30 December 2010


In most homes, where people of a certain age reside, it would be possible for forensic teams to uncover secret caches of photo negatives and long forgotten colour slides. The Pudding household is no exception. Such items belong to older imaging technology. With computers and digital photography now widely used, the old stuff is often and quite understandably overlooked. After all, what can you do with it?

Well I got a toy this Christmas - from my younger brother - Simon. It's a "5MP Slide and Film Scanner" that connects to our computer via a USB port. It's really quite simple to use. So far I've only been scanning old colour slides. You click your mouse and the image is saved as a jpeg in your "My Pictures" folder. It's really very easy. Here's the little scanner I've been using:-
And here's a scan derived from a colour slide I created at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 on the morning after that amazing musical festival had finished. I took it with a camera I had just found hanging in the men's rather primitive open air lavatories. It was a Pentax Spotmatic and I had absolutely no idea how to use it. I didn't even know if there was a film in the camera. I just snapped. A light drizzle was falling as the couple under the polythene got ready to leave the festival site:-
And this is me at nineteen years old way back in 1973. I'm half standing in the dugout canoe that my friend Majito - who was also nineteen - had created with his own hands. It was on the island of Rotuma- halfway between what were then the Ellice Islands and Fiji. I believe the Ellice Islands were renamed Tuvalu after independence. Not too proud of that hairstyle. I seem to recall that my laundry girl, Maria, created it with a pair of kitchen scissors and a lot of laughter:-
I swear I'm not being sponsored by Maplin Electrics Ltd but if you want to give new life to old slides and negatives, I suggest you treat yourself to a film and slide scanner. Hopefully, you'll rediscover pictures that are not even half as embarrassing as that picture of me and the outrigger canoe!

29 December 2010


...And so ladies and gentlemen, another successful year in the blogging industry draws to a close. It has been a year in which we have seen consolidation married with innovation. Some formerly effective members of the blogging community have suffered from "burn out" - withdrawing to various rehabilitation centres to recuperate. Fortunately, the gaps left by their absences have been purposefully filled by an new cohort of up and coming graduates from the international blogger training programme.

Now we come to the main business of this evening's gathering, here in the marble grandeur of Pudding Towers - the presentation of our industry's much-coveted Yorkshire Pudding Laughing Horse Awards for 2010. These prestigious awards entitle winners to copy and paste the award widget (shown at the head and end of this post) into their own blogs. As in previous years, this year's widget is a unique designer artefact that will be admired for years to come. I repeat that only registered winners are allowed to copy and paste it as it is subject to stringent copyright regulations.

In no particular order, here are this year's winners...

Australian Blogger of the Year - Helen at "Helsie's Happenings"
Award for the Advancement of Art Through Blogging - Katherine at "The Last Visible Dog"
Best Blogger in Sloughhouse, California - Jan at "Cosumne Girl"
Best Blogger in his street in Canton, Georgia - Robert at "Rhymes With Plague"
Best Blogger in The State of Ohio - Sam at "The Golden Hill"
Second Best Yorkshire Blogger - Daphne at "My Dad's A Communist"
Nicest and Most Polite Blogger - Jenny at "Demob Happy Teacher"
Award for the Advancement of History Through Blogging - Elizabeth at "Well This Isn't Gettin T'Ens Fed"
Foremost and Funniest Welsh Blog - John Gray at "Going Gently"
Best Blogger on the Island of Westray, Orkney - Malc at "Edge of Nowhere"
Best Mancunian Blog and Best Designed Blog - Ian at "Shooting Parrots"
Award for the Advancement of Photography Through Blogging - Michael at "In Sydney With an Old Leica"

After much deliberation by our team of knowledgeable judges, it has been decided that the overall Blogger of the Year for 2010 is..... (drum roll and ad break)... is Mr John Gray at "Going Gently" whose self-deprecating blog entries make hearty entertainment from the mundanity of everyday life in Trelawnyd, North Wales. His affection for his dogs and various fowl is matched only by his abject and incomprehensible hatred of starlings!

Editor- "Cue theme music. Roll credits!"

28 December 2010


Recently I gave permission for the "Emmerdale" actress Catherine Tyldesley to imitate that famous scene from "American Beauty" where Mena Suvari lies on a bed of red roses. Miss Tyldesley was raising money for a charity which seeks to conquer muscular dystrophy. Her take on the "American Beauty" scene was to lie - not amidst roses - but in a bed of Yorkshire puddings!

Here's Miss Suvari:-
And here's Miss Tyldesley:-

I hope you will agree that the second picture is much sexier. I mean, what's going to turn a red-blooded man on the most? A dolly bird on a bed of roses or the same on a bed of Yorkshire puddings? No contest! The only thing missing from Miss Tyldesley's picture is lashings of onion gravy. Old Robbie Burns had it wrong when he wrote:-

Oh my love is like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
My love is like the melodie
That's sweetly played in tune.
It surely should have read:-
Oh my love is like a Yorkshire Pudding
That's newly risen in the pan
My love is like the Christmas jumper
That was knitted by my nan.

