31 December 2008


This is my last blogpost of 2008. Outside the ground is frozen "hard as iron" and the thermometer reads minus three. I was the last patient in the doctor's surgery today. Nothing real bad just an irritating cold sore/fungal infection in the corner of my mouth. Just when I think it's healed, I laugh too much or open my big gob too wide for an apple and the corner cracks again and I'm back to square one. Possibly my last act of kindness in 2008 was insisting that a distressed young woman, who arrived in the waiting room after me, saw the doctor before I went in.

I just wish I'd gone down there with the book I'm reading at present - "The Road to Nab End" by William Woodruff. I could have devoured three chapters in the time I had to wait. It is a brilliantly observed autobiography - mostly set in the poor streets of Blackburn, Lancashire in the 1920's. The last chapter gave a child's eye view of the General Strike of 1926 - fascinating.

Wonder what 2009 holds for us all - both in the macrocosmic world that fills our news channels and in the microcosmic worlds that we really inhabit, surrounded by our possessions and the souvenirs we have gathered, affected by our friends and neighbours and the precious ones we call "family". One of my friends - Ian - told me that his mother had died on December 23rd, just six weeks after his father was buried. To lose both parents in such a short time must be really awful. Though he may wish to, I don't think he'll forget 2008 in a hurry.

What do we want for 2009? On the world stage, I want Barack Obama to get off to a good start, I want to see justice and peace in Gaza, I don't want to see any more natural disasters or Japanese whalers pretending to be engaged in scientific research. No more destruction of the Amazon rainforest. No more gas guzzling 4x4 vehicles on city streets. No more second homes sitting empty while homeless people shiver. No more unwatched computers flickering through the night in empty public buildings. No more "terrorism" such as mindless and cowardly suicide bombings.

And on the home stage I want us all to be healthy and bright, making the most of life, enriching our inner selves with interesting experiences. Patience. Goodness. Humility. Laughter. Noticing fundamental things like cloud formations, spring bulbs breaking through the top soil, birds moving across the sky, the sweetness of honey. And I want us to be kinder to ourselves. Less self-doubt, less self-recrimination, less beating ourselves up. To be alive is a wondrous thing. Let's get to December 31st 2009, fully intact, feeling we have achieved some things that are worth acknowledging - if only to ourselves.
Happy New Year Everybody!

29 December 2008


Don't you think that Mother Nature is wonderful? Inspired by Katherine's recent New Zealand fruit photos (Last Visible Dog) I give you some of more of the Earth's bounteous fruits below:-

From top to bottom - The Daphne Pumpkin, The Sweet Katherine Fruit (lovely and juicy), Stunted Clewley Peppers, The Robert Hybrid Brague Carrot and The Pudding Fruit (Grows well in Yorkshire)

27 December 2008


an interruption in the intensity or amount of something [syn: suspension] .
a missing piece (as a gap in a manuscript)

I love Christmastime. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christ, wise men from the East or stars shining above Bethlehem. It has everything to do with the winter solstice and people feasting and drinking - marking time, saying - "We are alive here and now, travellers together. And there is too much stress and misery in the world so let us eat drink and be merry!" I feel some bitterness towards Christians who hijacked our pagan festivities and then had the sheer gall to lambast those of us who choose to overlook the fairytale about Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus born in a stable. Sheer bollocks!

Before Christmas, the excitement builds. You rush around buying presents, crackers and chestnuts. You order a big fat turkey and post cards to far flung corners of the world. You ask friends and work colleagues what they are doing for Christmas. Your wife gets the lights down from the loft and tinsel bedecks your home. And then the great day comes and the streets are quiet and there are no thoughts of work and the humdrum world. You rip open your gifts and stick the turkey in the oven, pull your crackers and watch "The Royle Family" on TV. It's great - Christmas.

Then you enter the hiatus between Christmas and New Year. Over-eating has caused unfamiliar rumblings in your bowels. You sleep late. You gather up empty bottles and cans for recycling. You notice gifts scattered near the fireplace and the carcass of the turkey you assaulted on Christmas Day sits in the kitchen like an offbeat advertisement for Amnesty International. Eager anticipation is replaced by a certain emptiness. You look ahead to the next year looming. There is nothing on television worth bothering with. No cards drop on your mat and nobody phones.

