There's going to be a General Election in Great Britain in June. Our esteemed leader, Theresa May, has used the expression "strong and stable leadership" 857 times in the past fortnight:-
29 April 2017
28 April 2017
|Adrian Henri (1938-2000)|
Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fan club with only two fans
Love is walking holding paint-stained hands
Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don't put out the light
Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is you and love is me
Love is a prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
by Adrian Henri
27 April 2017
Wouldn't it be nice if we could control the things that we remember? Then our heads would be filled with positive, happy stuff and bad or negative recollections would be resigned to the memory bin, never to be replayed again.
I can't stop myself from remembering slights or injustices. In my memory bank there is an entire wing devoted to such topics. I just went in there and scanned the shelves to find you this memory from my teaching years...
As a form tutor, I had a class of thirty eleven and twelve year old children to look after. I registered them every morning and afternoon, compiled their school reports, addressed general behavioural matters and so on. Once a week we had an hour in the classroom together. It was called tutor time and you had to fill it with social educational activities signposted by The Head of Year.
We were told that each tutor group had to focus on the work of different charities before coming up with ideas that would raise money for particular charities. When the preparatory work was done, a boy in my class suggested that every pupil could donate a sum of money each week to help our chosen charity and the rest of the class agreed to this. Somebody said "How about a pound?" but in the end we came right down to two pence.
Two pence is a tiny amount of money and sensitive to the relative deprivation in the school's neighbourhood, I was much happier to supervise such a collection. In one week we would raise sixty pence and in a month we would raise £2.40. Over an entire school year we would accumulate about £20. When all is said and done - not very much money at all for all the effort involved. Explanatory letters were sent home and parents were told they could opt out if they wanted.
We had to decide which charity to go for and following discussion and a democratic vote, the tutor group chose to raise money for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals). To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed about that. I would have preferred it if they had gone for a people charity but hey, it was their choice.
Fast forward to the Year 7 parents' evening the following February.
It's 9pm and plonking themselves at my table in the school assembly hall are Mr and Mrs Birks. They are older parents and their daughter is called Alison. She sits at the back and does her work as instructed. She has caused no problems whatsoever during her first year in the school but she has a surly, slightly superior demeanour and I just cannot warm to her. She is distant.
I say all the positive things about Alison. Her subject teachers have been happy with her and she has settled in well, coping with the work and the process of moving up to secondary school. Mr and Mrs Birks are not naturally happy looking people. You can see it in their body language and in the expressions on their faces.
Having listened to me they then take it upon themselves to address the charity-based learning and the weekly collection of two pence pieces.
Mr Birks says. "People round here can't afford it. It's not right to be asking them to give money every week."
I defend my corner with the obvious points and as I speak to The Birks couple I remember one of the school cleaners showing me a biscuit tin in which the cleaning staff put coins that kids left on classroom and corridor floors - either accidentally or deliberately. It was filled to the brim. "We spend it on our Christmas night out," said Gwen.
Mrs Birks chips in with, "And we don't think it's right to make kids raise money for the RSPCA. That's for animals. What about people?"
Of course I pointed out that the decision was taken by the children themselves and I was simply following the school's tutor time plan but inside I was deeply annoyed about having to defend the process. I thought their criticism was both presumptuous and groundless and in fact it emanated from the sourness of their daughter and the self-righteous narrow-mindedness they espoused.
Two other sets of parents that same evening had a wholesome and healthy view of the charity learning and weekly collection calling it "brilliant" but I don't remember the details of those encounters - just Mr and Mrs Birks with arms folded, looking as ugly as sin and seeking to call the shots instead of supporting the work of their daughter's school with positivity and goodwill.
For whatever reason, I have never forgotten this and twenty five years later the details of it remain in my mind like intricate tattoos.
N.B 2p (UK) = 3 cents (US)
26 April 2017
I remember my father Philip. When he was sixty three, the age that I am now, he would never have worn a T-shirt. When he dressed in the morning he put on a formal shirt with a collar, a tie and if the temperature was chilly a V-necked jumper. T-shirts were for young people.
Even when digging the vegetable plot, he would still wear his shirt and tie. The only time he loosened up and donned plain cotton polo shirts was when he was away from home on a warm holiday.
