29 November 2019

Review

I got round to reading "How To Live Vegan". It was written by the so-called Bosh! Boys - my son Ian and his friend Henry Firth. They wrote it at the behest of their publisher - Harper Collins who realised that there was a place for such a lifestyle manual in a changing world where more and more people are considering moving to plant-based diets - recognising the huge detrimental impact that meat dairy and egg consumption are having upon our planet.

But please don't think that "How To Live Vegan" is preachy, adding to climate crisis tales of gloom and doom. No way. It is an upbeat, friendly and honest guide to adopting a vegan lifestyle in this modern world. It is easy to read and practical too.

It considers such matters as the clothes we wear, cosmetics, eating out, dealing with cynics and sceptics, shopping in supermarkets, travel, meal planning and best practice in the kitchen. The underlying messages are that it is good to be alive, it's good to aspire to live better lives and it's good to adopt a plant-based diet.

From the word go - Ian has always said that the number one reason he turned vegan was through watching the 2014 documentary "Cowspiracy" by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. This film is referred to in "How To Live Vegan" and so just the other night I finally watched it. It is available in Netflix but here's a YouTube link to the official trailer.

I had imagined that "Cowspiracy" would be about intensive farming methods and mistreatment of farm animals but it wasn't that at all. It was about the massive harm that animal industries are doing to our planet and how the startling connected statistics have so often been  swept conveniently under political carpets in a weird conspiracy of silence.

"How To Live Vegan" contains three hundred pages of positive, straightforward assistance. It tells us that it is okay to approach veganism in the way that best suits you and that no one can be 100% vegan. There will be slip-ups and contradictions along the way. Ian and Henry twice refer to the British Vegan Society's definition of veganism:-

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is 
possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty 
to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

The emphasis is upon the terms "possible" and "practicable" -  riders sensibly embraced in this handbook.

The third Bosh! recipe book - "Bosh! Healthy Vegan" will be available in Britain from Boxing Day and in the USA on January 28th.

28 November 2019

Homeward

Camping by Lake Constance in Friedrichshafen, southern Germany in July 1997

In the summer of 97, we left The French Alps and headed north arriving in the Burgundy region of France on August 12th. By then we were very adept at erecting our frame tent and arranging its interior for sleep and temporary living. It was all about teamwork. Surrounded by vineyards, we set up camp on a small, peaceful site just outside the historic city of Beaune.

That night I was feeling quite bad about our son Ian because his thirteenth birthday was the very next day. There would be no party or fun time with friends. Instead he was miles from anywhere in the heart of France with his family.

We had one or two small gifts to give him but when Shirley retired to our sleeping compartment for the night, I resolved to stay up with several pieces of A4 paper and a felt tipped pen. By the light from our gas lamp, I created a special birthday greeting that I affixed to an old washing line just outside the tent doorway.

And this is what our darling boy saw when he arose from his slumbers as a teenager twenty two years ago:-
And along with the previous two posts, that my friends is pretty much all I remember about our European road trip in 97. Many details have evaporated completely. For example, I have no memory whatsoever of any of the campsite shower and toilet blocks that I must have visited. And no memory of what we cooked or ate or where we went shopping but bizarrely I can remember a praying mantis on the spindly tree just behind Ian in the picture above. We watched this curious creature for several minutes. Yes he or she has remained with me when so many other memories and images have,  it seems, disappeared for good.
European mantis

27 November 2019

Earthtongue

It was in October 2010 that I first noticed this strange fungi growing on our rather mossy lawn. I blogged about it here. Until that autumn I had never been aware of Earthtongue before. If you wish to know more about it you can visit Wikipedia. Go here.
Earthtongues really do look like weird black tongues emerging from the earth. They are well-named. It occurred to me that there might be old folktales linked to this odd fungi - legends or myths but unfortunately nothing surfaced during my research. Consequently, I have made up my own folktale.

"Grandfather, where did the name 'Earthtongue' come from?"

"Sit here upon my knee bonny lass and I will tell thee...
_____________________________________________

"It was long ago in the time of wolves. On the edge of the great forest that was later to be known as Sherwood, there dwelt a wizened old woman. In the nearby village, she was simply known as The Witch. Her eyes were bloodshot, her fingers as spindly as winter  twigs and just like a polar bear - her tongue was  black.

Her only companions were the birds of the forest and the badgers that lived in the clearing close to her hovel. These creatures were not afraid of her. She sang melodically to them and earned their trust for she was not really a witch after all. She was a widow entering her ninetieth year with tender memories of times long past.

And it was in that summer, because of inclement weather, voracious pests and a very harsh  late frost that crops failed. No oats nor barley. No apples nor plums upon the trees. No hazelnuts in the forest. No root vegetables. No juicy brambles growing on the briars. No turnips to feed the hogs nor seed for the hens.

The people in the village were hungry for they lived from hand to mouth. In their desperation and growing alarm, they sought something or someone to blame. Two children had already starved to death. 

