31 October 2009


Aconcagua - The tallest mountain in the southern hemisphere. It overlooks the main pass between Chile and Argentina.
Typical "avenida" in sultry Mendoza, Argentina

I will never forget Rapa Nui (Easter Island) - it was like a dream come true and there was so much more I might have seen. I talked to a fisherman called Tete and he told me of a volcanic vent he had found in one of the hills. He had crawled in with a torch and found evidence of ancient human habitation. If I had been staying longer, he would have taken me to see it but my air ticket said no. I had been greeted at the airport with a floral garland and left with a chain of seashells round my neck.
Today I travelled by "Andesmar" bus through the mighty Andes chain and into Argentina. It could have been five hours but it was seven because of the customary two hour hold up at the border - checking bags, papers - stamping this, stamping that. Much of the scenery was raw and enormous with snow on the peaks and condors circling. These were real, beefy, naked, soaring mountains that make the English Lake District hills look as though they were made by moles.
Mendoza seems affluent and self-confident. I arrived in sultry 32 degree heat and made my way through Saturday shoppers to the Hotel Cordon del Plata where because of overbooking they have had to put me in a suite! My jaw dropped. It is massive with a double sunken spa bath. I rarely have baths - I am a shower man but either tonight or tomorrow morning I will definitely be having a bath with jacuzzi bubbles and perhaps room service will send Mr Bond some champagne... Adios amigos!

28 October 2009


So dear visitors, I made it to Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua, Easter Island which ever you choose to call it... and I am not disappointed I can tell you.
On Monday I scrambled down inside Ranu Kau crater to a unique microclimate, sheltered from the worst of Pacific gales and from the encroachment of disease and human interference. I felt like Simon in "Lord of The Flies", gasping in the thick green jungle undergrowth and further along the crater lake´s tangled edge I discovered a huge rock inscribed with petroglyphs from long ago.
Back on the crater rim having sweltered in the sunshine on the long climb back, I collapsed in a heap before heading down to the broken "ahu" at Vinapu. So many "moai" were pushed over or broken up perhaps in inter-tribal warfare or because the old certainties of the island were disappearing...but you still sense the echoes of the amazing culture that was developed here in total ignorance of the outer world which lay over two thousand five hundred miles away.
For the first people of Rapa Nui, this was their entire world and I feel privileged, even a little humbled to have this opportunity to witness first hand palpable evidence of those lost and distant times. I´ll tell you more when I am not in an expensive little internet cafe where speed of internet access is clearly not a priority but hey... blogging from Easter Island.... isn´t that just amazing anyway!

23 October 2009


Santiago, Chile
Dear Bloggers,
Arrived here safely after a gruelling thirteen hour flight. Wasn´t too happy about the bitch of a flight attendant who chose to tell me twice not to look out of the window and keep the shade down. Bizarre! Missed Paraguay completely! But by western Argentina I had the necessary permission and marvelled at the desert like landscape and parallel ridges gliding beneath us. Then came the mighty Andes chain with contours picked out by snow. This time the bitch stopped me from taking a photograph as we were about to begin our descent into Santiago which as you can see from the accompanying picture boasts an amazing backdrop.
Here in this city of six million it feels quit subdued - not as manic as I had expected. I went to the Mercado Central and enjoyed a tasty bowl of "curato" - fish and meat soup with some local bread and a bottle of Chilean beer. Delicious after that airline crap they bring you on little trays.
Santiago is, as you might have expected, essentially European in its appearance - like a huge replica of Madrid picked up and transported to South America. I have only seen one black person - a wobbly man-lady who squeezed out of a gentlemen´s club in very tight red slacks and bounced in front of me to the next bus stop. She or he was carrying a small black and yellow handbag that looked like a retro pencil case.
That wasn´t the highlight of the day. Number one had to be my first in person sighting of "rongo rongo" script at the Merced basilica museum. What is that I hear you ask. It is indecipherable writing from Easter Island. Nobody has fathomed it. I saw it on a wooden tablet and on the carved shape of a sea snake. Such items should of course rest on Easter Island itself but there are similar pieces of archaeological Isla de Pascua booty in Washington, Paris, London and Vina del Mar by the Chilean coast.

It´s a bit chilly in Chile this evening...Time for bed.

Best wishes,
Senor Pudding

21 October 2009


In the morning I'm heading down to Heathrow Airport by National Express coach... then to Madrid where at midnight I will be flying down to Santiago... about thirteen hours in the air. Earlier today I was in "Hotmail" when a message popped up from Iberia - the Spanish airline. Time to check in and choose my seat. I was on to it straight away and secured a precious emergency exit seat with the extra leg room. Brilliant!

