20 February 2019

Edgelands

When I picked up "Edgelands" in the Oxfam shop where I work every Wednesday, I was drawn by the sub-heading on the front cover - "Journeys into England's true wilderness".

I imagined it was going to be a book about mountain tops, heathland, forests and lonely beaches but I misled myself. It is actually a book about places that exist between cities and the true countryside. These are oft neglected and overlooked regions that writers usually ignore.

"Edgelands" has not one but two authors - Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts - both from the north west of England and both usually  more interested in poetry than examining the edges of cities. The chapter headings give a good sense of what their book is about - Cars, Paths, Dens, Containers, Landfill, Water, Sewage, Wire, Gardens, Lofts, Canals, Bridges, Masts, Wasteland, Ruins, Woodlands, Venues, Mines, Power, Pallets, Hotels, Retail, Business, Ranges, Lights, Airports, Weather, Piers.

Here's a taste of their writing from the very middle of the book when they are focusing upon those ubiquitous telecommunication masts that seem to surround us these days:
Head for the scrubland outside Big Storage or the B&Q Warehouse where the pallets rise like a fortress over the razor-wire fence. Stand like a latter-day St Sebastian, and open yourself to the multiple text messages, wireless e-mails and mobile phone calls cutting through you. Sift through the trivia, the cold calls and spam, until you reach the desperate evocations of love, loss, fear. Listen to them whisper as they pass through you. Take on the cares of the world. (page 133)

The authors explore and reflect upon some of the uglier and least celebrated features of the modern world. Their view is both observant and opinionated and I found "Edgelands" to be quite revelatory. It categorises and examines and it opens one's eyes to elements and arrangements we are habitually blind to. Next time I find myself in any "edgelands" I expect I will look at them a little differently..

19 February 2019

Promotion

This time last year I was eagerly anticipating the publication of the first "BOSH!" cookbook. The book was launched with much brouhaha at Borough Market in London on April 19th. I blogged about the event here.

In the months that have passed by since that happy launch day, the book has become a tremendous success. Sales have far exceeded expectations and "Bosh!" has become Britain's best-selling vegan cookbook of all time.

Our son Ian and his "Bosh!" partner Henry have appeared on several TV and radio shows and have featured in various newspapers and magazines. It has been a helluva ride for them.

Their publisher - Harper Collins - wanted to see a second "Bosh!" book on the market before a year had passed so Ian and Henry knuckled down and came up with a whole new cookbook which they have named "Bish Bash Bosh". It will be published on April 4th and this is the front cover:-
Last week they spent two days signing inner pages ahead of the binding process. They had 13,000 books to sign! A sweet kind of punishment. The "Bosh!" phenomenon continues. Let's hope that "Bish Bash Bosh" mirrors the success of the first book.

If you are interested, you can pre-order a copy of "Bish Bash Bosh" from Amazon UK. Go here. Non-UK ordering sources are shown on the "Bosh!" website. Go here.

18 February 2019

STFU!

When I took the train from Sheffield to Saxilby in Lincolnshire, I figured I would have some good , peaceful reading time both there and back. The journey takes around seventy five minutes - plenty of time to devour a good few pages.

However...

On the way there there were two middle aged women in my carriage. Stupidly, they had got on the wrong train. They were rough, ill-educated women with loppy hair and bad manners. They kept swearing in an unladylike manner and wanted to blame somebody for their mistake. They circled their self-made problem from various angles, often repeating themselves. They spoke loudly and twice used their mobile phones to complain to family members about what had happened. Why the hell they didn't get off the train at the very next stop I have no idea.

Their presence on the train prevented me from reading.

In a fantasy scenario that I hatched secretly in my brain, I stood up, went over to these two unpleasant women, and yelled, "SHUT THE **** UP OR I WILL CHUCK YOU OFF THE TRAIN!"  They quaked with surprise and fear and were completely silent for the rest of the journey.

On the way back to Sheffield there was a thirty something woman on the train just behind me. She was accompanied by her two little girls aged five and seven. The girls were talking and behaving in an entirely normal girlish manner but the mother - oh, the mother! Quelle horreur! - as the French might say.

Her loud talk was all about discipline, disapproval and admonishment. Nothing those two poor girls could say or do attracted any kind of approval, laughter or delight. I felt so sorry for them and rather sorry for myself as again there was no chance of concentrating on my book.

In my fantasy response, I stood up and bent over the woman, saying quietly, "This is no way to speak to children my dear! Do you love them? If so, you must show them your love in the way that you talk to them. Stop criticising everything they say and do! I have been subjected to your horrible whining voice for the last hour so I just have one more thing to say to you -  SHUT THE **** UP!"

17 February 2019

Handshaking

How should we shake hands?

Handshaking is important in British culture and indeed in many other cultures too. It's customarily how we meet or greet people. It can also be how we say goodbye. There's physical contact - not just smiles or words of greeting or farewell - but actual touch.

