30 May 2010

Pentewan

Wasn't it Paul Simon who wrote: "I have a photograph inscribed with memories" ?

My father loved dabbling in photography. He taught me how to develop film and then how to print pictures. In his improvised dark room there was a red light and there were big brown bottles of chemicals. One was a "fixer".

He took posed pictures of old men from our village smoking pipes or drinking pints of beer and he left behind a photo of Pentewan in Cornwall taken in 1958. Lovely Pentewan where we went for long summery holidays from 1957 to 1963 or 4. We had a Lynton Triumph caravan. A heavy, ugly pre-war beast but all six of us slept in her.
They were magical days. The sun shone. Me and my brothers - we spent hours on that beach. To the very left of the picture there was a stream that meandered from the nearby china clay works at St Austell bearing slippery white kaolin. How delightful it was to paddle in that smooth white clay or make temporary dams. And we would swim or splash in those pleasant Cornish waves.

There was "Kelly's" wonderful honey-coloured ice cream to relish in crispy wafer cones and warm Cornish pasties from the village - fist-sized traditional pastry parcels filled with seasoned minced lamb and chopped potato and carrot. You couldn't buy exotic foodstuffs like these in faraway Yorkshire.

There were excursions to Land's End, The Lizard, Fowey and Truro but mostly we loved just frittering time away around the beach and the caravan site. As a four and five year old I was well-known for wandering off - just walking away and becoming totally lost. For those summers, they often made me wear a label round my neck with my name and holiday location on the reverse side. It was a hard plastic label with a chain and on the front side, the legend "Castrol" was printed in red-white on a dark green background. Of all my brothers why was it me who wandered away? I like to think of this as a clue to who I would become.
Pentewan last year

28 May 2010

Echoes

Mum and Dad circa 1946
Photo upon photo and a decision to be made about every one. If the great PhotoGod were to look down upon me I would have to say "Guilty!" for throwing away so many memories captured on little rectangles of photographic paper. In World War II, my father got to visit Egypt, Palestine, Ceylon, Kashmir, Sudan, South Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Himalayas including Nepal as well as many remote parts of southern India. It was a mind-expanding adventure courtesy of the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, most of the snaps he took are tiny and in fading black and white. If only he'd had a modern digital camera!

I discovered that before the war he'd travelled with a friend to Germany - including Koblenz and Cologne. It was most likely 1936. Two recently qualified teachers from St John's College in York in their sharp suits smoking manly pipes and blissfully unaware that all too soon all hell would break loose. There'd be jackboots on those very cobbles and man's noblest qualities would become as emaciated as the rib cages of little children in Nazi death camps. Nearly all photos from that pre-war trip are now in our blue wheelie bin.
Dad and friend in Cologne, Germany 1936
And of mum, the photos reminded me that in the early nineteen thirties she enjoyed being a member of the Parkgate Dance School between smoky Rotherham and the mining village of Rawmarsh where she grew up. Some light and fantasy amid the everyday grimness. There were many pictures of assembled casts in various peculiar costumes. Perhaps it was good practice for 1943 when she would become the drum majorette of the Women's Air Force band in New Delhi. And some of these pictures now reside in the blue bin.
Mum - Parkgate Dance School 1932
You can't hang on to everything but for every five I throw away I seem to be saving one. I wonder if I'm being ruthless enough. After all when they are bagged up, the saved photos will probably just sit in drawers or attics, unstudied and half-forgotten.

26 May 2010

Past

You may remember that at the weekend I came home from my mother's house with lots of photos. In fact hundreds if not thousands of them in three suitcases and a couple of boxes. Today I pretty much sorted through just one of the suitcases - ruthlessly ditching a couple of armfuls but still left with over a hundred individual photographs that are now arranged in family distribution piles on our dining room table.

The discarding process was sad but necessary. Photos of mum's holidays in various places - Jamaica, Malta, Turkey, Canada, Majorca - holiday friends, harbour scenes, apartment blocks, swimming pools, belly dancers. She was very evidently amateurish behind the camera. Photos of village events at the school, the sports club, the Women's Institute. Photos of various people I didn't know - weddings, babies, banquets. All gone - now jumbled in a big blue "Sakis" menswear bag ready for the recycling bin.

