28 June 2010

Paul

Thanks to everyone who left kind thoughts after the last post. Paul died peacefully in his sleep during the early hours of Monday morning. It was a great surprise to us all. I wish you could have met him. I think that like me you would have come to love him. He had so much energy - so much natural zest for life - so many passions such as his violin and recently he even taught himself Greek, becoming quite fluent in a relatively short time. He was naturally gregarious and seemed to know just about every other citizen in the small county of Clare in western Ireland. "Hello there Paddy! How're ye doin?" He leaves a lovely but utterly distraught wife behind - poor Josephine - and his two handsome teenage sons - Michael and Kevin - plus his daughter Katie - now in her early thirties and Cait - his two year old granddaughter.

Here's Paul at Katie's wedding in 2006:-
When people die, the Irish don't hang about. Paul's wake in Ennistymon will happen tomorrow evening and he will be buried in a small rural cemetery known locally as "The Island" on Wednesday morning. Today has been about communication and making travel arrangements and printing things off - all so hectic - that I hardly had time to properly think about Paul. He was my friend as well as my brother and I still can't really believe that he has gone. A world without Paul just doesn't seem right.

Goodbye

My oldest brother - Paul.
August 5th 1947 to June 28th 2010.
I loved him.

27 June 2010

Mourning

With apologies to readers who have no interest in football, I am writing this post in the city where the organised game first began. Sheffield boasts the world's first two properly organised teams - Sheffield FC (formed in 1857) and Hallam FC (formed in 1860). Hallam FC play at the world's oldest continuously used football ground - Sandygate in the Crosspool suburb of the city.

In Yorkshire we know about football. It is a passion that sometimes seems to take on the characteristics of a new religion. You may be down or in bad health, your partner may have left you or you just lost your job - but don't worry there's always football to escape to. Our newspapers are full of football - transfer news, personal relationships, the ups and downs of clubs. In this country, if shown some photos, many more people would instantly recognise Wayne Rooney or David James than Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime-minister) or the new PM himself - the dashing Old Etonian and former pot smoker - David Cameron.

If you haven't yet heard, The World Cup tournament 2010 is currently well under way in South Africa. This English nation had great expectations for our team. Cars, workplaces, pubs and homes have been bedecked with the national flag of St George. And over in South Africa the national team has been supported vociferously by an army of travelling fans.

We stuttered through the group stage to the last sixteen and today played our old enemy - Germany - in Bloemfontein. We lost by four goals to one. The swift, flowing counter-attacking moves of the German frontmen exposed our defence horribly. Even though we had a perfectly good goal disallowed when the score was 2-1, it was clear that England had been outclassed and what hurt more was the sense of unrealised potential - a certain frustration that in some ways the team never really showed up at the party. Our talisman - Wayne Rooney seemed but a shadow of himself and some of our passing was woeful.

So we are out of the tournament and all of England mourns. Our coach was the Italian maestro - Fabio Capello - paid £6million a year and yet his command of English is still only slightly above that of a macaw. So how can he inspire the team? How can he deliver telling halftime talks? England needs an English manager. Back in December 2007, when Capello was appointed, I wrote these words in this blog:- I don't want this Capello and mark my words - it will all end in tears! He is not the man for the job. The only foreign johnnies I would have entertained would have been Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho - both honorary Englishmen who know our game inside out. However, before them I would have still made it top priority to make an Englishman our manager.

So for England, World Cup 2010 is over and our lads are coming home - but not to a heroes' welcome. You can't say they didn't try. Individually, each player was desperate to advance and to bring back the trophy but good heavens - the best we could manage was a slender victory over little Slovenia. So it's back to the drawing board, and the economic winter and newspapers telling us that English football died in Bloemfontein. Rest in Peace.

25 June 2010

Five

Well, would you jolly well believe it? This blog has just had its fifth birthday. My very first post was on June 23rd 2005 on a warm summer's day. The weather has been similarly warm in Yorkshire this week. When starting out as a blogger, I had no idea where the journey would take me or how long the habit would last. I was just giving it a try.

