Sunday, 28 February 2021

Crisp, cold morning. The oddness of the world: refusal of the vaccine and other oddities. Drinking with Springsteen.

Jack Frost patterns on the skylight windows this morning. 


Heavy frost on the cricket ground.  


Interesting shadows of trees on the frost. 



It’s a fine sunny Sunday but it was very cold to begin with. It’s the price you pay for clear nights with a big bright moon. I am reliably informed that the dawn was lovely but that was by someone whose house has a big picture window looking out onto one of the millponds and the hills beyond. He was returning from walking his dog as I went by his house and he told me that the sky was full of amazing colour at 6 this morning. 

For one thing, I wasn’t awake at 6.00 and for another, even if I had been the hilly ridge behind the houses opposite ours prevents us from seeing the best of the sunrise. Sunrise for us - actually seeing the sun pop up - is usually a bit later and in more subdued colours. 

But it is a fine day. 

It’s a funny world we live in. We’re constantly told at the moment that we’re doing really well with the “roll out of the vaccine” (for some reason the terminology annoys me - I think it’s a general discomfort with jargon) and yet according to some sources more than a fifth of healthcare workers in England have not received their first dose. This is not because they haven’t been offered it; this is apparently people not taking up the offer. It is generally believed that acceptance is higher among those working directly with Covid patients. Well, you would hope and expect that to be the case. But why isn’t everyone working in healthcare shouting out to receive the vaccine? Is it a question of pay? Are they afraid of an adverse reaction causing them to have to take, possibly unpaid, time off work? Or is it the old thing about nurses making the worst patients and they are all afraid of needles? 

Goodness knows!

And then there are all the people getting agitated about the possibility that they might have to carry around a card proving they have been vaccinated. I can understand the objection to having to provide proof of identity when you go to vote at a polling station; there are sections of our community who would find it hard to show such proof and they could be prevented from voting. But I don’t see why most people, or indeed anyone, would object to carrying a card showing they have received the vaccine; most of carry a load of cards around with us anyway - credit and debit cards, loyalty cards, library cards, driving license and so on. So a card that going to make it easier for you to get on with your life should not present a problem. But there are those who regard it as an infringement of their personal freedom. And having to prove you have passed the driving test isn’t??

I shouldn’t even get started on abuse on social media but there it is. Sonia McLaughan is a sports reporter apparently. I wouldn’t really know because I rarely read or watch sports and never rugby reporting. Anyway it seems she interviewed Owen Farrell, rugby player, and was quite rigourous in her questioning. This led to a whole host of Farrell fans sending her abusive tweets. Why do people feel they have the right to do that? Isn’tmshouting at the telly enough?

Across the pond one of my heroes, Bruce Springsteen, has reportedly had drink-driving charges against him dropped. Back in November it seems he was out and about on his motorbike and met some fans in New Jersey’s Gateway National Recreation Area. He had a couple of shots of tequila with them. Do American Springsteen fans carry tequila around with them? Or maybe there is a bar. Anyway, how exciting for the fans to go to the recreation area, see The Boss on his motorbike and share a drink with him. But the police stopped him because they said he was “visibly swaying back and forth”. I bet the arresting officer has dined out on that story quite a lot since November! In the end he was found not guilty of drink-driving but, yes, guilty of drinking alcohol in a national park. Well, that settles the question of whether or not there is a bar! 

He admitted knowing drinking alcohol in the park was illegal and was fined $500 plus $40 in court fees. “Mr Springsteen, I need to know how long you need to pay that fine,” the judge, Anthony Mautone, told him. “I think I can pay that immediately, your honour,” he responded. Yeah, I reckon he could afford that. 

Quick to disassociate from a possible wrong-doer, Jeep stopped airing its  Super Bowl advert starring Bruce Springsteen in the wake of the allegations coming to light. However it doesn’t seem to have worried Barack Obama. “Earlier this week, Springsteen launched a new podcast series with Barack Obama, entitled Renegades: Born in the USA. “Bruce and I have been on parallel journeys, looking for a way to connect our own individual searches for meaning, truth and community with the larger story of America,” Obama said in a trailer advertising the series. “We still share a fundamental belief in the American idea. Not as an act of nostalgia, but as a compass for the hard work that lies before us.””

