How the continent’s languages can unlock the potential of young Africans

Pupils perform traditional African children singing games during the start of the 90th edition of the annual national music festivals at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. (Xinhua/Allan Mutiso)

How the continent’s languages can unlock the potential of young Africans

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Africa’s massive variety of languages should be celebrated and used in tertiary education.
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H. Ekkehard Wolff, University of Leipzig

Africa is the home of 2144 languages. Oddly, most development theoreticians consider this a barrier to economic and social growth. Sociolinguists and educationists know better: the African continent’s multilingualism is a powerful resource.

The problem begins at school, and continues right through the education system. This includes tertiary level.

I have watched South African university students’ call for “fees to fall”, and – coming as I do from a country that offers free primary through tertiary education and whose economy thrives partly for this reason – I fully support them. However, in terms of just and sustainable education, fees are only one side of the coin. Language is the other. As a linguist whose work has focused for decades on African language matters, I remain convinced what Africa needs are political campaigns that tackle language: #EnglishOnlyMustFall. #FrenchOnlyMustFall. #PortugueseOnlyMustFall.

The continent needs a new strategy for mother-tongue based bilingual education, from primary through to tertiary level. In this, it can draw from what many other emerging markets and societies, as well as developed countries, do very successfully. From South Korea through Japan and China, to Russia, all of Europe and North America, schools’ language of instruction is children’s mother tongue (also known as first or home language). They also learn “global” languages like English and French so they can later function and communicate all over the world.

Crucially in these countries, the mother tongue is not suddenly abandoned at university. That’s because research has shown the level of a foreign language acquired at school is not enough for the required “Cognitive Academic Linguistic Proficiency”, or CALP. So students continue to learn in their mother tongue, while also studying a global language – or two, or even three. They do this at a stage when their cognitive, creative and critical potential are reaching maturity. In this way, they come to fully grasp the complexities and applications of their own home languages and a foreign language.

Applying these lessons in postcolonial Africa means embracing truly multilingual education. Unfortunately too many African tertiary systems operate solely through a foreign language – English, French or Portuguese. This disadvantages mainly black African students and creates what South African educationist Neville Alexander called a kind of “neo-apartheid”.

Putting African languages first

Research has made it explicitly clear: if efficiency of learning and cognitive development is the target, the mother tongue should be the medium of instruction from primary school, through secondary and into universities. Other languages, like English, can be introduced as subjects from lower primary level.

There are several objections to introducing African languages into the education system. Cost is one. But this is a myth. Sociolinguist Kathleen Heugh has shown that “…investment in such programmes in Africa at the moment is usually less than 2% of a country’s education budget – and is recovered within five years”.

Another argument is that multilingualism is somehow difficult to achieve. Yet many African children learn two or more languages before they ever reach school, and often use such languages interchangeably. Sociolinguists are intrigued by the ways in which Africans communicate mainly in urban contexts – in what appears to be talking in two or more languages at the same time. The new academic terminology for this is translanguaging or polylanguaging.

Why not use this as a highly welcome asset to teach through both African and European languages across the educational system, since people freely apply this strategy outside classrooms and lecture halls anyway? Why should educational authorities insist on using only English rather than “translanguaging” when teaching content subjects?

Others have inferred that African languages are simply not fit for teaching and learning at university level. This argument combines ignorance with racism. And it’s not borne out by evidence. In fact, the reverse is true. A recent PhD thesis currently being submitted at Rhodes University in South Africa, where I am a visiting Fellow, found that students with a background in languages other than English profit immensely from being assisted with teaching materials, terminology and translation aids in their mother tongues.

At Rhodes, isiXhosa features as more than a language subject. It is used as a medium of instruction in support courses for Journalism and Media Studies. Pharmacy students are taught vocation-specific isiXhosa skills. Bilingual teachers in Politics, Commerce, Sociology and Economics are recognising the linguistic diversity of their classes by using students’ lived experience as an important aspect of teaching and learning.

There’s more. The University of Limpopo offers multilingual studies, including a BA in Contemporary English language studies in both English and Sesotho sa Leboa. Masters and PhD students write their theses in any official language of their choice – recent examples have included theses in Sepedi, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Both Stellenbosch University and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology offer multilingual glossaries in English, isiXhosa and Afrikaans for various faculties. These are also accessible online.

