Friday, 31 May 2019

And the adventures go on and on.

Our hotel here in Ragusa is not really a hotel in the normal way of things. It’s almost a sort of apart-hotel. We have a bedroom, and a  very nice bedroom it is, and a kitchen/dining area we share with the other people who have bedrooms here and a sort of sitting room area downstairs. As our bedroom opens onto the kitchen/dining area we seem to use it more than most. Nobody uses the sitting room!

We invite others from our group, who are in a more traditional hotel, to come and have coffee or wine in our place. The downside is that we have to go out to a cafe from breakfast. It all works well though.

This morning we found our way to the local Spar before setting off on our adventures. Now, maybe I will not have to pay €2.70 for an orange juice on top of my breakfast “vaucher” at the cafe. And Phil has cereal for supper!

Then we met up with the gang and headed for Noto, a singularly lovely town, destroyed in the earthquake of 1693 and rebuilt in a beautifully coordinated fashion.

I was not impressed by the beggars trying make us look at budgerigars and other such birds perching on their fingers, but then that is largely because I hate things that flap!

But it is a fine town. 
I even found a “This and That” shop for Phil, who likes to spend tine doing this and that.

Lunch was also quite impressive.

We ate it in a very nicely decorated sidestreet.

And then we moved on to Scicli, where we visited Montalbano-land - the various places where the Montalbano detective series was filmed. Including this time round (Phil and I have done the tour before) an actual stage set within the town hall. The poor mayor and various offices have had to be moved to accommodate this but I suspect the tourist revenue makes up for it.

Scicli is a nice place on its own account, without the television connection. There are some fine churches.

They also have some wonderful ceramics.

 And we ended the evening in a strange fast-food place - Sicilian style!

All good.

And tomorrow is another day!

Thursday, 30 May 2019

And the Sicilian adventures continue!

Today we got up earlier than usual as our group was setting off at 9.30 instead of 10.00. It’s amazing what a difference half an hour makes to your schedule!

So we met at ten and set off for a two hour drive to Siracusa. Our earlier departure was rewarded with a surprise: our lovely, friendly minibus driver, Salvo, had bought homemade biscuits for us. A second breakfast on the bus!

Eventually we arrived at Siracusa, at the archeological park, not the city itself. And we saw the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, somewhat diminished by the stones having been pinched in the middle ages to build other stuff. Then there was a huge great altar where they used to sacrifice lots of animals to curry favour with gods.

We moved on to the Greek theatre, which our guide says did not suffer the depredations of the Roman amphitheatre as it was not possible to pinch the stones. The seats were hacked out of the rock rather than being made from lumps of already shaped stone. The theatre was actually in use and the stage set was being checked as we visited. “The Trojan Women” is being staged and the area with the strange tree trunks is apparently flooded each evening to make an artificial lake.

After that we moved through a semi-tropical bamboo forest to the “ear of Dionysius”, a cave dug out of the rock by slaves, who were then imprisoned there and their conversations listened to by Dionysus to check if they were plotting against him. Oh! The paranoia!

Having had our fill of archeological stuff, we moved down to Siracusa itself surprise number two awaited us: a special sandwich lunch, very nice sandwiches indeed, made by a crazy old guy who had a go at groping one of our party. Considering that we are mostly over 65, perhaps we should feel flattered! No! Not really!

Surprise number three was about ride out into the bay. Delightful!

And finally we got around to visiting the sights of Siracusa, or rather Ortigia. In particular the cathedral, on the site of an ancient temple to Athena. Complete with ancient pillars and a beautiful stone floor.

As it became clear we were not going to get back to Ragusa until late, Phil and I and a friend went on a hunt for take-away food and a bottle of wine. And we finished the evening in our apart-hotel with a makeshift picnic.

Not a bad life on the whole!

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The further adventures of Phil and Anthea in Sicily - a brief but colourful post.

Today we set off in the sunshine to visit la Cava d’Ispica, a place full of old cave dwellings and a necropolis, a burial place. Quite impressive!

We saw the original skyscrapers: cave dwellings on several floors from about the third century AD. At ground level there was evidence of the places where horses, valuable items, were tethered. Our teacher reminded the guide that when she was a child she remembered her grandparents having houses where the animals were kept on the ground floor, back in the 1960s.

Mostly I took photos of flowers, here are some.

We moved on to Modica, where we visited the famous chocolate makers. When we visited five years ago, we were taken behind the scenes and all given hairnets to protect the product. Now it has all been refined and a young lady took us through the procedure in the shop. She had clearly memorised her speech well and spoke at super-fast speed thoughout!

 Modica has probably about 100 churches. We saw the cathedral,of San Pietro, the Cathedral,of San Giorgio and the church of San Giovane, the last in the upper part of town.

All my photos of Modica, apart from this one of the floor of one of the churches, are on my camera which will not connect to the computer until I return to England.

 A treat to look forward to!

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Phil and Anthea have fun in Sicily!

So here we are in Sicily. We had a fairly uneventful flight from Manchester, arriving at Catania at around 8.00. Or maybe later; I seem to have lost my sense of time. After messing around for a while waiting for some of our group to collect luggage from the carousel, we eventually got in a minibus to travel to Ragusa. We knew we would be arriving late and so we had all snacked en route but had been told that fresh fruit would be waiting for us on arrival.