Amongst all these photos - the snapped evidence of a lifetime ceased - there were occasional pictures of my brilliant father, Philip, who was heart attacked to death in September 1979 though it really does seem like yesterday. In my early twenties he was my best friend - I am sure he saw the image of himself in me - and I still miss him. I feel quite sad that he wasn't at our wedding and never got to meet the grandchildren Shirley and I produced too late for him to know.

But those three paragraphs above are all just preamble. The main purpose of this post is simply to share with you two photographs I found in the first suitcase. They were taken on October 24th 1981 - our wedding day. Location - St Martin's Parish Church in Owston Ferry, Lincolnshire. In the first photo, moving from left to right there's Simon, my younger brother and best man, my Nana - Phyllis Morris who died in 1988, Mum, me and Shirley, Shirley's mum Winnie who passed away in 2008, Shirley's grandma Minnie Anderson and also my father-in-law Charlie who succumbed to cancer in 2000 and finally Carolyn, Shirley's sister and maid of honour.
Taken a few minutes later, there's me and Shirley with my three bearded brothers. To the right there's Paul of the Irish fiddle in County Clare and Robin of the motorbikes and French gites - way down south near the Pyrenees. Time marches on. How shall we meet tomorrow?

25 May 2010

Lurking

Well, I've been lurking around in Ecclesall Woods again on a lovely hot Monday afternoon with sunshine piercing the canopy to dapple glades of bluebells and rare grasses with vivacious light. There are 350 acres of ancient woodland and in past centuries the woods accommodated several rural industries - including charcoal burning.

Another name for a charcoal burner was "wood collier" and one of these fellows accidentally burnt to death in his hut back in 1786. He was called George Yardley and his isolated grave was paid for by a group of his friends - one of whom was the landlord of the nearby "Rising Sun" where Yardley liked to quench his thirst after hard days of physical labour.
This is the full inscription on the gravestone:-
In Memory
of GEORGE YARDLEY
Wood Collier who was Burnt
to death in his Cabbin on
This place Oct 11th 1786

William Brooke Salesman
David Glofsop Gamekeeper
Thos Smith Beesomemaker
Samps Brooksham Innkeeper"

I plan to lurk more often in those wonderful woods but the schoolchildren I saw returning home along a woodland path round about four o'clock had better watch out as evidence of their previous saunterings is visible in the form of numerous pieces of litter - not seen anywhere else in that sylvan oasis. I may chase them with a "beesom" or broom made from ash or hazel wands and thereby become The Lurking Litter Avenger of Ecclesall Woods!
.

23 May 2010

Weekends

What a sweltering early summer's day it is here in Sheffield. I've been topless all day, my pecs and biceps glinting in glorious May sunshine as I dig up misplaced daffodils, replant them, sweep the block paving at the front and wash our window frames. No doubt Lady Pudding will have other jobs for me to do before sundown.

Yesterday we motored over to the East Riding to pick over the detritus of my mother's life. My younger brother has resided in her house since she died but it will soon be up for sale.

Here's a photograph I took along the way on Beverley Westwood - the large open common land south west of the town of Beverley where I went to school many moons ago. Between the trees you can see The Black Mill and to the right, just peeping over the horizon - the grandstand of Beverley racecourse:-
And here's a photograph I took last weekend while wandering with Shirley through the nearby ancient woodland known as Ecclesall Woods - a mile from our house.
There were so many bluebells around. They were a joy to see... But wait a minute, the bell is ringing. Coming dearest! Pardon?... Must hurry, her ladyship wants her toenails clipping. See you!

21 May 2010

Monument

Standing on a lofty ridge known as Park Hill, the rocket-like shape of Sheffield's Cholera Monument overlooks the city centre. It was erected in 1835 in memory of the 403 citizens who succumbed to that deadly water-born contagion in the summer of 1832. The monument's location was not chosen randomly for it was in the surrounding land known as Clay Wood that the majority of the unfortunate victims were buried.

Back in the eighteen thirties, nobody fully understood where cholera came from. It was even known as Asiatic Cholera and official pronouncements suggested that it was a disease of the lazy and morally corrupt. In Sheffield, that particular idea was challenged when the city's Master Cutler died just before he could complete his honorary year in office.

Cholera swept through many large European cities in the early eighteen thirties causing widescale fatalities wherever it struck. It even reached America.

In 1801, Sheffield's population was just over 30,000. By 1831 it had risen to just under 100,000 - an amazing threefold increase in thirty years. Rural people had gathered their drinking water from the sky, brought it from flowing streams or had drawn it from ancient wells. In developing urban areas with tightly packed housing, old rural water-gathering habits didn't fit. Hence, sanitation problems grew.

