31 August 2011

Tadpoles

You often see books, newspaper or magazine articles that suggest "things to do before you die". You know the sort of thing - bungee jump, drive a Ferrari, climb Mount Fuji in cherry blossom season and of course - everyone's ultimate dream - to swim with dolphins! Well I was thinking about these lists when I woke up this morning and for your edification I have decided to present my own - alternative list of fifteen things to do before you die.
  1. Check the car's oil level and tyre pressures.
  2. Climb up to the attic and start sorting out all the accumulated crap that has been shoved up there from cuddly toys the kids hugged when they were little to damaged suitcases and old Christmas decorations.
  3. Visit Wolverhampton.
  4. Take the excess plastic you have collected in bins to a recycling centre as, absurdly, the council will only collect plastic bottles - not plastic trays, carrier bags and such like.
  5. Go under the house and sort out all the half-empty cans of paint you possess. Mostly they will just need chucking away as a lot of the paint is over ten years old and has hardened like rock or has developed surface skin that's as impenetrable as a hospital matron's bloomers.
  6. Polish every pair of shoes you possess including the stylish brogues that last saw polish in 1983.
  7. Trim the hair that's weirdly sprouting from your lug holes - not just the aperture entrances but round the fleshy rims as well.
  8. Get the first eye test you have had since you were in primary school.
  9. Lead a team of saboteurs devoted firstly to blowing up Britain's 4000 fixed speed cameras and, secondly, to digging up the ridiculous and ill-considered speed bumps that blight many of Sheffield's suburban roads causing Nissan Micra drivers to slow down to 10mph for each and every bump.
  10. Read the Quran, Curan, Koran or whatever you want to call it to find out what all these mosques and people in funny religious apparel are all about. Who knows - it could be required reading in all British schools by 2025.
  11. Learn to poach an egg perfectly every time - instead of watching the white swirling around like a mist in the pan or the yoke bursting on impact with the boiling water.
  12. Delete unnecessary files, documents and pictures from your computer.
  13. Resurrect your complaint about the outrageous twenty euro airport development tax that is demanded unexpectedly from travellers as they pass through Knock Airport in Ireland. Sheer daylight robbery!
  14. Go to night school to learn the intricate craft of ironing shirts.
  15. Swim with tadpoles.
Any other suggestions?

29 August 2011

Quotations

Twelve quotations:-

"All the world is queers save thee and me and even thou art a little queer" - Robert Owen (1771-1858)

"Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never led to hate and almost always leads to love."
- John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)

"There is nothing greater than enthusiasm" - Henry Moore (1898 - 1986)

"Honest people don't hide their deeds" - Emily Bronte (1818 - 1848)

"Talking about the general psychological health of the species, man. He needs the existence of mysteries, not their solution" - John Fowles (1926-2005)

"Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens - Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." - Harper Lee (b.1926)

"Had I been a man, I might have explored the poles or climbed Mount Everest, but as it was, my spirit found outlet in the air." - Amy Johnson (1903-1941)

"Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet." - Bob Dylan (b. 1941)

"Better to die standing than to live on your knees" - Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967)

"We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over." - Aneurin Bevan (1897 -1960)

"Discrimination still exists. Some people feel that their own beliefs are being threatened. Some are unhappy about unfamiliar cultures. They all need to be reassured that there is so much to be gained by reaching out to others; that diversity is indeed a strength and not a threat." - Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926)

Have you got any favourite quotations you'd like to share?

28 August 2011

Reunion

On Thursday, I met up for lunch with two former colleagues at "The Meadow Farm" pub-restaurant , Ecclesfield on the northeastern edge of the city. Part of me just wants to relegate memories of my long teaching career to history and move forwards but Sofia and Emma are such nice people that for them I'm happy to resist that urge.

