31 May 2008


I have been to County Clare in the Republic of Ireland many times but never before at this time of year when Spring is well-advanced and The Burren's limestone landscape is punctuated by flowers. I walked on Slieve Elva, looking westwards to the Arran Isles - Inisheer, Inishmaan, Inishmore. Exotic Irish names but all they mean is - small island, middle island and big island. Above all, I held little Cait in my arms and sang "Bobby Shafto" to her as Seamus dug the trench in which he will embed the new foxproof chicken coop fence and Katie made tea in the tiny kitchen of their little barn house - between Kilfenora and Kilshanny. Some pictures:-

Nature finds its niches in the limestone... Graveyard view on the road from Cahersherkin to Ennistymon... Seamus and Cait... The view from Fanore to Inisheer - West Coast of Clare...

28 May 2008


Hurrah! Hurrah! Another meme! Any visitors to this blog are welcome to copy and paste it and have a go at this particular meme in their own way. And thanks to David in Kiwiland for passing it on. There's nothing like a good meme to get the juices flowing! By the way, I am writing this in Cahersherkin, County Clare, Ireland - where my brother Paul lives with his Josephine, Michael and Kevin.. and not far away Katie and Seamus with their new baby girl whose Irish name I cannot spell...
My ex... is so long ago and faraway that I can hardly remember her.
Maybe I should... lose some weight this summer... a stone would do for starters.
I love... eggs like the ones I have just had for my breakfast - from Katie's chicken coop. The yokes are literally golden and the white stays together instead of spreading out like a pancake in the pan.
People would say... that I am serious and intelligent but secretly I love silliness and unexpected cock-ups and I see types of intelligence in everyone I meet.
I don't understand... why anyone would follow any religion as this medieval nastiness gets in the way of real life and causes untold misery.
When I wake up in the morning... I wish that I had gone to bed earlier.
I lost... my heart in San Francisco.
Life is full of... twists and turns, highs and lows, words and sentences.
My past is... partly what made me who I am today.
I get annoyed when... I see drivers using mobile phones and that includes texting while driving.
Parties are... about standing as close to the kitchen as you can because that is usually where the booze will be.
I wish... that I had enough money to stop working and could travel where ever I wished to go.
Dogs... are generally smelly, they bark, they bite and mostly I don't like them.
Cats... are free spirits and I often wonder what exactly they get upto at night.
Tomorrow... I will be flying back to England from Shannon Airport.
I have low tolerance... of big-headed morons who think that they have "made it" just because they have money in the bank and flash cars in the driveway.
If I had a million dollars... I would travel all over the world...to Spitzbergen, Papua New Guinea, Buenos Aires, The Bay of Plenty and Hull.
I'm totally terrified... of serious injury or death in a car accident and then not being able to rewind the tape in order to avoid the collision.

Meme done I am now off to Ennistymon to do some shopping for tonight's dinner. Then I'll be driving on to Katie's house. We're going to Lahinch for lunch with the great niece whose name is spelt Cait though in Irish it is not pronounced Kate - more like Porsche with a C at the beginning... Here she is on the day she was born...

27 May 2008


Yesterday, Shirley and I returned to Hull for the victory celebrations. Along with 50,000 others gathered in Victoria Square, we welcomed The Tigers home and sang their praises. The match winning hero, Hull lad Dean Windass - climbed over the safety barrier on the City Hall balcony to stand bravely on the narrow parapet with the Play Off Final trophy held aloft in his outstretched arms. No wonder entrpreneurial T-shirt sellers had produced hundreds of Superman shirts with "Windass 9" on the back. This was undoubtedly the biggest single day in Hull's history since the city was badly bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. The city of Hull has had so many knocks in recent years. This sporting success has already given the city a tremendous lift. To see scenes of the victory celebrations click on the link below:-

And here are the scenes at Wembley as Dean Windass struck the winning goal:-


Three of my own pictures:-

Victoria surveys the uncouth masses.

"Hull Daily Mail" news vendor in his booth with stacks of souvenir editions.

On the balcony of The City Hall, Chairman Paul Duffen and manager Phil Brown hold the trophy aloft.

25 May 2008


Many days we live are unremarkable and we forget them. Other days are chiselled in one's memory forever - such as your wedding day, the day your first child was born, winning a prize, securing a job promotion. But rarely are such days like the buses that we wait for - two coming along at once. But that's how it was for me yesterday. At six thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was Shirley's sister, Carolyn, announcing that their mother Winnie had taken a turn for the worse and had died a few minutes earlier. Although the Big C had weakened her and driven her to her bed, death was certainly not expected this quickly.