Five years later I reflect on all the people I have "met" through blogging. How they write and the things they write about are many and varied, demonstrating that yes - we are all a little bit different from each other. In the first place I wondered if anybody would ever look at my blog and now - as if by magic - I notice that I have had 122,485 visitors. Quite amazing!

Thanks to everybody who has dropped by and to anyone who is reading this particular post. People who don't blog may think of it as a "sad" egotistical activity but I don't give a damn about that. Blogging allows people to speak freely in a world where there are so many stultifying restrictions. It gives us a voice and allows us to connect with other citizens of the world. In short, from my five year experience, blogging can be enriching - a stimulating adjunct to everyday life. A way of waving from the jungle and saying , "Hey! This is me. I exist!"

24 June 2010

Horseboy

I guess that all of us who use the Internet regularly are very familiar with Google Maps Streetview. It is an amazing facility. You can check out so many places and instead of thinking in terms of bird's eye map views of places, you can actually see what a particular street looks like.

A couple of years ago, a young man I know called Dan was walking up the back lane towards our house when a strange vehicle turned the corner. It had the word "Google" written on the side and above its roof a dome protruded with cameras inside. It was taking pictures/film for Streetview. Now Dan is captured for all time at the top of Murray Road in Sheffield. His face has been blurred to conceal his identity but he's there - one of Streetview's random cast.

In the peaceful suburbs of Aberdeen, Scotland the Streetview vehicle travelled up a street called Hardgate and probably unwittingly captured a very odd image. It's a young man in a purple sweater but he has a horse's head - undoubtedly a mask. He's just standing there. Does he always wear a horse's head mask or did he know the Streetview vehicle was coming?

Via tweeting and Facebook this "Horse-boy" has become a cause-celebre. Everybody wants to know who he is and how he came to be standing on that unremarkable street wearing a horse's head mask. It makes me think that if only we knew the Streetview vehicle's itinerary in advance we could be ready to appear in unusual guises - possibly in a few different places. Rather than donning a horse's head I'd be dressed as Hull City's mascot - Roary the Tiger.

22 June 2010

Thyme

I just connected with a blog out of Colorado, USA. It's called "Mountain Thyme" and it's forged by a feisty woman called Donna. Anyways, Donna came up with a meme that she presented in the form of an award so I felt obliged to tackle it. It was interesting to see how she introduced me -

Mr. Puddin' (I don't know what else to call him!) at Yorkshire Pudding because his is the newest blog that I am reading and this list definitely needs some testosterone! But, really folks, he writes about so many various things, whatever mood hits him on a particular day. Kinda' like I do on my blog. This and that...all over the place. Still, you can tell he is immersed in his family history (the" keeper of the keys", as the Native Americans call it) and is politically savvy and a prodigious reader and thinker.

I like the idea of being "politically savvy" and "all over the place" but mostly I like the idea of donating testosterone to blogs that are too sugary and spicy or threatening to become too "girly". Perhaps I should bottle it and sell it through ebay - "Genuine Yorkshire Pudding Testosterone"- guaranteed to kick ass!

Over to Madam Donna's meme award - hope you readers don't get too bored with my responses! Why not try it yourself if you are scratching your head to think up a new blogpost!

