Friday, 31 July 2020

Summer. Locked down again! Graduate employment. Preserving old Spanish.

So summer came back with a vengeance this morning. 20 degrees already when I went out for a run first, by midday it was up to 28 degrees. All my plans to run early and get the day started early went awry because my son phoned me as I ran through the village and I stopped and sat on a wall to talk to him for 20 minutes, just catching up on what everyone is up to at his end of the country. Then on my way home I met an old friend and stopped for another long chat. Before I knew it half the morning had gone.

But it was a fine morning with some good photo opportunities, including a basking blackbird.

I never imagined blackbirds, or indeed birds of any kind, sunbathing but there he was, bold as brass, catching some vitamin D!

Greater Manchester is back in lockdown, well a lockdown of sorts. No visits into people’s houses or gardens, even if it’s your family member’s garden, but it seems that you can still sit in a pub garden, sitting feet away from people you do ‘t know and who have been in contact with who knows what. It’s a topsy turvy world.

So my daughter and I planned an “adventure”, walking along the Donkey Line bridle path, where the trees provide some shade, and stopping for the small people to play in the park.

Apparently there has been a surge in graduate applications for teacher training courses, possibly because of the uncertain employment situation for graduates at present. “The pandemic has caused unparalleled disruption to every area of education. However, there appears to be a silver lining in the form of a big boost to the teaching profession in England. These trends are welcome, given the government has fallen short of its recruitment targets for a number of years,” said Joshua Fullard, senior researcher at the Education Policy Institute.

Optimist, cheerful Gavin Williamson, the education secretary for England, said: “Teaching has always been an attractive career, but it’s good to see a continued surge in the number of people looking to enter the classroom.”

However, Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said trainees who qualified during the lockdown were struggling to find positions for the next school year, as turnover is lower among current teachers. More topsy turvy world stuff!

Maybe the magic money tree could make it possible to employ more teachers, this providing employment, reducing teacher-pupil ratios and helping to increase the chances of deprived children catching up with the more privileged. Just an idea! 

Here’s something I read in yesterday’s paper:-

“Five centuries after they were expelled from Spain and eight decades after they were almost annihilated in the Holocaust, the small community of Sephardic Jews that lives on in the Greek city of Thessaloniki is looking to its past to help safeguard its future. On Tuesday, Thessaloniki’s Jewish community signed a deal with the Spanish government’s Instituto Cervantes to create a small centre where people will be taught modern Spanish while also learning about Sephardic culture and the exiles’ still-spoken language, Ladino.
Many Spanish Jews came to Thessaloniki, which was then part of the Ottoman empire, following their expulsion by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. The community endured and thrived over the centuries but came close to total destruction when the Nazis deported and murdered more than 90% of the city’s Jewish inhabitants.”

Now, years ago in the college where I worked we had a former Spanish teacher who worked as examinations officer to supplement his early retirement pension. In another bit of his life, for some reason, he went inspecting prisons. Quite how he was qualified for this was never made clear-but on one occasion he was sent off to Turkey to look at their prisons, in connection with Turkey’s bid to join the EU. While there, out and about one day, he overheard a conversation in odd but recognisable Spanish. Or perhaps he saw a notice in Spanish in a book shop window.

Whatever the actual circumstances, he got into conversation with the members of a Sephardic Jewish community there, still speaking the Spanish of Miguel de Cervantes, still understandable to a modern day Spanish speaker. This gives the lie, by the way, to those who say that Cervantes is unreadable; that is just lazy thinking. It takes a bit of work - I have done it - as does reading Shakespeare, but it’s worth the effort in the case of both writers. Presumably the printing press helped set the language in stone (in ink?) to some extent, give or take a few tweaks along the way.

 Fascinating stuff!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Some things to think about or worry about!

A friend of mine is getting very stressed about not being able to visit her aged mother in Germany.since she retired my friend had got into the habit of popping over to Hamburg every six weeks or so to see her mother and also to stock up on various German delicacies, particularly bread. (Personally, I don’t understand quite why she needs to stock up on German bread when we have perfectly nice bread here. I suppose it’s a matter of having grown up with a certain kind of bread and maybe feeling the need for a link with home. Chacun à son gout!) Since lockdown she has had one flight after another cancelled. Her most recent booking for early September has now also been cancelled by EasyJet and there won’t be another until October, if then. Friends have suggested going to stay with her daughter and catching a flight from a London airport but, while she has steeled herself for air travel, she really does not want to do all the public transport involved in travelling from London. Oh, boy! This is what foreign travel is turning into!

Dognapping is apparently becoming a problem. Lots of people have acquired dogs during lockdown. For some it’s been a matter of company while others have used it as a reason to go out for walks. I have no problem going out for walks without a dog but maybe if I lived in a city centre I would feel differently about it. Presumably there has not been a shortage of dogfood to go along with the shortage of loo roll and of baking ingredients. But now the price of dogs has sky-rocketed. Silly prices are being asked for pets. What is more, dogs are being stolen especially pedigree dogs and among them especially fancy breed like cockapoo. Keep an eye on your dogs, folks!

Here’s something else to worry about:- plastic.

“Small crustaceans can fragment microplastics into pieces smaller than a cell within 96 hours, a study has shown. Until now, plastic fragmentation has been largely attributed to slow physical processes such as sunlight and wave action, which can take years and even decades. Environmental scientists at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland studying the 2cm-long amphipod Gammarus duebeni found that microplastic beads were not only ingested but were also fragmented incredibly quickly into nanoplastics.”

When I first read the headline to this article I thought it was perhaps good news, that it meant that plastic could biodegrade after all. But, no! It means that the tiny plastic particle can get into the food chain more easily. Unless we reduce our plastic use we will all end up with plastic in our bodies. Not a good idea!

And then there is the Channel Tunnel. We might be leaving Europe but the Chunnel still exists. Now the Brexit negotiations have another stumbling block. The EU wants the Tunnel to remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the event of any kind of legal problems. Brexiteers are, of course, looking for a different system, “away from European control”. Just another problem that perhaps should have been thought about before the referendum!

I read a report about our Prime Minister Boris repeatedly using inaccurate and misleading figures that exaggerated the government’s record on poverty. This comes from the UK statistics watchdog.

“The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) was responding to a complaint by the End Child Poverty Coalition that the prime minister had three times used official poverty data “selectively, inaccurately and, ultimately, misleadingly”.
Speaking at prime ministers’ questions and in an interview with the BBC, Johnson said the number of families or children in poverty had fallen by 400,000 since 2010.
The coalition of poverty charities, campaign groups and unions said this number, along with other poverty statistics used by the PM, had no basis in fact.”

Is it a case of pulling numbers out of the air to support an argument during a debate? Or does the government consciously mislead with false statistics. Here are some more examples from the article I read.

  • Coronavirus testing In June, Matt Hancock was criticised for his use of Covid-19 testing figures. The chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, accused him of painting a picture that was “far from complete and comprehensible”. The health secretary had promised 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. To reach that target, test kits put in the post were included – even if they were never returned. Hancock’s aim, Norgrove said, seemed to have been to “show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding”. 
  • Taking back control of £350m Boris Johnson, while serving as foreign secretary, was reprimanded for a “clear misuse of official statistics” over a Daily Telegraph article in which he repeated the debunked Brexit campaign claim that the UK would “take back control of roughly £350m per week” after Brexit. Norgrove said he was “surprised and disappointed”, while Johnson accused the statistics chief of a “wilful distortion” of the article.
  • Rough sleeping In April 2019, the UK Statistics Authority said government claims on rough sleeping were not to be trusted until ministers explained how some figures may have become skewed. The government boasted of cutting rough sleeping in England by 2% in 2018. But Norgrove said official figures from that year should be discounted until concerns over claims of deliberate underreporting were addressed. 
  • School funding The Department for Education was involved in a running battle in 2018 with the UK Statistics Authority, which criticised the DfE for its “potentially misleading” claims over school funding and repeated failures to correct problems identified by the authority. 
 Just a few things to think about!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Observations while out and about. Photos. Masked fashion. Food tsars.

Ever since I had panniers attached to my bike I have been cycling to the market on a Wednesday morning instead of walking. This confuses my poor Fitbit. When I walk there and back it counts up aver 10,000 steps but when I cycle it only counts up about 2,500. This is fine until it tries to convert this into number of kilometres covered. It can only convert numbers of steps into kilometres. So on a bike the journey to Uppermill and back, including some to-ing and fro-in around market stalls, is less than two kilometres. I always thought it worked on some kind of GPS system but apparently not. Another bit of technology which defeats me!

