29 March 2010

Echo

This is Echo Helstrom, Bob Dylan's high school sweetheart in Hibbing, Minnesota (copyright Toby Thompson) .It is a grim iron town that experiences harsh mid-west winters. For five decades, Dylan has endured as a truly gifted songsmith and yet references in his songs to his 1950's childhood, high school years and hometown are remarkable because of their absence. Finding out about Echo is very tricky - partly because there is an Oregon-based band who adopted her name. However, it is claimed that in Echo's home - in a gold-coloured picture frame - she placed the following song lyric which, more than any other, harks back to Dylan's early years and the life he left behind. Almost certainly and with some wonderment, she will have frequently considered the young man who slipped out of her life and out of her town in the summer of 1959. He will be sixty nine years old on May 24th - my late mother's birthday, the day Shirley's mother died and the day on which Hull City made it to the English Premiership. I've always loved this plaintive song....

Girl Of The North Country

If you're traveling in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see she has a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long
It rolls and flows all down her breast
Please see for me that her hair's hanging long
For that's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all
Many times I've often prayed
In the darkness of my night
In the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' in the north country fair
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true love of mine.

27 March 2010

Grotto

Come with me through our kitchen doorway.
Across the decking, down the steps to the little stone path between the greenhouse and our underhouse door.
Open the white door. Crouch a little. Don't bang your head. Open the mysterious door.
In we go to Yorkshire Pudding's secret grotto. Turn on the light. What a mess!

What has he been doing down here? There on the desk - what is it?
It's a mosaic...

I just finished it yesterday. It's the first mosaic I have made since 1971 when one of my A level courses was Art. That's a gap of nearly forty years. Now you're probably looking at it and wondering what the hell it's all about. Why this design? Well it harks back to my visit to Easter Island. The central, slightly comical figure is "the birdman" and it's closely based on rock carvings that commemorate the island's strange birdman cult. Each spring, young men from different clans would descend the high cliffs of Orongo and swim out to the islets that lie off the south western peninsula in order to retrieve the first sooty tern egg of the season. This prize ensured that the leader of the winner's clan became the overall chief of the island for that year.

Putting the mosaic together was time-consuming but pleasurable. I have listened to several hours of Radio 4 in the process. Ceramic pieces don't bend and every piece had to be nipped into shape. It was like putting together an intricate jigsaw after first making the pieces. I plan to make some more mosaics this year. This is an ancient and painstaking craft but quite therapeutic with, if I might be so bold, satisfying end results.

26 March 2010

Nachtkrabbler

Good evening and welcome to this week's edition of "Tiny Creatures" with me Professor Pudding. This evening we are looking at a sadly maligned and misunderstood little darling called, in German, the "nachtkrabbler" or night crawler. We know it as "cimex lectularius" - the common bedbug. It has been a faithful companion of the human race for millennia and it was one of Europe's first exports to North America. That's why they sent us the grey squirrel and Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Normally living for six to nine months, the bedbug is an infrequent feeder. They like to gorge themselves with warm blood for five minutes and might not feed again for several days. Adults may measure 4/5mm in length and as some readers will testify, they are visible to the naked eye - as are the itchy red spots they often leave on our bare flesh. Their preferred feeding time is just before dawn. Like mini-vampires they detest sunlight.

Sex is something special for bedbugs. Instead of the usual tried and tested method, the male whips out his hypodermic organ and simply pierces the female's outer shell, depositing semen directly inside her body cavity. It's called traumatic insemination. I doubt that it will ever catch on with human beings but stranger things have happened at British Conservative Party conferences.

It would be eminently possible to begin a new blog devoted entirely to bedbugs, their lives, new discoveries about them, rates of infestation, control methods and so on. Undoubtedly it would receive many hits. I suggest that this is something that "Anonymous" who commented on my last blogpost might like to develop.

This may be hard to believe but over in The States there are such creatures as bedbug detection dogs that are able to sniff out the sources of bedbug infestations, allowing better targeting of pesticides. During the daytime, as bedbugs await the return of their kind hosts, they tend to gather in bedroom crevices or in the edge piping of mattresses. They're probably just listening to bedbug music, socialising or comparing tactics ahead of nightfall.