It's been two years now. There have been no regrets. If I hadn't taken my early retirement package in the summer of 2009, I wouldn't have got to teach in Bangkok or experience the naturalness of one-to-one teaching in two other Sheffield secondary schools or travel to Easter Island. Looking back, the job, its associated pressures, the ten hour days and the thankless weekend and holiday work were squeezing the life out of me like a medieval press. However, unlike Giles Corey in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", I certainly was not crying out for "more weight". Quite the opposite.

It's nice to see Emma getting on with her life. She's twenty eight now and I'm rather proud that I was instrumental in giving her a first real break as a teacher. She was dogged, reliable and resilient. Next month she'll be my old school's new Second in English. With her boyfriend, she has bought a house and has recently had a new kitchen fitted.

Sofia was my English department's very capable teaching assistant. Having extricated herself from a difficult marriage, she has raised two teenage daughters pretty much on her own and, to her credit, they have both turned out well. She was practical and effective, intervening sensitively when behaviour flare-ups in classrooms occurred or when troubled teachers had just about reached the ends of their tethers. We got on famously and I'm pleased that she is proceeding nicely with her foundation degree which will ultimately lead her to a full teaching qualification and therefore a much better rate of pay.

After sitting in the late August sunshine at "Meadow Farm" I captured some photos of northern Sheffield for the Geograph British Isles mapping project. This is what I saw:-
"The Meadow Farm", Ecclesfield

Elliott Lane, Whitley

Barnes Hall

Church of St Paul, Parson Cross Estate

Sheffield Lane Top

26 August 2011

Gaddafi

Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi came to power in Libya in 1969 when he was just twenty seven years old. That's him above in the picture. What made him so special? What leadership skills and wise understanding about life did he possess in order to seize power and hold on to it for so long? The essence of the man is plain to see in the following quotations:-
________________________________

“If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body.”

“Sporting clubs which constitute the traditional sports institutions in the world today are rapacious social instruments. The grandstands of public athletic fields are actually constructed to obstruct access to the fields.”

"Women must be trained to fight in houses, prepare explosive belts and blow themselves up alongside enemy soldiers. Anyone with a car must prepare it and know how to install explosives and turn it into a car-bomb. We must train women to place explosives in cars and blow them up in the midst of enemies, and blow up houses so that they can collapse on enemy soldiers. Traps must be prepared. You have seen how the enemy checks baggage: we must fix these suitcases in order for them to explode when they open them. Women must be taught to place mines in cupboards, bags, shoes, children's toys so that they explode on enemy soldiers." - 2003

“Women, like men, are human beings. This is an incontestable truth… Women are different from men in form because they are females, just as all females in the kingdom of plants and animals differ from the male of their species… According to gynecologists women, unlike men, menstruate each month… Since men cannot be impregnated they do not experience the ailments that women do. She breastfeeds for nearly two years.”

"Whenever I ask about Pepsi-Cola or Coca-Cola, people immediately say it is an American or European drink. This is not true. The kola is African. They have taken the cheap raw material from us. They produced it, they made it into a drink, and they sell it to us for a high price. Why are Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola expensive? Because they have taken our kola, produced it, and sold it back to us. We should produce it ourselves and sell it to them." - 2007
_________________________________________

More recent quotes include the following:-
  • "Is there any toilet paper left?"
  • "How are Barnsley doing in the league this season?"
  • "What the hell was that?"
  • and "Help! I'm scared shitless!"
But I doubt that the end quotes will appear in any revised editions of his famous "Green Book" - mainly because, if you hadn't already guessed, I made them up!

25 August 2011

Milestone

I first took up blogging in June 2005. I can't really remember why. I think I had stumbled upon a couple of blogs while exploring the net and probably thought, "I could do that". Having dabbled in writing since childhood and being an opinionated so-and-so, I saw that blogging could be both a release valve and a means of publishing without the hindrance of editors or publishers. More recently, I have enjoyed using my blog to share photographs with visitors.

