30 November 2011

Protest

All across Great Britain and Northern Ireland, public service workers are on strike today. About two million of them - from police officers to nursery nurses and from refuse collectors to court officials. They are protesting about government attacks on their conditions of service, including plans to fiddle with agreed pension arrangements. Essentially, the government want to make public service workers work longer, pay more in contributions and receive smaller pensions than promised. Should the workers just lie down and allow themselves to be trampled upon? I think not.

Of course, as a former public service worker myself, I took early retirement and opted for an actuarially reduced pension and a lump sum. The package is pretty meagre and with rising prices it has already suffered erosion but when I add it to Shirley's income, we are still okay compared with most people. What many folk don't seem to realise is that public workers pay for their pensions throughout their working lives. Looking back on my last full-time salary slips I note that in August 2009, £239 was deducted as a pension payment and that was in addition to tax and national insurance payments. Making allowance for inflation, over thirty two years I paid in the equivalent of £92,000 and this overlooks any interest gained through investment. The idea that teachers and other public service workers currently enjoy lucrative pension handouts at the nation's expense is as offensive as it is ludicrous.

I was motivated to join today's huge rally in Barkers Pool, on the steps of Sheffield City Hall. There were striking firemen there, police officers, administrators, refuse workers, teachers, nursery nurses, doctors, social workers, road repairmen, dinner ladies - united against the unfairness of government proposals. Some might say: "What's the point? What will it achieve?" but there were probably similar voices when William Wilberforce pushed through anti-slavery laws or when Chartists like Samuel Holberry first petitioned and fought with their lives for employment rights that are now taken for granted.
Samuel Holberry's grave, Sheffield General Cemetery

27 November 2011

Windy

No - not windy in the sense that I had eaten a brussel sprout and baked bean curry, but windy in the other sense where an invisible force buffets you to a point where it nearly knocks you off your feet. That is how it was this afternoon as I rambled up on Derwent Edge in the Peak District.

Parking near Cutthroat Bridge, I followed the public right of way for a mile across heather clad moorland up to Whinstone Lee Fields. Here the wind was channelled and intensified to a point where I couldn't even hold my camera steady as my woollen Hull City AFC ski hat was whipped off my head. However, the view down to Ladybower reservoir was gorgeous:-
On Derwent Edge, the wind was piercing my ear cavities. Though the weatherman had promised a blue sky day with strong winds, there were grey clouds about - hurrying ever eastwards. One moment the millstone outcrop known as The Wheel Stones was in shadow and the next moment it was highlighted theatrically by late November sunshine:-
Onwards I strode along the windswept edge until I found my main goal: The Salt Cellar. Such a curious natural carving in millstone grit - shaped by millennia of strong winds and bitter winters. My picture fails to make it clear that The Salt Cellar is about twelve feet tall:
When walking on the moors of Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, ramblers will often disturb resting grouse. With their curious intermittent cries, they rise in panic from the heather and I have never managed to photograph that wing-flapping moment but today, before I returned to the car, I spotted this bold red grouse up wind of me:-
But all too soon he was gone like a feathered kite, riding the invisible gale.

25 November 2011

Identity

Any infant nation needs to quickly define its identity. Blogland already has its own distinctive flag and yesterday afternoon the Executive met to decide upon a national anthem. We hit upon "Island of Dreams" which was a hit for The Springfields in 1963. You may have heard of their famous girl singer - Dusty Springfield - otherwise known as Mary O'Brien.

Our happy anthem will be sung at formal gatherings in Blogland. I suspect that the first line will have special resonance for Welsh poultry farmers. To remind yourself of how it goes, please click on the YouTube clip and sing along with Dusty. Soon you'll be singing it round a campfire on the beach as moonlight sparkles upon silvered Andaman waves where Thuza's fishing boat will glide like a shadow puppet to the bobbing jetty in Keith Bay.

I wandered the streets and the gay crowded places

Trying to forget you but somehow it seems
My thoughts ever stray to our last sweet embraces
Over the sea on the Island of Dreams

High in the sky is the bird on the wing
Please carry me with you
Far far away from the mad rushing crowd
Please carry me with you

Again I would wander where memories enfold me
There on the beautiful Island of Dreams
Far far away on the Island of Dreams

24 November 2011

Servants

Thuza - allocated to Jan (Cosumne Gal)

In Blogland, our agents are beginning to recruit servants in preparation for the first influx of bloggers next year. Mostly they are Mergui islanders. Obviously, there will be several general servants who will be engaged in basic maintenance tasks such as clearing the bush, meeting boats at the new jetty in Keith Bay, shinning up coconut palms to gather fresh nuts and running the national laundry.

