Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Overcrowded beauty spots. Safe selfies. And a bit of fruit-related nostalgia.

According to an article I read this morning, US national parks are “welcoming” so many visitors that they are becoming overcrowded. They’ve had to shut the gates and turn people away as carparks have become so full that emergency vehicles would have difficulties getting in if they were needed. An additional problem is people putting themselves in danger, indeed some of them actually falling to their death, in the desperate attempt to achieve the perfect selfie. As a solution to that problem some places have set up “selfie stations”, providing a safe way to take a selfie while at the same time suggesting good places for an excellent photo, thus avoiding crowding at some of the best known spots.

Personally I have never fully understood the selfie obsession. I take lots of photos of places I visit but I never feel the need to put myself in the picture. Do I need to prove I was there? Besides, with all the programmes available for photoshopping pictures you could claim to have photographic evidence of having been almost anywhere in the world.

What the article didn’t address was the question of why numbers of visitors to national parks and beauty spots has increased so much. It’s been happening in this country too. Places like the Lake District have long established paths eroded by the suddenly larger number of people tramping along them. Seaside places have been swamped with litter left behind by people seeking the tranquility of the beaches. Is it a consequence of Covid? Has a period of not being allowed to go anywhere spurred people on to explore bits of the country they previously took no notice of? I suppose restrictions on foreign travel and in some cases reluctance to get on a plane has also led to more people looking for interesting places to visit in their own land.  

We stayed close to home on yesterday’s bank holiday. Out picking blackberries with my daughter and her offspring I was reminded of late summers / early autumns of my childhood. There came a point every year when we set off en famille to pick blackberries on the sand dunes of Birkdale, one of the districts of Southport. If you went far enough over the dunes you came to Birkdale beach, in our opinion a far superior bit of beach to Southport proper, but not quite as good as Ainsdale beach, just a little further along the coast.

But it was the sand dunes and the berries that we were after on those expeditions. The berries that grew there were clearly in the blackberry family but significantly different from the ones my father grew on his allotment. Instead of a rich dark black, these wild berries had a purplish sheen to them and tasted subtly sweeter than the cultivated variety. We went equipped with baskets and punnets, baskets filled with a picnic lunch on the outward journey and fruit on the return. Every so often one or other of us would come across a particularly rich patch of berries and the cry would go out, “there are some beauties here”, whereupon everyone would move to that patch and strip it bare. And yesterday, along the bridle paths of Mossley, we found ourselves doing the same thing, although to a lesser degree.

Back in my childhood, we would return home with our booty and after a bit of a rest and some tea we would set about jam making. My mother was in charge. She had a huge brass preserving pan, which had belonged to my grandmother and which she sold years later to an antique shop when her jam making days were over and done with. Jars were set to be sterilised in the oven, also ensuring that they were warm enough not to crack when hot jam was put in them. The fruit and sugar were set to boil in the huge pan and at the right point pectin was added. (Pectin, I am reliably informed in a natural gelling agent found in ripe fruit, but I remember my mother buying small bottles of it to help the jam-setting process.) 

Everyone had a stir but in between times labels were written, paper covers and rubber bands were prepared for sealing the jars, and the kitchen table was cleared for action. At various points a small spoonful of jam was dribbled onto a plate to see how well it was setting - a perfect opportunity for tasting the produce as well! And eventually the jam was put into jars, ready to see us through the winter, and occasionally to be taken as my mother’s contribution to “bring and buy” sales at the local church. 

We repeated the process with strawberries, blackcurrants and any other soft fruit my father grew, riding home from his allotment with baskets fo fruit precariously hanging from the handlebars of his bike. But it was only the wild blackberries that became a true family adventure. 

Last night my oldest granddaughter, who likes to experiment with recipes, decided she would make jam with her share of yesterday’s booty. She shared progress with us via our family messaging group, asking for explanations of terminology from her you tube instructions. What, for example, was meant by a rolling boil? All seemed to go well but she fears she may have over-boiled it as it has set rock solid! Maybe she accidentally made boiled sweets. Unfortunately it is set in the bottom of a glass jar and is inaccessible! I on the other hand made a very nice looking blackberry and apple slice, though I say it myself! 

Hmm, is there a special term for a food-selfie?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 30 August 2021

The state of the world. And escaping by going blackberrying.

There’s still chaos at the airport in Kabul. US drone strikes on the city won’t have helped. Neither will presidential declarations that vengeance will be sought for Americans who died in attacks on the airport. A decision has been taken to pull out of Afghanistan and that’s what should be done, surely, without escalating anything right now. 

