Friday, 30 September 2016

Some crazy thoughts!

Phil and I seem hardly to have seen each other this week, which is odd for a couple who live together in the same house. Of course, we've both been around in the daytime, doing our individual routine stuff in various parts of the house. But in the evenings, with meetings of various groups we belong to all happening in the same week, we seem to have simply met up at the end of the evening to swop notes.

Last night it was Phil's turn to be out and about. When he returned in the late evening, the television news had just moved on to the increased number of young women suffering from mental illness. Why, we wondered, should young women now be so particularly vulnerable? One explanation is the pressure from social media. One television journalist talked about today's 16 to 24 year olds as being the first cohort to grow up totally immersed in the social media morass.

Women have always been judged on how they look. Doris Lessing wrote about it forty or fifty years ago. It still goes on in all sorts of spheres, maybe more so than ever. There are more roles for older, fatter, uglier male actors than for female ones. The kit of female athletes is more frequently assessed from a fashion point of view than that their male counterparts. Male politicians can be old and scruffy and still have ideas but an old and scruffy female politician is frumpy and her ideas consequently have less value. (Having said that, poor old Jeremy Corbyn came in for a lot of stick for his style of dress!) The difference now is that the criticism (no, judgement!) is immediate, constant, unrelenting, and above all huge, via social media. A negative value judgement can spread and grow exponentially on Twitter in what seems like a matter of minutes.

And girls have always been bitchy towards each other; let's not deny it ladies. But before social media it was a lot less easy for a school year group to run a poll on who is the ugliest girl in their year and put the results put for everyone to see. This was a case I read about recently!

More than ever before the pressure is there to conform to size, looks, style, makeup, hair and even sexual behaviour. And that last is perhaps a new and disturbing one. Apparently young men watch pornography on their phones or iPads or whatever and expect their girlfriends to do the things that they have seen in the downloads. It makes me glad to be no longer young!

 Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett,  writing in the Guardian described today's young women in this way: "We are the generation at risk of being “left behind”, with both genders battling to find some kind of stability amid a housing crisis, unstable working conditions, mounting student debt, and, on top of all that, for women, that infernal biological clock and, if you have children, attendant childcare responsibilities and the unfair division of domestic labour."

She went on to write about how she and her women friends talk about all sorts of problems, in a way that young men seemingly do not, and how useful that is. The sceptical bit of me wonders to what extent some young women can talk themselves into an emotionally fragile state. I say this partly from my own experience; I long ago found that I could persuade myself out of feeling depressed and even out of feeling ill. The power of persuasion is a wonderful thing. But that's probably/possibly just me and there is no denying that the world is more openly rough and even brutal than it used to be. The streets are more dangerous. Young women, and men, are attacked and, like Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett after being attacked by a stranger, suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Her article continued at one point: "Eight months ago, when my PTSD came back after the Paris terrorist attacks, I couldn’t get onto a train without Valium and beta blockers. I would stand in the vestibule hyperventilating, convinced I was going to die. Looking back now, I realise I was completely and properly mad. I was seriously ill. And now I’m not, thanks to medication and 16 sessions of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy."

Recognising a condition is a first step on the road to recovery. Maybe putting the statistics out there will provoke a response from our government. Or am I mad to think so?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Rain and managing stuff!

Raining! I looked out of the window and the bit of blue sky had gone. The rain was just starting. In no time at all it was the kind of rain that children put in weather pictures: diagonal stripes across the garden. Within minutes, however, it was all over and the mix of cloud and blue sky was back. Come day, go day weather!

Like the flash in the pan rainstorm, Sam Allardyce has come and gone as England manager. I always thought he had a face rather like a potato. Now it seems he also has a brain rather like a potato, a mashed potato, and allowed himself to be flattered into explaining to some "businessmen" that he knew how to get around football association rules. When they turned out to be reporters he realised how silly he had been but by then it was too late; his England job was gone. What a mess!

Talking of mess, our two eldest granddaughters both have the messiest bedrooms in the world. Stuff is piled around. The floor is covered with a blend of papers, homework assignments in the case of the younger of the two, discarded bits of creative writing, crisp packets, sweet wrappers, clothing that has been worn or that has been tried on and rejected, hairbrushes complete with hair, whichever book they are currently reading and goodness only knows what else. If anyone dares to enter and pick up rubbish or attempt to find homes for the stuff that is hanging around, there is an outcry when that action is discovered. Accusations fly around: "Someone has been tidying my room!" As if that were a major crime! On one occasion the older of the two blamed me for the disappearance of a pair of jeans. I had simply hung them up with other jeans but, clearly, that was not where they were supposed to go and she was unable to find them for weeks. Or so she claimed.