One's handshake  transmits information to the other party. A limp, seemingly reluctant handshake suggests disinterest or superiority. In contrast, an excessively strong handshake suggests that there's a power game going on. The provider of the "too firm" handshake may be deliberately attempting to claim some kind of illusory top dog spot.

Perhaps it's mostly characteristic of would-be alpha males but I can recall several manly handshakes which have almost caused me to yelp with sudden pain as my knuckles have been unexpectedly crushed. That's not how a genuine handshake should be. You surely should not cause the unsuspecting recipient any discomfort.

This is my philosophy of handshaking: it's a way of signifying respect for the other person and establishing equality. There should be no squeezing or limpness and you should avoid holding on -  never maintaining your grip for too long. 

A socio-psychologist could have a real field day observing and reflecting upon the handshakes that are meted out by the forty fifth president of the USA. Now there's someone who definitely uses his handshake as a means of  suppression or intimidation. He often squeezes too hard and deliberately hangs on for too long. These are techniques that he probably developed while working in real estate and property development. With him it's all about power.

I never thought I would find myself agreeing with anything said by the late George H.W.Bush, but with regard to handshaking, we are definitely on the same wavelength. He said:-

It is possible to tell things by a handshake. I like the "looking in the eye" syndrome. 
It conveys interest. I like the firm, though not bone crushing shake. The bone 
crusher is trying too hard to "macho it." The clammy or diffident handshake - 
fairly or unfairly - get me off to a bad start with a person.

16 February 2019

Sunshine

Tree by Hazelhurst Lane, Sheffield
Sunshine in February. Blue skies and spring flowers stirring. What is a Yorkshire Pudding to do but to go out plodding through the countryside? After all, there may come a day when I find myself sitting in the window of a residential home, hardly able to shuffle to the lavatory, with porridge dribbling down my chin, wishing with all my heart that I could still walk miles.
St John the Evangelist Church, Ridgeway
On Thursday, Clint kindly whooshed me to the south-eastern fringes of the city. He parked himself near the old Lightwood aerodrome and then surgically I pulled my boots out of his rear end. I set off over the fields and through woods to the village of Ridgeway before returning in one of my habitual circles.

Then yesterday - Friday - I caught a train out to Lincolnshire - alighting in the village of Saxilby. It's situated about five miles west of the city of Lincoln in a flat agricultural landscape.
I had planned a walking route that would take me to Skellingthorpe, Doddington and Harby. And I marched over fields and wooden footbridges that crossed drains, through woods - only resting on a bench in Skellingthorpe for ten minutes to consume my corned beef and tomato sandwiches, washed down with Yorkshire water that I carried in an excellent one litre flask that was given to me as a Christmas present. There was also a sweet apple to much upon.
Crocuses at Doddington
I estimate that I walked ten miles - maybe more. I missed the 16.29 train back to Sheffield and had to catch the 17.31 instead. That was no big issue. I sank a pint of bitter shandy in "The Anglers" and then a small portion of chips with a fishcake from "Smiths" fish and chip shop before riding home in the gloaming.

And throughout this adventure, there wasn't even a vague hint of complaint from my right knee though, if I might share an intimate observation,  one's nether regions were somewhat chafed after so many strides. 
Top House Farm, Doddington
Blacksmith's Cottage, Harby

14 February 2019

Poem

Happenstance

A particular egg
A particular sperm
Me. 

A certain pub
A particular night
Us. 

A certain church
A particular Saturday
Matrimony. 

Particular years 
Certain happy days 
Children. 

Particular paths
Certain stiles
Life. 

A particular alignment of stars, 
A certain feeble heartbeat... 
The End.

13 February 2019

Happenstance


Yesterday morning as I stirred from sleep, a word rose up from the murky depths of my unfathomable mind. It was a word that I do not ever remember using - not even once in my entire life. That word was "happenstance". I liked the sound of it and it buzzed about in my skull like a bluebottle - happenstance, happenstance...

I knew roughly what it meant - something like co-incidence or circumstance. It's not a word you encounter every day. Google led me to a good example of the word in context:-

While some gardens can be grown through happenstance, a water garden is deliberately created by the gardener.

"Happenstance" implies happenings that  somehow collide. Some seeds were scattered. A shrub was planted. Creeping ground plants invaded from next door's garden. And together, through happenstance, the garden evolved into what you see today.

It seems that the word was first coined in the USA in the 1850's so it has not been around for very long. It sounds somehow Shakespearean but Shakespeare never used it. He went to his grave 250 years before "happenstance" emerged. Who first gave breath to the word is unknown - perhaps it was a mistake - but it seemed to fill a gap in the language, cleverly combining "happening" with "circumstance" just as "guesstimate" in more recent times has usefully combined "guess" with "estimate".

While particular word usage may  decline over time, the graph for "happenstance" has followed a steady, upward trajectory since 1900. However, just as I don't remember ever using the word myself, so I don't recall anyone else using it in my company. That may be pure happenstance or more likely the word mostly rears its head on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

If you also happen to like the word "happenstance" then this blogpost has been happenstantial.