24 November 2014

Expats

What things (apart from loved ones) do you miss from your country of birth?
We miss the rain, gloom, and cloud – but that’s great because that’s why we came here! Other than that, not very much really.
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I knew Kevin years ago. He was and probably still is a lovely man. A Geography teacher who wrote poems and made maps. He visited Peru and the Hindu Kush of Pakistan. He was into mountaineering and ice camping and he lovingly restored his big stone house in Crookesmoor, Sheffield. Back then he had a girlfriend called Barbie who looked like Buffy St Marie in her prime but they broke up and he found a different life partner called Troy. He never had any kids.

After taking early retirement from Geography teaching in Sheffield, around 2005,  Kevin and Troy went to live in the Almeria region of southern Spain where they bought a country property and restored it. There they grow vines and vegetables and enjoy a sunny, expatriate life, a long way from home. Kevin, by the way, was raised in grim Grimsby on the northeast Lincolnshire coast.

Out in Almeria, Kevin spent a couple of years researching the geography, history and culture of his new home area and drawing from that research wrote a book about it. It has been moderately successful and that is why Kevin was interviewed for a website called "Spain Buddy" which appeals to Spain's large British expatriate community. The blue opening to this post was copied from that interview.
Tongue in cheek he says that they miss the rain, gloom and cloud..."other than that, not very much really". This is the crux of today's blogpost. It's not the first time I have encountered expats claiming that they don't miss anything about their homelands. To me it is as if they are partly justifying their new lives - renouncing what they once knew. I find this attitude as hollow as it is disloyal.

Perhaps Kevin could have said..."I miss the ambience of English pubs where I spent many happy hours with friends quaffing good English beer. I miss the smell of roasted chestnuts on cold winter nights and the sounds of fireworks on Bonfire Night. I miss the traditional folk music sessions I was in the habit of attending with my Irish bodhran. I miss the distinctive seasons and walks in The Lake District ticking off The Wainwright hills,  kayaking in the Western Isles and rambling in The Peak District. I miss English humour and the ability to communicate fluently in my own language where ever I go.. Meat pies and Yorkshire puddings, Indian curries and saltmarsh lamb, apples and raspberries and ice cream cones. Above all I miss the byways of my childhood and of my youth - imbued with memories of yesteryear, mum and dad, my siblings, neighbours and friends and Grimsby Town F.C.. Yes - those are the things I miss."

And I would also take issue with the reference to rain, gloom and cloud. That does not sum up English weather at all in my experience. We have many sunny days and warm spells and even as I write this blogpost it is bright and alluring outside. The randomness or unpredictability of English weather could be seen as one of our assets, You never know what you are going to get. Getting scorched on an Almerian hilltop might be seen as somehow less appealing.

Starting a new life elsewhere surely does not mean that you must disparage your motherland. Treachery has many forms.

23 November 2014

Rossington

Rossington Hall south of Doncaster. We were there most of yesterday for a wedding - one of Shirley's many cousins giving marriage a third bash. 

This Victorian pile has had a varied history. For example, from 1953 to 2008 it was a special school serving boys with a range of challenging conditions - from autism to cerebral palsy. Then for three years it was watched over by security guards employed by Doncaster Council until private speculators acquired it and proceeded to turn it into a luxury hotel and wedding venue.

They are still in the expensive process of realising their dream. I noticed that some of the gilt-framed pictures on the walls were merely mass-produced prints. Even so it was a privilege to explore the place and with Shirley's Uncle Edwin I even visited the luxurious bridal suite with its ceramic bath sitting on a marble plinth as the November sunset peered through surrounding woodland.

Here's Lady Pudding from "Downton Abbey" by the wedding carriage:-
And here she is by a continental coach manufactured in 1950::-
It brought several wedding guests from a nearby and less magnificent hotel. Now ladies, please cover your eyes, for this is the gentlemen's luxurious urinal:-
And here's the drawing room complete with unoriginal prints:-
The wedding feast in the ballroom was marvellous. Doused in Tetley bitter flavoured gravy and accompanied by caramelised onions, the starter was of course the ever dependable and socially unifying  Yorkshire Pudding!