There you go!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Hugs - the importance of them. Sci-fi nostalgia. Fairness - or lack of - and threats to national security.

Yesterday, as I have already described, we went on a probably still illegal family walk. When my daughter arrived and they got out of the car, the four-year-old ran up the road with a shout of “Grandma!” and hugged my legs. Her older sister, almost 18, looked on in something like horror and asked, “Can we do that now?” She has been saying for months that she misses being able to hug the family members who don’t actually live in her house. The answer to her question is “Probably not”, but I wasn’t going to tell the four-year-old to stop. It’s the first time she has done this. For most of the past year we haven’t been able to snuggle up and read a story book or watch a video on any kind of regular basis and spontaneous hugs have been slow to develop. 

And there must be loads of grandchildren and grandparents all over the country, all over the world, who have not been able to develop spontaneous hugging. And that’s one of the saddest things about the pandemic. And it’s not just grandparents and grandchildren, of course. It must be hardest for those who live alone and have nobody to hug as often as they like on a daily basis. Surely everyone needs hugs. I find myself thinking also about the young people who over the last twenty years have become much more huggy and kissy than ever they used to be. I would watch students at the sixth form college where I worked greet each other with hugs and kisses as if they had been separated for months or bid each other goodbye as if at least one of them was setting off for the other side of the world never to return. Everyone became very touchy-feely. Was it foreign travel and seeing all those French and Italian and Spanish folk kissing hello and goodbye? Somehow elbow-touching and fist-bumping don’t quite hack it. But will ever feel able to get back to big hugs?  

My hero, Michael Rosen, as well as waxing indignant about things educational, has been writing nostalgic poems about things from his childhood. Here’s the start of one of them:-

“My brother and I listened to

Journey Into Space

on the wireless.

Each week our heroes went out into space

battled with aliens millions of miles from home.

We were there with them,

out there

facing so many dangers

saving the universe.”

As I read it I was transported back to early evenings of my own childhood, listening to the same programme with my parents and my older sister. (My younger brother and sister were too small to appreciate it.) My sister and I can still intone “I must not go to sleep! I must not go to sleep!” in the correct expressionless monotone required to prevent the intrepid travellers from succumbing to the powers of their alien opponents. Great stuff! It was the best sci-fi going! Some years later, when we finally had a television, it was the series “A for Andromeda” that thrilled me and fired my imagination. I just googled it and discovered that the TV series starred a young Julie Christie. Who knew? Those were the days! Eat your heart out Star Wars and Doctor Who!

Okay! That’s the nostalgia bit done for the time being. 

I was woken at around 7.15 yesterday morning with a “ping!” from my phone as yet another text message came in “inviting” me to make an appointment for my Covid-19 vaccination. So that’s an official letter and at least three text messages since I was vaccinated three weeks ago. It’s not just me, nor is it just Phil and me; one of the neighbours says it’s happening to her as well. So when I see reports of people not taking up the offer to be vaccinated I find myself wondering if the statistics include those of us ignoring reminders to do something we have already done. I also wonder how many people are quietly waiting for an “invitation” which has simply not been sent.

According to this article there is some vaccine-envy around and quite a lot of cheating the system. People are pretending to fall into certain categories to go and have the vaccine before their age-group turn works its way round. And there is a new acronym: VOMO. Well, it’s not strictly speaking an acronym. Apparently it stand for “fear of missing out on the vaccine”, and it has its name by analogy with FOMO - Fear Of Missing Out.

Now for something else. Most of us look back at our 15- or 16-year old selves with a mix of embarrassment and relief: embarrassment at some of the daft things we did and relief that we got away with them and grew up into the people we are today - hopefully less embarrassing at least. And there is Shamima Begum, 21 now I think, living in a refugee camp, having lost baby, looking back at being recruited by ISIS when she was fifteen and now being told she can’t return to the UK to appear in court to plead for return of her British citizenship. Apparently she’s a threat to national security. 15- and 16-year olds might feel very grown-up but really they are still children. I think of how much support our oldest granddaughter still seems to need at the age of 23  and my heart goes out for this young woman trying to deal with this in a refugee camp. Yes, she was foolish, more than foolish, to run off at age 15 but she surely deserves a second chance. 