Revenge began as a whisper - like a voice upon the wind. Then the whisper became a gabbling - like the geese by the village pond. Then one dark November night as thunder rumbled over those foreboding hills to the west, the gabbling became an angry chorus. It was The Witch! The Witch was to blame! She had cursed them all and cursed their land and now she must pay!

They gathered by the village stocks with pitchforks and burning torches. It was a mob of vengeance and as one they moved over common land to the forest's edge.

Meantime, the old woman lay sleeping on her cot, no doubt dreaming of those times long past. The village folk were almost at the brook when their approaching voices stirred her. They were chanting "Kill The Witch! Kill The Witch!" She was sore afraid.

And then they were there at her doorway. No words were spoken. They pulled the animal skins from her cot and grabbed her thin arms, dragging her roughly outside into the darkness under a stormy sky. There was nothing she could say.

They attacked like wolves and when the killing was done they tossed her aged body in the cesspit behind the hovel and threw dirt and fallen leaves upon her.

"Hide her black tongue!" yelled the blacksmith's son as amber torch flames threw the villagers' silhouettes upon mighty oak trunks.

Then they went away. Back to the village. The purging was over and The Witch was no more. She would rot in the bowels of The Earth. Forever.

The following spring as a kindly stranger walked through the forest on his way to the distant hills, he passed by the site of the old woman's hovel. It was little more than a charred shell now. Wrens and bluetits darted between the fallen rafters as a dove cooed from the new green canopy above.

Something caught the kindly stranger's eye, amidst the dead leaf litter behind the ruined cottage. It was like a small black tongue emerging from the ground. He had never seen anything like it before. He knelt to observe it more closely and said to himself, "It is like the tongue of the earth and I shall hereafter call it Earthtongue".

And as the kindly stranger stepped out of the forest into the light he thought he heard a woman behind him singing to the birds. A voice so sweet and pure that it filled his eyes with tears."

26 November 2019

Continuation

Ian and Frances in the "etang" near Bitche in the Moselle region of France
Part Two

Waking in our tent in Friedrichshafen that Saturday morning in the summer of 1997, I was anxious about getting the car fixed and moving on with our holiday. It did not help that I could hardly speak a word of German. By eight thirty I had arrived at the Ford dealership on the edge of town - with a swish modern showroom up front and a service section behind.

Fortunately, they were open for business. I spoke to a glamour model at the main reception desk and explained my issue. She phoned the service section and after a couple of minutes a gentleman in neat grey overalls arrived. There was a "Ford" logo on his chest.

He lifted the bonnet, poked around with his screwdriver and concluded that a fuse had blown. That was why the fan had stopped working. He scurried off to find the right fuse and then announced that the problem was fixed. Back at the reception desk the efficient mechanic and the glamour model exchanged words in German before I asked them how much money I owed them.

"Nothing," she said. "Enjoy the rest of  your holiday!"

I shook hands with the mechanic, thanking him profusely and then headed back to our lakeside campsite with the good news. The kindness I experienced that Saturday morning far from home has stayed in my memory ever since.

The following morning - a Sunday - we set off on a long drive through The Alps, taking in a little of Austria before  driving through Liechtenstein and onward through Switzerland to the Italian border. It was a beautiful drive through snow capped mountains and high plateaus

We descended on the Italian side feeling tired and hungry. We pulled into a little mountain town - possibly Mandesimo. After parking the car, with its small trailer, Ian and I went off in search of food. We found a popular pizza shop where we queued with locals and returned to Shirley and Frances with a kilo of freshly baked pizza cut into squares and presented in a simple brown cardboard box. It was utterly delicious and so welcome.

And then we carried on down the hills. Ahead mist hung in a faraway valley. It marked the location of Lake Como where we camped for three nights before moving on to Pavia just south of Milan. And then it was on through tunnels and over lofty viaducts towards Genoa where the blue-green Mediterranean came into view.

Down the coast we at last came to Diano Marina - the Italian seaside resort I had randomly selected as our southern destination. The camp was busy with holidaymakers from Milan, Turin and southern Germany. Pitches were close together and there was little room left  for vehicles. It was a good job we had made a reservation weeks beforehand.

There were ice creams and sea swimming and evening promenades before we packed up once again and headed back inland to Turin then on through the mountains to a beautiful Alpine campsite on the French side of the border. It was dark by the time the tent was erected and as Shirley made our evening meal on the camping stove, I fell asleep on the soft grass with a zillion silver stars above me.
1997 rest stop in The Alps between Italy and France

25 November 2019

1997

Part One

It was the summer of 1997. I had bought a small camping trailer from some friends. Linked to this, I had had a tow bar fitted on our silver Ford Escort.

We planned  a road trip through the heart of Europe down to The Mediterranean without the assistance of the internet which was very much in its infancy. Ian would have been twelve years old and Frances would have been nine and of course Shirley and I were younger too.

In mid-July I had the car fully serviced for we were about to set off on a 3000 mile journey. Some of the camp sites were pre-booked and I had acquired maps and other useful information.The camping trailer was packed - including the big frame tent we had just bought.

