Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Other People's Children

I HAVE an embroidery which proclaims:  "Children are a gift from the Lord."  Not so, I fear.  Children can be the very devil if you are not careful.

I am not talking about the offspring of my nearest and dearest, I hasten to add.  No, I am talking about Other People's Children.  Unknown Children.  The kind who scream and run riot in supermarkets, drop sticky sweets on the floor, and cause chaos in cafes.  The kind whose fond parents seem to think their progeny can do no wrong, and that if anything is amiss it must be your fault.

On a recent trip to the supermarket a curly-haired little moppet crawled beneath my laden trolley and refused to budge.  She sat there, quite happily, while her doting mama looked on smiling.

I must admit, I was unsure how to tackle the problem.  Is there an etiquette for a situation like this?  Should I have waited for the tot to move, while my frozen food slowly thawed?  Should I have slowly pushed the trolley, hoping she would move? Perhaps I should have turned it into a game in a bid to shift her, or told her firmly to get up and out of the way.

Instead I appealed (politely, of course) to the mother, who you might reasonably assume was responsible for her child.

But did she take any action?  No, she did not.  She told me, in no uncertain tems, that her little darling was enjoying herself and wasn't doing any harm.  It seemed to have escaped her notice that I was unable to  move my trolley full of shopping without inflicting injury on her child.

And as if this wasn't bad enough, shoppers were forcd to take evasive action to avoid being hit by youngsters hell-bent on treating the store like  playground, whizzing up and down the aisles while balanced on trolleys, and trying to perform spins and wheelies.

On top of that one unhappy baby shrieked, wailed and wept non-stop for more than an hour.
And, to cap it all, when I got to the check-out, the child ahead of me in the queue helped himself to a packet of biscuits from my trolley - and the lad behind me showered me with the contents of his can of fizzy pop...

And at no point did any parents restrain or chastise their children, or apologise to staff and customers.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

I Want A Drink - Not A Dessert!

ONCE upon a time, when I was young, cafes provided tea with or without sugar and that was it. The same went for coffee. Black coffee was as exotic as it got.

Your drink arrived in a standard cup or, very occasionally, a glass mug, but there was no choice. You knew what you were getting and accepted what was served up.

These days all that has changed – and how!
Buying a tea or coffee calls for the kind of decision-making usually reserved for multiple choice answers in exams and, in my case, the success rate (or lack of it) is probably pretty much the same.

Advancing years, alas, have accentuated my tendency to dither when asked a question. This, coupled with the alien terminology of coffee house culture, renders me incapable of coherent thought, let alone sensible speech.

First hurdle is size. Would I like small, medium, or large? I don’t know. How big are they? To confuse me further there is regular, which appears to replace small in some outlets, while taking the place of medium in others.

If I fancy a cuppa there is a bewildering variety. Should I pick English breakfast, Earl Grey, or green? Or shall I try herbal or fruit tea?

Coffee is worse. Even the hot potato man in the town centre offers three different types, which is bad news when you don’t know your Cappuccino from your latte. Then there is Americano, espresso, mocha, ristretto or macchiata. And what about skinny, a word that should apply to people, not drinks?

I could opt for a ‘speciality’ and have coffee flavoured with syrup - ginger, cinnamon, hazelnut, caramel or vanilla, topped with marshmallows, chocolate or crunchy crumbs, all perched on inches of froth and cream.

I wouldn’t advocate a return to the tasteless brews of the past – but I would like to order a plain, simple drink without feeling like a complete idiot.

(A version of this article originally appeared in the Tamworth Herald in 2009)

After all, what’s wrong with coffee that tastes like coffee and doesn’t look like the kind of sickly dessert dished up at a children’s party?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Spelling it Out

FOLLOWING my recent whinge about apostrophes, I have once again armed myself with a red marker pen in my battle against further assaults on the English language. But this week my target is spelling – prompted largely by the fact that I have just embarked on yet another diet.

What, you may well wonder, do slimming and spelling have in common, apart from the fact that that both begin with the letter S? 

Well, a trip around the supermarket hunting for non-fattening sustenance will reveal the answer. My own expedition up and down the aisles of one such temple of consumerism left me incandescent with rage. 

Sadly, I may abandon the diet, because it is my firm belief that any comestible which contains the word lite on its packaging should never, ever be bought, let alone eaten.

Let me explain, loudly and clearly: LITE DOES NOT MEAN LOW FAT, LOW CARBOHYDRATE, LOW CALORIE OR LOW ANYTHING ELSE. It is not a proper English word, but was coined by Americans – and we all know they can’t spell. 

Lo (as in lo cost or lo calorie) is equally irritating, and victuals described as such should not be purchased or consumed. According to my dictionary (an ancient and well thumbed Chambers), lo means behold, or look, which is probably the best thing to do with processed provisions of this nature. 

However, food producers are not the only culprits when it comes to spelling. 

