Friday, 30 April 2021

Odds and ends in the news. The consequences of gathering. Bits of comfort.

Was it with conscious or subconscious irony that yesterday’s 6 o’clock news on the radio began with the fact that parliament had finally voted against protecting homeowners from post-Grenfell safety costs and moved seamlessly on to further reporting of who-paid-for-the-Johnson-refurb? Such an odd juxtaposition, in my view at least. One group of people face bankruptcy to pay for something that is certainly not their fault and that they certainly did not choose. A more fortunate and higher-profile couple face questions over who paid for things they certainly did choose! 

In today’s newspapers two items where religious gatherings are mentioned drew my attention. 

In Israel dozens were killed and around 150 injured in a crush at a sort of pilgrimage of ultra-orthodox jews to the tomb of a the second century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in Galilee. They’ve been dealing with Covid very well in Israel and I suppose that’s why permission was given for 10,000 people to gather for annual celebrations with all night prayer, mystical songs and dance. In the event 100,000 turned up and people, including children, were killed in the crush. 

Then, in The Long Read in the Guardian, writer Arundhati Roy considers the mess her country is in and asks how it happened. Covid seemed for a while to be under control but it has definitely gone wrong now and India is suffering. She lists the things the Modi government has been “too busy doing” to prevent the crisis happening. One of these was a religious event, “the Kumbh Mela to be organised, so that millions of Hindu pilgrims could crowd together in a small town to bathe in the Ganges and spread the virus even-handedly as they returned to their homes across the country, blessed and purified.”

People are still meeting in huge crowds for religious gatherings - in the 21st century! in the middle of a pandemic!

The mind boggles!

Having said that, let us not forget that we are trying to find ways to make music festivals, sports events and other such gatherings of large numbers of people happen again! They’re trying it out in Liverpool at the moment. And it’s not just us. They’ve been trying in Barcelona as well. 

We are social animals and like to get together for all sorts of reasons. But maybe we need to carry on being careful.

People find their comfort in all sorts of ways though. I read about a woman in the USA who knits things out of animal hair. She was was born in the former Soviet Union, and her mother taught her to knit when she was very young. “It was a skill every Russian woman had when I was growing up, because clothes were in short supply.” It was not just a Soviet thing, surely; young British girls also learnt to knit. In my junior schools the girls had knitting and sewing lessons while the boys had woodwork and metalwork. 

Anyway, the Russian knitter moved to Boston Massachusetts in the 1990s, and didn’t knit for a while because, she said, she could buy clothes cheaply. Then she adopted a longhaired cat, a ragdoll cat, a breed I had never heard of. Indeed I thought at first she was talking about a toy, and so I looked it up. 

“Developed by American breeder Ann Baker in the 1960s, they are best known for their docile and placid temperament and affectionate nature. The name "Ragdoll" is derived from the tendency of individuals from the original breeding stock to go limp and relaxed when picked up.”

Our knitter kept the rather beautiful hair she regularly brushed from her cat and eventually experimented with spinning it and knitting the resulting yarn. Very enterprising, she sold the things she made online and before long customers were sending her their animals’ hair and making special requests for items they wanted making from this hair. The most extreme was the lady who asked her to knit a toy cat from her deceased pet’s hair. When the customer received the finished item she took it to bed with her and had her first good night’s sleep since the death of her cat. Now, for me that’s almost as strange as gathering together with lots of people at the tomb of a long dead rabbi! No, maybe even more strange!

Talking of pets, we can all rest easy, Lady Gaga’s kidnapped dogs have been returned to her. The dog-walker was injured during the kidnapping but has recovered, I think. The dog-nappers may not have known whose dogs they were and were probably planning to sell them at extortionate prices. But then Lady Gaga offered a reward for the return of Asia, Koji and Gustav. $500,000!! A woman who turned out to be in a relationship with the father of one of the dognappers tried to claim the reward at the police station. The rest is history - or at any rate the story of dognappers being arrested. Such a relief!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Looking at the sky. Wild garlic. Thinking about names. Looking forward to stuff.

