30 March 2007

Morocco

This blog will probably be inactive for a few days as Shirley and I are about to fly to Morocco for a holiday. It's another of my Internet-designed trips. I booked the Ryanair flights last November - £120 each. Then I researched hotels and destinations. We are going to the coastal port of Essaouira first of all. Such a lovely sounding name and a place where Jimi Hendrix lived for a while - I guess the hashish had something to do with Jimi's choice.

After Essaouira, we'll be in Marrakech for four nights. It sounds like a place where you have to have your wits about you. There are hustlers, pickpockets and other desperate people trying to acquire money to get by. They'll be taken aback when the great Yorkshire Pudding tells them to piss off in his broad East Yorkshire accent!

However, we chose Morocco because it would be "different". Shirley has never been to Africa. We know it won't be as safe and predictable as say southern Spain or the isles of Greece. One thing I haven't told her is that the British government currently recommend extreme vigilance when travelling in Morocco following the death by bombing of a tourist in Casablanca on March 11th. She'd be fretting all the time if I told her that.

If we are bombed to smithereens then I leave this blog to "Hello!" magazine with the remit that money acquired from publishing photos of our funeral should go straight to my beloved Hull City AFC to purchase a striker who knows how to stick away goals. I'll be back on April 9th everyone but I might post from a Moroccan internet cafe. Be good!
Essaouira

29 March 2007

Red

I have always been a "red" and I guess I will die a "red". Being a "red" means you want social justice and it means you honour all of those who have died for the workers' cause - for justice, liberty and fairness. The song below is an anthem which acknowledges the struggle of ordinary working people:-

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr'd dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its ev'ry fold.

Chorus:-
Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Beneath its folds we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns are sung,
Chicago swells the surging throng.

It waved above our infant might
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.

It well recalls the triumphs past;
It gives the hope of peace at last:
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

It suits today the meek and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place,
To cringe before the rich man's frown
And haul the sacred emblem down.

With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall.
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

It was written by an Irish immigrant into London in the late 1880's. His name was Jim Connell - born in County Meath in 1852. He died in London in 1929. I don't suppose he would have appreciated the adulation surrounding the establishment of a memorial to him in his homeland for Jim was a "red" till the day he died and eschewed the cult of celebrity that is now endemic in the western world:-

26 March 2007

Tagged

I have been tagged! No not by the prison service whilst released into the community but by one of my favourite bloggers Miss Jennyta @ "Demob Happy Teacher". Like Jennyta, I haven't done one of these taggy things for a long time so here goes. The idea is that you reveal five things about yourself that you have not previously displayed in your blog:

1. Unlike Gemmak who tagged Jennyta and Jennyta herself, I am right-handed and consider all those of the left-handed persuasion to be freaks!

2. Do you know Pink Floyd? I once borrowed Dave Gilmour's "Daily Mirror" on the island of Rhodes in order to catch up with the cricket scores and when I gave him his newspaper back I still didn't recognise him - "Cheers mate!" Left Dave Gilmour with his CBE in 2003

3. The best temporary job I ever did was as a nightwatchman at a caravan factory where my best friend was an Alsatian dog called Shane.

4. I was at university with Britain's current Home Secretary John Reid and at a students' meeting where I was the chairperson I had to say "I'm sorry John. You're time's up. If you don't move away from the mike I shall have to ask the stewards to remove you!" He moved. Still scowling on the right...

5. At the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 I slept through The Doors' entire set. I was exhausted.

Well if you want to be tagged then you are tagged! Give your five reponses in your own blog - this tag request goes out especially to Arctic Fox, Alkelda The Gleeful, JJ@ All Cobblers and Arthur Clewley....

24 March 2007

Conference

Right - Shefield Marriott Hotel
The annual conference of Google/Blogspot bloggers was held last weekend in Sheffield. Google flew in representative bloggers from around the world and they were all accommodated at the exclusive Marriott Hotel in the leafy Nether Edge suburb of the city. Various UK bloggers travelled to the conference in stretch limousines.