Essentially, making a blog can be like making a diary. When I look back on the last six years, I see how my life has proceeded. Many notable things have happened. My beloved mother and oldest brother died. My football team made it to The Premiership. I escaped from my teaching career through early retirement. Frances got her A levels and went to university - then joined the rat race. Shirley and I visited India, Morocco and Hong Kong. My brother-in-law, Norman and my mother-in-law, Winnie died. Boris, our cat, disappeared. We had a family holiday in California. Ian bought a house. I took up an unexpected opportunity to teach in Thailand... Without this blog, those events, those moments would have mingled in the swamp of my memory. The blog has allowed me to mark them all.

Visitors have come and gone like other blogs I once I enjoyed. Thank you to my regular visitors who have stuck with me for a long time now - Jenny in Wrexham, Robert in Georgia, Ian at "Shooting Parrots", Katherine in NZ, Elizabeth, Lord John Gray, Jan at Sloughhouse, Helen in Brisbane, Michael in Sydney and to the people who visit but never leave comments - Oldham Mike, Mick, Richard in Minneapolis, Sofia, Tricky Trev etc.. Thank you all.

It's like a journey. When I set out in June 2005, I didn't know how far my blog would travel or for how long. Perhaps I'll still be writing it on my deathbed. "Nurse! Nurse! Bring me a laptop!"

Getting sleepy now. The morphine gives me bizarre dreams. They say
I've only got a few days left, perhaps hours, perhaps min.... shit! So adiĆ³s amigos!

24 August 2011

Harrogate

One thing leads to another and today I found myself at The Mercer Art Gallery in the heart of Harrogate. I was there to see the special exhibition of Atkinson Grimshaw's artistry which runs until September 4th. Various key paintings had been lent to The Mercer - including the familar "Princes Dock, Hull". It was lovely to see Grimshaw's work close up and to learn more about his life.

Harrogate is a place that doesn't seem to belong in Yorkshire. The town is all tea shops, cupolas, BMW's and flower beds. It's as if it was ripped out of the ground somewhere deep in the Home Counties and transported north. Of course it owes much of its refined character to the fact that it was England's first real spa town and during the Victorian era it attracted hordes of visitors seeking to "take the waters" - as well as getting a break from the main Victorian preoccupations - industry and duty.

I visited Harrogate because I had the time. Frances is working in Leeds now but hasn't found her own flat or studio apartment yet so this morning I zoomed over to Leeds to see three or four rental properties, including a minuscule studio on the thirteenth floor of the huge West Point apartment block. There were some less modernistic places to see in Headingley and then I had three hours to kill before late afternoon viewings. Harrogate fitted nicely in between. And of course I took photographs. Let me share a few of them with you in chronological order:-
View from West Point, Harrogate's Pump Room, Crown Place in Harrogate, Cat on a gatepost with the Wharfe valley beyond, Statue of Sir Peter Fairbairn in Leeds

22 August 2011

Recommendation

Last week, following a strong recommendation from Oldham Mike, I went to The Showroom cinema near our city's main railway station to see "Sarah's Key" based on the novel of the same name by Tatiana De Rosnay and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. I was not disappointed. Starring Kristin Scott-Thomas as an investigative magazine reporter, the film explores what is for France a veiled and embarrassing episode in the history of World War Two.

In the summer of 1942, under the instructions of the Nazis, Parisian police herded up over thirteen thousand members of the Jewish faith and held them in disgustingly inhumane conditions in an old velodrome until arrangements could be made to ship them away to death camps. One of those Jews was a little girl called Sarah who, sensing the danger at her family's door, instinctively locked her little brother in a secret wardrobe to keep him safe and took away the key.

I loved the way the film moved frequently from the desperation of wartime to the present day and the magazine reporter's pursuit of the truth. There was an interesting mingling of lives - as if somehow what happened in the past had infected the present with repercussions still hovering around like a fusty aroma.

It was a tender film containing a range of human emotions - from fear to selflessness and from joy to utter disbelief. At one level you are confronted with the horror of what human beings are still capable of doing in wartime and at another level you recognise the essential goodness to be found in people - in Sarah, the farming family who adopted her and in Scott-Thomas's character - Julia Jamond.