 A clear blue sky is a wonderful thing, reminding us of the immensity of the universe and other such poetical/philosophical stuff, reassuring us that we can go for that walk or picnic with a reasonably good chance of not getting rained on. But a good cloudy sky in the evening is much more dramatic. I walked out in the early evening yesterday and was reminded of the truth of this. 

It doesn’t even need to be the evening, of course, for the clouds to add a bit of character to the sky. Here’s a picture taken on a recent wall up Lark Hill.

It is possible, indeed very probable, that such ramblings about the advantages of cloudy sky are just a way of compensating for the blue skies having disappeared snd the temperature having gone down again. 

I wrote recently about wild garlic. I now have a nice little pot of it sitting on the garden wall, which I need to remember to water from time to time. I suspect that even when it rains I may need to keep an eye on it as it’s the sort of pot that easily gets waterlogged. I don’t want to drown the stuff after having carefully replanted it. It seems, however, that I was ahead of the trend, or maybe started a trend, for Tim Dowling has been writing about it in the Guardian, 

offering recipe ideas and warning us not to pick lily-of-the-valley leaves by mistake if we go collecting wild garlic. The leaves are fairly similar, he says, although I don’t really think so. But lily-of-the-valley is toxic, he reminds us, especially to small children and dogs. Who knew? Well, I did as a matter of fact because Walter White used it in “Breaking Bad”. Who says watching box sets is not instructive? 


The lily-of-the-valley is a very pretty little flower, but then, so is the wild garlic flower.

I read this morning that there are moves afoot to change the name of Snowdon, Wales’s highest mountain to Yr Wyddfa, its original Welsh name. Snowdonia should also be renamed Eryri. It’s rather like Peking being known nowadays as Beijing, in line apparently with Chinese pronunciation, and other such modernisms. The Welsh renaming has the disadvantage that none of us outside of Wales will know how to pronounce the names. Otherwise, well, let them get on with it. Maybe people will start to talk about climbing “the mountain previously known as Snowdon”. 

“According to the park authority, the Welsh name Yr Wyddfa means grave and myth has it that the giant Rhita Gawr was buried on the mountain following a battle with King Arthur. It saysSnowdon comes from the Saxon snow dune, meaning snow hill.

Eryri had long been thought to refer to the Welsh name for eagle – eryr – but is now believed to originate from the Latin oriri, meaning to rise.”

I do wonder about the connection to “eagle” though. After all, we call an eagle’s nest an eyrie. Is there a connection?

Welsh tourist info already refers to Snowdon and Snowdonia by both names together, maybe introducing the Welsh names by the back door. After all, it’s their heritage and they have the right to protect and promote it. 

Other mountains that have two names, one “native” and one anglicised are:-

Ayers Rock in Australia, reverted to its aboriginal name of Uluru.

Mount Everest, still not commonly known by its Tibetan name, Chomolungma, meaning goddess mother of the world. 

I’m in two minds about all this renaming. Will we ever see campaigns to call Paris by it’s original name Lutetia, or at the very least change the spelling to Paree, in line with French pronunciation? Should all the UK cities ending in ...chester or ...caster revertbto their original Latin designation? Or should we be shouting for London to be called London everywhere and not be known as Londres or Londra? We’ll have to wait and see.

On the subject of waiting, I spotted this article headline this morning:

“Sometimes waiting is better than bingeing. Ask the millions who watched Line of Duty.”

Adrian Chiles was writing about the pleasure of anticipation, the joy of looking forward to something rather than having instant gratification. And mostly I am on his side. There was great satisfaction to be had from saving up for something and eventually going to buy it, ordering something and waiting several weeks for it to arrive. (Actually, the latter can still happen, depending on who you order from.)

Incidentally, we have been watching Line of Duty. Having got over the initial oddness of not needing to head for Netflix or BBC iPlayer, of not being able to pause it to make a cup of tea or to answer the phone, even of not having subtitles, it’s been good to get back to once a week watching. We do, however, have to set reminders for ourselves so that we don’t forget to tune in at the right time on the right day. Modern problems!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Thinking about exams. Distractor factors. Getting the vaccine. Small escape artists.

