Sunday, February 28, 2010

Criminal conversation

The extraordinary saga of the ex-England captain & his team mate’s abandoned partner continues. As I write the media, at least, are slavering over the prospect of That Picture – the one which shows them shaking, or not shaking, each others hand in accordance with FIFA rules before a match on Saturday. Will it be warmly by the throat, or what?

Of course no one is interested in the reactions of the two women involved, except for the effect it might have on any divorce or maintenance settlements for which the two men may be liable. I should rather like to know what would be the reaction to an attempt by one of women to take legal action against the other, for either alienation of affection or criminal conversation. The law must surely have changed since 1920, when Justice McCardie had to rule on damages in six cases which came before him?

The Times reported his findings under the headline The Value Of A Wife [The Times, Wednesday, Feb 11, 1920; pg. 5; Issue 42331*; col B]

McCardie found that in English law a husband had a right to control his wife & to benefit from her services; if his wife was persuaded by another man to leave her husband's home, the husband could sue that man for damages. A woman had no such rights over her husband's services & therefore it was doubtful whether she could sue a woman who enticed away her husband. (See Clerk & Lindsell on Torts, 6th edn, p246).

The Americans were more enlightened - a different view prevailed in many of the States, where The Other Woman might be found liable to pay damages to the Woman Scorned.

In 1920s England a wronged husband could also sue another man for ‘criminal conversation’, based solely on the act of adultery; his wife did not actually have to leave home. The law assumed that the wife had no power to consent to any such relationship outside marriage & therefore that the act was done against her by force. Of course, by the mere fact of marrying, she was at that time deemed to have given her consent to any & all such acts done against her by her husband.

McCardie said that the idea behind this application of English law was trespass - by the Other Man on the husband's private property.

If the claim be one for strict trespass then nominal damages at least should be technically awarded to the husband. But if the claim be merely ‘in case’ the court was not bound to award any damages at all unless the actual damage be proved.

The (almost overwhelmingly male) commentators who have been filling the airwaves on this topic are in absolutely no doubt that trespass has indeed occurred, a footballer has suffered damage of an emotional kind, that we all may suffer if Our Side's chance of winning the World Cup disappears ...

The women involved still have no power to consent to these interfences with mens rights.

Related post

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A terminological debate

A Parliamentary milestone has been passed, the end of sexism is in sight.

At 10pm on February 22 2010 in Business without Debate the House of Commons accepted a motion CHAIR (TERMINOLOGY) which, inter alia, decrees that from henceforth:

(a) for "chairman" there shall be substituted "chair";
(b) for "chairmen" there shall be substituted "chairs"; and
(c) for "Chairmen's Panel" there shall be substituted "Panel of Chairs"

However for some reason the House also accepted the following motion ELECTION OF SELECT COMMITTEE CHAIRS which states, at Paragraph (2):

The day following HIS election at the start of a new Parliament, the Speaker shall communicate ... [emphasis added]

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Who are you calling a bully?

I am not picking up any sense at all that people are moved by the reports of bullying in Number 10. Perhaps it is because they have already had more than enough of politics, perhaps they are beginning to like Gordon Brown. Mostly I think they think it a bit rich for the press to complain about bullying.

We have all seen or heard Paxman or Humphrys, seen the screaming headlines, watched the packs of photographers.

And most people only ever see Parliament (&, by extension, Whitehall) in operation during Prime Ministers Questions - so they just think that shouting & throwing things is Normal For Politics.

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Pushing the boat out

About 18 months ago Radio 4 carried two inspiring programmes by the splendidly named Horatio Clare about the Thames Lifeboat Service . I meant to make a note of them at the time, but did not get around to it.

Like many others I had never heard of this service, associating lifeboats only with the sea; after this programme I also knew of lifeboat stations at Chiswick and Teddington, staffed largely by volunteers from all walks of life, men & women, who are brave & dedicated. It was also captivating to hear of the thought & ingenuity which goes in to designing & providing all the equipment which they need to operate safely & speedily in these conditions.

The Queens visit to the Tower Lifeboat this week jogged my memory. The occasion provided some great pictures; it is good to see that the Queen usually looks so happy when we see her these days – anni horribili well & truly behind her it seems. Maybe it’s just a touch of the Jenny Josephs, but I particularly loved that hat.

And, as a bonus, the sponsored link on the Google search informed me that I too can get to look around the Thames lifeboat, But Visitors By Arrangement Only.

I am beginning to get fed up of hearing about broken Britain. Some bits are, of course, but most bits are not. I am starting to make notes of examples that I see every day, and the lifeboat volunteers make a great start. As Valentine Low noted in The Times, it's not all bankers in The City.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The way to Ochtermurphy

One day I was walking in a wood not far from home in the Derbyshire hills. A stranger appeared & asked the way to Ochtermurphy.

Scotland, I thought. That’s north, but the sky is cloudy, no sun, not sure which direction that is now.

Perhaps it might be better to direct him towards the M6, he can travel north on that. But which direction is west?

Maybe the M1 would be a better bet – but which way is east.

Just as I began to consider other options, like the nearest railway station, another stranger appeared. He knew the way & set off purposefully. I tagged along behind.

It all turned into a bit of a dream, or a magically realistic novel. We half jumped, half flew over a small ravine, sprang over trees, tripped happily through mud without our feet getting stuck at all.

It was exhausting & when I spotted a gate into a field, I said my goodbyes, left them to it, got back to normal life.

That just about sums up what mathematics is like for me. I can, sometimes, at least, understand the question, but am unable to suggest an answer, or follow the route laid out.

And anyway, does Ochtermurphy exist?

There is a place called Auchtermuchty, perhaps that is what is getting me muddled up.

Related posts

Women & political scandal

American social scientists Tim Groeling, Matthew A. Baum & Martie Haselton have been examining the demand for scandalous news from the perspective of evolutionary psychology.

Why should not every indiscretion by a famous individual–celebrity or politician – become a full-blown scandal?

“Somewhat surprisingly, our model suggests that the type of figure who might best weather potential scandals would be a female politician who is not physically attractive enough to be regarded as a competitive threat to the typical female viewer (and who would not be considered a competitive threat by most male viewers simply by virtue of her gender).”

On the other hand, "female politicians widely perceived as physically attractive should be disproportionately likely to receive a chilly reception from typical female voters (particularly those who are not in romantic relationships)."

