it, and got back to Chester in time for the bus!

Here in Saddleworth we had no more than a sprinkle of now around first thing Tuesday morning. Our daughter was, unusually as she is not contracted to work on Tuesday, going into school for a training session - some kind of fancy Maths teaching, I believe. And so the tiny person was having breakfast and a morning’s play chez Grandma. All went well. By lunchtime mother and child had been reunited and the plan was to drive me to the tram stop later so that I could go into Manchester.

Then the mobile phone business intervened. I recently had my ancient model iPhone replaced with a more up to date one, courtesy of our daughter. Yesterday it was Phil’s turn. Our oldest granddaughter had finally got around to wiping her data from the iPhone she was no longer using and was passing on to her grandfather. Our daughter set about assisting with the transfer of Phil’s data from his old sim to the new, smaller sim in the more up to date model.

And this took ages! Far longer than anticipated!

I almost went out to catch a bus.

I probably should have done so.

In the meantime, sleety snow had begun to fall, more wet and miserable than anything else but predicted to freeze later.

Eventually we set off. We made a brief stop en route to buy wellies for the small person and clever gloves that allow you to use your mobile while wearing them for the small person’s mother. By now time was ticking by, the roads were a slushy mess and the relatively few cars around were all slow-moving. We contacted the school the teenage grandchildren attend and asked for them to be released early so that we could pick them up en route for the tram stop, so that my daughter did not need to go back later for them.

All good, no problem, except that it took so long to get to the school (slow moving traffic) that it was already home-time when we reached the school. There were so many cars collecting teenagers that it took about 40 minutes to do what is normally a 5 minute drive from the school to the tram stop.

Further cause for panic. However, I made it to the Italian conversation class, where we had an amusing but almost scatalogical class, discussing different Italian terms for the toilet! I told the tale of my first ever visit to France, aged 17, with a school friend: two little maids from school let loose in Paris! We had been told by our French teacher that “la toilette” absolutely did not mean “loo” but all the business of washing your face, doing your hair and makeup, and generally making yourself, if not beautiful, at least presentable. So when we needed the loo (which incidentally is a corruption of “l’eau”, French for water) we were at a loss for what to ask for in a French cafe. After we had had tried a range of possible but clearly useless words, not to mention attempting some sign language, we were walking around with our legs crossed when light dawned and the waitress cried, “Oh! La toilette!” and indicated its whereabouts. Oh boy!

This morning my panicky friend from Wrexham messaged me to say he had arrived home without problem last night but that it was currently blizzarding in Wrexham and had been for a good half hour. I looked out of the window and saw an inch or so of snow on the pavements outside. No way was I running on such a slippery surface.

Unlike some people, I usually have a plan B. Today was no exception: cancel the run, dress warmly, don stout boots and walk to the market in Uppermill to see if the fish-man had made it through the weather. He had!

I had an excellent early morning walk. Here are some snowy pictures to show for it!

Various teacher friends on Facebook are not panicking but crowing because they have a “snow day”. In other words their place of work is closed because of the weather. Such fools! It always used to annoy me intensely when they closed my college because of snow. There was NEVER enough time to cover the material in the curriculum, without taking extra days off for a bit of snow. Does this happen in countries where they regularly have heavy snow? I doubt it! Otherwise, how does anyone there ever get an education?

Actually, the panic began in 2016 when 52% of those who voted in the referendum said they wanted to leave the EU. Since then we have been hearing that “the people have spoken” and a whole lot of time and money has been spent getting very little organised. Yesterday’s session in Parliament appears to have continued in the same vein: a lot of heated discussion but not a lot of progress towards a solution. “MPs have voted for a fantasy,” said Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian.

We await developments!

Monday, 28 January 2019

Rough sleeping. Cold weather. Adrenalin junkies.

When our daughter set off to drive her family home yesterday evening she noticed something odd and phoned us. (I hasten to add that she has hands-free phone facilities in her car.) She had driven up the road and turned around. As she drove past our house again she saw a neighbour apparently telling a man with a large cardboard box that he could not set up house in the alleyway between the houses. Our daughter just wanted us to be aware that there was the possibility of our waking up this morning to find a squatter in the garden.

I don’t know where he went but there was no sign of him this morning. Oddly enough, yesterday afternoon we had seen a man in the village with what seemed to be a sleeping bag stuffed in his rucksack. Was it the same man?

We are a bit off the beaten track for rough sleepers. As a rule they are more likely to be found in town and city centres. It’s not quite like Orwell’s era of rough sleepers wandering the countryside.

Last night was a bitter cold night for rough sleeping anywhere. Even as our daughter and family left in the early evening the temperature was down to zero and the sky was clear and star-filled, suggesting a further drop in temperature. When I went out running first thing it was about -2. On one lane a driver slowed down and opened her window to warn me to go carefully as there was a lot of ice just a bit further along. That’s what I like about living around here!

I managed to avoid skating, which is more than can be said for the ducks on the millpond. The swan, who was back again today was sticking to the bit that had already thawed.

By lunchtime the temperature was up to a massive three degrees - not exactly warm! - and predicted to descend again. It’s a beautiful blue-sky day, ideal to go out walking. Snow is forecast for tonight and tomorrow. From quite early this morning I have been receiving messages from a friend from the Italian class. He travels in to Manchester from Wrexham, where snow is also forecast, and he is worried, not so much about getting to Manchester but about getting home again afterwards if the snow arrives in the amounts promised!

It’s quite hard to drag yourself out of bed on these cold morning, which is an unusual situation for me to find myself in. I am usually up and running quite early and feel that I have missed something if I don’t get out and about first thing. Adrenalin junkies rule, OK!

I am not as bad as some. I was reading about the Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who apparently has thoughts of suicide after reaching the olympic heights. Nothing left to aim for! She came through it, retired from professional cycling and want into horse riding, and jumping and racing, instead. This is not uncommon, it seems. High achievers in sport are drawn to further competition and challenge. Victoria Pendleton has also had a go at climbing Everest. The runner Usain Bolt tried, unsuccessfully, to become a footballer. Another cyclist, Sir Chris Hoy, became a motor racing driving. Sprinter John Regis attempted to qualify for the British bobsled team. The Rower James Cracknell had a go at breaking records by cycling across America. Andrew Flintoff and Rio Ferdinand tried to become professional boxers.

Crazy people, all of them! They make my adrenalin-junkihood appear extremely mild!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

On matriarchy, snobbery and food supply problems!

I seem to have become the matriarch of the family. They all descended on us to celebrate my birthday. One of the disadvantages of being the matriarch in the 21st century is that you end up preparing your own birthday feast, including even making your own birthday cake. The day will come, I presume, when they will take over the cooking as well. A good time was had by all and I have to confess that I really enjoy preparing a feast for the family.

As I was toiling away in the kitchen I listened to various things on the radio. At one point somebody was talking about “walking art”. This seemed to involve a group of people, in this case a bunch of women, walking around a city centre and stopping to look at various things of interest. As they walked around Westminster their plan was to stop at each statue of a woman they came across. A grand total of none! Since the recording was made a statue of a woman has appeared (who is it?) but at the time there was not a single one and so they made their own living statue.

As I listened, though, I had to suppress my inner intellectual snob. The presenter had lots of interesting things to say but I had to force myself to listen as she kept talking about the “ci’y” and the “poli’ical si’uation”. A friend of ours used to say that if he was reading a book and found a typing error he would put the book aside, indeed sometimes throw it away. I feel the same about the glottal stop in place of the letter “t” and “th” being replaced by “f” and “v”. I want to start a campaign for the reinstatement of the letter “T”. Demonstrations with placards saying “Free the T”!

And then the Food Programme came on, discussing the supply of foodstuffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Opinions differed. There were government ministers declaring that we would have no problems, that there would be an ample range of foodstuff from around the world available at reasonable prices. Then there were farmers pointing out the dead period when few British-grown vegetables are available and how we rely on supplies from the south of Spain and Italy. And of course there were farmers concerned for their livelihood. A government chap declared that farmers might go out of business but they would just have to look for other employment. That’s all right then!

