Sunday, 31 October 2021

Fireworks. A bit of bonfire night nostalgia. Back in Figueira.

My oldest granddaughter has been protesting that her dog and her cat for that matter have been terrorised by people setting off fireworks near her house. I commiserated, reminiscing to when fireworks were just for mischief night and bonfire night, provoking questions from her and her 18 year old sister about mischief night? They asked what mischief night was. The oldest asked if it was Hallowe’en. 

So I explained that I had forgotten they were so young! It used to be a tradition on November 4th for rascally bad boys to go round putting bangers through people’s letter boxes (can you imagine?), ringing on doorbells and running away, letting off noisy fireworks in unusual places and generally creating mayhem. None of them would be old enough to drink so it wasn’t a drinking spree. Most of them were just kids, the same ones who for weeks before bonfire night had dragged a guy round on a bogey (go-cart) asking everyone for a “penny for the guy”. That’s how they had money to buy noisy fireworks for mischief night. 

Hallowe’en didn’t come into it. Nobody did trick or treat back then. Hallowe’en was mostly ignored. However, Phil reminded me that bangers and ripraps were available to buy for a few weeks before bonfire night. Ripraps were nasty pieces of work, several bangers fixed together to explode each bit in turn and so leap about causing mayhem. It was all part and parcel of the time, like having rolls of “caps” for your “cap gun”. Of course, that was largely considered to be boys’ stuff! 

But more elaborate fireworks were not available for children to buy. Besides, mostly we didn’t have the money. We had to rely on our parents buying a suitable box of assorted fireworks. But I remember bonfires in our garden, with various friends and relatives coming together to pool the fireworks. And my father would bake potatoes wrapped in tinfoil in the fire as it got hot enough. Ah! nostalgia!

I have a theory that purchasing and letting off fireworks for any and every occasion began with the celebration of millennium eve. I may be wrong but that is the first major occasion when it seemed that everyone was letting off fireworks. 

Anyway, here we are, back in Figueira da Foz. It’s not much changed. 



The chestnut sellers are out on the streets.



There’s still the contrast between restored and neglected old buildings. 



And there’s some rather fine new graffiti. 



Nobody seems to get fretted about having to wear masks indoors. Maybe that explains their better covid rates. 

We strolled out at lunchtime to see if one of our old haunts was still open. It was. Buzia is one of those little restaurants in a side street, much favoured by the local population, always a good sign. We were offered a choice fish: salmon, sea-bream or cod. That bit was in English. Then we tried out our halting Portuguese. It seemed to work. So we had soup for starters, then sea-bream, copious amounts of sea-bream. One between the two of us would have been plenty. It came accompanied by potatoes, beans and carrots. Maybe next time we’ll see if they do chips. The whole thing, including wine and a tip, cost us 35 euros. Prices may have gone up a little since we were last here but that’s not surprising. We’ll see how it goes. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Travellers tales. On the move again.

 Well, that was an unusual travel experience yesterday.

Our daughter drove us to Liverpool’s John Lennon airport through a rainstorm. When we got to Speke, the bit of Liverpool where the airport is situated, the sky was relatively clear and it was obvious that they had not had the heavy rain we had driven through. As usual there was a charge of £4 - yes! £4 - just to drop passengers off. The travel business is a big rip-off!

Inside the airport, in the check-in area, it was a bit post-apocalyptic. There were very few people around. All the check-in desks were dark. The cafe was closed. Only a W.H.Smith at one end showed signs of life, and even that was unmanned. You had to pay on the self service tills. Perhaps I could have just walked out with the chocolate I bought. 

We had a bag to check in so we sat and waited until Ryanair’s appointed bagdrop time, keeping an eye on things in case a sudden influx of would-be passengers caused a queue to form. We saw that happen about 12 years ago at Santiago de Compostela airport. We were almost the only passengers and suddenly a host of Liverpudlians arrived: the Crosby Cross-denominational Pilgrimage Society as they identified themselves. A bunch of god-botherers protesting that nobody in their hotel had spoken English. It didn’t happen his time - no long queue!

We checked in our bag, had our various documents checked - passport, vaccination certificate, passenger locator forms. “You won’t need that (passenger locator form) again until you get to Porto”, the check-in person told us. More about that later.