Next time Miss Tyldesley wishes to do a photoshoot, I will propose that she lies in bed with just one Yorkshire Pudding - that's if I can fit her in to my busy schedule!

27 December 2010


The Royle Family Xmas 2010

No more gathering round a burning Yule log on Christmas night. In most Yorkshire homes, families crash out on their DFS sofas, bloated to bursting point with roast turkey, pigs in blankets, parsnips, chestnut stuffing, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts and Christmas pudding. The television is switched on and conversation dwindles.

On our new flatscreen Samsung LED TV, we watched two comedy shows - "The Royle Family" followed by "Come Fly With Me" devised by David Walliams and Matt Lucas of "Little Britain" fame.

All of us laughed along with "The Royle Family" which always seems to hit the spot. I still think it's quite brilliant how the writers of this show wring out humour from a most unlikely circumstance - a working class family just sitting around in their living room dominated by Jim, a lazy, farting but ultimately kind-hearted Homer Simpson type figure. In some hands, the show might have simply caricatured and mocked such an unexceptional family but Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash endow their characters with an underlying decency that wins our affection alongside our tears of laughter.

This Christmas special focused on Joe Carroll, the Royles' next door neighbour, and his continuing all-consuming grief for the loss of his wife Mary whose ashes he brings to the party in an urn. At one point Joe, played by Hull-born actor Peter Martin, sings - rather beautifully "An Irish Lullaby" in memory of his beloved Mary. Everyone listens and when Joe has finished, Jim says simply, "Nice that Joe...Nice that".

Of course later Jim manages to knock the urn off the table, scattering Mary's precious ashes all over the carpet but have no fear - Barbara's got a new Dyson vacuum cleaner to save the day.

In contrast, "Come Fly With Me" with its brilliant costumery and make-up was a huge let-down. It took the format of the documentary series "Airport" and attempted to create a spoof version. Frankly, it was cringeworthy and all of my family had the sense that Walliams and Lucas were simply proving that their once popular brand of off-the-wall humour had pretty much reached the end of its tether. Some of the characters they created were offensive racial stereotypes and sadly the large financial investment made in this show's visual effects was not matched by the writing. We were so unmoved by it that we had to switch over with ten minutes to go. Its failure was in stark contrast to the success of "The Royle Family".

On Boxing Day Night, Shirley and I watched the Football League Show with highlights of the match we'd seen at Bramall Lane earlier in the day. It was a game filled with high drama and a last minute decider scored by Jimmy Bullard to leave us cheering the final score:- Sheffield United 2 Hull City 3! What a brilliant late Christmas present and what a great first football match for Ian's lovely girlfriend Ruby to experience. We were on the back row at the visitors' end.... "Bramall Lane is falling down, falling down, falling down. Bramall Lane is falling down - it's a s---hole!" and "They're ere they're there they're every f---ing where. Empty seats! Empty seats!" Pure poetry.
Jimmy Bullard scores the last minute winner for Hull City

24 December 2010


Another Christmas. Another winter solstice just gone. The turkey's in the oven waiting for morning. Presents are under the tree. We have so much to be grateful for. But see the picture in my Christmas card. It was taken from "The Island" rural cemetery in the middle of County Clare, Ireland on June 30th. It's where the body of my oldest brother, Paul, lies beneath the sod, snug against that rough limestone wall. I spoke with him every Christmas Day but not this year. And yet, and yet... I still hear his fiddle sawing out jigs and reels and the pints of Guinness on the bar in Vaughan's and his impatience, his strings of jokes, the frenetic way in which he finished phone calls with a staccato "Bye-bye-bye-bye-bye" like a machine gun and I remember his big heart, his love of people and his disregard for status high or low. Everyone was his equal and he loved life with a passion. Dear, dear Paul, I miss you. Happy Christmas bro! Happy Christmas everybody!

22 December 2010


Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, I earned quite a lot of pocket money through babysitting. Mostly I went to two homes on nearby Barley Gate - a small private housing estate that had been built on fields adjacent to our house in the mid-sixties.

In one of the homes I went to, there was a little boy called Neil. Often, after his parents had driven off, he'd get up and tiptoe downstairs to get me to read him a story. He'd sit on my knee and when the story was done, I'd take him back upstairs and tuck him in. Twenty years later, I met him again in a pub in Beverley. He came over and hugged me - though at first I didn't recognise him. He was now a strapping, handsome soldier - as tall as me and so obviously delighted to reconnect with a character he remembered warmly from his happy childhood.

At the other home I went to, there were two little girls. One was called Dawn but I can't remember the younger girl's name. Their mother, Pat, always made me up a supper tray which I'd look forward to after a spell of A level homework. The little girls nearly always slept soundly. I would look in on them occasionally to check that they were okay. Once Dawn woke up - she had a bad cold - and I brought her into the warm sitting room where I made up a story about fairies in the garden before carrying her back to her bed.

