Season’s Greetings, Everyone!

This little fellow really was in our garden, minus the hat, which of course I added… He or she was there again yesterday.

You might remember that two years ago I posted my favourite seasonal songs – one a day throughout December. Well, they’re all still available on a Spotify playlist – look for Jay Mountney and my Christmas playlist or just click on the link.

I should perhaps warn some of you that there are very few carols. If, like me, you listen to Classic FM (because the car and kitchen radios are tuned to that and I’m lazy) we hear lots of carols anyway. Most of my favourite stuff concerns things like the winter solstice or maybe humour like wanting a hippopotamus. Another warning is that it takes over three hours to play the whole list. But anyway, if you forgot to save any of your own favourites last time, you can find them again!

I wish you all a really happy holiday season, whatever you celebrate. Our big celebration is actually Meanwhile, relax and enjoy yourselves!

Prickly situations

At least my little cactus is happy!

In other news…

Who knew it could get so complicated? I accidentally created two Spotify accounts. Don’t even ask (mostly because I have no idea). Anyway, the one that shares the email I use for Amazon is not the one that has the carefully curated playlists. Of course it isn’t. Apparently I can’t merge them (even though one has no playlists whatsoever) because I don’t have Premium on either… And I can’t chsnge the email on either profile because the site recognises me enough to stop me… ‘That email is already taken,’ it tells me, as if I didn’t know. However, I can sign into Spotify on the Smart TV via the Amazon Firestick and then sign into Spotify using the Amazon email (Amazon won’t let me use the other with a similar nannyish response) but use the Spotify password, not the Amazon one. At that point I should be able to ‘follow’ myself (!) and see (and hopefully play) all my playlists. Both emails feed into the same inbox so goodness knows why all the secrecy, privacy, etc. is considered necessary. I also had to change the password for the Spotify account that shares the Amazon email because Chrome creates and saves my passwords so I had no clue what it was and of course it wouldn’t helpfully fill it in for me on the television. I’m sure there must be easier ways to organise life, the universe and everything. I have to say the Spotify help desk person was actually helpful and gave rapid replies to my rather garbled requests.

At least they didn’t want two factor authentication. Since this usually needs the ability to receive a texted code in a timely manner I am seriously discriminated against. As are others who live in mobile black spots. There was talk of sending codes to the landline but ours has Call Guardian to prevent constant hoax/scam/ad calls and Call Guardian rejects all automated calls. Guess how they send text codes…

I saved up things of this kind that needed addressing till I went to the Lake District in September. Most were fine except registering online for my GP’s surgery which became an insoluble mystery and remains so. If I am ill I will have to get up and try phoning on the landline before 8.a.m. (Mobile black spot means I can’t phone from bed.) It will be luck of the draw whether I get an appointment or advice, even by landline.

Since my success with at least two sites in September, Amazon have asked for an update on my tax exemption, with, of course, two factor authentication. I’ve been trying to make either head or tail of information about authentication apps for my laptop and will have to try one though there are dire warnings that they can be ‘glitchy’. Otherwise, I suppose I can visit my daughter, complete with laptop and mobile and do it all there. Also two pairs of glasses, one for computer and the other for whatever text they send me… And a lot of patience.

Google keep telling me to strengthen my passwords and that weak passwords are what makes this two factor stuff essential. Since Google choose and store my passwords and I haven’t a clue what they are, this seems to be venturing into uncharted realms of magic and imagination. And since quite a few sites don’t recognise the Google saved passwords life gets even more complicated.

I have just given my printer to my husband, whose own printer died. Mine refused to print more than about ten pages although the ink cartridge was supposed to be good for 400. It also agreed to copy or scan provided it could email me the copy or scan. But it refused to accept any of my email addresses. So it was a waste of space and husband is welcome to it. I have warned him.

Our Firestick keeps being what I suppose they might call ‘glitchy’. This is our second stick because the first simply died (and no, it wasn’t the battery). So we try for various TV shows and get strange messages or weird streaming problems.