You can read the whole paper from here

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bombe surprise

It is only fair to report that the library has been able to unblock access to The men of bomber command: the navigator, Cy Grant - Telegraph

It is understandable that no organisation wishes to risk distributing materials likely to be of use to a terrorist, but doubly nice to find that the system allows for the operation of common sense & good judgement

Keep calm

I used to work for a man who, even in those days, seemed slightly old fashioned. Unfailingly courteous, immaculately dressed with never a hair out of place, I do not think I ever saw him even loosen his tie. One of Nature’s chairmen, as I once heard someone put it.

He taught me at least one invaluable lesson. If you want to complain about some suggested new arrangements at work, go equipped with an alternative solution to propose. You might then get your way. Otherwise you are just adding to the burden & being a nuisance.

I was a bit surprised one day when a colleague confided that he did not really like working for Peter (not his real name) because “You never get any feed back, never know if you are doing a good job or not.”

Well you could always tell if Peter was really displeased; his face went a bit red & the steam, though barely discernible, rose gently from his ears. And I was once on the receiving end of what, I was in no doubt, was a serious reprimand: “Yes, well … but do you think that in future you might …?”

And it is not a male/female thing. Nature’s chairmen, negotiators & diplomats need this fine tuned awareness of others true feelings & reactions.

But some people really do need to have things spelled out to or for them, & we all have different methods of geeing ourselves up to face a challenge or a deadline.

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Temper, temper


Q1 Do you feel picked on?

Q2 Do you feel anxious & demotivated?

Q3 Are you being overloaded or set impossible deadlines?

Q4 Are you being criticised constantly?

Q5 Is someone spreading rumours about you?

Q6 Do you find the level of supervision you receive overbearing?

Q7 Do you experience offensive materials?

Q8 Is someone copying your e-mails?

If you can answer Yes to any of the above, you are being bullied, according to Acas, the employment advice service largely funded by Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business Innovation & Skills.

Well, let’s see:

They are always picking on me & I am very anxious about what I should do about it when I get my chance in a few weeks time.

I cannot always work out if I am giving the right amount of the right sort of fat, sugar & salt to my family in every meal every day.

Nothing I do is right. And if I want to go back to part time teaching at the medical school I shall have to get a certificate to prove I am not a paedophile.

I am trying to keep Inland Revenue abreast of the changes which affect our entitlement to child credit & pay them back the money they say they have overpaid.

I keep getting letters from the doctor telling me to go for checks to make sure that I do not have cancer in my breasts, or in my cervix (which I do not have), that I am not overweight & that I do not have any bad habits such as smoking.

The bus stops have been plastered with offensive pictures of diseased internal organs.

They keep copies of all our e-mails you know, in case we are terrorists.

Does this mean that the government is a bully?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Memories are made of ?

If I were a concert pianist my fingers would know which notes to play as I set out to delight my audience. Not just my fingers, my arms, feet; even my whole body would know when to sway to right or left.

Hours of practice would have been needed to hone this ability, even if I were born with a special piano genius genetic endowment – the figure of 20,000 hours is often quoted for anyone to reach their full genius potential in any branch of learning or performance.

On a more down to earth level, my fingers, my whole body, know how to make a cup of coffee in my own kitchen without having to give it any thought at all; mug, spoon, coffee jar, kettle, all collected & manipulated on automatic pilot. That is until someone helpfully rearranges the cupboards into a more logical order.

Modern research shows that experts actually use their brains less than do mere ordinary mortals; a brain scan for the Radio 4 Vox project showed that the relevant bits of Clare Balding’s brain were far less active when she was in commentating mode than in ordinary conversation.

We think that the brain is intimately involved in directing these things that we do, & it certainly feels like that whenever we have to think about what we are doing.

So practice makes perfect by reducing the need to think? Somehow it is laid down in the memory which just chunters away by itself? No consciousness required in these operations? The brain acts like a monitoring machine, coming into operation & issuing a loud warning only when the system breaks down.

So where is this memory located? Could it be in the concert pianist’s fingers, for example?

This raises the intriguing possibility that cells outside the brain have their own memory. Finger cells do not just remember that they are finger cells. The memory of what they do at the piano must also be heritable by the daughter cell, or else each new cell must learn from the beginning under the direction of the brain – or maybe its neighbour cell in the finger.

But what part of the structure of the cell could contain the memory?

Forward planning

Has anybody made a connection between recent events in Dubai & the mysteriously ‘lucky’ theft from an unmarked white van left unlocked for a few minutes outside a newsagents shop early one morning 18 months ago?

I’m only asking.


Of horses and men

I enjoyed this worthwhile Canadian initiative which asks the question: If it happened to horses why couldn't it happen to humans?

"There is nothing that makes it impossible for new technology to destroy the demand for the labour of humans …. What's surprising, or what ought to surprise us, is that it hasn't happened yet. Will human versatility always be enough to dodge and weave around all possible changes in technology, forever? I doubt it. Forever is a long time."

“What will become of the horses?” was the cry which went up as the railways came to England. But the horses thrived – the demand for their services to pull goods & passengers to & from the railway stations saw to that. But then came the internal combustion engine, & the doomsayers were proved right after all. And my great grandfather had to find another trade to provide an income for his family - there was not much call for wheel wrights any more.

I do not myself worry about the future for humans. Either we will continue to find ways to make ourselves useful – whatever happened to all those who used to be employed in producing statistics by hand? – or we will not. There is nothing else we can do about it unless you think going into reverse is a better idea.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fear of God, death & doctors

We heard last week that many people, including a disconcerting percentage of young women, still think that some other women ask to be raped, not explicitly but just, in the minds of some observers, by the way that they dress & behave. Some even believe that a man who responds to this imagined invitation should not even be charged, let alone convicted.

Ray Gosling has told us, on tv, that he killed an ex-lover dying very painfully of AIDS in the days when this was the normal fate of those who contracted the disease. The lover had asked for, had extracted a promise that, his friend would do this service for him.

There is now a serious possibility that Gosling will be charged with murder. Many think that (if the facts are as claimed) then he should indeed be found guilty.

In the Gosling case there has been no comment, as far as I am aware, on the claim that the doctor deliberately turned a blind eye to his actions. Presumably the doctor also could now be charged if evidence can be found.

It is sobering to remember that in the early days of AIDS doctors & other medical professionals sometimes were afraid, too afraid to go near a patient for fear of getting infected themselves. There was also widespread fear in the general population about how the infection might spread.

One airline even claimed the right to refuse to employ male cabin crew, in defiance of the sex discrimination laws. The justification claimed was that, since men attracted to such jobs are disproportionately likely to be gay, & gays are disproportionately likely to be infected by HIV, then passengers would face an unacceptable risk.

