30 December 2009

Recognition

Last evening the annual Yorkshire Pudding Blog Awards ceremony was held in exclusive Pudding Towers - a secluded designer mansion in the leafy suburbs of Sheffield. These highly prized awards represent the pinnacle of achievement in any blogger's career.

Guests arrived to a Tetley's bitter reception and the music of Beyonce Knowles wafting live from the mansion's glittering south ballroom. Introductory nibbles included miniature snacks inspired by Spanish tapas but with a Yorkshire theme - fish and chips, bread and butter pudding, toad in the hole, Wensleydale curd tart and of course tiny Yorkshire puddings in rich beef and onion gravy.

Lord Pudding gave the opening address recalling several readable bloggers who appear to have fallen by the wayside this year - Arthur Clewley of "Arthur Clewley's Diary" who now dwells in a residential home on the outskirts of Richmond, North Yorkshire, Reidski who is currently working in a haggis factory in Ayrshire, "Retarded Rugrat" who is too busy enjoying her first year of married life in Vancouver to bother blogging any more and "Arctic Fox" from Huddersfield who now resides in Armley Gaol, Leeds for unspeakable crimes in public houses.

Lord Pudding spoke of the need to maintain high standards in blogging - "Blogging is a new art form with much wider possibilities than staccato tweets on Twitter or email banter between friends. Regular blog building creates both a window on the world and an ongoing opportunity to freely publicise the words you feel like writing on any number of subjects. You never know who might be directed to your blog or who might simply stumble upon it. Bloggers make friends - not quite like the friends we treasure in everyday offline life - but nonetheless people who come to matter to us because we have connected with them..."

The ceremony's main sponsor droned on in similar vein for half an hour or so. Some light snoring could be heard from the middle rows before the awards were presented. In summary:-

PHOTOGRAPHIC BLOGGER AWARD - Steve at "Occupied Country"
TOP GRANDAD BLOGGER - Sam at "The Golden Hill" (Hard luck Steve!)
PROMOTION OF STORYTELLING AWARD - Farida at "Saints and Spinners"
MOST HISTORICALLY AWARE BLOG - Hadriana at "Hadriana's Treasures"
TOP AMERICAN BLOGGER - Robert at "Rhymes With Plague"
TOP NEW ZEALAND BLOGGERS (Joint First) Katherine at "The Last Visible Dog" and David at "Arcane Enigma"
TOP WESTRAY ISLAND BLOGGER - Malc at "Edge of Nowhere" (Stiff competion for this award)
TOP COUNTRY LIFE BLOGGING AWARD - Debbie at "Ramblings" (Mopsa)
THE SUSAN BOYLE AWARD for THE TOP TRANSATLANTIC JET SET BLOGGER - Ian at "Retirement Rocks"
TOP WELSH BLOGGER and TOP DOG WALKING BLOGGER - Jenny at "Demob Happy Teacher"
MOST HELPFUL AUSTRALIA BASED BLOGGER AWARD - Michael at "In Sydney with an Old Leica"
TOP OLDHAM CLOGGER Steven at "Crofty's Blog"
TOP NORTHAMPTONSHIRE BLOGGER and TRAVELOG BLOGGER- "JJ" at "All Cobblers"
SOUTH EAST ASIA BLOGGER AWARD - Mr & Mrs Reginald Booth at "Bangkok Booths"

Last but not least the overall award for "Blogger of The Year 2009" went to Daphne from "My Dad's A Communist" (see photo right). The judging panel considered her blog to be "humane, humorous and honest using carefully crafted but accessible English". Wearing an emerald green sequinned evening gown from "Matalan", fishnet stockings and platinum stillettos, Daphne floated to the stage to collect her award, recalling her impoverished childhood in the mean back alleys of south Leeds. "I never thought I'd come this far," she stuttered.

All award winners are entitled to copy and paste this exclusive 2009 widget into their own blogs at no financial cost to themselves! Any bloggers who feel cheated of richly deserved awards may send £50 to Pudding Towers and your award will be sent by return of post.

