25 January 2015

Weel

Weel by The River Hull
Riding on the bus to Beverley, when I was a sixthformer at Beverley Grammar School, we would pass through Routh and Tickton and just before Hull Bridge a lane branched left - adjacent to the river. The signpost said Weel.

Until yesterday I had never been to Weel. A single track two mile road with passing places and to the right the manmade banking that generally prevents the River Hull from flooding low-lying farmland. It makes me imagine how such areas would have been before medieval engineers sought to control water with drains and river banks. Rivers would have simply spread out so any old settlements tend to be found on slightly higher land. Even a few feet would have made all the difference.

There's nothing beyond Weel. It's an end of the line kind of place. Until 1953, villagers crossed the river by ferry to get to Beverley on the other side but in that year work began on nearby Grovehill Bridge making tranport so much easier.
Carr Lane street sign in Weel
Weel is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086. There was a little agricultural community there even then. In 1860 non-conformists built a little methodist chapel but Church of England villagers had to cross the river and walk into Beverley for their weekly services which is where funerals, christenings and marriages also happened.

Many low-lying English villages have "carr land" nearby. Carrs were challenging to farmers for flooding was frequent and to the east of Weel you will still find Weel Carr - now drained and rich agricultural land but occasionally still prone to flooding. It's all arable now - no sign of cattle.
The old chapel in Weel
Some extra houses were erected in the village in the 1960's and 70's but Weel remains a sleepy nondescript little place without facilities - no pub or school, no shop or bus service and the chapel became a private residence in 1963. But it still has a cream coloured phone kiosk - proving that it is within the sphere of Kingston Communications - independent from the rest of Britain's telephone system which of course has red phone kiosks.

Living there would, I think, be strange. In my travels and rambles, I see many small rural settlements and isolated houses and increasingly I think - No, that wouldn't be for me. To actually choose to live somewhere like Weel. Not my cup of tea. But at least I have now solved the mystery of the signpost I passed on the school bus all those years ago.
Cream phonebox in Weel - unique to East Yorkshire

23 January 2015

Stirling

The University of Stirling is a campus university to the north east of the historic town of Stirling in Scotland.  Since 2002, Stirling has enjoyed city status. It sits in a strategically significant position by the River Forth, overlooked by the Ochil Hills and you could say that it has always been the true gateway to the Scottish Highlands.

Overlooking holiday times, I spent over four years there between September 1973 and December 1977. It was bit of an emotional rollercoaster but through it all I studied hard and when I look back I am proud of my academic achievements and doubt that I could have done much better. 

My main subject was English Studies and by the end of September 1973 I had to submit my first academic assignment. It was linked to a fresher course entitled "An Introduction to English Poetry" and I believe the permitted limit was 1500 words. I grafted at that essay in a void, uncertain of my academic credentials. Deep inside I felt something of a fraud for at that time nobody in my family had ever been to university before. I was the first. 

Dutifully and not a little anxiously, I posted the finished essay in the special wooden box by the English Studies offices. I knew that it was custom and practice for assignments to be submitted in this way and that a few days later, after marking and second marking had happened, the results would be posted up on the English Studies noticeboard. 

Perhaps on my umpteenth visit to the noticeboard, the results were posted. Pessimistically, I looked up the list from the very bottom and as my index finger rose through the E, D and C grades I was becoming puzzled. Where was my name? Had they somehow lost my essay in the office system? And then I spotted it. At the top of the pile - out of the 100+ students on the course there were just six students who had each been awarded a Grade A and I was one of them! It was such an uplifting moment for it gave me the reassurance that I really did belong at university and I really did have the intellectual capacity to succeed there.

Hell, it's forty years ago. Some of the memories that remain are of excessive drinking and of three particular women - Pat from Glasgow, Raganheidur from Iceland and Barbara from Minneapolis. And there were the teaching practices at Alva Academy and St Mungo's Academy in Alloa. And I also recall the student union meetings - for Stirling was very active in that regard and its left wing politics were often vehemently debated.

By default rather than design, I found myself chairing heated student meetings in  packed out lecture theatres. Proposers of motions were allowed precisely two minutes at the lectern and I recall saying firmly to one regular proposer, "No Mr Reid! You have to end there. Your time is up!". It was John Reid - who later became Britain's Home Secretary and now sits in the House of Lords as Baron Reid of Cardowan. So much for his socialist credentials!

