29 November 2009

Deserved

Long ago, a Norwegian TV reporter made a memorable contribution to sports broadcasting when his national team achieved a highly unlikely victory against England. Following Hull City's equally unlikely 1-1 draw with moneybags Manchester City yesterday afternoon, I shall imitate that famous Norwegian moment...

"Elsie Tanner! Noel Gallagher! Bernard Manning! NobbyStiles! Anthony Burgess! Ena Sharples! Gary Barlow! Morrissey! We gave your lads a helluva beating!" Actually it wasn't a beating it was just a draw but to the three thousand Hull City fans packed into the South Stand end of The City of Manchester Stadium, it certainly felt like victory when the inspirational Hull midfielder Jimmy Bullard managed to squeeze his penalty past the flailing arms of Man City's goalkeeper - Shay Given.

Money has been no object for Man City since Arab owners took over the club. Take the Brazilian Robinho for example - he alone cost an estimated £34 million. For such a sum of money you could replace the entire Hull City squad of forty four players twice over! So this was a real David v Goliath match and like David, my beloved Tigers showed far more grit, passion and togetherness than the Goliath club with its cossetted Ferrari driving mob of disunited stars.

And what a laugh it was when Mr Bullard lectured his team-mates in a spoof of last season's infamous halftime team talk by our manager Phil Brown when the lads were down by four goals to nil in the corresponding fixture. On BBC's "Match of the Day", legendary pundit Alan Shearer called it the best goal celebration ever.

Something I was very annoyed about yesterday was being bodysearched by security staff at the turnstiles. Only visiting fans are searched in this humiliating way - not home fans. Who vets the searchers? How are they trained? Jeez - we paid £29 each for a ticket and nowhere does it say on that ticket that you will be frisked by a stranger in a fluorescent jacket. I was searched at football matches several times in the distant past but this hasn't happened for a long time and I shall be firing off complaints in various directions about Man City's arrogant breach of basic human rights. They will wish they hadn't laid a finger on me.


They also made visiting fans remove bottle tops from any drinks they may have brought to the game. Yet this same club's safety stewards stood idly by while a small section of their supporters spent much of the match deliberately goading Hull City fans with foul-mouthed abuse instead of watching the football. Just not good enough - unlike the mighty Tigers who left the Commonwealth Games stadium with a richly deserved point.

25 November 2009

Brush

A paintbrush

As my last DIY blogpost seems to have gone down well with the intellectually-challenged readership of this blog, here's another...

Cue new theme music "You Can Leave Your Hat On" played on homemade bongos and a washboard by a naked expatriate teacher based in Bangkok. Credits... "I'm in a DIY Jam Get Me Outta Here"

"Good evening. In this programme, I will be focussing on a vital tool in the DIY kitbag - namely the paintbrush. Paintbrushes can be purchased from any reputable DIY store. They come in a range of sizes and are specially designed to make cleaning impossible so when the painting job is over it is best to just throw the bugger away and buy a new brush.

If you would prefer to make your own paintbrush you will need a wooden handle that you can easily carve from a piece of scrap timber and for the bristles you will need a grey squirrel. These vermin like Britney Spears, imported from America, have infested almost every corner of the United Kingdom but they are not easy to trap. We suggest an air rifle. When you have your squirrel carcass, remove the tail with some carpet scissors and affix to to your wooden handle with several lengths of gaffer tape. Before use, ensure the bristles are no longer twitching involuntarily.

Once you have a paintbrush in your hand you are ready to paint, assuming of course that you have previously purchased a tin of paint. Dip the brush in the paint, removing any excess drops and then using vertical movements back and forth apply the paint to your wall, door, window or mother-in-law. This act of painting helps tired or shabby rooms to take on a fresh new look.

When painting, make sure you wear suitable clothing as the paint is likely to get everywhere.
Yes folks. If you have never used a paintbrush before, it's time to get painting. Although it is a highly technical instrument, mastery of the paintbrush can be achieved after a few short years. So, make or buy a paintbrush and change your home.

Next week we will turn our DIY spotlight to hanging pictures on walls. Email in any questions you may have on this fascinating subject to yorkshirepudding@diyjam.co.uk . Until next week then, it's me Yorkshire Pudding wishing you a happy evening and keep on DIYing!"