As loads of media time is being spent on who paid or didn’t pay for decorating Boris Johnson’s flat, the question of school exams has been pushed to one side. Here are three reminders from Michael Rosen that the exams question is still rattling around in the background:-

“I've seen a GCSE 'assessments' timetable. These are 'assessments' of course. Not 'exams'. Because the students aren't having 'exams'. They're having assessments. Sitting in a room. Doing exam papers. But they're not 'exams' because there are no 'exams'. They're 'assessments'.”

“Dear Boris Johnson

You said that GCSE exams for this year were cancelled. They're not cancelled. They're called 'assessments'. And instead of examiners marking them, teachers are. For no money. But the schools have paid the exam boards. Where's the money?


Michael Rosen”

“This year's GCSEs:

1. Govt lied that exams were cancelled.

2. Instructions came late

3. Schools responded as best they could but consequence is huge no. of 'assessments'

4. Teachers' workload settting/marking extra, huge and unpaid.

5. Who gets the fees paid by schools for this?”

We have, as the Americans say, skin in the game: one teenage grandchild in his GCSE year and another in her A Level year. We wait to see what the results will be like.

There’s a bit of me that wonders if some time in the future the qualifications of this year’s students, and last year’s and next year’s for that matter, will be questioned as not being exactly equivalent to what went before. It’s rather a shame that there has not been a decision to overhaul the whole system. Time to stop tinkering and do something radical!

I’ve not seen pictures of the Johnson flat so I can’t comment on their choice of decor. I’m not really interested, truth to tell. It all seems like a way of stopping us all worrying about more serious matters. 

Such as the health issues! 

Someone tweeted this:

“With multiple journalists confirming Boris Johnson did say “let the bodies pile up” six months ago, the big question is, why didn’t they tell us six months ago?”

Quite so! People let things happen! It’s not a new phenomenon. We might also ask why Chauvin’s colleagues just stood around while he knelt on George Floyd’s neck? Why didn’t at least one of them step forward and pull him off? Because most people let things happen. It takes a special kind of bravery to step in and demand different behaviour out on the street. And I admit to being unsure whether I could be that kind of brave.

Meanwhile, progress in one area: Phil and I have been for our second dose of anti-Covid vaccine this afternoon. So far so good! We wait now to see if we have any kind of reaction. But we are a little further along the road to freedom, of sorts!

We could have gone earlier this morning but we had a couple of grandchildren in the house. Well, in the house, in the garden, out for a walk and in the park. So we did not want to take them along with us - there was no guarantee the local clinic would have let them in anyway. 

The older of the two small people, 41/2, thinks her visits are arranged for me to play with her, exclusively, which is hard to do with a 19 month old racketing around as well. Neither of our children was an escape artist, nor were any of our daughter’s older offspring but this smallest one seems to have Houdini genes in his make-up. Climbing stairs is his speciality. He knows no fear and needs constant surveillance!

Allowed out into the back garden, he loves nothing better than to climb the steps into the side garden, out of the front gate, along the road for a few yards and back down the alleyway between the next door neighbours’ house and the next one along, before needing a lift down the next lot of steps into the back garden. It’s a pity he can’t be relied on to do just that unaccompanied but he’s still a bit on the small side for that. And no amount of talk about how children should be given freedom will go so far as extending the privilege to the under-two. We may have to bite the bullet and install some gates. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Small people fashion. Renting clothes. Running in the rain, and out to lunch.

Our 41/2 year old granddaughter is a true fashionista. She has certain favourite items of clothing, such as a tiny white denim jacket, which she judges to be really cool. Being cool is one of her main criteria for deciding what to wear. And it is definitely she who decides, often choosing her next day’s outfit before she goes to bed at night. We’re not really sure how this has happened. She hasn’t been especially forced into a stereotypical girl role. She’s as happy in trousers as in a frilly dress - so long as the outfit is cool. The whole thing might be the consequence of having much older siblings, especially a teenage sister who watches all sorts of “shows” on the computer. No doubt some of it rubs off. 

We make efforts, the doting parents and grandparents, not to spend silly money on clothes for her, and for her small brother ... she likes him to look cool as well. As a rule we look out for “cool” bargains when shops have sales going on. Hence the super cool white denim jacket from Gap, bought at half price! Occasional expensive items creep into the wardrobe via the other set of grandparents, items bought from El Corte Ingl├ęs when they’ve been on holiday to Spain. I never do that as I always travel hand-luggage only and have no room for extras. But nobody has been on holiday to bring expensive goods home with them in the last year. 

