30 December 2011

Roots

As we prepare for our reconnaissance mission to Blogland, I look back over an interesting year. Six months working in South East Asia was capped off with a week in Cambodia where I visited the famous and awe-inspiring Angkor temple ruins. Earlier today, I was skimming through the pictures I took there. I liked the idea of those old temples being swallowed up by the surrounding jungle only to be rediscovered many years later. 

At Angkor, archaeologists are faced with a wide range of conservation tasks that together seem unachievable. There's never enough money and besides to devote energy and resources to such tasks in a very impoverished country can seem somehow like a luxurious and rather cruel diversion. Added to which,  there's always the jungle, waiting, just beyond the ruins to consume, to cloak, to reclaim.

I had seen pictures of Angkor tree roots before I went there so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to snap my own pictures of that photogenic phenomenon - roots and trunks embracing, crushing, supporting the old ruins of a culture that had placed enormous store upon religious devotion. It was a culture that was certain of its foundations - a certainty that was present in millions of hand-carved stone blocks, the endlessly intricate carvings, the management of water and in the very audaciousness of those temple mountain designs.

But what price those certainties when the culture has faded and gone and when the jungle creeps back? The resulting interplay is both tragic and beautiful. It makes you think:-
It's past one o'clock in the morning. Time for bed because tomorrow our bag packing must be finished. Afternoon train to Manchester Airport and then a New Year's Eve flight to the other side of the planet. You might not hear from me for a while but when internet connection allows I'll make another blogpost...from Blogland...where all our dreams will come true.

28 December 2011

Peep

Christians believe that Christmastime is a time to celebrate the birth of The Lamb of God but in my devil worshipping home, we celebrated the arrival of The Lamb of  Pudding. There she is above. Her name is Peep - a healthy Merino - born to our darling Beau on Christmas Day. When Beau arrived in October we had no idea that she was already pregnant. In celebration of the new birth, we wrapped tinsel around their sheepish necks as Peep surveyed her new home watched by our wee shepherd - a miniature Santa who illuminates at night. However, I must be honest, unlike the living Beau and Peep, Santa is just a plastic replica with a sixty watt light bulb up his rear end.

Ah-ha, as I type these words I can hear intertwining sounds from the night garden. The deeper "baa-ing" of Beau and the plaintive "mai-ing" of young Peep. Looking out, I see Santa glowing - his light twinkling upon those tinsel collars. Well, I might as well be hanged for a lamb as a sheep!

27 December 2011

Modelling

I never really thought I would ever follow in my son's footsteps and become a male model but after yesterday's post I have been inundated with offers. Reluctantly, I agreed to pose for the front cover of "Vanity Fair" - admittedly for a handsome fee. For Dutch spirit I had to down two cans of strong lager and was, as requested, provided with a handgun as I strongly suspected that Julian - the mincing photographer - was a gay homosexual poof.
The lurex mini-briefs I agreed to model come in various different patterns and colours including leopardskin, rainbow and day-glo orange. Gentlemen - they are sure to drive your partners wild!

I look forward to further modelling opportunities when I hope not to be disguised as Santa. As you can see, my physique with rippling biceps and beefy abs is sure to colour the night-time imaginings of many's the fair damsel. I just can't help it. Some of us have got it and others haven't .

26 December 2011

Model

Okay we have heard about Ian The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year but this is our Ian, our super son, born in 1984. In his five years at secondary school he never missed a single day but typically the school failed to acknowledge this remarkable achievement with some kind of award or certificate. Ian is a very decent young man and we are so proud of him. He's working in Nottingham at present - managing an independent men's fashionwear store. The pictures are taken from the store's website where Ian and other employees have modelled dozens of items of designer clothing.

In any economic downturn, retail sales are affected but in the current gloom the rise of internet selling brings a further downward pressure to high street profits. It's not easy and that's why Ian is currently working seven days a week. Shops aren't expanding their workforces and those "fortunate" enough to be in work are  obliged to give more of themselves in order to fend off wolves waiting in nearby financial alleyways to descend upon the weak.

ADVERTISEMENT:-
If you are a fashion-conscious young man living in Sheffield or Nottingham then please visit "Sa-kis" to get yourself kitted out  from exclusive menswear lines or check out the company's website. 

