31 October 2010

Earthtongue

The other day, I noticed some things on the lawn, near to the rotary clothes dryer. I thought perhaps they were blackened pieces of newspaper blown from somebody's garden bonfire or maybe feathers evidencing a cat's dawn assault on some unsuspecting blackbird. Returning from my digging expedition, I observed that the stuff was still there. This time I crouched down and quickly realised that I was looking at strange black fungi spears poking through the turf. I'd never seen such a fungi before - or maybe I had seen it but just didn't take the time to notice it.

As we all know, autumn is the best time for fungi. In forests, on rotting trunks, in meadows and on lawns, toadstools and mushrooms quietly appear poking their strange little heads at the sky. One day you don't see them and the next day you do. Mostly we expect them to have little stems supporting heads of different hues with little gills beneath. Unless we are fungi foragers or botanists specialising in the field we don't expect fungi to look like the odd black growth shown in the photograph above.

There must have been at least thirty of the little black spears within about a square metre of lawn. They were all between half an inch and two inches tall.

Internet research tells me that not only are there over 100,000 different types of known fungus in the world with thousands more still to be catalogued but it also tells me that the little black spears are commonly known as "Earthtongues". However, there are many different sorts of "Earthtongue" and ours may be either "geoglossum cookieanum" (as in the photo) or "geoglossum fallax". In reality, I think it would take an expert with a microscope to say for sure.

I come to realise that it would be possible to spend a lifetime simply studying "Earthtongue", recording its geographical distribution and the characteristics of the many different types. Apparently, this odd fungus can be found in many parts of the world but until Thursday morning I had no idea of its existence. And it wasn't in the Serengeti or the wilds of Alaska - it was just outside our back door.

29 October 2010

Aching

Zebedee with Dougal

There was a time when I felt invulnerable. Never ill, I worked for thirty years without a single day off. My body was my obedient servant. It did what ever I commanded it to do. Lift a heavy weight - no problem. Stay awake for forty eight hours - easy! Why was I surrounded by so many weaklings - snivelling and moaning - what was wrong with them?

Once I emerged from a potentially fatal car crash. The vehicle had turned over two or three times on a bend in a Scottish country road. I was lying on the ceiling. I wound the window down or up and crawled out. Seeing the car on its roof and being in a state of adrenalin-fuelled shock, I decided to turn the car back on to its wheels so I could push it to the verge. I succeeded.

In contrast, on Friday, I found myself prostrate on my son's small bathroom floor. I was tiling some unfinished floor level boxing for pipes - around the bathroom "furniture". This meant I had to be up and down like a yo-yo but every time I got up from the floor, the effort involved was strenuous. Back in my salad days I would have been zipping around like a spring, leaping from the floor as Zebedee did in "The Magic Roundabout".

Frustratingly, since I "retired" from my last school I have had to contend with a catalogue of physical "issues" including:- urine infections, a frozen shoulder, returning gout, broken ribs, an abscess on a tooth, an e-coli infection, two hospital operations. I am well and truly peed off with this stuff and just want to get back to how it was before when I was pretty much a suburban superman. But I'm honest enough to accept that time has been catching upon me. I'm getting old and though it would be nice to think that getting old meant sitting in a rocking chair on a verandah watching the sun go down, I rather think it has much more to do with aches and pains, faculties reducing, the body starting to shut down.

Tonight, as I write these words, I'm confident that for the first time in seven or eight months my frozen left shoulder will not wake me in the early hours and I'm pleased that for the first time in a month I did not limp home with pain caused by uric crystals in the joints of the big toe on my right foot. On Thursday, I felt strong enough to finish digging over the vegetable patch - allowing frosts and winter weather to contribute to the development of a finer tilth.

So the aches and pains are at bay but I recognise they haven't gone away for good. Just round the corner there will be something else. I guess it's payback time. When you are younger you think you will last forever but it isn't so. We are only here for a short while.

28 October 2010

Request

This coming Sunday evening, a special event will be held in Millennium Square in Sheffield. It has been organised by The Stroke Association and its principal aim is to raise money for that praiseworthy organisation's work. What is it it? It's a firewalk over burning embers and participants are asked to achieve as much sponsorship as they can muster.

Don't worry, the writer of this request wouldn't be brave enough to even consider such a challenge. However, a fellow Yorkshire blogger has signed up for the firewalk. Her name is Elizabeth and if you can spare a fiver, ten pounds or more it would be excellent if you could sponsor her. I am proud to have regular blog visitors from America, NZ and Australia but I must confess I am not sure about the feasibility of sponsorship from overseas. Perhaps you could try it via the link at the bottom of this post and see.
For Elizabeth, the firewalk isn't just about raising money for The Stroke Association, it's also about fulfilling a long held spiritual ambition and perhaps more importantly reaching a milestone in her personal recovery from a debilitating fall some four years back. That fall caused a brain injury which Elizabeth has been battling to overcome. It has been a long and difficult road back.

