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".

29 November 2013

Butler

On Thursday morning, at the old fogies' "early doors" film screening, I watched "The Butler" starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. In the British press, this movie has received rather mixed reviews but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Our daughter - Frances - had seen it last week and later  recommended it with unqualified enthusiasm.

The film spans a long period of modern American history - seen largely through the eyes of Cecil Gaines -  a long-serving butler in the White House - whose childhood was spent on a cotton plantation near Macon, Georgia. He became a "house nigger" and this early experience of domestic service prepared him well for his future career.

He met his wife Gloria whilst later working in a hotel and they had two sons. One goes to fight in Vietnam whilst the older son, played brilliantly by David Oyelowo, becomes embroiled in the politics of the civil rights movement.

There are famous characters and famous actors in cameo roles and it is as if Lee Daniels was attempting to paint - in broad brush fashion - a portrait of post-war America. Quite a tall order for a film that lasts little more than two hours. 

In real life, I am not entirely convinced that black Americans have yet achieved the equality that Martin Luther King dreamt about but surely things are much better than they used to be. "The Butler" is a positive affirmation of that quest and it speaks of times that people of my generation from around the world are very familiar with - from Kennedy's assassination to the election of Barack Obama. Like Cecil Gaines we have all been witnesses to this planet's recent evolution and in the end we can only hope for the best.
Oprah Winfrey - convincing performance as Gloria Gaines

28 November 2013

Chesterfield

Chesterfield in North East Derbyshire is one of Sheffield's smaller cousins. Yesterday I spent three hours just walking around the town, ticking off one kilometre boxes for the Geograph project as I clicked away with my (sub-machine gun)  camera.  By the uniquely named Knifesmithgate in the town centre I noticed three young people passing the time of day on the corner where I had stopped to munch a cheese roll. There was a young man of around twenty and two young women of a similar age. All three were smoking cigarettes:-

GIRL 1 (sucking on cigarette) How much are you getting?
BOY Four f***ing quid an hour.
GIRL 1 For f***'s sake! Four f***ing quid! That's not even the f***ing minimum wage.
BOY Tell me abaht it! For four f***ing quid you don't want to put much f***ing effort in if you see what I mean. (blows smoke from the corner of his mouth)
GIRL 2 Four f***ing quid? I'd take that! All I want's a f***ing job! They could pay me one f***ing pound an hour and I'd be f***ing happy with that. I'd be as happy as a f***ing baby!
BOY (Laughs) She's always coming out with stuff like that - like a f***ing baby!
(They all laugh)

It was like a street play - a medieval mystery play perhaps - and the next short scene involved the young man boasting about how he had got drunk and smashed somebody's "f***ing face in". The girls seemed impressed. And all of this unfolded in the shadow of Chesterfield's Parish Church with its "famous" crooked spire. 

That spire has directly inspired the local council's logo, the names of two public houses and even the local professional football club - Chesterfield F.C. is nicknamed The Spireites. Here are five shots of what  I am talking about:-
Don't get me wrong. The overheard conversation is not meant as a distilled representation of the townsfolk. I rather like Chesterfield - its human scale, its honesty, its friendliness and its nice location. Many times when I have walked in the countryside to the west of Chesterfield I have been able to make out the crooked spire from miles away. A real landmark. And its traditional outdoor market is famous in the region. It would, I am sure, be a good place to live - even though it has one enormous downside - it is not in Yorkshire!

27 November 2013

Bridges

Jeff Bridges
Ms Carol Sheila of 69 Wombat Close, Cairns, Australia has developed a bizarre notion that I, the Mighty Pudding of Yorkshire, have a psychological aversion to bridges. This post is written to dispel that outrageous and slanderous myth and I shall state here and now that I am in fact extremely fond of bridges and was a founder member of the Yorkshire Bridge Appreciation Society. In my view bridges are extremely useful for crossing waterways that would otherwise make us wet or necessitate massive detours.

