30 July 2012

Twitter

Rileyy_69
I don't know much about the "Twitter" phenomenon but instinctively I don't like it. Of course, I'm excluded from twittering because I'm proud to say I don't own a mobile phone and I have never sent a text message. But I scorn the idea of laboriously tapping out grammatically suspect lines that are usually all about self-obsession. To pare interpersonal communication down to tiny, electronic soundbites is in my book an abuse of the English language.

Yesterday, Britain's diving golden boy - Tom Daley failed to achieve an Olympic medal with his less glamorous partner - Pete Waterfield. It seems that yesterday evening Daley received an unpleasant twitter message in which a seventeen year old boy from Weymouth said Tom had let his deceased father down. Daley reported this to the police and the seventeen year old lad was arrested by the police.

It was a nasty message to send but the perpetrator had not threatened to burn Daley's house down or shoot him in the street. In my view, it's the inventors of "Twitter" who should be arrested for creating a vehicle which allows nasty young men to send out nasty "tweets" from their smelly bedrooms in anonymous streets. Another obvious point here is that if Daley doesn't wish to receive nasty "tweets" he should simply unsubscribe from the service.

My son Ian tells me that the seventeen year old youth (Rileyy_69) had previously sent a string of vicious messages to other non-famous people in which he had threatened injury with knives etc. but those earlier tweets did not attract any police action. It's only when a golden media boy gets a message that the police step in.

People have been given "Twitter". We didn't ask for it. It's an egotistical ,corporate money-making venture that did not set out with built-in barriers to prevent abuse. If I met Rileyy_69 I am sure I wouldn't like him - a socially incompetent little oik with a chip on his shoulder - but I fail to see why he has been arrested. What a waste of police time and money when there are real crimes out there that desperately need attention!.. .So that everybody was - not my first tweet but a great big bloody squawk!

29 July 2012

Rambling

Sometimes, I feel like an employee of the Peak Park Tourist Board but the national park is right on Sheffield's doorstep and since I left the thrilling world of secondary school teaching it's where I have tramped a couple of hundred miles or more. It's my main form of exercise. Some people jog, others cycle or (like Mr Brague) pump iron at the gym but me, I like nothing better than to combine three passions - map reading, photography and rambling.

On hot and hazy Thursday afternoon, I drove over to the Hope Valley, past Hathersage and Bamford until I came to the turn off to the hamlet of Aston. In places, the hedgerows threaten to overwhelm the single track lane that leads there. I managed to find a place to park near Aston Hall Farm and set off along the path to Win Hill.

Here I am looking down from Thornhill Carrs to the valley of the River Derwent with the village of Bamford nestling in the heat haze.
Close to Win Hill, I noticed that there's been some tree-felling at Wiseman Hey Clough Planatation overlooking Ladybower Reservoir and Ashopton Viaduct:-
In the woods of the Woodlands Valley I found evidence of farm buildings that would have been erected long before the water board planted trees here in the 1920's and 30's. They would have been hill farmers and as I poked about the ruins I thought about those hard lives lived in days when motor vehicles and televisions were unimagined:-
On the ridge above Woodlands Valley there is an old Roman road. No doubt the Romans created it both for military purposes and for the movement of lead which is the main reason they settled in north Derbyshire. Next to the road is a seventeenth century wayside marker known as Hope Cross but it is very likely that this was put up to replace an earlier guidepost:-
Near the village of Hope, I spotted these guinea fowl pecking about the meadow stubble and I post this picture principally for Earl Gray in Trelawnyd, Wales and Madam Blawat in Sloughhouse, California:-
And here's a picture of the valley of the River Ashop where Ladybower Reservoir begins:-
Thinking of your next holiday?
Look no further than England's Peak District!!!
For further information contact Senior Information Officer - Y.Pudding.

27 July 2012

Signs

More church signs discovered via Google Image Search. Thanks to Reverend Parrots for his holy guidance:-


26 July 2012

Confirmation

Sometimes, you don't need to add any more words.

