31 January 2011


There's a smashing eminently readable blogger in North Wales called John Gray and on television there's a comedian called Alan Carr. Both deserve the approbation contained in the label "The Chatty Man". Recently John was accused of being rather "feminine" in his "Going Gently" blog which attracts a lot of female followers from around the world. In his defence, he referred to some of his male followers - including yours truly whom he described as being "blokey". I took that as a compliment. However, the truth will out and I have a confession to make... I'm actually a transvestite.

Take last Saturday. We returned from Hull City's nil-nil draw with Queens Park Rangers and I felt like going out to celebrate.

After showering, shaving my legs and plucking my eyebrows, I delved into my "alternative" wardrobe. Where had Shirley hidden my sheer twelve denier silk tights that I bought in Hong Kong? And yes there was my brand new Aidan Mattox "cold shoulder" dress in bottle green sequins. It was the very first time I'd be wearing it down at the pub.

Carefully, I donned my "Always" Raquel Welch ash blonde wig, pinning it back invisibly. I applied "Polytex" concealer liberally, eye shadow sheen and bronze red lipstick. Looking in the mirror, I thought - "What a doll!" My efforts and investment had all been worthwhile. Finally my patent leather Jimmy Choo stilettos and a couple of ripe grapefruit down my top and I was ready for some fun.

At the pub and as usual, no one recognised me as Yorkshire Pudding. It was all "Ooo! Angela you do look nice!" and "Haven't seen you in a long while Angela!" etc.. Standing at the bar waiting for my fifth pint of bitter, Leeds Mick squeezed my right buttock and called me "darling" so I whacked him as hard as I could with my Coccinelle designer handbag. "Jesus! What the bloody hell did you do that for?" he complained after staggering back on his heels and collapsing to the floor in a heap. I stood above him with one heel on his chest and whispered malevolently, "Just because!" Other regulars guffawed with delight.
Standing in the men's urinal, I relieved myself rather awkwardly before adjusting my latest pair of grapefruit in the cracked mirror. A tattooed biker whose lavatory visit co-incided with mine looked visibly shocked. I wandered back into the lounge bar where I overheard a couple of feline women referring to me as "blokey". The bitches!

It's not easy being a transvestite. You have to remember to keep your legs together when sitting down and all manner of smelly men will try to hit on you only to be terribly disappointed by a well-aimed knee. Debenhams department stores are also not keen on transvestites using the ladies' changing rooms.

So that's it. The truth is out there now but hey this is 2011 isn't it? We're allowed to be who we want to be. Just don't tell my imam. He'd never let me in the mosque again if he knew.

30 January 2011


View of The Humber from Paull

On Friday, I had to bobby on over to Hull's Royal Thai Consulate in order to acquire my work visa for Thailand. Afterwards, I thoroughly intended to drive along the north bank of the Humber estuary in order to visit Spurn Point where I planned to take a few photographs for the Geograph project. I had not ventured there since I was eighteen.

However, in Ottringham, I saw a signpost for "Sunk Island". It is a name I had often noticed on maps of East Yorkshire but I had never before been there. The Humber estuary is a wide and changeable meeting point for sea tides and huge volumes of river water. Peppered with mud flats, deep water channels, spits and marshes, it gives and it takes away. The map is never fixed. Here land and water seem to merge under endless skies.

In the middle ages, a great big sandbar lay off the coast south of Patrington. High tides covered it but gradually as the deposition of alluvial material increased, it emerged from the river and with drainage techniques borrowed from the Dutch, it became a vast 8000 acre estate of rich farmland. This is now Sunk Island.

How different is this landscape from the rugged Yorkshire Dales or the rolling chalk wolds that embrace East Yorkshire from Flamborough to High Hunsley. Sunk Island is as flat as a pancake. As the song goes, on a clear day you can see for ever and ever more. Farmsteads surrounded by hardy copses occur intermittently linked by single track lanes and in the centre of the "island" is the old school and the old church to which schoolchildren and parishioners must have trudged for miles.

