Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Make Time to Stand and Stare

WHY, oh why, does everything today have to be so fast? We have fast food, fast travel, fast weight loss, instant communication, instant credit, instant gardening… the list is endless.

Take food for example. What’s wrong with slow cooking? Why eat a tasteless meal heated in the microwave in just a few minutes when you could savour tasty, tender succulent stews, casseroles and soups which have simmered for hours, giving the flavours time to develop.

And what about travel? Everyone always seems determined to reach their destination in record time, whether it’s by road, rail, air or water. But why not take a more leisurely and enjoyable journey – and if you must be somewhere at a specific time then set out earlier, instead of using roads as a race track.

When I was a child (Grumpy Old Women are allowed to say that) gardens were nurtured for years. Seeds were planted, cuttings taken, compost dug in, and gradually, over time, the garden grew and flourished. But now a quick trip to the garden centre (and a lot of money) will enable you to create your new-look plot in a couple of days.

Then there is communication. Not so very long ago we all managed to survive quite adequately without being instantly accessible to all and sundry every minute of the day. We wrote letters and spoke on the phone (or landline as it has now become known). Airmail was about as fast as things got.

But computers and mobile phones have changed all that and people are no longer prepared to wait. They expect us to be there when they want us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, while the hi-tech equipment that makes this possible gets faster all the time.

The urge to be faster than everyone else means no-one has time to consider others, or to appreciate the world around them. Rush, rush, rush is the order of the day.

If you are walking, people push and shove to get ahead, shut doors in your face as they walk through, and bash you with bags, buggies and brollies. It seems the basic rules of courtesy have been forgotten.

On the roads the story is the same and it’s each driver for himself as they press ahead. The only thing that matters is to keep moving, whether it is their right of way or not.

Now I am not a fan of poet W H Davies, but he does strike a chord when he says:

“What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”

Travel in the slow lane and you will still reach your destination.   So ease up, look around and enjoy the journey.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Happy Christmas!

IT is April, the hottest day of the year so far - and I have been decorating a small, battered tinsel tree with beads and ribbons, and wrapping empty boxes in metallic red and silver paper.  I even donned festive headgear, found some unused crackers at the back of a cupboard, and unearthed one of the stockings I made The Daughters when they were toddlers.

Normally I am the first to complain that Christmas gets earlier every year, so what, you may well ask, is the reason for this unseasonal activity?

The answer is quite simple really.  I am a volunteer with New Way Savings and Credit Union and we were promoting our Christmas Savings Club at a village Fun Day.  Naturally, we wanted something eye-catching to attract people's attention - and a Christmas tree seemed the obvious solution.

It certainly made people notice us, and we did get a few new members for the Christmas Savings Club.  Many people stopped to chat and there was a lot of interest, especially from pupils at the village school, where we run a school bank.

This was my first experience helping the credit union at an outdoor event as my role usually involves me taking notes at meetings, producing minutes and reports, sending letters and so forth.  However, today's activities were the first in a summer-long campaign aimed at increasing membership and upping our profile in the community, so we could all be very busy in the months ahead.

For those who don't know, a credit union is a kind of financial co-operative.  It is a 'people's bank', owned by the members, who receive an annual dividend on their savings, and also have access to small, easily accessible loans.

Unlike major banks, directors (who must be members), receive no payments or fees, apart from the standard dividend on savings.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

I Am NOT Buying 'Tomatoe's'!

RIGHT. Let’s get started. This week I intend to launch a campaign to preserve the correct use of apostrophes. It may be very petty and pedantic – after all, there are far worse things to worry about (Icelandic ash clouds, the economy and the car’s imminent MOT, to name but a few).

However, misplaced apostrophes really, really, really annoy me. So I have decided to take a stand against this gross distortion of the English language, and to spearhead a protest.

Henceforth I will not support shops, offices or other organisations where staff have failed to grasp the basic rudiments of the English language and cannot cope with simple punctuation.

And I will certainly not be buying potato’s or tomato’s (or, even worse, tomatoe’s, as some retailers insist on calling them).

Nor will I be purchasing beverages from the establishment which advertises a selection of tea’s, even if they are fairly traded – in fact, it was the sight of this particular clanger that prompted this week’s Whinge.

What prune produced a lovely poster, then spoiled it because they didn’t know the difference between a plural and the possessive, I thought.

Also on the banned list will be anywhere selling ice’s, sweet’s and burger’s, along with fresh flower’s , cats cushions or (horror of horrors) Christmas’ trees!

I shall pass by the shops offering hundreds’ of bargains alongside their CD’S, and ignore the many garages flagging up their car’s, van’s and MOT'S.

The cab company which advertises its taxi’s will not be getting my custom, and nor will any firm which shoves a flyer through my letterbox informing me that its difficult to find reliable electricians, decorators or gardeners.