Inevitably, comparisons are being made between her case and that of the young man from Cornwall who became the youngest person to be convicted in the UK of a terrorist offence. He was 13 when he was recruited into an on-line neo-Nazi organization set on carrying out a “white jihad” against all non-white, Jewish and LGBT+ people. He had a collection of manuals on weapons and on making explosives. He was 16 when sentenced and he received a 24-month youth rehabilitation order. All right, he didn’t run away to Syria but he has been judged a threat to the national security. Another difference is that he is white and he still has his British citizenship. 

I may be missing something but it does seem rather unfair.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone

Friday, 26 February 2021

Out and about here and there. Spring. Exams. Religious festivals. And a bit of Spain’s past revealed.

Yesterday we did go up Lark Hill, as I thought we might. Half way up we decided to investigate what remains of the old quarry. 

We have been intrigued by all the signs of activity but it’s always been either too muddy and wet or the path has seemed too steep and messy for us to go and investigate. 



Yesterday it was relatively dry and so we went to have a look. It was obvious that huge slabs of stone had been placed at the top of the path at one point and in a couple of other places. 


Quite what the purpose of all this activity was remains a mystery. Perhaps someone wants to stop trail bikers and quad bike riders from going up and down the slopes. Who knows? We are none the wiser for having looked.

We had to do a bit of ducking and weaving, in and out of barbed wire, to make our way back to the path. 


The views from the top were pretty spectacular, with some interesting winter sky.



Today we did a probably still illegal family chippy hike - a walk to Diggle in the sunshine and a walk back under clouds. 



No rain though, which is always good! 







There were signs of spring all over the place.











 Our middle granddaughter was telling us during our hike how pleased she is that her teachers will be assessing her for her A Level courses. She’s basically had something like half a year of her AS year in college and will maybe have had half her A Level year in college. So it’s been a funny experience of sixth form life. She’s just asked the universities that have offered her places on courses to let her defer entry for a year. In that way she hopes that maybe things will have calmed down by the time she heads off to wherever she goes in October 2022. And maybe ... just maybe ... she can find some kind of employment and save some money before then. We shall see.

Here is one of Michael Rosen’s "comments" on the exams decision:-

“Dear Dominic

For years Gibb et al have been banging on about how exams are fairer than teacher assessment, and now I'm telling the bloody masses that teachers doing it is fair. What if it is fair? It'll stymie us for beating the drums for exams next year.

Circus in tandem


And here’s a little something from “Have I Got News For You”:

“As Gavin Williamson reveals grades will be decided by teachers, experts warn it could result in people ending up in jobs they are not remotely qualified for, such as Secretary of State for Education.”

Meanwhile, I came across this link to some pictures of the Jewish festival of Purim, which has gone ahead in Israel with a curfew, trying to keep it as Covid-free and Covid-safe as possible. Looking at people dressed up and dancing on the street and sharing food, I am reminded of Carnival. No doubt people who study comparative religions could tell me if there is any shared connection.

On the subject of things Jewish, here is a link to an article about a bar in Utrera, Andalucia, Spain, where renovations led to archaeologists being called in to investigate what might once have been a medieval synagogue.

The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. In that same year the Hospital de la Misericordia was founded, possible using the old synagogue itself. In 1604 a local,priest, historian and poet, Rodrigo Caro, described an area in the centre of Utrera: “In that place, there were only foreign and Jewish people … who had their synagogue where the Hospital de la Misericordia now stands.” Since then it’s been a home for abandoned children, a restaurant and more recently a bar, all the while hiding a bit of Spanish history. Spain is a fascinating place both on the surface and below the surface - buts of history pop up all over! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Sunny days. Weathermen. A bit of a rant about education and assessment at the moment.

I ran in the sunshine this morning. After a little discussion with myself I decided I would put my beanie hat on but leave my gloves at home, for the first time in a while. I probably should have put my gloves on as well as the air was quite chilly but it was a good morning to be out and about. Maybe we’ll take a walk up Lark Hill later. As the weatherman promises us another fine day tomorrow we have a chippy hike planned with my brother-in-law. 

