Saturday, 30 November 2019

Getting stuff done - one way or another. Making choices. Public displays of ignorance - some amusing, some tragic.

Out and about the other day I got into conversation with a neighbour who had just been redirecting yet another lost driver who either could not understand that Road Closed meant just that or felt the need to go beyond the sign in order to get help to find an alternative route to his destination. We both agreed that far too many people need redirecting and that there should be some more explicit diversion signs for the lost drivers and those led astray by sat nav. He then went on to comment that, of course, if the work were being done by a private contractor instead if the local council it would be more adequately signposted and would be completed much more quickly. Of course?!?

Oddly enough, if you walk past the roadworks you notice that the trucks and heavy machinery all have the names of private contractors plaster all over them. Local councils no longer have the kind of infrastructure that keeps heavy plant available for such work. So they tender it out to private contractors. Who do the work more efficiently??

And this morning I spotted, in a collection of stuff belonging to the roadworks contractors, a whole lot of big yellow “A62 DIVERSION” signs. All they need to do now is put them up in useful places! 

Ah, well, on to other things. Most of us have at some time or other thought about what we would choose to be our desert island discs. Writing in today’s paper Hadley Freeman decided that she was not likely to be selected as a candidate for the island and so she gave us her list. One of them was this:-

“Both Sides, Now, Joni Mitchell. I fell in love with this song when I heard it in Love, Actually, a film so bad I was left traumatised. But the song inspired me to try novel-writing, which ruined the next few years of my life. So the moral is: don’t see Love, Actually.”

My feelings exactly.

The presence or absence of our PM from debates and interviews continues to be a matter of discussion. For a while the BBC were holding out and saying that he would not be interviewed by Andrew Marr on prime time TV if he continued to shilly shally over the Andrew Neill interview. Now the BBC are getting some stick for backing down on that.

Among the letters in today’s Guardian was this:-

“Michael Gove, interviewed by a Channel 4 journalist, said that he should be allowed to replace Johnson at the leaders’ climate debate because he was “a” leader (Johnson’s absence from debate mars milestone for environmental politics, 29 November). Challenged that he as not “the” leader, he said: “Let’s not quibble over prepositions.”
It appears that the former secretary of state for education has failed master the year 3 curriculum and has made a definite article of himself.
Patricia Thorpe.
 Brigg, Lincolnshire.”


But not as seriously ignorant as the lawmakers in Ohio where the state legislature has introduced a bill to ban abortion which requires doctors to “reimplant an ectopic pregnancy” into a woman’s uterus or face charges of “abortion murder”. Medical people have tried to tell them that such an operation is currently medically impossible.

 Where do you begin to deal with lawmakers like these?

Friday, 29 November 2019

Reacting to famous people being, or not being, interviewed on television.

Emma Brockes, writing in a Guardian article about how the whole Prince Andrew scandal and interview had made her rethink her attitude to the TV series “The Crown” wrote this, “Perhaps as long as the show was set beyond my living memory, it was easy to go along with the romance. Now it seems phoney and absurd.” Which reflects my own reluctance to watch any of the series at all. The series has been recommended to me by quite a lot of people, including my daughter, but I find I have no interest in watching a romanticisation of stuff that has gone on in my lifetime. Kicking around in the house somewhere is a coronation mug and a book about the then new Queen Elizabeth. Maybe they are worth something now. Who knows. I also have a vague memory of a party in a park to celebrate the coronation when I was a small girl. And that’s it for interest in the royal family.

I’m not averse to historical novels and dramatisations. “Wolf Hall” is magnificent as a book and a TV series. But I prefer my historical stuff to be historical and not stuff that I remember from my childhood onwards. Having said that, I recognise that for younger generations my childhood probably seems like ancient history.

Nor do I want to see films of events such as an experienced airline pilot successfully and safely landing a plane in the Hudson River, or similar goings-on. Those are news items. Of course, I might be misjudging that film completely, maybe it concentrated on the question of whether the pilot was right to land his plane where he did, the drama of his being in danger of being blamed for putting lives at risk. For nowadays we do like to have someone to blame. Did nobody think to blame the flock of geese who caused the problem to begin with.

Anyway, getting back to the lives of the rich and famous, apparently BBC Politics has been tweeting a video of Boris Johnson eating a scone. As this article points out, there is really no reason for anyone to see Johnson eating a scone. Why is it out there? Is it intended to make him appear humanly cuddly and funny? But funny is a friendly sort of way, not embarrassingly so as when Miliband ate a pasty from Greggs?

Of course, it might just be to prove he is not averse to being seen in public, just not in interviews or debates. The latest has seemingly been his refusal to take part in Channel 4’s leaders’ debate on the climate emergency.

 “Boris Johnson refused to take part in Channel 4’s “leaders debate” on the climate emergency, just as he has refused to be interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil, and also refused even to be interviewed about whether or not he has refused the BBC’s Andrew Neil.
 Where his podium should have been, Channel 4 placed a melting ice sculpture. The Conservative party sent Michael Gove in his place.” (Tom Peck in the Independent)

Michael Gove was not accepted as a substitute.

Tom Peck went on:- “Still, the actual grownups over at the Conservative Central Office have responded by launching a formal complaint with Ofcom, and threatening to have Channel 4’s public broadcasting licence revoked. This is the country we are now.
Who knows, perhaps, once we’ve “taken back control of our own laws”, other people being sanctioned entirely for Boris Johnson’s own failings will be the standard run of things.”

 Oh dear!

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Words. Wordsmiths. Who wrote what? Dangerous weasel words from the past.

Here’s a little something I overheard in a cafe yesterday. A young mother was having coffee and a snack with her grandmother and her small daughter, probably about ten months old. The mother’s grandmother had been at pains to make sure the wriggly child was properly fastened into her high chair. After a while she noticed that the wriggler has extricated herself from the straps and was turning around in her chair to look at everyone else in the cafe. She commented on this to the mother who responded with this: “She’s a proper little ventriloquist!”

Oh dear!

Three deaths were announced yesterday. Clive James. Jonathan Miller. And Gary Rhodes (59!!!). That’s two wordsmiths and a chef.

Here’s Clive James on Jeremy Corbyn:-

 “I admire the way his principles are uninhibited by reason. I also like his beard, which reminds me of one of the beards I grew at various times in my life when I wished to prove I was still a student, even though the years had passed. Corbyn is a student at heart. I was part of the press corps that followed Michael Foot’s kamikaze 1983 general election campaign, and I recognise the look. Foot didn’t have the beard, but he had the same eyes, glittering with goodness.”

You have to like him.

Here’s a question: Molière - did he write his own plays?

“For at least a century, scholars have argued that the supposed lack of education of Molière, the French playwright responsible for seminal masterpieces including Tartuffe and Le Misanthrope, means he could not have written them. Now academics say they have resolved the controversy once and for all, using an algorithm to find that Molière – born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin in 1622– was the author of all his plays.”

Just as Shakespeare’s plays were written, some say, by Marlowe, so Molière’s plays, some others say, were written by Corneille. I studied both of them for A-Level and at university. Nobody suggested to us that Corneille might have written everything. Now the experts say this was really not the case. But the researchers say that they “acknowledge that they have not proved that another ghostwriter did not write all of Molière’s plays. But their research, they say, shows the plays are “very likely written by a single individual”.” ‪‬

So it remains a mystery. In the end, however, does it really matter who wrote them? After all, it’s so long ago that they won’t get any royalties.

I was talking to a friend today about Strictly Come Dancing, a programme I have never watched but which several of my friends find quite addictive, in a relaxing kind of way. I don’t watch the Eurovision Song Contest either, although on e again a number of my friends find it riveting. Now I read that Hungary will not participate in next year’s Eurovision song contest, amid speculation the decision was taken because the competition is “too gay” for the taste of the country’s far-right government and public media bosses. I have to admit that the friends who are most fanatical about Eurovision are mostly gay!

Much has been made of Jeremy Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil. Here is something from the Labour supporting but independent news website Labourlist:

   Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to get away with his latest ruse - Sienna Rodgers.

 “Labour activists are furious. It was widely assumed that the difficult interview of Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC’s Andrew Neil would be followed up with one featuring Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister could then finally be confronted with robust criticism, as Neil – although a Tory himself – is known to give every politician a tough time. Nicola Sturgeon has already had her turn, and there was no reason to think that the BBC would broadcast two interviews with party leaders before getting all of them signed up. We were wrong to make that reasonable assumption, it turns out. The BBC has said: “For those asking when Boris Johnson’s interview will take place, we’re in ongoing discussions with his team but we haven’t yet been able to fix a date”.
Johnson could well decide that being called a chicken is less damaging to Tory electoral prospects than an interrogation that would surely be seen and shared more widely than the Andrew Neil interview of any other party leader. Johnson has been careful, after all, to take limited questions from journalists throughout this campaign period.
Labour was assured that Johnson’s own interview was going ahead next week, a party source has told LBC’s Theo Usherwood. LabourList has been told the same. This saga raises serious questions about the BBC’s judgment.
The other interviews should not have been broadcast without dates being fixed for every party leader. If Johnson does refuse to go ahead with an interview, a substitute such as Rishi Sunak cannot be accepted. Andrew Neil should empty chair the Prime Minister, and read out a long list of typically cutting questions. Stick a tub of lard in Johnson’s place. Nothing less dramatic would do.”