I could see Grimsby over on the far south bank and the funnels of an ocean going vessel gliding by above the line of the island's Georgian embankment. A cold wind eddied about me straight off the North Sea. Perhaps there was a pattern of hedgerows there once - to impede the wind but now the vista is open with green winter sowings heralding the coming of springtime. It was a most strange and atmospheric landscape.

Sunk Island Images:-

29 January 2011


You must have seen this news story. Ambam, the thirty four stone lowland gorilla at Port Lympne Wildlife Park in Kent, England has astounded observers by getting up on his hind legs occasionally and walking like a man. It is believed that he is simply mimicking his human captors or perhaps he finds his increased height useful for observing the impending arrival of food. Well if Ambam can do this, I am going to start harrumphing down the street on all fours!

26 January 2011


When I was in Santiago, Chile, I had a couple of days to pass before my flight out to Easter Island. Just round the corner from my cheap hotel - near to the busy Alameda that runs through the heart of the city - I found a bar. On the first evening, I sat inside it and watched a local football match on television.

On the second evening, before it got dark, I was sitting at a pavement table, reading a book with a litre bottle of "Escudo" beer for company. I looked across the Alameda to see a group of men dodging the traffic on their way across. Usually pedestrians used underpasses to avoid the hazards of the thunderous daytime traffic.

The gang of thirty-something men requisitioned a table adjacent to mine and it wasn't long before communication happened between us. They were astonished that I had come from England and delighted that I was on my way to Rapa Nui which holds a special place in the affections of many Chileans. Their English was more than imperfect but of course brilliant in comparison with my Spanish.

I noticed they were all a little unkempt as if their clothes hadn't seen washing machines in weeks and a vague odour of the stale unwashed hung about them. They looked as if they had been out in the open air too long and if entered in a personal grooming competition their scores would have been even lower than mine.

Beer flowed and night came. Communication became less fluent. They all seemed intelligent - but apparently none of them had jobs as far as I could make out. They didn't want to talk about such things. They wanted to drink beer, sing songs and talk about England, Rapa Nui, Maggie Thatcher, General Pinochet, the Colo Colo football team and the American CIA. I noticed that other, more respectable looking men in the bar were cold-shouldering the gang and even though I was becoming inebriated I felt increasingly uncomfortable with them. It crossed my mind that I could be ripe for mugging so at an opportune moment, I said my goodbyes and hurried back to the Hotel Ecuador.

They reminded me of other thirty-something Chileans I had met in a park the day before. Eyes slightly bloodshot, hair and clothes slightly dishevelled, giving out poems on little sheets of coloured paper and then begging for some financial support to help them through college. Who or what they really were I shall probably never know and the same with those crazies in the bar.

24 January 2011


He was twenty minutes late. When I greeted him at the door there was no apology. I sort of had to wring it out of him. We had postponed our evening meal deliberately. His half-hearted apology was accompanied by a suggestion that we wouldn't have had time for dinner anyway. I insisted that we would have had our meal if we had known he was going to be so late. Not the most auspicious of first meetings I have to admit.

Who was he? A legal geezer. Not a lawyer but a representative of a company that specialises in writing wills and managing the estates of the dead. Although a modern man with a fancy computerised pen that sent our documentation back to head office in the blink of an eye, there was something very Dickensian about him. Meticulous and neat, he had clearly been immersed in legalistic language for many years. He spoke as if from a manual and seemed irritated by what to him must have seemed like dumb questions from lesser mortals. He probably deserved a good slapping with a wet kipper.

It was a day that once I thought would never come. The day I made my first will and testament. Mr Con D. Ecension filleted our "estate", putting numbers in boxes and then adding them up. If you die. If Shirley dies first. If the children pre-decease you. Inheritance tax. Property. Investment. Bank. Funerals. Horrible words all colliding together. But you've got to be sensible. This is something that grown up people do. They make wills and somehow life is no longer all about living, it's about dying too. No wonder I had put it off for so long.

Mr Ecension left just before nine after buttoning up his gaberdine raincoat and ensuring that everything was in order in his leather briefcase. At the door I shook his hand - like you do - and wondered if he would refer back to his late arrival - but of course he didn't.