Don't you agree - entomology is fascinating? And if you're interested in bedbugs, a good place to begin your studies is the next hotel room you book. They're especially fond of the varied diet provided by an ever-changing succession of guests. Next week - the head louse. Don't have nightmares!
!

24 March 2010

Michael

Yorkshire pudding batter
I don't regret leaving my senior teaching post with all its attendant pressures and responsibilities. To tell you the truth, I have hardly thought about my last school at all. I was there for twenty three years but it almost seems like something I dreamt, somebody else's life.

On Tuesday, I was helping our son Ian greatly reduce the size of a privet hedge that grows between his back garden and next door. We gave it what Ian described as a crewcut. He got me talking about "difficult" schoolkids I had known and I related the story of a lad I encountered in the late eighties during my first couple of years at that last school. Let's call him Michael - well that was his name - so why not?

Academically, Michael wasn't very bright. At the age of fifteen, with eleven years of compulsory schooling behind him, he wrote with all the ease and confidence of a torture victim in some Iraqi cellar. He was placed in my pastoral tutor group and I was also timetabled to help him to improve his very limited English skills in a small class with six or seven others who presented similar literacy problems. It was as if they had all only started to read and write the previous month though a year later they would be out of compulsory schooling altogether.

Physically, he was an imposing presence - barrel-like with thick muscular arms and a shock of chestnut red hair. He had piercing dark blue eyes in which the pupils appeared permanently dilated and therefore unnerving - like he was always spoiling for a fight, always angry.

I knew Michael's track record. He had a file in the school office as thick as the Yellow Pages. Only a handful of these pages covered his academic slow motion, mostly they were about his long history of unpleasant behaviour - bullying and intimidating other pupils, stealing, ripping up school books, never attempting homework, fighting, truancy, refusing to follow reasonable instructions, walking out of lessons, swearing, damaging staff cars etc.. He had been shown such kindness, such goodwill and yet he had thrown it all back. I was determined to win him over and at least, when in my charge, to stifle his old behaviours.

It was easy enough in a very small class. I jollied him along, gave him positive strokes, didn't make a song and dance about little blips in his behaviour, tried hard to make the work fun. Though I say it myself, in my lessons it was working - he was behaving even if his English writing skills remained just above the level of a well-stimulated laboratory chimpanzee. However, in other lessons and around the school, his behaviour was worsening if anything. He was suspended a couple of times and given strong warnings as to his future conduct.

As his form tutor I was asked to keep a detailed record of any behaviour reports I got - pending future action. As if I didn't have enough to do! Anyway, over half a term and unbeknown to Michael, I compiled a list of any reports I received from other members of staff- both oral and written. It was the same old stuff with a few new misbehaviours thrown in - including spitting in the face of a dinner lady who insisted he couldn't jump the lunch queue, setting fire to a bin in Science and, rather disgustingly, standing on a concrete gatepost at the neighbouring primary school and urinating on some five year old girls. Sex was beginning to feature in his catalogue of misdemeanours and I recall shudderingly how he once confided in me that he liked little children - especially girls.

The straw that broke the system's back was when he ripped up his meticulously assembled annual school report. The headteacher asked for the behaviour dossier I had been compiling and I sent it down to his office. Michael was carpeted and informed that the time had come for a parting of ways. He was to be expelled. The Head of Year who was also in this endgame meeting told me that the headteacher had said several times "Mr Pudding has made a detailed list of your wrongdoings... Mr Pudding has written this down for February 5th...Mr Pudding this, Mr Pudding that..."

Instead of leaving the head's office with his head bowed in shame, Michael came looking for me. In his mind I was now the villain - the one who had dared to list his various misdemeanours. I wasn't in my classroom . I was on a free period, printing lesson materials in the school's reprographic room next to the library. Suddenly, there he stood - a barrel of aggression. I said something like "What do you want?" And he said "You know why I'm here!" - his fists clenched at his side, his face flushed, his pupils even wider than usual. Fortunately, the Head of Year also appeared in the doorway and she was able to intervene both physically and with calming words before leading Michael away.