Princess Diana showed true heroism in choosing to allow herself to be photographed holding the hand of a patient dying of AIDS.

It did not take the coming of AIDS to make the physician afraid. John Donne was acutely aware of it when he had relapsing fever in 1623:

Sickness is the greatest misery.

Its greatest misery is solitude, when the infectiousness of the disease deters from coming those who should assist. Even the physician scarce dares come. To be completely alone is a torment not even threatened in hell.

When I am dead and my body might infect the doctors have a remedy: they may bury me. But when I am but sick and I might infect they have no remedy but their absence and my isolation.It is an excuse to them that are great and pretend and yet are loath to come. It is an inhibition to those who would truly come, because they may be made carriers of the infection to others by their coming.

A long sickness will weary friends at last, but a pestilential sickness averts them from the beginning.

And then:

I observe the physician with the same diligence as he the disease. I see he fears and I fear with him. I overtake him, I overrun him in his fear and I go the faster because he makes his pace slow.

I fear the more because he disguises his fear and I see it with the more sharpness because he would not have me see it. He knows that his fears will not interfere with the practice and exercise of his art, but he knows that my fear may affect the working of his practice. I should contradict nature if I should deny that I feared this and if I should say that I feared death I should belie God.

But as my physicians fear does not stop him doing his job, neither does mine put me from receiving, from God and man and myself, spiritual and civil and moral assistances and consolations.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I have recently been looking at what the Victorians meant by ‘manliness’ – a word that they used frequently. Manly calves seem to have been a surprising indicator – though no odder than a six pack, I expect.

So my eyes noticed this epigram by John Donne (1572-1631), which I must have seen many times before in my (badly) foxed & well thumbed 1971 edition of his Complete Verse, without remembering it at all.

Thou call’st me effeminate, for I love women’s joys;
I call not thee manly, though thou follow boys.

A tactful read

India Knight chose Heartburn by Nora Ephron for a Good Read this week.

Sue MacGregor warned her guests that they were not to mention the names of the two people who had had a real affair on which the book, allegedly, is based, though Everybody Knew at the time.

Why the reticence? I thought we were supposed to discuss the transgressions of those in the public eye ad nauseam these days.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cup cake weather

I was able to top up my vitamin D at the bus stop this morning. Still very cold, but at least the sun was shining.

The tops of the hills were all visible, dusted over with a light coating of snow. Surprising how it turns them into rounded, very feminine forms.

Dangerous statistics

Getting older. Faculties beginning to fail. Ears not what they were. The world is turning into a strange place. You hear some very funny things. Especially when you have only just woken up.

So this morning, Richard Madeley, talking on Radio 2 to an actor with a film to plug said:

You do all your own stats, don’t you. That’s dangerous – you ended up in hospital. People get killed doing this.

And I thought that it was only owning up at parties that I had to worry about.

Related post
Second sight

Friday, February 19, 2010

West Indian fliers

Cy Grant was given a generous obituary by The Times.

What a waste there was of the talents of all those people who came over to help in WWII.

I have come across two useful websites on this topic: Caribbean aircrew in the RAF during WW2 » Home & West Indians in the Royal Air Force in Britain

But the library computer would not let me look at The men of bomber command: the navigator, Cy Grant - Telegraph – because it contains the word bomb.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The moment of embarrassment

The word embarrass comes from the French, meaning an obstacle which encumbers, hampers or impedes.

These days embarrassment usually has only a figurative or psychological meaning but, if you bump yourself into it, the pain can be just as sharp & is only too likely to stay with you for the rest of your life – can suddenly make you go all hot & red years later – Oh don’t remind me!

The cause may simply be not knowing how to spell it, or merely social – eating your peas the wrong way, wearing the wrong clothes at a party.

When was the last time you held out your hand to shake someone else’s? Was he an Orthodox Jew?

Leant forward to offer an air kiss to someone? One, two, or three; right first or left?

Opened a door for someone? Was she a feminist?

Referred to that coloured chap?

Grabbed that toddler running towards the edge of the pavement?

Some of these faux pas might be surmounted with a smile & rueful apology. Some might get you all over the news accused of an ism or an ia. And please don’t even mention paedophiles.

Zadie Smith, in her collection of Occasional Essays says that:

It is amazing how many of our cross cultural encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by another especially insidious, less-discussed emotion, embarrassment.

On one occasion early in our relationship, my husband was at our family traditional roast Sunday dinner, where the vegetable dishes are handed round for each person to serve themselves. My mother was handing the dish of carrots to him when she suddenly drew back her hand & said Oh! Do you eat carrots?

I barely noticed it at the time, & so was perturbed when my husband later told me how upset he had been – Why on earth would she think we don’t eat carrots?

Well, I have absolutely no idea; somehow the occasion never arose when I could just slip the question in. I suspect dealing with exchange students over the years had inured her to dealing with the vagaries of foreign attitudes to English food, but it also seems strange to us now that What do you eat? could be such a loaded question in the early days of post war immigration to Britain. Andrea Levy mentioned it, on World Service Book Club, as one of the taunts she used to face.

Poetry Please on Sunday included a wonderful long poem by Edson Burton about how Iris & Edith learned to overcome their initial embarrassment & suspicion to become the firmest of friends, united by their common experience, indifferent to the difference in their skin colour. An early line leapt out to me from the radio: “They’ll bring down the area with their rice & peas

Well not any more, they won’t. Not least because it isn’t legal to call them that – or at least to sell the dish under that name. The peas are really beans & should be called by that name alone (unless they are lentils). And anyway, even an English country village these days has its Chinese, Indian & pizza takeaways, as well as the fish & chip shop. On days when the air hangs heavy, it is perfumed with the heady scent of spice.

Sathnam Sanghera did not use the word embarrassment in his column about the day he ‘came out’ to his mother. He talks about awkwardness & susceptibility to cringe, surely just embarrassment under other names.

Of course in his case he was just talking about explaining to his mother how he had been getting along without a nice Sikh arranged marriage, but he makes comparison with Acts of Disclosure: The Coming-Out Process of Contemporary Gay Men, by Marc E. Vargo to explain the problem.
It seems very likely that we can look to gratitude at the removal of an embarrassment as the principle reason why civil partnerships have become so easily accepted in mainstream English society. By this I mean not an embarrassment which was felt by the partners before they could make a public declaration of their status, but by the rest of us who might find ourselves in the awkward position of not knowing quite what to say. May I introduce you to John & - um – his –um - friend? Because even in the days when it was illegal, couples could be, & often were accepted in a wider social circle. And so we are grateful for a discreetly euphemistic adjective to attach to the word partner, so as not to invite the Princess Margaret question & be left searching wildly for an alternative to the crass Cherie Blair solution.