Even with a (mostly) sensible mother, the child has ended up with a bigger wardrobe than is really necessary. Gone are the days when you had your school uniform, some “playing out” clothes and your “best clothes”! I exaggerate somewhat there. My mother used to make us dresses copied from the window displays of posh children’s clothes shops and we always had new white pleated skirts for the Sunday School Whit Walks. But we had far fewer clothes than children seem to have these days. Some were far less practical as well. Little girls had difficulty being tomboys!

Even babies nowadays seem to have huge wardrobes. All a tiny baby needs is a few babygros and little cardigans but new mothers end up with huge collections from baby-showers, often including tiny denim jeans! Crazy! 

Our daughter has always passed on to friends, donated to charity and often sold via the internet excess items from her children’s wardrobes. And now, according to this articlethere is a viable business in renting children’s clothes. Not just special occasion clothes: it is possible to rent a bundle of everyday clothes in your child’s size. Now, I already knew that young women going out on the razzle could rent outfits but I hadn’t imagined parents doing so for their children. Presumably it works out cheaper than buying a lot of clothes and when the children grow out of them, you don’t have to worry about how to dispose of them to make space in the wardrobe. You just send them back.  All good all round! Such is modern life! 

Maybe Boris Johnson and partner should have sought a similar solution to furnishing their Downing Street flat. It wouldn’t work for the wallpaper but sofas and tables and the like could be hired, I should think. 

This morning I was rained on during my run. Goodness! I had almost forgotten what that wet stuff was like. As one of my nodding acquaintances commented, we take a while getting used to it not raining and then, just as we have adjusted, it all changes again. Good English weather!

I have just had lunch out with an old friend, both of us thanking our lucky stars for teachers’ pensions that allow us to do things like that. It was my friend’s birthday. Last year we were unable to celebrate it, so we took the opening-up  opportunity to set the world to rights and catch up with each other’s doings over the last year. Very civilised, we must do it again soon.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 26 April 2021

Dry weather. Wildfires. Wild hair.

We’ve had a good week and a bit of fine, dry weather, some days warm enough to shed layers and walk about without a jacket. We’ve had the garden furniture out. Next door have erected a canvas pergola affair to give a little shade. Phil saw a chap walking along the Donkey Line in shorts and no shirt - not a young man either! Perhaps he’s been reading about the benefits of vitamin D and was trying to show as much skin as possible to absorb it from the sun’s rays, or perhaps it was just an example of British sun-related madness.

They have had to fight wildfires on the Mountains on Mourne in Northern Ireland, now successfully extinguished I think. I don’t know much about the geography of that region but I suspect they have the same mind of peat moor areas as we have here. People were advised not to drive up to look at the fires, even though they were in their way almost as spectacular as a volcanic eruption. And we are all somehow, perhaps morbidly, attracted by natural disasters and want to go and look. 

After the sun had gone over hill here I noticed that the sky, which had been clear and blue all afternoon, was filling with clouds or, judging by the colour, maybe smoke. It was hard to tell. I went up to the attic and opened a skylight window. Standing on tiptoe I could see beyond the village to where there was indeed a plume of smoke. I could also make out a patch of brightness that could have been flames or maybe just a well-lit spot. A wildfire on the moors? Or somebody burning garden rubbish?

Later in the evening, on the North West News they said that firefighters were tackling wildfires on Marsden Moor. So that would be what I could see. It’s another peat moor. They burn like crazy and everywhere is dry enough now for a bit of carelessness or an abandoned throw-away barbecue kit to cause major problems. 

In the middle of the night I woke up to go the bathroom, as you do, and realised I could smell smoke. Was it burnt toast? Had Phil been having a midnight snack? Was it smoke from Marsden Moor? Or was the house on fire? So I had to do a quick run round to check we were safe  - we were, of course! - before I could calmly go back to bed. 

That’s a bit of summer madness we can do without. Some places have forest fires. We have wildfires on the peat moors, almost as bad as the forest fires at times. 