When we moved from the Crookes region of Sheffield here to Banner Cross, our Frances was only ten months old. A schoolboy called Jamie - who was seventeen at the time - called round every Friday to collect payment for the week's milk deliveries. He was an affable young man and after a few weeks we decided to ask him if he'd like to make a bit more pocket money by babysitting for us. He jumped at the chance and so for a few months we had the services of a trustworthy babysitter.

Jamie is now in his late thirties and a manager at the nearby suburban restaurant where Frances worked as a silver service waitress from the age of fourteen. Jamie kindly offered her a few shifts through the Christmas period. On her first night back, he announced to some of the new waitresses that this was Frances and that he used to babysit for her when she was literally a baby. One of the new girls said something like this - "You mean her parents trusted you to babysit? A teenage lad looking after a little girl?" The essence of her remark clearly being that young men cannot be trusted when it comes to child-minding for they are all potential perverts or paedophiles.

Living across the road from us now, there's a lovely little family, including two delightful small girls called Sophie and Helen. I know them far better than Shirley does simply because - since my "retirement" - I've seen a lot more of them. The dad, Chris, has a job which often takes him out of the country so his wife frequently has to operate as if she's heading a one parent family. I talked it over with Shirley and offered our babysitting services. Interestingly, they have made the automatic assumption that it will be Shirley doing the babysitting and not me. Between the lines, I can sniff that same widespread notion that you just cannot trust men any more when it come to babysitting.

It is both sad and maddening. Jamie and I are like the vast majority of men everywhere. The idea of sexual contact with children is repulsive to us. Our instinct to protect children and brighten their days is as strong in us as it is in the majority of women. Why should we as "normal" right-minded men have to suffer unspoken suspicions nurtured by the gutter press and inflammatory television programmes? Small children have the right to learn that daddy is not the only good guy and that nearly every man they encounter will mean them no harm whatsoever.

20 December 2010


As I write this, it is currently -6 degrees centigrade. The earth is frozen as solid as the twelve pound Christmas turkey I bought from "Iceland" at lunchtime. Afterwards, I drove up the hill out of Woodseats to Graves Park, donned my trusty boots and went for a wander. This is what I saw:-
A Kerry Hill Sheep at the door of her designer dwelling

On Frozen Pond - desperate ducks

A Middle White pig called Robert outside his comfy hut

Highland cattle clustering together

The domestic animals are being properly cared for. I saw two farm workers using a butane blowtorch to melt away thick surface ice in the cattle's water trough. The pigs and the sheep had fresh straw and friends to cuddle up with in the children's petting farm. But like all wild birds just now, the ducks are having a hell of a time of it. They can survive short cold snaps quite tenaciously but if sub-zero days turn to weeks, the cold will claim many casualties.

19 December 2010


I have ranted about Londoncentricity before. Perhaps it's the same in all countries - capitals reaping attention while the provinces are rather sidelined by their national media. From Bujumbura in Burundi to Papeete in Tahiti, no doubt the news focus remains biased towards their capital city which is normally also the nation's metropolis.

Though South Yorkshire suffered a massive deluge of snow at the beginning of this month, we avoided the snow chaos that has swept across England's southern underbelly in the last couple of days. The roads have been clear here and though the temperature has been regularly well below freezing, commerce has not been adversely affected.

Yet if you listened to TV newscasters and TV weather forecasters, you would think that their south eastern snow chaos was nationwide. People are trapped in motorway traffic jams. Shopping centres have shut their doors. Schools have closed . But hey, not here in South Yorkshire or Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire or Lincolnshire or Warwickshire or Derbyshire. They warn us not to venture out in our cars unless absolutely necessary because of drifting snow and icy, impassable roads. Where?

Well, in spite of the dire warnings of disaster, I ventured out this morning. I drove at 80mph on charcoal-coloured tarmac down the M1 to Junction 27 where I turned off to park up close to Moorgreen Reservoir in Nottinghamshire. Then I went for a walk in an area that the writer D.H.Lawrence once referred to as "The Country of My Heart". Sure enough, the surface of the reservoir was frozen solid but the paths I walked were virtually snowfree - just a light dusting, as if from a sugar shaker.

After my invigorating five mile walk, I carried on along the M42 to Birmingham. It was only when I was entering the suburb of Selly Oak to the south of the city that I encountered some winter chaos. There had been a fairly heavy snowfall. Traffic was crawling along and in five hundred yards, I lost twenty minutes before turning into Dawlish Road and parking up at the terraced house rented by our Frances and her friend Charlotte during their last year at university. I was bringing them home for Christmas.

Once out of Selly Oak, I again zoomed along - A38 through the very heart of Birmingham, M6 past Fort Dunlop until we reached the M42 North which later links back to the M1. Traffic was lighter than usual and so the journey time was shorter on a day that our nation's news people and meteorologists seemed to have cancelled out before they struggled back to their snowbound flats in Fulham, their mansions in Maidenhead and their studios in Sidcup.