It is a little known fact bridges were invented by a Yorkshireman - Herbert Egdirb who realised that if he placed two long planks of wood over the River Swale in Swaledale he could avoid walking seven and a half miles simply to milk his cow - Nigella.

I have lost count of the number of bridges I have been across from The Bridge on the River Kwai, Thailand to The Humber Bridge near Hull and from Tower Bridge in London to the Forth Road Bridge in Bonny Scotland. Many of these bridges I have stopped to photograph - much to the annoyance of other motorists but it is the simpler bridges of the countryside that I adore the most. Aesthetically pleasing bridges with history. And from my extensive digital photo files I have fished out these three examples:-
Monsal Head Railway Viaduct, Derbyshire
Pataua footbridge, New Zealand
Bridge over the River Noe, Edale, Derbyshire
This was the unabridged version of this post, The abridged version can be found at www.ilovebridges.com or simply purchase a copy of  "Why I am a Bridgeoholic" from Yorkshire Pudding Enterprises plc.. Send a cheque for £32.50 (US $52.70) and allow up to eleven years for delivery - or have I burnt my bridges now?

25 November 2013

Rainbows

Who's rainbow do you chase?

"If you can dream it, you can do it". - Walt Disney
"Never give up on accomplishing your dream. No matter what happens, have some
hope in your life and know that you can do anything you want to" 
"As long as you've got passion, faith and are willing to work
 hard, you can do anything you want in this life."

The motivational quotations above come from a vast heap of similar quotes that aim to reinforce the illusion that anything in life is possible if you just strive hard enough for it.  Personally, I don't believe it. Usually the quotes are spouted by successful people who through good fortune and useful connections - as much as hard work and self-belief - rose from the human soup in which the rest of us swim to walk in the light.

Try spinning this yarn to a NEET teenager hanging around on a deprived Sheffield council estate - "Not in Education, Employment, or Training". Try telling it to a Filipino child whose community has been devastated by Typhoon Haiyan or to a young person with Down's Syndrome. Or a Syrian refugee or a victim of AIDS or a seventeen year old single parent or a steelworker who has just lost his job. The idea is plain cruel - like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey.

Of course all of us - no matter what our circumstances - can achieve small dreams that will enhance and progress our lives. We can save up for holidays or volunteer at a charity shop. We can paint our doors a different colour or paint watercolour landscapes, teach our children to read, put food on the table. We can revise for exams and pass them and in coastal villages in the Philippines we can reconstruct our shacks. Yes these small dreams are achievable for everyone.  And that's all very healthy, very good. We can all improve our lives.

But very few of  us can become the new Richard Bransons or Sir John Gielguds, Dolly Partons or Mother Teresas. There's room for very few fashion leaders, rock stars, astronauts or prime ministers. And besides - as well as all those so-called high achievers that the celebrity-obsessed world seems to worship - we also need bus drivers, street cleaners, hotel maids, assembly line workers, nurses, men who will climb down into a city's sewers to maintain them. Unsung heroes. What kind of a world would it be if everybody reached the top and floated around there bathed in the sweet light of  "I made it" dreams fulfilled? Who would change the sheets or deliver the bread?

The illusion has become like a modern religion. The vast majority of people are made to feel that they exist in the shadows of what might have been if they had only striven harder - been more like Walt Disney or Henry Ford. But in life the reality is that you do your best, tick off small dreams and sometimes try simply just to live or live simply - putting aside all that tiresome striving, that chasing of rainbows. 

There are seven billion of us and it's like a vast pyramid. Nearly all of us form the the base and the middle sections. Very few can occupy the apex. There just isn't room.

23 November 2013

Inghilterra

I rambled around Darley Dale earlier this week in gorgeous autumnal sunshine. It lies just a couple of miles south of Chatsworth House - probably England's finest stately home - which is itself some ten miles south of Sheffield. Although a delightful area for walking, Darley Dale is not actually in the Peak District National Park. This section of the Derwent valley once bustled with industry all the way down to Matlock and Cromford and that industrial heritage is probably what prevented the Peak Park mappers from including it.

