Monday, 30 September 2019

On making appointments. An American writing about Americans. And a bit of Brexit stuff.

I wanted to see my GP about a small problem and tried to make an appointment when I was at the clinic for a flu vaccination on Saturday. Sorry, said the receptionist, we can only deal with flu clinics today. As she was doing everything on the computer I really failed to see why she couldn’t access another bit of the programme for me. But doctors’ and dentist’s receptionists are like minor deities and are not to be argued with. Of course it may be that she simply did not have the knowledge. It took her a great deal of effort to get into the bit of the programme that deal with flu clinics in Delph rather than Uppermill, both parts of the same GP surgery, so that I could make an appointment for Phil.

Anyway, this morning I got up just a little while before the sun did and made my way to Uppermill in order to be there when the surgery opened its doors. I had thought about phoning but it takes about ten years to get through to anybody. So there I was, outside the still-locked doors at 7.45 and there were already five people in the queue. It’s a good job I arrived when I did as people just kept on coming.

At about 7.55, doors still unopened, a woman arrived with three smallish children in tow. She was probably their grandmother. She took one look at the queue and, heaving a sigh, asked if anyone minded if she went in ahead of us to make an appointment for later in the morning so that the smallest child could have his ear ache dealt with. She didn’t want to go ahead of anyone in actual appointments but she had to get the two older children to school and they would be late if she stayed at the back of the queue. Most people were quite amenable but one woman got very huffy and declared that she had no intention of losing her morning appointment by letting someone go ahead of her.

There’s always one!

In the end the grumpy lady got an appointment for 8.30, I got one for 8.35 and the grandmother with the ear achey grandson got one for 9.35. All was well! Everyone else in the queue seemed to be accommodated as well.

But they do need to improve their telephone booking system!

I was looking at a review of Bill Bryson’s book about the body, “The Body: a Guide for Occupants”. I have enjoyed all of his books, well, the ones I have got around to reading. It sounds as though this one is full of interesting facts. Here are some of the things he tells us about Americans:-

  •  even rich Americans die younger than the average-income European because of diet, obesity and America’s anomalous, hyper-expensive and iniquitous healthcare system. 
  •  the average American eats two entire cheesecakes-worth of calories more than the average person in Holland or Sweden, every week. 
  •  Americans shoot one another more often than anyone else, drink and drive more than “almost anybody else” and wear seatbelts less frequently than anyone but the Italians. 
  •  Insulin, the patent for which was donated by its discoverers for the good of mankind, is six times more expensive in the US than in Europe. 
  •  Cuba and Lithuania have better infant survival rates than America. 
  •  The US has double the number of financial administrators in its healthcare system than it does physicians. 
 And some people feel we have more in common with them than we do with Europe. However, Bill Bryson also points out that UK government austerity between 2010 and 2017 has led to about 120,000 preventable early deaths. That’s down to the people who like the American way of life too! 

One of the odd knock-on effects of Brexit that I have read about is in education.

Teachers are feeling the need to discuss news items, including Brexit of course, with children who are confused and rather frightened about what’s going on. Not only that but parents are apparently venting their own anger and frustration by going into school and shouting at teachers.

 “Ever since the referendum result was announced, levels of anger have slowly been building among parents,” said Anthony White, headteacher at Pound Hill Junior School in Crawley, Sussex. “We’ve had parents coming into school and shouting at me and my staff, when they get frustrated,” he said. “We’re confused, angry and anxious over Brexit … and so are the children we teach”. While the confrontations were not about Brexit, he claimed they involved more tension because of it. “We live in a much more angry society,” he added. White said he thought more parents, particularly from white British backgrounds, were expressing anger with teachers, who they see as public servants. “They are using us as a punchbag,” he said.

 Then there are the daft things you find that people have said - there was someone on the radio saying that if we don’t leave the EU he will leave the UK. Asked where he would go, his reply was somewhere in Europe. You could not make it up!

 It’s not surprising that such things are going on, though, when even the Chancellor says no-one “really knows” how much crashing out of the EU will cost the country – undermining repeated ministerial claims that the damage will be minimal and short-term. He acknowledged the severe impact on businesses, “especially if you a trader with the EU”. And speaking ahead of his Conservative conference speech, Mr Javid also condemned a call by a former Tory cabinet minister to publish the government’s Brexit proposals as a “ridiculous suggestion”.

 Comments about the blind leading the blind spring to mind!

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Corrections! Extreme weather. Saving the world. And sponsorship.

I have to start today with a correction. Goodness! I almost feel like a national newspaper! Yesterday I wrote about the fresh-faced young local councillor and then it seems I completely misheard or at least misunderstood what Phil said about him. So here is the correction: Phil did not teach the fresh-faced young local councillor’s father to play chess but taught the fresh-faced young local councillor himself. So really Phil should have answered the door and then he could have had a bit of a reunion. 

Okay, that’s that over and done with!

The rain has continued to fall overnight and well into this morning. It is not falling so heavily now but I wouldn’t plan any long walks just in case it starts again. I ran in the rain first thing this morning, stopping only to take photos of the rather swollen river.

My feet were so wet that I was tempted to tip my shoes up and see if water ran out of them. Yesterday someone told me that nearby Greenfield was flooded. Odd things are going on!

On the question of preserving our planet, once again the way we eat and what we eat comes to the fore. I read that in October 2018 an assessment of the lovestock industry’s environmental impact was made. The authors concluded that although undernourished people around the world could, perhaps should, actually eat more meat and dairy, well, a little more, the average citizen around the world needs to shift to a more plant-based diet in order to prevent catastrophic, irreversible damage to the environment.

The average US amd UK citizen must consume 90% less beef and 60% less dairy. And they reckon that having no animal products for breakfast or lunch would come close to achieving that aim.

Does that mean I should not have milk on my muesli? Am I supposed to go for almond milk or one of the other substitutes? And, oh, I do like real butter on my small amount of toast. But I eat no beef, ever, so does that compensate?

I just half-listened to a programme about sponsorship in the arts. Artists of all kinds are sponsored by nany different kinds of organisations. Saint Martin’s Art College in London is sponsored by at least a couple of big businesses. It’s one way to keep going. What struck me was the group of purists who declared that you should be making art for art’s sake, a nicely idealistic notion, and that once you accepted a commission you were no longer creating art.

I wonder how they thought the great artists of the past managed to get by! I’m pretty sure Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo didn’t have the luxury of making art just because they liked the idea of being creative!

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Redefining yourself. And possibly having to accept (relatively) old age.

Our middle granddaughter, the teenager who has just started sixth form college, has spent part of today in rainy Manchester with some friends in an escape room. More specifically they have been trying to escape from the escape room. As I understand it, they are voluntarily locked in a room and have to seek clues in order to open doors, progress through corridors and the like and eventually get out. All this is to celebrate one of the group’s 17th birthday. They did the same thing a few weeks ago. Apparently this is the activity of choice for adolescent girls as a birthday celebration. Or maybe it’s just this particular group of friends. At one time it was all paintball sessions. Or maybe that’s just boys.

We have been watching a curious metamorphosis in our middle granddaughter. Always a little shy and bookish, more likely to chat with her friends on Facetime than to actually go out and do things with them, it’s as though she has taken a decision, with the change in educational establishment, to remake herself. And suddenly she has a social life, a proper social life, and warns that she might be late home from college as she and a bunch of friends are going to hang out in the town centre.

Along with this has come a style change. She has always been her own person as to what she would or would not wear - usually something black with leggings. And comfort was always the principle decider - the number of items of clothing that have been rejected because they did not feel right is astounding. Also labels had a tendency to disappear, clipped out because they were “annoying” and thus causing washing havoc from time to time. Now suddenly she wants bright colours, well, brighter than black anyway, and she is wearing jeans. About time!

Most of my friends and I waited until we went away to university to remake ourselves, in my case cutting several inches off all my skirts! I guess everything happens earlier these days!

As for me, today I went off to the local doctor’s surgery in the rain to get myself a flu jab. I had an appointment for this so there was no problem but some people, probably remembering last year’s drop-in sessions were turning up and finding themselves disappointed. One lady was indignant and shoutily angry because they would not fit her in. Today they were dealing with the 70+-year-olds not the under 65s. Boy! Was she cross and unreasonable!

I found myself shunted through to another room in the clinic after my jab. Records showed that it was time I had my blood pressure checked. Fair enough! No problems! But I had to be subjected to a litany of questions:

Did I consider myself very fit? Quite fit? Unfit?    Very!
Did I get much exercise?    Yes!
Did I take medication?   No!
Had I had any falls recently?     I beg your pardon!!

Have I really got to the age where they start to think I might fall down? Just randomly tripping over stuff?

Oh boy!

