24 June 2018

Internment

In both the film and stage versions of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" there is a scary character called The Child Catcher. The Child Catcher is employed by Baron Bomburst and Baroness Bomburst to snatch and imprison children on the streets of Vulgaria.

In the past week I guess we have all become aware of what has been going on at the US/Mexico border with regard to the tightening of immigration controls. For the past six weeks as would-be immigrant parents have been arrested, their children have been taken separately to glorified internment camps. It is estimated that some 2300 children suffered and are still suffering this traumatic separation.

Who is looking after these children? What are they eating? What are their sleeping arrangements? Who is counselling them? Are the adults who are charged with detaining the children suitably trained? What qualifications do they have?

When all is said and done, it is not the children who decided to up sticks and travel to the US/Mexico border in search of a better life in the land of milk and honey now led by Trump. The children are innocent so why should they be imprisoned in such dubious and ill-considered circumstances?

I think of those children - confused, in a foreign land - not knowing where their parents are or when they might meet again, far from the homes they knew back in Guatemala or Nicaragua or Mexico or Colombia or... The children are surrounded by other children - themselves strangers from other lands. I think of children sobbing themselves to sleep or frozen with terror.

One of the worst things about this cruel mess is that it appears the US authorities do not have clear documentation to link all the children with their parents with regard to current locations, family names etcetera. It is possible that some of the children may never see their parents again unless much more strenuous efforts are made to bring families back together.

It's a shameful business, really shameful and even Trump now seems to realise that he has gone too far. It's one thing imprisoning illegal immigrants but it is another thing entirely taking away their children and putting them separately into secure encampments.

You wonder what the world is coming to when things like this can happen right under our noses. America is meant to be about liberty and huddled masses, a land of opportunity and hope - not a country where innocent children cry themselves to sleep in bunk beds because of  The Real Life Child Catcher.

23 June 2018

Gawthorpe

Gawthorpe Water Tower was constructed almost a hundred years ago.
Yesterday, every square mile of England was bathed in beautiful June sunshine from dawn till dusk. The sky was blue. Unseen birds twittered in hedgerows. 

In another life, my working life, I would have looked out from my classroom window wishing that I could be out in the sunshine following ancient paths to distant farms. Instead I was trapped with 4C or 2HS - making sense of written words, fighting against the odds. Teaching kids who lived in social housing and had narrow horizons was always challenging.

But yesterday I was free. Free to drive up to a village just south of Leeds - Gawthorpe. I parked Clint and put my boots on. Then, after guzzling a bottle of spring water I set off chomping an apple. I had six or seven miles to go in another big circle.

Who knew what I would see along the way?  The pictures included with this post give you a little sense of  how this ramble turned out. It was such a lovely afternoon.
Old farm cottages in West Ardsley
Canine chums in Ardsley Reservoir
Trinity Church, Ossett
I liked the shadows below this signage
Elderberry blossom near Low Park Farm
Red Lodge Farm
P.S. I forgot to mention this little incident from yesterday's walk. There's a rarely trodden grassy track that leads north to Ardsley Reservoir. As I proceeded along it, through the knee high grasses I noticed a human head bobbing several yards in front of me.  A middle aged man was sitting in the grass, probably imagining that he would be undisturbed. Immediately, I suspected that he might be sunbathing in the nude or possibly exercising his wedding tackle. I coughed loudly to warn him I was arriving. Startled, he pulled a  black T-shirt across his lap and as I passed by I  greeted him though for obvious reasons I did not wish to stop for a friendly chat.

Ladies and indeed fellows from foreign climes should be advised that this kind of behaviour is uncharacteristic of Yorkshire gentlemen. Generally speaking, we do not lounge by public rights of way - stark naked playing with our penises. It's highly likely that that man was from  Lancashire where I understand that such behaviour is fairly widespread.

22 June 2018

Farewell

It was time to say goodbye to Richard at the local crematorium yesterday afternoon. The place was packed and the ceremony was non-religious, officiated by a humanist celebrant.