Cue theme music and closing credits...

Squirrel tails

24 November 2009

Caulk


Welcome to "I'm In a DIY Jam Get Me Outta Here" Yorkshire Pudding's DIY tips programme.

"Hello everybody. I want to talk to you today about caulk - sometimes known as decorators' filler. You can buy it at any reputable DIY store. It generally comes in hard plastic tubes with an attached plastic nozzle. In order to dispense it, you need to nip off the end of the tube with a craft knife, screw on the plastic nozzle and place the whole tube in a caulking gun.
Especially in older houses but whenever you are decorating a room, you will find that the desired end finish is slightly spoilt by little gaps and cracks. They may appear where a skirting board meets the wall or where laminate edging strips butt up against the skirting or where window frames don't meet walls perfectly.
Get the gun and inject some caulk - either in long thin and even strips or just stop and fill if the crack or hole is particularly big. Unlike that horrible silicone stuff you have to use to waterproof edging in baths and showers, decorators' caulk can be nicely smoothed off with a damp cloth to produce a great end finish.
Good DIY results are to do with getting the detail right and caulk can help you to achieve an impressive finish. So instead of sitting on your fat ass exploring blogworld, get caulking!
Next week we'll be showing you how to create a floating duck house to beautify your pond or lake and the best bit is you won't have to pay a penny! We'll tell you how to claim back on your workplace expenses account...So till next week - Happy DIYing!"
(Cue theme music - "On Ilkley Moor Ba'Tat" played on homemade Trinidadian steel drums)

22 November 2009

Horcon

I took numerous pelican pictures but this was the best one.
During my South America days, I caught a local bus from Vina del Mar up the coast to a fishing village called Horcon. It was an assemblage of shacks and other unprepossessing buildings. You must appreciate that modern Chile is really a very new country - rather like the American mid-west - a product of the mid-nineteenth century. Okay there were Amerindian tribes thriving there for millennia before European exploitation but the Chile we see today owes very little to that heritage.
Down on the beach, muscular brown horses were pulling in fishing boats and a couple of weather-beaten fishermen were filleting their catch and throwing the squirming remains to gangs of waiting pelicans.
I ate fresh fish in a beachfront restaurant before wandering off to locate the bay of Cau-Cau with its picture postcard sands and Pacific waves. The journey back to Vina took an hour and a half - through the charmless township of Quintero about which my "Rough Guide" was very scathing.:-"Avoid this place at all costs" . I must say that that advice almost tempted me have a wander round Quintero but Rough Guides are invariably and uncannily spot on so I didn't bother. Anyway...dear readers...more photographs...
Beach horses working at Horcon
Feeding frenzy
Horse grazing by Cau-Cau beach.

Cau-Cau

19 November 2009

Ordinariness

Mid-November in the north of England. Days are short. Before you know it, the sun has gone over the houses and night-time is creeping in.

Christmas approaches relentlessly. Tinsel shines in shops. Potted baby Serbian pine trees wait in lines at B&Q stores to be adopted by families and bedecked with lights and ancient baubles hidden in attics since last January. Very few of these trees will survive central heating and the Queen's Christmas message.

Three mornings ago I chopped up an old loaf of bread and threw it on our back lawn for the birds but an urban fox emerged from the hedgerow for his breakfast. Glancing up furtively, he ate his fill and then brushtailed up the path I made this summer - past the compost bins and through the brambles.

I just finished "Bonfire of The Vanities" by Tom Wolfe - a huge tome of a novel, linguistically vibrant and passionate about the city of New York which is its ever-present backdrop. It was a really good read and I was pleased that I was able to devote many hours in relatively quick succession to the reading process. That is surely what good books deserve - not snatched half hours here and there when you're tired or travelling on a train to work.

Been sorting out our back room - the dining room. We used to have our computer station in an alcove next to the fireplace. I had used an old kitchen work surface to construct a built in unit but now we have moved the computer to the little room at the front of the house to make a proper study. This meant the decoration of the back room had to be disrupted so I have been stripping wallpaper, matching up new wallpaper and repainting. Not exactly my idea of a good time but we're getting there.

I am the live-in chef. When I was working, Shirley and I seemed to share kitchen duties but now I make all the main meals but I don't mind because I rather like cooking. What did we have tonight? It was a simple spaghetti concoction.