Our current favourite weatherman, the delightful, delightfully camp and ever so dapper Owain Wyn Evans, surprised us last night by appearing on the North West news in a different capacity, interviewing LBGQT people in the region. So I suspect that he’ll be moving on to other things in the field of broadcasting before we know it. He looks terribly young when you see him doing his weather forecast in one of his seemingly endless array of three-piece suits in a range of often pastel colours, but when you look him up on internet it turns out he’s well into his 30s. Okay, yes, still terribly young! He’s been broadcasting since he was 18, doing Welsh language children’s news programmes and last year joined Carol Vorderman a tour across Wales where he taught her to speak the Welsh language for the S4C TV programme Iaith ar Daith. He’s clearLy a young man of many talents - also famous for his drumming! There you go. 

Having watched on Netflix last night an episode of Dix Pour Cent, the French comedy series known here as Call my Agent, and then caught the weather forecast on BBC North West Tonight for a bit more light entertainment, we turned to BBC 2’s Newsnight for more serious stuff to finish the evening off. Emily Maitlis began by shouting at us about the importance of helping children catch up with all the schooling they have missed. I suppose shouting was one way of emphasising the importance. This was by way of an introduction to a discussion with Dr Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the teachers’ union the NEU and Sir Michael Wilshaw, formerly Chief Inspector of Schools and head of Ofsted from 2012 to 2016. 

Michael Wilshaw expressed the opinion that teachers need to take an example from the NHS staff and “go the extra mile” by stepping up to offer extra classes through the summer holiday and beyond. Weekend classes could be a good idea too. We sat on the sofa shouting at the TV set! Mary Bousted very calmly pointed out that teachers have always worked weekends; that’s when most of the marking and preparation takes place. As for going the extra mile, that is what has been happening with teachers giving face to face classes to vulnerable children and children of key workers while simultaneously giving online lessons to the rest of their class. Michael Wilshaw tried to butt in and was calmly asked by Mary Bousted not to interrupt. Allowed to speak once more, he put his inspector hat on and declared that examination would show that some schools had not been going the extra mile. Hmmm! Mary Bousted calmly rebuffed his criticisms. She came across very well but then, she is a Northern woman!

This discussion was held because Boris Johnson has appointed a new “catch-up” tsar who will run a task force to oversee plans for children to have one-to-one tuition and summer schools. This is another Knight of the Realm, Sir Kevan Collins. I looked him up on the internet as well:-


  • 1979-1982: BA in economics and politics from Lancaster University
  • 1998-2003: PhD at Leeds University, focusing on literacy development


  • 1985–1988: Classroom teacher, Malmesbury Primary, Tower Hamlets
  • 1988–1992: Moorfield First School, Bradford
  • 1991-1992: International School Maputo, Mozambique (secondment)
  • 1992-1997: Reading Recovery tutor, literacy adviser and senior inspector, Bradford local education authority
  • 1998-2003: Regional director then deputy national director, National Literacy Strategy
  • 2003-2005: National director, Primary National Strategy
  • 2005-2009: Director of children’s services, Tower Hamlets council
  • 2009-2011: Chief executive, Tower Hamlets council
  • 2011: Chief executive, Education Endowment Foundation
  • 2015: Knighted for services to education

Well, at least he has some classroom experience, about 7 years in state schools and then climbing the promotion ladders to end up with a knighthood. And he talked the talk so I’ll reserve judgement for the time being. It’s just that I know an awful lot of people whose services to education have been many more years of delivering education to those children who now need to do some catching up. And they have not been given knighthoods. 

And now on the radio news they are discussing what to do with the exams, or rather non-exams, worrying about how to root out “malpractice” as teachers award grades. All the years of teachers coming together to standardise assessment of work seem to have been forgotten. And we shouting at the radio about classroom teachers not being trusted. Oh, boy! Rant over!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Wednesday out and about. The joy of walking. Problems for students of modern foreign languages.

Another soggy Wednesday! My Wednesday bike ride to Uppermill was a bit drizzly but if anything the wind was more of a problem. Compared with some of the wind we have had recently it was really nothing but when you have filled your panniers with fruit and veg and bread and such so that bike is already heavy, suddenly finding you are riding into the wind is a bit of a downer. 