This was a film with depth. It held my attention throughout as a good film should. There were about thirty people in the screening I attended and unusually, everybody stayed in their seats until the credits were over. "Sarah's Key" - I recommend it wholeheartedly. And thanks to Oldham Mike for pointing me towards it.

21 August 2011

Brainwave

A number of people have become very rich via the internet and usually on the backs of very simple ideas. I think of e-bay, Friends Reunited, Trip Advisor, Bebo and Facebook to name but a few. Perhaps, like me, you have sometimes wondered what the next lucrative internet phenomenon might be and could I/you conceive the core idea. A spark to light a fire. Well wonder no more, for I have seen the light. It struck me as I was weaving home from the pub the other night. The antithesis of Facebook. Yes that's it. Assbook... Bumbook... Arsebook and finally I came up with:-
Millions of hours have been wasted around the planet - mostly by younger generations - amending and checking out their Facebook pages and social connections. Facebookphilia is all around us - not just on laptops and home computers but on smart phones too. In offices, universities, internet cafes, schools, libraries and factories the Facebook legions keep checking and changing their pages like obsessive lunatics.

Buttbook will be different from that. To begin with, there'll be no faces - just butts. Visitors will be restricted to no more than ten minutes a day on the site. Anyone found using the term "lol" will be immediately barred but with regard to misuse of capital letters in written posts, the principle "three strikes and you're out" will be applied. Comments must be entirely truthful and credits will be earned by those judged to be champions at kicking butts - not literally but metaphorically. There will be separate sections for kicking the butts of banks, the wrongdoing of public servants, insurance companies, supermarkets, celebrities with inflated egos and media moguls.

Idle Facebook-like chitter chatter will be deleted immediately by highly intelligent and good-looking moderators. Any photographs uploaded must not include pictures taken at parties, in pubs or at nightclubs or any photos of Lancashire or the Costa Brava. In Buttbook's business plan we expect to earn an estimated $250,000 by Christmas and as the phenomenon gathers pace, profits from advertising are expected to double and redouble with each passing quarter. We shall only advertise "uncool" products like "Izal" toilet paper, "Woodbine" cigarettes, "Vosene" shampoo, The Liberal Democrats and balsa wood - giving Buttbook a distinctive "retro" appeal.

You've got to move with the times and Buttbook is surely the next "big thing". If you would like to apply to become a Buttbook moderator or want to invest your life savings in Buttbook, please feel free to summarise your credentials in the "comments" section after this post. Eat your heart out Zuckerberg!

19 August 2011

Grimshaw

John Atkinson Grimshaw 1836 - 1893

Just in case you think I was fooling - John Atkinson Grimshaw really did exist and really did earn a fortune as an artist towards the end of the Victorian era. Above, you can see his painting of the Humber Docks, Hull dated 1882. In the very centre of the picture next to the domes of the dock offices you can see the city's statue of William Wilberforce on a column rising out of the gloom. After the Humber Dock was filled in, Wilberforce's statue was moved to the end of what is now Queen's Gardens.

In 2009, when this painting was sold at Sotheby's in London, it raised the princely sum of £400,000 making it the priciest painting of Hull ever sold. A very similar painting by Grimshaw hangs in Hull's Ferens Art Gallery. It is called "Princes Dock, Hull" and was also created in 1882. Look closely and you may spot some differences. I remember at the start of the nineteen seventies, as an A level Art student, marvelling at this picture and wondering just how Grimshaw had created those dramatic lighting effects.

18 August 2011

Leeds

An odd and perennial chant at many northern football grounds is this:-

We all hate Leeds
We all hate Leeds
We all hate Leeds
Scum!