There’s also continuing chaos with delivery lorries in the UK. Photos of empty supermarket shelves keep being posted but we seem to be managing reasonably all right around here. Various keen Brexiteers are calling for European lorry drivers to be employed. And the Daily Mail has apparently come up with the revolutionary idea that we need to unite with Europe to solve the border and delivery crisis! Hmm!

New Orleans is having problems with Hurricane Ida and other bits of the USA are still burning.

The world seems to be well on it’s way to hell in a handcart!

But hey! It’s not all bad. We appear to be having some success in the Paralympics. Christian Ronaldo has returned to Manchester. I know one or two younger women who will be delighted about that. And the weather continues to be reasonably kind to us.

Today is a bank holiday. We have not rushed to the seaside or to any other beauty spot. My daughter and I had been planning a family walk, just the two of us and the smallest members of the family. In the end we decided to go and pay a visit to her eldest daughter, all alone in her house as her housemate is away of holiday. 


We are pretty sure she has not left the house for days. 


So we persuaded her that it was going to be fine to leave her convalescent dog safely tucked up in her dog cage. The dog is still not allowed out for walks for a few days yet.

So we set off - me, my daughter, her eldest and her two smallest on a blackberry picking mission. 

My granddaughter also indulged her habit of taking photos of snails along the way. 

My granddaughter lives only a few miles from here but the berries there are ripening nicely while here they are still green and in need of some more growing time. I’m just hoping the fine, warmish weather can continue a little longer so that they don’t go to waste.



Now I need to hunt out an old recipe for blackberry, apple and almond slice. Can’t let nature’s bounty go to waste.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Choosing where to live. On leaving your door open.

My daughter brought me a huge bag of rhubarb from her partner’s brother’s garden. So I now have the job of making rhubarb crumble, one for us and one for her or her partner to take to the aforementioned  brother’s house. It seems that none of them knows how to make rhubarb crumble. Or how to do anything else with their copious supply of rhubarb. 

She didn’t, however, bring me figs from her almost-brother-in-law’s garden. He has a fig tree laden with fruit. As with the rhubarb, he had nothing to do with the planting of this tree - it came with the house apparently. What a bonus! But when my daughter visited last week none of them knew whether the figs were ripe or not and so they just left them on the tree. Such a shame! I was unaware, however, that figs could be grown in this country.

I came across a news item about a man who took the decision to leave his job in London and go off to live in France, in the Vosges, where his daughter was growing up. The article didn’t say how he would earn a living. This was about 20 years ago but I suppose he might have been in a profession that allowed him to work from home, even before it became the new normal. He described his new home:

“Home was a draughty stone shack a couple of miles from the nearest village, down a dirt track flanked by spruces and silver birch. My nearest neighbour was a three-minute walk away, and when the birches were in leaf you couldn’t see another house. Indoors, I was plagued by dormice, and a shrew once dropped from the bedroom ceiling. Outside, there were red squirrels, buzzards and small animals that ran and squeaked in the undergrowth all day long. Sometimes I would open my front door to find a doe and her fawns cropping the lawn. I fell hard and fast for the Vosges.”

Presumably he had internet access! But you never know.

What struck me mostly was his fear of being murdered in his bed. The peace and quiet he loved during the day became a sort of nightmare to him once he retired to bed. His imagination ran riot.

“If you have spent most of your life in the city,” he wrote, “the countryside can be a noisy, spooky place. It takes while to work out what is making those noises, or to accept that you can ignore them. I would hear rustling in the bushes or footsteps in the lane and think of axe murderers and escaped lunatics.”

Surely London must be a more dangerous place, especially after dark, than a small isolated place in deepest France. I can’t help thinking he must have watched too many scary movies. Eventually the night came when he went off to bed and forgot to lock the door. Having slept perfectly well and managed not to be murdered in his sleep. He got over his fear and has been fine ever since. 

I was reminded of our own open door incident. When we lived in one of a row of four quite isolated cottages in the valley between Delph and Denshaw, there was a fine summer morning when I wandered downstairs to make breakfast and wondered at how brightly lit the living room was. It was a large, rectangular room with one corner sectioned off by a glass door, providing a sort of entrance hall, albeit a very small one. The previous evening we had left to outer door open all through the fine evening but had closed the inner door to keep the bugs and moths outside. Darkness fell and it was not obvious that the outer door was open and so we had gone off the bed quite oblivious and carefree! No wandering axe murderers or indeed simple burglars had passed that way in the night but this was hardly deepest France after all. We never left it open again but I still wonder if maybe it would still be fine there to leave your door unlocked!

