Sunday, 31 March 2019

Mother’s Day offerings!

Uppermill village - well, according to some people it is big enough to be called a town now and it does have its own Big Issue seller - still has a butcher and a baker but, as far as I know, it has no candle stick maker. It does have a hardware shop so I expect that if you absolutely must have a candlestick they can probably put you in touch with a candlestick maker. There is also a small greengrocery, a fancy delicatessen selling olives and sun-dried tomatoes and so on, and a coop store. Otherwise all the shops are expensive boutiques, one for adults and several for children, which says something about the current population, lots of cafes and eateries of one kind or another, including a good number of pubs, and almost as many tat shops as there are cafes. Oh, and a florist.

The florist and the tat shops yesterday were doing a roaring trade. As I walked through the village on my way to the supermarket, stopping off en route at the deli, the baker’s and the greengrocer’s, shopping small, as I am told it is called, I was amazed at how many people were running round with bunches of flowers. Almost as many were coming out of the various tat shops with neatly wrapped parcels. It was like an extreme version of a Sunday in Galicia when you see loads of people coming put of the baker’s with fancy cake boxes, on their way to tea with the parents.

Of course, today is Mothers’ Day, what we used to call Mothering Sunday when I was a child. Apparently it was once the one day in the year that girls “in service” had a completely free day so that they could go home and clean house for their mother! I wonder how many of those with their bunches of flowers were planning to do some cleaning and maybe a bit of repair work.

After today, overnight I expect, all the “Ideal present for Mum” displays can come down and Easter Egg displays can take prominence. The eggs have been around since Christmas but now they can take centre stage!

In the mid-afternoon yesterday, as the sun was shining nicely, Phil and I went for a walk up what we call in our family the “quarry road”. It has a proper name - Lark Hill - but half way up there is a small abandoned quarry, hence the family name. It goes quite steeply up hill and I defy any vehicle other than the most robust of off-road vehicles to drive up there. Every time we walk up there the road seems more rough and rocky and the various craters seem larger.

I can only assume that whenever it really rains, like it did recently, torrents of water run down the road, washing away even more of the soil from between the stones on the road. Judging by the amount of silt that collects at the bottom of the hill and runs down the road in a sludgy mess, this is almost certainly the case.

 The steep, rather exhausting walk is worth it for the views.

And coming down was much simpler.

On our way we came across the parents of one of Phil’s chess prodigies, doing more or less the same walk in the opposite direction. We have known the chess prodigy since he was a small boy who had chess training with Phil. Now he is studying, or as I should say, “reading” French and Spanish at Oxford. This academic year he has been doing his year abroad, which in his case has involved six months in Paris followed by six months in a small village in Paraguay. Talk about a contrast! The internet connection over there is limited. He manages to phone home every few weeks. It’s a bit different from a posting to somewhere in Europe where parents can go and visit for a weekend!

Long ago somebody told me “les voyages forment la jeunesse”. If he does not get some training from this experience I shall be most surprised.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Stuff I have learnt from today’s paper.

According to today’s newspaper, the putting the clocks forward thing tonight might be happening for the last time. The EU has proposed stopping it and if that is agreed it would apply to the UK during any kind of Brexit transition period. Personally I am not bothered about at all about the whole question but I can imagine the hard line we-don’t-want-to-be-ruled-by-Europe brigade getting quite hot under the collar about it.

I have never fully understood the fear that we are ruled by Europe. Following the third rejection of Theresa May’s deal (how many times does she need telling?) I heard someone on the radio, on the Any Answers programme, ranting on about our being governed by an unelected group of politicians. I wonder what he thinks voting for MEPs was all about! 

It seems to be a story that will run and run!

A here is a story about stolen art works which reminded me of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which features art thieves and the sale of stolen paintings in the Dutch capital. Is Amsterdam really a hotbed of stolen pieces of artwork?

Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter, the rather unfortunately named Apple Martin, has criticised her mother for posting a picture of her online without her permission. It used to be that mothers got out albums of baby photos to show off and the embarrass their offspring when the said offspring brought home a prospective marriage partner. Nowadays, children are more photographed than ever before. It’s so easy to snap a picture on your phone without having to worry about where you put the camera and whether you can afford to get the film developed. Very often, if not in fact usually, pregnancy is announced by posting the first scan picture online.

So there are online pics from pre+birth. But probably no actual photo albums, which is rather a pity. How often, I wonder, do people go back and look at the myriad pictures online, up there in the “cloud”? Albums also spend a lot of time neglected but as a rule they come out from time to time.

Besides, if you have no childhood photo albums, where are you going to find all the embarrassing childhood photos to pass on to your offspring’s friends when they want to set up a really funny display for the offspring’s thirtieth birthday?

Housing developments in London obliged to have some parts designated social housing have tried to keep play areas for children separate. Rich children should not play with poor children! Goodness knows what might happen in the sandpit or on the slide! Considering that one of the mothers of poor children said she pays £1200 per month, I don’t know where you draw the line. Social housing, known as council housing when I was a kid, never used to be so expensive. Anyway, the mothers in one London estate have protested and got the right for their children to play together.

Direct action!

And finally, did you know about the mystery of “les téléphones Garfield”? No? Neither did I. But according to this article bits of yellow Garfield telephones have been appearing on a beach in Brittany for the last 35 years. Now they have located a container stuck in a cave, probably still containing even more Garfield telephones. Mind you, nobody knows which container ship it fell off. Maybe they can make a film about it, along the lines of Whiskey Galore!

It’s reassuring to know that (some) mysteries have solutions, even if only partial.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Changing time!

Suddenly everyone from weathermen to news broadcasters is reminding us to put the clocks forward this coming weekend. How did that come around so quickly? It seems no time at all since we were getting an extra hour in bed by putting the clocks back an hour in November.

There is some argument about who first came up with the idea of messing with everyone’s heads by changing the time. Presumably nobody bothered with it in the dim and distant past when people got up when it got light and went to bed when it got dark.

Some chap in New Zealand presented a paper on the subject to the Wellington Philosophical Society, proposing a 2-hour shift forward in October and a 2-hour shift back in March. This was back in 1895. It was considered to be an interesting notion but no action was taken.

Completely separately in 1905, independently from The Kiwi scientist, British builder William Willett suggested setting the clocks ahead 20 minutes on each of the 4 Sundays in April, and switching them back by the same amount on each of the 4 Sundays in September, a total of 8 time switches per year. I am rather glad that nobody put that idea into practice - no time for so much messing around! Think of the confusion!

Germany and Austria are said to have introduced the practice back in 1916 as a measure to minimise the use of artificial lighting to save fuel for the war effort. The UK and France, and the USA, followed suit but everyone reverted to the old no-change system after the end of World War II.

The Americans think it was all Benjamin Franklin’s idea, first proposed in a letter in 1784, but even though they introduced daylight saving during the World War years it was not until 1966 that it became standard practice. And then it was largely because so many states were all doing different things.

It is, however, quite possible that the Romans thought of it first. There is evidence, for example, that Roman water clocks used different scales for different months of the year to adjust the daily schedules to the solar time. There is clearly nothing new under the sun!

Some people blame farmers but they say they prefer to keep to one time all year round. That makes sense if you have animals to deal with. After all, animals don’t use clocks.

And doctors say that putting the clocks back in November is a good idea. A certain Professor Ken Wright, director of CU Boulder’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory, says this:-

 “When we get this extra hour of sleep opportunity this is associated with a 5 percent decrease in the risk of heart attacks come Monday morning.”

Putting the clocks forward in March is a different matter. The reason for this, said Wright, is people in the U.S. don’t get enough sleep, and when they are deprived of sleep they experience stress, which can have some harmful side effects.

"When we lose that hour of sleep in the spring not only do we have a 5 percent increase in heart attacks, but there's an 8 percent increased risk of strokes and a 17 percent increased risk of dying at the wheel on the highway,” said Wright.

Presumably the same sort of thing applies here in Europe.

One man who deals with his stress in his own way is a Canadian called Jahte Le who relieves his stress by smashing things up in a “rage room”. No doubt spending time is a rage room is a much better idea that going and hitting someone. But this is a commercial enterprise. Someone is making money - and Jahte Le has spent thousands of Canadian dollars on it - setting up a place where people can break bottles, take a sledge hammer to computers and other annoying electrical equipment. I am amazed at the imaginative ways people find to get rich!

