Joyce Grenfell and gentle humour

31 10 2012

This morning I woke up with Joyce Grenfell’s “Old Tyme Dancing” stuck in my head and it’s been on “one long whirl” in there ever since. It’s a great song for cycling up hills – the rhythm is just right!

We didn’t grow up with pop music. The closest we had was one tape of The Pogues’ greatest hits and a couple of Seekers and Boney M tracks that were on the end of a tape my grandparents made me.

We had Geordie folk music, children’s songs (mainly those to be found in Alice B Gomme’s Traditional Games), audio books and Joyce Grenfell. I was 12 or 13 when I started listening to local radio and bought my first Now… cassettes.

I’m glad. While I do enjoy pop (in fairly loose terms) in the car every now and again and am easily caught up in the catchy tunes, I soon become infuriated by the lyrics (why so much about partying and dancing on tables?  The last time I remember dancing on a table was at a friend’s fourth birthday and we were swiftly reminded we weren’t babies and made to get down).

I miss the likes of Joyce. Her songs and monologues are so well-observed and the humour is gentle. While smiling at the plights of the long-suffering nursery school teacher and Mrs Fanshaw and Mrs Tiverton, you also feel solidarity with and sympathy for them.


8 07 2012

Another angry woman

National stereotypes of Sweden tend to involve pop music, loud jumpers, sexual liberation and a fairly good grasp of feminism and gender politics. Julian Assange labelled Sweden the “Saudi Arabia of feminism”, presumably due to their desire to ask him some tricky questions about the rapes he probably perpetrated.

A vital part of good gender politics is taking rape seriously. Rape is a frighteningly common occurrence, and is typically gendered. These issues must be dealt with sensitively. A few stories have come to my attention which suggest that Sweden is not doing very well at this at all. Trigger warnings apply for the remainder of this post, and any links.

In one case, a cis male perpetrator was acquitted for attempted rape because his survivor was a trans woman. The survivor had not had SRS, and did not have a vagina. The court ruled that because the perpetrator had…

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New Phone Update – 23 First Android Apps

25 07 2011

Seeing as my last post about my new Galaxy S II has been so popular, here’s a quick update from day 3.

I’ve put a load of music on it, using Kies and configured the built-in apps for my various social networking accounts, etc. So, the obvious next step was to start downloading some apps.

Here’s what I’ve installed so far:

  • AVG anti-virus – with Android‘s growing popularity, it’s important to protect your phone
  • WordPress – obviously
  • Huffington Post – ditto
  • IMDb – I rely quite heavily on IMDb when I’m watching TV and films; it puts a stop to those endless “who’s that?”, “what was she in?” conversations.
  • StumbleUpon – I love StumbleUpon. I find so many new sites, opinions and ideas from it.
  • TV Guide – so many times I’ve been out somewhere, knowing that there’s something I’d like to watch later, but not knowing exactly what time it’s on. It’s great to be able to check what time it’s on and whether it’ll be repeated on another channel later.
  • ITV Player – so I can watch ITV programmes as well as BBC ones on my phone (it came with iPlayer pre-installed)
  • Facebook – this has a bit more functionality than Social Hub
  • Shazam – for IDing music out and about. Easier than memorising the lyrics to search for later!
  • Google Sky Map – this is going to be really interesting. I’ve not had chance to go outside at night and look at this, but I’m looking forward to it.
  • Barcode Scanner – scan barcodes on the go for price comparisons or data import.
  • Adobe Reader – for viewing PDFs.
  • Dictionary – both dictionary and thesaurus functionality with text and voice search.
  • Google Earth
  • Knitting Stash – save details of equipment, supplies and progress on projects
  • Google Shopper
  • Pulse – news / feed reader. Nice layout.
  • ReadItLater – save all kinds of text (articles, documents, web pages etc) to read later offline.
  • Photoshop Express – photo editing software. I’ve not tested this yet.
  • Amazon KindleeBook reading software.
  • Skyfire – I’ve not tested this web browser yet, but apparently it’s much faster than the default.
  • Evernote – allows you to create notes (text, audio, images) and store them in the cloud, accessible from any device with the software installed. Lots of people have been raving about this app, so I’m going to give it a go.
  • Layar – displays augmented reality (AR) layers over your camera display. Choose from all sorts of different layers, eg Tube stations, restaurants etc.

Weekend photos

24 07 2011

Had a lovely afternoon just pottering around doing field jobs etc. I’ve been testing out the camera on my new phone. This was the first picture of the day.

New phone – text input

24 07 2011

I don’t tend to blog about technology very often, but today I traded in my phone and got a Samsung Galaxy S II. What’s actually got me the most excited is the Swype text input method.Basically, you draw lines loosely based on the keys you’d use too write the word in question and it figures out what you probably meant and either enters the word or provides you with a list to choose from. I’m using it to type this post and I’ve barely spent any time putting things right, even though it’s the first time I’ve used it. It even handles words with apostrophes etc with no hassle! I wonder whether it’ll catch on or whether it’ll be a phase that passes. I’m really impressed with it so far, but perhaps I should wait a few days before raving about it too much.

Dor beetle

24 06 2011

I’ve not seen one of these for years. It played dead for a while after I disturbed it, but it’s back on the move now. I’m glad – I was a bit worried I’d hurt it 🙂 It seems to be trying to find a good place to bury itself now.

Summer Solstice and Midsummer

21 06 2011

So, the summer solstice falls today. The summer solstice and Midsummer’s Day mean different things to a lot of different people. What do they mean to you?


  • The word solstice comes from the Latin sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand still.
  • The solstice is an instant in time. This year it takes place at 17:16 on the 21 June in the Northern Hemisphere and at 05:30 on the 22 December in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • The day on which the summer solstice takes is often referred to as Midsummer’s Day.
  • According to Wikipedia, the summer solstice occurs “when the Earth’s and the moon’s axial tilt is most inclined towards the sun, at its maximum of 23° 26′.”
  • Midsummer’s Day falls after the summer solstice on the 24 June.