I wouldn’t risk it in our current house, on a busy main road, even though we are hardly on the middle of a huge conurbation. I am more concerned about wildlife and stray cats wandering into the kitchen if we left the back door open for any length of time and busied ourselves elsewhere in the house. After all, a blackbird had a go at hopping into kitchen only a few weeks ago. 

My oldest granddaughter had a stray cat wander into her house yesterday. A large, sleek creature, he looked around, helped himself to a drink from her cat’s water bowl, clearly decided that, animal-friendly as the house is, there was nothing more he needed and wandered out again!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Sunny Saturday stuff! And problem pigs! And an independent-thinking lady!

Summer seems to have returned, as it often does in time for schools reopening. Blue sky and sunshine made for a very pleasant run round the village this morning.

Later in the morning I set off for Uppermill, looking for a toyshop. The two smallest grandchildren have birthdays within a week of each other very shortly and I needed to get organised. Unusually I have ended up with very gender-stereotyped presents. The almost 5 year old has had her eye on a particular doll for a while now and the almost 2 year old is at that stage when anything with wheels is going to be pleasing. I found a wooden tractor and trailer, pleasing to the adults as well as to the small boy. In fact most of the little girls in the family (some of whom are now quite grown up) have gone through the same phase when anything with wheels was very pleasing! So we are managing not to do too much gender stereotyping.

Having dealt with the toyshop, I hopped on a bus to go and say hello to granddaughter number 1, currently on her own (apart from her menagerie) as her housemate has gone on holiday with her parents for a couple of weeks. Said parents have left their guinea pigs with our granddaughter. This may not be a bad exchange as they are marginally less messy. Our granddaughter is stuck at home with her convalescent dog, counting the days until she can take her out for walks again and maybe even come and visit us. 

Out on the wider world, in addition to everything else that is going on, Britain is apparently facing a bit of a pig crisis. This is largely another consequence of the shortage of lorry drivers but also because of a shortage of workers at abattoirs and meat-processing plants. As many as 70,000 pigs should already have been slaughtered but are stranded on UK farms, incurring feeding costs for the farmers who own them. Large pigs can grow by up to a kilo a day - a growing problem then. Pigs are intelligent animals; I wonder if they know they have been given a bit of a reprieve. 

No doubt someone will find a solution soon. 

There are still people suggesting we should encourage EU citizens to come and work here temporarily. Hmmm! I wonder where that idea came from!


I was reading about Fran Liebowitz, the 70 year old writer who has seemingly had writer’s block for decades, something she attributes partly to laziness. She is one of the few people I have heard who have nothing to do with modern technology - no computer, no wifi, no mobile phone, although I understand she does appear on chat shows. So she must accept television.she relies on friends if she absolutely has to make use of it. A rare and unusual lady who does things her own way.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone. 

Friday, 27 August 2021

The end of a mostly successful family reunion. A bit of forgettery. Continued chaos in the wider world.

Yesterday we got up early to take the small cousins swimming. My son refused to swim with us. He claims he’s not keen on swimming, which is surprising as he was a good swimmer in his childhood. So it was me, my daughter-in-law and one grandchild from our end and my daughter, her middle daughter - the 18 year old I-am-an-adult-now one - and the two smallest from my daughter’s household, all meeting outside the pool in Ashton. As we waited for my daughter’s party to arrive, my son and his little girl were indulging in a bit of almost-parcour, running across the pavement and leaping onto a raised grassy area. This is not the sort of activity recommended to a 40+ year old without some kind of preparatory limbering up. But it’s the sort of thing small daughters challenge their fathers to join in with. Which he did with enthusiasm. Consequently he put his back out somewhat and, after sitting in a cafe in the town centre while we swam, had to seek out painkillers as he had stiffened up while he waited. 

My 7 year old granddaughter showed off her newly acquired skill of crossing the pool with minimum support. The almost 5 year old decided she had to emulate her older cousin and agreed to get her feet off the floor and have a go at kicking her legs. And the almost two year old get over his initial fear of the water and did a bit of splashing. The 18 year old and I had a bit of proper swimming for the first time in ages and agreed that we must do this more often on her days off from her temporary job. All in all, a good time was had by all.