Embarrassment is so painful that we will do all that we can to avoid it. And those efforts will be all the greater if we risk not just a private pain but public vilification & maybe punishment by the law.

Except that effort is not the right word. Too often we will just do what we can to avoid even the possibility of the problem. If we cannot rely on good will, the ability to smile, say sorry when we put our foot in it, we will avoid those people who, we are led to believe, may not take things so lightly. If, in addition, we are constantly being lectured on the need to understand our differences, we may never take the chance to discover, like Iris & Edith, that we have more in common than we do with many of those who are only superficially just like us.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Doing my bit

What a nice surprise – special supermarket offer on Snickers (More Nuts), 5 bars only £1.

Curiously, the price of chocolate is not mentioned by the Office of National Statistics in its explanation of the inflation figures for January, which showed the highest RPI monthly movement for a December to January period for over 10 years.

Still, every little helps so I shall do my bit by buying as many bars as possible to take advantage of this 40% reduction in price.

Keep them stockpiled, so I can put off for as long as possible the evil day when I will have to go back to paying the price they were before – that will be a rise of 70%

Related post

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Family unfriendly

Did anybody realise that family friendly policies would mean that we all now have to organise our lives according to the dictates of the school timetable?

It is, in its way, impressive, that parents, mums and dads, should want to spend this time with their children, but I do wish they would just do it at home instead of spreading themselves everywhere, so there’s nowhere to sit down, or get a cup of tea, or walk in a straight line anywhere but weave around buggies, inattentive toddlers & gormless teens.

To make it worse there's a fad for scooters; I counted four of them on the bus today.

Even the radio is not its normal self. Half the programmes seem to have stand in presenters, because the loyalty of the regulars is with their kids, not us.

And of course I shall have flu next week.

Let’s hope that the swine flu epidemic that almost never was has not just been lurking spitefully lying in wait for this.

Related post

Always take expert advice

When I was a girl the experts told us that it was essential for your health that you sleep with the bedroom windows open at night. If you were lucky enough to have old fashioned sash windows they should be left open an inch or two both top & bottom for maximum efficiency in ventilation - the warm stale air would rise to exit through the top as the fresh cool air flowed in below.

I expect the Green police today would, if they could, haul you in for this breach of the insulation laws, this selfish enlargement of your carbon footprint.

In Macclesfield it is even worse. It will be the real police hammering on your door, interrupting your beauty sleep, to point out to you that open windows are dangerous, to your wealth if not your health.


I have recently noticed a new social demographic – Game Old Girls or Gallivanting Old Ladies.

Ladies, a decade or more after the age they first qualified for a bus pass, going off in pairs for sunshine, adventure & a rest from the husband. A good rest, where someone else makes the bed, cleans the bath, cooks & serves the food, & does the washing up.

The ones I see are clearly not surviving on the basic state pension, but nor are they what you would call affluent. They are very well organised – just one medium sized sturdy suitcase on wheels & a hand bag, dressed in neat jacket & trousers.

The first pair I noticed were accompanied on to the bus by their husbands, there solely to lift the suitcases on to the luggage rack, then a quick kiss & they were off, in one case to an impatient sigh & a Yes, yes, I’ll send you a text from the wife he had been mithering all morning with his Have you got your passport? What about your insurance?

They do it two or three times a year, never making plans in advance. They do not use the internet, except for information & ideas, but just ring the travel firm to get a good last minute deal. Previous trips have included a Nile cruise, this time it was Tenerife. With no single supplement to pay & free travel to the airport it does not really work out more expensive than a week at home - & certainly less than a week in an English hotel.

They never go for more than a week – that’s the longest the husbands can manage on their own with a freezer stocked with the meals prepared for them. One husband does not go because he just does not like flying & I got the impression that the other simply was not invited.

And since I started to notice, I have realised that they are far from unique.


Such excitement yesterday when I took the washed & squashed down to find that one of the newspaper recycling bins was on fire – no flames, but a lot a smoke.

It did not really seem like a case for 999 & anyway did not want to have to hang around, so it was reported to the doctors surgery over the road.

The fire engine – sent from the neighbouring village, not ours - arrived less than 10 minutes later when I was still at the bus stop – not bad given that they are all retained.

I wonder if they could, if they wanted to, work out if it was set deliberately (it is half term) or if damp newspaper, tightly packed, had generated enough heat to self-combust.

Related post

Monday, February 15, 2010

Radio & reality

Quite a mournful weekend, all in all.

The Archers has not managed to hold me in its grip for quite a few years now, but I made a point of catching the end of the Sunday morning omnibus, having been alerted to the death of Phil by Tim Teeman’s article in The Times.

It was very well done, & I swallowed hard. But the end of the Sunday night episode (which I often listen to, just to keep up) really did make me cry; the continuity announcer also seemed to be struggling a bit.

I won’t be sending flowers to the funeral. But a real man has died & all those involved with the programme, as well as the listeners, have lost someone who has been part of their lives for a long time.

I cannot remember if I heard the very first episode – it may have been past my bedtime. Hard to imagine now, a time when children were in bed, leaving the adults in peace, by half past six o’clock.

Did we visit Ambridge just before or after our Journey Into Space? I definitely remember being allowed to listen to that in the evenings, but it did not start till 1953, by which time I was definitely a familiar of Dan & Doris & all the rest of them.

By the time I was about 7 I was breaking the rules about bed; instead of going to sleep I switched on the light & read a book. I had to keep one ear open for the 9 o’clock pips, because as soon as the news was over Mummy would go to bed – she would see the light on under the door & there would be Trouble. Sometimes she took me by surprise & came out of the living room before 9 o’clock to go to the bathroom or to fetch something from her bedroom – I had to scramble to turn out the light before (hopefully) she noticed.

Things were much better when we moved to our new house. There she had to come all the way upstairs, so there was time for me to take action if she moved. I had to keep an ear out for the back door however, in case she went outside for some reason & would be able to see the light in my room; that is until I realised that she wasn’t going to bother any more to come all the way upstairs just to tick me off.

Cy Grant

Cy Grant has died at the grand age of 90.

I had a real crush on him as a teenager. So handsome, relaxed & with a winning smile singing Tonight’s Topical Δ Calypso.

