27 February 2008

Earthquake

How was it for you darling? Almost twenty four hours ago, at around 12.55 on Tuesday February 26th, something moved fifteen miles beneath the planet's surface under Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, producing Britain's most significant seismic event in twenty five years.

It had been breezy when I walked home from the pub quiz. I was lying in bed, beginning to drift off into the unconsciousness of sleep when I had a sense that a massive wind had hit the house - perhaps blowing the front door open. An ornament fell off the bedroom shelves and I was shaken wide awake. What the hell? Shirley woke up and yelled at me "Are you all right?" She thought I had had some kind of massive seizure that had shaken the bed. Disappointing her ever so slightly, I leapt up and put on my dressing gown, went downstairs and saw the thing I will always remember as a signal memory of this perhaps one-in-a-lifetime event. The Danish royal family keyring on our front door key was still rocking in the lock instead of hanging completely still as usual.

Frances was home for the night from university and she was still up watching TV. She said the whole front room had shaken. When I think back, it felt like you were briefly living in a jelly house, subject to the whimsical power of a huge and ancient natural force - reminding me of the pettiness of our daily anxieties and complaints. It measured 5.2 on the Richter Scale and I can say that never before in my life have I experienced such a tremor.

24 February 2008

Joy

Twenty four hours away in Birmingham. Tony and Fiona come over from Hull and then we're off to Brum. Drop shopping off for daughter outside student residence. Drive on to Hagley Road and the Edgbaston Palace Hotel - surprised to find it is not a palace and that in our room there are no curtains.

Like African explorers, we study the A to Z and weave our way past weird and unfamiliar urban zones like Bearswood, Smethwick and Winson Green till we arrive at the wasteland known as West Bromwich. We park up on Paddington Road, crossing our fingers that the car will still be in one piece when we return. Failing to find a "greasy spoon" for some lunchtime nosh we pass through the Jeff Astle gates and purchase burgers and chips and styrofoam cups of tea at extortionate prices from the fairground caravette.

In The Hawthorns for the very first time. The cops and stewards search us without explanation or apology in this free country. We find our cramped seats in the packed away end. The match kicks off and half way through the first half we score - a wonder goal from Fraizer Campbell, looped in from thirty yards out. The Baggies start to come back at us and they equalise five minutes before half time. We await the second half with trepidation but after the break our lads are on top again. We create more chances and we have got the mighty West Brom under the cosh. We're taunting their fans - "You're supposed to be at home!" and "Just like a library!" till in the eighty second minute Caleb Folan ghosts in from the left wing and despite the attention of three defenders, drives past the faliling West Brom goalie into the corner of his net.

The Hull City end explodes with unbridled joy. We haven't won at West Brom since 1974! The fourth official signals four extra minutes! Four? Where the hell did they get them from? No trainers on the field, nothing! Is the ref a closet Baggies fan? But the whistle eventually goes and we have won! Oh wonder! Oh beauty! "Oh what joy it is to see Hull City win away!" (To the tune of "Jingle Bells").

Later we pick up Frances from the student residence and get ripped off by a greedy taxi driver who takes us into the heart of the Balti triangle. He tries to deposit us at the wrong restaurant but I have done my homework and we are definitely going to the Al Frash on Ladypool Road. £15? You tosser! On the first floor, who is sitting there - none other than the Brummie MP, Clare Short. Rudely, she doesn't even ask for my autograph!

Click on image for Al Frash website

The curry is superb and authentic and it is easy to see why this little curry house recently figured in The Guardian's top ten of British curry restaurants. We swill the delightful grub down with Cobra beer from the nearby off-licence. Then we get an £8 (!) taxi ride back the way we came and guzzle a couple more drinks in The Garden House near our hotel.

Oh Lord! Good company, great food and a fine Hull City victory. Could heaven possibly be better than this? There's even a curtain up in our room as we collapse into bed.

20 February 2008

Assassinated

Simon Murden was 26 years old. He came from a good family and grew up in Beverley, East Yorkshire where I went to school. It seems that he had had coping problems, sometimes got depressed and sometimes dabbled in drugs including cannabis - which may well have affected his general psychological wellbeing. Simon was white, middle class and from Yorkshire - not London - and maybe these are the reasons most of you out there will never have heard of him or the way in which armed police shot him dead on the night of March 22nd 2005 following a road traffic accident on the A63 just west of Hull.

Today his mother, Dorothy Murden spoke at the inquest into her son's death which is currently being staged in Hull. Tragically on the weekend of Simon's death, Dorothy was in South Wales scattering her parents' ashes on the beach at Tenby. It was where they had walked as lovers between the wars. Before travelling to South Wales, Simon had hugged her and her last words to this vulnerable son were "I love you". She has one surviving son called Jonathan.

Dorothy said - "It was while the train pulled into the station at Carmarthen, Jonathan rang me to tell me Simon had been shot. I could not believe it, that my lovely boy, so innocent and gentle, could have had that happen. I sat in the most dreadful numbness with all the people around me talking and getting on with their lives."

It appears that after the accident, Simon walked along the edge of the dual carriageway holding a ceremonial sword he had stupidly brought from home. He didn't threaten anyone with it but a passing member of the public phoned Humberside police to say they had seen a pedestrian walking along the road with a weapon - possibly a sub-machine gun or rifle. An armed response unit was activated and soon after Simon was shot dead in cold blood - probably by an over-eager, trigger happy cop.

It is such a tragedy. Simon seemed to be turning the corner in his troubled life and was campaigning to raise money for relief work in Africa... but bang, bang they shot him down. Rest in peace Simon Murden and may your family learn to look forward to happier days when they can, however briefly, sometimes forget the horror of your untimely and unlawful killing at the hands of people who are there to protect the public - not to assassinate us.