Hardly Percy Bysshe Shelley is it? It refers to Leeds United - once a renown Premier League football club, now languishing in England's lower divisions. They had a reputation for hard tackling and winning at all costs and their fans often behaved barbarically - like an invading white army. I guess that fans of other clubs were essentially jealous of them.

I remember the sixties when I started supporting Hull City, my third division home town club. On Saturday mornings, at the city's Paragon Station you'd see little furtive huddles of Leeds United supporters - heading westwards into the dark heart of West Yorkshire, transferring their loyalties from the place of their birth for the fancypants "Match of the Day" TV team at Elland Road. Traitors!

From birth, I went to Leeds once a year with my parents. I remember rows and rows of redbrick terraced streets with cast iron Victorian street signs and ugly factories looming from the city's sprawl. The annual visit was always to The Delhi Reunion where RAF and WAAF personnel who had been stationed in India during World War II would meet and remember their war in a smoke-blackened methodist church in Beeston while their postwar children raced around and fell out with each other. Hardly the Taj Mahal. That was Leeds to me - big, Victorian and rather ugly - so different from our blissful East Yorkshire village.

Yesterday I had to visit Leeds with our lovely daughter, Frances. After graduation, she was kicking her heels, trying desperately to find a job with a living wage attached in a rather inhospitable economic climate. It was becoming a concern. Then a friend connected her with an international recruitment consultancy. Swiftly, she went through three separate interviews and rapidly landed a pretty well-paid job but with one nasty catch. It would be in Leeds!

So there we were in Yorkshire's Gomorrah - Leeds. There were Leodensians and Loiners everywhere. I was wishing I'd put on a ski mask. The city's Highway's Department had specially devised a roadsign scheme designed to baffle visitors. You know what I mean? First roundabout there's a sign to Headingley, second roundabout - there's the Headingley sign again. Third roundabout - oh what a great joke - no sign for Headingley!

However, with good fortune we made the Headingley/Hyde Park area and investigated some of the warrens, dens and setts where the Loiners reside. Some of these places even looked like proper homes! It was incredible! On one street I saw a house with a blue plaque indicating that the Victorian artist Atkinson Grimshaw had once lived there. Great name that isn't it - Atkinson Grimshaw - so Leeds! Not Salvador Dali or Henri Matisse but Atkinson Grimshaw - like a Dickensian moneylender.

Later we went to the twenty first century Clarence Dock zone by the River Aire. Blocks of new designer flats here - as in every English city. The glossy magazine lifestyle with paper-thin stud walls and nowhere for visitors to park.

We left Leeds in the early evening - surprisingly unscathed. At least Frances now has more rental ideas but she starts work on Monday morning... "Hello, Atkinson Grimshaw Recruitment Agency, how can I help you?" She will need somewhere to live but for a while she could commute from Sheffield. Physically it is only thirty five miles away but culturally, morally and aesthetically it's at the other side of the planet!
Atkinson Grimshaw's house (1866-1870)
Clarence Dock
The new "Beverley Hills Shopping Mall", Hyde Park, Leeds

15 August 2011

Blogolax

Remember penicillin? Aspirin? Viagra? Well there is a new wonderdrug on the market, specially devised for bloggers who encounter a kind of creative constipation. Perhaps you have had the feeling? You have been blogging away happily for months and then suddenly you hit a wall. Nothing to say. Out of ideas. You have said it all before. Sounds familiar? Well very probably you need to give new "Blogolax" a try. Complete the course and within days you will be back blogging again like a lunatic.