As soon as he had left, I got back to the kitchen to finish off the spaghetti, having earlier made the bolognaise sauce and as I stirred I thought of the solicitor, Mr Kenge, in "Bleak House":-

He appeared to enjoy beyond everything the sound of his own voice. I couldn’t wonder at that, for it was mellow and full and gave great importance to every word he uttered. He listened to himself with obvious satisfaction...

23 January 2011


"I do not know my paternoster perfectly as the priest sings it.
But I know the rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolph, earl of Chester".
- William Langland (1377)

...And of course Nottingham has been long-associated with Robin Hood and his band of merry men who lived, according to legend, deep in the greenwood that covered most of lowland England in the middle ages. Close to the ancient Castle Rock, there now stands a bronze statue of the famous "outlaw":-
Teasing out the truth about Robin Hood from all the tales and films would be a challenging task for any scholar. Was he a force for good or was he simply a thief? Nobody can even say for sure when he lived. There's a possible range of two hundred years from 1150 to 1350. His origins are also very uncertain and even the authenticity of his grave in the grounds of Kirklees Abbey is disputed.

Nottinghamshire claimed him but some evidence suggests his stomping ground encompassed South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire. Sometimes known as Robin of Loxley, it is perhaps significant that on the northwestern fringes of Sheffield there is a river valley through which the River Loxley runs, passing by what was once the rural hamlet of Loxley. In nearby Hathersage, the churchyard boasts the grave of Robin Hood's lieutenant, Little John.

In ancient English mythology, there are many references to a benevolent life-giving spirit known as The Green Man. He also lived deep in the shadows of the greenwood and was a reference point for our pre-Christian ancestors. The Green Man ensured the cycling of seasons and the blessings of fertility. And of course, Robin Hood was also a "green man". Perhaps stories evolved about him in the middle ages, merely to provide a more current embodiment of that older god-like spirit from the forest.
One of the Green Man carvings in Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire

21 January 2011


Statue of the great Brian Clough, King St, Nottingham

I don't know much about Nottingham. Until yesterday, I had only been there twice. Back in the early seventies I went to Nottingham University for an interview. I had been thinking of pursuing a degree in Philosophy but the more I looked into the subject, the more I realised it wasn't really about wisdom or meanings of life but had much more to do with academic language and clever games you can play with words. This wasn't for me. The next time I went was in the mid-eighties to see my beloved Hull City beat Notts County at their historical Meadow Lane ground.

Nottingham isn't very far from Sheffield - thirty six miles straight down the M1 but whereas we are very much in the land of "Up North", Nottingham is most definitely in "The Midlands". Though Sheffield has a population in excess of half a million, the city of Nottingham is home to only 300,000. However, Greater Nottingham, embracing satellite towns like Long Eaton and West Bridgford has an estimated population of 700,000 and so the central business/shopping area feels bigger somehow.

I decided to take an off-peak train - my return ticket only cost me £11.50. It was pleasant sitting there with my beaker of coffee, watching frosty fields flash by. On the broken wall of an abandoned industrial unit, somebody had painted "Shirley"in letters two feet high. It flashed by and then we were in Alfreton.

The main purpose of my Nottingham visit was to see our son Ian in the Victoria Shopping Centre. He has been working there for a few weeks now, managing a newly-opened men's clothing store which is an offshoot of the independent retail business he worked at in Sheffield for the past six years. He seems very positive and bubbly about the new venture even though it's taking him away from his home city. He's even looking for accommodation there now. Shirley's none too happy about that.

As well as the shop visit, I did something I have often thought of - I went to have my lunch in what is reputedly the oldest inn in England. It is called "Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem" - perhaps in reference to The Crusades - and it nestles beneath Nottingham Castle, snug against the Castle Rock. In fact some of the rear rooms are like caves for they eat into the sandstone cliff behind the pub. A pub has stood on the present site since at least 1190AD. Are you noting that in The New World?
I ordered ham and eggs with chips and peas and with my pint of "Ye Olde Trip" ale, I found a small table in the labyrinth of quaint little rooms. It was only when I sat down and took out my newspaper that I realised the other occupants of the room were all women. There were four pairs and two of them clearly had their arms round each other. They were not mother and daughter either. I became aware that the other three couples were also not mothers and daughters but special friends. I had stepped into a lesbian lair! Ah well it takes all sorts and it was kind of comforting to reflect that they wouldn't be mentally undressing me and viewing me as a primitive sex object - the feelings I customarily experience in rooms filled with women!
The old Market Square, Nottingham