Dad died in 1979, long before internet and mobile phone technology swept The Earth .like a modern plague or a wave of light - depending on how you look at things. He would have been amazed that this month his sixty three year old son went online to access the website of Medicine Hat Tigers ice hockey team in Alberta, Canada..Once there, I ordered and paid for an XL supporters' T-shirt.
It arrived yesterday - all the way from Medicine Hat. Another stylish T-shirt to add to my little collection. But isn't it amazing that we can do things like this nowadays? When Dad was my age, it would have been exceedingly difficult to acquire a Medicine Hat Tigers T-shirt. There would have been letters, crackly telephone calls, an international bank transfer and oodles of time. You would have had to be very determined.
You might imagine that I am a fan of Canadian ice hockey but you would be wrong. I have only ever attended one ice hockey match and I found it rather tiresome (Sorry Red!). There was far too much scoring going on for my liking and too many stoppages. So why Medicine Hat Tigers? Simply because of the tiger image and the word "Tigers". It is the same nickname proudly borne by Hull City AFC - the football team I have loyally supported since Dad first took me to see them when I was nine years old.
Think of the new T-shirt as a fashion statement. If you would like to order some cool Medicine Hat Tigers apparel of your own, go here.
25 April 2017
I dislike the word "Brexit". It reminds me of idle word collisions in very unsubtle brand names such as "Weetabix" or "Kwikfit". The word "Brexit" seems to belong in the commercial world of "Toys R Us", "GameStop" and "Supasave".
I find it rather trite and shallow, turning a process of immense importance and national concern into the kind of word you might find in a cartoon bubble. There's a cruel disconnect in my view.
Inventor of the term "Brexit"
The word "Brexit" was first coined on May 12th 2012 by a fellow called Peter Wilding who heads up a pressure group called "British Influence". He was pushing for a "Remain" vote so it's rather ironic that his gift to The Oxford English Dictionary is a word that was embraced by so many "Leave" voters and repeated time and time again in Britain's tabloid press.
And then you had our great leader Mother Theresa, ponderously defining the word in a mystical incantation... "Brexit means Brexit" which was like saying that "Cheese means cheese" or "Bollocks means bollocks". If she had wished to be totally honest with the British public what Mother Theresa should have said was "Brexit means what I think it means".
In my opinion, there should never have been a Brexit referendum in the first place. To reduce the whole complex web of Britain's associations with Europe down to a simple "Leave" or "Remain" vote was like dumbing down the story of someone's life to a verdict of "Good" or "Bad".
In the confusion that has followed the Brexit vote, it becomes clearer each day that the original question was insufficient. If we were going to have to have a referendum, there should have been other questions resulting in clear choices to guide negotiators beyond the fateful day.
And finally, I just want to mention Russia. I am not someone who readily embraces conspiracy theories but it seems to me that The British establishment have been smothering or playing down reference to Russia's influence on the Brexit referendum. Russia clearly played its shadowy hand in the US presidential election and several serious journalists and other well-informed observers firmly believe that Russia also influenced Brexit voting. Go here and here and here.
But regarding that troubling matter, the British public are left to watch the rolling of tumbleweed while listening to the eerie sound of silence..."Brexit means Just Shut Up and Eat It!"
24 April 2017
What is Art? Is it something pretty that catches your eye? Is it something that stops you in your tracks and challenges your thinking? Is it merely an exhibition of technical skills?
Probably there isn't one simple answer.
The first art gallery I ever visited was The Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. Many years had passed by since I last visited it but I was back there on Saturday morning.
The place was heaving with visitors - rather like a popular London exhibition. Many of them were there to see a new photographic display by Spencer Tunick in which hundreds of naked Hullensians gathered at several city locations. Often their bodies were painted blue to suggest the sea:-
I kind of like to observe natural things in gallery situations. A different context can make you see things differently. But that pile of rocks wasn't a pile of rocks at all. It was a pile of pieces of sea-battered polyurethane foam that the artist had gathered from different coastal locations. That makes you think differently about the pile.
The artist-collector is Alexander Duncan and he calls this piece "Cove". He said of it, "Lost in the sea, these hyperobjects have returned to the land reminding us of the waste and pollution we are all responsible for".