I have to stop and rearrange my shopping in the panniers before I set off for home. There is always the possibility that unbalanced panniers might tip me over sideways as I go round a corner! And then there is the question of the bread I have bought. I usually buy enough loaves to be able to put some in the freezer and thus have fresh bread during the rest of the week and not just on Wednesdays. The first time I carried the bread in the panniers we ended up with flat bread. Okay, I exaggerate a a little but it had certainly lost some of it’s rounded form.

Stopping in the park to rearrange the shopping I snapped some pictures of the river, looking picturesque.

And the horse chestnut tree appears to have conkers already. I ask again, is autumn coming early this year? I have already spotted blackberries ripening when I am sure they should still be green until the end of August. I usually pick them in the first half of September.

Strange times!

Mask wearing is still not 100% in the shops and market at Uppermill. Interesting phenomena can be observed. Macho blokes stop and tie scarves around their faces, something which on a sunny morning like today must be much more uncomfortable than a mask. And since the advice is to wash your mask after a shopping trip, does the same apply to scarves tied round the face? Some ladies appear to be coordinating their masks with their outfits. Very nice, if a little over the top. A stall has popped up on the market selling fans, the handheld variety, presumably in the hope that we will have a heatwave, and masks in a range of patterned fabrics. Having a fabric mask to match each outfit might perhaps deter people from using one-time disposable masks and throwing them away at the side of the road or bridle path after use!

On the subject of coordination, how about this from a house just up the road from ours. Not everyone can match their garden to their front door!

We seem to have a food “tsar”, appointed by the government to lead a landmark review of Britain’s food system to determine a national strategy. He’s Henry Dimbleby - yes, he appears to be one of those famous Dimblebys. They must have a finger in every pie. He was co-founder of the restaurant chain Leon and his other was a cookery writer, which I suppose makes him as qualified as any other restaurateur to advise us on what to eat. I do wonder, however, how being Eton-educated and reading Physics and Philosophy at Oxford equips you for such a role. Might it not be better to go to someone who has studied or taught cookery and catering and nutrition? Just a thought.

In an interview he said:

“Basically, we have been putting on weight since the 50s so our will power hasn’t had a sudden collapse, we’ve just gradually put on weight consistently since the 50s, and I think it’s (my note: there seems to be a word missing here - necessary? hard?) for us to lose weight but the government can make it much easier. We have a tendency to want to eat foods that are high in fat and sugar and those foods are everywhere and marketed at us.”

Quite so. Thinking back to growing up in the fifties, I can remember the normality of having breakfast, elevenses, lunch, an afternoon snack, tea (or dinner depending on where and how you lived) and maybe some supper before going to bed. What we didn’t do, however, was eat constantly on the bus, walking down the street, sitting at our desks and so on.

Asked if he has diet advice for Boris Johnson, Henry Dimbleby replied:

“I met him when I was doing the school food plan a while ago [it was published in 2013] and he told me then he was on ‘project whippet’, which was his attempt to lose weight at that point. I’m not sure what he’s calling this attempt but I wouldn’t want to give the PM particular advice on his diet. I’m sure he’s got people far more qualified than me to do that.”

There you go.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Holidays! Set times for holidays! Things that might spread the virus again.

News reports tell us that the transport secretary will cut short his holiday in Spain and return to the UK after being caught out by the return of coronavirus quarantine measures for the country. Quite what he will do about it when he gets back is a bit of a mystery to me. Surely he could have finished off his holiday and the returned home. As Parliament is on summer holiday he wouldn’t have to worry about his employer penalising him for not turning up because he was in quarantine.

I have often wondered about Parliament taking a summer holiday, as if nothing of importance could happen during the summer months. Does it perhaps date back to the days when MPs were mostly landowners? They would have wanted to go back to their estates to oversee the harvest. As far as I know they have never got the stick that teachers always have for having a six week break in the summer months. But it seems like an odd anomaly in an age when firms no longer have set company holidays.

I remember the first school I worked at having the Oldham Wakes Holiday in the last two weeks of June. This dated back to a time when most people worked in the textile mills which closed for two weeks in summer for the machinery to be cleaned and serviced. So Oldham took its holidays at one time, Rochdale at a slightly different time and Bury, for example, at yet another. And seaside places like Blackpool catered accordingly! But we no longer have a set holiday period. Hence the kerfuffle there has sometimes been about people taking their children on holiday during term time. Other countries like France and Spain still have that moment when everyone sets off on holiday. Paris goes quiet and traffic reports talk about “le grand départ”.

According to Giles Tremlett writing about Spain’s coronavirus spike this holiday period will perhaps just make things worse. Catalonia and Aragón, and possibly Madrid, are seeing more cases. “Yet now”, writes Giles Tremlett, “Spain is entering a holiday period when people will scatter from cities and mix at beach resorts before returning home late in August. There is potential, in other words, for things to get worse.” Because that is what they do, leave the cities for a second hime by the sea or in a country place. My sister in Andalucía sees a summer influx of people from Madrid and Seville. And a young friend of mine has recently been with his partner to spend time close to Samil beach in Vigo where his partner’s family have a house. 

Giles Tremlett also highlights another problem in Spain:- “Meanwhile the migrant workers who pick Spanish fruit and vegetables live in sometimes crowded, shabby and abusive conditions, which have long gone ignored. Those conditions are a perfect Covid-19 breeding ground. Since many labourers are young and fit, they are often asymptomatic ; they follow the harvests from soft fruits in Aragon and Catalonia, to citrics in Valencia and olives in Andalucía. Itinerant workforces are key to Spain’s rural economy. Yet nobody saw it coming.”

And so the virus could be spread around again! Maybe we are right to be quarantining travellers.

The radio programme “Call you and yours” is just now advising those who MUST have a holiday to go for a package holiday because if quarantine measures suddenly mess up your holiday it is more protected than an independently organised trip. One chap on the radio, just back from Spain, talks about having advised young people he spoke to there to enjoy their holiday and worry about the problem as the return date approaches, rather than rush home one or two days after getting there.

As for us, here we are, still in Saddleworth, seeing a limited number of people, not even rushing to the pub or the restaurant.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 27 July 2020

Weather. Quarantine policing. Obesity matters. Recognising mask wearers. Fires.

Yesterday we took a walk under gloomy skies, seriously threatening rain.

During the night the rain moved in. And the river filled up again. It should perhaps be called the River Yoyo as it goes up and down so much.

I debated running but it was still raining heavily when I got up. And so I just got dressed and donned my wellies and waterproof to do a brisk walk round the almost certainly soggy path round the back of the village. When I set off I thought that perhaps I had been mistaken as the rain seemed to have stopped. Fifteen minutes up the road, though, proved that I had taken the right decision as the rain was back. And the puddles on the bridle path definitely demanded wellies!

Debate continues on the rights and wrongs of imposing quarantine on people flying in from Spain. France might be added to Spain before we know it. Life gets complicated.

Another big question is how the quarantine will be policed. Will anyone check up that travellers from Spain, or elsewhere, actually put themselves in quarantine? It’s the same problem as the face masks in shops question. Shop assistants are not really the right people to make sure customers wear masks. It’s very much relying on the goodwill of the people.

One problem with mask wearing is the disguise factor. As I scuttled around the local coop store looking for spinach leave someone greeted me by name. I looked over. All I could see was a man with a mask and a flat cap pulled down almost over his eyes - it was pouring with rain outside as he came in. He pushed his cap up so that I could see his eyes and I recognised an old friend we have not seen since pre-lockdown. We have been in touch as he ended up in hospital with the dreaded virus and we have been checking up on his recovery.

Were we having visitors, he wanted to know. Well, not too many at one time and with a certain amount of social distancing, yes! So he might call round for coffee and ginger biscuits later today. 

Maybe we should skip the ginger biscuits in light of this bit of news reporting:-

“No 10 launched the plan on Monday with a social media video of Johnson explaining how he had “wanted to lose weight for ages and ages”, and had been “way overweight” when he was in intensive care suffering from Covid-19. Johnson said he now began his day by running with the Downing Street dog, Dilyn, saying: “The great thing about going for a run at the beginning of the day is nothing could be worse for the rest of the day.”