28 December 2009

Quiz

There's something about growing older that requires one's life to have more predictability, more routine and less randomness. Hence in my life, Monday is when we make spaghetti bolognaise for our evening meal with mushrooms cooked separately in butter and oil, a sprinkling of fresh parmesan and warm bread rolls. I always wash mine down with half a pint of milk - the only time in the week when I ever drink it.

"EastEnders" comes on at eight o'clock during which time nobody is allowed to call me and if they do I am most definitely "out". At twenty past nine, it's time to wander up to one of our locals - "The Prince of Wales" where Monday is the "Fun Fortunes" quiz night. I meet up with two Michaels as I have done for the past twelve years. There's Mick the former warehouseman who lives with his aged mother in a surburban semi that is little different from ours and there's Mike the folk singing English teacher exiled from Oldham which, rumour has it, exists in that strange world called Lancashire over the Pennine hills.

We have a good laugh and a natter, arguing the toss over the quiz questions and enjoy a bit of banter with the bar staff and other regulars like the gang from "The Grouse Inn", the dentist and his wife, Clive, Ian and Anne, Gordon and Wendy. Familiar faces. Lecherously, the two Michaels will often ogle shapely local beauties sidling up to the bar which is a tendency I find quite offensive - I mean some of those young ladies are old enough to be their daughters!

Over the years we have done quite well on the "Fun Fortunes" quiz, many times winning the top prize of eight beer tokens and often winning four tokens for the best team name. Mike came up with tonight's name -
"Well Christmas day has been and gone
And memories are growing murky
But can someone please tell me what to do
With all this bleeding turkey!"
Four tokens in the bag worth at least £10.

A typical question in the quiz would be - "Give the names of five world leaders who were considered evil". There are two marks for the top answer which was of course Adolf Hitler and one mark for the next four answers - giving a maximum total of six points. After Hitler you think Mussolini, Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, George W. Bush and you decide the best four.

Trouble is nowadays you see some quiz teams using mobile phones, texting, accessing the net to gather their answers. It never seems quite fair. But in spite of that threat, Mick, Mike and Mr Pudding regularly come out on top and have the last laugh. It's a good feeling when the landlady Becky or her assistant Abby count down possible quiz scores - "Has anybody got forty five or higher? No? Forty four? Forty three? Forty two?" and we yell "Yep! Over here love!" for the umpteenth time.

Tonight I wandered homewards with William, our next door neighbours' son, who is in his late thirties and gradually recovering from a major brain operation. The pavements were still slippery with the icy remains of last week's snow and a Sherlock Holmes mist had descended over our prosperous Sheffield suburb. Same again next Monday - how very comforting.

25 December 2009

Score

So here we are at Christmas 2009. The harsh reality show has been underway since 2001 so what is the score as we look towards a new year? Well obviously in first position comes the USA with a total of 938, next the United Kingdom with 243, followed by Canada with 134. It has been like a snowball rolling down a hill. With each passing year the numbers increase exponentially.
Of course, I am referring to the horror that is Afghanistan. Those numbers are the death toll - mostly young men with their lives ahead of them. As more money, personnel and resources are pumped in, the casualty figure grows. But nobody is telling us about the killing of "insurgents" or those who are classified as "Taliban" fighters. We ought to know but is anyone counting and why is Taliban strength growing instead of weakening?
Ask the man or woman in the street why we are in Afghanistan and they will be hard-pressed to answer. It's something about preventing terrorism - but is this the way to go about it? And what guarantee have we got that all this investment, all this killing, all this hurt will ever achieve the desired aim. Talking, hands of friendship, agreement, mutual understanding - surely that should be the way ahead. Jaw jaw, not war war.
I have said it before and I'll say it again - BRING OUR BROTHERS HOME! More of us should be saying it. How many more coffins and body bags before Christmas 2010? Have we learnt nothing?
STOP PRESS Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (23) suffered third degree burns when he attempted to blow up a Christmas Day Delta flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Oh dear! Personally, I would be all for executing this pathetic excuse for a human being after pouring vinegar over his burns. Endangering the lives of a plane load of innocent civilian passengers is both heinous and cowardly. But what has this got to do with Afghanistan? Should we send troops in to Nigeria or perhaps London where the evil creature was an engineering student? It will be interesting to see, as the days pass by, whether or not he had ever been to Afghanistan. Even if he had been there, his thwarted attempt at mass murder proves that air terrorism is an international phenomenon which knows no borders. Killing the "Taliban" and innocent Afghan citizens could surely never have stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