Multilingualism opens doors

These and other initiatives work towards two outcomes. The first is to produce university graduates who are able to converse freely in both a world language like English and in one or more African languages. A good command of global languages will open a window to the world for all those who’ve come through such a tertiary system – and put an end to the marginalisation of Africa.

The second outcome is that ultimately, African societies can be transformed from merely consuming knowledge to producing it. Until today and exclusively, knowledge came to Africa from the North, wrapped up in the languages of former colonial masters. This one-way road must change into a bidirectional one. For this, universities are the hub.

One of the ways to ensure this happens is to upgrade teacher (or lecturer) training. Whatever language is used in teaching content subjects, when language is the subject it must be taught professionally and well. Good English, but likewise good isiXhosa, for instance, must remain the teaching goal. Teacher training is critical.

The ConversationAll of this work is a worthy investment in the quest to give African languages their rightful place in African societies. Re-empowering African languages is a way to contribute sustainably to societal transformation and economic progress by fully exploiting the cognitive and creative potential of all young Africans.

H. Ekkehard Wolff, Emeritus Professor of African Linguistics, University of Leipzig

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Your mobile phone can give away your location, even if you tell it not to

Source: Kaique Rocha

Your mobile phone can give away your location, even if you tell it not to

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Fitness trackers report their location and map the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.
Screenshot of Strava Heat Map

Guevara Noubir, Northeastern University

U.S. military officials were recently caught off guard by revelations that servicemembers’ digital fitness trackers were storing the locations of their workouts – including at or near military bases and clandestine sites around the world. But this threat is not limited to Fitbits and similar devices. My group’s recent research has shown how mobile phones can also track their users through stores and cities and around the world – even when users turn off their phones’ location-tracking services.

The vulnerability comes from the wide range of sensors phones are equipped with – not just GPS and communications interfaces, but gyroscopes and accelerometers that can tell whether a phone is being held upright or on its side and can measure other movements too. Apps on the phone can use those sensors to perform tasks users aren’t expecting – like following a user’s movements turn by turn along city streets.

Most people expect that turning their phone’s location services off disables this sort of mobile surveillance. But the research I conduct with my colleagues Sashank Narain, Triet Vo-Huu, Ken Block and Amirali Sanatinia at Northeastern University, in a field called “side-channel attacks,” uncovers ways that apps can avoid or escape those restrictions. We have revealed how a phone can listen in on a user’s finger-typing to discover a secret password – and how simply carrying a phone in your pocket can tell data companies where you are and where you’re going.

Making assumptions about attacks

When designing protection for a device or a system, people make assumptions about what threats will occur. Cars, for instance, are designed to protect their occupants from crashes with other cars, buildings, guardrails, telephone poles and other objects commonly found in or near roads. They’re not designed to keep people safe in cars driven off a cliff or smashed by huge rocks dropped on them. It’s just not cost-effective to engineer defences against those threats because they’re assumed to be extremely uncommon.

Similarly, people designing software and hardware make assumptions about what hackers might do. But that doesn’t mean devices are safe. One of the first side-channel attacks was identified back in 1996 by cryptographer Paul Kocher, who showed he could break popular and supposedly secure cryptosystems by carefully timing how long it took a computer to decrypt an encrypted message. The cryptosystem designers hadn’t imagined that an attacker would take that approach, so their system was vulnerable to it.

There have been many other attacks over the years using all sorts of different approaches. The recent Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities that exploit design flaws in computer processors, are also side-channel attacks. They enable malicious applications to snoop on other applications’ data in the computer memory.

Monitoring on the go

Mobile devices are perfect targets for this sort of attack from an unexpected direction. They are stuffed with sensors, usually including at least one accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, a barometer, up to four microphones, one or two cameras, a thermometer, a pedometer, a light sensor and a humidity sensor.

Apps can access most of these sensors without asking for permission from the user. And by combining readings from two or more devices, it’s often possible to do things that users, phone designers and app creators alike may not expect.

In one recent project, we developed an app that could determine what letters a user was typing on a mobile phone’s on-screen keyboard – without reading inputs from the keyboard. Rather, we combined information from the phone’s gyroscope and its microphones.

When a user taps on the screen in different locations, the phone itself rotates slightly in ways that can be measured by the three-axis micromechanical gyroscopes found in most current phones. Further, tapping on a phone screen produces a sound that can be recorded on each of a phone’s multiple microphones. A tap close to the centre of the screen will not move the phone much, will reach both microphones at the same time, and will sound roughly the same to all the microphones. However, a tap at the bottom left edge of the screen will rotate the phone left and down; it will reach the left microphone faster, and it will sound louder to microphones near the bottom of the screen and quieter to microphones elsewhere on the device.