We set off very early one morning bound for Folkestone. The Channel Tunnel had finally been opened the year before and this was the first time we had used it. I manoeuvered the Ford with its little trailer on to the flat bed of a train and we were transported for twenty five miles under the English Channel, emerging in France half an hour later.

Then we headed to southern Belgium, arriving in the early evening and successfully setting up camp on a wooded site near Spa where the Belgian F1 Grand Prix race is held each year. 

After two Belgian nights we were on the road again heading through Luxembourg and back into France. We camped for three nights near Bitche in the Moselle region. The campsite was right next to an "etang" or an inland lake  I remember swimming in there with the children  though the water was muddied and you wondered where you were putting your feet. There could have been water snakes or alligators or bottom feeding sharks! 

After packing up the camping trailer once more, we set off for Strasbourg before heading east into Gemany. It was as we were crossing the border that I noticed the temperature gauge rising on the car's dashboard. I am not referring to the summer weather but to the car's radiator. I pulled over and after a few minutes carefully unscrewed  the radiator cap. Steam was emitted as if from an Icelandic geyser. 

A kind German man in a Porsche stopped to see if he could help and though he hardly spoke a word of English, he managed to communicate that there was a problem with the fan and that I should drive south without replacing the radiator cap. 

We headed along fast roads towards Lake Constance or Konstanz which straddles Germany's border with Switzerland. As we drove along there was no problem with the water temperature - with cooling air swishing into the engine compartment but when we hit slow traffic in Friedrichshafen the gauge began to rise alarmingly again.

I saw a sign for lakeside camping and headed there immediately. It was a Friday evening and as we set up our tent once again I was very anxious about how we would get the car fixed. We went to the camp's bar-restaurant where a helpful barmaid who spoke reasonable English found me the address of the town's main Ford dealership but it was too late to go there for help that night. I would try in the morning.
 To be continued

24 November 2019

Wayfaring

To be honest, I couldn't think of anything to blog about today so I am just sharing more images from my ramble in Staffordshire last Monday. At the top you can see the barn where I conducted some (cough-cough) private business before falling down in the field that is next to the lane you can see to the right of the barn. I wasn't Batman, Superman or even Bananaman - I was Mudman.

The second picture is of the moorland road that leads to the village of Warslow while the third photograph, in fading light, shows a bird surveying its domain. Having magnified that image I believe it was a bird of prey though it might have been a corvid.

The fourth picture shows a cow on the edge of Revidge Moor  with a view across The Manifold Valley to Derbyshire. As some readers may recall, I am forever being observed by cattle. It can be quite unnerving.

The pictures below show firstly a young sheep called Paris after Paris Hilton the American media personality, businesswoman, socialite, model, singer, actress, fashion designer and DJ. When questioned about the name choice, the sheep farmer, an old man called McDonald, simply said, "They look the same".

Below Paris you can see The Meike Riley Tumbledown Farm Building. It was specially created for the well-known Ludwigsburg blogger who often visits this blog because she is attracted to old ruins like me. It is located close to a farm called Cuckoostones - which is true. I rather like that name.

The last picture is of a horse and rider at Oxbatch - riding down the quiet moorland lane to Folly Farm. Beyond you can see another view of The Manifold Valley.

And so that is that. I haven't been able to get out for another long walk in the intervening days but my boots are now dried out...ready once more. When the time is right and good light is promised, I will be out there again, tramping along.

23 November 2019

Inventiveness

We can put men on the moon, create passenger jets that whizz around the world. We can develop television and mobile phone networks. We can make The Internet and we can invent penicillin and microwaves and hovercrafts and huge combine harvesters. We can make tunnels under The English Channel and we can build New York City. We can make films like "Star Wars" and "Toy Story". We can write and print thousands of books each year. We can build submarines and atomic bombs and pizzas. We can take all of the fish out of the seas and destroy The Amazon rainforest. We can undertake heart transplants. We can put 1.2 billion motor vehicles on the world's roads and even invent self-driving cars. We can mine the planet's minerals and build massive oil tankers and huge passenger liners and superyachts but in spite of all of this it seems...

We can't oblige all food manufacturers to use packaging that is easy to recycle and we cannot stamp out unwanted phone calls from ruthless scammers and we cannot bring an end to homelessness. We cannot stop African babies dying from diarrhoea and we can't ensure that our elderly people are looked after and cared for by right - regardless of how much money they have in the bank.

Go figure.

22 November 2019

R.I.P.

I woke to shocking news.

A young man had taken his own life. He was 31. We had known him since he was two years old. 

He once lived just across the street from us with his parents, his older sister and his younger brother.

Many times he played in our garden and came to birthday parties. He was just a few months older than our Frances.

He didn't find much success at school and ended up working in our local Co-operative supermarket. If I saw him down there we would invariably have a little chat.

There was always an aura of sadness about him. It was as if he was living a life that he didn't really want - a life that would hardly do. He also had Type 1 Diabetes.