Fried up chopped onions, courgette, bacon and a couple of tomatoes in olive oil. Boiled the spaghetti and then mixed the two together with a small bowl of grated Parmesan. A couple of screws of black pepper and then ready to go. A delicious, simple and healthy meal - counterbalanced by the treacle pudding and cream that followed.

Time seems different these days. Once I blogged about "7:52"a.m. - which always seemed to be the time on the car clock when I set off for work along the same streets and avenues for twenty two years in a row. Now "7:52" doesn't seem to matter. It has lost its controlling power. If sleepy I can roll over and take another hour or two and at midnight the pressure to get to sleep in order to charge the old batteries for work has slunk away. I am not complaining.
Mid-November in the north of England. Days are short. Before you know it, the sun has gone over the houses and night-time is creeping in.

17 November 2009

Valparaiso

Valparaiso is Chile's premier seaport. Hills tumble down to the thin "plata" area adjacent to the port. Hence the city boasts no less than fifteen funicular railways that look as though they have not been modernised since they were constructed a hundred years ago.

The day I was there I was the sole passenger on the Ascensor Artilleria that lifts you up from the plata to the Naval Museum. I marvelled at the marine panorama before me. In the bay were container ships and the unmistakeable darkly elegant shape of a submarine just off shore.

I aimed to remain at that high level, planning to stroll horizontally around the roads that weave around Valpo's hills before dropping to the Concepcion area that was largely responsible for winning the city its treasured World Heritage status with its "improvised urban design".

So there I am strolling along at half ten in the morning, occasionally stopping to snap images of that colourful improvisation that grew without planning retrictions. I am looking out on a jumbled hillside in the sunshine when a man and a woman approached me all in a panic.

They were probaby in their forties and spoke no English whatsoever but I got the gist of what they were trying to tell me - that the area was dangerous. Bad "hombres" would come and steal my bag and my camera, maybe even slit my throat. The concern in their eyes was genuine and though I wanted to continue with my morning stroll as planned, I allowed them to more or less push me onto a local bus for the descent back to the plata.

Later I had a lovely three course lunch on the terrace of the Hotel Brighton - a distinctive orange and white building that overlooks the Sotomayor Plaza - where I chatted to the manager of a crane hire firm. The view from that terrace was spectacular and the lunch deal I chose was even called "Menu Bahia Vista" - View of the Bay menu. Whilst in translation mode, it tickled me to discover that Valparaiso simply and literally means "Paradise Valley". Given its rough seaport reputation it isn't a name you would automatically choose for the place.

There is a noticeable British influence around the city in street names, children's schoolwear and in certain buildings. Back in Victorian times, English merchants and bankers were prominent in Valpo. There is even a "British Arch" in the main avenue that runs parallel to the seafront.

Valparaiso Gallery:-

FROM TOP - Ascensor Artilleria, Housing in the hills, Hotel Brighton, Cat on Paseo Atkinson, Random window, The British Arch.

15 November 2009

Moai

The fifteen moai on Ahu Tongariki
Regarding the moai, I am not an archaeologist, scientist or theorist - I am just a guy who took a couple of aeroplanes to see them in their proper context.

Some facts. There are in total 887 moai "statues". Eleven were pillaged and taken elsewhere - one to the British Museum. On the island, some 357 moai can be found at the Rano Raraku crater which is where 95% of the "statues" were made from a volcanic "tuff" which was carved with a variety of harder stone tools. At this amazing quarry, a lot of finished moai are standing in sandpits, presumably ready to be moved to permanent positions elsewhere on the island. Some moai are half carved and others were rejected during the manufacturing process because of faults in the "tuff".

The moai that reached their ceremonial stone platforms all faced inland. Sadly, following contact with Europeans in the mid-eighteenth century, all of these statues were toppled. It is in any case believed that the moai making period lasted from about 1250 to 1550AD so that by the time the first Europeans began to call in, Easter Island's heyday was long past. The same applies to its forests. Studying pollen evidence, scientists deduce that by 1650 virtually all the trees were gone whereas back in the thirteenth century, the evidence says that there were many trees.
Toppled moai - these are in the majority
Whilst on the island, I of course didn't see all the moai there but I saw enough to realise that every one was different - different decorative carvings, slightly different expressions and textures, different heights and bellies. Some wore topknots or "pukao" made from red scoria stone and others didn't. The biggest moai ever moved to a platform weighed 75 tons but at the quarry there is an unfinished moai known as "El Gigante" which would have weighed an estimated 270 tons! Though there have been many theories, nobody knows for sure how the moai were moved - sometimes over ten miles.