I could, of course, continue to use these outlets while telling people they have got it wrong. But however gently I explain the rules of grammar I end up sounding like Maggie Thatcher at her most hectoring…

And I did consider using a marker pen to deface signs and notices by scrawling corrections over them – after all, when my daughters were younger I used a red pen to amend the spelling, grammar and punctuation on reports, worksheets and newsletters, then sent them back to school.

Sadly, my efforts to improve the standards of English among our teachers did not meet with the approval I had hoped for, and I fear that any move to edit the content of signs in shops and cafes may provoke a similar response – besides which, it may be illegal.

So the only option is a boycott.  And if enough like-minded people join me, then perhaps erase ‘greengrocer’s English’ from the nation’s high streets.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries

A THREE-YEAR campaign has just got under way to count and map Britain's cherry trees! Isn't that wonderful? I do LOVE Radio 4's Today programme, they have such offbeat snippets alongside all the serious stuff.

People have to record wild and cultivated specimens ensuring, of course, that they know the difference between cherries and other flowering trees.

The campaign is being orchestrated by The Natural History Museum, which is calling for the public's help to count cherry trees, which it calls a 'classic sign of spring'.

It is hoped the findings will allow researchers to map the trees and find out if changes in climate are affecting their flowering.

 Until the early part of the last century, cherry trees were widespread in England, with many towns and villages marking the harvest with popular cherry fairs, and the fruit was sold on to big towns and cities.

In London, for many years, the cry of 'Cherry Ripe' was one of the best-known calls of the street sellers, which was turned into a folk song. There are many versions, but the original poem was written by Robrt Herrick in the 17th century and contains the chorus:

Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe,
Ripe I cry,
Full and fair ones,
Come and buy.

The popularity of the fruit in bygone years is commemorated in street names - for example, there is a Cherry Street in Tamworth, on on estate built in the 1930s on land where the orchards once stood.

But, according to CherryAid, in the last 50 years Britain has lost 90 per cent of its cherry orchards and now imports around 95 per cent of the cherries we eat. Now the organisation, which campaigns to unite chefs, growers, producers and consumers to save the British cherry, has linked up with

All kinds of events are to be held throughout the year, including a National Cherry Day on July 17 - I'll be trying to find out more about that later in the year, and to feature some recipes using cherries.

In the East, unlike Britain, people celebrate the blossoming trees rather than the harvest of fruit.  Japan's hanami (hana means flower and mi means to see) festivals are famed throughout the world, and date back almost 2,000 years. 

Once upon a time the royal courts, aristocrats, musicians and poets gathered beneath the boughs to view the cherry blossom.  Today the Japanese still hold cherry blossom festivals throughout March, April and May and there are parties under the trees as people eat, drink and sing.

A favourite food during the season is hanami dango, steamed dumplings, made from rice flour, and dyed green, white and pink - perhaps the colours represent the leaves and blossoms.

Aditionally, the Japanese believe the massed blooms on cherry trees symbolise clouds and are a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life.

Meanwhile, any discussion on cherry trees gives me an excuse to re-read AE Housman's poem, from A Shropshire Lad. As it is one of my favourites, I share it here with you. 

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

 *To take part in The Natural History Museum survey, go to and key in cherries in the search box.

* More about cherries at:

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Parking Problems

WHAT kind of maniac insists on driving their car forward while I am trying to reverse into the space outside my house?

You would have thought the fact that I am indicating left, moving backwards (very slowly and at a very odd angle), with the reversing light on would be some kind of clue that they should stop. After all, we cannot both occupy the same patch of road at the same point in time – not without disastrous consequences.

But no, they ignore all these warning signs and continue to advance, often without slackening their speed.

Given that cars line either side of the road (there is no off-street parking) and there is not  space for two vehicles to pass, this is an alarming experience.

Time was when, scared of being hit, I too would pull forward, then drive around several neighbouring streets to negotiate my way back home, desperately hoping that this time there would be no-one behind me…

These days I am older and grumpier, and I think I have as much right to park outside my home (assuming there is a space available) as they have to drive past it. But they cannot do that until I have completed the manoeuvre technically known as parallel parking.

Ideally, I would like a neon sign to light up in the rear window, announcing my intentions clearly and concisely: I am backing into this space – keep off my tail.

But I doubt even this message would have got through to the driver who, finally accepting that he couldn’t drive through me, slammed his brakes on, screeched to a halt a hair’s breadth away from my bumper and sounded his horn.

He got out of his car, strode towards me waving his fist and yelled: “Do you realise this is a public highway?”

What a prune, I thought. But I kept my temper, smiled sweetly and explained that a public highway is not merely the reserve of internal combustion engines, but can also be a residential road, with houses, where people live and park their cars.

Then I began reversing again, which focused his mind wonderfully – so much so that he leapt back in his car, and shifted it fairly smartly!


Saturday, 10 April 2010

Hunting for Frogs

TODAY, in 1736, Robert Marsham invented phenology (not be confused with phrenology), which is the study of the times of recurring natural phenoma.  According to The Wrong Kind Of Snow, by Antony Woodward and Robert Penn, he made notes about the arrival of the first swallow of spring, frogs croaking, flowers blooming etc and called them his 'indications of spring'.

