19 May 2013

I was watching Stage 1 of the Tour of California on Monday (recorded, of course) which started and finished in Escondido (I presume Sallie and Rod were there either at the start or finish, or both but I’ve not yet had Sallie’s report). At several points the commentator mentioned that it was hard going for the riders as the temperature was round about 38 degrees. For those of you who don’t regularly work in Celsius/Centigrade, 38 is hot – it’s just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

What struck me was not so much that it was hard work for the riders, which it undoubtedly was. Rather, that the temperature there was more than twice what it was here, whether you work in Celsius or Fahrenheit! What we wouldn’t give to have even half the temperatures they had in Escondido – here on Tuesday it was 47 degrees Fahrenheit or just over 8 degrees Celsius and wet and windy. Sallie, could you please send some of that heat over here – we could sure use it and surely you would rather it wasn’t this hot this early in the year?

On a related cycling theme, I was reading the Guardian’s account of Stage Nine of the Giro d’Italia and ran across the following paragraph:

Uphill, Nibali’s Astana squad showed their limitations. By the time the race leader hit the key point of the Montasio climb, he had only one gregario to help him out . . .

Giro d'Italia

I was delighted to see a reference to the hard-working Gregarios who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their team. They are the domestiques of the Tour de France, the worker bees who flog themselves to the point of exhaustion for the sake of the team and the team leader. They regularly have to slip back to collect water bottles for the other riders on their team which involves them dropping back to the team car at the tail end of the race, collecting half a dozen bottles of water or more and a handful of high-energy snacks, and then making their way back up through the trundling peloton until they reach their teammates. They’re also the ones who go to the front of the peloton and lead it out as quickly as they can for as long as they can whenever the need arises, the main contenders huddling in their wake conserving their energy.

How prescient of my parents to have given me a name which reflects so accurately my hard-working and self-sacrificing demeanour.

Having said that, the other definition of gregario is one who merely follows. Since most of my hard work comes under the direction of Ms Playchute, I suppose I do merely follow, i.e., do what she tells me to (most of the time).

This past week children in primary schools in the UK took their SATs (standard achievement tests) which are used to assess the achievement of students in state-maintained schools. This year the tests included one of Gove’s “bright” ideas for the first time, a SPAG test (spelling, punctuation and grammar).

I’ve mentioned the stupidity of Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, many times in the past. I’ve come to the conclusion that he wakes up each day and, over his morning cup of tea, announces another “idiotic idea of the day”.

The concept of the SPAG test was heavily criticised when he first suggested it but that’s never stopped him before. Much of the criticism was directed against the presumption that grammar and punctuation have rules which never change when we all know that language evolves and changes over time.

So, it was with some amusement that I read an article in the Guardian about a 10 year old pupil who spotted what she thought were punctuation errors in the test paper.

Michael Gove’s complaints about poor writing standards in English classrooms have been put in perspective after a 10-year-old upbraided him for grammatical inconsistencies in this week’s spelling, punctuation and grammar tests.

She wrote to Gove  and suggested that if students were expected to learn and apply a set of rules for grammar and punctuation, perhaps his department should do so as well. She suggested that Gove might also like to “perhaps admit that punctuation is often a matter of judgment, with not necessarily a single right answer.”

So far, no answer from Gove but a department spokesperson said: “The commas here are a matter of choice: they can be used to mark out clauses that appear at the beginning or the end of a sentence, but they are not necessary.”

Just so.

Have a go at this grammar test on the BBC web site and see if you can beat my score of 5 out of 10 (and I was one who was taught all the “rules” about grammar and punctuation).

I ran across the following cartoon the other day and it immediately reminded me of the follicly-challenged toupee brothers.

The Toupee Brothers

Finally, the following was doing the rounds on Facebook recently so many of you will have already seen it. Penny sent it on to me having received it from one of her Facebook “friends”.


We’ve been rehearsing ever since in the hope that we might run across a similar opportunity.

Love to you all,



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