I wonder if I should also volunteer to do some modelling for them? It would surely boost sales in these troubled times..

25 December 2011

Awards

The Laughing Horse Blog Awards committee have been meeting at a secret country hotel location this Christmastide to thrash out differing views on who should receive the coveted Blogger of the Year Award for 2011. Of course, last year the proud winner was chicken farmer Earl John Gray of Royal Trelawnyd in North Wales. He continues to produce a very human and honest blog that is amusingly self deprecating as it recounts the ups and downs of his life which is shared with an array of creatures as well as his mysterious minder/partner - Chris. However, committee member and bird lover Bill Oddie objected to Earl Gray's vicious hatred of starlings and effectively vetoed his nomination this year.

The committee yawned through dozens of those dull speciality blogs on mixed crafts, cookery and flower arranging. They also rejected the dozens of wholesome but boastful "family" blogs that have been spawned in the heartlands of America. Bible-bashing blogs were quickly discarded along with blatantly commercial blogs.The committee noted that in 2011, several previously noteworthy blogs ground to a halt with creators perhaps running out of ideas or simply becoming disenchanted with the very process of blogging. Their loss.

Below you can admire this year's designer widget (thank you Jasper Conran!) The committee wishes to stress that only the 2011 Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners are entitled to display this exclusive award design in their blogs - either in the sidebar or simply in a new post:- 

Honourable mentions included Libby, Mountain Thyme, Jenny for "Demob Happy Teacher", Jan for "Cosumne Gal", Katherine for "The Last Visible Dog" and of course Senator R. Brague  from Canton, Georgia, USA for the famous "Rhymes With Plague" blog that has been the subject of much scrutiny by the C.I.A. since President Obama was inaugurated.

In third place (Bronze medal winner) the committee have selected Helen of "Helsie's Happenings" (Brisbane, Australia). Her blog is generally cheerful and homely containing numerous original photographs that show off Australia in an engagingly personal manner. Her interest and increasing proficiency in quilting is documented within the blog without ever threatening to take over. She remains unashamedly enthusiastic about blogging and how her blog links with the rest of the world.

In second place (Silver medal winner) the committee opted for Daphne of "My Dad's a Communist" (Leeds, England). Daphne is a previous winner of The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year Award and though her posts her becoming a little less frequent than before, she continues to write in an engagingly humane style - observing some of the small intricacies and irritations in  life that are rarely articulated. Always worth reading.

In first place (Gold medal winner), the committee were happy to recognise the work of a blogger who like the prodigal son was lost but is found again. His blog contains regular features and is often well-illustrated with the creator's own pictures. His memories of his trip to South Africa have all been worth reading about and recently he has been poking fun at the great Yorkshire nation through his original and fantastical tales of life in mythical Cleckhuddrersfax. Even though the majority of committee members are from Yorkshire, they were magnanimous and unanimous in making this year's winner...Ian for "Shooting Parrots" (Manchester, England) WELL DONE IAN!

24 December 2011

Eve

Is it just me? Invariably, I have relished Christmastime. It has been a time for family, for taking stock, for feasting, marking the end of one year and the coming of another one. Usually, I feel optimistic at this time of year as we all flip to a fresh new page. However, as 2011 makes way for 2012, I can't help feeling somehow despondent. The News is imbued with gloom and doom. The economies of the western world are in crisis. So many talented young people can't even get on the first rung of the jobs ladder while many businesses are retracting. Meantime, ignoble politicians continue to live the life of Riley - second homes, business lunches, fat pensions and over-generous expenses - their skins as thick and leathery as leather backed turtles, their egos as inflated as blimps.

I remember all those Christmases of the past. My brothers. My parents. When the children were little. Winters without central heating. Nana Morris and Jock. Figgy pudding and home-made chestnut stuffing. Mince pies and tinsel. The pine forest scent of Christmas trees. Midnight services we attended just to sing carols. That crisp December air. Walking gingerly on iced pavements. Our Lord Emmanuel. Those walks upon Stanage Edge as the turkey slowly roasted back home in the old gas oven. Yes. A time to take stock. To remember and then to move on.

