30 August 2014

Martyr

I am aware that most members of the YPFC visit this blog mainly to view photos from my various country and foreign  rambles. However, because of my ongoing knee pain I have been unable to explore places recently and therefore it has been very difficult to post new pictures. For this I apologise from the depths of my soul. Fearing that I might lose the devotion of the YPFC, I decided to fight this excruciating pain - pain that would surely have hospitalised lesser men - in order to bring you the following photographs.

The first two involved a drive to Harthill which is Yorkshire's most southerly village. It is a great village with everything - just like Hathersage - but much less visited. It has a school, a village shop, a fish and chip shop, a sports ground, an old church, two pubs, many splendid houses and plenty of history and it is just far enough away from the nearby M1 motorway to be quiet. 
And I took the following two pictures today in the Vale of Edale. Dad's Taxi had just transported our Ian to Ollerbrook Farm where he was meeting up with old friends to mark somebody's thirtieth birthday. They are staying out there the whole weekend. I stopped on the railway bridge and howling involuntarily as the housemaid's knee wrought its vengeance upon me I staggered between the stone parapets to bring these photographs to the recently undernourished YPFC:-

29 August 2014

Housemaid

For the past week I have been incapacitated - probably by a condition called prepatellar bursitis that is colloquially known as housemaid's knee. I would prefer its common name to be something like warrior's knee or butch he-man's knee but no, the popular name harks back to a time when working women spent an awful lot of time down on their knees - scrubbing floors and doorsteps I hasten to add!

Normally, when I do any work that involves kneeling I get out my trusty square of thick foam rubber that I have found useful when gardening, laying carpets, repairing paths and anything else that involves putting weight on my knees. But last Wednesday while painting a chest of drawers upstairs, I realised I would have to kneel down for a minute or two while I painted the little legs at the base. It even crossed my mind to go down to our underhouse to get the foam mat but I had paint on my hands and knew I wouldn't be on my knees for very long at all.

On Thursday morning I woke up with a surprising pain in my left knee and it has persisted for over a week. It's okay when my leg is extended or when sitting. It's the transitional movement that sparks the pain. So there hasn't been much walking - just hobbling and quite a lot of grimacing. Getting in and out of the car has been tortuous as has climbing into bed. I keep thinking it is getting better but later I am not so sure. I have checked out most of the internet information and YouTube videos concerning  prepatellar bursitis and could now sit  a medical exam on the subject.

Linked to the injury, two other matters are now pressing on my mind. Firstly, next week I want to help our lovely daughter move flats in Birmingham. With a painful knee that makes the lifting of boxes problematic. Secondly, in just over a week we are bound for Gran Canaria on holiday and I don't want to be restricted to hobbling to the swimming pool within our little apartment complex.

Oh woe is me! ISIS may be killing the innocent, the victims of MH370 may still be lying at the bottom of the ocean, Hull City may have departed from The Europa League competition and ebola may be stalking West Africa but such matters are as nothing compared with my housemaid's knee. Come on dumb knee joint! Get better! Enough is enough.

27 August 2014

Girls

Rotherham Child Abuse Scandal - Ring A
Eight of the perpetrators
Yesterday some awful news emerged from Rotherham - a town which is joined at the hip to Sheffield. For faraway visitors to this blog, let me tell you that over a period of fifteen years, over 1400 children from Rotherham suffered sexual abuse. The victims were mostly impressionable young white girls who were first groomed and then assaulted by British Asian men - often gangs of them. Sometimes the girls would be driven to other towns and cities where more abuse took place as Muslim men with Pakistani heritage networked in a heartless and Machiavellian manner to achieve their bestial pleasures with no apparent concern that these girls were other men's daughters.

At the moment, the knives are out for any public servants who failed in their duties - failed to listen, failed to understand, failed to act. There were many signals about what was going on but it seems there was a widespread reluctance to tackle the cancer because this might have inflamed racial sensitivities in the town and nobody wants to appear racist do they?

However, it was not the chief constable, the leader of the council, the social workers, the head of child support services, the doctors, the nurses or the teachers who abused those girls - it was the men - almost all from the Pakistani/Muslim community. They alone were responsible.