Before you know it I’ll be saying we need some rain. That’s an exaggeration, of course. It has been so good to walk the footpaths around here without having to circumvent mud puddles.

I have finally managed to organise an appointment with my hairdresser. With my second dose of the vaccine booked I feel I can brave public transport once more. I still have to wait a couple of weeks before they can fit me in. Now, why have I not sought out a closer hairdresser, which would not involve a bus-ride? You may well ask. It’s one of those woman things. You get a sort of loyalty to your long-term stylist. 

 Zoe Williams, writing about haircuts in her column in the Guardian, understand perfectly:-

“The hairdresser has gone a bit lockdown-fundamentalist; if she suspects you of having had an illegal haircut, she berates you all the way through and then deprioritises your subsequent appointments.

Even if it is months since your offence, she reckons she can always see the ghost of your last haircut and can tell in an instant whether or not she did it – if she didn’t, it follows that you must have broken the rules. She is like a forensic stylist, dispensing vigilante hair justice. Even though I am as safe as houses in this regard, because I look like a train wreck, I am incredibly annoyed by it.”

I sympathise totally. When we have been in Spain for extended periods, I have had my hair-colour fixed in a salon over there but I have always resisted having my hair trimmed or, heaven forfend, restyled! And they quite understood that back in England I have my “peluquera de toda la vida” - literally my “lifetime hairdresser”. She would know if someone had been messing with her style.

So that’s the hair business dealt with. Now ai need to think about the eyebrows!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Worms. Cakes. Countryside. Trespassing.

 “Dear Dominic

Am chortling you say I'm 'totally unethical'. Have you only just discovered this? You read my novel, 'Seventy-two Virgins'. It's a completely amoral bit of work, packed to the gunnels with racist, antisemitic and sexist gags and I'm proud of it!

Sordidus ego


Michael Rosen, of course! Commenting in his way on current events. 

It seems the Cummings-worm has turned and is now telling tales out of turn on ... I was going to say his friend, but maybe he and Johnson were never friends but just had a working relationship. But now the s**t seems to have hit the fan and even Tory MPs are demanding explanations for all the sleaze. Will we ever know the ins and outs of it? I doubt it.

As regards the refurbishment of the PM’s residence, I just remain amazed at the supposed need to redo the decor for every new PM. By the way, I feel the same about the White House, which apparently undergoes even more expensive refurbishment with each new occupant. I can understand that PMs and presidents are going to be actually living there and need to feel comfortable with their surroundings, a bit like students in their university accommodation. (I shared a flat for a while with an art student friend who painted the wall deep purple.) But presidents and prime ministers are not students and surely they have more important things on their minds. After all, Downing Street is not the prime minister’s “forever home”, as some people would say. Most of them have another home somewhere else in the country. They can indulge their fancy there and, provided the decor at Downing Street is not too horrific, surely they can put up with the work-home for a few years. And if Mr Johnson wants to spend tens of thousands on the flat, let it be his own money. That’s my take on it anyway. 

But the sleaze needs to be investigated.

Yesterday we celebrated our daughter’s birthday with a bit of a family get together in the garden - lighting and then blowing out a token candle separate from the cake to avoid any chance of germs contaminating the icing - in the warm sunshine. 



In the late afternoon, before singing happy birthday and eating cake, we took a family walk down to the duckpond and the Pooh-sticks bridge, once again thanking our lucky stars that we can stroll out into the countryside.

None of the photos include the birthday girl. That's how it goes sometimes.

Coincidentally, yesterday was the anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass back in 1932. The folk singer Ewan McColl, then a young, unemployed communist known as Jimmy Miller, and more than 400 others participated in the mass trespass at Kinder Scout, the highest point of what is now the Peak District National Park. Apparently being in the countryside “breeds a spirit of revolt” among the working class. At the time access to such moorlands was limited to rich folk who went huntin’ and fishin’, or in the moorland areas shooting grouse. So the moors were used for just a short time every year, in the grouse hunting season. 

So a move was made to demand the “right to roam”. Partly successful. Today, 8% of England’s land is accessible to the public, whilst half of the country’s total landmass is private: property of the 1%. And the government would like to change it ... for the worst ... wanting to criminalise trespass, which is still not an actual offence, and to restrict access to open land ... again! More trespasses are being planned.