We were split into two hotels, of which we seemed to have won the prize. Not only was there fresh fruit, but also a bottle of fizz and a homemade apple pie, made by the wife of our tour guide. Service above and beyond the call of duty.

So after feeding our faces in moderate fashion, the five of us staying in this hotel went to our separate rooms at somewhere around midnight. Before settling down to sleep I felt the need to unpack. One little bit of madness. Then I decided to put the passports and the English cash and the spare euros into the safe in the bedroom. A serious mistake. I worked out how to set a code and close the thing and then discovered I could not open it again! The phones needed charging but, lo and behold, our adapters would not fit into the sockets!

Altogether a brilliant start! And we had agreed to meet at 10.00 this morning to begin our cultural events programme! So this morning, having had some breakfast at a nearby cafe - the arrangement is that we have “vauchers” (Italian spelling) for the cafe, entitling us to a coffee, tea or chocolate and a croissant - we had to sort out these problems.

The adapter thing was easy. Unplugging the kettle in the room - yes, we have a kettle!! - we found an adapter into which to plug our adapter into which we could plug our English electricals. It’s a good job Inhave one of those handy gadgets which allows you to charge more than one device at a time. 

The safe was more problematical. The hotel chappie did not really know how to follow instructions either. In the end he had to resort to a master key and open the safe. Then we decided together to use the default setting instead of a personally selected code. I have some doubts about the security but I have given up on worrying about it. The place is small enough for us to feel that everyone knows everyone.

This might be a case if famous last words.

Anyway, we have done a tour of Ragusa, seen sights that we did not see last time we were here and generally feel much better informed. Not only that but we have spoken quite a bit of Italian. And we have all agreed that having mentioned the date of the famous earthquake, 1693, which flattened the area and led to some splendid rebuilding, we will not mention the date again, this is because last time we were here our guide repeated it over and over accompanied by gestures involving ten fingers, then six finger, then nine fingers and finally three fingers.

Lunch was good for me - a fruit cocktail and a selection of Sicilian delicacies - while Phil’s choice of a chicken salad was less pleasing.
After lunch we took a minibus ride to Donnafugata. The castle and gardens are splendid.

Our guide assured us that some parts of the film Il Gattopardo with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale were made. We had some doubts about this and so I googled it on our return. This is what I found:

 “The location for Luchino Visconti’s lavish version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s epic novel could only be Sicily, and it is – mainly around Palermo. Visconti initially wanted to use the medieval village of Palma di Montechiaro to represent ‘Donnafugata’, the family home of the princes of Salina, but this would have meant building a road, and that’s where the men in dark glasses stepped in (allegedly) to ask for their piece of the action.

Wisely, Visconti moved the production to the decaying village of Ciminna, 30 miles south of Palermo. The Piazza of Donnafugata is Ciminna’s square, and it’s here that the façade of Salina’s palace was constructed. The family mansion is the gorgeous palazzo of Villa Boscogrande, Via Tommaso Natale 91, in Mondello, a seaside resort north of Palermo. If you like the look of the villa, you can rent it for your wedding or, less romantically, that corporate event.

The grand ball was staged in the Palazzo Valguarnera Gangi, Piazza Croce dei Vespri in Palermo itself. The famous ballroom can be hired for functions, but the remainder of the house is a private residence.”

No mention of Donnafugata! Oh dear! But we had a lovely visit and saw some splendid old clothes. 

More adventures tomorrow,

Monday, 27 May 2019

Feeling like running away!

Brexit Party Booming! Tories in turmoil! Labour in limbo! Greens going for it! The results of the European elections are much as expected. Where do we go from here? I truly hate to see the odious Farage getting so much support but I am not really surprised. One bit of good news though, Tommy Robinson only got 2.2% of the votes and slunk away from the voting centre in Manchester trying not to be seen in his moment of shame. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving victim!

It sounds as though the same mind of turmoil is going on in other countries of Europe as well. Change is coming one way or another.

I had thought the more blatant racism we have been seeing in this country was a consequence of Brexit, a kind of license given to those who thought that way to express their feeling freely at any time and in any way. But now I read that in Germany Jews are being advised not to wear the kippah in public for fear of attacks of one kind or another. What is the world coming to?

In the weekend paper a young man of mixed race who calls himself an Afropean, a very good term in my opinion, described going around Europe looking at the state of things for black and mixed race folk. His travels took him to Paris where he learnt, among other things, that the writer Alexandre Dumas was a descendent of slaves.

The writer’s West African grandmother, Marie-Cessette was a slave on a plantation in Haiti in the late 1700s. A French nobleman bought her for her beauty, took her off to France, and had four children with her. When his finances went awry he sold the 4 children back into slavery. Later he bought back his son, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and sent him to a military school in Paris. Thomas-Alexandre became a general and the highest ranking black soldier in Europe’s history. His son was Alexandre Dumas, novelist! It sounds like a film script!