25 July 2012

Service

The cite -  Carcassonne
So there Frances and I are in the medieval cite of Carcassonne. We are feeling hungry but don't want a fullscale lunch. So we see this side street cafe with courtyard seating beyond. The chalkboard says seven euros fifty for quiche lorraine or croque monsieur with a side salad and a glass of wine. Perfect.

And yet, alarm bells should have rung when we were told we'd have to pay in advance. That done I looked with dismay to the kitchen where the "chef" was already popping a frozen mini-quiche and a frozen croque monsieur into microwaves. Ah well!

We went into the garden area where there were several empty tables. Some needed wiping so we plonked ourselves down at a wooden table near the cafe wall and began to sip our wines. The serving waitress then came out back and asked us to move from where we were sitting to a small aluminium bistro table in full sunlight.

"No thank you. We're happy here," I said in broken French.

"But this table is for four people, you are only two!"

"We're comfortable here and we are not moving," I said before pointing out that two other four person tables were occupied by French couples who had not been moved.

The girl chuntered unpleasantly in French about our perceived awkwardness. Shortly afterwards, the "chef" came out to remonstrate with us and rattle down our now unfrozen dishes in front of us along with - yuk!- white plastic cutlery.

"We are not moving. We are happy here!" I said again, firmly but politely.

Then he stormed off also chuntering unpleasantries in French. 

The underside of Frances's croque monsieur was burnt but at least the side salad was nice. The courtyard tables were only a third full when we left. We had to go through the servery area and the "chef" and serving girl chuntered more unpleasantries as we left. Little did they know that I had left them a tip on our table - the smallest coin I had - two cents.

Back in the throng of tourists, we had gone twenty five metres or so when the young "chef" came running up to me with the two cent piece asking why I had left it. "It's a tip," I said, "for your shit service!"

"Well I don't want it!"

"You deserve it," I said.

Then he threw the two cent piece down in the street and having a limited supply of nasty French words at my disposal, all I could think to say was "Merdre!" as he slunk back to his freezer and his microwaves. And that's why the English had a a "hundred years war" with the French and why we whupped Napoleon Bonaparte's ass. France is a beautiful country with such a variety of lovely places to see but the big downside is that it's full of French people. The blighters are everywhere!

23 July 2012

Vacances

You can do a lot in four days. Make memories. Titillate your senses. We landed at Carcassonne and then drove westwards on quiet country roads to Mirepoix where we stopped to loiter and investigated the small town's impressive medieval cathedral.
Old sign in Mirepoix, L'Ariege
Frances in Cathedrale St Maurice, Mirepoix
On Thursday we were in Ax-lesThermes where a French couple were resting on a bench near "La Poste" - the post office. At first I thought it might be wealthy American computer magnate Mr R.Brague with his long suffering wife Mrs E.Brague but when I approached them the mixed odours of garlic, "Gitanes" and eau de cologne were unmistakable:-
In Ax-les-Thermes
Here's another picture of the mountains poking up above the clouds - taken from the ski fields high above Ax-les-Thermes:-
Ethereal clouds - Domaine du Saquet
On the last night Frances and I drove down to the hamlet of Les Pujols where a stage had been erected and a travelling musical troupe was performing at the annual "fete". Here you see Ms J. Aspin of Wrexham disguised as Lady Gaga:-
At the annual village fete in Les Pujols
Robin and Suzy live in an old farmhouse that has been subdivided into gites. They live in the right end section and the other two thirds of the building are divided into four individual rental properties. Let me know if you might like to stay there one day. It's very peaceful and rural but a ten minute drive from Pamiers. Fifteen minutes to Foix.
Pyreneen Vue - Robin and Suzy's place
On Saturday, Frances and I went into Toulouse. Previously, I'd only seen the city's airport. It is a lovely low-rise city with many historical buildings and a genteel, relaxed atmosphere. Many restaurants and street cafes and well worth four hours of our time:-
River scene in Toulouse

22 July 2012

Montagnes

Frances and I rode on ski lifts to alpine meadows high above Ax-les-Thermes in the French Pyrenees. We were almost above the clouds that swirled amongst the mountain tops like wreaths of smoke. I am still editing the two hundred pictures I have just taken in France but I rather liked the above - two oil drums wedged with a piece of broken concrete and a woman snapping a photo across the valley as the mountains appear to float on a sea of blue-whiteness. 