Only a century ago, no such material could be found around the British coast but now it's everywhere. Even in the vast Pacific Ocean millions of plastic bags and bottles are floating, washing up on deserted islands or entering the food chains of precious marine life. Without words, Alexander Duncan's "Cove" makes you stop and think - perhaps we don't deserve to be the guardians of this beautiful planet. We continue to ruin it, thoughtlessly, arrogantly, stupidly...
23 April 2017
|Bob Carver's minus an apostrophe and an ampersand|
Condemned prisoners are sometimes asked to select the final meal of their lives before execution takes place. What would you pick if you were in that position?
For me there's no question about it. It would be cod, chips and mushy peas with a slice of bread and butter and a pot of tea. Manna from heaven. Ambrosia of the gods.
Yesterday, before watching ten man Hull City beat Watford by two goals to nil. I went into the centre of Hull to visit The Ferens Art Gallery. Hull is currently Britain's "City of Culture" and The Ferens has some excellent work on show.
Afterwards, I wandered down Whitefriargate towards the fruit market and upon a whim I decided to have an early lunch in Hull's most famous fish and chip restaurant - the legendary Bob Carver's. And this was the beautiful scene that greeted my eyes before I picked up my knife and fork:-
22 April 2017
You will probably not have heard of the man on the left. He is called Alan Knight and he lives in Anglesey. It took him years to get back to the thing he always loved - Art.
Shirley and I went to see an exhibition of his paintings at Oriel Ynys Mon - the main exhibition centre on the Isle of Anglesey.
We were struck by his work in oils. So vibrant and swift and nearly all clearly done with palette knives.
To the right there's a close up corner of his urgent technique as seen in a typical painting. Up close it seems rough - as if just clarted on to the canvas but stand back from it and it looks like a vivid, believable sky, filled with physical energy.
Even though visitors weren't allowed to take pictures in Oriel Ynys Mon, I was very naughty and snapped the following two pictures. If I had had a spare thousand pounds on me I would have loved to buy one of them to hang on our front room wall:-
I visited Alan Knight's website and found him saying this about his painting:-
"After trying various techniques and mediums down the years I eventually discovered that knife painting in oil best suited my temperament. I want a result quickly, in one session, and knife painting enables a speedy process. I’ve found that deliberating over a work and being too hesitant always produces a lifeless, uninspired result. Having the confidence to abandon one's inhibitions and paint in the white heat of inspiration and excitement does not come easy. It took me years to untangle myself and begin to relish and enjoy the pleasure of painting and to forget about the finished work, just to enjoy the process. I tend not to think too much when I paint.
I take inspiration from the visual world. When outside I can see paintings everywhere. Back in my studio the process begins of transforming, distilling what I have seen into an original, personal vision in oil paint. In the end it’s a question of feeling and response."
Though I am using watercolour, I wonder if I could take a little of Alan's approach into my own painting. He scorns the idea of "deliberating" and "being too hesitant". Perhaps I should swig a few glasses of Irish whiskey before putting brush to paper... or more likely I could never approach things in quite the same way as Alan. Oils are so different. You can scrape oil paint off or paint over something you have done. Much more room for amendment. But as I say, a little of Alan Knight's approach probably wouldn't come amiss.
21 April 2017
Regular visitors to this blog will recall that for a while I was focused on painting foxes. Well it seems that somebody else has a fox fixation and has also been trying his hand at fox pictures:-
Trump Draws on Twitter.
Trump Draws on Twitter.
20 April 2017
I'm starting to think about painting landscapes. See the photograph above. I took it from the northern shore of The Humber near Hessle Haven. Beyond the old jetty you can see The Humber Bridge arching gracefully across the river. It was opened in 1981 and at that time was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It remains an iconic structure linking Yorkshire with northern Lincolnshire.
I have travelled across it many times but when I was a schoolboy in Hull, the only way we could get across that mile-wide river was by steam ferry. Lincolnshire was a faraway world like Narnia, inhabited by strange folk known as Yellowbellies. Little did I know back then that I would end up marrying a Yellowbelly!
Below I have used picture effects in "Word" to create a new version of the picture in which only a handful of shades have been used in what is called a "cutout" style. I think it is handy to have a look at the picture this way because it helps to overlook superfluous details and get right to the heart of the picture's basic structure and the different layers of light and shade.
19 April 2017
When riding a motorcycle it is important to wear a helmet, This will protect your skull if you come off the motorbike and headbutt a tree or the surface of the road upon which you are travelling. But if someone has borrowed your helmet - what should you do then?