In the British Muslim world there often seems to be a medieval attitude towards women. They are treated both like second class citizens and as angelic objects of reverence. This is in sharp contrast to my own view of women who I simply see as people just like me - my equals, human beings together no matter what our gender. But of course I am an atheist. There is no religion to guide my journey through life or my attitude to the world around me. In contrast, those Rotherham men would certainly claim to be guided by Allah as they refer to the Qua-ran in their daily lives. They probably visit their local mosque and they will have mothers and sisters, maybe even wives who they deal with according to their faith.

And to me, it is not only the evil actions of these men that needs close examination but also the religious context of their lives - a context in which women are not treated as equals, We the tolerant "White British" host community are meant to blithely accept this medieval outlook in our midst, to keep quiet, to accept and say dumb things like "Everybody's entitled to their own beliefs", And we keep our mouths shut for fear of being called racist.

But what has happened in Rotherham and is probably still happening there and in Oldham and Bradford and Rochdale and Huddersfield and Manchester has much to do with the Muslim view of women. The perpetrators have emerged from that context and there is a sense in which it is that religious context that is largely to blame. You don't get gangs of atheists befriending vulnerable girls in the streets before abusing them and passing them around like parcels. We should be braver. We should speak out. Tolerance is sometimes simply cowardice in disguise.

26 August 2014

Song

"At Seventeen" by Janis Ian (1974)

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired

The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone

Who called to say, "Come dance with me"
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn't all it seems at seventeen

A brown-eyed girl in hand-me-downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, "Pity, please, the ones who serve
'Cause they only get what they deserve"

And the rich relationed hometown queen
Marries into what she needs
With a guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly

So remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
In debentures of quality and dubious integrity

Their small town eyes will gape at you
In dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received at seventeen

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball

It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
When dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me

We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown

They call and say, "Come dance with me"
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me at seventeen

25 August 2014

Ethnicity

The official ethnic make-up of the population of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has changed very little since 2001. The white "host" community is still far and away the largest ethnic group in the country. We are generally people whose family roots in these islands go back a long way. The 2001 "cake" shows that 91.3% of the British people were "white". Of course not all of these belong to the original host community for we have EU nationals in our midst - Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians for example. We even have French!

Overall calculations based on the 2011 census suggest that 82% of the population are "White British". Looking back, let me illustrate this with memories of my own time in schools - both as a pupil and as a teacher. In my village primary school of about 200 pupils there was only one pupil who wasn't "White British". His name was Steven and he was of mixed race - his mother having had an affair with a black American airman some time in the summer of 1950. In my two secondary schools - one in Hull and the other in Beverley - there was not one black or Asian scholar. We were all "White British".

On to teaching in Britain. I taught in three Scottish schools during my training years and there was not a single black, Asian or mixed race child in any of those schools. At Dinnington School (1978-1980), again not a single black, Asian or mixed race child - all "White British". In my first Sheffield school - Rowlinson (1980-!985) I again cannot remember a single pupil who wasn't "White British". And in the final school where I was sentenced to twenty two years of hard labour - in the poorer northern suburbs of Sheffield - there was only ever a small handful of "non-White British". Two nice Sikh lads from a corner shop close to Parson Cross Estate, a refugee called Brighton who came from Zimbabwe, the daughters of the Chinese family who ran the nearby takeaway and half a dozen mixed race children - the products of long buried love affairs with West Indian or African men. That was about it.

I know that London is a different kettle of fish entirely. It is perhaps the world's biggest and most varied melting pot of races with people hailing from just about every other country on the planet. Of course London is also  at the core of the TV and media industry and it's where our national politicians pontificate, But London is not England and it certainly isn't Great Britain. It is very easy to get the nature of our multi-ethnic country out of proportion - to forget that this is principally still a "White British" country. But in the politically correct rush to demonstrate democratic and anti-racist values, it seems to me that the "White British", the host community, are frequently being sidelined or treated with an element of disdain - ignoring the arithmetical significance of our overwhelming majority presence.

At this point, I can sense "Disgusted" of Tunbridge Wells and others starting to bristle in their armchairs with little Acme racism detector antennae bristling and bleeping like smoke alarms. "Let's torch Pudding Towers! He's gone and joined the Ku Klux Klan!" But stay with me - I haven't reached my main point.