Processing the movement and sound data together let us determine what key a user pressed, and we were right over 90 percent of the time. This sort of function could be added secretly to any app and could run unnoticed by a user.

Identifying a location

We then wondered whether a malicious application could infer a user’s whereabouts, including where they lived and worked, and what routes they travelled – information most people consider very private.

We wanted to find out whether a user’s location could be identified using only sensors that don’t require users’ permission. The route was taken by a driver, for instance, can be simplified into a series of turns, each in a certain direction and with a certain angle. With another app, we used a phone’s compass to observe the person’s direction of travel. That app also used the phone’s gyroscope, measuring the sequence of turn angles of the route travelled by the user. And the accelerometer showed whether a user was stopped, or moving.

By measuring a sequence of turns, and stringing them together as a person travels, we could make a map of their movements. (In our work, we knew which city we were tracking people through, but a similar approach could be used to figure out what city a person was in.)

Matching the route of a smartphone with a trip through Boston.
Screenshot of Google Maps, CC BY-ND

Imagine we observe a person in Boston heading southwest, turning 100 degrees to the right, making a sharp U-turn to the left to head southeast, turning slightly to the right, continuing straight, then following a shallow curve to the left, a quick jog to the right, bumping up and down more than usual on a road, turning 55 degrees right, and turning 97 degrees left and then making a slight curve right before stopping.

We developed an algorithm to match those movements up against a digitized map of the streets of the city the user was in and determined which were the most likely routes a person might take. Those movements could identify a route driving from Fenway Park, along the Back Bay Fens, past the Museum of Fine Arts and arrive at Northeastern University.

We were even able to refine our algorithm to incorporate information about curves in roads and speed limits to help narrow options. We produced our results as a list of possible paths ranked by how likely the algorithm thought they were to match the actual route. About half the time, in most cities we tried, the real path a user followed was in the top 10 items on the list. Further refining the map data, sensor readings and the matching algorithm could substantially improve our accuracy. Again, this type of capability could be added to any app by a malicious developer, letting innocent-appearing apps snoop on their users.

The ConversationOur research group is continuing to investigate how side-channel attacks can be used to reveal a variety of private information. For instance, measuring how a phone moves when its owner is walking could suggest how old a person is, whether they are male (with the phone in a pocket) or female (typically with the phone in a purse), or even health information about how steady a person is on his feet or how often she stumbles. We assume there is more your phone can tell a snoop – and we hope to find out what, and how, to protect against that sort of spying.

Guevara Noubir, Professor of Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Young South African scientist takes second prize at Taiwan International Science fair

Zara Nijzink-Laurie and Kalsee Nadasen at the Taiwan International Science fair. Photo: Supplied

Young South African scientist Zara Nijzink-Laurie took home the second prize in the behavioural and social sciences category at the prestigious Taiwan International Science Fair recently.

“My project investigates the awareness of the menstrual cup and barriers to using it among schoolgirls. Although menstrual cups are cheaper and more environmentally-friendly than pads or tampons, they are not widely known or used,” Nijzink-Laurie said.

The Taiwan International Science Fair is an annual event in which learners from over 23 countries and territories participate in the competitive science fair as well as a cultural tour of Taipei.

The science fair took place from 28 January to 2 February in Taipei and Nijzink-Laurie, a Grade 8 learner from Rustenburg High School in Cape Town, came second in the highly specialised category.

Nijzink-Laurie was selected to go to Taiwan thanks to her impressive research into the barriers to the use of the menstrual cup among schoolgirls. Nijzink-Laurie was motivated to look at this issue when she heard estimates that two million young women miss several days of school each month due to a lack of access to sanitary products.

Her project involved conducting research among young girls in grades 8 and 11 at a local school. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire before and after watching a video about the menstrual cup.

Nijzink-Laurie’s research showed that 54% of the younger girls and 92% of the older girls had heard of the cup but in each group, only one girl had used it. About 11% of younger girls and 40% of older girls would consider using the cup.

Her research found that there was a range of barriers to using the cup and to address these issues required more than just dissemination of information. Small workshops would help to shift behaviour she found.

Nijzink-Laurie was delighted with her performance in Taiwan and the experience of presenting at an international fair of this stature. She was also excited that a topic so close to her heart has gained recognition from such prestigious quarters she added.