Like most business conferences, this one was largely an excuse for a good party. Okay there was an official conference agenda to get through in the conference hall but most attendees saw last weekend as an opportunity for over-consumption of alcohol, enjoyment of good food and hanky panky with bloggers of the opposite sex.

Typically the "Welcome" meeting on Friday evening was rather tense and awkward as bloggers began to recognise their cyberfriends in the flesh. Seeing a name like "Mutterings and Meanderings" on screen is very different from seeing an attractive thirty-something lady in riding jodphurs and hard hat supping champagne while leaning against a column, chatting to none other than former skinhead, Arctic Fox from Huddersfield. "I hunt foxes down, " she said, drawing the tall Yorkshireman towards her by pulling firmly on his tie, "and then I whip them with my riding crop!" Arctic Fox's face turned beetroot red.

The American contingent were at first huddling together in the lounge making remarks about their first impressions of England. "When they said the conference was in England I thought they meant Maine or New Hampshire," drawled Alkelda The Gleeful. "Nobody told me these guys drove on the wrong side of the road," said By George from Texas. " I can't understand a word these UK people say y'all!" declared Brad the Gorilla vigorously scratching his hairy privates as gorillas are wont to do.

In the conference hall, the chairperson - Jennyta from North Wales - talked to the assembled bloggers as if they were all primary school children - "Now settle down all of you! I want everyone quiet when I have counted to three. One!...."

"I left primary school a long time ago!" muttered Steve from Manchester ("Occupied Country"). Ever the rebel, he was not in the mood for condescension of any kind.

"Shut the f.... up!" yelled Jennyta from the platform. "Now the first motion comes from JJ of "All Cobblers". It's up here on the screen children! Let me read it to you!"

"All right we can read!" protested Rilly Super. " I went to an exclusive girls school don't you know!"

"No! Go on miss! I can't read too well," said Arthur Clewley - he of Diary fame.

"Thank you Arthur! Here we go - This house believes that all anonymous comments should be barred from Blogworld. Now could JJ come to the stage to propose the motion? JJ? Where is she?"

"Miss, I think she stayed in her suite with that rough Scotsman who arrived in the limo with her, " said Eurodog from Belgium. "My room's next to hers. I think he was teaching her some trampoline techniques!"

Just then JJ and Reidski appeared in the back of the hall looking somewhat dishevelled. The Fatalist, who can be rather crude, made some lewd remark about why they were late and this caused Mr Shooting Parrots to just about wet his pants with laughter.

On Saturday evening, the annual Blogger awards were made and for the third year running the coveted "Blogger of The Year" Shield went to none other than Mr Yorkshire Pudding for services to blogging beyond the call of duty.Typically generous with his praise and humble in accepting the award, Mr Pudding was applauded so loudly and continuously that non-conference guests in the hotel imagined that huge hailstones were thundering upon the hotel roof!

Mr Pudding said, "I have a dream that one day in the cybercafes of Europe and America, from India to China and beyond - yay even in Australia - that world bloggers will reclaim this planet. I have a dream that clever bloggers and stupid bloggers, old bloggers and young will stand side by side and cry out Lord God Almighty we're free, free at last!" It was at that point that Chairperson Jennyta phoned for two men with a white van to take Mr Pudding away for some much needed mental rehabilitation...

21 March 2007

Nineteen

Another generation had war memories that bound them together. My surrogate "war" was faraway in the vast Pacific Ocean - teaching Polynesian high school kids - on an island that was "discovered" as late as 1796 by Captain Edwards aboard "The Pandora" as he chased down the mutineers from "The Bounty". I just received this picture this evening - kindly posted to me by one of my "war" buddies - Richard from Minneapolis. I wrote about him and our island before - Rotuma. (link)
That's me in the picture - at nineteen. My whole life in front of me. Before university. Before marriage. Before fatherhood. Before my father's death. Before I climbed on the treadmill of work - like a hamster running to keep up with myself. I look happy in that picture on a day I can't even remember. Playing my guitar for some village kids. A coconut leaf hat on my head. Lounging on a white sand beach thirteen thousand miles from home and over thirty years ago.

