30 September 2010


Lounging on beaches is a lovely pastime. However, when engaged in this inactivity I will often get restless and do a little exploring - even if it's only an amble to the far end of the beach or an investigation of the flotsam and jetsam left by the last high tide.

So it was near Albufeira, on Santa Eulalia beach in southern Portugal. I left Shirley gobbling up the pages of yet another novel and padded over to the rock pools that the outgoing tide had revealed at the western end of the beach. Two bikini-clad English girls were doing the same - one of them sporting hideous tattoos. Each pool was like a little underwater world in itself but you had to look closely and wait, perhaps disturb a rock or two. Little silver fishes, translucent shrimp-like creatures, shiny anemones like blobs of jelly and little crab pincers poking out from miniature caves.

There was a lot of henna-coloured seaweed draped around in the pools and over the rocks. I had to tread carefully for fear of slipping. Just as I was about to return to my beloved nurse, I noticed something. It had the exact same colour as those sea weed drapes but was it moving? If it was moving, it was advancing extremely slowly. Its body shape was reminiscent of a healthy courgette. I crouched down and disturbed it gently with a piece of bamboo I'd found. Yes it was moving.

It was a creature, not a strange seaweed bud. It seemed to propel itself by expelling water from its rear end. It had lines of stubby tentacles rippling almost imperceptibly and it was about nine inches in length. Though a garden snail could surely move quicker, I would swear it was fleeing to safety. I watched it for ten minutes or so before departing. It had found shelter under seaweed fronds so I was hopeful it would be safe till the tide returned.
This wasn't a Great White Shark or a Loggerhead Turtle, it was, as I have just discovered by foraging in Google, a Tubular Sea Cucumber (Holothuria tubulosa). There are at least 1250 known species of sea cucumber and the one I spotted is relatively common in the eastern Atlantic. There are, astonishingly, websites devoted to sea cucumbers and they have many enthusiasts around the globe. They are primitive creatures without real brains or sensory organs. Many species are capable of sort of liquefying their bodies in order to squeeze through impossibly small gaps. They have several other unique features.

I have a feeling that along with the cockroach, the sea cucumber may be around long after homo- sapiens has disappeared from this much-abused planet. I named the one that I spotted Alan - after the smug TV football pundit - Alan Hansen.

28 September 2010


Today I made a point of watching television coverage of the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. The new leader, Ed Miliband, delivered his keynote speech as his defeated brother, David, looked on. I have always voted Labour. It has never occurred to me to vote any other way as Labour is the party of welfare, free health care for all, decent educational provision for every one, local authority housing, the minimum wage and social justice. My vote is habitually a vote for decency, fairness and a squeezing of the gap between the haves and the have nots. Tactical voting is a total anathema to me. I have often tramped the streets delivering Labour Party leaflets. So naturally, I am interested in how Labour's doing at any particular time.
If I had had my choice it would have been David Miliband up there. I felt he had more of the aura of a true leader about him. Erudite, sharp and quietly confident, he would surely have ripped his Tory opponents to pieces in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, I must admit that Ed Miliband's opening performance was impressive. There was a certain dignity about his delivery and a clear command of the issues but there was also a passionate sense of Labour's democratic, campaigning history. He's only forty years old but that could be a big advantage in winning over younger voters. Perhaps he will grow on us. We will see. But in the meantime - if you're reading this blog Ed - good luck brother! As you said in your speech, this great country cannot allow the anti-social ConDem monster to be in office for more than one term. After all, the people's flag really is deepest red...

27 September 2010


Paddy McGinty - Number ten!
I collected my tenth traffic warden on Friday night down in Birmingham. Our Frances is renting a house on Dawlish Road, Selly Oak. In front of the house are double yellow lines but I parked on them in order to be able to unload our car. It was chock-a-block with possessions for student living including a five foot canvas from "Poundstretcher" with a black and white photograph of Brooklyn Bridge printed on it.