And yet...perhaps my best memory of today was viewing Haggs Farm from a distance. This was the childhood home of Jessie Chambers, Lawrence's first sweetheart and the basis for Miriam's farm in the novel "Sons and Lovers"...
Haggs Farm near Underwood in 1958

17 December 2010


Koumbara (aka Sunset) Beach, Ios

Once upon a Grecian isle... in the summer of 1980. First a flight to Athens and then a service bus down to the nearby port of Piraeus. It's where ferries embark for the islands - the Dodecanese, Crete, the Dardanelles, the Cyclades and the inner islands of Spetses, Hydra and Aegina. Greece lays claim to over 6,000 islands and islets but only two hundred or so are permanently inhabited and of those only around eighty have populations in excess of a hundred. Mimicking other islands, each of the sunny isles of Greece is like a world in itself.

I had been to Greece a few times before and considered myself something of a Grecophile. I loved the sharpness of colours against rich blue skies and placid seas, old weather-worn men and women dressed in black leading well-laden donkeys back from sun-seared fields, the sound of bouzouki strings under starry heavens, the taverna tastes of retsina and ouzo and that shadowy but palpable sense of an ancient culture populated by heroes and gods.

This time I was heading back to Ios in the heart of the Cyclades, between Santorini and Naxos. Our ferry floated away from the Greek mainland and soon the rhythm of gently undulating waves accompanied our ship's engine's continuous humming - lulling the majority of passengers into suspended states of animation. Rocky islets drifted by. Near Delos, two dolphins performed their acrobatics as an old lady poured sunflower seeds into my open palm. "Efharisto".

Hours disappeared and the sun's fierce Aegean heat began to diminish. By early evening, we arrived at Ios's only port. With hefty rucksack on shoulders, I dodged my way through the throng and headed purposefully out of the port and along a dusty track that I remembered would take me back to Sunset Beach with its lonesome taverna.

I made the beach as day surrendered to night-time in a blaze of glory and as luck would have it, I soon spotted a recently abandoned beach shelter. A low horseshoe wall of rocks had been roughly piled up with bamboo stalks and reeds making a roof. The front of this humble shelter was open, looking straight out to sea and the gold-crimson place where the sun had just sunk away. Crawling into my little "cave", I unpacked my sleeping bag and mat, found my electric torch and prepared to head back to Ios Town which peers down upon its adjacent port.

It was well after midnight when I returned, my belly full of stuffed dolmades, my head spinning slightly with the after effects of a full bottle of retsina. Before crawling back into the shelter, I lay supine on the beach looking up at distant stars, listening to musical Mediterranean waves lapping.

For three or four days, I would rise in the early morning and run out into the sea, swimming towards a lobsterman's bright orange marker float. The water felt cool after sleep and it sharpened my senses. Clinging to the plastic orange globe, I looked back at the shore where a few other beach dwellers were stirring and to the taverna with its whitewashed walls, concrete cistern and sun terrace with vines entwining to make a green canopy.

Word of Sunset Beach seemed to have spread because in late morning, invaders arrived from the town with their towels and snorkels, plastic bottles of water and rubber flip flops. Some claimed beach spaces close to my humble dwelling. Their conversations disturbed my peace and my concentration on "The Dice Man". I decided to go off exploring along the rocky north western coast.

Less than a mile from Sunset Beach, I peered down from a rocky promontory to the arc of a secret, unvisited sandy bay. It was no bigger than a goalmouth. Carefully I scrambled down the cliffs. My feet dislodged sun-baked rocks which tumbled down and once I had to grab on to a defiant thorn bush to prevent myself from falling.

Finally, I was down. Naked in my solitude, I swam out into the little bay where the sea was as clear as springwater, magnifying rocks and seaweed fronds way below me. I read and sunbathed. Swam. Read and sunbathed. Swam. I may also have slept before slaking my thirst by emptying the only bottle of water I'd brought there.

It was time to head back to Sunset Beach but I was weakened by swimming and sunshine. Try as I might to ascend the beach's enclosing cliffs, I could not find a safe way up. At one point I lost my footing and slid back a dozen feet. My heart was racing and after several futile and exhausting attempts to escape I began to accept that I was in fact trapped. Perhaps I could swim out in to the open sea but the currents were unpredictable and besides in my little day bag I had my passport, wallet and transport tickets.

The sun was on its way down again and the prospect of a thirsty night on that unvisited beach became a real prospect. Then I remembered I had a small circular mirror in my bag. I needed it for hair-combing and shaving. I chuckled briefly as I imagined myself, like a character in a "Boy's Own" adventure, trying to reflect the sun's last rays in order to summon help.

Then magically, perhaps five hundred metres off shore, a fishing boat appeared from behind the headland. There were less than ten minutes of sunlight left. I shouted and waved my shirt and then held my little mirror to the sun, subtly altering its position with small wrist movements. The fishing boat continued on its coastal voyage and for a heart-sinking moment, it seemed that they had not spotted me but then joy upon joy, the boat turned shorewards, silhouetted against the very last rays of the sinking sun. I was saved.