 And now even my phone has just sent me a message reminding me to put the clock forward. I can feel the stress and sleep deprivation already. Is there a rage room near here?

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Offering solutions!

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the young American politician who could perhaps teach our Theresa how to dance (video-clips of her dancing as a student were much talked about) has been trying to push the USA towards the use of renewable energy.

Republican senator Mike Lee spoke against her ideas, against the whole Green New Deal, which he said is ridiculous. You see, he’s a brave man, not afraid of stuff:-

“Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not immediately afraid of what carbon emissions, unaddressed, might do to our environment, in the near-term future, or our civilisation or our planet in the next few years. Unlike others, I am not immediately afraid of what the Green New Deal would do to our economy and our government. After all, this isn’t going to pass.”

Maybe it’s living in a big country with lots of wide open spaces that makes some of them, like Mr Lee, disregard the bigger planetary problem.

According to Mr Lee the solution to the problem is simple: “The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing – the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married, and have some kids.”

That’s all right then!

He’s clearly not heard of overpopulation either!

I find the solutions conservatives offer to problems quite surreal. Here’s another example. The Conservative MP Christopher Chope has apparently suggested that a good way to reduce knife crime would be for the possible victims to get fitter. They should learn judo or taekwondo. Presumably this gives them the choice of disarming/beating up an assailant or running away.

Maybe if you could get all the potential assailants and inculcate them with the philosophy of martial arts it might do some good but I doubt that that was what Mr Chope has in mind.

We should also remember that Christopher Chope is perhaps best known for blocking attempts in parliament to tackle upskirting and female genital mutilation.

Not really a good record for an MP.

Putting MPs to one side here is something else. A few years ago now, my eldest granddaughter and I went through a period when we would go to the art gallery in Manchester and then have a bit of a snack at Pret a Manger. We liked the place. The food was not at all bad if you just wanted something snacky. And it had a clever name, even though the pedant in me wanted to put accents on - Prêt à Manger.

It’s had some bad press in more recent times though with the failure to label food properly, neglecting to warn about possible problems for people with food allergies. Not good at all!

Despite it’s French name (well, sort of, if you disregard the lack of accents) Pret is owned by a German family called Reimann. They also own Krispy Kreme Donuts. I suppose it’s just another kind of snack food! Anyway, it seems that the Reimann family is planning to donate a huge sum of money to charity after learning that in the past family members were keen supporters of Hitler and used forced labour. A German newspaper has published a report on the family although or seems it was the family who initiated research, wanting to know more about their ancestors. And now they feel the need to make amends.

But how did they not know? Surely in the family archives there must have been clues. Or maybe that’s waht prompted their original investigation.

What an odd world we live in!

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Respecting the will of the people. A bit of name-calling (self inflicted). And in praise of Manchester.

As I type this, the radio news is going on again (!) about voting on Brexit in parliament. Has anything else meaningful been discussed in parliament in the last few months, indeed, in the last few years? I am not sure I can stand much more of it.

Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor and a person I find supremely irritating, has revealed that some hardline Brexiteers refer to themselves as “Grand Wizards”. This is a title used by the Ku Klux Klan since the 19th century. As the use of such nomenclature has been interpreted as a sign of casual racism on the part of Messrs Johnson, Gove and Rees-Mogg, to name a few, I am rather surprised that Ms Kuenssberg has made this public.

But then she did it by tweet rather than on television. Does this make a difference? Probably not as many people get most of their news from social media. (It’s amazing how much you pick up from Facebook, so if you also tweet and instagram and all the rest nonstop you must find out a lot of stuff. Not all of it necessarily correct though!) However, she also commented that the terminology was used “informally”, as if that makes a difference to the racism aspect.

Meanwhile 5.8 million people have signed a petition calling for the withdrawal of Article 50. This is a record-breaking petition. It will be debated in parliament but the government is apparently rejecting it, because you have to listen to the will of the people. Which can only be expressed once by all accounts.

“Revoking Article 50 would break the promises made by Government to the British people, disrespect the clear instruction from a democratic vote, and in turn, reduce confidence in our democracy.”

Because we all know that Government always keeps its promises and at present we all have such overwhelming confidence in our democracy!?

Donald Tusk, on the other hand, seems to think that the petition signatories and the million who marched through London on Saturday deserve a bitnof consideration.

The mind boggles! It well and truly does!

So, moving on to lighter matters, here is an item from The Manc, “the go to place to see everything that's new and coming up in Greater Manchester from the food to the people”:-


Whenever you tell someone you’re from this great city, especially when dealing with southerners, undoubtedly the first thing they mention is how wet Manchester is. “Oh yeah, Manchester is great but it rains so much. I could never live there”. Well, no it doesn't actually, and there’s research to back this up.

Rainfall figures going back 34 years have been analysed, and the results show that Manchester’s reputation as the wettest city is very much undeserved. Between 1981 and 2015 an average rainfall of 867mm fell on Manchester every year, placing it 15th in the league table of wettest cities in the UK.

It turns out Cardiff is the soggiest spot in Britain, with a massive average of 1152mm of rain soaking the city every year. Besides the Welsh capital, other cities like Glasgow (1124mm), Preston (1034mm) and Leeds (1024mm) were all proven to be far wetter than Manchester.

That there London is the driest city in the UK with a measly 557mm of rain each year, but when it costs £500 a pint and £7 billion for a tiny one bedroom flat in Peckham they can keep their dry weather. It’s much cheaper to just invest in a decent coat.

And even when you look at the number of rainy days per year, Manchester only comes joint 5th with Leeds and Bradford, clocking in 152 wet days annually.

They were beaten to the top spot by Glasgow (170), Newry (167), Belfast (156) and Preston (153) respectively. London only managed 109 days, the soft bastards. So the next time someone tries to tell you it’s too wet in Manchester, you can tell them where to stick their umbrella.”

 Clearly someone feels very strongly about this! Who knew that weather reports could stir up such deep emotion?

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Thinking about equality of social opportunity.

My friend Colin recently mentioned in his blog having had a conversation with a young woman in a computer shop or some such place. It was the young woman who started the conversation. He made this comment: “I wonder if a conversation would ever be started by a young Anglo woman. Well, possibly in the USA or Australia but never in the UK, I imagine. Where all men are seen as imminent - or at least potential - rapists. Should they have the temerity to talk to you.”

I have been pondering the truth of that statement and have been meaning to ask my daughter and my granddaughters how they feel about this.. I have not got around to doing so but when I do I’ll report back. I am pretty sure it was not always the case.

And has the world now really become such an female-unfriendly place? I was reminded of a conversation with a work colleague, possibly twenty years ago. He said that he would not like to get in a lift on his own with a gay man as he was afraid “that he might jump me”. A bit of homophobia there. Also quite a bit of arrogance. Did he really think he was so attractive to gay men that they would be unable to control themselves alone in a small space with him? I pointed out to him that I frequently got into lifts allne with men and was not afraid of being “jumped”. Was I so unattractive or were heterosexual males more self-controlled?

 But I do understand my friend Colin’s comment, to some extent anyway. It is harder for a woman to initiate a conversation without it being misinterpreted. We should have got past that. Is a young woman walking into a pub on her own still seen as fair game for any of the males there? Maybe so. At my age, a woman can walk alone into a pub with impunity, so it’s hard for me to judge. Then I read this report: “When the actor Jameela Jamil tweeted about her negative experiences of rejecting unwanted advances, she unleashed a torrent of similar stories from other women. Many men, on the other hand, seemed completely shocked.

“Was out at the shops with my friend,” Jamil wrote. “Man ogles me. Man then approaches me to give me his number. I explain I have a boyfriend but thank him for the offer. Man then threatens my career, saying I better remember that I rejected him. And then shouts at me that I’m low class …”

Her experience is the end result of a breathtakingly sexist assumption (perpetuated by media, advertising and our wider culture) that women exist primarily as potential partners for heterosexual men, that they owe men their time and attention without question, and that they are rude, arrogant or ungrateful if they dare to decline sexual attention.

Jamil later added: “I once said no thank you to a man when I was 19 and didn’t have an excuse ... and he punched me in the face. After that whether or not I have a boyfriend, I say I do. Being a woman is truly, constantly scary. It’s like existing on thin ice.”