But next year. What lies ahead? The Arab world remains in the turmoil of political change. Hideous military adventures in Afghanistan continue unabated. The natural world keeps screaming for help as the human population mushrooms. Working people are squeezed ever more as cruel whispers spread that those who simply can't find work only have themselves to blame. Through television and other media we are bombarded with a new religion - The Cult of Celebrity - as those of us who are not celebrities struggle through the mud of our countless inadequacies. And there are automated cold callers on the telephone.

Blogland will not come a moment too soon. "There's a place far away they call the promised land..." On New Year's Eve, Shirley and I will be jetting there to check the progress of developments. Cynics please note that we have paid for this trip with our own hard-earned money. I will endeavour to keep you informed about what's happening in the infant nation but please understand that full internet facilities are not yet established.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Christmas and let's hope that 2012 turns out to be better than its angels herald. 

23 December 2011

Lenticular

Yesterday the Lord spake, leaving a sign above Yorkshire's Pennine hills in the unusual and rather beautiful shape of a lenticular cloud. By the way, contrary to rumour, Len Ticular was not Yorkshire's wicket keeper in the nineteen twenties! No, clearly this was a sign from the Almighty himself. You can see how the cloud is pointing westwards.

Interpretation is easy. Essentially, Our Father Which Art in Heaven is telling the Manchester blogger Mr Parrots to return to his native environment  - the rain-sodden western slopes of the Pennines - a grim Third World dependency known as Lancashire. Mr Parrots has been in hiding in Cleckhuddersfax - a mythical, photogenic and historical Yorkshire market town much visited by American tourists in search of their roots.


Obviously, if Mr Parrots fails to obey the Lord's clear instruction he will probably self-combust or end up as a pillar of salt. The purity of the Yorkshire race must be protected. We are "God's own county" and we cannot afford the risk that Mr Parrots will mate with a Yorkshire beauty - yes, even a parking enforcement officer. On behalf of all trueblood Yorkshire men and women, I urge Mr Parrots to obey God's signal and return to his crumbling mill town for Christmas.

21 December 2011

Justice

Terry and Suarez shake hands before Chelsea's game with Liverpool
This post is inspired by recent news about two top English Premier League footballers. In a Liverpool v Man United match, the brilliant Uruguayan striker - Luis Suarez is alleged to have fired the Spanish term "negrito" at the black French defender Patrice Evra while in a Chelsea versus Queens Park Rangers game, former England captain John Terry is alleged to have called the defender Anton Ferdinand a "black bastard". Suarez, never questioned by the authorities, has been given an eight match ban while Terry's case is now in the hands of the police and may advance to trial in a court of law.

Let me start by saying I abhor any form of racism, just as I abhor any kind of prejudice based on age, class, disability, income, gender or intellectual prowess. In my book we are all equal. The roadsweeper or the film star, the professor or the beggar - I wouldn't look down or up at any of them. They are my equals. But I think that the way that Suarez and Terry have been treated is over the top. Their unpleasant insults happened in the heat of sporting battles and though reprehensible, the official  responses they met should have been tempered with rather more common sense.

When I was a boy, I noticed how children had a habit of digging away at other children's differences. Kids who wore glasses were "specky four eyes", red haired kids were "carrot tops", fat kids were "Fatty". Even in adult life, such ribbing based on people's differences is quite commonplace but it's only when the issue of race - especially skin colour - is addressed that hackles of justice are raised. There's a sense that authorities, business and sporting organisations are eager to appear politically correct by stomping on suspected racism like the seventeenth century burghers of Salem, Massachusetts

I have never been inside the heads of either Suarez or Terry to discern whether or not they are truly racist but as footballers they have each grown up alongside talented black players, sat side-by-side with them in dressing rooms, walked out with them onto the pitch, embraced them in goal celebrations. In the heat of battle, unwise things may be said, unwarranted insults voiced. Does such stupidity deserve the weight of so-called justice that has descended on these two players? I think not. Warnings and opportunities to apologise would have been the  sensible way forward.

In towns and cities all over the world, ordinary citizens endure a great deal of unpleasantness that never attracts close scrutiny from authorities. Yet here we have two high profile footballers who haven't hit anybody, haven't vandalised anyone's property, haven't caused persistent night-time disturbances or defrauded the taxman but despite that they find themselves pilloried, charged with racism, embroiled in costly legal battles to clear their names. I shake my head. The world has gone mad.