Security was also eerily quiet. Of course I forgot to take off my Fitbit and managed to make the magic portal you have to walk through beep furiously. And then my bag of “liquids”,really nothing more than a lip-balm and a fresh breath spray, were taken off for a toxicity check, something which has never happened before.

Inside the airport proper it was all rather sad. So many airport shopping places were closed, all those “outlets” developed over the twenty years since my daughter and I first travelled from Liverpool with her two year old to visit my Spanish sister, a time when the airport was little more than a hangar and there was no organised airport parking (the family friend who drove us to the airport parked on the road outside). Accessorize closed, even Boots closed. Again, only W.H.Smith seemed to keep going, oh, and J.D. Sports. 

We thought we might get something to eat, a bowl of soup perhaps. We’ve done so on previous journeys. Subway was open, selling their too huge sandwiches. Starbucks was available for a range of what they call coffee. A couple of drinking places were in business but really nowhere offering decent snack meals. So we ended up with W.H.Smith meal deals, a sandwich, a snack and a drink, which is just as well as in the end the flight was delayed by about 3/4 of an hour.

The plane, when we finally boarded, was barely half full. We had booked seats at the back of the plane but we, and other rear of the plane passengers were asked to move forward “to balance the load” for take off. Somehow that was not very reassuring but all went well. I’ve never travelled on so empty, and quiet, a plane. And then, with everyone having to wear a mask on the plane I don’t suppose they sold much food and drink. Ryanair won’t be making much profit out of that flight. 

Arriving in Porto we thought of putting our passports through the electronic check but, of course, you need to be an EU citizen to do that. Grrr! My passport still says EU on it. No blue passport for me yet. So we went through the manual check. The officer barely asked us to remove our masks. We proffered our passenger locator forms but he waved them aside. So much for careful paperwork!

Having claimed our luggage we went out into Porto airport to look for our lift to Figueira. He told me he had not been sure of recognising us with our masks on, indeed, he had already signalled a few other travellers before spotting us. We bumped fists. He had brought his wife along for company. We bumped elbows. She speaks no foreign languages, just rather incomprehensible Portuguese. I was i stalled in the front passenger speak on the grounds that I like to talk - gosta de falar. I fear I was a bit of a disappointment to him; my Portuguese, rudimentary at the best of times, is extremely rusty. My plans to revise with Michel Thomas’s CDs had all gone by the board. So it goes. 

We drove through heavy rain again. Motorway signs warned of “tempestades” and we did indeed have some thunder and lightning. Our driver told me they have had little rain until the last few days, which appear to have made up for the lack. He also joked that if he were younger he would go and work as a lorry driver in England. He commiserated on the sorry state of affairs in the UK.

Somewhere around midnight we arrived at our hotel, not the one we had been told we would be staying at, and therefore not the one we had put on our disregarded passenger locator form!! The young man on reception had no record of our reservation!! Would we need to go elsewhere? He and the driver consulted, made phone calls and eventually found us a room here. We’ve stayed here several times before. It’s a nice enough hotel; indeed it seems to have been refurbished. The internet connection, however, is still poor. Phil has gone down to the reception area, where the connection is stronger, to download some chess stuff from a chess friend. This is no real hassle but this year involves wearing a mask! No doubt we will adjust.

The beds are reasonably comfortable. The weather is better this morning. We’ll see how it goes. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Friday, 29 October 2021

Staying in hotels. And wearing masks.

Our daughter tells me she had a lovely time staying in a hotel in central Manchester. She might have preferred Leeds, she told me (“We can go to Manchester any time!”), but in the end it was very pleasant playing tourist in her own city. And sometimes, it’s nice just to be looked after for a while and not to have to do all the meal planning and sorting out yourself. 

The important thing is to have the choice. Not everyone has it. And not all hotels are as good as they might be.

According to reports in publications such as The London Economic, “Priti Patel has claimed that people crossing the Channel are “not genuine asylum seekers” and just want to stay in hotels.

Speaking to MPs, the home secretary claimed single men arriving via small boats are “economic migrants” and the Home Office’s use of hotels as asylum accommodation had acted as a “pull factor” for people to enter Britain illegally.”

Perhaps she should look at reports like this one from last Friday’s Guardian:

“After a hellish journey involving wading through sewage to reach Kabul airport and cramming into a military plane with no seats, Farukhzad was relieved beyond belief to reach England in August.