To find out more, follow this link.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Blossom. Birthdays. And getting out.

It seems that today is “blossom watch” day, an idea from the National Trust to get us out posting pictures of tres and bushes and hedges bursting into bloom. I do this anyway but they want me to do it the hashtag #BlossomWatch. We’ll see.


Annie Reilly, the blossom programme manager at the National Trust, said she hoped people in the UK would begin a new tradition emulating hanami, the Japanese custom of relishing the fleeting sight and scent of blossom. 

She said: “There has been a lot of research into the connection between enjoying moments in nature and feelings of wellbeing, and with social-distancing measures having eased slightly, meeting a handful of family or friends under a blossom tree could be the ideal way to lift spirits and re-connect with people. We want to embed this tradition for the future, and if ever there was a year to appreciate the joy and comfort of nature, surely 2021 is it.”

I could go along with that.

Coincidentally, today is also our daughter’s birthday. There will be cake in the garden later. Other things are going on but as they are being organised mostly by her 23 year old daughter the arrangements are a little up in the air. Pinning her down to arrangements has been rather like herding cats, to use a favourite expression of an old friend of mine. At around midday, as I type, I await further information. 

The last few days have been rather busy, running around all over the place. On Wednesday there was my usual cycle to the market. On Thursday, I had arranged to meet an old friend for a long ago organised and many times postponed, for Covid restrictions reasons, walk around Uppermill. As she wanted to meet mid-morning I set off from home at around 10.00am, while there was a still frost on the grass in places the sun had bot yet reached. And the air was still cold. So there I was, sporting sunglasses and woolly gloves, rather like being on a skiing holiday. 

I had planned a route around, above and through Uppermill, carefully chosen for the frequency of benches as my friend needs frequent sit-downs. The first was on Den Lane, looking down on the park and children’s playground. In a few weeks that stopping place, what the Spanish would call a “mirador” will be useless as all you will see will be leaves on the trees which have grown tall there.

After a sit-down, half a cigarette - for my friend not me - I gave up about 50 years ago and she is cutting down - and a chat - quote: “It’s easier to chat sitting down than walking.” - we moved on to the end of Den Lane and went down into the picnic area below the Brownhill Nature Centre, where we had another sit-down and half a cigarette. We considered coffee at Brownhill but decided it was too busy. So we used their loo and went on our way.

The tow path took us back towards Uppermill. There were ducklings in the canal, the first I have seen this year. I proposed crossing the river at the stepping stones - the same stepping stones that my Spanish sister said I “made” her cross during her last visit - but my friend declined and so we went round. Back in Uppermill we stopped for coffee and cake sitting outside a high street cafe, but no half cigarette allowed. For that we had to head to the park and another bench. 

Then I helped my friend locate her car and we went our separate ways, having caught up,on all our gossip and set the world to rights.

Phil met me half way home and we discovered an new pathway going under the Donkey Line. How had we not found it before?

Yesterday we had a Diggle Chippy Hike. Fish and chips at the duckpond in the sunshine.   

It’s not such a bad coming-out-of-Lockdown.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 23 April 2021

Children. And Cervantes.

 Here’s more about children in the modern age:- 

“Education experts and child psychologists have raised the alarm about the creeping “scholarisation of childhood”, as evidence grows that free play both at school and at home is being eroded in favour of academic, sporting and cultural activities.

Experts are concerned that children in the UK are losing unstructured play time during the school day, with shorter lunch breaks filled with supervised educational activities. Once school has finished, homework and extracurricular pursuits are further eating into free time.

They are calling on the government to take advantage of the pause created by the pandemic to think afresh about childhood beyond the narrow lens of academic attainment and bring a halt to the increasing “schoolification” of young lives.

“Huge numbers of children have had a miserable year,” said Tim Gill, author and advocate for children’s play. “I hope one of the things the pandemic might prompt is a step back to allow a holistic look at children’s lives and wellbeing.”

And here’s the Finnish take on starting education:-

“Every morning, Arja Salonen drops her five-year-old son, Onni, off at a daycare centre in Espoo, west of Helsinki, where he will spend the next eight hours doing what Finnish educators believe all children his age should do: playing.