Afterwards we went off and had lunch in Marks and Spencer’s cafe, followed by just a little retail therapy. By the time we got home my son had seriously stiffened up and had to lie down on the floor, hugging his knees to his chest for a while. Meanwhile, family reunions continued apace. My brother-in-law dropped in to say hello. The small girl cousins, almost 5 and 7, reestablished their friendship from before covid and disappeared to play happily. The 5 year old discovered the attic bedroom, a bit of the house she had never seen before, despite having roamed around the rest of the house forever. She was delighted and somewhat indignant to find that this new-to-her bit of house existed!

This morning the southern branch of the family has departed, heading back to be reunited with their kittens, and to see what havoc has been wrought by these small creatures in their absence; the neighbour who has been popping in to feed them had already regaled them with tales of spilled water bowls! 

Collecting towels and such like for washing, I discovered a small rucksack of reading matter and a bag of snacks in the attic bedroom. There’s also an extra pair of walking boots in the hall. This latter bit of forgettery does not surprise me as there is quite a collection of boots and trainers located there. Normally we do a final sweep of all the rooms to check nothing has been left behind. I suspect that the stiff-back incident had something to do with that not happening so efficiently this time. Still, it could be worse. Many years ago we had a German teacher stay with us who left half his summer wardrobe in the spare bedroom!!

As a result of all the busy social stuff going on yesterday, it was not until late in the day that I caught up with the news of the attacks on Kabul airport. It is hard to imagine the chaos going on there. Well, in fact we don’t need to imagine. The reports are graphic enough. And now it looks as though the evacuation is coming to a rushed end with many left behind.

We can send donations to organisations helping those left behind and hope that the aid manages to get through. And our own problems simply fade into insignificance.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

A trip down memory lane!

We’ve been out and about today, a family adventure. First a visit to the market and the playground in Uppermill, with a side-adventure when my daughter-in-law and I investigated the sale at the fashion boutique on the high street. We didn’t buy anything - so sensible and string willed. 

Then we had a spot of early lunch before decided to continue our adventures. By then my daughter and some of her brood had joined us and we sent her off to collect Phil so we could make him join in the fun.


Checking on my iPad, I found that Facebook had thrown up in memories, as it tends to do, an adventure from two years ago. Two years ago to the day we went on a family adventure to Dovestone reservoir, with Phil’s brother and both the northern and the southern branches of the family together. Today, having collected Phil we went again to Dovestone reservoir, but without my brother-in-law.


At some point not very early in lockdown, when people were finally allowed to travel a little to get exercise, Dovestone reservoir was one of the places that seemed to be invaded by hoards of people who apparently had only just discovered it. They blocked access routes with cars parked higgledy-piggledy all over the place. They left litter. They set up portable barbecues and lit fires. It was a mess. One of my favourite places was being spoilt.

We decided to see if things had improved and off we went, two carloads of us. Maybe it’s because it was midweek, or maybe because the day had started so cloudy and dull, but we managed to find parking spaces easily. There were notices reminding people not to light fires of set up barbecues. Some sections were fenced off and no longer accessible. But the day brightened up considerably and we had an excellent walk round the reservoir, two years to the day to the last time we were there.





Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Animal emergencies!

Late last night our oldest granddaughter called us in a panic. Her much loved dog has recently had treatment at the vet and her stitches has burst. We were not her first port of call but she had not been able to contact her mother, who was away overnight. We talked her through contacting the emergency vet and fortunately a neighbour was willing to drive her and the hound up the hill to the surgery. 

The dog is now fine but my granddaughter’s nerves are somewhat frayed, not to mention mine. This morning she told me that the emergency vet would not do anything by way of treatment until they had received payment up front of around £200. Fortunately we were able to send the granddaughter a bank transfer to cover her costs - even if she can claim it back on her pet insurance the money needed paying first! So much for vets being dedicated animal lovers!

When she got back home, leaving her dog at the vet’s she called me to let me know she was home and that all was as well as could be expected. Then she went into another major panic, almost as bad as the first one, this time because she was confronted by a huge spider. Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. If she had not been in such a state of anxiety it would have been comical, as she tried to splat the arachnid with the sweeping brush. 

This morning she was refusing to go into her living room but was sticking to her kitchen and bedroom as she was uncertain that she managed to rid the house of the spider. There is not talking her down. 

