Monday, 31 August 2020

The Great Mud Adventure! Bank Holidays! More face mask stuff.

Yesterday did not live up to its bright, sunny start but it did not deteriorate too significantly either. So the family decided to go adventuring.

We followed our usual route up towards Heights Church, passing fields full of Canada geese on our way. Why do Canada geese congregate in fields, by the way? It’s a phenomenon we have noticed on other occasions too.

Heights Church was not our destination however. We turned off at one point in the direction of Denshaw, thinking we might find the llama farm. We did not find it but we had some fine views of, for example, New Year’s Bridge reservoir. Why does it have that name? None of us knew.

At that point we had to come to a decision: turn round and retrace our steps or continue onto a track we had not followed before, although maybe Phil and I had done so but many years ago. We went into the relatively unknown. It has become a family joke that we do not like to retrace our steps. Just as in Game of Thrones “A Lannister always pays his debts”, so in our reality “An Adams never turns back”.

And so our country walk turned into the Great Mud Adventure”. Our daughter’s off-road buggy was getting its baptism of fire, or should that be mud? For what had been at one time a perfectly good farm track turned at times into a veritable quagmire, no doubt somewhat churned up by heavy tractors, quad bikes and trail bikes.

But we made it through, even though the buggy needed some careful manoeuvring at times. And nobody got cross or upset, even when the four-year-old’s wellies got a bit stuck in the mud. Not even when she managed to step out of one wellie and almost put her sock down in the mud, while her teenage sister managed to drop the wellie in a puddle! In fact we all saw the funny side of the whole affair.

And eventually we made it to Heights Church after all, stopping to talk to some affectionate horses just before we reached the church. There we stopped briefly in the churchyard for a sit down and some emergency chocolate, to give us the energy boost for the final downhill section back into the village where our daughter and offspring got into the car and left and Phil and I walked home through the village.

Another successful adventure!

Today is a bright and sunny August Bank Holiday but hardly a day for lounging on the beach, not if the temperature at the seaside is similar to the temperature here. I heard a weatherman say that last year’s was the hottest August Bank Holiday on record and that this year’s might be the coldest. So it goes!

The un-summery weather did not prevent people from organising raves in Wales or so I hear. My sister in law has been complaining about groups of 18 year olds on her local trains travelling without masks. What she does not realise is that they are young, invincible and immortal!

The Coronavirus crisis, like every crisis, throws up a new bit of vocabulary. Voting to leave Europe gave us Brexit, with the inevitable Brexiteers and the Remoaners. Coronavirus gives us “covidiots”. This was how a passenger returning on a flight to the UK from the Greek island of Xante described many of her fellow passengers and some of the crew. 16 people from the flight tested positive for Coronavirus. The passenger said that people sat with masks hanging round their necks and that few of the crew tried to insist on the proper wearing of face-coverings. Extreme Coronavirus fatigue! 

They’ve been talking about that case on the lunchtime radio news. The big question is not so much why it happened - cabin crew are not police after all - but why it has taken almost a week since the flight landed in Cardiff before any kind of investigation has taken place. And now they need to trace and isolate the passengers. What about those forms travellers are suppose to fill in? Hmm!

Meanwhile in Spain they have arrested a man who claims the Coronavirus pandemic is a hoax for inciting hatred and violence across several anonymous social media profiles. The 38-year-old claimed health professionals and the media were behind what he called the “Covid farce” and urged his followers to attack politicians and journalists, police said. “All this would be solved with a shot to the back of [Spanish prime minister] Pedro Sánchez’s head,” he wrote on one of his accounts.

Friends in Spain tell me that most people accept that wearing masks is the norm. There is, however, a small but vocal anti-mask movement which has been growing recently. (“Covidiotas’?) This group has been encpuraged, apparently, by the endorsement of Miguel Bosé, a 1980s pop star. Isn’t it odd how people take as gospel the word of famous but not necessarily scientifically expert people.

Hey ho! Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 30 August 2020

The best of the day? Facemask fashion! Protests of one kind and another.

Yesterday began with a beautiful blue sky and sunshine. I took advantage of it and ran along the Donkey Lone bridle path - not as mud-puddly as I thought it might be. The cloud had moved in by midday and by the time Phil began to feel inclined to go for a walk the rain had started. So we stayed indoors. In the evening, however, we were treated to a rather fine sunset sky.

Today also began with sunshine and rapidly turned cloudy. We have yet to see if the rain arrives. We seem to have moved into the time of year when the best part if the day is first thing in the morning. The early bird ... etc.

A new phenomenon has popped up recently in the adverts with which I am bombarded online.

The Radical Teatowel Company advertises facemasks: “Face masks inspired by William Morris, the Suffragettes etc; doves of peace 😊 Now 3-ply ✅ Antibacterial middle layer. Handmade in the UK.”

Gap advertises facemasks in a range of colours and fabric designs.

Just about every kind of store going is advertising the fact that they are selling facemasks. You could, if you so chose, have a facemask to coordinate with whatever outfit you chose to wear on any specific day. Political and ironic statements are printed onto facemasks. They have become almost an art form in their own right.

And yet people in Berlin and London yesterday were gathering and protesting about being asked to wear them. It seems to be an infringement on personal freedom.

“During the march (in Berlin), which authorities said drew about 38,000 people, participants expressed their opposition to a wide range of issues, including vaccinations, face masks and the German government in general. Some wore T-shirts promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory, while others displayed white nationalist slogans and neo-Nazi insignia, though most participants denied having far-right views.

Uwe Bachmann, 57, said he had come from southwestern Germany to protest for free speech and his right not to wear a mask. “I respect those who are afraid of the virus,” he said, wearing a costume and a wig that tried to evoke stereotypical Native American attire. He suggested, without elaborating, that something else was behind the pandemic.”

“In London, hundreds of people crowded into Trafalgar Square for a Unite for Freedom protest against government lockdown restrictions and the wearing of face masks. The Metropolitan police warned demonstrators that anyone attending a gathering of more than 30 people may be at risk of committing a criminal offence.”

I am continually amazed at the number of people who object to doing things that are meant to protect them. Some objected to having to wear seat belts in cars, especially when they became mandatory in the back seat as well. And the number of helmet-less cyclists there are out and about beggars belief.

Please don’t get me started on anti-vaxxers!

(By the way, here is an article about the health benefits and curative powers of honey, for those who don’t like taking medicine. Honey can be better than antibiotics!  I have even heard that the best thing to do is to buy locally produced honey as it protects you from allergic reactions to local plants. Which makes sense, I suppose.)

Over in the USA protests still take a more serious turn. Mr Trump has talked about “liberal cities overrun with violence”. One example he chose was Portland, Oregon, which has seen nightly protests or months, ever since the killing of George Floyd. And now this has happened:

“One person was shot and killed late Saturday in Portland, Oregon, as a large caravan of Donald Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed in the streets, police said.

It wasn’t clear if the shooting was linked to fights that broke out as a caravan of about 600 vehicles was confronted by protesters in the city’s downtown.

An Associated Press freelance photographer heard three gunshots and then observed police medics working on the body of the victim, who appeared to be a white man.”

I may be a naive and idealistic, liberal-minded person but it seems to me that a host of people gathering in a mall and then driving a caravan of 600 vehicles into a town centre is a bit of a provocation. No wonder people tried to stop them.

And then this gives ammunition to those who say liberal cities are losing control and law-and-order needs to be imposed! Oh, boy!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Back to school. Uniform face masks? Use of songs. Tracking forms. And staycations.

Secondary schools have finally received guidelines about what to do when schools reopen next week. They have now been told that schools in local lockdown areas should introduce a rota system to limit attendance and compulsory face masks in communal areas. Presumably there is other stuff to think about as well, giving headteachers a bit of last minute homework to do. Understandably they are a bit miffed at the short notice.