Four years ago he got married with small celebration. I was pleased that he had found someone to love him and maybe his new wife would help him to build a happy, worthwhile life. Sadly, it didn't work out. Unemployed and unhappy he ended up back at his parents' house. He was always troubled somehow.

His parents are lovely people - kind, generous and understanding - always proud of their three children. They supported him, cared for him - even when he played computer games all night long and got up after midday. They cancelled holidays and stayed home, concerned about what might happen to him. He had threatened suicide before. They had paid for counselling services and he was often at his local health centre.

But yesterday it happened. The little blonde haired boy who played in our garden has gone away. The troubles and the pain that he found in this life have suddenly evaporated. His parents will be distraught, almost broken in two. Shirley is round at their house now, listening, giving comfort. It was a hanging but I don't know the full details of his death. That doesn't matter too much. He has gone and he is never coming back.

As with any suicide, you wonder what might have been done to avoid the taking of that terrible path. You wonder where it all went wrong and you recall that at times like these people will often say - he is at peace now.

21 November 2019

Yabadabadoo!

Some "Yorkshire Pudding" visitors know about my son's vegan journey. You have followed his progress with his "Bosh!" teammate Henry. Together they have come a long way. Three books in the bag, a prestigious "book of the year" award from Britain's booksellers, TV appearances, magazine articles and so on. They have been riding a vegan wave and now there's a new and very exciting development... 
The likely title of the TV show will be "Living on the Veg". Ian and Henry are busily filming ten episodes which will be screened on ITV on Sunday mornings quite early in the new year. Recipes will be demonstrated and there will be weekly celebrity guests.

Bringing vegan cookery to mainstream TV is quite amazing - almost incredible. Not so long ago vegans were seen as weirdo cranks who lived on lentil soup and wholemeal bread. Now it is becoming cool to be vegan. As Ian and Henry announce news of their breakthrough TV series. the BBC will be showing a documentary on Monday night entitled "Meat: A Threat To Our Planet". 

The new "Bosh!" healthy recipe book will be launched on Boxing Day in Great Britain. Go here.  The American launch date is January 28th 2020 - Go here.

20 November 2019

Mandibles

Now living in England, Lionel Shriver is a gifted writer. She adopted her curious first name in the late sixties when she was a rebellious teenager in North Carolina. How could she be a tomboy with a name like Margaret?

I have now read four of Lionel Shriver's sixteen novels - finishing the last one yesterday afternoon. It was a five hundred page tome titled  "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029–2047". It is a profoundly frightening portrait of how quickly the agreed rules of society can fall apart without money to oil the wheels. 

It focuses upon a single family in our not too distant future. Once comfortable subscribers to the old American Dream, The Mandibles find themselves in threatening new world in which the economy of the USA  is in meltdown. The dollar becomes a worthless anachronism as other nations climb the ladder. Amusingly, even Mexico overtakes The States and they build a wall to keep out desperate immigrants from north of the border!

The American government becomes a vindictive organisation, suppressing its citizens while observing them like Big Brother in George Orwell's "1984" . As society crumbles, it is almost impossible for members of the Mandible family to experience the feeling of  freedom  any more. Life is all about survival now. As the writer says, “Real poverty is about doing what you have to do as opposed to what you want.”

Lionel Shriver had clearly researched the language and principles of modern economics in some depth and she employed this knowledge to improve the believability of her vision of a degraded and almost hopeless near future. However, some of the sidetracks into economics were out of my comfort zone and I struggled with them.

Nonetheless, this was an eerily convincing picture of a possible future world - just round the next bend.  But there were comedy moments too and some of the writing was consciously tongue-in-cheek. Ultimately, there is a fairly happy ending as the surviving members of the Mandible clan find sanctuary in the breakaway USN - United States of Nevada.
Lionel Shriver

18 November 2019

Mudbath

Blake Mere - The Mermaid's Pool
In the past two weeks my walking activity has been greatly curtailed by wet weather. I was like a tiger in his cage pacing up and down, growling at  passers by in their sou'westers and galoshes. You can imagine how relieved I was when I learnt that dry weather and sunshine was predicted for Monday.
Triangulation pillar at Merryton Low
I planned a ten mile route in northern Staffordshire. Sensibly, this ramble would include six or seven miles on quiet tarmacked lanes - selected because of the amount of rain that has already fallen this month. I knew that there would be some very muddy paths and fields.

God it was good to be out there on a chilly but sunlit day. Naturally I had my trusty "Sony" bridge camera with me. I saw many wonderful things including a herd of wild roe deer. 

By three o'clock the light was already fading. I had just paid a call of nature behind an old stone barn. Rather than retracing my steps, I decided to advance along the adjacent field boundary hoping to spot a way through the fence and then get back on the road.
Big mistake. I found myself in a marshy area with large grassy clumps and evidence of churning by cattle. I hopped nimbly from grassy clump to grassy clump hoping to keep my boots dry. And then I lost my footing. Not only were both feet suddenly shin deep in muddy water with the boots inundated but I fell over like a clown. Good job there were no blog commenters watching from the fence. They would have been killing themselves with laughter
Royal Mail van near Round Knowl
Soon after the catastrophe in the cow field , I got through the fence - back onto the quiet country road. Two or three vehicles and a cyclist passed by - probably fearful of The Beast from the Swamp who was walking back to the village of Warslow in setting November sunlight - leaving a  trail of mud behind him.