Feeling this was an anniversary worth celebrating, I abandoned my plans to tidy the house, and hunted for frogs instead but, sadly, my search was unsuccessful.

Last year a beautiful fat frog established his residence in our garden pond and took advantage of what little sunshine there was by basking on a large grey pebble beneath the buddleia tree.  I doubt he turned into a prince (handsome or otherwise) so, hopefully, he has survived the winter and is still there, hidden among the stones and leaves.

So, as I didn't find my frog, I sang the children's rhyme, 'Five little speckled frogs, sat on a speckled log' and re-read The Tale of Jeremy Fisher...

However, on a more serious note, frogs, toads and other amphibians are becoming increasingly rare, though it is not clear whether or not this is the result of global warming (which is being tracked through phenology).

You can can find advice on how to attract frogs and toads to your garden, and how to protect them, at (that's where the picture came from), or at

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Spring is Sprung

TODAY I really felt as if spring had finally arrived, marking the end of what has seemed to be an unusually long and hard winter. Blue skies and warm sunshine provided a much-needed note of hope and happiness, bringing the promise of better times ahead.

Birds sang, there were green leaves on the trees, and great drifts of glorious golden daffodils brightened the verges and parks.

This was the kind of April day that Browning yearned for during his years in Italy.  This was the inspiration for Home Thoughts from Abroad, and its wonderful opening line: "Oh to be in England now that April's there."

Browning's April, like Chaucer's, is a time of joy, gentleness and regrowth.

I love this time of the year, when the world is full of new beginnings, and you feel anything is possible.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Wednesday Whinge

FOR a while, after I was made redundant, I wrote a Grumpy Old Woman column which, much to my surprise, was favourably received by kind friends and acquaintances.

Now, having taken a leap into cyberspace with Facebook, Blog and Twitter, I am reviving my venomous views on the vicissitudes of life in the Wednesday Whinge.

All comments will be gratefully received – I would like to know someone is reading my efforts, and some of your suggestions may provide inspiration fr future postings.

It’s a chance for me to moan and groan about the many things that irritate me (washing up, loud music, trains that don’t run on time, litter, vandals, apostrophes in the wrong place) and how things are not what they were when I was young.

So, while this may be written with the aid of modern technology, I am accompanying it with a picture of a typewriter, partly because I am in nostalgic mood – and partly as a tribute to the once-great newspaper industry.

Besides, it was always easier to work up a string of invective while bashing away on the keys of this ‘ancient’ machine. As an added bonus unsatisfactory literary efforts could be ripped out, scrunched into a ball, and hurled across the room.

And who needed anger management when you could work off ill-humour and aggression by banging the typewriter up and down on your desk? You can’t do that with a computer!

Traditional newsroom typewriters, covered in protective layers of cigarette ash, Tippex, and food crumbs stood up to a remarkable amount of ill-treatment and, unlike computers, never, ever answered back.

They didn’t produce any of those high-tech messages that mysteriously appear on my screen. You know the kind of thing: “An unknown website wants to open a programme on your computer…”

Or: “Do you really want to delete this file and its contents?” Somehow, this always sounds disapproving, and makes me feel I must be doing something wrong.

Worse still are the notifications stating that the programme is ‘not responding’ and closing it may result in the loss of unsaved data. So what am I supposed to do? Abandon the computer? Force quit? Try to carry on regardless?

Then there are the passwords. Whether it is due to old age and decreptitude or whether, like Pooh, I am a bear of very little brain, I do not know, but I cannot remember passwords – and even when I do get it right, the computer still insists I am wrong and denies me access.

And selecting a password is a nightmare, prompting all kinds of responses from my electronic guide. A simple ‘Open Sesame’ will not suffice. The magical command has to be alphanumeric (with words and numbers). Better still, it should have a mix of upper and lower case characters, as well as symbols. I key in gibberish, and up pops another communication, warning me that my choice poses a high security risk because it is not strong enough.

What a prune!

I never had these problems with my trusty old typewriter – although the entire carriage did once fall off when I pressed the return lever….

Friday, 2 April 2010

With A Little Help From My Friends

IT seems to be ages since I last wrote anything - I think life, the universe and everything got a little on top of me. I have not been on Facebook for ages, have not read Emails, and have ignored text messages (not helped by problems with the mobile phone - I have had three numbers in as many weeks!) and seem to have lost touch with everyone.

Now I feel truly terrible because I have such wonderful friends - and family - who are all so supportive.

Anyway, I am reopening the lines of communication. I have been on Facebook tonight, and the lovely, warm greetings I received were just amazing.

Tomorrow I shall buy some pretty cards, and write to friends who are not on Facebook, to apologise. Friendship is a precious thing, and should not be ignored or discarded, or taken for granted, and sometimes people need to know just how much you like and appreciate them.

Then I shall text my latest new mobile number to people.

I feel as if the world has been carrying on without me, but I am ready to rejoin it, feeling refreshed and renewed.