Thursday, 30 September 2021

Language and language learning.

Simon Jenkins wrote in the Guardian recently about dialect and accent and accurate grammar and how they affect progress up the ladder of promotion. Listening to presenters and broadcasters on radio and television, I hear a range of accents and nobody seems to object to them. My mother always used to say that her sister, who had a strong Yorkshire accent (Now, why did my mother not have the same accent? Did it get rubbed off when she moved away from home during the war? Like the graduates who move from the North to the South nowadays? ) always sounded rather dopey and was sometimes not taken seriously as a result, despite her being an intelligent woman. It’s to be hoped that would no longer be the case today. But I’m not entirely convinced.

Incorrect grammar, on the other hand, really annoys me. I’ve just about learnt to live with “me and my friend are doing this” but I can’t abide “will you do this for my friend and I”. Just one of those things. Accents may not bother me but there are some intonations that turn me off. There are a number of presenters/commentators/announcers on the radio who have a certain tone of voice that makes it sound as though they are explaining stuff to rather dim five year olds. It’s a rather soppy, sing-song intonation which I think even five year olds would find condescending. It drives me crazy. Another one of those things.

Yesterday at the market I got into conversation with the man who has the shoes and slippers stall. He has a side-line in secondhand books, books he sells for £1 apiece. So I checked if he will to be there next week so that I can load my bike panniers with books we never plan to read again and can offload them on him. Yes, he’ll be there, he told me, he’s had his holiday already, been to Spain. So we had a chat about where he goes in Spain - mostly around Malaga - and he went on to tell me he’s been learning Spanish for 25 years and can get by all right. In fact, he thinks he could could give lessons but he’s not sure where to start - maybe with “ser” and “estar”, the two verbs “to be”, he suggested. Hmmm! i think back to my days of teaching adult classes and coming across people who had begun their Spanish learning that way. They could sing out rules for the uses of the two verbs but had difficulty telling me what their name was or where they lived. Grammar is good but it’s not the be all and end all of language learning!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Some environmental matters. Thinking about rodents. And live music.

 On the one hand we have environmentalists telling us we shouldn’t flush the loo as often as we do. If that offends our delicate sensibilities then we should at the very least use the button on the toilet cistern that uses less water. We need to save water. Fair enough!

On the other hand we have the latest scare-mongers warning us about rats - yes, rats! nasty, dirty creatures! - coming up from the sewers, climbing through the pipes and emerging into our toilet bowls! Nasty, dirty, deviously clever creatures! Keep the lid closed! At my most paranoid about such an idea, I want to flush the toilet at its top water volume before I lift the lid, in the hope of flushing away any such rodent intruder. At my least paranoid I remind myself that reports say this is happening mostly in office blocks that have been closed during the lockdown and have been invaded by rats, coming in … yes, that’s right … via the toilets! But we’re keeping the lid down just to be on the safe side! Mind you, the lid of our loo is a rather flimsy plastic affair which I am pretty sure a determined rat could knock for six by jumping at it! So I’m trying to forget about the very idea … except for when I get up to go the loo in the middle of the night. That’s how nightmares are generated!

I’m in two minds about telling my oldest granddaughter about this rat scare. She has pet rats, animals she has no qualms about holding, stroking, allowing to climb up her arm and sit on her shoulder or even on top of her head. Personally, I don’t want them anywhere near me and have offended her by saying they are smelly creatures. However, wild rats, outdoor vermin, are a different kettle of fish (cage of rodents?) altogether. When we were tidying up her garden, removing tangles of brambles and nettles and rampant dandelions, she became more than a little nervous when we came face to face with a rat in the undergrowth. He was more scared of us though and scuttled off. We proceeded with caution in case he had a nest there. 

Despite her willingness to handle her pet rats, to feed (defrosted) frozen baby mice to her snake and assorted live insects to her bearded dragon, my granddaughter has a close to pathological fear of spiders. I have known her to go into panic mode in the middle of a phone conversation with me because a large spider, or even at times a small spider, has suddenly emerged from somewhere. She has refused to go into the living room or the bedroom or wherever there happens to be a free-roaming spider. If possible her response is to crush them, or better, to get her housemate to crush them. Me, I catch them in the time-honoured manner: to wit, trap the spider under a glass, slide a card underneath, carry outside and release the spider as far from the house as possible to prevent immediate return. The most recent one did, I confess, rather make us jump as he, or she, walked bold as brass on legs a good inch long across the rug as we sat watching television! But we managed to catch the cheeky intruder. 

Rats would be a different matter! Once, in our now rather distant childhood, we spotted a mouse running across the kitchen floor. My older sister had her tennis racket in her hand and, quick as flash, brought the racket down on the little rodent. It seemed to be squashed flat. We all exclaimed in horror. My sister lifted the racket and the little mouse returned to its proper shape and scuttled off, away put of the back door. We decided / hoped he was just a field mouse!