They also interviewed some “preppers” people who are stockpiling food ready for a period of post-Brexit shortage. Since they were collecting canned goods and boasted of having lots of tins of corned beef, I was not greatly reassured. I was not aware that people still ate corned beef and I certainly do not want to rely on that as a tfood staple if we crash out of Europe.

Our almost 16-year-old granddaughter, over the evening meal, was expressing her indignation about not having a say in what her future will hold. Even the ditsy girls who are really only interested in hair and make-up and clothes, she assured us, are cross at what the old folk have decided the country will become! Even the ditsy girls!!!

And finally, here’s a dietary thing. After Dry January, the thing to look out for now is Fizz Free February. (Personally I would say Fizz-Free, but punctuation is a different problem.) They don’t mean “fizz”, as in Prosecco, Champagne and the like, but fizzy drinks like Coca-Cola, Tango and so on. A can of Coca-Cola classic contains 35g of sugar.

But maybe we won’t be able to import too many fizzy soft drinks after the end of March!

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Some of the oddness of life!

People do some odd things for a living. Someone called Molly Schuyler wrote in today’s paper about being a professional competitive eater. Needless to say this is in the USA.

“I stumbled into competitive eating. In 2012, I was working in a bar in Nebraska and its restaurant had a challenge: if you ate its 5lb (2.2kg) hamburger, which is about the diameter of a soccer ball, you got it for free. Someone bet me I couldn’t do it, so I just ate it. I didn’t think it was a big deal but everyone else did. I undertook a couple of similar challenges. There was a burger joint down the road and I ended up taking its record. Then they put me in a face-off with the previous record-holder.

After that, things snowballed. At first, I only wanted to do challenges, not contests where you’re facing all these people and trying to win money. I have four kids, and I was too busy. But in 2013, I was invited to a competition in Connecticut. I won two contests back-to-back and earned more in four minutes than I could make in two weeks at work. I quit my job after that.”

She defends her “career” choice: -

“My kids know what I do for a living, but I don’t flaunt it in front of them, and they don’t come to the contests. It’s not a nice world to be in. People are critical of what we do, or make rude comments. They think we’re wasteful. But if you’ve ever overeaten at Thanksgiving, or gone to a buffet and eaten more than you should, you’ve done the same thing – only I’m getting paid.”

Each to their own, I suppose. 

Weird and strange things go on all over the place. Some of them are useful.

Chloe Delevingne, co-founder of the Gynaecological Cancer Fund, had a cervical smear test on television during the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. A survey published earlier this week suggested that young women were putting off having smear test, or simply not having one at all, because of embarrassment, fear of it maybe hurting or whatever other reason they could come up with. So Ms Delevingne set out to show that it’s no big deal, just another occasion when a woman had to be a bit undignified!

Good for her!

Officially the best place to live in the UK is Orkney - cheap houses, low crime, good schools and a population among the happiest and healthiest in the country. This is according to the Halifax annual quality of life survey. Why are people so happy there?

Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thing. Genetic studies have shown that 25% of the gene pool of Orkney derives from Norwegian ancestors who invaded the islands in the 9th century.

Or it might be having plenty of room. In 2011, 21,349 people lived in Orkney, which means they are quite spread out, considering the area is made up of 70 islands, of which about 20 are inhabited.This may have something to do with it.

Here are some other statistics:

The Isle of Wight has the most sun, averaging 37 hours a week.

Castle Point in Essex has the lowest UK rainfall, 525 mm per year as against an average of 870 mm for the country as a whole. Mind you, you have ask yourself whether less rain would compensate for living in Essex.

Eden in Cumbria has three times more pubs per person than the UK average.

The roads in the Western Isles are the quietest in the UK. Wow! that’s a surprise!

But, and here’s an important one, Greater Manchester has the fastest broadband!!! Greater Manchester rules, OK!

I always find celebrity challenge shows very odd. You know the kind of thing: famous people do a range of activities, make fools of themselves and sometimes come to actual bodily harm. A show called The Jump - the clue is in the title: famous people trained up to do a ski jump, some of them never having skied before - has an impressive list of injuries.

Here are a few:-

        Melinda Messenger - concussion.
        Sir Bradley Wiggins - broken leg.
        Linford Christie - hamstring.
        Rebecca Adlington - dislocated shoulder.
        Marcus Brigstocke - snapped cruciate ligaments (I really don’t know what that is but it sounds painful!).

I notice that some of these are very fit people who practise other sports.

Anyway, the gymnast Beth Tweddle, who suffered serious back injury, has been suing the makers of the programme for large amounts of damages. And yet, a bit of me says that surely all of them had an idea that they might get hurt. The skiers we see on the TV flying though the air at the end of a ski jump have been doing it for years. Can you really expect to become proficient in the course of a TV programme?

You wouldn’t catch me attempting it. A gentle downhill run, the ability to go in and out of markers and being able to do a snow-plough to bring myself to a safe stop - that was quite enough for me to learn on my one attempt at skiing!

Friday, 25 January 2019

Transport matters. And perceived poshness!

In the midst of all the will-we, won’t-we stories about Brexit I found a report that Kent is going to get £29m to make its roads Brexit-ready. This is part of a plan to prepare the place for a no-deal Brexit, a plan known as Operation Brock. (Where do they get these wonderfully poetic names for these plans?) Most would go on carriageway strengthening and a bit would go on improving the disused Manston airport. It’s a lot of money.

I wonder if we could somehow link roads around here into a post-No-Deal-Brexit plan. Some of them are in a parlous state and don’t just need carriageway strengthening so that big lorries can drive on them but so that ordinary, everyday cars and trucks can drive on them. After all, the main road running past our house is the A62, which I am told serves as “run off” road when the M62 is closed for one reason or another.

 Okay, I accept that I am talking nonsense but most of what I am hearing at the moment sounds like arrant nonsense too.

On the plus side, I hear that Greater Manchester is going to receive hundreds of millions of pounds to develop the UK’s first tram-train network. At least that is what the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has supposedly promised. The tram network, Metrolink, is already the largest in the country. Who knew that? And now the transport secretary wants to buy a fleet of trams that can also run on the railways. Apparently tram-trains are common in Germany, France and Holland and can run on existing rail lines as well as on the street. They are a lot cheaper than building new railway lines. 

Now, this whole topic strikes me as odd because I thought that some of them already used the old railway tracks. They must just use the old routes.

Part of the plan is to extend the service out to Wigan, Stockport and Bolton. That is in quite the wrong direction for me. I would like them to extend the service out towards Saddleworth, where we live! It would be so much more convenient!

According to our Italian teacher in a conversation about terminology for describing conurbations of different kinds - metropolis, city, town, village, hamlet - for Italians a place can only be called a metropolis if it has an underground system. So Manchester can be called a city, because it has a cathedral, but not a metropolis, despite being quite large and cosmopolitan.

Funnily enough, I overheard a conversation between two Transport for Greater Manchester employees on a tram recently, in which one of them was getting very excited about the possibility of TfGM beginning to dig tunnels under the city centre and develop a proper metro. Goodness me! I bet it still would not come out to our bit of Greater Manchester though.

In a sort of online conversation with my Spanish sister (sending messages back and forth via Messenger when really we should just have actually spoken, but that’s a different matter) late this afternoon, she told me that an old student friend of hers, originally from Oldham, possible still resident around here, had told her that where we live is considered posh. It’s all relative, of course. Bits of our area are decidedly posh, with extremely expensive houses, occupied by folk who drive 4x4s that might be worth more than our house. Our bit is less posh but, depending on whereabouts in Oldham her friend comes from, we might all seem posh. Posh enough anyway for our daughter to speculate on how she might afford a house around here and thus be able to send her tiniest daughter to a “good” primary school in a couple of years’ time.

So it goes!

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Bits of craziness!