19 December 2011

Revamp

I stuck with the original Blogger interface from June 2005 until now and probably would have continued to work with that familiar friend till they buried me beneath the sod. However, unwelcome things kept happening. Facilities I had been used to kept dropping away. It seemed like the time had come to be converted. So I pressed the necessary keys and tabs and before you knew it the old blogface was gone - along with links to favourite blogs and my visitor counter.

A feeling of panic ensued but was shortlived as I set about picking a new appearance for this humble blog. Some of my former favourite blogs had become stagnant anyway - like abandoned goldrush towns so it was probably time for a clean up. I'm rather proud of the fact that in the last six and half years "Yorkshire Pudding" has been visited over 210,000 times. Blogger's in-built statistical counter didn't appear to go back as far as my old counters had done. 210,000! Once I stood in the old Wembley Stadium when it was filled to capacity. All my blog visitors would fill two stadiums though admittedly many of them would be clones.

Imagine that - three rows of identical Senator Bragues, a whole section of Welsh Jennys, a pressbox filled with identical Lancashire Parrots. What a nightmare!

HTML jiggerypokery is not something I take to very readily. It's for nerds and computer boffins. Nonetheless, I managed to insert a new visitor counter. Lord knows how long it will last before the company that hosts it start asking for money.

One could spend hours fiddling around with design templates, customising features, changing text size and colour but for the time being at least I am rather happy with my new unfussy design. I think posting will be easier now and I hope that you - dear and valued reader also approve of the new design. If you are in the mood to do so, please give me feedback. Thank you.

18 December 2011

Farewell


People who are not football supporters may be puzzled by this post - (just as I am becoming increasingly puzzled about what is happening to the old Blogger interface). Yesterday, Hull City supporters had a last opportunity to visit our club's old ground before it makes way for a housing project. Of course now we have a modern state-of-the-art ampitheatre - the KC Stadium - which is the envy of many other Championship clubs but between 1946 and 2002, home games were played at our beloved temple - Boothferry Park.

I first visited the place with my father in 1964 and over the next three and a half decades saw more matches there than I care to remember. So many highs but probably far more lows.

One of the best days was March 31st 1966 when 45,328 supporters crammed into the ground to see our then Third Division team take on the mighty Chelsea in an FA Cup sixth round replay. It was such an exciting evening and though we lost by three goals to one, the best goal of the game was volleyed in by Chris Simpkin from about thirty yards out past the flailing hands of Peter Bonetti.

And Simpkin was at the ground yesterday - on the crumbling terraces that await the bulldozer - with me, my friend Tony and about four hundred other diehard supporters. It's salutary to think that he scored that wonderful goal more than forty five years ago when I was a young lad in secondary school and the world seemed far less complicated than it does today.

Boothferry Park - The Last Goodbye


Tony at Boothferry Park yesterday

16 December 2011

Pointlessness

Children starve in lawless Somalia while the great Amazonian rainforest shrinks with each passing hour. Glaciers recede to reveal scoured landscapes never seen before as unemployed workers across the western world wonder where their futures lie. But what are numerous members of the English Women's Institute doing? Why, my friend, they are knitting cakes! Yes. Not baking cakes that people can eat but knitting replica cakes and buns!

Since completing her Masters degree, Lady Pudding has discovered extra hours to fill and so she thought she'd give the Women's Institute a try. At the second meeting in a church hall in the city centre, "secret Santa" presents were exchanged and she ended up with a practical guidebook to knitting her own cakes - complete with free patterns and illustrations. Here it is:-



My mother used to be a staunch member of the W.I. in the village where I was born - Nazareth in East Yorkshire. They made jam and chutney and useful things for the home like lampshades and baskets before singing "Jerusalem" and going home. They never knitted bloody cakes! What would you do with a knitted cake once it was finished? Torment children with it? Feed it to knitted teddy bears? Or, most likely, just ram it in a cupboard and forget about it.

What a mad world we live in. Here are some cakes I knitted earlier:-

15 December 2011

Dodger

When I board a train, I am in possession of the appropriate ticket. In this Scotrail scene, a student fare dodger is confronted by a guard who is clearly old enough to be the lad's grandfather. Seeing the difficulty the guard is in, a passenger, 35 year old Alan Pollock from Stirling, gets up to lend a hand and hurls the nineteen year old lad, complete with Tibetan yak breeder's hat, off the train onto Linlithgow station platform.