Fortunately there was a spare pare of socks in Clint's capacious boot (American: trunk).
Big Fernyford Farm

17 November 2019

Comment

Yesterday's blogpost, "Complacency" attracted some thoughtful comments. I think the words I wrote struck a chord with several readers. To tell you the truth, it was an odd post to write. Admitting vulnerability is never easy. In western culture, the default position is usually that glib "I'm fine thank you". We have all said it.

The longest and perhaps most fully considered response came from Adele. Adele lives on New Zealand's South Island - somewhere in the vicinity of Christchurch. She is not to be confused with the multi-million album selling singer-songwriter Adele who comes from North London.

A little diversion at this point. Back in January 2012, Shirley and I visited the Christchurch region. We stayed in a small village called Little River not marked on the map above and afterwards we travelled over Arthur's Pass to the west coast, stopping for hot pies in the village of Sheffield - also not marked on the map. That small rural community was named after this very Yorkshire city. To look back go here .

Anyway, returning to Adele's comment on "Complacency", I couldn't just let it slide away without sharing it properly with other readers. It seemed too good for that so here it is:-

Being aware of your comfortable situation and gratitude for the opportunities it gives you are your defence against complacency.

Good health and loving relationships usually require some sacrifice. The things we do or don't do, say or don't say, food we eat or don't eat and exercise we do or don't take - all of these have an impact on where we finish up.

We all struggle with the concept of our own death, when and how will it happen? As I hope my own will be sudden and painless (for me and my nearest and dearest), I try and enjoy each day I am gifted (whatever the weather),keep on good terms with my children and nurture my friends so there will be no regrets over things not said like " I love you".

The Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 made us all too aware of how suddenly life can change and how little control we have over the earth we live on. A house can be rebuilt but a life lost is lost forever. Many people have since chosen simpler lives, valuing relationships and experiences above material things. We needed our neighbours for help and support.

After 46 years at work I have a small state pension each fortnight, savings and a younger husband still working. We still live on a budget. We can cover our bills and still save for his eventual retirement. I have a large home library, a stash of knitting wool, recipes as yet untried and a garden to work in and enjoy. I am never bored. We have survived good and bad times in our 40 years together - several recessions and redundancies, worked multiple jobs, economised and made things last,and raised two girls to be good, kind, hardworking people. I mostly shop in Charity shops - giving and receiving - and support overseas schools in the Pacific Islands. Education is the gift that keeps on giving.

I can no longer streak down the basketball and netball courts and my tennis days are over but there is still the joy of the Council swimming pool for exercise after a day in the garden or a walk. I carry a book on any journey so I never mind waiting and I'm always learning. I'm no longer keeping anything for best, there is no dress rehearsal, today is all we have. We use the 2nd hand crystal and china everyday as the food and drink taste better.

Most of all I don't WORRY! I leave that to my husband. I am half full, he is half empty.
Your posts always make me think and laugh. Keep up those walks, enjoy the fruit of your labours and your loins, live kindly and keep on sharing your life with the world. We've all worked hard for the freedom retirement brings. 
Let's enjoy it! 
Arohanui 
Adele

16 November 2019

Complacency

"Complacency is a continuous struggle that we all have to fight" - Jack Nicklaus

The years keep trundling by. Each day is like one silent tick from an invisible clock. Onward we go.

Have you been lucky?  I know that I have been lucky. For a man in his mid-sixties I am in good health. I have no disabilties or significant health issues. I don't do drugs and I am not an alcoholic. Though I may not run any more, I can walk for miles. My faculties have not failed me.

There's a good woman by my side and we have two grown-up children to be proud of - good people just like us. Some men of my age can only dream of such treasures. In their lives, that particular boat may have sailed away long ago.

Though I have retired from paid work, I have two pensions and monthly income from a house we rent out. We are not rich, not by a long way, but we are comfortable. We rarely worry about bills or money. If we want a fly-drive holiday over in Montana and Wyoming we can do it or a new car or a replacement television. No problem.
And yet, and yet I can hear the music of complacency in the background. What if? What if?

Death or disability could come early. Hearts fail and there are strokes or brain tumours. Diabetes or cancer. These things happen to people. People just like me. Possibly just round the corner. How would life be then?

In contrast, I could become old and frail. Me and 85. The two don't seem right together but it could happen. How would I cope? I might need personal care or residential care. How would I fund it? How would I cope?

I admit that I am guilty. Guilty of  complacency. Perhaps deep down I imagine that this relatively untroubled, reasonably happy existence will just keep trundling along. Good health and money in the bank forevermore. But as others have discovered - often from painful experience, the apple cart can so easily be overturned. And if that day should arrive, I will doubtless look back rather enviously upon the days I am living in right now.