Getting back to the environmentalists, a new set of earbuds has just been delivered for Phil. His old ones had given up the ghost, frayed wires preventing continued use. I swear he only ordered them yesterday or the day before but Amazon delivered them today. The earbuds come in a small plastic container, about 8 inches by 1.5 inches. They were delivered in an A3 sized cardboard envelope. On the reverse of the envelope it says: 

Less Packaging, More Smiles

This mailer fits your order better than a box and uses less paper to do it.

Really! Who are they kidding? Surely they have smaller cardboard envelopes!

Also in the post was a communication for me from the Bridgewater Hall, the Manchester concert venue. It turned out to be a leaflet all about live music being back - hurrah! - and giving details of their programme for the next couple of months. It’s years since I had tickets sent to my home address from the Bridgewater Hall. They must have sent a leaflet to every address on their database. Maybe we’ll go to a concert again at last.

One concert we won’t go to is Cliff Richard on October 11th, postponed from October 6th last year. It’s sold out! Not that we wanted to go anyway. But he’s still performing! And clearly still popular. I was a fan when I was about 14, back when Cliff was the British Elvis, but we’ve both moved on since then. I just checked on Wikipedia: he was born on October 14th 1940. So the Bridgewater Hall concert is just before his 81st birthday. Does he need the money? Is he so addicted to applause that he can’t stop? Does singing and dancing keep you young? (Probably yes to the last one.) And importantly, is my older sister, the bi-i-i-ig Cliff fan of the family, going to the concert?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Warding off the rain. French châteaux and “le pass sanitaire”. Fighting Covid. And making “parklets”.

This morning I went running in the rain. That’s two days on the run I have done that. Yesterday turned into quite a nice day later on. I’m hoping for the same today, although the local weather forecast still suggests a 60% or more chance if rain. Nonetheless I have decided to take the risk and hang a load of washing on the line. It’s quite windy out there so there’s a good chance of stuff drying. 


I did consider working a bit of weather witchery: hanging the washing to dry indoors as a means of charming the rain not to fall. It might have guaranteed a dry spell to go for a walk. But there’s a bit of blue sky showing between the clouds and, besides, you can get fed up washing draped around the house, especially when you’ve not got the heating on the speed up the process. So there it is, a line full of washing.


One of my miserable childhood memories is of winter washing days when my mother would stand clothes maidens festooned with towels, sheets, terry nappies in front of the fireplace to dry. Half the living room seemed taken up with it, there was no room to play and the air was permeated with the smell of damp washing. Those were the days. 

Here’s another bit of nostalgia. I accidentally clicked on an article - well, really an advertisement for holidays in France - all about French châteaux. One of the places mentioned, but without a photo, was the château de Bienassis in Erquy in Brittany. We camped a few times in Erquy when our children were still quite young and I’m pretty sure we visited Bienassis. 



So I looked it up on the internet. As well as pictures, I got information about how to visit, including the following notice: 

“COVID 19 : Le pass sanitaire est requis au château à partir du 9 août 2021 pour les plus de 18 ans”. 


So the French appear to have no qualms about demanding a “pass sanitaire” before they let you into their châteaux!

Another thing I read today is that breastfeeding mothers who have been infected with Covid19 continue to pass on antibodies to their babies for up to ten months, helping protect their offspring from the virus. Another good reason to breastfeed your baby. And the study thinks there are wider implications and that such antibodies could perhaps be used to treat people with severe Covid-19, preventing their condition from getting worse. Little by little we are finding ways to deal with the virus.

The Guardian newspaper is asking people to let them know if they took part in  “People Parking Day” over the weekend. (This asking for contributions from the public is, I suppose, one way of doing journalism.) Somebody called Brenda Puech was recovering from having been knocked off her bike by a motorist and began to think about people without gardens and often without cars to ferry them to public parks and gardens. Why not use the parking space outside your house? she thought. So, despite being denied permission from her local council, she had artificial grass put down in her unused (by her) parking space, set up chairs and potted plants and invited people to sit there and chat, maybe organise a book club or a yoga class.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to have a private garden so providing social spaces close to people’s homes is essential. I want every Londoner, whether they own a car or not, to have access to these public spaces,” she said. 

And now campaigners are calling on the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and borough leaders to allow residents to apply to create “parklets” in the streets where they live, with an aim to have one on every road in the capital.

The campaign is backed by the charity Living Streets and pop-up events are planned across the city this weekend. The best designed parklet will win £100, with judging by leading designers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Sam Brown and Heather Whitbread.