Huffing and puffing after my umpteenth short trip into the house, I noticed someone loitering on the broken pavement. Damn me! A civil enforcement officer in all his military garb. "You can't park here mate!" he announced in a broad Irish accent. Two points to wind me up - calling me "mate" and not even a British citizen. "I'm unloading. My daughter's moving in here and the Highway Code says you can unload when parked on double yellows," I snapped, eyeing him up and down in the manner that a Serengeti lion might peruse an oryx antelope. "Well oim still givin yez a ticket!" grinned the evil paddy.
"The Goose" Selly Oak, Birmingham
I looked up and down Dawlish Road. Traffic was crawling by "The Goose" at the bottom on Bristol Road but on Frances's bedrizzled street, nobody was about. "No you're not!" I snarled and the Irishman's face was a picture of surprise as I bundled him into the open hatchback. My trusty old fishing net wasn't there so I had to tie him up with orange electrical extension wire. I pushed a chamois windscreen cloth into his protesting mouth before slamming the hatchback door. I might have accidentally caught his fingers. Number ten!

Back in Sheffield with Paddy safely locked up with the others in the stinky underhouse, I set off this afternoon for "Netto" at Woodseats - mainly to get my moaning captives some cheap grub to eat. Greedy devils they are. Imagine my delight when I spotted two lady parking officers sauntering along Chesterfield Road. I skidded round the corner into Helmton Road and quickly parked up behind a rubbish skip. My heart was beating like a hunter's. Then I was out of the car in a flash raising the hatchback door.

I remembered how in John Fowles's "The Collector", the anti-heroic Frederick Clegg trapped lovely Miranda with a sob story about an injured dog. As the gossiping wardens reached the street corner, I went into melodramatic actor mode, running over to them and in an affected, quivering voice said - "Help me! Help me please! I think I've just killed a dog. He's in the back of my car!" The Nazis rushed to my Astra and bent over in unison. They were unbalanced momentarily but it was enough time for me to push them headfirst into the hatchback and slam the door.

They were kicking and screaming as I drove off so I cranked my car radio to full volume - somewhat like a cruising twenty something in a souped up old Subaru. A few pedestrians looked at me disdainfully as I drove by with "Please Don't Let Me Go" by Olly Murs bursting out of the car's speakers but at least the protestations of Numbers Eleven and Twelve could not be heard above the eardrumming din.

I stopped near the quiet postbox where postman David Hird was murdered a few years back and prised open the hatchback door again. The two pathetic women were in a tangled heap. I threatened them that if they didn't stop kicking and screaming, I'd drive over to Hull and drop them off the Humber Bridge. Admittedly, I coloured my threats with numerous vulgar swear words while squeezing their chins simultaneously and as firmly as I could. "So shut the f*** up!" I growled before slamming the hatchback door so hard it was a bit like a shotgun going off.

Back home, I got the old net before forcing my last two captives through our front door and out through the back then down into the underhouse. I didn't even ask their names and couldn't be bothered to read their identity badges. All you need to know is that they are meter maids, civil enforcement officers, traffic wardens or whatever you might want to call them. And they're down there now with the other ten, wondering what's going to happen to them.

25 September 2010


It's so sad when something or someone you have cherished for years suddenly disappears. That's how I feel right now about the sudden closure of "The Kashmir Curry Centre" on Sheffield's Spital Hill, just before you reach Burngreave, a racially mixed and vibrant community heading north from the city centre.

Aesthetically, The Kashmir would not have won any awards. No flock wallpaper here or gilt-framed pictures of the Taj Mahal, no fawning waiters in uniform or piped mood music. It was clean and basic, rather like an old transport cafe with formica-topped tables and a lino floor. The place could comfortably accommodate only about fifty diners and another nice thing about it was that it didn't serve any alcohol. However, you were welcome to nip across the road to "The East House" pub and bring back pints or jugs of local beer. Sometimes it could be a challenge not to spill your pint as a Number 45 bus roared up the hill towards you.

However, it was the quality of the food that made The Kashmir so wonderful. The freshest ingredients cooked on the premises by a couple of chefs who were born and raised in the hills of Kashmir itself. No jars of bought-in sauces or shortcuts. The famous "mixed starter" included potato and mushroom bhajis as well as delicious curried lamb chops, choice pieces of chicken and fresh but mild chilli peppers. It was a meal in itself so you shared it.