15 November 2019

Skullduggery

Keira Knightley and Katharine Gun
Another rainy Thursday sees your intrepid reporter riding upon a number 88 bus into the centre of Sheffield to visit The Showroom. I was attending an early afternoon screening of "Official Secrets" starring Keira Knightley as Katharine Gun.

You might  call the film a docudrama because it is based upon a true story set in the years 2003 and 2004. You may remember that in those years George W. Bush, faithfully supported by Tony Blair, waged war upon Iraq. They said that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction but there weren't. It was a hoax, arguably a spiteful pretext for taking a twisted form of revenge upon the  Arabic speaking world for 9/11.

In south west England, near Cheltenham, you will find the beating heart of Great Britain's  leading intelligence organisation - Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ. This secret service employs around 6000 people and behind the scenes they monitor international political issues and threats to our democracy.

Back in 2003 one of these minions was a bright young linguist called Katharine Gun. Most of her spying activity was quite humdrum but one day she came across a shocking message that she could not ignore. It concerned The United Nations and how America planned to bug the offices of Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, and Pakistan in order to bring pressure upon these "swing" nations to get behind Bush and Blair's planned military invasion of Iraq.

Katharine Gun immediately foresaw the terrible implications of  that secret missive. It was at a time when there were mass demonstrations against a possible war. For example, London hosted the biggest anti-war protest march that  this country has ever seen.

Though she knew she was breaking The Official Secrets Act, Mrs Gun bravely passed the message on and before the invasion had properly commenced a shattering headline story appeared in "The Observer" newspaper - based upon her revelation: "Revealed: US Dirty Tricks to Win Vote on Iraq War" (March 3rd 2003).

She was arrested and eventually brought to court but the case was dropped by the British government as the trial would have incriminated several members of the political establishment. By this time the war in Iraq was in full swing. It was a war that killed far more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens and almost 5,000 invading military personnel from the so-called "coalition" - mostly Americans.

I found "Official Secrets" to be gripping and convincing. Keira Knightley played her role superbly and there were excellent support performances from Matt Smith as "Observer" reporter Martin Bright and Ralph Feinnes as defending lawyer Ben Emmerson.

This wasn't some spy story churned out of an over-fertile author's imagination. It was a portrait of something real that happened not so long ago, something quite chilling and disturbing. Bush and Blair have a lot to answer for though they are still free men, still clinging to their fakery. The bottom line is that there really were no WMD's. It was all a terrible lie that killed so many innocent people and for what? What did that tragic, pointless war achieve?

14 November 2019

Bunter

There's something about our illustrious prime minister that reminds me of Billy Bunter. Billy Bunter? Who on earth is he? I can hear some of you saying - especially North Americans and more youthful visitors to this blog.

He was an early star of children's television on the BBC. He attended posh Greyfriars School with other posh boys and he was a very greedy, idle boy who made viewers laugh with his antics. He liked nothing more than secretly chomping cream buns and he had many tricks up his sleeve to avoid hard work or punishment.

Like Eton School - Boris Johnson's alma mater, Greyfriars is a traditional fee-paying establishment for the sons of the moneyed middle classes. The boys live in a bubble, hardly aware of life in the real world. They have their own vocabulary - "Crumbs!", "Gosh!", "prep", "rugger", "tuck" and "beastly" for example.
As BoJo walked in his green wellingtons around the flooded South Yorkshire village of Fishlake yesterday, he seemed just like Billy Bunter - hardly able to relate to the lives of the ordinary people he met. Listening does not come easily to him. You just knew that he'd have much preferred to be scoffing another cream bun behind the cricket pavilion.

How on earth British people can have any faith in this bumbling self-obsessed buffoon is beyond me. The fact that he is likely to continue as our political leader after the forthcoming General Election fills me with both despair and shame. What is happening here in my beloved homeland? It never used to be like this...

"I say, keep that beast Coker off! I wasn't in his study when he found me there, the 
suspicious beast! I wasn't after his cake! There wasn't any cake, and I never touched it, 
and I had hardly a mouthful when the brute came in! I say, you fellows - ow! Oh crikey!"

13 November 2019

Judgement

You may remember that one of my photographs was the Week 43 Picture of the Week winner over at the geograph website. My reward was to pick the Week 44 winner from a shortlist of fifty images that were pre-selected from 3814 eligible submissions to the site.

At the top you can see the image that I put in third place. It was taken from the coastal town of Bangor in Northern Ireland. The unusual vessel was specially designed to play a lead role in the construction of off-shore wind farms.

In second place I chose the following picture of a cock pheasant taken by an acquaintance of mine - Walter Baxter - who has snapped many wonderful photographs in The Scottish Borders:-
But the picture I chose as the overall winner was this lovely image of a woodland path near the village of Evanton in the Scottish Highland region. I admired the colours in this photograph and the fact that the path is on a ridge. You wonder where that path might be leading. 