Now, we and our neighbours have what used to be a parking bay outside our houses, all with double yellow lines ever since a housing development was built just around the corner - apparently parking outside our houses would impede visibility for drivers leaving the new estate! A surprisingly large number of people ignore the yellow lines and risk parking there anyway. Occasional fines have been issued. Maybe we should make that parking bay into a “parklet”, even though we don’t have any problems about access to the countryside, with country walks only minutes away. It would be quite entertaining to convert that bit of road into something else!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 27 September 2021

Conundrums - mer-people, which films to watch, books to read, politicians, housing.

BBC Radio has a programme called The Nation in Conversation or The Listening Project. They bring together people with shared experiences, radically opposing views of things, substantially different ways of life or who simply like the idea of talking to someone else on the radio. Actually, I am not sure about the last of these as the participants have to have something at least a little bit interesting to say. It “offers a snapshot of contemporary Britain” and most of the unedited conversations are being archived by the British Library and used to “build up a collection of voices capturing a unique portrait of the UK in this decade of the millennium”. Fascinating stuff … well, sometimes. No doubt it will be extra fascinating to future generations looking back, just as nowadays we like to hear recordings from long ago.

Yesterday two of the participants were a mermaid and a merman. Yes! I was surprised too. The mermaid revealed she had been working on a PhD - at least I think that’s what she said - and was finding it hard. Doing distraction activities on the computer, as you do when the task in hand is hard and you’re possibly losing interest in it, she found a course on how to become a mermaid. And off she went and has never looked back. She is now a professional mermaid, appearing at children’s parties and the like, presumably swimming parties. Who knew that it was possible to be a professional mermaid? As for the merman, I seem to have missed his explanation of how he got involved in the mer-community.

At one point their conversation turned to the film of “The Little Mermaid”. Now, I know all about Ariel, the red-headed mermaid, through my small granddaughter. But apparently the proposed live remake of the Disney animated cartoon (a very modern thing in entertainment which always strikes me as a bit unnecessary!) has caused some controversy in the casting department because they was plan to cast the singer Halle Bailey as Ariel. I’ve never heard of Halle Bailey but it seems some people object to her being cast as Ariel because (1) she’s not white and (2) she doesn’t have flowing red curls. The mermaid and the merman both found that ridiculous. Other arguments go that as the original story was by Hans Anderson, Ariel should be Scandinavian. However, one of the conversationists, possibly the merman, pointed out that in the original story she is described as having greenish skin. That’ll be hard to cast!

As for me, I listened in amazement to two young adults discussing the problems of making what is essentially a children’s film. Yes, I know that Hans Anderson’s stories were not written originally with children in mind but in modern times they have been prettified, homogenised, Disney-fied to make them acceptable to today’s children. But what are two young adults doing watching children’s cartoons, without apparently the excuse of having children of their own? Surely they should have progressed by now to more grown-up films. 

I was reminded of a friend of a friend on Facebook, someone well into her thirties by now, whose favourite reading matter still consists of Enid Blyton’s “Malory Towers” stories about a girls’ boarding school. Surely she should at least have moved on to “Lord of the Flies”!

Hmmm! How many of these people stuck in childhood film and tv and book habits would declare that their favourite song was “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” or “Mary, Mary, quite contrary”?

Another conundrum that is occupying my occasional thoughts is the Labour Party. We’ve got a the ongoing NHS problems, a fuel crisis, a shortage of lorry drivers, empty shelves in supermarkets (although less so in the small ones I visit), and the threat of Christmas being cancelled for lack of turkeys - all good reasons to start criticising the Tories. So what are they doing at the Labour Party Conference? Discussing ways to stop some people from voting in a leadership election, still going on about anti-semitism and expelling Jewish members for anti-semitism and wondering if they can ever get back into government. The deputy leader has called the tories “scum”, not to their faces or even in an interview with the press, but in a meeting of a subgroup of the conference, and the leader says she should apologise! Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn has spoken at a meeting organised by the Millennium people and been interrupted by his own brother who says climate change is a myth!

Quite what is all of this going to lead to? 

Meanwhile on the other side of the ocean, I read that almost half a million households in the USA do not have indoor plumbing. As a percentage of the total number of households in the USA that’s probably quite small but we are in the 21st century. There are families living in apartments in hundred year old buildings where there is one bathroom per floor, shared by several households. I am reminded of scenes in the film “Once Upon a Time in America” where such conditions existed in the 1920s. Why has it not improved? Of course it’s the poor who suffer from these conditions. And then I’m reminded of scenes in “The Wire”, where the ex-cop turned school teacher, Pres, lets a pupil shower at school, even takes the boy’s clothes home to put them in his own washing machine, all this because the boy is bullied for being dirty and smelly as his home lacks facilities. 

It’s especially odd as for a long time it seemed that the Americans had everything before we did - fridges, air conditioning and so on. And when you watch documentaries about pop singers, even those who claimed to have grown up in poverty seem to come from families with cine cameras and can show footage of their childhood on screen. 