I never saw him again but for a couple of years I was ready for him, ready to attack rather than be attacked if he appeared in my room. The stupid headteacher said, "Oh you shouldn't worry. He was never really aggressive" but some four years later he received a prison sentence for grievous bodily harm - though not, I am happy to say for battering a Yorkshire pudding!

22 March 2010

Memed

That Welsh rare bit - Jennyta of "Demob Happy Teacher" discovered a piece in "The Independent" newspaper which she has turned into a meme challenge for we inhabitants of Blogworld. Like a relay runner, I also pass the baton to you dear reader. For insomniacs, here are my responses...
My parents were ... the best of friends and had great respect for one another. They were - like me - both Yorkshire born and bred.
The house I grew up in ... was a Victorian schoolhouse that Dad rented from the local council. He was the headmaster of the village school and we lived next door. There was a coalhouse, a wash-house and an outside toilet. In the garden there were three tall sycamores and a craggy apple tree. The school playground and field were our exclusive play territory when school was not in session.
When I was a child I wanted to be ... a man. Perhaps a poet or a teacher and later I thought I might like to be a famous rock star.
If I could change one thing about myself ... I would like to always remember to zip up my flies before going out and maybe also lose a few ounces of flab around the middle.
You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... drawing cartoons.
You may not know it but I'm no good at ... remembering numbers. I can remember my date of birth and home phone number, our house number and the fact that the Battle of Hastings was in 1066 but that is just about it. Numbers don't much interest me.
At night I dream of ... mostly rude things which I wouldn't wish to share with you.
What I see when I look in the mirror ... I see the vessel in which I have voyaged thus far through life. It has been a dependable ship but I guess it has seen better days.
My favourite outfit ... well clothes and fashion mean very little to me. I despise the western cult of fashion and "looking good" in a world where the vast majority of people are still very much focussed on simply surviving. Let's say a cowboy suit with a sheriff's badge and stirrups on my boots. I would look a right prat but who cares?
My house is ... comfortable and it's on a hill. Similar to so many pre-war semis in the suburbs of northern cities except we have a very big garden
My favourite work of art is ... "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymous Bosch
A book that changed me ... "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding. I read it when I was fourteen and suddenly realised that a work of fiction could do far more than simply tell a story. There were layers and veils and half-hidden psychological and historical truths to discover.
Your idea of movie heaven ... a film that holds my attention so that I forget about time and become thoroughly absorbed - like "Once Upon a Time in America", "The Road" , "Schindler's List" or even "Titanic".
The last album I downloaded ... I have never downloaded an album in my life and have no intention of ever doing so. As years pass, music means less to me than it used to do.
My greatest regret ... that I never got to see my paternal grandparents. They were both dead before I was born which was, I think, one of the unspoken legacies of World War II.
My real-life villain ... Margaret Hilda Thatcher. Butcher of the trade union movement, warmonger and milk snatcher. She who said, "There is no such thing as society"
The person who really makes me laugh is ... Sergeant Bilko.
The last time I cried ... was earlier on today when I was watching a programme about missing people and it told the tale of a Down's syndrome man who wandered off into some woods. He was missing for thirty six hours. It was heart rending how his local community missed him, searched for him, found him and welcomed him back. He was much loved.
My five-year plan ... I have never believed in five year plans. You never know what life might throw at you. I would love to see both of our children happily married and one day I would love to cuddle my grandchildren. I am also keen to visit New Zealand. Are these plans?
What's the point? There is no point. You just get on and make the most of things, avoid unhappiness and seek out happiness and do unto others as you would have done to yourself because there IS such a thing as society.
My life in six words ... Came. Saw. Didn't Conquer. But Lived.

21 March 2010

Roadtrip

If one were to undertake a roadtrip in the USofA one might prepare a CD filled with songs referring to the places listed on one's travel itinerary. For example on the west coast you could listen to "Do You Know The Way to San Jose?" sung by Dionne Warwick, "If You're Going to San Francisco" by Scott McKenzie and "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena" by the Beachboys and so on.