The nan breads were legendary, so light and then lightly brushed with a little ghee butter. Beautiful. But my favourite dish was the Kashmiri Lamb with toasted almonds: succulent pieces of tender lamb in a dark gravy which only partially disguised the herbs and spices added to enhance this dish's delicate flavours. To think that I'll never eat it again brings a tear to my eye.
Whenever we visited, the curry house was always presided over by the eloquent and intelligent owner - Bsharath Hussain - sometimes known as "Paul" (above). He had worked there for the full thirty six years of its existence. In an interview with "The Star", he cited the recession, cost of produce and competition for his decision to close down.

We were going to visit The Kashmir again on Thursday night before Frances returned to university in Birmingham but the bad news broke on Wednesday. Instead, we went to The Mumtaz on Chesterfield Road and couldn't really complain about the quality of the fare but it was similar to so many little curry houses. Predictable. The Kashmir was different and put the letter "a" into "authentic". I am sure I won't be the only Sheffield curry fan who is currently mourning its untimely disappearance.

21 September 2010


Sunflowers now growing ragged in our garden
Back in April, I bought a 35p packet of sunflower seeds from Lidl. Having never attempted to grow sunflowers before, it would be another experience I could tick off on my "Things to do before I die" list. Forget driving a Ferrari, swimming with dolphins or bungy-jumping from the Kawaru Bridge in New Zealand. My list includes such items as - carving a wooden bowl, reading the Koran, making a homemade rice pudding and returning to Spurn Point - the teardrop end of Yorkshire.

Anyway, I sowed the sunflower seeds in little pots. Five survived, poking their heads towards the window and just begging to be planted out. I prepared a little plot in a sheltered gap near our great hydrangea bush and like a good father pressed my little plants into the soil. In dry times I watered them. Sometimes I fed them liquid fertiliser and as they grew, I protected them with little stakes. Gusting winds did their best to snap the little sunflowers so I replaced the stakes till each plant ended up with a six foot bamboo stake.

I am six feet tall myself and each one of the sunflowers has grown taller than me but there is one which has grown to over eleven feet, having reached up much higher than its protective stake. I named it Lofty. It took a long time for the flower heads to emerge. At first they were quite small, as if this particular variety of sunflower could only produce small flowers but gradually they expanded. The flowers are all a bit ragged now - past their best and it's hard to show Lofty's tallness in a photograph. Relatedly, did you know that the film actor Mel Gibson is only 5'9"? Squirt!
Below "Les Tournesols", near Pamiers in southern France (2005)

20 September 2010


Fly agaric
Here in the northern hemisphere we always think that summer ends and autumn begins on September 21st - the time of our autumnal equinox - though in the contrary southern hemisphere, it is of course the moment of their vernal or spring equinox. The word "equinox" comes from the Latin aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night so at the time of the two annual equinoxes, nights will be of equal length. In truth, the day of the equinox can vary and this year it will actually occur on September 23rd, not the 21st.

Nonetheless, which ever way you look at it, autumn is upon us heralding the dark days of winter. I have dug up the last of our potatoes and my four vigorous courgette plants are struggling to provide any more fruit. Apples are falling and there are no more than half a dozen plums left on the little tree we planted a year ago. I know I need to dig over the vegetable patch and kill off any endemic weeds ahead of early frosts or heavy periods of rain. That way the soil will be better prepared for next year's duties.

Autumn feels like my season. In my birth family, I was the only one to have a birthday then. The football season got properly underway and just ahead there was Bonfire Night, with biscuit tins of fireworks, buttery jacket potatoes and fresh toffee apples. A time for climbing trees for the most promising conkers and just a little further ahead sparkled our pagan midwinter festival which was renamed "Christmas" - really quite recently in the great span of time.

Forgive me this indulgence, but a poem for the coming season...


Fungi stirs in bejewelled turf
The fly agaric wraps its whiskery roots
Subterraneanly round hidden arms and fingers
Anchoring our defiant trees to this Earth.
Bonfires burn in gardens -
Loppings and prunings -
Summer's debris crackling
Like jetsam piled on suburban shores.
The rising smoke smells bitter-sweet
Curling and billowing greyly,
Unsure of its direction.
I see a single sycamore leaf
Suspended by a cobweb
And observe its veins -
Its delightful variegation
In amber, ochre and dappled green.
Like a piece of Mediterranean Art
Hanging in September sun
Quite lovely yet unseen.