And so it was that I set out to Wembley on my own. I managed to offload Shirley's rail ticket by handing it to a medical student who was London bound. I learnt her whole twenty three year long life story but she learnt nothing of mine - the conversational tennis was all one way traffic. So I was glad when by Leicester she retreated to her headphones and laptop.

At Kings Cross I was fretting. Watching everybody who disembarked from every train. With no mobile phone, I couldn't easily contact Tony and Fiona who were coming to London from Hull with my precious ticket - now worth the princely sum of £196! (2x£98). Their train had been repeatedly delayed and arrived at the station an hour late. Phew!

Tube to Liverpool St. Scurry to the Travelodge. Back on the tube to Wembley Park. Then out into the sunshine of Wembley Way. The great arch of the new Wembley beckoned us like Mecca - and I don't mean the bingo halls of that name! The black and amber army were on the move.

Yorkshire Pudding with Fiona on Wembley Way

By our turnstiles, I tried to sell Shirley's ticket for twenty minutes but it was futile so I gave up and ventured into our nation's finest football stadium. As an aside, might I just say that it is absolutely disgusting and wrong that a huge swathe of seats on one side of the pitch are essentially "owned" by corporate rich bastards who will often not even bother turning up for games. This is our national stadium for Christ's sake! And these empty seats provide the best view of the game in progress, situated as they are on the halfway line. Utterly disgraceful!

The game itself will be remembered for Dean Windass's fantastic volley ten minutes before halftime. The ball rocketed into the net and sent 37000 Hull fans into a state of sheer delirium. In the second half, Bristol City pressed hard but without a cutting edge up front. I was as nervous as hell, watching the minutes tick away. It seemed as if this was going to be our dream day but with all the misery and disappointment we have known over the years, I feared that failure would be snatched from the jaws of success until the referee blew his whistle and we had won! The greatest day in Hull City's history. The biggest prize in world football. The Premiership! Tears streamed down my cheeks and we hugged everyone around us - shaking hands, kissing, patting backs. We had bloody done it! The Tigers in the Premiership! I do not give a fig that we will struggle amongst the big boys next season. This was our day and nobody will ever take it from us. We are 'Ull! We are 'Ull! We are 'Ull!

As I said to Shirley in the morning - her mum's name was Winifred, Winnie - often shortened to Win. Win! It was auspicious and I dedicate that historical game to her memory. May she rest in peace forevermore.

21 May 2008


I am living the lonely bachelor lifestyle at home at the moment - self-sufficient with a big empty bed. Why? Shirley has gone east to be with her mother Winnie. To be blunt, she is dying of cancer - somewhere in the bowel region. Three weeks ago she had a cholostomy operation in Scunthorpe, then she went to an old folks' residential home near Gainsborough before electing to go home. Shirley and her sister had to physically carry her from the car into her bungalow.

Apparently, there wasn't much to carry - such has been her recent weight loss. Previously she was a big, healthy farmer's wife. Now she's skin and bone with no prospect of recovery. It's just a question of time. She's seventy eight.

I have known her for nigh on thirty years. She has always been most kind to me and a very decent person who has always lived within three miles of her birthplace - choosing to live a simple country life, raising a family by the River Trent where the family farm still stands - now owned by someone else. Her husband, Charlie, passed away seven years ago - also a victim of cancer. Neither of them ever smoked or drank. They ate healthily, looked after themselves and took exercise. That's the Big C for you. You never know for sure where it will strike. Thankfully, Winnie is not in pain.

I will be picking Ian up and driving over to The Isle of Axholme to see Winnie tomorrow evening - very possibly for the last time. Shirley remains determined to come down to London for the Championship final but will of course stay with her mother if death appears imminent. The people at her health centre have been great in allowing her as much paid compassionate leave as she needs.

18 May 2008


This morning I walked in my secret valley - by Blackamoor on the southern outskirts of Sheffield. It was deliberately for exercise - to get the heart racing and to break sweat - but it was also a lovely walk. So many bluebells and delicate wood anenomes in the dappled light of the beech grove and by the dancing brook aimed distantly for the sea. Heather, sweet gorse and may blossom and, along the way - so many gorgeous stone walls.

Perhaps when I was younger, I would never have taken much notice of old stone walls but now I look at them as if appreciating an art form. Many are very old - going back perhaps five hundred years - and some are very roughly assembled, while others are intricately arranged in layers, the joints so narrow you'd find it difficult to slide a coin in them. Around Sheffield there is so much lovely stone - various shades of limestone and hard sandstone, often in rough hewn chunks but sometimes expertly shaped and the natural colours vary subtly. Added to this there are the plants and mosses that bond with the stones - finding their ecological niches.

