31 December 2013

Awards

The international blogging community's most prestigious awards are coordinated via this very blog. They are called "The Laughing Horse" Awards and just like the Golden Globes or the Hollywood Oscars, bloggers from around the world jostle to be recognised by "The Laughing Horse" judges. The awards are always presented at the very end of a calendar year. Blogging is a relatively new art form that has opened doors for numerous previously anonymous individuals who would otherwise be festering in the obscurity of their tiny humdrum lives. Blogging connects. Blogging inspires. Blogging gives a voice to the voiceless. And ":Laughing Horse" recognises achievement in the field of blogging.

This year the "Laughing Horse" winners' widget was designed by Yorkshire-based graphic designer Humphrey Blenkinsop - based in Grimesthorpe. Awards winners are specially entitled to copy the treasured widget and to paste it permanently into their sidebars or to simply use it to gloat in regular blogposts. Please note that use of the widget by envious non-award winners is a criminal offence. Here's the Blenkinsop design for 2013 in three different sizes. Winners can take their pick according to the design specifications of their own blogs:-
And so to this year's awards:-
TOP ITINERANT BLOGGER:- GB of "A Hebridean in New Zealand". This lucky fellow blogs from two hemispheres and also blogs with good manners and joyful appreciation of the world we share. He is a good role model for younger bloggers and has a nice beard called Keith.
TOP FELINE CARE BLOGGER:- Jan Blawat of "Cosumne Gal". This hard-nosed northern Californian lady blogger has a soft side to her as this year her heart has clearly melted  and all because of a feral kitten called Wesley. She has told his story in interesting dribs and drabs, allowing Wesley into her house and into her life.
TOP PHOTOGRAPHIC BLOGGER  Adrian of "Adrian's Images". This gipsy-like fellow cruises the British Isles in his love wagon, using his intimate knowledge of camera technology to bring superb and surprising images to his many followers. There is no truth in the rumour that he was also up for a special "Grumpy Old Blogger" award.
TOP QUEENSLAND BLOGGER Unusually, the judges simply couldn't split the two top nominated bloggers from Queensland, Australia and it was decided that the award would be shared between Helen of "Helsie's Happenings" and Carol of "The Week That Was in Aus". Both bloggers have displayed good humour, honesty and a lively interest in the very process of blogging for which they are to be equally commended.
TOP WELSH BLOGGER Well, could it really be anybody else but Earl John Gray from the mountain hamlet of Trelawnyd? (Sorry Jenny - not enough posts this  year!). Earl Gray wears his heart on his sleeve and displays enormous warmth and humanity in his accounts of animal care, scotch egg addiction and village life.
TOP CATALONIAN BLOGGER:- Brian Cutts of "Tannu Tuva". Kidnapped by a lusty Catalonian maiden, Brian has reluctantly had to live in exile from his beloved Yorkshire homeland for many years. He loves music, history and life itself and the judges were pleased to see that his blogging efforts are gradually attracting more interest than they used to do.
TOP ART BLOGGER & TOP BAY OF PLENTY (NZ) BLOGGER - Katherine De Chevalle of "The Last Visible Dog". For a significant chunk of the year, Katherine was unfortunately incarcerated in the women's prison at Auckland but since her release has come back strong. She is at her best when blogging about the processes of creating art.
TOP AMERICAN BLOGGER The judging panel were split on this but after much deliberation plumped for the famous Georgian blogger Robert H. Brague of "Rhymes With Plague". This senior blogger has had several health problems in the past year but he battled through them all to bring a wide range of thoughtful blogposts to his loyal readership. Kindness, fairness, media, music and  a healthy sense of humour colour his contributions to the world of blogging.

And finally, the overall Laughing Horse "BLOGGER OF THE YEAR" award goes to..... none other than Tom Gowans of "Hippo on the Lawn". Congratulations Tom! His Angola-based blog swims effortlessly between memories of childhood, military life and his current happy domestic life on the outskirts of Luanda with Marcia and his boys and the great bloody pond he dug in his back yard. This former army captain writes well and responds to his his fellow bloggers' posts with humanity, good humour and occasional mischief. His blog sometimes provides an outlet for creative use of language - exploring memories and ideas while breaking down some of the walls of convention. There's a novel in that chap so there is.

30 December 2013

Overstones

Sunday afternoon - ten minutes out of Sheffield by car. Though you can't see it in this particular photograph, Overstones Farm sits beneath a millstone escarpment known as Stanage Edge. It is one of Britain's foremost training grounds for rock climbers. In this picture, my aim was partly to show the texture and winter colours of the rough moorland in the foreground. That is known as Callow Bank. 

It was a great afternoon for walking. I was out for almost four hours and saw many other wondrous sights in the sharp winter light. And though the day was short, I noticed that the bright afternoon stretched a little further than it would have done just a week ago. The northern hemisphere is beginning its long climb back to mid-summertime and in months to come Overstones Farm will once again look down upon a lush green landscape.

28 December 2013

Rex

Rex
Today, I drove over to Hull with Ian and Frances to watch Hull City play Fulham in a Premier League fixture. Before the game Ian snapped a well-known Hull City dog called Rex. He works in a scrapyard as a guard dog  but likes to come to home games with his master. See him there in his Hull City shirt with his pink tongue lolling.