21 December 2009

Greetings

Another Christmas! Merry Christmas to all who have visited this blog over the last twelve months - long time blog friends and new. Let's hope we are all safe, well and happy when Christmas comes along next year.

When you were little, did you ever visit Santa in a department store?

Here are just a few happy kiddies who paid him a visit. Afterwards, they would no doubt have eagerly awaited Santa's famed nocturnal visit. Creeping into their bedrooms with special presents in his sack while his panting reindeer tried desperately to grip the roof with their cervine hooves. Good old Father Christmas - making children's dreams come true!
There is no truth in the malicious rumour that only former Irish priests of the Catholic persuasion are entitled to apply for seasonal Santa posts. Santas shown below are Sean McGuire, Patrick O'Hoolihan, Dermot Riley, Michael Casey and Seamus O'Rafferty.

19 December 2009

Images

Does anybody know the origin of the saying "the camera never lies"? I'd like to think it was coined in the middle of the nineteenth century when photography was in its infancy and when it seemed that after clicking camera buttons you simply got what you had seen. Nowadays the notion has been well and truly flattened and any Tom, Dick or Harry can manipulate photographs in order to improve, enhance or alter what was seen originally - in other words to "lie".

I spent a little time playing around with my HP Image Zone. Above you can see what I have done with a segment of the swan photo I took last week in Lathkilldale. It has almost become an abstract design statement. Below left there's the original photo and then the same photo after I had cropped it and slightly enlarged the swans.










I rather likes this "litho" version of one of my Easter Island moai pictures. It's as if clipped from some nineteenth century adventurer's printed account.
But here's the original.
I remember that the bright light that afternoon was against me. Obviously the best time to take good photos of the moai on the south eastern slope of Rano Raraku would be mid morning. Here's the same moai with image anhancement via HP Image Zone - altering the ambient light, flipping it and playing with "contrast" and "filters":-
Hey, I'm no expert but images mean a lot to me. It's how my brain works. You'll notice that every blogpost I have ever produced has contained at least one image. With digital photography available to us all, it's fun and gratifying to be able to manipulate the images we produce. Remember past years when you'd send a roll of holiday film off for processing? You'd wait eagerly for your prints to come and often when you ripped open the Kodak or Max Spielmann package you'd be disappointed. Now we have control over our pictures - no longer spoilt by careless labs or cheap printing methods.

16 December 2009

Ginger

Earlier this week, a certain news story hit the TV and press - it fell into the category of "human interest" and caused some smirking, ironic sideswipes and gasps of despair from several dark, blonde or grey-haired news reporters.

Essentially what happened was this. Mrs Davinia Phillips aged thirty of York spotted a particular Christmas card in her local Tesco store. It poked fun at people with red or ginger hair. As it happens, Mrs Phillips is the red haired mother of three red-haired daughters. She complained to Tesco and in a commercially skillful act of magnanimity, the monstrous supermarket chain promised to remove all examples of this card from its stores. Here's the card:-
Was Mrs Phillips right to complain or was she just getting her knickers in a twist over nothing? Personally I am 100% behind her. Although I am not ginger-haired myself, as a teacher I often witnessed ginger-haired children being teased. On more than one occasion I had to comfort the upset victims of this "harmless" banter. And I can remember two or three ginger-haired teenagers who dyed their hair black to ward off the hurtful name-calling.
As Mrs Phillips rightly said, if similar cards were made to mock Muslim, black or disabled children the nation would be in uproar. Accepting others for what they are and seeing differences as enriching and healthy is fundamental within a democratic society. Red hair will often speak of a distant Celtic heritage and there have been many high-achieving and attractive red-haired people. Being ginger should not be a subject for cruel mockery so I say well done Mrs Phillips - not just on behalf of ginger haired children everywhere but for the progress of civilisation too.