What is your favourite season of the year, and why? It's Autumn (The Fall) because it has a sense of melancholia about it. It's when my birthday is and Bonfire Night and it's as if Nature is packing up in a blaze of fruitfulness and colour and the earth smells so earthy.
What do you do on Sunday's and with whom? In the evening we always have a traditional English roast Sunday dinner with all the trimmings and I'm with my family - those who are here and those who have gone.
What was your favourite childhood story? Who read it to you or told it to you? Where? When? This is a hard one to answer. I will say "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" which I received as a school prize and read to myself when I was ten years old.
If you could be the president/king/queen/prime minister/chief of a new country, what would it be like? Name? Politics? Morality code? Flag? Work of citizens? Pleasure time? Etc. My name would be Comrade Yorkshire Pudding and I would be a communist in the purest sense of the word. Our national motto would be "All for one and one for all". Although there would only be small variations in people's incomes, the top wage earners would be those who produced food and those who cleaned hotel rooms. Bankers would be required to clean public lavatories in their spare time and all armed forces would be disbanded in favour of a white flag.
If you could invent an object that would make life easier or more sustainable or more organic for humankind, what would it be and how would it work? It would be a much improved TV remote control. You'd press a certain button to check the house temperature in various rooms and then cancel any heating being provided to unused rooms. You'd also be able to see graphs of recent water usage. A further button would be pressed if you saw any politicians or presenters talking bullshit. If ten thousand viewers pressed this button at the same time the target would then have to cease their bullshit and announce "I am sorry. I have been talking bullshit and now I'm going back home to e-educate myself. Thank you everybody!"
Do you associate yourself with the area in which you were born or the area where you now live? And if they are one in the same, how do you like those long roots? I was born in Yorkshire like my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before me. I still live here. It means a lot to me as I am surrounded by so much natural beauty, so much ingenuity, so much goodness and so much earthy common sense. Yorkshire is of course the centre of the known universe.
As a child, what did you wish for....for yourself.....for your family? I really didn't wish for anything. I was too busy being a kid and enjoying my life - exploring, reading, playing football, laughing, building dens, climbing trees to find the best conkers, collecting fireworks. Why should I have wished for anything else?
What are you most passionate about? Always - travelling, seeing things firsthand. Currently - gardening, blogging and photography but that might change
What do you wish for your world during the next 10 years? Firstly - no starvation anywhere and no children dying from diarrhoea. An end to the ridiculous "war" in Afghanistan. No TV talent shows to be broadcast any more and on a micro-scale I wish that my two wonderful children avoid poverty and continue to live happily and healthily - perhaps marrying and producing children of their own.
Who is your best friend and why? A certain Mr A. Douglas. I have known him for many years. He's somebody I can feel wholly at ease with. There are connecting threads in our lives. I was the best man at his wedding. He's thoroughly Yorkshire too and he's also passionate about Hull City football club. He makes me laugh and he bakes nice bread and he's very kind but like me has a fiery streak in his nature so watch out suckers! We got oodles of testosterone!

300

This is Richard Hollington aged 23. He was the three hundredth British soldier to die because of ongoing warfare in Afghanistan. They call it - perhaps bizarrely - "Operation Enduring Freedom". He died in hospital in Birmingham as a direct result of injuries he sustained whilst on duty in Helmand on June 12th. A family spokesman said that Richard had "lived like a lion".

The death count for U.S. military personnel is now 1128.

What is it all for and when will it end? Is this the way to crush the Islamic terrorist threat or is it the way to increase that threat? I've said it before and I'm saying it again - Bring Our Brothers Home!

20 June 2010

Rambling

Bunker's Hill Gatehouse, Welbeck Park
This morning I volunteered to taxi our son Ian and his girlfriend Ruby to East Midlands Airport. They're away in Jersey for a few days - staying with a rich friend of Ruby's grandmother. She promised she'd heat the pool specially for them and order in several pounds of shellfish!

Knowing the weather forecast was good and needing to march some miles for exercise, I decided that I wouldn't head straight home. Instead I'd park up in the village of Cuckney, Nottinghamshire and figure out a circular route with very limited assistance from my road map.

Blue skies and shirt sleeves, tramping in unfamiliar countryside. On days like these it feels especially good to be alive. Naturally, I was looking out for possible photographs I might snap for uploading on to the Geograph website but mainly I was just walking. I saw a grand Victorian gatehouse ahead and marched through the open gates but dogs barked and a gamekeeper emerged to challenge me in his stockinged feet. He pointed me away in a different direction. Beyond an impressive avenue of lime trees, I passed an ancient deer park where hundreds of pale-coloured deer were sheltering in the cool shadows cast by deciduous trees.