19 September 2010


Max and Tina seen on previous reconnaissance outing
Earlier this summer, we left our daughter at home while we holidayed in Cornwall. She was under strict instructions to water thirsty plants and to regularly feed our feathered garden visitors. Needless to say, when we returned all local bird-life looked strangely emaciated and if the plants could talk they'd have been croaking "Water! I need water!"

So perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised to discover that while we were in Portugal, my captives received very little in the way of food or water and their slop buckets were filled to the brim. The stench hit me like a tsunami when I went back down to the underhouse. Honestly, how can people live like that?

Newspaper stories come and go so rapidly. Editors are always looking for fresh items to keep their readers engaged. After seven days, "The Star" seemed to have completely forgotten about the disappeared parking officers so this afternoon I felt okay about bagging two more. It seems that they are under instructions to operate in pairs now.

With seven of the blighters languishing in our cellar/underhouse area, I was happy to bring the number up to nine. I netted them when they were on their lunch break in The Botanical Gardens not far from the old bearpit. They were just sitting on a bench swapping tales of motorists they had victimised while tucking into their potted meat sandwiches and Cheesy "Wotsits". I tiptoed up behind them, as quiet as goose down. Then after looking left and right to check that nobody was around, I hurled my trusty net over them.

The female one started squealing like a demented piglet but I had come prepared and quickly stifled her noise with a cooking apple. The male one yelled "Geroff!" half a dozen times before his mouth was also immobilised with fruit.

With not a little difficulty, I dragged the pair of them through rhododendron bushes and into my car which was waiting on the access road on the other side of the shubbery. She's called Tina and he's called Max. I had a hell of a job forcing Max's right leg into the boot. He kicked me in the belly which annoyed me so much that my strength increased and in a jiffy I was able to slam the hatchback door. I felt slightly winded.

Driving home, I planned to wait till just past midnight to move these latest two into the underhouse. They're still in the car as I type this update. Twice I have had to go out to the car to prevent Max from kicking at the bodywork like a donkey. If I had some chloroform, he'd get a face full I can tell you. Meanwhile, Tina just lies there whimpering and shaking slightly like a small child. Serves her right for becoming a parking enforcement officer. I mean, what did she expect?
Nineteeth century bearpit, in Sheffield's Botanical Gardens

17 September 2010


Whilst on holiday in Portugal this past week, I noticed a number of women with tattoos in strategic places. Of course such embellishments would normally be hidden from view but on beaches and by swimming pools much flesh is exposed and design secrets are revealed. Shirley and I are of course as tattooless as our two children are. Very probably the tattooed sector of society would think us rather square but we prefer our skins to remain unblemished and unadaorned. I guess we are crazy that way.

Having seen a wide range of tattoos of different design and merit, I decided to investigate what they might all mean and have come up with this basic visual glossary that I may extend after future beach holidays. If readers of this humble blog can assist my research I would be very grateful. So here we go.
Firstly: The Dolphin. There are many different dolphin designs. They can appear leaping on the shoulder blade, belly, upper thigh or breast. Basically this common design may be interpreted in this way "I lack design taste and a sense of the future but it is my dream to swim with dolphins - preferably dolphins that don't bite you - oh and the sea would have to be warm and calm and besides my mate Veronica got her dolphin tattoo first".
Secondly: The Mermaid. Again - quality and location of designs are variable but someone with a mermaid tattoo is showing the world that they like to go to the seaside where they sometimes eat battered fish. The mystical mermaid symbol represents a deep seated desire to meet a Premier League footballer and get married in Barbados.
Thirdly: The Chinese Symbols. Various Chinese symbols may be selected - all with different spiritual meanings that can inspire expressions of admiration from intimate onlookers such as "Oo! That's nice. Our Tracey wants one of them". The particular sophisticated shoulder example you can see above means "Pork Chop Suey with Fried Rice".
Fourthly: The Hummingbird. Obviously with its nectar sipping proboscis, the hummingbird is a subtle symbol of fertility. To wear this tattoo means that you're hoping to get laid - preferably by a Premier League footballer with a fat wallet and an Italian sports car. It shows you also like pizza and tequila shots and don't mind wearing dresses that are too tight and too short. Wearers will generally shop for their clothes in Primark.
Finally: The Tramp Stamp. These are etched on to the lower back where the wearer can't see them so the tattooist can pretty much do what he wants. There are hundreds of different designs. This particular one means "I haven't got the brains I was born with and I will leave a gap between my top and jeans even in the depths of winter just so that anybody who follows me can see the crap design on my lower back. Oh and I used to date a guy called Rory till he went off with Kaylee. The bitch."