Moving eastwards there'd be "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" by Gene Pitney, "Show Me The Way to Amarillo" by Tony Christie, "Stars Fell on Alabama" by Billie Holliday, "Galveston" by Glenn Campbell, "Georgia on My Mind" sung by Ray Charles, "New York, New York" by Frank Sinatra and perhaps "Down by the Banks of the Ohio" made famous by Olivia Newton-John. The overall theme music would naturally be "America" by Simon and Garfunkel.

This CD which will shortly be available from Yorkshire Pudding Enterprises (only £27.99 + pp) will undoubtedly enhance the roadtrip - providing a soundtrack for the strangely familiar passing vistas of The United States. In addition, I am happy to announce that a parallel CD is being prepared for American visitors to Yorkshire. The album will include...
"Do You Know the Way to Cleckheaton?"
"If You're Going To Heckmondwike"
"The Little Old Lady from Pontefract"
"Twenty Four Hours from Filey Brigg"
"Show Me the Way to Wetwang"
"Stars Fell on Thorngumbald"
"Grimethorpe" by Bert Campbell
"Penistone on My Mind"
"York York"
"Down by the Banks of the Humber"
and the theme music would be "Yorkshire (On Ilkley Moor Bah'tat)" by Geoff Boycott and the Dinnington Colliery Brass Band.

How is it that American place names seem to sit happily in song lyrics but put English names in their place and unbridled mirth is created! Do Americans feel the same way I wonder? Do they squirm when they hear a new song about their city or state? And any other suggestions for songs for my Yorkshire roadtrip CD?

19 March 2010

Expectations

A friend's son - aged eighteen - recently set off with two of his mates on an adventure. Back in the day, "when I were a lad", some young people bought "Interrail" tickets and travelled to the far flung corners of Europe while stay-at-homes went youth hostelling or raspberry picking in Scotland. The friend's son - always quiet and homely - has gone first through Russia and then into Mongolia before exploring China, Hong Kong and Singapore. It is his "gap year" before beginning mathematical studies at the University of Leeds. Oh my - how expectations have changed!

And furthermore, when I were a lad in my idyllic East Yorkshire village, I would sometimes visit the local grocer's shop. There were no free plastic carrier bags to carry your purchases. You had to take your own bag or basket. Seasonal vegetables - there were no others - were weighed and placed directly in your bag. Biscuits came from big wholesale tins and were bought by weight. The choice of goods in that shop was very limited. In contrast, you visit a modern day supermarket and you are overwhelmed by multitudinous choices. You leave subconsciously wondering what alternative items you might have bought to achieve greater personal fulfilment.

Returning from the grocer's shop, I re-entered a home in which there was no central heating. In each room there was only one light-bulb apart from the living room in which my mother had a side light to help with her late night craft work.Television - in flickering black and white - lasted from five o' clock to roughly midnight when the national anthem was played and many viewers would stand up in an act of patriotic respect before taking their cue and getting to bed.

Back then, only 13% of any one generation went on to university compared with 35% today and rising. Back then when my family went on holiday with our caravan to the Lake District, France, Italy, Scotland - we were outside the norm - not just because of our unusual holiday destinations but because we had a car with wheels - a real car. See pictures of nineteen fifties Britain and there are kids playing football and hopscotch in streets that are utterly devoid of parked cars.

And when I were a lad say of ten, I had never heard of homosexuality or condoms or prostitution, curry or cannabis, paedophilia or perverts. Our village was populated entirely by white Anglo Saxons and when we travelled into Hull we very rarely saw anyone who wasn't the same. Once I saw a black sailor - the first black man I had ever seen in real life and my jaw dropped. This was real - not the Saturday night "Black and White Minstrels Show". Multicultural Britain was a long way off.

How expectations have changed and in environmental terms it is easy to see how big the price has become. Most homes have central heating. People in work almost expect to have cars, computers, holidays abroad, weekly visits to supermarkets where we buy haricot beans from Kenya, rump steaks from Argentina, wines from New Zealand while back at home our student offspring plan gap years in Thailand, Mongolia, South America.