Being terribly honest, I rather like the fact that visitors from other lands arrive at this humble blog and find pictures of England they perhaps hadn't expected. No changing the guards at Buckingham Palace, no bankers in bowler hats, no Wimbledon or Epsom, no toffs on horseback or Elton John in outrageous spectacles. This, I contend, is closer to the real Inghilterra:-
An autumn scene in Sitch plantation
Hart's Tongue Fern seen on Foggs Hill
Eccentric elephant topiary on Whitworth Road
A traditional butcher's shop in Darley Dale
Looking to Cock's Head from Two Dales
Friendly cat on a wall in Two Dales
Autumn view of The Derwent Valley from Back Lane

22 November 2013

Paparazzi

One of the prices of burgeoning fame in the music industry is being targeted by voracious members of the paparazzi. And yesterday a "Daily Mirror" photographer struck lucky when he spotted The Blogettes on their way to a secret London rehearsal venue. As you can see, all the girls were knitting scarves at the time to protect their delicate vocal chords from the approach of  the northern hemisphere's winter.
Carol, Jenny, Helen, Jan and Katherine - The Blogettes.
The picture appeared on Page 3 of "The Mirror" with the headline: "Girl Band Go Wild in The Tunnel of Love".

21 November 2013

Blogettes

Have you heard about the latest girl band who are taking the blogosphere by storm? Picked from thousands of applicants from all over the world, The Blogettes have just launched their first album with associated DVD and television appearances.

But who are they? Well let me tell you there are two from Australia, one from New Zealand, one from California and one from North Wales. Helen  is sometimes known as Cuddly Blogette. Carol's nickname is Techno Blogette, Katherine is Arty Farty Blogette, Janice (Jan) is known as Chickenwoman Blogette and Jenny is Rarebit Blogette. Together their singing voices create beautifully tuneful harmonies but there are sometimes catfights about who should take the solo parts - with fur and feathers flying in the dressing room. Usually The Chickenwoman wins - raised in the cruel streets of Sloughhouse, California she had to fight her way to the top. The other girls are slightly more genteel.

Stage outfits for the girl band have been designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier - based on the famous double cone outfit he designed for Madonna.

Managed and driven around in a white transit van by the lascivious Angolan music entrepreneur Tom "Boy" Gowans, The Blogettes spent three weeks in a secret studio to get their first album just right. It contains ten brand new original songs by a range of previously undiscovered songwriters:-

"Colorado Mountain Love" by Mama Thyme
"Bondage in Catalonia" by Brian de Hoyland
"Bulldog Love" by Johnny Earl Gray
"Love in  a Taiwanese Typhoon" by Jonjo Booth
"Leeds Leads to Love" by Frances Pudding
"Absent Love" by Daphne Franks
"Love in a Campervan (The Rumpy Pumpy Song)" by Adrian Image
"Playin' the Organ of Love" by Bob Brague
"Love on a Thai Beach" by Ian Rhodes
"Polish Love Plane" by Libby Midlands

Tom "Boy" Gowans said, "We expect the first album to go platinum. The girls are really up for it! A world tour is planned with gigs in Rhyl, Bridlington, Tauranga - New Zealand and Toowoomba - Australia. Anybody who hasn't heard of The Blogettes yet is going to know all about them in the year ahead. They are going to be big! Very big! Especially if they keep ordering takeaway pizzas and kebabs!"

20 November 2013

Betting

My step-grandfather Foster Morris - always known as Jock - was roguish. He loved the ambience of pubs and the amber nectar that was served therein and he also loved nipping into betting shops to try his luck on the horses. Ultimately, this is what fractured his marriage with my grandmother Phyllis. They parted when they were both in their early eighties. He returned to his native Newcastle to see out his days in a little council flat.