The research is done, the accommodation is booked and most of the linking transport. I am shaking myself out of my post-retirement lethargy. This isn't a holiday, it's an adventure. I aim to add to this blog whilst in the southern hemisphere but opportunity may be limited. I am going to see the moai. I will touch their chiselled trunks, visit the quarries which bore them and wonder about the mysterious culture that conceived them.

It's all much better than doing what my next door neighbour's son will be doing tomorrow - travelling to hospital for an eight hour operation to remove a benign brain tumour. Entry will be through one of his ears - resulting in permanent hearing loss in that ear. Good luck William! Be brave!

20 October 2009


We don't always explain things to ourselves. Sometimes we operate on instinct.

I have been a regular internet user for fifteen years. I embraced the idea of the personal computer as soon as I could and looking through some old invoices, I recently discovered that back in 1996 we paid over £1600 for our "Tiny" computer package. That's a lot of money in comparison with today's computer prices and back then computer memories were small while speed of operation was frustratingly slow...So I swear I am not instinctively a technophobe.

Mobile phones or what our American cousins call cellphones are a different kettle of fish. I have an antipathy towards them and I don't possess one. But what is it that turns me away from these must-have modern day accessories? Lying here on the psychiatrist's couch, various points spring to mind....

1) I hate the fact that mobile phones are tied in to the profit-hungry machinations of greedy corporations like O2, Orange, Apple or Nokia.

2) I despise the fact that people are forever changing their mobile phones. They don't seem to last very long. On a global scale this is environmentally extremely unfriendly - added to which they are often on "charge" - sucking precious electricity into their toxic cells.

3) There are ugly mobile phone masts all over the place - spoiling urban and rural environments. What gives these greedy companies the right to ram their ugly masts into the ground from Timbuktu to Toronto and from Sheffield to Shanghai?

4) I hate the idea of texting - this plague-like obsession with sending out little messages in a clipped and bastardized form of English in which accuracy and detail don't seem to matter.

5) Every day I see drivers on their mobile phones, endangering other people's lives - taxi drivers, cement truck drivers, drivers on motorways or in traffic jams. Increasingly I see people texting or checking texts as they drive.

6) As a teacher I became increasingly fed up with having to challenge children about mobile phone use in school - including lessons. There were even incidents in which teachers were deliberately riled and then caught on mobile phone cameras. Why the school allowed children to have the damned things on the premises at all I will never know.

7) Some people use mobile phones to cheat in pub quizzes.

8) When I walk on moors or dine in restaurants I do not want anybody contacting me by phone. Life is to be lived, not interrupted by banal phone calls. Sometimes you want distance and untouchability.

9) What do we really know about the health implications of mobile phone signals that invisibly buzz around our heads where ever we may be?

10) Governments are able to use mobile phones to track our whereabouts and our various communications. Is that liberty?

Okay, I realise I must sound like Victor Meldrew so in defence of mobile phones I will say that of course I appreciate they can be vital for emergency services and in allowing business travellers to oil the wheels of commerce without delay. Daughters in late night discos can also be quickly located putting minds at rest as well as aiding safety. However, I would still maintain that the mobile phone is one of the most insidious and hateful inventions of the modern world.... alongside the atomic bomb, oven chips and the Conservative Party. I won't be getting one any day soon.

18 October 2009


Philip Laing is a nineteen year old technology student at Sheffield Hallam University. Last weekend, he became as drunk as a Tory MP at a late night party conference shindig. His drunkenness was partly down to an organisation called Carnage UK that makes money via arranging boozy student pub crawls.

In the heart of Sheffield, between our beautiful City Hall and the John Lewis department store is a paved area known as Barker's Pool. It is dominated by the city's main war memorial with its huge flagpole. At the base of the monument there is a beautiful bronze casting of four soldiers with their heads permanently hanging down in silent respect for the fallen of two world wars. It is here where every Remembrance Sunday, the glorious dead are remembered with wreaths of poppies, prayers and private memories.

Step forward or should I say, stagger forward Philip Laing in the wee small hours. He lurches over to the memorial and urinates over last year's faded poppy wreaths. Tragically for Master Laing, this reprehensible incident is caught on camera and the resulting photograph travels to pressrooms throughout Britain and beyond.
Surely, Philip Laing will never entirely live the incident down. There is every possibility that he will be chucked out of his university and next Thursday he will appear in the local magistrates court charged with urinating in a public place and outraging public decency. But shouldn't Carnage UK be there too?

In a more sober state this is what Philip said : "I am deeply ashamed of this photograph and sincerely sorry for my behaviour. I didn't realise how much alcohol I had consumed that night and I also hadn't eaten since lunchtime, which worsened the effect. I have no recollection of the events in the photograph, although I recognise this does not excuse my actions."

To some extent I must admit that I feel sorry for Philip Laing. I was a student myself and under the influence of alcohol I did a number of things that I deeply regret - some of which I have never told my family or best friends about to this day. When Philip set out that evening, I doubt that he had any intention of weeing on the war memorial and as he suggests, when he woke up he probably had no recollection whatsoever of his night-time antics that have in their turn aroused thousands of bitter words of condemnation and outrage.