One rather gets the impression that Mr Johnson is avoiding in-depth interviews.

 Meanwhile, various news media are finding stuff that Mr Johnson has said in the past. Back in 1995 or thereabouts, he described the children of single mothers as "ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate" in a magazine column. In the same column, he argued it was "feeble" for a man to be reluctant or unable to "take control of his woman."
He apparently said it was “outrageous" that married couples should fund "'the single mothers' desire to procreate independently of men.” And he said a way needed to be found to "restore women's desire to be married."
The comments, made in a 1995 issue of the Spectator, were unearthed on the same day the Tory leader will pledge to "support women to reach their full potential."

 Oh dear again!

Earlier this evening I heard the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg advising that anyone who has any political ambitions should keep away from social media ... and supposably from writing columns in newspapers.

Words from your past have a way of coming back to bite you!

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

A bit of a rant about bias.

Well, I have finally got round to a bit of a rant about bias. I have been ignoring it for a while.

We’re seeing a lot in the news about the chief rabbi condemning Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party for antisemitism. Nobody, at the BBC at any rate, seems to be making the connection that the chief rabbi appears to be a bit of a Tory and regards Boris Johnson as a friend. But then the Archbishop of Canterbury has come down on their side as well. It begins to look as though once you are accused of something there is no real way of getting out of it. You have been tarred with that brush and the tar has stuck.

People should take a look at this.

I am continually amazed at people’s capacity to believe one-sided stuff in the newspapers, given that so many drivers see the road closed sign a few hundred yards away from our house and disbelieve it completely. They carry on driving and are seemingly astounded to find that just beyond our house the road, the A62, is in fact closed. There is simply no way through or round the barrier. I am seriously considering having a notice put up by our garden gate giving directions for driving through the village and then back to the A62 to get back onto their originally planned route!

There may not be much in defence of Jeremy Corbyn on the television news but in the bits of social media that I see there is quite a lot. 

Here’s part of what Noam Chomsky had to say about the anti-Corbyn campaign in an article in The Canary.

“The smears against Corbyn rely heavily on misrepresentation. For example, mainstream outlets spent days accusing Corbyn of hosting an ‘antisemitic’ event in parliament in 2010, because speakers compared the actions of Israel to the Nazis. But at the meeting, a Jewish Holocaust survivor was addressing a room of predominantly Jewish people.

Broadly speaking, the total cases of antisemitism in Labour represent less than 0.1% of around 540,000 members.

With that in mind, widespread smears undermine the genuine instances and genuine concerns about antisemitism in Labour and wider society.

On 16 September for instance, Conservative environment secretary Michael Gove refused to condemn the openly antisemitic and Islamophobic far-right leadership in Hungary.

That’s after the Conservatives whipped MEPs to back Viktor Orbán’s dangerous platform in a vote at the European Parliament. This has received far less media coverage than allegations of antisemitism against Corbyn and Labour that just don’t stack up.”

Note the statistics in there: “Broadly speaking, the total cases of antisemitism in Labour represent less than 0.1% of around 540,000 members.”

And Michael Rosen had this to say:

“Has the Chief Rabbi expressed concern over Boris Johnson's time as editor of the Spectator, when he was editing the raving antisemite Taki? Has he commented on Johnson's silence over Rees-Mogg's antisemitic jibes (calling Letwin one of the 'illuminati', and using the Soros slur), retweeting a tweet from the Alternative für Deutschland,  hanging out with the far-right Traditional Britain Group? Or Johnson's congratulations of the election of Orban in Hungary - someone who again uses the Soros trope in order to flag up hostility to Jews?”

And then there is this stuff about the Conservatives and Islamophobia.

There does seem to be a bit of bias out there.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Cultural crossovers and being different.

Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here. It’s an American thing. Every country should have its special holidays but we don’t really need to celebrate everyone else’s.

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving and marks the start of the Christmas shopping season in the USA. It’s important to note that that is in the USA! And they have lots of special offers and some stores, having been closed for Thanksgiving, open at midnight on Thanksgiving. Presumably, just as here for Boxing Day sales, there are loads of loonies who ruin a perfectly good family holiday celebration by going and camping out to be the first through the doors when the sales begin.

As I said already, it’s important to remember that this is an American thing. So why have we been hearing about Black Friday sales for the last three weeks? Is it really necessary to invent another reason to have reductions? After all, most stores have special offers and reductions almost all year round anyway!

Goodness knows why it has to Black Friday anyway. Why not some more cheerful or hopeful colour? Maybe it’s because of all the black eyes people get fighting over bargains they don’t really need.

We recently watched the latest series of the French crime series Engrenages (Spiral in English). This time there was a lot of material on money-laundering in the Chinese community in the suburbs of Paris, a very different Paris to the one most of us know from tourist visits to that beautiful city.

Today I found this article about being French and ethnic-Chinese, an interesting insight into the question of feeling French (or British or Spanish or German) but looking obviously ethnically different. I was struck by this comment about the “gilets jaunes” riots:

 “Intellectually, I can understand why the gilets jaunes are protesting – I’m French after all, I have the tendency to question the way other French people do. But when you know that your parents have survived one of the greatest genocides the world has ever seen, everything becomes relative. When people talk of life’s great problems being the price of petrol and only being able to go to a restaurant once a week, or only having one holiday a year, we can’t feel fully invested in these arguments, even if we understand them. My parents ran a restaurant when I was a child, and I can’t remember them ever taking a holiday. “

 Sometimes we have to look at life from a different perspective.

Monday, 25 November 2019

On vegan runners and young female singers and how we look at things.

I thought I was going to have to run in the rain this morning but in the event the rain had stopped by the time I got myself organised to go out. Sometimes there are advantages to hitting the snooze button on your alarm! My normal running route is a little constricted in places by the strange collections of equipment that the roadworks people have established at various points along the road. Huge concrete pipes are enclosed in makeshift cages as if they are afraid that someone might steal them in the night. On reflection, I suppose it’s more a case of preventing the possibility of some drunken loon deciding to climb on top of them, slipping and hurting themselves and then suing the company for damages. All these things have to be taken into consideration in the modern world!

Skimming through the papers online later, over breakfast, I came across this article about runners and what they should and shouldn’t eat. The meat and protein people reckon that a vegan diet leaves serious deficiencies while the vegans claim that everything can be done the vegan way.

Then there was this:- “In 2004, I was the only vegan in the village,” says Fiona Oakes, a multi-world-record-breaking marathon runner. “But now you see vegan runners everywhere.”

I read that and wondered how you can recognise a vegan. I suppose that when they run they wear vegan running club vests. They are all much more serious runners than I am and have all the gear with logos to promote their cause when they take part in races and marathons. Otherwise, I found myself wondering, is there a special signalling system to let other vegans know you belong to their group, as people always told me existed for Freemasons?

I moved on to a report about music awards. Young Taylor Swift seems to have been doing well. I know very little about that young lady but as singer-songwriter Carole King appears to regard her as a friend and has recorded with her, then she can’t be bad.

In the report I read this:

“Swift, 29, has been embroiled in a high-profile feud with prominent talent manager Scooter Braun and her former record label over the rights to her back catalogue of six albums – a dispute that briefly put her performance at the AMAs under a cloud.
Swift publicly accused Braun last week of refusing permission for her to sing songs from her back catalogue at the awards show, urging her 122 million Instagram fans to let Braun “know how you feel about this”.”

Now, I thought such controlling behaviour by managers and record labels was a thing of the past. Didn’t Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers go,through a huge court case to rectify just such an injustice? And there it is again. I hope she gets it all sorted out.

The report also told us that, “The public spat culminated last week with Braun saying that his family had received “numerous death threats” and that he “would like to find a resolution”.”

Presumably angry fans were tweeting their anger in the form of death threats. Once again, social media makes life a little more dangerous than it should be.

And here’s another article about young female singers, some of whom I have heard, some I have simple heard of and others whose names means nothing to me at all. However it seems that young women are shouting about their rights.

Here’s an odd little fact from the article, concerning a young singer called Billie Eilish:-

“Female musicians have been subject to conflicting moral standards for longer than Eilish has been alive. Madonna, Janet Jackson and TLC knew them well – but the concept of the pop “role model”, expected to set an example to kids, solidified when the Spice Girls became the first female act to be marketed at children.
In the 70s and 80s, idols such as David Cassidy primed girls for a monogamous future. By comparison, the Spice Girls were lunatics conquering the asylum. But, given their fans’ youth – and the sponsors that used the band to reach them – they also had a duty of responsibility. Their real lives – the all-nighters and eating disorders – were hidden so effectively that Eilish, born in 2001, thought the band was made up, actors playing the roles of the group in Spiceworld: The Movie.”