Post script - Take a close look at this one:-
Written with very sincere apologies to any bloggers who have tattoos about their person.

16 September 2010


Coastal view just a hundred yards from our apartment

Shirley and I last visited The Algarve region of Portugal in 1983. We tootled all over in our little green Mini rental car - from Cabo de San Vicente in the far west to Vila Real de Santa Antonio in the east where we gazed across the Guadiana River into Spain. It was a wonderful holiday, before the children came along, when our bones never ached and grey hairs were impossible.

This time we were more sedentary - like sea-lions basking on a sunny beach or by the lovely swimming pool which our apartment overlooked. It was the very first holiday I have ever taken in the month of September. We were just outside the resort of Albufeira in the quite splendid Alfegar holiday village. It was a last minute booking. Some readers will remember why this was so. (More of that in another post)

One day we hired a car - a nippy Renault Clio - and headed for the hills - places we had missed in 1983 like the ancient former Moorish capital of the region - Silves and the mountain spa village of Monchique. We also ventured to the far western township of Aljezur and a spectacular beach at Arrifana, returning to Aljezur for a delicious traditional evening meal taken al fresco by a cobbled square. Then it was back along an empty motorway that had not even been dreamed of when we last visited to see a troupe of traditional Algarvian dancers in our holiday village.

Here's a small sample of the photographs I snapped:-

Silves - The twelfth century Moorish castle walls

Amazing sand sculptures in Albufeira

Old lady in a Monchique window

The fabulous beach at Arrifana

View from our apartment

8 September 2010


The cops are on to me. It seems that some nosey old biddy on Marlborough Road was peering from her bedroom window when I captured Victor, Jessica and Okwonu. A photofit picture of me has appeared on the front page of "The Star" (see above) and I must admit that the likeness is quite uncanny. There's also mention of a grey or silver Vauxhall car, though thankfully the old snooper - a Miss Kate Price - didn't clock the registration number.

Time to get away. As luck would have it, Shirley has a week off from work so I have quickly booked flights to Portugal - leaving in the morning.

I realise I have got myself in a hell of a pickle. There are seven parking enforcement officers in the underhouse and we are going to be out of the country for a week so I have decided to share my secret with our daughter - Frances. She's working as a temporary receptionist in a health centre before returning to university. It will be up to her to keep an eye on the "Secret Seven" - provide them with basic sustenance and take out their stinking slops. I have a feeling she'll be supportive as she recently got a parking ticket in Sheffield city centre - in spite of leaving a note on the car's windscreen - "Ticket machine out of order so unable to buy parking ticket". She was fined £60 - rather more than a full day's pay for a temporary receptionist.

There are plenty of fugitives from the law on Spain's Mediterranean coast and in Portugal's Algarve region - which is where we are heading. I will probably meet up with some of them in a smoky Portugese bar where we will communicate in cockney rhyming slang while downing litres of Sagres beer and bottles of Mateus Rose. Back next Thursday. If I get the opportunity to blog while in hiding, I will keep you posted...
The beach at Albufeira, Portugal

7 September 2010


Imagine how it must have been before pollution and ruthless commercial fishing enterprises reduced the world's fish stocks to our current worryingly low levels. The Grand Banks off Newfoundland must have teemed with silvery fish and it would have been the same over The Dogger Bank in the North Sea. Rivers like The Tay and The Esk would have sometimes appeared to be boiling with fat, healthy salmon.

To be a fisherman in days gone by must have been a life punctuated by moments of splendiferous glory when the "catch" was bountiful - exceeding all expectations. And that's how it felt for me at 11.15 am this morning. I had set out with the intention of bagging just one more of the sneaky, unloved parking enforcement officers that plod our streets but ended up acquiring not one or two but three more of the vile creatures.

