Tag Archives: The Big Wide World

Harvest Festival

Foodscape photograph by the wonderful Carl Warner

Aha!  I am back amongst you!

However, I am in such bad humour about so many things today, that it’s hard to know quite where to start.

I will begin with Harvest Festival because I attended the Harvest service at Boy the Younger’s school today.  As we went in, I said to my friend “what do you think the chances are of us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ or ‘Come ye thankful people come’.? “Zero,” she said, laughing.

Well it was worse than zero.  I realise that in some aspects of life, I am an unspeakable old fuddy-duddy, but why does everything that involves children have to be turned into an entertainment?  In a moment of desperation, I fed my programme to the beaming baby in the pew in front so I am unable to delight you with the nauseating detail of the ‘service’.

The children sang several feeble pop songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, most of which had stupid actions with which the parents were encouraged to join in.  When we were asked to clap our hand to our heart, I’m sorry to tell you that I quietly intoned “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…” followed by a hand-jive, which had the parents on the row behind dissolving into nervous giggles.

Then there was a really good bit where it all stopped and young and delightfully handsome young man from the nearby CARE village stood up and thanked us all for the donations of food which would be given to the residents.

After this, the Reverend Blodwyn stood up and began the ‘It’s behind you’ section of the service where all the children were encouraged to shout out stuff about vegetables, after which she delivered a lecture about the environment.  Just in case the children hadn’t worked out what rain was, she put up a handy Powerpoint presentation with a character from a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon in which the character gets rained on. Ha bloody ha.

There is absolutely no need for church to be boring.  A good minister can deliver a sermon which will not only uplift and encourage, but will leave the congregation with something to think about for the rest of the week.  Hymns can be joyful and spirit raising, a reading in the hands of a decent reader is a lovely thing to listen to.

But Church, among many other things, is one really good opportunity to teach your children that there are times in life when they have to be quiet and behave with decorum.  There is an unending stream of complaints about how children can never sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t keep quiet.

A large part of the problem is that children are not taught to be quiet and behave with decorum.  Everything they do has to be entertaining.  Well life isn’t always entertaining, in fact, quite large chunks of life can be a bit boring and require us to keep our gobs shut when we’d rather not.  Sometimes we have to be quiet for the comfort of others.

Children need to be taught that there are times to have fun and times to be quiet and still.  How can they learn to think and reason if their minds are being swamped with a constant and unrelenting cacophony of sounds and sights and ‘stimulation’?  How can they learn to appreciate the small and simple things with which they’re surrounded if they never have a moment’s peace in which to do it?

I love Harvest Festival; whatever one’s spiritual pathway, it is completely reasonable to be grateful that we have enough food and that we still have farmers out there producing it.  It is a gratifying experience to share some of that produce with those who have less than us. I personally thanked the farmers in the next pew for growing our milk.  They did the narrowed eyes thing and left.

When I was at school, the Harvest service was a beautiful thing.  The girls doing cookery baked fabulous loaves to look like sheaves of corn, flowers graced every windowsill and the joyful Harvest hymns rocked the rafters as the organ thundered and the choir sang descants that could have lifted the tiles off the roof.

The last ‘hymn’ was called ‘Harvest Hoe Down’ accompanied by a tinny recorded sound track and a bazooka solo from some invisible children – I don’t need to draw you a picture of how awful that was.  I left Boy the Younger’s service with my teeth ground down to powder.   I accosted a teacher in the playground and pleaded that, just once before I BTY leaves, could we sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’? Just once. “Why?” she answered.

It all makes ‘Cauliflowers fluffy…’ seem positively Wesleyan.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Education, Life in general, Religion

Thought for the Day: Water

Many of us in the UK have finally had a bit of rain which is finally soaking into the ground.  Anyone who has a garden will be grateful for this, although, of course, what we want is warm sunshine during the day and good old downpour at night. It is heartbreaking to see flowers and plants wilting during a hosepipe ban.

Just be aware though, that putting a garden water sprinkler on for two hours is the same as a family’s water consumption for a day.  If you love your garden, get some water butts or any old water container which can collect rain water or drain water and use that.  Washing up water that has had washing up liquid in is useful for pouring on paths and patios as it helps to keep down the weeds.

Another interesting fact that I learned recently is that the geology of an area can seriously affect water supplies.  We always raise our eyebrows in wonderment that somewhere like Manchester, where it seems to rain for 28 hours a day, could possibly suffer from drought. Well here’s the science bit.

The South East has a high proportion of chalk rocks which hold water in natural aquifers, while the North West has little natural underground storage, being predominantly sandstone, mudstone and shale,  so they experience regular cycles of drought and flood.