In the days before social media really got going it was possible to hide all sorts of things, in the world of politics and in the world of pop. How things have changed!

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Stuff on the radio and in the papers. An odd world!

I just listened to a Conservative politician on the radio explaining how his party has spent the last decade putting right what the Labour Party did wrong. All these years on and they still have to blame someone else! Then he went on to talk about investment in public services. So cuts to health and education = investment in public services, does it? There’s a decided double-think going on.

The BBC seems to be on the side of the Conservatives, judging by the shenanigans that seems to have gone on over Question Time this weekend, between someone popping to ask a question for what might be the fourth or fifth time and then laughter at Boris Johnson being edited out of a news report. We live in curious times!

Curious times indeed. Kenan Malik is an Indian-born British writer, lecturer and broadcaster, trained in neurobiology and the history of science. He’s well known. Yet he reports being asked to produce his passport when going to speak to an Oxford college - to prove that he has the right to work in the country. This is what we have come to!

So let’s look at other things.

Some time ago I read about a hummus crisis, a shortage that was going to affect all us middle class hummus eaters. Now it seems it is the turn of halloumi cheese; demand is going to outstrip supply. This is not a problem which is going to affect me. Other foodstuffs with similar problems are coconuts (coconut water and coconut oil having become very popular and the trees that grow them becoming what the article describes as “senile” - who know that such a thing was possible?) and avocados (recent bad crops have caused problems).

At the other end of the spectrum of foods becoming in short supply because of food-faddery is quinoa. Originally there was a bit of an outcry because The Peruvians who depended on it as a staple food could no longer afford to buy it. “But subsequent reports have shown the high price improved the welfare of poor rural communities, whose dependence on the grain for personal use was also widely overstated.” There you go.

Today’s Observer Magazine seems to be full of birth-related stuff. First Eva Wiseman has written about gender reveal parties, a practice I find really strange. She seems a bit miffed about it as well? If you must discover what gender your bump is going to be, then surely you can just tell, or not tell, all your friends and relations without having to make it yet another occasion for people to give you presents. This is without considering all the other such parties - the baby showers and the like. And, of course, the card manufacturers have taken advantage of it, producing series of cards saying “I am one week old”, I am one month / two months/ etc old”, leading to cringe-making photos of a poor child squashed into the same pose again and again, said photos then being inflicted on everyone through social media!

Then the magazine also included a feature on birth stories, some joyful, some sad, and one almost a sociological study from a woman who had her first child when she was 14 and had that child and the next four taken from her and straight into care.

Even Catherine Bennett wrote about childbirth in the main news section, asking “Why is it so hard to allow mothers the kind of labour they really want?” “Natural” childbirth has morphed into “straightforward” childbirth, which surely is what all women want when it comes down to it. It’s an area where women are pulled by the medical profession on one hand, by pressure groups for different birth styles on the other and over it all the need to instagram this experience along with all the other things going on in modern life.

On the fashion front, once again fashion reporting has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous on the fashion page, Style Notebook - there’s a dress from H & M for £34.99 and a pair of Stella McCartney/Adidas trainers with rainbow laces £235.

Life goes on!

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Organising family stuff. And a little comment on gender/equality.

We’re back to grey and gloomy here in Saddleworth. I got up early and walked in the drizzly rain to Uppermill first thing this morning with an agenda in my head: the Italian delicatessen for olives and dried tomatoes, and incidentally some very nice almond buns; the baker’s for some very nice rye bread; the Italian fruit shop (is the place becoming totally Italian?) for English Cox’s orange pippins apples that I can’t seem to find anywhere else; and possible the co-op depending on how the time went. The time went too quickly and the last item on my agenda was abandoned in favour of catching the bus back to Delph and doing the co-op shop there - milk, fruit juice, newspaper. And it all worked fine.

I wanted to have the morning sorted as my daughter had half a plan to come round with the eldest daughter after she had taken said daughter to have her hair cut. Since she went off to live independently we don’t see enough if that young lady. But there she was with a new hairdo, a sort of pinky-ginger colour, a fine colour for a young lady of 22. Her small sister insisted on showing off to her that she now knows the names of most of the chess pieces. The very smallest member of the family is learning to smile and begin to be sociable in time for larger family gatherings at Christmas. We saw the middle daughter yesterday. All we need to do now is pry the teenage grandson away from his computer games and actually get him to talk to us. On the whole though, the family thing is working out fine, much better than it is for some famous, even royal, families.

As the House of Windsor deals with the problem of Andrew, I wonder if they have thought of consulting the House of Borbón and asked how they dealt with the case of Cristina. I remember having displays of pictures of the wedding of the Infanta Cristina to Iñaki Urdangarín in my Spanish-teaching classroom. They were created Duke and Duchess of Palma de Mallorca and much was made of how their marrying in Barcelona and later announcing first in Barcelona that they were expecting a child was a sort of unifying factor, linking Catalonia more firmly to Spain.

Even before that unity fell aport very spectacularly amidst demands for independence, the Duques de Palma de Mallorca had seriously blotted their copy book and Iñaki and Cristina were being accused of corruption. According to wikipedia Cristina is still sixth in line to the Spanish throne but in 2015 King Felipe took the dukedom away from his sister and she doesn’t get to appear in royal events. So maybe they could do that to Andrew and he could no longer be the grand old Duke of York! The two royal houses could compare notes!

That’s enough of that.

And to finish off, Here’s another twist on the gender question. I read that one of the oldest providers of school uniforms, selling uniforms for Eton, St Paul’s Girls’ School, Westminster Cathedral Choir School and the Royal Ballet School among many others, has decided it will no longer sell boys’ uniforms and girls’ uniforms but will market gender-neutral uniforms. Quite how that will work, I have no idea but it’s time someone pointed out that equal does not mean the same; it means being treated equally!

Friday, 22 November 2019

Some thoughts on healthy eating and on campaigning.

This week I have eaten out twice with different sets of friends.on each occasion I had soup: French onion soup on the first occasion and mushroom soup on the second. At this time of year, with cold weather creeping in, soup is the right kind of comfort food. At a pinch you can wrap yourself in a blanket and have your soup in a mug rather than in a bowl at the table.

Zoe Williams was writing about the best health food in he Guardian the other day. Forget all the fancy stuff, according to Zoe Williams it comes down to three things: soup garlic and cake.

I have a recipe somewhere that combines the first two of those: a garlic soup which is very good for you. I once long ago made it when I was teaching French to catering students. The soup had nothing to do with the course. It’s simply that the following day, as the students filed into the classroom, one after another they asked, not to me but to the room in general, “Has someone been eating garlic?” Actually I suspect that it was not so much the eating of the soup that did it but the number of garlic cloves I peeled and handled in the making of it. I did not admit to the students that it might be me.

Garlic is good for you though. The aforementioned garlic soup is a good cold cure and apparently garlic is an anti-inflammatory, so it’s good for arthritis, among other things.

Zoe Williams tells this story of her mother and garlic:

“My mother once read that you could apply it directly to get rid of a verruca, which she did. But it got into her bloodstream and made her smell so profoundly of garlic that she thought we had a gas leak and actually called British Gas. That is a 100% true story.”

She might say it is 100% true but I suspect a little journalistic exaggeration!

Anyway, soup! Lots of jokes are made about chicken soup and its restorative qualities. It seems there was even a study in 2000 on the benefits of chicken soup. The study used the Lithuanian recipe of the reports’s author’s grandmother so maybe there was some bias there. However, the study found that chicken soup inhibited the migration of neutrophils, which are the commonest white blood cells fighting infection, so maybe there is some science behind it after all, or some scientific-sounding terminology at any rate.

I suspect that cake comes into the mix because of the old adage of feeding a cold - or is it a fever? - and the instinct we all have to sit down and eat sweet stuff when we feel out of sorts.

One last point on garlic: someone told me long ago that garlic is good for protecting against vampires and other forces of evil. Maybe we need some supplies at the moment with all sorts if odd shenanigans going on in the political sphere.

Which brings me to a question: are we surprised that they Conservatives have received more in donations than the other parties?

According to one source of information about the general election 2019, In the first week of the campaign the Conservatives got £5.7m in large donations which is 26 times as much as Labour from rich donors. This is in donations above £7,500, which are the ones that have to be declared. Labour has been getting just £218,500.

The conservatives get theirs from supermarket tycoons, billionaires and the like. More than half of the donations declared by Labour were from the trade union Unite, whose general secretary Len McCluskey is one of the party's most powerful figures.

 Of course, they are all supposed to face the same restrictions as to how much they can spend but it must be a lot easier to bet your campaigning organised if the money is coming in in lots of big chunks instead of in dribs and drabs.

 And as we listen to all the promises, we should think of this Turkish proverb, passed on to me by a friend: “The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the Axe, for the Axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood, he was one of them.”

That’s all.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Questions of truth and legality.

I heard Priti Patel on the television news last night going on about how child poverty was not the government’s fault. Apparently local councils take a lot of wrong decisions but the problem has nothing to do with the government, we can’t blame the Tories! Not even after years of their austerity measures and cuts and anything else the evil lefties might lay at their door? Anyway, it seems that a clip of her interview went viral. Only to be expected really. But then I heard that the BBC shut it down.