And we returned to a lovely, warm and summery northern England. Bradley Wiggins had just won the Tour de France and Sheffield was throbbing with the music of the "Tramlines" free festival. We ate salad, new potatoes and roast chicken out on the decking and told Shirley of our Gallic adventures. More tomorrow.

17 July 2012

France


Oh dear, it's been so very long since my last holiday abroad, I think I deserve a break, don't you? Anyway, I have booked budget air tickets to Carcassonne in France with that famous luxury airline - Ryanair. We leave tomorrow morning - just me and our daughter Frances. Shirley's back at work - earning money to keep me in the manner to which I have become accustomed.

All being well, we'll pick up a hire car from the airport and then drive forty miles westwards to my brother's peaceful country retreat in the foothills of The Pyrenees - not far from the town of Foix in the L'Ariege region. Blogger friend Jenny de Wrexham has been there a couple of times but I haven't been since my brother Robin and his girlfriend Suzy built a swimming pool. Frances has never been there and to be truthful she probably deserves a break much more than I do. She's has been beavering away since last September at her recruitment consultant job in Leeds.

I'll be back next Sunday - the 22nd - hopefully with some new photos to share with you so once again this blog won't be refreshed for a while. Au revoir mes amis!
A view of Robin and Suzy's property (2007)

16 July 2012

Halkidiki

At the Hanioti Village Hotel
Below the ancient city of  Thessaloniki in northern Greece, three fingers of  sun-baked land reach out into the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea. The most westerly peninsula is called Kassandra. And that's where Shirley and I have been this last week. It is also the reason why this blog has been frozen for the past seven days. I'm sorry.


I first visited Greece in the seventies and recall sunny, magical days and nights on faraway islands like Naxos,  Folegandros, Milos, Ios, Mykonos, Santorini and Delos. Old men rode donkeys to barren fields. Old women dressed in black and smiled from whitewashed doorways - "Kali mera!". At noon, the daylight was brutally sharp as the sun, an angry eye, seared down. This was the land of Jason and Venus, Hector and Lysander. I slept on beaches to the sound of the sea and woke at first light to plunge into that crystal clear saltwater. I could tell many tales of the Greece I discovered back then but this past week's Greece was a different one.
Sea and sky merge at Loutra
Shirley at Aghios Nicolaos
Near Old Skioni
To start with, we were staying in a hotel. The room had a shower and a terrace. Swallows had built mud nests under the eaves and their young were learning to fly. We had to cross a busy road to get to the track that leads down to Hanioti Beach. There, to the left, was a beach club with two hundred identical sunbeds and horn speakers blasting out tiresome music. So we headed to the right and found a quieter spot, paying five euros for the comfort of two sun beds and a beach umbrella.

The little resort was inundated with Serbs, Romanians and Macedonians who had driven there. The man at the car hire office told me that ten years ago 80% of their visitors were English and now 80% were Serbian and they didn't need to hire cars because they'd brought their own.

We toured the peninsula. I was looking for something of the old Greece that I had known and loved but it was somehow hidden away. Yet one day, when we were basking on a sandy western beach, I noticed an archaeological site in the adjacent field - mainly foundations and some tiles and marble pillars. It looked like the remains of a pre-Christian settlement but I haven't been able to find anything out about it - not even its name. 
Shirley under an olive tree on the western beach
The main point of the little holiday was to give Shirley some well-deserved sunshine R&R, lazing about by the sea and the pool and catching up with some reading. I think she read four novels and I read two - "So Much For That" by Lionel Shriver and "Senor Viva and the Coca Lord" by Louis de Bernieres. I also read "Blue-Eyed Son" by the British TV and radio presenter - Nicky Campbell - all about his adoption in 1961 and his quest to find his blood relations and thereby better understand himself.