Also competing at the fair was Kalsee Nadasen, a fellow South African from Hatfield Christian School in Gauteng. The pair were selected to represent South Africa thanks to the outstanding projects that they presented at the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists International Science Fair in October 2017.

“We are very proud that Zara took home a silver medal at the Taiwan International Science Fair. The Eskom Expo is all about encouraging and motivating young people to pursue careers in the sciences, and we really hope this recognition at an international level spurs her on to develop her research further. We need more research into an issue like this and we hope that Zara will one day be able to implement the interventions necessary to shift behaviour among schoolgirls,” said Parthy Chetty, executive director of the Eskom Expo.

Nijzink-Laurie and Nadasen were selected from among 600 of South Africa’s future engineers, chemists, physicists, mathematicians and innovators at the Eskom Expo, the country’s largest school-level science fair, for a chance to take home prizes worth more than R4 million.

Pieter Pretorius, chairman of the board of directors of the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists, said: “Competing at an international science fair is always an exciting and challenging experience that offers great learning opportunities. To succeed at an international level, among such stiff competition is a major achievement and a testament to the value of Zara’s research, and we hope that this is just the beginning of a long career in the sciences for Zara.”

– African News Agency (ANA), Editing by Lindiz van Zilla

Why you need to eat slowly…

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Scoffing food not only means your meal is over quickly but could push up the risk of piling on weight, researchers warn.

A study of 60,000 people found those who ate slowly were 42 percent less likely to be overweight than fast eaters.

Experts believe chewing slowly and savouring every mouthful could be a successful way to lose weight.

via GIPHY

This is because it takes roughly 20 minutes for the brain to realise the stomach is full, so fast eaters keep on going well after they have had enough food.

The researchers at Kyushu University in Japan also found that eating evening meals at least two hours before going to bed cuts the risk of being overweight by 10 percent. The body’s metabolism slows towards the end of the day so eating late means calories are not burned off, said a report in the journal BMJ Open.

The academics tracked participants for six years and found that fast eaters had waist sizes a quarter of an inch (0.62cm) larger than slow eaters. In the study, 22,070 people routinely wolfed down their food, 33,455 ate normally and 4,192 classed themselves as slow eaters.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said eating too quickly was ‘undeniably a contributor to obesity’.

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How To Dress Like A Grown Up

Source: Loe Moshkovska

One of my teenage sartorial quirks was to wear my V-necked sweaters backwards.

In my defence, it was the Eighties and V-backed sweaters were a thing. So long as the label was not stitched so as to reveal a tell-tale rectangular outline, a back-to-front twizzle could endow any outfit with attitude.

In truth, fashion has long had a fascination with the view from behind. When I worked at Harper’s Bazaar U.S. in 2002, the title relaunched with a double cover featuring Gisele Bundchen in a dazzling-from-all-angles red dress.

It was shot from the front and the back respectively and emblazoned with the cover line: Fashion’s Back!

We knew backs were, well, back at last year’s Met Ball, the annual fashion extravaganza hosted by American Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The shoulder blades of the most powerful women in fashion were on display.

But an appealing back view doesn’t have to actually show your back or shoulders at all. It’s frequently down to the simplest of details. A simple pleat pattern, collar or gathered shoulder can be all the detailing you need.

Exposed zips are a good shortcut to a chic rear view, too. That was the idea behind the long, rose-gold zippers snaking from the nape of the neck to the hem in Victoria Beckham’s first collection — dresses that looked as good from the back as the front.

Roksanda Ilincic is another designer who favours exposed zippers down the spine of her beautiful evening gowns, a touch which imbues her frocks with strength; backbone! There’s something distinctly regal and quietly powerful about a dramatic back.

Not for nothing do ecclesiastical garments often have ornately embellished backs, to command the gaze of all as they make their procession up the aisle. The same can be said of brides (and bridesmaids!).

As ever, if one thing is daring keep everything else demure. So, with a tie-back, I’d look for midi-length skirts or trousers.

* Sarah Bailey is Executive Brand Editor at Porter magazine.

The rules:

1. If you’re showing off your back or shoulder blades, keep everything else covered up.

2. Take a thin roll neck when you shop to see if it looks good with strappy details on tops.

3. Remember, a long zipper can make a big impact when you’re walking away.

4. Often the skin on your back is better than your chest — yet another reason to move the point of interest 180 degrees.

How Would You Like to Be Remembered?