Now, I know spiders are creepy crawlies and that the idea of them scuttling over you in your sleep is unpleasant. But in the end we are much larger than they are and we don’t have any venomous ones in the UK to my knowledge. Personally, I grew up with an almost paranoid fear of moths, and of birds in enclosed spaces, things that flap in general. It’s my grandmother’s fault, or so we have always said in the family, because she used to let her budgerigar, Sweetie Pye, fly around the house, causing little me great distress. 

As an adult I took a decision to stop the nonsense of panic reactions. After all I did not want to pass on the panic to my offspring. I was largely successful but birds falling down the chimney into our fireplace still freak me out. Also I find the bat cave at Chester Zoo a most uncomfortable place to visit. I have never even considered going to a butterfly farm. 

As for spiders, I have become an expert at the glass and piece of card method of catching them. I always release them as far from the house as possible to discourage return.

Today I have been scuttling round making sure all is prepared for the visit of the southern branch of the family. Our son and family are visiting for the first time since the pandemic began. He texted me this morning to say their departure had been delayed by an animal emergency of their own. One of their recently acquired kittens did what he called “an inappropriate pee”. And then both kittens decided to raid the ham sandwiches they (my son and his wife, not the kittens) had prepared for the journey up north. 

These sorts of things are why I have always resisted having pets! Children I can cope with. Animal emergencies are a different matter altogether!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 23 August 2021

Old and sometimes confused memories. Stealing nostalgic items. Remembering past protests.

On the family chat messaging this morning my eldest granddaughter sent a question: Does anyone know what the Gaviscon Bourgignon song is called?

She went on, “It goes Gaviscon, Bourgignon, tiny dancer, tiny dancer.” And she claimed I used to play it on a CD, which is simply not true. I probably sang it to her. She thought it might have been sing by Ana Belen, whose songs I did play for her on CD when she was a small child living at our house. But to the best of my knowledge, Ana Belen never recorded it. Maybe she’s confusing it with Elton John and his “Tiny Dancer”, which I may have played as well. 

Incidentally, we saw Ana Belen sing in a free concert in Pontevedra a few summers ago. Free concerts, often featuring well known artists, were a regular feature of Pontevedra summers pre-covid. I wonder of they have been reinstated. When we asked our friend Colin, who lives there, if he knew who was performing that year he told us that there seemed to be a new young female singer, Ana Belen. Was there a new Ana Belen? No! Still the same lady as ever. Her publicity photos must have been very good considering that she and her husband Victor Manuel have been recording since the 1970s at least. She put on a good performance in Pontevedra!

Getting back to my granddaughter, she has form for mangling the words of songs. When she was a tiny girl she would belt out the song “I need a miracle”, except that her version was “I’m in America”, which probably made more sense to a three year old. She’s old enough to know better now. But we’ve all mixed up lyrics, have we not?

The other day Phil told me he had heard a report of a red phone box being stolen. We still have the old red phone boxes around here. As far as I know they don’t have public phones in them any longer. Does anyone still use a public phone box? I doubt it. Most of them contain defibrillators or other useful items. I head of one that was turned into a kind of book exchange, with local people leaving books they had no further use for and taking away items they fancied reading. We could do with something like that in our village. We have a definite surfeit of books. The chap who sells slippers on Uppermill market accepts no-longer-wanted books and sells them on but I always forget to take some for him. Maybe I should try to persuade the local cafe to have a book shelf for customers. I used to know of a cafe in Manchester that did that. 

I decided to check up on the details of this latest phone box story. It turns put to have been stolen from a garden:

“Police have released CCTV footage of a man they would like to speak to after a red phone box was stolen from a garden in Chelford, Cheshire.

Sometime between 2.30pm and 3pm on 13 July an old style red telephone box was removed with a digger on Chelford Road.

A white Ford transit van was seen dropping off a skip and then three men removed the box.

Cheshire Police say the men asked a member of public to guard the live electric cables while they contacted the energy network to make it safe, but the men never returned.

The post box belonged to Chelford Parish Council and no one had given permission for it to be removed.

PC John Milman said: “We’ve been making a number of enquiries in the area and are keen to speak to anyone who recognises the man in this image as he may be able to help us with our enquiries. I’d also appeal for the man to come forward to assist us with our investigation.”

Anyone with information should contact Cheshire police on 101.”

Presumably, like certain works of art, this phone box has been stolen to order. I wonder where it has ended up.

It’s 40 years since a group of women walked to Greenham Common to protest against American nuclear warheads being delivered there. And so the Greenham Common camp came into being, with women chained to the fence and eventually some of them, including our next door neighbour, ending up in prison. Now another group of women plan to repeat the march so that the protest is not simply forgotten. We just need reminding from time to time about things that have gone on in the recent past.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Guns. And women’s freedom to live.