Dry-stone walls - a little appreciated art form.

I often think of the men who made these walls and the times they lived in when life was slower and survival was harder. I picture them labouring away, arranging the stones gradually like geological jigsaw puzzles in "The Krypton Factor", breaking sweat and stopping to rest, swigging bottles of pure stream water, devouring rough hewn hunks of bread. Their hands gnarled and calloused from years of patient wall-building. Undoubtedly they had no sense of themselves as artists but they have left behind a beautiful legacy the like of which no wire or wooden fence could hope to emulate in a million years.

15 May 2008


From Boothferry to Wembley
We'll keep the Hull flag flying high!

Elton John! Johnny Barnes! Joy Batchelor! Graham Taylor! Michael Bentine! Luther Blissett! We gave your lads a helluva beating!

May 14th 2008 - Hull City 4 Watford 1 - and we are on our way to Wembley for the first time in our rather unremarkable history. Victory at Wembley will take us to the top flight for the very first time and if we get there, when we get there, it will for me be the fulfilment of a boyhood dream - one that I never really expected to come true.

For I have travelled countless miles to support The Tigers - shivered at Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Belle Vue in Doncaster, got pissed on as I pissed in the stinking nineteenth century urinals at Chesterfield, witnessed so many false dawns as our team hovered up and down in the lower leagues. From Shrewsbury to Huddersfield and from Wimbledon to Port Vale I suffered, gristle pie after polystyrene Bovril, from Stoke to Derby, Tottenham to York City, Bournemouth, Peterborough, Ayresome Park, Burnden Park, Bradford City, Leeds, Bramall Lane, Hillsborough, Rotherham's canyon of death, Spotland in Rochdale and once in the "theatre of dreams"where they only opened one turnstile to ensure we missed the first ten minutes of a match in which United crushed us 5-0. The real footballing world has been my oyster for forty five years - no jet black Porsches or silver Mercedes, no exotically named French Africans or Serbs, just The Tigers rising and falling like the sea as the years passed and hope of reaching the promised land seemed to disappear like boats in the grey Humber rain.

All that lies between us and paradise now is Bristol and our fear. Please wish us well. I will be there at Wembley in my tiger stripe underpants, roaring the lads on. Who are ye? Who are ye? We are Ull! We are Ull! We are Ull! It's only football but if feels like life itself.

13 May 2008


Butterflies are a gauge to the health of nature in general. There are far less of them around than there used to be - before pesticides and the bulldozing of ancient hedgerows, the streamlining of agriculture and huge increases in the belching out of car exhaust fumes. However, butterflies brighten our lives. When a butterfly lands on your shirt you don't flick it away with disgust or stomp on it when it lands on your lawn. People like butterflies. We like their markings and the way they fly and we are all vaguely aware of the shortness of their butterfly lives.

In the last twenty years, several British butterflies have been deemed to be extinct but the good news is that there are still around sixty different species out there. They are a national treasure. Following the Tigers' 2-0 victory over Watford - which I watched in the local, I saw a butterfly in our garden on Sunday - as I was communing with nature in my shorts and flip flops - cutting the lawn and pruning straggly plants. What was it? I wondered. Well, having researched every British butterfly currently known to man, I am pretty sure it was a Speckled Wood Butterfly.

Both male and female Speckled Woods feed on honeydew in tree tops, only occasionally being seen feeding on flowers. Adult wingspan: 46-56mm. Habitat - The Speckled Wood breeds in woodland habitats, lanes and tracks between tall hedgerows, parks, gardens, and scrub. It seems to prefer slightly damp areas where there is tall grass and some dappled shade. I will be watching out for other butterflies this summer. Have you seen any recently?
Above: The Speckled Wood Butterfly

10 May 2008


Since I began blogging in June 2005, I have never met anybody with whom I had linked through the processes of blogging - until earlier today. I felt nervous. It was weird - like going for a job interview. Shirley and I were sitting outside "The Sportsman" off Manchester Road when a big 4x4 vehicle cruised into the car park carrying the "Demob Happy Teacher" (Jennyta) and her partner (Keith).

I bought the non-alcoholic drinks but Jennyta bought the food for which I again send out much gratitude. We chatted and the time passed by. Shirley and I went off to buy tomato plants and Jennyta and Keith headed for the Sheffield suburb of Walkley to visit Jennyta's eldest daughter.

Jennyta was lovely. For someone approaching sixty, she looked for all the world like someone approaching fifty - such a nice face and such a gentle disposition. I am sure she has the personal characteristics to make a really successful counsellor.