It happened rather by chance. Avoiding Hunters Bar, I had parked up on leafy Marlborough Road in Broomhill. Once this was the home of the athlete Sebastian Coe. I remember literally bumping into him in "The Broomhill Tavern" years ago. "Sorry", he half-smiled after I'd spilt his drink.

There was a white Ford Fiesta van up ahead near the corner. As one stormtrooper came sauntering round the corner, two others got out of the van just as I was locking my car. They greeted each other and as I approached, it was clear that they were conversing about their four missing colleagues. I wasn't expecting to speak but the words just tumbled out of me as I drew level with them. It was as if my subconscious was working ahead of me.

"You're talking about those parking officers who disappeared? I think I know where they might be."

Their body language changed immediately. "Where? What? Who?" Whether or not they were thinking altruistically about their colleagues or the £100 reward for information, I wouldn't like to say.

Anyway, two minutes later they were all sitting in my car and I was driving them back towards our house as I spun my yarn more intricately - like a spider preparing to snare unsuspecting flies. I told them that my next door neighbour was a bit of a nutter and that I had heard him talking to people in his cellar area. I said that I thought one was called Mohan.

"Mohan? Mohan Lal! I trained with him," said one of my new acquisitions.

I found out their names. The two African gentlemen were called Victor and Okwonu and the rather pretty young woman whose uniform looked two sizes too big for her was called Jessica. She reminded me of a former girlfriend with similar grey-green eyes. That summer. That hayloft. Like yesterday.

We parked up on the secret back lane that runs past the bottom of our garden. Cunningly, I said it was our neighbour's garden. I begged them to keep quiet as we passed the vegetable plot and the compost bins, under the apple trees and across the lawn towards our decking with the little door to the underhouse at the side. "Shhh!"

I had the key in my pocket but I pretended I had retrieved it from beneath a rock. Quietly, I unlocked the door to reveal all four of the captives asleep on the camp-beds that I had generously bought for them in Barnsley. I noticed that Robert was coughing and wheezing in his sleep.

After a moment of incredulity, Victor and Okwonu rushed down into the secret room while Jessica hesitated outside.

"It's you isn't it!" she concluded looking deep into my eyes like a girlfriend testing her lover's fidelity, so I gave her an almighty shove and she also tumbled into the underhouse. Rapidly, I slammed the reinforced door and relocked it before you could say "parking enforcement officer".

I whooped with glee and allowed myself a little jig on the decking..."And if seven green bottles should accidentally fall there'd be five green bottles hanging on a wall!" I'd bagged three of the blighters! Now that's what you call a successful fishing trip.

6 September 2010


Ever since I embarked on my mission to rid our streets of the Nazi parking enforcement officers, I've been feeling stressed out. It wasn't too bad at first but then I read the headline story in "The Star" and on Sunday morning two police officers appeared at our front door making "house to house enquiries". Shirley spoke to them and of course claimed no knowledge of the missing stormtroopers' whereabouts even though they were languishing in our underhouse - little more than ten feet from our doorstep.

How did that Queen song go? "Pressure pushing down on me". Now I know exactly how Freddie Mercury felt. I had to get out, get some fresh air, clear the cobwebs away. I took a couple of buckets of water down to our now smelly underhouse where the captives were all sprawled lazily on their campbeds then I hastily slammed the door, locked it, went back into the house and grabbed my things ready for a constitutional walk around Stanage Edge.

Very popular with ramblers and the rock climbing fraternity, Stanage Edge is an escarpment of millstone grit some five miles west of Sheffield. Once it was a source of reliable millstones - hand carved there throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. At this time of year, the wild moorland above it blooms with purple heather as hardy sheep scavenge for late summer grasses, fattening themselves before those bitter winds of winter blow down from the north.

