Thursday, 28 October 2010

What's Wrong with Soap?

RIGHT everyone, this is my Wednesday Whinge. Yes, I know it’s a day late, but yesterday I had a Wednesday Witter instead, so I guess this should really be a Thursday Tirade. Or possibly a diatribe (because I like the word!)

Anyway, whatever you call it, today’s moan is about those annoying adverts for no-touch hand wash systems which, apparently, overcome the problem of germy soap pump handles.

Now I can’t say this particular difficulty of modern life is something that has ever given me sleepless nights.

Personally I still favour a bar of soap and lots of hot water, but as far as I can see you press the handle, out comes the soap, enabling you to wash your hands thoroughly before using hot water to rinse off the germs along with the foam. Simple.

Come to that, if germy soap pump handles are such a threat to our health, what about things like clothes, door handles, light switches and the handles or buttons on toilet cisterns?

Perhaps we should have self-flushing loos to help eliminate the threat of spreading infection?

And if you are that concerned about bacteria on a soap dispenser, why not clean the top of the container?

It’s the same with all those anti-bacterial cleaning sprays and surface wipes. Manufacturers seem to be preying on our fears, making us feel guilty and inadequate if we are not using these products.

We are urged to protect our families by killing the germs that could make them ill. The implication is that if we do not we are ‘bad’ mothers who have dirty homes and are not caring for our nearest and dearest as we should.

As I have said before, although I hate housework I am always seduced by lotions and potions which promise to transform my house into a gleaming show home with very little effort on my part.

But I would question the methodology behind those adverts – and ask whether we really need to turn our homes into sterile rooms where kids are scared to move to fear of spreading the dreaded germs.

I am not denying the importance of good hygiene (which includes hand washing and wiping surfaces), but perhaps we need to get things into perspective, chill out and enjoy family life, with all the mess, dirt and upheaval it brings.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Sun, Sea, and Stones

IT is Wednesday, so it should be a Whinge Day, but instead I am having a Wednesday Witter about the seaside and posting some pictures taken at Bognor during our mini-break.

The town owes its regal appellation to King George V, who recuperated there following an illness. Residents were so delighted with this honour they asked his permission to add Regis (from the Latin for king -rex, regis)to its name.

Their royal visitor was less impressed and is alleged to have uttered the immortal word 'Bugger Bognor' on his deathbed!

When I was a child we holidayed in and around Bognor on several occasions, and I remember a bustling seafront, packed with deckchairs on the shingle beach, and crowds of shrieking children paddling in the sea.

But on Monday, despite the blue sky and sunshine, it had the deserted out-of-season look common to most seaside towns at this time of the year, and it seemed smaller and less prosperous than I remembered.

Most of the businesses based in brightly coloured wooden huts on the promenade had already locked up for the winter but a few were still plying their trade.

I was tempted to buy a shiny, metallic windmill, stuck into a polystyrene base sculpted into sand-dunes and painted a particularly bilious shade of yellow - but the display was so cheery and cheeky it seemed a shame to disturb it.

Instead we sat on garden chairs beside a strangely impermanent-looking cafe, and sipped scalding hot tea in paper cartons as we watched the waves break on the shore, where a small boy, undeterred by the lack of sand, set to with his plastic bucket and spade to create a stonecastle, surrounded by a traditional moat.

Back in Chichester unexpected pleasures included the beautiful rainbow light filtered through the stained glass windows of the Cathedral and reflected on walls, floors and ceilings - and the discovery of the Arundel Tomb, which inspired the Philip Larkin poem.

Here, hand in hand, lie Richard Fizalan, the 13th Earl of Arundel and his second wife Eleanor, with their dogs at their feet, just as Larkin desribed.

"Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd -
The little dogs under their feet."

Close up, the white stone effigy has an almost chalky quality, with a powdery residue on the surface which softens the hard stone, and makes the couple seem more human.

On a pillar next to the tomb hangs Larkin's poem, so what better way to end this post than by quoting the final stanza.

"Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love."

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Touching the Past

WE have just returned home after a few days in Chichester, where we wandered around the town centre, which seems surprisingly unspoilt, and visited the cathdral, its worn stone floors and walls spattered with multi-coloured splodges of light where the sun streamed through the stained glass windows.

We took a trip to Bognor, where we sat and watched the waves break on the shingle beach, while above us the sun blazed out of a cloudless, bright blue sky.

But best of all we saw the remains of remains of the Roman Palace at Fishbourne, and marvelled at the skills of those who created it.

Discovered in 1960, while work on a new water main was being carried out, Fishbourne boasts the finest collection of mosaics in the UK, preserved in situ within a specially constructed building which follows the layout of the original north wing.