School, and formal learning, does not start in Finland until age seven. Before then, children’s preoccupations are not reading, writing or arithmetic, but, said Salonen, herself a secondary-school teacher in the capital, “learning more important things”.

Those include, she says, how to make friends, communicate, be active, get creative, explore the outdoors and manage risk. “In Finland we feel children must be children, and that means playing – including, as much as possible, outdoors,” she said.

The main goal of kindergarten, which about 75% of three- to five-year-olds attend, according to the Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg, is “not to prepare children for school academically, but to make sure they are happy and responsible individuals”.”

I’m old enough to remember when school was less formal and on fine days like today, certainly at primary level, the teacher would decide to organise a “nature walk”. Without any apparent forward planning or risk assessment, we would be told to get ourselves into pairs and off we would go, in a little crocodile. collecting bits and pieces of interesting stuff to incorporate into indoor lessons later. At secondary school we were more likely to nag whichever teacher we were with for a particular lesson into letting us sit outside for our lesson, Miss Jean Brodie style. There’s little chance of that happening now. 

I am one of the few people I know to have read Don Quijote from cover to cover, and in the original. And really medieval Spanish was not so different from modern Spanish - probably thanks to the invention of the printing press. Anyway, this article tells the curious tale of how an enterprising Chinaman called Lin Shu, back in the 1920s, wrote a version of the Quijote in Chinese. 

To celebrate 405th anniversary of Cervantes’ death a translation of that version into modern Spanish has been published. How odd! Cervantes, by the way, is believed to have died on the 2snd of April, almost the same day as Saint George, and almost on Shakespeare’s birthday!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Freedom. Language. And hygiene.

One of my younger friends on Facebook posted on Facebook recently that she had let her old child, 12 years old I think, go out on her own for the first time. She, the mother, was feeling very nervous. She posted again later that he daughter had texted her: she was sitting in the park sketching and all was well. Of course, the 12 year old had her own mobile. 


Then, in the last few days, I have been coming across reports about how modern children are not allowed out unsupervised. This from an article in the Guardian:-

“Primary-age children in Britain are losing the freedom to play independently and typically are not are allowed to play outside on their own until two years older than their parents’ generation were, according to research.

While their parents were allowed to play outside unsupervised by the age of nine on average, today’s children are 11 by the time they reach the same milestone, according to the study, which says not enough adventurous play could affect children’s long-term physical and mental health.

One expert said the findings showed that British children had been subject to “a gradual, creeping lockdown over at least a generation”.

Researchers asked more than 1,900 parents of five-to-11-year-olds about their children’s play for the British Children’s Play Survey, the largest study of its kind. They found that children averaged three hours of play a day over the course of a year, around half of which took place outside.”

The big fear is children are not being prepared for independence later in life. It’s a tricky business, giving your children freedom, letting them go. Most people of my generation will talk about being more or less kicked out of the house to play first thing in the morning and not being expected home until teatime. Phil remembers going train-spotting all over the place at age 12. My own case was not so extreme, but I would set off alone to play on the swings on the rec (the recreation ground. My siblings and I would play on the pavement outside our house, on condition that we didn’t go “round the block”, in other words out of our mother’s hearing. And I would walk alone to friends’ houses to play. 

But we all did it and so there was safety in numbers. And by the time we were in top juniors and moving into secondary school we were all used to getting on the bus across town, or across Manchester in the case of some of my friends. And that still goes on but perhaps to a lesser extent. 

Our own children played out but with less freedom than we had. However, they became perfectly independent secondary school attenders. 

I have commented before that I have seen more children “playing out”, ie. on their own, in the last year than I have in a long time. Maybe lockdown has given children in country-ish areas like ours a new taste of freedom.

Now, here’s a bit of linguistic stuff that a friend sent me.

“Torpenhow Hill, England. 

When the Saxons arrived and asked the Welsh the name of that hill, the Welsh said “pen”, which means “hill” in Welsh. So the Saxons used their word for hill, “tor”, and called in Torpen (Hill Hill).

Then the Norse arrived and the same process added their word for hill “Haugr”. So now it was Torpen Haugr (Hill Hill Hill). 