Ever since the recent Plymouth shooting I have been wondering about guns in the UK. The first question that comes to mind is why do people need guns? So I’ve been doing a bit of research.

 Well, more firearms certificates are currently held in rural areas like North Yorkshire (2,837), Dyfed-Powys (2,637) and Cumbria (2,512) than in big city conurbations. (Are the guns in big cities largely illegal? Probably so!) In rural areas they are probably for game-keeping and hunting. Fair enough!

Are people asked the reason why they want to own a gun when they apply for a gun license? Apparently so.

Before a license is given the chief police officer for the district where the applicant lives must be “satisfied that: (i) the applicant has good reason for having the firearm; (ii) the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm; and (iii) the public safety or peace will not be endangered.”

So what reason did the young man in Plymouth have for owning a gun? I wonder. 

The population of UK is 66.8 million. As of 31st March this year just under 600,000 firearm and shotgun certificates were on issue. So I suppose it’s not a huge percentage of the population as a whole. The youngest certificate older is only 8 years old but he is an exception. However, year on year only about 2% of applicants are turned down. 

“Firearm and shotgun certificates can be revoked by the chief officer of police for the force concerned if they have reason to believe that the holder:

• can no longer be entrusted with firearms in accordance with the Firearms Act 1968

• is of unsound mind or is otherwise unfit to be entrusted with a firearm and/or shotgun

• can no longer be permitted to have the firearm and/or shotgun or ammunition to which the certificate relates in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace

• no longer has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the firearm or ammunition which he is authorised.”

So I’d still like to know how the young man in Plymouth justified his application. After all, his license was revoked and then returned to him. How did that happen?  

It’s another of those things that leave me mystified. Another is this:

Michael Rosen posted on Facebook this observation by Richard Burgon MP:

“At #PMQs today, every Conservative MP is wearing an “NHS 70” badge - to mark 70 years since they voted against its creation.”

Actually that does not really mystify me. Those badge wearers just want to look like good guys.

The Afghanistan turmoil continues but I’m hearing a number of pundits assuring us that the young Afghans who have grown up in the last 20 years without Taliban will not accept restrictions on their freedom. In particular, they assure us, no-one can take away the education girls have received on the last 20 years. But 20 years isn’t really such a long time. 

Sippi Azarbaijani-Moghaddam, a social scientist and consultant with 17 years of international experience in programming in conflict and post-conflict settings who has worked and travelled extensively in Afghanistan since 1995, thinks that the situation of women in the country changed only superficially. 

She wrote:

“The assistance allocated to women has never been enough. The very few women seen by westerners in their projects may have been safe, but the non-literate woman who earned money at the sewing project would get a fist in the face. The young girl who got into the police academy would be told to empty bins, make tea for the men and make her body available for the sexual pleasure of men. The woman who was put in prison for adultery, in the reign of Hamid Karzai or Ashraf Ghani, would be terrified of leaving prison in a northern province because she feared for her life and for her children’s welfare because there are no well-paid jobs for illiterate women in rural hinterlands.

I was one of the many Afghans and foreigners who tried to make sure that millions of girls would go to schools and, if lucky, high schools and possibly university. But I had to face the truth that they would struggle to find jobs because the economy is still dominated by male-run institutions. Many of those girls would have come out of school, married and having forgotten what little they learned.

Even last year I was fighting with educated young Afghan men in my victim assistance project. I wanted the widows we were helping to receive assistance in their own right. The argument from them was that any male relative, however distant, was a better choice because a grieving woman was “not in her right mind”. Some even wheeled out the old excuse that women are naqes ul aql, according to their interpretation of Islam, roughly translated as having half a brain.”

She reminded readers of the fate of Farkhunda in 2015, a young woman killed by a mob in Kabul because she challenged a mullah’s right to sell “tawiz” slips of paper with quotations from the Koran, believed to be powerful spells. This was in the city, supposedly modern and westernised. 

It seems that even if the Taliban have changed, as many are assuring us, there is still a long way to go. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Bad language. Words. And the power of names.

Someone has been doing research into swearing. Well, I suppose everything needs studying at some point. Anyway, here’s a sample of what they found:

“So it’s farewell to bloody Nora. The f-word has become Britain’s most popular swearword, overtaking “bloody”, as the nation’s use of expletives has dropped over the past two decades, a linguistics study has found.