Particularly dispiriting, although not particularly surprising, were the number of replies to Jamil’s tweets containing suggestions of how she could better cope with the situation in future. This is a telling indicator of how deeply normalised these inequalities are in our society – that our focus remains firmly on how women should tackle and defuse the situation rather than on how we might dismantle male entitlement and abuse in the first place.”

No matter that women have been shouting about equality for ages, the disparity remains apparently.

I also read that NASA had been planning an all-female space walk on March 29th from the International Space Station. They have had to cancel. Why? because of a shortage of female-sized space suits!! there you go! It must be rather like when seat belts were first introduced into cars. Women died despite wearing seatbelts. This was because the prototype had been tested on males and the first seatbelts did not adjust to protect the female torso. There are other examples - computer chairs, for example. Most of these things have been improved over the years but nobody seems to have done much about the straps that hang down from the ceiling of trams and other means of transport. You know the things I mean? the straps for standing travellers to hold on to to prevent them from falling over. Mostly they are too high for many women to reach them.

Maybe we women should all go to spend time on the International Space Station. It seems that microgravity makes you taller. Astronaut Anne McClain tweeted this month that she was 2in taller than when she launched. There is a solution to everything!

Monday, 25 March 2019

A bit of a nostalgic rant on recycling. And a weather forecast.

Just as we left Galicia to come back to the UK a few weeks ago, the supermarket next door to our flats stopped selling customers plastic carrier bags - 2 céntimos for a small one and 3 for a large one if I remember rightly - and started using paper carrier bags instead. Rather nice looking brown paper bags they were. I was quite taken back to my childhood and youth when plastic bags were a thing of the future. 

As a student in the late sixties I had a briefcase of sorts but I rarely used it. Anyone of discernment bought a paper carrier bag, usually with some trendy design on it, and carried their books and files around in that until it fell apart. Well, the girls did anyway. I can’t for the life of me remember what the blokes did. Quite probably they carried battered brief cases. After all, nobody wanted to be seen with a brand new briefcase.

It’s rather like my old school satchel. At age 12 I was really proud of my smart new satchel, ideal for going to a new school. By the time I was 15 or 16 and my parents proposed getting me a smart briefcase I turned the offer down. By then my satchel was scratched and battered and had fallen apart and been stitched back together again more than once. It was perfect! I kept it going through sixth form as well.

I was less fortunate with my green school gabardine. When it was bought, brand new and several sizes too large so that it would last, it sort of drowned me. However, it kept me dry and warm and had a splendid hood for days when I wanted to hide the fact that I had forgotten my school beret. By the time I came to the end of fifth form it was worn and decrepit-looking, the prefect faded, louche item of clothing, worn with the belt cinched in as tight as possible.

So what did my mother do when I started sixth form? She bought me a new gabardine, in the latest A-line fashion, no belt, no hood! I was bereft but she had been and spent money on it so I had to wear it!

But we knew how to recycle stuff before the word recycling had been in common parlance. Then along came all the plastic stuff, really useful and now ubiquitous - clogging up the oceans, poisoning the wildlife!

So, good for the Spanish supermarkets, say I!

And now Tesco is jumping on the bandwagon here, launching a trial to remove a selection of plastic-wrapped fruit and vegetable to cut down on packaging waste. In two of its stores, Tesco plans to run month-long pilot from Today, removing plastic packaging from 45 foods where loose alternatives are available. The items include apples, onions, mushrooms, peppers, bananas and avocados.

It’s only two stores but I suppose you have to start somewhere. After all, big supermarkets are responsible for producing more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year. That’s a lot of plastic.

Sarah Bradbury, director of quality at Tesco, said: “We hope this trial proves popular with customers. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the results, including any impact on food waste.”

We have to do something to protect our environment.

We’ve been out and about today enjoying the local environment. It’s been a beautiful day, positively springlike.

And now a friend has sent me this little item from the Daily Mirror:-

 “Britain could see its hottest spring since records began with temperatures expected to soar well above average across the country through most of the season. The Met Office is predicting glorious weather for the three months until June starting with potentially record-breaking spring warmth this week. By Thursday most of the UK will experience temperatures in the high teens, and they could even hit 20C in places with prolonged periods of sunshine, say forecasters. Spring temperatures could hit 26C in April thanks to plumes of warm air from Africa, and the extended forecasts suggests summer could be hot and settled.”

Something odd is going on with our weather.

The same friend also sent me this bit of news: “Aldi is selling an inflatable budget hot tub just in time for summer”

 I wonder if he is dropping hints of some kind.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

That unsettled feeling!

A million people marched through the streets of London yesterday, asking for the chance to vote on the whole Brexit mess. Mist of the papers carry pictures of it.

Goodness knows what the outcome of it all will be. Some time in the future someone will look back at this time and shake their heads in wonderment.

According to George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, some are already calling for an enquiry:-

 “Peter Ricketts, the former national security adviser and former head civil servant in the Foreign Office, cited the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. “Chilcot took a long time, but it was cathartic,” he said.
 “The report was widely seen to have done the job and I think you can say the British system is better for it. I think the handling of Brexit has been such a failure of the process of government, with such wide ramifications, that there needs to be a searching public inquiry.”
 “What advice was given to ministers? Was it taken? Did the processes of collective cabinet decision-taking work? Were the right skills available, for example on no-deal planning and all the costs involved? They are all legitimate questions for an inquiry. It should have the powers of a judicial inquiry.”
One senior Tory peer said: “We want our Chilcot.”” 

Goodness! Even the Tories want an investigation!

And who will get the blame in the end?

Whatever happens the country will not be the same again.

 I read that the number of applications for Irish passports has risen to record levels with almost a quarter of a million requests since January. The Irish foreign minister said the 230,000 applications represented a 30% increase on the same period last year.

It puts 2019 on course for the highest level of applications in the history of the country, after a record 860,000 Irish passports issued last year, with around 200,000 coming from the UK. Apparently more than 70% of the 2018 applications came from “the island of Ireland” which includes Northern Ireland, where all citizens can carry both Irish and British passports under the Good Friday agreement.

Nobody is commenting on any “Brexit bounce”, but the remaining 76,000 came from the UK and the rest of the world.

This compares with the total for 2018, when 98,000 applications came from Great Britain.

There’s a strange kind of unsettled feeling around. I know people who are finding it hard to plan for the immediate future, on a purely selfish level finding it difficult to plan holidays. A friend of mine who is going to Sicily with us, a group visit from the Italian conversation class, is debating whether she should buy Euros now as there is no knowing what the exchange rate will have tumbled to by the time we go in May.

By then there is a remote possibility we might have an idea of what is happening but you never know. The whole things might rumble on for years yet!

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Reacting to social media.

I listened to MPs and other people in the public eye discussing this and that on Any Questions on the radio. At one point the matter of social media came up, the power it has and the kind of use it is put to these days. On the panel was the MP Diane Abbott who has had loads of online abuse, including rape threats and death threats. She made the point that abusive mail has always been received but that in the past it was actual mail. Everything took longer to be processed. Nowadays all kinds of comments, official and unofficial, are immediately out there on the public eye, rather than it being just something someone said in the back room of a pub. When the latter was the case, it took so long for opinions to get out there that by the time people had reacted, something else was happening, and the moment had gone.

Then I read about children as young as three making loads of money from their pictures being “followed” on instagram. This has always struck me as odd but it’s a part of the great advertising world. Advertisers quickly latch onto anything which gets their product seen. What struck me was not so much the mothers who put pictures of their delightful little moppets and poppets out their, although I know quite a number of parents of young children who are horrified by such a thing, but by children as young as nine managing their own media sites.

One does reviews of toys and talks quite sensibly about it: “Some of the toys I do are really babyish, but I realised that if I shoot videos for younger kids, there are lots of them out there who would want to watch. I’m clever.” She is indeed. I am still amazed that parents of young children are happy to entertain them by letting them sit down and watch videos of other kids opening parcels, but that’s a different matter altogether.

The nine year old in question receives about five toys to review each week. Where does she store them? Does she pass them on to other, less canny, less media-savvy children.

However, linking this media phenomenon to the question of famous people receiving abusive mail via social media, there is the question of media reaction. The offspring-promoting parents and the nine year old all receive critical comments and have learnt to ignore them. The nine year old has sensible parents who look at the comments with her. “We look at the comments together and discuss them; it helps me learn how to respond to good and bad things in life. There are some boys at school who tease me or say I pay for ads. We don’t even know how to do that. I ignore a lot of it - there are enough nice people out there.”