The government proposals were, he said, “just trying to help people a little bit to bring their weight down – not in an excessively bossy or nannying way, I hope”. He added: “We want this one to be really sympathetic to people, to understand the difficulties that people face with their weight, the struggles that many, many people face to lose weight, and just to be helpful.””

He doesn't sound very enthusiastic about exercising though, does he?

There you go. Is it time to nationalise Weight Watchers?

We are seeing a certain amount of criticism of China for its handling of the virus. Here’s an extract from an article:

“Last December patients started turning up in Wuhan’s hospitals with pneumonia symptoms that didn’t respond to treatment. Doctors were quick to send samples for genetic sequencing which soon revealed a coronavirus closely resembling Sars. Chinese scientists warned the new virus was also contagious, spread by respiratory droplets and on surfaces.

But both in Wuhan and in Beijing, health authorities sought to minimise the story, first insisting there was no reason to suspect the virus was transmitted by humans and later that the risk was low.

Frontline doctors didn’t agree. They tried to warn each other on social media, but were swiftly silenced, some forced to sign police confessions that they had spread misinformation.”

Now it seems to me that it’s all very well to say that China did not act fast enough. In fact, they very quickly shared information with the rest of the world. But before we accuse China of delaying tactics and not listening to the scientists, we need to consider how countries of Europe, including very obviously the UK, delayed instituting measures to contain and control the virus until far too late because of economic matters. Thoughts about pots calling kettles black come to mind!

On last night’s news I heard that there have been wildfires in central Portugal. This is a part of the Iberian peninsula that is regularly affected by wildfires. Do we need anything else going on at the moment? The problem is made worse by high temperatures at present. I would happily send them some of our rain!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Facing change. Post-travel quarantine. Singing. Education. And protesters.

“Uh, oh! There is something wrong here!” These were the words of our eldest granddaughter as she walked into the living room yesterday. She hasn’t been in there for a while. Her recent visits have all been via the back door and straight into the basement kitchen. In the meantime we have rearranged the furniture in the living room, giving us easier access to our vinyl collection and providing us with a splendid nostalgia-fest. But our granddaughter is very much change-averse. It took her a good while to adapt to our having got rid of the old three-piece suite and now we have moved around the replacement furniture as well. Life is full of trauma for her. However, we did manage to go out for a walk together to get over the shock. So it goes.

Out in the wider virus-afflicted world news, British holidaymakers returning from Spain will now have to quarantine for two weeks because of a spike in the virus over there. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will have to do so when he returns. After all, we’re all in this together. Ironically it is quite possible that some of the spiking is because of Spain opening up to tourism. In fact it is likely that wherever British travellers go to, believing it to be along a nice safe air corridor or air bridge, might suddenly be an unsafe country by the time they return home.

There has been much criticism of this rapid-action decision. However, I find myself in the weird situation of backing the government’s decision on quarantine - how do I cope with agreeing with the Tories? Here is a comment I noticed on a post about this:- “It is bad timing because most people travel this time of year with kids as schools break up”. Really! Perhaps someone should explain timing to the virus!

If we are monitoring the state of things in places we might visit, we must be prepared to make quick decisions. We still don’t know enough about this thing and it’s really no good pretending we are back to normal. Forget being back to normal by Christmas, Mr Johnson is now saying the middle of next year. Oh, boy!

Consequences of the virus-crisis continue to pop up.

Research is going on to investigate the safety or otherwise of singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments. It’s all to do with droplets being carried through the air. I have never joined a choir myself, having always been told that my ability to hold a tune is somewhat deficient, but I have friends who are missing that leisure activity. As someone pointed out, however, if singing is deemed dangerous, what about football fans watching a football match, on TV in a pub for example? Each time a goal is scored and fans cheer and yell out “YEEESSSS!” droplets will be shared.

Then there is the reported middle class flight from state schools to private. There has seemingly been a surge in applications for private schools because of fears that state school pupils will have fallen behind during the home schooling time.

“Many affluent middle-class families sending their children to state schools have become aware and often concerned about the digital divide between state and private sector,” said Diane Reay, emeritus professor of education at Cambridge University. “Fleeing to the private sector is an easier option than campaigning for state schools to be properly resourced and equipped, which is what should be happening. The state sector has always been the poor relation in education – around 25% of education spending goes on the 7% who are privately educated – but more middle-class flight will impoverish the sector more.”

Well said, Diane Reay!

Seismic stations all over the planet recorded what they refer to as an unprecedented wave of silence spreading around the world in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As planes stopped flying, some factories closed down and people stopped driving along motorways for hours every day the world went quiet. “You can almost see it as a wave,” said Stephen Hicks, a seismologist who worked on the study at Imperial College, London. “You can see the seismic quietening spread over time, starting in China in late January and then moving on to Italy and beyond in March and April.” A quieter world means closer monitoring of signs of potential earthquakes and suchlike.

Another thing for us to think about on a global level.

From news reports from the USA comes this rather disturbing photo of Black Lives Matter protesters in Louisville, Kentucky.

“In Kentucky meanwhile, hundreds of armed, predominantly black, activists demanded justice for Breonna Taylor during peaceful demonstrations in Louisville that drew counter-protesters from a white militia group. Police closed streets and set up barricades to keep the two groups apart as tensions remained high in a town where protests have flared for months over the death of Taylor, a black woman killed when police burst into her apartment in March.

By the time black activists dressed in black fatigues arrived in the heart of downtown Saturday afternoon, most of the white militia members had already left. Police in full riot geared looked on.

Earlier in the day, three people were accidentally shot at a park where black activists had gathered, police said. The victims, all of whom were members of the militia group, were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, police said.”

Scary stuff!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Hairdressers. Cycle paths. Adventures

This morning I had a phone call from my hairdresser. It was not quite, “Hey, we are open for business again.” More, “We have dealt with the backlog of all the people desperate to get their hair done as soon as possible and now have appointment slots available.” So basically, they were touting for business. Maybe central Manchester is still quieter than they would like. But it was nice to hear from them

As for me, I am still working on convincing myself that it looks a little as though I have blonde highlights. And then I see a photo one of the older granddaughters has taken and well I have to admit that those are grey roots you can see there. So I asked them to pass on my regards to the stylist who always does my hair and told them that I’ll get in touch once I have decided that I feel confident about public transport again. I have only been to places accessible on foot or on my bike. Somehow I don’t think my cycling, even though my ability to get up slopes is improving by the day, is really up to a ride from home to Manchester just yet.

At the height, or perhaps that should be in the depths, of lockdown, there was much talk about all our towns and cities being made more cycle friendly. Peter Walker was writing about bikes in the Guardian the other day.

Headline: “UK plans to boost cycling and walking under threat, say campaigners”. The organisation Bikeisbest apparently organised a survey which found that 77% of the country supports changes to make the country more cycle-friendly. More generally, 65% of people said they wanted streets redesigned to protect pedestrians and cyclists. It found 51% would cycle more if this happened, while 33% said they would drive less if street layouts were changed. People also want streets to be made safer for children to play in, without what would normally be quiet streets becoming rat-runs for motorists.

However, motorists’ lobby groups have managed to get proposed changes cancelled in a number of places around the country. BikeIsBest’s Adam Tranter said: “When 20mph streets were first proposed, pro-motoring groups were whipped up into a frenzy, just as they are today. In 2017, data showed that the proportion opposed or strongly opposed to residential 20mph limits was just 10%. The same is happening here with measures to enable more people to switch their journeys to cycling and walking.”

Other factors come into play, of course. If more and more people cycle instead of using public transport, then bus services come under threat. And for many people cycling now in the summer time, even the rather damp summertime we are having at the moment is a quite different matter to cycling to work in midwinter when the rain is a lot colder and feels much wetter.

In the meantime, I shall continue to cycle along the bridle paths around here. I notice a big increase in families cycling together and youngsters aged probably between 9 and 13 out and about unaccompanied on their bikes on these safe paths. My daughter and I reflected yesterday that people who live on the housing estate just near the start of the Donkey Line bridle path have an ideal situation for sending their youngsters out on their bikes with the instruction to stay on the Donkey Line and not to venture onto the main roads. And so ramps for a bit of stunt riding have been built on the approach to the Donkey Lone and a rope swing has appeared half way along the bridle path. Some kids are rediscovering old-fashioned, traditional play activities.