Our teenage grandson goes back to secondary school on Thursday. The youngsters have been told that they must wear a black face mask is corridors and open spaces. I think the school plans to issue them to pupils on day one but, as my daughter says, they will need more than one as they will need washing or youngsters might lose them. So she is seeking spare black face masks. And they have to be black. Other colours will not do. Pupils without a black face mask will be put into detention. Welcome back to school!

My younger sister and I went to a girls’s grammar school with strict uniform rules. As face masks look like being a school uniform item, in the regulation colour, my sister wondered if we would have had to wear bottle green ones to match the bottle green knickers we were obliged to wear!

I could understand the delay in informing schools and generally getting things done if Gavin Williamson had to make it all up himself, sitting all alone in an office working through all the decisions that need making. At least, I assume that is not what happens. Surely he has a team of advisers who get together and devise systems to cope with whatever problems might arise. And maybe it would be a good idea to have some representatives of the teaching profession there, maybe some teachers’ unions people. Running the ideas past the people who will have to implement them is never a bad plan! I’m just saying!

Talking of advisers, someone needs to explain to Mr Trump that he can’t just use any song he likes at his rallies and conventions. There are laws about copyright and ownership that need to be taken into account. Perhaps he thinks that being POTUS gives him overriding powers. The latest fracas concerns the repeated unauthorized use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during two performances at the Republican National Convention. SONY/ATV Music Publishing said this:

“On the eve of the finale of the convention, representatives from the Republican National Committee contacted us regarding obtaining permission for a live performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. We declined their request.”

Representatives from Leonard Cohen’s Estate had this to say:

“We are surprised and dismayed that the RNC would proceed knowing that the Cohen Estate had specifically declined the RNC’s use request, and their rather brazen attempt to politicize and exploit in such an egregious manner “Hallelujah”, one of the most important songs in the Cohen song catalogue. We are exploring our legal options.

Had the RNC requested another song, “You Want it Darker’, for which Leonard won a posthumous Grammy in 2017, we might have considered approval of that song."

Personally, I wondered if they might use “Democracy is coming to the USA”:-

“It's coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It's coming from the feel
That this ain't exactly real
Or it's real, but it ain't exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA.”

But I imagine Mr Trump would not like the mention of anything relating to China, such as Tiananmen Square! Otherwise, it has lots of topical references.

Here’s another bit of nonsense.

People arriving to the UK from abroad must submit a passenger locator form online beforehand, to be shown at the border either in printed form or on a mobile device. Failure to provide details risks a fine of up to £100. That is not the nonsense aspect. If travellers are expected to quarantine for two weeks, then some way of tracking and tracing them is needed. But it now seems that Border Force have been set a target of checking less than a third of arrivals to the UK to ensure they have the forms. As passports are checked you would think a quick check that the passport holder had actually completed the form could be carried out. Obviously not very single form can be perused in great detail. And even if they were, what is to be done to guarantee that they details are correct and truthful? But surely rather more than 30% would be a good target to aim for. Once again, just saying!

Perhaps everyone in every country should aim to have staycations for the next year. That would reduce the numbers coming through airports and make form checking easier. The air line companies would have a fit though! But maybe other aspects of the tourist industry would balance out.
According to this article  places like Magaluf are seeing an influx of local visitors to their beaches and tourist facilities. Italians and Spaniards, and people of other nationalities are rediscovering how nice some of their own places are when not packed out with foreign visitors.

Selfishly, however, I still want to be able to visit foreign places, see the sights, eat their interesting food and show off the fact that I can talk to them in their own language. Modern dilemmas!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 28 August 2020

Running in the rain. Deliveries and online shopping. Where to work. Changing times.

I got nicely wet running in the rain this morning. Yes, I knew it was raining but I decided to go out in it anyway. It wasn’t torrential, just what my milkman described later as “that thin rain that gets you really wet”. As if there was rain that didn’t get you wet. Well, yes, I suppose there is fine drizzle that doesn’t actually soak you but still makes your hair go all frizzy!

I spoke to the milkman later in the morning, after I was showered and dressed in normal clothing. I had been looking out for him since Monday as I wanted to ask about the non-delivery on that day. He assured me that they had delivered as usual. So that means we have a milk thief about, someone walking past, spotting the bottle of milk on the doorstep and making off with it. According to the milkman it happens quite a lot, especially with deliveries of eggs, for some unknown reason.

I wonder if he would be willing to leave deliveries outside the back door instead, it means he would have to walk down the side garden but my milk and eggs would be more secure. Or I could ask him to ring the doorbell when he leaves the milk by the front door. Delivery men of all kinds seem averse to ringing the doorbell, however, usually giving the excuse “I never know if the bell works or not”. There is really only one way to find out: ring the bell and see if answers!”

The other day we were in the basement kitchen drinking coffee when I heard a faint knocking on the front door. Dashing up the stairs to open the door, I found a box of bottles of wine on the doorstep. Not really a surprise - we had been expecting a delivery. As I contemplated it, a delivery man came panting up the side garden and told me he had left a second box by the back door. Did I want this one taking down as well? He looked so puffed out that I took pity on him and simply asked him to lift it into the hallway for me. He was another delivery man who did not know how to ring a doorbell!

We now have wine to last us for a good while! And we are moderately restrained, having no intention of becoming one of the UK’s statistics for people who sit at home drinking too much during lockdown! It is apparently a major problem. Perhaps we are just too sensible.

I have just ordered items of children’s clothing online, intended as part of birthday presents for the two smallest people in the family, who both have September birthdays. Now I need to find an online toyshop- of which there are no doubt plenty - as small children need proper presents they can play with as well.

Actually I miss going to shops looking for inspiration for birthday presents, and pretty soon Christmas presents as well. Its months since I went window shopping even, let along going into big shops and supermarkets. Online shopping is all very well but it’s hard to browse!

I just turned on the radio news and the first thing I heard was Donald Trump droning on in his very imitable fashion about how Jo Biden will run America into the ground. I gather it was his end of convention speech. Whenever I hear him speak I wonder that anyone can be convinced by what he has to say. Mind you, I feel the same when I hear Boris Johnson wiffle-waffling in his sort of semi-hesitant fashion. And yet I hear both of these politicians described as good communicators! Really? Personally I think they both need some lessons in public speaking.

Much discussion is going on about getting people back to work in the office. New research shows that nine out of 10 people in the country who have worked from home during lockdown want to continue to do so. Some people, such as our eldest granddaughter, had already been working from home for part of the week before lockdown. She is among those who would be happier to continue to do so and in fact has panic attacks whenever she is pressured by her managers to consider returning to the office. It seems that productivity has not suffered from office workers doing the job from home and maybe a compromise needs to be reached so that people like our granddaughter can opt to stay home at least part of the time. Of course this changes the nature of our city centres, described as ghost cities by one commentator on last night’s TV news. Interesting times.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Wuthering Heights. Named storms. Storms of violence. Rushing towards a No-Deal. And that virus.

After the rather unpromising start to yesterday, dull and damp but not actually raining until I returned from the market, my daughter and I kept an eye on the weather through the day and decided in the mid- to late-afternoon that we were going on an “adventure” anyway, taking our waterproofs with us as an insurance policy.

So we headed off up the hill to Heights once again. On our way up the hill we debated abandoning Heights and doing a detour to see if we could find the llama farm which is said to be around their somewhere. Our almost four-year-old adventure expect, however, opted for the churchyard once again. Strange child, she likes to roam around between the ancient gravestones, finding interesting bits of this and that to examine.

The view from the churchyard was positively Wuthering Heights with lowering, glowering clouds. 