Coming back along the rather muddy Donkey Line I chatted with a couple of little girls out for a stroll with the mother of at least one of them and a baby in a buggy. The little girls may have been twins or maybe just friends: two small girls, probably about four years old, hand in hand. I asked were they having a nice walk. Yes, they told me and then they asked me if I was having a nice bike ride. So small and already schooled in social niceties!

Somebody called Kate Humble was writing about walking in the Guardian this morning. She’s an enthusiast and believes that as we have spent so much time in various levels of lockdown with going out for a walk being one of the few ways of actually seeing friends and family many people will have realised how good it is and continue walking when things get back to “normal”. Like us, she is fortunate enough to live in a place where country walks are easily available. The situation might be different for people who live in the centre of our towns and cities. We shall see. 

As I write about our having country walks available, I think back to my father-in-law who always said that where we love is not strictly speaking “countryside” but moorland. “Countryside” to him meant rolling hills and grassy swathes - the South Downs. To me it means somewhere open and reasonably free, where you have access to nature. 

Ms Humble had stuff to say about boredom as well. She spent much of her childhood playing outdoors, climbing trees and the like. If you grew up in the 70s, she says (she is 52), “there was nothing else to do, and we didn’t really watch telly anyway. There was no such thing as anyone worrying about whether you were bored, or if you were bored, it was fine – boredom can be a really creative thing. I feel grateful for growing up then, not having screens and definitely not having social media. That you had to make your own fun, and a lot of that meant being outside.”

Our children grew up without television - well, they had their early childhood without television - and didn’t seem to suffer for lack of things to do. They played a lot of imaginative games; even in the car on long journeys, from time to time you would hear one or other of them say, “In the game .... blah, blah, blah.” And when I hear reports now about the problems of occupying children at home I wonder if parents have come to rely too much on having a busy schedule of activities organised for their children, resulting in children who don’t know what to do with themselves when the carrousel of activities grinds to a halt. 

But maybe I’m just turning into a grumpy grandma! And I know that imaginative play continues. I just need to go for a walk with our four and a half year old granddaughter to have proof of that. She involves me in her games where the chatter can go on for best part of an hour on some of our longer walks. 

When I was in sixth form, working away at A Levels, I selected the universities I was applying to according to which ones offered me the greatest chances of spending time abroad. And so I ended up with a course that sent me off to a Spanish university for a summer term and then to France as a foreign language assistante  for the following academic year. This was all before the UK joined the Common Market (later the EU) and before Erasmus existed but here were already reciprocal agreements which made such things possible. Now I read that the UK’s withdrawal from Erasmus is causing problems for students on foreign language degree courses.  

Not only that, but the very future of modern foreign language degree courses such as the one I followed is at risk because of the way any replacement for Erasmus is developing. Not to mention the difficulties of going to live and work in the EU.

There seems to have been a lot of shortsightedness in this Brexit business! But that’s where we are!

Life goes on, stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Dull day. Cleaning. Roadmaps. Bike thefts.

Today began dull, but fortunately not too damp. I was hoping we might have a repeat of yesterday, which transformed from a dull and rainy start into a bright and sunny blue sky day. 


No such luck today; it has remained dull, after a very brief interlude when the sun tried to come through. It’s the wind that’s doing it.


So I’ve been spring cleaning instead of going out and about. As ever with spring cleaning, you reach a point where you almost wish you hadn’t started. Therefore I have taken a break to write this instead. 

As the government has been busily congratulating itself on the latest bit of government by metaphor, aka the road map, Michael Rosen, of course, has been making his wry comments:-

“Dear Dominic

Do you see me being magnificent in the House today? Gone are the days, O Achilles, when we used to chew over my performances back in Numero Ten. Luckily, I can rely on Starmer to fire paper arrows. I say, 'Schools will open' and they open.

De facto paxo


In a few weeks, all being well, the roadmap tells me, I might make it to the hairdressers again. The same applies to Phil, who might be agitating for me to take scissors to his hair very soon. I have seen worse lockdown hair and I suspect that my (lack of) hairdressing skills could just make matters worse. 