Today I made a turkey stew that Jamie Oliver would have been jealous of. Complete with swollen pearl barley, chunks of celery, carrots and turnip, six fat dumplings floated on the surface. A dash of red wine, a couple of bay leaves, mixed herbs and a rasher of grilled bacon. I served it with flat bread coated with sizzling garlic butter. I might have called it "Hiatus Stew".

Down at "The Banner" tonight, the atmosphere was subdued. Christmas over. The feasting done. Waiting for New Year's Eve and 2009. Not everybody makes it. Some of us fall by the wayside. This gift of life is something we should not take for granted.

I dedicate this post to the displaced Palestinian people of Gaza murdered by the self-righteous Israeli war machine - children and women, the elderly and the poor. Over 230 dead and 700+ injured. Indiscriminate and unforgivable killing that should, by rights, attract fierce international reprisals but of course that won't happen. Words will be twisted and legitimate Palestinian freedom fighters will once again be portrayed as the wrongdoers.

25 December 2008


Chaplin on the shoulders of Douglas Fairbanks at a Liberty Bonds rally in New York (1918).

Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day 1977 at his home in Switzerland. Although he was by no means a "communist", he departed the USA in 1952 feeling bitter and anxious about hysterical accusations that flocked around him. This clownish little man was a giant of the silent movies. His place in American history and the history of film should have been assured but it wasn't until he was an old man, two years before his death that he was finally knighted by our queen. Until then, the question of honouring Chaplin had been a thorny one, given America's post war witch-hunts. Similarly, it wasn't until the nineteen seventies that Chaplin was honoured with a star in the pavement on Hollywood's famous "Walk of Fame".

Clearly, Chaplin always had a social conscience. His famous bowler-hatted tramp gave more than a nod of sympathy to the downtrodden masses and some of his films - including "The Great Dictator" and "Modern Times" had political undercurrents beneath the ribald laughter they evoked. Chaplin once said, "The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish." These were not the words of a clown even though that is how he would often describe himself. There was more to Charles Spencer Chaplin than met the eye.

Chaplin met Ghandi in 1931.

21 December 2008


The Green Man - A mythical winter visitor long before the invention of Father Christmas.
Yesterday was the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. In electrically lit homes with central heating and televisual entertainment, in our pulsing veins we no longer feel the ancient significance of the winter solstice as we return from the supermarket - our cars laden with the pillaged bounty of the earth.
For thousands of years, even from neolithic times, the winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle of time. This is reflected in the very archaeology of Stonehenge in Wiltshire and of New Grange in Ireland. A big part of life was about planning to get through each winter. You stored or preserved food. Cattle were killed to avoid having to feed them and thus at ancient festivals around the time of the solstice, there was often more fresh meat available than at any other time of the year.
Evergreen plants bedecked the primitive hovels and Yule logs became centrepieces in community-based rituals - dancing and singing in defiance of the coming trials and tribulations of deepest winter or perhaps appealing to pagan gods. Starvation was common in a world where there was no fall-back, no safety net. Only by binding together with your extended family and neighbours could you hope to make it through to the spring.
Today the sun is beginning its slow ascent into the northern sky and our days will gradually become longer but there is still so far to go to the vernal equinox on March 21st.
Many of England's oldest chuch sites were selected simply because those places were held dear by our pagan ancestors. Architects of Christianity believed they could plug in to the fundamental powers and beliefs of that mysterious ancestry. But like the supermarkets and the flickering images on our plasma screens, Christianity was only a thin veneer, disguising basic truths such as the rising of the sun, our essential relationship with nature and the cyclical nature of time.
Here endeth the Yorkshire Pudding Xmas Lecture 2008. Please put a charitable donation in the box as you leave - yes, that's right... in the box marked "Pudding Holiday Fund". Now I'm off to find me a Yule log!