However, in addition to the general servants, residents will be entitled to their own personal servant allocation. Mostly these servants will reside beneath the cabins and chalets that are currently under construction. Personally, I shall not require my own servant as I plan to be self-sufficient but I guess some bloggers will require support. Here's a list of typical tasks that servants may perform:
  • Cooking
  • Cleaning
  • Fishing
  • Massage
  • Bed Making
  • Fanning
  • Driving golf buggy
  • Re-thatching roofs
  • Washing Up
  • Cutting toenails
  • Bowling cricket balls
  • Application of sun protection cream and after-sun cream
  • Emptying commodes
  • Annihilation of spiders, rodents and stinging insects
  • Campfire song and dance
Residents in waiting need to state their servant requirements - age, male or female, and number. Note that no resident will be allowed more than three servants and all servants must be treated with the utmost kindness, respect and good humour. They may be servants but they are still our equals.
Nanda - allocated to Ian - Shooting Parrots

23 November 2011

Graduation

A blog is literally a "web log". That's where we got the term "blog" from. In the paper-only world which we all recall, people wrote diaries or "logs" that they kept in drawers. They were mainly private records - reflecting the progression of a life. Sometimes that's how I feel about this blog. Though it is in the public domain, I sometimes use it like those private diaries of the past - to capture significant moments in my life and the lives of my nearest and dearest. And yesterday certainly was a "significant moment".

On The City Hall stage stood Lord Professor Robert Winston - Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University - and scientist of international repute - waiting to shake the hands of graduates in the field of Health and Well Being. And one of them was my Shirley - from good Lincolnshire farming stock. She grew up in a home that was rich in kindness and common sense but absent of books. Historically, no one in her family had ever achieved anything of note in the world of academia. There was a sense that school was something you tolerated before real life began.

But yesterday, her academic achievement was recognised - Master of Science in Advanced Professional Development - a hard won victory after six years of intermittent study whilst still working full-time. It culminated in a hefty dissertation in which she reflected on what is known about how young adults with diabetes deal with their condition. This dovetailed with her own experience of supporting young diabetes sufferers in the health centre where she works.

It was great that our hard-working children could be there in the city hall to witness the ceremony. We had a great curry together afterwards in "The House of Spice" and later a get-together with friends and colleagues in "The Three Cranes" public house in the city centre.

As we drove home, Shirley received a text message in which our Frances said how much she had enjoyed the day and how proud she was of her mum. That brought tears to Shirley's eyes and for a minute or two she couldn't speak - I had to wait till we got home to read the message. Days come and days go but some days live forever in your memory. Yesterday was one of those... Now back to the tiles.

21 November 2011

Kitchen

Matching laminate wall means retiling is inevitable

You can see Beau grazing on the lawn

Kitchen dilapidation?

"Stars in Their Eyes": This week Yorkshire Pudding is... Bob the Builder! Well, perhaps not. Maybe Terry the Tile Remover.

Her majesty has decreed that we shall have new work surfaces (counters) in the kitchen. The others were only put there a short time ago (thirteen years to be precise) and seem perfectly serviceable to me. But the project is about to commence and a fellow called Gary (are all tradesmen called Gary?) will be here nice and early on Thursday morning to perform his skilful duties - ripping out the old surfaces and inserting the new.

Lady Pudding had not anticipated that the kitchen makeover would involve the removal of existing tiles. If I had been able to acquire a couple of boxes of our current tiles then full removal would not have been necessary but as the guy in the tile shop said, "You've no chance mate!" (How dare he call me "mate" when I'm obviously a "sir"!)

So instead of wasting time tapping away at this keyboard, I suppose I should really be showering and finding my safety googles ready to get chipping away at tiles that I imagine will have been welded immovably to the walls. Though magazine kitchen makeovers always look very easy - moving magically from "Before" to "After" - in real life such transformation is usually accompanied by blood, sweat and tears and exasperated cries - "Oh God! Why am I doing this?" etc.. We'll see.