There were two old Greek fishermen on board. They spoke not a single word of English but my dangerous predicament was patently clear to them. They offered me water and I downed it with relish. They refused my offer of various drachma notes when they deposited me on another small beach just along the coast. This one was not surrounded by tumbledown cliffs and from it a little track led to the hinterland. I shook my saviours' calloused hands and waved as they continued their evening voyage and then, in fading August light, I wandered through sweet-smelling olive groves back towards Sunset Beach, elated that I was still alive.
Ios Town
Photos by Nick Gent (Panoramio)

16 December 2010


It's a good long while since Shirley and I went to a live concert together but last night we did just that. Venue - Sheffield's marvellous City Hall. Artist - Yorkshire's own Kate Rusby with her talented little band and brass section. She was born in Sheffield so for her a concert here is very much like coming home. With tickets priced at £22.50, there were very few empty seats.

The show had a decidedly Christmassy flavour with Kate having specially resurrected some of the "Sheffield carols" that were stifled by churches in Victorian times for they were thought to be too raucous, lively and insufficiently dull for mid-nineteenth century congregations.. Instead they are now usually only sung in a few pubs to the north and north west of the city - in Dungworth, Grenoside, High Bradfield and the like.

Of all the carols she included in her split two hour long set, only "O Little Town of Bethlehem" retained its traditional tune.

Back in June, Kate married her guitarist, Damien O'Kane from Northern Ireland. They had already produced a little daughter together. She allowed Damien his special time in the spotlight so that he could give us a reworked version of the traditional Irish folk song, "Summer Hill". Damien has a deep, rich way of singing and is so comfortable with his guitar. I would like to have heard more from him but the audience had come to see his wife.

Kate Rusby herself has a lovely, distinctive singing voice. Between the songs, she establishes an intimate self-deprecating rapport with her audience, She smiles a lot and in spite of her years at the forefront of English folk music, she comes across as being someone who still can't believe where she is - on a stage with hundreds of people looking at her.

I would like to say that it was a brilliant concert but to tell you the truth, I came away feeling a little disappointed. The music generally had no "guts". It was all too pretty and in terms of musicianship - far too perfect. There were too many Christmas songs for my liking. I wanted to hear songs that were not simply easy on the ear but songs that would make me laugh, bring tears to my eyes or cause me to consider particular aspects of my own life. I just didn't get that sense of "connection" amid all the niceness and the pleasant banter between the various planned items on the playlist. I'd love to hear her reworking songs by Sandy Denny or Judy Collins.

I suppose it depends on what you want from music. I'm afraid I need a bit more than Kate Rusby provided but for some of you out in Blogland she might be just your cup of Yorkshire tea!
Kate Rusby with her husband, Damien O'Kane

14 December 2010


The first cooks I ever met were Nellie Brocklebank and Irene Buckley. They wore white nylon housecoats and were both meaty, kind-natured East Yorkshire women. They were our dinner ladies. Were there ever breakfast ladies or supper ladies? They stood at the hatch into our village primary school hall and served up their wholesome dishes of the day. Day after day.

There was no choice and we didn't expect it. As at home, you ate what you were given without complaint. None of that foreign muck either. These were the days before pizza, before curry, before stir fries, french fries or even spaghetti bolognese. To drink? No fizzy pop, just a jug of water and plastic beakers. Meat and potato pie, boiled cabbage, liver and onions, peas, fish pie, mashed potato, Irish stew, boiled carrots, rice pudding with rosehip syrup, treacle sponge with custard, chocolate sponge with chocolate sauce, sago pudding, semolina, flapjack, ginger sponge - those are the only regular items I can recall but there must have been others. It's so long ago.

On television the only TV cook I remember from my childhood was the snobbish, dictatorial and most unlovable Fanny Craddock who, with her hen-pecked husband Johnnie, gave lessons in basic cooking techniques as if to a large class of twelve year olds. In spite of her first name, Fanny made sure that food was never "sexy". Slagging off British cuisine, she once said, "Even the good old Yorkshire pudding comes from Burgundy," which is of course an outrageous fib! It was first created in a cave at Brimham Rocks.

Nowadays there are so many familiar TV cooks with wealthy lifestyles and recipe books shouting at us from bookshop windows. Most of them never wear aprons when they cook which seems most unhygienic to me. They make the production of meals seem like some kind of religion as they seek levels of perfection that ordinary mortals will never attain. Their voices hushed. Their hair coiffured. They have climbed aboard the big cookery bandwagon while a majority of the watching TV public munch on ready meals, pizzas and beans on toast.

There's Gordon Ramsey with his cartoonish tantrums, annoyingly posh Nigella Lawson with her nodding head, Jamie Oliver with his cockney cheeky boy humour, James Martin with his playboy lifestyle and pseudo-Yorkshire common sense, Rick Stein with his expensive restaurant and fresh seafood and The Hairy Bikers with their wholemeal working class authenticity. These people have become media stars simply for cooking plates of food. Meanwhile, in numerous parts of the world from Mali to Bangladesh and from Madagascar to Mongolia, there are many, many people who don't give a damn about salad dressing or the singeing of meringue with a blow torch - all they want is food in their bellies to sustain them. The contrast between the two worlds remains as obscene as ever.
Above - the annoying Nigella Lawson's Christmas recipe book.
Below - starvation in Africa
How can we allow such stark contrasts to continue?