So come on folks! Please support Elizabeth on her firewalk by sponsoring her. Every little helps. Go to:- http://www.justgiving.com/Elizabeth-Stanforth-Sharpe

26 October 2010

Then

On Sunday, our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary, rather than driving straight to the supermarket with the list that Lady Pudding had given me, I took a detour to the Crookesmoor area of Sheffield in order to take a few pictures for the Geograph project. It was a lovely, bright autumnal day. It may be just me, but I find the sunshine on clear autumn days to be more intense than in summertime or spring. It makes photography very easy.

In 1981, I had been teaching for three years and Shirley had put in just a year since qualifying as a State Enrolled Nurse. Times were hard as they probably always are but we did the arithmetic and found that we were just about able to buy a modest house in what was a traditional working class owner-occupier part of lower Crookes. It was an end terrace, recently updated by a builder and the address was 40 Leamington Street. It cost £15,250.
In the weeks before our wedding we worked hard to paint the place, lay carpets, get in some furniture and a second hand cooker and fridge. The three-piece suite cost us £50 from a posh house at Abbeydale. We had seen it advertised in the evening paper.

Returning from our one night honeymoon in Lincoln, I carried Shirley over the threshold to begin our married life together. We lived happily in that house for eight years and it was where our children were conceived. Frances wasn't even one year old when we moved across the city to the more salubrious Sheffield 11. This time the house sold for £45,000.

We both have happy memories of Leamington Street. We had lovely neighbours and friends in the area - Ruby and Glyn, Kirk, Tony, Colin and Lorraine, John and Irene, Mrs Harris, Paul, Scottish Joe and Maureen, Harold and Sylvia. Though you can't tell from the photograph, the view from the back of the property was quite wonderful - over the central bowl of Sheffield with its twinkling lights, tower blocks and chimneys. Just round the corner was "The Closed Shop" pub where many's the pint was consumed amidst raucous laughter and idle conversation. It was a home from home.

It's over twenty one years since we left there. We sold the house to a university student's parents. Many terraced homes were being bought up in this way so that now the area is almost exclusively a student ghetto. See the brick red rendering. I painted that twenty five years past. It would make a great advertisement for the long-lasting qualities of "Sandtex" masonry paint.

Walking around the old neighbourhood was like stepping inside a personal history book. Echoes of old times. The social webs that were woven. On that wall Glyn sat and wept as he told me that after thirty five years, he'd been made redundant from his job as a steel turner. He never worked again. That's where the old corner shop used to be. This is where the DIY man fell from his ladder and died. That's where Colin and Lorraine's cats would wait for them after closing time. Number 40 Leamington Street became part of my very DNA. And it seems just like yesterday...

25 October 2010

Anger

In job interviews of a certain ilk, a member of the smirking interview panel might sometimes ask: "And what makes you angry?". You'd like to say - "Interviewers like you! People who dangle stupid questions as if taunting donkeys with carrots. People who probably don't even know what being angry means!" Instead you say: "Anything that stands in the way of meeting targets", or, "Realising there are not enough hours in the day to achieve all you want to do".

Is anger a bad thing?

I think it would be bad if you spent your whole life in an angry state. Angry at the supermarket checkout woman who's talking to her colleague at the next till, angry at Simon Cowell's "X-Factor" media-cult, angry at dog owners allowing their mutts to foul the street, angry at racism, sexism, plagiarism, fanaticism, terrorism. If you were permanently angry, your life would hardly be worth living. In spite of it all, we need to chill out, laugh, find time to be calm, ride over the rocks that appear before us as we bounce down the rapids that we call Life.

But I wouldn't dismiss anger. I think anger has its place and is often more healthy than neutrality. When you get angry about things - these may be the times when you feel most alive. You're engaged with issues - either at a personal level or in relation to wider local, national or international matters. I'm a devout atheist but I recall from "The Bible" that even Jesus got angry when, for example, he allegedly overturned the moneylenders' tables. Calmness, karma, level-headedness, chilling out, not being "bothered" may occasionally be inappropriate, unnatural responses to situations that deserve anger's fire.
"Cat Devouring a Bird" by Pablo Picasso 1939

Why deny anger or try to disguise it? If it's there inside you, what's wrong with allowing it to surface? Surely that's healthier than letting it gnaw away at your insides like a cancer.

I'm angry about George Osborne with his massive bulletproof personal inheritance fund telling his fellow citizens in melodramatically paused sentences that we're "in it together" as he cuts away at vital services. I'm angry about parking regulations and angry about every single scrap of litter that is ever dropped. I'm angry about university tuition fees, child deaths from diarrhoea, The Tesco Monster, Nick Clegg, Grumpy Old Ken, my last headmistress, mobile phone masts, the persecution of tigers and whales and pandas. I'm angry with myself for failing to follow certain things through such as song-writing, decorating the bathroom, writing projects, sifting through the stuff in the attic, reading "The Origin of Species" or simply wasting precious time.

I like the idea of "angry young men". When I was younger, I would occasionally express my anger not only verbally but physically. Even now, I recall things that happened back in the day that I have never shared with anyone and they all arose from anger. Of course, the only sure-fire way to maintain a secret is to keep it completely to yourself. So please don't ask.