And I thought of this that a friend of mine posted on social media:-

“Is this really where we’re at? BBC execs: ‘We can’t call the Prime Minister a liar because people might think the Prime Minister’s a liar?”
The writer had come across an extract from a document which said, “I have talked to senior BBC executives and they tell me they personally think it is wrong to expose lies told by a British prime minister as it undermines trust in British politics.”

Whether such a document actually exists but the sentiment does rather suggest that the media are taking decisions on our behalf! Interesting! That increases my confidence in the media no end!

Rather like whoever it was that decided that Andrew Windsor should not be immediately questioned by the police, or whoever, but should do an interview on prime time television instead. And we all know how well that worked! Since then other sorts of accusations have come out against the poor beleaguered prince.

 “Prince Andrew has been accused of using the N-word in a conversation with a senior political aide, adding to the royal’s woes after his BBC Newsnight interview regarding his friendship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The claim was made by Rohan Silva, a former aide to David Cameron, who met the prince at Buckingham Palace in 2012. Silva asked the Queen’s son whether the government department responsible for trade “could be doing a better job”, according to the Evening Standard.
 He claims the prince responded: “Well, if you’ll pardon the expression, that really is the [N-word] in the woodpile.” Buckingham Palace sources have categorically denied the claim.
The same phrase was used by Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris in 2017, prompting the party to suspend her for several months.”

In the case of Prince Andrew it goes back to 2012. The poor chap had probably used that expression as a matter of thoughtless course. I know people who did. And it’s one of a host of expressions which are no longer socially, let alone politically, acceptable. Think of the reduced “gollies” in Enid Blyton’s stories, not to mention how much criticism that writer has come in for. Personally, as a small child I really enjoyed her books. There you go.

Anyway, Andrew has now stepped down from his royal duties. Quite what they were I have no idea but now he has none.

Is there something similar we can do with certain politicians? Oh, yes, it’s called voting! Lets see what happens in a few weeks time.

Here’s another thing: ticket sales. Whenever you go to a pop concert there are people outside selling last minutes tickets, or indeed asking if anyone has tickets to sell. Now it seems that there has been a trial in Leeds of two men who used multiple identities and computer bots to buy £4m-worth of tickets, selling them on secondary ticketing websites such as Viagogo for £10.8m. And the jury at the fraud trial has been told that there is ‘Nothing illegal about reselling tickets'.

 Ben Douglas-Jones QC, defending Hunter, said: “Some people may think the secondary ticket websites like Seatwave, StubHub, GetMeIn and Viagogo and sellers are parasitic. “Others may think the market functions because it puts people who own a commodity that they are willing to sell together with others who wish to purchase it at an agreed price.”

Maybe the judge has never tried to buy concert tickets and found that within minutes of them going on sale they are sold out!

It’s a funny old world!

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Confusion and phobias.

Frost on the cricket ground. Ice on the millpond. It was apparently -1 degrees when I went out running this morning!

As I ran I came across a lost lady in her car, confused about the road closed signs. She wanted to go to Oldham. Her normal route is straight along our road, the A62, but she had just come across the signs telling her the road was closed. Which it is. Just beyond our house the work on the drainage system is caged off, blocking the whole width of the road, as well as one of the toads up to nearby Dobcross. The pub next door to us must be spitting feathers at the passing trade they will be losing. But that is a different story. I explained the situation to the lady driver and told her where to turn so that she could go through the village and get back eventually onto the route she is familiar with. She thanked me and then expressed her bewilderment at there being no earlier indication of the roadworks and no some useful diversion signs. Quite so!

She turned the car round and set off. I went on my way, past the seagulls perched on the frozen millpond! Later I came across this article, well, this bit of an article:

“At this time of year, many women stop running in the dark. The same quiet roads that are great for training are precisely those that can make you feel vulnerable.
Attacks, fortunately, are rare – but intimidation is not. I don’t know a single female runner who hasn’t been heckled or mocked while out pounding the streets. And, yes, always by men. But there is something else you also occasionally see, too: male runners reminding you of their power.
Last week, the Team GB marathoner Lily Partridge spoke about two incidents, one where she and other elite women were “violently pushed around” at the start of a race, and another where she was
followed by a man who ran “intimately close” to her.”

Personally I have never been attacked. But then, I try not to run in the dark, not so much for fear of attack as for fear of not being seen by car drivers. I have never quite understood people who run on the road in the early morning while it is still dark, especially if there is a perfectly good pavement to run on. I suspect that the kind of aggression described in the article is more common if you run in the city, rather than running around Delph and along the bridle paths. But the male aversion to being beaten by women is not restricted to running. I have worked with men who found it hard to be given any kind of training by women. Women are simply not supposed to know more than men about IT, for example.

On the other hand women are supposed to accept that men can be superior in traditionally female activities like cooking and dressmaking! Double standards!!

There must be a term for fear of being beaten by women. I wonder what it is.

The terms used for phobias are always interesting. I came across a new one today: trypophobia - an aversion to clusters of holes or cracks that is associated with feelings of fear and disgust. And they don’t mean holes in the road. The sight of bubbles coming up in boiling milk or a close-up photo of a crumpet can be enough to trigger it. And if you suffer from it and want to do some research in the internet, you have great difficulty for the first things you come across, apparently, are sets of trypophobia-inducing images! On the plus-side it seems that there are Facebook pages for trypophobes! Such is the modern age!

Which brings me to another phobia: haphephobia, also known as aphenphosmmphobia -
fear of being touched. I admit to looking for that term after reading this article about yoga teachers helping their students achieve better yoga poses by pushing and manipulating them into better positions. The writer insists that yoga students need to actually give permission for the teacher to manhandle (or womanhandle?) them. I must say that I agree. I can remember a yoga teacher who used to physically push us into deeper bends and stretches and the slight feeling of intrusion I used to experience.

It’s not unlike the feeling I used to get in painting and drawing classes when a teacher would take my paintbrush and “show” me how to improve my work. Yes, I was there to learn but the painting was no longer mine! Maybe there is a phobia for that as well!

Monday, 18 November 2019

Sunny day thoughts!

Blue sky. Sunshine. A bit of frost on the grass. A skin of ice on the mud puddles, for all the world like the skin you get on a pan of milk you are heating! A temperature of around 2 degrees according to my phone. Such was this morning early when I went out to run. Much better than the grey and soggy we have got used to for the last week or so. This is what autumn should be like.

In a warmer part of the world, Burkina Faso in Africa, they are having problems with malaria and are trialling “gene drive” technology as a means of combatting the problem. “We’re developing mosquitoes here that can only have sons. Those sons will also only be able to produce sons, causing the population of females, the only gender that bites, to dwindle until the mosquito is extinct,” says Moussa Namountougou, head of the insect farm of the Institut de Recherche et Sciences de la Santé (IRSS), just a few kilometres from the hospital. So there you go, once again the female of the species is to blame.

Maybe the #MeToo people need to get indignant about it.

Meanwhile, judging by the amount of comment and media coverage given to it, we must be among the few who did not watch the interview with Prince Andrew on Saturday evening. It strikes me somewhat as the case of yet another rich man trying to talk his way out of trouble. The difference is that he happens to be the second son of the queen of England. He really should have been more careful about which rich folk he chose as his friends.

Of course, it must be quite hard being the second son, not quite the heir to the throne, and gradually being pushed further and further down the chain of inheritance.

I could almost feel sorry for him ... if I didn’t have better things to do!

I am not sure that I will be watching the great television debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson either. Goodness knows what will happen with the election in the end. However, free dental checks, more early years education stuff and free broadband sound like good ideas.

 And now I am off to take advantage of the fine weather!

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Not yet in the Christmas spirit.

Facebook sends me messages telling me that various friends are “responding to events happening soon”. Presumably this is in case I might feel inclined to “respond” as well. I do think, however, that there is a bit of overkill going on here. If my friends want me to go along to events with them, then they will get in touch.

These “events” are quite diverse. Yesterday one was looking forward to going out campaigning for the Labour Party, another was going to to a new-to-you sale of baby stuff, and a third was apparently getting excited about going to see a Christmas parade, with reindeer(!!) in the centre of Oldham. That last would explain why buses I wanted to catch were running late!

The friend who was seemingly excited about Oldham’s Christmas parade was no doubt going along with her granddaughter. Fair enough. And that parade was not the only one going on yesterday, judging by photos other people have posted here and there on social media. Now, it’s the 17th of November. That means that there are about six weeks to go before Christmas. Surely that is an awfully long time for children to be encouraged to get over-excited!

And yet, mince pies have been on sale since the start of September, the Manchester Christmas markets are in full swing, encouraging adults rather than children to get over-excited, and the staff at our local co-op have already declared themselves sick and tired of Christmas songs!

At least in the village they aren’t switching on the Christmas lights until November 30th, when there will be a Father Christmas parade, accompanied by Delph Brass Band, and fireworks. Any excuse for a bit of a pyromania! It does have to be said, however, that the Wake Up Delph committee usually do a good job of getting the village looking festive.