Maybe if more parents actually spent time on social media with their children instead of using it as a kind of babysitting service, then children would learn to react better to what they come across on the small screens. Maybe it would become less of a problem. We can’t make it go away but perhaps we can learn to live with it.

It’s just an idea!

Friday, 22 March 2019

Putting on my dancing shoes - well, sort of!

I woke in the night with cramp in my feet. This is what happens when you give in to the temptation to wear “pretty” shoes. Not even high heels, just a teensy bit fancy. I never used to have a problem when I wore ‘pretty shoes” every day, striding up and down the corridors of the college in my smart work gear, sometime wearing high heels even. But as most of my walking is around the bridle paths and country lanes around here, fancy shoes don’t get much wear. My feet have got out of the habit!

However, as I was going out to meet the number one granddaughter, a supposedly grown-up 21 now, for an evening in Manchester I decided that “pretty” shoes were called for. So I got off the tram and walked the length of Deansgate - even my “pretty” shoes are fine for city walking - and waited for her outside her place of work. She works in Sunlight House, a grade II listed art deco building, very elegant as well as having a splendid name. Here, I hope, is a picture of it.

We went and ate at Tapeo and Wine, a rather nice tapas bar on Deansgate. The food is good but it is not cheap. £8 for half a dozen, admittedly very tasty, ham croquettes seems to me a bit pricy. But then I recognise that I am influenced by the fact that I know places in Spain that would offer you that for free along with your drink. Well, in Vigo anyway. As ever, what pushes their prices up is what they charge for drinks : £3 for a diet coke is a bit of a markup on what they probably pay for it wholesale. They do serve an most admirable Tarta de Santiago though, served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, just the way I like it. We are often disappointed by this almost cake in Galicia, even in Santiago, where it is often too dry. I can recommend the one they serve at Tapeo in Manchester.

Having eaten we set off walking again, over towards Saint Peter’s Square, where we stopped to admire Manchester Central Library, and then continued past the Bridgewater Hall and the G-Mex Centre, Manchester Central Station in a previous existence, “Oh, was it a station? I didn’t know.” said Granddaughter number one as we gazed at the green-lit front of the building. “Oh yes, you can tell,” she went on as we walked past the longer side of it. Of course it still looks like a station. You can see a picture on the Wikipedia site. It’s another grade II listed building. Manchester is a fine place.

We were not just in a tour of listed buildings, or even just fine buildings, however. We were headed for Home, the theatre and cinema and arts complex which replaced the old Cornerhouse, a place much visited by me with groups of student in a previous existence! We had tickets for a one-night-only showing of a film of Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday tribute concert.

Granddaughter Number One was by far the youngest member of the packed audience. The majority of us were pretty much contemporaries of the great Joni herself. Quite probably most of us all have vinyl versions of most of her albums. The great and the good of the music world, some of them Joni contemporaries also, Emmylou Harris, splendid in a blue velvet coat, James Taylor, looking a bit frail himself now, or even former lovers in the case of Graham Nash, got up and sang versions of Joni songs. Well, Graham Nash sang the song he wrote for her, “Our House”. Younger generations were there as well, Rufus Wainwright, Seal, Norah Jones. Los Lobos, a group I have not thought about in decades, were there. And Kris Kristofferson, in his eighties and looking a little lost and bewildered, sang “A case of you”, ably assisted by Brandi Carlile, a singer I had never heard of but whose voice matched Joni’s very well.

Joni was involved in the selection of artists, all of them important to her in some way. At the end she was on stage - ill health stops her performing - for a birthday cake. And everine sang “They paved paradise”.

It’s interesting to hear other artists sing songs you know well from one performer in particular. Sometimes you listen to the words afresh. And I was reminded that I like to listen to Rufus Wainwright but that I much prefer to hear him sing other people’s song rather than his own offerings. Granddaughter Number One was pleased that Diana Krall sang “Amelia”, my granddaughter’s favourite Joni song. (We seem to have given the child a good musical education!)

After two hours of music, I saw Granddaughter Number One into an Uber to take her safely home and went off to catch the tram.

A good evening!

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Admiring Jacinda Adern!

While our prime minister staggers from Brexit crisis to Brexit crisis, leaving us still, perhaps forever, in a weird limbo with no idea where we will end up, on the other side of the world New Zealand’s prime minister is taking decisive action, albeit in a different area altogether.

Jacinda Adern and her government have banned assault rifles and military style automatic weapons, as well as the various devices which can be bought to convert other weapons into assault rifles and military style weapons.

“I absolutely believe there will be a common view amongst New Zealanders, those who use guns for legitimate purposes, and those who have never touched one, that the time for the mass and easy availability of these weapons must end. And today they will,” said Jacinda Ardern.

She plans to introduce a buy-back scheme to encourage the handing in of banned weapons. This may be more of a problem than introducing a ban because the minister of police says they have no idea how many assault rifles are in circulation. Surely they must have a system of registration for weapon ownership!

I was amazed at how many guns there are in New Zealand. With a population of less that 5 million people, the country has an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 million firearms. That seems like a lot of guns to me, especially as a fair percentage of the population will be children.

This led me to wonder how many guns there are in Australia. Quite a lot! But I did not find any kind of exact number. Maybe I need to look harder.

I did find this information from

“In 1996, Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement after a mass shooting in Tasmania in April of that year. In that incident, a 28-year-old man, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, shot and killed 35 people, and injured 18 others, in what was known as the Port Arthur Massacre.

Under the 1996 law, Australia banned certain semi-automatic, self-loading rifles and shotguns, and imposed stricter licensing and registration requirements. It also instituted a mandatory buyback program for firearms banned by the 1996 law.

During the buyback program, Australians sold 640,000 prohibited firearms to the government, and voluntarily surrendered about 60,000 non-prohibited firearms. In all, more than 700,000 weapons were surrendered, according to a Library of Congress report on Australian gun policy. One study says that the program reduced the number of guns in private hands by 20 percent. 

The number of firearm-related homicides also has dropped substantially since the 1996 gun law was enacted. “The number of homicide incidents involving a firearm decreased by 57 percent between 1989-90 and 2013-14,” the government crime trends report says. “Firearms were used in 13 percent of homicide incidents (n=32) in 2013-14. In 1989-90 it was 24 percent (n=75) of incidents.””

Oddly enough statistics seem to show that gun ownership may have increased recently in Australia. Or rather, the number of guns has gone up while the number of people owning guns has still gone down. Those who own guns are buying more of them. I read that this multi+gun ownership is common in the USA as well.

I can understand, sort of, the compulsion to have the latest model. I can get the same way about handbags or, in a completely different bit of my life, packs of watercolour pencil crayons. But my compulsions are mostly harmless. I have not looked for statistics for people killed with handbags or pencil crayons but I am willing to bet they are very low!

Anyway, getting back to serious commentary again, it seems that gun control measures do work. Reaction from the USA to Jacinda Adern’s action has been interesting.

US senator Bernie Sanders said: “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like” and called on the US to follow New Zealand’s lead. Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (NRA) responded to Sanders on Twitter saying: “The US isn’t NZ. While they do not have an inalienable right to bear arms and to self defense, we do.”

There you go! “An inalienable right to bear arms”. Maybe it’s the pioneering spirit that leads to a desire, originally a need, to own a gun. You never know what you will come across when you are exploring a new country. How many gun-owners are still pioneers though?

Now, I can almost get my head around the idea of owning a small gun for personal protection. No! I can’t really get my head around that any more than I can understand the need to carry knives! And I suppose that if you like to go hunting (but quite why you would do that escapes me) you need a hunting rifle.

However, I still cannot understand at all why any ordinary person, someone who gets up and goes to work in the morning, goes to the gym, does some online shopping or banking, takes his or her kids to play in the park, needs an assault rifle!

Do they expect the breakdown of civilisation to occur imminently? And might they not be better just stockpiling foodstuffs?

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Some thoughts on the first day of spring!

First day of spring! A weatherman on the television last night explained to us that the spring equinox (= equal day and night) varies from year to year between the 18th and 21st of March. This year it is today. Bang goes my sister’s belief that she was born on the first day of spring! But maybe back then the spring equinox did fall on the 22nd. Or maybe even the weathermen believed it was a fixed point in the year.