From viewing platfoms above the floors we walked through corridors, courtyards and rooms, taking a close look at ovens, a burial and, of course, the incredible mosaics.

A few are virtually complete, while others have survived as fragments. New mosaics are laid on top of old, and worn areas patched with tiny tiles, with no effort to match design or colour.

It made us realise that these aren't works of art, but 2,000-year-old floor coverings, which were repaired and replaced to meet the changing demands of fashion and family life, just as we alter the decor in our homes today.

In addition we examined remnants of the underfloor heating system, and what is left of the bath suite.

Outside formal garden that would once have been at the centre of the four wings have been replanted in bedding trenches which the Romans dug out of the clay and gravel soil, then filled with loam.

The area has been planted with species known and loved by the Romans - roses, grapes, box and herbs, with a gardening exhibition in the potting shed, and an outdoor eating area.

It was, presumably, the equivalent of a moden patio and barbecue, and it seemed to bring the ancient inhabitants of Fishbourne a little closer.

Exactly who those inhabitants were, however, is still something of a mystery. No-one is certain, but the most likely candidate seems to Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, chief of a British tribe, who welcomed Roman rule and the fine things it brought and was honoured by them in return.

His opulent home, built in the early part of the first century AD, was altered and enlarged by his descendents.

In its heyday the palace must have been magnificent - a statement of power and wealth, created by the finest craftsmen in Europe and designed to impress visiting tribal leaders and Roman VIPs, it was the equal of anything to be found in Rome itself.

Today only only remnants remain, but modern archeological techniques mean the jigsaw of the past can be pieced together to help show what life was like 2,000 years ago.

Much of the evidence is on show in the site museum, which contains artifacts, information, models, a reproduction room and details about the excavations.

Most touching of all were terracotta tiles marked with a bare foot, a child's shoe and an animal's paws. Did a child chase a pet across the tiles as they were dried prior to firing? And did an adult chase the child away?

It was another of those moments when the past seemed to be very close.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Going off the Rails

A TRAIN trip used to be a joy. It was quiet and peaceful, and you could curl up with a good book and take time out from the busy world around you.

Not any longer. Apart from the fact that these days trains are frequently overcrowded, dirty and smelly, they sometimes terminate unexpectedly before you arrive at your destination, and they are invariably late - if they run at all.

We are all aware of the classic reasons for the non-appearance of a train: the wrong kind of snow, leaves on the line, engineering works, signal failure, something wrong with the train,vandalism.

But I've also stood on a crowded platform waiting for a train that was waiting for a driver, and one occasion passengers were told there was no engine!

Once your train arrives you are pushed and shoved as people elbow you out of their way, desperate to leap inside and grab a seat - and woe betide anyone foolish enough to try and leave the carriage at this point, because no-one wants to give way and let you out.

I daresay it's a sign of old age on my part, but why does everyone have to be in such a hurry and so rude? And what would happen if the doors closed and I was carried away, against my will, to an unknown and unwanted destination?

But it's the noise that really annoys. There's tinny sound of music from earphones, the constant cacaphony of mobile phones ringing, and conversations where people shout intimate details about their lives into the piece of plastic clamped to their ear.

Worst of all are the constant announcements on the train itself.

A train manager welcomes 'ladies and gents'(what is wrong with saying gentlemen?), which makes it sound as if travellers are on a plane or a boat. I don't want him (or her)to greet us, and I don't care what their name is. I just want to be transported to my destination safely, comportably and on time.

Nor am I interested in messages about the catering service (if there is one); the number of carriages (why do we need to know that?), or the location of the first class carriages (I am sure anyone who can afford first class tickets is sitting happily in their seat, not squashed in with the rest of us) listening to inane annoucements.

Notifications about the destination and the stops along the way are useful, I suppos(at least you know you are on the right train).

But it's the use of the words 'next station stop' which really irritates me. What other sort of stop is there where we could alight?

Unscheduled stops are obviously just that. If the train is stuck with fields, houses or factories on either side, then clearly this is not a station, and people cannot get out - and even if we wanted to, modern trains have electronically operated doors to prevent us leaving when we shouldn't.

Equally, if you the train does not stop at a station then you cannot get out.

And it's just as bad on the platforms. Passengers are bombarded with endless messages about not leaving unattended packages or luggages, not smoking, standing well back from the edge, and the number of carriages.

Ironically, however, announcements about cancellations, delays and platform changes are always the least clearly heard, so travellers are still left wondering what is happening.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The First Time...

LOTS of firsts today.