I like stuff like that.

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Filed under Science and Technology, The Garden

The Grand National

A Horse

UPDATED: Saturday 17.09

I won I won I won!!!  £19.50 on Ballabriggs!  Hurrah!!

UPDATED:  Saturday 1300

Despite the fact that I abhor gambling, every year I put a bet or two on the Grand National.  I won 7/6d once!  The 4.15 at Aintree is one of the World’s most popular horse races and it always feels less like serious gambling because there are so many horses and you genuinely never know what’s going to happen.  Which is as feeble an excuse as you’re ever likely to hear.

The Wartime Housewife has bet as follows:-

Surface to Air             100-1    50p each way
Chief Dan George        40-1      50p each way
Ballabriggs                     14-1      £1 each way
Backstage                       14-1      £1 each way
The Midnight Club     10-1      £1 each way

At 5pm on Saturday I anticipate being £8 poorer but the great philosopher Ning Kom Poop once said, “It is better to travel hopefully than to eat”. Which is lucky.

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Filed under Animals, Life in general

Riot Riot

I have been on more demonstrations than I can remember in my time.  I have picketed buildings, slept outside embassies, boycotted consumer goods and marched with my head held high, lustily singing campaign songs, sometimes in two part harmony.  I have leafleted, canvassed, collected signatures and stood for election.

The right to demonstrate, to protest and the right to free speech are absolutely essential in a democratic society and I wish more people would do it.  I find the political and social apathy of  people abhorrent and the only time they seem to take to the streets is if someone challenges their inalienable right to personal comfort or threatens their access to free Wi-Fi connection in Starbucks.

OK, I admit that’s a little harsh, but I stand by the sentiment.  We are turning into a society of whingers, tutters and softies who think the world owes us a living, that we deserve everything, yet we need do nothing in return.  Not for nothing are references being made to the ‘L’Oreal Generation’.  Well it’s come back to bite us on the bum.

This year, Britain was days away from being in the same financial state as Greece or Ireland.  A country which once (rightly or wrongly) administered half the world, had manufacturing industries which were the envy of other developed countries, we had shipyards, farming, car plants, steelworks – you name it.

And we buggered it all up.  Successive governments borrowed and borrowed, wasted and wasted, taxed and taxed and spent and spent.    We have not supported our own industries and we have become such slaves to greed that our desperate and misguided pursuit of cheap goods and cheap food have put our own businesses out of business.

If a household finds that it has a reduced income or finds itself with its outgoings outstripping its income, the first and most sensible thing to do is look at how it can trim down the cost of living.  Luxuries go, leisure activities are cut down, shopping bills are curbed, wine consumption may be limited, holidays may have to be curtailed.  This is all done to keep the finances under control so the family doesn’t incur debt whilst strategies are found to stabilise or increase the household income.

If that family carries on as normal, buying on credit and spending  the same as they did when their income was higher, they are soon going to find themselves with mounting debt and unmanageable interest payments.  Even if their income subsequently increases, they will be saddled with the debt they incurred for a long time to come.  If they manage their finances carefully, when the good times come round again they will be in a far stronger position.

If you have over-indulged and  become too fat, however valid the psychological reasons, you have to endure a period of pain where you are obliged to forego eating the things you like and to move about more, in order to have the body shape you want and the comcomitant health and increased energy.

I am no economist and I am no politician and I’m quite sure that those of you who are, are jumping up and down and asking what the heck I know about it and how dare I be so obnoxiously simplistic.  Obviously I am aware that a family is a micro-economy and a country is a macro-economy, and that the numbers and complexity of managing the beast in the red box are eye-wateringly immense.

But it strikes me that the basic principles are the same.  If we stand any chance of enjoying the benefits and services to which we have become accustomed, well into the future, there has to be a major overhaul of the nation’s economy and a major change in our own attitudes to what we can do for ourselves.

As I said at the beginning, I have been on many demonstrations for many causes in which I passionately believed and, occasionally, with hindsight, I was mistaken in my beliefs.  I was delighted to see so many people taking to the streets (shame about the violent and malignant tossers who got so much attention, but they always turn up and always will) to protest about what they believe to be wrong.  I do hope that those marching people will go back home and play their part in supporting local economies and community projects and trying to make a difference on their own doorsteps.

If you have only £15 in your pocket and have to buy school shoes and something for dinner, you (may) have two choices.  You can complain loudly that you can’t possibly manage on that, overdraw by forty quid, buy a pair of branded leather shoes, a tray of lamb chops and knuckle down to a bit of compound interest.