14 December 2009

Herbalife

Tupperware, Kleeneezee, Amway, Avon. What have these organisations got in common? Yes. You at the back... That's right. They are companies that have promoted and sold products in a different way from more typical organisations that present their products in stores or supermarkets.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an intriguing classified ad in a magazine called "Teacher". The ad gave no clue as to what the product or service behind it might be. Anyway, I rang up and this morning drove to the Totley area of Sheffield to meet semi-retired couple Gillian and Mike who are well-ensconced in a company called "Herbalife". They gave me a "Herbalife" energy drink and a nutritional snack bar. Their home was spotlessly clean and I could see their cat waiting outside their spacious conservatory to be let in.

Until this meeting, all that I knew about "Herbalife" is that they sponsor David Beckham's current club - L.A. Galaxy. It seems that like the other companies I mentioned, "Herbalife" doesn't work through shops. It has the sort of construction we associate with pyramid selling whereby if I decided to join up and somehow sell a few products, a chunk of my commission would go to Gillian and Mike.
I have never been one for vitamin products, energy drinks or diet formulas and my life philosophy is more about enjoying my time on this planet, eating and drinking what I want rather than becoming religiously health-conscious. So I am already thinking that "Herbalife" hardly fits with who I am. However, I am not yet going to dismiss the "opportunity" completely. Before doing so I thought I would ask visitors to this blog what they know about "Herbalife". Has the company touched you in any way or have you heard particular stories about it?

11 December 2009

Woods

From the Tiger Woods website - "Chunk and Run" golfing tip....

"As the name implies, I will intentionally hit the shot fat and allow it to run out. I play it kind of like a bunker shot in that I hit behind the ball an inch or two, depending on the severity of the lie and how far I want to carry the ball. I grip the club -- most often my 60-degree wedge -- a little tighter than usual to ensure the clubface stays open through impact (above). I position the ball slightly behind center in an open stance and set up with most of my weight on my left side, like I would on a basic chip shot.

As far as the swing goes, the key for me is to make a more vertical backswing than usual. I want to be sure my wedge clears the grass going back and sets up a firm strike on the ground. I let the thick grass abbreviate my follow-through. My goal is to roll it to a makeable distance, unless I'm lucky enough to hole it. "

Perhaps, like Tiger, I am also dirty-minded, but give Woods's previously veiled history of infidelity, lechery and indiscretion his golfing advice now seems to be riddled with sexual innuendo.

But I am not laughing. This gifted golfer is married to a beautiful, intelligent woman who has given him two lovely, healthy children. How could he stray and risk all for cheap physical gratification - using his status to ensnare emptyheaded nightclub girls? It is worse than stealing. None of us are perfect. We all do things which we regret but Woods has repeatedly allowed his lust and fame to undermine the bond of marriage which he should have been treasuring and fortifying with the passage of years. How sad that while Woods cavorted with loose women, his wife was changing "diapers" and kissing the cheeks of the babies they had made together.
Now - play the violins please - he is asking for forgiveness and understanding, time out in which to "heal" his family. He is postponing his amazing golfing career but I wonder will he now ever overhaul Jack Nicklaus's record of eighteen majors? Has he blown it? Finally, as my beloved Hull City are nicknamed "The Tigers" I wish to reassure readers that Hull City fans and players do not carry on like Eldrick Tont Woods who is hereby denied future use of the nickname "Tiger"! There are plenty of other more appropriate nicknames he might adopt such as "Casanova", "Perv" or "Lech". How the mighty are fallen.