With the prospect of more people being out and about in the near future warnings about a possible increase in bike theft are appearing. More people have been cycling since the pandemic started but even so  last year there was a 16.3% drop in cycle theft. My guess is that this is because there has been more casual cycling but so far not much increase in people cycling to work and leaving their bikes locked up somewhere for most of the day. The main exception to last year’s drop in bike thefts has apparently been from key workers such as hospital staff - in other words, people cycling to work. 

But the police are gearing up for theft prevention. Here’s a sample:-

“As restrictions lift, thefts are expected to rise, and police are trying to be ready when that happens, with a new national cycle crime partnership bringing together the UK’s major police forces.

“The government’s approach is to get more people cycling and walking, because obviously there’s benefits to the environment,” says Supt Mark Cleland, UK police national lead for cycle crime, who is leading the partnership.

This, he says, means “less cars on the road, it’s an environmentally friendly form of travel, it tackles health and fitness and obesity”.

“If somebody gets their bike stolen, the data suggests that they’re less likely to buy a bike again and actually that they might give up cycling. We want people to be active and look after the environment, so if crime is a blocker to that then we need to do something about it.

“My view on it is: if we tackle cycle crime then we’re saving lives and protecting the world.””

So all the effort I go to chain my bike to railings and those places people tie their dogs to outside shops is just me following good advice, even before it was given.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 22 February 2021

Easing restrictions. Out and about with the lost and found. Fun with names.

We’ve not had Mr Johnson’s proper announcement (Alas ... waffle, waffle ... doing a good job .... waffle, waffle ... sorry to say ... waffle, waffle ... all in this together...) about easing restrictions but word seems to be out that schools will be fully open on March 8th and a few weeks after that, when the schools break up for Easter more or less, then friends and families socialise outdoors but not in pub gardens. Or maybe it’s just two people who can meet for an outdoor coffee. No doubt we’ll find out later today.

Perhaps I can finally go for a walk with a few old friends, probably one at a time, as we have planned to do for a while but have put off while the rules seemed to say not to drive anywhere for exercise. We have, of course, accidentally on purpose met our daughter and offspring for walks on a fairly regular basis. Last week she felt a little restricted because both her small people had been having to isolate because of Covid cases among the nursery staff. Yesterday she finally felt able to pack them in the car and meet us for a walk up to Dobcross, around the lanes and back home.

The rain stayed away while we were walking. We noticed that some gardens had washing hung out to dry and decided there should be a new definition for “optimist” - someone who lives near the foothills of the Pennines and insists on hanging their washing in the garden in February! In fact it’s quite miraculous that it didn’t work reverse magic and provoke the rain to fall. 

It certainly rained again in the night and was still drizzling when I went for a run earlier this morning. Since then the day has steadily brightened up. It would be nice if we could have a sunny spring like last year. There is time yet; officially Spring is till a few weeks away although nobody has told the spring flowers which are already popping up all over the place. 

Out and about we have grown used to finding odd gloves, wooly hats, occasionally socks on the top of hedges and gate posts, probably put there by people who have found them lost or abandoned on the ground. A couple of days ago we came upon a perfectly serviceable, if well-worn and a little battered, hiking boots, line up nicely on top on the wall at the bottom of the lane going up to Dobcross. As cars are frequently parked there (dangerously in our opinion as it is is just before a bend in the road - an accident waiting to happen when someone comes speeding down) my guess is that someone was changing their footwear after a walk, putting on better driving shoes, and just drove away forgetting to put the boots in the boot. 

They had gone when we walked up there yesterday so maybe Cinderella came back and claimed them. 

Here’s some nonsense a friend of mine sent me, a collection shop names:-

A chippy called “The Codfather”

Bakeries called “Bread Zeppelin” and “Bread Pitt” and “Life of Pie”.

A couple of useful establishments: “Sew it Seams” and “Iron Maiden”.

And a computer place called “Tech IT Easy.”

“Florist Gump” is quite pleasing but I’m not sure about the cafe called “Fuckoffee”.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Communing with nature. Outdoor privies. Odd consequences of a year of Covid in Italy.

The television keeps showing clips of David Attenborough, a National Treasure if ever there was one, advising us all to go and stand still, or even sit still, in the middle of the countryside and see what happens. After ten minutes you should start to hear all sorts of birdsong and see animals and birds, and presumably creepy-crawlies, you would not otherwise have noticed. 