We shouldn't excuse Philip's crime but it ought to be viewed in reasonable proportion. His apology sounded sincere. I would hate to think of him being booted out of university over this matter. In some ways, he is himself a victim of the boozy bacchanalian culture that is prevalent in most university cities. Philip didn't create that culture and he didn't invent Carnage UK so give the lad a break.

15 October 2009


As a lad, I would often saunter or skip down to the local shops in my East Yorkshire village with errands to complete for my mum. In those days, there were no such things as plastic carrier bags or ready meals. Packaging was far less advanced than it is today. People would automatically take their own baskets or bags and many grocery products would be unpackaged, including biscuits that you bought by weight from big shop tins.

Nowadays, packaging can be seen in two ways. Firstly, it's very ingenious - so many different methods have been devised to shift, seal and present a multitude of products. Secondly, it can be seen as an environmental crime - so much unnecessary waste. People produced much less packaging detritus when I was a lad.

This week I have bought a padlock and an electrical extension lead from the great cathedral of DIY known as B&Q. Both products hung from display hooks and both were encased in hard, clear plastic. You must know the sort of packaging I mean. It's very tough and there's no way you could break into it with your teeth. To get inside these lethal plastic shells, you need a strong pair of scissors or a sharp Stanley knife. Nowhere in the inner display writing does it ever say how you are meant to break into these plastic carapaces.

It's difficult to discover who invented sealed hard shell plastic packaging but it was clearly not for the benefit of customers - many of whom have actually injured themselves breaking into this impenetrable material. I guess it has only been around for about ten years. A couple of years ago a UK study calculated that around 60,000 people a year were suffering significant injuries connected with hard shell or plastic "clam shell" packaging. It would be easy enough for producers to insist on easy-to-open, only partially heat sealed packaging but they clearly don't give a toss about the buying public, focussing more upon product display, transport and product security.

Once a lad skipping to the local shops but now a grumpy and relatively old geezer, I know what I would do if I had my way. I would seal the managing directors of companies that opt for hard shell plastic packaging in that selfsame stuff and I would hang them from hooks in B&Q, splitting my sides with laughter while watching them struggling to break out.

11 October 2009


Fungus seen in the woods today.
I'll sing you this October Song.... Feeling the need to burn off calories, I'm lacing up my walking boots and marching out of suburbia, along Greystones Avenue, up Greystones Road, down Hangingwater and along one of the paths that parallels the little River Porter, under those bright autumnal trees and on to Forge Dam where I pause to observe the duckery, then on and on - up the Porter Valley till I reach the road that winds past the incongruous alpaca farm before hitting the crossroads at Ringinglow.
Two scenes at Forge Dam

The heavy grey clouds of morningtime have given way to blue skies and intermittent sunshine. Sheffield is a great place to inhabit - especially if you are fortunate enough to live in the affluent south west of the city. There are so many trees and the countryside is literally on your doorstep.

Sheffield from the south west.

Ringinglow - The Round House & "The Norfolk Arms"

Over the stile and on to an ill-defined meadow path that finally leads into the Limb Valley. Tall trees - mainly lime and beech soar above me, as shafts of honeycoloured sunlight pierce the canopy of autumn leaves. I pass a swimming lake where signs have been put up - "No Swimming" - and I wish I had my trunks with me.

Soon I am at Whirlowdale and marching by the side of Ecclesall Road South. I notice huge, wealthy homes behind electronically controlled gates. This isn't Beverly Hills but incredibly plenty of these houses would not look out of place there. One house has the wrought iron initials - "S.C." and in the distant driveway an array of luxury cars are parked up.

Two and a half hours after leaving home, I am back and thirsty as a high court judge. I guzzle a can of diet Coke and tell Shirley what and who I have seen - including Janet, another Sheffield Head of English who threw in the towel this summer. She was walking through the woods with her husband and told me about her creative writing aspirations. I always liked Janet.

The old sign on entering The Limb Valley.

10 October 2009


Robin at Woodstock 1969
October Song
by Robin Williamson (1966)

I'll sing you this October song,
Oh, there is no song before it.
The words and tune are none of my own,
for my joys and sorrows bore it.

Beside the sea
The brambly briars in the still of evening,
Birds fly out behind the sun,
and with them I'll leavng.

The fallen leaves that jewel the ground,
They know the art of dying,
And leave with joy their glad gold hearts,
In the scarlet shadows lying.

When hunger calls my footsteps home,
The morning follows after,
I swim the seas within my mind,
And the pine-trees laugh green laughter.

I used to search for happiness,
And I used to follow pleasure,
But I found a door behind my mind,
And that's the greatest treasure.