On a personal level, I don’t hold any particular religious beliefs about Midsummer or the solstice. What I feel is a strong tie to generations of ancestors who did and a sense of loss that those beliefs and traditions are all but gone. I feel sad that people of my grandparents’ generation could remember people who retained some of the old beliefs and traditions and that now that is gone.

I feel that we live in a cynical age. As our world-view has widened and media and digital trickery have become more sophisticated, we have taught ourselves look at everything with suspicion and to believe in very little.

Believing in something is not necessarily the same as believing that it is literally true. It strikes me that, in these days of celebrity and reality TV, people are searching for truth and are constantly disillusioned. This creates a pervasive sense of cynicism and distrust.

The traditions, rituals and customs surrounding a religion or belief-system are not, themselves, the belief. They are a vessel for teaching, learning and celebrating it. It doesn’t matter whether the event being celebrated is fact, fiction or a mixture of the two. It doesn’t matter whether Christmas was Jesus’ actual birthday; it doesn’t matter whether witches can really turn into hares and run away across the moors. What matters is that we share in the rituals. They give us stability, they make sense of the non-sensical, they remind us of our place in the world and why we live the way we do. We take the time to celebrate, to spend time together, to remember what our spiritual figurehead(s) taught us.

In this, we have lost something. We have spent so much time questioning whether our god(s) is/are real or not and trying to prove or dis-prove his/her/their existence that we have forgotten to have faith in the way we live. Faith need not be in the literal truth of every fable, legend, scripture, but in the moral code we learn from them.


According to British Popular Customs Present And Past – Customs, practices & rituals from the traditions & folklore of the British Isles:


On this eve people were in former times accustomed to go into the woods, and break down branches of the trees, which they brought to their homes, and planted over their doors, amidst great demonstrations of joy, to make good the scrip­ture prophecy respecting the Baptist, that many should re­joice in his birth. This custom was at one time universal in England. —Book of Days, vol. i. p. 815.

It was a popular superstition that if any unmarried woman fasted on Midsummer Eve, and at midnight laid a clean cloth with bread, cheese, and ale, and then sat down as if going to eat, the street door being left open, the person whom she was afterwards to marry would come into the room and drink to her by bowing; and after filling the glass would leave it on the table, and, making another bow, retire. —Grose.

The same writer also tells us that any person fasting on Midsummer Eve, and sitting in the church porch, will at midnight see the spirits of the persons of that parish who will die that year come and knock at the church door, in the order and succession in which they will die.

The fern was a most important object of popular super­stition at this season. It was supposed at one time to have neither flower nor seed, the seed which lay on the back of the leaf being so small as to escape the sight of the hasty observer. Hence, probably, proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible seed would be themselves invisible, a belief of which innumerable instances may be found in our old dramatists. —Soane’s Book of tlie Months. —See Brand’s Pop. Antiq., 1849, vol. i. p. 314.

People also gathered on this night the rose, St. John’s wort, vervain, trefoil, and rue, all of which were thought to have magical properties. They set the orpine in clay upon pieces of slate or potsherd in their houses, calling it a Midsummer-man. As the stalk was found next morning to incline to the right or left, the anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to her or not. Young men sought also for pieces of coal, but in reality certain hard, black, dead roots, often found under the living mugwort, designing to place these under their pillows, that they might dream of themselves. —Book of Days, vol. i. p. 816.

In addition to the superstitious customs already mentioned there was the Dumb Cake: *

Two make it,
Two bake it,
Two break it;

and the third must put it under each of their pillows, but not a word must be spoken all the time. This being done, the diviners are sure to dream of the man they love. There was the divination by hemp-seed,* which consisted of a person sowing hemp-seed, saying at the same time,

Hemp-seed I sow.
Hemp-seed I hoe.
And he that is my true love,
Come after me and mow.

The lover was sure then to make his appearance.—Soane’s Book of the Months.

Towards night, materials for a fire were collected in a public place and kindled. To this the name of bonfire was given, a term of which the most rational explanation seems to be that it was composed of contributions collected as boons or gifts of social and charitable feeling. Around this fire the people danced with almost frantic mirth, the men and boys occasionally jumping through it, not to show their agility, but as a compliance with ancient custom. f—Book of Days, vol. i. p. 86.

In the reign of Henry VII. these fires were patronised by the Court, and numerous entries appear in the ” Privy-purse Expenses” of that monarch, by which he either defrayed the charges, or rewarded the firemen. A few are subjoined, as examples of the whole :

” June 23 (1493). To making of the bonefuyr on Midsorner Eve, 10′. ” June 28 (1495). For making the king’s bonefuyr, 10s. “June 24 (1497). Midsomer Day, for making of the bone-fuyr, 10s. ” June 30 (1498). The making of the bone-fuyr, £2.
Med, Mm Kalend., 1841, vol. i. p. 303.

In the months of June and July, says Stow, on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evening after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for His benefit bestowed on them. On. these occasions it appears that it was customary to bind an old wheel round about with straw and tow, to take it to the top of some hill at night, to set fire to the combustibles, and then roll it down the declivity.



On Midsummer Eve, at Ripon, in former days, every housekeeper, who in the course of the year had changed his residence into a new neighbourhood, spread a table before his door in the street with bread, cheese, and ale for those who chose to resort to it. The guests, after staying awhile, if the master was liberally disposed, were invited to supper, and the evening was concluded with mirth and good humour, —Every Day Book, vol. ii. p. 866.


There are various large, organised celebrations that take place in the UK. Here are links to a few of them and some related bits and pieces.

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