17 March 2010

Pleasantness

The poor little demodex folliculorum mite, going merrily about his business, as he has done for millennia - how could anyone find this tiny creature repulsive? Thanks to Banger Booth for the amusing imagined dialogue between Mr and Miss Demodex - left in the comments after my last post. The action is happening on my face around the eyelashes. For those who didn't read this literary masterpiece, crafted in South Yorkshire dialect, here's just a sample:-

YP Demodex 1: Oh shut it, tha' gret lump... Fancy a bit o' 'ow's thee father...?
YP Demodex 2: Aye, go on then- can we do it some weir a bit moor exotic and not just on this mester's eyelash agean?
YP Demodex 1: Tha's a bit o'n a kinky gyet thee, aren't tha?
YP Demodex 2: Am not, tha' is though!

Quite likely the author - exiled to Thailand by English education authorities - had been to see his dealer before tapping away at his stained and battered Bangkok keyboard!

Anyway, recognising the disgust, nay outrage that my helpful information about demodex folliculorum unintentionally ignited, I felt I should compensate with some pleasantness. Two more pictures from my rambles around Sheffield's "Golden Frame". They were taken on Tuesday afternoon. Cue "Last of The Summer Wine" theme tune.
Above - Woodthorpe Hall with snowdrops. Below - teasels on Holmesfield Common looking northwards to Sheffield.

16 March 2010

Demodex

Demodex or more properly Demodex Folliculorum is a tiny parasite that mainly lives on and around human eyelashes. It is a "face mite" - there are others by the way. They belong to the arthropod genus and an adult demodex measures between 0.3mm and 0.4mm. They can only be seen with the aid of a microscope. Some biologists believe that in small numbers the creature serves a useful purpose in maintaining sebaceous glands and hair follicles but a large infestation may result in itchiness and other mild allergic reactions around the eyes. Scientific guesswork suggests that half of the adult population of the world is permanently hosting these invisible mites and as we grow older infestation rates increase. They have very likely been our secret companions since we were cave people. There are of course males and females. They mate at the entrance to hair follicles and the resulting young are hatched within three or four days to begin their work, perhaps hoping that they will also get to mate before the end of their month long lives. I wonder what they say to each other as they are going about their business, mostly while we are sleeping...

14 March 2010

Mothered

Mum in the room where she died
On Mothering Sunday those of us without mothers may feel a little sad. One recalls the bunches of early daffodils, the handmade cards, the chocolates that were given in days gone by when mum was alive. Not all mothers are good ones but I am sure that all mothers have their little foibles though I was lucky because my mum was the best mum in the world and since she died in September 2007, I have thought of her every single day.

I try to look beyond the room in that residential home where she became almost stupefied, that room with its corner sink, its stale odour of senility and its little window aperture with net curtains: that ante-room in which the monotony of waiting for death was broken only by insitutional mealtimes and irregular visits by the Bulgarian, Filipino and Polish careworkers who Mum insisted were "Kosovans".

I try to look beyond that room and I recall mum singing in our old kitchen in the heart of East Yorkshire..."There is a happy land far far away/ Where old Schonut kills his pigs three times a day" and "We'll gather lilacs in the spring again." She had a lovely, lilting voice - always in tune. I see her pegging out piles of washing under those old sycamore trees and darning her four sons' holey socks. I see the risen Yorkshire puddings on Sundays and her baked rice puddings speckled with nutmeg.

But Mum was more than a rather reluctant domestic goddess, she was a lifelong socialist and atheist in a conservative, god-fearing rural community. She knew everybody and everybody knew her. She was a pincher of babies' cheeks who seemed to mesmerise small children with her kindness and mischief for she never forgot what it is to be a child.

Mum could dance. She learnt German. She was a founder member of the village's Women's Institute and taught mixed crafts at evening classes for almost thirty years - glovemaking, lampshade making, basket weaving, embroidery, quilting, soft toy making. She was very clever that way. In her seventies, she bought a round the world air ticket, taking in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and of course India where she had married my father in December 1945 when they were sure that the war in the far east was over.

Mum had spirit, a real zest for life. Everybody was her equal. She had a strong sense of justice and was angered by injustice. She gave money regularly to Oxfam and the Salvation Army. She despised Margaret Thatcher and strangely that affable TV chef Ainsley Harriet. She collected buttons and nick nacks and plastered her fridge with tiny fruit stickers from bananas and apples.