But then, yesterday there was a ring at the doorbell, which proved to be a very fresh-faced young local councillor canvassing for the Labour Party. He asked if we were thinking about voting in the (possibly/probably) upcoming elections. Yes, I told him, we were thinking of voting. A bit mean on my part but I couldn’t resist. I reassured him that we are mostly on his side and we chatted amicably about this and that before he went on his way, leaving me his contact details, in case we discovered things we wanted to raise.

Phil looked at the stuff he had given us, complete with a picture of the young man and his name. “I used to teach his dad chess,” said Phil. Not the young man himself, but HIS DAD!!

 Oh boy oh boy!

Friday, 27 September 2019

Feeding the multitude, Carrier bags. Appointments. And votes.

Grandma’s cafe opened for breakfast again this morning ... with a vengeance. Over most of the past year my daughter turned up on a Tuesday morning, having dropped the big kids (aka the teenagers) at school, accompanied by her then youngest child for a leisurely breakfast as she did not work on Tuesdays. The summer break, the arrival of a new baby and the start of maternity leave sort of put a stop to it. But today it was reinstated and our daughter, the new baby, the three-year-old who used to be the youngest child and is now a proud big sister, and the older of the big kids, now a sixth-form college student with a study day on a Friday, all arrived for breakfast. It was at a rather later hour than the Tuesday sessions used to be and so Grandad (aka Phil) also joined us. A good time was had by all. I don’t know if is will be a regular Friday event as it is unlikely that the teenager, who today had a doctor’s appointment early, will manage to get herself up early. We shall see!

After breakfast we took a run to the charity shop to drop off the products of my recent wardrobe cull. I didn’t see any vintage bargains as I looked briefly around the stock. Will any of my contributions be regarded as a “find” by charity shop customers? Who knows? Ours is perhaps a step up from some charity shops but it’s hardly full of Versace and Armani bargains.

Heading for the charity shop we had to dodge the rainstorms, an important consideration as my wardrobe cull was mostly in a large paper carrier bag. I had visions of it disintegrating and depositing my rejected wardrobe items all over the village high street. We did, however, get them safely to the shop.

My daughter and I reflected on the use of paper carriers. It’s a common move at the moment to replace plastic carriers with paper ones but some of them seem very flimsy and not very water-resistant. They must be aimed at people who do no more than run from the supermarket door to their car. And yet I remember as a student carrying books and files around in large paper carrier bags, chosen for their occasionally psychedelic prints, and they used to last weeks before finally disintegrating. Did it really rain less in Leeds in the late sixties than in modern day Manchester?

We have recently had “invitations” to make an appointment with out local NHS clinic for a health check. This is what comes of being over 70 . However, it is one thing to invite people to make am appointment. Actually doing so is a different matter altogether. First you have to phone at times when the receptionist is working. Then you have to cross your fingers that your call actually manages to get through the barrier of “the number is busy / unavailable at this time”. And finally you have to go through the “if you want this service press button ... “ challenge. I made it through to speak to a receptionist eventually only to find that these checks only take place on Thursdays. Between days when they are already fully booked and Thursdays when I am busy doing something else, I have managed in the end to book for a Thursday in mid-November. It’s a good job I only want a routine check-up and don’t have an urgent need to see someone medical!

Yesterday I saw the Cambridges on the news. The Duke and Duchess were “working” hard launching a scientific research ship, the Sir David Attenborough. I wonder if Kate ever imagined when she was very young that she would end up doing stuff like that.

There was a once chance that the research ship might have been called Boaty MacBoatface. People were asked to propose names and vote for the final choice. Boaty MacBoatface won the final ballot. 

The people spoke and were over-ruled!

Now there’s a pertinent thought!

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Rain. Roadworks. Decision making. Some statistics.

As I listened to the rain beating down in the small hours I wondered if I would manage to run this morning or not. And then the morning turned out to be quite fine and even a little sunny. So I ran round the village, playing dodge-the-puddles on the bridle path and noticing that in a couple of places the path is about to disintegrate totally and just become part of the river’s overflow patch. Judging by how long it has taken for them to get around to fixing the drainage problem on the main road going past our house, I am not expecting repairs to the bridle path to take place anytime soon.

On the main road major works are beginning to happen. They plan to close sections of the road for about six months while they install a new drainage system. That should cause some fun and games as this is the A62 and serves as an alternative route of there are problems on the M62. So it goes! So far they have only created some impressive holes but already the work has prevented parking on a 200 yard stretch of road. I have no idea where the large number of cars which are usually parked there have gone but that is not my problem. The sides of the impressive holes are shored up with planks, making them look rather like trenches. I suspect they needed pumping out this morning as so much rain fell in the night.

The bright morning, by the way, deteriorated by lunchtime into a uniformly grey cloud cover. More rain is forecast for later. To much water everywhere!

I watched a report on the news last night about the plight of the city of Hull where they are desperately building a seawall to try to prevent flooding of vast areas of the city. The sea once provided the city with a living and is now doing its best to destroy it. And the problem will only get worse as ice caps melt and sea levels rise.

And still there are people prepared to mock young Greta Thornberg and her campaign!

But Brexit still dominates our news here. The discussions in parliament seem to go round and round and I am rapidly reaching a point where I can no longer stand to listen to them and remain calm. It strikes me as odd that politicians can change their minds and switch the way they vote. Some of them have voted different ways at different times on essentially the same issue. They have even in some cases switched political party. So why can’t it be recognised that the people can also change their minds about things?

I quoted figures recently about people over 100 years old in Italy. Now I have found some for the UK. Apparently there are 820 people alive today aged 105 and over compared with 330 in 2002, and more than five times as many women aged 105 and over than men: 690 females to 130 males. Going down the age range, there are more than 400,000 women over the age of 90 in the UK compared with 183,000 men.

So if there is something women can do better than men it’s live to a ripe old age.

Of course, these statistics say nothing about the quality of life of all these old biddies! More disturbing is the fact that in some parts of the country life expectancy is going down. “But we must not be complacent. Life expectancy remains lower in less well-off parts of the country and many people in their 50s and 60s now, particularly those who are less well-off, simply won’t reach these older ages,” said an expert. “They will experience poor health and disability much earlier and will die much earlier too.”

Now, I wonder if austerity and cuts have anything to do with that!

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Prime Ministers and Presidents. Weather extremes. And the value of vintage.

MPs are back in parliament today. Michael Gove says his boss has no need to apologise for seemingly lying to the queen. Others are calling for the PM to resign but, despite having lost any kind of parliamentary majority, he appears to be determined to bluff it out.

On the other side of the world Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the US House of Representatives would begin a formal impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, setting the stage for an extraordinary constitutional clash over allegations that the president sought the help of a foreign country to harm a political rival.

The house of cards might be tumbling down around us.

And we currently have no service on our mobile phones around here. They are trying to tell us that it is a problem with a local telecom mast but personally I think it’s Boris Johnson’s fault. If we have to have him as PM I think we should be able to blame him for just about everything.

Someone on the radio has just suggested that all MPs should be locked in the House of Commons and not allowed out until they have thrashed out a Brexit solution. An idea?!

Yesterday afternoon I began to wonder if it was possible to drown standing up, so hard was the rain that was falling on Market Street in Manchester. It was like the worst of Galician rain, a proper “tromba” as they say! Commentators on climate change say that we are having weird and extreme weather all over the world. I would agree with that from what I have seen. So bad was the rain yesterday that I went against all my own rules and caught a tram from Market Street to Piccadilly station, where I proceeded to take a taxi from there to my Italian class.

Once the class was over we found the rain had stopped and it had turned into a very pleasant evening. You would not have thought it had been so bad earlier if it were not for ongoing traffic problems. Everyone and their grandmothers had come out in their cars. As a consequence they rerouted my tram back to Oldham - its normal route was clogged up with heavy traffic. I had already encountered travel problems as the train I expected to catch from Manchester Piccadilly to Greenfield failed to materialise. This meant that I had to catch a tram to Manchester Victoria and from there another to Oldham. However because of the earlier rerouting - and goodness knows what other nonsense that was going going on - there were too many trams trying to access Victoria on one line and I had to wait almost half an hour for a tram going my way. Then, typically, three came at once.

A total nightmare! Can I blame the PM for this as well?

Yesterday I wrote about a Cimabue painting found in a French kitchen. Now there are suggestions in this article that this painting may not be a Cimabue at all but a painting of the same age done by a Cimabue disciple or student or simple copier. I have mixed feelings about this. Does it matter if it’s not a Cimabue? If it’s a very old and pleasant to look at painting, does it not still have value? You only need to look at the number of tribute acts going around singing songs by Blondies, the Eagles, Elvis and many, many more and in some cases making a good living out of it.

It’s odd how we put value on things. Here’s an article about people finding bargains in charity shops, prompted it seems by Meghan Markle wearing charity shop earrings. Judging by the sort and quality of things people in that article have found i charity shops I can only conclude that some parts of the country have a better class of charity shops than we have around here.