We are very fortunate in that we don’t need to sit on a damp log in the middle of nowhere to see and hear nature. Walking up the lane towards Dobcross yesterday, we were struck by the return of the blackbird’s song. We’ve not heard him for what seems like months but there he was, singing his head off. Out running this morning, I noticed the tits were back as well, various sorts. 

Maybe it’s the milder weather after a period of very cold stuff that’s brought the birds out again, convincing them that spring is around the corner. Maybe we see more of them because we are lucky enough to have some quiet lanes in our vicinity, despite actually living on a main road, the A62 which was a major route to Yorkshire before the motorways came along. And then we also have loads of footpaths and bridle paths. So we get see squirrels - grey not red but you can’t have everything and I find the grey squirrels quite appealing too - and the occasional heron and even from time to rare time some deer! 

Yes, we do thank our lucky stars. There are worse places to spend a soggy lockdown. 

Adventures with nature: I recently read a report of a woman in Alaska who had gone with her brother and his girlfriend to spend some time out in the backcountry in his yurt. As you do! She went to use the outhouse toilet, sat down in the seat and was bitten by a bear. Her first thought was that it might be a squirrel but when her brother took a flashlight went to investigate her discovered the bear. And next morning they found bear tracks all over the place. They reckoned he had made the outhouse into a den. 

Wildlife experts in that part of Alaska said they had had more trouble than usual with bears because of a poor salmon run last year and fewer berries than usual, meaning that bears have not fattened up as much as usual for the winter and so have been coming out of their dens. Maybe this one fancied a bit of bottom for breakfast!

So much for communing with nature! Fortunately you are not likely to be eaten by lions or bears if you follow David National Treasure Attenborough’s advice and sit down in the middle of an English forest to observe nature. 

The bear in the outhouse story reminded me of a tale my mother used to tell. The house where she grew up had no indoor toilet, as was very common at the time. Instead they had an outdoor privy, shared by several houses. This provided the perfect opportunity for mischievous children to get up to tricks, one of which was to drop a hen into the privy and wait for one of the older ladies to scream when she went to loo and risked having her bottom pecked! 

Our house, the one we have lived in for 35 years or so, still had the old outdoor privy at the bottom of the garden when we moved here. It was no longer in use, of course. Some house-owners in the area had converted their privies into garden sheds of some kind but ours still had the wooden plank with a hole which served as a toilet seat back in the day. On one occasion our daughter’s rabbit managed to get inside the outhouse and caused consternation by hopping up onto the wooden seat. There was a lot of fuss as we imagined him falling into the black hole below and our being unable to rescue him. Fortunately he came out again of his own accord. 

The privies have long since been demolished, the stones used to make a sort of raised flower bed where the neighbour grew pumpkins last year.

Here’s a last thing related to nature and especially nature of the ursine variety: Kate Winslet has a child called Bear!! I read it in an article about the actress this morning. I never cease to be amazed at the names some people choose for their children. Of course, in this case it might just be a nickname, but somehow I doubt it. Her other children have perfectly normal names, Mia and Joe. 

It’s a year since we started to hear about lockdowns. Phil and I were in Spain when we heard that parts of Italy were locking down because of a new and nasty virus. Here’s a link to an article about it by Tobias Jones, reflecting on changes in Italian society.

Here’s a bit that particularly struck me:

“There have been two noticeable consequences of that economic suffering. As often happens when the Italian state seems flat-footed in a crisis, organised crime has stepped in. Mafiosi have distributed food parcels in deprived suburbs, suspended protection payments and offered immediate cash loans. This “mafia-welfare” is a strategic assertion of superiority to the state, a means to create consensus, control and indebtedness, literal and metaphorical.”

This does not surprise me. The mafia established itself initially by helping the poor and making them feel obligated towards them.

Tobias Jones continues:

“The mafia is also buying up struggling companies: 43,688 Italian firms changed hands between April and September 2020: not all passed into criminal ownership, but – because of the high number of new owners choosing anonymity through offshore solutions and opaque trusts – it’s believed that many did. Mafia-controlled companies will, of course, be looking greedily at the €209bn recovery fund that Italy is about to receive from the European Union.”