Source: pixabay.com

Karon Peters flips from the present tense into the past, and back again, then laughs about the tangle. ‘I got a bit muddled with the tenses there. One minute I was dead, then I came back to life,’ she says, and the friends who are watching her on a TV screen don’t know whether to laugh or cry. They end up doing both.

Karon was terminally ill when she sat down in front of a video camera to record this particular message, which she knew would be played to her loved ones after she had gone.

She made a series of video recordings, each one peppered with humour and insight, but each more gut-wrenching than the last. Her greatest sadness, says her husband Phil, was that she didn’t live long enough to get round to making perhaps the most important one of all — the one where she addressed him, her husband of almost 25 years and the father of her four beloved sons.

‘She just wasn’t well enough. She was slipping away,’ he says. ‘She said she was gutted that she just couldn’t do it, but I don’t care.

‘Of all the people she left messages for, I was the one who needed one least. I know what I meant to her. I knew how deep our love was. She didn’t need to say it.’

Karon was just 52 when she died in November 2015 after a long battle with breast cancer, was one of the extraordinarily brave people who agreed to take part in an unusual television project called My Wonderful Life.

The series involved following four people — all with terminal illnesses; all dead now — in the final months of their lives during 2015 and 2016. They were asked for their views on living and dying. They were asked to record messages for their loved-ones, to be played to them months after their death.

A series of surprises was also arranged for the bereaved — surprises often designed to make them roar with laughter, rather than weep. A date with some cowboys, anyone? A spot of skydiving? The chance to meet your favourite rock star, or your teen crush, or a holiday to a place that meant the world to both you and your friend?

With stunts like that, it’s understandable if some viewers might be left fearing that the programme trivialises the subject of death and the profound impact it has on those left behind. In reality, it’s the most astonishing set of obituaries, with those involved saying their last goodbyes in style.

It’s not remotely morbid, either. It’s one of the most uplifting things you could watch — a celebration of life, love and friendship — even if you have to do so with the Kleenex to hand.

Particularly well-pitched is the episode featuring Karon, a nurse who clearly wanted to die as she had lived — surrounded by friends and laughter. Unstintingly upbeat (‘I always say I’m a millionaire without any money,’ she beams, on camera), she explains that she is letting the cameras in because she wants to show other people death doesn’t have to be so miserable.

‘The subject of death needs to be less taboo,’ she says, pointing out that our lack of wanting to confront it starts in childhood. ‘We all do it, trying to protect our children. When a pet dies we go round seven different pet stores trying to find the hamster that looks the same.’

If a death can ever be joyous, then hers was. Karon planned her own funeral as part of this last goodbye, rejecting the idea of having a traditional funeral and opting for a ‘quiche and cake celebration instead’. The venue was a muddy field and guests were requested to wear whatever they wanted rather than black — she suggested pyjamas.

There are deeply moving moments in the programme, obviously. Karon has a rare emotional wobble when talking about the consultant breaking the terrible news that her cancer was advanced.

‘I said “throw everything at me. I will do anything for my boys.”’ But it wasn’t to be.

What courage it must have taken for her to spend her final months arranging the messages for her loved ones. Funny messages, too.

She tells her oldest friend Hannah, whom she met during their nurse training days, that she is ‘the best friend anyone would have’, but signs off with a warning: ‘Don’t forget to do my ironing for Phil. Although he can do it, he will put it off.’

Another friend, Sally Blake, 44, says: ‘That was Kaz all over. She never shied away from discussing her illness but it was always done with humour. I remember her talking about her funeral saying “You guys can wear your wellies”. And we did.’

A year after Karon died, Sally and two other friends sat down to watch their message from her, and ‘cried buckets’. ‘It was upsetting to see her because she was quite bloated at the end from all the medication, and I’d forgotten that. But her humour was exactly the same, and it was so lovely to just hear her chat again.’

Phil, 64, says although they absolutely are not the sort of family who would ever want to ‘be on the TV’, Karon took great pride in taking part. ‘She really did feel that we’ve got death all wrong,’ the retired psychiatric nurse explains.

‘A generation ago we would have the bodies of our loved ones at home, we would lay them out, wash them. Now, we’ve all become very removed from death. Karon wanted to challenge that.’ He admits he is still lost without his wife, the woman who chose his shirts and ‘held the whole family together’. ‘She was irreplaceable,’ he says. ‘And she was the bravest person I have ever met.