Some of the food writers are in on the act, advising on what to eat over Christmas and how to make lists of ingredients you can buy now and store and stuff that needs to be bought fresh just days before the big feast. Jay Rayner, whose recipes I usually appreciate - parsnips roasted with pears has been a recent success - has been off on another tack: food served on or in ridiculous serving “dishes”, all in the name of “a bit of fun”.

He cites “a steak served on a slate so that cutting your dinner sounds like fingernails being dragged down a blackboard”, a sound reference younger readers who have grown up with white boards or smartboards will not understand. Then there is “a full English breakfast served in a dog bowl” and “ a spare rib selection presented in a mini galvanised dustbin”. Like a friend of mine who rants about this whenever we meet, Jay Rayner is not a fan of such nonsense.

 He also tells of a “Kitkat Chocolatery”, currently in branches of John Lewis. It seems that you can choose from a huge range of fillings and toppings to obtain a “bespoke” Kitkat. For £25 you can have a limited edition raspberry and pomegranate flavoured version covered with 23 carat gold leaf! That comes a long way from “Have a break, have a Kitkat”. Surely eating gold is wrong. And does it have any nutritional value?

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Thoughts on privacy, climate change, flooding and busybodies!

I accidentally listened to a bit of Gardeners’ Question Time yesterday. I am not sure why but as a rule this programme annoys me. Anyway, there it was, playing in the background to a chess programme Phil was using. One woman’s question concerned her patio, which has a five foot fence around it. “In the interests of privacy”, could the panel recommend plants she could grow tall in pots, she wanted to know. How much privacy does a person need? A five foot high fence is quite tall. I would have to stand on a box to look over it. Does she have really bad neighbours? Is she an odd recluse? Nobody asked her these questions so we will never know. Instead they discussed stuff that will grow eight feet tall in a half barrel. Fortunately nobody recommended Leylandii.

Today as I went through Uppermill village centre (almost a town centre I am told by people who know at which population point a village turns into a town) I saw a group of protestors. So now Uppermill has its own Big Issue seller outside the co-op (mind you, we have one of those in Delph, which is quite a bit smaller than Uppermill) and demonstrators. There they were with their homemade placards and banners protesting about climate change and, presumably, the lack of effective action to reverse it. I wonder why they chose Uppermill!

There is a strange irony in the fact that the regional council of the Veneto region of Italy Rejected a plan to combat climate change only minutes before their council chamber offices on the Grand Canal in Venice were flooded. You don’t get much clearer evidence of problems than that. There is a nice picture of the flooded chambers in this article.

Well known places have been damaged by the flooding: Saint Mark’s Basilica, the opera house, Teatro La Fenice among other stuff. Nobody knows how much the repairs to all this will cost but because the whole of Venice is a work of art people all over the world will want to contribute. To that effect a bank account is being opened.

The Italian Prime Minister declared a state of emergency on Thursday and said that Residents whose homes have been flooded will receive €5,000 immediately while restaurant and shop owners will get up to €20,000. For comparison purposes our Mr Johnson promised relief funding of £500 for each affected home in our flooded areas and up to £2,500 for small ­businesses. Just a bit of a difference!

After Uppermill I went on to the Tesco in Greenfield. At the bus shelter I looked at the printed timetable to check the times of buses home. One of those know-it-all gents told me, in that special condescending tone that some “gentlemen” adopt when “helping” women, that it was useless to look at the timetable as it dated from April. I am pretty sure that when the bus times change they also change the printed timetables in the bus shelters but I let him have his say. He kindly looked up times on the app on his phone, which confirmed what the printed timetable had told me. I neglected to point this out to him and merely enquired how long he had been waiting, and whether he had seen a number 350 bus go by. Ten minutes and no were his answers. So I decided to hang on instead of starting to walk home. And, lo and behold, a minute or two after the know-it-all had got on his bus, going in the opposite direction to me, my bus turned up. Sometimes things work out fine!

Friday, 15 November 2019

Fickle weather. Odd beliefs. Animal welfare.

My alarm rings. I hear the rain beating down outside and press the snooze button. Some time later it rings again. I still hear the rain beating down outside but switch the alarm off. I doze. Then I decide that, despite my avowed, if not fondness for, at least acceptance of and tolerance for and even resignation to running in the rain, this morning it is not going to happen. Besides I am dropping off to sleep again. So I reset the alarm for later, but not for too much later. After all, I want to be up and about before the morning has disappeared altogether. And I settle back down for a bit more sleep.

Of course the very act of setting the alarm has woken me up sufficiently so that I no longer drift back to sleep as easily as I would if there were no alarm set. This is an aspect of Sod’s Law!

And, of course, the sound of the rain disappears. By the time I get up the sky is remarkably blue and the rain has gone. Another aspect if Sod’s Law.

This is the northwest of England though, and we are very close to the foothills of the Pennines so the fine weather is naturally short-lived. By midday the cloud is back with a vengeance and the rain is not far behind. I have, however, missed my chance for a fine-weather run this morning. So it goes!

At least we don’t have floods.

Neither do we have problems of water shortage or a problem with our drinking water. I found this article about the indigenous people of Southern Mexico drinking enormous amounts of Coca Cola. Because of a policy of charging slightly lower prices for their product in that region Coca Cola is actually slightly cheaper to buy than bottled water, an important consideration where even those fortunate enough to have running water in their homes cannot rely on its quality for drinking.
Before we hold our hands up in horror, we should remember that there was a time when working people in England would drink small beer, even children, because the water quality was not good!

The odd thing about the Southern Mexico situation is that Coca Cola has been absorbed into religious ceremonies and is believed to have healing properties. Well, I used to know people who regarded Coca Cola as an integral part of a hangover cure! But such is the faith in Coca Cola among the Southern Mexicans that the increased number of people now suffering from type 2 diabetes do not accept that they should give up drinking the stuff!

People believe all sorts of odd things. Here’s a link to an article about someone who believes that animals should be given the right to vote. One argument is that animals already understand democracy; when 60% of a herd of deer stands up they all accept that it is time to get moving. Okay! But it’s not quite the same as voting. Now, I know that animals are intelligent. There’s a news story going round about a dog owner, possibly a speech therapist or linguist, who has taught her dog to communicate via a series of buttons which he presses to communicate his wishes. He can communicate quite complex things such as his desire to go for a walk after eating. Splendid! But can he have philosophical discussions?

And on the radio news the other evening I heard a feature about obesity domestic pets. There was lots of advice on how to get your dog to exercise more and even how to persuade your cat, a pet much less likely to demand to go for a walk, to be more active. This is all interesting stuff but does it really merit a slot on a national news broadcast.

Is this a slow news thing?

Or is it a diversionary tactic to take our attention away from more important matters?

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Reactions to visits from dignitaries. More weather. And lost luggage.

I have long and often expressed the opinion that if ever I am involved in a major catastrophe I do not want to be visited by the Prime Minister, a member of the royal family or any other kind of dignitary. So I can fully understand the reaction of people in Stainsforth in South Yorkshirea when Boris Johnson turned up in their village, days after the flood. After all, he had told everyone that this did not constitute a national emergency.

“Locals tore into Tory ­promises of cash aid after insisting recent pledges have come to nothing.“He hasn’t done anything for us. It’s a good job he didn’t come because I would have said, ‘Get on your bike.’”
The PM promised relief funding of £500 for each affected home and up to £2,500 for small ­businesses.
But he refused to apologise to those devastated by the flooding. Mr Johnson said: “I made clear that the Government stands ready to support in any way we can.””

I’m not sure that £500 would go far towards fixing a flooded home. Neither am I sure what they want Boris Johnson to apologise for: if it’s his slow and feeble response, I quite agree that he should apologise. If, on the other hand, he is expected to apologise for the floods, then I think people are giving him credit for too great a superpower!

Meanwhile, here are some pictures of the devastation in poor flooded Venice. More rain is forecast for the rain-soaked bits of the UK.I don’t know what the situation is for Venice. The photos I see on weather reports of the trajectory of the jet stream do not bode well.

Here we have showers and cloud and a bitingly cold wind. Not the sort of weather to make you feel like going out and about.

Yesterday, while the sun shone on us for a while, we went out and tidied the garden, mostly raking up the masses of wet leaves covering the grass. We really should not have bothered. This morning I looked out and there were almost as many leaves again all over the grass!! The myth of Sisyphus springs to mind.

The other day, as I waited for a friend at Piccadilly station I heard an announcement over the public address system: “Would the owner of the black suitcase abandoned outside Sainsbury’s please return to his suitcase. Unaccompanied suitcases are liable to be taken away and destroyed.”

I don’t know if the owner turned up but I was reminded of the story from last month of a man who found a violin abandoned on a train. It turned out to be a 310-year-old violin, worth £250,000. The owner was tired after a long day recording Abbey Road studies and got off the train, leaving it behind. The chap who found it was initially treated as a suspect - suspected of taking advantage of someone else’s tiredness-induced forgetfulness? - and was afraid he might be arrested when he went to give it back. I hope they gave him a reward. I try to imagine walking around with anything worth £250,000. Surely you would want to have it chained to your wrist to avoid the possibility of loss or theft!!