As we made our way down, though, the wind shifted much of the cloud cover and the sun tried to come out.

By the time Phil and I walked round the village in the early evening it was positively balmy once again. Francis had well and truly stormed off but Hurricane Laura was on her way to Louisiana.

Between hurricanes and wildfires, not to mention continuing Coronavirus, the USA has enough to deal with from Mother Nature, without having race riots as well. And yet, there it is. The situation isn’t helped by people accepting it as normal that people can walk down the street with an assault rifle. I still don’t understand why such a weapon is acceptable, even in a country where gun-ownership seems to be considered reasonable. I suppose 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse who is said to have shot two people in Kenosha might have thought it made him look good.

Apparently there was a call on Facebook from a local militia group: “Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from evil thugs?” (When Facebook talks about policing what goes on its site, is this not one of the things they should be banning?) nobody knows whether that young man responded to the Facebook post or went out to be a vigilante on some other kind of prompting. What is clear from videos people have made is that on Tuesday night, Kenosha police were heard thanking and tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle to what appear to be armed civilians walking the streets.

As somebody tweeted:

“In Wisconsin open carry is illegal for someone under 18.
The Kenosha cop who gave right-winger Kyle Rittenhouse a water bottle and said his presence is appreciated could have instead asked for ID and then arrested him.
That would have saved two lives.”

Quite so!

Here on our side of the Atlantic, we appear to be hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit as Brussels laments a “completely wasted” summer and removes Brexit item from the agenda for a high level diplomatic meeting next week. Well, that means we can blame the EU for that next bit of mess-up. Time to start stockpiling supplies now, I think!

Meanwhile, with reports of teenagers returning from a Greek holiday with Coronavirus, and many unwittingly going out on the razzle in Plymouth, making tracing contacts a bit more difficult, I’ll just continue to worry about health matters. So it goes!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Odd beliefs. A bit of chaos. Mismanagement.

There’s an old chap in Vietnam, Nguyen Van Chien, who has dreadlocks five metres long. He hasn’t cut, washed or combed his hair for 80 years. As a schoolboy he had to cut it but when he had the “revelation” that he should not mess with his god-given locks he left school and that was that. “I believe if I cut my hair I will die. I dare not to change anything, not even combing it,” said Chien, who believes in a faith that prescribes leaving untouched what a person is born with. Chien follows a near-obsolete faith known as “Dua”, the coconut religion, named after its founder who claimed he survived only on coconuts to retain his vitality. Dua is banned in Vietnam and categorised as a false belief.

Chien is 92. So I think he might be excused for having some odd beliefs. What excuse do the followers of QAnon have? They are mostly Americans but I hear that there are more and more Europeans joining in. Basically it is a conspiracy theory believers group who think that there is a satanic “deep state” of global elites involved in paedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children. They also believe that Donald Trump is the best hope there is of combatting this satanic group who are supposedly taking over the world, or at least trying to do so. The FBI has declared it to be a terrorist organisation but POTUS himself has neither endorsed nor condemned QAnon. “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate,” he said. “I have heard that it is gaining in popularity.” However, they like him! That’s good, isn’t it?

And the president has praised Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of QAnon who won the Republican nomination in Georgia’s 14th congressional district, describing her as a “future Republican Star”. Now I read that she was invited to attend his nomination acceptance speech. All of that against a background of continuing racial problems with vigilante groups patrolling Kanosha, the place where the latest shooting of a black man by police.

And still the Republican Convention pretends all is well. “In speech after speech, a collection of Trump’s family members, allies, rightwing campaigners and swing-state farmers portrayed the president as the best hope for America’s future.” So said a newspaper report but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? Thy are hardly going to stand up and say, “He’s made a big mess of things, but, hey! Vote for him anyway!”

It makes our politicians seem quite sane and mostly harmless in comparison. But only for a little while. We have seen U-turns about a variety of things. Contracts have been given to companies with no experience in the field related to the contract. And so it goes on.

And then I read this story:

“The New South Wales government has confirmed that 10 newly purchased ferries will not be able to safely pass under bridges along the Parramatta River if commuters are sitting on the top decks.

Purchased from Indonesia, the new River Class ferries are set to join the NSW transport fleet later in the year, operating along the Parramatta River and on inner harbour routes. The new boats include an upper deck with 10 seats, but these commuters must be called below before the boat can travel under the Camellia Railway Bridge and the Gasworks Bridge near Parramatta due to their low clearance levels.

The NSW shadow minister for transport, Christopher Minns, has criticised the government’s decision to purchase the ferries off-the-shelf rather than have them custom built. “This is another example of what happens when you buy ‘off the shelf’ transport infrastructure from other countries. There are too many variables in our transport system,” he said.”

Maybe the press is producing these tales to make our government look good!

As for us, personally, we just get on with life, observing what is going on and trying to organise ourselves around the changeable weather and the changeable circumstances.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Deliveries. Shopping. Face coverings. And music.

Our milkman failed to make a delivery yesterday. He usually brings a litre of milk Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, with half a dozen eggs on Saturday, although I have never specifically ordered eggs. The eggs are not a problem: one way or another they are used up during the week. But why he failed to deliver yesterday is a mystery, as is the fact that I have a,so asked for a Friday delivery which has so far never materialised. Will milk appear today? He doesn’t seem to do Tuesday deliveries as a rule. Will there be milk tomorrow?

Another little niggle is the time of delivery, definitely not early in the morning. The milk can arrive any time between 11.00am and 3.0pm, which necessitates multiple trips to the front door to check as on sunny days the milk will heat up. However, on the whole we are pleased to support our local farmer and I no longer carry 2-litre bottles of milk back from the co-op a couple of times a week.

A consequence of the milkman’s failure was that we had very little milk in the house for breakfast and so I had to go to co-op store anyway. As Storm Francis has been lashing the area with rain and blowing stuff around I decided not to run but to don my raincoat and wellies and walk my round-the-village running route. A chance to check out the state of the paths. It’s just as well I wore my wellies. There is a section of the path which has had a large puddle for a few weeks now. Some enterprising person used some broken planks from the fence to make a precarious bridge a ross the puddle. This morning the planks were floating in ankle-deep water and the puddle had extended by about two metres at each end.

The rain has paused for the time being and I have done my bit to encourage further improvement by hanging washing up to dry in the house. Had I hung it in the garden it would be sure to rain in no time. Now we might see a little sunshine.

The river is very full after a night of heavy rain.

Yesterday, we did a socially distanced family along bridle paths - admittedly a bit mud-puddly - and canal towpaths - less mud-puddly - in the sunshine. The change from one day to the next is quite severe.

In the local co-op store face-mask wearing seems to stand at customers 100% and staff 0%. Cashiers are behind a screen and wear gloves but shelf stackers and sweeper-uppers have no protective gear. I would have thought that they might wear face coverings for their own protection as much as anything else.

Meanwhile schoolchildren over the age of 12 in Scotland will be required to wear masks in corridors and other places where social distancing is difficult. One of my granddaughters commented yesterday on how difficult it would have been in her old high school to keep your distance from others in corridors, even with a one-way system enforced. So far debate continues about the wearing or not of face coverings in English schools when the students return in September.

I read that the singer Van Morrison regards the idea of social distancing and other such measures to be pseudoscience. He has an understandable desire to see music venues opening up again to full capacity crowds. After all musicians, especially those who depend on performing to make a living although somehow ai doubt Van Morrison falls into that category, are really suffering at the present time. He wants to “save live music”, saying socially distanced gigs are not economically viable. “I call on my fellow singers, musicians, writers, producers, promoters and others in the industry to fight with me on this. Come forward, stand up, fight the pseudo-science and speak up,” he said.