18 April 2017
As an unashamed Americophile, I am proud that this blog receives lots of visitors from The United States. In fact "Yorkshire Pudding" frequently attracts more American visitors than British. My independent tracking system has even discerned that over the weekend this blog received three late night visits from the Mar-a-Lago estate at Palm Beach, Florida. This is Donald Trump's "southern White House". If my suspicions are correct I would just like to say to the 45th President - you are not welcome here you sporran-headed twerp!
Given the number of American visitors, I think it is an opportune time to provide a free English language lesson. As you may appreciate, I am such a generous fellow! Over the years I have noted a multitude of glaring errors in American use of English. Across the Atlantic Ocean, our shared and precious language has been on the slide for ages and it's nigh time that our American cousins were gently put back on the rails with advice about English from the very home of English - England!
So my American cousins, please study the following chart in order to learn some of the errors of your ways. As soon as you have mastered the correct vocabulary you should begin employing it in everyday communication. Too long hast thou erred - I urge thee to return to the path of righteousness!
Depending upon response to this post, let's just think of it as Lesson One. There are numerous other lessons waiting in the Yorkshire Pudding pipeline!
16 April 2017
I don't know if the following dining scenarios are unique to me. Please consider and advise.
1) You sit at a restaurant table and soon afterwards a smiling member of the waiting staff arrives with a menu. You choose what you want to eat and then you wait... and wait. Finally someone arrives to take your food order but you just lost half an hour of your life.
2) The food order has been placed. And then you wait... and wait. How long can it really take to plate up the dish of the day? There was time to visit the supermarket to purchase the raw ingredients and then to cook the dish of the day from scratch.
3) The meal has been eaten and you want to pay the bill but no matter how hard you try to catch the eye of the waiter or waitress, nobody spots you. It does not seem to cross their minds that having finished you want to pay your bill and leave. You wait...and wait and then when in exasperation you get up to visit the person on the till they say "Oh we'll bring your bill over in a minute"...but they take a further ten minutes.
Waiting around in restaurants can be like a form of torture. I hate it.
In a Turkish restaurant in London two years ago we waited one hour and forty minutes for our food order to arrive and last week in a country pub-restaurant on Anglesey we waited a full hour for our main course to appear. This is what I wrote about the Turkish restaurant on TripAdvisor:-
When I was living in Thailand, the restaurant experience was always very different. Your custom was appreciated. The menu appeared quickly. The order was taken quickly. The food order appeared quickly and payment was quick and efficient. Another thing about dining in Thailand was that it was not their national custom to leave tips. You just paid up and left. All this expectation that we should leave a 10% tip is baloney to me. I only leave tips when I think that the service has been better than average.
15 April 2017
Over the years I have brought plenty of stones home - from the top of Ben Nevis to California, France, Greece and the west coast of New Zealand. When I look at them, they remind me of those places and of course that is what souvenirs are meant for - to remember.
Earlier this week, Shirley and I were on Porth Trwyn beach on the west coast of Anglesey. We had gone there to watch the sun go down but Shirley picked up another souvenir to add to our collection:-
Beach stones are beautiful. They are of The Earth but smoothed by the ocean over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. This one has distinctive layers that speak of some ancient sea or riverbed - millions of years back. If only the stones could speak to us, revealing their stories.
The town of Holyhead on Anglesey knows poverty. Not every home of course but in Holyhead the poverty is clearly visible. It seems a rather sad place on the very edge of Britain, looking bleakly over the Irish Sea. There are several charity shops there and half of these were jumbled, odorous places selling stuff that would never make the shelves in the Oxfam shop where I work each Wednesday. In poor towns the quality of donations will naturally fall.
We went into a scruffy little antiques shop on Market Street and there we spotted a box:-
Yes it was from our home city which used to be synonymous with good quality cutlery. Many sets of Sheffield cutlery or knives were given to couples as special wedding presents and because they were top quality items they were often stored in cupboards and never used. They would remain there for decades.
Anyway, the second souvenir we brought home from Anglesey was the set of dinner knives we discovered in the box. In pristine condition and only £20 - ready to transport back to the city where they were made. And we shall definitely use them. Living in this city of steel it would seem wrong to use any cutlery that wasn't made here.