The young Afropean also talked about the “banlieues”, French for suburbs. Not, however, the leafy suburbia we imagine in the UK, where the wealthy live in large houses in the outer areas, away from the hurly-burly and the industry of city centres. The word “banlieue” is made up of two other words: “bannissement” = banishing, and lieu = place. So a “banlieue” is a place of banishment. When Haussman created a new and beautiful central Paris, with wider, more controllable streets, and grand apartments for the wealthy, the poor and unwanted were pushed out into the periphery.

And there the poor and unwanted, mostly black immigrants, still live in miserable tower blocks, designed originally by Le Corbusier. And the rest is a history of misery and neglect!

We have not really come as far as we would like to have done in terms of improving our society!

I could getvquite depressed about it. It’s a good job Phil and I are off on a little escapism - a week in Sicily, trying not to think about the problems of the world. We do, however, return just in time Mr Trump’s visit and Mrs May’s departure!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

How to be happy and fullfilled in the modern world!

According to scientists, unmarried women without children are the happiest subgroup in the population.

 “Speaking at the Hay festival on Saturday, Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

“Married people are happier than other population subgroups, but only when their spouse is in the room when they’re asked how happy they are. When the spouse is not present: f***ing miserable,” he said.

“We do have some good longitudinal data following the same people over time, but I am going to do a massive disservice to that science and just say: if you’re a man, you should probably get married; if you’re a woman, don’t bother.”

Men benefited from marriage because they “calmed down”, he said. “You take less risks, you earn more money at work, and you live a little longer. She, on the other hand, has to put up with that, and dies sooner than if she never married. The healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children,” he said.”

There you go!

Then there are the women who want children but don’t want to be pregnant. I think I read that Kim Kardashian is having another child, or rather that someone else is having a child for her. Presumably being pregnant would prevent her from pursuing her Law studies. Maybe she is one of those who believes that pregnancy softens the brain!

It seems, from what I read yesterday, that surrogacy is a big thing in the USA, where people can pay others to have their babies on their behalf. (In the UK surrogate mothers can only claim expenses.) And these are not just gay men who want a family or women who have some medical reason why they cannot bear a child themselves. These are often women who don’t want to put their career on hold and can afford to pay for the service. Presumably, if they don’t want to out their careers in hold, they also pay someone else to look after the child, effectively to raise the child.

A child as another fashion accessory? Part of proof of success? How odd! When do they actually bond with that child?

The doctors who assist in providing this service say that they are in the business of making people happy. And presumably also in the business of making money!

Another odd aspect of the modern world is holograms. Once the stuff of science fiction stories, holograms will apparently be used to enable artists such as Roy Orbison to go on tour. A Whitney Houston 3D tour has also been announced and the Egyptians are said to be planning visits to the pyramids with a chance to see Tutankhamun walking around. Just a bit spooky!

But creative technology expert Carl Guyenette predicts that before too long we will be making holographic “phone” calls as easily as we FaceTime nowadays.

These are things we need to get used to, or so they say!

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Some English gloom and some Spanish cheer!

Today’s UK papers have pictures of a tearful Theresa May giving her resignation speech outside Number 10 Downing Street.

Tears of sadness or tears of frustration? I wonder. I can remember at times being so angry and frustrated about some event or other that I could not speak for knowing that if I tried I would burst into tears of rage.

But she managed to speak. Was she really annoyed at not managing to bring about a measure she campaigned against in the run-up to the referendum?!

Reactions to her speech have expressed her hearers’ frustrations:-

“Author of the hostile environment. Wrongly deported UK citizens to Jamaica. Several of whom were then murdered. Wrongly deported foreign nationals who had not failed English exams. Prevented EU citizens from voting in the EU elections. Sent Go Home vans around minority neighbourhoods. Told that ridiculous lie about the immigrant’s cat. What was that she was saying about “burning injustices”? Good riddance.” So wrote one person.

“In her statement May is trying to boast about a useless, divisive and incompetent premiership which has devastated lives. Boasting of her achievements, claiming to have been a compassionate prime minister of a compassionate government. Bollocks. And those tears at the end ... she had none for Windrush”. So wrote another.

Of course some, mostly other, and mostly Conservative, politicians, talked about her dedication, her service to the country, her tireless hard work. It’s amazing possible it is to work hard and achieve nothing!

So here’s something more positive.

A Spanish journalist and writer, Enrique Bocanegra, visited the UK researching material for a book. During his time here he went to Stratford-upon-Avon and visited Shakespeare’s house.

I can remember doing that when I was in the sixth form. We were quite impressed. We also saw David Warner perform the role of Hamlet. We were even more impressed.

Anyway, getting back to el Señor Bocanegra, he remembered having visited some years earlier the home of the Spanish painter Velázquez, more or less a contemporary of Shakespeare. “I remember very clearly standing outside Shakespeare’s house and thinking: ‘This is a 16th-century house where hundreds of thousands of people come to learn about the man and his work,’” he says. “I’m from Seville, where there’s another 16th-century house, where another giant of world culture was born – and the house is deteriorating and rotting away and no one gives a toss. I was just embarrassed and saddened as a Spaniard.”

And now he and some others have got together to buy the painter’s house, which has been standing empty since 2009. Spanish law says that the facade and doorways of old buildings have to be preserved but that the interior can be redesigned at will and so the house had been used as a design studio. Now this group have bought it and intend to restore it and open it up to the public, just like Shakespeare’s home.