What I want to get at is television advertising. In recent years I have noticed that the ethnic make-up of television advertising is generally out of synch with the make-up of the population -  facts already covered above. There'll be a pizza party or a bunch of pretty models promoting skin products or a family buying a new car and there's always a significant black or Asian presence in the ad.. Increasingly, I see middle class families from AdWorld and there'll be a black daddy or a black mummy with a white spouse. It's as if the advertisers are becoming afraid to reflect our true ethnic picture - preferring to opt for a false portrait of Great Britain in which every other human being, every other household is black or Asian. That is demonstrably not the case.

Yes Britain is far less "White British" than when I was growing up. That is true. But the statistics still tell us that "White British" are overwhelmingly the largest ethnic group in our country and surely this should be simply and accurately reflected in our media, including television advertising, websites and public information products.

From the Royal Bank of Scotland website
Howard - Halifax Building Society advertising

24 August 2014

Excursion

All Saints Church, Rotherham
 What's that phrase? "What goes around comes around" or is it "What comes around goes around"? I can never quite remember. Anyway when you have been blogging for years, there's every chance that you will return to subjects you have already covered. And I know that I have already posted about Sheffield's little brother - the town of Rotherham which is so close to our illustrious  regional metropolis that the two places actually conjoin around Kimberworth, Brinsworth and Meadowhall. See my previous posts here and here.

Last Sunday the weather was somewhat inclement and Shirley had a bad dose of cabin fever. She needed to get out so I suggested a trip to Rotherham - a place she hardly knows at all even though she has lived in Sheffield since the age of sixteen when she arrived at the big city from the wilds of Lincolnshire to take up a pre-nursing course in one of our colleges.
On Main Street, Rotherham
Mmm.. a Sunday afternoon trip to Rotherham. Not exactly a Californian beach or a French chateau - not even an excursion to an archetypal English country town like Bakewell or Matlock. The centre of Rotherham had the lifeblood squeezed out of it by Thatcher's assault on the steel industry and by the erection of the vast Meadowhall Shopping Centre which sucks in visitors from across the region. That's the reason that Rotherham town centre has a deathly feel about it with tumbleweed blowing along deserted streets  - rather like an inland Rhyl.
Doll shop, High Street, Rotherham
But Rotherham has a history that dates back to Roman times and beyond and was once a proud, bustling steel town where there was money and laughter. Unlike Shirley, I have been to Rotherham lots of times over the years  - to see my beloved Hulll City at the old Milmoor ground and simply to walk through its streets. My first South Yorkshire teaching job was within the boundaries of the Metropolitan Borough of Rotherham and when my mother was a girl growing up in nearby Rawmarsh she would often visit Rotherham and took up her first office job with the famous steel firm Steel, Peach and Tozers which had its main offices in the town.

We parked near Main Street and wandered around to the magnificent  parish church - now called Rotherham Minster. Not so long ago it was largely obscured from view on its western side by a massive concrete shopping centre and office building. We saw "The Corn Law Rhymer" pub and noticed irksome dolls in a shop window. Most of the shops in the town centre were closed but we spent twenty minutes in a discount store - picking up a few bargain items. The older shop manageress had had her arms immobilised with parcel tape - wrapped around her by a younger employee. A jolly wheeze to stave off a Sunday afternoon boredom caused by the dearth of shoppers.
Chapel in Moorgate Cemetery
Boston Castle, Rotherham
We drove out of Rotherham by Moorgate, There are some grand old houses in that area which counter my assertion that Rotherham is like an inland Rhyl. We strolled around historic Moorgate Cemetery and into the grounds of Boston Castle - an eighteenth century hunting lodge that enjoys magnificent views over the wide river valley that accommodates the rivers Don and Rother.

Shirley had enjoyed her little trip to Rotherham and we both noticed that noble efforts are being made in the town centre to demonstrate a refreshed civic pride, shaking off the depression caused by Meadowhall and the decimation of the local steel industry. After all, there's no mileage in feeling sorry for yourself.

23 August 2014

Suspicious

Another charity bag dropped through our letter box today. We never put any old clothes or other unwanted items in these bags. Instead we use them as bin liners. Don't get me wrong. Shirley and I are not averse to supporting charities and I have often dropped stuff off at either the "Mind" shop on London Road or the "Oxfam" shops at Broomhill and Nether Edge.

As I was immobilised today with a bad knee, I had time to investigate the senders of today's bag - "Treating Children With Cancer". To begin with I wouldn't class "cancer" as a treat so the name of this charity is somewhat thoughtless.