‘I think if we’d had to go through what we did without Karon’s attitude carrying us through, then it would have been unbearable.

‘Her only regret was that she didn’t see the filming through to the end, but I’m so glad she did it, and that we have those memories.’

He adds: ‘She was insistent she was Karon, who had cancer, and not a cancer victim. Her attitude was that it wasn’t going to get her down or stop her living her life. She continued to drive through, every day.

‘Last year I had a cancer scare myself. Though it turned out to be nothing, during that time I fluctuated between optimistic and plainly terrified. That gave me a better insight into what she’d been living with for up to five years.’

For all four families, the nature of the death meant these goodbyes were possible, something they now see as a positive. ‘If she’d walked under a bus, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity,’ says Phil. ‘She was very aware that there was time to do this. Just not enough time.’

Some of those involved found the presence of the cameras in those last vital months tricky, but all say that the project provided a focus.

‘Obviously, you don’t want to lose them. You are in bits,’ says Heather Hall, whose husband Lee, a retired serviceman, is the subject of episode four.

‘I don’t think I realised how much I would value getting his message. It’s not the sort of thing people do when they are dying, not usually.’

Lee, 45, a straight-talking Geordie, tells his wife: ‘I love how much you loved us, but you need to go forward with your life.’

Heather found her husband’s last messages almost unbearable to watch. ‘When I watched I nearly fell to my knees. I felt myself buckling a bit. He told me he loved me, that I was his best friend, his soulmate. Obviously, I knew that, but hearing it like that was special.’

Lee lost his battle with skin cancer in October 2016, and while Heather was at first apprehensive about him spending his last precious month’s filming, she recognised it was something he felt he had to do. ‘He wanted to get across to other people that if they have a mole they are suspicious of, please get it checked out.’

Meanwhile, Tom Clossick, 32, and his siblings sat down to watch the final messages from their mum Linda Banks who had thrown herself into the whole filming process with gusto, offering some unique observations on the way.

Her episode is hilarious in parts, upsetting in others. Does she have deathbed regrets? Hell yes. She looked back at all pictures of herself looking thin and snorts: ‘I regret all that lettuce.’

What of her biggest success in life? Her three children, she says, without hesitation. ‘I know every mum says they are the proudest, but I am.’

Linda can’t say she is enjoying the process of dying. ‘If you are dying, you should have a ticket with a date on it so you can work towards it. “Flipping ‘eck, it’s a Wednesday,” ’ she quips.

In the absence of that, she just wants to be remembered as being funny. ‘If people said “Oh she were funny”, I’d love that. No one likes a miserable b****.’ She consulted her family before she agreed to invite the cameras in. ‘She talked to us before she got involved,’ Tom confirms.

‘She didn’t present it as “I’m doing this”. I wasn’t sure why she’d want to but she said she wanted to leave a legacy, something for the grandchildren. It was hard to watch, though. I had to leave the room.’

She used her ‘last goodbye’ film to tell her three children to look after one another, and express her pride in them. While there were laughs on the way — ‘You were only 6lb 7oz when you were born, but within three or four months you were a massive little thing with no neck,’ she told Tom — it was difficult to get through, in terms of watching as well as recording.

‘It was so hard to see her there, talking to us. It was like she was there, but not there. I found it really emotional.

‘But I’m glad we did it. We have those recordings now, and the grandkids will be able to watch them when they want to. You don’t get that with photos or little videos on the phone. It was…proper.’

Linda also left messages and set up surprises for many of her friends. Her old mates from the days when she used to go clubbing were taken back to an old haunt, at her request, and were amazed to come face to face with a bona fide teen crush.

Her best — and ‘poshest’ — friend was treated to a day out that involved a tiara.

One of the most moving recordings was played to three of Linda’s old pupils from her teaching days. ‘Teaching wasn’t a job really,’ she told them, describing how seeing them blossom had made her proud. ‘As a teacher, it makes you think you’ve done OK,’ she says. She leaves them with some life advice. ‘Grab all the opportunities you can. Be kind. Be nice.’

Some of the gestures in this series are on an epic scale. There are aeroplanes and fireworks, and massed choirs and flash mobs. Some surprises are small and deeply personal — a chocolate orange gifted from beyond the grave because there is a story attached.

Ian Edmunds, who was 56 when he died, went above and beyond to give his wife Christine a Wizard of Oz-themed surprise to remember him by. ‘We never got to the end of our yellow brick road,’ she says, as she arrives at the venue he has chosen for her to watch his last message to her — the place where he proposed on ‘the happiest day of my life’.