On the day I visited Rano Raraku, there were perhaps fifty tourists keeping to the paths that weave around the moai on the crater's outer slopes. As it was mid-afternoon, the sun was in an awkward position for well-lit photography. It was a hot day and I of course had to put a knotted handkerchief on my head to avoid sunburn. This had the desired effect of driving the other visitors away because when I ventured inside the crater I was alone with older moai carved from the inner slopes. Here the light was in the right position for good photography.

A veritable herd of wild brown horses galloped into the crater and dived into the crater lake to drink and play and then they were gone leaving me alone with several moai of long ago. Their expressions were equally glum and ponderous as if they were sharing a secret, though one moai seemed to be smiling at me. I edged up to the crater's rim and looked towards the bay of Tongariki where fifteen re-erected statues look out from their "ahu" - spiritual guardians of a very different world from ours.

View of Rano Raraku crater lake with moai nose in foreground

The wry smile of the Yorkshire Pudding moai

13 November 2009

Promenade

Centre - the fishing club at Vina del Mar
Walking along the promenade that skirts a rocky promontory between chic Vina del Mar and earthy Valparaiso, our intrepid Mr Pudding noticed a pod of pelicans on an offshore outcrop - no doubt settling down for the night. There was much jostling as the birds' pecking order was readjusted.

This was another marvellous photo opportunity. Pudding delved into his navy blue "Berghaus" knapsack and produced the Hewlett Packard digital camera he had purchased two years before. He switched on and the zoom lens automatically protruded with a comforting whirring sound. Click-click-click - images of pelicanos digitally trapped but as ever our hero was dissatisfied. He wanted to get closer to these distinctive littoral creatures.

Up ahead, he noticed steps descending to a lower platform adjacent to the prom. If I go down there I will surely be able to edge along the rocks and get closer to the squawking scoop thought Mr Pudding. However, at the base of the steps, he was surprised to discover that his way was blocked by some kind of a club or office. Down on the terracotta tiled terrace, he was no closer to the pelicans after all.

Staring out on an early evening prospect of Valparaiso, with Pacific waves lapping at the seawall, he noticed words spelled out in relief near the clubhouse door - "Club Pescadores y Aziz de Vina del Mar". Pescadores? Surely that meant fishermen - a fishing club. Just then a figure emerged from the clubhouse door. He was a man of about seventy, short and lean with a healthy complexion and gold-rimmed spectacles.

He appeared to be asking Pudding what he was doing there but as in any awkward situation in Chile, our hero simply announced "No Espanol" and smiled at the inquisitor. For a moment they were both looking at the headland where Valparaiso ends and Pudding muttered "It's beautiful. Buena senor". The short-sleeved gentleman pointed at the clubhouse sign but Mr Pudding simply asked "Cerveza?"

The man relented, frustrated by his inability to communicate and beckoned Pudding into the clubhouse. There were half a dozen middle aged people in there and they appeared to be clearing up - moving accumulated junk out of the back rooms and piling it up near the entrance. An old table tennis table, broken chairs, fading black and white photographs of the club and its members mounted on plywood boards, crates of empty bottles. The old gentleman brought Pudding a glass of ice-cold apple juice which he sipped sitting at a clubhouse table.
Conversation was difficult. English may be the international language but it had struggled to reach this corner of coastal Chile. However, where there is a will there is a way and very soon, our hero was conversing however awkwardly with club members. Eduardo was the name of the gentleman who had accosted him on the terrace - he was the elected "presidente" of the club. A few more members arrived including the naturally comical Raoul who others insisted was their "Benny Hill". Saving the day like the cavalry came Jeronimo or Jerry who had lived in Pennsylvania for twenty eight years. He was to be Mr Pudding's personal translator.
By now it was getting dark, the sun had hidden itself away for another eight hours and nightfall signalled it was time to begin drinking. Out came shiny red cans of "Escudo" beer followed by a two litre carton of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. And as Mr Pudding drank with his new clubmates, communication was lubricated and much laughter ensued. Jerry was working hard as a translator - a big man with shovel-like hands and an unnaturally white set of cosmetically enhanced teeth that made him look American - he guffawed like a pirate and shook and squeezed his friends as if physicality was a natural feature of successful social interaction.