18 January 2011


Regular visitors to this blog will recall that back in November, I tiptoed back into the world of teaching as a one-to-one tutor in two Sheffield secondary schools. I agreed to take on four Year 7 pupils in one school and four Y9's in another. The deal was that I would provide each child with ten one hour sessions of intensive English coaching. For readers unfamiliar with the English education system, Y7 = 11/12 yr olds, Y9 = 13/14 yr olds.

In spite of snow closures, school administrative hiccups and the forgetfulness of a couple of my young charges, I am gradually getting to the end of my tutoring obligations so that the decks will soon be clear for me to invade Thailand. I must say, my experience of one-to-one tutoring has generally been delightful. The Year 7 children in School A have been a pleasure to work with. The two girls - Cassie and Florence - are both quite capable so I have been able to move away from the dull basics of literacy. The two boys - Fred and Bobby - certainly have revealed literacy "issues" and particular bad writing habits but they are both lovely boys. I think that for both of them, their main handicap is their awkward handwriting styles - slow and laboured. Where I might take fifteen seconds to write a short sentence, they take a minute. Obviously in future examination rooms, this will have a big impact upon their performances.

Over at crazy School B which seems to be organized by a branch of the Keystone Cops, one of the girls - Kylie - has been what they call in Sheffield, "a right pain", "a mardy bum". From Day One it was "Do I ave to do it on me tod? Can't I ave one of me mates wiv me?" and then later "Me mam sez I can't stay after school" etc.. I certainly won't miss her for she encapsulates the Vicky Pollard spirit of teenage arrogance and that vein of boorish self-obsession that seems to run through certain layers of English youth like the blue mould in Stilton cheese. In contrast, Rosemary has been as sweet as pineapple chunks. Always there, always polite, always trying her best and well-engaged. As with the boys at School A, perhaps Rosemary's main problem is her cumbersome handwriting style. Small case letters are often bigger than her capitals and her uncertainty hangs about her like an aura.

Max is a nice enough lad but a bit of a dolt really. Proudly, he declared that he never reads books and he doesn't like school. Frankly, I'm surprised that School B selected him for the kind of support I have been providing. The old saying that you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink is very true in Max's case. Conversely, Cody has been a great lad to work with. There's a mischievous twinkle about him, a bit of vitality. Recently we have been working on his scary story "The Lost Schoolgirl" where I have acted like a coach, egging him on and pointing out writing issues as they happen - not hours or days later as is usually the case with English teachers checking their pupils' work. Cody has loved every minute of this experience and feels very proud of the story that has emerged - with all the creative ideas drawn from him.

I doubt I'd want to go back to the asylum that is School B but if I were staying in Sheffield up to the summer, I would have happily taken on a dozen children at School A. Every time I go there I'm met by the smiling Colette, a recently married member of the admin team. She takes me to my office to unlock the door and is my reliable point of contact for emails and organisational matters. In School B, the philosophy has been more "Do It Yourself" with the right arm not knowing what the left arm is doing.

16 January 2011


We're always keeping an eye on birdlife in our suburban garden. Over the years, we have seen hedge sparrows, wrens, robins, blue tits, coal tits, chaffinches, goldfinches, collared doves, wood pigeons, blackbirds, rooks, magpies, jays, thrushes, starlings, one menacing sparrow hawk and of course returning swallows that herald summer with their breathtaking aerial displays. Surprisingly, we have never seen even a solitary seagull on our little piece of planet Earth, nor, rather less surprisingly, have we seen a wild emu, a golden eagle or a vulture.