The angry young man in me never really went away. He's still there sleeping lightly but I have learnt to live more happily and harmoniously than before. What may have made me angry in the past can sometimes seem like water off a duck's back these days. But I still recall Alcibades's pertinent question to the senators in "Timon of Athens" - "Who is a man that is not angry?" The day you lose the capacity to be angry is the day that you have finally given up on life.

24 October 2010

Ten

This year I have taken many photographs with my trusty digital camera. As I have mentioned before, I like to contribute to a website called Geograph which continues to capture images of the British Isles. In August, the website logged its two millionth image. In an average week, Geograph receives around 8,000 images and every week fifty photographs are selected for a competition shortlist. You can imagine that to even make the shortlist of fifty is a great achievement - statistically you have a one in one hundred and sixty chance of doing that.

I am proud to tell you that so far this year I have had ten photographs in the site's weekly shortlists and, as I recall mentioning before, one of my photos was even picked to be the "Photo of the Week" back in February. So here are my ten shortlisted pictures:-
Power Station from Willingham-by-Stow

Wicken Fen - WINNER - Week 7

Holmesfield Common

Near Treeton, Sheffield

Samuel Holberry's Grave, Sheffield General Cemetery

Allotment Hut at Meersbrook

King Harry Ferry, Cornwall

Endcliffe Park, Sheffield

Stanage Edge, North Derbyshire

Near Brookfield Manor, Hathersage

Don't you agree that digital photography is a wonderful invention? Even now I can only dimly remember the tiresome business of buying films, loading them, winding them back, unloading them, taking them to the chemist for processing and then a few days later ripping open those amber Kodak or Agfa envelopes to be underwhelmed by my prints. Digital photography is much more faithful to whatever we see when we press that button.

23 October 2010

Beware

Guilty your honour! I admit that during my years as an internet user, I have occasionally visited my preferred search engine and inserted my name. In case you hadn't guessed already, I will also confess that my real name is not in fact Sir Yorkshire Pudding! When I first did a search like this I got back no more than three or four references to yours truly. I was officially a cypher, a nobody, a veritable Yorkshire Pudding!

Last evening, after putting my name into Google, I was amazed to see a return of almost 1500 separate references. Search engines - especially Google - are far more capable and all-embracing than they used to be. Amongst my current results, I was a little alarmed to see that the BBC had assembled together any contributions I have made as a commentator on their news items. If you have been to this blog before you will be aware that I am prone to ranting without mincing my words. This is reflected in my BBC comments. Here's an example:-

Was Israel right to board the Gaza Flotilla? (May 2010)
How duplicitous and hollow is the Israeli propaganda machine! Immediately after their unlawful assault on the flotilla, government spokesmen were rapidly accusing the aid convoy of the very crimes that Israeli marines had perpetrated. In Israeli official-speak, wrong becomes right, black becomes white and innocence becomes guilt. Their cynical murders must have strengthened the Palestinian cause immensely.

Now you may not agree with my comment at all. That doesn't really matter. What bothers me is that Internet search engines are making it too easy for searchers to unearth potentially incriminating information about free citizens who have not given permission for these search trails to exist.

I'm not thinking so much about myself, more about younger people in the jobs market. Imagine a young adult being interviewed for a job. They get to the interview and find themselves being asked questions about what they have written about the attack on the Gaza flotilla. Perhaps they don't even get to the interview at all because the company have done a quick name search beforehand - possibly concluding: "trouble causer", "opinionated", "has the gall to comment on issues instead of toeing the party line", "anti-Israeli" etc..

In England, we have already seen a handful of workers losing their livelihoods because of incriminating remarks or photos placed on social networking sites like "Facebook". I guess there's a lot to be said for adopting pseudonyms and sticking to them.

21 October 2010

Londoncentricity

Like Beverly Hills - Croft Close in Whirlow, Sheffield (taken yesterday)

Thirty five years ago, I was in a conversation with two American camp counsellors in darkest Ohio. Although high school graduates and now college students, they had it fixed in their minds that England and London were synonymous. To them the fact that Elton John and The Beatles were English automatically meant that they came from London. Neither of them had ever heard of Yorkshire.

London remains a dominating presence in the world's perception of our great country. Internally, The English media remain very Londoncentric. We northerners are used to weather reports which tell us we have enjoyed a lovely, warm day when it has been raining Up North and conversely when we have enjoyed fine weather, we are sometimes told that the thunderstorms and high winds will continue into tomorrow. It's the same with Sunday newspaper restaurant reviews. There'll be a dozen reviews of London restaurants followed, almost grudgingly, by a review of a distant Cornish fish restaurant or a gastro pub in Harrogate.
It's always been this way. We northerners are used to it. Many Londoners and southerners have never travelled further north than Watford. Beyond it - "There be monsters!" When the Olympics come to England in 2012, we northerners will not only need to buy tickets at extortionate prices but we will also have to pay transport costs and perhaps book ludicrously expensive accommodation packages as well. Londoners will only need to buy events tickets.
I can't find anything out about the bloke but in 1936 "The Daily Express" - loyal mouthpiece of the Conservative Party and leafy London suburbs - employed a journalist called R. Stephen Williams. He must have been sent on some kind of exploratory mission to Sheffield. The resulting rubbish he then spouted to his loyal readers from Tunbridge Wells to Royal Ascot would no doubt have simply reinforced existing prejudices about northern cities. Though dissipated, some of that venomously misguided attitude towards The North remains even in today's journalism. This is what R. Stephen Williams wrote:-

"No nation can boast civilisation while it has the shame of Sheffield to face.