One good thing that emerged from the cholera epidemic was the formation of "boards of health" that had the remit to respond to the health needs of the general population. This certainly happened in Sheffield where a leading citizen and moneyed gentleman, James Montgomery, was influential. It was he who laid the cholera monument's foundation stone and oversaw its completion. He wrote poems and hymns about the epidemic, though he was not the only one. A contemporary, Mary Hutton, wrote these lines in her poem "On the Cholera Pestilence":-

How vacant now each sorrowing home
How dark is the distress!
For a darkening cloud of sable gloom
Has veiled our happiness.

Sheffield's Cholera Monument is illuminated at night. It sits high above the railway station and marks a time of fear, death and sorrow. It's as if every major town in Britain between 1831 and 1833 suffered the equivalent of a jumbo jet crash with no survivors. Nowadays, most people looking up to Park Hill would have absolutely no idea why Victorian Sheffielders thought it necessary to construct, at great expense, such an edifice. Nonetheless, I write this in memory of the city's four hundred and three cholera victims.

19 May 2010

Potatoes

Hurrah! Our potatoes are coming through at long last. It was on April 12th when I planted twenty four seed potatoes of the Pentland Javelin variety - at the top of the garden in the vegetable plot that we have partially resurrected after several years of lying fallow. I'm talking about the land not the owners!

The seed potatoes were bought in mid-February and I had them "chitting" in a tray near the french doors. My little babies - pushing out stubby little shoots. Now those same shoots have grown, forcing their way through weather-baked clods of clayey soil to reach for the sun. All being well in a couple of weeks I will be earthing up these potato plants, making domed ridges in which new potatoes can form.

It's been really dry in Sheffield for the last couple of months - hardly any significant rain showers. Now that the plants are poking through, I think I will have to give them a good drink. The weather forecast for the rest of this week is super with temperatures rising to 25 degrees centigrade and more importantly for plants - mild night-times. About ten days ago the temperature dropped below freezing on three consecutive nights killing off my beautiful little courgette plants so I immediately had to sow a few more in indoor pots. I've also got broad beans on the go and plan to sow some dwarf beans in the next few days.

We planted ten raspberry canes and the five Glen Amples have budded and leafed nicely but the five Mallings are more moody. Two of these canes look as if they prefer death to life.

Speaking of death, I'm going to a funeral tomorrow. Alison. I reckon she was fifty nine. I met her through work in 1980 and though I never really "clicked" with her as true friends do, we frequently bumped into each other and politely passed the time of day. She was intelligent, a socialist, a teacher, a mother and a feminist with spirit and a zest for life.The last time I saw her was at the morning cinema screening of "A Prophet" back in February. What took her? It was a second appearance of skin cancer that this time invaded her brain. She died in our local hospice ten days ago. Mourners are asked to wear something red at the funeral but I don't think my plastic clown's nose on elastic would do. Perhaps a tie instead. Yes. A red tie to say goodbye.

18 May 2010

Kim

June 8th 1972. Napalm has been dropped on the sleepy agricultural village of Trang Bang, recently occupied by North Vietnamese fighters. On the edge of the village, a small media corps is gathered. They watch in horror as villagers, including children, run along the road, fleeing this horror that has come to visit them. One of them is a nine year old girl called Kim Phuc. She is naked and her back has been napalmed.

In the media corps there's a British TV reporter - Christopher Wain, his ITV cameraman and a Vietnamese photographer who likes to be called Nick Ut. In a moment, Ut snaps perhaps the most iconic wartime picture ever taken. There are no words in it but the picture speaks volumes. It reminds the world that war touches the innocent and that it is wrong and that it is no solution. Reaction to this photograph in the west helped to hasten the end of the disastrous Vietnam War. Only blind or mentally impaired people wouldn't recognise this image:-
Kim Phuc was whisked away to a military hospital and came close to death. The medical staff gave her no chance but Christopher Wain took it upon himself to represent her and to push for the best possible treatment. In so doing he saved her life.

Incredibly, Kim, an illiterate peasant's daughter, later trained to be a doctor and now resides near Toronto, Canada with her husband and two sons. It seems that that photograph was the bane of her life for many years. Like an unwanted stalker, it followed her everywhere but gradually she came to realise that this unwelcome fame was something she could use to benefit other child victims of war and she formed the Kim Phuc Foundation for that purpose.