12 December 2010


As I write this, my blog is about to receive its 150,000th visitor! When I look back and remember my tentative first steps into this curious cyber-world, I am amazed that "Yorkshire Pudding" and I have come this far. Five and a half years have passed by. So many happenings. So many words and pictures. Regular visitors have come and gone while others have just dropped in occasionally and I know there have been a number of silent observers who choose never to leave a comment... but that's okay.

The hobby has led me to lots of other blogs - frequently in distant places. I've learnt a lot. There's been laughter, some fallings-out, some misunderstandings and some lasting bonds made. As a somewhat frustrated writer and amateur photographer, blogging has given me a platform I wouldn't have otherwise enjoyed. So dear reader, even if you weren't actually my 150,000th visitor, thanks for being a part of this blogging journey. Speech over. Blog on!

11 December 2010


Anyway... so there I was - trucking along with my relatively comfortable, relatively easy and relatively happy life, after the roller coaster ride of a long career in teaching. I was even enjoying dipping my toes back in the world of work through one-to-one tutoring in two Sheffield secondary schools and I was also looking forward to three weeks in Sri Lanka in February - a self-planned adventure.

Then this guy, Jonathan...
"skyped" me from Thailand to say there was a temporary vacancy in his school and if I was "up for it" it would very probably be mine. All I had to do was to say the word and I'd be jetting off for my teaching swansong - five months working in an international school in Bangkok.

I talked it over with Shirley and she gave me the green light. She could even join me for two weeks over Easter. Anyway... the upshot of it all is that I am now 99% certain I will be off to Thailand in early February. Earlier today I signed and posted off my teaching contract. Tomorrow, I plan to book my return flight and then I've got to visit the Thai consulate to acquire the appropriate visa, remembering to take all necessary papers with me - including the degree certificate I was awarded from the University of Stirling back in 1978. I found it in an old tea chest in our underhouse. Fortunately, those parking officers I collected from the streets had not messed it up though I think one of them stole a tape measure.

This position came to me on a veritable plate. There was no advertisement, no letter of application and my informal interview with the headteacher was simply conducted via "Skype". I wasn't looking for it. As I say I was happy enough with how things were going and looking forward to growing vegetables again in the spring. But then the challenge appeared courtesy of Jonathan and I must admit that I am excited about it - looking forward to getting to know Thailand in general and Bangkok in particular in ways that are denied the two week tourist.

When I typed "Thailand" into Google Image Search, this was the first image that appeared:-
And for "Bangkok", this was the first image:-
It's a wonderful opportunity and I know I'm very lucky to have been given it. However, the advice of my old mate Terry, the master joiner, is certainly apposite. Outside my comfort zone, things will sometimes seem unnerving, you've just got to be patient with yourself and with the strange situation you find yourself in. Don't expect every day to be a walk in a rose garden. Anyway...

9 December 2010


Where once deciduous gowns were worn
One single leaf clings limp and torn
A lone crow pecks at ploughings petrified by Arctic air
Sounds of silence are gathering everywhere

Last night a gibbous moon sailed west
Kissing the earth as she progressed
With fragile light from long ago
Reflected from our first real snow

That in slow motion spiralled down
Softening the contours of this town
To leave a lithographic scene
And footprints where a fox had been

Warm in our beds we count in seconds
Though days are short the solstice beckons
Weather reports are imbued with gloom
Springtime cannot come too soon

8 December 2010


"Hacktivists". That's a new word on me. I've been aware of hackers and self-interested purveyors of spam. I think of such people as the lowest of the low. Instead of riding with the thrilling internet wave, they've been actively trying to spoil our journey. But "hacktivists", well they're something different.

It's all to do with "WikiLeaks", founded by Australian whistleblower, Julian Assange. It seems very clear that the American government have been applying a range of behind-the-scenes pressures to discredit "WikiLeaks" and seriously hinder its functionality. The founder of "PayPal" even admitted that the reason he had severed links with "WikiLeaks" was because of arm-twisting overtures from Washington. It wasn't that he wanted to disconnect but realised that his company's well-being would be harmed if he did not comply.

Then "Mastercard" and "Visa" withdrew their services from "WikiLeaks". Remember that these are companies that happily service porn websites and sites that promote the use and sale of guns. The two card companies have previously shown no inkling of corporate morality. They have always been ruled by their hunger for profit.

Little did they appreciate that out here in the real world, skilled computer-savvy individuals were preparing to launch cyber-attacks on their own functionality by hacking into their websites and databases in protest at their clearly politically-inspired efforts to divorce themselves from "WikiLeaks". So such computer geeks are not just plain mischief-making "hackers" or political activists, they are a mixture of the two - "hacktivists" - using their technical expertise for political purposes.

It seems to me that truth is a healthy thing and that "WikiLeaks" has been on a mission to reveal truths of which the rest of us were unaware. Some of these truths are uncomfortable or embarrassing - especially for the government of the United States but truth is something precious. The world needs more truth, not less.