I discovered that "Treating Children With Cancer" is based at a small industrial estate in Huddersfield. They have been in existence since late 2009 and they have a rather small turnover. Most of the money that they claim they make from street collections goes into costs such as maintaining their Huddersfield depot, vehicle expenditure and staff wages. This leaves very little to give to other charities such as "Macmillan Nurses" or "Cancer UK" which are both big and effective charities dear to the hearts of the British people. It seems that "Treating Children With Cancer" use a significant amount of excess money to pay for clowns to entertain child cancer patients in hospitals - at least that is what they say they do.

One of the lead directors of the charity used to run a company called "Ragcycle" that went out of business in 2009. This wasn't a charity but a commercial venture that aimed to make money through recycling old clothes - often sending them to Third World countries for profit.

The "Treating Children With Cancer" website is rather unconvincing. It never states why the people who operate this approved charity have chosen to devote so much time to this particular cause. What is it that motivates them? Did a young family member suffer from cancer? No. It just doesn't ring true. There's something quite fishy about it all in my opinion though I would be pleased to discover that my suspicion is groundless.

Whenever charities run regular bag collections, a lot of potential charity money is lost in paying for the collection service. Walking into a charity shop with items for donation cuts out the middle men and ensures that much more of what you are presenting translates into funding. So we shall continue to use these bags for lining our kitchen bin. Additionally,  I hope that one day the truth about "Treating Children With Cancer" will be revealed.

22 August 2014

Free!

Funny thing this blogging lark. Yesterday afternoon I met my third ever blogging correspondent in person. It's Senor Brian Cutts (see above) and I also had the privilege of meeting his lovely wife Sylvia and their pleasant and rather  intelligent children - Andrew and Amanda (See below)
Embedded image permalink
Here in England we often think about the people who come to our shores as immigrants but far less often do we find ourselves thinking about those English people who have left our shores to embrace different cultures as emigrants. Brian is one of those people. At forty seven, he has spent more years living in Catalonia than he ever spent in South Yorkshire where his parents still reside. He is to all intents and purposes a fully fledged Catalonian who is 100% behind the drive for Catalonian independence. He has even lost his Barnsley accent and now speaks like a  Catalonian who happens to be fluent in English.

As I say, it's a funny thing this blogging lark. At one level you might say that until yesterday Brian and I were complete strangers - except that we already knew quite a lot about each other and had known the intimacy of the written word. I gave Brian's children pencils and he gave me a book about Catalonia's drive for independence - a cause which seems to have far more historical substance than Scotland's delicately balanced and less well argued parallel claims.

Here you will find Brian's blog - Tannu Tuva

And here you will find his Twitter account.

And if you are reading this Brian - it was lovely to meet you, Senora Sylvia and your delightful children. Free Catalonia! Free The People! 

20 August 2014

Bottled

Of course a philatelist is a stamp collector but what is a collector of old bottles called? Probably a numbskull who should get a life! …Whatever! I guess that it is time for me to come out of the closet, nail my colours to the mast and admit that I collect old glass bottles. I like them to be in very good condition and the glass must be green tinged. I especially like bottles from Yorkshire. They might have once contained beer, sparkling water, ink, milk or medicine. As long as they are green-tinged and fairly old, I don’t mind.

Today, after shopping at our local friendly “Lidl” store, I called in at an antiques emporium at Heeley Bottom just to see if any old bottles had turned up and I was pleased to find this beautiful baby from the 1930’s. Isn't she gorgeous?...

You might not be able to make out the embossed writing. It says “Rider Wilsons Table Water Sheffield” so I am delighted to say it’s another local bottle. It cost me £5. Collecting bottles isn’t a particularly expensive hobby and I have liberated several from derelict properties – in other words free!