One afternoon I swam out to a white buoy, two hundred metres off shore and rested there as one of those stupid and rather pointless jet skis surged by. Then I swam back with the sea floor far below me and watched the Serbian figures on the hot beach gradually growing closer. Greece 2012.
Hanioti Beach  at sunset

8 July 2012

Wolds

Odd house in Millington
The East Riding of Yorkshire is caressed by an arc of ancient chalk which is most visible and obvious at Flamborough Head. This protective geological arm then reaches out towards York before bending south to the River Humber. These Yorkshire Wolds are not mountains, just rolling hills and on Saturday, Shirley and I met up with our old friends - Tony and Fiona for a lovely ramble high in the wolds from the village of Millington. I hope my pictures give you a sense of our perfect summery afternoon.

Tony and Fiona
Looking to Scoar Dale
Lofty Warren Farm - high on the chalk wolds
Two pubs in North Newbald
After the five mile walk in a circle that brought us back to Millington, we then motored south to "The Tiger Inn" in North Newbald where we had refreshing drinks on the benches by the village green and talked of the lives we are leading, including the week long trip to Greece that Shirley and I have booked - leaving Monday morning. Not sure when I'll get to blog again - but if I see an internet opportunity in Greece, I will of course take it. Must get to bed now. We have to be up at three thirty...

6 July 2012

Phlegm

Mostly, I despise graffiti in public places and have often scoffed at the suggestion that it's a form of Art. Mostly, its quality is rubbish and it degrades urban environments. Mostly, it's done by spotty teenage boys who don't fit in - social pariahs - boys who have no artistic flair whatsoever.

Nonetheless, occasionally I see graffiti of which I approve. I rather like graffiti that has a point to make - using it as a form of protest. And sometimes I like graffiti that beautifies or adds interest to urban sites that would otherwise be neglected eyesores.

Based in Sheffield but with "works" in other parts of the country there is a clandestine graffiti artist who goes by the pseudonym "Phlegm". His work is distinctive - in shades of black and white and the themes are often fabulous with recurring images of ships and squids for example. You can link to his showcasing website here.

Yesterday, between rain showers, I nipped out to the vast Meadowhall shopping mall on the northern outskirts of Sheffield but before reaching that retail palace, I remembered to park up close to "The Riverside" public house in order to take a picture of this "work" by Phlegm:-
"The harnessing of the giant squids" - left click to enlarge
It's one in a series called "The harnessing of the giant squids" and it was completed in the spring of 2011. Though you can't see it in the photograph, that wall beneath the pub overlooks the River Don which is just one of the fast-flowing Pennine rivers that literally turned the wheels of Sheffield's steel industry as the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth. It was once a dirty, industrial sewer but today the trout have returned and regulations and new industrial processes mean the river is cleaner than it has been in donkey's years.

4 July 2012

Dimitri

How grim the English summer weather this year. They say that June was the wettest on record. July seems no better so far. This morning I flung back the bedroom curtains to see more greyness and a couple of wood pigeons scouring the lawn for crumbs as Beau and Peep looked on regardless.

Bad weather drives you indoors. Today I felt like a caged beast, stomping around the house. So I drove to the leafy suburb of Broomhill where John Betjeman once lived and had a new battery fitted in my "Fossil" wristwatch. At the travel agents, where they have the best exchange rates in the city, they told me they had run out of euros. At "Oxfam", I left a bag containing a handful of paperbacks and then I came out of the cobblers with some new laces for my "Regatta" walking shoes.

Back home I made a chicken fajita dish with kidney beans, onion, chopped red pepper, tomatoes and chilli sauce and left it bubbling on the hob. Then I watched Andy Murray, the extremely dull Scottish tennis player, grinding out a victory against David Ferrer at Wimbledon.