It is the graveyard of the intellect, the ash-heap of culture. It contains some of the ugliest buildings in England. It sprawls, a hideous misshapen mass, in the midst of some of England's loveliest country.

Sheffield is a workshop; a workshop in which men have made money and made nothing else. It is a city without vision. Consider the way it has grown up, like a dirty, neglected child.

It is a city without a sense of beauty. I did not see a single beautiful woman in Sheffield. I did not see a single man who carried himself with any pride or demeanour or walked in any way that did not suggest that he was looking for sixpences in the gutter and was failing to find them."

It seems to me that R. Stephen Williams must have arrived in the city with entrenched prejudices towards this country's industrial cities - the very engine rooms of our nation's wealth and former empire - the same cities that provided cannon fodder for the wars we found ourselves in. His England was no doubt an England of tea parties, fox hunting, The Henley Regatta, bowler hats and brollies. He didn't know what he was looking at and in spite of his Etonian command of language didn't know what he was talking about. Things are certainly better now but the vicious toffee-nosed elitism of London and the south east has not entirely gone away - that's for sure.
Manor Lodge, Sheffield where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned

19 October 2010

Schools

Since I walked out of the school where I worked for twenty two years - in July 2009 - I hadn't been back in a school even for a moment. Schools have been very important in my life - backdrops to just about everything.

I was born in a school house attached to the village primary school where my father was the headmaster. Even at the age of three, I would toddle next door and roam around the classrooms, sometimes sitting on the older children's knees. And one Christmas, when I was fifteen, and Mr Assert, the caretaker, was stricken with flu, I replaced him and scrubbed and polished every floor in the building as well as washing down every table, chair and blackboard.

At eighteen, after A levels at Beverley Grammar School, I was a VSO volunteer teacher in the Fiji Islands before commencing my degree at the University of Stirling in Scotland. My joint honours course was in English Studies with Education. I spent a lot of time just visiting local schools before my final teaching practices at St Mungo's Academy, Alloa and Alva Academy in Clackmannanshire.

Then I returned to the beloved fatherland - Yorkshire. I taught in the pit village of Dinnington for three years before moving into Sheffield where I secured a post at the truly comprehensive and progressive Rowlinson School. Six years there before being sentenced to twenty two years in northern Sheffield.

In addition to these locations, I visited many other primary and secondary schools in the course of my career - either as an examiner, moderator or primary-secondary link person. Of course, from time to time. I would also visit my own children's schools for parents' evenings, carol concerts, sports events or open days.

I know that upon leaving school, some people never go back. They advance their careers in whatever field they have elected and the idea, the memory of schools is left far behind in the dim and distant past. But for me this wasn't so. It was all school, school, school till my recent fourteen month break. Then on Monday afternoon this week, I went back into a school - a secondary school in south eastern Sheffield. I'm planning to earn a little pin money through a scheme called "One to One Teaching". Monday was earmarked for the preliminary meeting.

I wish I could have photographed the school's "One to One" co-ordinator's desk. It was so chaotic and jumbled. There was a little Tupperware lunch box containing uneaten sandwiches and on top, a half-eaten red apple. There were various atlases - some closed, some open. A battered brown leather briefcase had spewed its contents on to the teacher's chair. There was a collapsed pile of red exercise books, a copy of the school's glossy prospectus, a couple of screwed up balls of paper, various felt tip whiteboard pens - several with missing lids, a bunch of keys, minutes of meetings, packs of pencil crayons and a small white plastic troll with purple hair.

The co-ordinator, though pleasant enough, seemed driven by a diet of amphetamines. I heard about her husband, her regular drive home, her planned Geography field trip to Scarborough, her general lack of free time. It was all stuff I didn't want to hear. And it became clear that the "One to One" scheme the school proposes hasn't been thought through very much at all. She even said that if needs be, tutors will be given two students a session. Doh? "One to one"? What does she think that means?

Well I'm going to go with the flow, get out of the house, and perhaps earn a nice wedge of extra cash before Christmas but what the co-ordinator doesn't appreciate is that if it's not right for me, I will simply walk away and tell them to stuff their ill-planned scheme. Although schools are in my blood, I don't actually need them any more.

17 October 2010

Wheel

On Saturday night it was our friend Fiona's fiftieth birthday party in the well-heeled village of Swanland, west of Hull. On a soundless starlit night, after the noise of Chinese fireworks had ceased, we released four large tissue paper lanterns into the sky. They soared quietly then drifted off towards the River Humber with their impregnated fire pads still flaming defiantly. Graceful and lovely to behold.