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Thinking about floods!

I have a very lightweight running waterproof. It really only serves for light drizzle. Anything else and I am pretty soon soaked through as if I wore no waterproof at all. Just about the only thing in its favour is that it is small and light enough to scrunch up into a ball and fit into my bumbag. So this morning, running to the market at Uppermill, I opted for my hiking waterproof, still lightweight, still with the ability to wick away sweat and so on, but actually good at keeping the rain off the person wearing it. And there was rain as I was getting up so I wanted proper protection in case I ended up standing at a bus stop with my market shopping for my homeward journey.

In the event it was damp and cold but not actually raining. I did get rather damp feet running along the rather puddle-full Donkey Line bridle path but even with damp feet a bridle path is preferable to a road with traffic. I must not have run fast enough, however, as my Fitbit tells me that this morning’s exercise constitutes a walk rather than a run. A tiny machine with opinions!

Having done my shopping, I was just in time for a bus home. I had missed an earlier one but that dod not really matter as it was the bus that goes round just about every village in the area. As I waited for the bus I got into conversation, as you do, with another would-be passenger. I have a sort of friendship with his wife, the kind where you have chatted so often on the bus that you are usually quite glad to see each other but each has no idea what the other is called. His wife wasn’t with him and I am pretty sure he did not recognise me at all. We chatted about the weather. We are British after all, and besides almost every casual conversation at the moment involves moaning about the rain or commenting, as did my bus stop companion, “At least it’s not raining!”. Not long afterwards came, “At least we are not flooded!” Fair comment.

I was talking floods with a friend from my Italian class yesterday afternoon, as we strolled down the road, having already gone beyond “At least it’s not raining!” After all the usual comments about the horrors of flooding - the mess, the time it takes to sort it, the persistent smell, the ruined belongings, the sharp increase in price of house insurance, if you can still get it - she said, “For me, one of the worst things would be not being able to get clean clothes, especially clean knickers!” And I quite agree with her. Of course, having to flee your home for whatever reason, flood, fire, volcanic eruption, war or invasion, brings a lot worse things to worry about, but being left with only the clothes you stand up in and little proper chance of feeling clean and fresh again must simply make everything harder to bear.

On the television news last night they were discussing the aid going to the flooded parts of the country, the PM having belatedly decided that this was a bit of an emergency after all. As the helicopter flew over bits of very wet Yorkshire filming vast areas of flood water, the commentator pointed out that small village communities and farms are suffering the worst of it all and receiving the least aid. Apparently aid is allocated mostly according to how many people will benefit from that aid. So cities and towns fare better than small communities, which seems most unfair. And today’s news says that some of those small villages may well be completely cut off for days by floodwater. Some people have agreed to be evacuated but not all. Some are stubbornly staying put. It is to be hoped that they have supplies but I wonder how they will get on for electricity and heating. It’ll get pretty cold sitting in the upstairs rooms of a flooded house in mid-November.

Meanwhile, Venice too is having flooding problems. “The mayor of Venice is poised to declare a state of emergency after the city was hit by the highest tide in more than 50 years, with another surge expected to cause further widespread flooding and destruction on Wednesday.
Flooding in the lagoon city reached its second-highest level ever in the wake of the aqua alta, or high waters, which reached 1.87 metres late on Tuesday night amid heavy rain, just short of the record 1.94 metres (78 in) recorded in 1966.
St Mark’s Square was submerged by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent St Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years – but the fourth in the last two decades. The last occasion, in November 2018, caused an estimated €2.2m (£1.9m) of damage.”

The Venetians are used to dealing with “acqua alta” but they must be beginning wonder if they will survive it all. Once again I am glad our house is high enough up to avoid flooing problems.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Some thoughts about accidental stuff. And where and how to live.

I have been surprised, interested and frustrated by the BBC’s accidental broadcasting of the wrong footage of Boris Johnson placing a wreath on the cenotaph during the Remembrance Service. I had already seen stuff about his placing his wreath upside down but it was only later that I read about the BBC reporting. How does a competent and long-established broadcaster manage to “accidentally” transmit a bit of old film instead if the current day’s footage? Surely somebody must have had to look for film of Boris Johnson placing a wreath if they deemed the new material unsuitable. Or are there just clips of Boris Johnson material all over the place? One report I saw seemed to feature different coloured wreaths, red in the 2019 version and green in 2016. Would they have made a similar “accidental” broadcast about Jeremy Corbyn? I wonder! Crazy stuff!

Anyway, onto other matters.

This morning I managed to catch a lull between rainstorms to go for my run round the village, avoiding once again the soggy, muddy bridlepath. I had already had to circumvent some flooded places in the back lanes of the area and decided not to risk the mud-puddles. So it goes.

One of the delights of the colder weather, if delights are possible, is a heated towel rail in the bathroom. After a run in the damp outdoors, it is a pleasure to get out of the shower ti a warmed towel. Even better is to put my dressing gown on the heated towel rail as I use the warm towel. Thus I have a warm dressing gown to get onto once dry. Small pleasures!

Which brings me to our second granddaughter who is quietly driving her family crazy. Not in any of the usual teenage rebellion ways as in most such respects she is not a problem, it’s more temperature related. Yesterday her small sister announced to me, “I don’t like Sophie any more. She opens her windows wide and makes us all cold.” We had to convince her that she really does love her big sister but in fact she has a point.

Sophie has always had an odd relationship with temperature. As a small child she would instantly start taking layers off whenever we entered a shop, usually the coat and hat we had had to fight to get her to put on in the first place before venturing out into the cold. She dislikes hot weather and even if persuaded to spend time outdoors on a sunny day does not tan but remains a very pale white. Paradoxically what she says she likes about winter is being able to snuggle up under her duvet with a good book. So she likes to be all wrapped up but at the same time opens her windows wide as she works away at college assignments in her room. And of course, this sends icy blasts through the rest of the house, much to the discomfort of everyone else! Maybe she will choose at some time in the future to live independently in an unheated house on a hilltop somewhere!

Choosing where to live is much researched thing apparently. Last week some time I came across this:

“In recent years, stressed-out urbanites have been seeking refuge in green spaces, for which the proven positive impacts on physical and mental health are often cited in arguments for more inner-city parks and accessible woodlands. The benefits of “blue space” – the sea and coastline, but also rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls, even fountains – are less well publicised, yet the science has been consistent for at least a decade: being by water is good for body and mind.
Proximity to water – especially the sea – is associated with many positive measures of physical and mental wellbeing, from higher levels of vitamin D to better social relations. “Many of the processes are exactly the same as with green space – with some added benefits,” says Dr Mathew White, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and an environmental psychologist with BlueHealth, a programme researching the health and wellbeing benefits of blue space across 18 (mostly European) countries.
An extensive 2013 study on happiness in natural environments – to White’s mind, “one of the best ever” – prompted 20,000 smartphone users to record their sense of wellbeing and their immediate environment at random intervals. Marine and coastal margins were found by some distance to be the happiest locations, with responses approximately six points higher than in a continuous urban environment.”

Now, I grew up within shouting distance of the sea. You couldn’t actually see the sea from our house but in about half an hour you could walk to the beach. What you could see from our house was an expanse of farm land and very flat countryside. I always used to say that I wanted to live by the sea but in fact living within minutes of a walk in the moorlands (my father-in-law always used to declare that the Saddleworth area is bot “countryside” but “moorlands”) does just as well. In fact, when Phil once suggested selling up and buying a flat in central Manchester I wholeheartedly rejected the idea. 

Funnily enough, our son has ended up in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, right one the edge of the town, where he can look out at rolling hills. This is a location he chose, he once told me, because he had grown up with hills (Saddleworth) and wanted to settle in a place with hills, having lived for a while before that in the bustle of Tooting. It sounds logical to me.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Running, community spirit, voting! And the menú del día!

My regular running route involves jogging about a mile up the road, annoyingly slightly uphill all the way, then a turn off to the left into a bit of a backroad, then across another fairly major road, down a bit of a country lane and eventually onto a bridle path which brings me out at the bottom of the village and finally, via a few more twists and turns of narrow lanes, back home.

Now, since we came home last week I have been missing out the bridle path bit, which I would really rather include as it gets me off the tarmac and away from traffic fumes. There has been so much rain and so much standing water around that I knew from experience that the bridle path was going to be a selection of muddy puddles with the strong possibility that parts of it would actually be under water.

It’s not that I really mind running in a bit of rain. It may not be my preferred running weather but it’s not too bad. However, I do object to having to paddle through inch-deep water. Running shoes are built for ventilation not for waterproofing and finishing off a run with squelching feet is decidedly not fun. And besides, you then have the problem of making sure your shoes have dried out ready for the next days run. So I have been running down the main road into the village, currently busier than it usually is as it is part of the diversion avoiding the roadworks outside out house. You really can’t win!