A bank, my bank, well, like most banks really, encourages its customers to do online or telephone banking as much as possible. Some of their “products”, such as certain types of ISA or savings accounts, can only be “accessed” online. (Even the terminology annoys me: accessing products indeed!!!) Then they find that fewer people are using their high street branches and so they decide they must close quite a lot of them.

Create a problem. Complain about it. Use it as an excuse to carry out unpleasant actions you might be planning to do anyway!

Oh boy!

Then there’s acting.

Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad fame, is playing the role of someone in a wheelchair in a film called The Upside. This has led to discussion about who can or cannot play disabled people.

“Most non-disabled people are afraid of becoming disabled and non-disabled people are primarily writing films about disability, so if you’re coming at it from a place of harm and fear to begin with, it’s probably not going to be an actual, accurate representation of what disability is and what disabled people’s lives are like,” filmmaker Dominick Evans said.

Bryan Cranston defended his character, however, explaining that playing other people is kind of his job. “If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I'm very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can’t play a homosexual?” he asked. Quite so!

Film makers want big-name stars. There are extremely few disabled big-name stars. Ironically enough one of these, though still relatively small-name I think, is R.J. Mitte who worked with Bryan Cranson in Breaking Bad. He played Walter White’s son, who has cerebral palsy. The actor himself has mild cerebral palsy but even he admits to having to do some research in order to play the character. Yes, that’s what ACTORS do.

But it’s hard, apparently, for disabled actors to get the breaks and reach big-name status.

Someone on the radio said it was a “systemic and continuing problem”.

What a load of rubbish!

Take it to its extreme and you insist that the only people who can play the royal family in The Queen must be actual members of the royal family.

Here’s some more nonsense.

David Davis has signed up to earn £60,000 for 20 hours work a year as an external adviser to manufacturing giant JCB. The former Brexit secretary, who quit in 2018, will earn the equivalent of £3,000 an hour for the role, which was revealed after he declared it in parliament’s official registers of MPs’ interests. JCB’s chairman is Lord Bamford, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, major Tory Party donor and a supporter of Britain leaving the EU.

One wonders what David Davis knows about JCBs. Would he recognise one if he needed to lie down in front of one to protest?

Is the JCB company even getting value for money? For £60,000 they get 20 hours work! They could have employed three full-time workers on £20,000 each. Just a thought!

Back in the real world, today is an almost complete turnaround from yesterday. It’s still cold. The snow is still in the ground. The puddles are still frozen. Even the local mill ponds still have a skim of ice on the surface. But the clear, blue-sky crispness has gone to be replaced by chilly mist, which moved in late yesterday and stayed. It’s probably not quite freezing fog but it comes close.

On my run this morning I saw a swan on one of the mill ponds, moving serenely through the thin ice like an icexbreaker, or possibly the Titanic. Where had it come from? I know there are swans on the canal in nearby Diggle so maybe it was flying around and got lost in the fog.

Our government seems to be flying around in the fog in similar fashion. As more and more companies consider fleeing the sinking ship, I wonder where we will end up. Even if Brexit is cancelled, will the companies who have moved headquarters bother to come back? Crazy times!

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Winterwonderland and being English.

Here are some pictures of the winter wonderland around our house today. Yesterday we had snowshowers intermittently and an altogether gloomy day when it barely seemed to get light. This did not stop me going into Manchester, despite the fact that pessimists on the bus were predicting a total shutdown of public transport later in the day. This did not happen!

Our Italian teacher congratulated us on getting there at all in the snow. She says that when heavy snow is predicted in her native Sicily, something which surely must be relatively rare, schools are instantly closed and the place goes into shutdown. We pointed out that we are English and can put up with a bit of snow.

Today is bright and crisp and clear, but extremely cold, all of which makes for excellent photography conditions.

Reflecting on being English, I read a report of Wayne Rooney’s recent arrest at Washington DC airport. He tried to go through a secure door, thinking it was a lift and was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.This is what the arresting officer reported: “I approached the individual and asked what had happened, and in HIS BROKEN ENGLISH he stated he went through the door ...because he thought it was a lify. The subject provided a British passport and the individual was identified as Wayne Mark Rooney.”

I suspect he was speaking as he always does but bus accent was not recognised by the American officials. They have clearly never heard the English spoken by the group of semi-feral youths who travelled on the same tram as us the other day. Even we had difficulty understanding them.

Perhaps their English was also “broken”.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Snow. Reasons to buy poetry books. The dangers of going cashless.

The promised snow has arrived, although not so far in any great depth. According to my daughter who came to breakfast this morning, today being Tuesday, it has been enough to cause an increase in traffic on the roads this morning. Her middle daughter had to be in school early for something called an “intervention” - a fancy name for an extra lesson because the teacher feels the class is not making fast enough progress through the curriculum in time for GCSE exams - and arrived a few minutes later than planned, not because the roads were particularly snow-covered but because extra people had got their cars out.

We shall see what delights the rest of the day brings!

I read that there has been an increase in sales of poetry books. Curiously this is attributed to an increased passion for politics, especially among teenagers and millennials. A spokesman for the UK book sales monitor Nielson BookScan said that sales were booming because in times of political upheaval and uncertainty, people turn to poems to make sense of the world: “Poetry is resonating with people who are looking for understanding. It is a really good way to explore complex, difficult emotions and uncertainty.”

 Well, who knew that that was something that goes on?

Social media is, of course, involved in this. Rupi Kaur, a 26-year-old Canadian poet with 3.4 million followers on Instagram, leads the bestsellers list and was responsible for almost £1m of sales. The numbers of “followers” says it all. The spokesman for Nielson added that in general poetry’s brevity also meant it could be easily consumed on phones.

There you go. Everything comes down in the end to that handheld device we almost all carry around with us.

I recently re-read “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Having seen the two TV series based on the book, I wanted to remind myself of the original and see how faithful the series were to the written version. Quite faithful, as it turns out. There were some quite distinct changes, such as the commander’s wife, Serena Joy, being rather younger in the TV series than in the book, but in the whole it ran fairly true to the original. The backstory was more developed in the TV series details such as mobile phones brought it all more up to date.

Mobile phones were not around when Margaret Atwood published the book in 1985 but credit and debit cards were and computers were becoming more important. In the book the narrator comments that the uprising’s takeover of everyone’s lives in Gilead was made possible by the disappearance of actual cash from general use. All payments were made by card, connecting to a central banking system and so the government was able to close down access to money by women in particular and presumably by anyone for whom they wanted to make life difficult.

We need to think hard as we progress towards a cashless society.

Maybe we need to start storing gold under mattress as well as stockpiling medicines and tins of food in preparation for a No-Deal Brexit!

Monday, 21 January 2019

Moon serendipity. Houses in Sicily. Settled status. And films.

Well, I was convinced that today I was going to begin by saying that, as I had predicted, I had not seen hide nor hair of any red moon. This was especially so as when I went to bed the rain was hammering down and there was cloud cover all over the sky. Not at all auspicious for moon-spotting or stargazing.

And then serendipity stepped in.

At somewhere around 4.30 in the morning I woke up and went to the bathroom. Noticing the time I decided to take a look out of the window. And there it was, in a mostly clear and starry sky:- a rapidly disappearing sliver of moon. So I climbed back into bed, leaving the blind open so that I could see what was going on.

Gradually the sliver of silver disappeared and little by little the rest of the moon reappeared, orangey red in colour. Not quite as spectacular as I had been led to believe, and indeed, less spectacular than an orange-coloured moon I saw one evening in the summer in Vigo, reflecting the sunset sky, but it was considerably more impressive than the eclipse of the sun. I saw that, or rather didn’t actually see it, while out running, whenever the last eclipse of the sun was visible around here. It was a bit frustrating because, of course, you can’t actually look at the sun. I just kept getting odd glimpses out of the corner of my eye of the sun looking not quite right. And later I sat and played with a colander to get images of the eclipse projected onto the bedroom floor.

But the moon business was much more interesting in the end. I watched it for a while and must have dropped off back to sleep, or at least dozed, for the next time I looked either the cloud had moved in or the moon had moved on. Either way there was nothing more to see.