Meantime, she who must be obeyed will be in Sheffield City Hall tomorrow afternoon, receiving her masters degree. Ian and Frances have booked days off to be there. It is a magnificent achievement. Shirley has always been an excellent nurse - dealing compassionately and effectively with many thousands of poorly people over the years but she was never what you might call "academic". For her nursing is essentially a practical job - a bit like renewing kitchen work surfaces. The fact that she has been able to advance through the necessary academic hoops as a distant learner and part time student these last six years verges on the remarkable and it is certainly one of the best achievements of her life. We will all feel very proud tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps she deserves her kitchen makeover.

18 November 2011

Inoculation

Bloggers who will soon join the first wave of emigration to Blogland must appreciate that they will enjoy a lovely tropical climate soothed by sea breezes. Personally, I will be having no travel vaccinations at all. I am of the view that there's more to life than guarding against every possible danger that might come our way. However, I do appreciate that some bloggers will wish to comply with travel health advice. Click on Kylie the Blogland chicken below to access that advice but please remember that though mainland Burma suffers from the detrimental effects of mosquitoes, in Blogland there are absolutely no mosquitoes so any conditions related to mosquitoes such as malaria and Japanese encephalitis should be overlooked.
Meanwhile, you will be pleased to learn that construction work is proceeding nicely. The palm trunk frame of the meeting house is already up and brush has been cleared from all of the thirty four residential sites that have been earmarked for building. A floating jetty now reaches out into Keith Bay - rather like the one below that I spotted on the island of Koh Rang in eastern Thailand:-
Residents in waiting will be glad to know that yesterday evening I personally phoned Johnny Depp to tell him he's not wanted. His response was so foul-mouthed that I had to put the phone down but not before I had yelled back at him - "You're just a big spoilt kid and your films are crap too!" Apparently, a few other well-known celebrities have made enquiries about Blogland residency but most of them don't even blog! A few unreserved residential plots still remain so if you're interested please apply through Visitor Comments below.

17 November 2011

Homage

"They fly with a swallow's swiftness
And fight with an eagle's heart..."

Visited for the very first time today in Norton-on-Derwent - in the very heart of Yorkshire - the grave of the grandparents I never met. They died in my birth year. My grandfather - Philip - died only a month before I was born. But before they were interred, their youngest son - an uncle I also never met - was buried here - Uncle Jack. He was only twenty three, a radio operator in the RAF. He died seventy one years ago aboard a Blenheim bomber that plunged to earth in Essex, two hundred and fifty miles from home. Jack, Margaret and Philip - I wish you sweet dreams and if there were a God, I'd say God bless!

16 November 2011

Badgercide

Some parts of England boast more badgers than Yorkshire can claim. There must have been more than a forty five year gap between my two sightings of live badgers in this illustrious county. I saw my first badgers when I was around twelve in a remote wood about a mile from the village where I grew up. It was dusk and they emerged almost magically from their ancient sett in a clearing.

My second badger sighting happened one night, two weeks ago, when my friend Mike and his wife Jill were driving me home. It was waddling along the pavement and at first I thought it was a dog but as we drew level with it I realised it was a badger. It scurried down somebody's driveway. Mike and Jill admitted they had never even seen a badger before.

Non-English visitors to this blog may not be aware that a debate has been sizzling in this country about the very existence of badgers. Some farmers claim, with unsubstantiated evidence, that badgers carry tuberculosis and have fatally infected hundreds, perhaps thousands of cows and bullocks. They are pushing for a widespread badger cull even though the badgers were here long before farmers came along. The Tory government, under our odious millionaire prime minister - David William Donald Cameron, are very much drawn to this brutally unscientific position.

One of our local MP's called Dennis McShane has spoken out against this murderous movement, saying: "There are tensions between any animals in their natural environment and farmers seeking to maximise profit. But David Cameron has given in to big landowners who want to create mono-agro-economies. Ministers have unleashed Badgercide to please their landowning and agro-industry friends." Personally, I think Mr McShane is right.

I was born in the countryside and worked on farms when I was a boy but I believe in badgers as much as I believe in tigers, blue whales and polar bears. They are precious and deserve our care - not bullets, traps and poisons. I say - no to the culling of badgers and yes to improving domestic animal husbandry. Up The Badgers!