Most right thinking people would expect "Big Man" Alan Pollock to receive some kind of medal but instead he faces the prospect of a court appearance - potentially charged with assault upon the poor, unfortunate fare dodger who typically refuses to accept that he was in the wrong. What a topsy turvy world we are living in when wrongdoers can gain the upper hand while brave, community-minded citizens like Alan Pollock find themselves accused of wrongdoing.

This is what David from Manchester had to say about the incident in yesterday's "Daily Mail": "Surely this was simply the 'Big Man's' interpretation of Cameron's 'Big Society'. Quite frankly, this kid's Dad would do him more of a favour if he told his son to apologise for his behaviour and then shut up about it." I find myself in agreement with David and The Big Man - Alan Pollock - himself. Instead of spouting off about right and wrong in today's society, more of us should be acting rather than talking and the powers that be should be applauding such courageous action instead of tending to side with so-called "victims" like Sam Main (Tibetan yak breeder).

14 December 2011

Marvell

Recently, as standard bearer of the Yorkshire Freedom Army, I have had to apologise for Jeremy Clarkson and George Bamber. However, today I celebrate the life of another Yorkshireman - the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell who was born at Winestead in East Yorkshire in 1621. His father was the vicar there and this is the church he presided over. It's called St Germain's:-

Sadly the rectory house where Marvell junior was born was demolished long ago.

Marvell was a pupil at Hull Grammar School but at the age of only twelve he became a student at Cambridge University where he immersed himself in his studies, afterwards becoming an influential figure in English intellectual and political life. He was a well-known political satirist and became Hull's Member of Parliament in turbulent political times but it is chiefly as a poet that we remember him and perhaps his most famous poem is included below.

"To His Coy Mistress" - on the face of it, it is about the seduction of a young woman whose coyness had clearly frustrated the poet's baser instincts. However, it is also about man alone in a universe where the presence or absence of God seems immaterial. We are all victims of time and if we don't seize the day it will have passed us by. Here physicality and spirituality are woven together. Though written in the middle of the seventeenth century, this poem has a universal theme that should easily touch those modern day readers who are prepared to sit quietly for a few open-minded minutes and discover for themselves why Marvell remains so highly regarded:-

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave 's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Following the fatal attack of a malaria-like fever called tertian ague, Marvell was buried at St Giles in the Field in London in 1678, many miles from the quiet and rather remote Yorkshire hamlet where his life began. Thankfully, for every Jeremy Clarkson there is an Andrew Marvell.

13 December 2011

Continuation

Another sunny December morning and another ramble where Yorkshire and Derbyshire meet. And for once you can enlarge all of these pictures by clicking on them.
Above: Looking to Callow Bank and Stanage from Winyard's Nick

Mother Cap - a millstone tor

The old packhorse bridge over Burbage Brook

View of Carl Wark and Higger Tor

12 December 2011

Longshaw

One of northern England's loveliest and mildest autumns ever gave way to the creeping greyness of another dreary December. Drizzle. Short days. Nature drawing itself inwards. Gloves and hats and pasty faces. Someone coughing at the bus stop. These are not the sort of days when you want to be out and about enjoying the countryside.

However and even so and nonetheless, the weather forecast promised sunshine this morning and it dutifully arrived to banish the gloom - if only for one day. So I was out again for a couple of hours roaming around the Longshaw Estate to the south west of Sheffield.

I remember when Ian was a cub scout, he spent a weekend with his troop at a ramshackle old house on the moors. In those days, the isolated stone lodge - a former gamekeeper's cottage - had no modern conveniences and the boys slept in their sleeping bags on the old floorboards with a roaring log fire in the grate as howling winds whistled outside. Since then, the house - White Edge Lodge - has been repaired and refurbished by the National Trust and is available for rent as a holiday cottage. This is it:-
And here are two other pictures I took today on the Longshaw Estate:-
Beyond this gate you can see the shape of Carl Wark - a mysterious Iron Age hill fort that may have its true origins in the Neolithic period. There are structures up there built way back in the mists of time though most archaeologists agree it was never a human settlement as such - possibly just a fortified refuge - perhaps with some religious/ritualistic significance. I was going to go up there today but the gentle stream in the valley had become a torrent and I didn't fancy being washed down to Grindleford. Another time I think.
I don't think the picture above will enlarge - one of the quirks of posting pictures via Blogger but when I transferred it from my camera to the computer screen I said "Wow!". It was surely the best photograph I snapped today. It was taken from the Longshaw Estate looking to the north west and The Dark Peak where you can just make out a dusting of snow on those faraway hills.