10 December 2009

Lathkilldale

How long since I last walked there? At least ten years. The weather forecast was good for mid-December so by midday I was parked up in the hamlet of Alport ready for a vigorous walk along the lovely limestone valley that is Lathkilldale.

Where is it? It's in Derbyshire just south of the market town of Bakewell - famous for its Bakewell puddings and tarts. The sweet, clear water of the River Lathkill emerges from a cave near the head of the valley and by its margins rare limestone loving plants such as Jacob's Ladder thrive.

In the valley there are ancient mine workings and evidence of prehistoric cave dwellers - probably the same people who constructed the nearby Arbor Low stone circle which is sometimes known as "The Stonehenge of the North".

I walked for four hours solid along the valley and up to the tops via the ancient One Ash Farm with its curious outbuildings - including pig sties made long ago entirely from limestone slabs. All afternoon it was as if the sun was simply skirting the horizon for at this time of year night comes very early in northern England.

Cutting through the woods of Calling Low, I was looking to my left for evidence of a burial mound - suggested by the term "low" - when I fell "arse over tit" as they say in these parts. The path was muddied. It happened so quickly, as if an invisible wrestler had slung me to the ground. At the time, I was holding the strap of my little rucksack with my left hand and an ordnance survey map in the other. I landed heavily on my left fist. If anyone had been watching from the woods they would no doubt have laughed themselves silly but I was hurt. It felt as if Lennox Lewis had just thumped me high up in the ribs. It still hurts now.

I was still three miles from the Peakland village of Youlgreave which is Alport's big brother. Passing the fluospar workings I paced down the lane till the imposing tower of Youlgreave church appeared in the valley below and by the time I reached the car it was pitch dark. Some pictures... sorry none of me falling over!

See sheep grazing on the limestone edge in the last picture.

8 December 2009

Katherine

Not Katherine in New Zealand - that very talented artist who produces "The Last Visible Dog" blog but another Katherine - Katherine Routledge who lived between 1866 and 1935. She was an historian, anthropologist and would-be archaeologist. She hailed from Darlington in northern England and won a history scholarship to Oxford.

In 1913, with her husband Scoresby she led an expedition to Easter Island. They had a boat specially built for the journey and named it "The Mana". They took 147 days to voyage from England. Incredibly this was to be the first proper "scientific" investigation of the island's archaeological treasures. She lived there for over eighteen months and made strenuous efforts to solve several of the puzzles that still make Rapa Nui one of the most tantalising places on this planet. She dug, she walked, she talked, she observed, she drew, she mapped and she recorded.
In 1919 Katherine published her account of the expedition - "The Mystery of Easter Island" which I finished reading just yesterday. In her foreword she writes: "The story of Easter is yet a tangled skein. The dim past, to which the megalithic works bear witness - the island as the early voyagers found it -its more recent history and present state, all of these are intermingled threads..."
Back in 1913 there were only about 250 indigenous Easter Islanders living in comparative destitution - their once unique island world now dominated by the Williams and Balfour Trading Company that had set up a giant sheep farm and insisted that the islanders should all move to the little village of Hanga Roa on the west coast. Once there may have been up to fifteen thousand Polynesian inhabitants - back in the heyday of the statue builders.
Katherine's work on the island was of enormous importance in getting a handle on the place. She spoke with old islanders who could link back to earlier traditions, one or two of whom had tales to tell of burial rites, the birdman cult and the production of the mysterious "rongo rongo" script. She even became fairly proficient in the Rapa Nui language. However, she recognised that though numerous pieces of the jigsaw puzzle were present, several key pieces were forever lost.
Throughout her adult life, Katherine Routledge suffered from bouts of mental illness. Maybe it's there in her photograph at the head of this post. In her book she humbly refers to herself as "The Stewardess" of the expedition boat. She died in a mental institution in 1935 having been kidnapped by her estranged husband and placed there for her own safety.
Relating to some of the dates - 1866 - the year she was born was also when my village primary school opened in East Yorkshire. For me that date is like a buoy in the sea of time. When she was on the island my father was born back in Malton in North Yorkshire - another guiding buoy. And when she died, Hitler was already clambering for greatness in Nazi Germany just before World War II erupted.
Reading her book has meant a lot to me. Images and thoughts of Easter Island continue to swirl in my mind. It's as if unravelling "the mystery" would somehow help to make sense of the wider world. Maybe I should book my own bed in a mental institution!