For convenience, commercial enterprises and governments and such regard the 1st of March as the first day of spring. It’s easier to divide the year four three months chunks if spring begins on the 1st of March, summer on the 1st of June, autumn on the 1st of September and winter on 1st of December. Never mind what the weather does! And anyway, with climate change and global warming the “seasons” no longer count for much and we can have several different kinds of weather in one day. 

Today though has felt positively springlike. The fruit and veg man, who also sells bedding plants, has spread his wares, well, the plants, over a large chunk of the available space in the square. Very colourful it was too. No chance this week of a car manoeuvring its way between the stalls! One customer was asking him about primroses. Too late! They have been and gone! So said the fruit and veg man. However, he did have snowdrops which have well and truly been and gone in my garden for several weeks now. But who am I to argue with a fruit and veg man?

Somebody sent me an item from something which calls itself the Southend News Network, self-described as “.Satirical news to hold Southend and the powers that be to account!” The sender probably selected this item for me as he knows I get a bit obsessed with incorrect use of the English language.

Here it is, surely a bit of fake news:

“A spokesperson for The English Academy has confirmed that the word ‘have’ will be replaced with ‘of’ in December 2019.
According to a statement given earlier today by the academy’s Grand Linguist Sir Nigel Nougatti, the decision has been taken to try and cut down on the number of ‘vicious incidents of cyberbullying’ that have occurred after confusion between the two words on Facebook. Sir Nigel added: ‘Language is an evolving organism, and when enough people use a word outside of its intended usage there will always be calls for the dictionary to be changed.’
‘As an added bonus, it should also cut down on the sheer number of people who shout ‘illiterate moron’ whenever someone says ‘I should of waited before giving my baby solids’ on Facebook.’ ‘Modern British society is all about embracing differences and cutting down on hatred, and there is a huge divide at the moment in this county between people who can speak English properly and those who think that ‘defiantly’ is a word that is used when you are 100% sure of something.’ ‘This discrimination stops today.’
Although both words will continue to be valid in their own individual contexts, the official Oxford English Dictionary will be updated to state that ‘of’ is a valid component of the conditional perfect tense.
Sir Nigel also pointed out that the main debating topic of the August 2019 English Congress will be the proposed consolidation of ‘there, their and they’re’ into a single term. A proposal to add the term ‘lack toast and tolerant’ to the Lancet Glossary of Medical Terms was rejected in 2016 after concerns that its introduction would lead to long-term neurological disorders amongst the general public.”

Here’s another story, genuine this time, calculated to make me laugh:

 “A 747 cargo jet suffered damage after it tipped backwards while parked on the tarmac when airport workers mistakenly unloaded the aircraft from its nose.

The jet – belonging to Iranian cargo airline Fars Air Qeshm – became unbalanced during unloading at Doha airport in Qatar, tipping onto its tail.

The Boeing 747-281, which had arrived from Yerevan, Armenia, is the airline's only aircraft.

Incidents of aircraft tipping backwards are uncommon, but happen more frequently with cargo jets. Some airlines use tail stands when the aircraft are parked to prevent them tipping back.”

I felt quite sorry for the Fars Air Qeshm airline. Imagine having only kne plane and getting it messed up because someone unloaded it from the wrong end!

Less amusing but equally odd is this story from Sicily. But where else could such a story come from?

 “A 64-year-old woman allegedly hired four Sicilian mafia henchmen to murder her ex-lover who had stolen her jewels, according to police. The killers, all Sicilians, carried out their order by walling the man in cement while he was still alive.

 ‘‘The act of walling up bodies was a very common practice by the Sicilian mafia,” said Salvatore Lupo, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Palermo and a renowned expert in the history of Italy’s so-called Cosa Nostra. “It is a very rational practice because if the body is not found, police investigations are slowed down,” said Lupo. “Other times, however, the mafia wants the corpses to be found to send out a message. If a victim talked to police about their business, he was killed and a stone was put in his mouth. If instead the victim stole money or was too greedy, the killers put banknotes on his genitals.’’”

Before we get too holier-than-thou about violence in relatively faraway places, here is something to consider.

Yesterday evening I was the sole passenger on the Saddleworth Ranger, a minibus service that runs between Denshaw and Greenfield, timed to coincide with the arrival of trains from Manchester to Greenfield, which is how I came to be on the bus. The driver and I had a fine chat about this and that. His accent marked him out as a Yorkshireman, from Hull, or rather, as he told me it should be pronounced, ‘Ull. At one point he told me of a recent visit to his family in ‘Ull and coming across a piece of artwork, an angel-figure made entirely of knives, machetes, axes and other similar weapons confiscated by the police. The figure is twice as tall as a man, the young man told me.

That’s an awful lot of confiscated weaponry! So I don’t think we can sit back and criticise the violence of other nationalities!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Things scientists tell us. And projects that never came to fruition.

My husband has always claimed to have a good sense of direction. He is probably right. I know that I became very lazy in that respect, simply relying on him to know which way to go when we went places together. This was fine. We shared the labour. I drove the car and he worked out the route. Driving around on my own, I discovered I had a reasonably good sense of direction. Besides, I never went anywhere around Greater Manchester without my trusty A to Z. (I have yet to discover such a systemised map for cities in Europe, by the way.) This was before satnav came into everyone’s lives. 

Many people seem not to come equipped with any kind of sense of direction. Phil has often despaired of travelling companions on his way to chess events, travelling companions who get hopelessly lost and cannot understand how to read maps or work out which way is east or west. My good friend and Cuba-travelling companion proved to have no sense of direction whatsoever. She is the only person I know who could consistently turn the wrong way out of the hotel room. Every morning! She combined this with supreme confidence so that once out of the hotel she would stride off in what she erroneously believed to be the right direction. How I did not lose her in Havana remains a mystery to me.

Now scientists are telling us that we all actually have an innate connection with the earth’s magnetic field and can always work out which way is north. They may well have proved that with numerous experiments but I still have my doubts. Some people are just such ingrained city dwellers that they have lost that sense altogether. And with satnavs and mobile phones nobody develops map-reading skills any longer either.

The scientists have clearly not met or tested my eldest granddaughter who at 21 still has problems with left and right. She has to hold up her hands, thumbs our, palms facing away from her and see which hand forms a letter L. This system works. In almost all other respects she is a perfectly sensible and intelligent young woman. I suppose we all have our weaknesses. My brother, for example, never progressed from tying his shoelaces with two “bunny ears” instead of a more grown-up fashion of doing so. Nowadays, with velcro shoe fastenings for small people, he might not even have got as far as “bunny ears”!

Animals have no problems with sense of direction, or so I am told. After all, birds manage to migrate across continents and rarely seem to get lost. And I read that dogs line themselves up with the magnetic north to defecate. A kind of doggy feng shui?

According to this article, England will run short of water within twenty five years. It’s all to do with projected population growth and the utilities companies not dealing efficiently, if at all, with the numerous leaks in the system. All I can say is that they have clearly not seen the amount of water running down our main road! And maybe this is another reason for staying in Europe, so that we can all work together to deal with such environmental problems.

People have always liked to plan solutions to problems of life in cities and getting around from one place to another. Here is a link to a series of pictures of bridges that were never built, projects that never came to fruition. I think my favourite is Jean-Paul Viguier’s design for a part-bridge, part-tunnel that would have stretched from Calais to a mid-sea island, where it would have descended past shops and hotels into an undersea tunnel. The tunnel would then climb up to another island, off the coast of Dover, and back on to a continuation of the bridge.

What a beautiful project, somehow more elgant than the Channel Tunnel, but probably more difficult to police in our age of migration controls. And goodness knows what they would have done when the volume of traffic grew too big for the bridge.

If it had existed, no doubt some Brexiteers would be proposing blowing it up by now!

Monday, 18 March 2019

Living in a parallel universe!

It seems that yesterday, or maybe the day before, a month’s worth of rain fell on Greater Manchester in the space of 24 hours! Reports of this were accompanied by photos of road underwater, steps going down into flooded areas and so on.

I can believe it. Here on the very edge of Greater Manchester we have the river bouncing along at top capacity, manhole covers converted into mini fountains as water spurts up from underneath them, and a whole new stream running down the hillside onto the main road, which is already running water as if it were about to go out of fashion.

Tonight I am supposed to put out our paper and cardboard recycling for collection. (The system works on a three week cycle: one week paper and cardboard, the next week glass and plastic [now much reduced as they will only accept certain plastic items, principally plastic bottles, without tops!] and the final week general rubbish [now containing the plastic items which the local council will not recycle !]. Every week, thank goodness, they collect compostable stuff - food waste and garden waste.) I fear that the refuse collectors will find a bag of papier maché when they get to our house.