Whereas some people cling to university friendships for the rest of their adult lives, for me it was never going to be that way. I moved on. Back to England and to my illustrious teaching career. Stirling is a long way in miles and in spirit from my Yorkshire heartland and the one time I did go back everything had changed - not the geography or the buildings but the cast of people who occupied the stage on which I once strutted  with Sean Hemphill and Andy Bryce, Nick Nicholls and Hughie Lynch, John Shabashow and Paul Palompo, Dick Mungin and Neville Scott, Andy Monkman and Mick Smith and Pat and Barbara and Ragan and all the others whose names evaporated years ago. Stirling - my alma mater.

22 January 2015

Whiplash

"Whiplash" 2014
"Whiplash" has had some good reviews so today I decided to struggle through the snowdrifts aboard my new sledge - pulled by six husky dogs. This was kindly donated by Siberian blogger "Ivan the Terrible". At first I thought I would name the dogs after Santa's reindeer but instead I decided to call them Lee, Helen, Meike, Gowans, Adrian and Molly. They fight over the raw meat I throw to them but seem to respond to my bullwhip. I may have to have Adrian neutered as he's forever sniffing at the bitches' behinds.

Past Hunter's Bar and along Ecclesall Road. Passers by stood with jaws open and the number 88 bus narrowly missed the number 83A when the drivers simultaneously spotted my "Tundra Express" sledge gliding along. Eventually I arrived at The Showroom and tied the sledge up at the bicycle stand outside Sheffield Hallam University Students' Union.

"Whiplash" is an odd film. It has nothing to do with controlling randy huskies. Instead it is about jazz drumming and the quest for perfection. The lead parts are played by Miles Teller as the obsessive student drummer Andrew Neiman and J.K. Simmons as autocratic jazz band teacher Terence Fletcher.

There's a breathless energy to this film culminating in Neiman's outrageous drum solo which finally wins Fletcher over. "Whiplash" is not about killing or crime, it's about psychology and the quest for perfection. Strangely, there is a sense in which music seems to take a back seat. I thought that J.K.Simmons was brilliant but ultimately, despite the reviews,  I doubt that  this film is going to occupy a place on the "best films" shelf in my memory's film library.

At the students' union, the huskies were slavering and yapping at passing students and a parking enforcement officer was trying to put a ticket on my new sledge. "Oh no!" I exclaimed as Helen and Meike leapt at his undefended rump with bared fangs.

We proceeded home through the rush hour traffic and only occasionally did I have to flex my bullwhip - mostly on Adrian's furry rear end.

21 January 2015

Help!

Help! I am snowed in in Arctic Sheffield. All through the night the white stuff fell - once again covering the city with a thick white blanket. The snow has drifted right up our doorways and I can only get out through an upstairs window. We have no supplies in the fridge or cupboards and are desperately in need of an airdrop. Please send what you can to The Yorkshire Pudding Emergency Appeal. Items required include:-

  • Fillet steak (Two poounds of)
  • Ready roasted chicken (Large)
  • A case of New Zealand sauvignon blanc (Oyster Bay will do)
  • Two Ben Sherman denim effect shirts (X Large)
  • A barrel of Tetley's bitter
  • Two return air tickets to St Lucia or Cuba (Club class)
  • A bundle of fifty pound notes
  • A sledge and six huskies
  • A couple of now redundant Page Three girls from "The Sun"
  • New lightweight walking boots (UK Size 11)
  • Two pairs of those tennis racquets that Arctic explorers tie to their feet.
  • A "Mars" bar
Photos from our upstairs windows this morning:-
PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY!

20 January 2015

Newsoholism

King Stephen Crowned!
At last, I have plucked up the courage to take a deep breath and admit to you that I am a newsoholic. Looking back, I think that the first signs of this addiction were present years ago. I must have been six or seven when my mother and father bought our very first television. Not for me "The Woodentops" or "Bill and Ben", it was The News I wanted to see - flickering away in temperamental black and white - live from London. Well-spoken middle-aged men in ties with plummy voices. What they were saying was important. Suez, Harold McMillan, The Profumo Affair, The Assassination of John Kennedy.

In the intervening years there have been times when I have gone cold turkey and deliberately avoided The News for weeks, maybe months on end. And you know what it didn't do me any harm at all. In fact, it might be argued that life is simpler, happier, more natural when you have your news blinkers on. 