This goes along with my general feeling that newspapers cater for a posher part of the world than the one I live in. First of all there are the clothes at ridiculous prices - shoes that cost hundreds of pounds are just silly! Then there is the pretentious stuff they put in recipe articles! The latest round of suggested recipes for autumn includes advice on the best way to serve white truffles.

 White truffles!? Really!? You don’t find them in our local Tesco!

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Continuing chaos. And artistic finds.

Chaos continues. More of the dirty stuff seems to be hitting the fan! The Supreme Court rules that Mr Johnson should not have prorogued parliament. In fact he was acting illegally. There was some question about whether the Supreme Court had any jurisdiction over this but that seems to have dismissed as yet another bit of nonsense. So what happens now? Mr Bercow says Parliament should reconvene at once, Mr Johnson is out of the country. Oh Boy!

Just Now on the radio I heard Mr Johnson blustering about how he will now just get on with delivering Brexit by October 31st. I suppose his expensive education makes him respond well to adverse decisions!

Meanwhile Operation Something-or-Other is going on to bring Thomas Cook customers home from faraway places. Some of those customers have complain about delays at some airports, according to the radio news just now. Well, really! How ungrateful! They should think themselves lucky to have been rescued if you ask me.

Large parts of the country are under threat of flooding today. It sounds as though the country is seriously going to the dogs. We were caught in the beginnings of that predicted downpour yesterday. My daughter and I had planned a walk during a window of fine weather, aiming to be back to her house before the rain came. However, having a small baby who needed feeding on demand rather slowed down our progress and so we set off in sunshine but during the return trip I found myself sloshing through puddles in sandals. Fortunately I did have a raincoat with me so it was only my feet that got wet.

Things are going a lot better for a Frenchwoman who has discovered she has a valuable old painting hanging in her kitchen. “ An early Renaissance masterpiece by the great Florentine painter Cimabue has been discovered in a kitchen in a town near Paris, art experts have said. Christ Mocked, by the 13th-century artist who taught Giotto, is estimated to be worth between €4m and €6m (£3.5m to £5.3m), according to the old masters specialists Turquin.

They said the work was owned by a woman in the northern French town of Compiègne, who had it hanging between her kitchen and her sitting room. It was directly above a hotplate for cooking food.” 

Imagine the splashing that could have gone on in that kitchen messing up such a valuable thing.

Another piece of work in today’s news is a Caravaggio held by mafia bosses in Palermo. Apparently they sent a strip of canvas from the painting together with a ransom note, as they might send a finger or sn ear from a human hostage.

Rather gruesome really!

Monday, 23 September 2019

What’s in a name? And all that sort of nonsense,

Our children only have one forename each. My second forename has never served any useful purpose, in fact probably no useless purpose either apart from confusing the Spanish who think it is my first surname. This is because they cannot conceive of anyone having only one surname. My husband also has only one forename, which confuses the Spaniards even further and occasionally leads them to put his surname twice on forms that demand two surnames!

As a result of her having only one forename our daughter decided that her offspring would all have a middle name. I never quite understood why she was so adamant about this, except for those occasions when you really feel that you need to call a child by its full name. Her two youngest children, their father being from a Chinese family, have two English forenames followed by their Chinese forename, in each case a two-parter chosen by the Chinese grandparents and selected for their meaning, thus hoping to endow the small children with excellent qualities.

So when it came to choosing a surname for these two - would they have their mother’s or their father’s surname? an important decision in the 21st century - they considered going double-barrelled but decided that this would be burdening the small people with an insane length of name to learn how to spell when they started to read and write. And so they have ended up with their father’s surname.

Our daughter, free-thinking and determined and strong-minded about so many things seems always to have been fairly conventional when choosing surnames for her children. The oldest has changed her name a fair few times in her 22 years. Initially she had her biological father’s name. When that relationship fell apart her name was changed to our family name. A stepfather came on the scene and she was given his name for a few years until he too was out of the picture. And she went back to being one of us - an Adams.Her teenage half siblings still have their biological father’s surname but the 16-year-old is making noises about becoming an Adams now that she has reached an age where she no longer needs to seek permission to do so.

This naming business has grown more complicated as the years have gone by. It is very normal for young parents to discuss which surname to give their new child, and if it is to be both names there comes the further decision about which order to put them in. Because, of course, nowadays young mothers want to assert their right for their name to be in evidence, just as they so often keep their own name on marrying. It was not something that ever bothered me. It probably didn’t bother others of my generation too much either. I even know a few who on divorcing opted to keep their ex-husband’s surname as that was what they had been known by through their professional life thus far. Or maybe they just preferred that name.

I was prompted to think about this and to go on about it at length by a conversation we had the other day about how double-barrelled names originated in this country. For Phil and I had both known a couple of people in our childhood who prided themselves on their having two names, as if this made them rather special and perhaps superior to the poor one-name-only folk.

So I did what we all do in such cases nowadays: I googled it.

 Here’s a little definition:

“A double-barrelled name comes about when two different family names are joined together, usually after a marriage. The term 'double-barrelled name' first became popular in Victorian times referring to two-part last names, but has since been narrowed down to 'surnames' thanks to the popularity of double first names (think Mary Kate Olsen or Lily Rose Depp).” 

And here’s a bit more information:

“Back in days of yore, names were closely tied to notions of inheritance. If a family lacked any male descendants, creating a double-barrelled surname was a way of preserving a name that would otherwise have died out – and of keeping the estate in the family (just think of the plot of every other costume drama…). Back then, it tended to be the wealthier classes (the ones who actually had land to inherit) who adopted this naming tactic, giving it the slightly uppity connotations which have stuck around to this day.

Unlike in other European countries, British double-barrelled names are traditionally heritable (or passed down to each generation of offspring) and yes, you can end up with a triple or quadruple-barrelled surname if you and your family so desire (but just imagine how many hours you'd waste spelling out your email address over the phone...)”

Nowadays coupling-up their two surnames might almost be seen as a sign of devotion on the part of a couple, nothing to do with class or snobbery. But even better is “meshing”:

 “While double-barrelling is a simple matter of putting two surnames together, ‘meshing’ is another naming option that involves splicing two names to form one new one. For a celebrity example, see Dawn Porter, who adopted the mash-up surname O’Porter after her marriage to actor Chris O’Dowd.”

And if you thought it was all nonsense, there is this: when it comes to internships and work experience placements one in four of the young people asked think you have a clear advantage if you are blessed with a double-barrelled surname, one in five say the type of school you went to counts, and one in six say your accent really matters.

So there you go!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

The aftermath of the party. Decision making ideas.

In contrast to yesterday, when I ran in brilliant sunshine and under a clear blue sky, today I ran in the rain. I was not surprised. After all, the weathermen had promised us rain - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and goodness knows how many days after that - and besides I had heard it pounding down in the early hours of the morning.

At the cricket club they were dismantling the fencing that had prevented people from just climbing the low wall into the ground for the Party in the Park. Perish the thought that people should get in for free! I saw a lorry set off with a deflated bouncy castle loaded on the flatbed. There was surprisingly little litter on the road outside the cricket ground, far less than when there is a cricket match. On those occasions it is no surprise to find abandoned mobile min-barbecues! But for the Party in the Park either they had efficient litter-pickers or it was all contained within the enclosure.

There were, however, vast numbers of cars parked on the grass verge where I wanted to run. And they went on well beyond the road where I turn off to the left. Surely some of them must have been almost i Marsden! I doubt that all of them were from people helping to tidy up as there were few people on evidence. So were they all cars in which people had driven to the event yesterday. Had the drivers sensibly decided they had imbibed too much and abandoned their vehicles, setting off to walk home? If that was the case, if they lived close enough to walk home, why had they not walked to the venue in the first place?

As I completed my running circuit, approaching the house from the other direction, I spotted what was clearly car debris on the road not far from our house - bits of a bumper, a number plate, other odd metallic bits and pieces. In front of the debris was a large vehicle, a Land Rover Freelander I think, with a dent in its rear wing. In front of that was a small silver Nissan, possibly belonging to our next door neighbours. This car has a fine dent in the rear, looking remarkably as though the Freelander had rear-ended it. Thinking back I remembered waking in the wee small hours, probably around 1.30am, to the sound of a “crump!”, followed by a car alarm, a short-lived car alarm. So the evidence suggests that someone did a bit of car-crashing in our street last night. When I see the next-door-but-one neighbour she will no doubt fill me in on all the details, as she is always well-informed! I am quite pleased that we do not have a car as it would almost certainly have been larked in the same row of vehicles.

At the other end of the country the Labour Party conference has been going on apace. Promises abound - free prescriptions for all, replacing Ofsted with some superior form of inspection for schools - but Brexit is still a bone of contention. And members of the party still fall out with each other. Life is hard for politicians these days! All that decision-making!