Winter solstice at Stonehenge

19 December 2008


It was at Christmas 1987 that The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" first became a Christmas hit in both Ireland and the UK. Twenty years later it is still going strong when other Christmas songs have faded into obscurity. It is a weird and peculiarly evocative song. But what does it mean? In Wikipedia they say this:-

The song takes the form of a drunken man's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. After an inebriated old man also incarcerated in the jail cell sings a passage from the Irish drinking ballad "The Rare Old Mountain Dew", the drunken man (MacGowan) begins to dream about a failed relationship. The remainder of the song (which may be an internal monologue) takes the form of a call and response between two Irish immigrants, lovers or ex-lovers, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, reminiscing and bickering on Christmas Eve in New York City. The lyric "Sinatra was swinging" has been taken by some to suggest an unspecified period after World War II; however, it is possible that the song is actually set in the early 1980s, when one of Sinatra's last chart hits, his 1980 recording of John Kander and Fred Ebb's theme from the movie "New York, New York", was a fixture of New York City airwaves and a standard singalong record in the city's many neighbourhood bars. The title, taken from author J. P. Donleavy's novel "A Fairy Tale of New York", was chosen after the song had been written and recorded.

For me it is a song about lost dreams, regrets and underachievement. All of us have suffered the buffeting of life's roller coaster ride. We could have all "been someone", just as we could have all ended up in "the drunk tank" on Christmas Eve. Whenever I hear this song, I think of Kirsty MacColl who died so tragically and needlessly in Mexico eight or nine years ago and I think of her father Ewan and the subtle way his lyrical brilliance infiltrated Shane McGowan's masterpiece.

16 December 2008


Christmas and that annual head-scratching anxiety as we wrestle with the eternal conundrum - what to buy for people who have all that they need? Here's a suggestion for useful his and her gifts:-Available from Pudding Enterprises at £33.50 each. Send cash only.

13 December 2008


....Ohhhh! Moooan! Grooaaan! My aching head! I swear that is the last time I ever host an awards ceremony at Pudding Towers! The mess! You should see it. Empty beer cans and wine bottles everywhere! Somebody knocked over our prized giant yucca plant on the decking and though I hate to say it, this morning I found two perfectly formed human turds on the floor of our greenhouse. Who would do such a thing?

Thank God all the bloggers have finally departed clutching their awards and nursing their sore heads. I must say the night was all a blur to me but I keep having vivid and scary flashbacks. In the snooker room, I found Katherine (Last Visible Dog) in a compromising position on the green baize as Arthur Clewley tried, unsuccessfully, to pot the black. In the kitchen, Mr R.W.Plague from Georgia was raiding the fridge with Sam from "The Golden Hill" though we had put on a splendid Yorkshire buffet for our blogging guests. "Ya see y'all we ain't chompin on no hog's trotters nor Pukka pies!" grumbled Mr Plague with a twenty four inch pizza in his hand. Sam was clutching a perfectly formed saveloy sausage.

Daphne was in the conservatory giving a lecture on the nuances of the English language as "The Arctic Fox" ran in from the garden with a pair of pink knickers on his head - hotly pursued by Hadriana from "Hadriana's Treasures!" "Give them back you bounder!" she yelled.

Upstairs, Reidski and JJ were testing the springs on my "Silent Night" kingsize bed as Jenny the demob happy teacher sifted through my vast collection of Hull City programmes with Steve from "Occupied Country" and a couple of other football crazy bloggers.

I was horrified to discover the mysterious Australian blogger Craig teaching Mopsa and Misterwoppit how to snort some strange white powder in my daughter's bedroom. I quickly guessed what it was and frog-marched Craig downstairs. He tried to resist but with him only being an Australian, he was easily subdued and I threw the blighter outside yelling, "When we send you to Botany Bay, we expect you to stay there!"

Around two in the morning we had a live beamback on my computer from Farida and Brad in Seattle. Farida was charming as always, graciously accepting her joint Best American Blogger Award for the fifth year running. Brad on the other hand was running amok, beating his hairy chest with unbridled disappointment. But how can he expect to win blog awards when he doesn't actually blog any more?