So I closed the blind and went to sleep. In Sambuca, in Sicily, they are selling houses for €1. It’s an attempt by the municipality to prevent the little town from dying as people have moved away to bigger places and houses are standing empty. However, the deal does have one condition – new owners must invest €15,000 ( £13,000) into refurbishing their new home within three years, as most of the abandoned homes are run down and dilapidated.

There is also a €5,000 ($5,700, £4,400) security deposit to consider, which will be returned once the renovations on the houses, ranging from 40 to 150 sq metres, have been completed.

Still, if you have the spare cash and the will, and perhaps the knowledge, to refurbish a house and settle in Sicily, it’s an opportunity,

Ah, but will it be affected by Brexit? Well, that is another story! Who knows?

Meanwhile, EU citizens in the Uk are invited to apply for settled status, using an app on their phones and paying £65. Here are couple of things I have found on a forum for EU citizens:-

“After 22 years, 6 months and 25 days of living in England - in continuous employment - paying all my taxes, married to a British citizen and a home owner I now have to apply for settled status (and charged £65). If I don't, I risk being DEPORTED.

Yes, in 2019, the word DEPORTATION is back in our vocabulary...

What's next? Am I going to have to wear an identifiable star on my clothes??

This is no Project fear.

This is the reality for 3.7 millions of us.

Over 1500 crimes and incidents related to brexit have now been reported to police since the referendum.

Thanks to all the Leave voters. You managed to get this country to the brink of civil war and collapse.

Still let's remain optimistic and hope for a no Brexit!

There is still a little bit of time to save this country….”

“I have just downloaded the EU Exit app...

 My phone fits the requirements… but guess what? The app cannot read my passport!

My only option is to send my passport for manual checks… and be without any form of ID???

I don't think so!

Anybody else having problems?”

So that seems to be another bit of well thought out hostile environment planning!

 And here’s another amateur review of the film “Mary, Queen of Scots”, found once again on Facebook:-

“The movie Mary Queen of Scots has had good reviews but having seen the trailer it seems to make a nonsense of the facts. In the first place Mary would not have spoken with the kind of a strangled mix of Scottish and Irish accents adopted by Ms Ronan. If anything, she'd have spoken English with a French accent. Secondly despite Schiller and Donizetti, Mary and Queen Elizabeh NEVER met!” 

Well, a review of the trailer anyway.

Goodness knows if I will get around to seeing it.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Moons and women in the news!

We travelled back from Newcastle through a gloriously crisp and sunny afternoon, arriving in Oldham finally about five minutes too late for a bus to Delph. Faced with a wait of almost an hour for the next one, we opted for a taxi.

As we walked to the taxi rank we were impressed by the size and clarity of the moon. This led to an unresolved discussion about whether or not the moon is full this evening. Is it full? Is it nearly full? Is it just past full? I have no idea. I have not heard any werewolves howling though!

Since then I have read that there will be a total eclipse of the moon tonight. The newspaper tells me: “An unusual set of circumstances will combine in the early hours of Monday morning in the skies above the northern hemisphere, resulting in a phenomenon called a super blood wolf moon. A total lunar eclipse will give an apparent reddish colour to the lunar surface – known as a blood moon. At the same time, the moon will be slighty closer to Earth than normal and appear slightly bigger and brighter than usual – a phenomenon called a supermoon. In January, the full moon is also sometimes known as the wolf moon or great spirit moon – hence the super blood wolf moon.”

There you go.

The best time to view it is supposed to be between about 4.40am and about 6.45am. No doubt by then the cloud will have moved it as it usually does around here whenever there is an interesting phenomenon to see in the sky, odd-coloured moons, comets, or whatever.

So I do not think I will be setting an alarm to view it.

Women’s views and actions have figured in stuff I have picked up on in the news today.

First of all the woman whose wrist was broken in the car crash involving the Duke of Edinburg has been expressing her sadness that she has not received an apology from his highness. ““I love the royals but I’ve been ignored and rejected and I’m in a lot of pain,” the mother of two from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, said. “It would mean the world to me if Prince Philip said sorry but I have no idea if he’s sorry at all. What would it have taken for him and the Queen to send me a card and a bunch of flowers?” She said she had only had a cryptic message passed on via a police family liaison officer, which said: “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would like to be remembered to you.” L

I wonder if she would expect such a level of apologising from a member of the ordinary public who was involved in a crash with her. Is there maybe a certain amount of jumping on bandwagons and snatching fifteen minutes of fame going on here? And perhaps Buck House feels that actually apologising in so many words might seem like an admission of culpability. Heaven forbid such a thing!

On the other side of the Atlantic four women have been found guilty of entering a national wildlife refuge without a permit in an attempt to leave food and water in the Arizona desert for migrants. They are volunteers for an organisation called No More Deaths. This is said to be the first conviction agains humanitarian aid volunteers in more than a decade. Interestingly the judge concerned is called Bernardo Velasco, someone who nay have forgotten his own immigrant origins by the sound of things.

And finally, I have been thinking that it was about time I got myself organised to see one or both of the two films involving stories about British queens which have been so much talked about in recent weeks: The Favourite with Olivia Colman and Mary Queen of Scots with Saiorse Ronan. Both come highly recommended by people whose opinions I value.

Then I came across this post, on Facebook, of course:

“Gorgeous girly eve last night watching Mary Queen of Scots. Brilliant acting from the two lead females but the rest of the film same old.”

And it gets my goat a little when women have to so super-feminist that they can only praise the female leads and not accept that the film has to work as a whole.

However, I reserve judgement until I have actually seen the film. That’s all.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

In the frozen North East.

We are visiting a friend in Gateshead, just next door to Newcastle. It is very cold in the North East of England. At some point in the night I woke up with extremely cold feet. Trying to go back to sleep with co,d feet is no joke!

This morning the ice and snow had disappeared from the pavements here. Last night they were extremely treacherous but things must have improved a little in the night as I was able to walk out to buy a paper without risking life and limb. It is nonetheless still very cold.

Here is a mini “choose your own adventure”, courtesy of a certain Tom Gauld in the Guardian revue this weekend.

1. Your house is overloaded with books. What do you do?
      Answer: Get rid of some books: - go to 2.
      or:          Read one of the books: - go to 6.
2. You take some books to the charity shop. On the way home you pass a bookshop. Do you go in?            Answer: Yes: - go to 3.
       or:          No: - go to 4.
3. What a lovely bookshop! Do you want to buy some books?
    Answer: Yes: - go to 5.
     or:          No: - go to 4.
4. You try to resist but cannot ...
                   Go to 5.
5. You buy some books and go home happy.
                   Go to 1.
6. You spend a few pleasant hours reading.
                  Go to 1.

This is particularly relevant to me as we have far too many books in our house and it is is really difficult to get rid of them. Our daughter had told me about an organisation you can contact, sending them a list of ISBN numbers of books you want to get rid of. They will consider your list and offer you a price for any they would like to buy off you. This could be something of a solution ... if I can only gather the will to sort through the books. The friend we are staying with and I were discussing the difficulty of de-cluttering this morning.

The book-buying organisation does not, of course, deal with the problem of the books they do not want to take off my hands.

When our son was 8 or 9 he was briefly enthusiastic about choose your own adventure books. They are a fun idea but in the end the appeal palled. I hear that the “Black Mirror” television series has produced an interactive choose-your-own-adventure version of some of their futuristic dystopian stories. I am not sure that I want to see them.

This afternoon we braved the chilly - but not as chilly as yesterday - outdoors and went to the Baltic exhibition centre in Newcastle. There we looked at A Retrospective, an exhibition of work by one Rasheed Araeen. His work spans a length of time of more than 60 years, interesting but perhaps a little repetitive! Some of his 3D geometric works were quite impressive but really I preferred his drawing of faces from Karachi from early in his artistic life.