His fans are not totally convinced though. On the singer’s Facebook page, self-professed Morrison fans gave a largely scathing response to his appeal for full-capacity audiences. “This is madness. The science is real,” said one. “We love you, Van, but calling pandemic management protocols ‘pseudo-science’ is probably the dumbest and certainly the most dangerous idea you’ve ever put your name to,” wrote another.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to stand outdoors again with thousands of people listening, singing along and dancing to music we love once again. But not yet!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 24 August 2020

Weather. Political correctness/blandness. Traditions. The Tour.

Having listened to the rain beating down on the skylight windows in the attic bedroom at various points in the night it was a pleasant surprise to see some blue sky and sunshine again this morning. There is still a fair bit of cloud around but it’s the fluffy white variety not the grey and lowering we had yesterday. It seemed to keep on raining on and off until quite late in the afternoon, when we finally took ourselves out for a walk.

Here is ths morning's photo taken on the Donkey Line bridle path.

Today’s plan is to cycle along that bridle path and beyond to our granddaughter’s house and make her go for a walk with us.

What we are really missing in this time of isolation is family dinners, all the gang sitting down together round the table, setting the world to rights as we eat. It had become a Sunday tradition in the family and we hope to reinstate it.

On the subject of traditions, it is rumoured that the BBC is considering dropping Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory from the Last night if the proms. Having no audience to sing along this year makes it an ideal opportunity to make such a radical change. The reason for this potential decision is the anthems’ perceived links with colonialism and slavery. As if all the folk who have belted out the songs over the years were all racists and pro-colonialism! Most people just enjoy a good sing song. Yes, slavery is wrong and yes, colonialism had a lot of bad stuff going on but, as with the no-platforming question, if we are not careful we will have a very bland society.

If they do decide to ban these songs I wonder if prom-goers will do something similar to what happened at my girls’ grammar school when a new school song was introduced. We always finished the end of term and end of year assemblies with a rousing rendition of Jerusalem. Then the music teacher wrote a new song and her own tune, especially for our school, beginning with the supposedly inspiring lines:

        Here may we hope and dream and dare,
        Laughter and friendship know.

It went on in that vein. We all had to learn the words and the tune in our music lessons. The end of term came around. We sang the new song. And as we filed out of the school hall somebody sang out, “And did this feet in ancient time....” and every girl joined in. And so a new tradition was born. Will anyone do the same with Rule Britannia? I wonder!

Another thing we have missed this year has been the Tour de France. I hear that they plan to begin it at the weekend, Covid-19 willing. We shall see.

We have a long tradition in our family of watching it on the TV, or at least of watching the highlights in the early evening. One year we headed off for a family camping holiday in Brittany a few days before the end of the Tour and spent the first few days of our stay there trying to find someone who could tell us who had come second. It was already a done deal that Pedro Delgado - I think it was Pedro Delgado - would win but second place was up for grabs. A few years ago, when the Tour began in the North of England, I went with our son, his wife and their six-month-old daughter to sit on the hillside at Holmfirth and watch them all ride past at speed.

This year Team Ineos has apparently dropped Chris Froome and Geraint Evans from their squad because they are not performing as well as expected or required. What a shame! Loyalty is clearly not a two-way thing.

Before Chris Froome ever won a Tour we sat in a Spanish cafe watching a stage in which he was clearly about to defeat the then very successful Spanish rider Alberto Contador, who in later years had problems over tests for performance enhancing drugs - but that’s another story. A very drunken Spaniard was initially cheering his man Contador but gradually, grudgingly, began to praise “el inglés”. It feels a little as though we saw Froome’s rise to fame and now we see him cast aside. Such a shame! But hopefully there will be other years!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone?

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Communicating with the neighbours. Old photos. People ignoring the restrictions.

It’s uncertain whether we can speak to neighbours in our gardens; after all, they are not members of our household. But communication takes place one way or another. One of the neighbours recently posted through everyone’s door a print of a photo of our bit of the street about 100 years ago, on the occasion of the Whit Walks. The houses were almost certainly occupied by workers at the textile mill in what is now an industrial estate with a range of small businesses behind our houses.

So I wrote a thank you note and pushed it through her door. We don’t know her as she has only moved into what was her parents’ house not long before the Coronavirus crisis put us all into lockdown. Her mother has died, her father is in a nursing home, and she is now living in and renovating the house. In my note I asked her if she could email me a digital copy of the photo and thought she was ignoring me until I discovered her email in my junk folder. Such are the vagaries of electronic communication.

And here is the photo.

In the radio news broadcast I heard that police had to intervene in huge parties in the Birmingham area, parties involving marquees and DJs! It seems that people wanted to have a big get together before Birmingham went into tighter restrictions. No doubt a big party helped the situation!

I get the impression that an alarmingly large number of people simply want to ignore the restrictions now being imposed. Goodness knows what would happen if we needed to go into total lockdown again now!

In Okinawa, Japan, the police have to deal with another type of ignore-the-crisis problem: people falling asleep drunk on the road. This is not drivers falling asleep at the wheel but people literally curling up and going to sleep on the road, sometimes getting undressed and using the kerbstone as a pillow - alcohol-fuelled somnolence called rojo-ne. Most such sleepers are woken up and sent home unharmed but there have been fatalities. Restrictions on Japan’s nighttime economy prompted by the coronavirus outbreak have failed to slow the trend. In the first six months of this year, police received 2,702 rojo-ne emergency calls – about the same number as at the same point last year – despite government requests for people not to venture out at night.

It makes a party in a garden seem quite sensible by comparison.

I doubt that many such parties are going on around here as the weather is just too inclement - rain and wind seems to be on the cards for the day. So it goes.

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Feeling rather isolated!

From midnight tonight we are not allowed to meet anyone from outside our household in any setting. We had been restricted to not going into each other’s houses or gardens but going for socially distanced walks in the countryside and in parks was okay. But now we Oldham residents have been told that even that is no longer acceptable. Children can still go to nursery so and small businesses stay open. We can still go to the pub or for a meal on a restaurant but if you can’t actually meet friends there, I wonder what is the point.

It’s all rather confusing, not helped by headlines like this in the Manchester Evening News:

“Amazing day trips to take from Manchester before summer ends”.

Okay, so that was probably written before the latest change in rules and regulations. Even so, it would seem that we can’t visit each other but we can travel to other places for a day out, travelling by car, the MEN article reminds us as public transport is still not recommended, and presumably take our high infection rate with us.

Similarly, I find the quarantine-after-your-holiday business very odd. Many people who have been to Croatia on holiday are cutting their holidays short to get home before they have to quarantine. Presumably they are bringing as much infection back with them just before quarantine kicks in as the people who don’t manage to get back in time.

It’s a very strange situation all round.

Is it acceptable to chat to a neighbour in the shared back garden or is that too much mingling of households?

It hasn’t yet stopped people going to the pub next door and sitting out in the garden until late in the evening (despite the occasionally inclement weather) and talking loudly. Clearly nobody has told them the more you project your voice the more, possibly infected, droplets you spray around you. I wait to see whether the latest increased restrictions make any difference to the pub garden.

Our daughter has just acquired a second-hand off-road buggy to push her small offspring around when we go on our “adventuresl. She has been concerned that her ordinary, townie buggy has not been coping well with bridle paths and bumpy tracks. The new (to her) buggy will permit more adventurous sorties, following footpaths across fields and the like. So we gave it a bit of trial run yesterday afternoon, before the announcement came about not mixing households.

We are now fighting the temptation to organise a longer “adventure” today since the new ruling does not come into force until midnight tonight. Technically, I suppose, we could still cycle to her house or to her oldest daughter’s house, both outside Oldham, and do a socially distanced walk from there. This is the kind of thinking that muddled instructions encourage.

Hey ho!