It makes me half wish I was back in the days when I had just a landline phone, a TV and maybe a video recorder. Oh, and a photocopier at work. In case you were wondering, my smartphone is wonderful – invaluable when out of our road, and fine at home when connected to wi-fi. So I communicate with people mostly via email, whatsapp, Google chat, Messenger, etc. I am not at all isolated. Until it comes to identifying myself!!

Viewing in October 2022

Hoping against hope that crumbs will fall from a birthday feast.

Karen Pirie**** (ITV Hub or Amazon Prime) I knew I would probably like this thriller set in Scotland with a female lead detective. It’s based on a series by Val McDermid whose writing I love, and whose screen adaptations are usually good. I’m not sure whether she’s involved in them.

Red Light**** (All4 – Walter Presents) Belgian crime drama with three female leads. A detective, an opera singer and a prostitute all have dysfunctional families and their lives are increasingly intertwined. Well made, well acted, and an intriguing plot. Set in Antwerp.

Politics live***** (Various channels.) The rest of the month was basically the ongoing soap opera of the Tory party trying to sell itself in various types of packaging to a disbelieving public. Naturally, it was still bought by its tiny core membership. Things began to settle with the advent of Rishi, but only because he’s such a relief after Boris and Liz. I watch a lot of political programmes. I’m really sad that BBC have axed Dateline London, but ITV still offer Peston and of course there’s always the news… My favourite is Channel 4 at 7.00pm. I always tune in to PMQs and quite often I have BBC Parliament on as background TV, and then get hooked by interesting debates. Actually, I’m more frequently hooked by the proceedings of various select committees.

Halloween 2022

‘Spooky’ tree in the park at Virginia Water.

Grandchild is fourteen and tall. Not really the age or size for trick or treating. However, they are autistic and they ‘missed out’ during the pandemic, so were desperate to enjoy this year. Daughter decided that with her participation they could go ahead but in our area, which is comparatively ‘safe’ rather than their own which tends to have more than its fair share of older feral youth. I bring you the results. The costumes were great (and some people thought daughter as dragon was another teen), the dog got a walk (despite the rain) and much candy was obtained. Daughter bought pumpkins at Aldi and chose interesting ones with ‘bumps’ but then found they’d only be able to carve them with a chainsaw so went for black paint instead.

We all then had an optimistic November supper with ‘bangers’, baked potatoes, and parkin. Unfortunately, the rain got heavier and we didn’t have fireworks in the garden as planned. Nobody came to our house – we think the local kids have been told it’s haunted…

I failed to write a Halloween story this year though I did put some effort into the Monsterfest ficlets so don’t feel too guilty. I’m enjoying a suitably creepy book and will review it later.

Something I hate – warning, rant approaching.

A pet hate

I have eyesight problems. Apart from needing reading glasses this doesn’t usually cause me any angst or bother. However, I find it almost impossible to read text that is not in strong contrast to its background. Over the last few months I have lost patience with grey on white, dark brown on very deep cream, and, worst of all, white on yellow or pale blue. Yesterday I gave up with some white on light green. At best, it’s a strain, and at worst, it makes the thing unreadable. The header pic shows an example, currently in my fridge.

Sometimes I can just play with the text, bolding it, enlarging it, or altering the colour. That works most of the time online. Sadly, it isn’t an option in the kitchen, where I found myself trying to read cooking times in the aforementioned white on yellow on a packet. Even a strong magnifying glass didn’t help.

Why do manufacturers and website designers do it? Sometimes, I suppose, it might look pretty, though I’d have thought the benefits of the consumer or potential consumer being able to read the text would outweigh merely decorative issues.

I can only suppose that ‘they’ are all people with perfect vision, and that their families and significant others (and colleagues) share their good fortune. Or perhaps they use spectacles but have never found contrast to be a problem.

A friend’s blog turned up in grey on green. I asked her about it and she said it was the site’s choice and she hadn’t been able to change it… Fortunately, she gives virtually the same information on FB and in her newsletter.

I know I’m not alone. I know it isn’t by any means just age that brings with it difficulties dealing with coloured text. We (the sufferers) are not among the blind or almost blind, for whom different leaflets, programs, etc. have to be designed. We simply need glasses and clear reading material. Is it really too much to ask for?