This afternoon, back in Sheffield, Mrs Pudding and I decided that today had to be the day to buy tickets for the city's temporary "Wheel". Similar to other big wheels in city centres around the world, this popular construction has stood on busy Fargate for eighteen months but I had read in the local paper that it is to be dismantled at the end of this very month.

It was late afternoon but the sky remained bright and clear. We rose in our little white capsule high above the rooftops and saw the centre of our adopted city as we have never seen it before. A military parade of sea scouts and cadet soldiers passed by beneath but we couldn't remember the occasion*. Mrs Pudding was a little unnerved, gripping her seat tightly while berating Mr Pudding for causing the capsule to swing as he sought photographic opportunities through the airborne bubble's various windows. "You're doing it on purpose!" she insisted.

Anyway, for the record, here are four snaps I took from The Wheel...
View up Fargate to The Telegraph and Star Building

Military parade reaches Leopold Street *

St Marie's Catholic Church

The statue of Vulcan atop the Victorian town hall

*The occasion was Trafalgar Day. In memory of 1805 when the British Navy under Nelson whupped the French and Spanish fleets.

15 October 2010

Postcard

Never having received a postcard or indeed any other form of communication from Turkmenistan, I was most intrigued this morning to discover on our doormat a picture of the gigantic golden statue of Saparmurat Niyazov. It was erected in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, during Niyazov's sixteen years as first President of this former Soviet territory. It was not the only statue he commissioned of himself before his death in 2006.

Famously, during his years in office, the esteemed leader banned ballet claiming it was indecent and required all schoolchildren to be examined upon a book of folk tales and moralistic fables that he had written himself. Anyway, excuse me for rambling on. I doubt that any readers of this blog will be planning holidays in Turkmenistan in the near future.

So I flipped over the picture of King Midas - I mean Saparmurat Niyazov - to discover these words* neatly printed in green ballpoint:-

Dear Yorkie,
Got pulled over by the police just after we left Ashgabat. They climbed in the back with a sniffer pig and found the parking officers. Then they marched them off in handcuffs to be questioned at security headquarters. They were returned in the early hours - battered and bruised, minus wristwatches, money and jewellery. I'm writing this as we queue with other trucks to cross over into Afghanistan.
Cheers,
Terry
*a few technical errors have been corrected.
Sniffer pig watching in Turkmenistan

13 October 2010

Smiles

The BBC News 24 channel has rolled all day with the amazing real life tale of the rescue of thirty three miners from the San Jose copper and gold mine near Copiapo in Chile. It is a wonderful, uplifting tale filled with smiles and it reminds us all that we human beings are capable of extraordinary things, extraordinary determination, ingenuity and love for our fellow men.

The miners have been arriving back on the planet's surface like returned astronauts or like floodlit musical heroes in their Easy Rider shades. In contradiction to that image is a heart-rending appreciation that these are all of course just ordinary, previously anonymous working men with calloused hands and hard wrought lives.

The whole world has been watching. "The Boston Globe" said of Mario Sepulveda, the second miner to emerge from the rescue capsule, "he bounded out and thrust a fist upward like a prizefighter". Others have come back more shyly but for every rescued man there have been loving reunion embraces that will have brought tears to the eyes of onlookers far and wide. Instantly, The President of Chile articulated his nation's pride quite brilliantly, already viewing these events as a turning point in his country's history.

If only the same levels of ingenuity, determination and sheer goodwill were currently being applied to other trapped minors. A year ago, UNICEF reported that approximately 3.5 million children - mostly in The Third World - die each year from diarrhoea - largely because their families lack easy access to clean water. Think of that. Today most of the world shares Chile's euphoria that the thirty three have been rescued while conveniently forgetting that on the very same day thousands of small children have died more mundane, more easily preventable, less televisual deaths from Bangladesh to Mozambique and from South Africa to Borneo. Time for a bigger rescue capsule? Or 3.5 million smaller ones?

11 October 2010

Pubs

"The Bell Hagg"
Rambling earlier today on the green outskirts of Sheffield, I observed the dilapidated state of "The Bell Hagg Inn" on Manchester Road. I remember the very first time I went in there thirty years ago for a hearty Sunday lunch. The view from the lounge window was truly spectacular, with an unexpected panorama of the lush Rivelin Valley with its old stone farms and ancient green pastures.

Erected in 1832 as "Hodgson's Folly", the building became a public house some time in the eighteen sixties - no doubt serving travellers on the Snake Pass turnpike road between Sheffield and Glossop. Its construction must have been challenging for although you can't tell this from the photograph, the main building had five separate floors and was cleverly built into the valley side. Behind the pub, down a steep track, is where you can still find the old stables - testament to a time long before the internal combustion engine and tarmacadam - when a journey to Glossop would have been as stupendous as a transatlantic flight nowadays.

Back in the nineties, I attended a few folk sessions at "The Bell Hagg" with a friend I have since lost touch with - Big Jim. My God that man could sing! His booming voice must have not only filled the tap room with sound but also the pastures in the valley below, waking whole flocks of sheep and farmers' wives in flannelette nightgowns.