And the game? Oh Lord God Almighty! We won by six goals to nil! Our best ever result in the English Premiership! It was delightful to behold such slaughter!

One of the goals was powered home by midfielder Tom Huddlestone. It was the first Premiership goal he has scored since April 2011. Back then he said he would only have his hair cut again when he scored another goal so for months he has been sporting a bushy afro-style mop of hair held back with a black alice band. After scoring, he ran over to the dugout where a member of the club's backroom staff chopped off a handful of Tom's unruly hair with some handy scissors.

It was a magnificent performance by The Tigers and I was so glad to be there witnessing it. If they'd let Rex in the ground he would - no doubt - have barked for joy!
Tom Huddlestone
Midfield maestro and architect of today's thumping victory

27 December 2013

Detentions

Schoolchildren will often misbehave. That misbehaviour invariably impedes or undermines education. Levels and types of misbehaviour are more significant in schools that serve disadvantaged communities. When you are at the frontline trying to deliver a decent education, there are very few sanctions you can call upon to squash the misbehaviour. Most of the time you rely upon your wit and the force of your personality.

As Head of English in the last Sheffield secondary school where I worked, I was responsible for managing the department's detention system. This had to comply with whole school policy on detentions. When I look back, it all seemed so bizarre and a monument to cock-eyed modern notions of fairness. Ultimately, the people who were punished most were not the juvenile miscreants but teachers like myself who'd been given the poisoned corporate chalice by a headteacher and deputies who tried to wash their hands of it all while they got on with their "strategic planning" like generals in a faraway bunker.

It worked like this. Pupil A - who we will call Bob - is persistently late for English lessons. Miss Brodie has warned Bob that if he doesn't improve his punctuality he will be placed on detention. Bob continues to arrive late, bursting into lessons after Miss Brodie has settled the class and explained the day's work. 

Miss Brodie writes out a self-duplicating  pupil referral slip. One copy goes in English department files, another is sent to the Head of Year and another is sent to central school records. She ticks the box that indicates a detention will be given. Then she goes to the English office where she takes a standardised detention letter from the drawer. She fills it in and then goes to the reprographic room to have the letter copied. This will be done by the end of the school day when she will have to return to pick up the letter and its copy. (Teachers aren't allowed to use a photocopier themselves).

She finds Bob's home address in the computer system and writes it on an envelope, directing the photocopy to school files as the original now in its envelope is sent down to the main office for posting. Then Miss Brodie remembers to write details of Bob's detention notification in the English department detention book. 

Thursday is English detention day. We are not allowed to clash with other departments' detention times. On the allotted day for Bob's detention, I pick up the detention book and the referral files and head for my classroom which is where the detentions happen after school - but must not last longer than half an hour according to school policy. Mr Booth supervises the detentions with me. We are a double act.

Pupils B and C have arrived as requested. They had been fighting in the corridor outside Miss Riley's room. Pupil D refuses to do homework and she has also arrived. Pupil E who scrawled graffiti in permanent pen all over one of Miss Twigg's windows is characteristically away from school on the day of the detention and must be re-processed. Pupils F & G have arrived at the third time of asking for swearing at a member of staff some four weeks ago and they can hardly remember the incident. Pupil A - our Bob - was in school but failed to turn up so he must also be re-processed and put on detention next week. Miss Brodie will have to go through the rigmarole again and in the meantime Bob will no doubt continue to be late for lessons.

If a pupil fails to turn up for his/her English detention twice in a row, only then may we refer the child to Mr Weasel the deputy headteacher for a senior teachers' detention. Mr Weasel often sighs and looks skywards when the names of detention refusers are finally presented to him - as if to say - I thought we'd made a detention net that would avoid any of the miscreants arriving at my door. Given the system, it is often six weeks before the identified child is passed to Mr Weasel and in the meantime other wrongdoing will have probably happened.

It was all a maze - like something out of Franz Kafka. It seemed to be designed on behalf of the children - not the hard-pressed staff who coped with misbehaviour like firefighters day after day. When I first started teaching, it used to be that you could say to a naughty child - right, you're on detention after school today. No letters, no phone calls, no reply slips, no hoops to go through. It happened there and then. And when the child got home late, its parents would ask why and when they heard about the detention their instinct would be to back up the school and say to the child, "Well don't do that again then!"

There's more I could say about the details of that crazy detention system but I hope that this description has at least given you a sense of how stupid and frustrating it all was. Of course, in the school in Bangkok, Thailand where I recently worked for a total of a year, I didn't need to put a single pupil on detention. There was no need to. They were happy to comply with reasonable authority and play by the rules. Funny that.

26 December 2013

Reflection

In blogging, perhaps there comes a time when you have said everything. You have covered every life experience worth recounting, described the full gamut of your grievances, all joys and triumphs. Every homemade recipe has been detailed and all hobbies and passions. Yes. That's surely possible. You could get to the end of the line with nothing left to say.