But after six weeks in a hotel, the UN worker was hungry for a taste of home. The Home Office pays for three meals a day for her, her husband, Farhad, and their three young boys, but the children in particular are struggling with the food in Manchester “All they will eat are chips,” she despaired. “They like chips but chips are not good every day for their health.”

So she took matters into her own hands. “Last night I talked to the cook and I sent him some recipes of Afghani food and he is going to buy some big dishes to make them,” she said, delighted.

She longs for a kitchen of her own where she can rustle up the family favourite, Kabuli pulao, a rice dish with carrots and raisins, but she knows it could be many months before they are rehoused. “We are not sure but we have heard from others that it could be between three and five months,” she said. Farhad hopes to go to university to study management but they worry about the tuition fees. “Perhaps I can receive some scholarship?” he asked hopefully.”

I’m assuming that when Priti Patel’s parents came here from Uganda, well before Uganda Asians were forcibly expelled, they were able to bring their belongings with them and so were able to set up shops here and continue to make money. A different kind of immigrant altogether! An experience that perhaps does not encourage empathy. 

That’s enough of that. 

We’re all packed up and ready to travel  - well more or less! We have our face masks at the ready and all our bits of documentation sorted out. We’ll see how it goes.

I notice in photos of parliament in the last day or so that more masks are appearing but there are still lots of face mask refusers it seems to me. Then I read this: 

“Boris Johnson faces fresh claims of 'one rule for them' after masks were made compulsory for everyone in Parliament - except MPs.

House of Commons officials have decided to reimpose mandatory face coverings for employees, contractors, visitors and the media as cases rise.

But the Commons cannot compel MPs to wear masks as they are not deemed to be Parliament employees.

Instead, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will be encouraging them to put one on in the chamber unless they are speaking or are exempt.”

It’s nice to see the speaker encouraging everyone. But isn’t it odd that MPs are deemed not to be employed by Parliament. I know that really they work “for us” but “we” do not constitute a “place of work” as such! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Swans. Autumn. City breaks. Chestnut festivals.

The swans were back on the millpond this morning. There were four of them. 


Have the original two brought some mates to visit the local beauty spot? Or are the extra two their this year’s offspring? 


Either way, it was nice to see them again. 

Autumn was looking fine on the path through the trees as well.

Our daughter has had a mini city break, two days in a hotel in central Manchester with her almost-in-laws, her partners parents. Personally I might have chosen a different city but I suppose for the almost-in-laws Manchester made a change. And it’s possible that her partner had to pop into the office while he was there. 

Her little daughter collected chestnuts somewhere this morning - chestnuts in central Manchester? My daughter assures me they are not conkers. Someone else collecting told her they are roasting chestnuts. Well, it’s that time of year. When we get to Figueira da Foz tomorrow there will be chestnut sellers on the street corners. 

Almost fifteen years ago now I accompanied a group of A-Level Spanish students to La Coruña in Galicia at this time of year. We arrived in time to take part in the “Magosto”, which is the Galician name for a “castañada” or chestnut festival. Most of my students, Salford citizens, had never tasted a chestnut and were surprised to be given paper cones of roasted chestnuts to eat. For them chestnuts were conkers, to be strung a string ready to do battle with other people’s conkers. The only purpose of roasting them would be to harden them up and increase ypur chances of smashing your friends’ conkers. 

The chestnut festival is all over the north of Spain. After all, they love having food based fiestas. And until potatoes arrived from the “New World” back in the 16th century, chestnuts were an important part of the diet for the north of Spain. The fiesta is called “Magosta” in Cantabria, “Amagüestu” in Asturias - the name similarity is obvious - but it’s “Gaztaninerre” in the Basque Country where, of course, they have a completely unrelated language all their own, quite different from everywhere else in Spain.

According to Wikipedia, “Each region in northern Spain has its own unique twist on the castañada festival. In the Galician town of Ribadeo, for example, the magosto festival is celebrated in the market square where locals and visitors sample roast chestnuts, meat or fish pies and wine. The Parador Ribadeo is just two minutes from the town centre.

During magosto, revellers also prepare the traditional Galician fire drink, known as queimada. A special spirit flavoured with herbs or coffee, queimada is typically brewed while a spell is recited, then set aflame.”