Of the same generation as ER Braithwaite he served in the RAF during the war. He trained as a barrister but, whether because of the kind of prejudice he met or simple love of it, went in to theatre & entertainment. If he was an angry man he never showed it in those days.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love in a tent

On Friday The Times published the ten winners of their competition for a poem for Valentine's Day.

I particularly enjoyed the one by Catherine Cox, which is nicely wry & funny, but still very romantic.

For some of us anyway. There must be plenty who can find nothing to inspire them in the thought of damp canvas.

There is not much in the thought of sleeping under canvas in this climate which inspires me these days either. Nor does the thought of sharing my bed space with all the greedy insect visitors I might expect in sunnier climes.

But I have so many treasured memories of family holidays & Girl Guide camps (whether of the big jamboree or just the local kind), memories which lay half buried until I read this poem, that I just came all-over in a warm glow.

You can read the whole poem & the other winners here.

from Just Intent

I don’t s’pose you meant
to propose in a tent
(it was not your intent when we started).
Yet you did it so well
on the top of Place Fell
that I was completely enchanted.

The limited space
made our joyful embrace
a somewhat gymnastic endeavour.

‘Til we both fell asleep
to the sound of the sheep
who bleated their “congratulations”.

Catherine Cox


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crying with a cause

It has not always been considered admirable that a politician is capable of crying, especially not when he holds one of the highest offices of state.

It did not do Spencer Horatio Walpole much good.

Malicious gossip had it that he lost his job as Home Secretary in 1867 because he cried during negotiations with the Radical Reform League over the right to demonstrate in Hyde Park in favour of giving the working man the vote.

Fortunately he had put in enough service to qualify for a pension of £2000 p.a.

The power of sick pay

I was a startled to learn from Economix that The United States stands out as one of the few rich nations in the world that doesn’t mandate any form of paid sick leave.

But then a right to sick pay from your employer may not be quite the all round good thing that we rather assume it to be.

I used to employ someone two mornings a week to clean the house & keep a general eye on the place while I worked away from home.

One week she was too poorly to come in. When I next saw her she did not want to accept all of the two weeks money proffered – she had not done the work so she hadn’t earned the money. I argued, not unreasonably, that since I got paid when I was ill it was only fair that I did the same for her. She accepted but was not completely happy about it.

And when I thought about it I realised why. The relationship had developed into one of real trust & friendship. She gradually took on more intimate kinds of help (such as washing my clothes), organising any routine repairs & servicing & even, if I knew what time I would be home, putting something to cook in the automatic oven to welcome me through the door. These were definitely not part of any written contract, & it could be a slightly delicate matter if ever I felt she had presumed too much.

Paying her when she was sick for a couple of days was one thing; but what if she were ill for longer, when I would definitely need to ask someone else to step in? Or what if she just didn’t feel like working one day, & did not feel like telling me why – by paying for the hours I had presumed too much, too much of a right to know the details of her life.

And so it has proved in statutory sick pay. General practitioners rightly point out that they cannot be expected to judge whether a patient is unfit for work in every case.

There was no reason, other than the socially responsible one of not spreading germs around, why I could not carry on doing my job with a mild to moderate sore throat; a radio presenter obviously could not. Even if unable to travel to the office I could do a fair amount of work – writing, thinking – at home, and in these days of ISDN a radio presenter could do that too. So your line manager has to decide whether they can cope with your absence from the desk.

And some of the tactics adopted to check up on claims for sick leave - often, allegedly on the grounds of concern for staff welfare & well being – are most definitely intrusive.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Territorial dispute

A lady called Karen Bradley has written to The Times, compelled to pass on the intelligence that they had wrongly located the village of Flash in Derbyshire when it is, in fact, in Staffordshire.

Well yes, but. Only just.

Flash is 4 miles from Buxton, which is indubitably in Derbyshire; the village has a Stockport (SK) postcode & a Buxton postal address. Buxton is the town where many Flash residents do their shopping, visit the doctor, etc; they were among those who lost out most when bus passes did not allow free travel everywhere outside your own local authority district or county, since a hospital visit might, for example, involve crossing from Staffordshire to Derbyshire to Cheshire.

People also sometimes get Flash confused with Flagg, another village high in the hills, a similar distance south of Buxton but east rather than west & most definitely in Derbyshire.

A confusion which I myself was making until sorting it all out yesterday. It used to make me cross that I couldn’t remember the proper name of what I assumed was a single village - an early sign of Alzheimer’s?

Sigh of relief, just muddling up the memory what must have been perfectly clear in my youth.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New tecnology music pioneer

The Times gave Earl Wild an obituary on 9 February.

I had no idea of any of the details of his career, knowing him only really from his recordings of Liszt.

In 1939 he was the first pianist to perform live on TV. In 1997 he became the first pianist to perform live over the internet, regarding engagement with new media as much a philosophical principle as a money spinner.

During his National Service he accompanied Eleanor Roosevelt on her travels, playing the national anthem before her speeches. He played at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and was invited performed at the White House for six consecutive presidents, from Herbert Hoover to Lyndon Johnson.

His last concert was in 2008, his last lesson was given only a week before he died, aged 94.

A life to be envied I think.

Related post
Death of a showman

Snow flash

Local radio this morning played an interview with a lady from the village of Flash (not all that far from Grindon)

The snow has, finally, almost gone & after more than a month villagers can get about freely without benefit of four wheel drive or tractor.

It was when she spoke about ‘going down’ to Leek or Buxton that it came home. For us Buxton, at 1000 feet above sea level, is really ‘up there’, up where they have ‘two overcoat weather’ as the old people used to say. To get to Flash you have to climb half as high again. Two overcoats plus the duvet I should think.

Mind you, if the interview was recorded earlier things might have gone backwards a bit. Yesterday was very cold but mostly sunny. I got to town just after what must have been a really sharp shower of rain – no sign of it on the road in – but the black clouds were moving well away to the east. In other words the wind had veered right round from the day before when it was coming from the Steppes to the east.

So it came as a shock when we got about half way home last night to see snow lying thick on the pavements.

Even odder when we got to the village. Some pavements seemed completely clear, others covered with snow. Hard to tell about the road which has anyway developed a whitish grayish bloom on the surface from all the salt.

Turned out, in part, to be a trick of the light. I walked down the hill over a very thin scattering of crunchy crackly stuff. Not exactly snowflakes – rather very coarse salt or micro hail stones. Some of it was still lying this lunchtime, maintaining its grainy shape, in sheltered patches & in gutters.