I took a secret tape recorder to our meeting and here is a slice of what was said:-

JENNYTA Oh Christ I have spilt the bloody bitter lemon!
Y.PUDDING (Grabbing a cloth to wipe Jennyta's bodice) This should do the trick. There. Rubadubdub! Stop giggling Jennyta!
KEITH What the hell do you think you're doing!
Y.PUDDING Only drying her off Keith. What the hell did you think I was doing?
KEITH I have heard what you bloody English blokes are like!
SHIRLEY Hot. That's what Keith and I can speak from experience!
Y.PUDDING I'll go and get you another drink. Same again?
JENNYTA Naw! I'll have a double rum and black this time.
Y.PUDDING Anything for you Keith?
KEITH Yes! Another "Mixed Grill" from the menu and make it snappy! (YP exits left)
SHIRLEY Excuse me Keith! Get your hand off my leg!
KEITH I was only being affectionate!
SHIRLEY Goddamit! I'm not a sheep!

9 May 2008


In secondary education, the conveyor belt takes a year to churn round. Ho hum - here's another Year Eleven cohort departing. In recent times, imitating American high schools, there has been a movement to produce "year books" for these school leavers and in the "technology college" where I work, a tradition has developed whereby the Head of English (yours truly) is expected to pen a poem or two for each year book reflecting upon this annual departure of the wildebeests. These are this year's offerings:-

Standing on the shore of life’s great ocean
Preparing to cross uncharted seas
Discovering distant islands
Bending your sails to the breeze
Farewell to the class of Zero Eight
Farewell to you one and all
As you exit the old school gate
Go out with your heads held tall.
Perhaps for one fleeting moment
Look back on the last five years
Remember how far you have come
The blood the sweat and the tears
Then turn your backs to the wind
And begin your voyage anew
Greystones* was simply a harbour
Where the system was sheltering you.

*Greystones = substitute name for the school

The more I grow, the less I know
Once I was eleven
Entering Year Seven
It seemed that school would never end
Always there like a clingy friend

Edale* and homework and stinking lavs
Emos and bullies and gangs of chavs
Caretaker jangling a big bunch of keys
Thank you miss and excuse me please
Comprehension or lunchtime detention
Birth prevention or surface tension
Trudging up the old cinder path*
In the canteen having a laugh
With mates I’ll always remember
- Well at least until September.
- The best days of our lives…

The more I grow the less I know
Leaving Year Eleven
Feels like seventh heaven
Now we’re off to work or college
Living proof of growth through knowledge.

*Edale = Village in Derbyshire famed for school outdoor camps
* cinder path = path joining main school buildings at my "technology college"
*School motto
When they blow up the school
It will feel so cool if they
Let me press the button
Blasting away the corridors
Where we laughed
And chewed the fat
Exploding the empty rooms
Where we toiled and boiled
Over keyboards and key skills.
It will be so cool
When I blow up the school.

And when the dust has settled
I’ll be sitting in the rubble
Not causing any trouble
Just quiet
Like a funeral

*Our old school buildings will soon be replaced.

6 May 2008


Politicians lie all the time. When comedians tell jokes they are usually just lies - those funny things never really happened. When you think of it, any novel is just a massive lie - a pretence - the spinning of a yarn. Advertisers lie. Priests, parsons, mullahs and rabbis lie as they reinterpret holy books which are themselves just strings of untruths and imagined truths - lies in other words.

From time to time we all tell lies. We exaggerate achievements, inflate stories or miss out vital truths. In this, I am as remiss as anyone even though one of the fundamental moral tenets I try hard to uphold is contained in the saying "Honesty is the best policy".

I remember when I was nine years old. On Tuesdays, after the school day had ended, I would ride on a school bus to the nearby village of Catwick to receive piano lessons from Mrs Maddox. She must have been something of a local entepreneur because she was always baking huge trays of tarts and scones, sausage rolls and vol-au-vents as well as teaching piano to local children.

I hated those trips. Hated the mechanical and heartless way in which Mrs Maddox attempted to teach piano skills. There was no love, no fun, no delight. You had your scales to do and dull pieces to learn by heart - "Where O Where Has My Little Dog Gone?" Where indeed?

Each week I gave the overweight, bespectacled and bepowdered middle aged lady my precious shillings. Frequently, she would leave the forty five minute lesson to deliver baking while I continued with my tedious practice in her equally dull living room with its chintz curtains, swirling Axminster carpet and flock wallpaper. I don't think this is what my parents were expecting from a piano teacher - someone who would bobby off on her rounds for most of the lesson.