I have experienced “queimada”, complete with rollerskating dancers in fancy costumes, and I have to say that it is rather overrated. However, a nice “licor de hierbas” is a different matter, and even better is a nice “licor de café”. 

Hmm! I wonder what level of alcohol tax Mr Sunak would put on those two drinks.

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Safety awareness and precautions. And when are animals people?

A friend of mine just let me know she’s travelling to London by train and that maybe 50% of travellers are wearing face-masks, part of a general trend to ignore advice but to follow the example of our leaders. My friend will be wearing hers. She’s a great stickler for being as safe as possible and frequently complains about the lack of face-mask wearing in her local supermarket. 

Incidentally, I popped into our local chemist’s shop this morning on the way back from my run. Among other odds and ends I had picked up a handy-sized pack of antiseptic wipes, about the size of a small pack of tissues, perfect to have in your bag if you go around with small people who get sticky fingers. And it’s a much better size than the packs of baby-wipes my daughter ends up carrying around with her. Anyway, as I paid for my various purchases the chemist offered me a free pack of disposable face-masks and a free mini-sized hand gel. They’re doing their bit to promote safety awareness!

So I’ll pack the disposable face-masks in my luggage. No doubt we’ll need them in Portugal and Spain over the next few weeks. Phil’s playing in a chess tournament in Portugal and I expect he will need to play in a mask. Because nobody has said they have to wear masks indoors here, some of his chess team are being quite macho when they play a match: “I’m not worried or afraid, it’s my decision, I won’t wear a mask, I don’t need to be protected.” 

Maybe they don’t have an inner voice telling them to protect other people. 

I was reading an article the other day about people whose inner voice is so strong they hear it with a specific accent. One woman interviewed for the article actually hears a couple of Italians, a man and a woman, discussing, indeed arguing about her life decisions inside her head, despite her having no Italian family connections and not even having been to Italy. Another hears the broadcaster Jenni Murray talking to her when she has to make up her mind about things. The one with the Italian couple even had neurolinguistic treatment (whatever that is) to calm it all down. How odd! Weird and strange but probably mostly harmless! 

Most of us remind ourselves to do things but don’t necessarily think of it as a voice as such. I was reminded of a Neil Young song whose lyrics go, 

“Tell me, why? Tell me, why?

Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself

When you're old enough to repay

But young enough to sell?”

There you go: making arrangements with yourself. It makes sense … to me anyway. As a matter of fact, I always heard that song as

“Tell me, why?

Is it hard to make arrangements with yourself

When you're old enough to repaint

But young enough to sell?”

As the song dates back to the 1970s when people did repaint their cars, or at any rate get them repainted, “my” version always made perfect sense. Whereas the one I  found checking it on Google this morning doesn’t really create much of an image for me. Maybe it’s an American or Canadian thing!

Here’s another odd American thing:  “The offspring of hippos once owned by Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar can be recognized as people or “interested persons” with legal rights in the US following a federal court order.

The case involves a lawsuit against the Colombian government over whether to kill or sterilise the hippos whose numbers are growing at a fast pace and pose a threat to biodiversity.”

Apparently Escobar had a whole menagerie - giraffes, hippos, zebras, other exotica - on his estate in Colombia. When he was killed most of the animals went to zoos but the hippos were considered too heavy to transport and were left to their own devices, mostly propagating it seems.  The original four went up to eighty. 


One of the people involved explained that “legal personhood is just the ability to have your interest heard and represented in court. It’s about enforcing rights they already have under animal cruelty laws and other protection laws.” 

I know a lot dog owners regard their pets as people but do other countries also grant animals legal “personhood”? I wonder. 

Of course, the ruling has no force on Colombia, where Gina Paola Serna, a biologist and veterinarian, tasked with sterilising them, has expressed her alarm at dealing with such huge creatures. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Continued sogginess. And some reflections on alt-milk.

Our soggy autumn weather continues. So far though I have been lucky in that I have managed to run before the drizzly rain starts; well, for the last couple of days anyway. And we have been able to go out for a late afternoon / early evening walk without getting rained on. No doubt that will become more difficult when the clocks change and evening starts at earlier hour. Things could be worse; in Sicily and the southern tip of mainland Italy they have had cyclones and floods. We have to train ourselves not to think of that part of Italy as basking in a perpetual summer. 