She cried and she laughed. As a wife she loved my father passionately and as a mother she loved her four sons equally. I am so glad that my two children got to know her as a doting grandmother. And as I write this on Mothering Sunday, I know that I take some of mum with me wherever I go for subtly and secretly she has infiltrated my defences. Happy Mother's Day Mum. I still miss you.

12 March 2010

Auction

On "The Generation Game", winning contestants would watch a conveyor belt gliding disparate potential prizes in front of their eyes - from the ubiquitous cuddly toy to microwave ovens, golf clubs, towels, foot spa baths, framed pictures. So it is in your typical auction house - an assemblage of disconnected objects from who knows where? And if it could speak, each object would have a story to tell.

Down at the ELR Auction Rooms in Sheffield this morning, the auction catalogue listed 573 lots - from Lot 1 -"A quantity of promotional photographs and stills of music artistes" through Lot 290 "Fourteen Welcome doormats" and onwards to Lot 573 "An oval shaped pedestal coffee table with reeded cabriole legs". This wasn't Southeby's. The auction started at 11am prompt when the auctioneer advised that it would end some time after three o'clock. He was right.

The auction room was as big as a couple of school classrooms. It was crammed with the day's fayre - Victorian light fittings hanging from a bar, hulking walnut wardrobes from the nineteen fifties ranged up against the windows. In one corner there were the smaller lots in boxes and plastic bread trays. Many of these collections would have been gathered from house clearances - picking over the bones of the dead. Bizarrely there were numerous large plants in another corner and a miniature family of Easter Island moai to beautify one's shubbery.

I was really there just for the craich, the experience, but there were a couple of lots I might have bid for if the bids had been ridiculously low - a brass ship's bell engraved "St Gerontius Hull 1962" and a solid re-upholstered Victorian armchair which I sat in for most of the auction. In the event, the bell went for £75 and the armchair for £42 but there were numerous other lots that were sold at bizarrely low prices with the auctioneer having to press hard to achieve any kind of response. The fourteen brand new Welcome mats went for £8 as did a mahogany freestanding corner cupboard and a nineteen fifties bedroom suite comprising a two door wardrobe and dressing table - both in fine condition. The most expensive lot of the day was an exquisite brand new Persian wool and cotton carpet - a snip at £560.

Afterwards, I had a half of Barnsley bitter and a cheese roll in the Campaign for Real Ale's national "Pub of the Year" - "The Kelham Island Tavern". It also won this prestigious award last year.

Next time Eadon, Lockwood and Riddle have an auction I may be back but first I'll attend the viewing day to see what catches my eye. I have always loved junk shops and to some degree visiting a household auction is like discovering the source of The Nile if you see what I mean. Recommended for free entertainment on a drizzly March day.

10 March 2010

Winner

Some visitors to this blog may recall that one of my favourite websites has become "Geograph" which receives and hosts thousands of "amateur" photographs which together make a pictorial jigsaw of Great Britain and Ireland. From time to time, I have added photos of my own, blissfully unaware that the moderators of this site have devised a sort of competition to find the "Geograph" picture of the year.

Every seven days a "Geograph of the week" is selected and I can hereby humbly and exclusively announce that one of my pictures was picked as the winner for Week 7, 2010. Whoa! Yabbadabbadoo! This was from 7,626 submissions! In making his selection, the judge said - "Wicken Fen is a favourite place of mine and this picture captures it superbly. Often it is the smallest detail that lifts a shot out of the ordinary and it is the reflections of the wind pump's sails in the lode that sold this one to me. The crisp composition is excellent." Here's the picture:-
I took it in mid-February when Shirley and I visited Ely and its surrounding fens. Frankly, I think I have taken better photographs in my time but I suppose it is well-composed and I remember shifting my feet ever so slightly to make sure I got that reflection in. My prize is an all-expenses paid holiday in a five star hotel in Bermuda. Only kidding! The winner simply gets to pick the "best" picture the following week and here's the one I picked by a Scottish gentleman (Jock). He called it "Beach at Lochbuie" which is on the Isle of Mull in Bonnie Scotland:-
Autographed copies of "Wind pump at Wicken Fen" can be purchased for only £42.50 from Yorkshire Pudding Enterprises Ltd.. Remember to add £11.99 for postage and packing and allow three years for delivery.