Across the valley you can still see another old pub - "The Rivelin", serving the hamlet of Undertofts and visitors like me from the big city down the road. Lord knows how that pub continues to survive. The death of the English pub has been a quiet national tragedy these past twenty years. Our pubs have been central to English culture - a drinking culture of rowdiness, social gathering, music and singing, darts and skittles, finding a home from home, a place to relax, to talk, to laugh and try to make sense of the world. No other country in the world has pubs like ours where you can spend as little as a couple of pounds and still have a pleasant night out.

Just last week, I noticed that "The Millhouses Inn" in Abbeydale was boarded up. Perhaps "The Rivelin" will be one of the next to go. And in the end, what will we have left? Corporate chain pub-restaurants with background muzak, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and ultimately the sofa at home with a plasma screen television and cans of "traditional" beer in the fridge. I'd rather fight for the English pub than for whatever mysterious cause we are currently engaged in in faraway Afghanistan.
"The Rivelin" viewed from "The Bell Hagg"

8 October 2010

Arachnophilia

Woke under a blanket of mist. Downstairs, through our kitchen window, I noticed a bejewelled cobweb connecting ivy with cotoneaster. The clever arachnid had embroidered a tiny oblong for every year of my life. Heinz varieties. Upstairs, on our crumpled bed, the guidebooks that Shirley bought for me and a map... of Sri Lanka. Seems that I am destined to travel there where once my father panned for semi-precious stones in a mountain stream and rode from the jungle on an elephant that wasn't grey. More research required and a ticket for an aeroplane.

7 October 2010

Deportation

"Border Force" at Dover.
What do you do with twelve smelly, frightened parking officers when you have kept them in a cellar for up to a month? I'd like to tell you that I had had it all planned out - like a military operation from first to last - but that just wasn't so. If I am honest, I should say that I had a clear vision of how to capture and detain twelve civil enforcement officers (parking) but beyond that point my thinking was woolly, vague.

Last weekend, I had it in mind to execute the lot of them for crimes against humanity. They were whingeing about hygiene and food and about how Frances had neglected them when we went on holiday to Portugal. I was getting fed up with their moaning so I yelled at them to shut up. I have had a lot of experience of disciplining unruly groups of kids. The way they were carrying on it was as if they had formed some sort of trade union down there. But what the hell could I do with them? I mean, I'm the kind of guy who refuses to kill flies or wasps so how could I murder them - even though they were/are parking officers? I knew I just couldn't do it.

Watching a fly-on-the-wall documentary series on Sky 3 called "Border Force", I suddenly had a brainwave. The programme is all about the British Border Agency's attempts to halt illegal immigration. In perhaps the second programme, they showed what Border Agency officers discovered in the back of a huge articulated lorry at Dover. Eleven wide-eyed young men from Afghanistan. They had created a little den in the middle of hundreds of stacked cardboard boxes - presumably containing "Opium"perfume and studded collars for Afghan hounds - and had journeyed all the way to England from Kabul to seek their fortunes. It suddenly occurred to me that I could copy their plan but in reverse. Send my whining parking people to Afghanistan!

Now it just so happens that a couple of dodgy long distance lorry drivers frequent our local pub. I've known one of them vaguely for years. He's called Des. Expensive items often fall off the back of his truck! Know what I mean?
"So Des. How far do you go in your truck?"
"All over the place mate," says Des.
"You mean like Germany and Italy?"
"Oh no mate much further than that. Turkey. Iran. I've just got back from Rabbit in Morocco."
"Do you ever go to Afghanistan?"
"Well I've never been but it's funny you should mention it. Terry here's off on Thursday morning!" grins Des, knowingly.
"Aye, I'm delivering Buxton mineral water to some godforsaken place called Kandahar!" says Terry who's about fifty and gnarled like an old pine tree. "Some new security firm called Aliban, Saliban or something."

Didn't he read the news?

We kept talking. I was winning Terry's confidence. After buying him a pint, I took a deep breath and whispered to him what was in my underhouse. At first he was open-mouthed in disbelief. "No way man!" I tried to offer him a thousand pounds to take the captives in his truck but when he heard they were parking officers, he insisted that he would help me for free. " I 'ate em!"

Des went home - he had an early start the next morning - so Terry and I put some flesh on the bones of my crazy plan. By closing time, it didn't seem so crazy after all.

In the early hours of this very morning, when nobody was about and with lights off, I drove a white Ford Transit van I had specially hired from "National" up the green lane at the back of our garden. Then it was back to the underhouse where my twelve captives were all waiting to go with gags around their ungrateful mouthes and heavy duty plastic plant ties securing their hands behind them. I felt like a biblical shepherd guiding them up our garden to the waiting Transit.

As I drove to my agreed rendezvous with Terry on a small industrial estate in the Don Valley, I could hear them bouncing about in the back as I screeched round corners. There were a few stifled groans and moans but I didn't care. I was going to see the last of them. It had all become a huge weight on my mind.