If you haven’t fallen asleep yet or clicked away from this dull blogpost, here are some more of my treasured bottles:- 

This type of soda bottle (below) - the codd bottle -  takes its name from the inventor and patentee Hiram Codd, who in 1872 patented a bottle for use in the aërated water trade. It was made in Barnsley, Yorkshire. The bottle was unique; it would never need a cork inserted to form the closure because trapped in its neck the glass ball could not leave the neck chamber, or perish. This allowed the bottle to be used many times without the expenditure of a cork. The bottle was filled under gas pressure forcing the marble into the lip where it met an India rubber washer retained in a groove. The marble was forced against the washer forming a perfect air tight seal.
And this one is of course an old "Coca Cola" bottle - probably from the 1950's. I bought it in a junk shop in Panama City, Florida for one dollar. On the base you can see where it was made - in Bainbridge Georgia where a Coke bottling plant still operates today:-
I have never really stopped to consider why I like old bottles. Perhaps it's linked to my fondness for abandoned farm buildings. They speak of earlier times. They are tactile and heavy and when they were made there was no expectation that they would ever be treasured.
Some of my bottles on display at the grand entrance to Pudding Towers

19 August 2014

Ruin

Over Hathersage - View along The Hope Valley yesterday afternoon
Hathersage is a smashing village. It seems to have everything. A beautiful setting in the Hope Valley, a ten minute drive into Sheffield's south western suburbs, two curry houses, a public swimming pool, a railway station, a school, Little John's grave, pubs, shops and an array of lovely houses of different sizes and ages. Yes, Hathersage is a nice place.

Of course I have been to and through Hathersage hundreds of times and oft-times when returning from The Peak District via the road to Surprise View, I have looked up to the hill that rises to the east of the village and noticed an old ruin in the middle of a field that is embraced on three sides by woodland. It's like an old friend that reminds me I am almost home. 

Nonetheless, until yesterday I had never visited that ruin. It is not close to any public rights of way. I checked access to it with the help of satellite imagery before setting off yesterday afternoon. After parking by the start of the track to Scraperlow near Higger Tor, I  headed for sloping deciduous woodland that looks down upon The Hope Valley. But instead of taking the diagonal path that leads down to Hathersage Booths through the woods, I forked right across the fields till I came to the ruins of an old farm. It must have been abandoned a long time ago and it is in the very corner of a field where two plantations meet. One of the old stone gateposts had been yanked from the ground. I swear it would take a dozen strong men to lift it. Massive.

But this was not my target. Over and under a couple of barbed wire fences, skirting the woods, past two more monumental gateposts and then my old friend came into view. Sitting in the middle of the field, looking down quizzically upon Hathersage. It was then that  the grey rain shower reached us after trundling along the valley. I sheltered beneath a beech tree and waited for the rain to pass.

The ruin has no name - at least not on maps. Why it was built there - in such an exposed place - I have no idea and why two sides were cleverly arched is also curious. Perhaps it was something other than a barn for sheep. Perhaps it was a seventeenth century gentleman's retreat. Maybe he came up here to think and get away from his household, to admire the view, to write. Whatever it was, it is a blessing that the enigmatic old ruin persists.And so after the rain, I captured it digitally. I have not been able to find any other close-up photos of the ruin. These could be the first....
Amongst the trees you can see the spire of Hathersage Church
And in my humble opinion - this is the best picture of them all. I think the grey cloud gives a bit of drama to the scene. A blue sky just wouldn't have done the same:-
Some men are drawn to motorbikes or motherboards, lap-dancing clubs, poultry, steam trains or share-dealing but for some mysterious reason I am drawn to old farm ruins. Watch this space.

17 August 2014

Bits

Above - the little fish and chip shop in the village of Grange Moor which is south east of Huddersfield and around an hour's drive from Sheffield. On Friday unforecasted rain was spitting when I parked up in Grange Moor and I was in two minds about whether to undertake the walk I had planned. Instead I went in that little takeaway place and asked for a small bag of chips.

"D'ye want bits on?" asked the middle-aged woman behind the counter. She was wearing a white catering hat - like a trilby.

For those who are not versed in the intricacies of fish and chip culture, may I explain that "bits" (called "scraps" in East Yorkshire) are  rescued small  bits of batter from the frying tank. They are golden and crunchy, very unhealthy and delicious on top of a bag of chips with a sprinkling of salt and malt vinegar,  She offered me a full scoop of "bits" but slightly horrified, as I considered such a  wave of cholesterol, I asked for half. 