22 November 2014

Wolds

Carved stone face at Somerby - St Margaret's Church
There's a big arc of chalk to the east of England. It rises gracefully above the surrounding flat lands as it curls from the white cliffs of Flamborough Head, embracing the Plain of Holderness, plunging under the River Humber and then curving southwards through the heart of Lincolnshire towards The Wash. We call these gentle chalk downs The Wolds. North of the Humber they are The Yorkshire Wolds and south of it they are - can you guess - yes - The Lincolnshire Wolds.

Can you imagine what the landscape of England was like before we were invaded by Romans and Vikings and then Normans? The population would have been much lower than today - less than one million. The flat lands of eastern England would have been undrained and marshy with reed beds and forests and rivers that simply spread out because there were no artificial  banks. One of the best locations for settlements would have been chalky downs like The Wolds. They drained naturally and allowed views of the surrounding flatlands. It would have been a good place to graze animals and raise crops, a good place to live and feel safe.

There were many small settlements up on the Lincolnshire Wolds but new approaches to farming in the Middle Ages began to change the landscape. The flatlands were being drained and their silty soils now offered greater fertility and better opportunities for successful sustenance. People began to move down from the Wolds. Sheep moved in. Today many of those original woldland settlements can only be seen in aerial photographs but on the margins various small villages remain and they can trace their origins way back in time.

On Thursday, I caught a train to Barnetby-le-Wold and undertook a long walk in the north western sector of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Five solid hours of plodding. Sadly, the sunshine that had been promised by the weatherman on Tuesday never materialised but at least it was dry and perhaps typically Novemberish - slightly chilly with thin white cloud and a mist that never fully disappeared.
Abandoned chalk quarry near Bigby
I walked from Barnetby to its abandoned Saxon church on the edge of the village before striking out to Bigby, then Somerby and Searby. The -by ending of place names is Viking in origin and this ending is predominantly restricted to Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. There are 171 settlements in Lincolnshire ending in -by.

Up to Searby Top where the fields are still speckled with bits of chalk and flint, then along to Mealand Hill and down to New Barnetby. I was back in Barnetby-le-Wold just before my train arrived at 15.53. It had been a wonderful walk even though the light was not conducive to stunning photography. It is hard to fully comprehend that those chalky wolds were once the floor of a prehistoric ocean that existed for an estimated 80 million years during The Cretaceous Period which drew to a close some seventy million years ago. Such mind-boggling periods of time.
Barnetby's old church - disused since 1972
Old chalkstone barn at Searby Top
My best photo of The Lincolnshire Wolds - taken two years ago near Caistor

21 November 2014

Image

In my view, Twitter is for twits. It has caused so many ructions that I wonder why people bother with the nonsense. Apart from anything else, I can't abide the notion that thoughts or observations might be distilled into a mere 140 characters. This economy makes a mockery of written communication through the ages. And another thing, why would anybody want "followers"? Jesus Christ had followers and so did Adolf Hitler but personally I wouldn't want to be somebody who is "followed". They might mug me down a dark alley.

See the image above that was tweeted two days ago by the Labour Party's Emily Thornberry. She was the shadow attorney general but now - because of that tweet - she has lost her position in the shadow cabinet. Personally, I am glad she has gone. This privileged barrister, whose father Cedric was Assistant United Nations Secretary General, sent her own children to a posh school outside her London neighbourhood. She is a hypocrite. A smug metropolitan wordsmith who saw the Labour Party as a great career move. Such a contrast with the men and women who forged the Labour Party to represent the needs and aspirations of ordinary working people.

Let me explain that picture. It seems to encapsulate a widespread and rather snobbish view of the ordinary working class family in Britain today. They live in a small house and they have a white van on the block paving. There are two St George flags hanging from the windows. Their patriotism might be interpreted as a form of nationalistic bigotry - God Save the Queen but get rid of the immigrants. I have no doubt that Emily Thornberry was poking fun at the very people she is meant to represent - British workers and their families - the very people who made The Labour Party a hundred years ago. 