But Ian has the final word — one that pretty much sums up the ethos of the whole programme. ‘Now it is time for you to live your wonderful life,’ he tells her, in the very final goodbye.

It’s a fitting rule for the rest of us to live by, too.

Everything wrong with ‘Fifty Shades Freed’

Jamie Dornan, left, and Dakota Johnson pose during a photocall for the world premiere of 'Fifty Shades Freed - 50 Nuances Plus Claires' at Salle Pleyel in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Anastasia and husband Christian are newlyweds in rainy Seattle. She likes hanging out with friends near their condo in the city. He prefers hiding away in a mansion in the woods. While they squabble over their differing tastes and lifestyles, audience members come to the realization that these two should never have gotten married in the first place.

This is “Fifty Shades Freed,” but it may as well be an episode of “House Hunters.”

When the first E.L. James adaptation hit theatres a few years ago, everyone cracked jokes like a bunch of funny paint connoisseurs: Which shade of grey should I use to paint my garage? Is the Christian-is-angry hue closer to Tin Lizzie or Cyberspace? And so on.

But the HGTV parallels in the latest instalment of the “Fifty Shades” saga, released on Friday, go far beyond wall colours.

Here’s why this movie is basically an extended episode of “House Hunters” – with added handcuffs and sexy ice cream consumption, of course. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)

1. Three very different properties appear in “Fifty Shades Freed.”

Christian (Jamie Dornan) makes a boatload of money doing God knows what – we’ll get to that later – and his seemingly unlimited budget means these properties are as exciting as the ones in an episode of “House Hunters International.”

The couple’s open-concept condo in the city is so spacious that it has room for a glamorous staircase, a conveniently located library and a “playroom,” which we’ll assume is the Christian Grey equivalent of the commonly desired man cave. When Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) needs to escape the apartment, all she has to do is tell her bodyguard, Sawyer (Brant Daugherty), to go to the library while she exits from the kitchen. In another scene, he completely misses that the Greys’ worst enemy is hiding in their bedroom. The poor guy can’t possibly keep an eye on this much square footage.

We don’t get to see much of the Tudor mansion that Christian surprises Anastasia with early in the movie, but it has a big, beautiful backyard. This comes in handy when the couple ends up having a kid that Christian really, really does not want.

Christian and his siblings, the forgettable Elliot (Luke Grimes) and underappreciated Mia (Rita Ora), visit a swanky property in Aspen with their significant others. The acoustics in the living room are magnificent, such that the siblings and Anastasia can hear Christian’s dulcet tones perfectly as he sings Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Mia praises the layout as well, pointing out that the bedrooms are far enough away from each other that she doesn’t have to hear her brother and his wife’s alone time.

2. The husband and wife have weird jobs that don’t make sense.

This is such a well-known “House Hunters” trope that it has its own meme account on Twitter.

Christian: “I’m a billionaire who owns the independent publishing company my wife works for. People like my architect Gia Matteo regularly tell me, ‘I love what you’re doing in Africa.’ No one actually knows what I’m doing in Africa.”

Anastasia: “I was once an assistant to an absolute jerk, but I got promoted while I was on vacation. I’m now the fiction editor and get to smirk while saying silly things like, ‘Increase the font size by two points.’ My husband insists I got a job I’m wildly unqualified for because of my raw talent and hard work, not because I’m married to him.”

Together: “Our budget is infinity.”

3. Anastasia remarks that the Tudor “has character.”

Despite his upbringing in Detroit foster care and an affinity for fancy tech, Christian is a real Man of the Woods. His apparent refusal to shave or cut his hair unless Anastasia makes him says as much. The mansion that he surprises her with is similarly rustic, meaning it’s somewhat dysfunctional and outdated. Anastasia says it has “character,” which is “House Hunters” code for a property that will fall apart a few years after purchase.

4. Gia, our real estate agent proxy, is problematic.

The Realtors on “House Hunters” often make uncomfortable situations even worse, which is especially the case when Gia (Arielle Kebbel) discusses her plans to revamp the Tudor mansion. She continually hits on Christian and belittles Anastasia, leading our heroine to deliver the best line of the movie: “You may call me Mrs Grey. Or you can get back into your s– coloured car and drive back to Seattle.”