By the time I reached the stone outbuildings of Welbeck Abbey, along a "private" road, the same gamekeeper appeared in a big green pick-up truck with two other stoney-faced colleagues. I asked who lived at the "abbey" but they were very cagey - he was their "gaffer" and he wouldn't like me tramping through his gardens. I veered left as advised but I don't think it was co-incidental when a little white security van pulled up next to me.

The driver, in his smart "Security 7" uniform, was most pleasant and even gave me a lift beyond the outbuildings and the old elephant house to Robin Hood's Way - a long distance footpath which skirts the sprawling Welbeck Abbey Estate. He told me it was owned and occupied by the family of the Dukes of Portland. Later, back on Google, I discovered that it had been a proper abbey for "Premonstratensian canons" before dissolution in 1530 when it was transferred to private ownership.

I rambled onwards through the woods disturbing pheasants , partridges, squirrels, rabbits and later by The Great Lake - moorhens and a great flapping grey heron. In the small settlement of Norton, I stopped to buy Shirley a gift - a jar of homemade rhubarb chutney from a table outside a village house. Then by the millpond in Cuckney, I snapped the photograph below. I must say - I am rather proud of it.
Cuckney millpond and convex driveway mirror

17 June 2010

Advert

Some bloggers fade away and never return. You know how it is - you're regularly logging in to a favourite well-maintained blog and then suddenly - nothing! Every week or so you might check back to see if there has been any activity but there's zilch - just the same last post like a plaintive bugle call on a parade ground.

However, some bloggers come back into the fold of the blogosphere - even after months or years. They will have tried other pastimes like jogging, stamp collecting, flower arranging, Greco-Roman wrestling, pole dancing or ferret breeding but finally realise that there's nothing to beat a good old blog so they come back like prodigal sons and daughters.

So I get to the point of this post. A shameless advertisement for one of these returned "lost sheep" bloggers who is currently blogging out of his cell in Strangeways Prison, Manchester. He was incarcerated for tax evasion, supporting Manchester United and for once staring at a suggestive internet image of a young lady in a bikini during working hours. The blog has returned in fancy new "Wordpress" clothing and it's a blog I always used to like tuning into even though it is produced by one of the sworn enemies of the People's Republic of Greater Yorkshire - a Mancunian or Mank for short.

If you're kind to birds and small animals, like dipping your hand in your pocket for the needy and are interested in how the other half live, may I suggest that you visit Shooting Parrots. Click on the picture below to venture into his weird and wonderful blogzone...
This blogpost was sponsored by Shooting Parrots Inc.

15 June 2010

Vicariousness

Desoto Falls near Mentone, Alabama

Our daughter's time in the USA is almost up. After two wonderful and successful semesters at Birmingham Southern College in Alabama, she spent a week with a college room-mate up in the top right hand corner of Alabama - in a small town called Mentone - close to the border with Georgia - home state of the famous Yankee blogger Robert Barack Brague.

Next our Frances headed down to the Big Easy - New Orleans - where she met up with an English friend to begin their little American adventure. They cadged a lift to Houston, stayed there for three or four days then went by Greyhound to San Antonio - home of The Alamo. Next it was on to Austin, the Texan state capital before three days in Dallas where they stood upon the grassy knoll.

The twenty eight hour Greyhound journey to Las Vegas turned into a monstrous forty four hour journey because of Greyhound's incompetent booking service. The connecting bus in Flagstaff, Arizona was full so they had to travel to Los Angeles to await another bus to Las Vegas. On the way, a drug-fuelled passenger attacked an old lady as she slept and so there was a big commotion and a long wait for the cops and an ambulance.

Speaking to us via the amazing "Skype" facility, when she finally arrived at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas, Frances declared that she would never ever travel on another long distance bus. She and her friend Meg were understandably utterly knackered and to use an old English term - "pissed off".