A couple of weeks ago, Lady Pudding and I noticed a new bird perching in our old apple trees. He or she was accompanied by a dozen friends who, to our discerning gaze, looked exactly the same. A little research proved they were fieldfares. Apparently, they emigrate to Britain each winter from more northerly climes - Scandinavia, Russia. During an average winter there will be an estimated 720,000 fieldfares in the English countryside - mostly in East Anglia and Lincolnshire but they have been known to winter as far away as Cornwall, Devon and the Republic of Ireland. I had never seen them before in our garden. They have stuck around for a while now and sometimes can be seen pecking at the windfall apples I deliberately left lying on the ground beneath our craggy apple trees.

They are omniverous and sociable birds, preferring the comfort and security that belonging to small flocks provides.

Human activities have adversely affected fieldfare numbers over the years but they are not an endangered species. I marvel at their navigational skills and their ability to survive in changed environments. Not perhaps as impressive as the godwit - which Katherine has occasionally blogged about at "The Last Visible Dog"- but nevertheless a tenacious creature which annually and amazingly demonstrates the incredible survival tactics it has inherited from its ancestors - imprinted in its very DNA.

If any fieldfares are reading this post, may I say thank you for choosing our garden this mid-wintertime. You will always be welcome here and if there is anything I can do to make your stay more comfortable - please advise.

13 January 2011


Up to the age of fifty five, I thought I had discovered the secret of eternal youth. I was Peter Pan and I scorned medical attention. I ate what I wanted, drank as much as I wanted, stayed up till the early hours and tackled most practical household jobs with the gusto of an eighteen year old. My body was not a temple, it was a workhorse and it did what I told it to do. Commensurately, my memory was sharp and blunders were rare.

As a secondary school teacher and head of department, I had the best work attendance record in the school - not that this won any praise or reward - but I was quietly pleased that while others weakened, I was invulnerable. I'd often say, "Are you feeling a bit better?" when members of my team returned from yet another ill-health absence, but inside my head I was sometimes murmuring, "You weakling! Couldn't you have battled through it this time?" The very idea of a "sickie" was anathema to me.

So we arrive at now. This morning my doctor phones me about medication following a recent urine test. I make yet another appointment at the dentist's to get my bloody front tooth crown sorted. I put the spoilt cheque in the Sheffield "Parking Services" envelope and not the correct cheque I have left on the table. At the post office, I sit in the little photo booth for I.D. pictures and the quadruple-headed monster who emerges from the little slot on the side isn't really me, it's a more than middle-aged, battleworn retired geezer with heavy jowls and ever so slightly bloodshot eyes.

Last week, attempting to unlock the car whilst parked outside a supermarket, I padded all my pockets feeling a surge of panic - not in my pockets but in my head! Where had I put the keys down? At the checkout? Then, it dawned on me, the car keys were dangling from my mouth where I'd popped them as I dealt with the shopping bags. What an idiot! I laughed openly at myself which is also an odd thing to do.

And my last post - "Gorillagram". I discovered that I'd already covered that story back in 2007 though to be kind to myself - at least a nagging voice in the back of my head told me to check back and in any case nobody can remember everything.

As a teacher, I prided myself on quickly getting to know all of my students' names - usually around a hundred and eighty each academic year. However, in the last couple of year's of my illustrious career, that ability to recall their names in an instant was disappearing. I often had to scan my seating plans. Lord knows how I will get on with Thai names. Mind you the immigration officials at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok are probably instructed to deny entry to mental defectives who chew on keys and then forget where they are!

12 January 2011


This story from a summer's afternoon almost twenty years back sticks in my mind. Listen...

All week I've been working in the Hicks Building of the University of Sheffield. I am part of a team of twenty five English teachers. We are Review Panel A and it is our job to scrutinise English coursework from two hundred plus secondary schools to ensure that examination standards have been accurately applied during internal assessments.

It is laborious work. Piles and piles of students' scripts from all over the north of England. We beaver away all week in a large psychology lab where normally herds of psychology undergraduates would be accommodated. At the front is the formidable team leader, Tom Firkin, who cracks his whip intermittently to ensure we all maintain a good pace in our communal effort to erode this daunting mountain of writing. I work at the far side of the room near the window.