But I have been at this blogging lark for eight and a half years now and I still can't see the end of the track. If I ever make it to the promised land of the old folks' residential home, I will probably still be blogging there. The Bulgarian  or Filipino care workers at "Evergreen Fields" will  be calling me to lunch - "Hey Missa Puddin - gotta stop dat bloggin bizzness right now and come for your soup! Is cockaleekie today! Y'know you like cockaleekie!" And reeking of stale urine with my chin all white and bristly, I'll press "Publish" before shuffling to the day room - using my aluminium zimmer frame for support.

Occasionally, I have come up with what I think might be good, fresh ideas for blogposts and then a little voice somewhere in the back of my head tells me to check previous posts with the "Search" facility. Several times I have discovered that the new idea is not fresh after all - and that I had previously covered the topic. You feel rather stupid when that happens. Perhaps I'll be residing in "Evergreen Fields" sooner than expected!

So this is an odd sort of post isn't it? Not really saying anything. Just treading water. But as our dear Queen Elizabeth II said in her Christmas speech yesterday, we all need to take time out for reflection - "With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock." How right she is.
The Queen - Christmas 2013

25 December 2013

Tits

It's nice to look at pictures of tits on Christmas Day. I took these tit pictures from a bird hide that overlooks Willow Pool at the Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster yesterday afternoon. Tits can be hard to photograph as they are skittish, fast moving creatures so I ended up taking forty pictures or more and these were the best three. They're all great tits, not to be confused with blue tits or coal tits. 
But as I was watching, two other creatures came to the bird feeding station. A female pheasant and an American grey squirrel. Surely, the grey squirrel must rank with Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coca Cola and McDonalds as one of our most unwelcome North American imports. It has spread so greedily and unremittingly throughout the British Isles, since its first appearance here in 1876, driving our beautiful native red squirrel to the edge of extinction.
 And now if you'll excuse me I will get back to paring Christmas vegetables...

23 December 2013

Poem

Yes..another poem! But have no fear mes amis, for this one isn't by the blogging magnate who operates this highly profitable blog. No. It's by my friend and former teaching colleague - Mike Trevorrow who now resides in south Devon - no doubt looking out over the River Dart even as I write - sipping vermouth and only vaguely remembering his working life in challenging Sheffield classrooms. But through it all, as this poem proves, he never lost his passion for language. It remains - a means by which it is possible to communicate tricky notions. Therefore, he is still - as the some of our pupils used to call him - Tricky Trev. I will be interested to read any responses to this poem and do not wish to prejudice your reactions with any thoughts of my own.
Mike Trevorrow
Deep Mid-Winter

Understandable that with skins-wrapped feet
Throbbing with damp or icy cold
In this shrunken cowering cruel time
Man yearned for brightness and heat,
Promise that sap will rise, bud will unfold.

Gathering and feasting are fundamental
As burning logs, greenery a desperate sign
Pointing through perished air to a belief,
A dusty swelling defiance of winter’s temper
Unfurling as flags-in-wind to spring’s design.

Such goings-on from these sexy ancestors,
Such sport and hot-couplings under skins
That could not be contained, not tamed
By lord or Lord - to them a time of terrors
Which could defy the strongest of kings.

How clever then to vanquish all this green,
Not with clanging armies wielding swords
But with a baby whose symbolic life
Unsexed the hot and hungry fiends
Brought them to their knees with words.

But now that same anarchy, bewitched by guile,
Holds power still, turns back on us
As we use the baby as a shield to defend
Against our own greed.  Full circle takes a while,
With our traditions, to sharpen way back into focus.

Some hope though that a spirit of giving,
And togetherness if only for a day,
Break through the chills of separation.
Tinsel’s only tinsel, but there’s signs of living
When it’s brought down from the loft again. 

22 December 2013

Tree

Only deranged people like me walk here. There are no paths on this wide expanse of open moorland - just tussocky grasses, clumps of heather, sphagnum mosses and the single birch tree you can see above. There's no other tree within half a mile of it. It's not a place where trees are meant to root themselves.

Beneath this deceptive moorland carpet, the earth is squelchy as rainwater accumulates before seeping along hidden rivulets to Burbage Brook. And in its turn that babbling stream winds its way for three miles to Grindleford where it joins the River Derwent which in its turn travels past Chatsworth House and through Matlock to Derby. And beyond that great Midlands city, it merges with the River Trent at Long Eaton. And then that larger, more important river - the Trent - loops through Nottingham heading northwards - passing the Lincolnshire hamlet of Gunthorpe where Shirley's family farmed for three generations. And thence under The Humber Bridge to The North Sea.

That thin, scarred and battered birch tree has been  bent into the shape you see by winds predominantly from the west. I have often noticed it when driving out of Sheffield - up the road to Ringinglow which then winds over this desolate moorland towards the Hope Valley. But today I stopped, laced my boots and then stumbled away from the road, through the winter heather, rough clumps of grass and spongy waterlogged earth to take these pictures before this short and chilly December day drew to a close. Yes...I'm as mad as a box of frogs.