The next day was better. They picked up the hire car they had been dreaming of and headed back to Los Angeles - but not to the Greyhound bus station! Then it was on to San Diego before a long drive to Williams, Arizona on the very doorstep of the Grand Canyon which is unquestionably one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Next they headed up to Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border staying at Mexican Hat and the following night was spent in a little Utah town called Moab. Here's an amazing sidetrack I have to tell you about: Californian blogger, Jan Blawat (Consumne Girl) had been touring in the eastern states. I followed her progress as she headed homeward and where do you think she ended up last Friday night? Yes. Moab, Utah on the very same night my Frances got there! I am no mathematician but the chances of this happening must have been as remote as Moab itself.

Then they saw the Arches National Park before heading back to Las Vegas for a couple of nights. At 12.15pm on Tuesday Frances was scheduled to fly back to Birmingham, Alabama to say goodbye to a few friends and to pick up the rest of her luggage. I am writing this as her plane heads towards Atlanta. Sadly it was delayed for ages in Las Vegas so she will miss her connecting flight to Birmingham. I am just hoping that Delta Airlines have some spare seats on the next flight or she will be stuck in Atlanta till the morning. And she's due to fly home to England on Wednesday afternoon!

Travelling far away is not as it was when I was young. Then you were really gone. No phone calls, no emails, no "Skype" video calls, no Facebook photo albums and very few letters. But during her time in the USA I have felt very close to Frances's total experience. This is one of the benefits of modern technologies or perhaps one of the regrettable handicaps.

As she prepares to return to her beloved Yorkshire, may I on her behalf thank the staff and students of Birmingham Southern College for their hospitality, the Hunt family of Mentone AL for their kindness, the people of Selma AL, the staff of the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Delta Airlines, Enterprise Car Hire, The Rolling Rock Brewery, Taco Bell and Wendy's and above all the righteous and inspirational President Barack Obama for allowing her to stay in his wonderfully sweet land of liberty.
Moab, Utah

14 June 2010

Poem


To the Goddess of Rhamnous

Manoeuvring muddy puddles
That mirrored the sky
Above Sandholme Lane
We threaded our way across ancient carrs
And came to our canal
Where moorhens hid their young
In rushes and whispering reeds
As legendary pike observed us
From their aqueous lairs.
Quietly, so quietly, untying sisal ropes
We launched paint peeling rowing boats
And slipped out across the narrow ocean...
The Royal Navy... "The Golden Hind"...
"Jason and the Argonauts".
Scooping green algae with our oars
And laughing at the afternoon
A pledge to stealth forgotten
We froze
When our nemesis appeared
Upon the bridge predictably
In flowered pinafore
With floured fingers
Hubris hunting Old Ma Fairlow
Keeper of canals and scourge of happy days
"You bloody lot again!"
Abandoning ship we scarpered for
Our hedgerow hidden bicycles
And pedalled home for tea.

13 June 2010

Brothers

With Mum at Holyrood, Edinburgh 1957
I'm glad I wasn't an only child and that I had three brothers to grow up with. Continuing my work as family archivist, I have come across many photographs of my siblings and I. We lived in a simpler faraway world. In holidaytime or weekends we'd be out and about all day - bike riding, tunnelling into haystacks, digging clay out of ditches, visiting other children in the village, helping on farms, climbing trees, playing football or cricket, scrumping apples, catching fish or tadpoles in the nearby canal, building snowmen or bonfires. Looking back, I realise that it really was quite idyllic.

There were no paedophiles in those days, no bad men (or women) who'd whisk you away and the roads that passed through our East Yorkshire village were quiet. The doors to our house were only locked when we went on holiday. Like other parents, mum and dad didn't anticipate we'd ever meet danger in the locality. They just expected us home for tea.

