Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Classic cars and flower festivals

A couple of times this summer I've thought to myself 'is there anything more English than this?' - and I do appreciate the irony of me thinking this as only one of my grandparents was actually from this country!

The first occasion was at the start of June when I enjoyed my first Pimm's of the season sitting outside The Exeter Arms in Barrowden, overlooking the duck pond and a collection of classic cars and their owners who had gathered for a meeting on the village green.

It was around 6pm, the sun was still shining and the cars were gleaming - E-type Jaguars, Mark II Jaguars, Morris Minors, old Minis and the like.  It was a perfect summer's evening.

Then on the last weekend in June, I headed to Gretton Flower Festival at St James' Church.

The theme, quite unusually for these type of events, was Disney films, but it worked really well and there were some great interpretations of various movies including Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, Brave, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, Tangled, not forgetting the ubiquitous Frozen (let it go, Elsa!)

It was an ideal way to engage with the younger members of the community and the children really enjoyed guessing the film titles and informing their parents and grandparents.

My moment of extreme Englishness occurred though as I sat drinking my tea out of a china cup, complete with saucer, eating a slice of wonderful peach cake - it had fruit in it, it counted towards my five-a-day - while gazing at the magnificent architecture of the old church building through vintage floral bunting.

And I also thought to myself that while we're still having classic car shows and flower festivals, and drinking Pimm's and tea out of china cups (not at the same time, obviously), that the world can't actually be that bad a place and civilisation will prevail.

Many thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who give up their time to arrange such events - you put the 'great' into Great Britain.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

'We have more in common than that which divides us'

'We have more in common than that which divides us' - the words of the late Jo Cox MP have special resonance in these troubled times for our country.

The time has come for us all to set aside our differences - be they political, religious or whatever.

Because the simple truth is we can't carry on as we are.  We can't be forever fearful of listening to or watching the news each day, bracing ourselves for the latest tragedy to beset our nation.

I was actually going to write a very different article to this, where I discussed the recent election, Theresa May's mis-timed gamble, and the coalition of chaos (as yet to be agreed with the DUP at the time of writing) - a grave cause of concern for many because of their less-than-liberal viewpoint.

However, I feel that enough has been said about Mrs May and her shortcomings.  She seems a decent enough person, doing a difficult job at a very tough time, and I feel that 'Theresa-bashing' as a national past-time should be consigned to the past, along with 'Corbyn-bashing' and 'Farron-bashing'.  It's just not helpful.

Lest we forget, we elect our MPs to work for us, a job they hopefully fulfil to the best of their abilities.

They are only human though, and sometimes they make mistakes; but the only people who never make mistakes are those who do nothing in the first place.  The key is to learn from them and to not repeat them.

With everything this country is currently facing - the on-going terrorist threat, North Korea, Trump, Brexit - we need to be working together, not pulling further apart.

We don't necessarily have to completely agree with everybody's viewpoint, but we do need to listen, be tolerant, compromise where necessary and find some common ground in order to move forward.

We owe it to future generations, our children and our grandchildren, to sort this mess out and to make things better for everyone.  There really is no alternative.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Online shopping isn't always cheaper - or better...

About three years ago I stopped shopping online completely.  This was a fairly big decision on my part, spurred on by discovering that not all online retailers were paying their fair share of corporation tax in the UK. 

I ceased my very occasional visits to coffee chain behemoths for the same reason - I now have a policy to just visit independents wherever possible.

I appreciate that my one-woman protest hasn't even put the slightest dent in any of these large corporations' profits, and it has on occasion made life a little awkward as when you can't buy things in high street shops the assistants sometimes cheerfully suggest I try online.

However, I have a very recent example of how I actually saved money by shopping on the high street instead.

My stove-top enamel kettle retired after nearly twenty years' loyal service.  Seeking a replacement, husband checked online and informed me that several retailers offered new versions.

I refused to consider this, telling him we should go to a local hardware shop.  Our original kettle had been purchased at Burton's in Kettering, and we were given a handwritten receipt and a paper bag to bring it home in.

We headed to Market Harborough and Frank Gilbert Housewares, a veritable cornucopia of all things domestic which makes the Lakeland catalogue look meagre in comparison.

Here the knowledgeable assistant helped us choose the right kettle for our needs, unboxing several so I could test the weight and husband could check the workmanship, spending time and checking in his storeroom to see what alternative colours he could offer.

We made our choice, paid the asking price and returned home.  Job done, no messing or waiting for delivery and receiving a annoying card saying you were out for the nanosecond that the driver knocked on the door.

Out of interest, I then checked the online retailers' websites - and in each case, we had paid significantly less than the prices online.