The ubiquitous Z has spread like measles and not only pops up in the middle of words (recognize instead of recognise for example), but also puts in an appearance at the end. Curlz, ringz, dayz and petz seem to have become commonplace on shop fronts and billboards.

The letter X is similarly used, and while is good to be appreciated do you really want to support a business which displays a sign proclaiming ‘thanx for your custom’

Then there is the dreaded U which has ousted the word you. Every high street seems to boast a myriad variations of Goods-U-Like, while a whole host of services (from shoe repairs to MOTs) can be undertaken While-U-Wait

Double EE seems to be a universal substitute for Y, while KW has supplanted QU. Thus, should you really wish to do so, you can gulp down a kwik cuppa at the cozee café, or find eezy ways to kleen your car and home.

Phones and photos have been banished by fones and fotos , while rite, brite and nite have deposed right, bright and night. 

Some of these spellings are so peculiar I sometimes wonder if it is possible to have a word where not a single letter is correct. 

Indeed, some businesses seem to find the whole process so mystifying they have given up and now use numbers when they can, stacking their shelves with 2-4-1 offers. 

And if that’s not bad enough, I haven’t even begun to try and translate text messages, decipher predictive text, or understand the rationale behind the alternative words suggested by computers…

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Enquire Within - Upon Everything!

IT is still raining, but not stair-rods - a fine lace or net perhaps, trailing down in the wind which is making the trees dance.

So I am amusing myself perusing a copy of  'Inquire Within Upon Everything', which I bought in a charity shop for just £2, and consider it to be money well spent.

The cover is a faded red, rather than the pink it looks here, and it is the 100th edition, published in 1903, inscribed on the flyleaf: Arthur Whittall February 23rd 1904.

I am curious to know who he was and what happened to him.  Did he live here in Ledbury?  Did he inscribe his name in the front, or did his mother present to him when he went off to university, so he would know how to look after himself? Or was it given when he got married and set up his own home, enabling him and his wife to find the solution to every problem?

I don't suppose I will ever know, but it is obviously a well-usedcopy, which now affords me much pleasure.

I am particularly fond of the section for cleaning and laundry.
Should you wish to polish tortoiseshell, clean ostrich feathers or 'render linen incombustible' then this book is just what you need.  However, I am not at all sure that I would find this 'recipe' for washing household linen as 'invaluable' as the editor claims!  It may 'save' your linen, but certainly not your labour.

And the 'Golden Hints for Housewives and Home Comforts are a real joy. Who now would hold a warming pan or shovel full of coals over varnished furniture to take out white spots?

But there are some who might agree that 'allowing children to talk incessantly is a mistake'!

Medicinal and cosmetic advice is even more fun: raw onions rubbed on the head cure baldness (though this remedy may well drive your friends away), while bleeding is recommended for many ailments, sometimes by cupping, and in other circumstances with leeches.  There are even detailed instructions for applying and removing the creatures!

The one thing which shines out like a beacon is how much women's lives have improved over the years.  Life in 1903, particularly for household servants, must have been very hard indeed with all that washing, ironing, dusting and polishing, fires to be cleaned and lit, and so on.

All these without vacuum cleaners, washing machines, tumble dryers, electronic irons, modern cookers, spray furniture polish, packets of washing powder...

Nostalgia is all very well, but there is a lot to be said for progress when it comes to housework!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Come into the Garden

AM staying with my mother for a few days, and as May Day dawned bright and early, showing her garden to best advantage, I ventured outside (in nightie and bare feet) while the dew was still on the grass and flowers and took some photographs.

The borders are a carpet of blooms, with this wonderful dark pink prunus dominating everything.  There are miniature narcissi, blue lobelia, primroses, cowslips, camellia, azalea, as well as red tulips, which are just 'going over'.

In addition she has masses of shrubs, all with different coloured leaves, and herbs - including the biggest rosemary bush I have ever seen.

It looked, and smelled absolutely glorious, and already there are roses, clematis, geraniums and fuchsias in bud, and trays full of busy lizzies and begonias waiting to be planted out.

Mum loves her garden and every year she grows masses of seeds for the summer.

Already it is buzzing with bees, though the butterflies have not appeared yet.  For the last few summers a mole has tunnelled his way around the garden, but he too is absent at the moment as is the frog took up residence in an old, cracked mug that once held cuttings. Mum hoped he would keep the slugs and snails at bay, but his presence seemed to make no difference to their numbers.

But there are always birds, hopping on the lawn hunting for insects or worms, splashing in the bird bath and perched on fat balls and peanuts.

There are starlings, sparrows, sparrows, greenfinches, thrushes, blackbirds, robins, bluetits, magpies, a woodpecker who is a very occasional visitor - and lots of pigeons, which seem to scare off the other wildlife.

Sadly, after such a fine beginning, the blue sky turned leaden grey, and by the evening it was raining stair-rods.

But I have my pictures to remind me of a beautiful May Day morning.