Read more about it here.

Sometimes you just need some good news to cheer you up.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Reading matter. And more mayhem.

Somebody put together a list of six books written by women. If I remember rightly it was something to do with Amazon and the idea was to buy these books as a package to give to girls to read.

Here’s the list:

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Anne of Green Gables by L. Montgomery.
Little Women by Lousa May Alcott
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

and finally

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

And it’s a good list but I don’t think of Pride and Prejudice as quite fitting in with the other five. I can think of eight-year-olds who would appreciate the first five but who would struggle with the content of Pride and Prejudice.

Or maybe that’s just my idea of the whole thing, After all I know a thirty-odd-year-old who gets excited about reading “Mallory Towers” and other stories about girls’ boarding schools. And really I should not be dismissive of it. After all I enjoy a good escapist science fiction story or detective story.

We don’t need to read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky all the time.

As well as that, I really love children’s books. And one of the favourites in our house has long been “The Tiger who came for Tea” by Judith Kerr. So we were all rather sad to hear she had died. However she had reached the grand old age of 95 and seems to have continued working and talking about her work right to the end. May we all do as well!

Today we took ourselves off and voted in the European elections. Now we need to wait for the results.

And the mayhem goes on.

Andrea Leadsom has resigned her post. Michael Heseltine, now a grand old man of the Conservative Party, has had his hand slapped for criticising his party and saying he would vote against them in the European elections.

Conservatives are calling for Mrs May to resign.

And nobody knows who will be in Number 10 when Mr Trump comes to visit.

Such fun and games!

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The parlous state we find ourselves in + a little light relief!

Chaos continues.

British Steel has gone into insolvency. Jobs are at risk all over the place. Some of the workers found out when they heard the news on the radio. Brexit is not the only cause of this collapse but it has been a contributing factor.

Jamie Oliver is closing his restaurants in the UK. This is also partly a consequence of Brexit. But I don’t feel too sorry for Jamie as he has business in Europe as well. He’s not going to be going to food-banks any day soon.

The radio tells me Brexiteers have been arguing outside the House of Commons.

Mrs May has been telling MPs they have a last chance to vote for her deal - rather like a mother at the end of her tether talking to her naughty children - but nobody seems to know whether the deal will actually be voted on at the start of June.

All sorts of fun and games are going on with Huawei - my granddaughter, who has one of their phones, may not be best pleased.

We get to vote in the European Elections tomorrow, against the will of Brexiteers, although I feel that while we remain in Europe, even if only briefly, we should be represented. Lots of rumours abound about Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party being set to do well. And there is talk of our parliamentary system being at risk. Fingers crossed for a sensible outcome!

The fabric of society as we know it appears to be unravelling around us.

Meanwhile, we continue to go about our business.

Grandma’s Cafe, which branched out recently into Grandma’s launderette, has further diversified into Grandma’s Decorating Service, not to mention Grandma’s Housesitting Service. I got in a taxi at the crack of dawn to head for my daughter’s house to be available for the washing machine repair man who could come any time between 7.45 am and 12.00 am. Just a bit vague on the timing front!

He finally arrived at 10.45.

While I waited I painted walls in one of the bedrooms at my daughter’s house. When decorating help is needed, who is she going to call - her mother!

Next week Grandma’s Multi Service Company withdraws for a while as we are off to Sicily for a week. This is a guided visit organised by my Italian friend and teacher. A few years ago we went on a trip with her to visit places where the detective series “Montalbano” was filmed. This one was supposed to be a more serious sort of visit, more refined and cultural, with visits to Roman remains and other such things.

And then came the news that further episodes of “Montalbano” are being filmed in Sicily right now. The cast and film crew are based in Ragusa, our initial destination and point of departure for all our excursions and adventures. They are quite likely still to be around when we are there.

Some of our party are overexcited and imagining meeting with Luca Zingaretti, the actor who plays the eponymous Montalbano.

The world as we kniw it might be going down the plug hole but hero-worship continues!

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Language problems. Attitudes. Dangerous artwork.

The other day there I listened to a radio news reporter in France talking to “gilets jaunes” protestors consistently mispronouncing the word, turning them into “gilets jeunes”, young waistcoats instead of yellow ones! This despite conversing quite fluently with French people during his report! Mistaught?! Or a student at a top university where they spoke little actual language during the course?!  I found it annoying and it distracted me from the news and views I was hearing.

Also on the same news item, a Macron supporter was talking about the reaction of people in her town to the president. Hatred! She was astounded. When did that become the norm? she asked. People can have differing views but why does it become so personal? When did people start hating those whose views are different to their own?


The modern world is a harsh place.

Something else language related. How to get more students to take GCSE languages - a problem much in the news lately. Some schools in Sheffield have had student mentors from the University, students of Modern Foreign Languages. Analysis found that more than half of the participating pupils said they would take a language as a result of the mentoring. There was also a knock-on effect on pupils not mentored. Entries were up in Sheffield by 43%. A possible solution!

Before the government jumps on this band wagon they should beware of catch 22. In order to have students at university studying languages and mentoring secondary school pupils, we need students to take languages at GCSE and A level!