Terry was there already with the back doors of his Volvo FH 500 open to receive the extra cargo. There seemed to be millions of plastic wrapped litre bottles of Buxton water - both sparkling and still - all on these massive wooden palettes. Terry proudly confided that when loading up, he'd created a void in the very centre of the truck to accommodate my parking officers. You could only reach it by crawling over the top of the load and jumping down. Border immigration officials would never find it.

I unlocked the back of the Transit and pulled my prisoners out one by one. They had to crawl on their bellies over the top of the mineral water palettes until they met Terry at the top of the void. Only then were their plastic ties cut - just before they were forced to jump down into their special "compartment". At least they'd not go thirsty on their overland journey to Afghanistan. The last one out of the Transit was co-incidentally the very first parking attendant I plucked from the streets back on September 2nd. Robert was his name. He looked at me with pleading puppy-dog eyes but I wasn't feeling merciful. "You're going on holiday Robert!" I grinned like Hannibal Lecter.

Terry slammed the back door with a thunk, bolted it and sealed it shut. "With any luck I won't be opening that again till I get to the Aliban depot in Kandahar!"
"When?" I said.
"Should be Monday afternoon," said Terry. "But it can be a bugger driving through Turkmenistan. They've got bloody highwaymen out there you know. Riding frigging camels!"

I watched Terry's Volvo truck signal left into Attercliffe Road. He'd be down in Dover by nine o'clock and then well on his way to Afghanistan.

I hestitate to think what the Taliban will do when they find a nest of Sheffield parking officers in the middle of their truck load of Buxton Mineral Water. Perhaps they'll use them as hostages to win concessions from occupying western forces and thereby pave the way for a lasting peace. Or maybe brainwash them and train them up for guerilla action amidst the hills of Helmand. But it doesn't matter much to me. I have got our underhouse back. There'll be some cleaning up to do I'm sure but at least I'll be able to sleep more easily in my bed, knowing that I have done my duty.

6 October 2010

Cohabitation

What have we done? What are we doing? What will we do? We share this planet with others. Thousands of different creatures - of the earth, the sea and the sky. In 2004 it was calculated that there were 9717 different bird species, 5416 different mammals, 28,500 types of fish and 950,000 different insects. But these were only known species. There are many as yet undiscovered creatures as has been demonstrated by the work of the worldwide Census of Marine Life. This organisation's vital work has identified 6000 new species, including this unusual crab in the Pacific Ocean south of Easter Island. Understandably, it has been named the Hirsuta Crab:-
Some scientists involved with the project have suggested rather ominously that countless marine species will become extinct before we have even discovered them. Why? Because of what man is doing to the oceans - overfishing them, using them as a giant cesspit for our waste, "accidentally" polluting them. I sincerely doubt that our race of billions will ever find the resolve, the vision or the practical means to halt our onslaught on the very planet that bore us.

And we will never appreciate the true significance of the saying "As dead as a dodo". Within a hundred years - from 1581 to 1681, this unfortunate, flightless bird was discovered and then persecuted to extinction on the island of Mauritius. Even now, the dodo is more likely to figure as a laughable animated figure in a TV commercial than as a symbol of the stupidity of our species - we so-called "homo sapiens".

5 October 2010

Sermon

The last post was something different - a sort of blogging experiment that I arranged with Lady Elizabeth of Burton Agnes Hall, East Yorkshire. If you hadn't figured it out, she wrote my last post and I wrote hers. Being technologically advanced computer users, we were able to email our posts and pictures to each other ahead of a carefully synchronised posting at midnight on Sunday. I expect we will be nominated for Blogger's Innovation Medal later this year.

An enjoyable collaboration with a nice, intelligent woman who for one reason or another has not always found blogging a comfortable or easy activity to get into. Whereas most of we Yorkshire folk are hard as nails - about as sensitive as the rocky outcrops on Ilkley Moor - a few of us are almost as soft as Aunt Bessie's instant Yorkshire Pudding mix.

Comments we make after other bloggers' postings can sometimes be misconstrued. Receivers can jump to wrong conclusions. Equally, it is easy for senders to pitch comments inappropriately. I suppose this is all bound to happen when the medium is the electronic keyboard and the bloggers we are exchanging comments with are far distant and unseen. In ordinary face-to-face relationships, which are symbiotic, what we say is clarified through body language and further explanation. We also learn to hold our tongues, keeping many possible wisecracks or objections under wraps for the sake of social harmony.

Therefore, when commenting, would it be wisest only to write lame and pleasant remarks? Platitudes? "...Another marvellous post which I enjoyed reading" or "Thank you. You have taught me something today." Do you know these sayings - "Manners maketh the man" and "Manners don't cost anything but are worth a lot"? In everyday life, my manners are exemplary. They call me Mr Please. However, in my estimation, if your whole life is about being well-mannered and always saying the right thing for fear of upsetting people, it will be extremely dull and rather false. We've got to laugh, to rib, to be light-hearted and sometimes to reveal the thoughts that are usually hidden, even if they may cause some offence. As long as we are not downright abusive, we owe this honesty to ourselves.