The exhibition centre is close to the Sage, Newcastle’s concert venue. Here are some photos of the riverside nearby:-

Friday, 18 January 2019

Moving on!

Last night I decided to watch the DVD of Leonard Cohen’s London concert from 2007 or 2008 once again. You have to watch it every so often to remind yourself of how good it was. I appreciated his introductory comment where he welcomed and thanked the audience for meeting him “this side of intimacy”. The venue was enormous.

We had been fortunate enough to see him at Manchester’s Opera House, a truly intimate venue, where we sat about ten rows back from the stage. The concert was pretty much the same as regards songs but the atmosphere must have been very different. The Manchester concert gave us goosebumps, it was so good. Our son told us the London concert did the same but I am not totally convinced.

We saw him again in Vigo, in one of the summer concerts in Castrelos Park sponsored by the municipality. We paid the grand sum of €12 per ticket to see that concert. The Sublime Webb Sisters, as Leonard Cohen always referred to them, did cartwheels on the stage. Fabulous stuff!

I wonder what you do after you have played with the likes of Leonard Cohen. I heard that the Sublime Webb Sisters were invited to play with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It is to be hoped that they did not get a complex about the person they were supporting dying on them!

Today we are traveling to the far north, well, Newcastle, where it is reported to have snowed. I fully expected to find snow in Delph this morning but we just went on with crisp and cold. Snow is, however, forecast for later in the day.

According to stuff I have read in the newspaper, divorce celebrity-style is very civilised these days. For example, “Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently revealed that things had gone so well post-breakup that he had accompanied Paltrow on her honeymoon with new love, Brad Falchuck.” Really? Why would you want anyone extra on your honeymoon? Let alone your ex?

And then I found this about someone I have never heard of: “ The current queen of gracious divorcees is Anna Faris, who poured out her happiness about ex-husband Chris Pratt’s engagement to Katherine Schwarzenegger on Instagram this week, saying, “I’m so happy for you both!!” before offering to perform the wedding ceremony herself (ostensibly a genuine proposition, given that she is an ordained minister).”

There you go.

Maybe Theresa May is still hoping something similar can happen with the UK’s divorce from Europe!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Mistakes of one kind and another.

Well, Theresa May managed to rally the troops to vote for her in the no confidence question. Now what will happen. She seems to be quite pleased with herself.

One thing you have to say for the Conservatives is that they rally round when faced by the possibility that another party might get in. They are like a grumpy family, the members of which fight like cat and dog but who present a united front when threatened from outside.

As to what happens now, we are none the wiser. Opinions fly around - all sorts of different opinions.

Theresa May appears to be trying to win round MPs individually by having loads of separate meetings. But Jeremy Corbyn won’t meet her, unless, that is, she promises that NO DEAL will not be considered.

And so it goes on. All very disturbing!

Ah well, other things are still going on.

Snow is forecast for tomorrow. This may be because we plan to catch a train to Newcastle tomorrow although I don’t really think the weathermen take our plans into account. If it does snow, no doubt all sorts of chaos will ensue.

It has been cold enough today for the ground to be frozen solid in preparation for tomorrow’s snow. Otherwise, it has been a splendid winter’s day - crisp and cold and sunny!

On the bus today I saw a notice about fares going up. About halfway down the notice it said, “A summary of changes are below”. Now, around here you get used to people confusing “was” and “were”, mostly using “were” for both possibilities. But I did not know that it was usual to confuse “is” and “are”.

Mind you, I once had a friend who never said “I’m not” but always said “I aren’t”!

It is possible to do strange things with the English language.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Heading for the apocalypse!

So here we are, the day after THE VOTE. And are we any closer to knowing what is going to happen? It doesn’t seem like it. According to some, we appear to be running out of time. People are asking if there is actually time to come up with a new plan, or to hold a general election, or to have another referendum, or even just to start spinning on the spot, before that fateful March date comes along.

So do we just crash out of Europe, flounder around for a while, hope we manage to swim and see what happens? Only time will tell, but if I were PM I think I might want to curl up in a corner of a darkened room and cry!

This stuff could go on and on for years, even though right now it seems like the end of things.

Meanwhile, poor Andy Murray seems to be coming to the end of things. Even though I feel quite sorry for him, I want to tell him that it could be worse. He must have amassed enough to live on comfortably. No doubt he can become some sort of sports consultant. There must be a book there somewhere. And judging by what happens with almost every famous person these days, before we know it someone will make a film of his life. However, I hope he gets his hip sorted out soon. And I doubt that he will have to wait for the NHS to make it possible! 

I came across this article about a 64 year-old Vietnam veteran who has chosen to live homeless, or houseless as he prefers to put it, in Alaska. As he says, his kind of homelessness/houselessness out in the wilds is very different to urban homelessness. Mostly self-sufficient, he visits a foodbank about once a month to stock up on non-perishable essentials and considers himself to live a more eco-friendly life than most.

He’s aware of the risks: “In general, stupidity out here in the frozen north usually carries severe consequences: campfires in a dry forest on a windy day easily get out of control; sloppy chainsaw, axe or knife work you could lose a finger or cut into an artery and bleed out; carelessness near rivers or ice could drown you; drinking water from a polluted creek will leave you very sick. Pick berries to eat oblivious to your surroundings and you could get eaten yourself (bears like berries too).

People with a penchant for stumbling around drunk and stoned and sleeping it off curbside in the middle of the afternoon probably won’t succeed out here. Discoveries of frozen houseless people regularly make local news headlines. If these folks can’t make in an urban setting with services right around the corner, living in the woods miles from any help is not an option.”

He wants to keep his location secret as he fears others might try to join him.

That’s his chosen way of life. Personally I would find the lack of regularly washed clothing and the difficulty of dealing with personal hygiene rather difficult to cope with. But then whenever I see documentaries of people off on great adventure treks into the wilds, the same question crosses my mind: how do you get by without a daily shower and clean knickers?

One group planning a bit of an adventure is a bunch of flat-earthers. The Flat Earth International Conference is planning a Flat Earth Cruise for 2020, with participants doing a fair few of the usual things people on cruises do. There’s just one problem really. The navigational systems cruise ships, and other vessels, use rely on the fact that the Earth is not flat: theoretically puncturing the beliefs of the flat Earth crowd. “Ships navigate based on the principle that the Earth is round,” said Henk Keijer, a former cruise ship captain who sailed all over the globe during a 23-year career. “Nautical charts are designed with that in mind: that the Earth is round.”

That may not bother the Flat Earth people though. I fully expect that they use mobile phones, as do many folk who believe we should live according to older belief systems.

One aspect of their belief is that the world is a sort of disc surrounded by an ice-wall - Antarctica! Presumably the wall stops us all sliding off into space.

Space itself is another matter as real flat earthers with tell you, as “the space agencies of the world” have conspired to fake “space travel and exploration”.

This is as crazy, although nowhere near as dangerous, as the evangelicals in the United States, where people like Mike Pompeo can say, as he did in a speech at the American University in Cairo, that in his state department office: “I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and his word, and the truth.” This is a man involved in the government of a really powerful nation.

Just as he did in Cairo, Pompeo called on the congregation of a Kansan megachurch three years ago to join a fight of good against evil. “We will continue to fight these battles,” the then congressman said at the Summit church in Wichita. “It is a never-ending struggle … until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

For Pompeo’s audience, the rapture invoked an apocalyptical Christian vision of the future, a final battle between good and evil, and the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the faithful will ascend to heaven and the rest will go to hell.

Maybe this is what has been going on the Houses of Parliament!

Monday, 14 January 2019

Taking an extreme view of things!

I spotted a headline in today’s newspaper: Playing it straight. Should gay roles be reserved for gay actors?

Oh boy!

The article didn’t come to any kind of definite conclusion. It just gave a whole lot of opinions and attitudes. And it gave me a new bit of terminology: a straight actor playing a gay role is “gayfacing”, just as a white actor might do “blackfacing”!

Okay, I draw the line at accepting putting on make-up to play the role of a black person but otherwise we should not forget that what we are talking about is ACTING. The clue is in the word!