 I was reading about a baby called Anoush, whose parents have decided to raise their offspring gender-free. The child can decide for itself, when it reaches the age of reason or when the parents decide it is old enough, whether it is male or female. I refuse to use the pronoun “they” for this child and so will stick resolutely to “it”. Presumably the parents have registered the child and must have had to put a gender on the birth certificate but they are not revealing that gender to anyone. One of its grandmothers found out when she changed a nappy. I assume that she has been sworn to secrecy. What about the midwives and health visitors from early stages of Anoush’s little life? Also sworn to secrecy? Anoush’s parents, John and the unlikely named Hobbit, live on a houseboat so, I were them, I might be more worried as Anoush finds its feet about it falling overboard.

But that’s just me.

I can understand the opposition to gender-stereotyping but there are ways to deal with it. Our three year old granddaughter alternates between playing with cars and playing with her dolls’ house. And I know about baby-led weaning, where the child more or less decides which of the foods offered are to its liking. But baby-led gender is perhaps a step too far. I should have thought childrearing was complicated enough without adding extra problems along the way.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Festivals - of one kind or another. Sunshine. Some odd facts. Spiders. Dealing with anxiety.

Today is the day! The day of Delph’s “Party in the Park”. Well, really it should be “Party on the Cricket Pitch” but I suppose that lacks a certain cachet. It’s organised by the “Wake Up Delph Committee”. Tribute bands, such as a Blondie sound and look-alike, are booked months in advance. The wicket is covered up. A stage is set up. Stalls and children’s rides are erected and all the parking spaces in the neighbourhood are filled up for the day.

This is the umpteenth Party in Park and today must be the first time in ages that they have had a brilliantly sunny day for it. As a rule it is damp and drizzly, as it usually is the Band Contest in June. So hooray for a bit of sunshine! Tomorrow it is forecast to rain.

I am not attending the Party in the Park. Instead I have been for a long walk, taking in some fine canal towpaths and a visit to Tesco. I caught the bus back. One lady on the bus asked the driver if he stopped at Delph Station. He was nonplussed. So we had to explain to him that there used to be a railway. Long ago, with a station at Delph Crossroads. All that remains now is the station building, now a private house, complete with platform and a few notices. The line itself is now a bridle path, the Delph Donkey, much walked by yours truly!

Today I have added to my collection of silly names. There is a comedienne I have never heard of called London Hughes and a model who goes by the name of Seashell Coker, surely a professional name if ever there was one.

And here are some odd facts and figures. It seems there are 14,456 centenarians in Italy, 1,102 over 105 years old and 21 over 110. The city of Genoa alone has 288 centenarians. What is the cause of such longevity? Diet? Lifestyle? Who knows?

We have been watching “Peaky Blinders”, the series about a Birmingham gang and their exploits. Consequently we now address each other in bad Brummie accents. Everyone wants a bit of Peaky Blinders- Brad Pitt would like a role! You can download a podcast, if the series itself is not enough for you. And there has been a festival going on in Digbeth, Birmingham - the Legitimate Peaky Blinders. Thousands of people got dressed up in period attire in tribute to their favourite characters. Amazing!

It’s spider season, spider-mating season I am told. I keep catching them and throwing them into the garden of the pub next door. A young friend of mine posted this about spiders on Facebook: “Wish people would stop posting pictures of spiders suffering from arachnophobia after finding one in our flat, last thing I want to see scrolling through Facebook, thanks lol.”

Either she cannot write in proper sentences - which is probably the case, despite my best efforts to teach her to do when she was one of my A-Level French students - or she has discovered that some spiders are afraid of themselves.

If so, said spiders should try conscious, connected breathing. Don’t hold your breath. See below!

If you thought you knew how to breathe, think again. 2,000 people recently attended a breathing workshop run by the “Breath Guy”, aka Richie Bostock, someone who must be doing quite nicely going to festivals and being paid to teach people to breathe. They even have workshops in the House of Commons. The head of the International Breathwork Foundation (yes, that is actually a thing) says, “Conscious, connected breathing is now reaching the world. People are always seeking to find happiness, joy, real love and to be healthy.”

It’s been around for a while apparently. Someone called Hannah Goodman trained as a breathwork facilitator four years ago. “We’ve known about the benefits of conscious breathing, mindfulness and meditation for a long time but we haven’t implemented them,” she says. It’s said to be good to help deal with stress, anxiety, addiction and other health problems.

I think my mother knew about it as she would often remind us to “take a deep breath”.

John Crace, he of the Digested Week in Saturday”’s Guardian should perhaps try it. He writes, “Brexit is definitely doing nothing for my mental health. I feel depressed and my anxiety levels are sky high. I wake up in the morning with a sense of dread - it often takes a huge effort just to get out of bed - and I feel out of control most of the day.”

That probably applies to most of us. Especially arachnophobic spiders!

Friday, 20 September 2019

On decluttering! And photos!

Every so often I half-heartedly start to sort through stuff.

On the one hand there’s that Marie Kondo telling us to declutter, to get rid of anything that does not bring you joy. Well, the dustbin doesn’t exactly bring me joy but I don’t think I should get rid of it. However, it does work with the clothes and I now have a bag of stuff to go to the charity shop.

And then, on the other hand there are those earnest programmes on the radio where they go on about the difficulty of sorting out your deceased parents’ belongings. And I think that maybe I should reduce the stuff that the offspring might eventually have to deal with. I remember my mother going through stacks of photos when she was seriously bed-bound and feeling she didn’t have much time left. She distributed the photos among the four siblings, thus adding to our clutter!

Anyway, yesterday evening I did sort some stuff and I threw out a modicum but I also found a range of photos, photos that have been taken out of albums for one reason or another and never put back in their proper place. So that’s another job lined up for me: get out the old albums and see whether I can put any of the strays back in place.

But the whole business got me thinking about photos. I swear that our new grandson in his, what?, eleven days on the planet has been more photographed than I was through umpteen years of my childhood. Mind you, part of the reason for that is my elder sister having got hold of the camera when she was about four years old. My parents had one of those old box-brownies and whenever they took a picture they would tell us to watch the birdie, so when my sister got her hands on the gadget she began looking for the well-hidden birdie. That was the end of the camera!

But even when it was replaced, it was only used on special occasions and on holidays. Which in our case, as we lived in a seaside town, meant when the Yorkshire relatives came to stay. But there is something about actual printed photos, whether in an album or stuffed into shoe boxes and put away in a drawer. They are a tangible reminder of stuff that went on, as I said usually on memorable occasions.

But nowadays we point and click at every opportunity. I do it myself. This morning on my run I stopped to take photos of spiderwebs and of the local heron - he must love me as I managed to frighten him into flight at least three times before he finally settles on the other side of the millpond. And I post a lot of them on Facebook. Indeed, I have a friend who says she looks forward to my almost daily updates - they remind her that there is life after teaching!

I don’t do selfies though and I don’t do Instagram. I’ve not quite sussed that out. Do the photos posted on Instagram disappear into the ether after a while? If so, what is the point? And so I also find myself wondering about all the masses of photos taken on mobile phones, the photos documenting children’s progress through life, all the milestones they reach. I know they are stored on the mysterious “cloud” but does anyone go up there and look at them? And what about children looking back at their baby photos? I know that our three year year old granddaughter can very ably swipe through photos on my iPad or on my phone but it’s still not quite the same as looking through an album.

Then last night on the television news they interviewed the McCartneys - Paul and his daughters Stella and Mary - because they have just had published a collection of Linda McCartney’s family photos. There are photos of family members doing family things, shots of the cottage they lived in up at Mull of Kintyre, of horses, of Paul cleaning his teeth. Many of them are polaroid pictures as apparently Linda was always taking instant pictures.

(Our daughter had a polaroid camera, briefly, in her mid-teens. It was a requested birthday gift and she was very pleased with it. Unfortunately it was short-lived as she took it out on one of her rambles with friends. A careless friend dropped it down a hillside and it crashed into a rock. Another camera bit the dust!)

No doubt McCartney fans will go out and buy the book even though really those photos are of most interest to the family. But at least the McCartneys now have a lasting record of those family moments. I found myself quite inspired. I should go through all my photos and make a similar family memory book. There are computer programmes that will do this for you, provided I can digitise all the photos. But then I can give both offspring a copy and throw all the old photos out.

All I need to do is organise myself!

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Seasonal nonsense.

A friend of mine, a retired English teacher so he should know a thing or two about matters literary, tells me that 200 years ago today John Keats wrote his Ode to Autumn. Apparently he, Keats that is, not my friend, wrote to a friend a couple of days later about a splendid walk he had taken and how it had inspired him to write his famous poem. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” and all that sort of thing. Time was I could recite the whole poem from memory!