Read some of the testimonials:-

"I had been blogging for a few years about life in my idyllic Welsh village when I suddenly found I had nothing left to say. Then a friend told me about Blogolax and before I knew it I was hammering away at my keyboard again with vivid poultry and canine tales that were more intense and amusing than ever before and all thanks to Blogolax" - John Gray "Going Gently"

"After retirement, I would lie in bed till noon moaning: 'Oh woe is me!' I virtually gave up blogging from my luxurious ranch near Sacramento, California but then a friend gave me a few Blogolax caplets. I swallowed them and the following morning I returned to blogging with greater energy and imagination than ever before. Blogolax has changed my life." - Jan Blawat "Cosumne Girl"

"Of course I have experimented with many drugs in my life - usually for recreational purposes. But when I found I couldn't blog any more I turned to Blogolax. A Blogolax capsule a day has turned me back into a fertile blogger with plenty to say. Thank heavens for new Blogolax." - Rory Rhodes "Shooting Parrots"

So why wait? If you find your blogging juices have run dry, it's time for Blogolax - for bloggers who care!

Capsules can be purchased from Yorkshire Pudding Enterprises Ltd at only £14.50 per capsule. Ten capsules only £145.00. Credit card details should be posted to this blog address. Remember to include £17.50 for postage and packing with each order.

14 August 2011

Sculptures

It must be sixteen years since I last visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park at West Bretton near Wakefield. Wow! How much it has changed! Thankfully, entrance is still free - you just have to pay a fiver to park your car. Shirley and I wandered around for three hours but could have easily stayed longer. The grounds - once the rambling country estate of historic Bretton Hall - are themselves extensive and well-worth exploring.

There are permanent seminal works by Yorkshire sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth - set in the context of rolling meadows where they are fully exposed to the elements. These abstract and monumental pieces seem to somehow sing of the aspirations and the modernity of the nineteen sixties while still being rooted very much in the natural world. I appreciate them more than I used to.

I love just about everything that Antony Gormley has ever done in the name of Art - from "The Angel of the North" to "The Field for Britain" and the "Iron Men" on Formby Sands near Liverpool. At Bretton one of his iron men stands like a sentinel atop a tall dead tree trunk. Gormley calls this work "One and Other".

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park houses various temporary exhibitions and currently it is home to some fantastic three dimensional work by the Spanish artist - Jaume Plensa. There are huge outdoor pieces and breathtaking indoor exhibitions. Plensa likes to play with language, light and sound, as well as a range of physical materials - seeking to convey something of the wonder of being to his open-mouthed visitors. We were mightily impressed. His welcome presence at the sculpture park has been extended to January 22nd 2012.

As most people know, Yorkshire is the true world centre of arts, crafts and culture. If it's within shouting distance for you and yours, I would thoroughly recommend a day trip to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park but look out for a bright day so that you enjoy effective illumination and take some good walking shoes and perhaps a picnic. Now to Jaume Plensa:-

And finally, here's a dead tree I spotted near the car park - an accidental sculpture in itself:-

13 August 2011

Apes

Today our baby boy is twenty seven years old. He is going down to London after work - not to loot or riot but to be with his lovely girlfriend - Ruby. So last night, as a family, we drove over to the Centertainment complex near Meadowhall. First we had very nice burgers at The Handmade Burger Company - using 2for1 vouchers that Ian had been given in his shop. Then we went into Cineworld to watch "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" which is newly out in British cinemas.

Click on plot to get a plot summary. How was it?

It had many gripping moments and some of the special effects were verging on the incredible. The chimpanzees were usually convincing but the leading chimp - Caesar played by Andy Serkis - sometimes appeared unbelievably tall, facing his surrogate human father Will Rodman, played by James Franco, eye to eye. I am not a primeatologist but I am sure that even if a mature chimp stretched upright it would not stand six feet tall. Would it?

The scenes on The Golden Gate Bridge were quite breathtaking with chimps swinging vigorously under the metal stanchions beneath the roadway or ascending effortlessly up the steel cabling. The sense of movement as the growing army of chimps moved through San Francisco was truly spectacular.

However, there was a certain obviousness about the storyline. I guess that is to be expected when a film is aimed at family audiences. Even a love interest element was woven in as zoo vet Freida Pinto played by the delectable Caroline Aranha got it on with Rodman. It was engineered to a formula - growing from the placidity of a research laboratory to a dramatic crescendo in which the apes look back from the redwood forest towards San Francisco as if subconsciously already planning their takeover of the planet.