Guessing that I might make a blogpost about my ramble over Stanage and suspecting that some of you might be becoming disinterested in my recent accounts of urban "pest control", I decided to take the old camera with me. Here are five Stanage Edge pictures for your delectation:-
On the horizon - approaching Stanage Edge from the east

Looking down from Stanage Edge to Understones Farm

Abandoned millstones and the mother rock

Sheep guarding the millstone edge

Moorland scenery above Stanage

4 September 2010


"The Star" is the name of Sheffield's evening newspaper. It is delivered to our house every day by a pleasant ruddy-cheeked lad on a bicycle. As far as local newspapers go, I think it is very good. It strikes a nice balance between reporting current news and providing general local information. There are sudoku puzzles, a daily crossword, which I frequently complete, and classified ads.

Imagine my consternation this evening when this front headline glared back at me "Parking Officers Missing!" Alongside the story, which was continued on page three, were mugshots of my first four catches - Robert, Katherine, Mohan and Daphne. My heart skipped a beat I can tell you. I must admit that I just assumed nobody would be even slightly bothered about the disappearance of a few measly parking enforcement officers. Who would care?

The newspaper report included quotations from a police spokeswoman. She said: "All four attendants have disappeared this week while on duty in the Hunters Bar area" and "A reward of £100 has been put up by the Parking Officers Union for information on the whereabouts of the missing officers."

In spite of this publicity, I am determined to continue with my righteous campaign. I will just need to be a bit more careful. Avoid Hunters Bar area from now on and perhaps lay off the "fishing" trips for a few days.

Now if you'll excuse me I shall have to attend to my cellar dwellers. I gave them a big plastic bucket for toilet use but it stinks something awful. I nearly gagged when I went down there this morning. That's why I have bought a large canister of "Haze" Alpine Meadow air freshener. I'm also taking down some post "sell by date" bread and sausage rolls that I bought from the local Co-op just before closing time. Daphne has requested some reading material so I'm giving her two of Shirley's old Jodie Picoult novels. I think one is called "My Sister's Keeper". Not my cup of tea I can tell you.

Apart from the stink, they seem very comfy down there. Good job it's not wintertime. Even so, I have generously given each of them an old blanket from our attic and there are some hessian sacks that Shirley's dad used to store vegetables in. He grew the finest leeks I have ever seen.

This morning Katherine was whining like a schoolgirl. "Why?" she kept repeating till I snapped - "Why? Because you're a parking enforcement officer! Isn't it obvious? I'm leading the fightback! Now shut your gob or I'll shut it for you!" She went quiet then and curled up on her camp-bed in what I think is known as the foetal position. I watched her sobbing pathetically, before burying her face in Robert's shoulder when he sat on her camp-bed and tried to comfort her.

Mohan Lal was lying noiseless on his bed, just staring at the ceiling with his hands interlocked on his belly. I had the idea he might have been planning something. It made me feel that I'll need to watch him or put Plan B into operation.

So I am going down to the underhouse again, happy in the knowledge that dozens less parking tickets will have been slammed on car windscreens this week. No one forced my captives to become parking enforcement officers so they can hardly complain. We motorists have had to cough up our hard-earned dough now they will have to pay too!
Katherine and Robert - not too pleased about their incarceration

2 September 2010


I bought twelve of these American army-style camp-beds.
As a warrior in the PFM (Parking Freedom Movement), I am proud to report that yesterday afternoon I bagged not one but two parking enforcement officers! They are now ensconced comfortably in our "underhouse" which I soundproofed some weeks ago with special acoustic tiles that are normally used in recording studios.

I got the twelve khaki coloured canvas camp beds from the Premier Army Stores in Barnsley. Of course, I wore a disguise. Thick spectacles, a false beard (ginger) and a scoutmaster's uniform. I said I was buying the beds for a scouting jamboree. The woman behind the counter seemed more interested in her copy of "Hello!" magazine. Load of tripe if you ask me.

So there I was on Bristol Road near Hunters Bar. Nobody was about. I took the fishing net from the back of our car and crouched behind a blossoming hydrangea bush at the entrance to someone's garden. As luck would have it, just five minutes later, an unsuspecting parking attendant turned the corner and came goose-stepping up Bristol Road humming "Deutschland Erwache". Cruelly, he wrote out a ticket for a green Fiat Punto and chortled as he affixed it to the windscreen (windshield to Americans).