Nick Ut made his home in Los Angeles becoming a celebrated news photographer. Chris Wain recently met up with Kim again having previously declined an opportunity to be reunited with her on "The Oprah Winfrey Show". He said, "Despite everything that has happened to her and all that she has endured, she has become a very impressive woman."

17 May 2010

Blossom

Blossom, smile some sunshine down my way
Lately, I've been lonesome
Blossom, it's been much too long a day
Seems my dreams have frozen
Melt my cares away
James Taylor
Our garden yesterday afternoon....
Above - Apple blossom. Below - Horse Chestnut blossom

15 May 2010

科学

(Science)
My name is Yukio, and I am the son of Yukio - a Japanese name which in English means "gets what he wants". I am a seasoned mariner, now skipper of the "Shonan Maru 2". Our voyages take us far from the cherry blossom hills of my homeland to the far corners of the Pacific Ocean. We are at sea for weeks on end. How I miss my dear wife Kimi - she who is without equal - and my daughter Miyoko and her two little boys. What joy it is to have a family to return to.

Last winter in a single trip, the "Shonan Maru" rescued two humpbacks, a pregnant fin, seven minke and four grays from the ocean but please don't be appalled my friends for this was all in the name of scientific research. We hauled each whale on board and measured it from tail to nose - dangerous work when the deck is awash with blood and seawater. But the cause of science is greater than my crew's safety. We hoisted each carcass and weighed it as we have each winter for the last fifteen years. All of our detailed findings were of course logged on computer and sent to the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research.
Unfortunately, our vital scientific research causes death to those creatures we save from the sea. Once the measurements are taken we have little choice but to butcher the whales. Their meat is blocked and placed carefully in the ship's freezer rooms but we always return the final remains of the carcass to the ocean so that it can feed and enrich the lives of other sea creatures.

Upon our return to the great whaling port of Shimonoseki, we have to somehow dispose of the whale meat so that our research vessel can prepare for further scientific voyages. Luckily, seafood merchants are happy to vie with each other for the meat blocks and any profit our company makes is of course pumped straight back into scientific research. Understanding the need to support our great work, Japanese consumers readily pay up their hard earned money in the fish markets, supermarkets and sushi restaurants of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka in order to purchase fresh whalemeat - the mere by-product of our scientific endeavours.

We are aware that undemocratic organisations like Greenpeace are attempting to disrupt our research, inventing crazy figures to suggest that the Pacific's whale population is in terminal decline. Pure poppycock! There are plenty of whales out there and to better understand their lives and population trends, it is of course essential that our scientific research continues.

14 May 2010

Heroes

Last Friday afternoon, yet another road accident happened on the A63 which is Hull's prime link road with West Yorkshire. It seems that a Mercedes, driven dangerously, collided with a small Peugeot carrying two young female soldiers homewards for the weekend. They had been working at the RAF base in Leconfield.

Immediately after this shocking crash, two friends driving back towards Hull in the opposite carriageway leapt out of their car and scrambled over the central barrier to see what they could do to assist. They had been fishing all afternoon near North Cave.

Seeing smoke and flames, they knew they had to act quickly. One of them kicked open the driver's door. They couldn't unbuckle her seatbelt. Fortunately, one of the men had a fishing knife in his pocket. He had sharpened it just that morning and so he was able to speedily cut away the belt. Together the friends were then able to pull the nineteen year old driver clear before her car exploded in a ball of flames.

The men's names are Steve Blakeston and David Upton - pictured below on a bridge over the A63. They are both fifty two years old. However, instead of basking in the warm glow of publicity about their bravery, both men are filled with regret and sorrow. As they were struggling to release the driver, they had no idea that there was another young woman in the crushed passenger side of the vehicle. She died at the scene.

To me these men are true heroes. They acted instinctively to save someone else, ignoring the obvious risk to their own lives. In a world where news services leap on the bad news stories, they demonstrate the essential goodness of human beings. I would like to think that if I had been there I would have done the same - leapt in to rescue - but I am not at all sure that I would have been able to find such courage inside me.

12 May 2010

Coupling

Men of the People?