Scanning news items here and there, I came across one which expressed concern about the continued decline in Modern Languages studies, a matter close to my heart. Only 7,557 took A-level French this year. Numbers taking Spanish rose slightly but German numbers also fell. It’s not just the increased isolation of our population that worries me but the loss of exposure to other cultures and the increased intolerance that comes along as a result. More worrying still is the fact that, certainly in state schools, that decline is accompanied by a decline in the humanities, such as history and geography. English fell by 25 percent and creative arts subjects by almost 17 percent from 2014 to 2019.

We’re not going to be world beaters in culture, that’s for sure!

In my youth I optimistically thought we lived in a world of expanding possibilities. Now it begins to feel that things are closing in on us. And I worry about the world our grandchildren will have to live in.

On that dismal note, life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 21 August 2020

Ongoing grades arguments. Who’s right for the job? Reading matters.

Oh boy, now we have secondary school headteachers wanting to appeal the GCSE results because some of them are too high. That sounds like a contradiction in terms but the concern is that students will be set up to fail, persuaded onto inappropriate courses post-GCSE. As I understand it, the problem is caused by the decision to let students have whichever grade was higher: the teacher assessed grade or the algorithm grade. But because GCSE exams are taken at two levels, foundation or higher, and because foundation level entries are grade restricted, the algorithm has given some students a grade they simply could not have achieved because their entry level did not permit it.

As various pop singers could tell the government, THERE IS NO EASY WAY OUT!

Whether or not the fact that the company that worked with Ofqual to devise the strategy for coping with the algorithm and the grades problem was one previously used by Gove and Cummings made any difference is an unknown factor. What is true is that they got the contract without it having been put out to tender.

Shades of government by “who do we know who can do this job”. I am reminded of the really badly translated menus you come across in restaurants abroad, where the translation job has been given to someone’s cousin who “used to be good at English in school”.

In Spain they call that kind of thing “enchufe”, being plugged in or having connections. Here I suppose we call it jobs for the boys.

So it goes!

Someone called Bidisha, a broadcaster, critic and journalist apparently, has been writing in the Guardian about her difficulty in concentrating on reading during the lockdown. “I know I’m not the only one.” she writes. “Despite the looming date of 3 September – the fated Thursday on which hundreds of new books will be published, all at the same time, to fail by Christmas – nobody I know is reading anything. Sustained concentration is impossible. I’ve finished one book during lockdown; it was by Danielle Steel and it was fantastic. It was about an ordinary middle-American woman who works at a printing company, gets obsessed with a Downton Abbey-like show, moves to England, gets work on the show, marries the guy who owns the castle that features on it, and by the end is a marchioness.”

She has resorted to comfort watching Downton Abbet and the like, abandoning books for the time being. Which is odd as I have made my way through some quite heavy reading and so have a number of my friends, judging by the notes we exchange. We also exchange notes on interesting box sets to watch, mostly foreign detective series. There is life beyond Downton Abbey!

Some of the books I have been reading are quite literally heavy. Hilary Mantel’s tomes are quite enormous. And I am currently reading Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, three books in one volume. Books of this size are not the sort of thing to read in bed. If you fell asleep reading and the book fell on your head it could do some serious damage. It might even prove fatal. Consequently my bedtime reading has consisted of the collected works of Donna Leon, detective stories set in Venice. These are lightweight paperbacks which do me no harm if I drop them on my head. And they have the added charm of the tales taking place in a city I am reasonably familiar with. I have read them all before but so long ago that the details have slipped away.

One I just finished - they last quite well as I only read for a short time before settling down to sleep - involved works of art stolen from or sold by rich folk who needed to escape from Italy during the Second World War. Coincidentally I came across a report about a painting stolen by the Nazis wartime France:

 “A 19th-century oil painting stolen from Nazi-occupied France during the second world war has gone on display in an attempt to trace its rightful owners, after being returned by the son of the German soldier who was ordered to take it.
After 76 years in Germany, the small untitled artwork by the French painter Nicolas Rousseau is back in France and being exhibited at the World Centre for Peace, Liberty and Human Rights in the north-eastern town of Verdun.
Next to it hangs a sign that reads: “If you recognise the landscape or have any information about this painting, we would be grateful if you would let us know.”
Philippe Hansch, the director of the centre, brought the painting back from Berlin by car at the beginning of August. For the past fortnight it has hung in the lobby of the centre, which receives 60,000 visitors a year, in the hope it will nudge someone’s memory and lead the painting back to its owners or their heirs.
“The painting is a big symbol of Franco-German friendship and allows the history of World War II to be told with fresh eyes from the French side and German side,” he said.”

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Official reminders about how to behave. Banning some festivities but preparing for others.

We received a letter from the local council yesterday, asking for our “continued support in tackling the Coronavirus pandemic in Oldham”. I was expecting such a letter since a friend had told me she had had one the previous day. As she lives marginally closer to the areas of the town with the most cases, I wondered if they had given priority to certain parts of town. And we are right on the edge, with a good deal of access to open country. A few miles up the road it’s already Yorkshire.

The town is desperately trying to avoid a return to an even stricter lockdown which would lead to further economic problems and very probably increased racial tension. And so we are reminded that:-

  • You cannot meet people from other households in your home or garden. 
  • You cannot visit someone else’s home or garden, even if they live outside of the affected area. 
  • You can only go to pubs, bats and restaurants with people you live with or your support bubble. 
  • And so on and so forth.
I hear that it’s hard to make people stick to the rules. Examples of people ignoring the advice abound. If it were not so depressing to have continual rain, you could almost wish for bad weather to deter people from going and sitting in pub gardens. 

Meanwhile, faced with rising numbers of cases, in Germany they are thinking of banning the carnival season which begins on 11 November, and whose highlights are huge parades held the week before Ash Wednesday, marking the start of lent.

“The states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rheinland Pfalz are home to the biggest celebrations, including costume balls and fancy dress parades during which thousands of tonnes of sweets are thrown into the crowds and large amounts of alcohol are consumed.

The city of Cologne hosts the largest events, attracting hundreds of thousands of revellers from around the world. Carnival committees in communities across the country spend months planning the festivities, which typically have a subversive character. Motorised floats heavily satirise political developments taking place at home and abroad.”

You can see why they expect some kind of backlash protest; some local economies will be very hard hit. Schools and old people’s home will be able to organise their own fancy dress event if they wish but big events involving masses of people on the streets will probably not go ahead.

As the head of the Bundestag’s health committee, Erwin Rüddel, a self-confessed carnivalist, said, “We have enough evidence that physical distancing and alcohol are not compatible.”


In contrast, I read that Malaga and Vigo are already putting up Christmas lights. I thought I had misread that but then I remembered my amazement in previous years on seeing the teams busy out at work in the streets of Vigo hanging Christmas decorations across just about all the streets. Over the last few years in the run-up to Christmas people have arrived in Vigo by the busload, all planning to stroll around the streets oohing and aahing at the wonderful display which Mayor Abel Caballero says will be better than New York’s this year. Some even come for the weekend and for short city breaks, so enamoured are they of the bright lights.

Mayor Caballero plans to spend €800,000 on Christmas decorations this year. The work has started early because all the Covid restrictions are slowing things down and he wants to be sure of all being ready. He is pretty confident thought that the pandemic will not keep the tourists away, insisting that protective measures will be in place. “Our Christmas will be exceptional, beautiful … but 100% Covid secure.”

He’s still working on getting a Ferris wheel. “I want a Ferris wheel for Christmas and I’m not ruling out a permanent one to compete with the London Eye,” he said.

And I am trying hard to visualise quite where he could put a Ferris wheel. Somewhere down near the port/marina where all the expensive yachts are moored, overshadowing the horrible A Laxe shopping centre? Surely not on Plaza de Compostela? A sure way to ruin a beautiful alameda!