My blood was boiling. I knew I had a moral duty to strike a blow for the suppressed motorists of this world. I timed it perfectly. Just as he passed the stone gateway, I leapt from behind the bush and chucked my fishing net over the stormtrooper. We tumbled to the ground in a heap and he started to squeal "Help!" but I had anticipated this so I quickly plunged into my jacket pocket, grabbed the fat bramley apple I had been carrying and rammed it right in his moaning mush.

Anxious not to be seen, I manhandled the brute into the boot (American: trunk) of our car and was just about to slam the hatchback door when god-dammit another parking enforcement officer came racing up the street in her unisex military uniform. "What the f... do you think you're doing!" she demanded. You should have seen her face when I simply grabbed her in a bear hug and manouevered her into the boot too. I only had one apple so I had to push a Sheffield AtoZ map book into her complaining mouth.

Adrenalin was coursing through my veins as I drove back up Ecclesall Road towards Pudding Towers. I knew I would have to wait till nightfall to drag the blighters through our house and down to the "underhouse" door. As normal, I made tea for Shirley and Frances. They inquired what I had been up to and I said I had been for an afternoon walk over Stanage Edge.

After they had finally gone to bed, I unlocked the car to see the frightened eyes of the two parking enforcement officers staring back at me. They were trying to speak but of course their mouths were full and whatever they were trying to say came out like meaningless gibberish.

After I had wrestled them with some difficulty into their new "home" under our house, I brought them a flask of coffee and some digestive biscuits I had bought at Lidl on Monday evening. I am not a heartless man. It was a "buy one get one free" deal.

The female attendant, whose name is apparently Katherine, was sobbing as I departed the underhouse, moaning something about her "little boy". Of course I had retrieved my AtoZ by this time, complete with bitemarks! The male stormtrooper is number 3215. You can see this on his epaulettes. He wouldn't tell me his name but Katherine let the cat out of the bag when he foolishly tried to push me over as I was opening the biscuits. "Stay calm Robert!" she screeched hysterically as I whacked him with my leather gardening gloves.

So there we have it. Two of them are off the streets and ten more to go. Wonder if I'll become a national celebrity carried shoulder high by the people? Just like the liberation of Paris.

1 September 2010


They're back. In our towns and cities. Strutting in their uniforms. Glowering at passers-by, taking note of everything in the very vanguard of what seems to be a neo-Nazi takeover. Talking of vanguards... sometimes you see them in pairs, riding in little white vans. They themselves ignore parking restrictions as they leap out of these armoured vehicles to nobble unsuspecting motorists. Yes folks, it's the parking enforcement officers. Like amoeba under a microscope, they are multiplying.

I'm really getting sick of it. Every time you go out you need to take a pocket full of change for a parking ticket. When you're finally parked up, your excursion is always punctuated by frequent time checks as you witness your precious parking time diminishing.

In Sheffield, parking restrictions are fanning out into the suburbs with "residents only" streets and an array of ugly black ticket dispensers from which change is "not given". Why?

In seeking to entrap motorists, councils have devised a whole catalogue of confusing and variable signs. "Taxis only after 6.30 pm", "No return within two hours", "Fifteen minutes free parking with ticket", "No loading", "Disabled access required", "Enter car registration number before purchasing ticket" and so on. It's the stuff of nightmares. One can so easily feel like Winston Smith, looking over one's shoulder for Big Brother's roving eye.

Motorists pay for their licences, annual car tax and over-priced insurance. We pay excessive maintenance bills and duty on the petrol provided to us by corporate cartels. Then when we go out to park our cars we're treated like cash cows and criminals. As I say - I'm sick of it. Instead of devising ways to bleed money out of us, councils should instead be finding ways of providing free parking facilities for hard-pressed citizens.

I know it's not the stormtroopers' fault. They're only earning a crust. They didn't make the system. But didn't they also say something like that when quizzed in 1945? So I'm going to take a few out. I've got twelve camp beds set up in our "underhouse"/cellar area and a big fishing net in the back of the car. When nobody's looking, I'm going to bag me my first parking enforcement officer this afternoon. I've been logging his movements through my binoculars. I suspect that he will squeal like a stuffed pig so a gag will also be necessary. Now where's my old Hull City scarf?