We walked the Donkey Line yesterday on our family “adventure”, heading eventually for the park in Uppermill where we had a bit of a picnic. The sun came out and made the bridle path a very photogenic place.

And the canal looked rather good too.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 24 July 2020

Mask wearing again. Empty gestures? Advertising. Speaking your mind.

So mandatory mask-wearing comes into force today. On the way back from my run this morning I popped into the local coop store:- about half the customers wore masks, me included, no staff wore masks. Cashiers were behind screens, as they have been for ages now but other staff were just wandering around the small premises unprotected. Bonkers! But a consequence of mixed messages.

Our great leader Johnson has been to Scotland, supposedly to boost our unitedness. There he had his photo taken holding two enormous lobsters or something similar which struck me as ofd as he won’t take a knee because he doesn’t like empty gestures. However he will clap for carers and the NHS but not give them a pay rise. More mixed messages!

Junk food ads are to be banned before 9.00 pm. Word is out that despite the Tories’ dislike for the nanny state Mr Johnson realised that his weight was a factor in his suffering from coronavirus. Does this mean he is susceptible to advertising for junk food and cannot resist sending for something tasty but bad for you from MacDo or Burger King? Will such adverts also be banned from the end of bus shelters? What about adverts for gambling? I have no idea whether such adverts appear before the 9. 

Here are a couple of things, sort of related to each other.

First of all J K Rowling:- “A news website aimed at British schoolchildren has agreed to pay an unsubstantiated amount after it implied that JK Rowling’s comments on gender caused harm to trans people. The Day, which is recommended by the Department for Education and is designed to prompt teenagers to discuss current affairs, faced legal action from the Harry Potter author after publishing an article entitled: “Potterheads cancel Rowling after trans tweet”.
In the article, which some schools issued as homework, children were told that Rowling had objected to the use of the expression “people who menstruate” in place of “women”. It also referenced objections to Rowling’s recent comments from Harry Potter actors such as Daniel Radcliffe.”

And then there is Jenni Murray back in 2017:- “Off the airwaves, she courted controversy in 2017 with an article in the Sunday Times magazine in which she questioned the claims of transgender women to be considered “real women”. The article was headlined: “Jenni Murray: be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a real woman.” She wrote: “I know that in writing this article I am entering into the most controversial and, at times, vicious, vulgar and threatening debate of our day. I’m diving headfirst into deep and dangerous waters.” The response was swift, with the campaigns director of Stonewall condemning her views as hurtful. She was then forced to pull out of an Oxford University talk following a backlash over her comments.”

So it’s not just me who finds it all a bit disturbing.

That’s all. I am posting late, having been out adventuring with some grandchildren.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

When is a shop not a shop? When it’s a fast food outlet? Some quotations. Fires. Museums. Cognitive testing.

On the radio news just now they are talking about face mask wearing again. The main thrust is the matter of takeaways, ie food shops. Now what is the difference between a generic shop and a food shop. At the moment you don’t need to wear a face mask if you eat in a restaurant but you need to give your details in case they need to contact you in the event of someone having the virus. Surely if you pop into a sandwich shop to buy something for lunch then you should wear a face mask. The problem is that in some places you can sit down and eat on the premises. If so, do they need to take note of your contact details. Oh, dear! Another little bit of muddled thinking and nobody working out the details.

And it all comes into force tomorrow!!

But, as I think the TV programme Have I got News For You pointed out:

“MPs go off on summer recess as there’s not much happening and everything is pretty much under control.”

All sorts of things seem to be going on however, with reports on this and that.

Here’s a quotation from before the last election that Phil passed on to me:

“It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected. It’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once it’s already happened.” (US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, June 2019)  

Just something to think about...

And we worry about Russian interference!! Oh, wait a minute - Americans speak our language... don’t they?

And here’s something from Keir Starmer:

“Ten months ago the Prime Minister received a report that concluded Russia poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security. Boris Johnson had no answer when I asked why he sat on that report for so long.”

Indeed! I suppose Keir Starmer never sits on any reports.

Now, what’s going on with France and fires at the moment? A fire in a flat in Grenoble ended up with two brothers dropping from a third floor window - the ten year old apparently dropping his three year old brother and then climbing over the edge of the balcony and letting go himself. My source of info doesn’t say why two little boys were alone in a flat but I am quite impressed by the older child’s togetherness.

As museums and art galleries struggle to work out how to keep going in our new normality, I came across this:

“Museum curators have engaged in an online battle of the bottoms, assembling on Twitter to present their most captivating behinds, as part of a campaign designed to engage would-be museum visitors who, with many galleries closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, cannot ogle the buns in person. The #CuratorBattle began in April, but it was June’s theme, #BestMuseumBum, that has had people enthralled for weeks. Soon, categories blossomed to include: bee bottoms, Tudor bums, angular side bum, divine booty, tessellated maenad posteriors, weaponised bum, spectacularly tattooed behind and potato-shaped animal butts.” 

There you go, just a bit of imagination needed.

Meanwhile, over the other side of the Atlantic, one man getting on in years, Donald Trump, has been suggesting that another man getting on in years, Joe Biden, should take a cognitive test to see if he is really sharp enough to be POTUS. I was amused by this report about the “difficult” cognitive test:-

“Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has insisted that a cognitive test he took recently was “difficult”, using the example of a question in which the patient is asked to remember and repeat five words. “Person, woman, man, camera, TV,” Trump explained, saying that listing the words in order was worth “extra points”, and that he found the task easy. “They said nobody gets it in order, it’s actually not that easy. But for me it was easy. And that’s not an easy question,” he told Fox news medical analyst and New York University professor of medicine Marc K Siegel.

Trump said that a year ago he asked former White House physician Ronny Jackson whether there was “some kind of cognitive test” he could take, he said, “Because I’ve been hearing about it. Because I want to shut these people up. They’re fake news. They’re making up stories.’”

Trump went on to explain the test, saying that after several questions, the doctor returned to the list of words, asking Trump to repeat them. “And you go, ‘person, woman, man, camera, TV.’ They say, ‘That’s amazing. How did you do that?’ ‘I do it because I have like a good memory? Because I’m cognitively there.’”

 Well, what can you say?

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!    

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Counting steps. Face masks. To visit or not to visit. A wealth of parcels, What’s in a name.

Today I cycled to Uppermill to do my market-shopping, a change to my normal routine made possible by adding panniers to my bike. It worked fine but revealed an oddity about Fitbit. If I walk to Uppermill and back my Fitbit clocks up well over 10,000 steps. The same distance cycled only comes to 2,500. How odd!

Face-masks are still not much in evidence around the shops in Uppermill. Presumably that will change in a few days’ time. Shopkeepers and stallholders seem not to feel the need to wear masks either. The lady who runs the delicatessen told me she has tried put face-masks over the last week and has not enjoyed the experience. So now she is ordering the full-face plastic visor. So it goes. On the radio they were talking about masks again, with a presenter saying she felt her voice was not as clear through a mask, not a problem I have come across over the last couple of months of mask wearing. Maybe the microphone makes a difference.

Our son should have been flying to Galicia on holiday today. That’s not happening and so he has a couple of weeks’ holiday at home. He has already NOT taken the family on holiday to Cornwall earlier this year. When he phoned this morning he discussed the possibility of visiting us, which would be nice, but in the end we all decided to put off such a family visit a bit longer.

Later I came across an article by someone whose parents live in Cornwall. Basically he was appealing to people not to go on holiday to Cornwall, although campsites and the like are seeing uncreased bookings as people opt for holidays in the UK. His argument was that places like St Ives do not have the medical facilities to cope with a sudden outbreak of the virus if brought by tourists. And the writer has opted not to go and visit his parents until life feels more secure again.

“It saddens me,” the journalist wrote, “to think of my family staying inside while the tourists indulge in a coronavirus-free fantasy, and it angers me that our reckless government is forcing people to choose between their health and livelihoods. My dad has been driving far out of town to walk his dog, but even there he meets tourists who “pay no attention whatsoever to social distancing”. His solution is to brandish his dog’s poop bags at arm’s length. As a deterrent it’s proving effective and, as a symbol, it sums up the whole show quite nicely.”

Interestingly his article also included this:

“Cornwall’s visitor economy is estimated to be worth around £2.4bn, and with Brexit coming it arguably needs that money more than ever. Last week, Cornwall council asked the government for £700m over the next decade to fill the gap left by the end of European Union funding.”

