29 November 2007


Meet my teddy bear. I have deliberately called him Jesus in order to insult religion because - let's face it - religion is claptrap and deserves to be insulted. So now I have called him Jesus I am waiting for the thought police to come and get me. They can lock me up with thieves and vagabonds for fifteen days or more or perhaps instead give me forty lashes. Such enlightened notions of justice have recently emerged from that shining beacon of civilisation and fair play that is Sudan. My thoughts tonight are with 54 year old British teacher Gillian Gibbons as she languishes in a Khartoum jail. I am thinking of renaming our cat Mohammad so that I can stand on the back step in dark winter nights yelling "Mohammad!" at the top of my voice. The neighbours would think I was stark raving bonkers. They'd be right.

Jesus - off for his holidays in Sudan.

27 November 2007


Using a website suggested by Alkelda in Seattle, I have turned myself into a Legoman in honour of Hull City's recently improved results and prospects. I will be over at the KC Stadium on Saturday to see the match with Cardiff City. To turn yourself into a Lego being, try this:- website:-

Waggy = Ken Wagstaff (Hull City's fans' favourite player of all time).

23 November 2007


I don't know much about eskimos. In primary school, I remember a series of books about individual children who lived in other parts of the world and one of them was an eskimo. He wore animal furs and fished with his father. Sometimes he slept in an igloo. Obviously eskimos are experts at living with cold weather. Like many urban dwellers, I was always enamoured by the idea that eskimos have lots of different names for snow. I imagined they had a vocabulary that covered thin powdery snow, fluffy snowflakes, snow that threatens to become hail and snow that drifts against your igloo. It seemed right. To have a language that helps you to better define the intricacies of your environment.I was hoping to create a similar vocabulary for rain. Beforehand, I thought I would surf the net to research those mythical eskimo snow words. It wasn't too long before the bubble burst. Clearly and sadly, the "eskimos" have no more words for snow than you can find in English. The myth is just that - a myth. Disappointment deepens with the discovery that the generic term "eskimo" is a useless catch-all word that in a rather condescending, semi-racist way sought to group together all the disparate peoples of the arctic islands and wastelands of North America. They had many different languages and cultural histories - these so-called "eskimos" were never united as one race. They had as much in common with each other as the Irish have with Slovakians or Danes with the Portugese.

So with the wind slacking in my sails, on to that rain vocabulary... "gossamer" - the finest rain of all that is so light it feels like you're being doused with icing sugar dust.... to "lakedistrict" - rain that you could almost drown in - that descends in bath loads and never seems to cease.... to "eskimo" - rain of mythological proportions.

20 November 2007


I believe in recycling. I do it as much as possible. There are compost bins in the garden and near our unnecessarily large wheelie bin, there are extra bins for paper, glass and plastic/aluminium products. I bought two of the extra bins myself because our city council hasn't yet fully got its act together on recycling - even though there are leaflets and regular pronouncements about "the environment" and how cool it is to live in England's "greenest" city.

Every month or so I go to one of the city's recycling facilities to find overflowing skips and nowhere to put throwaway plastic bags. There are very few of these "facilities" around. In fact, I once launched a letter writing campaign against Somerfield supermarkets about the sudden closure of our most local facility. I mean - what is going on when in what is allegedly a more environmentally responsible age - we find recycling facilities actually closing? Crazy!

How do you easily dispose of batteries or washing machines, old computers or old TVs? Okay there are ways and means but half-hearted recyclers are more likely to just throw such items away because it is too much trouble to unearth the hidden secrets of Recycling World! It should be made easy for people - not hard as hell.

This Christmastime, how much packaging will we all dispose of? It is heart-breaking and so wrong. Producers should be forced to become far more frugal about packaging - reducing it to a bare minimum. Two weeks ago, I was in a McDonalds "restaurant" (ha!) and I saw little kids with lunchbox-style kiddies' meals containing crappy plastic "gifts" which would excite a normal child for no more than fifteen seconds. They shouldn't be allowed to produce that plastic crap nor the cardboard boxes - it is such a blatant waste of this planet's precious resources. Why are some human beings so stupid?

17 November 2007


Confession? If you are expecting me to confess to smoking crack cocaine or to masterminding a series of bank heists or to cross-dressing during shopping trips into Sheffield city centre the forget it! My confession goes back years to when I was a little lad of perhaps seven or eight.

My family were holidaying in Scotland. We had an old caravan (or trailer to Yanks) that appeared to be made from compressed cardboard. Crammed in the old car we managed to haul our mobile pre-war cardboard box on wheels all the way up to Inverness. It really was a Lynton Triumph! (name of caravan). Mind you with my three wrestling brothers in the back it didn't seem too triumphant. "Will you behave yourself!" our parents would yell intermittently.