David from NZ and the Three Legged Cat from just up the road in Sheffield had sent their apologies citing transport problems. Ah well! Thank heavens it's all over and done with now. Before everybody left this morning we gathered in the ballroom to say our farewells and sing the bloggers' hymn: "Bloggers of the World Unite".
A delighted Daphne (Laughing Horse Worsdmith of the Year Award Winner) receives her coveted award from the dashing Mr Yorkshire Pudding at last night's star-studded ceremony.

11 December 2008


Ladies and gentlemen, friends and fellow bloggers... We are gathered here this evening, at the end of this eventful year, at the luxurious Pudding Towers to bestow the inaugural Yorkshire Pudding "Laughing Horse" Blog Awards upon very deserving recipients.... Excuse me... Ahem! Mr Clewley! MR CLEWLEY! (Aside - I knew we should have never arranged a free bar) Winning an award entitles the lucky blogger to embed a "Laughing Horse" widget within his or her blog. This designer widget was specially crafted by a crack design team based in Grimethorpe between Rotherham and Sheffield - close to the Blackburn Meadows Sewage Treatment Plant.

Laughing Horse Wordsmith of the Year
Drum roll.... This goes to Daphne at "My Dad's a Communist" whose wit and evocative use of English is legendary.
Laughing Horse Blog Design of the Year
Trumpets.... This goes to Steve ArtyFarty for "Occupied Country". Some smashing original photos Steve!
Laughing Horse Cynical Bystander Award
This goes to none other than Richmond's own Arthur Clewley with his homely Dales diary. He makes Victor Meldrew look like Charlie Chaplin!
Laughing Horse American Blog
Ta-dah! We have joint winners this year. From the west coast Ms Farida Dowler for her family and storytelling blog "Saints and Spinners", from Georgia Mr "Rhymes With Plague" for some fascinating slants on life and from Ohio, Sam the king of "The Golden Hill".
Laughing Horse - Best New Zealand Blog. Not much competition so it has to be joint winners - David for the occasionally lonesome but musical "Arcane Enigma" and Katherine for her colourful, artistic and varied "The Last Visible Dog".
Laughing Horse Welsh Blog of the Year
Yes it has to be.... the lovely Jenny with her readable and friendly "Demob Happy Teacher".
Yorkshire Blog of the Year
Should of course go to Mr Y.Pudding of Pudding Towers but as I am not allowed to win an award on my home patch, reluctantly I bestow this award on the six foot skinhead from 'Uddersfield - "The Arctic Fox".
Canadian Blogger of the Year
Dawn at "Far Far Away" - in other words "The Retarded Rugrat"
Northamptonshire Blogger of the Year
JJ (Griselda) at "All Cobblers" - you never know what you're gonna get!
Laughing Horse Sleeping Blogs I Miss Awards
Go to me old mucker "Brad the Gorilla", "Friday's Web" (N. Carolina) and "Shooting Parrots" (Manchester)
Laughing Horse Environmental Award
Goes to "Mopsa" for sensitive improvement of her Devonshire farm buildings.
Laughing Horse Northumberland Blogger Award
Naturally goes to Hadriana at "Hadriana's Treasures"
Laughing Horse Anyone Can Have an Award for £20 Award
These go to any bloggers out there who I have foolishly overlooked (such as Reidski and The Three Legged Cat) or those who simply want one! Cheque or credit card will do.

Right everybody! That's the official part of the evening over, now let's party like it's 1999! Yo! Free bar! Gerroff them sausage rolls Clewley! And here's to blogging through 2009. What better way to avoid the bloody credit crunch!

9 December 2008


A murmuration of starlings over Eastbourne, Sussex.
I thought this post would be fresh - something new - but I was here before in July 2005, thinking about collective nouns. Perhaps the collective noun for blogposts on the same theme could even be a "revisiting"... So where were we? Ah yes - collective nouns. I sometimes wonder who the hell coined the more outlandish of these terms. It is hard to think that country people of long ago might have looked up into an old wintry sycamore tree and upon spotting a group of crows labelled them a "murder". Somehow these varied and attractive group names have the whiff of nineteenth century wordplay...