After lunch on Friday, we are all relieved to see that the mountain is now just a tiny hillock and the end is very close. Tom Firkin calls the assembled twenty five to order and conversation ceases. After all, this is the most important session of the week - we're discussing our expenses! Tom passes out copies of Expenses Form 17a (Yorkshire and Humberside Examinations Authority). No longer beavers but gluttonous hogs, we see ££££ signs before our eyes.

Suddenly and without warning, the door in the far corner opens and in walks a six foot gorilla! Well it isn't really a gorilla, it's a man in a full length gorilla suit. I sit grinning broadly at the surreal incongruity of this moment. In those days kissograms, stripograms and yes - gorillagrams were fashionable at certain events - hen nights, stag dos, fortieth birthday parties etc.. So here is a gorillagram in a serious exam meeting. Bizarre! But who is he here to embarrass?

Other examiners are grinning too. Even Tom Firkin is smiling nervously, not knowing how to react. Meanwhile, the gorilla, swinging its arms and producing throaty noises like the sound of boxer Frank Bruno laughing, circumnavigates the lab and moves along the line of examiners by the window aisle. When he reaches me, he stops and looks down. Then in a moment which I have little opportunity to control, this damned gorilla picks me up and literally flings me over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. Hell, I was as big a guy then as I am now - at least sixteen stones of pure Yorkshire Pudding.

Up there on the gorilla's shoulder, smiling stupidly at the other examiners who are now guffawing in unison, I puzzle as to what this is all about. It's not my birthday. Have I won a jackpot on the football pools? And where is he taking me?

Then the door opens again and in bursts a posse of examiners from Review Panel B who have been working in a different part of the building all week.

Their leader sees what's going on and yells to the gorilla: "No! Not him! Him!" pointing to an examiner of similar handsome appearance who was also wearing a blue shirt and was also stationed near to the window wall.

The gorilla dumps me and then descends on the quarry he had really been hired to humiliate. As I recall, it was indeed his birthday. But the intended scene has been distorted by the gorilla's poor hunting instinct. After all, gorillas are essentially vegetarian leaf munchers!

When the sweaty gorilla takes his head off, I compliment him on his sheer strength and he in turn is apologetic about my embarrassment. Two minutes later, the intruders, including King Kong have departed and Review Panel A returns to the important business of claiming expenses.

9 January 2011


Kat (Jessie Wallace) and Ronnie (Samantha Womack)

A current storyline in the BBC's popular soap opera - "EastEnders" - has attracted over 8000 complaints... and one message of congratulation from the author of this post. I praised the writers, the crew and the actors involved. Frankly, I'm flabbergasted that so many people could have found this gripping storyline worthy of complaint and wonder if the complainants are able to distinguish between drama and real life.

The makers of "EastEnders" have always been scrupulous about seeking out and applying specialist advice when developing scripts around tricky subjects such as living with HIV, marital abuse or drug addiction.

The current controversial storyline saw two baby boys born just before New Year's Eve. Their mothers even buy them identical baby-gro outfits with the logo "Daddy's Boy" across the front.

As Baby Tommy Moon sleeps in his cot upstairs in "The Queen Victoria" public house, the other baby, James Branning, is alone in the bedroom of his parents' flat. Meanwhile, his mother, Ronnie Branning falls asleep on the couch. When Ronnie wakes up, she goes to check on James to find that he has passed away, the victim of cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Ronnie is beside herself with shock and grief. She bundles James's body up in a blanket and in an unthinking, zombie-like state wanders off to "The Vic" just as staff and customers are ringing in the new year. She enters through the back door and goes upstairs to the bedroom where Tommy is sleeping. It isn't as if she has really planned it. It just sort of happens. She swaps the babies and returns home with her new bundle, still in some sort of emotional daze.

Although later she has the urge to return Tommy and admit what she has done, circumstances militate against her and she feels obliged to continue with the lie. Naturally Tommy's family and especially his mother, Kat Moon, are utterly distraught. When Kat goes to see her dead child in hospital, she breaks down, screaming "That's not my baby!" but others just think it's her hysteria speaking.