Sermon over. Here's a horse I snapped on Lady Elizabeth's vast estate. But look carefully. It's an optical illusion. Can you see it? If commenting, please don't say what you see as this could spoil someone else's revelation. In the light of what I have just said about comments, I guess that's a rather ironic request!
A horse is a horse of course of course...

3 October 2010

Intruder

I went away for the weekend, got back and found that there had been an intruder in this blog's mission control. She'd made a post ready for publishing complete with pictures. This is what my mystery visitor left behind...
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A right how de do this is. Oh’ I’m Liz, by the way. This is me ‘ere...

I was having a very pleasant day out on the Ecclesall Road; t’ sun was shinin,’ an’ ah’d ‘ad a reet grand stroll in that Endcliffe Park, popped into Felicini’s for a spot of snap an’ bought missen a bunch of carnations at that lovely Katie Peckett’s - bit pricey they were, but she is a florist to the stars an’ ye do ‘ave to pay fer that an’ they’re in a shade of red that’ll show off my black sheets a treat. Well, I was just lookin’ in t’ window of Guiseppe’s ‘airdressers an’ wondering whether ti treat missen ti a purple Mohican, when ye’ll nivver, in a month of Sundays, believe what ‘appened.

This fella, big brute of a chap he was, came out o’ nowhere and man-handled me into his car. A Vauxhall Astra – I wouldn’t normally know owt like that, except that my boyfriend, Wayne,’s boss ‘as one in an unusual shade of puce and its sorta stuck ‘cos o’ what happened at t’ office party – they call it that, but its not really an office, it’s Kwik-Fit’s car-inspection pit, but it can be very cosy when its got up with a bit o’ tinsel and there’s no doubt about it, those lace-up thigh boots can be a thrill to a man whose wife slops about in Damart slippers. Ooo, look at me, ye don’t want to know about that...it wasn’t a pleasant ending, anyway.

Where was l? Oh, yea. I only know that I glimpsed the police station out of t’ window and read in huge letters, ‘Sheffield police – dealing with issues that matter to you,’ afore I was shoved into this room. There’s a dreadful smell of sewage and sweat and it looks like he’s ‘ad a fair few folk holed up in ‘ere, already. I’m glad o’ mi carnations fer a bit o’ fragrance.

Course, I should be back ‘ome whisking up a few Yorkshire Pudding’ for my Wayne and mi two bairns, Damien and Chardonnay, afore I go on t’ night shift. What? Yer dian’t know what a Yorkshire Puddin’ is? Well, I’ll ‘ave ti tell ye t’ story then...

A fair few years ago, an angel ‘ad a day off frev ’eaven an’ was floating aboot ovver t’ Yorkshire wolds. Bonny thing she was, golden ‘air and a fine set o’ feathers. Well, poor lass got cramp i’ one of her wings an’ landed slap-bang in t’ garden of a local schoolmaister. She knock’d on t’ door o’ t’ ‘ouse and schoolmaister’s wife oo was a gentle, lovely soul, took one look at ‘er and exclaimed, “Eee, lass come on in, ah’m reet capped ti see thee. Ah’ll mash thi some tea an’ thi can rest awhile.”

Angel sat in t’ nook o’ t’ fire an sipped her mug o’ tea, munchin’ on two drippin’ slices an’ a Sally Lunn, whilst woman looked up a’ t’ clock and busied herself saying, “Ye’ll ‘ave ti excuse me, love. School bell’ll be gannin’ an’ my man’ll be in fer ‘is tea. You sit there, whilst I mix up some puddin’s.” A little lad sat up in ’is ’igh chair teckin’ in what was goin’ on. Well, t’angel sat watching it all fer a few minutes an’ then she jumped up.

“ ’Ere gie us yer bowl and let mi do it. Ah’ll show thi ‘ow we mek t’ puddin’s for Saints Peter and Paul. Flour, milk, salt, eggs...now, hush.”

Schoolmaister’s wife gawped as t’ ‘eavenly lass stuck ’er wing i’ t’ bowl, stirrin’ the mixture like an artist ed paint wi a brush. Puddin’s so light an’ airy that they fair floated ti t’oven.

“It’s nowt i’ t’flour or watter that matters. Just mek sure that tha meks it wi’ luv.” The angel thanked the wife fer ‘er kindness. “Gie it nobbut ten minutes,” she said, as she lifted the child to kiss ’im, afore flyin’ off, leavin’ t’ first Yorkshire Puddin’ that were ivver properly made. T’ schoolmaister and ‘is missus were so delighted that they named the child, Yorkshire Pudding, an I ‘ave ‘eard tell that that little lad grew up to be a reet angel, nivver gev fowk any bother and that if yer chance ti look ‘neath the surface, tha’ll find a pair of feathery wings sproutin’ frev his back.

Can’t be the chap that shoved me in ’ere then, can it? If I’m not mistaken you’ll find him here today, ransacking my ‘ouse. I just ‘ope he doesn’t come across the shibari ropes and nipple clamps or that’ll be my career gone fer a burton. If only I’d not hesitated and chanced the purple Mohican, this would nivver ’ave ’appened.