22 September 2018

Dad

I came across this picture of my father the other day. It must have been taken some time in 1969. The photo appeared in "The Hull Daily Mail" connected with the opening of our village's first purpose-built youth club. Dad was the main driving force behind that project. Working it out, he would have been fifty five years old in that picture. Ten years younger than I am now.

He did so many things for the village. He was also the main driving force behind the establishment of public playingfields. He was a church warden. polling officer at election time and he fought The Church of England to win back a financial legacy that had been intended for the betterment of  village children. He gave so much to his adopted community. In comparison, I feel like a dwarf. I have given so little.

He was the headmaster of the village primary school from 1952 until his retirement in 1978. Sadly, he died from a heart attack just one year later. There was standing room only at his funeral service in the village church. He was greatly respected.

Dad and I had a special bond that grew stronger when I arrived at adulthood and became a teacher. We talked together like friends - not like son and father. He was a gentle, kindly  man and he loved me as much as I loved him. I still miss him - his worldly wisdom and his kind heart. It is a shame that my two children never knew their paternal grandfather.

Nowadays people are snapping photographs of each other all the time but even in the nineteen seventies surprisingly few pictures were taken. The idea of a "selfie" would have been seen as distastefully narcissistic. The picture at the top of this post is the best one I now have for remembering him as he was in his later years.

His name was Philip. He was born in Norton, Yorkshire the day after war was declared upon Germany - August 5th, 1914 and died on September 14th 1979 in a hospital bed in Hull. He was of course  the best dad ever.

21 September 2018

Friday

Yesterday was a rainy day. We haven't had a proper rainy day in months. It came down like stair-rods - bouncing on our road, gurgling into gutters. It was as if countless Olympic swimming pools were being dumped over the city. There was even flash flooding in some of the valleys.

I always know when we have had heavy rain overnight by checking how much water has been retained in our green wheelbarrow. This morning it was brimful.

The forecast today was for high wind and rain showers interspersed with bouts of sunshine. I tootled off to The Loxley Valley to the north west of Sheffield and came back two hours later with a bunch of photographs, including these:
A view of Haighenfield Farm
Eighteenth century guidepost on Onemoor Road

20 September 2018

Sunniness

Yesterday it was ordinariness. Today it's sunniness. But I am not talking about the golden orb that floats across the sky each day like a big yellow balloon. No. I am thinking about human nature and the way we memorise our lives.

We talk of glass half full and glass half empty people. The former are blessed with sunny dispositions - optimistic and positive, seeing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. The latter are more circumspect, tending to expect the worst with cloudy, glum or negative dispositions.

Essentially, can we ever change our characters? If the sunniness is there you can't help it just as a morose or pessimistic nature cannot be changed. That's what I think anyway. Besides, it's likely that most of us fall between the two extremes. Sometimes sunny - sometimes overcast - just like the sky.

As some long term visitors to this blog may recall, I began teaching kids at the age of eighteen and finished in my sixtieth year. That's a long association with schoolteaching - some forty two years and of course before that I was the son of a village schoolmaster. I was even born in the school house attached to our village school.

Naturally, I have many memories of teaching. I was hard-working and passionate about my subject - English.  I was creative and effective and  I know I had a positive impact upon the lives of hundreds of young people. There was laughter, many happy exchanges and lessons when you could hear a pin drop. I gave it my all. And yet, and yet... somehow I best remember the bad days - days when there were incidents, days when something went wrong. I would love to sweep them all away and replace them with sunny memories. I really would. But I can't.

For example. At the school where I spent the last twenty three years of my career, there was a fifteen year old boy called Michael. I blogged about him back in 2010. Go here. if you are interested. The memory of that time is seared in my memory like a terrible tattoo. More than thirty years later, the ink has hardly faded.

I could go back further to 1972 when I was teaching on the island of Rotuma. I had to get the school bus to the north of the island every morning. Rotuma High School at Malhaha was three miles away. Sometimes I had a lot of stuff to carry.

One Friday afternoon two pupils who lived in the same village as me agreed to carry two piles of exercise books back home for me. They needed marking over the weekend. I asked them to call in at my house on Monday morning - ready to carry the books back to the school but Fauholi and Jimi didn't turn up. They had not forgotten. They had made a deliberate choice not to pick up the books.