Richard had lived and worked in Sheffield all his life. He married and raised a family here. His house is but two hundred yards from the house he was born in, just round the corner from our house.

Since childhood he had borne the nickname Bean because when he was in primary school he was the bean bag monitor. Bean bags were sometimes used in physical education in place of balls. If you threw a bean bag across the school hall it wouldn't bounce away. The name Bean just stuck and he couldn't cast it off.

Apart from football, Richard also loved opera and had a fine singing voice. He had been an active member of several operatic societies through the years and plenty of his old opera friends attended the gathering at the crematorium.

Halfway through the ceremony, the celebrant invited those who knew the song "Eagle High" to stand and sing it. Songsheets were provided. It is a song I had never heard before. It comes from a less well-known opera by Gilbert and Sullivan called "Utopia Limited".

Forget the guy at the beginning of this YouTube clip. That part was omitted as about forty people rose to sing "Eagle High" for Richard or as they knew him - Bean. It was very moving and very personal. They sang their hearts out in love and respect for a friend who lived with gusto, positivity and humour:-

21 June 2018

Connection

I was touched by most of the comments upon yesterday's blogpost - "Sometimes". People can be so nice, so thoughtful.

One comment stood out for me. It came from Bonnie in Missouri, USA. She articulated one of the best and most powerful features of blogging - seeing it as a vehicle for better understanding between nations and individuals. When we communicate through blogging we by-pass official channels of international  discourse. We are ordinary citizens just getting along and learning about each other. That's surely a very good thing and a little anarchic too.

Bonnie said:-

"You find a lot in blogs today but for me I most appreciate the opportunities they give us all. There is so much in this world today to be concerned about but I feel if only we could all reach out to one another on a personal level as we see done in blogs that possibly we could cross some of the barriers that are put in front of us today. Blogs bring us together across the world and show us that no matter where we live or what we believe we are all more alike than different."

Of course there are many specific blog categories out there producing blogs that are purely informational or instructional. Blogs about cooking, cars or craftwork. Blogs about astronomy, astrology or antiques. Such blogs have their place but they are very different from the general blogs that I and no doubt Bonnie prefer - blogs in which people reveal themselves and reflect on the circumstances of their lives. 

20 June 2018

Sometimes

Sometimes I  switch this laptop on ready to make a blogpost and then I realise that I haven't mentally earmarked a subject to blog about. I have nothing to say.

Next Monday, it will be thirteen years since the birth of "Yorkshire Pudding". Over the years I have covered a lot of ground. Country walks and holidays, film and book reviews, flights of fancy and world events, memories and family matters, poetry and paintings... etcetera... etcetera.

This blog has echoed my life. Like a best friend it has held my hand as we have stepped forward together through the passing years.

This particular post is blogpost number 2753. I hate to calculate the number of hours I have devoted to this pastime. Sometimes I think I should have used all that time and energy on something else such as the writing of fiction with a view to publication. Instead, I just kept tapping away. Blogging.

It has been a pleasurable and helpful outlet and it still delights me enormously that I have made so many contacts with visitors from around the world. This wasn't something I anticipated when I wrote my very first sentence on June 25th 2005 -  "So this is England in mid-summer."

So this is England in mid-summer. Sometimes I switch this laptop on ready to make a blogpost. In these early hours of another June morning I think I may have succeeded. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being part of this blogging journey.

19 June 2018

Pub

In the limestone country of the High Peak, the main road from Stoney Middleton soon brings you to the hamlet of Wardlow Mires. There is a very old pub there. It is called "The Three Stags' Heads Inn".

Nowadays it is only open to customers at weekends. I have driven or walked past it a hundred times or more but I had never been inside it until Sunday afternoon.

I pushed open the old wooden door to find a roaring log fire burning in an old-fashioned kitchen range. Seven people were sitting in the small room on  a variety of seats and ahead of me was a small wooden bar with  three beer pumps on the counter. Two bright-eyed whippets and a wire-haired Jack Russell  were also present.