Their mother finds this messiness hard to understand or accept. Other faults there may have been but messiness was not one of them. She was the kind of girl who liked to rearrange her room every so often, moving the furniture around to new positions and finding new ways of organising her den. So having two daughters whose bedrooms really are like animal's dens is hard for her to fathom. However, Tim Lott, writing in the Guardian at the weekend, comes out on the side of the untidy girls. Teenagers bedrooms, he maintains, should be left alone. This is their space and parents, and grandparents for that matter, should let them stew in their own mess, only intervening when there start to be rat droppings and mould!

I remain unconvinced! I had to share a bedroom with two sisters and there was no chance of any of us leaving stuff lying around. It was a communal space and anything left around became communal property. We all three longed for a bedroom of our own. So much so that when our brother, who had a bedroom to himself as he was the only boy, went to scout camp we took it in turns to take over his bedroom for a few nights and have our own space for a brief while! Ah, nostalgia!

In Manchester the other day I took myself off to Harry Hall's cycles to buy myself a new helmet. The old one has been around so long that I doubt it has any protective qualities left. As I tried one on, a bright yellowy-green one, the same colour as those hi-visibility jackets, the sales assistant told me it also came in black, if I wanted something a bit more restrained. Well, actually no, I didn't want something more restrained. As well as protecting your head, a helmet should help make you visible to those crazy car drivers who look through cyclists. If I am going to look silly in a helmet, something hard to avoid, then I also want to be easy to spot.

Now I just need some  more fine weather so I can get the bike out!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Political stuff?

Watching pundits on the television news last night discussing the great debate, the one between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I heard an American analyst point out arguments Donald Trump could have used against Hillary Clinton but failed to do so because, the analyst said, "he has the attention span of a fruit fly". Well, that's one way to put it, I suppose. It is rather frightening to think that someone with the "attention span of a fruit fly" could perhaps be POTUS before the year is out! 

It is to be hoped that our politicians have a slightly longer attention span. And that they have realistic hopes and not just dreams. I wonder! Faced with arguments that some countries might veto the UK's negations with Europe, our Theresa said, “The 27 will sign up to a deal with us. We will be negotiating with them. And … we will be ambitious in what we want to see for the UK. A good deal for the UK can also be a good deal for the other member states because I believe in good trading relations and I have said I want the UK to be a global leader in free trade.” Fingers crossed for all of us!

I continue to have doubts about all politicians at the moment. I watch them mould their policies to bring them in line with what the opinion polls say the people expect and want, when it is fairly obvious that much of what the people "expect and want" is moulded by the tabloid press. What happened to politicians having policy ideas and, more importantly, principles which they stand by and which they argue to persuade the people that that should be what they "expect and want"? Oh, yes, of course: they have members of their own party say they are unelectable and bring motions of no confidence against them!

 Meanwhile, life goes on. Yesterday the Italian conversation classes began again. We all swopped news: who has just retired, who has a new grandchild (guess who that was), who has almost, but not quite, won the European Orienteering Championship, pensioners division, who has been on holiday in faraway and interesting places and the like. One of our number tried to bring up the referendum and Brexit but our teacher vetoed that topic on the grounds that it would depress her too much. She limited her comments to telling us how relieved she is still to have her Italian passport and expressing the view that if we end up having to pay for visas to visit Europe, then that is the EU's way of "punishing" the UK. It's a theory.

 So there we are, back to politics again, one way or another!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Feminist stuff!?

Well, Hillary Clinton seems to have stood up to Donald Trump in the first TV debate in the USA presidential election circus. Good for her. I confess to being a little afraid that she might let herself be knocked off kilter by his blustering, badgering, interrupting, shouting-over-everyone style. However, she appears to have kept her calm and come out as the reasonable one. There are more debates to go, though, so maybe next time Mr Trump will be better prepared.

The whole live debate system is a very odd one. I find myself in two minds about it. Election by sound-bite. And by all accounts the debates can have quite an influence on how people vote. On the TV news last night someone was explaining that in some states they start voting almost a month early. That means that some people could be voting in the presidential elections in a couple of weeks' time. Who knew that you could stagger elections in that way?