Data on the use of 16 swearwords in the 1990s and the 2010s shows the f-word was the most frequently used, taking the title from “bloody” which was beaten into third place by “shit”.

The study, by Dr Robbie Love at Aston University, found there was a 27% drop in swearing in Britain over the 20-year period, down from 1,822 to 1,320 swearwords per million.

Men still swear more than women, and swearing still peaks in people’s 20s and declines thereafter, Love found.”

Now, I wonder about the statement that swearing declines later in life. Of course, it may be that as people have children they consciously control their swearing. But I wonder if the real truth is that the older the people studied are the more likely they are to have grown up at a time when swearing was less socially acceptable. As a child I don‘t think I heard the f-word at all. Then it became the swear word of extreme circumstances. Now it’s peppered all over sentences like confetti at a wedding!

In general we seem to have become ruder in our use of language. Time was nobody, or almost nobody, used certain words in writing, even if they had no qualms in actual speech. Tweeting has put a stop to that. This morning I saw a report of an MP tweeting that someone was “an arse”. 1. That was an MP and 2. when did “arse” become a synonym for “idiot”?

Still on language, I came across the term “bedroom community” as I skimmed the news online this morning. This was in a report about a small town somewhere in the USA which had been flooded out completely some years ago. 90+% of the houses were beyond repair. A local landowner offered to sell a patch of land to the community so they could rebuild the town above the flood plain. They took a vote and decided to go ahead, with some help from the government and, lo and behold, the little town is now thriving. It’s not every community that could afford to this but this was a “bedroom community”, with little industry in the town and most residents commuting daily to well paid jobs in the nearest city. So basically a “bedroom community” is American for a “dormitory suburb”. Or as Webster’s dictionary told me:

Definition of bedroom community

: a small community that has no major industries and that is lived in by people who go to another town or city to work

They live in a bedroom community just outside of the city.

There you go!

Still in the USA, there appears to be a bit of controversy going on about the nicknames that American football teams use. The Washington Football Team used to be known as The Redskins, but changed their name in line with Black Lives Matter. They were originally called The Braves, back in 1932 but changed the name a year later. They have a “fight song” (which seems to me a rather aggressive term for a team song) called “Hail to the Redskins”, which maybe they can’t sing any longer. Many team names seem to reflect something to do with the history of the district they come from: The Dallas Cowboys, The Pittsburg Steelers, The California 49ers, and so on. 

The problems not confined to professional teams: high school teams also have their nicknames and people are agitating for names that refer to the First Nations should be changed as they are offensive and condescending  to some of the students in the high schools. The teams are often willing to change but …. “

“Many school boards try to work towards positive change,” one spokesperson said, “but the older alumni and community members harass and bully them till they give in.” 

And so the debate rumbles on. So many questions about how we use language.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 20 August 2021

Food supplies here and elsewhere. We need to mend the world.

First it was warnings of a shortage of potatoes. Now it’s chicken that’s in short supply. It must be bad when Nando’s and KFC have had to cancel some of their menu. What I want to know is whether I will be able to buy a chicken to roast for a family meal this weekend! There has been some talk of this problem being Covid and pingdemic related but finally someone of the radio news said it was a Brexit problem. 

And now there are calls for fast-tracking visas for workers from outside the UK to come and drive lorries so deliveries can take place. This must be what was meant by taking back control!

You would think that before cutting ourselves off from Europe we would have made sure we could feed ourselves. I’m not talking about exotic products but basic staples like chicken and potatoes. 

Maybe it’s a not very subtle way of attacking the obesity crisis by just making less food available. It seemed to work with rationing!

And we are the lucky ones in terms of what is going on in the wider world!

I was thinking about food supplies as I listened to reports of the chaotic situation in Afghanistan. It’s quite likely that people living in rural districts will carry on as they ever did, but what happens now to the infrastructure for supplying shops in the cities? Everything I read and hear suggests that the Taliban don’t have experience of running that kind of thing; they are a military organisation. 

And as discussion goes about which people in Kabul qualify to seek refuge in the UK an announcement comes out that some of the security staff working for British embassy don’t qualify after all. They worked for the embassy but were not employed directly by the embassy so they are somebody else’s problem. It begins to sound like semantics - what actually constitutes working for a foreign power? A desperate young man was interviewed on Newsnight last night. He’s all packed up but nobody is assuring him a chance to get out of the country. He’s afraid he will be killed. And it has me wondering, even if the Taliban decide not to punish him, he has no job, therefore no income, and so how does he live in the city of Kabul? 