Other similar questions spring to mind:-

Should detectives only be played by actors who have experience in CID?

Should Liverpudlian roles be reserved for actors from Liverpool?

And Cockney roles for actors born within the sound of Bow Bells?

To play criminals do actors have to have committed actual crimes? 

We seem currently to live in a world of extremes!

Here’s another example: vegan compost, made without manure, no animal products involved.

A group of Greek and Cypriot organic farmers I read about have been using wasted olive branches, olive leaves, olive cale (the dry residue left after olives have been pressed), and grape pomace (the leftovers from vineyards) to produce compost. In that compost they found they were able to grow huge vegetables. They export the compost to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, all places where there is a high demand for vegan fruit and veg.

Okay! Just how vegan does your fruit and veg need to be? Is it okay that cherry blossom, for example, is pollinated by insects? Should it not perhaps be done without insect intervention?

I fully expect Helen and Tom Archer to start campaigning for this stuff on their organic farm. After all, Tom has already had a go at kefir and has started talking about planting quinoa.

Apparently the compost needs to “ripen” into humus soil (I am not really very well up on the science of soil) and as it takes four years for this ripening to occur, this makes it a bit expensive for large scale use. However, producers foresee a demand for mature humus soil from urban growers, cultivating veg in rooftop soil bags. They also hope that conventional organic farmers (come on Helen and Tom!) will buy it as cheaper compost and ripen it on their own land, meanwhile growing huge veg in it.

Hmm! Will Brexit allow us to import such stuff? It is European, after all!

Mind you, we might all be down to a bit of urban vegetable cultivation if the foreseen post-Brexit food shortages come to pass. Dig up your roses beds and plant potatoes and carrots. Make a nice hedge of blackcurrant bushes and raspberry canes.

So-called Brexit survival kits costing almost £300 are already being sold ahead of the UK leaving the EU. A Leeds company has been producing packs which include enough freeze-dried food to last 30 days, a water filter and fire starting gel.

One interviewee said she bought a box to supplement her stocks of tinned food and toilet roll as she feared there may be "chaos" in the months after Brexit.

A government spokesperson, on the other hand, said there was "no need" to stockpile any of the items in the box.

A number of Brexit-themed products have appeared for sale and several online discussion groups have been set up. More than 3,500 people have joined the Facebook group 48% Preppers which says it discusses "the practical preparations people are making for life after Brexit". Meanwhile a "Prepping for Brexit" page on Mumsnet has more than 250 posts with members saying they plan to stock up on everything from medication, toiletries and nappies to hair dye and tobacco.

And tomorrow the much talked about vote takes place.

I am a little sceptical about all the news reports I have read and heard over the last few days which tell me that Theresa May is going to lose the vote. It hasn’t taken place yet. Assuming it is already lost might put a kind of hex on it.

The Maybot might yet pull a rabbit out of her hat!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Apostrophes and other nonsense.

This is a notice I spotted outside a local pub. I was struck by the number of totally unnecessary apostrophes.

My Spanish sister says she spots them all over the place in Spain, wrongly used of course, but she didn’t think they were so prevalent in England. This is a sign of how long it is since she has lived in this country. It is also a sign of how standards have slipped. There always were what used to be called  “grocer’s” apostrophes but nowadays there are so many signs all over the place that rogue apostrophes abound.

When Phil came home (and, incidentally, my hero, fixed the lighting situation, which was, as I suspected a blown fuse) he told me about the Holiday Inn in Doncaster, where he has been playing
chess this weekend. There they offer a “selection of panini’s”. Whoa! Double whammy fault!

“Panini” is already plural, the singular being “panino” and then there is that APOSTROPHE!

I am relatively forgiving about the “paninis”. After all, you can’t expect everyone to be an expert linguist. We linguists get a bit picky about such things though. And rogue apostrophes drive us language and grammar obsessives wild!

I trust everyone noticed my correct use of “we linguists” and “us obsessives”. Another obsession!

Between you and me, another thing that really annoys me is when people say “between you and I” or “for Mary and I”. Just think what you would say if there were not another person involved. Nobody says “for I” or “with I”, for goodness sake! it’s not all that hard!

Okay! Another rant over!

Here are some more January activities to sign up to:

Japanuary - reading only book sets in Japan. Example: Memoirs of  Geisha.

Granuary - reading only books that prominently feature grandmothers. Example: Gangsta Granny.

Dystopianuary - reading only books set in a dystopian world. Example: The Hunger Games. (Or any news report on how Brexit is going!)

Danuary - reading only books written by people named Dan. Example: Robinson Crusoe. The Da Vinci Code.

Libranuary - reading only books that contain one or more librarians. Example: The Name of the Rose. Or possibly La Sombra del Viento.

That’s all for now. Today is singularly wet and windy. I have run round the village and bought the Sunday newspaper. I have no need or intention to poke my nose outside again.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Confessions of certain inadequacies on my part!

Well, today I seem to be determinedly being a GIRL! A totally ditsy female who can’t do things!

Only women, by the way, are allowed to describe themselves in this fashion. If men do it they are being sexist!

Be that as it may, I am definitely not managing to do certain things. As a rule I am quite self-sufficient. In general I can fix things. I can build flatpack furniture without any problem whatsoever. I am an ace decorator, doing bits of plastering as needed and repainting walls and so on. I can usually find solutions. But the last few days have stumped me.

First there has been the business of the new phone.

Phil and I don’t “do” new iPhones and contracts with Apple. As our daughter and her older offspring upgrade their iPhones, we sort of inherit their more outdated handsets and put in sims from another provider. It works fine. Except that the process of transferring stuff from the old phone to the less old phone might have been witchcraft as far as I was concerned. I let my daughter get on with it on my behalf. At the moment it works reasonably well except that my Fitbit still talks to the old phone instead of the less old phone. And the Messenger app does not work on the new/less old device. No doubt it will all be sorted as it goes along.

Despite being quite good with machinery - I once wowed my engineer brother-in-law by taking my sewing machine apart, fixing it and putting it back together - I confess that I have always found information technology more than a little daunting. (Come to that, moving from a three-speed to a ten-speed gear system on my bike was quite a challenge - but I overcame it!) Long ago I briefly resisted the move from type writer to word processor. That is all in the past, however, as I quickly realised that the word processor had considerable advantages. I am not a total luddite or technophobe!

But whenever we had IT training in the various colleges I worked at, I was the one who was always lagging behind the rest in the group. When everyone else at stage 15, I was still floundering about at stage 4! And I have to admit that I got really grumpy over the whole procedure, something which is not conducive to learning new skills!

My attitude quickly became one of “I can do certain things but others are just too technical for me and I am not really interested in finding out how to do them anyway”. I do what I do and I do it well!

I cope fine with online banking and probably could not live without it. I am happy to buy stuff online. I cheerfully buy tickets for concerts over the internet. If pushed I can sort out travel that way too, but as Phil does it so much more quickly and efficiently I usually let him get on with it. I have not bothered to master streaming but I like to own CDs. And besides, it seems to me that if an artist has selected an order of songs to make an album, it’s a but churlish to simply download two or three of the songs!

This is probably why I failed science back in secondary school.

Then today I went to the supermarket, came back with a couple of bags of food shopping, switched on the light in the living room and the bulb went pop. Now, that is a bit of stuff I CAN deal with. Except that I realised that as the living room light went pop, the light in the hall went out too. And none of the lights would work.

Power-cut, I thought! How annoying!

Except that the standard lamps were still working. And all the electrical gadgets that plug in were still working.

So, not a power-cut then.

A simple power-cut might have been easier as I would just have to rely on an outside agency to put it right. On the other hand there would be the matter of the freezer quietly defrosting itself. So I presume this is a blown fuse issue or something like that - just the sort of thing I never deal with. And the man who does deal with such things won’t be back until later.

How very annoying! And it would choose to happen on a really dull day!

Friday, 11 January 2019

Better late than never! Translations and trains and architecture!