I don't know what happened in Sweden with regard to the sex charges against Mr Assange. Apparently, one of the the women concerned is saying that Assange did not wear the condom she'd requested before they had consensual sex. Is that rape? And why did that London judge deny Assange bail when he had voluntarily presented himself at a police station and why did the Swedish authorities fail to present any significant evidence for their assault claims?

The whole thing stinks. If I had the technical know-how to engage in "hacktivism", I would happily be targeting "PayPal" and "VIsa" right now. It's something new. Hitting where it hurts. Not with swords or grenades, machine guns or IED's but with some clever computer codes and the simple click of a mouse. We don't need to run to the barricades any more, we can just sip cups of tea as we press buttons on our laptops.

6 December 2010


The following indigenous residents of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) were injured by Chilean special forces over the weekend:-

Marco Antonio Tuki
Claudio Tuki
Pía Vargas Saavedra
Rodolfo Hito
Pedro Hito
Enrique Tépano
Benjamín Cadinali
Teresa Tuki
Moisés Tépano
So Araki
John Tuki Huke
Mata Atan
Manuel Riroroko
Maori Pakarati
Leviante Araki
Ricardo Tépano
Gaspar Tepihe
Rodolfo Hito
Sita Hito

Homes have been ransacked by the Chilean "visitors" as they seek to crush the legitimate protests of the inheritors of one of the most unique cultures on this planet. In miniature, the protesters' story mimics the historical plights of native Americans, Australian aboriginals, Amazonian indians and the great tribes of central Africa but this is happening today! Right now! And of course the Rapa Nui activists have nowhere to run to but the ancient caves and volcanic fissures of their ancestors for the island is small and 2,000 miles from anywhere else. The remotest inhabited place on Earth.

5 December 2010


Last week on Easter Island

The recent history of Easter Island has been tragic for its indigenous inhabitants. At the start of the twentieth century, there were only around four hundred islanders left and they were treated like some kind of dispensable lower caste by sheep farmers, whalers, and a Peruvian mining company that herded up boat loads of islanders against their will. With imperial ambitions, Chile took control of the island even though the majority of islanders either had no idea what such a union might involve or were vehemently against it from the outset.

A year ago, I talked with a native of Rapa Nui (The Polynesian name for Easter Island) down by the little harbour at Hanga Piko. He could trace his ancestry way back in time and was passionate about his island's unique heritage and its future. He'd had a good day's fishing from his little motor boat and had already enjoyed a few beers in celebration. I bought him a couple more. He told me about the invaders from Chile who were quietly and cunningly buying up land, building new homes, setting up little businesses. My new friend saw it as insidious and though he loved to see visitors from foreign lands, he was suspicious of Chile, its people and its motives.
The flag of Rapa Nui with its red reimero image

I was already aware of discord. Over some island homes, the Rapa Nui flag flew and in the main street of Hanga Roa, there was a permanent display calling for independence from Chile. Ironically, back in Chile itself there are many visual reference to Easter Island. At the airport in Santiago, big fibreglass moai statues stand sentinel in the duty free souvenir shop and on the wide Alameda in the centre of the city there is even a fake moai made from concrete. Chileans are proud of their little Pacific island territory.

This past week, there has been unrest in paradise as the Chilean authorities seek to force a small group of Rapa Nui militants from their ongoing occupation of a building in the main street that coincidentally I passed by several times. A representative of the Save Rapa Nui group described the behaviour of Chilean security forces: "They injured at least 23 of our brothers and sisters, three of them seriously. One was shot in the eye with a buckshot pellet from just a metre away."

Maka Atan, a Rapa Nui lawyer, told the Associated Press that police had been "shooting to kill". He said he was shot in the back by pellets. "It seems like this is going to end with them killing the Rapa Nui."

So the tragedy of Easter Island continues. Once it was home to the moai makers. Far from anywhere else they created a new, unique culture and probably had no contact with the outside world for a thousand years. There were trees and seabirds and the ocean was bountiful. They lived, by all accounts, in happy obscurity until all the trees were gone and the population had grown too large. Then internecine conflicts occurred that ended with the toppling of the moai so that when the first European visitors arrived - Roggeveen (1722) and Captain Cook (1774), the old culture was already becoming a distant memory.

The descendants of those old Rapa Nui people remain. They have their own unique language, songs and folk tales even though their children are taught in Spanish. Before World War One, the native inhabitants were driven off their lands to the east, south and north of the island and made to live on the west coast so that vast flocks of sheep could be grazed without interference. Stealing sheep resulted in death for several Easter islanders though these killings tended to go unrecorded. The Chilean takeover has been - and continues to be - less obviously uncaring, disrespectful and downright cruel but its effects are just as devastating. Sadly the history of this planet is littered with similar tragic tales of how economic might rides roughshod over the defenceless.

Last November - seen in Hanga Roa


N.B. Connection to the website may be more problematic than usual owing to a small airborne invasion by Chilean security men late on Saturday Dec 4th to quell "the trouble"!