20 December 2013

Clegged

Reindeer with Bells On by Grace Savage (Aged 7) - unwittingly
sucked in to Clegg's political propaganda machine
I have been harbouring a secret - something I am deeply ashamed about and it's hard to form the words to say it. But here goes - gulp! My local member of parliament is Nicholas William Peter Clegg, the national leader of the Liberal Democrats and the current deputy prime minister - in coalition with the Conservatives led by David William Donald Cameron. There I have said it! But please don't blame me personally - N.W.P.Clegg or "Nick" as he likes to be known has never won my vote.

Every so often "Nick" sends out mailings to his constituents - trying to keep us sweet and to bang the drum for all the wonderful things the LibDems have allegedly done - both for Sheffield and for the country at large. These missives are immediately re-directed to our paper recycling bin.

Just last week we received a Christmas card from "Nick". There was a reindeer's head on the front - painted by Grace Savage (aged 7).  Inside there was what appeared to be a handwritten note from the noble prophet himself on blue paper. For a moment, I imagined him writing twenty five thousand personal letters to the electors of Sheffield Hallam until I realised that it was all a hoax! The letter was merely a copy - a facsimile, a pretence. It wasn't what it first appeared to be and that was when I realised that I had been "clegged".

It is a verb I should like to see in The Oxford English Dictionary. "Nick" should be even more proud of himself than usual for not everybody finds their name entering the English language for posterity:-

to clegg - To send someone unsolicited but seemingly personalised mail with the intention of enhancing the reputation of the sender or to accrue unmerited financial profit.
Why has Clegg addressed me as "friend" when
 I am his sworn enemy?
A graphologist would surely think that  N.W.P.C's
handwriting was feminine

This may lead the way for further additions to the English language. To cameron - to talk bollix whilst looking like Thomas the Tank Engine. To obama - to lead with eloquent grace and foresight. To gowans - an alternative term for "cold turkey" when depriving oneself of alcohol. Oh and if you are reading this Clegg - please don't send any more of your literature to  our house. We're sick of it...you dumb schmuck!

19 December 2013

Nebraska

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant in "Nebraska"
Is there anything more mind-numbingly boring than having to listen to someone's detailed summary of a film you haven't seen? Many times, I have found myself in that situation as a silent voice inside me starts to yell, "For Christ's sake - shut up!". It is at such moments that I have come to really understand the term "bored to tears".

This morning I painted our bedroom door - in "natural calico" of course, then stripped off my painting togs, dressed into stylish  un-splattered gear and marched down to the local bus stop. I was going to the "early doors" screening of "Nebraska" directed by Alexander Payne - at "The Showroom" cinema in Sheffield's city centre.

I could summarise this film in tedious detail but if you're looking for that kind of thing you can find it elsewhere on the net - for example here. Let me just say that I enjoyed "Nebraska" enormously. Filmed in black and white yet supported by "Paramount", it's about several things - ageing, love, memory, family relations and hope against an endless monochrome backdrop of middle America's vastness.

Bruce Dern, as the cantankerous old anti-hero Woody Grant, played his part superbly and the tender soundtrack by Mark Orton enhanced the sense of melancholy mingled with dilapidation that emanates from the screen. There was much black humour - not least when Woody's wife Kate - played by June Squibb - lifts her skirt at an old boyfriend's windswept grave and says "Take a look at what you missed!". 

"Nebraska" is my kind of film. It shows the kind of America that Hollywood has always had  a habit of ignoring or heavily disguising - the real America. It has many facets and speaks to us truly of the human condition. In production there was great attention to detail and this adds to the film's believability. In its mood and atmosphere it reminded me greatly of  "The Last Picture Show" (1971) - directed by Peter Bogdanovich - coincidentally also filmed in black and white.

I recommend "Nebraska" to you and hope this blogpost hasn't bored you to tears!

18 December 2013

Pennines

Self-portrait above Harden Clough
The weather forecast for Tuesday came true. Bright and beautiful. I drove northwards out of Sheffield towards Huddersfield but near the hamlet of Victoria turned west towards the high Pennines and parked at Harden above sparkling reservoirs.

At first it was bitterly cold - my hands whipped by an icy northern wind but relief arrived when I entered the shelter of the pine forest at Ellentree Brow. In this plantation there's an abandoned hamlet called Hades - a great name for a settlement don't you think? Lord knows what former inhabitants did up there on the edge of the moors - probably quarrying stone and in the wintertime it would have been like hell - miles from anywhere. Hades indeed.

Yes it's wild country up there that's for sure. You come across isolated houses and tumbledown farms but it's not somewhere I would want to live. This isn't "escape to the country" with roses growing up the trellis and ducks waddling to the pond as bees hum amidst pink geraniums. Here there are few trees and often the only sounds you will hear are the rushing of wind, the bleating of sheep and a sudden cacophony from fly-away grouse. It's very exposed. Like the bare rocks of ancient quarries. 