Today’s blog never got started properly as the day sort of slipped away. After I had finished the morning stuff - run, shower, breakfast, sort out wet hair, tidy up, read paper, and on and on - suddenly it was afternoon and my daughter turned up, ostensibly to sort out my phone but also to do a whole load of other stuff. And the phone is still not quite sorted. It’s all very well the younger generation saying that I really need a more up to date phone but, oh, the hassle involved in sorting it out!!! 

Anyway, here it is.

The linguist bit of me was highly amused to read that Brexit ministers paid EU £1.5m for translations of the Brexit white paper into other EU languages. Much embarrassment was caused as the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) was ridiculed for sending “clunky” translations. I wonder if they did that Spanish thing of finding someone, maybe a niece or a cousin, who knew a bit of each language and made use of them.

In the event, translation experts found numerous mistakes and irregularities in several translations, including the French, German, Croatian and Welsh language versions of Theresa May ’s Chequers plan. Mistakes in Croation I can understand. Who learns Croation at school? But why was it necessary to translate the document into Welsh? Surely there is no Welsh official who does not speak perfectly adequate English, maybe with a nice lilt but still perfectly good. I am once again astounded at such a waste of money in the name of political correctness!

While I am thinking about Wales, here is a link to an article about Harlech putting in a bid to be the place with the steepest street in the world. Apparently tourists come to look at it. People will look at the oddest things!

Phil sent me this link to Peter Hitchens’ blog, this time on the subject of Spain and the Spanish Civil War. Very interesting reading. I was struck by his comments on travelling on the Eurostar:

“ ... the scanning of luggage for Eurostar passengers seems daft and excessive.  It isn’t done on the Paris-Amsterdam Thalys (I am glad to say), or on any other cross-border express service that I know of even though there has been an actual terrorist incident on board that train. Spain insists on it for high-speed services, I know. But I think this is an understandable if excessive response to the massacres on trains in Madrid some years ago, which is Spain’s business.”

It is done on the station at Pontevedra, Galicia, and at the (relatively)new Urzáiz station in Vigo, presumably in preparation for the high speed trains that might one day use those stations. I am not sure about the Vigo end but the Pontevedra station luggage scanner closes down at around 9.30pm.

I can only assume that they consider that too late an hour for terrorists to strike!

Peter Hitchens also talked about Barcelona (he was more impressed than he expected to be Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada church) and voiced his opinion that the area north of the Plaza Catalunya has been ruined by modern architecture. I was reminded of recent visits to Manchester city centre where I see a huge amount of new high-rise building is going on. Now, I know that Manchester cannot really compare with Barcelona in terms of architecture but it does have some fine buildings and it has its own charm. However, I am concerned that Manchester’s older beautiful buildings are being dwarfed and overshadowed by these new giants.

It’s not often I find myself coming out with opinions that Prince Charles (and Peter Hitchens, I assume) might approve of.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The stress of growing up!

Years ago, more years than I care to calculate or remember, I read a science fiction story in which steps were taken to ensure equality. The very beautiful had to wear masks so that they did not outshine more ordinary-looking folk. The fleet of foot had weights attached to their ankles to slow them down to the speed of the majority. I cannot remember what was done to make the very clever appear dull. And I remember no details of events in the story, just the general social set-up in which equality really meant uniformity. On reflection it sounds like the scenario for a Black Mirror story, except that the Black Mirror stories always involve the dangers of modern technology.

How dull life would be if we were really all the same.

Equality (in other words, uniformity) of outcome is not the same as equality of opportunity.

Much is made of the fact that children nowadays have less freedom than those of previous generations. Many of my generation rabbit on nostalgically about being turned out to play first thing in the morning and not returning home until tea-time. They recall how they walked to and from school on our own from an early age. They tell you how good this freedom was for them. And now experts are backing them up. This article makes a correlation between overprotection in early childhood and the prevalence of mental problems in teenagers.

Steps are being taken to remedy the situation. Nursery schools have to let their small charges spend part of the day playing outdoors. The kind of “Forest School” playgroup that our smallest grandchild has attended encourage children to explore their environment and grub about in the dirt looking for interesting stuff. Schemes are set up to get older children out on bikes more frequently. Physical challenges!

But is it enough? Only time will tell. It must be hard to strike a balance between giving freedom and protecting. There is no denying that the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be. It’s not just the dangers that lurk behind the screens of the electronic media today’s youngsters are exposed to. The outdoor physical environment is less safe too.

Nobody can deny that there are simply more and bigger and faster cars on the roads. When my friends and I used to play out in the street - hopscotch, skipping, football games, whip and top, go-carts, just running around - the streets were emptier and the air was cleaner. And although we may have roamed a fair bit, mostly we stayed within our own districts, where there were enough stay-at-home mums to be on the lookout for which kids were doing what. And when we walked to and from school there were always mums, and occasionally dads, taking smaller children to school and keeping an informal eye on the bigger ones, even those who didn’t belong to them I don’t think we can replicate that today.

I grew up in a system where there were school exams a couple of times a year, for just about all kids from junior school age upwards. We used to keep a running total of our exam marksaverage them out and work out who was top of the class, and what position everyone else held. Pupils moved up and down from one class to another accordingly. A bit of healthy competition and some challenges to overcome. And yes, some people were always low down in the pecking order but most could reassure themselves that did well at maybe one or two things at least. And we learnt to deal with exam stress in a more routine way than seems to happen with SATs nowadays.

Sports worked the same way. Everyone had to take part in sports day, even those who were never selected for football, netball, cricket, rounders teams. Then suddenly competition was wrong and everyone had to succeed. Even those who came last got certificates.

Cooperative sporting activity is great but competition builds up resilience.

The article doesn’t mention this aspect of changes in the way our children are brought up and educated. But I have long held that spoon-feeding youngsters through GCSE exams does not prepare them for A-Levels. And spoon-feeding them through A-Levels does not prepare them for university. And giving put more and more first class degrees every year raises unrealistic expectations. It’s no wonder some of them crack under the newfound strain of thinking for themselves and organising themselves. It’s no bad thing to learn to deal with a bit of failure and disappointment before you get too far on in life.

Oh dear! I recognise that I am beginning to sound rather like those who say, “I used to get a good smacking and it did me no harm!” That is a different question altogether.

But maybe the millennials, born between 1982 and 1994, and “iGen”, aka “Gen-Z”, born after 1994, could have done with some of the challenges baby-boomers faced.

Once again, I find myself grateful to have been born at the right time.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

On democracy and the name of the month!

On the lunchtime news on the radio I heard the Prime Minister berating the leader of the opposition for not having a clear plan for what he would do about Brexit. A certain amount of pot calling the kettle black seems to be going on. The lady who appears not to know what she is doing criticises a gentleman for apparently not knowing what he would do if he were in control.

I have heard suggestions that in the event of the vote on the deal going against her, the PM should use her powers to push the deal through anyway. Is that really possible? Does she have such powers? Isn’t it like POTUS signing presidential orders without letting Congress debate the idea first?

Another suggestion is that an election should be called for immediately after March 29th, Brexit Day. Quite what the advantage of that would be remains a mystery to me. However, if Cameron can institute a proceedings and then walk away and leave others to deal with the consequences, maybe May can do the same.

Is this the new Tory style of democracy?

Some are suggesting that democracy is breaking down, not just here but all over the place.

In our case, maybe the Queen should step in, dissolve Parliament and declare herself an absolute monarch!

That would give everyone something to think about!

Or something to moan about anyway!

On the moaning front, we have Dryanuary - the resolve not to drink alcohol throughout the month of January.

And there is the counter-move: Tryanuary, the suggestion that people should remember that, like dogs, pubs are for life, not just for Christmas, and that publicans still need to make a living - so for a drink for goodness sake!

We mustn’t forget Veganuary - the resolve to be vegan throughout the month.

After my husband declared today that he had no more serious social commitments for the rest of the month and, therefore, plans to drink less alcohol, eat less chocolate and fewer biscuits, and to get more exercise, I decided to create a new nomenclature - Miseranuary!