3 December 2010


In nearby Ecclesall churchyard, with snow up to my knees, I saw two angels and thought you might like to see them too. I loved the first one as soon as I saw it, the snow embracing her like a blanket. I crept up on her, waited for a long thin cloud to slide past the sun and then clicked a dozen times. As I've said before, that's one of the beauties of digital photography. You can take as many pictures as you like and if they're all rubbish you can just delete them. The angel was placed there for Malcolm, the only son of Norman and Ena Proudlock. How long ago I have no idea and I don't even know who the second angel memorialises for the words were hidden by snow.

2 December 2010


The Pudding brothers: Paul, Yorkshire, Simon and Robin in 1967

Following the summer of love, in the autumn of 1967, "Baby Now That I've Found You" by The Foundations topped the singles charts, soon to be overtaken first by Long John Baldry's "Let The Heartaches Begin" and then The Beatles with "Hello Goodbye". Meanwhile, in East Yorkshire, a thirteen year old boy was reading Robert Falcon Scott's Diary of his fateful and blundering attempt to lead the very first expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Not only was he narrowly beaten by Norwegian competitors led by Roald Amunsden but his ill-conceived organisation led to the tragic deaths of all in the lead party.

Soon after my fourteenth birthday I created a poem inspired by that diary. To be honest, it was a task set by my bearded student English teacher - Mr Spratley. I rediscovered it while rooting around in our attic yesterday afternoon. Here's the first page:-

In honour of that fiercely independent yet sensitive lad of long ago, the boy from whom I grew, I give you the poem in its entirety. Frankly, I'm quite pleased that all those years ago I could produce a poem of this quality though I cringe at my juvenile patriotic chauvinism...

And Now, The South!

Five Englishmen, five men of honour,
Wrestled with the elements.
Wilson, Scott, Oates, Evans, Bowers,
Five Englishmen, five men of ours.

And the land was white
And the sky was grey
As they struggled up that icy way
And they pulled that sledge though thick and thin,
Those honourable Englishmen.

With half a hundred miles to go
They spied dogs' footprints in the snow.
Alas! The men from the fijord land
Had beaten Scott's weathered little band.

So to The Pole they trudged along,
To lose that prize they'd done no wrong.
And a canvas cairn appeared in sight
Amid the never-ending white.

Despondent, back the Britons walked
And still of "Merry England" talked.
Old Titus' foot was pretty bad,
To watch him dying was so sad.

The food was scanty, cold and rare
Their stomachs moaned for they were bare.
The oil had long since petered out
No help for Soldier's crippling gout.

The end seemed not so long away,
Came closer every freezing day
And so to keep the rations well,
Old Titus marched into the hell,
And to his death the hero ran
That honourable Englishman.

With miles to fight for the next depot
Scott's men lay ill and full of woe.
In such a little tent they sat
Such a little tent, such a little band
In such a huge unthanking land
The pride and joy of the lion's face
Had lost the South Pole's gruelling race
But from mankind they won acclaim
Acclaim for the honourable English name.

And at the South they died in peace
With blistered, sore, untended feet,
They died as heroes always should
They died without a drop of blood.
For the weather claimed those English lives
From their Tilbury friends
And their Tilbury wives:
Wilson, Scott, Oates, Evans, Bowers,
Five Englishmen, five men of ours.

I remember handing my exercise book in, believing that this poem would attract the teacher's praise and perhaps an elusive A grade. Instead, Mr Spratley had simply written "See me" in the margin. I stayed behind and basically he accused me of cheating. It wasn't my poem. Where had I got if from?

I was angry and upset. I told my father and he telephoned our fearsome headmaster to complain. A couple of days later, the snivelling Mr Spratley amended his comment, grudgingly writing "Quite good" with a B grade. He'd been ticked off. I have sometimes wondered what Mr Spratley's first name might have been. Ebenezer, Silas, Reginald? If perchance you are reading this Reginald Spratley, you'll be pleased to know that forty three years after the event, you are now officially famous!
Scott and the "Terra Nova". He sent this postcard before departing New Zealand in 1911.

1 December 2010


Layers - view from our front room window this morning

No one can remember such a heavy snowfall so early in the winter. Nobody can remember snow quite as thick as this. On Radio Sheffield, a litany of school closures is read out, including one of the two secondary schools I have been visiting as a one-to-one tutor. Yesterday, I emailed the other school to say: "As I am not an eskimo with huskies and a sledge, I will not be with you today."

As she's a nurse, Shirley has gone out into the silent snowbound streets dressed like Scott of the Antarctic. I'm still in my designer dressing gown but after a shower and other intimate bathroom activities I will also be venturing out into the white wonderland. I need to feed my little feathered friends and I need to fight with other supermarket shoppers for the last tin of corned beef.

All my pictures were snapped from inside our house just after eight this morning. It's still snowing. This may be my last ever post before the whiteness engulfs me. It's hard to believe how lovely and snowfree it was just last Friday.
The back garden - see our table and chairs to the right.

The blue Shirleymobile. I cleared all the snow from it yesterday afternoon.

Over the hedge view down our exclusive suburban street