Last time our son and family came to stay his wife brought oat milk with her. It’s not that she was suspicious of the milk our milkman delivers or even that she’s obsessive about having to have plant-based milk all the time, but rather that she had an open carton which would have been last its use-by date by the time they went home. Okay, she might be a little bit trendy-food obsessive but not in an over the top way. Anyway, this morning I read an article about potato milk something that provoked bad jokes along the lines of “How do you milk a potato?” Even if I was the slightest bit tempted by the idea it’s unlikely that potato milk will be available in our nock of the woods as it’s being promoted by Waitrose and the nearest Waitrose is on the other side of Greater Manchester?

“Alice Shrubsall, the supermarket’s alternative milk buyer, said more people were incorporating plant-based milks in their diet, whether that involved a “splash of oat milk in their morning coffee or a coconut milk hot chocolate in the afternoon”. In response to the growing interest being shown by consumers, she said the retailer was planning to expand its alt-milk range to include potato milk.”

Personally I don’t want my coffee to taste of porridge (oats) nor do I want my hot chocolate to taste like a Bounty bar. I have learnt to accept kefir as a very acceptable substitute for cream on dessert but that’s as far as my use of substitute products is going for the time being. Looking back, however, I think that we must have been well ahead of trend 50 odd years ago when we drank horchata in Murcia, Spain, as students. Horchata de chufa, now often called orxata de xufa in these linguistically-politically correct time, is a milky-looking drink made from ground tiger nuts. Tiger nuts are good for keeping your cholesterol balance correct apparently. I used to buy chilled horchata on hot days from sellers on the streets. No doubt nowadays health and safety would kick in and demand that the sellers have a licence and a hygiene certificate! But I seem to have survived the experience.

Getting back to the potato milk article, it went on some about how people’s eating habits changed during lockdown, influenced by things like TikTok and Instagram. People have been seeking out recipe ideas to try out at home. 

“While the lockdowns may be over, for some people they have resulted in permanent lifestyle changes. Nearly half of those polled said they planned to go out less. But that is not to say they are living like hermits. They told Waitrose they are planning dinner parties or making use of gardens where one in 10 had installed an outdoor bar.”

I wonder why they felt the need for an actual bar in their garden. What’s wrong with storing your drinks in the kitchen. Besides, who exactly is having dinner parties in the garden at this time of year? Maybe the people who live in Waitrose land?

And I must remember to ask my Italian friends for their opinion of coffee with almond milk or oat milk. One of them already has a major hissy fit at the range of caramel latte, cinnamon latte and so on served up as coffee in English cafes. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Monday, 25 October 2021

Where the weekend went. And old trainers!

On Saturday we had one of those big family confabs that you have to have once in a while, sorting out the lives and finances of the younger members - the ones old enough to be independent but young enough to need a little support and guidance. At the end of that the 18-year-old and I decided we wanted a trip to Marks and Spencer, to buy underwear and tights and sleepwear, and coincidentally socks for Phil. It was too late to consider it then so we organised to meet on Sunday morning.

So yesterday I got up and caught a bus to her house. In the end it was me, the teenager, my daughter and the two small people who set off on a Sunday shopping trip - M&S and Sainsbury’s in the end. We were doing quite well until we got to the till in Sainsbury’s, where the cashier managed to press a series of wrong buttons, necessitating putting my purchases through her scanner not twice but three times, with a wait while she sought assistance from a superior and all sorts of rigmarole. The poor chap who had loaded his stuff onto the belt behind my daughter’s gave up, removed his purchases back into his trolley and went to a different till! Poor chap! He must have looked at the smallish amount my daughter was buying and though he was on a fast track till. Mistake! However, we got a £10 gift card from the store to compensate for the inconvenience caused. Not all bad!

After that my daughter dropped the teenager and me back at my house and she went off to take the small people to birthday party. The teenager and I proceeded to prepare a meal for the family for later in the day. Well, mostly me, but it was nice to have some extra company. My daughter collected her older daughter en route and we had a splendid family meal and chat and laugh. The teenage son was a no show however. His games console was calling him urgently! This was the last chance for him to show his face before Phil and I set off for a trip to Portugal and Spain. Hopefully we’ll see him when we do a bigger family gathering at Christmas. We shall see! 