Christian works to appease Anastasia by telling Gia that his wife has the final say on design plans, which is the movie’s version of every “House Hunters” husband uttering something ridiculous like, “A happy wife means a happy life.” (This usually refers to a need for walk-in closets.)

5. Christian and Anastasia seem like a poor match.

Couples on “House Hunters” are never on the same page: She wants an open-concept floor plan and he loves walls, or he likes Spanish-style exteriors while she’s fond of brick. Christian and Anastasia also seem to have opposing opinions on basically everything, from sunbathing topless on a nude beach – “It’s boobs in boob-land,” she says to his irritated face –to having a child. (Shouldn’t they have discussed that one before getting married?)

6. You can start watching at any point and understand everything that’s happening.

The best thing about “House Hunters” is you can jump in at any point in the episode and still enjoy it. Half the fun is in watching the couple bicker or evaluating the homes for yourself, anyway. Similarly, the best thing about “Fifty Shades Freed” is that instead of a single plot, it goes for multiple storylines that get resolved every 10 minutes.

Not a fan of Christian being mad at Anastasia for getting drinks with a friend? No worries! Mia’s going to be held hostage pretty soon and you’ll forget all about that.

Happiness is…laughing at yourself

Source: pixabay.com

Forget exercise, love and money – they key to happiness could be learning to laugh at yourself.

Psychologists studying different styles of humour found that those who made self-deprecating jokes had better mental health and were more sociable.

via GIPHY

The findings go against the traditional notion that self-deprecating humour makes us feel worse.

The researchers, from the University of Granada in Spain, carried out personality tests on more than 1,000 participants and gave them a questionnaire which assessed their humour style.

via GIPHY

Lead author Jorge Torres-Marin said: ‘A greater tendency to employ self-deprecating humour is indicative of high scores in wellbeing dimensions such as happiness and, to a lesser extent, sociability.’

Other types of humour looked on positively included ‘adaptive’ styles – jokes aimed at making social relationships stronger – and ‘self-enhancing’ humour, which entails sustaining a humorous view in adverse and stressful situations.

Both of these styles were associated with satisfaction, happiness and hope.

The authors found humour could also be harnessed by dishonest rogues, the journal Personality and Individual Differences reports. ‘Humour enables individuals with low scores in honesty to build trust and closeness with other people to manipulate them or obtain advantages in the future,’ they warned.

via GIPHY

One of fashion’s coolest cool kids just endorsed the banana clip

Source: Instagram/ alexanderwangny

The automatons at Alexander Wang’s fall 2018 show clip-clopped through the empty cubicles of the old Condé Nast headquarters at 4 Times Square.

The models – many of them Asian, which was nice to see, since they are so often underrepresented on the runway – marched along in taut black jackets and skirts with zippers and zagging around the torso. The effect was a bit like “The Matrix” meets “The Devil Wears Prada.” Much of it was hard-edged and lean; there was very little wiggle room in those clothes.

This was Wang’s homage to corporate women – the ones who put on a blazer and trousers or a dress and go to an office, rather than slipping into leggings and parking their laptop at the nearest coffee bar. It was Wang refraining from turning his fashion show into a Wangfest party, which has been his preference in recent seasons. It was business-like Wang or at least a hyper-stylized version of business.

The models wore sunglasses, and their hair was pulled back, and they looked intimidating and unreal and overly slick. Until they whizzed by and you got a look at what was going on at the back of their head.

Banana clips. Sometimes one. Sometimes multiples.

Banana clips are those large clips with the giant teeth that come to the rescue on a bad hair day or a running-late-for-the-office day or a just-can’t-be-bothered day. They are the hair accessory stuffed into a bag for when the weather goes humid and that fresh blow-out suddenly stops looking so fresh. It is a post-workout necessity. A busy-day staple. Hillary Clinton wore a miniature one when she was secretary of State and she is a woman who knows about hair and jam-packed work days.

The view from the front row. #WANGINC

A post shared by ALEXANDER WANG (@alexanderwangny) on

The banana clip is not glamorous, but it’s practical.

It is arguably more stylish than a scrunchie. But does it really matter?

It’s an easy solution for the myriad hair issues that might slow down a multi-tasking woman during her day.

The banana clip, in all of its 1980s, big hair, kitsch, cheesy glory, has been welcomed back into fashion by Wang. Women do not need Wang’s permission to clip.

Details from the collection… see anything you like? #WANGINC

A post shared by ALEXANDER WANG (@alexanderwangny) on

They’ve been clipping all along. But thanks for the support.

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