I guess John Keats must have been walking about in the kind of weather we have had over the last few days. It’s nice to get some good September weather. This morning fulfilled the “season of mists” criterion; everywhere around here was shrouded in mist, just a little damp and chilly for my morning run. By late morning, however, the sky was uniformly blue, not a cloud in sight, and the sun was shining nicely. I may need to go and forage some of that “mellow fruitfulness”, otherwise known as blackberries, once again.

The fine weather has inspired us to go out walking up the quarry road, as we call Lark Hill, not far from our house. It’s quite a steep walk in the early stages, up a road where you need to watch your footing as so much of the soil between the old stone surface has been washed away by heavy rains at regular intervals. It’s got so bad that I wouldn’t even like to tempt it in a four-wheel drive vehicle these days.

When we had got to the flatter stages up at the top of the hill, heading gently towards Dobcross village, we spotted a lady walking a couple of dogs. As we got closer, she and I said in unison, “Oh, I didn’t realise it was you until we got close.”

This lady used to be the librarian in our village library, now manned by volunteers in an attempt to prevent complete closure. But I knew her because I had taught both her daughters in the early days of my teaching career. Now, that is going back rather a long way.

And we swopped family news without making any reference to the nonsense going on with certain politicians at the moment.

There’s the nonsense of Boris Johnson being challenged during a hospital photo opportunity by the angry parent of a young patient. The father was outraged by the lack of provision in the hospital and was clearly annoyed at the PM creating a press opportunity. In a supreme moment of daftness, Mr Johnson declared that there were no press present, this despite the photographers and cameramen all around. Perhaps in his mind the fact that reporters were not asking questions meant that the press were not there. I bet photojournalists feel a bit miffed by that idea.

Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political person, tweeted later that it “turns out the man who challenged the PM is also a Labour activist”. As if that somehow undermined his parental indignation! A doctor tweeted back nicely, “Thanks Laura, next time any patient gets substandard care I’ll make sure to check their political affiliation I listen to their concerns.”

On the other side of the world, President Trump complained about the presence of homeless people while speaking to reporters on Tuesday, saying they live in “our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” where people “pay tremendous taxes”.
He said LA and San Francisco “destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening” and that some residents want to move away because of tent encampments. I wonder if it has ever occurred to him to use some of those “tremendous taxes” to help solve the problem of homelessness, a problem that is increasing all over the world.

This morning I read something in he Washington Post that said that POTUS has made 10,000 false or misleading claims during his time in office. Of course, this is probably not deliberate lying, just the result of opening his mouth before his brain was switched on.

Meanwhile, over in France, I hear that thieves have broken into Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau where they tied up the owners and escaped with €2million worth of jewels and cash.
The 80 odd year old owners were not harmed. Very good. But imagine having €2million worth of jewels and cash in your home. Surely by their age they should have realised it was a good idea to put some of it in the bank.

 On a linguistic point I was a little miffed to see Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau described as “one of France’s most opulent chateaus”. Not that I am questioning the opulence. I was just surprised by that plural, which surely should be “chateaux”. So I went and looked it up and found that ”chateaus” is a perfectly acceptable English plural.

Not for me, it isn’t!

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Christmas is coming ... already!

It’s mid-September. ONLY mid-September. Yesterday I saw mince pies on sale in the local co-op store. In fact, two weeks ago I saw mince pies on sale in one if the big supermarkets, probably Sainsbury’s. But somehow I expect our local co-op to be a little more restrained. And since Hallowe’en appears to have become an acknowledged public festivity, maybe we should get Hallowe’en out of the way before we start selling Christmas stuff.

When I commented yesterday in the co-op that we are still a long way off Christmas, another customer replied with his opinion that mince pies can be enjoyed at any time of the year. Well, no, not really, it seems to me. Some things need to be saved for special occasions.  Hot cross buns all year round I heartily agree with as hot cross buns are really just extra-nice fruit teacakes. But mince pies are rather more in the realm of fancy cakes. That’s my view anyway! Eating them all year round would be like having birthday cake all year round.

Christmas has been in the news in the Netherlands as well, every year they have a Saint Nicholas parade in Apeldoorn on November 16th, which also, by the way, is a little early in my opinion. But it’s not the timing that is in the news but the characters who make up the televised parade. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a group of people dressed up as the Swarte Piets, or Black Petes. The Swarte Piets are traditionally white people in blackface make-up.

Inevitably anti-racist protesters have been complaining for a good while that this is a reference to slavery. And it has to be said that in photos they do have a look of the Black and White Minstrels. See the picture in this link. Some of the protests have been violent.

Defenders of the Swarte Piets say that this is not a case of racism but that the Piets have sooty faces because they accompany Sinterclaas down the chimneys to help deliver gifts to all and sundry. So anyway this year a decision has been taken and the Swarte Piets will not have blackface make-up but sooty faces.

“Today is a beautiful, historic day,” said Jerry Afriyie of Kick Out Zwarte Piet, who has been campaigning against Zwarte Piet since 2008. “This is a victory for everyone who strives for an inclusive parade that will delight all children. We want the tradition to continue for thousands of years – but adapted to the times.”

A happy ending of sorts.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

A new age nonsense rant.

For quite a lot of people Madagascar is a cute animated film about a bunch of animals made in 2005. Many of them have no idea where Madagascar is. In the case of small children this is understandable as they probably think it is another made-up place like Arandelle in that other cute animated film, Frozen. And even many of the adults who know that it is the fourth largest island in the world, located off the east coast of Africa possibly think of it only as an interesting tourist destination with lots of unusual flora and fauna.

It’s also the source of a lot of crystals, rose quartz and the like, which are believed by a surprisingly large number of people to have healing qualities. The reasoning seems to go that if contact with uranium can make you seriously ill then contact with other substances can heal you. I have a few friends who are logical and intelligent in all sorts of areas of their life but who maintain this belief in the benefits of having crystals around you. Which is fine. If you want to believe that a highly polished piece of mineral is going to improve your life, then that is your privileged right. You could put the money you spend on crystals towards helping the homeless, for example, but that’s another matter.

The fact is that in Madagascar a large percentage of the crystals are hacked out of the ground by people who are paid a pittance to do so. As well as risking being crushed under landslides when the unstable ground gets wet, they breathe in mineral dust which causes silicosis and lung cancer. It puts your complaints about working conditions into perspective, doesn’t it?

Some of those pulling crystal hunks from the ground are the age of my 14-year-old grandson or younger. My grandson spends his spare time playing games on his X-box. The difference even a small amount of privilege makes!

And a crystal worth a few cents at the point of being pulled from the earth, goes up and up in value as  it is polished and cleverly marketed. For far away from the crystal mines people use the crystals to sort their life out. As Kim Kardashian was recovering from her robbery at gunpoint in 2016, she embraced healing crystals. The model Miranda Kerr has said that she filters all her skincare products through rose quartz “to give the vibration of self-love”. At least Kim Kardashian still had funds to buy expensive healing crystals. And quite how you filter your skincare products through rose quartz remains one of life’s mysteries to me.

Some of the people selling crystal products do have a conscience and want their crystals to be ethically-sourced. Julia Schoen, for example, of the crystal drink bottle company Glacce, apparently regards ethical sourcing as “the No 1 priority” but I wonder how aware she is of the child labour involved in obtaining the crystals which will be “blessed” by her staff who burn sage smudge sticks over them and pray to cleanse them before using them. It’s a lot easier to get into the hocus pocus than into checking the validity of assurances that nobody was exploited.

So think about it if you feel a piece of polished crystal calling you to purchase it or if you are tempted to buy a water bottle or a metal straw embedded with rose quartz, amethyst and other crystals, which are supposed to transform ordinary water into a “crystal elixir”, where the water takes on the healing properties of the crystal!

One of the crystal sellers in he USA interviewed for this article  expressed the belief that the circumstances of miners in Madagascar, “makes the pieces a lot more special. Because I know some person in a little baby hut was actually polishing it by hand, and they’re setting their intentions into it, too. People’s intentions and people’s energy are put into the stones as they’re producing it.”
“So the circumstances they’re mined in, they are embedded into the stone somehow?” the journalist asked.
“I think so. A little bit, it has to be. It has to be.”

There’s a hint of magic realism about this, rather like in Laura Esquivel’s novel “Like Water for Chocolate” where the emotions of the cook get into the food prepared - food prepared with love tastes better, we all know that! And suffering makes the crystal more powerful?

Monday, 16 September 2019

Crazy birds and crazy people.

I know a lot of people who cannot abide magpies. There are, it has to be acknowledged, far more of them these days than I ever remember seeing as a child. I swear that around here they are almost as numerous as the rooks. And they always sound extremely quarrelsome. The rooks are just raucous but the magpies sound as though they are having a serious argument about something.