So that was pretty much my weekend taken up with family matters. Exercise and blogging yesterday went out of the window. Incidentally, in the middle of all that a printed copy of my Covid vaccination certificate turned up in the post on Saturday. So long as Portugal does not decide to ban flights from the UK. We seem to be good to go. 

In the process of preparing food for the family yesterday I managed to spill gravy onto my light coloured canvas pumps. Today they’ll have to go in the washing machine. It’s a good job they were not expensive trainers!

I read today that a second- or possibly third-hand pair of trainers sold at Sotheby’s for almost one and half million dollars:-

“A pair of trainers worn by NBA superstar Michael Jordan early in his career have sold for nearly $1.5m, setting a record price at auction for game-worn footwear.

The white leather shoes with the red Nike swoosh and soles were worn by the iconic player in the fifth game of his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, when Nike’s Jordan-affiliated brand was only just taking off as a sensation both on and off the court.

“The most valuable sneakers ever offered at auction – Michael Jordan’s regular season game-worn Nike Air Ships from 1984 – have just sold at $1,472,000 in our luxury sale in Las Vegas,” auction house Sotheby’s said.

The astronomical price easily beat the record held by a pair of Nike Air Jordans which sold for $615,000 in August 2020 at a Christie’s auction.

A pair of Nike Air Yeezy 1s worn by rapper Kanye West sold for $1.8m in April, triple the previous record for trainers – although that was a private sale.

Jordan’s autographed size-13 lace-ups were in good overall condition, with signs of court wear and tear, Sotheby’s said. The pair was a gift from the player to Tommie Tim III Lewis, who was a ball boy for the Denver Nuggets during the 1984-85 season.”

I still find it odd that people buy the clothes and shoes of the rich and famous, especially the shoes. Where and how do you display these trophies? Surely worn trainers are a bit smelly! The whole thing is like to modern day equivalent of collecting religious relics - bits of the “true cross”, scraps of Mary’s clothing and the like. Perhaps bits of holiness, and nowadays fame, are supposed to rub off on the purchaser. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Cardboard cutouts. Knowing your onions. Learning about money. Progress.

 Our coop had no cranberry juice this morning but on the whole, despite notices about shortages doesn’t seem to be doing too badly. I hear that some bigger supermarkets are apparently finding a novel solution to empty shelves. Rather than have a big gap, an expanse of empty metal shelving, they are filling the spaces with cardboard cutouts of the missing products. What exactly is the point?

On the subject of photos of vegetables, my granddaughter posted a picture of a man with a prize winning onion, prompting comments about people knowing their onions. So I googled the expression and got this bit of etymology:

“The English grammarian and lexicographer C. T. (Charles Talbut) Onions was an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1895 and continued to write reference works throughout a long and distinguished career. His last work was The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, 1966, which was published a year after his death. If I knew as much etymology as he did I could certainly claim to 'know my onions', and it is tempting to assume that this is where the phrase originated.

If the 'onions' referred to in the phrase is indeed human rather than vegetable, there is another Mr. Onions that could be our man. S. G. Onions (they were strong on initials in those days) created sets of coins which were issued to English schools from 1843 onwards. These were teaching aids intended to help children learn £.s.d. (pounds, shillings and pence). They looked similar to real coins and had inscriptions like '4 Farthings make 1 Penny' or, as in the example pictured, '12 Pence make 1 shilling'. We can imagine that 'knowing your Onions' might be coined, so to speak, in those circumstances.

The first known use of 'know your onions' in print, in the 1920s, tends to argue against either of the above men being involved. While it is true that the phrase originated at a time when C. T. Onions had established a reputation, the match between the phrase and his name is just a coincidence. Know your onions is in fact an American phrase. There are many references to it in print there from the 1920s onward, but none in the UK or elsewhere until the middle of the century; for example, this from Harper's Magazine, March 1922:

"Mr. Roberts knows his onions, all right."

There you go! 

I wonder if those who insist that we should abandon metric measures and only ever use pounds and ounces, feet and inches would like us also to return to pre-metric currency. Pounds and pence are much easier to deal with. I remember those sums we used to have to do involving pounds, shillings and pence. It was very good for our mental arithmetic though. Of course all this dealing with coins might become a thing of the past as we pay for more and more items with our contactless cards. 