No doubt there'll be a "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (2) but I won't be rushing to watch it even though Ian and Frances both agreed that last night's film was brilliant. Shirley, by the way, was underwhelmed by the whole experience.

In any case, perhaps the apes are already taking over in the real world. We saw them last weekend marauding through the streets of England's major cities - though not I am happy to say in Sheffield - our fourth biggest city - which provided a calm and civilised contrast to the mayhem endured elsewhere - "Rise of The Planet of The Yorkshire Puddings"... people going quietly about their lives, walking whippets up slag heaps while munching on pork scratchings - "Ey up! Ow's tha goin' on?" I wonder if that could also be a Hollywood blockbuster.

11 August 2011

Counterbalancing

In Ireland, I snapped over two hundred pictures, mostly for the Geograph online mapping project. To counterbalance the hurt caused by the horrendous rioting that hit a small number of urban neighbourhoods in this green and pleasant land, I give you six of my most recent pictures from The Emerald Isle:-
Rural scene near Kilfenora, County Clare

Convent of Mercy in Cappamore, County Limerick

Glen of Aherlow in County Tipperary

Cait - Paul's granddaughter

Abandoned cottage near Kilfenora

The Lickeen Lough, County Clare

9 August 2011

London

London's burning, London's burning.
Fetch the engines, fetch the engines.
Fire fire, Fire Fire!
Pour on water, pour on water.
London's burning, London's burning.

I leave England for a long weekend and look what happens! The images on our television screens have been quite unbelievable. I was fiddling around with my Irish photographs until the early hours and then I switched to the BBC News to watch live streaming of a Sony distribution centre burning down in Enfield. What the hell is going on?

The politicians parrot their usual scripts. It's all about "criminality". And, the "perpetrators" will be brought "to justice" says our esteemed Old Etonian leader. Those same politicians live the high life - directorships, lecture fees, chumminess with foreign politicians, kids in private schools, late night TV chat shows, honorary doctorates and of course the expenses - who could forget their expenses?

Don't get me wrong. I have no sympathy for the arrogant little toerags involved in looting and wanton damage in our capital city. Teachers have to teach these horrible oiks. Spotty youths with baggy jeans, disrespectful attitudes, piercings, baseball caps, estuary English - "nowoah mean man innit?". I would certainly vote for the return of medieval punishments for them. But the boil that has now burst could have been lanced long ago. It's a bit like Libya or Yemen in microcosm - you leave something long enough, the inevitable will happen.

I am not racist and therefore have no compunction about saying that Britain's open door policies of the past - creating in London a crazy melting pot of cultures, races and lifestyles has contributed massively to what has happened these last few days. Broken homes. Weak parenting. Images of dream lifestyles that taunt and enrage penniless nobodies in damp flats where their music of the night is glass being smashed, sirens wailing and babies crying. David Beckham and Cheryl Cole look down from billboards saying "Look at us. We are your new gods but you can never come to our heaven you losers!"

CCTV cameras everywhere. Murdoch lying. Cameron lying. Schoolteachers lying about careers - "If you really want it you can get it". Amy Winehouse dying. The swishing of fingers on Blackberry screens. Fat bankers in feeding frenzies. Professional footballers in Lamborghinis. Policemen fiddling expenses. Exclusive menus in West End restaurants - champagne at £224 a bottle. You stand on the corner munching on a kebab that you couldn't really afford. Swilling it down with cheap cider. "Send her victorious. Happy and glorious." Yeah - right!

Where do we go from here? Now that Pandora's Box has been opened. Curfews? Bring in the Army?Parade them through the courts as they smirk at each other and play with their golden chains. Learning mentors. Bringing back the EMA's that Cameron should have never scrapped. Terrible things have happened. Terrible. The veneer stripped away. So where do we go from here?