Back then betting shops were seedy, mysterious places - generally frowned upon by sensible, respectable society. Logic says that the bookies will always win in the end so the men who ventured into these places were largely seen as desperate fellows, fooling themselves into thinking that success in the betting shop could be an alternative to wholesome labour.

I was forty years old when I first went into a bookies to place a five pound bet on the Grand National. Furtive eyes assessed me as unhealthy blokes looked up from their racing pages, fags smouldering.. I didn't know what to do but the lady behind the counter explained. I thought to myself - you sad gits! There's an obvious correlation between drug addiction and the gambling habit. Gambling also ruins relationships, sucks away finances, breaks up families. I have never returned.

But today things are different. Gambling opportunities are everywhere. There are jolly TV ads for online gambling sites. Football teams may be sponsored by these organisations which are very cunning about drawing in gullible young people with promises of free bets and incentives to open accounts. It is amazing and concerning to me that our government seems to have turned a blind eye to this activity as gambling has come out from behind the closed betting shop door, putting on an inappropriate mantle of acceptability.

There's BetFred, Bet365, Coral, William Hill, BetVictor, Sky Bet, Totesport, Come On!, Ladbrokes, BetFair, Betdaq etc. etc.. Free enterprise is all very well and good - to our current "coalition" government it is in fact something of a religious mantra - but governments have responsibility to protect citizens from themselves. Betting has come out of the closet in various grinning guises but in my opinion it should be forced back into that closet. I mean, politicians and their officers have curtailed cigarette smoking and alcohol advertising, railed against drugs and those who peddle them, pursued paedophiles and people traffickers but they have allowed gambling to grow, as if it was okay. I bet it's not.

17 November 2013

Moon

Yorkipedia - Here are two pictures of our moon. I snapped them recently with my new camera. On average our moon is 238,855 miles from Earth and at its equator it has a circumference of 6,783.5 miles compared with this planet which has a circumference of 24,859.82 miles. In volume, the moon is 27% the size of Earth. The moon effectively sucks and repels our oceans - making tides. 

On clear full moon nights before electricity came along, people would utilise the moonlight for work and leisure. Most of us have lost that ancient practical connection with the moon and many even fail to recognise that in its phases it demonstrates the passing of time - month by month. In ancient times, all pre-Christian and pre-Muslim societies deified and revered the moon. But in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare warned:  “O, swear not by the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb, Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”

When Armstrong and Aldrin arrived on the moon's surface on July 20th 1969, they discovered that it was not  after all made of cheese which was bad news for the world's many starving people who - if they had known - may also have been bewildered by the astronomical (excuse the pun) cost of the Apollo project - an estimated $2.6 billion - and that was in the sixties! $2.6 billion would have bought a lot of bags of rice, a lot of water purification tablets, a lot of inoculations, a lot of goats...

16 November 2013

Thursday

Walk Number 2,324:-
Thursday saw me parking at "The Red Lion" by Stone Edge, three miles to the south east of Chesterfield. Just outside the Peak District National Park, this is an area that doesn't attract many ramblers. The walk took me three hours and included the oldest industrial chimney in England and the evocative stone ruins of an abandoned farm on Hunger Hill. The air was chilly with a brisk breeze from the north west. When I got back to "The Red Lion", the friendly barmaid directed me to a roaring log fire and told me she'd bring my drink and potato crisps over to me while I thumbed through the current copy of "Derbyshire Life" - sitting in a wing-backed armchair like the lord of the manor but with cow-shit on my trews thanks to the bovine quagmire I had waded through at Dryhurst Farm. Yeeuch!

Sandhill Farm at Stone Edge
The ruined farm on Hunger Hill
Ruins of the old farmhouse...if only they could speak.
View from the ruins to Cathole Farm
Feeling horny - a highland cow at Peasunhurst
The entrance to Alicehead Farm
Sugar beet at Alicehead
The lead-smelting chimney at Stone Edge. The oldest standing
industrial chimney in England though the smelting works
closed as long ago as 1860.