January – and beyond

Two and half thousand words of blog post. Plus just under seven thousand words of WIP. That’s nearly ten thousand in the last week. An average of two thousand a day with weekends off for good behaviour. I’ve also been adding to my reviews of everything I’ve watched and read so that next month’s review posts will happen. I think I’ve been too ambitious. I set off, inspired by my daily music posts in December, with the intention of posting every other day, and didn’t really mean to get involved with very long pieces every time. But somehow, I invariably ramble and also need to look things up (like the names of authors or artists I like) and it all takes for ever. I suspect I could write more of my WIP if I was a little more laid back about the blog posts. So in February I intend to reduce the endeavour to a post every three days. Over the course of an average month that should mean four or five review posts, a meme, a couple of things that are bugging me, news about my writing (or a poem) and maybe a cookery post. That’s the idea, anyway.

When I post about cookery, be warned. I love cooking (though not planning a week’s menu, or shopping) but I’m a rather haphazard cook. My husband follows recipes religiously, and has been known to visit at least three supermarkets to get the right kind of kale. I tend to subsitute whatever I happen to have at hand. I don’t measure for a lot of things (though I do for baking) and I look for alternatives, short cuts, etc. As a result, after years of practice, I find most cooking easy, and will share my findings with you. If you want accurate quantities etc. please look elsewhere. If you want to feel confident about basic cooking – and some ‘party’ dishes, follow me! I also enjoy recipe books and will share new discoveries with you. Oh, and I cook in UK using scales that show grammes, a fan oven that uses centigrade temperatures, and most of my recipes are for two, with leftovers to freeze. Some of my recipes are vegetarian – we don’t eat meat every day – and where meat is in the dish you can substitute extra veg. I will give warnings etc. We are not, however, vegan, and nor are our extended family (though some are vegetarian). So expect butter, cheese, milk, etc. I have no idea how or whether the recipes would work with vegan substitutes.

The header photo is from my site header/banner/whatever. I created it using, as a base, a photograph of a violet in our garden. The violets could be out again soon!

Politics: second post of three in an ‘interests’ meme

We don’t often share our personal views on politics. Well, not in UK, anyway. There are all kinds of taboos. It isn’t just that there’s so much emphasis on the secret ballot. There are strong but unspoken social rules about not offending people by trying to discuss political issues. Never, we were taught (when I was growing up) talk about religion or politics. Never. It seemed almost as strong as the taboos surrounding sex – and made about as much sense. Even politicians seem to struggle to express beliefs rather than talk about e.g. numbers of immigrants or unemployed. Sometimes, on social media, I think those walls are beginning to crumble, but still, it’s hard to know where your friends are coming from. I don’t mind putting my cards on the table. They’re quite varied cards.

Over the course of my life I have voted for numerous different parties. When I first went to uni, a school-friend’s older brother dragged me into the Young Conservatives but I retreated fairly sharply. When I was first married we supported our local Liberal Party but were gradually disillusioned by the behaviour of various national politicians (including one who was on the board of the company I worked for). I joined the Labour Party for a short time but didn’t feel the local party was my spiritual home even though I share a lot of their socialist ideas. Whilst teaching, I was a union rep for NASUWT and was on the local committee. I was also a delegate at various TUC meetings and conferences – and at NASUWT annual conferences. Once I retired I joined the Pirate Party and definitely agree with their manifesto whilst rolling my eyes at their inability to organise themselves. I have never cancelled my membership but I have only once been to a conference and of course they don’t provide candidates to vote for in most places.

I have voted for all the main parties in both local and national elections, and once for the Greens in local elections. Sometimes I vote tactically. I suppose you could call me a floating voter but that implies shifting philosophies and being easy to sway. I don’t believe either applies to me. I’m quite cynical about politicians but eternally hopeful that socialist policies might prevail. I remember when I was working and someone was asking who would or wouldn’t man the barricades (I think we were discussing Les Miserables at the time) another colleague pointed at me and said I would have built them. I ought to point out, for the benefit of any American readers, that all our main political parties (with the exception of UKIP etc. and other right wing organisations) are well to the left of anything that happens in US. Our politics have more in common with the Australian variety except that they call Conservatives ‘Liberals’ and so on.