Close

How close did you ever get to death before your time? Some people don't dodge it. I'm sure we all have known people, friends, family members, work colleagues who fell by the wayside far too early, dying too young. Equally, most of us can recall moments in our own lives when we thwarted death, survived by the skin of our teeth. Let me share the true tale of one of my near misses.

This escape took place in 1973. I am on my island - Rotuma in the far Pacific. With a bunch of older village children I have clambered over the rocks and round to the volcanic headland's base. It juts out beyond the coral reef. The receding tide has left a massive rock pool, so big that you can swim in it, even dive head-first if you're careful. We laugh and swim and banter away the afternoon. Then it's time to edge back over the rocks and round the headland to the paradisical palm-fringed beach of "Coral Island" or of commercials for "Bounty" coconut bars.

The soles of the kids' feet are like leather but mine are still pink and tender. I'm left behind the others. I have put on my towel sweatshirt and I'm rather tired. There's a big flat rock. It slopes at a forty five degree angle towards a little gully where the Pacific swells in splashing waves. The top of the big flat rock is at least four metres from the gully but as I slip I am not reckoning on the seaweed slime that clings to it. I try to get a grip but it is impossible. I am sliding inevitably into the treacherous gully.

It's like falling into a natural waste disposal unit. For a moment I'm there in the water at the bottom of the gully, then the swell lifts me up and crashes me against those unforgiving rocks. I try to get a hold of the big flat rock I had just plunged from but it remains impossible. I have already swallowed a pint or two of seawater and though I don't realise it at that moment, my head is now bleeding profusely.

Instead of bashing me against the rocks again, the ocean decides to draw me away from that dangerous gully and I am now in the open sea where there are sharks and other deadly creatures. I am five metres from the headland and I think to myself - I will just swim parallel to the rocks and find a safer place to clamber out but the ocean has other ideas. No matter how hard I swim, the current is pulling me further out. The towelling sweatshirt is heavy and I struggle to get it off, under the waves, gulping several more mouthfuls of seawater. I must survive. I must.

Pathetically, I yell "Help!" for I can see some of the village kids on the beach, sixty metres away, but they can't see or hear me. I am a little cork in a vast and uncaring body of rolling salt-water. It is taking me away, out to my inevitable death by drowning. I am nineteen and frightened. There's so much more I want to do. I don't want to go like this. And it embarrasses me, the militant atheist, to admit this but a cynical thought occurs to me - try begging God, it's worth a go - and so inside my head I say "Please God help me" even though I firmly believe there's no-one listening.

The current that had pushed me twenty metres out to sea now allows me to swim towards the island. Laboriously, I cut in towards the rocks again and find a place where I can more safely escape my would-be executioner. With every remaining ounce of my strength I scramble up. Exhausted, with blood still leaking from the gash on my head, I lie belly down, trembling and intensely grateful on the rocks. The whole event has lasted little more than ten minutes.

A couple of the village boys come looking for me and understand immediately what must have happened. Quietly, they help me home. I am alive. Life's journey isn't over.

10 May 2010

Relegation

The Last Game: Lining up yesterday against Liverpool

Not everyone likes watching football - I know that. They wonder what all the fuss is about but I love it - especially following my team - Hull City AFC. My father took me to my first match in 1964 - forty six years ago. Through the years I have followed them everywhere from Runcorn to Bournemouth and from Tottenham to Newcastle. I also followed them to the very bottom of the fourth division when crowds were down to four thousand and it looked as though the club would implode financially and die.

As a boy, cutting out newspaper pictures and reports, making scrapbooks and poring over programmes, I always dreamed that one day The Tigers would make it to Nirvana - England's Premier League - formerly Division One. Ten years ago that dream seemed more impossible than ever but then the magical journey began. We climbed up the divisions. We moved to a superb new ground on the site of The Circle in west Hull as the old ground - Boothferry Park - submitted to weeds, ghosts of past players and vandalism.

Then on May 24th 2008, at Wembley Stadium in London, the now legendary Dean Windass struck a wonder goal in the Championship Play-Off Final to take us into the Premier League for the first time since the club was formed in 1904. Joy upon joy. Tears of joy. The best feeling ever. Just to be there in the promised land taking to the same field as Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea. We had dared to dream and now we were about to live it.

If we had been relegated with zero points, I wouldn't have minded but we survived that first season by the skin of our teeth and our manager, Phil Brown walked out on to the pitch with microphone in hand singing: "This is the best trip I've ever been on" to the tune of "Sloop John B".