Raoul - the mischievous Benny Hill figure - who kept saying "We are your French" - meaning friends - nipped into a store room and came out clutching a large bottle of amber champagne which he insisted the English visitor should open. The cork hit the ceiling creating much amused laughter. "Salut!" was shouted as glasses were clinked and the mysterious visitor from Inglaterra said "Cheers!", "Chile y Inglaterra Amigos! Cheers!" and the glasses were clinked again.

Pudding helped Raoul, Eduardo and the contemplative Orlando to carry that weighty table tennis table up to the promenade where Eduardo's Chevrolet pickup truck was waiting. Then it was back down the steps for more wine and laughter as cooking smells began to emerge from the rear kitchen. Three female members of the club - including Raoul's wife Gina were busy preparing a late night feast.
Around midnight, the feast was served - a delicate chicken stew, warm potato salad, lightly steamed shredded cabbage and a platter of barbecued pork ribs marinated in Raoul's secret and delicious concoction. Then there were cakes and more wine. More "Salut!". More "Cheers!" More "Amigo!" to Mr Pudding who was hugged, squeezed and stroked like a boyband singer let loose amidst his adoring fans.

"Tomorrow!" "Vuelto maƱana por la noche!" the last club members insisted as Mr Pudding ascended to the promenade in the early hours. As if warmed by "Ready Brek" central heating for kids, he floated home past the excessive Sheraton with its polished marble and valet parking. The winking lights of Valparaiso were reflected in the ocean, like a harvest of fallen stars. Falling into his bed at the humble Hostal Reloj de Flores on Avenida Los Banos, Mr Pudding smiled about the unexpected evening gone by and drifted into a deliciously deep sleep.

Eduardo, Yorkshire Pudding and Raoul

11 November 2009

Sunsets

I would guess that many thousands of photographs have been taken of Easter Island sunsets with the silhouettes of moai in the foreground. Equally, Chile itself invites many photographs of sunsets as it has such a huge west-facing coastline.

Sunset is a special time - the dying of another day in unpredictable light patterns. Surely no two sunsets have ever been the same and the appearance of a sunset can change significantly from one moment to the next. I think of past times when people who were never bedazzled by cinema or television would surely have stood in awe appreciating the strange beauty of a sunset that would have put their own humdrum lives into some kind of a celestial perspective before the darkest shadows of nighttime enveloped them.

Even today in our frantic, accessorised world of images and satellite communication, people will often sit or stand quietly observing sunset patterns - the sunbeams, a colourwash of clouds in amber, lemon, scarlet, mauve and grey-blue, a swirl of clouds, birds flying home to roost. It's something fundamental that connects us with those who have gone before. So let me share these six sunset photos with you. The last two were from the terraces of the Universitad Catolica football ground in Santiago:-

10 November 2009

Home

Such a long flight from Santiago to Madrid with Iberia. No individual entertainment screens and once again I was berated by a stewardess for daring to look out of the window...I mean why do they think many people prefer window seats? This time the issue was the crappy Harry Potter film being shown on the central drop down monitors. Daylight coming in would spoil the viewing. I looked around but nobody seemed to be watching it anyway. Harry sodding Potter! Again I ignored instructions and looked down upon the rainforest of Brazil.

Frustratingly, when we touched down at Heathrow - pretty much on time, the plane had to sit on the tarmac for over forty five minutes waiting for a parking space at Terminal 3. Because of this I missed my 11.30 National Express bus connection back to Sheffield by no more than three minutes. Had to then wait till two in the afternoon.

So good to see Shirley again after almost three weeks apart but it's cold here and today has seemed amazingly short. Half of me is still over there in South America but I have to pinch myself to believe that I have really visited "the navel of the world" and touched the rough volcanic texture of a moai's face. Here are five pictures I took on the island...
The crater at Rano Kau looking towards Orongo.