I am amused to see them, along with the rooks, try to balance on the bird feeder in a neighbour’s garden, a feeder intended for small birds such as blue tits, the kind that are good at hanging upside down! I find magpies quite impressive to look at, however, when they are not being stupid and trying to be small acrobatic birds.

Some people though complain that they have become too numerous and have frightened off other garden birds. This may be the case. And I know that they can be quite aggressive at times, stealing fledgelings from other smaller birds’ nest. But that’s the way nature is, red in tooth and claw and all that sort of stuff. There are people who set traps for them, which seems to me to be a bit extreme, especially as you them have to remove them from the traps and wring their necks - human being red in tooth and claw!

Anyway, I found this Australian magpie story in today’s paper:

“A man has died of head injuries after he was startled by a magpie and crashed his bicycle in Wollongong. The 76-year-old was riding a pushbike on an off-road path alongside Nicholson Park at Woonona on Sunday morning when he veered off to avoid a swooping magpie, witnesses reported.

He hit a fence post and was thrown to the ground, suffering serious head injuries. He was airlifted to St George hospital in a critical condition and died in the evening.

Australia is entering prime magpie swooping season with the onset of spring, as the birds target cyclists and pedestrians who venture near their nests. This month a Sydney council shot dead a “particularly aggressive magpie” that had allegedly swooped and injured people over several years, including one case in which a victim had a heart attack.”

I don’t know! Those Australians! Having to have a more extreme version of our birds.

Having said that I have heard of seagulls attacking people who get too close to their nests when eggs are hatching. Not to mention the ones that swoop down and steal your chips at the seaside or try to take you tapas off your table on the terraza of Spanish cafes.

The Americans also like to do things in a spectacular way. In a place called Germantown in Tennessee on September 11th, which the Americans write as 9/11, at 9.11 in the morning a baby girl was born, weighing in at 9lb 11oz. 9. 11 at 9.11 on 9/11 - coinciding with commemorations of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers.

They have named her Christina and her parents promise to explain the significance of her birth details when she is old enough to understand. “Christina is a little miracle during such a sad time. She is a new life amongst the devastation and destruction,” mother-of-four Cametrione Malone-Brown said. 

I found myself reflecting on the sheer size of the baby! I know they say each baby you have is bigger than the one before. So I think that Cametrione Malone-Brown, mother of four, should call it a day now. Goodness knows what size the next one would be.

Here’s another American story:- It is reported that the incidence of swearing by US politicians on Twitter has increased tenfold since Trump was elected. Members of Congress have seemingly said “fuck”, “shit”, “bitch” and “asshole” nearly 1900 times this year compared with a mere 193 times in 2016.

I am not entirely sure that we can blame it all on POTUS however. It seems to me that people are more ready to use coarse and aggressive language, just as they are more ready to be physically abusive and aggressive, than ever they used to be.

Another factor to take into account is that Members of Congress are probably using Twitter more than they did before. Not only do they have a president who appears to govern via social media but it seems to be de rigueur to have a social media presence. Anyone who is anyone tweets and twitters.

By that rule, I am no-one.

Then there is Lisa Bloom, lawyer, who was hired by Harvey Weinstein for $895 an hour to help him whitewash his reputation when accusations against him started to surface. She advised him on tactics to “shut down” the accusations, how to appear publicly repentant, to do things like pledge a $5m scholarship fund for female film makers at the University of Southern California. Wow, she was a women’s advocate as well!

She has since said her involvement was a “colossal mistake” but maybe she was just swept away by the colossal fees involved!

The French might win today’s prize for odd stories though. A Frenchman recently died from a heart attack after having adulterous sex during a work trip. A French court has ruled that his death was a “workplace accident”. His employers argued that the man interrupted work for the rendezvous but the court decided that sex was part of everyday life , “like having a shower or a meal”. Perhaps more importantly, the worker’s family would receive a better pension and other help.

 Only in France!

I was going to express my relief at being British and not being odd at all but then I remembered that we are going through the continuing nonsense that is Brexit. Living in our current mad glasshouse we have no right to throw stones at anyone else.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Well-dressing and golden toilets. Art forms of one kind and another and a bit of foraging in between.

"Well dressing, also known as well flowering, is a tradition practised in some parts of rural England in which wells, springs and other water sources are decorated with designs created from flower petals. The custom is most closely associated with the Peak District of Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

The custom of well dressing in its present form probably began in the late 18th century, and evolved from "the more widespread, but less picturesque" decoration of wells with ribbons and simple floral garlands. The custom waxed and waned over the years, but has seen revivals in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, South Yorkshire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Kent.

Wooden frames are constructed and covered with clay, mixed with water and salt. A design is sketched on paper, often of a religious theme, and this is traced onto the clay. The picture is then filled in with natural materials, predominantly flower petals and mosses, but also beans, seeds and small cones. Each group uses its own technique, with some areas mandating that only natural materials be used while others feel free to use modern materials to simplify production."

The above information comes from Wikipedia.

Yesterday this appeared in our village, which was once part of Yorkshire.

An explanatory notice reads, “Whilst we are certain there was once a well in the village we have been unable to track down its exact location. Although there are a number of natural springs around Delph, these are in remote areas or on private land so it was decided to site the tableau near the river in a place accessible to the public.”

This is the second year a well-dressing tableau has been erected. Last year it was dedicated to the suffragettes. This year it remembers the Peterloo massacre.

I spotted the tableau as I ran through the village in the morning.

On my run I also spotted a large number of wild blackberries. So later in the day, which had turned out to be fine and sunny, it was a toss-up between doing some gardening or going foraging. Foraging won and very successful foraging it was.

And, of course, the foraging led to the creation of apple and blackberry pies.

Recently I read that Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire was displaying a solid gold toilet as part of a contemporary art exhibition. The public could pay to use the luxury facility but the time they could spend in there was strictly limited - time for number 1 but not a number 2, as we might have said in our childhood.

And now the golden loo, valued at £1m, has been stolen. Someone broke in on Saturday morning early and unplumbed it and took it away. Inevitably this led to some flooding in Blenheim Palace. 

Blenheim palace is the ancestral seat of the Duke of Marlborough. Ahead of the toilet’s installation, the duke’s half-brother, Edward Spencer-Churchill, founder of the Blenheim Art Foundation, said last month the lavatory wouldn’t be “the easiest thing to nick”. “Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly, a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate,” he told the Times. “So no, I don’t plan to be guarding it.”

Oh dear! A bit of a mistake there.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Finding craziness everywhere!

Escaping from the political craziness that is going on around us all, I have found some more odd things to rabbit on about.

Tim Dowling’s column in the Saturday Guardian impressed me first of all. His wife discusses house rules with their-returned-from university son, stuff like paying rent (now that he has a job) and keeping the kitchen clean. She finishes up with, “Lastly, I need to know if you’re going to be here for supper,” she says, “Everyday, by 5pm yes or no.” At first I thought she meant they were eating at 5pm but then I realised it was just notification she wanted by that time. But still, “supper”?

I have just about accepted that effete southerners have “lunch” and “dinner” rather than a good northern “dinner” and “tea”. But “supper” at 6 or 7 or even 8 in the evening is a step too far. In our house when I was growing up “supper” was a cup of horlicks or hot chocolate and a slice of toast or a bun before you went to bed. What are things coming to?

Katherine Hamnett, fashion designer was the subjcet the Q&A feature. Two of the regular questions struck me, or rather her answers struck me.When were you happiest? Camping with my parents in the South of France. We went every year with the beautiful bell tent they made on a sewing machine.” If you could edit your past, what would you change? Boarding school. It was horrible.

Maybe they had time to sew a beautiful bell tent because they sent her to boarding school. Of course, maybe her parent’s facility with the sewing machine influenced her choice of career later in life.

Then there is the cat hotel with rooms from £20 a night. The owner of a persian chinchilla cat, which has stayed there 5 times in the past year, using the hotel’s £4 per mile chauffeur service to get there tells us:

“She listens to Andrea Bocelli during the journey. She melts when he sings and it keeps her calm. Once she’s there, I can log into the hotel’s CCTV and see that she’s treated exactly as she would at home: like royalty. She always comes back perfectly groomed and rested.”

Cats watch cat-and-mice DVDs, “enjoy” reiki therapy and being read to. Some owners organise their own holidays around availability of rooms for their cats in the cat hotel.

It’s not just pet hotels that are part of this craziness.

Ikea’s pet range includes a sofa bed that extends for “puppy sleepovers”. Sleepovers for children are bad enough, surely! But, puppy sleepovers? Who invented them?

On Amazon, sales of memory foam pet beds are up 107% year on year, while doggy beer and rosé gift sets are up 260%. Beer and wine for dogs?

