31 January 2009


Things I have never done...
I have never watched a "Star Wars" film nor any James Bond film.
I have never voted for any political party except Labour.
I have never mastered that loud wolf whistle - the one where you insert digits beneath your curled up tongue.
I have never been inside a mosque.
I have never seen an episode of "Neighbours" or "Home and Away".
I have never dropped a piece of a litter that I didn't pick up myself - even on a windy day.
I have never tried cocaine or heroin.
I have never owned a dog.
I have never baked a loaf of bread - except one of those you make in a new-fangled "breadmaker".
I have never met anyone from Chile, Albania or Mozambique.
I have never read anything that was written by Jackie Collins.
I have never listened to an album by Michael Jackson, Take That or Britney Spears.
I have never had a day off work for sickness.
I have never been skiing nor have I had any desire to go skiing or snowboarding.
I have never been to see a live horse racing meet.
I have never visited Australia or New Zealand.
I have never been swimming with dolphins - nor would I ever wish to do this.
I have never eaten truffles, sushi or ostrich meat.
I have never been to Cardiff, Ipswich, Sunderland or Wolverhampton.
I have never had a proper massage.
I have never learnt how to use a slide rule.
I have never suffered a house burglary.
I have never believed in God.
I have never had any kind of tattoo or piercing, nor have I ever worn any jewellery apart from a wristwatch - if that counts as jewellery.

So that's it - lots of things I have never done. What surprising or everyday things have you never done? Please leave in the comments...

29 January 2009


"The Lake Isle of Innisfree" - I have loved that poem for years and years. It's about leaving the hectic workaday world behind to find some peace and some simplicity - an opportunity to take stock of things in a simple and environmentally friendly home made from clay and "wattles" - strips of wood, especially hazel.

I could explore technical features of the poem, such as its unusual hexameter line construction but I prefer to linger with its meaning. First of all, in one sense, the lake isle really exists and as a boy, the poet, William Yeats, may have actually visited it. It is located in Lough Gill in the county of Sligo in the Republic of Ireland - an area that Yeats knew well all his life. In another sense, the isle doesn't exist - it is just a metaphor, a means of exploring the urge that is in most of us to find a place where we can really "be" - planting our bean rows and perhaps lying down in a grassy clearing to listen to the "bee loud" humming of a summer's day.

The poem is always driving towards the end phrase - "the deep heart's core". This is part of us that customarily we cloak and bury beneath the detritus of everyday living. It is as Emily Bronte reflected, like "the eternal rocks beneath" while we obsess ourselves with what we find on the surface. You have a sense at the end of the poem that the idea of going to Innisfree is only a notion, an unfulfilled urge - Yeats never really gets there. He only hears the lapping of the waters upon its shore deep inside himself, reminding him of the most fundamental human values.

How different is that image of the homemade cabin upon a mythical island in an Irish lake compared with say, apartment living in highrise New York City - the wailing of sirens, the never ending humming of traffic, the vista of concrete and glass. That is no place to tune in to "the deep heart's core".

27 January 2009


The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

By William Butler Yeats (1892)

23 January 2009


I threw back the bedroom curtains this morning to see an urban fox trotting across our lawn and up to the apple trees. I watched while he attempted to ambush a couple of blackbirds pecking at windfall apples that I had deliberately left lying around in late autumn to help visiting birds through wintertime.

Even though we live just three miles from Sheffield city centre, surrounded by roads and houses and a further two miles from the edge of the city, we frequently see foxes. A few weeks ago, returning from the pub, I eyeballed a fox down our street. He was perhaps no more than three metres from me. We stared at each other and very slowly I crouched down, put out my hand and said "Here foxy!" but of course he wouldn't come. He's not a lapdog - he's an urban fox. He was out scavenging for survival. Eyeing me curiously, he scurried off.

I kind of envy the lifestyle of urban foxes. They remind me of the gypsies who annually passed through the East Yorkshire village where I grew up. We would rush to the school gates to see them pass with their ragamuffin children, their clanging pots and pans and their ragged horses. Just like the urban fox, these people didn't really belong in our society. They were free spirits, living amongst us but ignoring the rules by which everybody else had to play. No rent. No permanance. No wage slavery or television news. Close but so far away and as cunning as foxes.

We had a couple of leftover pork chops in the fridge. I ventured up to the apple trees and left them on the old garden table as a gift to the fox god. Most likely they will have disappeared by tomorrow morning.