We saw some brilliant games beating Arsenal and Tottenham and Manchester City and Everton. Yes us! Little Hull City - a footnote in the history of English football. This season we were unlucky only to draw with Chelsea at home and only lost to them through a last minute Didier Drogba goal down at Stamford Bridge. They are now the Premier League champions while we go down - relegated to The Championship having been cruelly wounded by internal financial injury. Foolish egotistical money men who come and go and only pretend to be football supporters.

But I wouldn't have missed it for the world. To be up there - with the big boys. Once I walked in to the bar of our local pub where there are three TV sets up on the walls. One set was showing Sky Sports News, another was showing BBC "Match of the Day" and the third was showing Sky 1. On all three sets, Hull City were playing. Quite bizarre.

We may never get back there - those transitory money men have seen to that. But I have been there and my wife Shirley and our friends Tony and Fiona have been with me every step of the way. It really has been "the best trip we've ever been on" and we'll never forget it. Up The Tigers!
Shirley and Fiona at halftime

7 May 2010

Chorus

Still enjoying the luxury of not working, I was able to stay up on Thursday night through to the early hours of Friday morning watching our General Election news coverage courtesy of the BBC. Around 4.30 in the morning, David Dimbleby bemoaned the fact that dawn was about to break over London and so the results graphics beamed on to Big Ben's tower through the night would soon fade away.

It was time to turn the television off and hit the hay. About to mount the stairs, I noticed dawn's first weak light seeping through the glass front door panels and then, just for a moment, I thought I heard some music playing before realising that it wasn't radio music at all but birdsong. Curious, I ventured out into our back garden and up to the apple trees. There was absolutely no traffic noise from nearby Ecclesall Road but I was surrounded by the interwoven sounds of birds whistling, chirruping, tweeting, cawing, cooing and which ever other sounds diurnal garden birds make.

I can't tell you how full the air was with these avian voices. From rooftops, hedges, shrubs and treetops, mostly invisible, they were all announcing a new day, marking their territories, declaring their mating intentions or perhaps simply enjoying the sounds of their own sibilant melodies. It was beautiful.

Of course I have heard "the dawn chorus" before - peering out of tent flaps, walking home from late night summer parties or simply walking up the garden very early on warm summer mornings but never before did I hear it as I heard it this morning - such volume - a sweet symphony of competitive sounds linked harmoniously together. Far more interesting than interminable TV news about our hung parliament and that pseudo-Tory Clegg - "The Kingmaker".

6 May 2010

Election

"I, Richard O'Toole, being the returning officer for the said constituency of Puddingshire with Gravy do hereby declare that the results were as follows..."

I scan the candidates.

We are standing in an untidy semi-circle behind the gangly figure of Dick O'Toole. Closest to him, sniggering intermittently in an ill-fitting leopard skin patterned suit is Bob Brague, representing the Monster Raving Loony Party. There's a battered top hat on his head and a plastic daffodil in his lapel. He dances a little Irish jig when his name is called.

Next along the line is the more serious figure of Debbie Kingsley of the Green Party. She runs a farm in Devon with her partner where they live "the good life" with their ducklings, lambs and baby chickens. Typically, she is wearing green rubber boots and an old tweed coat, tied at the waist with baling twine. Her election leaflets were all hand-written on recycled paper and bore the legend "Vote for A Green Tomorrow".

Moving along, wearing a huge yellow rosette and a smug smile identical to the one worn by his leader, Nicholas Ponsonby-Clegg, I observe Mr Steve McGarry, the Liberal Democrat candidate. In the three week build-up to the election Mr McGarry had uttered the word "change" eleven thousand, four hundred and sixty nine times. Almost as many as the average Scottish beggar in London on a weekend evening.

Next to McGarry is the Labour Party candidate, Mrs Daphne Franks. Suave and intelligent, her shape honed by a punishing keep-fit regime, Mrs Franks is dressed in a a smart pillar box red business suit from Marks and Spencers. Her hair has been specially permed for the event and she is clutching a patent leather handbag by Gucci. It contains her cheese and pickle sandwiches and a Mills and Boon novella titled "Love in a Finnish Sauna" by Tanya Viren.