Now, which way did Cornwall vote in the referendum? I wonder!

People have been ordering lots of things online. Amazon’s parcel delivery service has done really well from it. The service has a series of TV adverts where parcel deliverymen express how happy they are to take these smiley-faced parcels to families where the children get really excited to receive them. I bet Jeff Bezos has a similar smile on his face as he is reported to have set a fresh record increasing his fortune by an additional $13bn (£10bn) in a single day to take his personal wealth to an unprecedented $189bn.

Wow! How much money does a person need? Enough to make him the richest person 8n the world obviously?

I hope he is paying his taxes at least.

On one of those TV programmes where they examine and comment on the news stories about to appear in the papers the next day I saw Anne Applebaum, writer of a book called “The Twilight of Democracy”. She reckons we could / should put an end to tax havens. They are not created by God, she says, but made by laws. So we can un-make them yes! That’s not going to happen. When people start talking about deadly sins, I find myself thinking that the worst of all is greed.

On balance, though, maybe it’s inventing systems like social media and IT systems that allow snooping and reporting on a personal and an international political level. We have accusations of Russian poking their way into elections and votes of various kinds in other countries; accusations of anti-semitism and racism based on stuff trawled from years ago on social media; and people’s lives are made miserable because of remarks online.

It’s not that I am totally agains social media. On the whole I really enjoy using it. But .... It’s like Pandora’s box: it’s been opened and we have to learn to live with it.

So here we go with stuff gleaned online. I commented recently on famous people giving their offspring strange names. Yesterday I found an interview with a singer called Jess Cornelius, not someone whose work I am not familiar with. Among other things she spoke about having a baby in the middle of the coronavirus crisis at the same time as releasing a new record. Both happened on the same day, in itself quite impressive. The baby is called Tui Pepper Cornelius-Hale. For me Tui is first and foremost a small town on the border of Galicia and Portugal - Tui on the Spanish side and Valença on the Portuguese side. Okay, people have been named after places before. Think of all the Chelseas there are around these days. Tui is also a holiday travel company; it’s not very usual to be called after such companies. But I was doing the baby a disservice. This little Tui is named after a native New Zealand bird whose white throat tufts and garbled but crystalline song are national motifs. Fair enough! But why is she also called Pepper?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Weather report. Wild flowers. Falling out of favour. Shopping patterns.

Today began with sunshine but went rapidly downhill by midmorning, leaving us with a thick covering of cloud. Not cold not raining but extremely dull. Still, there has been enough dry weather to make most of the mud puddles disappear. Even the huge puddle which has been causing me to do a detour on one of my running routes, so deep it really needed wellington boots, has dried up. No doubt it will only need one rainy day to reestablish itself.

At least we managed an early evening walk with sunshine yesterday, heading up the hill on one side of the valley to catch some rays before the sun went over the hill on the other side. An Italian friend of mine has been expressing her frustration at the weather in this country, where the sun decides to shine just in time for sunset.

On our wanderings we look out for unusual flowers and plants, unusual to us anyway. Some of these end up pressed - I have a collection of small notebooks with flowers and leaves collected on various trips. I even have an old-fashioned flower press, purchased for me from an antique/junk shop by my daughter-in-law. Lately the wild flowers go into small pots and jars and sit on the kitchen window ledge, contrasting nicely with rather monochrome green of the avocado and aloe vera plants that live there. And some are sketched into what began as a lockdown journal, which had a couple of days of writing and then morphed into a lockdown sketchbook.

Yesterday we collected a yellow, daisy-like flower that grows everywhere at the moment. A diligent search of the trust flower book identified it as common ragwort, a name that suggests that there might be another sort that is more high class. Apparently it is poisonous to livestock. Who knew? Probably my eldest granddaughter who has an app on her phone that identifies and gives information about plants. She claims to need this so that she can identify which plants her tortoise and the other inhabitants of her menagerie can eat! She may be a bit eccentric and obsessive but she seems to be mostly harmless.

Common ragwort apparently attracts moths and butterflies. This does not make people rush to plant it in their gardens, as seems to be the case with buddleia. The trusty flower book informs me that “In fact, it is the foodplant of the black-and-red cinnabar moth: sometimes its black-and yellow-barred caterpillars cover the plant, totally stripping the leaves.” And yes, the specimen we picked came complete with stripey caterpillar!

On the same page in the flower book I found common fleabane, again hinting at the existence of a more refined cousin somewhere. The name, fleabane, intrigued me, of course, as I have a possible eccentric love of words, this one suggesting a possible usefulness in getting rid of fleas. Its posh (ie Latin) name is pulicaria dysenterica, a name equally suggestive of possible usefulness. The trusty flower book came to the rescue again:

“Fleabane's common name comes from its former use as an incense to drive away insects. Other past uses include treatments for dysentery and unspecified ocular maladies.”

There you go!

In the more serious, grown-up world of the pandemic, it appears that england’s chief nurse was dropped from daily coronavirus briefings for, or at any rate just after, refusing to back Dominic Cummings. She has been very loyal in fact, stating that it is quite usual for people to be dropped from briefings. “It is indeed true I was dropped from the briefing, but that happened to many of my colleagues as well,” she said. However, one rather gets the impression that it could be a case of “if you are not totally with me, you are against me and deserve to be dropped from whatever is going on.”

So much for following the science!

I read that we are all buying more groceries in the UK. Well, probably not me personally but it seems that nationally sales rose at the fastest pace since records began in the three months to 12 July, as Britons shifted to making meals at home during the temporary closures of restaurants, cafes and workplaces in the coronavirus lockdown. I can understand the increase in purchases for stuff to make lunch with but why more food is needed for evening meals I don’t quite understand. Back when I was a working girl, we usually had a home cooked meal in the evening most days. And I know that my son and family follow the same pattern, although I also,know that my daughter’s partner had a tendency to pick up takeaway meals before he started working from home.

Apparently corner shops and small co-op stores like the one in our village have benefitted from people’s reluctance to go far from home during the lockdown, seeing an increase in shoppers. I certainly go to the co-op more frequently than I used to and for a greater range of goods, despite their curious lack of such things as All Bran and Yakult!

Some time soon I maybe should venture to the local Tesco store once again.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 20 July 2020

World Days! Playing or not playing rugby. Portents. Raves. Bold birds. Out and about.

We have friends in the Pontevedra Chess School, Escola Xadrez Pontevedra, and I follow their progress on Facebook. Consequently it has been brought to my notice that today is World Chess Day. Who even knew that such a day existed? Nowadays there is a World Day for almost everything. And if there is not an official one for whatever you choose to celebrate, I suggest that you invent one. Anyway, the chess organisation FIDE suggests that all chess players dedicate today to teaching someone else to play their game.

On the subject of games, World Rugby is considering banning trans women from playing women’s rugby because of significant safety concerns that have emerged following recent research, a decision that would make it the first international sports federation to go down that path. Another odd twist in the gender story, although personally I fail to understand why any women, trans or cis, would want to play rugby in the first place! This might, of course, simply because I do not understand rugby.

There is still no sign of the much talked about comet around here. A friend of mine sat up outdoors in the wind last night hoping to snap a photograph of the elusive astral body - to no avail. Comets always used to be taken as omens or harbingers of important events. I wonder what it means if you know there is a significant portent in the sky but you can’t actually see it because of the clouds. Maybe it’s rather like knowing you should take action about a pandemic but not being able to decide what to do for the best.

In the absence of festivals and live music events, some people are organising raves. The police have been having to break up gatherings of about 3000 people. Just part of the madness!

I thought I was back to running in the rain this morning but in the end I did not need my waterproof after all. The bridle laths are beginning to dry out again, which is good. On my way back I stopped to chat with another runner, much more proficient and competitive than I am. Long years ago she was a pupil of mine in the first school I ever taught in. As we talked we noticed a robin only a foot or so away from us. The robins have grown really bold this year, perhaps initially because there were fewer people out and about although their boldness has continued even as more people are around.

My daughter-in-law tells me that the impressive red kites which soar on the thermals above their house in Buckinghamshire have also grown more bold, swooping much lower than ever they used to. We speculated that they might be enticed by increased numbers of people having barbecues. Who knows? But I read that red kites, reintroduced to the UK in the early 1990s are now thriving in the UK.

Out and about yesterday our adventure was less strenuous than the one we did on Friday. We noticed that local cricket was back. this meant we had to negotiate a lot of cars parked on the footpath.