A cave entrance on Easter Island

3 December 2009

Aaaaargh!

Escher - "Relativity"

I am typing this at our local public library because of an organisation called TalkTalk - an arm of a profit hungry business called Carphone Warehouse. Perhaps naively, I had imagined that switching our home phone and broadband provider from Orange to TalkTalk would be a smooth and simple process. No way! When the moment for switchover occurred on Tuesday evening our phoneline went stone dead.

The next day and today I have made various calls to TalkTalk on Shirley's mobile phone but it's a bit like entering a maze by Escher or an Alice in Wonderland parallel universe in which you are essentially talking to brick walls with Asian accents who claim no knowledge of previous calls and seem to be following very different scripts. Every time you call this corporate monster you have to painstakingly provide various personal details and each time it is like going back to the beginning.

The upshot is we have no dial tone at home just now and no internet access. When this will be fixed I have no idea because TalkTalk don't seem to care. This morning one of the Asian people spoke of a rather vague "five days" which is a damned sight more than the twenty minutes disruption they referred to in the original documentation. As you will guess I am not a happy bunny just now. That sense of annoyance has been compounded by the fact that TalkTalk have been redirecting our home phonecalls to another address in Sheffield - a nice young man who is also having difficulties with the company. TalkTalk claim no knowledge of this redirection error.

Internet access is such a vital part of modern people's lives - not least for email connection, maintaining blogs, banking, research and in Shirley's case working on her masters degree in nursing. Try as I might, I get no proper answers from TalkTalk who will no doubt claim the £30 connection fee in spite of all the hassle and expensive mobile phone calls we have had to make. They have you by the proverbial goolies having previously extracted banking details etc. from naive new customers like me who stupidly think that the idea of honouring promises remains a guiding business principle. Aaaaargh!

1 December 2009

December

Sheffield at Christmas
The Christmas race has truly started. December and last night was frosty - the first proper frost of the winter. Crystals glistening whitely on windscreens. I have been Christmas shopping twice in the last few days - mainly because we need to get gifts posted to our relatives in Ireland and France during the first days of this month.

As we grow older, time seems to accelerate. Was it really a year ago that I crammed those presents in shoeboxes? And here I am doing it again.

During school termtime, I had never previously been Christmas shopping on a Monday so yesterday was a first - strolling through Fargate, along The Moor and into Orchard Square - I was surprised to see so many people around with colourful Christmas bags. Two or three Christmas shops have sprung up overnight - presumably with month long leases. I bought crackers and wrapping paper. Whenever I saw adults with children in tow, I felt like challenging them - "Why isn't this kid in school?" but of course I didn't.

Shirley has steamed several Christmas puddings after following her mother's ancient recipe and I bought two pounds of best Italian sweet chestnuts ready for turning into simple chestnut stuffing. Over in Alabama, our daughter is looking forward to coming home though she spent the Thanksgiving holiday with her room-mate's family in Snelville near Atlanta and had a lovely time. Many Americans are particularly kind that way.

Some people say they hate Christmas - it's too commercial, it's lost its meaning etc. but I always love Christmastime which I see as a pagan midwinter festival - celebrating the fragile birth of a new year as the winter equinox completes its cycle. And at Christmas I remember dad and mum, Nana Morris, Charlie and Winnie (Shirley's parents) knowing that we are all just links in the chain of life. It's a time for reflection and taking stock and wondering what will have happened a year from now.