In a news item the other day I heard a throwaway statistic about the UK and internet usage. I don’t remember the statistic but it was very congratulatory about the very high number of households in the UK which have access to internet and have a computer in the home. We sort of take it for granted. I go to stay with family and friends and simply log my iPad onto their wifi. Easy peasy!

Then I came across this article about the nightmare of applying for universal credit. People are expected to apply online but a report last year revealed that just over half of people on low incomes do not have broadband in their home. Added to that 21% of the population do not have basic digital skills. I read further and found that claimants have to record 30 hours per week of jobhunting. They do this in an online journal. Hard enough in itself if you have to go the library to complete it. But there is more. “People are expected to monitor their online journals in almost real time. They get notifications for meetings and instructions in their online journals,” says Kayley Hignell, Citizens Advice head of welfare policy. “But many of our clients don’t have the internet at home or lack digital skills and may not get these messages. They then run the risk of getting sanctioned.”

You need access to internet to find a job and make your benefit claim but you need a job to pay for your internet connection. Catch 22 strikes again!

A similar kind of “everyone can use a computer and has access to them” way of thinking has clearly been used when dealing with applications for settled status by EU nationals living here. I have seen numerous posts from the Forum for EU Citizens (the three million) about how difficult it is to access the application system. And yet according to Amber Rudd the application system was going to be “as easy as setting up an online account at LK Bennett”.

(LK Bennett, by the way, in case like me you had never heard of it, describes itself as an “affordable luxury brand”, selling shoes, clothes, handbags and accessories. It is a favourite of a number of high-profile women, including Theresa May and the Duchess of Cambridge.)

The campaign organisation “the 3 million”, which represents EU citizens living in the UK, accused Amber Rudd of trivialising the application process. “We had to Google LK Bennett, a popular chain with the upper middle class,” a statement said. “It just shows how detached the government is from the real concerns of the average EU citizens.”

Some people just live in a different sort of world to the place inhabited by the rest of us. Eva Wiseman, writing in yesterday’s Observer magazine,  talked about people travelling by air with babies or small children. Apparently the thing to do, if you live in a world of privilege, is to prepare ‘goody bags’ for all your fellow passengers. These contain ear plugs and sweets and an apology in advance for any disturbance your offspring might cause. How do you fit that into your hand luggage?

Eva Wiseman agreed with me that it is hard enough to organise yourself to travel with toddlers without going into presents for other passengers!

Where is this parallel universe that these people live in?

Sunday, 17 March 2019

On being “authentic”!

I have always admired actors and actresses like Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster who can convincingly become whatever nationality they choose to portray. You forget who they are in real life and accept this new personality they have taken on. Not everyone can do, not even some of the most successful actors. John Wayne was always John Wayne, even if he was really called Marion. And for me Michael Caine is always Michael Caine, just wearing different clothes!

But now I am reading that some people think actors should not pretend to be what they are not. “An actor’s automatic licence to fake an accent is now increasingly in doubt. Casting agents are under growing pressure to find talent that matches the background of a character if they want to avoid accusations of cultural appropriation, or even, in some cases, the charge of outright mockery.”

It’s part of the “keep it real” idea, the one that says that only gay actors should play gays characters, only disabled actors can play disabled characters and so on. All well and good but is that really what acting is all about? Not everyone in the profession is happy with of convinced by this trend. “Nobody who has talent should be kept out of the acting profession. And nobody, even white, middle-class males, should be prevented from playing any part,” said Simon Callow this weekend. The acclaimed actor added that this does not mean he begrudges seeing women play parts traditionally played by men, or that he regrets the rise of colour-blind casting, or of disabled actors taking on leading roles. “As a gay man, I’ve been impressed by seeing non-gay actors, such as Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, playing men loving other men, helping to cancel out Hollywood’s grim record of vicious homophobic caricature.”

Sheila Hancock had her say as well. She said that while she embraces the opening up of casting opportunities to excluded groups, she is wary of an encroaching moral climate in which an actor can only play a version of themselves. “I’d be bored stiff. When I started, I was deemed only able to play maids,” said Hancock, the daughter of an Isle of Wight publican. “I am now allowed more range. I’ve played northern recently, too, as well as someone with dementia – and I certainly don’t have that.”

I know I have gone on about this before, but it needs restating. Acting is acting after all.

It goes along with a correspondence I have been having with my friend Colin about the British obsession with class. It seems that for some people, especially people who want to be considered “of the left”, there is something embarrassing about being perceived as middle class. When did it become obligatory to have actually worked in a factory, textile mill, coal mine or wherever in order to want a fairer society? Since when does liking olives, good coffee, decent wine and enjoying a range of “culture” make you a toff?

It’s all about being “authentic”, whatever that really means!

Apparently one way for men, even wealthy men, to prove their working class credentials is to wear a flat cap. Who knew? But I read it in a Guardian article so it must be true.

My dad always wore one: a battered on when he was on his bike going to or from his allotment, and a smarter one for going out. But they fell out of fashion and then people like David Beckham started wearing one and over the last ten years they have grown in popularity again. The TV series Peaky Blinders, where the eponymous gang wore them with razor blades in the peaks so that they could double up as weapons, has added to that popularity.

According to what I read the flat cap supposedly first became popular after a short-lived law passed in England in 1571 that obliged everyone to wear a woollen hat to boost the wool trade. Okay! I wonder what women were supposed to wear. Or did they not count for anything at that time?

The writer also reckons that the flat cap is classless and international. He prefers the Italian Al Pacino in the Godfather type of cap to the Brummie Peaky Blinders cap.

So much for authenticity!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Weather! catching up with things!

My Spanish sister tells me that they are having an early heatwave in the Sunny South of Spain. We all know this might be expected on the Costa del Sol but she lives around the corner, beyond Tarifa, where all the windsurfers like to go, onto the Atlantic coast where she assures me they usually have quite chilly winter winds at this time of year. It’s all relative, of course. 22 degrees no doubt feels quite cool when you are used to summer in the 30+ degrees but to those of us who live in the foothills of the Pennines 22 degrees seems positively balmy!

They weren’t having a heatwave when my English sister and I went over there this time last year. We had some fine but coolish days and some very stormy days with lashings of rain! So it goes.

Here in Super-Soggy Saddleworth, we are having lashings of rain at the moment. There is even snow forecast for tomorrow! The river is bouncing along fit to burst its banks at any moment. In fact the area where our little granddaughter goes on occasion to a Forest School outdoor playgroup is already nicely underwater, not so much from the river overflowing but simply from the amount of water running down the slope. And in a place I walked past this morning where they keep chickens, the chicken runs are seriously wet. The hens are pretty soon going to have evolve rapidly into waterfowl!

All of this makes life interesting!

Yesterday began with rain but morphed into a rather fine and sunny day, although still wild and windy. I went on a John Lewis hunt with my daughter. Ordering stuff from John Lewis is easy; you just do it online. Exchanging good is more time-consuming and requires travel. The nearest actual stores are in Cheadle (practically Stockport) and the Trafford Centre, a temple to consumerism which is best avoided at all times.

So Cheadle it was!

The reason for my John Lewis hunt goes back to Christmas. Our son, knowing that our electric kettle was becoming temperamental, organised a joint present from him and his sister to the parents who were clearly neglecting to replace the wonky kettle. And so a fine new electric kettle and matching toaster - a four slot toaster to meet the requirements of family visits to the parental home - were presented on Christmas day, or maybe a couple of days later.

All very nice, except that when water was boiled in the kettle it acquired a strange plastic tang. Tea with plastic is not my favourite beverage. Besides, there was this smidgeon of fear that maybe we might actually absorb some of that plastic into our systems. Now, I am aware that we all inadvertently absorb plastic from all sorts of sources but there is not point in overdoing it, specially if it can be avoided!

We did some research and discovered that other people had had the same problem. Remedies were suggested, involving bicarbonate of soda and repeated filling and boiling of the kettle. All to no avail! It was going to have to be swapped for some other model. So eventually we had our son email us, not the receipt for the kettle -goodness knows where that was - but the guarantee emailed to him by John Lewis. Since then, the exhange had to be delayed as I was running off to Cuba and then Spain,

But yesterday was the day. Armed with the document, I first approached the customer service department of the store. “Oh no, we don’t do exchanges. You need to go to the kitchen goods section of the store and sort it out there.” So off we trotted and spoke to a helpful assistant who efficiently found our kettle on the system so that she could give is an idea of the price range we were looking for. And a stainless steel kettle, no plastic interior, was duly selected and taken back to the checkout.