21 January 2009


Are you feeling it? Or is it all a figment of the imagination stoked by the world media machine? I'm talking about the economic downturn, the worldwide slump, the global recession - call it what you will. It's like a great sleeping beast that has emerged from its cave to terrorise the human race. Wherever you go you hear its awful breathing.
My heart goes out to the many thousands who have already fallen victim to this monster. Factories closing. Building sites mothballed. Homes repossessed. Dreams shelved. For we are all economic beings and any of us could end up as victims of this cruel beast as it stalks the planet.
Economic slumps are fascinating for sociologists. Suicide rates increase. There is more thievery. More murder. More marriages are fractured. Even certain illness rates increase. There's alcohol abuse, drug abuse and numerous other ways of trying to bury your troubles.

At a time like this, we need Superman to rescue the planet. He duly arrived on Tuesday - Barack Obama whose last name in Iranian apparently means "he in us". There's even a town in Japan called Obama. Magically, he seems to encompass so much of the world - from Kenya to Hawaii, from England to Illinois. My fingers are genuinely crossed for this charismatic new leader. I wish him well.
However, he isn't really Superman. He's just another guy. Though St George could slay the dragon, the beast of worldwide recession is a very different prospect. You can buy houses in Detroit for a hundred bucks a piece, banks are buckling, shares keep tumbling, big companies are folding as little businesses dissolve in their wake. These seem like very grim times and even in the escapism of the blogosphere, you find depressing posts like this one.

18 January 2009


Children of Gaza

410 little graves
410 candles snuffed out
410 soundless children's voices echoing
410 canyons of silence where laughter should ring
410 fragile collections of hopes and dreams shattered
410 cruel lies trying to justify the unforgivable
410 world politicians turning their backs
410 sheets hiding 410 innocent faces
410 empty spaces
410 reasons why the slaughter must cease
410 reasons for making their memorial a lasting peace
410 farewells
by Yorkshire Pudding - Jan 18th 2009

14 January 2009


Above - it's Ingvar Kamprad - the founder of IKEA. Who needs church? Who needs a hobby when you can visit an IKEA store! I went to the IKEA just west of Nottingham this evening. It was puzzling how, when you got inside, a shiny grey path with arrows on it, guided you through this maze of home furnishings. How disorienting!
I was with our son, Ian. He wanted a new table and chairs for his kitchen. We made a note of his choices and the relevant aisle numbers for collection and before too long we were back on the M1 motorway heading northwards to Sheffield. It seems as if the motorway lanes have been narrowed for the last five years with a 50 mph speed limit in operation as unseen workers create a fourth lane on each side of the carriageway. At the rate they are going, I estimate that completion will happen somewhere between 2020 and 2025. Not long now! The lanes are so narrow that when you are in the middle lane sandwiched between two trucks, you feel like a hotdog in a bun. It's scary!
Back to IKEA. Where does the name come from? Well you take the I and the K from the founder's name,and the E from the farm where he grew up -Elmtaryd, and the A from his former home county in southern Sweden - Agunnaryd. And there you have it - IKEA. A place of domestic dreams. Take home a flatpack and you are buying into Scandanavian style and easy living. Thank Ingvar that we went there on a Wednesday evening and not on a rainy Sunday afternoon when hordes of heathens no doubt arrive to indulge in a nice spot of "leisure shopping".

11 January 2009


Everton - The People's Club
When I were nobbut a lad, I had two teams. There was my real team - Hull City, always languishing in the lower divisions, always providing more pain than joy, always rooted in the real world - and there was my "dream team" - the top flight team that could win cups, defeat the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United and be a home club for great international players - and this dream team was Everton. On my locker door at school I had two pictures sellotaped - one was of Hull City's tiger mascot which I painted myself when I should have been doing homework and the other was a photograph of the great Alan Ball (Everton and England).

Yesterday, I visited Everton's ancient Goodison Park stadium for the very first time to see Hull City play the mighty Toffees in the nation's top division. We caught the "Soccerbus" from Sandhills station. I saw the great bronze statue of legendary striker Dixie Dean just outside the ground before we entered the ancient stadium. My seat was in the Upper Bullens stand on the back row - seat S55. A bloody awful position even though the ticket cost me £34. My view of the pitch was slightly obscured by pillars and the cantilevered construction.