20 March 2007

Shoodle



This picture is not a fake. It appears that in Northumberland, not far from the little town of Bedlington, a farmer has successfully crossed a giant poodle with a sheep. The resulting offspring is to be known as a "shoodle". Apparently it doesn't bark like a dog or baa like a sheep - instead it makes a mixture of sounds - Wuffbaa! Wuffbaa! etc.. Its preferred diet is veggieburgers - satisfying its confused dual appetite for both meat and vegetable matter. This particular "shoodle" has been christened Charlton after the footballing brothers Bobby and Jackie who also hailed from Northumberland I believe.

18 March 2007

Waiting

Sunday afternoon – waiting for Shirley to come home from her trip out to Lincolnshire to see her mother on Mothering Sunday. Saturday night – waiting for the lottery results to tell me I’m free, waiting for a pint of ale at The St Patrick’s Night Party. What party? And why did Guinness boast that they’d produced three million green badges specially - along with one million of those dumb felt Guinness hats. Would St Patrick have admired such pointless waste of Mother Earth’s resources.? If put side by side in a line - those badges would reach from our house seventy five miles – right out into the North Sea.


Waiting for the years to pass. Counting the years on your mortgage, the years to retirement. Waiting for the weeks to pass – till the next holiday, the next birthday, the next anniversary. Waiting.


At the football waiting for the bus to come, waiting for the players to come out and at half time , waiting for them to return and waiting for the goal that sometimes never comes. Waiting for a season when we shine. Waiting.


Lying in bed listening to the wind, thoughts swirling in your head as you wait for sleep to come. And at work waiting for the clock to tick on to lunchtime or to the end of the day. Waiting for Easter. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for a parking place. And we have sayings – Guinness again – “Good things come to those who wait”, “Wait a minute”, “Wait a little bit longer”, “Waiting for Godot”. And we have waiters and waitresses, people who wait on us.


But the best of life is when we are not waiting but doing. Living the moment, happy in the here and now, not wishing our lives away and waiting for something else, something beyond this moment. I’m a waiter and that’s my tip of the day.

14 March 2007

Graffiti

Let me tell you - I abhor, loathe and detest nearly all graffiti. I hate it when it is on bus shelters. I hate it when it is on lavatory walls. I hate big examples of graffiti and I hate tiny examples of it. As far as I am concerned, the vast majority of graffiti is absolute rubbish and has no artistic merit whatsoever. I scorn those mugs and liberal pseudo-intellectuals who make out that graffiti is an art form. This is utter balderdash. Most graffiti makers are spotty, socially incompetent teenage boys who know as much about art as I know about astrophysics.

Here in South Yorkshire, a graffiti vandal called Simon Sunderland was imprisoned a few years ago for blighting the region with his ugly trademark "Fista" scrawl. He was deemed to be a victim of misunderstanding and prejudice and recently even had an exhibition of his masturbatory graffiti in a local art gallery. I went to see it. It was, as I had expected, pure crap. And it made me angry to think that this moron, whose ugly spray painting can still be found on motorway bridges and industrial walls has been placed on a pedestal by some misguided do-gooders and called an "artist". He is not an artist, He is a criminal who cared not one jot that he was spoiling the landscape of South Yorkshire for other inhabitants.

I hate the self-indulgence of these shadowy graffiti makers. If they were writing something of a political nature - something that was meant to make you think, change things, then my annoyance would surely soften. You know what I mean - "Give Peace A Chance!" or "Stop The War in Iraq!" - stuff like that. But what these vandals are usually doing is glorifying themselves and selfishly spoiling the urban environment with meaningless sprayed patterns and words that mean nothing to the majority of onlookers.

If caught, I think it should be standard that those responsible for graffiti should be equipped with overalls, goggles and powerful cleaning fluid sprays to remove their handiwork. This would also apply to the hyped up Banksy who has been gaining urban kudos he doesn't deserve for his banal stencilled graffiti around London, Bristol etc..