14 November 2013

Therapy

Tuesday's walk took in several small Derbyshire settlements - Wensley, Brightgate, Upper Town, Bonsall, Snitterton and Oker. On the eastern edge of the Peak District, close to Matlock, it was an area that had never before felt the reverberations of my plodding seven league boots. 

As some visitors will recall, country walking enthuses me for several reasons. I enjoy studying maps and taking photographs, ancient history, Mother Nature, visiting places I have never been before and rambling provides healthy exercise for a sixty year old pork-pied fellow like me. I reckon that each mile I walk probably extends my life - all that cardio-vascular activity, the gasping breath, the sweat on the brow. It can't be bad. And the more I walk - usually midweek solitary affairs - the more I feel that I am engaging in a kind of natural self-healing therapy. There's something vaguely spiritual about it all.

A selection of Tuesday's pictures:-
Some guys rave about Formula One, scotch eggs, ice cream machines, new bands... but
 I get excited aboutDerbyshire's many isolated stone barns and cowsheds - like this
one that I spotted after trudging up Masson Hill
The village of Bonsall grew because of lead mining and the knitting industry
A modern replica of "T'owd Man o' Bonsall" - the oldest
known stone carving of a Derbyshire lead miner.
A former shop window in Bonsall with two odd and contradictory
written signs and a saucy manikin too. If you look closely at my second
picture youcan see this window from afar - overlooking the
medieval village cross
The village of Oker viewed from Salters Lane
Copse on the ridge by Tearsall Farm as  November
sunlight bows out too early

13 November 2013

Flatus

More than fifty years ago, my oldest brother Paul - God rest his soul - lay on his back on our living room floor, brought his knees up to his head and before emitting a resounding fart, lit a match and positioned it close to the blow hole. There was a  flash of blue green flame followed by howls of laughter.  Paul was always scientific like that. Perhaps his failed PhD project should have focussed on flatulence rather than locusts which inconveniently kept dying on him.

On average, every human being in the world farts fourteen times a day. We all do it. From Pope Francis to Miss World and from Earl John Gray of Trelawnyd to bonny babies in their cribs. When I was a boy, if my mother heard me pass wind she'd frown, "What do you say?" and I'd automatically respond "Pardon me" but later - when I was a rebellious teenager - my cleverdick reply would usually be "I've just farted!" I mean - why should we ever be sorry about our farts? They happen.

The word "fart" comes from the Old English "feortan" (meaning "to break wind"). Although the word "fart" is "not in decent use," it was used by the likes of the great medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. I am not sure if there is a polite alternative word for a single "fart" as "flatulence" is a general term for the process of passing wind. After all, nobody says "I've just flatulated" or "I have just performed an act of flatulence" so to me "fart" is a useful noun as it describes a single trumpet blast. Mind you, some farts can whine like a wounded animal and some are like machine gun bullets going off in quick succession.

Over 99% of the volume of flatus (intestinal gas) is composed of non-smelly gases.These include oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane. The remaining trace compounds (just 1% of total volume) give flatus its smell. Recent evidence proves that the major contribution to the smell of flatus comes from a combination of volatile sulphur compounds. It is known that hydrogen sulphide, methyl mercaptan , dimethyl sulphide, dimethyl disulphide and dimethyl trisulphide are all present in flatus. The scientific study of this area of medicine is termed flatology so a scientist who specialises in the field is known as a flatologist though personally I don't recall ever meeting one.

All over the world, farting makes people giggle. It's as if we don't quite know how to react to it even though it's been an everyday feature of human existence since the dawn of time. Having been out of teaching for some time now I can reveal that one of my favourite discipline methods for back row ne'er do wells was to occasionally drop particularly noxious silent farts at the back of the classroom and then nonchalantly stroll back to the front. Moments later, the offending gases would assault unsuspecting nostrils and the lairy pupils would blame each other, protesting "It weren't me!" etc. - forgetting that their erudite English teacher had been to the back only moments before. It only went to prove that some of them really did have the memory span of a goldfish.