Masses of people seem determined to make January as miserable as they can for themselves. I include our politicians in this as the dreaded VOTE is due to take place next week. All sorts of misery could ensue!

As for me, I have my birthday in this month and have decided it should be Happyanuary! But maybe that’s just my terminally cheerful personality. There was an occasion in my teaching career when someone, a member of staff not a student, kind of snarled at me in the corridor, “Why are you always b****y smiling?”

I wonder what all these New Year’s resolutions turned into strange month-names would be if the year began with March instead of January.

Just a thought!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The disturbing madness of the modern world!

We live in very strange times.

For example, when did it become acceptable for people to shout abuse at an MP in the street, even if she is Tory MP Anna Soubry? Disagreeing with someone’s views does not mean you can subject that person to harassment in the street, or anywhere else for that matter. When did our responses become so violent? And when did being pro-Europe begin to mean you are a Nazi? Weird and strange!

Less seriously, there is the fashion industry and the price of stuff. In the weekend paper was a picture of Gillian Anderson, looking sleek and stylish as ever. The caption read:

“Actor Gillian Anderson has turned fashion designer, with a capsule collection for British label Winsor London. Key pieces include rain macs, knitwear and tailored trousers. Prices start at £250 for the knitwear.” Actresses (I refuse to call females actors.) used to be trendsetters. Fine. Now they are designers as well. Which I suppose means that Gillian Anderson had some ideas of things that would look nice to wear and someone with training in producing clothes made the idea reality. Or maybe I am misjudging her completely and she has absolutely excellent drawing skills as well as her other talents.

The other thing that springs to mind is the possibility that you might pay £250 for a piece of knitwear and then it accidentally gets in the wrong cycle in the washing machine and comes out as a felted piece of very small knitwear. All you could do then would be to put it in a frame and claim it was a piece of Gillian Anderson designer artwork!

And I came across a thing about lip balm. Lip balm is, in my opinion, an essential thingin life. Nobody wants chapped lips. But there is lip balm and lip balm. You can get very reasonably-priced lip balms in any chemist’s or supermarket: a whole range - from repair lip balms for those who have neglected their lips to more specialised ones for going out in the hot sun. Or there is the lip balm I read about, made by a company called The Lipstick Lobby. It is a clear vitamin E lip balm and markets for £15.

Really? Who pays such prices.

And, once again, there is the washing machine problem. You leave your very expensive vitamin E lip balm in your trouser pocket when your trousers go in the wash and it dissolves, leaving you with an expensive empty case!

There seems to have been a bit of a furore about Greggs, the bakers, producing a vegan sausage roll. Various people, notably Piers Morgan, got a bit agitated and tweeted about it and I really can’t think why. There seems to be a sort of class element in there. Here’s an extract from a report about it:

“Set against the prevailing line on obesity – people who eat cheap, processed food are a burden on the NHS and should be ashamed of themselves – and you have the perfect storm of a divided nation. On one side is a company that still cares; on the other a faceless, finger-wagging elite who don’t understand anything about people’s lives or how delicious those sausage rolls really are. Every meaty controversy, from George Osborne’s pasty tax to David Cameron’s pretend-pasty eating, from the cancer scares of bacon to the blanket meat tax proposed by Oxford University at the end of last year, has a bead of this conflict in it: “Why don’t you poor people take better care of yourselves?” v “Why don’t you rich people just get permanently out of my face?” Then some rightwing antihero – Morgan, or Nigel Farage – rides to the rescue, saying: “We don’t judge! We’re team mind-your-own-business,” when in fact it was their wealth-supremacist worldview that created the division in the first place.”

It’s all a lot of nonsense.

(Grammatical aside: in the middle of that report I spotted a punctuation error. When you read “David Cameron’s pretend-pasty eating”, it sounds for all the world as if David Cameron was eating an imitation pasty. A misplaced hyphen, if ever there was one! Surely they mean “David Cameron’s pretend pasty-eating”. Oh, my goodness! I’ll be writing another version of “Eats, shoots and leaves” before you know it!)

Along with vegan sausage rolls and tofu meat substitutes, I have been reading about pretend-salmon, made from carrots and other stuff. Surely if you are truly vegetarian or vegan, why do you need to eat pretend-non-veggie stuff?

It’s all part of the silliness!

Monday, 7 January 2019

Eating styles, writing styles and stylish ladies’ loos.

About ten years ago we discovered a restaurant in Pisa called Numero Undici, so called because it was located at number 11 of whatever street it was on. The unique selling point of this restaurant was that it had no waiter service. You went to a counter and ordered your food, selected your table and set out your cutlery and then went back to the counter to collect your food and pay. I say table, but mostly they were longish refectory-style tables with benches. It was cheap, the food was good and it was patronised by lots of students and some tourists who had read the right guide books.

Today we lunched at This and That in Manchester, which works on a similar principle. From the counter you get rice and three dollops of good curry, according to your choice, for a very reasonable price. Onion bhajis, samosas and naan bread add a little extra but you still eat well for under a tenner. All the water you can drink is available for free but there are cans of soft drinks to purchase if you must. Presumably you could eat veggie or even vegan so long as you don’t mind the veggie curries being in close proximity to lamb and chicken!

Veganuary is in full swing in the country, of course, with lots of people determinedly trying a new lifestyle ... but only for a short while. Proper vegans probably sneer at the idea of temporary vegetarianism/veganism. But some vegans do go on about it quite a lot, even running to adverts on buses, and desperately trying to convince us all tomlove like them.

I read about the Shropshire deputy council leader, Steve Charmley, who said in a series of tweets that he wanted to “stop this vegangalism” after a number of Arriva buses in the county featured ads encouraging people to stop eating meat and dairy.

Buses, he said, should not carry adverts promoting vegan lifestyles in counties that were “built on agriculture”.

“C’mon Arriva Salop it’s a disgrace to run this advert in Shropshire,” the longtime former dairy farmer tweeted. “You are being used to promote the fake news of vegangalists! If it was a political poster it wouldn’t be allowed.”

There’s a nice new word for us: vegangelism!

On the subject of words, it is really easy to make mistakes with a keyboard. Back in my teaching days, my students regularly turned into “studnets”. A certain Daniel Taylor was writing about mistakes in news reports. This was in a sports report, pointed out to me by my husband as I ignore the sports reporting. Daniel Taylor wrote:

“Sometimes it is your own carelessness, sometimes it is an error during the editing process and sometimes I haven’t the foggiest, if I can alert you to a recent humdinger from the Guardian’s corrections and clarifications page acknowledging, courtesy of one reader, that our recipe for “spaghetti with radicchio, fennel and rosemary” had one problem – namely that it did not, in fact, contain spaghetti, fennel or rosemary.

Some newspapers have their systems set up to change words automatically for their own style preferences – hence the unfortunate occasion when Matt Holland, the Republic of Ireland midfielder, ended up in a match report as Matt Netherlands – whereas the list of copytaking cock-ups is the stuff of legend from the days when press box routine involved dictating your match reports through old rotary‑style telephones and relying on the person at the other end of the line to take it down accurately.

The classic story is the time Wales were playing in Latvia and one of the copytakers on duty was not entirely up to speed when it came to the names of the players, in particular the line that Rush and Hughes were up front – resulting in a match report that had a Wales attack led by Russian Jews.”

Oh, the fun and games to he had in the days before internet!

After we had eaten today, we went for a drink at the Lower Turk’s Head, just round the corner from This and That. There I visited the ladies’ toilets where, to my surprise, there was a double cubicle as well as single ones. Now, I know we ladies are famous for going to the loo together but actually sitting side by side and chatting as you pee is going a bit too far.

There was also a notice on the wall informing us that this part of the pub used to be a barber’s shop and still had the original floor. A very nicely tiled floor it was too. And a very interesting bit of information.

But what I want to know is this: If that bit of the pub used to be a barber’s shop, where did the ladies go to pee?