But I saw this fellow in a young conifer plantation and snapped him a split second before he flew away:-
A robin on Copthurst Moor
And in the valley these starlings were just watching the world go by:-
Like a bird on a wire - starlings at Hade Edge
You get military jets flying over occasionally, leaving dissipating contrails in the sky:-
Disappearing contrails above "The Bay Horse" at Hade Edge
View from the conifer plantation towards Hade Edge:-
Looking to Hade Edge from the conifer
plantation at  Ellentree Brow 
Returning to my car at two thirty in the afternoon, the light was already fading:
Flight Hill Cottage in the fading December light
When I studied Geography during my A level years, the Pennines were often described as "the backbone of England" but other words that seem to capture the essence of these hills were probably considered too poetic, too un-geographical - words like "hardy", "elemental", "windswept" and yes - "exposed", "wild" and "isolated" too. It takes a certain kind of human being to choose to occupy the very vertebrae of our country's spine.

16 December 2013

Ageing

As I have got to get back to decorating the marble hallway, grand staircase and spacious landing of Pudding Towers, all I have for you today is this funny picture that I just found on the internet. Behind our chuckles and smiles, there is always some psychology. Here, the old lady is cocking a snook at health advice - proving that the doom-laden "smoking kills" warnings clearly didn't apply to her. She's also blasé about the special occasion - as if to say, "Screw you suckers, I need a cigarette!" 

All of us are growing older, day by day, moving inevitably to the end of this conveyor belt we call life. Though I am vehemently anti-smoking, I applaud the old lady's apparent spirit and when we lose that spirit, that zest for life surely we might as well be dead anyway. Talking about zest for life...where's my paintbrush? Her ladyship (not the one in the photo!)  will be expecting progress when she returns from playing Florence Nightingale at the local health centre. Onwards and upwards.  

15 December 2013

Qunu

December 15th 2013 Eastern Cape, South Africa - Qunu resident Nom Thetheli said:
"Tata Madiba in his early days would leave his house and walk around Qunu 
and greet all the locals, but in his final days we couldn't even say goodbye."
And so this morning Madiba was laid to rest in the strange rolling landscape of the Eastern Cape with its distant vistas of faraway villages and of peaceful cattle grazing on a windblown sward. So many speeches. So many words.The great and the good jetted in from all over Africa, from all over the world, for specks of the magic dust that has fallen about his memory. And the people danced and the people sang. Earlier in the week, the odious Jacob Zuma was roundly booed and embarrassing Cameron lent into a "selfie" with President Obama and Helle Thorning-Schmidt - the prime minister of Denmark. 
Twenty one years in captivity
You're so blind that you cannot see
You're so deaf that you cannot hear him
You're so dumb that you cannot speak
Free Nelson Mandela
Military helicopters flew over the burial site with the new South African flag beneath them - their rotors whirring as they used to do so ominously in the dead of night over Soweto or District Six on the outskirts of Cape Town. And Madiba was laid to rest in his home soil where, when the be-medalled soldiers, the marquees and the TV crews have gone, Nom Thetheli will perhaps take the opportunity to pay his own private respects to his great neighbour - "Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty,...free at last!"

12 December 2013

Jagger

The old packhorse bridge near Fox House

From the end of the sixteenth century, trade began to develop properly in the north of England but moving goods around was difficult. There were very few cross country tracks and products had to be carried on hardy packhorses. Gradually, certain packhorse trails became well-trodden and on wild moors, following a number of tragedies, in 1709 Parliament instructed the erection of stone guideposts or "stoops". so that travellers could orientate themselves in difficult weather conditions. Several of these evocative stones remain standing. My camera caught two of them yesterday afternoon on Beeley Moor between Chesterfield and Chatsworth.The man in charge of a packhorse train was known as a jagger. A "jag" was the load which one horse could carry. Peak District place names include Jaggerways, Jagger's Lot, Jagger's Gate, Jagger's Clough and several Jagger Lanes.

"Twas a course I trudged time beyond measure. Like a stream. Back n' forth from east t'west. Only the good lord 'imself knows ow many miles. Countless they was. But every journey wor diff'rent from next. No two wor ever same.

Me name is Tom Satterthwaite an I were born in Norton by Shefeld in 1675. Me faither - e wor a jagger too and  e taught me all I knows. I wor jus a lad of eight or nine when I first went wi im. Ower 'ills to Chester. It wor summer an t'heather were all purple. Even the osses sempt appy tho their burdens wor 'eavy. Me favourite wor owd Nelly. She ad a bit of shire in 'er. Well me dad said so any roads. She showed t'others the way like an 'ad a right good temper.

Mostly us jags wor cutlery, woollens and tools for farming. Sometimes coal - bloody 'eavy that. An we'd come back wi salt an sometimes tobacco from ships at Liverpool. The more me faither agreed to carry the more e got but e knew that if e agreed too much the osses'd stumble and e'd never get ower them bloody 'ills.
Above and below, the old guide stoop on
Beeley Moor west of Lamb Pasture
"Shefeld" - an old spelling of "Sheffield"
An they could be buggers tha knows. Them 'ills. In winter sometimes it wor so cowd you almost cried. The osses's d be snorting out all this white breath - like steam - and your foot'd gae thro bastard ice on top o puddles an you'd ne'er get warm agen all day. Yer skin'd be blue. An sometimes you'd ave t'fight wi bastard thieves an allus keep yer eyes oppen. Once I broke a vagrant's nose. Just  by Backwell  it wor. Jumped out from t' rocks. Poor bugger. Ran off like a leathered dog. Blood spouting all ower snow.