Surprisingly more winter sunshine is expected tomorrow before we return to the greyness.

11 December 2011

Bamber

Recently, I was obliged to acknowledge my embarrassment when admitting that loutish BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson was born a Yorkshireman. Now an unfortunate discovery leads me to make a further shameful confession - namely, that double yellow lines were invented by another Yorkshireman.

His name was George Bamber (1822-1903), a sheep farmer from Masham in the North Riding of the county. On busy market days, he became fed up with the inconvenience caused by visitors' vehicles so he took the law into his own hands and painted parallel double yellow lines by the roadside near his farm entrance. The idea came from the identification markings he applied to his sheep - also double yellows. Soon the idea was imitated by the local council and spread to surrounding villages. Fines became applicable and apparently Bamber always took a percentage cut. As they say, the rest is history.

I discovered this after checking the internet for the meaning of single yellow lines. Shirley and I have just returned from a little Christmas shopping trip to the city centre and we had hellish trouble getting parked. Eventually, I dropped her off near "TKMaxx" before continuing my hunt for a space. Even on a Sunday, parking stormtroopers were out gleefully slapping tickets on the windscreens of drivers who mistakenly believe that there are absolutely no parking restrictions on Sundays. Finally, I found a space on a single yellow line but adjacent to it there was no little sign to advise on particular restrictions so I simply chanced it. Returning to the car, I was uncertain if the Nazis might have got me but this time I was lucky.

Two stormtroopers were sheltering from the grey December drizzle in an office doorway. As I walked by, I heard them humming "Lied der Deutschen". If only they knew that I was the one who had "disappeared" their colleagues last year. Wonder what Afghanistan is like in wintertime?

Back home I confirmed what I believed was true - that where there are single yellows there should also be an explanatory sign. My guess is that Sheffield's stormtroopers have deliberately removed them to assist in their victimisation of unwary drivers. That George Bamber has got a lot to answer for and once again, on behalf of this great county, I'd just like to say sorry for all those miles and miles of double yellow lines.

10 December 2011

Sayings

Gather round lads and lasses. Robert! Stop pulling Jenny's pigtails. Oh nice to see you Mr Rhodes! Glad you could join us! Oh and that's Miss Blawat with you. Why's your hair ruffled girl and why are you blushing like a beetroot? Now settle down. Today's lesson is all about sayings.

I have written two common English sayings on the blackboard. Can we all read them together please.... "As happy as Larry...As mad as a hatter... " Thank you. Now does anybody know the origin of either of these sayings. Yes? Thank you Libby. Go ahead.

"Well sir. The first one - As happy as Larry. I understand it entered the language from Australia. The first known printed use of the phrase happened in 1875 when used by a New Zealand writer called Meredith - 'We would be as happy as Larry if not for the rats'. One strong theory is that the saying relates to a successful Australian boxer called Larry Foley who retired unbeaten in the 1870's claiming a massive purse of £1000 for his very last fight. Who wouldn't have been happy about that?"

Thank you Libby. I have heard that theory myself but the saying could have also emerged from the term "larrikin" - an early nineteenth century antipodean loafer or young hooligan who would always be hell-raising with his chums, enjoying a life without responsibility. Even so I think you deserve a gold star for your answer Libby... Now the other phrase - "As mad as a hatter."

Okay Robert. Your hand was up first. No, stop that groaning the rest of you! Just ignore them Robert. Please go on.