Anyway, one week I was so utterly and mind numbingly bored that I left the piano stool and wandered into the kitchen where I spotted a box of matches next to a packet of "Number 6" cigarettes. I struck a match and watched it burn. Then I wandered back into the musical torture chamber and well, I cannot remember why - but I decided to test a match flame on one of Mrs Maddox's tassle-edged cushions. It flared up so I stomped it out and put the cushion back on the armchair.

Hearing my long distance piano teacher returning in her car, I returned to the dreaded piano stool. However, as soon as Mrs Maddox came in the room she sniffed my offence and was quickly on to the singed cushion. I tried to lie my way out of it - saying I knew nothing about that horrible cushion. Of course, she didn't believe me and ordered me out of her house, saying that I had to tell my parents what I had done and that I wasn't to come back again.

I was confused and ashamed of myself. I just couldn't bring myself to tell mum or dad what I had done and returned to piano practice the following week as if nothing had happened. Mrs Maddox never delivered baking on my time again and later I became a concert pianist - wowing audiences from Vienna to New York. (The last bit is another lie!)

3 May 2008


"We're bringing in the may
Bringing in the may
Our hearts be light and gay
In the happy month of May."

"May" being the sweet white blossom of the hawthorn. Long ago, the people of England would deck their homes with this - celebrating the Earth's fertility linked to the promise of another bountiful harvest. Perhaps originating in Germanic lands came the Maypole dance - owing much to pagan belief in an underworld - this intricate dance was performed around a phallic pole - again willing renewed fertility.

Today I cut our lawn for the first time in 2008. It took an hour. I carried the grass cuttings to my compost pile. Later, I rooted out my Bosch strimmer from the storage area-cum-workshop beneath our house. Busily strimming at the lawn's edge, I narrowly missed slicing a young frog in half. The traumatised creature burrowed under a discarded lump of millstone grit. Then the strimmer cord disappeared as it usually does so I turned the instrument upside down for its necessary five minute maintenance. Whoever invented the plastic cord strimmer should be tried in a court of law for design crimes. This is the fourth strimmer I have owned and they have all been bloody useless. If you can strim for ten minutes without losing the cord then you deserve a place in the Guinness Book of Records!

There's lots of lovely blossom around just now and I can see the pink white blossom on our apple trees starting to emerge. Outside in the street, the cherry trees are putting on their annual show before wind or rain strips away their fine confetti gowns. Their blossom never lasts long. You must appreciate it while you can.

How splendid to have a three day weekend. There should be more of them. In fact I am thinking of forming a new political party called "The Three Day Weekend Party". It's only manifesto promise would be to move immediately from the outdated concept of a two day weekend to the more popular three day version. Undoubtedly, we would sweep to power. Regarding British public holidays, why do we have to call them "Bank" Holidays and what has this got to do with our ancient traditions? Personally, I hate banks, banking, financial institutions and all that jazz - so mind-numbingly boring and so undeserving of having public holidays routinely named after them. Let's have - Robin Hood's Day, International Peace Day, The Queen's Birthday, Guy Fawkes Day, Emily Pankhurst - Women's Rights Day but not ruddy "Bank" holidays! How dull!

To celebrate May we visited the Kashmir Curry Centre on Spittal Hill for their customarily excellent Asian cuisine. The Kashmiri Lamb is to die for - as is the freshly made Nan bread which threatens to float away from the table. I love the simple and rather basic ambience of this unpretentious place with its wholesome and encouragingly limited menu. I have been there many times and hope it never changes - while recognising that like all things it will change in the end just as certainly as May's blossom will disappear.

1 May 2008


If somebody staggered from a pub with car keys in hand, fully intending to risk other people's lives by attempting to drive home, onlookers would be rightly horrified. That sense of horror needs to be replicated when we spot drivers on mobile phones. Personally, I notice them all the time - drivers of taxis, vans, concrete wagons and family cars. It's like an epidemic. Perhaps more horrific is the sight of drivers looking down at their laps as they drive while attempting to text at the same time. This is obviously harder to spot but it happens more than you might think.

I have ranted about mobiles in cars before so obviously I was delighted when the Ministry of Justice announced yesterday that 164,900 fixed penalty notices for using mobile phones while driving were issued in 2006. However, the tide has not yet turned. How many more deaths have to happen before the message truly hits home?

This is a comment left by a visitor after a BBC news item on this very subject:-

My fiance was killed by someone who was using a mobile while driving. Had that driver been prosecuted previously it may have made him think before doing it again - and my fiance may still be alive. The penalty can't be harsh enough as far as I'm concerned.

On this topic, I have a little side thought. Why should any driver be allowed to have one-way glass or obscuring glass in their car windows? This prevents police or other law enforcement officers from spotting wrongdoing - including mobile phone use while in transit. It's not right.