I sat in my car munching those delicious chips as rain piddled down but by the time all the golden fingers had descended to Pudding's  miniature belly, the rainstorm had passed by and I decided to risk the planned walk. With boots on I set off for Cockermouth Farm on Flockton Moor, thence to Six Lanes End and onwards to the hamlet of Crawshaw. Along to Kirkby Grange Farm and Furnace Grange and then to the village of Flockton which boasts one of the oldest pubs in Britain - "The George and Dragon" - dating back to 1485. Later it became a coal mining community with functional miners' cottages spreading west from the original village.
"The George and Dragon" on a grey day in Flockton
Past the church and then northwards through New Park towards Grange Hall. At New Park, it took me a while to realise that the caravans around the big field's perimeter belonged not to middle class caravanners but to travelling families or gipsies. There were mongrel dogs on ropes and flat bed tarmac and scrap metal trucks and tree-lopping machinery. No raggle taggle gipsies here, with golden earrings dancing round a campfire to the sound of a violin.

The rain was returning by the time I reached Denby Lane but I was nearly back at my car in Grange Moor by then. Between the houses above a green I spotted this odd construction:- 
It is called "The Dumb Steeple" and intriguingly nobody is quite sure what it is or was. It was repaired in 1766 and it used to have a stone ball on its pinnacle. In the 1840's striking textile workers had rallies here and of course there was a time when there were no houses in the area. One respected Yorkshire historian claims that it was once a place of pagan worship and the current construction may have replaced a much earlier edifice. More pictures from my grey sky jaunt below:-
Near Furnace Grange
Angry sky over Flockton
Emley Moor Tower dominates the local landscape. It is the tallest free standing
structure in the British Isles and so naturally it is in Yorkshire.
Cottages at Six Lanes End

16 August 2014

Haunted

I don't believe in ghosts. It's all a load of nonsense in my view. Those who believe in ghosts secretly desire something more - something beyond everyday life - and so they are receptive to ghostly ideas, ghostly stories, ghostly films. I would happily set up a tent and camp in a pitch dark graveyard, snuggled in my sleeping bag, listening to the hooting of owls and the leathery whooshing of bats' wings. I am 100% confident that I would not be disturbed by phantoms and that I would sleep soundly till dawn.

And yet at times, I feel that I am haunted. Maybe you are the same. When I was working and there were never enough hours in a day and every morning was like the beginning of  another Groundhog Day, there was hardly time to ponder. But now that I have oodles of time to spare, events and faces from the past come back to haunt me.

We are who we are and though we might be able to alter the fringes of our lives, the core human being remains unchanged. As they say, it's all in our DNA. A feature of my "haunting" is the replaying of past events - mostly when things went wrong, when I suffered injustice, when I failed to act in the way I should have done, when wrong words were spoken or the right words were unsaid. I tend to play those particular life tapes far more often than I revisit my successes, the joys that  I have known, the wonderful places I have been fortunate enough to visit, the good things I have done.

Edith Piaf memorably sang:-
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu'on m'a fait
Ni le mal; tout ça m'est bien égal !
Which loosely translated means:-
No, nothing of nothing
No! I don't feel sorry about anything
Not the good things people have done to me
Not the bad things, it's all the same to me.
But to me this is all pure hogwash. In reality, it is impossible to live without regrets. To "regret nothing" is an aspiration, not a believable way of living.

We are all the same in that inside our skulls there's a person that we refer to as "I" or "me". But no matter how close we get to other people, they will never know what it means to live inside somebody else's  head. The "I" that I know is very different from your particular "I". "I" is composed of our genetic make up, our experience, our diet, our physical health, the stimulation we receive from the world around us.  And for these reasons we are all different. No two "I's" can ever be the same.

What is past is past. We can't change it and yes there's probably no point in crying over spilt milk but in spite of all that, I know that I am not alone in devoting far too much emotional energy and time to past recollections that may often be tainted with regret. You can't snap out of it or prevent that kind of thinking. In the end there's no way to exorcise those metaphorical ghosts that haunt us. We must continue striving to  live with them.

14 August 2014

Thirty

Our Ian at Thirty
Ian at Seven
I must be getting old because my little boy is thirty years old. It was his birthday yesterday and he managed to get time off from his busy job in London to return to his Sheffield nest. I took him out for breakfast at Jonty's on Sharrow Vale Road and then we drove to Meadowhall where he chose a nice shirt and a pair of suede desert boots as his birthday present. And in the evening, after Shirley had come home from work, we drove over to Rotherham for dinner in the excellent "Akbars" curry resaturant on Meadowbank Road. See the size of our nan bread hanging from a metal frame! Later he met up with his Sheffield friends at "The Pointing Dog" and must have sneaked home quietly some time after three in the morning. We are blessed to have such a smashing son who is generally happy and healthy, works hard,  loves life and treats other people with respect. He has far more true friends than I had at his age.
Full English birthday breakfast in Jonty's
Evening birthday curry  meal at Akbar

13 August 2014

Dinnington

Up until December of 1977, I had never even heard of Dinnington - a mining village in the South Yorkshire heartland.  It was then that I spotted an advertisement in "The Times Educational Supplement" for an English teacher to join the staff of Dinnington Comprehensive School. I was invited for interview and soon found myself  facing an interview panel of eight people. They were like The Spanish Inquisition.