Dad was a fairly keen amateur photographer. He processed his own films and printed the pictures himself. However, like most people he tended to take posed pictures of the family so I can't find any pictures of the dens we made or conker matches or caterpillar races.

Paul was the first son, born a year after our parents came home to England after the second world war. Robin was born in 1951 and I came along in 1953 though why they called me Yorkshire Pudding I'll never know. Perhaps I was the colour of one or maybe mum gave birth to me while she was making Yorkshire puddings. Simon was born in 1956.

As brothers, we mainly got along. We were and remain different from each other and our lives have followed different patterns. Sometimes I think that I am the one who is charged with maintaining the bonds between us. Among mum's papers I found a letter she addressed to all of us a year after our father died. In it she asked us to be friends and to look out for each other if she should die. Friends are changeable and transferable but brothers persist through the years. You just can't shake them off and for my part, I wouldn't ever want to.
Eiffel Tower, Paris 1960
Around Robin's Lambretta 1967

10 June 2010

Object

I was walking up the cobbled street that leads to Stirling Castle. It was noontime after a party in Edinburgh and I was with a young woman I had met there. I can't even remember her name. It was in the late spring of 1975 or 76.

We had our arms round each other and the sun was warm. Perhaps we both thought that this might be the start of something. I remember that her skin was milk-white. We walked up that cobbled hill where kings and kilted soldiers had walked. A figure came towards us on the pavement. An old woman with a shuffling gait and a black shawl over the back of her head and shoulders.

I edged my brand new partner to the kerb to allow the old woman to pass but as she came level with us, she grabbed my sleeve. I stopped. The old woman with bleary blue eyes looked into mine and said very deliberately, "You will be very lucky". Then she let go of my arm and went on her way down the hill. The Edinburgh girl and I paused for a moment as a car passed by.

It was at this precise moment that I noticed something rolling down the pavement towards me. Where it came from I have no idea. I watched it coming closer then I stopped it with my foot, picked it up to examine it. The girl said, "What is it?" but I couldn't say.

It was made of wood with a turned base in the shape of a large wine glass and with a wooden spout but that description might depend on how you looked at it for on the turned section there was a primitive carving of a man and a woman in historical garb holding hands in a rural setting.

I pocketed the object then guided my pretty guest around Stirling Castle, looking east to the Wallace Monument and south to the site of the Battle of Bannockburn.

In later years, I used the object to hold incense sticks and for a while tried to find out what it was. I wondered if it had come from an old piano but never confirmed that. To this day it remains as mysterious as how it came to be rolling down that hill and I continue to connect it with the strange old woman who grabbed my arm moments before. Do you know what it is or would it be better to continue to treasure such a delicious mystery?

8 June 2010

Poem

Webs
Spider-like we weave our webs -
Criss-crossed connections
Past to present to future to
Memory to friend to
Birth to death to
Work to home to
Hope to dream -
The patterns of love and family life
All intricately and almost invisibly linked
Bejewelled by dewdrops
Glinting in a new day's honey light
Then like concealed spiders
We assess our workmanship
Self-assured and certain
In the midst of life
Believing these gossamer nets will endure
But they never do
Later
Raggedy threads hang limply
Like Miss Havisham's wedding veil
While inheritors sense the spaces
Where we once wove our lives.

7 June 2010

Archives

"...she came to a low curtain, behind which was a door about eighteen inches high:she tried the little key in the keyhole, and it fitted! Alice opened the door,and looked down a small passage, not larger than a rat-hole, into the loveliest garden you ever saw..."
Lewis Carroll "Alice in Wonderland"

Sometimes when browsing the internet it is easy to feel that behind every door there is a vast garden to explore and beyond that no doubt more doors to other gardens.