Here are a few Guardian Reader reactions to the debate:

"A Trump presidency certainly looks like more of a possibility now than say, six months ago, which is a worrying thought. But honestly, through this whole pantomime it's become abundantly clear that they're both villains. Whatever we think of Westminster, the US political freakshow is a million miles from where we are."

"This was kind of like a shark fighting against a guinea pig in deep, ocean water.
In that: Trump kind of looks like a guinea pig, and smells like a guinea pig (probably), and talks as much sense as a guinea pig.
(No shark-related comparisons for Hilary, she just ate the guinea pig. Simple.)"

"Trump should have watched "The West Wing", season four. "Ten word answers can kill you in debates.""

"Dear Obama could you stay on for another four years please? It would give both parties the time to maybe train or educate some candidates to show themselves worthy and have some statesmen like qualities the American people and the world deserve and can vote for."

While the shark-guinea pig comparison is pleasing, I particularly like the last two. I have heard a number of people say it's a pity Obama cannot stay on. Failing that, they would like Michelle Obama to run for president, something she declares she has NO interest in whatsoever. And as regards the West Wing, well, it would be lovely to live in the world of that fictional America.

Personally, I rather hope Hillary Clinton manages to win. It would be interesting to see another woman in charge of a country. Would she turn out to be a feminist? In this country we have Harriet Harman declaring publicly that Prime Minister Theresa May is no feminist. Donnatella Versace, on the other had says that SHE, Donnatella, IS one because "I show women, you can do it". There you go!

Spain's Guardia Civil, predictably, are not feminist or even really egalitarian. Here's part of their story:

"A failure by Guardia Civil to provide female officers with bulletproof jackets specifically designed for women is discriminatory, dangerous and is affecting their ability to protect the public, a major Spanish policing group has said.

The United Association of Civil Guards (AUGC), which has 30,000 members, has launched a campaign demanding the nationwide police service affords equal protection to male and female officers.
It comes as a female Guardia Civil officer in Salamanca province faces disciplinary action for allegedly disobeying a superior’s order to put on a bulletproof jacket for men. According to the association, the guard was working at a police checkpoint in August when she asked if she could wear the €500 (£430) women’s bulletproof jacket she had bought herself rather than an official-issue men’s one that did not fit. Despite being refused permission, she put on her own jacket. The guard is now facing insubordination charges under Spain’s military penal code as the Guardia Civil is overseen by both the interior ministry and the ministry of defence. "

But then, we never expected them to be feminist, did we?

Monday, 26 September 2016


I have been going through my wardrobe, selecting clothes which I know I will never wear again. When I retired from teaching, I got rid of a whole host of formal clothing: smart suits which would have no place in my new life as a lady of leisure. And yet, some still hung around in the wardrobe, hiding behind other garments. And now there is another bag full of stuff to go to the charity shop.

I have a friend who claims she goes through her wardrobe every two years, ruthlessly throwing out anything she has not worn in that time. If that is true, how very admirable! But I don't think she tells the whole truth. Besides, there are clothes you only wear once in a blue moon. Does such a rule apply more to women than men? If that were not so, then Phil's suits would be thrown out on a regular basis, only to have to be replaced whenever a wedding or a funeral comes along!

There is something quite therapeutic about going through your stuff in this way. Proust might have had his madeleine buns to evoke old memories, but there is nothing quite like rediscovering an outfit that you bought for a specific occasion to make all the old atmosphere rush back into your head. Okay, I exaggerate a little but there is a grain of truth in it.

Then there is the size question. I don't just mean how pleasing it is to find that you can still fit into something that you last wore ten years ago. No, it's the odd discrepancy between what was, for example, a size 12 ten years back and what is a size twelve now. Have they become bigger to con ladies into thinking they are one step closer to the desired size zero? I have no proof of any of this but my memory tells me that a size 12 used to have a 24 inch waist. Such a waist does not exist except amongst the skinniest these days. Has body shape changed as well?

Now that I have decluttered (to some extent) the wardrobe, I need to set about other areas as well. There are all the books: far too many of them! In some cases we have more than one copy of the same book. This may be because both Phil and I have bought it within days without telling each other. Sometimes I have read the blurb on a book cover, skimmed the first few pages and bought it on impulse, only to discover three chapters in that I have already read it and that there is a copy on the bookshelf. On top of that, Phil loves a good hardback (perhaps nostalgia for the books aunts and uncles bought for us children of the postwar age as Christmas and birthday presents) and so we have hardback copies of books that already exist as well thumbed paperbacks on our bookshelves.

A bit of ruthlessness is called for!