So how are these anomalies going on? It’s a mystery to me.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Phone business. Walking in the dark. Creating crises.

Yesterday got a bit swallowed up in family runaround business. For some reason my middle granddaughter’s phone contract with Apple is in my name, perhaps because I don’t have any other contracts with Apple whereas her mother has her own and a couple of other family members’ contracts in her name. So, as the middle granddaughter’s phone was due an upgrade, they needed me to go along with them to the phone store with my debit card and my signature. This does not mean that I pay the monthly fee for the new phone but simply that my name is on the documents. So they assure me! I’ll be checking my bank statements!

The whole upgrade business always strikes me as a kind of elaborate scam. They seem to introduce new apps and updated systems that the older models cannot cope with. And of course, if you are a teenager, you absolutely have to have all the latest apps and devices! What happens when the younger generations of our family upgrade their phones is that they pass on the old handsets to Phil and me. We install sims from a company other than Apple and continue using the old handsets in our less demanding way. It’s a generational thing!

After we had sorted the phone, we visited a pet shop so that the smallest members of the family could ooh and aah over rabbits, rats, and other small rodents. We followed that with some shopping in various places. Then everyone came and had refreshments at my house. And suddenly the day had slipped away. 

September is slipping away at a furious rate of knots as well. It’s not two minutes since the month began and now it’s the 26th already. The days are getting significantly shorter. Fortunately we still have odd sunny days like today. One of the pessimists I meet when I am out and about told me this morning that I should take advantage of today’s sunshine as tomorrow the rainy season starts. We shall see. 

Perhaps the worst thing about the shorter days is not being able to go out for an evening stroll. We had got used to being able to do a circuit of the village after dinner, about 7.30, very good for the digestion. I suppose we could still do so but it’s not quite the same. My milkman told me that he walked up Lark Hill, one of our regular walks, the other evening after sunset. It was pitch black, he told me, and he scared the wits out of dog walkers who were out with torches or using their phones to light the way. Did he not have a torch? Did he not need one?, they asked him. 40 years of walking up Lark Hill, he responded, means he knows the path well. However, in my experience, the path has become so churned up in the last couple of years, between extra walkers and occasional heavy rain, that I need to watch my footing all the way up the hill. Perhaps my milkman’s feet work better than mine.

The petrol station supply problem seem not to have been solved yet. Someone pointed out that even with the extra drivers the government has decided to allow into the country will not necessarily help as they apparently need an extra qualification in addition to the HGV licence if they want to drive tankers. Who knew? Another commentator suggested that until the media started reporting a couple of petrol stations running short of supplies deliveries were in fact going on as usual to most places. Once the media got hold of it, a crisis was manufactured! Maybe so!

Looking at funny side of things:-

“A BBC reporter called Phil McCann delighted social media users on Saturday after he was sent to cover the UK’s petrol shortage.

Reporting from a BP petrol station in Stockport, which had run out of petrol, people were quick to point out that he was clearly the best man for the job, since his name sounds like “fill my can”.

And the estimable Michael Rosen suggests starting rumours about a shortage of books in order to provoke panic buying. 

And, on the subject of books, here’s a little cartoon I found amusing:-

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 24 September 2021

Wildlife spotted. More shortages. Fashion matters.

Out running this morning I noticed that the swans were back on Hull Mill Pond. Earlier this year, around nesting and mating time, we had a pair of swans there and we all hoped they might have chosen to nest in our neck of the woods. But then they disappeared. And now they are back, although for how long remains to be seen.

Running on into the path through the little woodland I met some of my dog-walking acquaintances and mentioned that the swans were back. With that, one lady told me she had just seen a deer with it’s faun in one of the fields. They ran away from her dog. Others have told me about deer in that little woodland but I have never seen any. 


The other lady told me she had seen a fox and a kingfisher around here recently. Add to that the young heron we saw in the river on Tuesday and it is clear that our area is turning into a wildlife treasure trove. 

Out in the wider world, the latest bit of crisis is fuel! It’s not that we don’t have fuel but the tankers that deliver it to petrol statIons can’t get there because of a driver shortage. The government is assuring car drivers that everything is under control, that deliveries will be made and that nobody should panic. Consequently masses of drivers are panic-buying fuel. My daughter tells me that she drove past Sainsbury’s and Asda petrol stations this morning and both had queues half way down the street. So much for having confidence in Mr Johnson’s government!

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, still planning to withdraw the increase (I refuse to call it an “uptick” - what a ridiculous term! ) in Universal Credit, has been questioned by journalists about whether he thinks he could manage to live on £118 a week, the basic Universal Credit payment. As ever he didn’t exactly decline to answer but wriggled his way round it, saying, “ “I have every sympathy for people who are finding it tough, I really, really do.” He went on, “We have to recognise that in order to maintain the Covid uplift you’ve got to find another £5bn to £6bn in tax. That has got to come out of some people’s pockets.”