15 November 2011

Silhouettes

Earlier today, in defiance of our gloomy weather forecast, honeyed sunshine seeped through a grey cloud blanket and illuminated the Peak District National Park which is right on Sheffield's doorstep. I walked on Higger Tor's rocky plateau from where Bronze and then Iron Age people once looked out. Today I spotted three walkers, silhouetted against more distant hills and to the left of them birds - perhaps crows - danced in the air above Hathersage Moor. I think this picture, which I am rather proud of, will enlarge if you click on it.

14 November 2011

Pilgrims

When we the founding fathers and mothers of Blogland, set out like those pilgrims aboard "The Mayflower" to create our new nation, there are many things about Sheffield and its surrounding countryside that I confess I shall miss. Like the Ox Stones on nearby Burbage Moor:-
And the view northwards from Brown Edge where in previous centuries they quarried thousands of gritstone roofing slates, long before thin slates began to be imported from the mines of North Wales:-
And the isolated high reservoir above Redmires, near Oaking Clough Plantation where the curlew calls under cirrus skies:-
Yes indeed, I shall miss many things and I am sure that other pioneers will be able to make their own goodbye lists but what is life for if not for adventure and to seek something finer than we have known? Blogland waits for us, its palm-fringed shoreline reflected in a glistening turquoise sea. Where butterflies dance between hibiscus blooms and mysterious pathways lead us under vines into the very heart of the jungle. It is not too late to join us.

13 November 2011

Flag

Above you can see the winning design for Blogland's official flag. Thank you to Master Humphrey Pudding, aged eleven of Sheffield, England. It will fly over the meeting house and residents may wish to purchase clothing items or memorabilia that celebrate the birth of our alernative nation - for example:-


Several residential plots have already been reserved by bloggers who will be the mothers and fathers of our new Blogland nation but it's not too late to get your name down and join us! I can exclusively reveal that two well-known celebrity bloggers have asked be part of our special community. How'd you like Johnny Depp living next door to you? Yes that's right folks - Johnny Depp! Should we let him in?

Leave all your troubles behind. Forget the world economic crisis and the price of petrol. Forget the cold, work pressures and home maintenance issues. Forget the predictable drudgery of your current life and sign up for our Blogland adventure - a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Short letters of application may still be created via the "comments" facility. Click in the bottom right of this post where you can see the term "Visitor Comments". Don't miss out! Join us!

12 November 2011

Blogland

On Lampi Island (Blogland)

Bloggers who feel disenchanted with the state of the world today will be happy to learn that a large, sunny and fertile island has now been purchased by our board, funded by generous benefactors. It is in the Andaman Sea, in the Mergui Archipelago to be precise, off the far south of mainland Burma (Myanmar). A few native Moken fishermen and their families who live there have accepted healthy relocation packages and will soon be moved to the mainland. Shortly thereafter, contractors will move in to prepare the island for what is expected to be a large influx of bloggers determined to build an alternative society. The island was previously known as Lampi but as from today it has been rechristened Blogland.

As a member of the organising committee, my place on the island is already secure but other bloggers will need to apply if they are to be granted residency. Obviously, places are limited and once the new society is established, immigration will be tightly controlled.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of something new and beautiful - Blogland - where dreams will undoubtedly come true. To be considered for residency please apply via my "Comments" box, stating your name, status, current place of residence, special skills and why you think you would be a good addition to the Blogland community.
Moken woman - soon to be relocated.

11 November 2011

Remembrance

This is Matthew Thornton, aged twenty eight, of the 4th Yorkshire Battalion. He was from Barnsley and died two days ago in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Blown to bits by an IED. He was the 385th British soldier to die there during the present military adventure that has also seen the premature deaths of 1648 young Americans. Can anybody tell me why?

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month we remember them all. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. But how many more young men must die before the so-called "leaders" on both sides realise that the route to peace in Afghanistan is not via the IED or the bullet but through difficult discussion, hard won understanding and painful compromise? Haven't we learnt anything?

9 November 2011

Jimmy


I guess that overseas visitors to this blog may never have even heard of Jimmy Savile. In my view, he was a very special man whose funeral is taking place in the city of Leeds even as I write these words.

Most British people will remember him as a flamboyant disc jockey - the first and last presenter of our iconic TV music programme - "Top of the Pops" but he was more than that, much more.