Oh, boy!

Here’s more stuff on education. The George Washington high school in San Francisco has a series of murals, painted by a Russian emigré in the New Deal era, depicting scenes from the life of George Washington. Over the last fifty years there have been occasional complaints about the scenes being too graphically violent. And possible racist. A committee has recommended the murals be removed and archived. Perhaps even destroyed.

Maybe we need to be careful about removing upsetting artwork though. How far do you take it? Do we cover up paintings in art galleries to avpid possible offense?

 Food for thought!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Cleaning as therapy. Getting out and about as therapy. Being watched.

Having just vacuumed most of the house, I am moved to write about what is being called “Cleaning as Therapy”. Cleaning “gurus” abound: Marie Kondo, Mrs Hinch, Lynsey “Queen of Clean” Crombie - is there no end to them. And yesterday I read that a study published in 2008 in the Journal of Sports Medicine said that 20 minutes vigorous cleaning was enough to reduce anxiety and depression by 20%.

Well, I could have told them long ago that doing a good clear-out is good for the soul. There is something very satisfying about sorting out a mess. I am not convinced that it is really a long term solution to depression and anxiety though. It’s a sort of displacement activity, like tidying up your pencil case before you get on with a difficult piece of homework. In the end the difficult piece of homework or the causes of the depression need to be addressed. But decluttering and tidying up, like making a list of what you need to do, is a valuable step on the way.

Getting out for a walk also helps to declutter the mind. No headphones, no music playing on your phone, no podcast to listen to. If a walk outdoors is going to help you have to have no more external stimuli than what occurs naturally - birdsong if you are lucky, traffic noise if you are not. But you should not be listening to anything specific. Your mind should be free to ramble where it will. Zen and the art of walking around! Could I become a guru?

The Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate (formerly-Middleton) Windsor, has, it seems, been doing her bit by building, or having landscape gardeners build, a special garden at the Chelsea Flower Show to encourage parents to let their children play outdoors, get wet and muddy and leave their electronic devices behind. Good stuff if you have some outdoors to run around in getting wet and muddy! Not to mention the time to do so and the facilities to wash the muddy clothes and children afterwards!

Just saying!

I wonder if the outdoor places are monitored by CCTV. Kenan Malik, in an article on surveillance culture, was writing about the number of CCTV cameras in the UK (some estimates suggest that 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras are here!!), and about facial recognition technology, and had this to say about surveillance in general:

“Almost without realising, we have created an entire infrastructure of surveillance. If you’re reading this online, you’re being tracked. If you bought a print version of the newspaper at a supermarket, your purchase was probably recorded.”

And he goes on:

“Every time you go shopping, use public transport, make a phone call, engage with social media, you’re likely to have been tracked.”

That sounds like a good reason to buy things with cash and not a credit or debit card. As more and more of us have our train and plane tickets in an app on our phones, not to mention linking our phones to our bank cards so that we can pay contactless just using our phones, it gets harder and harder to be anonymous.

It seems to me we have gone way beyond 1984. No wonder we get stressed and anxious!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Social media / anti-social media / oddness!

I have been known to express my rather negative  feelings about the excessive number of pictures of dogs and cats that appear on social media. So I was not greatly impressed to see the face of a cat on so many front pages of national newspapers.

This was Grumpy Cat, apparently the most famous cat on the internet. She has been described as a “petfluencer”, which I suppose is the pet-related version of “influencer”. An “influencer” is defined as “a person who has the power to influence many people, as through social media or traditional media: Companies look for Facebook influencers who can promote their brand.” And this one was a cat with a cross face.

She has been in the news because she has just died. As a result of her success as a “petfluencer”, she has been in a film (really? Have adults been to see it?), there have been numerous soft toys made in her image (understandable), and she is even supposed to have written a book (yes! I too am amazed!) and presumably she made money for her owner.

And now lots of people are seemingly very sad.

It is not known whether there are plans for a public memorial.

Oh, boy!

People have been posting and reposting pictures of Tommy Robinson having strawberry milkshake thrown at him during his campaign for election to the European Parliament. Nigel Farage has been in Edinburgh, where police asked a MacDonald’s restaurant near the venue where he was speaking not to sell milkshakes as they feared copycat milkshake throwing.

I have heard, however, that Burger King have been specifically advertising their milkshakes. Of course, that might just be fake news.

Another bit of possibly fake news is this headline:

Donald Trump convinced Roe vs Wade was legendary 1970’s Wimbledon final

And yes, it was fake news, put out by the spoof news people, Newsthump, in response to Alabama’s extreme rulings about abortion. Since then President Trump has had his say on the matter, urging Republicans to stay "UNITED" on abortion in a series of tweets late Saturday night where he wrote that he is "strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother."

I could go on at length about this but in fact I am left quite speechless by it all.

Instead I will return to a lighter vein and give you this link to a series of photos of amazing facial hair.

Who even knew that there was such a thing as The World Beard and Moustache Championship?

Saturday, 18 May 2019

On national pride and prejudice. The importance of names and symbols.

Here’s a little story about numbers:

 “More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey. Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.”