The Chair of Governors was also a deputy at the local coal mine. He listened intently to my responses as I fielded questions from the rest of the panel and then at the end of the grilling the headteacher asked him if he had any questions. Half sneering at me, he growled, "Aye, I've just one question for thee lad. Are ye courtin'?"
I sensed the subtext immediately. He didn't want any of those gay pufta fellows coming into his South Yorkshire pit village to corrupt young boys. Notching my voice down a few octaves and scratching my testicles for good measure I reassured him that I was a red-blooded heterosexual but without going into graphic detail. It was only years later that I surmised he might actually have been angling for a date! However, he wasn't my type.
After my successful interview, the Head of English introduced me to a bachelor History teacher called Bob who lived on his own in the nearby village of Carlton in Lindrick. Apparently, Bob had helped several new teachers out by providing temporary accommodation and with Christmas right ahead of us, this seemed like the best option. Bob was in  his late thirties, with receding ginger hair and gold-rimmed spectacles. Little did I know at that point that rumours were rife amongst the pupil population that he was a "perv" who was far too interested in male pupils. Maybe that was why he ran one of the school football teams. And it wasn't long before they latched on to the fact that I was living with him. Perhaps I was also a "perv". Not really what you want when you're battling to establish yourself in a new school.
My "classroom" was really a secondhand hut that wouldn't have looked out of place in a refugee camp. It was situated well away from the rest of the English classrooms beyond a tarmac playground next to Throapham Woods. The window frames were rotting and there were just two small convector heaters to combat the January chill. But I didn't really mind. In those far off days there was no OFSTED and no real curriculum. I was trusted to deliver an English diet that would engage the children and there was nobody looking over my shoulder.

That autumn I took one of my classes out into Throapham Woods. Silently, we made observational notes about the trees, the birdlife, the smell of fallen leaves etc.. More notes were made in late December 1978 and yet more in the springtime and the summer. It was only then that I allowed them to begin their descriptive writing tasks - drawing inspiration and ideas from their notes. The resulting pieces of writing were fantastic - based not on vague thinking but on detailed observation. You could do things like that in those days. And by then I was living in Sheffield and Bob had been promoted to a school in Lincolnshire. 
During my weeks with him I ascertained that he probably was a bit of a "perv" - for I had to field several phone calls from boys - including one who said that he was "in love" with Bob. And two or three times, I heard Bob talking in hushed tones to these lads as I sat in the lounge marking exercise books.

I have many memories of Dinnington. Getting snogged at a Christmas party in The Lordens Hotel by two rampant members of the female PE staff who took my breath away. Visiting  the parents of a truanting boy and finding they kept rabbits in the sideboard in their living room. Mark Needham filling his pockets and school bag with pieces of waste coal from the slag heap before catching the bus home. Taking my seven Year 11 special needs lads in my Hillman Avenger to the museum in Doncaster - a town that none of them had ever visited before. Punting on the River Cam during a marvellous conference - "English for Average and Less Able Pupils". Writing and directing a musical play based on "The Gresford Disaster". Getting locked in the toilets of a nightclub in Worksop following a boozy male teachers' night out. Singing my heart out in the chorus of "The Mikado" while dressed as a Japanese courtier. That was Dinnington - once upon  a time.

And I was back in Dinnington yesterday. The coal mine and its associated slag heap have gone and so has my temporary hut  to the rear of the school campus. The Lordens Hotel is all closed up and falling into disrepair. Thirty six years have drifted by and times have changed but Dinnington remains an isolated settlement just far enough from Sheffield and Rotherham and Doncaster to be a law unto itself - discrete and separate. Another world. I am sure that there are still many people who live and die in Dinnington and hardly ever leave it and the echo of the pithead siren still haunts its avenues and alleyways.