These are some of the things that Jimmy Savile was: a Yorkshireman, a coal miner, a professional wrestler, a marathon runner, a loyal friend, a proud uncle, a radio presenter, a TV quiz show host, a hospital porter at the Leeds General Infirmary, a counsellor to psychotic murderers in Broadmoor, a massive fund raiser for the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, an honorary member of the Royal Marines, a member of MENSA, a lifelong committed Christian, a smoker of big fat Cuban cigars, a generous sponsor of university medical students in Leeds, a nightclub entrepreneur... The list is almost endless. It would be difficult to calculate the millions of pounds that he raised for a range of charities.

I am proud to say that I met him when I was sixteen - at a gathering for the National Association of Youth Clubs in St James's Palace, London. Typically, this was another organisation that Jimmy supported though I should point out that the palace wasn't named after him! He was real eccentric, a showman, a "one off" but underneath it all he had a heart of gold. No wonder the people of Leeds are lining the streets in his honour at this very minute.

Owzabout that then?

8 November 2011

Ratification

When we ultra-civilised members of the blogging community form our own gated and perfect world, residents must sign up to our code of conduct. I provided six opening rules in my last post and here are a further eight, adapted from the the comments of John Gray (Going Gently), Ian (Shooting Parrots) and Daphne (My Dad's a Communist):-
  1. No spitting in public places or in full view of other citizens. If you must spit, do it in private.
  2. If you do not possess a disabled drivers' badge, you most definitely must not park in any bays that are clearly reserved for disabled fellow citizens as that could be injurious to their well-being.
  3. If you must masticate chewing gum, dispose of it sensibly and hygienically. Wrap it in paper and toss it in the nearest waste-bin.
  4. If you are a parent, make sure that you exercise good control of your children in public. Allowing them to scream and run around like little animals is socially unacceptable.
  5. If you are a cyclist, do not ride your bike on the pavement or disregard traffic lights.
  6. If attending the cinema or theatre, get there early, ready for the start of the performance and do not speak or eat noisily during the show.
  7. Stop what you are doing when a funeral cortège passes.
  8. Do as you would be done by (Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself)
These additional rules were all ratified by the standards committee, chaired by Senator R. Brague at the inaugural conference of the "Blogland Development Corporation" where it was revealed that billionaire benefactors have already pledged enormous sums of money to help us to establish our dream world. Further rules will be considered if you have other suggestions.

7 November 2011

Manners

In some ways, I admit that I am a bit old-fashioned because in everyday life I believe in the practice of good manners. I am grateful that my parents instilled good manners in me and I in turn (with a bit of help from Lady Pudding) sought to instil similar good manners in my children. We often reap what we sow and I am pleased to say that the respectful way our now grown-up children deal with other people demonstrates that our efforts certainly did not fall on stony ground.

In my former life as a teacher, I was often appalled by the poor manners of my flock. You'd see teachers struggling down corridors with their arms full of books trying to get through fire doors as the wildebeest horde rushed through, not one of them stopping helpfully to hold the door back. You'd say, "Please give the sheets out Johnny" and instead of "Certainly sir. No problem", you'd be more likely to hear: "Why can't somebody else do it?" or "Do I have to?". You'd give spare pens to penless "students" and they'd often not bother to say "thank you" or even remember to return them.

In ordinary life, I come across supermarket checkout personnel who happily hold private conversations across their conveyor belts as customers stand idly by like invisible people. I sometimes hear unbridled swearing on buses and on aeroplanes seats may be reclined on to your lap with no sign of a simple "Do you mind" from the ignoramus in front.

Flytippers, urban graffiti "artists", tailgaters on motorways, pub customers who won't wait their turn to be served, queue jumpers at bus stops, owners of pavement fouling canines - there are a lot of bad manners around.

As this blog attracts some youthful readers, I thought it might be helpful if we older, more mature, exceedingly well-mannered and fine, upstanding members of our respective communities drew up some guidelines to assist in the promotion of good manners. I'll start the ball rolling with half a dozen rules:-

1) If somebody gives you something - unless it's a sexually transmitted disease or a smack in the mouth - say "thank you".
2) If making a request of any description, supplement it with the simple word "please".
3) Look people in the eye when you are talking to them.
4) If you accidentally drop a piece of litter, pick it up and drop it in the nearest bin.
5) If you own a mobile phone, make sure that it is switched off during meetings, in the theatre or cinema, when travelling on public transport or when attending ceremonies such as funerals.
6) Help older people by holding doors open for them, giving up your seat to them on crowded public transport vehicles or - in the case of known neighbours - simply asking them if there's anything you can do for them.