There's a British government-sponsored organisation called The National Archives. I accessed their online facilities today in order to track down evidence that my maternal grandfather was indeed awarded a Military Medal after World War One. It is a vast data bank - covering far more zones than simply World War One medals.
Unsurprisingly, the name "Wilfred Henry Jackson" is not unique but I am 99% confident that I found the correct "medal card". Frustratingly, it doesn't say why he received the medal when thousands of other rank and file soldiers missed out but it is clear that the MM (Military Medal) was awarded for "bravery in the field". By the way, brave officers received a different medal - "The Military Cross", no doubt to distinguish themselves from the cannon fodder - our nation's dispensable working classes. However, like my paternal grandfather - Philip, my maternal grandfather also made it back home though heaven knows what happened to the medal itself...

6 June 2010

Rapscallion

My grandfather, Wilfred aged eighteen/ nineteen
Regular visitors to this humble everyday blog may recall how I referred to my maternal blood grandfather as a "rapscallion". At least that is how "The News of the World" described him in a letter to my grandmother - the wife he abandoned around 1929, leaving her to raise two small children in an era when married couples tended to stick together through thick and thin.

Well I came across another letter. This was written to my mother in 1996 by her cousin Ralph. He refers to my real grandfather who I now realise was called Wilfred Henry Jackson. How the name "Albert" ever got in my head I'll never know. Anyways, it seems that Ralph maintained a distant relationship with his Uncle Wilfred through the passing of years...

"I have been watching those programmes on the TV dealing with the eighty year anniversary of of the Battle of the Somme. This brought back memories of the two photographs on the mantelpiece of your dad, Uncle Wilfred and Uncle Sidney in their army uniforms.

My granddad, your Uncle George, used to tell me who they were and how your dad won the Military Medal on the Somme. When you think of all the men killed in the 14/18 war, I think the family must have been very lucky to have two sons return home.

If you remember the last time I saw you I told you how Joan (wife) and I found your dad from his last known address. He was very, very pleased to see us and he proudly showed us his invitation to the Somme veterans reunion dinner. Anyway Doreen, I just thought I would let you know we were thinking of you.

We must see each other again in the not too distant future.

Love, Cousin Ralph xx"

To my knowledge, Mum never saw her father again in the many years that followed his departure - when she was just a little girl of eight. But seeing him as a young man in the pictures I unearthed today and recognising that he went to hell and back in the Somme, I would like to think that he was more than a mere "rapscallion" and if the departed can access the blogosphere from their after life, I would like to say to Wilfred Henry Jackson - "Hi! I'm Yorkshire Pudding, one of the grandchildren you never met. What are you having to drink?"
Great Uncle Sydney's wedding to the seated Nellie (1919?). Wilfred was the best
man standing on the far right.

4 June 2010

Horror

I guess that some of my blog visitors from overseas will not yet have heard the name - Derrick Bird. In seven sunlit hours on Wednesday June 2nd, this unremarkable fifty two year old taxi driver guaranteed his place in English criminal history for all time. He shot dead twelve people and failed to kill a further twelve who all finished up in hospital. Then - though the full details are not yet out - he killed himself, leaving behind so many tears, so many broken hearts and so many questions.

It happened on the coast of Cumbria, England's most northwesterly county, in and around the sleepy little port of Whitehaven. It seems that Bird knew four of his victims, one of whom was his twin brother - in his mind he was no doubt out for revenge - but the other eight just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and he shot them down as if they were aliens in a space invaders game machine.

So I dedicate this post to his victims - good people who deserved to die of old age - not like this - the targets of a deranged and bitter man. So farewell to David Bird (52) the killer's twin brother and to Kevin Commons (60) his lawyer, Darren Rewcastle a fellow taxi driver, retired husband and wife James and Jennifer Jackson, Kenneth Fishburn (72) a former chef in the British army, Jamie Clark (23) a property lettings agent, Michael Pike (64) who was just out for a bike ride, Susan Hughes (57) who had devoted much of her adult life to selflessly supporting her disabled daughter, Gary Purdham (31) a farmer and former rugby league player, local mole catcher Isaac Dixon (65) and bird sanctuary worker Jane Robinson (66) who like Bird himself - was a twin.