Wasn't that how human beings lived for thousands of years? When Krakatoa exploded, when ancient Egyptians were building their pyramids, when Mongol hordes were galloping from the east most human beings on the planet knew nothing of such things. They were too busy surviving and operating within their immediate communities. Besides there were no vehicles for the spreading of news - just word of mouth and that might take years to reach you.

In the forests of medieval England, news of what was happening in London or even in the next settlement arrived very slowly. Many weeks might pass by... 

"Hey, Terrowin, have you heard that we have got a new king? He's called King Stephen."
"When was he crowned Gorvenal?"
"It was about three years ago. Another one of those French ponces."
"Righto, let's get back to gathering these hazelnuts.Then we can do some witch dipping at the village pond."

Of course today we have twenty four hour news on the television. Something good or bad happens in Cairns, Queensland or Sloughhouse, California and we all have the opportunity to know about it within an hour or so. There will even be live footage from the scene - "Gun Crazed Chicken Farmer Kills Five in Rancho Murieta Shoot Out", "Cairns ICT Teacher Wins Nobel Prize". News is on the radio and websites. It's in social media and it's becoming almost instant.

These days I seem to require regular news fixes. Radio 4 when I wake up in the morning and when I am cooking in the evening. Even when covering the Yorkshire Pudding manly physique in soapy suds in the shower I will be listening to the bathroom radio. On the car radio too. And there's often such crap on the TV that I frequently find myself flicking to Channel 130 on Freeview to watch the rolling BBC World News.

Psychologically, it's probably not good for us. The news is dominated by disaster - wars and deaths, diseases and economic nightmares. Just as we feel things in everyday life about family or friends so in spite of ourselves we feel things about these news stories. They get under our skin and it can be both confusing and depressing - especially as we can do almost nothing to influence those developing stories. We are only dumb bystanders.

I wish I had the courage to book a long stay in a newsaholic rehabilitation centre - being weaned off my addiction in a news-free environment. I would play my guitar, take up painting again, read books and listen to music, sometimes trudging around the rehab centre's woodland gardens in my carpet slippers with  other desperate patients, looking for hazelnuts.

19 January 2015

Oddments

Above an old souvenir replica of The Empire State Building, sitting on our mantelpiece, illuminated by winter sunshine. Last June we drove through the little township of Goldbar in Washington State and stopped at "The Used Furniture Store" where we bought an old state licence plate for one dollar. The owner, a begrizzled Russian immigrant, said we could have the little souvenir for free.

Below in nearby Chelsea Park yesterday lunchtime, an athletic lurcher poses as another dog enters his territory-
In "The Banner Cross" tap room yesterday afternoon, before Hull City's live TV match with West Ham, regular and beloved customer Stan has chosen tea instead of beer:-
 Back to Christmas Day and I have snapped my happy family before we plough through our turkey feast:-
In Chelsea Park yesterday I snapped this tree stump carving by Jason Thomson(1998). After seventeen years, natural processes of decay are making the original sculpture a distant memory and one day it will of course, like everything, be gone forever:-

18 January 2015

Plus

There are many mysteries  - such as why are we here and what lies beyond the edge of the universe.?More mundanely - why do Ant and Dec have a place in popular television, how do chickens make eggs, who is RJ and are happenings in the mythical village of Trelawnyd simply imaginary? For me another mystery is something called "Google+" or "Google Plus". 

How I was ensnared by this cyber beast I have no idea. I noticed that it was capturing many - though not all - of my online pictures and storing them in an album. I noticed that it had made a homepage for me and that it had started to send me occasional emails. I was allocated "friends" and "contacts". At no time was I invited to join "Google+" and no one has sent me a manual or welcome pack.

Just before Christmas and without asking if this was permitted, it cobbled together a slideshow of my year in photos and sent it to me. The pictures flow together quite randomly and if I am honest I rather like it. I even sent "Google+" a thank you card with a lily of the valley posy on the front.

Recently "Google+" keeps picking out random photos and then re-editing them before sending them back to me. This morning for example I have received a reprocessed picture of Creswell Pond with some of the crags that fringe it. This was the original:-
 And here's the "Google+" revised version:_
"Google+" seems to make certain broad assumptions about what people want from their online experience but not everybody is the same. Some of us shun all this endless social media "Facebook" type chattering that appears to have been partly absorbed by "Google+". I wonder if they did their research properly. Clearly - just like the odious Ant and Dec - "Google+" is becoming a phenomenon that it is almost impossible to dodge. I guess I am going to have to learn to live with it.