The helpful, efficient assistant had disappeared.

I had to explain the whole thing again, and again, and again, to a less than brilliant assistant. Paper forms were filled in with the order number from my son’s guarantee email, his name, the model number of the kettle, the problem with the kettle, my name and goodness knows what else! But a new kettle was acquired and works fine ... so far!

The toaster, by the way, has been fine from day one. Perfectionists might object to our having a toaster and kettle that do not match! We shall just pretend to be really trendy, like those cafes where they never have matching plates!

On Thursday, another occasion when the morning rain stopped and the afternoon became fine and sunny, I went into Manchester to have lunch with a couple of old friends. We have tried on numerous occasions to organise this and the last few times it has ended up being just two of us as the third party became elusive. First he was involved in conducting spoken examinations for French A and AS-Level, seriously reducing his availability. Then he sort of disappeared off the radar. Eventually we discovered he had changed his email address to avoid the spam that kept coming through to him. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell friends what his new email was.

But we tracked him down and had a decent lunch at a tapas emporium on Deansgate, catching up on gossip and the progress of our children and grandchildren. Only towards the end did we even mention the B word.

We still wait to see what wonders La Theresa can come up with!

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Not running in the rain! The working week!

No comments on the Brexit fiasco stuff!

This morning I contemplated running to Uppermill, as I usually do on a Wednesday - market day in Uppermill. Then I listened to the rain battering against the window and thought again. I haven’t really got anything against running in the rain, well not much anyway. I don’t go quite so far as to say, as some do, that it is quite refreshing. No, it isn’t refreshing; it’s just wet. Refreshing is having a shower afterwards. But I don’t really object too much to running in the rain. However, if I plan to stop off and buy stuff at the market then I am going to have to walk home with a bag of shopping or wait around for the bus to arrive. Running gear is fine for running, even in the rain, but is not good for keeping you warm as you walk, a bit more sedately, with your bag of shopping, or if you have to stand five minutes at the bus stop.

So I got up and dressed and put on my warmer waterproof gear and walked briskly through the wind and rain to Uppermill. When I got there, the market was substantially reduced: just the fishman and the fruit and veg man. Where was everyone else? Goodness knows and goodness is not telling!

Parking on the square is prohibited on market days but clearly a good number of drivers had decided to ignore the notices and park where the absentee stall holders should have been. When parking is allowed drivers usually enter at one end and leave at the other. We call it a square but it’s really a rectangle, and quite a narrow one at that. With the fishman and the fruit and veg man quite legitimately blocking the exit, drivers had to carry out a three-point (more often than not a multi-point) turn in order to leave.

I saw one old chap very nearly mown down as he headed for the fruit and veg stall. And one large vehicle came close to pranging the fish stall itself.

Much indignant huffing and puffing from both stall holders ensued!

So much for the British being a law-abiding nation! Not when it comes to finding somewhere to park in Uppermill, they’re not!

Mind you, our next door neighbour frequently parks his white van overnight on the double yellow lines outside our row of houses. He obviously relies on there being no parking inspectors around here but we are, cruelly? perhaps vindictively?, waiting for the day when he gets a ticket! You never know!

Anyway, I bought fish and fruit, including rhubarb - it must be the season! - and popped into the baker’s for the rather nice rye loaf they bake and then caught the bus home.

Quite efficiently done, even though I say it myself!

Less efficient is the energy company we switched put account to some time ago. They were supposed to organise everything concerned with the switchover, including sorting out all payment details. So why did I receive an email from our previous supplier telling me that they were still receiving payment from us? Standing order now cancelled! Not a huge thing, but that money paid to the energy company should have been earning a minimal amount of interest in my bank account!!

Years ago my A-Level French students and I read about, discussed and wrote essays (the students, not me) about the pros and cons of the 35 hour working week. Now I am reading about companies seeing the benefits of a four day working week, for the employees and for the companies.  This is without a reduction in pay, something that figured largely in the arguments about the 35 hour week in France. It seems that employers are seeing improved productivity from their happier workers.

What a surprise!

How does such a move affect the high-flying business and financial sector workers who reportedly work longer and longer hours because there is a culture which says more or less that you have to be seen to be at your desk from sunrise ‘til sunset if you want to succeed? And at the other end of the scale there are those who are already paid so poorly for their five-day week that they would simply have to use the extra “leisure” time to seek a second, or possible a third, job, just to earn enough to survive!!!

The world is an odd place and there are some benefits to being a pensioner and not having to worry about such things! I would, however, have appreciated a four day week back when I was a working mother.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Carpe diem - and boy did we seize it early!

Yesterday the sun shone beautifully in Vigo all day. And we had a splendid sunset - the best this visit!

We arrived two weeks back to good weather and left to fine and sunny and quite warm for the time of year. We did see some very mixed dull and gloomy stuff with occasional downpours in between time but, hey, it is still only March! What can you realistically expect. Cue for my favourite quote from Che Guevara: lSea realista, pide lo imposible! = Be realistic and ask for the impossible!

Today we got up at the crack of dawn to go and catch a bus from Vigo bus station to Porto airport, which remains the “airport for all Galicians”, as the powers that be cannot come to any kind of arrangement to manage Galicia’s three airports in any kind of sensible fashion.

Our flight to Manchester was due to leave at 10.00am Portuguese time. The 9.00am (Spanish time) Autna bus would get us to Porto airport at 9.45am (Portuguese time) just too late for the plane.and so we had to catch a bus at 4.Vigo bus station is not the most pleasant of places at the best of times. At 4.15 in the morning it is really spooky. And we were harangued by a beggar who presumably is homeless and finds that the bus station os one of the few places still warm(ish), dry and more importantly open at that time of day, with a captive clientele!

Looking at the departures board in the bus station we found a bus leaving for Porto at 7.30am, run by a company called Flixbus, a company we have never heard of before. 7.30 is still rather uncivilised but it is better than 4.30. We shall have to investigate this service for possible travel to the airport in the future.

Porto’s Sa Carneiro airport at 5.15am (Portuguese time) is only marginally more welcoming than Vigo bus station at 4.30am (Spanish time). It’s still dark outside at this time of year. The airport itself is partially closed down. None of the coffee places in the main body of the airport before you go through security is open, which is very bad for the poor souls who want to check in luggage as the checking for the 10.00 flight was not open either. Once through security and 8 to the main body of the airport, we were able to buy some breakfast but even then quite a lot of the more complex food outlets and certain of the retail outlets don’t open until 9.00.

So we had rather a long wait but eventually boarded the plane and slept most of the way back to the UK. We must have had a following wind because the plane arrived in Manchester some 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Then they would only allow passengers to disembark through the front doors. A rumour rapidly spread through the plane that they were not opening the rear doors as it was too windy! Storm Gareth is apparently gearing up to have a go at blowing us away.

You can grow weary of storms, even if they are given names. I assume that the naming is an attempt to make us find them less worrying. Make the storm seem like a bad-tempered friend and all will be well. Rather like naming the Cape of Good Hope optimistically in an attempt to placate whatever gods kept making ships founder there.

They obviously have no qualms, or at any rate  no such optimism or God-fearing/placating ideas in the North of Galicia, where the coast is called the Costa de la Muerte , the Coast of Death.

 Storm Gareth notwithstanding, our house is still in good order here. Not blown away! Mind you, Gareth has not got going properly yet.

Goodness knows what tomorrow might bring!

Monday, 11 March 2019

How we spend our money!

This morning I popped into Frutas Nieves, one of the local chains of greengroceries, and bought two oranges for the grand total of 55 céntimos. My fruit and veg buying rarely comes to more than 6 or 7 euros at a time. So, do these little greengroceries, and there are masses of them around just about every Spanish town I visit, have card readers in case customers want to pay by card.

I wonder about this because I keep hearing more and more about our becoming a cashless society. Some say it started in Scandinavia but it’s all over the place now. And in Spain, like everywhere else, those loaded supermarket trolleys are more often paid for with a card than with bank notes!