"Well Mr Pudding sir. According to my homework investigations - it appears that the first printed use of the phrase was in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine of 1829. The most popular theory is that hatmakers used to use mercury in certain manufacturing procedures and over a period of time the mercury fumes often impacted on hatmakers' brains making them prone to trembling fits and other unusual behaviours. Some investigators claim that the term may have grown out of an earlier saying - "As mad an adder" - the only poisonous snake native to Britain - the venom of which could severely affect the mental state of its victims."
Thank you Robert. A gold star for you too. Now get out your exercise books everybody and invent two new phrases or sayings of your own in the hope that they might also enter our great language. Explain what they might mean. For example - given this week's news from Europe we could introduce the term - "to do a Cameron" - meaning either to walk off the pitch when the going gets too tough or to act hastily just to please others without thinking of the dire consequences of your actions. Now unless there are any questions please get on quietly while I read my newspaper.

9 December 2011

Connection

I could weep when I think about what is happening to pubs in England. So many great pubs have closed forever whilst others morph into samey chainpubs under banners like "Wetherspoons", "Ember Inns" etcetera. My own local, which once buzzed with customers every night of the week is becoming like a morgue some nights. Time was that I would avoid it on a Friday night because it felt like entering a rugby scrum but nowadays there are seats aplenty and last Saturday night there was just me and Bert in the taproom for the last half hour.

Last night I was with Big Dave in Dronfield which is a dormitory town on the southern edge of Sheffield. We had a delicious curry at "The Mint Leaf" before driving to a lovely little back street pub in Coal Aston called "The Cross Daggers". How delightful it was! Warm, clean and cosy with a welcoming landlord and well-kept beer. There was a framed "roll of honour" on the wall to those villagers who gave their lives in "The European War" which we of course now know as The First World War.

There was no jukebox music in "The Cross Daggers" - just the hum of conversation and occasional laughter. At ten o'clock the landlord - Anthony - brought round a big tray of fresh bread rolls lathered with dripping. They were free and, in spite of the earlier curry, I just had to do a taste test. When Big Dave and I got up to leave, Anthony and his wife wished us a safe journey - "Thanks for coming lads!" This was just how a good local pub should be. The pub of one's dreams.

Meantime, as the traditional English pub declines, out on the high streets and in the suburbs the coffee shop keeps marching on - "Starbucks", "Costa", "Caffe Nero" etc.. Though I never venture into these places, they seem to be becoming an important feature of the British social scene. Only the other day, Starbucks announced that they were planning to open another three hundred outlets in Britain over the next five years.

I wonder - is there a direct link between the death of the pub and the blossoming of coffee shops? What is it telling us about the way we live? The coffee shop is of the daytime but historically the pub was primarily of the nighttime. The coffee shop is unisex and welcomes children but the pub was/is primarily a masculine environment. Though one might get a caffeine buzz in a coffee shop, you won't wander out in a drunken haze with liver damage and an urge to fight. Coffee shops are mainly corporate and predictable in character but the traditional pub was/is more idiosyncratic - more quirky. I wonder what the connection is between this decline and this growth - I can't quite put my finger on it.

7 December 2011

Merkozy

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, political leaders of Germany and France respectively are always meeting up these days. You see them on television greeting each other and there's plenty of bonhomie in the air when these two are around. Heaven knows what their respective spouses make of these love-ins. Certainly Merkel's husband should watch out as Sarkozy is already on his third wife and could be on the look-out for a fourth. Though we see the two of them meeting we never hear what they're saying to each other. Beowulf, a deaf friend of mine is an expert linguist and lip reader. He has kindly transposed snippets of their dialogue into plain English. Hence:-
SARKOZY German wine is like urine in comparison with ours.
MERKEL Rubbish! You can't beat a good hock.
MERKEL One two three!
SARKOZY I love your face, in the right place.
MERKEL I love your mind
SARKOZY That's very kind... You're the lady, you're the lady that I love.
MERKEL You're the fella, you're the fella that rocks me.
MERKEL Wanna cement our international relations after this meeting?
SARKOZY I'd love to explore your eurozone.
MERKEL Hang on. Who's that creeping up behind me?
SARKOZY Don't worry my little fraulein, it's only that irritating English salesperson - Thatchmeron!

6 December 2011

Progress

Blogland construction update. I am happy to announce that house construction in Blogland is proceeding apace. Roughly half of the dwellings are now completed. The Development Committee asked the construction team if they could "dress" the Aspin Residence to give immigrants a sense of what to expect when they arrive. This is where Dame Jenny of Wrexham and her Welsh beau - Lord Keith will dwell. Their property enjoys beach views and provides bijou traditional accommodation with modern conveniences.