I could think of some pockets it could come out of. I am in a fortunate position where I don’t have to count every penny I spend, but I can remember a time when losing £40 - £50 a month would have made a difference to the family budget. And we were never as badly off as some people are now.

So Mr Johnson tells us, “Then I would just point out that the best solution is to continue to invest in people’s skills, to make sure that they are getting the type of jobs that reward their hard work – and you’re starting to see that, you’re starting to see wages go up. And that’s what we want to see”. 

Fine words!  Now let’s see everyone paid a decent wage so they don’t need to rely on Universal Credit to top it up!

Okay that’s enough serious stuff. 


Here’s a link to some pictures from London Fashion Week. I want to know who really wants to wear such weird and wonderful creations. I was discussing clothes with a neighbour this morning. She has just had to buy a dress as her son insists on taking her on a cruise. Otherwise she would not bother as she wears trousers all the time. We both agreed that unless we suddenly put on or lose masses of weight and change size drastically, we probably have no need to buy new clothes, possibly ever again. Mind you, I doubt if I will keep to that. I do like a bit of variety in my wardrobe!

And finally, here’s another odd mispronunciation I heard yesterday. An expert on something or other on the news told us we must avoid falling into “pezimism”. I think he meant pessimism!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Spotting the local wildlife. What’s in a name?

Well, yesterday turned out better than I had expected weatherwise. The wind kept the cloud moving and we had enough bits of sunshine to make everywhere look more cheerful. Mid- to late-afternoon we took a stroll round the village and spotted a young heron in the river on our way back.



The day before though was positively summery. 



We walked up Lark Hill once again. 




On the path at the top we came across a peacock butterfly on the path. He was totally ignoring all the red admirals that were careering around the buddleia. Just chilling on the path. Is there discrimination in the butterfly kingdom?

Today, however, seems more wintery than autumnal. I’ve put on extra layers of clothing and even switched the heating on for a while. The most interesting bit of wildlife I’ve come across today so far has been the lonely white goose on the duckpond - a very grey and forbidding-looking duckpond it is too today. The white goose is almost always there, the Billy-No-Mates of the pond. He tries to attach himself to the Canada geese, even helping them shepherd their goslings around the pond when they have them. But the Canada geese seem mainly to ignore him. They certainly don’t invite him to fly off with them. As I said, Billy-No-Mates!

Political Party conference season is getting under way. The Labour Party seems to be continuing to tear itself apart. Much is being made of the fact that this year it can be a proper face-to-face conference but it won’t help if the party keeps on being divided. So it goes. 

On the political scene in France, it seems that rumours are going around of a far-right political journalist, Éric Zemmour, possibly intending to present himself as a presidential candidate. Posters have gone up in Paris declaring: “Zemmour Président”. But so far it’s all rumours. One of his lines is that France risks becoming an Islamic republic. Born in France into a family of Jewish Berbers who emigrated to France from Algeria in the 1950s, he is strongly anti-immigration and would like to make it illegal to give children non-French names. (Why are children of immigrants so fiercely anti-immigrant? I wonder.) It would be fine, he maintains, for children to be called Mohammed, for example, as a second forename but really for their first name children should have good French names like Jean-Paul, Marie-France and Claudette, like in the French textbooks I used to use in secondary school French classes back in the seventies. 

France has long had fairly strict rules about names children can be given. It’s not permissible to give your child a ridiculous name, because it’s not in the child’s best interests. In recent years parents have been prevented from calling their offspring Mini-Cooper, Fraise and Nutella. But if Monsieur Zemmour had his way, even Anglo-Saxon imported names should be rejected! Inevitably, this being France, a satirical website has been set up called “Vite, mon prénom”, with a one click test to see if your name is sufficiently French. And so It suggests no more Peter, who becomes Nestor; James, who becomes Jules; Rosemary, who becomes Roseline; and that Karen should henceforth be known as Carmen. Zinedine, as in Zidane, would be Antoine, and Kylian, as in Mbappé, would have to become Sylvain.

Goodness knows what it would suggest for Summer, River, North, Ocean and other such names! 

Monsieur Zemmour, by the way, has convictions for inciting hatred and is best known for his TV diatribes against immigration and Islam. Are there not laws against people with convictions being able to stand for election?

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Autumn is here! Fruit harvests. Questions of fashion. Face-masks and anti-vaxers!

Today is the Autumn equinox, or so various sources have been reminding me. We’ve had a big bright moon in clear skies the last few nights - a harvest moon, I am told. So now Autumn can officially begin. In honour of that I got my cycling gloves out for my bike ride to Uppermill this morning. It didn’t actually feel all that cold and I forgot to put them on for the ride home, without any ill effects. For a brief moment after I got home the sun did come out … but it really was a brief moment and now the heavy cloud cover is back and the trees in the garden are blowing around. Yes, I guess autumn is here!