They was no tracks - not proper uns any roads. It were easy to get lost up ont moors what wi mists, other tracks leadin' God knows weer and the sun hidin' away like a bashful bairn. It all looked same. No 'ouses or landmarks. A bloke me dad knew died up ont Beeley Moor an two of is osses froze an all. It were thirty year ago. When parliament in London passed law a few year back - 1709 or 10, that's when  the fat duke got a stone mason - Charlie Simmonite from Holymoorside  to make some posts up theer. Even carved these bloody fingers on 'em so travellers would know weer t'go

It wor four days n'nights from Chester but I allus knew I weren't far from oam when I saw one o them posts rising out a moor. It were a damned good idea an nowadays there's a goodly number of 'em. No matter ow many times I goes back an forth across them ills, I am alllus thankful to see a familiar post - like that star in t'night sky that guided them kings - leading us 'oam.

Me own lads Henry an' John. They's jaggers too. Strong as oxes them buggers are an they'll argue toss about jag money. But these days there's allus some turncoat bugger who'll do it fer less even if he dunt know route. Best to stick wi us I say. A've trod that byway so many times it's like walkin' in me sleep till t'mist and t'rain sile down.

Some men stay put. Farming t'land or mekkin shoes or shoeing osses but I'm glad o'me own labour. I wunt change it for world. Tha feels free. That feels alive. Up ont ills wi the stars an the moon for yer ceilin' in balmy Maytime when the world is wekkin up an swallows are back and yer halfway oam an osses are drinkin' by brook. No I wunt change it. A jagger's life is ard but believe me it's a good un."
The old guide post by Beeley Lane

9 December 2013

Trapped

Help! Let me out of here!

For the last few days, I have been trapped in our house. She who must be obeyed has been swanning off to work, leaving me to get on with decorating our hallway, stairs and landing. The colour is "natural calico" and of course the expensive "one coat" paint will require two coats, Thank heavens for Radio 4 which has helped me to endure this unwelcome incarceration. Five hours of decorating drudgery today and a full day tomorrow so that on Wednesday - when the weather forecast is encouraging, I shall once more have licence to plod for miles in the countryside.

Masking tape, sheets and plastic to cover carpets. On Saturday, I was horrified to see that the modern eco-friendly "Dulux" paint had seeped its way under the masking tape into rivulets around the edges of our landing window with its nineteen twenties bobbly glass. I had to get wire brushes to the mess. Two more hours of slave labour.

And when you are trapped like this, there's little you can blog about so instead I will just share more pictures from last week's lovely walk around Crane Moor, Silkstone Common and Thurgoland - it's the same day I saw the mining memorial in the woods... Click to enlarge
Falthwaite Grange Farm near Hood Green
Stone carving on the Transpennine Trail
near Silkstone Common
View to Thimble Lodge on Coates Lane
Hadley House Farm from Pinfold Hill with Emley Moor TV mast to the left
Sun sinking early over Crane Moor Top

7 December 2013

Remembering


I must admit, I have been feeling rather sad since I heard the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. Ten years ago I visited South Africa. I spent a week in a secondary school in the middle of Umlazi which is Durban's Soweto - a vast sprawl of shacks made from corrugated iron, planks and advertising boards.

In Ogwini Technical School, I taught a few English lessons to a class of sixty. You could have heard a pin drop. One day I had these pupils of mixed ages writing letters to schoolchildren in Sheffield. As best I could, I circulated around this crowd of sixty giving hints and praise. About three rows back, there was a beautiful fourteen year old Zulu girl. I checked her letter and damn me it was pretty much word perfect.

"This is excellent. How did you learn to write in English so well?"

"Well sir, I had a very good teacher - Miss Marshall."

"Oh yes. That's good. And where is she now? Is she still in the school?"

"No sir. She was raped and murdered."

I almost staggered back from the desk. Was this sweet girl joshing with me? I couldn't tell so I moved on to other letter writers.

Afterwards, I enquired about Miss Marshall. It seems she had been the only white teacher in the school and sure enough, in her home a few miles away, she had indeed been raped and murdered by intruders. All of Ogwini Technical School had attended her funeral just a few weeks before.

When I left Ogwini, I had to make a speech to the assembled staff. I told them how privileged I felt to have been able to visit South Africa in the years beyond the fall of apartheid. I told them about the anti-apartheid demonstrations I had been on in Edinburgh and London and my admiration for Nelson Mandela and how important they were as teachers in helping to build the new Rainbow nation.
Morning assembly at Ogwini - which caters for 3000 pupils
But you know - during my time there - I also visited a rural primary school twenty miles from Durban in the hot stillness of the countryside. The pupils walked to their school barefoot. There was no electricity and no running water. The classrooms all had flaking blackboards but there was very little chalk and the furniture was ancient. I was in a black country where whites and apartheid seemed far distant - something that belonged in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg. Here life went on - regardless of the ANC or Nelson Mandela or The Springbok rugby team. And scrapping the pass laws and enfranchisement seemed somehow irrelevant. Somebody's else's business.