12 November 2019

Quotations

The wisdom of the wise, and the experience of ages, 
may be preserved by quotation. Benjamin Disraeli

Of course there are dictionaries of quotations. They can be interesting to flick through. Sometimes you don't need to read an entire book or witness an entire play or film. Truth or wisdom may be contained in a kernel, a smidgeon, a line.

Considering quotations is a different way of reading, a different way of thinking.

In the mid-seventies when I was at university, I produced a series of well-honed essays. They were mostly for English Literature or Education courses. I worked conscientiously on all of them for I took my university studies seriously and I was intellectually engaged by the academic tasks I faced.

I don't know how it happened but I picked up the habit of choosing epigraphs to precede each essay I wrote. An epigraph is "a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme." There is an epigraph at the beginning of this blogpost.

I remember one lecturer being irritated by my epigraphs but I persisted with them in spite of his grumpy reaction. Another lecturer told me he liked them for they were like musical notes that echoed through the essays that followed them. You cannot please everyone.
A watercolour portrait of Robert Owen
by Auguste Hervieu (1829)
National Portrait Gallery, London
I have several favourite quotations. There is one in the header of this blog. It has been there throughout the fourteen years of this blog's existence. And here's another that has always stuck in my mind:-

“All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer.”

It is attributed to Robert Owen (1771-1858). He was both a textile manufacturer and a social reformer during the early years of The Industrial Revolution. His life philosophy was about togetherness and social cohesion but in this quotation he appears to be saying that the bottom line is that the only human being you can depend upon is yourself. Everyone else's viewpoint and experience of life will be at odds with our own. At least that is how I interpret the quote.

I could ramble on and on with this blogpost, exploring quotation after quotation but I am going to cease my peregrination at this point and ask you if you have any "favourite" quotations that have for one reason or another stuck in your mind?

11 November 2019

Remembrance


The numbers are disputed but it is generally thought that 37 million people 
died in World War I and 60 million died in World War II.

At 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month...

"At the going down of the sun and in the 
morning - we will remember them..."

10 November 2019

Kindness

Being on the receiving end of acts of kindness is wonderful. Perhaps the only thing that might better it is dishing out acts of kindness yourself.

Let me tell you about two acts of kindness that I experienced last week.

First of all, going back to last Monday. Shirley and I had been to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre on the edge of the city. Afterwards, we stopped off at the Centretainment complex intending to find somewhere for lunch.

We decided upon Nando's. Previously, I had only experienced this restaurant chain twice. They have very confusing menus. Anyway we managed to place our order - two "mozamb" chicken wraps with sides of chips and mixed salad. Then Shirley went to find some sauce and came back with a delightful lemon and herb peri-peri sauce which was an excellent accompaniment to the meal.

We noticed that it is possible to buy bottles of sauce from Nando's but when we asked a waiter about that he said that our chosen sauce was quite a new one and they don't yet have any bottles to sell. Then he added, "But wait a minute, I will go and get some for you to take home!"

Five minutes later he returned with a paper bag containing ten little plastic pots with lids. He had decanted some of our favoured sauce into each one of them. There was no charge - it was just a simple act of kindness with no thought or expectation of reward.

Secondly, I was in Hull yesterday to watch my beloved football team being beaten by West Bromwich Albion. Stupidly, I went through my allotted turnstile without buying a programme from the sellers outside. 

Once inside the stadium I walked up and down the concourse hoping to buy a programme from somewhere else. Finally, I asked one of the yellow-coated stewards about my quest and he informed me that supporters could only buy match programmes outside.

"Tell you what though - if you give me the money - I'll go out to get you one."

He went down the concrete staircase and was let out of the stadium through one of the emergency exit doors. Three minute later, he returned with my programme.

I said to him, "Please may I shake your hand. That was such a lovely act of kindness. You did not have to do it but you did it all the same. Thank you!"

He blushed slightly. The fellow was around thirty years old. Though we lost the game by a solitary well-taken goal that steward's simple act of kindness almost made up for my disappointment. 

One of my favourite sayings is, "It's nice to be nice" and those two young men proved the veracity of that particular credo. In spite all of the badness and selfishness in this world there is a hell of a lot of kindness out there too.

9 November 2019

Juliet

At Oxfam on Wednesday, I heard another blast from the past - "Juliet" by The Four Pennies.
It took me right back to 1964 when I was an avid follower of the British pop charts. I would copy out the "Top Ten" in my red exercise book each weekend.

There was a love, I knew before
She broke my heart, left me unsure
Juliet, don't forget
The promise you made, 
I need never be afraid
Things you do, reminiscent of you
Juliet, when we, when we met
You gave me, sweet memories
Things you do reminiscent of you
There was a love I knew before
She broke my heart, left me unsure
Juliet, don't you, oh don't you let
My love go astray, in this way
Julie , Julie, Julie, oh Julie
Oh my Juliet, Julie oh Julie
Oh my Juliet...

Formed in Blackburn, Lancashire in 1963, The Four Pennies initially consisted of Lionel Morton (vocals, rhythm guitar), Fritz Fryer (lead guitar), Mike Wilshaw (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), and Alan Buck (drums) The group's name was chosen as a more commercial alternative to "The Lionel Morton Four", and was decided upon after a meeting above a Blackburn music shop, the shop being situated on "Penny Street".