Alternatively you can buy a pair of £12 shoes and make a nourishing lentil and vegetable stew that will last two days.  It may not be ideal – the lentils might make you fart a bit if you’re not used to them and the leather shoes would probably have lasted longer than the supermarket version.  But in the long term,  you won’t owe anyone anything and you’re not giving free money (that you could have saved up for the next pair of shoes) to the thieving, shameless, scumbag banks.  Or the EU.

Right then,  I’m bracing myself.  Put the pitchforks down.

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Filed under Politics

French Markets and a guest appearance by Rowan Atkinson

What is it about French markets that are so  much better than English ones?  I hate lazy, cultural stereotypes, but it would appear that, in some areas, the French definitely have more flair than we do.  A French market comes to Market Harborough a couple of times a year and it really is a joy.

Take a look at these photos and tell me if you’ve ever seen anything this appealing on an English market stall.  And while you’re at it, have a listen to this wonderful song from Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Live in Belfast’ album from 1980.

a veritable creperie

Sausage

Let's hope the next stall sells parsley

Savon

Tray bonbon

Sadly, French biscuits look better than they taste

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Filed under Community and shopping

Are you looking for a job? Here are a few useful tips

I recently sat in on a ‘back to work’ seminar run by the Job Centre.  I haven’t touted for work or gone to a job interview for a long time, since before the internet revolution really took hold in fact, and I was intrigued to see what they had to say.  We were fortunate to have a facilitator who adapted the information to suit his audience and who approached the subject with wit and a healthy degree of worldliness.  I have also spent a lot of time with various career advisors and life coaches and, actually, most of them come up with the same basic things.  Read on, MacDuff….

ADJUSTING TO UNEMPLOYMENT

It can be very difficult to adjust to being unemployed.  Your financial circumstances will change, you may face the prospect of debt and, after the initial panic has worn off, you may be left wondering what to do with your day.

  • Sit down and work out how much money you have, how you can reduce your outgoings and what you may have to go without for a while.
  • Don’t do stupid things in order to keep up appearances with your peers.
  • Try to put your embarrassment and pride to one side and tell people that you’re looking for work.
  • Network constantly, communicate constantly

WHERE ARE THE JOBS?

  • 33% of jobs are not advertised
  • Big chains do not need to advertise.  They have a high turnover of staff and have people knocking on their doors asking for work on a daily basis.
  • Read the papers, go to the Job Centre, keep your eyes and ears peeled and look on the internet.  Many companies only advertise on the internet these days.

Internet Job Searching:
 
This is a very different skill to letters, ‘phone calls and visits.

  • Websites search on key words.  Find out about the company and work out what the ‘buzz words’ are for your job type.  Make sure you put them into your CV.
  • Look at the key words in the advertisement and adjust your CV appropriately.
  • Upload your CV every week even if it’s for the same job, otherwise your information will be lost or lower down the list

Agencies:

Agencies can be very useful, especially if they are industry specific.  But remember:

  • They are in it to make money for themselves and not to make your life better
  • Keep in touch – they will remember the person they have seen/spoken to most recently. 

BE CREATIVE

One message that came over loud and clear was that nowadays you have to be much more creative in your search for work. 

  • Only 1 in 3 jobs are found through the Job Centres – most people find jobs for themselves.
  • Start looking at the press and media, not just for job applications, but for articles about your area of work.  Which companies are visible? Are they expanding?  Are they diversifying?
  • Ring companies that interest you and try to get an appointment or at least some further information about the company to see if you would fit in.
  • Ask the Job Centre or your friends if they have, or know of, a Careers Advisor who could help if you need to change direction

WHAT IF I CAN’T FIND THE SAME TYPE OF JOB AGAIN?

Again you have to be creative and think a bit laterally.  Get some large pieces of paper and some highlighter pens.  If you’re not a list person, draw pictures

  • Write down all the things that you’re good at.  Not just at work, but at home as well.  What skills do you have that might be transferable?
  • Write a list of the things you think you’re capable of
  • Write a list of the things you’ve always wanted to do
  • Write a list of what you want in life
  • Write a list of what you need from your work; not just money or security, but also things like being respected, working with like-minded people, or the type of environment etc
  • Now highlight any items that correspond in any of the lists in the same colour.  You may be surprised at what shows up.
  • Then think about ways in which you could demonstrate those abilities or aptitudes to a prospective employer.  What evidence do you have that you can do those things?

WHAT DO I DO WITH MYSELF WHILE I’M APPLYING FOR JOBS?