"Oh I say Percival! It's raining like billyo outside! Let us retire to the drawing room and dream up some collective nouns for our feathered friends. Then we'll post them to my old college in Oxford!"
"Oh jolly dee Godfrey! What a wheeze! Haw! Haw! What about.... a murder of crows?"
"Spiffing Percy! Absolutely spiffing!"

Some collective nouns for mammals:-
A pod of dolphins
A skulk of foxes
A surfeit of skunks
A huddle of walruses
A coalition of cheetahs
An array of hedgehogs
An aurora of polar bears

A quiver of cobras
A rhumba of rattlesnakes

And back to the birds...
A charm of finches
An exaltation of larks
A pitying of turtle doves
A murmuration of starlings
A descent of woodpeckers
A mustering of storks
A bazaar of guillemots
A parliament of owls
A host of sparrows

Don't you think they are brilliant? Now, in the quest for interactivity dear readers, I am going to ask you to suggest new collective nouns for:-
a) Young people working in a call centre.
b) A group of bankers laid off because of the credit crunch.
c) Air travellers queueing in the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport.
d) Prostitutes standing on a street corner.
e) Pub goers standing outside to smoke their cigarettes.

5 December 2008


Let me die a young man's death

Let me die a young man's death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I'm 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I'm 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber's chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommy guns
burst in and give me a short back and insides
Or when I'm 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a young man's death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
'what a nice way to go' death
by Roger McGough

2 December 2008


Right: Coronation Road
Sunday afternoon I drove down to Birmingham - killing two birds with one stone. Firstly, to meet up with our daughter whom regular visitors to this humble blog will remember is at university there. Secondly, to attend an exam board training meeting at the Novotel on Broad Street. How cunning of me to cause this co-incidence...

Last year, Frances was in "halls". This year she is renting a house with six other students on Coronation Road in Selly Oak, less than half a mile from "uni". And no, I didn't say Coronation Street - after all that is in Weatherfield, a suburb of Manchester.

I had not visited this terraced house before. For a few fleeting moments, I was transported back to my own university days in Scotland. Was it really thirty two years ago? There was youthful energy in her house, a sense of going places and getting on with life. Socks and T-shirts were drying on the banisters. Scattered all over the entrance hallway were takeaway pizza mailings and free newspapers that would have taken around twenty seconds to gather up and place in the recycling bin.

Frances's academically brilliant housemates clustered on the sofas, glued to a little portable TV as they munched unhealthy looking slices of pizza and oven chips. They were delighted with the two folding chairs I had brought from Homebase. It meant that at least they could eat at the table sometimes. The chairs cost me £8 each. Why hadn't it occurred to them to make such a useful investment?

I gave our daughter's room 4/10 for tidiness. The wardrobe appeared to have burst open, spewing clothes all over the floor. The double glazed windows that the "kind" student landlord had had fitted last spring were as draughty as a church bell tower because someone had forgotten to run some sealant down the middle joint. Note to self - remember sealant gun on next visit!

With lovely daughter in car, we revisited The Balti Triangle for dinner. A pre-meal beer in the old-fashioned "George" and then into the superb "Al Frash" for the best lamb balti this side of Bombay. The nan bread threatened to float away again. We spoke about her placement in America next year - at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama. She's so excited about it and I am so jealous.

Back at Coronation Road, the other "stewdies" had no idea where the Balti Triangle was or even that it existed. As "Strictly Come Dancing" flickered on the little box, and student excitement rose, I headed off for the £38 a night Etap Hotel to finish some marking before bed. I remembered the parties, the booze, the intense late night conversations, the emotional ups and downs, the essay deadlines, the women, the unmade bed, the burning of the midnight oil but most of all the faces imprinted on my memory like ghosts from "The Titanic" - friends and lecturers, cleaners and porters - a university library of faces - stored in memory.