Then we went to look at the duckpond - a reasonable number of ducks but we had no duckfood with us, not even stale bread - played Pooh sticks on the bridge, and admired the view before taking the small people to a playground. Swings and such are still tied up but the sandpit was fine. Here are a few photos.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Headlines. Health. Bell ringing. Cathedral fires.

“PM insists he can avoid a second lockdown” say the headlines. Well, he is obviously a man of great power! Even the virus must obey him.

“Pressure from Trump led to 5G ban, Britain tells Huawei” says another headline. So his power is modified by what Mr Trump says! There is a hint of an idea that if Mr Trump is not elected for a second term then our attitude towards Huawei might change. The answer seems to be blowing in the wind.

Meanwhile Twitter appears to be trying once again to get on the wrong side of Mr Trump, who put out a campaign style video featuring music from a group I have never heard of, Linkin Park. Twitter removed the video, so POTUS retweeted it. It was disabled. A cease and desist notice has been issued. How many more musicians will POTUS try to “borrow” before her runs put of possible material?

Here’s another headline:-

“Grant Shapps breaks ranks to book summer holiday abroad”

with the next line reading:-

“Transport secretary becomes first senior UK politician to say he will be travelling overseas”

My inner cynic wonders if he has been instructed to do this to persuade the public that we should do the same.

 “‘Junk food is the new tobacco’: experts call for restrictions to tackle obesity” - yet another headline!

Obesity is one of the critical factors that makes you more likely to die from the virus, among other health problems. The nation needs to get fitter, not fatter, so that we can help Mr Johnson avoid putting us into another lockdown.the article under that headline quotes Amsterdam’s experience:-

“Amsterdam set up a scheme in 2012 to tackle obesity after a fifth of its children were found to be overweight. Within three years, the number of overweight and obese children had dropped by 12%. Measures included:

  •  Banning fruit juice from schools and only allowing water and milk. 
  •  No sponsorship from fast-food firms. 
  •  Parents asked to stop using pushchairs and start putting children on pedal-less balance bikes. 
  •  A team of 100 focusing on the first 1,000 days of every child’s life 
  •  Subsidised gym and sports centre membership for low-income families 
  •  Cooking classes to create healthier versions of traditional recipes 
  •  Fast food outlets asked not to serve children without an adult present” 
We could try that!

Cambridge graduate, environmental activist, actress, supermodel, a redheaded woman who gets things done, whatever other labels you can put on her. Lily Cole has a daughter called Wylde! Why do people, including clever people like her, inflict such names on their children? I quite like Ms Cole though. She seems in most other expects to be a sensible person.

I read that the bells of Southwark cathedral on the south bank of the Thames will ring today for the first time since the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed. A reduced number of bell ringers will be involved because of social distancing. Luke Camden, leader of the cathedral’s 30-strong band of bellringers, is reportedly delighted at the prospect of again climbing almost 200 steps up the medieval bell tower, after the Church of England announced that bells could once again be rung.

“I’m worried that I’ll have forgotten how to do it. This is the longest I’ve been without being on the end of a bell rope,” said Mr Camden, 32, who has been ringing for two-thirds of his life. “I went to check on the bells earlier in the week, and just being up the tower was exciting.”

While his enthusiasm is impressive, I can’t help,feeling that he should get out more. Still, he will be able to do so more and more as Mr Johnson’s new normality comes into force.

In France they have other problems with their cathedrals. News came yesterday morning of a fire in the 15th-century Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral in Nantes. It is not the first time the cathedral has caught fire. It was partly destroyed during the second world war in 1944 after Allied bombings. In 1972, a fire destroyed its roof. It was rebuilt 13 years later. Later news broadcasts suggested that the fire was deliberately set and this morning the news is that a man has been arrested. The building has been saved but a precious organ has been destroyed. Why would anyone want to destroy something of great beauty, whatever your faith or lack of faith? Such a shame!

Sunday here in Delph is fine and sunny. If the sun keeps shining, Phil might cut what we laughingly call the “lawn”. My daughter and I have been planning an “adventure” for the offspring. There may be photos for tomorrows post.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Parcels. Packaging. Normality? Getting out and about.

We had another parcel of ordered-online-stuff delivered this morning, this time from Boots the Chemists. It’s amazing how fast you can run upstairs from the basement kitchen when you hear a very tentative knock on the front door and remember that a delivery was promised today. Quite why delivery men and postmen cannot see a reasonably prominent doorbell and ring it defeats me. But almost always we have a gentle tap-tap-tap. It’s a wonder we get to accept any parcels at all.

And so we have another cardboard box to dispose of. We already have a HUUUGE box which Phil’s bike arrived in. Too big to fold into a sensible size, it is currently in the shed, waiting for the next paper and cardboard collection day. The bike arrived only a few hours after the last paper and cardboard collection, of course. Then there is a large box that the bike panniers came in. All over the country, as people do more online purchasing, there must be similarly huge amounts of paper and cardboard awaiting collection for recycling.

Smaller items arriving in boxes are usually padded out with loosely folded or crumpled brown paper to prevent them from rattling around too much in transit. I have saved and smoothed as much of this as is salvageable and in good condition. The plan is that some of my Christmas presents to friends and relations this year will be tastefully and trendily wrapped in brown paper with nicely coloured ribbon and bows to embellish them. Assuming, that is, that we manage to celebrate Christmas. Our dear leader assures us that we should have returned to normality (or normalty, without the “i”, as one newsreader last night insisted on saying!) by then. The other question is whether the new “normal” allows browsing around shops looking for gift ideas. We shall see!

The future of our educational establishments continues to be a topic for discussion. The general consensus is that all children will return to school in September. Our daughter has had a couple of visits to the primary school where she will eventually return to work after her now slightly extended maternity leave. There are notices on all classroom doors reminding everyone of who is allowed into the “bubble” of that particular room. Whole school assemblies will probably disappear and even staff meetings will be difficult to arrange. Of course, by then our dear leader may have decided in his wisdom that we no longer need to do social distancing. Interesting times?

Universities meanwhile are in quite dire financial straits and are seeking government bailouts to help them survive. Gavin Williamson has apparently announced that they will have to “demonstrate their commitment” to free speech in order to qualify for bailouts. Quite how they do that is anyone’s guess.

Despite sometimes heated discussions and fiercely determined expression of opinion about the wearing of face masks, here in the UK we have not quite come to blows about it yet. In the USA social media has clips of furious confrontations os the streets of some towns over that very issue. In Michigan a man stabbed someone in a convenience store who challenged him about not wearing a mask. My goodness! Is it usual to go shopping armed with a knife? Apparently so! The deputy sheriff then shot the knife wielder dead. Are they not trained to shoot to maim and disarm or is shoot to kill a,ways the default setting? Another of life’s mysteries!

Masks are also very much a political party matter. In Georgia, the Republican governor is reported to have sued the Democratic mayor of Atlanta for issuing a city-wide mask mandate. But the divide is reducing as outbreaks of Covid-19 continue. The percentage of Republicans saying they wear masks whenever they leave home rose 10 points to 45% in the first two weeks of July. Democrats are still ahead though with 78% of them reported doing so.

Yesterday afternoon my daughter and I went a long walk with her two smallest offspring and the surprise addition of one of the teenagers, her first time outside the house in several weeks. This trend for teenagers to stay indoors, indeed to stay in bed until late in the day is a matter of national concern. We are trying to buck the trend. And so we walked up to Heights Church, a small, old and now closed church at a high point in the area, as its name suggests.

The teenager proceeded to take photos and to suggest the place as a project for a friend taking photography as a sixth form subject. Both the teenager and her small sister were quote delighted with our outing - eating snacks on the steps of the graveyard - and the small one declared it to be “byoodiful”, her pronunciation of beautiful adversely influenced by watching Disney films for small people, and said she wanted to live there.

Here are some photos, including a shot of the door of the pub, also now closed unfortunately, not as a result of the pandemic but just because its remote location makes it hard to make it a going concern. 


After our long walk, the teenager told us she was exhausted ... but she did enjoy herself.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 17 July 2020

Facts about dandelion and, in particular, burdock. Significant birthdays. Rewriting history. Face masks.

Out walking yesterday I took a photo of a rather impressive plant which I did not recognise. I posted the picture on social media, asking horticultural expert friends to see if they could identify it. And they did so. Burdock (Arctium) was the answer.