Please suggest some other rules for those who clearly find the acquisition of good manners extremely challenging.

6 November 2011

Miasma

Below, a Bangkok flood evacuee with a parrot on her head. Click here if you might consider making a charitable donation to one of the Thai flood relief funds:-

"Two weeks ago, when the floodwaters first came, they were as clear as crystal. You could see every detail on the roads, the blades of grass on the lawns, even the patterns on some newly liberated carp fish that escaped from a neighbour's pond. Now the water is jet black, a miasma of oily swirls, rubbish and debris, all stinking of rot."

- Jetjaras Na Ranong (Bangkok) Nov 6th 2011

Above, the iconic Buddha's head at Wat Mahahtat, Ayutthaya now re-emerging from the floodwaters and below, when Shirley and I viewed it in April:-

5 November 2011

Inundation

The now fetid floodwaters of Greater Bangkok are creeping closer to the city's very heart. Over 450 people have already died in modern Thailand's worst ever inundation. I have been following developments closely through the website of "The Bangkok Post" - the squabbling of politicians, their false promises, the hopeless planning for disaster and the inexorable progress of the water, polluted with stinking sewage and debris claiming new neighbourhoods every day. Who knows when the water will leave? Perhaps weeks from now.

The school where I taught is closed for the time being and most ex-pat members of staff have fled the city, staying in distant coastal hotels. Poor Mr Jonathan came off a rented motorbike and broke his collarbone when he should have been teaching adverbs. One of the city's airports is awash and so is the magnificent Grand Palace complex.

This morning I saw a photograph of some familiar territory - Phahon Yothin Road, taken from the pedestrian walkway near Union Mall. To the right you can make out the Tesco Lotus store where I often walked to buy provisions, passing the Elephant Building which you can see in the right rear of the photo. Although the floodwater isn't terribly deep here, it is getting deeper all the time. In many northern neighbourhoods the water is six feet deep.

People are resilient and two or three days of flooding would be easy enough to bear but some towns and villages in Thailand have already been flooded for weeks. Everything is disrupted - work, education, clean water supplies, transport, electricity, the sewage system. Bangkok is hurting so bad and when these waters finally recede the country will be faced with enormous challenges if it is to steady itself. Undoubtedly, the death toll will grow and more squabbling between self-interested politicians will happen.

4 November 2011

Puzzled

You must have seen the sign above. It's often in the rear windscreen of the car in front. But why is it there and how are other drivers meant to react to it?

It could be there as a proud announcement to the world as in: "We've got a baby and he/she is the apple of our eye and because we are so proud of our little baby we wanted to share our good news with the rest of the world!"

Or perhaps it's about fertility, as in: "We know that there are people out there who are incapable of having children but we don't belong in that category because we are normal and clearly fertile - as proved by the little person in the back!"

Or maybe there's a road safety message, as in: "We know that you suckers love to tailgate but whilst following us please adjust your driving habits and keep well back or you will be risking the life of our newly born little cherub!"

And when it says "on board", does it mean on a dartboard? A cheeseboard? How has the poor baby been secured to the board? What did it do wrong?

As you can tell, it puzzles me. Does the driver want me to smash into the back of his/her vehicle and dispose of the aforementioned baby? Am I meant to honk my horn as if to say "Congratulations! You're the first people in this city ever to travel with a baby on board! Whoopee!"

Do those who display these signs really imagine that the rest of us habitually drive around like lunatics smashing into vehicles that do not display "baby on board" signs? Do they really expect us to drive more carefully?

I have thought of an alternative car window sign. How about "No Baby on Board!" or better still "Making a Baby on Board!" And please don't get me going about that other dumb sticker you often see in rear windows: "A Dog is for Life Not Just for Christmas". What the hell is that about?

3 November 2011

Once

The old caravan at Ford (1958)

It's funny how urban life can be. Sometimes years can pass by without getting to know the neighbours. For both Shirley and I, growing up in small rural communities, life was never like that. You knew everybody and if you wished to live anonymously, there was no hiding place. Maybe nowadays, things have changed in England's villages. There are more commuters, more in-comers, more ways of opting out of village life.