Everton won 2-0. Felliani's opening goal was clearly offside and the second - a brilliantly taken free kick by the Spaniard Arteta -should never have even been awarded by the Scouse referee who made a series of dodgy decisions in Everton's favour. Why did he keep listening to the protests and perpetual arguing of the Everton players? And why could he not see that there was a pattern to any physical challenges upon Everton players - fall over, writhe around for two minutes, get the free kick and then - miraculously get up as right as ninepence. Bloody actors! However, I must admit that The Tigers didn't really trouble keeper Tim Howard all game and we are now very much in the business of surviving.

Liverpool is home to 435,000 Scousers but in 1931 it had a population of 846,000 and was Britain's second city. You can see its past greatness in its architecture and in the character of Liverpudlian people. It was a bitterly cold day but after alighting from our Trans-Pennine train in Lime Street Station, we headed for the waterfront and the refurbished Albert Dock where we ate lunch at The Ha Ha! Bar (I wouldn't recommend it). It was frustrating not to have enough time to visit the Slavery Museum or the Walker Art Gallery or the shops in the latest retail development - Liverpool One. Perhaps we will have to come again.

We spoke to several Liverpudlians. What an amazing and unique accent they have! Of course, educated Liverpool people like Willy Russell or Phil Redmond have tempered their accents but speak to an ordinary working class Liverpudlian and what they say is verging on the unintelligible!

Excuse me. Can you tell me the way to Lime Street Station?
Ey yous. tinnie yous tell me de way ter limey statin?
And might be answered with:-
Yis ay tinnie. bowl up de brew. take a rite and it is juss in front o' yous.
Albert Dock looking towards the Liver Building

6 January 2009


Al Fakhura
Sons and daughters
Of the Nazi Holocaust
Whose songs and poetry
Drip oceans of grieving tears
For the lost ones
Those grainy photographs
Of skeletal people
And mountains of shoes
Why do you, of all nations
Choose to wade through Gaza
Like Godzilla
Killing children
Killing dreams
With your American tanks? -
Your "weapons of mass destruction"

Covering our ears,
We sheltered in the school
At Al Fakhura
Listening to the sounds of genocide -
Screaming sirens
On the Adwan road
Your shells pounding
Like hell's drumbeat
My sisters sobbing in fear.
We called to the world
But nobody listened
Huddled together
As we were
Like trapped animals
A sacrificial slaughter.

Old Father Israel
You have brought
The wood and the fire
But where is the lamb?
Where is your mercy?
Where is the world?
by Yorkshire Pudding - Jan 6th 2009

4 January 2009


It's midnight. The end of two weeks of feasting, resting, ignoring the clock, drinking, meeting friends and family, reading and generally trying to put to the back of my mind what I do for a living. I have been so utterly and completely lazy. It is what I always want to be at Christmastime - just a lazy slob, hibernating - turning over and sleeping for another hour. So deliciously lazy.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, work kept nagging away. There were those "Netto" bags near the front door filled with Progress in English books and dozens of assignments about television advertising so today I got up early and became not Mr Lazy but Mr Busy. I have marked students' work and undertaken a number of admin tasks I had been putting off. So by my calculations, I have spent eight hours and forty five minutes on school work today. Isn't that what holidays are for?

As well as all of that mental drudgery, I have also concocted a lamb stew ready for tomorrow, visited the supermarket, bought a big sack of wild bird seed from "Pets At Home", collected Ian from his workplace in town and taken Frances to a friend's house for a games night - board games that is and I have also spent half an hour on the phone talking to a new recruit who will be joining the English team tomorrow on long term "supply". He is replacing another guy who decided he had had enough a few weeks before Christmas. I just hope the new bloke will be able to hack it. He seems... well, let's hope I'm wrong.

So tomorrow is Monday. So many British people will be returning to work after a long Christmas break. No more tinsel. No more turkey. No more gift wrapping production lines or mince pies. No more Christmas specials on the TV (Hurrah for "The Royle Family"!) No more pulling of crackers or singing of carols. No more burying yourself under the quilt till ten thirty. How shall we christen tomorrow? Let's not say Black Monday... let's say Grim Reaper Holocaust Sulky Suicidal Nasty Ink Black Monday! I can already feel the pain and the corners of my mouth curling downwards. Arrrrgggghhhh!