Ian is temporarily back home now, still working in the men's clothing store in Nottingham but soon to move down to London to be with his lovely girlfriend - Ruby - who has just started working for "L'Oreal" - the French body products and cosmetics company.
Sunflowers at Coussa in 2005
Tonight, as my day had seemed so uneventful, I wandered down to the local to drink some beer with Gibby, Leeds Mick, Richard and Steve. There I received the awful news that Dimitri had died. He was only forty nine. He had been a regular at my local for nigh on eighteen years and came to England after meeting Joanna on the Greek island of Paros many summers ago. He was a real character and by trade a jeweller. Just before Shirley's fortieth, I got him to make her a ring with bands of silver and gold melded together and embedded in it a pale ruby that my father had acquired in Ceylon during the second world war. I recall how passionate Dimitri was about this little project. How sad that five years ago he contracted throat cancer. It was driven away by chemotherapy but in recent weeks it came back to inhabit his lungs.

So there's somebody else who has gone - left the party, walked off the stage. Just like Richard and Madeleine - the ninety three year old mother of my friend Mick. Death calls. Of course, it comes to us all one day. With recent events - Blogland included - I have felt it getting closer. More and more I sense the true significance of platitudes about the briefness of life - "We're only here for a short while". What can you do? As Robin - my brother in southern France said on the phone - today he saw the sunflower heads opening in the field but you never know - it could be for the very last time and that realisation is really quite salutary. Cheers Dimitri!

2 July 2012

Home

We landed at Heathrow yesterday morning. What a shambles that airport is! A hotch potch of buildings designed by primary schoolchildren, with traffic chaos and seething crowds of visitors from all over the world. Welcome to London - the Olympic City.

I was glad to get away and headed back Up North to where the real English people dwell - the workers, the inventors, the artists, shipbuilders, the downtrodden Shooting Parrots and the Daphnes, the desperate Arctic Foxes and The Kaiser Chiefs. And of course, my family - lovely Shirley and our super children. I knew how much they must have missed me. What is a kingdom without a king? What is a ship without a skipper?

It was to be a surprise. I would just appear at the front door but perhaps through this blog, they were aware that I was about to return. So I was the one who got the surprise - a massive "welcome home" street party with the entire community gathered by trestle tables laden with traditional Yorkshire grub - pigs' trotters, tripe, oxtail pies, rhubarb, piles of Yorkshire puddings and jugs of foaming Tetley's bitter. I tell you, a shiver rippled up and down my spine when, swaying like a cornfield, they sang in unison, "Welcome Home" by Peters and Lee:-
I was interviewed by "The Sheffield Star" and the city's mayor presented me with a hand-crafted ornament representing my old ewe - Beau and my Yorkshire heritage. Suddenly, Blogland and what transpired there seemed so very far away. I was back in the bosom of my family. Shirley made me a cup of tea in my favourite Hull City mug and I settled down to watch "EastEnders" almost as if  had never been away.

1 July 2012

Departure

Sri Lanka - like a teardrop hanging from the nose of India. I wish I could have seen more of it and maybe one day I shall return. But at the moment, I am sitting in the departure lounge of the Bandaranaike International Airport on the outskirts of Colombo. 

I'm London bound but with very little luggage - just this laptop, my lilac speedos and some gifts from Nalin's family but inside my skull I feel weighed down with memories of my time in Blogland. It's hard to pinpoint how and why things went wrong. I guess if the other bloggers - who had solemnly pledged their futures to that nascent kingdom - had arrived and occupied their tropical homesteads, the invaders from the mainland would have been repelled.

I still can't get those awful pictures out of my mind - the night that Thuza and Arun died. Quite possibly, the Blogland I hoped for was just an unachievable dream - a glistening Shangri-la. Maybe we human beings are incapable of forging a paradise on earth - far, far away from the mad rushing crowd. Perhaps we're hooked on stress, hassle, worry, regrets, the niggles of everyday life. I don't know. But one day I'd like to think I'll return to Blogland and try again. Perhaps you will join me?