We shall see! Or maybe not as we still do not know when we will next be able to travel to Galicia. The very idea of getting on a local bus is not top of my list of things-I-must-do-again-soon, let alone getting on a plane. 

Ah well, it’s another fine, if rather windy, day. We’ll continue with our socially-distanced walks for the time being.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The vagaries of weather. Stately homes. Is Marge Simpson allowed to vote?

Draping the washing around the house to dry indoors yesterday worked like a charm, as I predicted. Had I hung it out to dry in the garden it would undoubtedly have started to rain again instantly. As it was the day improved as it went along, with sunny spells and patches of blue sky.

Consequently, in the afternoon we decided to walk up Lark Hill, otherwise known in our family as The Quarry Road, one of the steepest walks around here. The path itself, after the very lowest section, neatly tarmac-covered as far as the entrance to last house - only about 100 yards - is in a rather bad state. Over the years heavy rain has washed much of the soil away from around the stones which at one time made a reasonable surface to drive perhaps a horse-drawn cart on and in later years a 4x4 vehicle.

The heather was blooming nicely.


And the farmers were out muck-spreading,

 creating a bit of a stink and attracting masses of seagulls! 

Today was forecast to be wet. It stayed dry for my ride to the market at Uppermill. Later my daughter and I had planned one of our “adventures”, this time a walk to Uppermill(yes, two visits in one day!), a picnic in the park and a walk back along the canal tow path and the Donkey Line bridle path.

We saw some brightness on our way there

but our return journey saw rain on the canal

 and on the river. So it goes.

Amongst the various reports about our slave-owning past (not mine personally as I don’t think my family was ever wealthy enough) I came across this:-

“Almost a third of stately homes owned by the National Trust have links to slavery or colonialism, a report is expected to announce next month, as the heritage charity announced plans to keep most controversial objects on its sites to avoid “shutting down debate”.”

Hardly a surprise, surely?

As rallies for both Republicans and Democrats, real or virtual, get under way, fantasy meets reality in the weird world of American electioneering, as demonstrated by this story:-

“America’s already wildly unpredictable 2020 election campaign has taken a further bizarre twist after a top Donald Trump adviser got into a spat with Marge, one of the characters of the hit animated comedy show The Simpsons.

The fight began when Jenna Ellis, a senior Trump campaign adviser, sought to mock the California senator Kamala Harris after she was picked to become the Democratic party’s vice-presidential nominee. “Kamala sounds like Marge Simpson,” Ellis wrote on Twitter referring to the much beloved mom character on the long-running cartoon series.

From decades of being married to the hapless Homer Simpson, Marge (or her creator) has probably learned not to suffer fools gladly. So it was that the show’s official Twitter account struck back against Ellis by posting a short clip in which Marge took on the criticism with an implicit scolding. 


Marge Simpson has something to say.

 3:58 PM · Aug 14, 2020

“As an ordinary suburban housewife, I’m starting to feel a little disrespected. I teach my children not to name-call, Jenna,” Marge said.

She added: “I was going to say I am pissed off but I’m afraid they’d bleep it.”

That did not end the fight. Ellis later tweeted in response: “Marge is probably going to vote Democrat … by mail.””

And the question of postal voting continues to cause some controversy over there. Strange times!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Weather insurance policies. U-turns. Inequality. Piggie-protests.

A rather rainy Tuesday today. After some time spent listening to the rain, I decided to run in the rain anyway this morning. Once you have decided to do so, it’s not at all bad. I have become quite adept at circumventing or jumping over muddy puddles. At one point I had to balance on a bit of a plank that someone has put over a rather deep one. It’s turning into an assault course!

The weather cleared later, probably prompted by the fact that I had hung my washing indoors to dry. It’s a bit like an insurance policy. Had I hung it out in the garden, no doubt the rain would have returned immediately. Further rain, even torrential stuff, is forecast for later though.

Well, the news is that the government has made another u-turn, this time over those non-exam grades. It’s almost becoming a modus operandi. However, Ofqual has said that while teacher assessed grades will now apply to GCSEs and A-Levels, they won’t apply to B-Tecs, which are more specialist work-related and include more practical elements. This decision has caused a new bit of clamour. Some educationalists are saying that those studying BTecs – many of whom still haven’t received their grades, despite being due to get them last week – had been disadvantaged by the UK government’s announcement:

“Students who have taken BTECs, utterly disadvantaged by this decision but there won't be the media or social media clamour because they aren't middle class qualifications.”

This comment has an element of truth. Middle class aspirational parents will have pushed/persuaded their offspring onto more traditional academic courses. Here’s what Zarah Sultana MP had to say about it all: ·

“The Government has U-turned! Instead of their rigged algorithm, teachers' assessments will be used for A-Levels & GCSEs.

Let this be a lesson: Working class young people don't have to accept the Tories' rotten deal. When we stand up & fight back, we can win a brighter future.

We now need to push to ensure that unfair BTEC downgrades are corrected, that no one wrongly loses a place at university, & that financial support is made available for those who have to defer.

And Gavin Williamson should resign for causing this fiasco.”

There seem to be no signs of resignations any time soon. He really needs to sort things out since he sort of got us into the mess. Besides, who would they replace him with?

And now, of course, there is another fine mess: university admissions! I suppose they could just withdraw all offers confirmed over the last few days, pretend last Thursday never happened and just start the process over again. But that would provoke another lot of protests from those who have now accepted offers as they stood last Thursday. It’s a real dog’s breakfast, as some people say.

Some of the young people who have now accepted their second choice offer might even be happier with that one in the long run. I remember a student of mine who missed out on going to study English at Oxford by one grade in one subject. He went off to study English and creative writing, I think at Exeter. At the time he was devastated but since then he has said it was probably the best thing that happened to him. He thinks he might have found the atmosphere at Oxford too heady for him and it would have encouraged his tendency to be impractically dreamy. He did well at Exeter and now does something in journalism, as far as I know. A bit of serendipity.

Another kind of outcry has arisen from the follow-up to the story of the German nudist whose laptop, in it’s bag, was stolen by a wild boar recently. The wildboar and her offspring have since been sighted frequently at Teufelssee lake rifling through bathers’ picnic baskets and rucksacks. Shades of Yogi Bear and bis love of “pickernick baskets”.

The animals’ cheeky lack of timidity has prompted some folk to say they are a danger to humans - a full grown wild boar is rather large after all - especially if the said humans try to defend their belongings.

“This wild sow and her two young is a frequent visitor at Teufelssee,” Katja Kammer, the head of the forestry office in the district of Grunewald told the broadcaster RBB. “They phlegmatically forage in broad daylight over the grass looking for food wherever there are bathers. They have lost all sense of shyness.” 

Now it has been suggested that the picnic-loving greedy piggies should be killed. Inevitably a petition has been organised calling for the “cheeky but peaceful sow from Teufelssee” to be spared. More than 5,300 had signed it by Monday afternoon. Its organisers said that in contrast to other wild boar, which can pose considerable danger to humans and dogs, this female had built a reputation “over years” of being friendly towards bathers.

“There has been absolutely no account taken for the fact that this sow has peacefully shared her living space with bathers for years,” they said, adding that the creature’s very friendliness was in danger of leading to its downfall. “This wild boar has earned the right to live,” they said.

I wonder how Astérix and Obélix would have reacted to this turn of events.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 17 August 2020

Pessimistic headlines. Family adventures. Lockdown experience stories - and other stories.