Another sign is that the fruit and veg man is now selling Coxes orange pippins apples. He tells me that the harvest this year is small and so there won’t be as many as in other years. Something to do with the odd weather we have had. Rainy spells and sunny spells have been badly timed and this has affected the production of some fruit. Mind you, it may be no bad thing, given how much difficulty growers are having finding people to pick the fruit. 

Oh, and the apples he sold me, despite his assurances that they are very good, have proved to be a little too tart and crisp. Maybe they need to ripen a little longer. It could be like the blackberry supply around here; there is loads of fruit on the brambles but it’s mostly still very green. Apart from that one day recently when my daughter and I went berry-picking in Mossley, which must have a different microclimate to Delph as the berries were far more advanced in ripeness and general maturity, I have not felt tempted to go out with my punnets collecting wild fruit. I suppose there is time yet, before winter sets in!

What there still seems to be no shortage of is figs. They’ve been in plentiful supply almost all summer. If they have been imported, then clearly delivery has not been a problem for fig growers. Nor for British growers for that matter. So I bought some more this morning from the Italian greengrocery. Now I need to decide what to do with them. It’s a toss up between a fig clafoutis and a fig torte!

Out and about in Uppermill this morning I looked briefly at what is on display in Suki’s Wardrobe, one of the boutiques that have popped up there. In fact, this one has been a boutique, an expensive one (!), for as long as I can remember. It closed down during the lockdown but has re-opened recently under new management and under a new name. So I looked in the window, admired some of the stuff and sensibly decided that I really don’t need more clothes. I’m not going clubbing and partying in the near future. 

The Guardian has a regular series of features where they ask readers to send their opinions or accounts of experiences on various topics. One of the latest is “Tell us how you are dressing up to go out now that the lockdown has lifted.” And I found myself wondering if people will really be dressing in a significantly different way post-lockdown to what they did pre-lockdown. Maybe fashion writers have just run out of things to write about. In any case, I doubt that many club-goers will be wearing face-masks to co-ordinate with their outfits. 

I read something about the anti-face-mask and anti-vax problem in some parts of the USA. It seems that small(ish) local radio stations have a huge influence in many states, away from the big cities, in small communities. And those local radio stations have their local stars, and some of them have been preaching the anti-vax and anti-mask message, supporting the conspiracy theories about the virus. But now more than a few of them have come down with Covid-19. Some of them have died. Survivors and relatives of the deceased are now changing their message. Maybe it will make a difference. I notice on news broadcasts that Mr Biden and his team all wear face-masks.

On the radio news I have just heard an announcement that the US is now going to allow British lamb to be sold in their country. So all we need to do is sort out the transport!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Silly stories. The importance of children’s stories.

It must be the season for silly stories. Even Phil is sending me silly stories by email today:-

In 1939 “Harvard University freshman Lothrop Withington, Jr., reportedly bragged that he had once eaten a live fish. As a result, he was bet $10 he couldn’t do it again. On March 3, standing in front of a crowd of classmates and a Boston reporter Withington dropped an 3-inch goldfish into his mouth, gave a couple chews and swallowed. “The scales,” he later remarked, “caught a bit on my throat as it went down.” As word of his stunt spread, even LIFE magazine reported the story, a goldfish-swallowing competitive craze swept the nation’s colleges.

     According to one source, the final champions may have been Clark University’s Joseph Deliberato, who in April gulped down 89 goldfish in one sitting. Eventually, as the popularity of the craze began to ebb and Massachusetts State Senator George Krapf filed a bill to preserve the fish from cruel and wanton consumption. Further pressure from The Animal Rescue League also helped dampen the craze.”

I was reminded of a stunt they did on Candid Camera, long ago, before everyone was seeing all sorts of nonsensical stunts on Youtube, where they filmed the horrified reactions of passersby as a man ate live goldfish in the street. In this case the live goldfish were thin slices of carrot which the man caused to “wriggle” between his finger before popping them into his mouth. At that time none of us had heard of sushi so even the idea of eating raw fish, let alone live fish, was really alien!

Then a friend posted something about Mary and her little lamb. We all of us know the nursery rhyme about Mary’s little lamb that followed her to school. Well, it seems the Mary in question was a certain Mary Sawyer from Sterling Massachusetts, in the 1800s, who reared a lamb which was rejected by its mother. And it did indeed follow her to school one day. She could have taken it back home but was egged on by her brother to let it follow her all the way and then to sneak it into the classroom, where the teacher was not best pleased. These older brothers! They can be a nuisance!