My career was largely in the field of anti-racist education, with a short side step into language teaching for a company (the one with the Liberal director). Again, I attended and organised conferences, went on marches, and read and read and read. I got interested in the politics of some of my students from countries including Libya, Iraq and Iran.

I follow politics avidly. I read New Statesman every week. I subscribe to Searchlight and read their magazine – I think it’s currently quarterly but it keeps changing its mind. I enjoy Private Eye but don’t subscribe so haven’t seen it during lockdown. I watch programmes like Dateline London, Peston, Newsnight, Hardtalk, etc. Our default TV channels are BBC Parliament and various news channels including BBC News and Al Jazeera. I read the Guardian daily, plus a Spectator email. I buy and read books about politics and economics. I get email news from organisations like Hope Not Hate, and Electronic Frontier Foundation. Sometimes I donate. Sometimes I sign petitions. Sometimes, as with EFF, Avaaz, the Refugee Council, and Amnesty, I subscribe.

I like to follow international politics, not just those of my own country. I’m no expert but I think I’m reasonably well informed. I’m particularly interested in Australian and US politics simply because I have friends in both countries and since their main language in both cases is English, the reports are easy to follow and I can then have discussions with my friends. However, I also enjoy information about e.g. Germany, Portugal, and Spain, garnered through media reports but also from friends who live in those countries. I have also read a lot of history dealing with western European countries in particular. I used to devour books about the Third Reich and more recently I dived deep into accounts of Franco’s Spain.

I enjoy fiction that centres round the history and politics of a country. I did a postgrad thesis on the uses of literature – written in English but from other countries – in the English classroom and read a lot of books dealing with India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as well as US. I was fascinated – and then sad that the National Curriculum would not allow me to share my fascination. Again, I should tell American readers that American literature is currently frowned on or ignored in our high schools. I like films like Pride, Made in Dagenham and I, Daniel Blake.

I have been on numerous political marches, sometimes as a union delegate and with a group carrying a banner, and sometimes just for myself (usually with a friend or my husband). These have varied – memorable examples are the annual Tolpuddle Martyr’s March, the Live 8 Edinburgh event, and local anti-fascist demonstrations against e.g. the National Front.

I have always voted. I believe in democracy, and I believe in socialism. But I’m not a supporter of any particular party at the moment and apart from my somewhat distanced membership of the Pirate Party I can’t imagine joining one. I agree with the Martin Luther King quotation in my header, but would leave religion out of the equation. (The other taboo, religion, is for another day…)

So I’m very left wing without being a member of a left wing organisation. Nowadays I would be a physical liability on a march or demonstration of any kind, but I can still sign petitions, donate to causes I think worthy, and, as ever, read, read, read.

Lockdown and vaccination

(The cartoon is from yesterday’s online Spectator.)

I have an appointment for vaccination on Monday.

So far as I know this is simply because of my age. I fall into the ‘next cohort’.

I have been mostly isolating since last March. I shop online as far as possible. I have not been to a shop, or used cash, since then. Occasionally, my husband and my daughter have brought shopping to me and I disinfect everything. I cannot take advantage of the permission to go out for exercise. I walk, badly and slowly, with a stick, and need frequent rests on e.g. a park bench. I understand that this is currently illegal. The last time I left our house and garden was for a flu jab, in autumn.

I am not grumbling, or at least, only at the virus. I am no different from lots and lots of people and I know I’m better off than a lot. I have a comfortable house, a supportive husband who is good company, no money worries, and no health problems other than my bad back and some hay fever. All our extended family are currently well, even our son-in-law’s father who was hospitalised with Covid. However, I’m still, like many others, in a kind of prison and can only begin to imagine how dreadful it must be for people who live alone or in less than comfortable surroundings.