Among the various headlines in Coronavirus updates I find these:-
  • Italy hits record daily Covid-19 case since May. 
  • France reports 3,015 new cases over 24 hours. 
  • Greece will only flatten the curve of a second coronavirus wave now gripping the country if diagnosed cases drop below 200 a day, a leading infectious disease expert has warned. 
  • Spanish regions attempt to control virus by shutting bars by 1am as cases rise. 
I bet that last one is going down well in a country where many people wait until 10.00pm to dine and loads of young people only go out just before midnight.

And people are telling me that it’s perfectly safe and reasonable to go on foreign holidays!!

For the time being I think we’ll just carry on having family adventures, out and about in our local area.

Yesterday our daughter reckoned we did 12 kilometres. Not bad for a fairly sultry afternoon: from our house, through the village, up the hill to Heights church again and back down the valley once more. 

We split the party into two at one point. We had been walking through the valley that goes from Slackcote, where we had our first house, and Delph. (We had wanted to show the grandchildren where their mother was born.) It became clear that the baby buggy was not going to make it on one section of path. So Phil took the granddaughters, 23, 17 and almost 4, on the valley path, while my daughter and I pushed up the track to the main road, meeting up further along the way. En route we saw a charming little house I have never come across before. Bits of beauty everywhere.

Despite the adverse weather forecast, we managed to do our marathon without getting properly rained on. We did walk through quite a bit of low cloud at times though. And later in the evening the rain came down with a vengeance although we had none of the promised thunderstorms. I thought I might have to run in the rain this morning but it stayed fine for me, although the mud puddles are back on the bridle paths after the overnight rain. And it’s surprisingly warm still. Not a spectacular summer but still a summer of sorts.

As we settle down to accept our odd social situation, and in between one, usually government-created, crisis and another, the newsmen seek out new angles to write about. One has been how the lockdown caused changes in people’s lives:- losing weight, learning to live with certain aspects of life and so on. One that struck me was about a man who gave up gambling.

When the lockdown was announced, he decided this was his opportunity to get out of the addiction that had been growing since he was in his twenties. He had slipped into gambling when he worked as a waiter and would finish an evening shift gambling away his tips, just his tips and no more. Little by little he began to gamble more money away, borrowing from friends and family and using his girlfriend’s bank card to withdraw money. Lockdown prompted him to take take decisive action and he asked his local casino to ban him for life, presumably in case he stepped back on the slippery slope after lockdown. He had never been tempted by online gambling; it was the excitement of the casino’s atmosphere that caught him. And as he could no longer visit casinos during lockdown he says he has successfully turned his life around. Good for him.

Another, completely unrelated, story also caught my eye. Two years ago a small boy stuffed a Lego man’s arm up his nose, in that annoying way that some children do. His parents and several doctors were unable to retrieve it and in the end thought he might not have introduced this foreign body into his nasal cavity at all. If he had, the doctors assured his parents, it would probably make his way through his system and come out. Really!?

Anyway, the other day, tempted by the smell of a plate of cupcakes he sniffed long and hard and then complained that his nose hurt. Aware of his propensity to get things up his nose - he had form even before the Lego man’s arm incident - his mother helped him blow his nose hard. And out came a lego-man’s arm, to the delight of the small boy who had felt misjudged by his parents two years previously. “You see, I did put the arm up my nose! And you didn’t believe me!”

Lego people’s arms are very small, I hasten to add in case any reader is unfamiliar with them. And it would seem that lots of children also swallow bits of Lego, for the rather gruesome, and very snotty, story finished with this comment:-

“In 2018 a team of doctors swallowed Lego and timed how long it took to pass through their bowels in an attempt to reassure concerned parents.”

That’s dedication for you!

 Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 16 August 2020

A bit of a rant about the A-Level “results” fiasco.

The A-level grades business has truly opened a can of worms. My brother-in-law re-posted this tweet from someone or other:

 “So.. my neighbour got a predicted A from her teacher, B in her mock ... and was given an E. A kid from the private school on he next road got a C in her mock, a predicted B and was awarded an A*.

Just ...? Kids, you’ll be of voting age in the next general election. Remember.”

That seems to be the brunt of the problem.

Pundits are saying, well, some private school grades were also lowered but ... it does seem to be mostly state schools.

And now there is some question about possibly cancelling the appeals procedure.

Friends of mine who are still teaching, and especially still teaching A-level, are posting all sorts of explanations of the system and protests at the evident unfairness.

And I find myself getting annoyed at the terminology used. First of all many state schools are being described as “poor schools”, which is a sweeping generalisation that is totally unfair to teachers and students alike. They may be in “poor”, ie deprived, areas but the schools and colleges (in other words the teachers and students) are probably, no, undoubtedly, working their socks off to do as well as possible. Having less money does not mean having less intelligence!

Then there is the talk about “exam results”. These are not “exam” results because exams were not sat, they are awarded grades and should be referred to as such!

Part of the problem is the attempt to make this seem like a normal year and last Thursday a normal results day. A-Level results are traditionally announced on the second Thursday in August. This has given time for masses of exam papers, from exams sat in May as a rule, to be marked and moderated, and for grade boundaries (which vary from year to year and are not set in stone as some of the commentators appear to think) to be decided and quibbled over.

None of that has happened this year.

Teachers assessed their students’ progress, suggested grades those students should award and put said students in rank order. Then along came the algorithm and caused chaos. But there was surely no need to wait until the normal “results day” to announce that chaos. The proposed adjustments could surely have been sent to the schools and colleges weeks ago so that they could make the necessary ensuing protests and appeals. And a bunch of 18 year olds, who we must remember are no longer really children but young adults, could have been spared a lot of heartache!

A bit of forward planning was needed. That’s my take on it all anyway!

Next Thursday, the traditional GCSE results day, another set of non-results will be announced. This time many more students will be involved and they will be wanting to dash off to the sixth form colleges they have applied to in order to check that they still have a place on the A-Level or vocational course of their choice. Because that’s how the system has worked for years and years and that’s how it will continue to work as we pretend that 2020 is just another year.

I truly do not know what the solution is but trying to fit an oddly shaped package onto the normal opening - square pegs in round holes and so on - does not appear to be working. Someone suggested putting everything on hold, letting the students sit the exams, and then starting the academic year in January. And yes, I recognise that that would not necessarily be fair either! But some kind of radical re-thinking needs to be done.

Phil and I are simply very thankful that our teenage grandchildren don’t sit GCSE and A-Level exams until 2021, by which time we hope the system might have been sorted out and the youngsters concerned will have had some time to get back into the “normal” routine of things. We shall see. These are indeed strange times.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone?

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Summer festivities. Jamón ibérico. What’s in a name? Out and about.

Today is August 15th. That’s half way through August already! This strange summer of coronavirus on and off lockdown is really jogging along. It’s also Ferragosto. Well, it is in Italy anyway, and presumably for Italians living in this country as well. For the religious it’s the Feast of the Assumption, when Mary is supposed to have been taken up to heaven. So even if Ferragosto isn’t an actual public holiday it becomes one because of the religious connection. Here’s a bit of Wikipedia info about it:-

“Ferragosto is a public holiday celebrated on 15 August in all of Italy. It originates from Feriae Augusti, the festival of emperor Augustus, who made the 1st of August a day of rest after the weeks of hard work of the agricultural sector. It became a custom for the workers to wish their employers "buon ferragosto" and they would get a monetary bonus. This became law during the Renaissance throughout the papal states. As the festivity was created for political reasons, the Catholic Church decided to move the festivity to the 15th of August which is the Assumption of Mary allowing them to include this in the festivity. This festivity was also used by Mussolini to give the lower classes the possibility to visit cultural cities or go to the seaside for one to three days, from the 14th of August to the 16th, by creating "holiday trains" with extremely low cost tickets, for this holiday period. Food and board was not included, this is why even today Italians associate packed lunches and barbecues with this day.”