For rulers like to lay down laws,
And rebels like to break them,
And the poor priests like to walk in chains,
And God likes to forsake them.

I met a man whose name was Time,
And he said, "I must be goin,"
But just how long that was,
I have no way of knowing.

Sometimes I want to murder time,
Sometimes when my heart's aching,
But mostly I just stroll along,
The path that he is taking.
Robin in 2009

9 October 2009


Perhaps my favourite shop in Sheffield is just off Chesterfield Road near to the Heeley railway bridge. It's called Langton's Antiques Emporium. Here we are not talking about highly-polished catalogue stuff that belongs in the homes of the hoity toity but about bric-a-brac and curiosities ranging from old beer tankards and badgers' heads to Victorian fireplaces and "Eagle" comics. You never know what you might find in Langton's. For the curious and the openly nostalgic, Langton's is an Aladdin's cave - more like a museum than a shop.

Well the other day, I took our son Ian for breakfast in the little workaday cafe that is also housed in the emporium. Afterwards, Ian and I had a nose about Langton's latest junk and there in a glass case we saw some second world war memorabilia - including, shiveringly, a grubby little white arm band with a blue star of David embroidered upon it and the label "Juden". Momentarily, you wonder who might have worn it and how it came to be in this glass case. As well as being a symbol of Nazi evil, it was an emblem of the rejected, outcasts, people who were considered to be less than human.

This brings me to the title of this post - "Huddles" - and sorry for my odd mental linkage - I'm not thinking about huddles of Jews in the streets of Warsaw or Prague but about Britain's remaining smokers. You must have seen them - outside offices, shops, bars and even hospitals - huddles of smokers looking, well, like modern-day outcasts, the rejected ones. They have furtive body language and seem self-conscious as you pass by. One arm will often be crossed over the chest as they suck on the evil weed, billows of acrid blue-grey smoke rising above their pasty heads. I want to go over and yell - "Stop this stupidity and get inside! Give the horrible things up!"

I hate it when I have to enter a building that is being guarded by a smokers' huddle. It's best to take a deep breath of unpolluted air and then dash through, taking care not to catch the smokers' eyes. You never know how these odorous outcasts might react. In fact, returning to those WWII armbands, I think new dayglo orange armbands should be mandatory for all smokers complete with the embroidered label "Smoker" and a suitable symbol - maybe a little chimney belching smoke or a cigarette being stubbed in an ashtray or perhaps, to keep it simpler, the cutesy swastika and cancer stick design shown above. Absolutely no apology to any smoker who may be coughing over this post. Give em up!

6 October 2009


The Voice

By Thomas Hardy (December 1912)

WOMAN much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever consigned to existlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward
And the woman calling.

Emma Lavinia Gifford at thirty.

3 October 2009


On Saturdays, when Hull City are at home, we jump in the car around 11.15 and zoom over towards Hull: M1 to M18 and then on to the M62. Five miles west of Hull we divert to the lovely wold top village of Swanland where our friends Tony and Fiona dwell. We have known them for years - I was best man at their wedding twenty one years ago. They are equally fanatical about our beloved Tigers. We have shared the gloom and the brightness together.

We have lunch at Tony and Fiona's house. Today it was sausage sandwiches and a slice of the prize-winning Victoria sponge that Fiona had prepared specially. It's easy to talk to them. It's so nice to have people in your life that you don't have to prove anything to, people with whom you can really relax and of course it helps that we have history together that goes back over thirty years - to the time when Tony was a long-haired student nurse in Sheffield.

Around two o'clock we're back in the car, down to North Ferriby and on to the "Park and Ride" facility at Hessle. We park up and make for the first bus we can get on. It's £2 return for each of us but it avoids parking near the ground and you enjoy a quick getaway if you can get in the queue soon after the final whistle. The bus drops us at the gates of West Park through which we wander along the path of enlightenment to our temple - The Kingston Communications Stadium. Other followers dressed in the black and amber shozoku walk alongside us as reverentially we approach our turnstiles, stopping only to purchase programmes and halftime draw tickets.

Up the concrete steps - flight after flight until we are on the concourse at the top of the West Stand. Worshippers huddle and share matchday observations before we emerge into the light, making our way to Row R ready to see the drama unfold before us.... "We are Ull! We are Ull! We are Ull!....Silverware? We don't care! We follow The City everywhere!...Geo! Geo! Geo!" And oh the joy when we score...twenty thousand people feel it at exactly the same time. For a brief but wonderful moment the troubles of everyday life are completely forgotten.

Today we beat Wigan 2-1 thanks to Geovanni (Geo) and the striker with the longest name in the Premier League - Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. The Lord hath spoken and this evening I am at peace once again but it is going to be a long hard season and we will do well to survive another year in the top flight of English football. It's time to pray.

Vennegoor of Hesselink is mobbed after scoring against Wigan this afternoon.