The writer Lauren Child, creator of the Charlie and Lola stories (anyone who has been around small children will have come across Lola, trailing after her big brother and joining in his fun - but not usually getting into serious trouble - no little lambs!) has been defending children’s books. Martin Amis has apparently been dismissing children’s picture books, children’s books in general, as a lesser form of literature, if indeed they can be called literature. He asserted that he would only write a children’s book if he “had a serious brain injury”, because “I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write.”

Ms Child responds, ““There is a common, and lazy, assumption that creating work with children in mind is easier or less demanding, and that a writer or artist would approach it with a lesser degree of seriousness or sincerity than when creating for an adult audience. I do not believe that to be true,” writes Child in the manifesto.

“One might as well suggest that shorter books hold less meaning than longer ones, or large paintings are better than small. Nevertheless, the view prevails, something which leads one to wonder: what unhappy reality does its existence reveal about the way many view our children, and our child selves?”

I don’t think her cause is helped by the willingness of publishers to accept and print children’s books just because they are written by famous people, but that’s a different matter. I totally agree with Lauren Child and would go further and say that some of the books written for slightly older children, when they have moved on from purely picture books to what my 7 year old granddaughter calls “chapter books”, are very good indeed. The best books for children are always also interesting for adults to read! I can think of numerous examples: Tom’s Midnight Garden, Moondial, etc. 

Anyway Lauren Child, former children’s laureate, Is launching a manifesto this evening in which she lays out her belief that in considering work created for children – from books to illustration, art and music and more – to be lesser, we are undervaluing what it means to be a child. There has been a six-year project by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education which found that using picture books in primary schools, and making drawing part of the learning process, improves children’s writing and reading skills. 

I like the idea of including drawing as part of the learning process. I have long maintained that letting children “scribble” and eventually draw pictures from an early age, almost as soon as they can easily hold a chunky crayon, helps them develop the manual dexterity they need to learn to write. As for picture books, well, you can’t start to inculcate a love of books too soon. Our daughter heard stories right from birth as whenever she was being fed, her 20 month old brother was cuddled up next to me with a story book. It may have explained her being an early talker as well. 

As for more serious silly stories, it seems that they have been arresting fast-food smugglers in New Zealand. Auckland has a strict policy of keeping restaurants closed and not allowing takeaway food deliveries. This is part of their policy to,protect the country from Covid. Two people were arrested trying to get into Auckland with a boot-load of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Clearly somebody needed their fix of KFC! It’s a serious offence in New Zealand and can lead to large fines for the smugglers!

You couldn’t make it up!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 20 September 2021

Some thoughts on weather and climate change.

It’s another fine day in sunny Saddleworth. I posted some early morning sunshine pictures on Facebook, prompting a friend to comment, “But it’s still cold, only 12 degrees!” What does she expect in the second half of September? I expect it was a cold night for rough sleepers last night. The cloud cover had disappeared and there was a beautiful moon, which probably didn’t really compensate for the drop in temperature. This morning though was quite lovely, warm in the sunshine, well above 12 degrees, even if that’s what it was in the shade. It’s about time my friend  changed her grey-tinted spectacles for rose-coloured ones. This is the same friend who commented, erroneously, that we have had nothing but rain all summer. So it goes. 

The prime minister has gone jetting off the America, “in a bid to accelerate progress towards an agreement at the Cop26 climate summit” according to newspaper reports. It seems a rather long way to go to put your arguments, not to mention the expense. I don’t suppose he’s travelling with budget airlines. Questioned about the views of his new international trade secretary, Ann-Marie Trevelyan, who back in 2010 expressed her disbelief in climate change, he reminded journalists of his own past climate change scepticism and pointed put that people’s views can change as new facts emerge. Quite so! But one wonders how much views are influenced by political expediency. 

It’s a funny world we live in where your past expressions of opinion can so easily pop up to haunt you. Maybe we all need to go through our social media wardrobes to see what skeletons are hiding there. If they are going to come out and bit is, we need to be prepared. 

There can’t be many people left who really think that climate change is not happening, although we may still differ as to the causes. I’ve listened to many a conversation between friend with scientific backgrounds, one putting it all down to man’s poor treatment of the planet and the other saying it’s all part of the natural cycle of things. Look what happened to the dinosaurs, after all.  But none of that should stop us trying to do something about our contribution to the climate crisis.

Here’s a link to one solution to one of the environmental problems - wildfires, in Ireland in this case. A young woman has got herself a £38,000 a year job as a goat herder in Howth, a peninsula overlooking Dublin city centre. One way of tackling wildfires is to create a firebreak, which can be done with expensive machinery, but they tend to grow back. Goats are notorious for eating almost anything and they can be used to keep down the undergrowth that would fill up the firebreak. Natural solutions! Keep up the good work.