There you go.

Personally I am not a great fan of jamón ibérico. I have to be in the mood. When I am in the mood, yes, I can appreciate a nice bit of jamón ibérico but I wouldn’t go out of my way to seek it out. I am always amused to see shops that sell nothing but cured ham, great legs of cured ham hanging up for all to admire. Now it seems that the Americans, well, some Americans, are planning on producing their own jamón ibérico.

Some farmers in Texas and Georgia have imported the blackfoot pigs and are rearing them with a view to becoming producers and sellers of Iberian ham. Certain Spanish producers are a bit miffed by this and blame the stupidity of their government in not making it a kind of patent name, like Champagne. Mind you, that might not have protected anything as some American sparkling wines still call themselves champagne!

Further Spanish indignation comes from the fact that the Texans plan to feed the pigs peanuts rather than acorns. The consumption of acorns gives the jamón ibérico its distinctive flavour apparently. So maybe Iberian-style American ham might be quite different.

Cornish pasties suffer the same competition problem - not, I hasten to add, from America but from the rest of the UK. Understandably, I suppose, people get a little possessive about their names. There was a move to say that only pasties made in Cornwall could rightly be called Cornish. I am not sure how the law stands on that but I do know that it is possible to go to one of our local bakers and buy a Cornish pasty, definitely not made in Cornwall, and very tasty their pasties are too!

A smallholding not far from our house has started to have pigs in their field, so far only three. I wonder if they plan to make Iberian ham or if this is another aspect of getting into the “spirit of the blitz” - households fattening a pig up for consumption later in the year.

Out and about, we have admired some people’s gardens with sunflowers abounding.

And we have been astounded at the exotic blooms that grow in some places around here.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 14 August 2020

Thinking about education. Out of their depth. Going back into full lockdown? Talking to people.

This is the moment in the year when I used to be really busy as a sixth form tutor, congratulating and commiserating with students about their A-level results. Tutors would get busy helping sort out whether or not universities would still accept students who had missed their target by one grade in one subject, and then dealing with the clearing house system for those who definitely had not been accepted. So it was strange yesterday to hear all this being discussed on news broadcasts as if it were a new system created by this years’s unusual circumstances. Of course it’s not the same as usual but there have always been stressed-out students (and parents and teachers) at this point in the academic year.

It has to be said, however, that the whole thing seems to have been a bit shambolic. Students predicted, for example, a grade B really should not find themselves downgraded to grade E, which apparently did happen. None of the methods of awarding grades or appealing decisions that have worked in previous years really apply to this year’s situation.

Nothing is helped by Gavin Williamson saying things like:

 “Increasing the A Level grades will mean a whole generation could end up promoted beyond their abilities”

That is assuming that he really said that and it’s not just another myth. But it has been taken as yet another slur on youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. Upper class youngsters don’t run such a risk, or so it is implied. As if all young people moving into the world of work did not have to learn and develop the necessary abilities for the job in hand. You might think that ministers who have rapidly had to develop the skills needed for their jobs would understand this.

Layla Moran, education spokesperson for the Lib Dems had this to say:

“Gavin Williamson is an education secretary out of his depth and out of excuses. He must take responsibility for his mistakes and step down with immediate effect. Our young people and our country cannot afford these blunders to continue into September ahead of a potential second wave.” 

Whenever something like this comes up and cries go out for the minister or manager or whoever to resign immediately I wonder if that is really a solution. Surely that person should be made to take responsibility for the fracas and put it right, maybe, indeed almost certainly, with some extra advice and assistance. New brooms sweeping clean and fresh eyes looking at things are all very well but someone new having to get their head round a problem is not necessarily going to expedite a solution. Well, that’s what I think anyway!

However, I am rather glad not to be having to solve the problem myself. Another of the benefits of being a retired person.

We still wait to see whether it will be decided to put Oldham back into full lockdown, with non-essential shops closed and presumably pubs and restaurant closed again. An announcement is supposed to be being made today. Our daughter has a theory that the full lockdown will return, giving the borough two full weeks of major restrictions to try to get things under control in time for children going back to school. She may well be right.

I seem to have spent a good part of this morning on the telephone, catching up with various members of the family - a litany of anxiety about a cat due to go to see the vet, friends about to have babies, others suffering from stress and actual physical illness, and high points such as the six-year-old granddaughter going to “tech-camp” organised by her school. There she has rapidly developed It skills to the point where she can tell her father “It’s quicker if I do it rather than telling you how!” She is also turning into an avid Minecraft fan, taking me back almost ten years to when her older cousins were busy Minecrafters!

What goes around comes around!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Making “days”. Good boot company actions. Reportiing the virus. Numbers. Asylum seekers. And out and about photos.

It seems that today is International Left Handers' Day. Who decides these things? Every slightly different-from-the-norm group has a “day” in the present world. As a left-handed friend of mine commented, “once they give you your own special day you know you're part of an oppressed minority”. Which is a bit extreme and possibly insulting to truly oppressed minorities. But then, left-handed children used to have their left hand tied so that they were forced to use their right hand. And I am told that my grandmother used to frantically rinse her hair with camomile to calm its colour down, flaming red hair being too embarrassingly noticeable!

I read yesterday that the Doctor Martens boots company has repaid its furlough cash to the government. Their sales rose nearly 50% in the year to June and the group’s profits nearly doubled. The company claimed furlough payments in line with the job retention scheme but now they have returned the money. Just think, they could have given shareholders extra dividends or paid the CEO a big bonus! But, no, they have decided to give the money back and help the country out. Well done!

The Guardian’s Coronavirus blog gave a “closing summary” yesterday, beginning: Closing summary Kevin Rawlinson We’re going to close down this live blog now. Thanks for reading and commenting. And ending: If you’d like to continue following the Guardian’s coronavirus coverage, head over to the global live blog. Does this mean the crisis is all over in the UK? I don’t think so. Our town is still getting warnings of a possible total shutdown unless things improve quickly. And I am getting confused about numbers, especially numbers of people who have died from the virus. This is because of this report:

“UK government removes thousands of people from Covid death toll after redefining it The Department of Health and Social Care has reduced the UK’s death toll by more than 5,000 following a review of how figures are calculated. Officials said that, as of Wednesday 12 August, the number of all deaths in patients testing positive for Covid-19 within 28 days was 41,329.
Earlier government figures said 46,706 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, as of 5pm on Tuesday. The DHSC said the change came after the UK government and devolved administrations agreed to publish the number of deaths that have occurred within 28 days of a positive lab-confirmed Covid test result each day.”

It rather smacks of manipulation to me.

I suppose all reporting is selective. We have been hearing lots of reports of the small boats full of asylum seekers crossing the Channel, as if it were something new and unusual. And yet one report said that boats have been making the crossing for years. It’s just not received a lot of attention. And possibly there are actually more of them this year. This year more than 4,000 refugees have made the treacherous journey across the waters to Dover, often in dinghies. Now it appears that British First activists have got boats out patrolling the Kent coast, vigilante self-appointed immigration officials. I dread to think of how they will treat any asylum seekers they come across.

Mid to late afternoon yesterday my daughter and I cajoled, badgered and otherwise nagged my eldest granddaughter to go for a walk with us after she logged off work. So she donned her shorts and we braved the heat, walking along wooded bridle paths and canal tow paths. En route we spotted the handiwork of young den makers - quite impressive. On the whole, I have been impressed by the way young teens have been out and about on their bikes and rambling around doing all sorts if adventurous outdoor things: making rope swings, building ramos to do stunt cycling and now building teepee-like dens.

I also snapped some fine reflections.


And we picked, and immediately ate, blackberries, which are ripe very early this year in my opinion.

Of course, the best-looking berries are always the ones just out of reach.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.