Later the English called it Torpenhow Hill (Hill Hill Hill Hill).

Language is awesome!”

Similarly, by the way, “avon” is Welsh for river so the River Avon is really the River River.

And here’s another odd consequence of the lockdown. According to certain surveys, people are not just spending days in their pyjamas but we are washing less. Well, personally I am showering every day just as I ever did but some people are not bothering. They are wearing the same socks for days and not washing much of themselves apart from their hands. Almost everyone has got quite obsessive about that bit of personal hygiene. One young man questioned said he had not showered for months. He had washed his hands, his face, his armpits and his private bits but that was it. He expected he would get back into the routine of daily showering when he went back to the office. This, he said was probably his last chance in life not to wash every day! How odd! 

Of course, the general obsession with cleanliness is a modern phenomenon. I remember sharing “digs” with a friend in our first year at university in the late 1960s. Our landlady stipulated that each of us could only have one bath per week. I used to go to the students’ union building one day a week with my towel and soap and shampoo and for 2/6d (two shillings and sixpence, half a crown - about 12 modern pence) I could have a bath, wash my hair and use the hairdrier. I wonder if that facility is still available. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone?

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Weather. Fishy tales. And some serious stuff about policing.

Lulled into a false sense of security by some blue sky and sunshine I decided to wear shorts to cycle to Uppermill this morning. Not short, short, short shorts - I think my hot-pants days are over - but sensible, just above the knee, going for a hike shorts. The very warm weather on Monday and the moderately warm weather yesterday were contributory factors. And mostly it was fine but, boy!, the wind was cold! But it was mostly okay. My route is largely sheltered from the wind, although the market in the square at Uppermill is rather exposed.  

I stood in the wind in the queue for the fish-man longer than expected. Another false sense of security thing! There was a Chinese lady being served, one person waiting and then me. That should have been quick. However, the Chinese lady must have been buying for a restaurant, or at least catering for a large party. And she was quibbling over each purchase: was that piece of fish thick enough for what she wanted? could she have a special price of she bought five dressed crabs? would they skin that piece? The fish-man was concerned that she might not be able to carry the bag with all her purchases; she was a very diminutive lady. I was more concerned that her bundle of ten pound notes was about to blow away. She peeled off five or six notes to pay the fish-man and set off with her heavy bag in one hand and her still considerable bundle of notes in the other. Fortunately she stopped a few yards from the fish-van, put her shopping bag down briefly and stowed her cash away in a safe place.

She might not have been able to be so cavalier with her bundle of notes in a more crowded marketplace. However, Uppermill is fairly quiet in the first half of the morning on market day and besides, most of the shoppers are regulars who may not know each other well but have at least a nodding acquaintance and look out for one another. It’s one of the good things about being semi-rural. 

I say semi-rural because most of the villages around here began life as industrial villages, textile mill workers’ places. And I am pretty sure that a lot of fuss was made some years ago about Uppermill, the largest of the Saddleworth villages, have grown big enough to be called a town rather than a village. And it has a regular Big Issue seller, who has returned now that restrictions have eased. Mind you we have also had one in Delph and we definitely do not qualify as a town! 

Out in the wider world, Chauvin, the policeman who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight or nine minutes, has been found guilty of murder. Listening to witnesses from both prosecution and defence was hard going. No matter what kind of drug abuse history, or medical history an arrestee has, of he dies during the arrest you can’t argue away the fact of that knee restricting his breathing must be a major cause of death. From the prosecution side a young woman, probably the one whose video of the arrest went viral, tearfully said she wanted to apologise, to apologise for not having been able to do more to stop it all happening. 

Maybe things will begin to change.

Things were exacerbated by further cases of black people dying at the hands of the police. Quite how a policewoman could mistake her gun for her taser is hard for most of us to understand. Its another argument for a change in laws regarding firearms. When Americans talk of their right to bear arms they need reminding how much guns have changed. This video is a rather amusing way of pointing this out.

None of the original gun owners had machine guns or assault rifles.

While I am aware that some people do have access to guns here in the UK and that we are not problem-free, on the whole I am relieved to live in a country where gun ownership is not considered a normal thing.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!