In Manchester and London I see younger people buying small items such as bars of chocolate, chewing gum, stuff that costs less than a pound. They pay for them with their cards, usually contactlessly. Now, I assume that the same thing happens in Madrid and Barcelona, butI haven’t been there recently so I can’t say for sure. Do such young people, the health conscious ones at least, also pop into a frutería, pick up an apple and pay for it contactlessly? Can they do that?

So, is cash on the way out?

I read something yesterday about a report that says that up to eight million people in the UK could not cope with the disappearance of cash. After all, many are already struggling to cope with the disappearance of banks. Older people who live in out of the way places find it hard to have to go into the nearest town centre to go to the bank and they are usually the ones who don’t have computers and therefore cannot do online banking.

On the other hand, I also read that Philadelphia has become the first city in the USA to require that retailers accept cash instead of cards. New York, Chicago and Washington DC are considering similar action. And just imagine having to bring in legislation which obliges retailers to accept cash payment. It sounds like something from a strange futuristic dystopia.

Will children playing shop soon stop handing over plastic money (and I mean real plastic coins) and go through the motions of swiping a credit or debit card in payment instead? How will they actually learn the value of money?

Will cash machines, ATMs, also disappear?

This is already happening in some small places. The local branch of the bank closes and before you know it the ATM stops functioning as well. Is that why I had to try three different Santander STMs one day last week before I found one that actually had cash available? Actually I doubt that. I suspect it was because it was a Monday morning and the cash-machine filler-upper had not been round yet. 

But the cashless society question is a bit of a poser.

I have just been reading Lee Child’s novels in which the protagonist, Jack Reacher, maintains his total anonymity as he travels around the USA by paying for everything in cash. In hotels he signs in under an assumed name and pays in full, in cash. He travels by bus and train rather than plane so that does not need to sign into anything. He has no credit card and so he leaves no trail. A cashless society puts an end to that.

I think I may have mentioned before that in “The Handmaid’s Tale” one of the ways that the fundamentalists are able to take control is because theirs is a cashless society. When Gilead wanted to restrict women’s freedom, they simply froze their bank accounts and cancelled their bank cards.

Easy peasy!

Big brother does not just watch you, he keeps track of your spending! And he might turn on you!

You have been warned!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Things you see in Vigo And a bit of a rant about posh coffee,

As I was returning from my run this morning, I went past two young black women at a bus stop. Probably in their twenties, old enough to have got beyond the giggly girl stage but still young enough to want to take photos of each other on their mobile phone, completely ignoring the little boy - the child of one of them? a younger brother? - who sat in the bus shelter, pointedly taking no part, and no interest, in the photo-shoot going on outside.

And it did merit a photo-shoot! Tall and slender, their height accentuated by killer heels, or clip-clops as my five-year-old granddaughter calls them, one pair bright red, the other a more sober black. They were dressed in quite figure-hugging, but at the same time modest, sheath dresses in shiny, satiny fabric in vivid blue and green. Buttoned up to the neck, almost ankle length and very flattering. And they wore hats. Not felt hats or trilbies, not woolly hats or berets, but hats made from a similar shiny, satiny fabric as their elegant dresses.

Fabulous birds of paradise, they knew they looked good. Where were they off to in their finery at 9.00 on a Sunday morning? Almost certainly to church but they might have been on their way to a wedding, so glamourous did they look.

I considered offering to take a picture of the two of them together, and incidentally asking if I could take one for me as well. But at that moment their bus arrived and then they were gone. I hope they had a good day and brightened life up for all who saw them.

On my travels, long and short, I like to spot amusing names for shops and bars and other establishments. Hairdressing salons are a good source, offering nice puns in English such as “Curling me softly”. There is one in the centre of Vigo simply called “Jesus Dos - Peluqueros”. Whenever I see it I mentally translate it into “Jesus! Two hairdressers”, which is almost certainly not what proprietor had in mind. No doubt the owner is called Jesus and has another establishment elsewhere in town, this one being his second salon!

Recently I have come across a clothes shop called “Vistt”. When you say it aloud, with the final two letters pronounced Spanish alphabet style, it is “vístete”, which means “dress yourself”. Not bad!

And the other day I spotted a bar called “Peka 2”. Again, you need to say it out loud and it becomes “Peka dos” or “Pecados” = “Sins”. Quite nice!

I wonder how much they charge for a cup of coffee.

Almost certainly not as much as a place in London’s King’s Cross which I read a review of a few days ago. Their coffee will set you back £15 for a single cup. Granted, it is Yemeni coffee, of which I have no experience and therefore cannot comment on what such coffee might taste like.

However the reviewer was asked by the barista, “Can you taste the bergamot orange? The cocoa nibs?” Okay! “And then can you taste grape,” the barista continued. “Some red berries and notes of honey.” Okay again!

Now, I may be some kind of philistine but I don’t actually want my coffee to taste of bergamot orange, cocoa nibs (whatever they are), red berries and honey. It’s bad enough that wine buffs go on about the blackcurrants and blackberries and goodness only knows what else that you can apparently taste in some bottle of red wine. I don’t need the same process to go on over coffee. Coffee should taste of coffee! And just as it is perhaps difficult for ordinary mortals to fully appreciate the wonders of a £100 bottle of wine, so I suspect a £15 cup of coffee might tax our taste buds.

There’s an awful lot of food and drink snobbery around!

Setting all of that to one side, here are some photos I have taken in the last couple of weeks. Views of Vigo.

Street art.
 The "garden shed" at A Guia.
 Through the archway in the Castro park.
 Looking at the islands.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Tall stories and tall storeys!

I think I have ranted before about the increasing number of very, very tall buildings that are going up in central Manchester, dwarfing the older buildings. Now, I know that some people do not consider Manchester a place of great architectural splendour but it has always struck me as having a quiet elegance all its own. And that older elegance, of all the big cities, should be treasured.

In New York they are concerned about new extremely tall buildings casting long shadows over Central Park. There the new buildings can be extra tall because contractors can buy the “airspace” above neighbouring smaller buildings and add it to their own.

Curious and devious ways of getting around by-laws.

If I have mentioned that in previous posts, I apologise form the repetition.

Travelling through London on the train to Gatwick recently, I was struck by the number of tall buildings there. Of course, London is the capital. You would expect it to have more tall buildings, but even so it seems a little excessive to me. And I read here that a record 76 tall buildings are due to be completed this year, three times more than last year!

Here’s an interesting bit of statistics and info about names of buildings:

“At the moment, London has 360 tall buildings. The tallest office tower rising in the City of London is 22 Bishopsgate – known as Twentytwo. It was started in 2008 during the financial crisis and nicknamed the Pinnacle and later the Stump after work stalled. “

And now I read that building work in Athens is aiming so high that it will obstruct views of the Acropolis. One report says that  “Unlike other major European metropolises, Athens escaped the phenomenon of the high-rise precisely because of the fear that multi-storey blocks would overshadow the capital’s greatest showpiece. As a result only one, a 28-storey bloc known as the Athens Tower, was constructed under the curatorship of Greece’s then-military dictatorship in the 1970s.”

Clearly, however, things have changed since then and building permits have been granted. But as people watched a posh new hotel going up and realised how tall it was planned to be protests began and permits have now been suspended. Greece’s culture minister, Myrsini Zorba, acknowledged the protests had to be taken into account. “A view is a cultural good and in no circumstance can it be turned into a privilege for the few. We ought to be responsive to the protest of civil society so that rule of law and a sense of justice are upheld.”

Protests are registered from international quarters as well. After all, some places are not just national heritage but world heritage.

Looking around Vigo, we see building work taking place again. Some tall buildings are going up here too. If they are intended to be residences rather than offices, I ask myself how many of them will remain empty, like the block a little further along our street, completed the summer before last and still showing no sign of occupation.

I have often wondered about the smaller buildings that remain in the “valleys” between streets of high rise flats. Do the people who live there feel overshadowed, or just overwhelmed? Mostly they seem to continue to grow their vegetables and keep their place in good order.

Wasn’t it Voltaire who advised, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”?

The trouble is that if the surrounding building grow altogether too tall, it may become too dark to cultivate any kind of garden.

And then there are the places with optimistic names like “Vista del Mar”, “Buena Vista”, “Mirador”, almost certainly given those names when they did look put towards the bay. Now they only look towards other blocks of flats!

We feel quite privileged to have a seventh floor flat with a view of the bay!