We have had a real lesson in all the different kinds of snow this winter. We’ll be developing a whole new set of words for them soon. That will spare the embarrassment of those trying to explain what is wrong about the kind that brought their trains to a halt.

Related post
Snow tragedy

Upside downside

The Times Universal Register page alerts us each day to details of a dream home which is available on the market.

They are honest enough to give us an upside & a downside to the dream.

On Tuesday the downside to a family home in rural Yorkshire was that “You will need a car to get around.”

A first I think for this age of the motor car. It has been much more common to see “Easy access to the motorway” quoted as an Upside, one which rather presupposes that you have a car or two.

Related posts

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Iff that one f or two?

I did a course of mathematical logic at university, with a Hungarian tutor. To nobody’s great surprise, I failed miserably. I could understand, sort of, what it was about, but lacked the talent or the curiosity to get to grips with a textbook that seemingly consisted only of symbols which never resolved themselves into words I could understand.

I did learn one little word – which came allegedly from the Hungarian language*. The biggest little word in the world. Iff, meaning if and only if.

That f can make a big difference.

Consider the following:

If you smoke you will die before your time
If you take out the rubbish I will make you a cup of cocoa.

Some of us, labelled deniers or sceptics, are really just thinking about whether there is one f or two in all those statements about the reliability of models which demonstrate that global warming is man made or of what will happen if we do not change our ways.

*The OED says it is just an abbreviation; I prefer to believe my tutor

People like us

It is said that the quality which patients look for, above all else, in a doctor is that he appear to like them.

Our politicians are currently grappling with the realisation that the voters really, really, really, do not like them. In spite of all their hard work & all the money they have showered upon us.

Gordon Brown has started to behave like a failed candidate for Britain’s Got Talent, a magician who pulls things out of hats. Oh please, Simon, let me try again, you’ll really like this one.

Mrs Thatcher & Tony Blair won elections by appearing to like groups of people who were disapproved of by the incumbent government, while clearly remaining a member of their own, different tribe. Thatcher by promising to let the working classes become property owners & get out from under the council as landlord of the collective who would not allow them the freedom to choose even the colour of their front door or the fittings in their kitchen. Tony Blair really, really liked those who loathed Thatcher & were in turn despised by the garagiste tendency who thought selling yourself was all that was required, if you can’t get a job its because you’re just not pedalling hard enough on your bike. Tony understood cool.

But we are all a sad disappointment to our politicians today. We don’t like doing our homework (all those forms to fill in), our exam results continue to be less than the best & we won’t help reduce the call on the family budget by living the right kind of lifestyle eating our 5 pieces of fruit a day. Some of us wear hoods & have babies too young. We smoke, drink alcohol, take Class A drugs. Some of us even murder our own children while useless social workers look the other way. We have broken our society.

And a lot of us are too old – old enough to be their parents, for heavens sake.

They are like husbands who just can’t understand why their wife seems so dissatisfied.

What does she want? Why doesn’t she like me spending time with my mates, playing our games of yah-boo, I can beat you, I’ll win the next one.

It is after all very simple. People like best the people who like them. Who are not necessarily the people who are like them.

Clapham omnibus

I like this new twist on a well-worn phrase, taken from The Anonymous Prosecutor, especially as I was expecting just another jibe about sexism & political correctness.

'The test used to be "man on the top deck of the Clapham Omnibus", but I suppose times have changed, and such people may be more likely to relieve you of your wallet than be honest.'

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The narrative of fertility

Despite the fact that we are supposed to live in a scientific age, women seemingly continue to believe or to create their own myths about fertility.

Today we hear that ‘older women’ – those aged over 35 – are increasingly falling into the trap of assuming they could not get pregnant because they were too old. Too many recent messages about the fall off in fertility are blamed.

I remember a conversation with my mother just after she had passed her fortieth birthday. She said that although she had absolutely no desire to have another baby, the idea that soon she would just not be able to have one, ever, made her feel funny. In those days I think most women expected to go through the menopause round about the age of 45 (& population statisticians, for sound reasons, still usually calculate fertility rates wrt women aged 15 to 45).

A mother aged 40 today would be surprised at the idea of having such a conversation with her daughter. For one reason any such daughter is very likely to be under 10; I was in my last year at school, gearing up for A & S levels & leaving home.

But women of my mother's generation also feared the idea of falling pregnant at such an advanced age – no Pill, contraceptive accident all too possible. My mother’s best friend was always rushing round in hysteria, fearing for the worst if her own biological clock ran a bit slow one month. That she finally did fall, at the age of 43, only confirmed my suspicion that it was what she had really wanted all along. And that she had a son after three daughters (the youngest of whom was 9) certainly changed the dynamics of that family.

Stories of Change Babies were legion. One of Nana’s neighbours gave birth to a son three days after her own daughter had given birth to her first child. Although I had a Horrible Uncle only 8 years my senior, I could not get my head round the idea of an uncle who was younger than his nephew - well I was only just learning to do sums at school.

And of course, in the opposite direction, some women do get desperately broody, desperate for one last go, one last baby to hold – we all know sad stories of people who have gone through the trauma of miscarriage in those circumstances.

We think we have a duty to make the world a fairer place, but we fail miserably in this fundamental process, where those who least want it conceive at the drop of a hat, while medical science still cannot reliably assuage the longing of others, however good & deserving they are.

Life is just not fair, from its very inception.

Related posts
Immaculate labour

Compensation for the losers

For the latest news on what bankers are being paid see Executive Compensation - See What Your Boss Got (Updated).

Compensation is what we might have to pay the person who slips on the clumsily cleared pavement outside our house. Should not bankers be the ones paying us the compensation for the harm they have done?

Related post

Bleaching mystery

Sainsbury (& other supermarkets) sell a low cost brand of their own thin bleach in a large white moulded plastic bottle with a handle - 2 litres for 27p. Value indeed, especially when compared with the price of national brands of scented surfactanted versions.

Sainsbury also sell an own brand version of Original Thin Bleach in a pale blue plastic bottle, no handle, only 1 litre, price 67p.

I am at a loss to explain the difference in price. The label of the cheapest version informs me that the contents include water (>30%), sodium hypochlorite & stabilisers (<5% each). The more expensive version is more cagey – revealing only <5% disinfectants.

Just one of life’s little mysteries.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Bearing up

Late autumn morning, a couple of years ago. I was standing at the bus stop down the hill as two people I recognised by sight approached. The old lady was holding the umbrella which sheltered them both from the rain, although the young man was by far the taller of the two.