Just goes to show, online isn't always cheaper, and it can't ever compete with good old-fashioned customer service.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Helen's Heron

A few years ago I invested my hard earned cash in a plastic heron.  A strange choice of garden ornament you may be thinking, and indeed you'd be right.

Truthfully, I'm not really a garden ornament type of person, although I do have a small ivy-clad gargoyle as a nod to some kind of al fresco decoration.

But I have a pond, complete with fish, whose numbers were severely depleted by our local heron who liked to come and dine, turning our pets into his finest sushi snack.

I had read somewhere that herons are territorial, and if you put an imitation heron near your pond it fools the real one into thinking that particular dining table is already taken and thus he moves on.

So approximately twenty quid or so lighter, and husband moaning that I must be out of my mind to think that this would work, the artificial heron was purchased from the garden centre and installed to guard over my precious fish.

This did seem to work initially, although husband did point out I ought to move it round a bit otherwise the real heron would realise that it was a fake - a suggestion which I, perhaps foolishly, disregarded.

One day as I stood drying the dishes in the kitchen, I looked out of the window and thought to myself that husband must have bought me another mock heron, for there, next to my pond sat two herons, perfectly still.

It was at this point I realised that one wasn't plastic, but was in fact the real deal and was trying to befriend the inanimate one that was supposed to scare him away - trust me to lure the real one with a decoy!

Following on from this, I hadn't seen my fish for a long while and thought it was time to recycle my dummy bird as he had obviously woefully failed in his task.

But then I spotted my last two fish - Admiral Bubbles and Ziva, since you ask - lurking under some pond foliage, so my mock heron has earned a reprieve and stays for a little bit longer!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The 'joy' of clothes shopping

What clothing size are you?  You don't need to answer that, but if you're like me it varies - sometimes vastly - depending on which shop you're in.

When you think about it, that's utterly ridiculous isn't it?  There's a standard size for shoes, so if you're a size seven you know that a size seven shoe will fit you no matter which shop you're in (give or take adjustments for width) - so why can't we have the same for clothes?

I'm not a fan of clothes shopping, I'll be perfectly honest with you, and I think one of the main reasons is the variation in sizes which means you have to try things on in shops.

Now, I hate changing rooms - I hate them with a passion.  They are always too small, badly lit, there's never enough hooks onto which to hang your handbag, other shopping, the clothes which you need to take off in order to try the new stuff on because you don't want to put them on the floor, etc.

Then if they've only got a curtain, not a proper door, there's always the dread that someone will fling it open mid-change, or you'll catch it with your arm when wrestling with a garment, and you'll accidentally 'flash' the entire shop.

Plus, with all the tags and security devices attached to most items these days I have never managed to try anything on without being scratched with cardboard and/or plastic.  I emerge from the changing room looking like I've gone ten rounds with Nicola Adams, let alone just tried on a fancy frock or a 'going out out' top!

But what does make me really cross is when clothing's just labelled 'small, medium or large', so you have to establish what that roughly equates to in the usual nonsensical sizing stakes.

Believe me, there is nothing guaranteed to depress me, and I'm guessing half the nation, more than to be told that 'large' is a size ten!  No quicker way to lose sales either, I imagine.

Acts of kindness

It's all too easy to feel anxious, depressed and overwhelmed about the state of the world.

It feels like we're living in dangerous times, and that danger is getting worse and can happen to us any time, any where.

The recent atrocity in Manchester is one such example.  Young people, some of them going to their first live music concert, were targeted by a very misguided young man not much older than them.

But in the depths of our despair about the slaughter of the innocents, we need to keep reminding ourselves something.

The world is still full of good people, doing good things, day in, day out.

I saw a drawing on social media by artist Twisteddoodles of the world fracturing under the strain of everything it's facing, but being held together, and here's the caption that went with the artwork:

"A big event can make it feel like the world is falling apart.  But there are millions of tiny acts of kindness still holding it together."

We saw that in action in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing - from the speedy response of the emergency services, to the taxi drivers who drove people home free of charge; from ordinary people throwing open their doors and welcoming traumatised strangers into their homes, to caterers offering food and drink to anybody who needed it; the homeless man who helped an injured girl and then cradled a dying woman in his arms, the list goes on.

This is so important to remember, and to talk to your children and grandchildren about.  Yes, sometimes bad things happen, and sadly there are evil people who want to destroy our way of life.

But there's also a lot of good people, of all nationalities, religions or none at all, who make a difference by doing acts of kindness and help to keep our shattered world together.

Instead of thinking of the one man who did this evil act, let's try and remember the thousands of people who helped those in need, and who will continue to offer support to the injured and bereaved.