One of the hydro-electric facilities is already finished by the fast-flowing Daphne Stream in the interior and it is now successfully providing our construction team with power and lighting. The twelve giant blades for the Brague Memorial Wind Farm were shipped in from Madras, India just yesterday. Even as I write, a team of coolies are carrying them from the wharf to the other side of the island which is rather rocky and inhospitable. The Development Committee selected this location for the wind farm to avoid visual or aural displeasure to residents.

A team of Burmese peasants have dug out the hole for the communal swimming pool which, when completed, will be easily accessible to the entire Blogland community and should be something of a social hub with its palm-shaded jacuzzis, Caribbean-style cocktail bar, stylish fitness suite, rustic bamboo loungers and landscaped tropical gardens. Unfortunately, ladies will not be allowed to wear one-piece swimming costumes by the pool - only bikinis, the dimensions and design of which will be subject to close inspection by the National Bikini Inspector - an onerous part-time role which I have agreed to take on myself. Well somebody's got to do it.

5 December 2011

Pandas

Oi! What you looking at? Can't a giant panda enjoy a few bamboo shoots without being clicked by cameramen causing pandemonium? I had enough of that back in Chengdu, China. By the way, I'm Yang Guang. Just arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland with a gorgeous chick who goes by the name of Tian Tian. Nice to meet you everybody.

I overheard some of the "experts" who brought us over here and they're expecting us to mate. Well that's perfectly fine with me. It will interrupt my continuous bamboo feasting but hey, I won't beat about the bush - a daddy panda's got to do what a daddy panda's got to do. Mind you, I won't pander to her whims. I'll drive her to a remote country layby in my Fiat Panda and if she resists my charms she'll get a black eye... or perhaps a pair of black eyes. You've always got to show the girl pandas who's boss. Burrp! This bamboo - it's always repeating on me. Maybe I should try cockaleekie soup instead.
PANDA FACTS
Pandas are in the carnivore family and, for the most part, have the digestive system of a carnivore. Long ago, for reasons scientists do not understand (perhaps because they could not compete well for food with other carnivores), pandas adapted to a vegetarian diet.

Pandas only digest about 20% of what they eat while cattle digest 60%. Therefore, pandas must eat a lot to get the nourishment they need. Pandas consume 15 to 30 kilograms (33 to 66 pounds) of food per day. They eat for 10 to 16 hours per day and cover over one kilometer a day while eating. When they are not eating, pandas often conserve energy by sleeping.

4 December 2011

Crossways

When I visited my Uncle Jack's grave in Norton-on-Derwent just after Remembrance Sunday, I was surprised to see that someone had placed a little wooden cross there only a few days beforehand. Here it is:-
It recalls the fact that at the age of twenty three, Jack (Alec) died aboard a Blenheim bomber out of RAF Debden which came down on the night of November 16th 1940. I know I have written about this before. In ploughed fields, near the Essex hamlet of Ramsey Tyrrells, he died with two other young men.

But who had put the cross there? Returning from my little pilgrimage, I posted a photo of Uncle Jack's grave on the Geograph website and thought little more about it but then out of the blue there came an email message from a blood relative I never knew existed. Not only had he spotted the grave picture but he was responsible for placing the little cross upon Jack's grave.

My grandfather had a younger brother called Tom who was the father of my newly acquired relative - John. Turns out that John, rather co-incidentally, spent many years teaching in the Bradford area but is now retired. Oddly, he doesn't have his own home computer but logs in during his weekly visits to the public library in Ilkley. I have sent him some family photos and he has promised to send me a list of the people who attended Uncle Jack's funeral in 1940. Would you agree that the internet has a habit of opening doors and windows, enhancing our lives.

3 December 2011

Departed

Song for The Departed


I thought I heard you last night

As this wind-pommeled house

Creaked

Yes, before I was submerged in sleep

I thought I heard you.


How faint your voices were

As if from far away

Remembered

Only dimly like your faces.

Oh, how faint they seemed.


Life pulses like oceans

But its foreverness is

Untrue.

I could only sense the darkness

Though my hands reached out for you.