I don't know where we go but I imagine those terrible scenes - those demons unleashed as this soundtrack plays:-
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

4 August 2011

Weekend

Paul and Josephine's house in County Clare

In case you're wondering where I have gone, I am off to Ireland this weekend. Mainly to see Paul's family. Perhaps I'll be able to help Josephine to sort out a gravestone for my big brother. I'm not sure how much these things cost. There's good money to be made when people die - undertakers, florists, pub and hotel buffets, solicitors (Crooks, Glutton and Sons), burial plot fees and finally the stone - "Oh yes sir, no problemo! We can do that for you. The price? Do you wanna sit down?" I am also planning to visit Tipperary. It's a long, long way to Tipperary you know! And I want to take a good number of photographs for the Geograph project before flying back to Liverpool from Cork on Monday afternoon. There may be also time for half a dozen pints of the black stuff. Stranger things have happened.

3 August 2011

Nilsson

Nilsson and Una on their wedding day in 1976 with
Ringo Starr as best man.

A couple of weeks ago, I tuned into a late night BBC 4 programme about the life of Harry Nilsson. Remember him? He had such a sweet voice and he performed* classics like "Without You" even though he refused to participate in live concerts. For a time he was John Lennon's best buddy.

In his thirties, after his first marriage had broken up and when he had given in to the twin demons of drink and drugs, he found himself, one day, walking past an ice cream parlour in New York City. I believe the year was 1975. He stood in the doorway and spotted a pretty young temporary worker called Una O'Keeffe. She was from Ireland. Nilsson more or less confronted her and to her embarrassment said she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and that he would always love her. How could he prove his love for her?

Off the cuff, and probably still blushing with embarrassment, Una said - bring me flowers and melons. She continued her shift in the ice cream parlour while unbeknownst to her, Harry Nilsson sought flowers and melons. When Una's shift ended, there was Harry at the side-walk, standing beside a limousine and in front of him, buckets of flowers from the docks and baskets of melons from a local fruiterer. Young Una was bowled over.

They married in 1976. Una was already pregnant. She gave Nilsson six kids - Annie, Beau, Ben, Kief, Olivia and Oscar. Beautiful children. Una remained the loveliest element in his entire and much-troubled life and certainly prolonged it.

In the documentary, she reported that on the night Nilsson died - in January 1994 - they were lying in bed together watching a film - "Enchanted April". She said she was feeling tired and needed to sleep. Nilsson held her hand and told her how much he loved her and then in the morning he lay cold and dead beside her.

I was struck by Una's demeanour as she related the story of her marriage. There was something definitely beatific about her expression and in spite of Nilsson's waywardness, it was clear that she had loved him very much indeed. I found the story of their meeting and separation through death very moving and I sincerely hope that this reaction was not entirely because I had seen so very little television in South East Asia.

* Thanks to Steve (Occupied Country) who correctly pointed out that Nilsson didn't actually write the song.

1 August 2011

Yorkshire

Today, August 1st, is Yorkshire Day when we who belong to the proud Yorkshire nation rejoice at our good fortune. There's lively clog dancing in the streets, exciting whippet racing on the moors, athletic pie-throwing in the parks, darts and domino tournaments in the pubs and in the privacy of their own homes, Yorkshire families sit down for hearty meals of tripe and onions or steamed steak and kidney puddings or battered Whitby cod, preceded naturally by golden Yorkshire puddings hosting little lakes of beef and onion gravy. We have much to be grateful for in these broad acres - God's own county - the history, the rivers, the undulations of the hills, inventiveness and forthrightness, the beauty of the womenfolk, the pies, the rural/urban balance and oh... I feel an acrostic poem coming on...

Yonder
Over the moors
Real people live
Kindly and true
Sensible and
Hard-working
I am from this beautiful land
Raised in Yorkshire
Ee by gum!

My sincere commiserations to any readers of this blog who are completely devoid of Yorkshire ancestry or Yorkshire blood. Life must be so miserable for you! Happy Yorkshire Day everyone!