But having said all of this, I must admit that I have an urge to make some graffiti myself. There is an ugly motorway bridge between the M18 and the M1 in South Yorkshire, just east of Sheffield. For twenty years I regularly drove under this bridge and these words in whitewash paint told me that I was nearly home - "I Love Janice". A couple of years ago the Motorway Maintenance authorities must have decided to clean away this graffiti. You can still see the ghost words but what I now want to paint in whitewash on that concrete is "I Still Love Janice", whoever she might be... I don't suppose I will ever do it but if I did, you can bet your life that a police car would cruise beneath the underpass just as I was painting the word "Love"...

11 March 2007

Hull

A "hull" is the bulky underbody of a boat. Hull is a place in Canada just across the water from Ottawa. But mainly Hull is a place in northern England - once winning the accolade of being England's crappest town. Except that it isn't Hull at all! It's Kingston, Kingston-upon-Hull. The Hull is a river that loiters down from the Yorkshire Wolds above Driffield. Where the Hull meets the estuary of the River Humber - that is where a settlement grew up in the twelfth century. It was known as Wyke-upon-Hull. Later it became Kingston-upon-Hull for its strategic significance was recognised by King Edward I. He granted the town a royal Charter in 1299 and this ancient document is still cherished by the city's archivist.
I like Hull. I went to school there. I saw bands there like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Free, The Who and Family. I provoked a skirmish with Phill Collins of Genesis there. I seduced several Hull girls. I became a lifelong supporter of Hull City AFC. I met Philip Larkin there. When I go back to Hull, I feel (please excuse the rhyme) a pull. It's a bit like going home even though I never actually lived in Hull. I was from a village just north of the city.

Hull is at the end of the railway line, at the end of the road. It's out on a limb. Hull is fiercely independent. You don't go through Hull, you go to it. Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, Hull was England's second port after London and in the sixties it was the world's number one fishing port in terms of the sheer weight of fish landed annually at Hull's docks.

I am so pleased that our daughter Frances may end up going to university in Hull where they have an excellent American Studies course.

This was a good weekend for Hull. City beat Preston 2-0 and I was there to watch this joyous event. Hull Kingston Rovers beat Leeds in the rugby and Hull FC beat Huddersfield. Overshadowing all of this is the gathering momentum behind an international celebration of the life of William Wilberforce - Hull's most famous son. He was the local MP and for twenty years he worked tirelessly to bring an end to the Slave Trade. His leadership brought about The Slave Trade Act of 1807 which finally began to see an end to England's involvement in this barbaric activity.

Hull is a place with character. Many wealthy people live there in fine style but many others live in abject poverty. It is a tough city, quite different from Yorkshire's other cities. It was England's worst bombed city in WWII and partly because of that there are many wide boulevards and open spaces. Best of all is the old town that used to be walled and moated. Here you will find King Billy's golden statue, The Land of Green Ginger, "The Black Boy", "The Bluebell" and down by the river where the ferries used to chug over to Lincolnshire, "The Minerva" - of course this was all before they built The Humber Bridge.

Hull isn't England's crappest town, it's England's best kept secret. You can keep your Canterbury, your Solihull and Richmond-on-Thames - give me Hull any time. It's real, it's honest and it's unique.

Pictures - Humber Bridge from beneath and painting of William Wilberforce.

8 March 2007

Flamingos

The cult of the pink flamingo never really reached the UK but this kitsch symbol of ordinariness has been prevalent throughout lower middle class America since the sixties. It is equivalent to our garden gnome cult - of which I am a paid up member. I can see a business opportunity here for somebody - Pink Flamingos UK Ltd. with pink plastic flamingos on wire legs inhabiting gardens from Wick to Winchester and from Southend to Southport.


The genius behind the flamingo cult was Donald Featherstone from Leominster, Massachussetts. It was back in the nineteen fifties when this art school graduate conceived his first plastic pink flamingo. It is estimated that Union Products, Leominster produced twenty million of them! They spread through America.