There's so much more to be said about farts and farting but of course the subject is taboo. Even as I wrote this post I recognised that the CIA in Washington and GCHQ in Cheltenham would be monitoring every word. Hiya guys! ...THWARRP!

11 November 2013

Poem


Remembrance

“Let's march without the noise of threat'ning drum.” - Richard II, Act III, scene iii

No, I didn’t tremble in that cloying mud
Fingers fumbling for a Woodbine
Nor did I cower by collapsing trench walls
As Big Bertha blasted hell’s appalling anthem
Skywards.
And I did not yell “Chocks away!”
To those scurrying blokes below
Before the moonlight flight to Dresden
Nor hack unyielding rock in Hellfire Pass.
And I didn’t look back, creeping
Along that perilous Helmand track
The day that Adam Brown went down.
But I have felt your leaving in my bones -
Heard the emptiness you left behind,
Shaken my head at such pointlessness
And the cloying pain of never coming home again, never...
And at eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month
I will always bow to you
Who soldier on or shake no more
Bold yeomen in the game of war.

10 November 2013

Saturday

Leeds - an old printing works near
the German Christmas Market
Yorkshire has six cities. They are Hull, Ripon, York, Bradford, Sheffield and err...what's the other one...oh yes - Leeds. That is where our lovely daughter Frances has ended up living and working - more by accident than design but gradually the city has won her over and she's pretty happy there - even thinking of buying a house there in the near future.

Until she moved to Leeds in August 2011, I didn't know it well at all - even though it's just thirty five ,miles up the M1 motorway from Sheffield. Like many Yorkshire people, I used to view Leeds with some disdain. It was too big for its boots and it had a football team that had gained worldwide renown and was always on television - the mighty Leeds United. The Yorkshire BBC  and ITV studios were there and they had a Harvey Nichols store too. Perhaps the rest of us were a little bit envious of the place.

Yesterday Shirley and I drove up to Leeds to spend the day with Frances. She's a bit of a slob domestically speaking so there was some tidying up and fumigation to do in the flat she shares with Alex before we crossed the road for lunch in "The Palace" public house. Then we walked through the central business district towards Leeds City Art Gallery and the temporary Christmas market. The place was bustling with shoppers, street artistes, citizens rich and poor and there were eateries, coffee shops, spacious bars and up-market fashion shops. It had a real "buzz" about it - a thriving city centre.

Shirley and Frances wanted to indulge in a weird  "girlie" activity called shopping while I perused exhibits in the art gallery. Although not bulging with artwork, there were some marvellous pieces to enjoy. Original paintings by Atkinson Grimshaw and Stanley Spencer, abstract sculpture by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and a visiting exhibition by iconic Cornish artists including the naive painter of seaside scenes - Alfred Wallis (1855-1942). A fisherman by trade and unschooled, he frequently painted on bits of cardboard or plywood - just for the love of it until "discovered" by an establishment artist called Ben Nicholson who was the main driver behind the St Ives arts commune.

Later we returned to Frances's flat - absorbed the awful news that Hull City had lost 4-1 to Southampton and then strolled over to Clarence Dock for a delightful curry meal in the new "Mumtaz" restaurant which is a cousin of the highly successful establishment of the same name in Bradford. Eating my tender karahi lamb with pilau rice, chutneys and buttered fresh nan bread made the tragic football news easier to bear. And as always it had of course been a pleasure to see Super-Daughter again. In spite of myself, I am beginning to see why she's happy to put down roots in Leeds. It's bustling central area makes Sheffield's look somewhat underwhelming.
Parking ticket dispute on Cookridge Street, Leeds just
before I wrestled the parking enforcement officer to the
ground. He was later tarred and feathered by a baying
mob  of Christmas shoppers
Leeds Civic Hall with one of its golden owls
Wedding party on the steps of Leeds Town Hall
Harbour, St Ives
by Alfred Wallis
Leeds Town Hall in November afternoon light