There are doggy cinemas.“I like to take them to different places for mental stimulation - I perish the thought that they would ever be bored,” says one crazy dog owner. Who by the way seems not to have understood how to use the expression “perish the thought”.

And the trend for doggy clothing extends to dressing-up costumes.

Back to the cat hotel: “One couple recently ordered their cat, and all 14 cat guests staying in the hotel at the time, a premium à la carte dish: the prawn and crayfish tian. Because it was what they served their (human) wedding guests. They all got to celebrate too,” said the hotel owner.

Now, I willingly admit that I am really, seriously not an animal person. I would never hurt one, I hasten to add, and I can grow quite fond, well, a little tiny bit fond, of other people’s pets but I don’t mistake them for babies or children or human companions of any kind. While I have a sneaking admiration for those who are cashing in on this bit of human madness, I think those who spend that cash must have too much of it and need their heads examining!

It is hardly surprising that such madness is around. After all, the USA is led by a man who blames his distinctive orange hue on energy-efficient lightbulbs. Justifying changing regulations on environmentally friendly bulbs POTUS said, “People said: what’s with the lightbulb? I said: here’s the story. And I looked at it. The bulb that we’re being forced to use! No 1, to me, most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange. And so do you! The light is the worst.”

He went on to claim that the energy-efficient bulb needs to be treated as “hazardous waste” if it breaks. “What are we doing?” he said, “It’s considered hazardous waste, but it’s many times more expensive and frankly the light is not as good. So we’re going to sell them, but we’re also going to sell incandescent bulbs. People are very happy about it. It’s amazing.”

The world is bonkers!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Putting things in perspective.

I may complain about a bit of drizzle around here (although today began very nicely and in the late morning I noticed one of the neighbours sitting outside sunning himself) but at least we have not had the torrential stuff which has fallen in some parts of Spain, causing floods in the Southeast. Everything is relative, I suppose.

When I was a child I used to see notices on the upper decks of buses: NO SPITTING. I don’t remember them being put up,on the lower deck. Maybe it was thought that those likely to spit were also more likely to travel upstairs on the bus. Neither do I remember when those notices disappeared. People must have stopped spitting, at least in public. And it is quite shocking if you actually see people spitting on the street.

And yet Michael Morpurgo describes being spat upon by someone who disagreed with his views on Brexit. I tend to agree with Michael Morpurgo that the world’s getting nastier. When DID it become acceptable to spit at someone because you don't like their opinions?

I was amused to read about his father-in-law’s reaction to the young Michael Morpurgo when he wanted to get married. His bride to be was the daughter of the founder of Penguin books and this supicious gentleman sent his son-in-law’s handwriting to a graphologist, in the hope of proving he was a gold-digger. I suppose if you worked in publishing then such a line of investigation might seem logical. Nowadays there would be more hi-tech ways of seeking info about your daughter’s beau.

The results of the investigation must have been satisfactory as the wedding took place and the couple are still together now, all these years on. And rather than being a gold-digger Morpurgo turned into a teacher, poet and writer and critic of things educational. And he says if he were education secretary he would have children start formal learning at seven, eradicate exam pressure and have universal state education for all; private schools, he says, could be turned into specialist sixth-form colleges. Maybe we could start off by taking away their charitable status and having them pay taxes that could be spent on state education.

I read that the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, has finished her maternity leave. I find it very strange this attempt to make these privileged young women seem like ordinary working women by claiming that they have been on maternity leave. I bet they have no problems working out if they can afford childcare when they go back to work.

Anyway her “return to work” involves a charity helping provide clothes for women to go to interview for jobs. All very good but I still wonder how many women it actually helps. It seems that the city of Dunkirk might have found a better solution by providing free transport for everyone around their city. Getting tomwork is a big expense.

“For many, the effect has been nothing short of liberating, says Vanessa Delevoye, editor of Urbis, a magazine of urban politics published by the local government. To get around town, you no longer need to look at the schedules, buy tickets or worry about parking, she says. You just hop on the bus.

“It’s become a synonym of freedom,” she says, attracting those who might not otherwise have used public transport. In this largely working-class city, “people of limited means say they’ve rediscovered transport” – a prerequisite to finding a job, maintaining friendships or participating in local arts and culture. But it’s not only disadvantaged or working-class people who take the bus. It is also attracting white-collar workers, students and pensioners, according to Delevoye.”

There you go.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Bits of oddness in the world.

Will it, won’t it be declared illegal? And so the prorogation question rolls on and on even after it appears to have happened. If the Supreme Court backs up the court in Scotland which delayed it illegal, then what happens next? Do all the MPs go back to Parliament and pretend nothing happened?

Some people are more agitated about the question of whether or not Boris Johnson lied to the queen. Shock! Horror! Would even a known manipulator of the truth dare to lie to our venerable old monarch? Well, probably, yes! But personally I am more worried about the future of the country than the protocol of telling the truth to Her Majesty!

Meanwhile, life goes on. I went for a run in the drizzle this morning. En route I noticed that the place up the road where there have been holes for years where the authorities were investigating leaks in water pipes has finally had the holes filled and covered up and the whole area has been resurfaced. I presume this is a prelude to their coming to dig up a whole length of the road to install a better drainage system. This will involve closing the road for several months. Maybe, however, we can at last stop having a river run down the road whenever it really rains. It’s only been going on for at least five years!

I have been in communication, via Messenger, with a friend from the Italian conversation class, asking if I had news of when the classes begin again after the summer break. Well, actually no! I am not the class co-ordinator. So why am I his go-to person for information?

On the subject of Italy, I read about an area of that country where they are offering to pay people to go and settle in villages that are simply running out of inhabitants. This time there is an added factor. They want to establish a proper community so the people who move in must pledge to open a small business, which sounds much better idea than filling the place up with holiday homes.

But Italy has a real problem. For the first time in 90 years, the number of Italian citizens living in Italy has fallen to about 55 million, according to The national institute of statistics. There is the problem of the falling birth rate but also an increase in the migration of young people to other European countries in search of job opportunities. Nearly 157,000 people left the country in 2018. 

Some places have opted to replenish their population by opening the doors of vacant houses to asylum seekers. If the official Eurostat forecast is correct, then within 60 years or, taking into consideration the current pace of migration even sooner, 50% of Italy’s inhabitants will be of African or Asian descent. No doubt this will also happen in other countries.

The face of Europe is changing.

More trivially, I also read an article about a costume designer called Debra McGuire. She designed the wardrobe for the cast of Friends, the TV series from 20 years ago. Recently the series had made a come-back among younger viewers on Netflix. Not only is the comedy finding a new audience with them but the clothes worn by the cast are being sought by the younger viewers. Debra McGuire said this:

 “I now get emails from young people asking where they can get this or that. They just discovered Friends. I answer a lot of them, like, “It is many years ago but that was jacquard, you can buy it at your local fabric store and take it to your seamstress – you’re not going to find it any other way.”

I love the fact that she advises seeking the fabric at the “local fabric store”. I have no idea what the situation is in the USA but here there is a decided dearth of “fabric stores”. Even better is her advice to take the fabric, once located, to “your seamstress” as if everyone has someone organised to stitch clothes for them. Surely that wasn’t even the case in the USA back when Friends was first popular! 

The world is a little crazy!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Reacting one way and another!

Until I saw our next-door neighbour’s small child have a violent allergic reaction to food containing cows milk - an immediate rash around his lips was the least of it - I don’t think I had ever seen anyone react to food because of an allergy in that way. This was close to forty years ago when our son and the neighbour’s son were not yet two years old. I’d never really thought about allergies before. All through my childhood nobody spoke about them. Nobody we knew had an allergic reaction to anything. Oh, we knew a few people who got very itchy when they wore wool next to the skin but everyone said they were sensitive, not allergic. The world just wasn’t heard.

Then suddenly in the late 1970s, when my friends and I were having babies, you started to hear about certain types of food allergies. No doubt they were around before but they certainly weren’t common knowledge. And Phil and I had done a fair bit of reading about foodstuffs when we went through our macrobiotic vegetarian phase. But when our babies came along we were warned about peanuts and how you shouldn’t let children under the age of seven eat them.

And nowadays allergies are all over the place. Planes and trains stop selling nuts in certain journeys because they have someone on board with a severe nut allergy. People die eating food even mildly contaminated with something they are allergic to. A friend of mine has three daughters, all of whom carry around with them an epi-pen kit in case they go into anaphylactic shock as a consequence of one of their allergies. My brother-in-law suffered from minor illness and indigestion and abdominal pain for years before he was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. He seriously misses toast!

Why are there so many more allergies around now?

Is it one of those odd consequences of our obsession with sanitising stuff to within an inch of existence and thus preventing the development of antibodies? Is it because we now eat more stuff that has never ever grown in our own place, stuff that we have not had generations of people developing tolerance for? Goodness knows. Or are we all suffering from a mass-hallucination, having convinced ourselves that more allergies exist than is actually possible?