Anyway, as Friday and Saturday had seen rather less rain than had been falling when we arrived home on Thursday, and as Sunday was actually a much better day weatherwise, with even a fair bit of blue sky and sunshine, I decided to do a but of reconnaissance on Sunday afternoon, with a view to running there today. (I had run in the morning, omitting the bridle path, as explained before.)

And there were still mud puddles but much reduced, easy to stride over, with reasonably dry patches in between. What’s more, some of the dips and hollows where water collected on one section of the path, the result of serious flooding a few years ago, had been repaired. So all looked okay for a go-ahead today.

Of course, it then rained heavily overnight! Again! But in the spirit of “carry on regardless” I ran my traditional route this morning. The mud puddles had grown somewhat and the path was generally squelchy - it’s amazing how much water fallen leaves can hold!! - but it was all passable and my feet stayed dry. Not only that but the rain held off for the duration of my run. Hooray!

A little bit of serendipity now. At least a couple of years ago someone who was in a team of workmen doing some roadworks outside our house (yes, we suffer a lot from roadworks for one reason or another) noticed my running habit and suggested that I get involved in Parkrun, an organised mass run for people of all kinds of running strengths in local parks on Saturday mornings. He thought I would enjoy it. A good idea. My problem was that I would need to get to the nearest venue on public transport. Even then, it was not so much the getting there as the getting back, also on public transport, all hot and sweaty, or rain-soaked and mud-splattered.

Yesterday on my reconnaissance I got into conversation with a lady walking her dog. I explained about the running route. She also suggested Parkrun. Once more I explained about the transport issue, having no car and so on. She has done the local Parkrun in the past and plans to get back into it when she has got over her current cough and cold. She used to live across the road from us, it turned out, and now lives in nearby Dobcross. So could pick me up en route if she was going to take part in Parkrun. So we swapped phone numbers and may, or may not, go and run round the park together some time in the near future.

That’s community spirit for you!

Less community-spirited is a report about the artist Manet. Apparently he embellished letters he wrote with doodles and now someone is criticising him because evidence has been found suggesting that he traced these doodle from others that he had made in his sketchbook. That’s HIS OWN SKETCHBOOK, not somebody else’s. The whole thing smacks of sour grapes if you ask me.

I see that elections in Spain have not resulted in an outright majority for the Socialist party, even though they have won seats than anyone else. The right wing Vox party has done frighteningly well, which is worrying. Spain looks as though it will continue with turbulent times.

 Meanwhile Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young would like to have dual citizenship of the USA and Canada. He lives in the USA, pays taxes in the USA, his children are American, but he can’t vote there, which he would like to do. Mainly he would like to vote against Donald Trump. He has passed the citizenship test but there is a hold-up because of his self-confessed use of marijuana. It seems that Trump would like to legalise marijuana. I find this quite ironic. Good luck to Mr Young, say I!

And finally here’s an article about Spanish lunch breaks and the menú del día.  We really appreciate the menú del día tradition, as we do the serving of free tapas with an evening drink in many places in Galicia. The article refers mostly to Madrid and Barcelona and so we hope the menú del día will continue to thrive in Galicia. We shall see!

Sunday, 10 November 2019

An accidental good read.

When we were travelling to Figueira da Foz recently, on the day that all our timings went haywire and we missed the train we had planned to catch, we spent a while sitting on the platform at Porto’s Campanhá station. Long enough to eat our packed lunch. The train came in all in a rush with very little prior announcement (or maybe we just didn’t hear it or failed to understand the Portuguese over the public address system) and loads of people who had been sitting around all got up at on e and surged towards the train.

As we followed suit I spotted a book on the ground, clearly dropped by a hasty passenger. It was a French book. There was nobody obvious to return the book to and so I stuffed it in my bag. It did cross my mind that I could walk up and down the train as we travelled, asking in my best French if anyone had mislaid a book. But then I thought better of it.

During our week in Figueira I started reading it and finished it when we returned to Vigo after the tournament. The book is called “La Berthe” written by Joëlle Guillais, the edition I found published in 1988. More of a sociological study than anything else, supposedly based on the author’s interviews and conversations with Berthe Perrier, born on the 28th of May 1896. It recounts the life of peasants in France in the first half of the 20th century.

Berthe’s father, Jean-Marie Perrier, was born on the 25th of November 1867 and married on the 3rd of August 1895. His daughter was born in May of the following year, much to his delight. Apparently he had prayed for a daughter. His delight in her was mirrored by ber admiration for him. The first half of the book has Berthe describing her father’s life. Like many French peasants of the time he wanted to own land but first he had to be a “fermier”, not just a farmer but a tenant farmer, renting the land from a rich person, probably of noble family. Despite the snobbery of the rich folk, who really do not want the peasants to own too much land and get above their station, Jean-Marie acquires a good deal of land and makes money, initially by selling potatoes and later breeding and selling livestock.

He passes on his love of the land and his passion for his animals to his daughter and leaves his lands to his three children, divided between Berthe and her two brothers. But Berthe is clearly his favourite and inherits the prime piece of land. She refuses offers of marriage, both before and after her father’s death, and runs the farm herself, buying and selling livestock, attending agricultural fairs, dealing with German occupation during the World Wars and proving to be an unusual woman all round -fiercely independent in a man’s world.

Although this has been described as something of a feminist tract, Berthe is not above using her feminine wiles to get her own way and to make deals that might not otherwise have happened. And she gets a lot of criticism from her brothers and from society at large. A later section of the book sees things from the viewpoint of one of her brothers, clearly somewhat resentful of their father’s favouritism and his sister’s lack of family feeling.

She seems to have lived to a ripe old age but at the end she was decidedly odd, living in a large house almost completely empty of furniture, refusing to have her dairy business inspected or her animals vaccinated and gradually becoming more and more eccentric.

An interesting bit of serendipitous reading matter.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Oddities musical and sociological.

When our son and his wife and their small daughter came to visit at the end of August, the two youngest grandchildren (youngest at the time, as there is another even smaller one now) put on an impromptu concert for us. My daughter-in-law had bought frothy little skirts for the two small girls, ridiculous tutu-like affairs, all burgundy net and ribbon, ideal for two tiny show-offs aged 5 and 3. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, egging each other on with cries of “your turn now”, they regaled us with “The Wheels on the Bus”, “Big Red Combine Harvester”, a whole range of other songs learnt at school or nursery, and, of course, almost all the songs from Disney’s “Frozen”.

I haven’t quite learnt all the words to “For the First Time in Forever” or “Let it go” or any of the other songs from the movie but I have been subjected to both the DVD and the CD often enough to recognise them instantly. And now Disney are releasing “Frozen II” and I wonder why. I have come to appreciate the message of the importance of sisterly love and loyalty in the original. Elsa learnt to control her power to freeze stuff and not let it control her and everyone supposedly lived happily ever after. So why is a sequel needed? Apart from the desire to make more money of course. Enough is enough, I say. Time to let it go!

It’s an odd fact of modern life that little kids know the words of all the songs from their movies. When we were small, indeed when our children were small, you saw a film at the cinema and you maybe heard some of the songs on the radio. Before video came along you were lucky if you saw an old film on TV. And even our first car, and our second for that matter, didn’t come with a radio or cassette player. It was only when the children were aged nine or ten that we started compiling travel cassettes, classic pop, for us to sing along in the car to when we went on camping holidays.

Our first grandchild, now an ancient 22, listened to the same cassettes as well as albums on cassette, selected by us. Mind you, she would request certain repeats: the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song, Carly Simon’s “It’s coming around again”, was very nearly worn out from so much playing. And now our three-year-old granddaughter will request “her music” in the car, not necessarily a CD but songs from any of several children’s films streamed to her mother’s phone - not forgetting the “My Little Pony” songs from the TV series.

How things change!

Along with repeating, and making sequels, of course, nowadays we also get “resurrections”. Long dead singers go on virtual tour, sometimes but not always accompanied by a real “live” artist. And now James Dean is to be 'resurrected' for new Vietnam war drama. As if there were no actors suitable for the role James Dean has been “cast” in a Vietnam war drama.

The world is full of strangeness.

Then today in the newspaper I read about “granny dumping” - where families unable to afford or cope with their caring responsibilities offload elderly relatives onto hospitals. This is apparently not uncommon in the USA. In 1992, yes, 1992, almost thirty years ago now, the American College of Emergency Physicians estimated that 70,000 elderly people were being abandoned each year. Somit’s not even a new phenomenon! My attention was drawn to this by the story of family who contrived to bring the father, who was suffering from dementia, to the UK, where they removed all possible proof of his identity, dressed him top-to-to in clothes bought at UK supermarkets and, with the help of a British friend, had him abandoned in a hospital here. They were eventually found out but wow, how determined must you be to get rid of your aged paterfamilias to go to such lengths?

The weirdness of the world does not fail to amaze me!

Friday, 8 November 2019

Tech problems. One good turn deserves another!

Contrary to predictions and expectations, this morning began with blue sky and sunshine but, boy, it was chilly! I selected my running route with care as so many places were likely to be very wet. According to my weather app more water was due to fall in the afternoon. By early evening, no more than a small shower.