Birdman petroglyph on the cliffs of Orongo

Horses grazing near the great "ahu" at Anakena

Finished moai at the Rano Raraku "factory" - they never reached their "ahus"

The lovely Hotel Tiare Pacific where I stayed.

8 November 2009

Adios

Sunset over the Estadio Universtad Catolica in Santiago
How full these days have been - so many sights, so many photographs, so many memories. A friend of mine called Mick always seemed incredulous when I mentioned travelling solo but I haven't minded one jot. Having spent so much of my life in jabbering word-rich classrooms surrounded by jabbering word-rich colleagues, it is so nice to have peace and self-direction. I have met many people on this trip from Rob the international business intern from New England to nameless travellers and the gang at the Vina del Mar Fishing Club who took me into their hearts - Eduardo, Hernan, Raoul, Orlando, Jeronimo, Patricia, Gina... How we danced and drank there beside the Pacific Ocean with the lights of Valparaiso twinkling in the mid-distance.

Last night I went to see a football match (soccer to US visitors) - Universad Catholica - the champions of Chile - versus Universad Concepcion. The "Cruzados" fans at the other end of the pitch beat drums, chanted and sang their Latin football chants continuously. It was great and Catholica won 4-1 with sweetly taken goals. Bring Juan Morales to Hull City!

I had a strange experience. A co-incidence. On the terraces I spotted a man I thought I recognised. Remember that Santiago is a city of six million souls. Then it clicked. On Monday night I had seen this same man in La Marchigiana restaurant in Mendoza - a city of one million souls. He had been with his wife and four children at the next table. At the end of the match I went up to him and confirmed the fact. He recognised me too - remembering how I had sneezed. I said the chances of us connecting again were thousands to one but he said millions. I often think - what about those co-incidences that we just miss by a hair's breadth?

So I am on this old jallopy of a computer in the reception area of the El Presidente in the Providencia area of Santiago. Time to go up to cosy Room 409 to pack my suitcase. The adventure is almost over but no doubt I will be boring you with it when I get back - hopefully with some photographs too. Adios!

4 November 2009

Vina

The "Hostal" where I stayed in Vina del Mar
Vina - pronounced Vinya is really Vina del Mar, the port of Valparaiso´s sister city. It isn´t a quaint little fishing village. It´s Chile´s number one coastal resort with some high rise apartment blocks and a "buzz" of activity - people coming and people going, laughing, eating, shouting, begging.

This is in marked contrast with the little working town of Los Andes where I stayed last night. I woke this morning and walked up to the Cerro del Virgen - a hill overlooking the town. It was hot and dusty but I was glad to get close up to examples of the ten foot cacti I had seen from the bus back from Argentina.

At the top of the hill was of course a white statue of the Virgin Mary watching over her people. But I spotted a couple of lesbians making out in the trees below. They had brought a blanket and a picnic and probably didn´t realise that anybody could see them. I notice a lot of public kissing and canoodling here in South America. Maybe it is true what they say about Latin lovers.

Down from the hill, wishing the lesbians good day, I ended up at the archaeological museum which had some commentary in English and I was the sole visitor. There were some pieces from Easter Island and the commentary reminded me that one of its other names is "Te Pito o Te Henua" which means "the navel of the world". Chile seems so obviously proud of its South Pacific "territory". Bur probably the best exhibit at the museum was a two thousand year old mummy from the Atacama region - she had died in childbirth and her mummified child was with her. The quality of preservation was amazing.

Between Los Andes and Vina there is some lovely. lush agricultural land - a lot of it given over to big scale viniculture - rows and rows of vines, neatly arranged to aid watering and harvest.

I had a light meal tonight - salmon and salad with a small bottle of local wine and then in the same little restaurant I watched the first half of Chile versus Paraguay in a pre-World Cup warm up match. It was still 0-0 when I left.

Tomorrow I will be "doing" Valparaiso - the funicular railways and the little colourful streets. The street I am on is itself very steep. It´s a basic but friendly hostel with only eleven bedrooms. Mine is supposed to be "en suite" but the bathroom is across the little corridor and I haven´t brought my dressing gown. The owner´s daughter had to show me how to fire up the boiler - no salacious pun intended!