Next c0me the various Independent and fringe candidates - Ms Jenny Taffy, formerly of the Free Wrexham Alliance, Mr Sam Gerhardstein (Obama Sycophant Party), Dame Jane Cobbler (Revolutionary Communists), Lizzy Stanforth-Sharpe (Christmas Party), Katherine deChevalle (Arty Farty Party), Farida Dowler (Let's All Be Nice To Children Party), Malcolm Westray (Making Bacon Co-Operative), Ms Jan Blawat ("Let's Visit Texas" Tourist Authority Party) and Sir Michael Leica (I Was Taking Pictures of the Lighthouse Honestly Officer Party)

At the end far end of the semi-circle, standing slightly apart from the rest is the superior figure of old Etonian Jonathan Stalwart-Booth O.B.E - The Conservative and Unionist party candidate. Tweeded and brogued, he once smoked pot after prep with David Cameron and Osborne in the late seventies before developing a secretive business empire in Thailand. He sneers at the other candidates, already visualising himself victorious - perhaps on the front page of "The Daily Pork Scratchings". He thinks he'd prefer a junior post in Education to begin with. David had promised Transport but Stalwart-Booth knows he just has to flag up what happened after the rugger match in Stow and he'll get what ever he is after...

Dick O'Toole coughs, "...and in first place with 43,502 votes it's Mr Y.Pudding of the Spoilt Ballot Papers Party." I glance across at Stalwart-Booth's stunned face. What a picture!

3 May 2010

Darkness

The border guard shuffled over from his corrugated sentry box. Evidence of recent meals was spattered on his collarless granddad shirt. From his box, ukulele sounds merged with the unmistakeable and whiningly comedic singing of George Formby. "When I'm Cleanin' Winders..."I wound down the car window and the guard seemed to be speaking to me but it was as if his mouth was filled with marbles. At first, I couldn't understand a word.

"Excuse me."

He tried again and from the morass of curiously rounded syllables emerged a question - "Why are ye visiting Lancashire?"

"We're - going - to - see - a - football - match - at - Wigan," I replied in a deliberate manner with pauses between each word.

He shuffled back to his box, stamped our passports with the red rose of Lancashire and manually lifted the rusting barrier to let us through.

Here we were motoring through "The Dark Side". Some people live in light while others live in darkness and so it is in this unending War of the Roses. Here in Yorkshire we raise statesmen, musicians, inventors, poets and artists but on The Dark Side, sometimes known as Lancashire, there is nothing. Just Lowry-like figures bending into the rain and millgirls clutching their shawls as they clog their way through ink-black puddles.

Racing through Gorton and Audenshaw towards Eccles and Salford, we bravely traversed the sprawling Lancastrian metropolis of Manchester. "Just keep going," I kept saying to myself as we overtook vans carrying pigs' trotters to Ramsbottom and black puddings to Blackrod. Not a moment too soon we reached Junction 5 of the M61 and followed the grimy signs to Wigan via Westhoughton and Hindley.

This was the heart of darkness. Men in flat caps leant against crumbling cotton mill walls while small girls skipped or hopscotched towards lunchtime - when no doubt they'd be tucking into bowls of tripe and onions while watching re-runs of "Coronation Street". There was a sophisticated restaurant called "Summat To Ate" and three pubs - all with the same name - "Last Orders". Pedestrians passed in their clogs and I thought of that song about Lowry - "He Painted Matchstalk Men and Match stalk cats and dogs..."
Wigan Athletic supporters before Monday's match with Hull City
Finally we arrived at the DW Stadium - home to Wigan Athletic. It was to be Hull City's last away game in The Premiership following our recent and very sad relegation to the darkness of The Championship. But from the "Road to Wigan Pier" gloom emerged three new bright talents - all home-grown - Mark Cullen, Will Atkinson and Tom Cairney. Cullen and Atkinson even scored on their full debuts as we achieved a creditable 2-2 draw.

The Premiership "ride" has been fantastic. It took my team 104 years to get there and with wiser governance we could have stayed for another couple of seasons at least. We have seen some brilliant games and witnessed some great results amidst more defeats than we'd like the record books to show but I wouldn't have missed it for the world - genuinely a dream come true.

In Hindley, on our way back from The Dark Side, we stopped at a random public house - "The Lord Nelson" and ordered half pints of beer. Several Lankies stared at us - they'd probably never seen or heard real life Yorkshire people before. There were four or five little rooms in that pub but in every one was there was a big 40inch TV screen blasting out deathly rays. No wonder the locals seemed utterly stupefied. We had to get back to Yorkshire... as a matter of some urgency.