16 February 2008

Sniffing

Over the years, I have observed an odd and I think rather primitive phenomenon in the field of human interaction - namely sniffing. It is mainly, though not wholly connected with men. Let me illustrate. You're in a supermarket with a trolley and a guy with his own trolley passes you near the frozen vegetables section. As he passes, he inhales deeply through his nostrils making a familiar sniffing sound. Or you're on the bus and you look at a guy as he gets on at the next stop. As he passes you, he sniffs noticably. It happens everywhere there are strangers. My theory is that it harks back to territorial and mating claims of pre-history. Every other male is a challenge to your dominance and the sharp sniff is a way of saying - I'm the boss in this situation - my sniff subjugates you.

I think I am liberated enough to be beyond this instinctive game of oneupmanship so whenever I hear a sniff, I immediately sniff back. It has got me some very funny looks. I have never seen any academic writing about this habit but I swear it does exist. To all you men out there, I urge you to listen out to the sniffers - though it is very possible that you yourself have been signalling your status through sniffing for years without ever noticing you were doing it!

13 February 2008

Nearby

Such lovely weather we've been having the last few days here in sunny Sheffield. On Sunday, Shirley and I thought we would blow away some of those wintry cobwebs with a vigorous walk around Stanage Edge - which is literally eight minutes west of our house. It has become amazingly popular with rock climbers who travel here from all over the country. Once parts of this "millstone edge" were quarried by hardy men who carved thousands of millstones for industry - such as the thriving steel industry that saw Sheffield grow from a fairly small village to a major city within the space of eighty years during the time of our amazing industrial revolution. Even today, like mysterious prehistoric messages, you can find the remnants of the millstone makers beneath the edge. I remembered to take my camera along:-

Beech wood and rocks beneath Stanage Edge

View along the northern part of the edge.

Rock climber wondering where his mate has gone. Aaaaaaaargh! SPLAT!

Abandoned millstone near an ancient quarry.

8 February 2008

Advertisement

<--- Click on logo to visit Trip Advisor website.
I have a confession to make. In recent weeks I have become addicted to a geographical knowledge game that can be found within the excellent Trip Advisor website. The game is based on a map and it flags up a place - say Beijing for example. With your mouse you click where you think Beijing is and an arrow flies in to your chosen location. Then a second arrow flies into the map to show you where Beijing really is and rapidly the distance between the two arrows is calculated. The lower the better as you proceed through the game developing your score. Some of the locations are amazingly obscure. In relation to one of the games, I am currently in the top ten world players but I guess this won't last. After all - I do have other things to do.

Trip Advisor is brilliant for providing travellers with honest information about hotels scattered around the planet. Other people's comments within Trip Advisor have influenced all of my hotel choices over the last three or four years.

My TV ad jingle for Trip Advisor:-
Trip Advisor! Trip Advisor!
If you're going somewhere
It'll make you wiser
If you're bound for Vegas or Timbuktu
Trip Advisor's the website for you!

Dear Trip Advisor - if you read this free advert, please send me fifty quid!
Map in Trip Advisor showing places I have visited.

6 February 2008

Award

Ho ho! My head is throbbing with the sort of enlargement normally reserved for another more hidden part of my anatomy. I have won a blogging award thanks to Sir Rob Clack of "Dem Bones Dem Bones". This is what he wrote in his simple citation:-

"Yorkshire Pud for the way he talks so unpretentiously and openly about his own life..."

I feel genuinely honoured to receive this recognition. That word "unpretentiously" means a lot to me because that is how I do attempt to share aspects of my life and thoughts - not boasting, not self-pitying, trying to get across to other people who are mostly like me - flawed, filled with mixed bags of memories, dreams achieved and dreams thwarted, vulnerable, inconsistent, remembering, wishing, laughing, surviving... As Esther Rantzen might have said - "That's Life!"... Thanks Rob! And eat your heart out Brad The Gorilla!

Sir Rob Clack relaxing on the patio behind his mansion in Hertfordshire. Photo taken by Professor Dolly Clack of the University of Cambridge Canine Studies Department. Click on him to access his blog.

3 February 2008

Proud

Yesterday, Shirley and I drove down to Birmingham specially see our daughter Frances play her part in a university musical she has been rehearsing for intensively since before Christmas. It was called "Dancing With Death" - written by two male students who are aspiring scriptwriters. The singing and choreography were vibrant and well-rehearsed though the actual plot was hard to decipher in places. I guess if it was about anything it was about good and evil and how these opposite forces can pull us every which way - though the production itself was light, containing plenty of humour and musical gymnastics.

It was performed in The Guild of Students - a proud building which harks back to the nineteen twenties with lovely woodwork, large dimensions and a sweeping stone staircase. Frances was one of very few first year students involved. I felt so proud of her - as comfortable on the stage as she has been in her first months at "uni". Whereas some young people grumble and blame their own shortcomings on others, Frances has just got stuck in and made the most of the experience since day one. I would like to think that in this sense some of her parents' philosophy for living has rubbed off on her. And when she walked out on stage as "Tricia" I was struck by how attractive she looked - someone whose inner beauty has affected her outer presence. And I thought of my mother who died last September and remembered how before World War II she had also strutted the stage - in dance, ballet and song. There are just some old photographs to prove this. Maybe it's in the blood.

After the performance we sped back up the M42 and M1 to Sheffield - making home ten minutes before midnight. More proud of her than Hull City's victory over Plymouth. A different Saturday night...