 I suppose the mafia moves with the times and adapts to current circumstances. It’s a strange world we live in. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Outdoor drinking. Michael Rosen’s opinions. Vaccination issues. Middle class problems. And “cottagecore”.

It’s another wet and wild and windy day here, just as the weathermen predicted. There weren’t many people out and about when I went for a run earlier this morning. There is a point along my running route where you can see a collection of bottles in one of the fields. They seem to be mostly those small wine or Prosecco bottles you can buy. His suggests that a group of people have been walking along the lane drinking and then tossing their empties over the wall. However, these are clearly not the usual local youth buying packs of Diamond White cider from the coop. Oh, no, this lot must be a slightly more sophisticated, or would-be sophisticated, bunch who have moved on to classier outdoor drinking - old enough to want something other than cheap cider but young enough to want to drink outdoors. You’d think they could just organise a Zoom-party and each one drink in the comfort of their home. 

I see that a judge has ruled that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, acted unlawfully in his handling of government contracts for the provision of PPE and so on. Here’s Michael Rosen’s comment on that:-

“Dear Dominic

Hancock's just been fried. Nice to see that he's taking the hit for the team. After all, when your prop gouges out the opposite prop's eye, it's not the captain who gets sent off.     As Rugger, as life. Missing you.

Ludo in excelsis dildo 


And here is some more Michael Rosen, this time telling Gavin Williamson what’s what. There’s a good deal of divided opinion about rushing children back to school, especially as experts are now saying that the 5 - 12 year olds are one of the biggest groups catching Covid at the moment. “The team suggested the relatively high prevalence in younger children could be due to a greater proportion of this age group still attending school. A survey found in February that early a quarter of primary school pupils were being taught in-person.” Now, there’s a surprise!

We’ll find out what the “Roadmap” to lifting restrictions will look like on Monday. I hope someone takes into account that some parts of the North still have an alarmingly high rate of infection. The radio news tells me “the details of the roadmap are still being nailed down” - government by mixed metaphor!

There are still pockets of craziness around. In the Northwest news last night we heard that orthodox Jewish communities in some parts of Greater Manchester are being targeted with anti-vaccine propaganda leaflets. A doctor from one of these communities pointed out that many such orthodox Jews do not have television and hear little of the discussion that most of us are coming across all the time on this matter. So many of them will regard such leaflets as official and as a result will be reluctant to be vaccinated. Another problem to be solved.

Middle class problems are popping up as well. I’ve written before about the problem of wood burning stoves and open fires causing a huge amount of pollution because of people burning damp wood. No doubt scientists could explain to me why wet wood causes more problems than dry wood but there it is. It’s all down to something being referred to as “cottagecore”, which might be a UK version of “hygge”: 

“An Aga, a wood burner, blankets and cushions … These all sum up rural cottage living.” 

This is what you need if you want to have good instagram posts. 

“If you’re looking to perfect your rural idyll, you can’t go wrong with a wood burner. A mainstay of glamorous Instagram “cottagecore” accounts and Airbnb listings with a cachet somewhere between an Aga and a yurt, they produce a mood of peace and warmth that glows as softly as their embers.” 

It’s all a question aesthetics apparently as the people buying these stoves usually have central heating as well. But it seems to be causing arguments between neighbours. 

“On the website Problem Neighbours, some wood burner owners felt persecuted by those who objected to their chosen heat source. “I don’t know about you, but in my day, we weren’t lily livered little grasses who took our neighbours to court for the crime of keeping warm,” a user going by the name of Fred wrote last year. “The way things are going, we’ll be having to ask permission to smile.”

Class is often a factor, too. “Wood burning stoves are really very antisocial,” said one Mumsnet user. “But they’re also middle class, so I expect everyone who wants one fitted will find some special reason why their pollution is superior and necessary.”

As if answering that call, a Daily Telegraph columnist responded to this week’s reports with a piece headlined “Call me a middle-class hypocrite if you want, but I’m not getting rid of my wood burning stove”. Sarah Rodrigues argued that her fire gave her “a feeling akin to that first warming sip of red wine”, and pointed out that she drives a hybrid and recently updated her Nespresso machine to one that allows better composting. She didn’t say what her neighbours think.”

But now we have a word for it: “cottagecore”. So all is no doubt well. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!