So we made camp at the Inverness municipal site near to the old Inverness Thistle football ground and the ice rink. One day, dad decided to take us all for a drive down the southern shore of Loch Ness. This is an old military road and much less travelled than the road on the north shore. I guess we kids were excited because we had heard of the famous Loch Ness monster and we wanted to see it.

A third of the way down the lakeside - opposite Castle Urquart - we came through the pine trees to a wide bay and there as if by magic we saw grey humps moving through the water about fifty yards below. Dad stopped the car and we all got out watching the humps for perhaps three or four minutes before they disappeared beneath the surface.

The following day in the Inverness local paper there was a report about a sighting of "Nessie" from the castle ramparts opposite that bay at exactly the time that we came through the pine trees. Afterwards, maybe embarrassed, our parents tried to argue away what we had seen - as if believing in the Loch Ness Monster might shame them but I know what I saw that bright afternoon - forever imprinted in my memory - the mystery that is Nessie moving through the water - and this wasn't something I dreamed. It was there - clear as the apple trees in our garden... Seeing is believing. I haven't seen God but I saw that "monster".

15 November 2007


Well, not really a disease at all but it seems like one. I had never heard of the damned condition until my wife, Shirley, contracted it in September - at the same time as my mother's death. What is it? It's Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) - an inflammatory condition of small blood vessels in the skin, bowels and kidneys, called vasculitis.

"When blood vessels become inflamed, they may bleed into the skin, causing the classical bruising or purpuric rash. Bleeding may also occur at other affected sites. HSP occurs when the individual's immune system fails to fight an infection like it should.

The exact cause remains a mystery, but it can be sparked off by infections, medicines, vaccinations, insect bites, cold weather and exposure to certain chemicals. The condition is not contagious. The symptoms include the skin rash mentioned earlier around the elbows, buttocks and upper thighs, joint pains and stomach pain.Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea may also feature and blood may be passed in the stool and urine if bleeding occurs in the bowel or kidneys. The initial symptoms may last for up to six weeks. There is no specific treatment for HSP, which usually gets better spontaneously.

The symptoms of any associated infection have to be treated on their own merits. Anti-inflammatory medicines can be prescribed to ease the joint pains. Treatment with steroids may be required if there is distress particularly due to the abdominal pain. Most sufferers therefore have an uneventful recovery with no long-term problems. Unfortunately, the kidneys may become involved within three months of onset in around 50 per cent of older children and 25 per cent of those under age two. Symptoms such as protein and blood occurring in the urine and a persistence of the rash are indications of the kidneys being involved in the disease process. "

Shirley has been battling the condition since mum's funeral. She was off work for six weeks, put on heavy duty steroids, made numerous hospital visits and is due to have a scan on Sunday with an appointment with a kidney specialist next week. It has been a difficult time, a very trying time but she seems to be well over the worst of it though the little urine sticks in the shower room keep saying that there are still traces of blood and protein in her urine so there may still be kidney issues to contend with. She has been brave throughout it all though one evening I had to hug her through an outburst of sheer distress.

If you had seen her legs at the height of this thing you would have been quite shocked - I know I was and so were some of her work colleagues - all healthcare professionals who had never before seen this condition in an adult. Whoever Henoch and Schonlein were, they should not have invented this sonofabitch disease... judging by the names they were probably mad scientists in Hitler's labs!

8 November 2007



Along the curlew lane befoxed and badgered
Where thorn bushes bend from the wind
And rain slants greyly under leaden skies
Beyond the hidden surface of the Lickeen Lake
Beyond the tumbledown farm of long ago
And the sharp bend where Paddy turned his Fiat
Up past the old quarry by whispering pines
Behind the rennovated school buildings
That were once alive with the laughter
Of labourers’ children and a bronze bell tolling.

You can see it from afar
Especially on black velvet nights when
Rather like boats riding a rolling sea
Electric beacons mark the scattered homesteads
From Corofin to Spanish Point.
Where a cradled violin wails plaintively
It’s there near that black horizon
Flickering like a distant buoy
Guiding you safely home -
If you could only remember the way…

4 November 2007


Shhh! Don't tell anybody but there is more parkland within the boundaries of the city of Sheffield than in any other British city apart from London. This morning I needed to get out. I have been sitting on my ass too long recently so just three miles from our house, I park up by the stables on Shotts Lane - still inside the city limits, near the exclusive and well-heeled suburban village of Dore. I take a five mile autumn walk - as I say, mainly for the exercise - get the old heart pumping - and for once, I remembered to take my digital camera along so that I could share these images of southern Sheffield with Blogworld....