I ordered half a pint of "Daily Bread" and turned to observe my fellow customers more closely.  They clearly knew each other and seemed a little surprised that a stranger had entered their midst.

An old man with long white hair and an unkempt white beard had a copy of "The Sunday Times" open on his lap. He was siting in an ancient Windsor chair with spindles. Across from him was another bearded man in a black T-shirt. These words were printed on the front of it - "Not Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting". Sitting next to him was his missus in a red anorak. 

A ruddy-faced local man was  comfortably settled into  his corner seat and on the window seat was the owner of the Jack Russell. His thin-haired companion tried to convince me that the dog owner was Ronan Keating of Boyzone fame but it was just a joke. 

There was a second room on the other side of the fire, A few more customers were drinking in there and there were two stuffed foxes. This was the very opposite of a designer pub. The yard thick walls were painted dark green and there were old pictures of peakland scenes upon the walls.
Returning to the first room, there was a curious stuffed hare in the window. He was on his hind legs and holding a small rifle. Behind the ruddy-faced man in that dark corner there was a glass case containing a mummified cat. I was informed that it had been discovered in a wall cavity during  repair work in Victorian times. It is believed that the cat had been placed in the wall to ward off evil spirits when the pub was built at the start of the seventeenth century.

I was only inside "The Three Stags' Heads Inn" for ten minutes but in that short time I had spoken to everyone in the bar room and learnt a good deal about the history of the  pub. It would have been nice to buy another beer and blend in with the locals, whiling away the rest of the afternoon but I had to get back to the wedding venue search party.
The mummified cat

18 June 2018

Venues

Hargate Hall - just one of the wedding venues we visited. There's Clint on the left.
This weekend we were looking at possible wedding venues foe Frances and Stew. We visited ten locations and connected with every one there were both pluses and minuses.

At one end of the spectrum there was a luxurious country hotel with magnificent views. The "package" on offer was complete so that the happy couple would have been relieved of all wedding reception planning concerns. It would have all been done for them.

At the other end of the spectrum there was a rather dog-eared community work centre. It looked pretty good on the website with a silver Rolls Royce motor car parked outside the Georgian building but the reality was rather different.

Seeing the different venues with their pros and cons and costings helped Frances and Stew visualise the kind of wedding celebrations they would really like.

They plan to get married in a church - partly out of respect for Stew's father who is a vicar in The Church of England. Then they want the reception to have a personalised, laid back quality with accommodation on site. We were worried about the prospect of renting a marquee, given both the cost of  it and anxiety about the vagaries of our weather.

We have a coarse expression in the north of England  - "taking the piss". It is often applied in situations where companies or individuals seek to exploit or "rip off" their prey. In the world of wedding venues it appears that "taking the piss" is widespread.

For example, at one venue they said they charged £16 per bottle "corkage" if the happy couple wished to provide their own wine! At other venues the "corkage" ranged from £6 per bottle to £12. What an unmitigated rip off! Clearly a device designed to discourage families from providing their own wine and instead pay over the odds for the venue's own wine bottles.

At one of the venues they talked about evening food provision long after the wedding breakfast. The cost of one roast pork sandwich would have been £21 ($28 US). With a hundred wedding guests the roast pork sandwich bill alone would have been £2100. Now that really is "taking the piss".

Anyway, I learnt many things I did not know about wedding venues - a whole new world to me. When Shirley and I got married in 1981 it was all so much more simple. There were hardly any decisions to be made. Here's the church. Here's the pub. Here's the buffet menu. Here's the bill. It was just like that. Now it's very different.

Thankfully, in the end, the happy couple returned to London having reserved a place in The Peak District. Hopefully, all will be well at this chosen venue in late August of next year and hopefully the father of the bride will still be around to make a coherent, funny and heartfelt speech.