8 March 2010

Flood

Dale Dyke Reservoir earlier today
Another bright blue sky day so off I go to the moors west of Sheffield and park up just past the hamlet of Strines. My mission today was to walk around Dale Dyke Reservoir. You may never have heard of it and there are many Sheffielders who have neither seen it or heard of it either which is terribly sad. Why? Well you have to go back to 1864.

A hundred years earlier, Sheffield was an insignificant little town but by 1864, its population, along with its metal industry, had burgeoned. There was a desperate need for reliable water supplies and The Sheffield Water Company were busily constructing dams, pump houses and associated piping works and overflow channels in the Loxley Valley. Three major reservoirs were planned and the first one, nearing completion was the Dale Dyke Reservoir, fronted by a massive earthen embankment.

In the early evening of March 11th 1864, an employee of the company noticed a crack in the embankment wall. The weather was foul and the reservoir behind the dam was just about full to capacity with wind-whipped spray coming over the top. The crack was reported and the chief engineer was summoned from the centre of Sheffield. Futile efforts were made to deal with the growing emergency but just before midnight the dam burst, allowing an estimated 650 million gallons of water to surge down the valley through riverside settlements and farms towards the city itself.

That night over 245 people were killed by the flood, including the entire Bisby family - George (44 yrs), his wife Sarah (43) and their five children - Teresa (14), Elizabeth (12), Thomas (9), Hannah (6) and Hugh (4). They were sleeping in their beds when the water came to this long forgotten family, turning their dreams into a nightmare.

The Great Sheffield Flood is one of the nineteenth centuries forgotten disasters. No doubt if it had happened in London or the south east, it would still figure in the national consciousness. For many years, there wasn't even a proper memorial to the flood victims in Sheffield and the cut-price one that was belatedly erected during the last decade is in the middle of a riverside apartment complex looks impermanent and unimpressive. Equally ordinary is the little plaque I discovered on a stone stump in the pine forest above the reservoir...

7 March 2010

Choices

Desert Island Discs is a long-running BBC Radio 4 programme. It was first broadcast on 29 January 1942 and is the longest-running music programme in the history of radio. Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given Shakespeare's Complete Works and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work.

Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.

Here's an example - the film actor, Michael Caine. The extra book he picked was "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand and his luxury was a large bed with goose down and feather pillows. His pieces of music contained one or two surprises - "Viva La Viva" by Coldplay, "One Day Like This" by Elbow, Elgar's "Nimrod", "No Ordinary Morning" by Chicane, "Swollen" by Bent, "Move Closer" by Phyllis Nelson, Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

So...dear blogland visitor what would be your choices if Kirsty Young of the BBC invited you to be the guest interviewee on next week's edition of "Desert Island Discs"? I guess this is like one of those "memes" that seem to have fallen out of fashion with bloggers. Here are my choices:-

MUSIC:-

"Blowing in The Wind" - Bob Dylan

"I Thought I was A Child" - Jackson Browne

"The Last Time I Saw Richard" - Joni Mitchell

"We Shall Overcome" (Albert & Seeger) sung by Joan Baez

"Jerusalem" - the hymn (William Blake and Joseph Parry)

"Happiness" sung by Ken Dodd

"There'll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs of Dover" sung by Vera Lynn

and "Who Knows where The Time Goes?" sung by Sandy Denny

I guess that my music choices would change if I sat down to do this next Sunday morning as might my book and luxury choices. I would swap The Bible for The Koran as I have never read it and I am mystified by Islam. What's all the fuss about? Why these burkhas, these mosques, these people kneeling, these visits to Mecca, these fundamentalists? All very puzzling for a lifelong atheist. My other book would be "Le Grand Meaulnes" by Alain Fournier which I could read over and over such is its magical spell. The luxury would be my guitar with spare strings and an electronic tuner. I would sit under a palm tree on my desert island, beneath a full moon making up songs about the world I had left behind.

So what would your selections be if the BBC called you up for "Desert Island Discs"?