I heard an expert of some kind on a radio current affairs programme, bemoaning the fact that it is now harder for children to learn the value of money as they don’t get to handle it. Even children as young as 8 can have a bank card of sorts to use in shops. They asked some teenagers what they thought the average working person earns: about £80,000 on average was one suggestion! Mind you, I think it has always been hard for teenagers to imagine what wages are all about, how much you should expect to be paid. On a more positive note, my daughter-in-law tells me that our 7-year-old granddaughter went off to her Hallowe’en disco equipped with the little bag and little purse with money so that she could purchase drinks and snacks. That’s how they learn!

Here’s another bit of positivity: my Covid vaccination record was finally updated and ai now have a vaccination certificate on my phone. So long as Portugal don’t ban flights to the UK in next week or so, we are travelling again!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

Friday, 22 October 2021

Is it Hallowe’en yet? Cashing in on stuff. Lorry driving!

My daughter-in-law has sent me photos of our 7-year-old granddaughter dressed up to go to a Hallowe’en disco at her junior school. A most charming witch she is too. It’s not actually Hallowe’en until a week on Sunday but it seems to have arrived. The local coop is festooned with spiderwebs and large spiders. A house up the road has put Hallowe’en decoration all over the place. The cafe and gift shop in the village is selling Hallowe’en greetings cards. And my oldest granddaughter, the one who is terrified of spiders, has sent me a photo of her window festooned with stick-on bats. Her black cat got on on the act as well. 

On the radio news they were talking about Hallowe’en attractions. People pay to be frightened, to be chased down alleyways by axe-wielding monsters. One woman interviewed at one such venue declared: “We had none of this when I was a kid. I don’t want my daughter to miss out so I’ve brought her to this today.” A young girl protested that the shops are already full of Christmas stuff: “What about Hallowe’en? That’s what I want to know”, she declared. How odd! 

Actually I agree with the young girl as regards her protests about it being rather early for Christmas stuff to be in the shops. Mince pies should not be on sale in mid-October. Neither should Cadbury’s Snowballs and other such specifically Christmas confections. There is plenty of time for us to overindulge when mid-December rolls along. But that’s a different matter. 

Over the last two decades Hallowe’en has become big business - Hallowe’en greeting cards, Hallowe’en costumes not just for children but for adults as well! Some say we’ve imported it from the USA, which is odd as so many parts of the USA are quite devoutly Christian and must be opposed to this pagan festival. More influential, in my opinion, are the scary films and tv series. This too is odd. Back when most films and TV series seemed to be about cowboys, children played cowboys and indians but you didn't see adults joining in. Similarly, ancient tv series about hospitals such as Emergency Ward 10 or Doctor Kildare, and more recently ER didn’t promote everyone to play doctors. However, Dr Kildare did launch a fashion in shirts with back to front collars.

Everything is a money-making opportunity however. One of the latest I have come across is menopause-friendly clothing!! Apparently there’s a big-business opportunity there. All women go through the menopause, some with no trouble at all, others with a great struggle. For the strugglers, help is at hand in the form of advice on what to wear, which colours will not highlight the fact that you are a bit flushed, and all that sort of thing. And alongside it is a range of comfortable but still stylish wear to get you through this problematic time. As I said, everything is a money-making opportunity for somebody!

As if most women didn’t have their wardrobes full of clothes in different sizes, ready for losing or gaining weight, stuff to feel comfortable but stylish in!

Here’s a bit of yesterday’s news: in Bristol a lorry apparently reversed into the harbour yesterday, leaving the container partially submerged and the cab perched on the dockside. This has led to numerous comments about the driver possibly not having had to pass the reversing test in order to get his HGV licence.

Meanwhile, I still wait for news of my Covid vaccination certificate. Fingers crossed! 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Lost and found family heirlooms … of a kind. Storm Aurore. Peacocks and sunshine.

The fruit and veg man at the market last week left behind a sort of agricultural tool, a very old-fashioned, and very old, sort of hoe, long in his family.  It has a long wooden handle and then a kind of curved metal end with the hoe section flattened at the end. You could imagine a peasant using it to break up clods of stubborn earth. In fact, I think I have seen Galicians using something similar on their “terrenos”. I think he brings it to the market to reach up and pull his awning over his stall. Anyway, last week he put it down next to the pavement alongside his stall and forgot it. 