Here’s a little conundrum that a friend and I have wondered about. We are releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere but at the same time certain food processing companies are struggling because they are unable to get the CO2 they need. Is there no way to put those two problems together! It’s all to do with a general gas problem. The price of gas has gone up, fertilizer companies that produce CO2 as a side-effect have closed and so there is less available to food processors.

In the midst of all the reports of shortages, I came across an odd one. It seems that Britain has a baby shortage. You might think that reducing the population might not be a bad thing but it has all,sorts of economic impacts, one of which is that we need young people working to help pay for the upkeep of the older, retired, generations. 


“At present, there are a little under three over-65s for every 10 workers, but by the middle of the next decade that ratio will rise to 3.5, and by the 2060s the number will be closing in on four,” said a report from a thinktank. “According to these projections, by 2050 a quarter of Britons will be over 65, up from a fifth today.”

I don’t think even I could blame Brexit for that. On reflection though, young people are said to be reluctant to have children, even if they really want them, because they are not earning enough to be able to afford them. Now that’s not all down to Brexit, but Brexit might have something to do with it. Improved and cheaper childcare would also help of course.

I’m quite glad to have got past that stage of my life. 

And finally, on the Island of La Palma, in the Canaries, a volcano has been erupting. Homes have been destroyed. Villages near the volcano have had to be evacuated. Rescue efforts are being hampered because roads are being blocked as sightseers have driven up to get a look at the lava flow. Such is the oddness of the world!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Thinking about metric and imperial. Adapting to systems.

Metric or imperial? It’s been in the news recently. 

A German friend of mine confessed that she has always been confused by the imperial weights and measures system, this despite living in the UK for more than 40 years. I can sympathise with that. I find it hard to understand a person’s weight or height when its given in kilos and centimetres. As for the Americans giving their weight in pounds rather than stones and pounds, well, I have to do a quick mental arithmetic and have become good at dividing by 14. 

The system we have grown up with sticks in our heads. I can cope with miles to kilometres without problems. I have learnt to adjust to knitting patterns and sewing patterns that give measurements in centimetres. I have to work a little harder at recipes in metric but my scales and measuring jugs help with that. But still, if someone gives me a person’s height and weight in metric I have no idea what size they are until I’ve done a conversion into imperial. 

Some commentators seem to have made much about our being able to buy fruit and veg in pounds again, making it part of our “taking back control”. This has surprised me as nowadays much of our fruit and beg comes prepacked. Who actually goes to the greengrocer and asks for 5 pounds of potatoes and two pounds of apples any longer? Even when we buy loose fruit and veg we tend to select the number of carrots or apples or whatever we require from serve-yourself displays, rather than asking for the greengrocer to serve you a certain weight. And prices are given in both so much per kilo and so much per pound. Not a problem!

On the taking back control issue, we need to remember that we started to adopt the metric system well before we ever joined Europe, whether you call it the Common Market, the EEC or the EU. And the younger generation probably don’t know much about pounds and ounces, feet and inches or pints and quarts. Measuring people’s height is a different thing. Small children’s clothes are often sized in height in centimetres but once they reach a certain height they are measured in feet and inches, just like the grown-ups!  And most of us have never adjusted to measuring distances we travel in our cars in kilometres rather than miles.

The process of adaptation we go through when we change systems is interesting and seems common to all countries. Back in 1971 when we changed to decimal currency, we went through a time of converting pounds and pence back into pounds, shillings and pence. Similarly when the President De Gaulle changed old francs to new francs back in the 1960, the French people carried on talking about their money in old terms, for years it seemed. It was very confusing as a student to hear people refer to their money in terms I just wasn’t expecting. And then, many years later, I went to Romania just before they became EU members and just as they revalued their currency. I was not there long enough to even begin to understand their money. The Spanish also took a while accepting euros in place of pesetas. I remember talking to a restaurateur in Mallorca who was really worried about it. Years on I met people who still thought in pesetas, convincing themselves that things were more expensive because they were priced in euros and that general inflation has nothing to do with price rises! 

But in the end we all adapt.

In the middle of all this I came across this little news item: “Ministers have pledged to consider "very carefully" pardons for the "metric martyrs" – five market traders who were convicted for selling their wares in pounds and ounces....”

I had completely forgotten about this. A north east greengrocer was prosecuted and convicted in 2001 for selling fruit and vegetables by the pound. He’s been back in the news because he died recently. He must have been very young when he was prosecuted as he was only 39 when he died. 


“Fellow campaigner Neil Herron told the BBC Mr Thoburn died at home on Sunday.

Mr Herron said: "This man had the courage to stand up and be counted and it was a pleasure to know him.

"He was an ordinary person's hero - an extraordinary ordinary person."”

Four other market traders joined in the campaign and the five became known as the “Metric Martyrs”. There was even a Metric Martyr Defence Fund. Goodness me!

And now they look like being pardoned. What an odd story!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!