For the last twenty five years, I have been a huge fan of "EastEnders" and refute the common suggestion that it's all "morbid" or "depressing". Such judgements are invariably made by people who don't watch the show or may have watched half an episode out of context. On Christmas Day, "EastEnders" attracted the country's biggest TV audience so I surmise that I am not alone in my advocacy.

As I say, I am still baffled as to why the current storyline was subject to so many complaints. The writers were certainly not belittling the tragic nature of cot death. In fact if the moaners had been patient, they would have seen that dramatic exploration of the challenging issue was only just beginning. It's funny though isn't it, in various areas of life we seem to give too much credence to complainers when sometimes it would be more honest and just to say - we've listened to your remarks and utterly dispute what you're saying. Instead, the BBC have agreed to curtail the cot death storyline, rather than developing it through the several weeks that were at first planned.

7 January 2011


All of us exchange words with strangers in our daily lives. Usually it's connected with shopping or receiving services. Now in these exchanges, I always try my best to be civil and pleasant. It's rooted in my nature to respect such people - often on low incomes and probably all capable of better things.

However, the provision of services means that one partner is a provider and the other a receiver, client or customer. Traditionally in England, where service transactions were concerned, men would always be addressed as "sir" and women as "miss" or "madam". Using such forms of address never suggested that the provider was somehow less equal. The terms simply endowed the exchange with respectful formality.

Increasingly, I am finding that those traditional forms of address are being abandoned. Just yesterday, I was in "EuroSpar" over at Broomhill and the twenty something young man on checkout twice addressed me as "mate". I wanted to say to him, "I am not your mate! Please call me 'sir' you scallywag!"

Just before Christmas I needed to see a doctor at my local health centre. When it was my turn to go in, the matronly receptionist announced "The doctor will see you now love!". I mean "love"! I find the term so condescending and disrespectful when used by strangers in such contexts. Does she call the doctors who are partners at the health centre "love"? Would she call her solicitor or her bank manager "love"? I doubt it.

And that reminds me of one of the headteachers I had to labour under - not literally! She was only about five feet three and took over from the headteacher who had promoted me to Head of English a few years before. I'd have been over forty years old at the time. I became annoyed at various levels about how she used the term "love" when addressing me. I thought it extremely patronising and unprofessional. I suffered it for several months and then one day when I was alone with her in her office, I took her to task over this matter, insisting that from then on she should address me by my name. It had all been about the exercise of power. This slight little woman in a powerful position thought she had the licence to almost unconsciously demean me - a six foot hulk of manly Yorkshireness - by using the sort of condescension some people reserve for children. After that meeting, she never again called me "love" and I think I taught her important lessons about use of language and how to win respect from her staff.

"Pal", "duck", "mister", "bro". I don't want to be addressed with terms like these. I want the people who provide me with services to appreciate that I and other customers or clients are their paymasters. Without us they'd have no jobs to go to. And to continue this ranting, it also makes my blood boil when call centre people address me by my first name even though they have not asked for my permission to do so. Grrrr! Gnash! Have a nice day!

5 January 2011


My old blogging buddy, Ian at "Shooting Parrots", wondered how my Christmas scanner would cope with colour negatives. I know that one or two other visitors are interested in scanning old slides and negatives. So I dipped into my old shoebox - stuffed full with negatives from long ago. I felt angry at my younger self for not labelling the packs but to be fair that guy never anticipated that one day we'd be able to buy little scanners like my newest little friend. So for Ian and others, here's our two children posing mischievously for daddy about sixteen years ago - created from a colour negative:-
And here's O'Brian's Tower near the village of Doolin in West Clare, Ireland. I took this picture back in the summer of 1985:-
What I am finding is that some negatives have deteriorated a little more than others so that colour is not as true as you might hope. However some of those colour issues can easily be addressed with the editing facilities available both with the scanner and in Picasa or HP ImageZone.

I could quite easily spend the next week scanning my negatives but there's one particular negative I'd really like to unearth - it's of a young woman called Michaela. In the early nineties I was her form tutor in secondary school. I photographed her when I went to visit her at her work experience placement - a hairdressing salon in Hillsborough. She was a sparkly girl and I liked her.