After a few moments the boy said “All right now, Nan, you get yourself back inside in the warm.” The old lady, who was looking anxious, left, reluctantly.

He was wearing his good, dark suit with a dark tie. I decided he must be going to a funeral – to be frank I did not think he would need a suit even for an interview for the kind of job which he might get without (probably) the kind of GCSE’s which count.

My musings were interrupted by a sudden burst of horn blowing & shouting from a group of young people in a passing car. My companion at the bus stop shouted back his explanation: he was on his way to the Army Recruitment Centre to get the results of his fitness test. All being well he’d be out of this sh**hole & in the army before the end of November.

I see his Nan quite frequently round & about, fearing that I might see the sadness there one day. Presumptuous, it’s not my business, but when I was young we knew lots of Nans, & mothers & widows (including both my own grandmothers) who had suffered the bereavement of war. And not just through death. There was the way adults would shake their heads sadly at the thought of the young man who did come back from his service in the Commandos, but was no longer recognisable as her son by his mother. You can see it in his eyes, they used to say.

On Saturday Nan got on the bus again, looking unusually sprightly even though it’s the first time I have seen her carrying a stick. I did not realised that she was with the young man who boarded the bus behind her, dressed defiantly in the colours of a struggling local team – hat, scarf, gloves, the lot. But when he sat down I realised that it was the soldier.

He hasn’t changed all that much – doesn’t seem to have put on weight, though he looks more defined & polished. Not sunburnt, though not as pasty as before. And very very confident, walking tall & relaxed.

Others on the bus knew him, so there was a lively exchange of news. He will be getting married while he’s home. After the match he was going to pick up one of the two cars he has been offered the use of for the duration of his leave.

A result, I suppose. Until I started thinking that maybe this is pre-deployment leave.

Related post

Better late than never?

It has taken me two months, but almost as soon as I woke up this morning I found this awfully clever remark in my head.

London Transport’s pay-in-advance-then-go-as-you-please bus & tube ticket, available to people of any age, is called an Oyster card.

So all those who fret about having a free pass when they can well afford to pay, just because they are over 60, could salve their conscience by using an Oyster card whenever there is an R in the month.

Sometimes grown ups are worth it

A very sad remark from a young woman speaking about her experience of mental health problems.

The problem with moving on to adult mental health services – well before I was 18 my life was worth more – I was worth saving.”

Which illustrates, yet again, how the assertion that the rights of the child are always paramount is not as uncomplicatedly benign as we like to think.

Related post
Are you under 25?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Winter Nights

Although we are getting towards the end of winter (fingers crossed) they are forecasting more really cold weather to come - though they seem to be being cagey about whether that means more snow & ice.

So a good time to read Thomas Campion's poem about how to cheer ourselves up.

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the eyrie towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o'erflow with wine,
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey Love
While youthful Revels, Masks, and Courtly sights,
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread;
Some knotted Riddles tell;
Some Poems smoothly read.
The Summer hath his joys,
And Winter his delights;
Though Love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Women behaving well

This is not a comment on the Saga of the Behaviour of the English Captain; on that we have only rumour & nth handed quotes to go on. Anyone who has ever been a target for gossip mongers, in however small a world, knows that that world is suddenly peopled with those who know far more about our lives than we ourselves can ever know. Tittle-tattle is not to be relied upon.

This is however a comment upon the Men of England, at least those who call radio phone-in programmes or are paid to comment or to report professionally upon the game, who have been in their full pomp this week.

The rule is clear: You are not allowed to sleep with the mother of my son. Even after we have parted.

Well, on behalf of the women of England (& France) I beg to differ. We have a say in the matter, thank you very much.

And, by the by, does the same rule apply to the mother of your daughter?

Some commentators have expressed concern for the wife who has been ‘humiliated’ & has fled the country.

I have more than once got into trouble, or at least lively debate, with feminist friends who tend towards an almost automatic get rid of him – divorce him reaction to an unfaithful husband.

The first thing to say is that it is always, of course, a decision for the woman herself.

A marriage is however always about more than just the sexual relationship & it is worth making sure that you do not have more to lose by breaking up than by staying.

A wife is only humiliated to the extent that she lets herself be, or accepts others judgment of the situation. To take the humiliation as given is to go along with that old chestnut, a man does not stray if his wife is good enough to keep him happy at home.

I first became aware of the power of standing by your man, keeping your chin up, & saying nothing, in the wake of the Profumo affair, when Valerie Hobson certainly showed herself as a woman not to be pitied & gained status & reputation.

More recently of course we have had the Clintons. I seemed almost alone among my circle in not saying that Hillary ‘ought to’ divorce Bill. Once again, it was of course entirely up to her, but I argued that if she did she would lose a lot, perhaps nearly all that was truly important to her. She would be forever labelled as ‘Poor Hillary’, and would find it well-nigh impossible to gain the political career & the position she holds today, where senior ministers vie for the opportunity of having their picture taken with her.

She has not gained all that ‘just’ because she is Bill’s wifie. The power relationship in the marriage shifted considerably in her favour. She will never restrain his sexual adventures, she knows that as well as we do, but she has shown that she has the strength & dignity to fight her battles in the most trying of circumstances. A woman to be reckoned with, not pitied. And certainly not humiliated.

Neighbourly duty

Lawyers have been stepping on to the airways to reassure us that it is very unlikely that a judge would find against us should anyone have the temerity to sue us for the crime of clearing the snow from the pavement in front of our own home – providing, that is, that we did not do it in a particularly stupid fashion. So go on, be neighbourly, is the cry.

Jeremy Wright, Conservative MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, introduced a private members bill to try & clarify matters, to amend the Compensation Act 2006 to ensure that courts considering a claim of negligence or breach of statutory duty apply a presumption that defendants undertaking a desirable activity have satisfied the relevant standard of care, contrasting our situation unfavourably with the detailed German code Satzung über die Verpflichtung zum Reinigen, Schneeräumen und Streuen auf Gehwegen.

All this is very welcome, but it misses the main worry. By the time a court considers a claim of negligence against us we will have spent many months agonising, consulting (& paying) lawyers to defend us. That in itself is punishment sufficient to deter us from taking the risk.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Not home, alone

On Thursday Natasha Walters & Katherine Whitehorn discussed the vexed question of eating out alone if you are a woman.

Things are a lot better these days – going out to work & financial independence have made it easier, sometimes necessary, so it no longer looks so odd to others, even if you are doing it simply because you prefer your own company sometimes.