It must have been the winter of 1992 when I saw an old couple edging nervously down our frosty pavement. I had noticed them before. They lived five doors up in the corner house. Previously, I had never spoken to them but that morning, noticing their difficulty, I greeted them and asked them if I could help. Did they need a lift somewhere?

They almost snapped my hand off and I duly drove them to the local post office and home again. They were ever so grateful.

That was the beginning. In the next five or six years we got to know them very well. She was called Doris and he was Ken, Ken Bradbury. They had married in their early forties and had no children. They were the sweetest old couple imaginable and though they were not short of a few quid, they lived a simple, rather frugal existence in the semi they had occupied for almost forty years.

It was like walking into a museum. No television, no microwave, no refrigerator, no fitted carpets, no central heating. Instead there was a piano, an old radio hi-fi in a long teak cabinet, linoleum on the floors and ancient floral paper on the walls. Their memories were like precious jewels that they examined regularly. They were hardly living in the here and now. Ken's printing business at Attercliffe. Folk dancing weekends. Doris's leadership of a brownie group. Ken's World War Two experiences with the British army in Italy. The old caravan that they visited at weekends in the hamlet of Ford in Derbyshire. Hiking with their friends. Their beloved niece Josie who had gone to live in New Zealand and of course, Kathleen the other niece who had Down's syndrome. It was a treasure chest of happy memories.

Our children came to know Doris and Ken like substitute grandparents. We were there for both of them at the end of their lives because they had no living relatives in England. Separately, they both suffered strokes which ultimately put them both into residential accommodation. First Ken and then Doris. I visited them in hospitals and broke the news to Doris when Ken died.
I planned his funeral with her. She was blessed with the ability to make flowing poetic verse and we decided that one of her verses would appear on Ken's gravestone. Two years later, Doris also died and I arranged her funeral too - in the same plot as her Ken.

Then I had to prepare their house for sale. Shirley and I sorted through their things before the house clearance people arrived. It was as if we were disposing not only of the evidence of two lives that were lived but of a different way of life - letters, sheet music, reams of poetic verse, brownie publications turning brown at the edges, diaries, knitting patterns, gardening magazines.

Their joint will instructed that the entire estate should be left to Josie in New Zealand but £500 were left to both Ian and Frances and £2000 to me and Shirley. It was a kind and unexpected parting gift from a lovely old couple who enriched our lives with their simplicity, their decency and their gratitude for the help we gave them. Occasionally, I still visit their grave and I reflect on all that happened after I had simply offered them a lift that frosty morning back in 1992. Doris and Ken Bradbury - remembered and thank you.

2 November 2011

Paxton

Some songs stick in your mind without you being conscious of allowing them to be stored there. For me, one of those songs is "The Last Thing on My Mind" by Tom Paxton. He was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1937 and was 74 on Sunday. A genuine troubadour, Paxton has sung of industrial strikes, social injustices and threats to the environment as well as of fatherhood, family life and romantic love. Here is at the age of twenty nine:-

And here he is with the legendary Irish folk artiste, Liam Clancy who died in December 2009. I'm not sure when this concert happened but I'd judge some time in the mid-nineteen nineties, thirty years after the first clip:-
In the very early sixties when Bob Dylan made his legendary journey from Minnesota to the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, Tom Paxton was already performing there. Some say that he was the real father of that "new folk music" and at first the young Dylan was very much in his shadow - perhaps taking note, becoming increasingly aware of the endless possibilities of self-penned folk song.

Are you going away with no word of farewell?
Will there be not a trace left behind?
Well, I could have loved you better
Didn't mean to be unkind, you know
That was the last thing on my mind

1 November 2011

Love

A Yorkshire Love Story
An elderly man lay dying in his bed. While suffering the agonies of impending death, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favourite scones wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning on the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom and with even greater effort, gripping the banister rail with both hands, he crawled downstairs.
With laboured breath, he leaned against the door-frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death's agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven, for there, spread out upon the kitchen table were literally dozens of his favourite scones.

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of love from his devoted Yorkshire wife of sixty years, ensuring that he left this world a happy man?

Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself towards the table, landing on his knees in rumpled posture. His aged and withered hand trembled towards a scone at the edge of the table...when it was suddenly smacked by his wife with a wooden spoon ....

"Bugger off!" she said. "They're for the funeral!"
(Thanks to Sofia for sending me this)