In the late morning I set off to walk to the Tesco store in Grennfield, where my daughter planned to pick me up and carry supplies back home in her car. On my way, passing through Uppermill, I met a former work colleague from just over 40 years ago and stopped to pass the time of day.

Just as I was approaching the Tesco store, my phone pinged a message from my daughter, asking where I was, if I needed picking up yet and so on. I noticed that my phone had only 10% battery left. Even as I typed my reply to her, the phone quietly gave up the ghost. How very annoying! But my daughter is an intelligent and would assume that she should collect me more or less at the time we discussed yesterday.

Inside the store though I ran into my former colleague once again and borrowed his mobile to phone home in order to ask Phil to contact pur daughter and tell her where I was. This is what happens you see when you rely on your mobile phone. Of course I have not memorised my daughter’s mobile number (does anyone memorise mobile numbers ?) but our landline number is printed inside my head somewhere. All worked out fine.

My former colleague and I kept on crossing each other’s tracks in the supermarket, as you do. He regaled me with stories of what he has been up to: making speeches at the local historical society, organising this and that. He met my daughter and the two small people. Then as I was about to finish hunting the shelves for impossible to find items, he came looking for me. He felt like a fool, he told me, for he had managed to come shopping without any money. How unbelievably embarrassing!

So I paid for his groceries. One good turn deserves another, after all. What’s more, I know he is to be trusted to keep to his promise to post me a cheque immediately.

The business with my phone annoyed me somewhat. All I had done was take a couple of photos, all right maybe four, but that should not drain the battery. Besides, the same thing happened yesterday. My phone spent a good part of the day switched off as we were on a plane. When I switched it off it had about 80% battery. When I switched it on again to contact my daughter on our arrival in Manchester it had only 10%. Where did the other 70% go?

There is an element of mystery about this, and indeed about all things mobile phone related, that always escapes me. Anyway, my daughter, something of a technology witch, took a look at my phone, fiddled with various things in “settings” and hoped she had solved the problem. This is a generational thing - she has skills I never acquired! But then, I have other skills!

As for the phone and its battery life, only time will tell!

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Back in soggy Manchester!

The sun was actually shining and the sky was mostly blue in Vigo when we got in a taxi at 8.30 this morning to go to the bus station to catch a bus the Porto airport and wend our way homewards. It wasn’t forecast to last for the whole day but it was there - a welcome break from the grey and soggy, even if only for a few hours. It is November after all!

We drove through some patches of mist or fog on our way to Porto but mostly it managed to stay reasonably fine. About time too!

As we got into the queue for boarding our Ryanair flight I reflected in the strange reversal brought about by the airline’s baggage policy changes. It used to be that “priority boarding”, permitting travellers to take two pieces of cabin baggage on board, was the short queue and “non-priority boarding”, for those cheapskates like us who stuffed all our stuff into our one permitted 10k, regulation-size little suitcase, was the longer queue. With the excuse of speeding up take-off and preventing the free-for-all competition for locker space in the cabin, Ryanair’s “non-priority” boarders can now only take one small piece of hand luggage onto the plane and it must fit under the seat. Consequently almost everyone now tries to book early enough to get one of the “priority” places. The queue sizes have been reversed. I was amused to watch people arrive and join the shorter queue only to discover that they needed to be at the end of the queue that went almost all the way down into Porto town. Of course, you could simply pay the extra fee and check a bigger bag into the hold, which ironically enough automatically gets you onto “priority”. You pays your money and you takes your choice!

There was plenty of time for queue observation as we were called into our queues and then stood for ages and ages until the plane eventually turned up. We set off at least 25 minutes late but the pilot must have pedalled really hard for were only about 10 minutes late into Manchester.

Manchester airport is just about the unfriendliest place imaginable. At least Terminal 3 is. At least for dropping off and picking up. (Although, on reflection, inside Terminal 3 departures there are fewer shops and food facilities than in terminal 1. Is this because it caters for budget airlines?) I remember the occasion when my daughter and I went to meet my Spanish sister and her daughter and grandson at Terminal 3 and got thoroughly lost. They have tried to improve matters but it is far from perfect. Today our daughter was collecting us by car and for the sake of speed, and for saving money on the charge form time spent in a vehicle in the airport compound, she suggested picking us up where she had dropped us off a couple of weeks back. Thus, confusion would be avoided as we all knew where to go.

But, no! This was not possible. Large unfriendly notices warned that this was a “drop off” zone and that if you tried to “pick up” in the “drop off” zone you would be liable to a £100 fine!!! So we phoned her and warned her that you had to go to the designated Terminal 3 “Pick Up Area”, following the directional arrows. For arriving passengers this meant a five minutes walk. Well, five minutes for fast walkers like us. With plenty of scope for getting lost. Not to mention plenty of scope for getting wet in the torrential downpour! For drivers coming to collect they had to go into the multi-storey short-stay carpark and make their way round the ground floor and out into the open area, where we had eventually found a bus-shelter like construction of metal and perspex, large enough for about half a dozen soggy pass, most of whom were on their mobiles explaining to their lift-providers where they were!! Given that Manchhester is one of the rainiest places in the country you might have though a more sheltered system could have been arranged.

Eventually we found each other and set off in the pouring rain and heavy traffic. A journey that should have taken maybe three quarters of an hour took a good two hours. Progress was slowed by standing water on the roads. Some roads were closed because of flooding. Again, one might have expected newish road systems in such a rainy area to have better drainage systems.

And we thought it had been dull and damp in the north west of the Iberian Peninsula!! We’re back!

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The hummus crisis. Unknown (to me anyway) politicians. Influencers. And rich men.

When I retired from teaching and we came and spent a couple of years living in Vigo we were unable to find hummus anywhere here. My Spanish sister down in the south of the country tells me that her sister in law, yoga expert and something of an alternative lifestyle enthusiast, used to make her own, long before eating hummus was a trendy thing, but whenever I tried to explain to people here in the north what I was looking for they were mystified. Mind you, that does not surprise me given that Galicians seem to be extremely Galician in their eating habits - lots of fish and shellfish, the best potatoes in the world (in their opinion), greens (grelos) and cocido for a special treat.

Nowadays you can buy an excellent hummus from the Mercadona supermarket nextdoor to our flats. How things change! You can also buy cold coffee-flavoured drinks to take out and packs of unappetising-looking sliced-bread sandwiches turkey, cheese and spinach was the combination that caught my attention this morning. Who buys these things?

However, the UK I read is still one of Europe’s biggest consumers of this delicious dip. And now there has been a hummus crisis with supplies to certain UK supermarkets being recalled because of a salmonella scare blamed according to the supplier on contamination from “an ingredient supplied by an unnamed third party”.

Is it very childish of me to be amused by the fact that the suppliers of the recalled hummus involved in this crisis are called “Zorba Delicacies”?

And the UK now has a new Speaker in the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. At the point when I read that Chris Bryant and Lindsay Hoyle were supposedly front runners for the position I had to look up both of them! Am I getting out of touch?

I read a lot about “influencers”, social media personalities whose instagram and twitter accounts are followed by many and their ideas presumably copied by their followers. One of the anomalies of modern life. Now parents are being warned of a fresh online threat to children from social media influencers who look real and post photos of themselves with other celebrities, but are in fact digital creations of the advertising industry. How are you supposed to work out what is real and what is not?

 “Advertising industry sources said that within two or three years, artificial intelligence would allow virtual influencers to generate their own fresh Instagram posts using machine learning to analyse data about followers and work out how best to manipulate them.”

I find this science-fiction type stuff worrying and frightening. Artificial intelligence is taking over! I am a lot happier in a world where all I have to worry about is the group of women sitting in the corner of the bar speaking all at the same time and much too loudly and excitedly. At least they are real people. 

In this article Owen Jones writes about the need to get rid of the billionaires. Not really self-made rich men at all but inheritors of wealth and exploiters of seriously underpaid workers, there are too many of them and we need to remove them  An excellent sentiment, for how many cars and dwellings does one person need? How much money does one person need?

Putting an end to greed is a fine idea but how to do it?

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Back in Vigo. Photos at last!

Back in Vigo, after some preferential treatment by the driver who took us and four or five other people to Porto from Figueira. He discovered that nobody actually needed to be at Porto airport, knew that we had the chance of a bus from Avenida Aliados at 1.30 and therefore made us his priority. We caught the bus, by the skin of our teeth after almost getting locked in the loo at Aliados MacDonalds, and we were back in Vigo by late afternoon.

Time for some Figueira photos at last:

 Sunshine on the autumn colours in the trees.

Crazy Figueira pavements.

Fabulous fungus.

Casinos old and new in Figueira.

Great gateways.

Rapunzel’s Castle - aka Ingenheiro Silva’s castle. 

And work being done on the building next door to it.

Going to the lighthouse.

The Atlantic

An excellent “perfumaria” turned into a pub.

The actual eponymous Figueira da Foz - the Fig Tree on the Estuary.