In London in the nineteen seventies I met Aziz Pahad - a South African in self-imposed exile. He was a member of the ANC and had fled his homeland to escape incarceration. In Islington, we twice went out to pubs for a few drinks together - just me and him - and we exchanged stories about our lives. Little did I know that when, years later,  apartheid crumbled and Mr Mandela was released from jail, Aziz would become South Africa's foreign minister. On television, I watched him greet the Clintons at the international airport in Johannesburg and then returned to marking the pile of books I had brought home from school.

Yes - right now - I can't get South Africa and its first true president out of my head. This isn't even the post I planned to write as I sat down at this keyboard but there was nothing I could do to stop my fingers from typing what you have just read.

5 December 2013

Madiba

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Nelson Mandela (April 20th, 1964)

4 December 2013

Huskar

As you can see, the sun was in the wrong position as I snapped these photographs to the south of Silkstone Common - during another four hour country ramble. It's an area that watched the development of coal mines from the early nineteenth century through to their eventual demise under Thatcher.

On July 4th, 1838 a heavy summer thunderstorm discharged its watery burden over Silkstone and Stainborough. The rain was so bad that it effectively put out the coal fire that was used to power the primitive elevator at Moorend Colliery. A message to that effect was sent below.

Reaching the end of their long shift, a group of child workers decided to do what they had done before. Instead of waiting for the lift to be re-fired, they began to wriggle along an old  ventilation drift tunnel. It used to be part of the earlier Huskar Colliery and would bring them back to the surface in Nabs Wood. But before they could emerge, the little stream that flows through the wood had become a raging torrent and debris had forced a diversion.

The waters gushed into the escape tunnel and twenty six of those child miners were tragically drowned. There were girls as well as boys and the youngest child - just seven years old - was named Joseph Birkinshaw.

Though there was already a monument in Silkstone churchyard, the people of Silkstone Common wanted another memorial close to where the disaster happened and this was duly built in the nineteen eighties. I very much like the realised design - showing statues of two children working in typically cramped conditions.

It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for those poor children. Not just the awfulness of their drowning but simply slaving for twelve hours a day in cold, black tunnels with only stubs of candles to illuminate their brutal labour as they hauled coal away from the seam or hacked at it with primitive tools. They should have been running through the summer woods, enjoying the light and the sun upon their skin - not crawling around far beneath those woods for measly pennies at the behest of profit hungry mine owners to whom even the lives of small children were expendable. 

And though there are still many child labourers in this world, I am thankful that my children didn't have to descend into the darkness with poor little Joseph Birkinshaw - God rest his soul.

3 December 2013

Pizza

On the main road near our house there's a "Domino's" pizza outlet. We often get leaflets from them - pushed through our letterbox. Mostly, I don't even give these mailings a cursory glance before sticking them in our paper recycling box. They alert pizza lovers to special deals. And as well as "Domino's" there are numerous other purveyors of takeway pizzas in our city - all jostling for the pizza pound. Posh people might even visit "Pizza Express" for expensive sit-down pizza meals.

In larger supermarkets, there are entire freezer sections devoted to pizzas of different varieties and in the chilled sections there are stacks of "fresh" pizzas for sale..But I have a confession to make - I don't like pizzas - in fact - and please keep quiet about this - I am almost anti-pizza.

Okay I could eat pizza without vomiting but I'd never go out of my way to buy pizza and I'd certainly never order one from "Domino's". To me pizza is just an unleavened dough base with some gunge smeared across it - including tasteless cheese and tomato pulp and maybe a spoonful of oregano scattered over the surface. Then they stick the rubbery dough discs in a hot oven to crisp the edges up a bit and half melt the cheese. Why would I waste a healthy appetite on stuff like that - even if some bits of sausage or pineapple might have been chucked on as well?

Given what pizza is, I am amazed at the normal takeaway prices. The mark up on pizzas must be enormous. I'd much rather have a cheese and tomato sandwich. Even a bowl of cornflakes has greater appeal. And I cannot understand why pizzas are so popular or why anyone would arrange a pizza delivery - obliging underpaid young men to risk their lives on the roads to bring a cardboard box to your door - a box that would probably be more nutritious and appetising than the slab of horrible stuff inside it.

A popular urban legend maintains that the archetypal pizza, Pizza Margherita, was invented in  Italy in 1889, when the Royal Palace of Capodimonte commissioned the Neapolitan pizza baker Raffaele Esposito to create a new pizza in honour of the visiting Queen Margherita. Of the three different pizzas he created, the Queen strongly preferred a pie swathed in the colours of the Italian flag: red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella).  Hence - Pizza Margherita. 

The Yorkshire Pudding pizza would surely be far more appealing than that. In this recipe, the pizza base is merely used as a heat retaining shield. When the plate reaches the table, the diner discards the inedible pizza base like a frisbee to reveal two or three slices of delicious beef top rump, roasted potatoes, carrots, peas , gravy and two golden Yorkshire puddings. Yes - that's my kind of pizza folks! You're welcome to the other sort.