I am resisting the temptation to mock American ignorance. If we did the same survey in the UK, I wonder what kind of result we would get.

Hadley Freeman,  a very anglicised American, under the guise of giving advice to Meghan Markle, has been writing about being an American mother bringing up a child in the UK. She gets particularly agitated about what the child should call the mother: mummy or mommy?

She writes: “Yes, the tweeness of “mummy” sets American dentistry on edge, but I can guide the duchess through this transatlantic minefield.”

Well, tweeness is as tweeness does. “Mom” simply grates on my ear! But I have to agree that when grownups refer to their parents as “mummy” and “daddy” it does sound a bit precious.

A French friend of mine used to speak of her mother, then well into her nineties, as “mummy” but we forgave her as it was just a direct translation of the French “maman”. Despite my many years of speaking French, I have no idea how the French abbreviate “maman”. Perhaps they don’t. Watching Italian series on television I have, however, learnt that “mammá” and “papá” get shortened to “ma” and “pa”, both with the short “a” as it “cat”, not the longer “a” you hear in upper class English “ma” and “pa”.

Poshness and Americanness combined: the press have had access to the birth certificate of little Archie Windsor. In case people were really worried about it, we can now be reassured the little one was born in hospital and his parents did not opt for a home birth. Well, I can stop being concerned about that now.

And the child’s mother’s occupation was listed as “Princess of the United Kingdom”. Is being a princess really an occupation? Who knew? That scotches any notion that she might go back to making films.

Now, how about maternity leave? I seem to remember reading about Kate Windsor, another “Princess of the United Kingdom”, coming to the end of her maternity leave for one of the offspring and resuming her duties. Do Princesses of the United Kingdom have contracts, stipulating duties and appearances? Presumably both these ladies had it all explained to them before they joined.

We can all be relieved to hear that there are raven chicks in the Tower of London for the first time in thirty years. I was amused by the headline for this little article: “Raven chicks born at Tower of London for first time in 30 years”. I thought that birds hatched rather than being “born”. Or is that just a linguistic technicality?

I am pretty sure there are superstitions relating to the ravens and the tower. Here we go - legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, both the Tower and the Kingdom will suffer.

Maybe the arrival of new chicks, which tellingly began to hatch on St George’s Day, bodes well for the end of the Brexit crisis.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Oh dear! Oh, deer! The oddness of the modern world!

Cities in Spain have problems with wild boar wandering into the outskirts - and maybe even the centre. Some places have problems with wolves. A friend of ours in Canada had told us about bears coming into town looking for food and even had one in his own garden.

So what do we get in Manchester? Deer!

A female deer was seen swimming in the canal at the Castlefield end of town yesterday. Goodness knows how she got there, Maybe she fell in in one of the outer districts of Manchester and just kept on swimming. But how far out do you need to go to find deer falling in the canal.

The RSPCA told the BBC: “We received a report from the police that a medium-sized female deer was in the canal in Manchester city centre this afternoon but it managed to get out. We were then told the deer was stranded on some land near the canal but it again managed to get free and ran away before our officers could attend.”

Once out of the canal she ran onto Oxford Road, a busy road full of scary (for a deer) people and even more scary, not to mention dangerous, cars. And then they lost it. No reports of a car-deer crash so we can hope she managed to get away!

We never even used to see deer around here at our end of Greater Manchester, and we are literally minutes away from open country. Now I am told that there are lots of them in the valley between Delph and Denshaw but they must have hidden well when I have walked there. We did see a couple in a field on the edge of the village and one ran across the Donkey Line bridle path in front of me. But we are hardly city centre Manchester.

All part of the oddness of the world!

Here’s some more:-

About twenty years ago now I took my daughter and granddaughter - the one who is now an independent adult of sorts - on a visit to my sister’s house in southern Spain. Her then eight year old son was very proud of a hat they had bought for him at the market. This, I was informed was a “Gran Hermano” hat, a style worn by one of the participants in the TV show. I had never heard of this show. When it was described to me - a selected bunch of people living in a house, pretty much out of contact with the outside world, their every action and interaction filmed and broadcast to a public who would vote on who should be ejected - I was amazed and declared that you would never see such a thing on English TV. “Oh, Mum,” said my daughter, “they are about to start broadcasting ‘Big Brother’ any time now! Do keep up!”

And so it began! Reality TV, showing a reality that most of us don’t want to live. And now we have had the big scandal of the Jeremy Kyle show (where members if the public seem to have family fights and arguments on screen) and its eventual permanent shutdown after a participant allegedly killed himself through humiliation and despair after being subjected ta a lie-detector test on the show.

There are two things I don’t understand :-

 1. why people watch such stuff

 2. why people want to participate.

As for watching it, I suppose people take a kind of delight in their life not being as horrific as that of the participants. And people have always watched others suffer. Think of bear baiting. Or even boxing matches, for that matter.

But surely if you volunteer to take part you must already have an idea of what to expect. Sowhy do it? Does the fifteen minutes of fame really compensate for being made to look a complete idiot.

It simply beggars belief!