First an apology that I have not blogged for a while while getting to grips with my Open University course - then the laptop went wrong and I couldn't access my blog, gmail account, OU site or very much else.

The Man of the House (who has his good points) spent an entire day working on the computer and, hopefully, all now is now fixed - I am trying to key this in this with fingers crossed, to ensure nothing goes wrong, but it doesn't do a lot for my typing skills).

We have had the first fog of autumn since I posted my last literary effort. Two weeks ago now (October 7), and I had to drop paperwork off at the Credit Union office before it opened, so I abandoned the queues on the A5 and drove to Atherstone through Polesworth and the villages.

It was beautiful, with leaves and branches decorated with droplets of water, which glittered like diamonds as the sun began to pierce the gloom, and shining, golden showers dripped from overhanging branches.

In the fields solitary trees were transformed into twisted witches, while hedges became gnarled gnomes, and a prehistoric monster looming out of the swirling fog lost its terror as it neared, and revealed itself to be nothing more than a tractor and trailer.

A few days later we had the first frost, when cars and walls were covered in white, like icing sugar drizzled on a cake.

Then this morning I heard that the first migrating Siberian swans had arrived in the UK three weeks early which, apparently, heralds a long hard winter (don't you just love Radio 4's Today programme?)

Moving back to the OU I've attended my first day school in Birmingham (it was wonderful meeting other students and exchanging ideas) and missed my first tutorial because I got lost in Sutton on my way to the school where it took place (I know, I should be ashamed of myself as not only did I sometimes sub the Sutton paper, and really should know where places are, but it's only just down the road from Tamworth).

I've enjoyed studying the first two chapters (Cleopatra and Marlowe's Doctor Faustus)in the Reputations book, which forms the first part of The Arts Past and Present, which is a mandatory foundation course for all arts/humanities students - and I've roughed out my first assignment.

Then I managed to order air tickets online for my mother's 'flying' trip to Ireland to visit her brother. It was the first time I had done anything like this on the Internet, so I was very proud of myself - and mum was delighted with my achievement.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Banish Dirt, and Dust and Gloom...

WHY do articles about ‘green cleaning’ make me feel so guilty? In theory I think it’s a wonderful idea to abandon chemicals and rely on cheap, every-day household ingredients like salt and bicarbonate of soda – but in practice old fashioned methods are jolly hard work.

Besides, I want to be seduced by those magical adverts which promise to transform my home with a flick of a micro-fibre duster, a spray of polish or squirt of some potent potion which not clean my surfaces in seconds, but will kill bacteria.

It’s the same with washing powders. I’m a sucker for buying things which promise to get rid of stains, whiten whites, soften towels and garments and make ironing easier.

In my heart of hearts I know that elbow grease is the key to a clean, tidy house, but I want to believe in these products, just as I want to believe in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.

Sadly, my endeavours at trying to make the house sparkle are never very successful.

Take vacuum cleaners, for example. Whatever model we buy, it never seems to suck up dirt as it should. Like its predecessors, the current machine (which sounds like Concorde taking off) will happily gobble up trailing wires, the cover on the sofa and odd socks.

But as it to consume the usual fluff and grime that settles on the carpet and it refuses, point-blank. I empty it, wash the filter as per the instructions, adjust the height and twiddle with the speed, all to no avail.

On one awful occasion The Man of the House took a vacuum to pieces in a vain attempt to improve its performance. Thereafter it blew dust around the house….

And what about those miraculous dusters which claim to attract dust and dirt?

Dust in my house just moves around the surfaces, no matter whether I use a posh cloth or recycled knickers.

Tidying up is just as bad: I shift things from one area to another, like a mad game of musical chairs and no-one (least of all me) can find anything.

Then there are those cleansers which aim to remove nasty marks from floors, surfaces, doors and floors. In the adverts women (it’s usually women who are used to market cleaning products) prance around in fashionable outfits with never a hair out of place, as they gently wipe the blemishes away.

I don’t look that good when I’m all dressed up to go out!

Why, you may well ask, do I persist in using these products if they don’t work for me? Well, as I said earlier, I want instant transformations and, when all is said and done, they are still quicker and easier than the methods of yester-year.

Nostalgia is all very well, but spray polishes, liquid cleaners and modern washing powders have done a lot to release women from the drudgery of domestic chores and allow the time to do other things.

So I am currently exploring a completely new way of cleaning the house.

This involves playing uplifting music, whilst dancing around, wielding a long-handled feather duster, and chanting: "Banish dirt, and dust and gloom, Make this a happy room."

Whether this will produce acceptable results I don't yet know, but at least I'm having fun!