14 April 2017
|Bullocks at Llynon near our lovely gatehouse with Llynon Mill on the ridge|
If you are fed up of hearing about Anglesey, I am pleased to inform you that references to it will now fall into sharp decline as we are back in the land of the righteous - Yorkshire. We drove home via The North Wales Expressway, zooming seamlessly along the M56 to the M60 which is the Manchester Ring Road.
We were making good time but then we got to the end of the M67 near Hyde and it was as if we had suddenly joined a funeral procession. Like all Sheffield folk travelling from the Manchester area we are used to it. Crawling along to the roundabout and then crawling up the hill to Mottram-in-Longendale. Then yet more snail-like progress through Glossop. Aaargh!
|The Swellies - in the Menai Strait|
Eventually - back home with lovely memories of Anglesey. We were very lucky with the weather. If we had had a grey week we would have probably returned thinking - what a grim place!
|Bryn Celli Ddu - yesterday morning|
Yesterday morning we travelled to the east of the island specially to see another ancient burial mound - Bryn Celli Ddu (mound in the dark grove). Bizarrely when we got there there was an American TV crew making a documentary and in the adjacent field - from Manchester Metropolitan University -some students were undertaking an archaeological survey. A few minutes later a small nursery school party arrived in day-glo jerkins. It wasn't the peaceful examination we expected but it was still a special place to be.
Then we drove up to Beaumaris and back to Menai Bridge for lunch in a little cafe. This was the holiday on which I discovered a delightful sandwich combination - brie, cranberry and bacon. I just wonder why I never tried it before.
|Offerings to The Ancients inside the passage tomb. I left a business |
card from The Serene Guesthouse in Bangkok Thailand.
12 April 2017
In medieval times, the idea of undertaking a pilgrimage was widespread. In The British Isles alone there were several well-trodden pilgrim routes that saw people walking for many days to pay homage to a saint, a holy well or a Christian martyr. Making such a pilgrimage would surely supplement the acquisition of holy merit and help to secure a pew in heaven itself.
One such pilgrimage site was Ynys Llanddwyn or Llandddwyn Island on the south west coast of Anglesey. It is rich in legends and is especially associated with St Dwynwen - the Welsh patron saint of love who lived during the fifth century.
Pilgrims would come from far and wide to pay their holy respects. January 25th is St Dwynwen's Day in Wales so of course it was especially propitious to visit the remote tidal island on that date.
The pilgrimage habit was severely curtailed by Henry VIII's purges in the middle of the sixteenth century. Little did he know that in the twenty first century, new pilgrims would arrive in motor vehicles and pay £4 to park in the Newborough Forest car park before striding along the beach to Ynys Llanddwyn which also boasts two lighthouses, a row of coastguard cottages, a cross dedicated to St Dwynwen and the ruins of St Dwynwen's Church.
Yesterday we joined the holy daytrippers, eschewing the typical hardships of dedicated medieval pilgrims. No sleeping in hedgerows for us nor bleeding feet and no begging for food to sustain us on our journey. Llanddwyn Island is a lovely, atmospheric place, looking out over the mouth of the Menai Strait to Snowdonia.
It was a joy to go there. Today we pottered about in Holyhead before a visit to Llynon Mill - Wales's only working windmill. Tonight we shall have a farewell to Anglesey meal at "The Black Lion" in nearby Llanfaethlu. It's quite pricey but the food is excellent. We visited it on our first night here. A return visit will, I guess, be like a culinary pilgrimage.
11 April 2017
The gatehouse was converted by the owners' son who is a naval officer. In extending it and modernising it, his watchword must have been "quality". No expense appears to have been spared on things like light switches, electric sockets, furniture, woodwork. There's even under floor heating in the section that has a Welsh slate floor. There's a modern woodburner in the dining area and in the bathroom a large square bath and a big walk in shower cubicle. It is spacious and quite lovely. On the slope below us a stream babbles by on its way to the sea.
The other night we went to nearby Church Bay specifically to watch the sunset over The Irish Sea and when we returned in darkness to our lane we saw not one but two cock pheasants in the lane. I slowed to a halt but they didn't scoot off. We watched them in the headlight glare for five minutes or more.