And finally here is a bit of mistranslation. I have a French friend who lives in Vigo - both a real friend and a Facebook friend. She regularly posts pictures of the sunset over the sea on Vigo bay or birds in her garden, with the greeting “Amitiés de Vigo” - friendly greeting from Vigo. The other evening the automatic translation system went into gear and translated it to “friendships of Vigo” - each word correctly translated, if they were in a different context, but the whole coming down to a piece of “translationese” gobbledegook.

Humans are not likely to be replaced by machines at this rate!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

My launderette! And a bit of Facebook-related ranting!

Grandma’s cafe has expanded its business and has become grandma’s launderette this week. My daughter’s washing machine has developed a fault. Consequently she arrives here at regular intervals with bags of washing and suddenly my washing machine is busy nonstop. It’s a good job we have had some fine and sunny and warm weather to get stuff dry. That said, she does take some wet stuff hime to put in her tumble dryer.

Back in the day, when I had children around and felt the need to wash clothes every day, if my machine played silly beggars, I had to put the stuff in the car and go off to an actual launderette. Those establishments seem to be thin on the ground these days. In fact I see more of them in Vigo than I do here. Odd!

Facebook friends come in at least two categories. There are those who are your friends in real life, people you have known for ages, some of whom you meet from time to time for lunch and some who just stay in touch through social media. Others are often friends of friends, people you may have met once or twice at the most but who are vaguely in tune with you and so become Facebook friends. Two “real” friends of mine became “Facebook friends” in that way and only discovered months later that one had been the German teacher of the other’s daughter. That’s the kind of small world stuff that happens in my life! If you are really daft, you have another category of friends: people who have somehow seen a post of yours and decide to “friend request” you. If you accept all of those you end up with thousands of nonsense friends.

I was prompted to write all that because I wanted to comment on the recent post of a “Facebook friend”. It was a photo of a dog looking miserable and hiding his face. She commented on the photo: “Someone is feeling sorry for themself”. I winced! Even the spell check picks it up! If you must insist on using “they” and “them” to refer to singular people (or animals), then you must be consistent. “Themself” is a nonsense, neither singular nor plural. Surely it should be “themselves”. But there is only on dog in the picture! Besides it’s HER dog and surely she knows whether it is male or female so that she could say “himself” or “herself”. And this “Facebook friend” is supposed to be a linguist (she was taught German by the “real friend” mentioned earlier - that’s how we became “Facebook friends”) and so she should know better than to mangle the language!

Having got that rant out of the way, here comes another one.

Someone suggested that mothers should be banned from posting numerous pics of their babies. I can sympathise; some people do ho a little over the top and will have some embarrassed teenagers in the future. But personally feel the same, and possibly even more strongly, about people who post cute pics of dogs, especially of people kissing dogs, treating dogs as human beings and generally getting over-sentimental about it all.

Worst of all is when they combine the two: - pictures of new babies snuggled up to dogs!!!

As for me, I mostly post pictures of places I go, trees and flowers and interesting birds I see along the way. According to some columnist I read at the weekend I am very in trend, as they say. The latest thing for Instagram, apparently, is not a selfie of the poster wearing something elegant but a picture of a place, proving how ecologically sound the poster is. There you go.

The columnist then went on to point out that it is only the most privileged of us who can post such pictures as only the wealthy live in those places with greenery and trees and flowers.

Such nonsense. Some of us are quite ordinary people who happen to live a short walk away from a green place!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Living in, or avoiding, an internet world.

Yesterday got busy: running races against a two year old, walking to the park and then not stopping at the playground because the two year old had fallen asleep, going to my Italian conversation class and eventually walking back from the railway station in Greenfield through the bright evening. Out and about we spotted the heron fishing, quite successfully! It was fine day to be out and about and, indeed, fishing!

In the Italian class we talked about internet-related vocabulary, borrowed from English and adapted to Italian. So to log on becomes “loggare”, to click, “cliccare”, to scroll, “scrollare”, and to tag, “taggare”. There is even a ridiculous verb, “backuppare” and another, “whatasappare”. And so, telling someone to send you a whatsapp message turns into something that sounds like old-style comedy Italian-talking-English - “whatsappammí”.

As Whatsapp was reported to be having a bit of a security crisis yesterday, accounts being hacked and so on, we asked our Italian teacher, a Whatsapp user, if she had upgraded her system yet. She told us she had not had chance to do so yer but was not terribly worried as she puts nothing on social media that Russians, or indeed anyone outside her immediate group, would find interesting or, more importantly, consider to be something they could blackmail her with.

She has a healthy nonchalance towards stuff like that. So far she has not registered for settled status. As far as she is concerned, we are still a member of the EU and a small, optimistic bit of her is hoping Article 50 might yet be withdrawn. In the meantime she will not get stressed hunting for documents proving this, that and the other until she absolutely has to.

One of our number was totally confused by all the internet vocabulary. I think he uses email but I suspect his mobile phone is only used to sending and receiving phone calls. He must use the internet tonfind information because thatvus hiw he discovered the Italian class. But not only does he not use other social media but he has absolutely no idea what it does. Mind you, since he revealed that he keeps four pet sheep in his garden, we have all decided he is really on a other planet anyway.

There are, however, more dangerous forms of eccentricity than keeping pet sheep!

Monday, 13 May 2019

The inteligent octopus. Foreign foods. And talking to trees.