I am pro-vaccination. I believe in the concept and science of vaccination. I believe in the way vaccination protects the entire community including people who for health reasons can’t be vaccinated. I have some confidence in the new Covid vaccines. The researchers have worked very hard and the trials have been properly carried out. However, the results from Israel, which is ahead of most countries in rolling out the programme suggest that protection will be limited until the second dose has been not only administered but had time to develop full efficacy and it is still not clear whether the vaccine prevents transmission as well as protecting against severe symptoms.

I have no idea which vaccine I will be given or even if the appointment will go ahead. I was asked to make the appointment for the second dose at the same time I made the first and I did, but I have no idea whether that will go ahead either – it’s for 12 weeks’ time. There are rumours, half bits of information, lots of encouragement, and virtually no hard facts. Some areas and centres run out of vaccine or run out of staff. But the Manchester Etihad Stadium has not reported any problems so far. (I just hope I don’t have to queue or that if I do there is seating.)

So I ought to be excited about my appointment. I’m sure friends and medical staff will encourage me to express delight and optimism.

I will turn up for my ‘jab’, but forgive me if I am less than enthusiastic. People are talking as if we have actually reached the light at the end of the tunnel and guess what? We haven’t.

This is not a get-out-of-gaol-free card. It takes about three weeks for any protection to kick in, and then there’s the 12 week wait for the second dose and a further 3 week wait. So we’re looking at the beginning of May… I can’t imagine much lifting of restrictions before then in any of UK because it’s going to be at least then before most older people are protected. Even then, it’s only partial protection.

Meanwhile, we are all still in lockdown. I can’t see my family, even my daughter and grandson (last seen in August) or my friends. I can’t go out. I’ve mentioned the walking problem and of course I can’t drive anywhere for a change of scenery. I can’t stand and queue for a shop though I hate shopping anyway so that isn’t a real concern. Other than medical appointments such as the one for vaccination there is no legal way I can leave the house even once vaccinated. Dentists, opticians, hairdressers, etc. are still closed and will remain so. Besides, those are not exactly things to look forward to. We have been told not to plan summer holidays or days out, even in UK. The weather is cold, dark, and depressing. I live in a big house but I’m feeling slightly claustrophobic.

We are currently still in January – and I’m one of the lucky ones.

Also, it’s snowing, which is very pretty and very cold. We were invited (it’s random) to be on the ONS covid survey so we get tested regularly – they aren’t allowed to come in and they’re due today at 12.30 and that means having the door open for longer than I would like.

Can you cook?

A friend on Facebook asked if people could cook and gave a quiz. It’s a little US-centric so some of my answers show my Brit perspective. I love cooking – I hate having to plan a meal every day, but the actual preparation is fine. Anyway, on to the questions:


1. Made biscuits from scratch? Yes Both Brit biscuits (UScookies) and US biscuits (Brit scones)

2. Fried fresh okra? No. Not too much fresh okra here. I’ve had it but I think it was steamed.

3.Made sourdough bread? No – don’t like it much. I’d rather have multi-grain types.

4. Fried chicken? Yes although I prefer to roast it.

5. Made spaghetti sauce from scratch? Yes, Every time I make sauce it’s from scratch

6. Made any kind of yeast bread? Yes. Nowadays I have a bread machine and experiment with stuff (I can’t cope with too much kneading) but I’ve recently made Irish soda bread, banana bread, and pizza base from scratch.

7. Baked a cake from scratch? Yes.

8. Made icing from scratch? Yes – butter icing, frosting, royal icing…

9. Cooked a pot roast with all the veggies? Yes. I have a slow cooker, a tagine, a domed enamel roaster, etc. etc.

10. Made chili from scratch? Yes, but I go easy on the chili. Too much and I can’t taste anything else.

11. Made a meatloaf? Yes though rarely because it isn’t our favourite.

12. Made scalloped potatoes? Yes

13. Made mac/cheese from scratch? Yes. I don’t like the tinned or shop made kind.

14. Made a jello salad? I assume this is an aspic salad. Don’t like it much but have made jellied beetroot which is nice.