I don't know what was going on. It appeared to be some sort of ritualistic dance of domination. They seemed to mimic each other and occasionally lunge forward with beaks like daggers. Pheasants are such skittish birds normally so it was a surprise to watch them behaving like this.
On my last blogpost's theme of "Ancients", yesterday we visited a 5000 year old neolithic tomb near Moelfre on the east coast. It is estimated that the top slab weighs about twenty five tons. When first investigated by amateur archaeologists in the nineteenth century, the remains of thirty people were found in the tomb. Once it would have been covered with earth to create a small burial mound. There are various other burial sites on this fascinating island which it has so far been a real joy to explore.
10 April 2017
Yesterday, here on The Isle of Anglesey, we visited a little church that was first established in 440 AD. Imagine that! It is certainly one of the oldest British churches I have ever seen.
But go back in time. Much further back. This island is home to many tantalising ancient sites dating back 4000 years or more to The Bronze Age and even back beyond that.
It was a rather grey day while England and South Wales were apparently bathed in yet more bright spring sunshine. We pottered around Cemaes Bay on the north coast where a happy old spaniel called Morgan adopted us for an hour or so. Then we headed inland to the village of Llanfechell.
We were going there specifically to see The Llanfechell Triangle - three standing stones dating back to The Bronze Age. They are each over six feet tall and sit on high ground looking out towards yet more ancient hilltops.
It was a struggle to get there. No footpath signs and the path up to the ridge was not well-trodden. We were glad we had donned our walking boots as the sheep pastures were squidgy underfoot. But then we reached them. It was as if they were in conversation.
Nobody is sure what these standing stones were for. They may have had a spiritual significance or perhaps they were the upright struts of a tomb that was once capped with a large horizontal slab like a dolmen. Whatever they were for it would have taken great determination and togetherness to erect them.
I am fascinated by ancient history and as I stroked those stones I did so with reverence, sensing the invisible lines that connect all humanity back through the ages. Once there was another world where the wind blew in from the sea and the jewels of the sky above were like signals explaining the nature of things if only you could unlock the universe's secret code. And there our ancestors walked feeling the rain upon their cheeks, observing the plants of the earth and sometimes standing in wondrous silence when rainbows arched over the untamed landscapes they knew.
8 April 2017
Saturday on The Isle of Anglesey and what a beautiful day it has been. At eight fifteen I pulled up the master bedroom blinds at Llynon Lodge and this is the scene I beheld:-
Such a diamond day in shirt sleeves. After breakfast, we jumped in the car and tootled off down the west coast of the island. The landscape was bathed in gorgeous sunshine. Lambs frolicked in emerald green pastures and the gorse bushes shone a bright rich yellow.
We headed for Treaddur Bay on Holy Island which is so close to Anglesey you could be forgiven for failing to realise that it is indeed an island in its own right. I took several photographs of an old hotel perched on a rocky promontory before we headed further up the coast to South Stack.
Along the way we met a retired train driver called Bob Grump. He was sitting on a sunlit bench admiring the view. He told us he had sat in that same place "hundreds" of times. I took a picture of him and promised to e-mail the result to him. This was it:-
After a little snack and a pot of tea in the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) cafe at South Stack we viewed South Stack lighthouse with nearby nesting terns and guillemots perched precariously on sea cliff ledges.
Then we were back in the car tootling down to Rhosneigr and Aberffraw. We tarried in both seaside villages and then we drove down a single track lane to see an amazing historical little church that sits on an island in a rocky bay. It's called St Cwyfan's Church. Fortunately, the tide was out so we were able to walk across the rocky causeway to spend a little time in that marvellous place. At high tide the island is always surrounded by sea-waves. I reckon that the church sits on what was once a significant pagan site in pre-Christian times.
In the last thirty hours we have done and seen so much. I could easily have made this post as long as your arm. One of the highlights would have been how I avoided a collision with a speeding farmer's 4x4 pick up truck by taking swift avoidance action - swinging in to the gateway of a field and hearing the ominous crunching of rocks beneath my faithful Clint. The farmer paused briefly and then sped off, not stopping to see how shaken we were or whether or not any damage had been caused. The whole incident lasted two seconds. I am sure that if I hadn't swung my steering wheel there would have been a head-on collision with airbags deployed. These one track Welsh lanes with tall hedgerows can be treacherous so I drive along them like Reginald Molehusband. Steady as she goes.