Now, one of my favourite soft drinks has long been dandelion and burdock. Was this the same burdock? So I investigated further and found out a few things.

The prickly heads of the plant, called burrs, are especially good at getting caught in fur and feathers and clothing. If you look carefully, you see each spike ends in a little hook. Apparently birds have been know to get so entangled in them that they cannot escape - nature is cruel that way! A Swiss inventor chappie, George de Mestrol, out walking his dog back in 1948 noticed how the burrs hooked onto his clothing and took a closer look under the microscope. And so the hook and loop fastener we all know as Velcro was created.

Some languages reflect this in their words for Velcro. Serbo-Croatian uses the same word, čičak, for burdock and velcro. Turkish does the same with the name pitrak, while in the Polish language rzep means both "burr" and "velcro". The German word for burdock is Klette and velcro is Klettverschluss (= burdock fastener). In Norwegian burdock is borre and velcro borrelås, which translates to "burdock lock”.

And yes, dandelion and burdock was originally made using the burdock root. The drink has been around since the Middle Ages and way back then was probably a form of beer, made from fermented roots of the two plants. Nowadays there’s no alcohol in it and I doubt that it actually sees either of the plants in its production. So it goes!

I just read that last month Nicola Sturgeon spoke to Holyrood magazine about how the pandemic had changed her attitude to turning 50:

“I’m totally approaching my birthday in a different frame of mind where, without being sort of too sentimental and clichéd about it, I am probably like lots of people right now, just more likely to count my blessings and focus on the things around me that I should be grateful for, like, you know, my family, my husband and having good health. I undoubtedly feel different about turning 50 than I would have felt without the experience of the last three months. I would say that I now feel less bothered about turning 50 than I felt about turning 40”.

Someone needs to tell her that the bigger your “significant” birthday the less bothersome reaching that age seems to be. I remember thinking, as a new young teacher, that the forty-year-olds on the staff were ancient. Now forty seems impossibly young! Our son regretted turning twenty as he was no longer a teenager - I wonder if he remembers that now that he is 42! At least one friend actually cried when he reached the grand old age of 30 - he thought his youth was behind him. I was too busy being about to become a new mother at that age to even notice 30 come and go. 40 and 50 also came and went almost unnoticed as I was working on making progress in my teaching career. 60 was rather nice - lots of bunches of flowers, and drinks with work friends, all a bit poignant and rather exciting as I was about to retire at the end of the academic year. And 70 saw a good friend and me planning a trip to Cuba. Goodness knows what 80 will bring! Nicola Sturgeon has no need to worry about 50!

Among other people, the MP Angela Rayner commented on Matt Hancock yesterday:

“Matt Hancock is trying to claim Lockdown started on March 16th even though it was not imposed until March 23rd. The Tories are attempting to re-write history on their shocking response to #coronavirus and cover up their failures. Matt must correct this Now and stop this nonsense! People are fed up with this constant spinning and spiv like selling of the Tories actions, most people see through this rubbish...”

Checking in my diary, if lockdown started on March 16th, then my last visit to my hairdresser’s was after all such places had closed for the time being. Odd!

Today I read this:

“UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, is ordering an urgent review of the daily Covid-19 death statistics produced by Public Health England, after it emerged they may include recovered former sufferers who could have died of other causes.”

So he is suggesting that the number of deaths from the Coronavirus in the UK is smaller than has been calculated. Hmm!

Are these attempts to rewrite history? Repeat it officially often enough and people will believe it. I seem to recall a book where that happened!

Here’s a little update on the face mask wearing situation in other parts of Europe:

“The Costa del Sol, where around 2.3 million Britons holiday every year, recently made it compulsory to wear masks in public at all times, in line with the other tourist hotspots of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Exceptions are made only for sunbathers on beaches and pools, when eating or drinking, while practising sport and while playing a wind instrument. However, in Catalonia tourists are still required to wear masks at the beach or by the pool.

Across the border in France, the rules are slightly less stringent. While it is compulsory to wear face masks on public transport, it is up to individual shop owners to ask their customers to wear face coverings. This, though, could be subject to change, with the French prime minister, Jean Castex, recently signalling that face mask use in enclosed public spaces was under consideration.

Meanwhile, in Italy, although holidaymakers will not receive a fine for non-compliance, it is mandatory to use masks in enclosed public spaces. Flout it at your peril, as mask-less people will be removed from public transport.”

And here there is still discussion about how to police/enforce the wearing of face masks. Hey, ho! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 16 July 2020

More about statues. Sailboats. Looking back at early days of the virus.

Well, it didn’t take long for the Bristol statue, “A Surge of Power (Jen Reid)” to be taken down. The artist who made it said it was not intended to be in place permanently. In fact, on a news report yesterday I heard the whole installation of the statue described as a piece of performance art. However, I think they expected it to last more than a day. But the mayor of Bristol organised for it to be removed this morning.

He said that the city was going through an “incredibly delicate time”. Aren’t we all?

“This is not about taking down a statue of Jen, who is a very impressive woman,” Rees said. “This is about taking down a statue of a London-based artist who came and put it up without permission.” So, part of the objection to the new statue is that it was a London-based artist who made the statue. Shades of “outsiders coming and telling us what to do”. What’s the betting that mayor Rees voted for Brexit.

He went on to point put that when the Edward Colston statue was pulled down damage was done to a memorial to an enslaved African man, Scipio Africanus. “If you’re going to do something, you need to do it with awareness and a full knowledge of the context in which you’re doing it,” he said. I might be cynical but it sounds like reasoning after the event. These are indeed interesting times.

Among the odd consequences of Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown is a historical sailing fleet in Holland. The rather beautiful, graceful sailboats, some over 100 years old are a tourist attraction but also used to teach sailing techniques. They can”t operate with social distancing because of the cooperative work needed to raise sails and perform other sailing tasks. And so they can’t sail, the owners are losing money hand over fist and probably won’t even be able to afford the upkeep of the boats. And so they might be destroyed - a bit of history lost.

As time goes by, we begin to look back at what happened at the start of this current crisis. Here’s a link to an article about those early days, when, in fact, governments knew more about the virus than the rest of us. Early in the New Year alarm bells were ringing but most of Europe was somewhat distracted by the Brexit stuff that was going on. And so the gravity of the whole thing was underestimated until it was really too late.

Italy asked for help from the EU.

“No member state responded to Italy’s request and to the commission’s call for help,” said Janez Lenarčič, the European commissioner responsible for crisis management. “Which meant that not only is Italy is not prepared … Nobody is prepared … The lack of response to the Italian request was not so much a lack of solidarity. It was a lack of equipment.”

Reading the article, it becomes clear that not only did the UK not have sufficient stocks of PPE; just about all of Europe was in the same situation.

Then there was the question of lockdown.

“If Italy could have done it 10 or 14 days before it would have been better. The ministry of health wanted to do that but it took time to convince the government,” prof Walter Ricciardi, a senior adviser to the Italian health ministry said. “But they [the other member states] had the Italian experience and they didn’t follow it … It was very difficult for ministers of health to convince ministries of finance and prime ministers that this was a serious situation”

Italy had the excuse of being the first to be overwhelmed. The rest of us should have learnt from their experience. But that’s all water under the bridge. “If only...” doesn’t get us very far.

And now, according to this article, we need to get ready for a second wave in the winter! Oh boy!

In the meantime, we carry on, doing what we do. Phil’s new bike has still not had its maiden outing. Weather and other matters keep getting in the way but a butterfly has just flown past my window, a reasonable sign of some settled weather on the way. We just need to bridle paths to dry out a little. The amount of dried mud we cleaned off my bike yesterday afternoon is proof of how muddy those oaths have been in the last couple of weeks at least.

My bike was cleaned up a little so that improvements and embellishments could be added to it. It now has working lights, front and rear, extra reflectors, and a pair of panniers at the back. I can now consider a Wednesday ride instead of a walk to the market in Uppermill.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Wednesday morning weather thoughts. Donkey Line reflections. Face masks. Statues.

Recently, on one of my Wednesday trips to Uppermill, the lady who has the Oliviccio delicatessen and I commented on how fortunate we have been over the lockdown period with the Wednesday weather. Even when it has not been so fine and sunny as in the early weeks we have not had many wet Wednesdays. Clearly we put a hex on it because today I walked to Uppermill in the drizzle. To be fair, even that was not bad; it was that fine drizzle that sort of floats about in the air rather than serious rain.