Even sport is affected, especially women’s sport:

“High-profile sportswomen in Afghanistan have been urged to wipe their social media presence and in some cases burn their kit as supporters scramble to protect them from the Taliban.

Speaking from Copenhagen, Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghanistan women’s football team, said female players should take urgent steps to remove all trace of their sporting history.

“Today I’m calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety. Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform,” she told Reuters.

“And that is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women’s national team player. To earn that badge on the chest, to have the right to play and represent our country, how much we were proud.”

A source close to the country’s cycling federation echoed the advice, saying female members had been told to stay at home and avoid posting on social media at all cost.”

Here’s a report of some more desperate people, this time trying to reach the Canary Islands in a small dinghy sailing from Africa and inevitably capsizing. One woman was rescued, 40 other people almost certainly drowned. There is something seriously wrong when people set off on such a journey in such an inadequate boat. It goes on and one. We have messed up the world and need to work together to put it right, if we can!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Rural life and its problems.

There’s a small village in Asturias called Ribadesella which we may or may not have visited. The name rings a bell but we may have just passed through it on a bus going from one place to another along the north coast of Spain. There was a time in the ten years before I retired when we spent a part of each summer exploring the top of Spain, starting with Bilbao (Bilbo in the Basque language) and San Sebastián and gradually working westwards. We never reached Finisterre, believed in Roman times to be the edge of the world, certainly the edge of the known world at the time. When we got to La Coruña (A Coruña in the Galician language) we took a left turn towards Santiago de Compostela and Pontevedra and eventually Vigo, where we went to live for a while after I retired. 

Anyway Ribadesella is a little place in Asturias, probably 6,000 inhabitants and quite a lot of tourists. Kayakers go there for the yearly Descenso del Sella, when they kayak down the river - not my idea of fun but, hey, each to their own! Now, it seems that some of the tourists have been complaining that the local donkeys and cockerels are too noisy, waking them up at ungodly hours of the morning. What’s more, free roaming cows leave a mess behind them. So the local municipality has put up posters gently reminding people that rural places tend to have rural animals and their concomitant noises and mess. 

We have a tendency in this country to forget what rural places are really like. It may be because we are such a compact little island, so densely populated in many parts that little village communities, such as the one we live in, are not really isolated but within easy reach of big conglomerations. Consequently many Britons seem to have forgotten that milk and eggs comes from noisy, messy creatures, that donkeys can be working animals, not just kept in donkey sanctuaries, that vegetables actually come from mucky earth and so on. Yes, there has been an increase in people growing their own vegetable during the lockdowns but it’s not the same as being in contact with your origins. We found when we lived in Galicia that most city dwellers go back regularly to their ‘pueblo’, the small place where their family originated and where they still have a house and a bit of land. And in the outskirts of Vigo there are allotments where people don’t just grow vegetables but also keep the odd sheep or goat or some chickens. 

On the poster from the Ribadesella municipality it is worth noting that, even though written in good, clear Castilian Spanish, it is addressed to the “Pueblu Asturianu”, with the heading in the local “language” Asturiano (Asturianu). And Ribadesella’s name in Asturiano (Asturianu) is Rebadeseya. Which brings me back to an old bugbear: most of the so-called local languages are really little more than local accents, regional pronunciations (purists would say mispronunciations) of standard Spanish. Basque (Euskera) is a different kettle of fish, probably the oldest language in Europe, straddling Spain and France. Catalán has enough French in it make it substantially different. Many argue the same for Portuguese in Gallego (the Galician language) but I am only partly convinced about that.

I haven’t studied all 15 regional dialects in depth but from what I have seen and heard, it still seems to me a bit like gathering together a list of Lancashire “twang” vocabulary and expressions and calling it a language. Or perhaps making grammar rules to explain the glottal stop replacing the letter “t”, together with the loss of the final “g” (talkin’, and listenin’ and speakin’) and calling that a language. 

Okay! That’s another rant over and done with!

Getting back to rural matters, I read something yesterday about “pandemic walkers” - unusual numbers of people going walking in the  countryside, some discovering it for the first time. It seems that they are having problems in the Lake District because paths have been widened and seriously eroded by the feet of huge numbers of people trying to walk up Conston’s Old Man, for example, and other such places, trying to keep socially distanced initially but more recently just crowds walking along together. Combined with extreme weather and fewer people going abroad  this influx of visitors is putting the beauty of the Lakes at risk. Who knew?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!