It would be very unhealthy and unproductive to fill in application forms for 35 hours a week.  You need respite from that or you’ll go bonkers.  Apply yourself intelligently rather than firing off 200 applications that will get you nowhere. Use the time in between to:

  • Catch up on household and garden jobs that you’ve been putting off and that haunt you because you’re always at work
  • Take more exercise  and look at your diet, so you can start your new job feeling fit and ready for anything
  • Do some voluntary work – loads of organisations need volunteers and not only does it help them, it expands your skill base and experience and demonstrates to a prospective employer that you are self-motivated and haven’t been sitting on your fat arse all day counting your toenail clippings
  • If you have family, take the opportunity to spend a bit more time with them and engage in family life; this time, however short-lived, is precious
  • Do things that make you feel good about yourself as this will help you to stay positive and self-assured
  • If you find it difficult to operate without a routine, give yourself a daily timetable.  It doesn’t have to be a military operation, but giving yourself a framework for your activities can make you feel more in control. 

Good luck.

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Filed under Education, Life in general

Burrough Hill, Leicestershire – a lovely day out (and it’s free!)

Ancient ramparts at Burrough Hill

Borough Hill is one of our favourite (and free) places to walk, winter and summer alike.   To get to it, you have to park your car at the bottom (there is a small charge for parking) and walk along a farm track, past pleasantly smelly cow sheds and farm machinery, past a field full of hairy cows with big horns and through the gate to the bottom of the hill.

This is an Iron Age Fort, rising up out of the Leicestershire landscape, near the village of Burrough on the Hill, just south of Melton Mowbray.  It is 690ft (210m) high and on a clear day, one can see several counties.  Its bowl-shaped grassy top makes it excellent for kite flying, model aircraft and running about and falling over.  The land around  is predominantly arable but there are cows and sheep grazing the land on and  immediately round  it.  This also provides plenty of dried sheep poo which we never fail to enjoy throwing at each other.  We know how to enjoy ourselves in the country, I can tell you.

What you can see from the top of Burrough Hill

In fact, Borough Hill has a long association with sports and leisure activities.  As far back as 1540 local people would converge on the hill on Whit Monday for competitive games such as races, shooting and wrestling, as well as taking the opportunity for a dance.  These entertainments were abandoned  in the 17th century, and apart from a brief  revival in the 18th century they tailed off.   The Whit Monday Games did happen very occasionally after that and may well have happened as recently as 1955.  Someone should start them up again – it would be glorious.

However, for about 70 years  in the 1900s, it became a popular spot for horse racing, especially the Melton Hunt Steeplechase.  The bowl shaped nature of the hill made it a perfect natural grandstand for spectators and there was even a race horse called ‘Burrough Hill Lad’ which rejoiced in the connection.

Marauders

This fort was built with ramparts of stone but faced with turf, and knowledge of other hill forts would suggest that there would have been a strong wooden palisade.  Natural erosion has occurred but also stone was taken  for road building in the 17th and 18th centuries, so there are lots of gaps in the ramparts now, which provide excellent stalking opportunities for imaginative and bloodthirsty boys and girls.

Archaeologists have excavated the site on several occasions since the 19th century and there have been finds dating from the Mesolithic period which would suggest that the site was in use long before its function as a hill fort.  They also found pottery and coins of Roman origin which indicate that the site was still in use in the 4th century AD.  In more recent excavations, they found a cobbled road, the remains of a guard house and evidence of large timber gates at one end of the entrance.

Hill forts were not only defensive structures, they also shouted loud and clear that these were communities to be reckoned with.  In some ways they fulfilled the same purpose as small towns would today,  in that they were centres for economic, political and religious purposes, albeit with fewer people.  Hill forts were also useful rallying points for markets, festivals and the election of leaders and there is some evidence to suggest that they acted as protected grain stores for the locality.

Nowadays the hill not only provides recreation for walkers and lively children, but also important habitats for plant and wildlife.  Wild Thyme, Milk Thistles and Lady’s Bedstraw are to be found there as well as species of Waxcap fungi and other specialised fungi which thrive on sheep and rabbit dung.    The gorze bushes are a delight, not only to look at and smell, but they also protect the slopes from grazing.

Birdlife thrives: Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Kestrels, Linnets, Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows are all to be found there, and you can imagine the joy on a summer’s day of lying on your back, listening to supersonic, singing skylarks  high in the sky.  Hares and Muntjac are to be seen in the open grassland and the rabbits build burrows large enough to shove a small child into.  Believe me, I know.

Sunshine on a rainy day at Burrough Hill

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Filed under History, Leisure, Outdoor Activities