15. Made peanut brittle? Don’t like it so no.

16. Made fudge? Yes but it was a failure.

17. Made cookies from scratch? Yes see #1

18. Cooked a pot of beans from dried beans? Yes

19. Cooked a pot of greens? Yes

20. Made cornbread? Not sure what cornbread is.

21. Make a pie dough from scratch? Yes. Not always because I’m lazy.

22. Cooked a whole turkey? Yes but not often because I prefer chicken or duck.

23. Snapped green beans and cooked them? Yes. We grow our own.

24. Made mashed potatoes from scratch? Yes

25. What’s the most people you have prepared a whole meal for? 12 but I had help. Also, party buffet for far more.

26. Poached an egg? Yes

27. Made pancakes from scratch? Yes, always, but Brit pancakes, not US ones. I think theirs are what we call drop scones and if so I have made those too.

28. Roasted vegetables in the oven instead of boiling them? Yes, frequently and I never boil them, I steam them.

29. Made fresh pasta? No – don’t see the point. I can’t tell the difference in taste.

30. Made croissants from scratch? No, not keen on croissants and they’re cheap.

31. Made tuna salad? Yes – had it last night, in fact

32. Fried fish? Yes – I usually make my own breadcrumbs and fry with those and egg, but sometimes I bake fish in the oven (in foil) with herbs and/or e.g. chili dipping sauce.

33. Made baked beans? No though I know you can. But there are more interesting things to do with beans.

34. Made ice cream from scratch? Yes. Most recently, one with yoghurt and juice from our red currants. I have the kind of ice cream maker you have to freeze in advance but as a child I recall stirring the mixture in a cold double pan, with salt.

35. Made jam or jelly? Yes. I like using the microwave and making small quantities.

36. Zested an orange or lemon? Yes. I seem to have at least three zesters in the small equipment drawer.

37. Made grits from scratch? What are grits?

38. Made an omelet? Yes, regularly, but we spell it omelette

39. Lived in a house without a dishwasher? Yes, growing up, and when I was first married.

40. Eaten a bowl of cereal for supper? No – prefer it for breakfast!

The photograph shows our Christmas dinner 25th December 2020.

Roast chicken

Pigs in blankets (bought ready to cook)

Roast potatoes

Roast parsnips (bought ready to cook)

Sprouts (steamed)

Bread sauce

Cranberry sauce with port

Sage and onion stuffing (added extra onion to packet mix)

Red cabbage salad

Gravy (bought ready to heat)

The things bought ready to cook were all things I can cook, and have done in the past. The choice of ready items was just dictated by time, oven and stove top space, and pans. I should probably add that our dishwasher chose Christmas to die so the pan situation was crucial. The problem with a dinner that includes a lot of ‘trimmings’ or side dishes is getting everything ready, hot and fresh, to serve at the same times. I managed it, but only by judicious choice of ready-made ingredients.

The Four Places Meme

Once upon a time, DJ Jamison posted this meme on FB and I finally got round to playing! Only about a year late. I can’t find my UK photographs. I’ve hidden them so safely in the cloud that they’re inaccessible. So I’ve used a montage of Manchester (where I currently live) from the internet.

Four places I’ve Lived
1. Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)
2. Ilford, Greater London (UK)
3. Greater Manchester (UK)

4. Oliveira do Hospital (Portugal) – and no, I have no idea why Word and WordPress insist on a line space.

Four places I’ve worked:
1. Birmingham (North Birmingham Poly)
2. Durham College of FE
3. Tameside Multicultural Support Service (Greater Manchester) 
4. Redbridge Language Centre (Ilford)

Four things I love to watch on TV:
1. Spiral (French cops and lawyers drama)/Line of Duty
2. Scandinavian detective dramas 
3. BBC Parliament 
4. Grand Designs

Four places I’d LOVE to visit (but haven’t yet):
1.China (especially those spiked mountains)
2. Greece
3. Southern Poland (Krakow and area)
4. Japan

Four things I love to eat:
1. Chocolate (especially with salted caramel added)
2. Brie (and yes, I eat the white mould)
3. Avocados
4. Pasta

Four things I like to drink:
1. Coffee (espresso)
2. Ginger beer (with or without alcohol added)
3. Fruit tea (no strawberry, please, because I’m allergic)
4. White Port (chilled)