    4 March 2010

    Framed

    Every Christmastime, Sheffielders have an opportunity to buy a special calendar. It is called "The Golden Frame" and photographically it celebrates the fact that Britain's fifth largest city - once begrimed by heavy industry and steel manufacturing - is surrounded by some wonderful countryside - including the hills, dales and water "features" of the Peak District National Park which is literally on our doorstep.

    This morning it seemed that winter had forgotten to get up and there was a hint of springtime in the air. As I spread bird seed on our lawn and left a second pile on the birdtable, I noticed that the morning sky was Californian blue and the sunshine was positively Moroccan. Time to check out the golden frame and walk off some wintry blubber.

    Into the car and off. Down the almost vertical Hagg Hill, past my old allotment, to Rivelin Valley and then along the Loxley Road (yes...Robin of Loxley!), past the Damflask Reservoir and then down into the timeless settlement of Low Bradfield which unsurprisingly sits in the Loxley Valley in full view of its sister village - High Bradfield. They are less than half a mile apart but the hill between must surely put off mini ambulatory pub crawls between "The Plough" and "The Old Horns Inn".

    I parked next to the bowling green and then set off on what I suppose you should call a "ramble" because I had no map and wasn't sure how long I would be out. So many times I have been a slave to maps on hundreds of country walks but over the last year or two I have deliberately set out on several occasions with only a vague idea of where my walking might take me - a kind of "parkour" for the middle-aged - genuine rambles. Please see these four photos from today's walk:-
    St Nicholas parish church, High Bradfield
    Old gatepost near Rocher Edge, dated 1672
    Agden Reservoir
    Looking over Low Bradfield towards Damflask Reservoir

    3 March 2010

    Departed

    Michael Mackintosh Foot (1913-2010) former leader of Britain's Labour Party who died today. He accepted the challenge of leadership in what Gordon Brown has called "the most difficult of circumstances". He was a true man of principle, an intellectual, a fighter who was averse to spin and image manipulation. We shall not see his like again.

    2 March 2010

    Hammered

    Blogs can be like confessionals. Bless me father for I have sinned and all that. Through this blog, I have previously confessed to some of my many human frailties such as shopping at "Netto", drinking copious amounts of Tetley's bitter, supporting Hull City, travelling the world in search of the holy grail of curries and being an avid "EastEnders" fan. You may laugh my friend but I am not ashamed. We all have skeletons in our closets. And for me it is time to reveal another...well two actually.

    It used to be that I was simply anti-daytime television but since leaving my teaching job last summer, I have seen numerous episodes of the BBC's property programme - "Homes Under The Hammer" hosted by Martin Roberts and Lucy Alexander. It is shown at ten in the morning and usually lasts for an hour. Never seen it? Let me explain...

    It's all about the purchase of properties at auctions and how those properties are later transformed by the successful bidders. Each programme focuses on three individual property stories. First of all, Martin or Lucy visit the property that is coming up for auction and talk about its history, faults and possibilities. The property is valued by a couple of estate agents and then we move to the auction itself. After the auction, Martin or Lucy meet up with the successful bidder and discuss their plans. Weeks or months later, the camera crew returns to the property to see how the makeover has gone. The estate agents return and a new valuation is made. I have hardly ever seen a case in which the buyer fails to profit from his or her investment of money and time.

    You may be thinking - So? Why watch it? I guess I simply like to see the transformations from the comfort of our sofa. No filler or paint on my hands, no trips to the DIY store, no late nights up step ladders - just the joy of witnessing effective home improvements. Sometimes it's just a paint job and a tidy up but on other occasions there's major structural work to be done involving diggers, cranes and sledge hammers. This is a programme that it is at one level "serious" but it totally ignores the social or news issues of the day. There's no murder or thievery, no racism or sexism, no politicians spouting off or celebrities posing on red carpets and there's no inane laughter or painfully inept drama to behold.

    And so to my second confession. I have never been one for hero worship or celebrity crushes but Lucy Alexander? Good lord, I think she is what Katherine in New Zealand would call "eye candy". Should Lucy ever ask me out for a pint and a curry, in spite of my marital status, I would find it impossible to resist. There I have said it father...