Scientists have concluded that octopuses (octupi?) are intelligent. They have been observed to use tools and can remember things. No doubt the scientists have their ways of testing octopus memory. The outcome of this is that they now say it is quite deplorable and cruel to think of farming octopuses (octupi?) because we should not treat intelligent creatures in this way. And besides, there is evidence they get depressed.

There are problems with farming them anyway, as they only eat fresh food - another sign of intelligence? - and providing a suitable diet is very difficult. So attempts at octopus farming have failed.

I quite like octopus, provided it is properly cooked. Overcooked, it is a most unappetising thing, as is the case with squid for that matter. Cooked in just the right way, it is quite delicious. But I would not be miserable if I never ate octopus again in my life. (Scallops are a different matter.)

When I was a child nobody ever suggested eating octopus. It was an undersea creature. Jules Verne territory. But since so many of us have been spending holidays in Mediterranean countries the demand for octopus has grown.

Do the French, Spanish, Italians, Greeks who come to the UK have a great hankering to eat fish and chips after spending a holiday in this country? Do restaurants spring up in deepest France, specialising in fish and chips, sausage and chips, scraps? If my experience of Spain is anything to go by, I think not. The Galicians are pretty much averse to patronising restaurants that offer something different from Galician fare - fish, boiled potatoes and greens!

We British on the other hand love to see a new tapas restaurant or sushi bar or street food from around the world place open up. I wonder why we cannot be satisfied with waiting until we go back to foreign climes to sample their culinary delights once again. Mind you, having said that, one of the delights of eating out in the UK is that you can sample food from around the world. I have never been to Vietnam, for example, but I have eaten Vietnamese food.

This should be counted as one of our strengths. And it should be a reason for our being more tolerant of people from other places and actually wanting to stay in Europe. But that might be just me!

I also like trees and I read today that Forestry England wants us to go into the woods more. Very good. I am all in favour of that. Here is a part of what I read:-

“As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, Forestry England is working with the television presenter and tree fan Kate Humble, who has described how she often finds comfort in sylvan settings. She said: “We all have moments of anxiety or stress or confusion or sadness. Sometimes it can be really hard to articulate that to another person. You can talk to a tree: they feel old and wise and at times you need an old and wise thing that isn’t going to judge you.”
Humble said she had a particular 600-year-old tree she turned to, named Old Man Oak. “He is so stately. There have been many occasions when I have gone and sought the solace of Old Man Oak. We live this very ephemeral life. There is something about the solidity of a tree that can give you a sense of security.”
Humble also said she thought it was fine to sometimes feel a little nervous in woodland. “It’s a lovely feeling to almost be lost, but not quite, and to feel you are being led down mysterious paths.”” 

Splendid! Now, how does the old song go? Ah yes:-

I talk to the trees
But they don’t listen to me.

 I suppose Kate Humble could just talk to herself. But the there is another song that goes like this: 

You’re talking to yourself again.
It’s causing great concern for your health.

Bits of oddness everywhere!

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Out and about. And some interesting words.

Yesterday the weather went from fine and sunny to torrentially rainy to fine and sunny again. As a rule I walk to the supermarket and catch the bus back. In one of the rainy spells I caught the bus. By the time I was due to return the sun had returned and so I contacted Phil so that he could meet me along the way and act as my beast of burden. Such are the advantages of mobile phones!

On our way back we admired the bluebells in the woods alongside the bridle path.

We had a fine sunset later, supposedly an indication of good weather to come.

That seems to be right. Today the sun is out with a vengeance. Another brief almost-summer seems to have arrived.

It has brought out the drivers of big boys’ toys. Here is a fine example parked outside our house.

Also out in abundance are poppies - all yellow and orange. We seem to lack red poppies around here. 

And the dandelions are rapidly turning into dandelion clocks.

Consequently the air is full of floating seeds. Dandelions are excellent self-propagators!

Now for some stuff about words. A bit of an obsession of mine, I know!

Many people have been overexcited about the latest, and apparently final, series of Game of Thrones. I know people, slightly deranged people, who stayed up to watch the first episode at 2.00 am. I know another who set her alarm and then decided she really could not be bothered to get up at that time! Sensible person!

Anyway, it seems that in their haste to join in the fun, the translators of the dialogue in the series, very grudgingly handed over by the makers of the series as they wanted to keep it all very hush-hush, into Spanish did not have time properly to work out to work out what was being said. I have not seen the moment when someone looked up at the sky, pointed upwards and apparently said of the dragon-riding princess in a Geordie voice, “she can’t see us”. The hasty translators thought they were pointing to a new danger in the sky.

And so a new word was born: “sicansíos”.

Wonderful! Much fun was had on twitter!

The actor Steve Pemberton was the subject of the Q&A feature in the Guardian Magazine on Saturday. Asked which word he over-used, he had this to say:

“I say ‘segue’ a lot in a professional capacity, but only recently learned that I’ve been mispronouncing it. It’s ‘segway’ not ‘seeg’.”

There are worse mispronunciations and I can forgive a lot in a man who responds to the question “What makes you unhappy?” with “Misplaced apostrophes”.

A man after my own heart.