In the mid sixties The Four Pennies were probably the most commercially successful English vocal/instrumental group that failed to chart in the United States, during the so-called British Invasion. 

In Britain, "Juliet" charted at Number 1 in May 1964, staying in the charts for fifteen weeks. It was The Four Pennies' only hit. The band broke up in 1966. Their sound engineer and lead roadie Fungus O'Toole later married Christina from Blackburn who sometimes  visits this blog.

8 November 2019

Newsworthiness

As a news junkie, my "go to" website is the BBC News. In my humble opinion, itt is brilliant. It gives up-to-date local news, national news, news from around the world, sports news, entertainment, comprehensive weather forecasts and much more. I have yet to find a better news website anywhere on the internet.

When you first click in, there will be a headline story. This often changes as each day progresses. Yesterday evening's headline might well have been, "Trump Misused Charity Fund" or "Johnson Keeps Russia Report From Public" or "Children Are Still Starving In Africa". But it was none of these. It was in fact "Biblical Rainfall Leaves Streets Flooded".
And what is more, that report was about my home city - Sheffield and its close neighbour - Rotherham. We had an absolute deluge of rain yesterday. To use a Yorkshire expression. "it pissed it down" all day. 

Like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills. Those of us who live on the hills are pretty much immune from flooding but those who live in the valleys, close to the rivers and brooks will occasionally experience floods. Back in 2007, I reported the last serious flooding episode to hit the city as The River Don burst its banks and young Ryan Parry drowned. Go here.

As far as I know, nobody drowned yesterday but many vehicles were abandoned and at The Meadowhall Shopping Centre on the edge of the city, more than a hundred shoppers simply could not get home. They had to sleep there.
I was like a caged beast - going stir crazy. I couldn't even get out to deposit items in our recycling bins. The rain flowed down our street like a stream. At ten o'clock in the evening I donned my raincoat and headed out to the local pub - just to escape from the house. My trews were soaked when I got there and outside a waterlogged double decker bus was receiving the attention of a mechanic dressed like a lifeboat man.

Two of Shirley's nurse colleagues were called back to their  homes during the day because of water inundation.

This morning, as I tap away at this keyboard, God's wrath has diminished and I can see some blue sky. It is no longer raining. Praise The Lord! I think we are going to survive but where was Noah when we needed him?

7 November 2019

Rain

This is not a pleasant week here in northern England. All wet and grey and as I sit in our front room at eight thirty on this Thursday morning, rain is teeming down outside. The weather people tell us that it has set in for the day and tomorrow doesn't look much better either.

The spongy moors between here and Manchester will be sodden and streams and rivers will be swollen as they cascade, trundle and gush towards the sea. Reservoirs will be brimming and the footpaths I often walk will be treacherous.

This is not a day for going out. Shirley went out half an hour ago - off to catch a public bus into the city centre. She'll be working all day at the Sheffield Hallam University health centre - vaccinating dozens of students. Many will be from China. The increasing presence of Chinese students in this city is clear to all and there are several  building projects associated with this influx.

Meanwhile, in  British news channels, all the talk is of the forthcoming general election. It will be held on December 12th and no doubt I will be invited to work as a poll clerk. It will be a busy day with perhaps a 75% turnout. The day's pay will be rubbishy but it's nice to  be engaged in the processes of our so-called democracy.

Brtitain's Trump
Last night Odious Johnson launched the Conservative Party's campaign in Birmingham. It was stage-managed for television just like an American primary event. Supporters waved pre-printed party placards as Odious Johnson stood on a raised dais with the faces of intoxicated supporters behind him. The blunt and misleading  slogan, "Get Brexit Done!" was everywhere. I would prefer "Get Johnson Done!"

The path to December 12th will be bitter and unpleasant with accusations, lies and false promises. Odious Johnson has suppressed a major intelligence report that sheds light upon Russian involvement in the European Union referendum of June 2016. And it is patently obvious why he does not want that information to come out before the election. An army of Russian bots and Facebook infiltrators were working overtime before that referendum to cunningly swing the country to "Leave". It was all good practice ahead of the last presidential election in America.

Calm down young man - I say to myself - calm down!

There are many things I might have blogged about this morning but as the rain continues to pour I will simply leave you with some annual rainfall figures that demonstrate that England is not as wet as outsiders and indeed insiders sometimes think:-

Sheffield, England - 29.4 inches
London, England - 22.9 inches
New York City - 45.2 inches
Tallahassee, Florida - 59 inches
Stuttgart, Germany - 28.5 inches
Florence, South Carolina - 45.0 inches
Bangkok, Thailand - 65.1 inches
Mumbai, India - 95.3 inches
Red Deer, Canada - 19.6 inches
Seattle, Washington State - 38.4 inches
Tamborine Mountain, Australia - 61.5 inches
Auckland, NZ - 50.5 inches

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