Where ever you see a pink flamingo, it defines the occupants of the house - ordinary, lower middle-class, God-fearing, truck-driving, burger-eating, Republican-voting, Britney Spears-loving, Bud-supping, baseball capped America. There are twelve in Alkelda the Gleeful's garden - they frighten the hell out of little Lucia! By George just has two and Friday's Web has a whole bloody forest of the suckers! Brad the Gorilla has fallen in love with a plastic pink flamingo called Hillary.

7 March 2007

Garden

"How many insects crawl in the grass in an English country garden?"
This is just an opportunity to share a few more photos of our garden last summer. And what a wonderful summer it was over here in the UK - sultry heat, meals out on the new decking, shorts and flip flops, the hum of insects, starry skies, lying in the grass, pruning unruly briars and thorns, digging hard white potatoes from the earth... Let's hope we get the same this year. Thank heavens for global warming!



Sonnet by John Clare (1841)

I love to see the summer beaming forth

And white wool sack clouds sailing to the north

I love to see the wild flowers come again

And mare blobs stain with gold the meadow drain

And water lillies whiten on the floods

Where reed clumps rustle like a wind shook wood

Where from her hiding place the Moor Hen pushes

And seeks her flag nest floating in bull rushes

I like the willow leaning half way o'er

The clear deep lake to stand upon its shore

I love the hay grass when the flower head swings

To summer winds and insects happy wings

That sport about the meadow the bright day

And see bright beetles in the clear lake play

3 March 2007

Keane

Years ago, music was close to the top of my personal agenda. Seeing live music and singing for a semi-pro East Yorkshire band, playing vinyl LPs till they were worn out, avidly reading "Melody Maker" and "New Musical Express" - it all seemed so important. As if this is where I would find the essence of life. I can see it in my own son too - every opportunity he's watching bands. Last year, he even flew to the Roskilde Festival in Denmark and this year he's planning on Glastonbury if he can secure a ticket.
Although I still make up songs on my guitar, music doesn't mean so much to me any more. I'd often rather listen to a good discussion on Radio 4 than some popular chart pap. So it's now most uncommon for me to buy tickets for any concert but before Christmas, on a whim I bought two tickets for last night's show at the cavernous Sheffield Arena. The stars of the show were that tuneful three man outfit from Sussex - Keane, fronted by their most unlikely looking but incredibly gifted lead singer - Tom Chaplin.

I have often wondered how the band got their name so before tapping out this blogpost I undertook a little research - "Keane named themselves after a little old lady called Cherry Keane who lived next door to the Chaplins. Tom laughs off the assumption in some press that she was his nanny. "That's just a classic stereotype: the posh boy's nanny! She was a friend who used to look after us and occasionally helped at the school. She was an inspirational person. I'd tell her that I wanted to be a singer and she'd say, 'Go for it,' whereas my Mum and Dad told me 'That's stupid'. Cherry had a sense of humour and fun. She also had no children of her own, so she had a lot of 'adopted' children, in a sense."When Cherry Keane died, she left her modest Bexhill house to Tom and his two siblings. "I used some of the money to see me through the harder times with the music," he says, "so in an indirect way she was there to save the day." The band initially named themselves Cherry Keane, until they realised, as Tom puts it, "that people were associating it with the deflowering of virgins".

So how were the lads at Sheffield Arena? To tell you the truth, they were A1 f-ing brilliant! Considering it's just three guys, they make such a big sound. The concert was nicely varied with a semi-acoustic section performed at the end of a walkway that extended from the stage into the crowd and there was also an imaginatively utilised and slatted rear video screen that showed the guys doing their stuff. They were on stage for nearly ninety minutes.

Tom Chaplin was amazing. To possess a voice like that and to hear it amplified in a hall that holds nine thousand people! There was not one bum note, just a plaintive voice soaring up and down, somehow tuning in to the fears and the aspirations of our world, connecting with those who want to sing away their pain and their joy but do not have the vocal chords to do it. Wow! Keane!