And shhh! Don't tell anyone in Sheffield about the walks round Blacka Moor as so few Sheffielders seem to realise that this lovely haven of nature is just around the corner. This morning the sun had to try hard to break through a thin cloud cover but when it did, another lovely autumn day was revealed... Next year why not try Sheffield for your holidays?

2 November 2007


Seven of them to be precise and all deadly:-

Luxuria It’s 1980. I have been to see the Rugby League Cup Final at Wembley. With a couple of hours to go before our train leaves for the northern wastelands, we stumble into a Kings Cross pub which we later always refer to as “the worst pub in the world”. There’s glass on the floor and spilt beer, vomit, sweat and blood and on the little stage is a brazen girl of maybe twenty stripping off for a baying crowd of leering drink-fuelled men. This isn’t exotic titillating striptease. It’s a lasciviously physical back street version. A grinning young man clambers on to the stage and copulates with the willing star as the wolfpack cheers and stomps. Disgusted, I turn away.

Gula It’s 1986. There’s a restaurant on West Street in Sheffield. It’s called “Scoffers”. Pride of place in the menu is The Scoffers Killer. Eat it all and you don’t pay. Too much of a challenge for my brother Paul. It comes. There are lamb chops, a burger, a couple of thick sausages, a piece of chicken, a twelve ounce steak, a pork chop, a slice of gammon, a mountain of chips and a hillock of peas. He starts. Like a marathon runner pacing himself. Thirty minutes later it’s all gone. The waiters are looking for signs of cheating – meat under the table. But he didn’t cheat. He ate the whole thing. The first and last time it was ever done. He is sweating cold beads of perspiration as we walk away.

Avarita It’s perhaps 1962. Each Easter we get one chocolate egg but other kids in the village are given more. I empty my money tin and walk up to the village shop to buy the one I always wanted – the white chocolate Milky Bar egg. Beaming, I walk home with my chocolate gift but mum sees me coming in with it and accuses me of being an “ungrateful, greedy little sod”. Ah well.
Acedia It’s summer 2007. It’s raining. I want to be gardening or extending our stone garden path but for the third day running I am up late. I make a cup of tea and pour myself a bowl of “Crunchie Nut Cornflakes”. There are house programmes on the TV – “Homes Under The Hammer”, “A Place in The Sun”, “Grand Designs”. I watch them all. Mail comes through the letterbox but I don’t get up. After midday, I muster the energy to have a shower. Then I go outside to feed the birds. Returning to the sofa, I fall asleep then watch other daytime drivel like “The Jeremy Kyle Show”. Shirley returns from work moments after I have managed to dress myself. “Been busy love?” “Yeah!”

Ira 1977 and I have returned to Ohio to be with my American sweetheart at the summer camp where we met. Like characters in a romantic film, we exchanged letters and gifts all year. Nobly, I spurned all other love opportunities in the months between. Then she lets me know she has found somebody else and she is dumping me. I pour a pitcher of beer over her head and bellow out my red-hot hurt and overflowing anger. Someone restrains me. It’s probably Chris.

Invidia He’s sitting in the pub. His life is simple. I could call him a “loblollyman” after Philip Larkin. He works when he wants, painting people’s houses for beer money. He never has to advertise. Word of mouth is a better testimony. His dog is called Monty. They go everywhere together. They live simply in his mother’s old house. He doesn’t read or have any interest in politics or travel. Whenever I see him, he always asks me how I am and “How’s the family?” My life and my interests and urges seem so complicated in comparison. But for him – for Derek – the simplicity satisfies him completely.

Superbia Perhaps it was 1992. I am at a schoolteachers’ conference about - of all things – spelling. It is led by the “famous” spelling guru educationist - Professor Charles Cripps. There are some two hundred teachers in the room. Cripps wants us all to feel what children might feel when put on the spot about their spelling so he gives us a fifteen word spelling test including such trickeries as “diarrhoea” and “liaison”. We exchange sheets and then we are asked to feed back our results. “Anyone get fifteen?” grins Charles. The audience are chortling. I put up my hand expecting to see others but I am the only one. These are educated people – teachers. None have fourteen. Half a dozen or more have thirteen. I am a beaming big-headed spelling champ. Others look at me in unbridled admiration….
Footnote: My Yorkshire compatriot, Arctic Fux suggests that my "Seven Deadly Sins" idea might be another "meme" challenge for nominated bloggers, so... drum roll... I hereby nominate Mr Arctic Fux ( and anybody else who fancies the task).