She may also have failed to appreciate that those flags were hanging from the house the morning after England had trounced Scotland in Glasgow in a "friendly" football international. It is very likely that the residents are simply proud England fans who put the flags out to express their sporting allegiance.

Thornberry goes to dinner parties and likes fine wines. She visits the theatre and lives the Islington high life. She reads "The Times" and still follows the intricacies of ongoing legal cases. She does not count the pennies in her purse or struggle to get the ironing done. She does not sit glued to the telly watching mind-numbing pap or hear the people next door rowing or wonder if she can afford a holiday on the Costa Blanca next summer or seek cheap house insurance on the internet or receive school reports on her children which say "disruptive" and "could do better". No, Emily Thornberry has resided in a privileged bubble. 

Though it has no accompanying words, the image she tweeted says a great deal about her and sadly it consolidates what a lot of working people have been thinking about the Labour elite. They are inauthentic and out of touch with the party's roots. I wonder if she'll tweet a picture of her crestfallen face or an apology for the damage her arrogance has done.

19 November 2014

Oops!

So there I was in "The Hammer and Pincers", with my mate Mick attempting the Tuesday night quiz. We were sitting at a little table in an offshot area opposite the bar. Close behind me was another table where three or four thirty something men were socialising and beyond them another table with another bunch of thirty something men. We have been irritated by that little gang before - too loud, their laughter too false and schoolboyish as if they own the pub.

Mick and I were drinking our beer and chatting when suddenly and unexpectedly my chair was nudged forward - causing me to spill a little ale from my pint glass. It was one of the lads from The Irritators. Instead of going the very slightly longer way round back to his table he had just pushed his way through a tiny gap.

But now we come to the key reason for this blogpost. I was so instantly annoyed by the incident that without thinking or measuring my words at all, I just blasted out at this fellow, "At least say excuse me you ignorant bastard!" Oh dear! Some words are best kept inside our heads. Fortunately, the target of my unbridled blast of annoyance was clearly a wimpish fellow - probably a solicitor, a plumber or a university lecturer - something like that. There are many men who would take great exception to being called an "ignorant bastard" even when they have just acted in the manner of such a creature. He just grinned sheepishly and went back to his gang.

So I got away with that one. No bar room brawl or bloody nose. No police statement or hospital visit. It's funny isn't it. So often we journey carefully through life, often curbing our innermost thoughts and avoiding any shooting from the hip - but occasionally when all is said and done immediate  and instant reactions are sometimes the most honest kind.

17 November 2014

Endorsement

The clever people who produce television commercials have many weapons in their armoury. One tried and tested approach concerns celebrity endorsement of products or services. You know the kind of thing. Pick a well-known celebrity - usually from the worlds of sport or entertainment - and get him or her to endorse the thing that is being promoted.

It is important for companies to be associated with the right kind of celebrity. There are famous people who could hamper sales. For example you wouldn't want Roy Keane - the former Ireland international footballer - selling baby foods and you wouldn't want Katie Price (aka Jordan) to advertise insurance products. In each case sales would probably nosedive. It is important to get the right celebrity "fit".

Leicester-born and squeaky clean football presenter Gary Lineker is a marvellous choice for the promotion of Walkers crisps. They are made in Leicester and Gary is so inoffensive - liked by both men and women. Potential purchasers of these crisps would feel no sub-conscious animosity towards the product because of him. Quite the opposite.
Bland and irritating - Ant and Dec - advertising "Morrisons"
Uncle Len Goodman promoting "Farm Foods"
When I watch television I mostly prefer the BBC, but occasionally I will find myself switching over to commercial channels. There I have recently noticed commercials for the Yorkshire-based supermarket chain "Morrisons" and for the frozen food specialists "Farm Foods".

No doubt at huge expense, "Morrisons" are using familiar celebrity presenters Ant and Dec for the purposes of endorsement while "Farm Foods" have called upon Len Goodman the affable seventy year old head judge of "Strictly Come Dancing". You see Len pushing a trolley round a "Farm Foods" store with a huge grin on his face while he purportedly considers the savings he is making.