According to this article  there are restaurants that don’t take food allergies seriously, rather like an extreme version of the many Spanish places I have come across where an “ensalada mixta”, mixed salad with lettuce, tomatoes, grated carrots, cucumber, onions, hard boiled eggs and a large dollop of tuna fish, is considered to be a vegetarian dish because it contains no meat, only fish! And it’s not only restaurants. Apparently friends, family and prospective in-laws regularly try to slip some forbidden item into the allergic person’s food, to prove that their allergy is just a fad. Oh, boy! Am I glad I have no allergies ... well, not that I know of, and not yet. Who knows how I might react to some new food item.

Then there are food fads. James Wong, self-styled “botany geek” tweeted this:

“Reading that Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘clean beauty’ regime means that she starts every day with a refreshing glass of alkaline water + a spritz of lemon.
(Which makes the alkaline water no longer alkaline and highlights the magnificent level of BS that people will swallow from celebrities.)”

Mind you, la Paltrow is well known for the oddness of some of her recommendations. She manages to look quite good on her lifestyle but I suspect it has more to do with not eating rubbish than with the rubbish she promotes. Here is an excellent article  in which a gynaecologist debunks a whole load of stuff our Gwyneth recommend that women should do.After all, women come under enough pressure to confirm to all sorts of norms without being told that we should do some odd stuff as well.

Margaret Atwood has just published a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

She maintains that her motivation to do so came mostly in reaction to increasing restrictions being placed on women’s freedom to decide what can be done to their bodies.

And she is not talking about the places where marriages are arranged and women are not allowed to drive or work or even go out and about unaccompanied. This is what she had to say:

“What these restrictive laws about women’s bodies are claiming is that the state owns your body. There is a parallel occasion for men and that would be the draft: the state owns your body and you have to go to war. But when they do that, they pay for clothes, lodging, food, medical expenses and a salary,” said a deeply sardonic Atwood. “I say unto them, if you want to conscript women’s bodies in this way, you’re forcing women to deliver babies, forced childbirth, and you’re not paying for any of it. It is very cheap, amongst other things. For a society claiming to value individual freedom I would say to them, you evidently don’t think those freedoms extend to women.”

 One way or another we have to react.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Reactions to new arrivals, to prorogation, to having a conscience and to technically-aided cheating.

Yesterday saw the arrival of our newest grandson, weighing in at 7 pounds 10 ounces, which is not a bad weight but is still astoundingly small when you see it in the flesh, as it were. Small but perfectly formed, thank goodness. His very oldest sister has yet to see him, the consequence of being an almost grown up person with a job and a home of her own. The next one down, on the way to adulthood at 16, was very emotional about meeting him. His brother did the I-am-a-cool-14-year-old act and feigned indifference but later confessed to his stepfather that he was actually scared stiff he might drop the little chap. But the youngest, his three-year-old sister, won the prize for enthusiasm, amazingly gentle admiration and, so far at least, a total lack of jealousy. I was impressed!

Back in the wider world Parliament has been prorogued, with a whole lot of shouting of “Shame on you”, a fair bit of shaking of hands and some singing. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the report said the Plaid Cymru MPs sang their song with harmonies. It’s nice to know that there is still some harmony left in the world.

In a report about how private school should be abolished I came across this:

 “Patrick Derham, head of Westminster, one of the country’s leading private schools, wrote recently that the tragedy of Grenfell Tower highlighted “the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. It made me feel even more uncomfortable about the job I do.””

Well, he could always give up his undoubtedly well-paid job at Westminster School if his conscience trouble him so much. It seems to me that declaring you have a conscience while continuing to promote privilege is just a little bit hypocritical.

Somebody with The unlikely name of Owl Fisher was writing about how feminists should stand with transgender people to defend all their rights. Which sounds about right even though I am still very confused and disturbed in my response to the whole transgender question.

I wondered if the writer could really be called Owl Fisher. It sounds like a very made-up name, one you might choose for effect.

At the foot of the article came this bit of biographical information: “Owl Fisher is a writer, filmmaker and campaigner. They are a co-creator of the My Genderation film project and an adviser for All About Trans.”

And that brings me to a linguistic quirk that annoys me as much as the transgender question leaves me confused. I fully understand that that there is a need to find a non-gender-specific pronoun along with all the other related bits of language. And, yes, “they” and “them” and “their” are all nicely gender-neutral. But talking about one person as “they” offends the linguist in me. I wonder what the French do. I am pretty sure the feminists and transgender folk don’t like accepting the dominance of the masculine “ils”.

There seems to be an abundance of modern problems at the moment. As technology moves more and more into microtechnology the possibilities for cheating increase. And so the Independent Commission on Examination Malpractice, set up by exam boards, is recommending that ALL WATCHES should be banned from exam halls.

 “Smartwatches, mobile phones and other internet-enabled devices are already banned in exam halls. Sir John Dunford, the commission’s chairman, said: “It can look as if it’s a time-telling watch and actually, you press a button and it becomes an email-type watch. If you don’t ban them all I think you’re giving a very difficult job to invigilators who are looking round an exam room. So I think the obvious thing to do here is to ban watches.” The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which commissioned the review, said it would consider whether to ban watches for next summer’s exams, as well as the report’s other recommendations.”

So there you go!

Monday, 9 September 2019

Being over the hill. Bedtime browsing. What to read.

Running in the rain can be quite therapeutic, provided it’s gentle rain like we had this morning rather than the pelting-down stuff that put me off the whole idea the other day. So this morning I donned my running gear and off I went around the village. It was very quiet. On the fine mornings there have been masses of cyclists out and about. Today there was just me. The problem with running in the rain of course is that you are left with wet clothing at the end of it but it’s not really a big deal.

I suppose I should consider myself fortunate to be doing stuff like running at my advanced age. Professional sports people seems to be considered to be over the hill and too ancient to compete at an age when they might just be making a start in other professions. For example there is this a headline to an article about the great Rafa Nadal, still a very young man, in my opinion anyway:

 “Rafael Nadal cherishes moment at US Open as clock ticks on golden career.
The veteran was emotional after winning his fourth title at Flushing Meadows and knows that, at 33, his time may soon be up.”

If he were an actor he might just be getting into his stride, getting the big break and becoming famous. But the likes of Nadal seem to have been on the scene forever. He was a bit emotional and tearful after winning the US Open. And there’s a group of them who seem to have been competing against each other for years. I remember using Nadal and his early successes in AS and A-Level Spanish lessons long ago.

 “We have been here for 15 years almost,” said Nadal. “At some point, these days, going to happen sooner than later that this era going to end. Is arriving to the end. I am 33. Novak is 32. Roger is 38. Andy is 32, too. The clock is not stopping. That’s part of the cycle of life.”
 Is there a group of young players on the up and up ready to replace them? One can only hope so.

 I came across this little gem in the papers online:

 “Bedtime browsing by sleepless Brits in the middle of the night has resulted in a 23% increase in nocturnal spending over the last year alone, according to John Lewis. The department store chain said that online shopping between midnight and 6am now accounts for around one in 15 purchases that use its credit card.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, searches for duvet covers are the most popular item on the John Lewis site in the early hours, while headphones also come into the top 10 buys.
But the most common night-time purchase on the credit card – which can be used at any retail outlet – is for holidays and flights.”

Apparently Saturday afternoon used to be the peak time for credit card use but with the increase in internet shopping all that has changed. Now it's the wee, small hours! And there are odd patterns. People do more nocturnal online shopping when the clocks go back - long dark evenings and all that sort of thing. Also purchases are influenced by the rubbish shows on TV -oops! letting my prejudices show! The Great British Bake Off encourages the purchase of baking equipment and Strictly Come Dancing has people booking dance classes.

Personally I simply cannot imagine going to bed, opening up my iPad and starting to shop. What is wrong with people? Have they not listened to the experts saying that spending time staring at a screen before you go to sleep is not conducive to a good night’s rest? Have they not heard of reading books? Much more relaxing and generally better for you ... and for your wallet by all accounts.

Something must have gone seriously wrong with our education system in the last few decades if so many people have been turned off the idea of reading to the extent that they prefer to shop in bed. The school our teenage grandchildren attend insists that each child have a book with them at all times, to read in spare moments or if a teacher is absent and no work has been set or to read in tutor group while the form tutor does form administration work. This seems to be an excellent scheme but our grandson was complaining that his form tutor had told him that his book was unsatisfactory. It was a non-fiction work, explaining politics or something of that nature. His form tutor was insisting that he should have a work of fiction and that it should be something “more demanding”.

Now, I would have thought that a book explaining politics to a 14-year-old would be quite demanding enough.

And surely the important thing was that this was something he had chosen to read, that personal choice being a great incentive to continue reading!