For several years now, walking along our Donkey Line bridle path, my daughter and I have speculated on the future of a house that we could look down on from a highish point on the path. Situated in a bit of a valley, the house had clearly stood empty for a while. We could never work out how you actually got to the house as it didn’t seem to be on a main road. Over time, a number of roof tiles disappeared and it began to look dilapidated. It was one of those “if I had the money I would like to do it up” houses. Then, last week, as I went past, I noticed that work of some mind was going on in the valley. Were they doing the house up or pulling it down? It was hard to say.

At the weekend we did a family walk, along our “secret path” (with some complaints from the almost four-year-old because there were no ducks: “This is not the walk I wanted! This is the walk I did not want!”) ending up at a park with a children’s playground on the edge of Dobcross. From there, we realised, we could see the tumbledown house, clearly being pulled down now.

And this morning I looked down on a flattened area, razed to the ground. So now we wonder what will happen to the site. Will a similar single large house be erected in that pleasant spot? Or will a cluster of houses spring up there, nominally detached but having little space between them and precious little garden for each one? I fear it will be the latter, although such a cluster of houses has to be built out of, or at least faced with, stone to match he character of the area.

On my way back from Uppermill, along the Donkey Line once more, I spotted a couple of small bicycles, apparently abandoned. Where were the small cyclists? Then a voice rang out, “Hello, old lady!” Well, that put me in my place! Half way up the rocky embankment a small boy and a small girl were perched, obviously having been honing their climbing skills. “Hello, little girl,” I replied, for it was a little girl’s voice that had greeted me, thus putting her in her place in return. I congratulated them on their climbing!

A little further along, I came across their mother with an even smaller child on a balance bike, no pedals, no stabilisers, the best way to learn how to cycle.

Phil’s bike was finally delivered yesterday at about 3.30pm! Considering that tracking showed that it had left Bury at 8.00am, this seemed rather late. The van had broken down, the delivery man told us. But finally it was there and Phil had to set about organising it so that it was actually fit for road-cycling. This has been quite demanding, especially as there were only minimal instructions.

There was a little moment of panic as Phil found an L sticker low on the frame. Did this mean they had sent a LARGE cycle, rather than the MEDIUM that was ordered. The bike did look rather large. The prospect of trying to parcel it up again and post it back was daunting. But then he discovered an R sticker on the other side of the bike frame. So, nothing to do with size, merely a helpful indicator of which side to attach which pedal!! Now it needs a test-drive, as it were, or is that test-ride? However, the prospect of taking his spanking new bike for it’s maiden ride on a drizzly day with the bridle path turned into a very muddy surface is not looked on very favourably at the moment!

On the radio news they have been talking about the wearing of face-masks. The response to the government decision has been mixed. Some people really seem to feel that being told to wear a face-mask is a major restriction on their freedom. A number of members of the Conservative Party have cut up their membership cards in protest! A certain Dr Mike Galsworthy has commented on social media:- 

“Fascinating. I’ve often wondered what it’d take for Tory party members to cut up their cards.

Austerity? No.

Care home deaths? No.

Undermining British farmers? No.

Kamikaze Brexit? No.

Malnourished British children? No.

Face coverings in shops to help save lives? Yup, that’s the one.”

Meanwhile, British tourists in Magaluf shock the Spanish by being drunk and disorderly (nothing new there, then) and above all maskless!  It’s the British in Magaluf - why am I not surprised?

In Bristol at dawn a group of people erected a statue on the empty plinth where Edward Colston’s statue used to stand.   It’s the statue if a young black woman, Jen Reid, made with lots of modern technology and inspired by a photo of the same young woman standing on the empty plinth just after the statue was toppled. Now it seems that debate is going on as to whether the statue should be allowed to remain. The people of Bristol, it seems, had little say in it’s erection and should be consulted. Mind you, for years they asked for the Edward Colston statue to be removed and nothing happened. So maybe this one will also remain on place for years.

 We shall see.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Speedy (or not) deliveries. 21st century working. Wearing face masks. Setting examples.

Yesterday Hermes brought me a parcel of stuff I had ordered from Holland and Barrett, the health-food people. Hermes used to be the messenger of the gods, the Greek version of Mercury, fleet of foot, indeed fleet of winged foot or at any rate winged sandals. He is supposed to be the protector of human heralds, travellers, thieves, merchants, and orators and is able to move quickly and freely between the worlds of the mortal and the divine, aided by his winged sandals. From Mercury, his Roman version, we get words like merchant, mercantile and merchandising. Mercury was fleet of foot as well - think of quicksilver!

My Hermes was not a young Greek messenger of the gods but an elderly gentleman driving a van and delivering parcels for company with an imaginative name.

Coincidentally, a news report later in the day told me that parcel delivery companies have had a big boost during lockdown, springing up like mushrooms overnight, as more and more people ordered stuff online. Most of them, however, despite poetically inspired names, treat their employees badly. Indeed their “employees” are mostly self employed and paid on a commission basis according to how many parcels they manage to deliver and how quickly they do so. One driver described having to arrange cover for himself if he wanted to take a holiday, probably without pay. This was until he joined a union, which protected his rights and improved his conditions. Here we are in the 21st century and still workers are exploited!

Another driver, also a union member, described how much appreciation he has received from the public he delivers to, much more so than before lockdown. As people receive fewer visitors, he is always greeted with a smile, albeit a socially distanced smile. But customers also give him gifts: tips, snacks or larger food items, and properly made face masks. Everyone likes to be appreciated.

Today I was up bright and early, waiting for another delivery. Phil has finally managed to locate a bicycle and has ordered one online. There is a national, maybe even world-wide, shortage of bicycles, as so many people have turned to cycling as a form of exercise or as an alternative to using public transport. His brother tried to persuade him to buy an electric bike, good for getting up the hills around here, but Phil is quite traditional in his cycling habits and is sticking with pedal power.

The company emailed to say they will deliver between 7.00am and 6.00pm.

“The item will require a signature for delivery to be successful.” So someone needed to be up and about to take delivery.

“Please be aware that we are unable to give any estimated times for delivery.” So someone had to be up and about early in the day. And as Phil does not do early mornings (unless we are travelling) because he does late nights, that someone turned out to be me. Actually I don’t do such early mornings as a rule but here I am, hoping that the parcel arrives sooner rather than later.

“You can track the progress of your delivery on this page below:” Well, yes, but all the tracking does is tell me the parcel has been loaded onto a lorry in Bury. Maybe it will arrive in time for me to go for a morning run as usual. Maybe my run will have to wait.

So it goes.

Out in the wider world, finally the government has come to a decision about wearing masks. From July 24 everyone will have to wear a face mask in shops. Quite why there is a ten-day delay in this coming into force remains a mystery. Surely people don’t need ten days to acquire them. Perhaps it just reflects the government’s general slowness to act: “Get (insert action) Done ... but Slowly!”

From a newspaper report I read this:-

“Britons have been among the slowest to embrace mass mask-wearing. Many European countries, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, have already made it compulsory to wear face coverings inside shops. A YouGov poll found that 36% of people in the UK wear a face mask in public places, compared with 86% in Spain, 83% in Italy, 78% in France and 65% in Germany.

Johnson himself wore a mask for the first time in public last week, and went further on Monday, urging the public in England to wear masks in shops as “extra insurance” against the coronavirus. On a visit to the London ambulance service, he said: ‘The scientific evidence of face coverings, and the importance of stopping aerosol droplets; that’s been growing. So I do think that in shops it is very important to wear a face covering.’”

However, only a matter of 24 hours before Johnson’s appearance in his distinctive blue mask on Friday, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was photographed “serving” diners in a Wagamama restaurant without wearing a face covering of any kind. Oops! Not a good example to the public! Appearing in politically incorrect photographs could be turning out to be Mr Sunak’s speciality. He was recently photographed with a “smart mug” which sells at about £180 pounds. Well, in fact, if a journalist had not pointed this out, I would have been none the wiser. I would have thought it was just any old drinks container, not something clever that can keep your coffee hot - no, at the right temperature for drinking - for hours and hours. What is wrong with getting up and making a fresh cup of coffee when you need one? And who needs a half litre of coffee at any one time anyway?

So it goes! It is now 8.15 am, the earliest I have posted my blog in ages and the delivery has not yet been made. No fleet-foot Hermes today then!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!