Putting stuff away in the kitchen after a big family meal yesterday, I decided that that is another area that needs some care and attention. Plates and bowls, cups and saucers, dishes and platters that never see the light of day. They have to go! Whatever happened to the young couple who had to scratch around to have enough place settings to invite the in-laws to tea?

It must be a genetic thing as well. Ever since our eldest granddaughter has been working - in her first "proper" job - she has been buying stuff. Our daughter says that barely a day goes by without a parcel arriving for the new spendthrift: clothes, books, collectable items!

She is storing up decluttering work for the future!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Autumn and stuff like that.

Autumn officially started some time last week. I can't say I noticed much difference until  this morning. Up to today the mornings have just felt fresh. Today, for the first time, there was a definite chill in the air. Time to put the sundresses away and get the winter woolies sorted out, swop sandals for boots and dig out the warm tights.

Apparently the Indian summer we have been having has messed up sales of clothes. Too little sun
when summer clothes were in the shops meant that fewer summer clothes were sold and too much now winter clothes are there means nobody is bothering yet to buy warm coats. Zara is the only retailer reported to be keeping up with things. One reason is that they rely on their own factories to
produce clothes and they have a fast turn-around: catwalk ideas, production in their factories, off to the shops all in a matter of days. Nothing stays in their shops for long if it is not selling and they have a very quick reaction to trends. Some years ago I went round their factory near La Coruña with a bunch of studnets. I was impressed.

I've been reading about slaves again. The Centre for the  Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership (who knew such an organisation existed?) has revealed links to all sorts of families, from Sarah Ferguson to George Osborne by way of Jane Austen. Their new analyis "highlights the extent to which slave-owners and their families permeated every stratum of British society in the late 18th and early 19th century." Really? Every stratum? I can see that most old wealthy families might have a link but do families of folk who worked in the mills and coal mines and factories have such a link? I have my doubts!

And then there is the responsibility and apology aspect of this, not to mention compensation. Should we really judge people living today by what happened in their family generations back? It all gets a bit biblical: the sins of the fathers and all that sort of thing.

And now, to add to all the other oddities about the modern world, books about Brexit are being published: "Unleashing Demons: The Inside Story of the EU Referendum" and "All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class". Lots of mud-slinging no doubt. Stories of who left who in the lurch, who flip-flopped from one camp to another, who told the most lies and so on. I am just amazed at how quickly some people are managing to make money out of it.

How soon before we get books about the Labour Party Leadership Contest?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Recipes for interesting times

.Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour Party leadership election ... again. Now the fun begins. Will he be able to wipe the slate clean as he has supposedly promised to do? Not that I doubt his willingness; it's just that the party does have form at the moment. Will they be able to break the cycle of nasty niggling that they have got into?

Friends who have joined, or in some cases rejoined, the Labour Party in the last year are expressing their delight all over Facebook. I am maintaining a discreet distance from it all, although I actually believe he should be given a chance. It's time a realistic opposition was working in this country. I wait with bated breath!

Another country, Iceland, seems to be considering suing Iceland, the frozen foods company, over the use of the name. It's not that Iceland, the country, wants Iceland, the company, to change its name. They are quite happy for the name to remain. What they don't want is for Iceland, the company, to have sole rights to the use of the name. Should some company in Iceland, the country, want to use that name to promote its goods in Europe, then Iceland, the country, doesn't want Iceland, the company, to stand in their way and have legality of their side. Fair enough!

I like to collect recipes from the weekend papers. There is quite often something worth considering, which I cut out and put on one side, only to revisit it later and decide whether I am ever likely to make that dish. In that case, I stick it in my recipe scrapbook. It's just one of those things! Nothing nerdy about it at all. In fact my granddaughters quite enjoy looking through it.

This morning the Guardian gave us a whole supplement of recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi. The pictures of his dishes always look enticing. And yet, I approach them with trepidation. Why? Because they
often have wild ingredients that I know I have no chance of locating without travelling all the way across Manchester or even further afield.

Today's interesting-looking recipe called for edamame. I was not even sure how to pronounce it. So I looked it up and found that it is a "preparation of immature soybeans in the pod". It features in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. And presumably in the cuisine of trendy folk who can find such stuff close to home.

Here's a quote from Wikipedia: "Outside East Asia, the dish is most often found in Japanese restaurants, some Chinese restaurants, and health food restaurants. In the United States it is sold packaged in frozen sections of grocery stores, in cans, or fresh in the produce sections of health food stores."

No chance of finding that in our local Tesco then!