Britain has some of the toughest gun laws in the world but they did not prevent this horror. This may seem controversial but in my book only police marksmen, military personnel on duty, rural vets, nominated abattoir workers and licensed pest control officers should be legally allowed to possess and use guns. This would not go down well with the hunting fraternity or some farmers but it would go a long way to reducing still further the possibility of future murderous rampages. That would arguably be a more suitable memorial to the Cumbrian dead than an inscribed stone with wilting flowers and plaintive notes blurred by tears or raindrops.

3 June 2010

Nana

Two husbands walked out on my nana, Phyllis White. She was born in Rawmarsh Yorkshire on September 24th, 1901 and while still a teenager she married a Mr Jackson whose first name was either Albert or Wilfred. They had two children, one of whom was my mother born in 1921 but by 1927 he was gone - never to be seen again though it is certain that he lived and worked in London.

In the early nineteen thirties, nana met somebody else and fell in love. She left her two kids with her mother in Rawmarsh and followed her heart to Manchester where she wrote to the advice column of "The News of The World" about her marital status. In a detailed typed response, they referred to her first husband as a "rapscallion" and gave her the green light to re-marry. It was in November 1940 that she married her Geordie beau - George Forster Morris - always known as Jock.

I loved both of them. By the time I was born they had moved back to Jock's native Newcastle. We would occasionally visit their humble terraced flat on Canterbury Street with its flight of stone steps down to the yard. There their only lavatory was located with neatly cut pieces of newspaper hanging from a string. I thought this was wonderful. She loved to feed stray cats and made wonderful scotch broth while he loved to joke, make things from wood and gamble. Once he took me to the dog track where an excited winning punter thrust a fiver into my hands for good luck. I must have been eight or nine.

One of Jock's pet sayings was: "In the midst of life we are in debt" and he usually was. In their late seventies, they moved to a sheltered old person's flat in Bridlington. It was warm and snug with an inside loo! She was very happy there but he pined for Tyneside and so he left her when they were both 82 years old.

I was at both of their funerals. He was buried in his beloved Newcastle when the earth was hard as iron in January 1985 and she was cremated in Scarborough in June 1988. There are two other things I'd like to say about them. Firstly, he took me to my first ever professional football match at the vast St James's Park in Newcastle. I was perhaps nine years old and The Magpies were playing Sheffield United. Secondly, she worked in a munitions factory in Sheffield for the last two years of World War One - making shell casings and breathing in noxious fumes that were to affect her chest for the rest of her life.

I love this happy photo of Nana and Jock. Probably taken on the seafront in Blackpool in the late nineteen forties but they don't look too happy in what I presume is a wedding photo at the top of this post. If only people would always write little details on the reverse sides of their old pictures. It would help amateur archivists like me.

1 June 2010

Sweetness

Historically, my family is unremarkable. There were no famous writers, politicians, axe murderers, explorers, inventors - just ordinary people raising families, trying to be happy, growing up, working and finally dying. The backbone of England.

In late 1914, my grandfather, who was called Philip like my father, went off to war just a few months after his baby son had come into the world. I have no idea what this young man saw, heard, smelt or felt during his war years in France but thankfully he was one of those who survived the horror of it all. Funny how people forget that from the carnage of those famous killing fields more men came home than were left behind. He's the standing soldier below.
Sweetly, on August 1st 1915, my grandfather sent his baby son a first birthday message. The front is typically embroidered - by hand or machine - I cannot say - but I guess that many fathers bought similar cards to send home when kicking their heels away from The Front. On the reverse it says: "For little Philip wishing him many Happy Returns of his Birthday with Love and Kisses from his Daddy August 1st for the 5th France".

I never met my grandfather. He had gone before I was born after working for many years as a milkman in and around Malton, in the very heart of Yorkshire, where I guess he enjoyed many Yorkshire puddings in the bosom of his family - sometimes remembering the hellishness he had witnessed in France.