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It's good to know that belief in a good turn is still alive and kicking.


* 've just had a visit from my granddaughter Tan. That's always refreshing because it's never easy to predict what she'll be doing next. In that respect she takes after her father Gareth, and my father Billy (and in between them, I suppose, me.) At present she's living in Scotland, far from the madding crowd, and enjoying it. I did that for a year when the boys were very young, and I enjoyed it too. Her partner is called Stefan and they met via the internet. You may say there's nothing unusual about that. I know there isn't. My other granddaughter also found her mate on-line, and for all I know it's par for the course these days.

In Jane Austen's time you had to go to a ball to find one: now you can just log on and order one. But here's what was unusual about it in Tan's case: they were both using code names, and one day when he had nothing better to do, he travelled a hundred miles to have a chat with this kindred spirit, at a time when neither of them had bothered to find out. whether the other one was male or female. There could be a lot to be said for that. If you did decide to settle down together, neither of you could ever complain later that your judgement had been led astray by a pretty face or a seductive after-shave lotion.

Tan is very fond of all kinds of animals and keeps a number of pets. Of course that's easier to do in the country. She's not the only one to keep things like cats and rabbits and guinea-pigs. But where other people might prefer to add on a budgerigar or a tank of goldfish, Tan's special interest is one I'd never heard of. Instead of an aquarium, she's got herself a formicary. That's where you keep your ants.

She's always been fascinated by insects. I remember when some years ago she introduced me to her pet tarantula.

Apparently other people find them fascinating too, and share news and advice about their hobby.

You can build a formicary out of plaster of paris: it's basically just a system of tunnels and runways covered by a sheet of black glass that keeps them happy because they think they're underground.

But once they feel at home there, and you want to see what they're up to, you can replace it temporarily with a sheet of clear glass and it doesn't seem to bother them.

Some time soon they're off to North Africa. It reminded me of the song that Bing Crosby used to sing: "Like Webster's dictionary, we're Morocco-bound". She's looking forward to riding a camel and seeing wild Barbary apes and staying in one of those dwelling-places carved out of the rock, or in a Bedouin-type tent.

She's always done a lot of travelling, and managed to do it dirt-cheap. She enrolled as a member of an online organisation where people offer minimal basic accommodation for a couple of nights to other members passing through their area.

It's called "couch-surfing".

There's no charge, except that you have to be making a reciprocal offer to anyone else passing through your own neck of the woods. Nobody demands testimonials in advance, but members can and do report on their experiences, recommending people as offering a very comfortable pad, or else as being thoughtful and helpful overnight guests.

Does it sound a bit risky, inviting strangers in? You do need people with a generally benign view of human nature to make it work. But then much the same thing applied to the hitch-hiking that many of us used to indulge in. We were saving on fares instead of on bed and breakfast, but it still called for a general level of trust that most people are perfectly willing to do anyone a good turn if it doesn't cost them much. It's nice to know that belief is still alive and kicking.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 5, 2011
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