5 April 2017
We are off on holiday on Friday. Monte Carlo? The isles of Greece perhaps? A cruise along the Nile?Disneyland? No my friends - none of these. We are heading to a windswept island off the north coast of Wales - Anglesey or in Welsh Ynys Mon.
We decided to rent an inland property which was once the gatehouse of a small country estate now owned by a former high ranking naval officer. Living in a city with thousands of fellow citizens in close proximity I decided to go for a very peaceful and remote place, paying a bit extra for the sheer quality of the accommodation.
It sits off a one track lane in the middle of nowhere with a little stream running through the garden. It is possible that we'll end up complaining about the dawn chorus, the rooks, the howling foxes, the snuffling badgers, the wind in the trees and long to get back to the peace of city life - distant sirens, the hum of traffic and faraway trains rattling towards Chesterfield or Rotherham. But I don't think so.
The weekend weather forecast is very promising. We don't pick up the key until 4pm on Friday so we may make a detour to Fairy Glen near Betws y Coed. We have two original paintings of this scenic place but have never been there. It is somewhere I have wanted to visit for the past thirty years.
When ensconced in our country gatehouse, the advertised wi-fi may be unreliable so blogging could prove difficult but I shall try so that you can also partake in our vacation - albeit vicariously.
4 April 2017
Sometimes one's blog can function like a confessional. Oh, bless me father for I have sinned!
I press the re-wind button and my life flickers by in reverse until we arrive at 1966.
I am a schoolboy aged twelve. Every morning I ride the East Yorkshire Motor Services bus into Hull and ride home in the afternoon - a total round trip of twenty six miles. This was the dubious reward I won for passing the 11+ examination with flying colours.
At school, the masters wear black academic gowns and the headmaster is a fearsome fellow called Harry Roach. He struts onto the stage every morning to lead the daily assembly while I linger in the corridor with the Jewish boys because I arrive late every day. When the religious stuff is over we filter into the back of the hall to hear the day's notices. There are rugby results, details of extra-curricular activities and ominously the names of boys that Harry wants to "see" after assembly. "See" means "cane" with a bamboo rod. We all know that and fear being thrashed. In caning, Harry is an Olympic champion.
|A back copy of "Parade" from the 1960's|
showcasing a guitar virtuoso on the cover
I am learning Latin, French, Chemistry, Physics, Biology and something called Divinity which is incredibly boring and always focused on the Christian Bible. There's also History, Geography, Art, Woodwork, Mathematics, Music, English and on Wednesday afternoons - rugby - a "subject" in which I quickly begin to excel.
But in my head there are other things going on. Secret things and novel urges I had not experienced before. Another boy shows me a secondhand copy of a "dirty" magazine called "Parade". We thumb through it together in the cloakroom and my eyes pop out on stalks. Looking directly at us and smiling knowingly, there are lovely young women with their breasts exposed. Overlooking my babyhood, they are the first breasts I have ever seen and I like them. I like them very much indeed.
My lusty companion explains where he bought his copy of "Parade" and one lunchtime the following week I make a special trip to a seedy old bookshop on Spring Bank. I see the pile of back copies of "Parade" near the door - just where he said they would be. Plucking up courage, I grab the copy that's sitting on top of the pile and bravely part with a shilling. It is such a relief to get out of the shop but I have my very own "Parade".
In the weeks that follow I turn those pages a thousand times. The readers' letters are interesting but it's the pictures I like the best and it's there that I linger. If only I could put as much commitment into my Latin homework. I seem to recall that there was a particular dark-haired beauty called Sharon Powers. In my imagination we become lovers, holding hands on country walks before rolling around in haystacks. She looks up from the page as if she recognises me. It's our little secret.
Nowadays youngsters find it easy to access hard-core pornography on the internet. Any age restricting defences are cursory and simple to circumvent. Puberty has always been a time of discovery, leaving childhood innocence behind and the awakening of sexual interest is perfectly natural. However, I am glad that back in 1966 we didn't have access to pornographic films, just mildly raunchy publications like "Parade". I kept my copy in my satchel before sneaking it under my mattress at home which is where my mother discovered it when changing the sheets. Did she have to rip it up and burn it on the fire? Poor Sharon and the other girls - it was a horrible way to go.