2 December 2013

Lightfoot

Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot is seventy five years old. Is it really forty two years since my late friend Richard introduced me to the album "Summerside of Life"? It doesn't seem that long ago. One of the songs that always stuck with me through the years - echoing in the far recesses of my mind - was the enigmatic "Miguel". I invite you to sing along, just as you did for the Hull City theme song in my last blogpost...Let's go:-

Miguel
Never had much to say
He travelled alone with no friends
Like a shadowy ghost
At dawn he came and he went
Through the woodland swiftly gliding
To the young maid he came riding
Where she'd run to meet him
By the garden wall
Oh my sweet Miguel
I will never tell
No one will ever know
What I know too well
And he'd smile and lay his head on her breast
And he'd say I have no fear
They're waiting for me to cross the border, to swim the river
But I've done that before
To see my true love's smiling face
A hundred times or more
Oh my sweet Miguel she cried
I'll love you till I die

He was born to the south
In Mexico they say
The child of a man
Who had soon gone away
But his mother loved him dearly
And she would take him yearly
To the great cathedral in St. Augustine
Oh my young Miguel
Listen to the bell
Of my poverty
You must never tell
And he cried himself to sleep in the night
And he vowed to make things right
So he took the gun down from the wall and he paid a call
He knew she'd understand
A lawman came to capture him
The gun jumped in his hand
Oh Miguel the mother cried
You must run son or you'll die

So the story is told
Of his true love 'cross the line
As strong as the oak
And as sweet as the vine
And the child she bore him
Came on that fateful mornin'
When they sent him to his final rest
Oh my sweet Miguel
Listen to the bell
No one will ever know
What I know too well
Then she'd smile and lay the child on her breast
And she'd say I have no fear
I'm waiting for you to cross the border, to swim the river
'Cause you've done that before
To see your true love's smiling face
A hundred times or more
Oh my sweet Miguel she cried
I'll love you till I die...

1 December 2013

Miracle

David Meyler after his wonder goal against Liverpool this afternoon
There was once a Norwegian TV commentator who went bonkers after Norway had beaten England back in  September 1981. Today was the first time in English football history that Hull City A.F.C. have ever beaten world famous Liverpool F.C. in a competitive match and so inspired by the late Bjørge Lillelien ,  I write this:-
"We are the best in the world! We have beaten Liverpool! Liverpool - birthplace of giants! John Lennon! Leonard Rossiter! Ken Dodd! Derek Hatton! Alison Steadman! Cilla Black! Ringo Starr! Abigail Clancey!  Jamie Carragher! Anne Robinson! Willy Russell! Paul McCartney! We have beaten them all! Can you hear me Jimmy Tarbuck? Jimmy Tarbuck! Your boys took a helluva beating! Your boys took a helluva beating!"
Yes we beat them 3-1 and I was there - looking down upon the field of dreams. The Great Steven Gerrard and their terror-striker from Uruguay - Luis Suarez - they could not compete with the mighty Hull City - The Tigers! We beat them fair and square and it could have easily been more - maybe 5-1 but we'll settle for three. Our lads fought together as a team and just like David suppressed the Liverpudlian Goliath.

On a sour note, our Egyptian owner has a crazy notion to change the club's historical name to Hull Tigers and a verbal war has broken out between him and a section of objecting fans whose slogan has become "City Till I Die!" In a radio interview, the owner said "Well let them die then!" and at today's match a new chant went up - "Die When We Want To! We'll Die When We Want To!" It's all a distraction that the team could do without. But on this auspicious day, let all bloggers, stalkers, spammers, government internet spies and other visitors join me as we sing the traditional Hull City song. One...two..three:-

30 November 2013

Steelmen

Sheffield was built on steel. During the nineteenth century,  the biggest steelworks complex in the entire world was developed to the north east of the city - in an area known as Meadowhall. Nowadays, the very same site is occupied by a stonking great shopping centre which is visited by pilgrims every day of the year apart from Christmas Day. They park their cars and with bowed heads wander into their marble temple to pay homage to Mammon.

At one of the entrances, they might stop to briefly admire this bronze trio:-
It's a sculpture by a Canadian artist called Robin Bell. He created it over the winter of 1989-1990 and it is known locally as "The Steelmen" though its real title is "Teeming". It celebrates Sheffield's steel making history and commemorates generations of hardworking people who devoted their lives to the manufacture of steel - a metal that would form the backbone of Britain's industrial triumphs and its empire. Steel was there in our canal system, the railways, tramlines, shipping, major building projects and of course in the wars we fought. It wasn't in London that Britain built its greatness but in places like Sheffield and Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff - hard-working cities where things really got done.
In the torrid heat of the steelworks, men would sometimes
stuff their mouths with wet neckerchiefs.
During World War One, my grandmother - Phyllis White - worked in one of the great steelworks - helping to produce shell casings. She was only fourteen when she volunteered. Many other Sheffield and Rotherham women worked in the steel factories during World War Two. It is heart-warming to note that another statue will soon be erected in Sheffield to honour these women of both world wars whose efforts in those hellish steelworks have until recently largely been overlooked by historians. They say they are going to call the new statue "Women of Steel".