England has always been a particularly difficult country to find somewhere for a woman to eat on her own, especially in the evenings. In the Swinging Sixties the Wimpy Bar near Paddington station carried a prominent notice: NO UNACCOMPANIED WOMEN SERVED AFTER 10pm.

In the 1970s & early 80s I used to find a hotel coffee shop a very good bet; you could get a simple bowl of tomato soup or a full three course meal - together with wine to drink! – without standing out or attracting men who thought you must be on the pull; not that there wasn’t usually at least one man who would come over to ask – politely - if he could buy you a drink. An equally polite refusal never offended.

If you were staying in a hotel you could of course use the dining room, but one had to be feeling quite strong sometimes to go in to the bar for a drink. The barman would always ask, before serving you: Are you a guest at the hotel, madam? (Or are you a hooker, understood).

In other countries – especially France & the USA – you never seemed to be alone in the same way, there was always at least one other woman who looked perfectly at home in the neighbourhood bar, bistro or café.

Hotel coffee shops disappeared by the late 1980s; small cafes were also disappearing & the chain coffee shop had not yet arrived on every street; that is when I first began to acquire my McDonalds habit.

It is a mistake to think that McDonalds are all the same; the core menu never varies, but the rest of the offer changes with the nature of the clientele, as does the atmosphere. I once made the mistake of thinking I could nip into the Marble Arch branch for a refreshing cup of tea – I did not get half way to the counter before I realised the hopelessness of expecting a bit of peace & quiet amidst all the large, mainly middle eastern family groups.

The much smaller branch near the (then) British Library was, in the evenings at least, occupied mainly by studious looking grown ups, in ones or twos, & they had pizza on the menu.

It is only recently that I have picked up the old habit again. The branch I frequent these days caters to a good mix: local families & students, older people & sales reps. It generates quite a communal spirit, in a surprising way, encouraged by the McDonalds loyalty scheme.

I only became aware of this scheme in a different branch when a young homeless woman came in (hands black with ingrained dirt) & went round the tables, begging for cash I assumed. It was only after she had left that a woman sitting nearby explained that she had been asking for the token from my cup of tea.

The scheme is quite ingenious; you can peel off a section of the card from the outside of the hot drink carton, then stick on to it the peel-off token ; collect six of these & you get a free hot drink of your choice. And since this free drink will also come with a token, in effect you get 1 free drink for every 5 that you pay for after that first 6.

Many people seem unaware of, or not bothered about the scheme, & I confess I felt snobbish about it at first. But then why is it OK to have a loyalty card from Caffe Nero? Why look a gift horse in the mouth, Mrs Bucket?

Some people are very enthusiastic collectors of the tokens & will unashamedly ask for them from a stranger at the next table. The first person to ask me was a grandmother, out with grandfather & four grandchildren. I was sorry to disappoint her – I had already stuck it to my card. Oh don’t worry about it, said grandfather, she’s obsessed with the things.

The next occasion it was a young studenty looking man who asked me for my token as I got up to leave. He was not the least disappointed that I could not oblige: The important thing is that someone makes use of it.

Oh, it’s a principle, is it? I said, & he blushed.

`Another time I was the recipient of the generosity. A tall, slim thirty-something Chinese man, obviously an academic or professional, suddenly appeared at the side of my table, holding out his hand, palm upwards. A token was loosely attached to each of his three middle fingers.

I am ashamed to say that my first reaction – which I do hope did not show – was offence: I don’t need your charity. I recovered my manners & accepted with a smile. He returned to his nearby table (he must have seen me peel off the token from my cup), where his two children were watching with interest. Why did you do that? asked one, prompting a mini lecture on how the loyalty scheme works.

Just the other day a small boy, no more than 5 or 6 appeared at my side &, rather imperiously, demanded my token. I explained that it had gone; he rubbed his finger over the cup to check. Well, who’s tooken it then? he asked in indignation.

He went right over to the other side of the restaurant when he left, so I guess he must have been round all the other tables before he got to mine. I hope he had managed to get some reward for his efforts.

Wet, wet, wet

Although we have not had all that much rain since the thaw, & the ground is reasonably dry, the stones in the walls – whether round the fields or the sides of houses – are looking wet right through. The two felled sycamore trunks, left lying athwart the culvert, also look as if they have been soaking in a bath.

These trunks have puzzled me. After the giant sycamore fell down surgeons came to cut down some of the other trees, presumably judged also to be dangerous. All the branches were stripped off, & some of the trunks chopped up & carried away. These two were left, presumably for a purpose.

Save that they do not touch the ground on the uphill side they are almost like bridges, but surely of no use to any animal except a squirrel, & why should we want to encourage those pesky things?

The stream is still in almost full spate but today it was looking distinctly grey rather than muddy brown. I thought maybe it was grit, but the stream goes nowhere near a road till it reaches ours, so there’s another mystery.

I guess the walls are wet because they have just never had a chance to dry out after the snow, since most days have just seen an undifferentiated mass of cloud & mist, with no wind to speak of.

But, speaking of which, local radio has now started to give us an official wind report, after, but not part of, the weather forecast. Sponsored by a Green energy company. I did not know we had enough wind turbines in the area to make it worth their money, but I guess there could be quite a few small ones on hill farms.

Won’t do them much good today however. The wind speed was officially zero this morning, but with hopes of maybe 20 mph this afternoon.

Every little helps.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Mobile finance

We are used these days to hearing all kinds of details of the private lives of strangers who seem oblivious to the fact that their end of a conversation on a mobile phone is audible to many more than just the person they think they are talking to.

In the early days when the mobile brick was just a tool of the businessman on the move, most often on a train, one got used to hearing desperate attempts to avert disaster, to deal with a cash flow problem of a type with which the holder seemed all too familiar – the cheque is in the post, the bank says the money was transferred yesterday, cant you despatch the goods now, the cash is on its way …

Then we had what seems to have become slightly less common – an excruciatingly detailed account of how blisteringly plastered a young woman got at the weekend; either they are learning discretion or the behaviour is increasingly confined to high days & holidays – I spent way too much money on New Years Eve.

I have been noticing a new one recently. People who obviously do not have a big financial cushion negotiating short term gifts or loans, getting friends, family, partners to tide them over the weekend.

And it seems to be much more likely to be a woman helping out a man.

Well they do say that this recession has cut more male than female jobs.

But what about all the benefits that are available these days to help hard working families?

At least two people who rang Jeremy Vine about unclaimed benefits this week said they had to ask their accountants to fill in the complicated forms. So much easier just to phone a friend.