I taught her older sister and her younger brother. Little did I know that less than ten years later she'd be a prostitute plying her trade in Sheffield's red light area. On Bonfire Night, 2001, as rockets cascaded in the sky, she was cruelly murdered by a bad man who, to this day, remains at large.

4 January 2011


Can there be a finer, healthier or more spiritually uplifting activity than simply walking? The English countryside is embroidered with stories of long ago - it's there in the field patterns, the stonework, the vegetation, the illogical curving of roads and paths. As you walk, you become alert to those ancient signs. The air is pure and clean. You feel free. Beads of sweat form on your brow, you huff and puff but essentially the pace of your walking is controlled by your body and how you're feeling.

One of my greatest pleasures is to grab a map, work out a circular walking route and bomb off into the countryside with my boots. Hence, on Monday, I parked up just outside the Derbyshire hamlet of Abney and headed off down Abney Clough and round the back of Abney Low - which is a circular hill farmed and occupied since neolithic times - as the term "low" would indicate.

Too much Christmas turkey, too much bubble and squeak and Christmas pud and Roses' chocolates... I really needed a walk. And it was invigorating to be out there in the crisp January air, walking paths still frost-hardened. Like a soldier, I could have marched all day but I limited myself to a couple of hours. In that fresh winter's afternoon - with the sun already heading for the western horizon, it occurred to me that in the sultry heat of Bangkok there may be days ahead when I will hunger for such wintry freshness.

Here's my little Abney Album in memory of January 3rd 2011:-
Hamlet sign just where I parked

Trees silhouetted in Abney Clough

View to Smelting Hill from Bretton Clough

Cockey Farm on the edge of Abney

2 January 2011


Dipping into boxes of slides and picking out just a few to scan, I come across moments from my family of which I have no recollection. The colours in the first photo are as clear as if the picture had been taken last summer. But it's 1959, somewhere in Cornwall. No doubt my oldest brother Paul was the photographer. He'd have been twelve. There's Dad who died in 1979. Brother Simon who still lives in the East Riding village where I was born. Brother Robin and yours truly at the age of six, next to Mum who died in 2007 and would have been a sprightly thirty eight in this holiday photo. Dad would have been forty five.

Below - Paul was probably the photographer again. It's 1965 and we're sitting - probably on a section of Hadrian's Wall which is not too far from Braithwaite in Cumbria where we holidayed for perhaps ten Whitsuntides in a row. I'm the one on the right - again showing off my shapely legs that, much to my chagrin, captured the lascivious imaginations of one or two previous observers. Philip was the best of fathers, with many interests and talents and during his final years, as I entered the teaching profession, my bond with him strengthened. As I grow older, I accept more readily that I am very much like him.
And finally, a photograph of our darling Frances with a moustachioed me on the western bank of the River Trent in the North Lincolnshire hamlet of Gunthorpe where Shirley's father was a farmer all his life. It was the summer of 1989. Frances was not yet able to walk. Since then, Shirley's parents have also left us - Charlie in 2000 and Winnie in 2008. It's funny isn't it, sometimes when you are in the midst of life you have the illusion that what you have got will last forever but of course it never does. The old die. The young grow up. Friends come and go. The calendar's pages are flipped as if windblown and before you know it all is lost.

1 January 2011


Things they don't teach you in school:-
  1. How to change the fuse on an electric plug.
  2. Wallpapering.
  3. The functions of local councils and the responsibilities of councillors.
  4. How to compose good photographs.
  5. The struggle through history for workers' rights.
  6. The fact that 0.6 per cent of the British people own 69% of the land.
  7. How to successfully poach eggs.
  8. How to apply for a passport.
  9. Vegetable gardening.
  10. The Highway Code.
  11. Ley line theories.
  12. Astronomy.
  13. Making sense of social security red tape including how to apply for unemployment benefits.
  14. The history and geography of China.
  15. Worming pets.
  16. The difference between academic achievement and wisdom.
  17. Housing rights and responsibilities.
  18. Coarse fishing techniques.
  19. Britain's pagan history - pre-dating Christianity by many centuries
  20. That life is short
And many, many other things that matter.