Morrisons ads will sometimes rely solely upon voice overs by Ant and Dec while at other times we see the Geordie pair smiling inanely as they prance about in Morrisons supermarkets or settle down to a festive meal cobbled together from the supermarket's product range.

As I watch these ads, I think "ah but!". There's absolutely no way that Len Goodman would ever shop at "Farm Foods" and I simply cannot see the millionaire Ant and Dec combo giving two hoots about saving pennies at Morrisons - again a place they will surely never visit in real life. For me these endorsers are inappropriate and instead of making me warm towards "Farm Foods" and "Morrisons", I feel slightly repulsed. The endorsements seem contrived and inauthentic so I will keep supporting German business by shopping at "Lidl" and "Aldi" - even though I have noticed musical matchmaker Jools Holland creeping into the latter's Christmas ad campaign.

16 November 2014

Evans

If you don't follow British news media you will probably never have heard of Chedwyn Evans. He is a convicted twenty five year old rapist who has just completed his sentence -  two years in prison.

Back in May 2011, he received a phone call from a friend called McDonald . Evans was invited to visit a hotel near Rhyl in North Wales - the purpose being to have sexual intercourse with a nineteen year old girl who was comatose because of excess of alcohol. McDonald had brought the girl to the hotel and had already had sex with her. Evans duly arrived at the hotel and committed the wicked deed while McDonald filmed the coupling on his mobile phone.

Oh, one thing I haven't yet mentioned about Evans is that he was a professional footballer. He played for both Manchester City and Wales before being transferred to Sheffield United whose famous Bramall Lane ground is just a mile from this keyboard.

Even when Evans was in prison, a debate began about whether or not he should be allowed to take up his footballing career when he came out. Sheffield United supporters appeared to fall into two camps. Evans supporters, who often dared to suggest that a rape hadn't happened in the first place, said that once a man has served his punishment he has the right to return to his occupation. Evans's detractors said that allowing him to play for Sheffield United again would appear to endorse the crime of rape and send out a bad message to women and young supporters alike.

Last week, Evans began training with Sheffield United once more and this has added fuel to the debate. Olympic athlete and gold medal winner Jessica Ennis has demanded that her name be removed from one of the stands at Bramall Lane if Evans ever plays for the club again. Other notable supporters have also withdrawn their patronage.Meanwhile, Evans has appeared in a video on his own website, holding his devoted girlfriend's hand while reading a script that basically says "I didn't rape that woman and I want my job back".

But what about the victim? Well she was moved from her home and family in North Wales, re-housed and given a new identity. She had become the target of vicious internet trolls. They have since discovered her new whereabouts and her new name and have outed her meaning that the authorities have had to give her a second new name and a second new location. She is still very young and at a time when she surely needs her family and friends around her her life has been thrown into chaos. It is as if she is being punished while her attacker - Evans, who has never once said sorry, expects to return to professional football.

The issue has been debated on radio and television as well as in the coffee bars and pubs of Sheffield and North Wales. You may already be able to tell where my sympathies lie for I have kept referring to Evans by his surname. He is usually known as Ched - Ched Evans. I feel for the victim and I am appalled that there are so many men who blindly believe that Evans should be allowed to lace up his boots again and run on to the pitch as if nothing had happened. Many imagine that the victim was "probably asking for it" and she got "what she deserved". I mean if a woman goes out in high heels and a short skirt then gets blind drunk, what can she expect?

If I were a young footballer getting ready for a training session, there is no way I would hang my clothes up next to the peg of a convicted rapist and there's no way I would want to pass the ball to him. Last night a fellow in our local pub suggested that men are the victims of women's protests when it comes to rape - all a woman has to do is to cry the word and the police will come running these days. But I said such cases were rare and it was much more common for women to suffer memories of rape in silence - fearing the consequences should they report their assaults.

Standing up against Evans is in my mind the equivalent of standing up for women. It is surely time to step forward into the light.