To his amazement it was still there yesterday morning when he set up his stall. The fishmongers daughter said that if it had been in their bit of Greater Manchester it would have been long gone. I suspect it was hidden by parked cars in the time between the two market days. 

He was mightily relieved to recover it as he said it’s almost a family heirloom, isn’t really worth much, indeed the handle is probably worth more, but he doesn’t like to lose things that have been in the family for generations. 

I know how he feels. Yesterday I got out my grandmother’s darning mushroom to mend some socks. 

As he was telling us this it started to rain. I had managed to cycle to the market in dull and cloudy but dry weather and was hoping to make it back home before the forecast rain began. No chance! It was several minutes, and a wet front seat later, that the fruit and veg man remembered he had left the windows to the cab of his truck open! A day of mixed fortunes for him. 

So I rode home in the rain and had to change my clothes when I got back. Shortly after that it stopped raining. This did not last long though. Just after lunch time we had thunder, strong wind, and lashing rain with a few hailstones thrown in. I guess this was maybe the tail end of Storm Aurore. On the TV news later they showed footage of a bits of Widnes that was struck by a tornado. It barely lasted a minute but it threw garden furniture around, up-ended wheelie-bins, tore roof tiles off houses and damaged cars. Other parts of the country, indeed other parts of Greater Manchester, had flooded roads. It seems we got off lightly.

After the storm had worked itself out, at any rate the bit of storm we got, the day improved considerably. We went out for a walk later, equipped with just-in-case waterproofs and umbrellas that we didn’t need. 


Today dawned bright and clear, with blue sky and sunshine. 




I spotted peacocks in a garden up the road from us. 


We’ve seen them before but Ii have no idea whether they actually live there. Their tails look rather bedraggled but that’s hardly surprising if they’re living outdoors. 

I’ve still not seen the deer that people keep telling me about in the valley just behind the village. One day… maybe…!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

Wednesday, 20 October 2021


An extra refugee arrived on Folkestone yesterday, where she was met with bells and choirs and was welcomed into the country by the actor Jude Law. Quite why Jude Law was involved I do not know but there it is. Little Amal is a 3 metre high puppet, made by the people who made Warhorse. She represents all the refugee children who have mislaid their parents in their flight from war, famine, persecution and has travelled from Turkey across Europe to arrive finally in the UK. Little Amal has been looking for her mother. 

Only in one place has the welcome been less than warm in welcoming her. In Kalambaka, a village in northern Greece, which is home to ancient Greek Orthodox monasteries built into rocks, the village council decided not to receive a “Muslim doll from Syria”, as the mayor described Little Amal. 

It’s strange how intolerant the deeply religious can be. 

Here’s a link to a series of photos of her progress across Europe.

I’m feeling rather sorry that I won’t be able to see her when she arrives in Manchester on November 3rd. I would have liked to be there but we’ll be in Portugal, assuming I get my Covid vaccination certificate sorted out. 

Yesterday afternoon we followed the procedure indicated online to download a vaccination certificate onto the NHS app on our phones. All went like clockwork for Phil: certificate successfully downloaded. So did mine up to the point where it said “1 dose of 2”. So I scrolled down. No sign of dose 2. Hmm! Further investigation gave the advice to phone the GP. That’s a trial in itself: press 1 for this and 2 for that and 3 for the other.  So I pressed the relevant number to request to speak to a real person. Tinkly music ensued and a repeated mantra: “Thank you for your patience. Your call will be answered shortly.” Finally I spoke to a receptionist who checked the records and told me that, yes, my records showed 2 doses.

That was the good news; the bad news was that they have nothing to do with the NHS app - I should phone 119, which I duly did. And I played the  numbers game again and was thanked for my patience once again. This time the music was more strident! But eventually I got to speak to someone: a young man with good but heavily accented English who sounded for all the world as though he was working in a call centre, possibly in Calcutta. And the line was bad to boot! I kept having to ask him to repeat his requests for information. 

The upshot is that I should receive a paper certificate (Did I need large print? he wanted to know, perhaps prompted by my date of birth. And did I need it in other languages than English?) unless I receive a text to say that they have not been able to issue one. So far so good - no text message. I should also expect a phone call from some other bit of their service to sort out the app side of things. So far, no phone call! 

So here I am in a kind of certification limbo, hoping the young man understood everything that I said to him. Just a little travel nightmare! It’s a good job I am quite optimistic by nature!

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!