I told Aisea - the headmaster - about this and he dragged the two boys out of their first lesson of the week. After thrashing them, he led them down to the beach adjacent to the school and briefly explained the next phase of their punishment. 

There was a big pile of rocks on the beach - each rock weighing several pounds. Fauholi and Jimi had to move that pile to the other end of the beach and this they did in the hot tropical sun and when the job was finished they had to move the rocks back to their original position. It took all day and by the end of it they were exhausted.

After that the boys were fully compliant for the rest of my sojourn upon their beautiful island but it was a grudging compliance and in their eyes I could always see thinly-veiled resentment. I never asked them to do me any more favours and I also fretted about whether or not I could have handled the situation differently. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned it to the fearsome Aisea.

Why should I remember all of  that so vividly and not happy times in the classroom or teaching lads to play rugby on the school field or the singing club on Wednesday afternoons when my room was filled to overflowing while other teachers' clubs were underpopulated?

Someone with a sunnier disposition would have relegated Michael and Fauholi and Jimi and all the rest of the bad stuff to oblivion as happy memories rose to the surface in glorious detail. I cannot change who I am. I want to embrace the sunniness but the gloom so often gets in the way.

19 September 2018

Ordinariness

Image result for Donald Sutherland in Trust
Donald Sutherland as John Paul Getty in "Trust"
An ordinary day in September. I press the button on our radio alarm clock and soon the droning voices of the morning news presenters send me back to sleep again. Discussion of Brexit has become the best cure for sleeplessness known to man. They should bottle it. "Can't sleep? Try new Brexit. Available at your local pharmacy. Now!"

At nine I am downstairs in my dressing gown creating breakfast. A big mug of tea, a banana and a bowl of fruit and nut muesli with three plump raspberries on top. Thence to the front room. TV news on. Computer on. Check. Consume breakfast. Check.

Forty minutes later I am back up the stairs. Don't you get tired of showering, shaving and brushing your teeth? It's the same thing every day. Rub-a-dub-dub. The suds go down the plughole and the toothpaste tastes as minty as it did yesterday and the day before that.

Clothes on. Hair combed. Shoes tied. Grab the bags, I am off to Lidl on Chesterfield Road to get some shopping in. It's pretty quiet and there are several free places in the car park. I have got everything we need in twenty minutes including strawberries for Nurse Pudding.

Back home I unload the dishwasher and put a burger under the grill for lunch. I put the shopping away and make a mug of coffee. Fried onions in a pan. You can't have a burger without onions can you? I catch the last ten minutes of "Bargain Hunt" and then get ready to walk a mile to the Oxfam shop. I take exactly the same route I have taken for the last four years and arrive at twenty seven minutes past one ready for my shift.

There are book donations to sort through including an erotic novel aimed at women. I spend two minutes thumbing through it. It's clean but the contents are rather filthy.  I can't put it on the shelves. It might cause outrage. I drop it in the rejects sack.

At two thirty I count the takings for both Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning then stroll up to the bank near Hunter's Bar roundabout. I pass a homeless fellow near Sainsburys. A few weeks ago I overheard him say to a passer-by, "Can you get me a drink please - I'm parched!" The passer-by agreed and then the homeless man said, "I'll have a bottle of Ribena - the purple-topped one. Not the strawberry one. I don't like that!" The passer-by said he'd get him some water.

Back at the Oxfam shop. An hour on the till. I am pretty good with this till now and hardly ever make a mistake. It's so easy to press the wrong button. The shift finishes differently with a staff meeting and volunteers I rarely see  have arrived to participate. The agenda is mundane but it stretches far enough to make me get home late.

A woman at the bus stop says, "Can you see what number that bus is?" And I say, "As I am not a peregrine falcon I can't help you!" She chuckles.

For once, Shirley is in the middle of making our evening meal. The bolognese sauce is definitely  too salty but I don't say anything. Just send it down the hatch without complaint. Whenever I have spaghetti at home it is accompanied by a glass of cold milk. That's not salty.

Then I come to this laptop and tap away at this blogpost. I am looking forward to the second episode of "Trust" on the television. It's about the oil billionaire John Paul Getty and the kidnapping of his grandson John Paul Getty III. The old man is played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland who was born in Saint John, Canada eighty three years ago. "Trust" is probably his swansong but you never know.

18 September 2018

Bert

"Howdy! They call me Herbert or Bert for short. I live on the moors west of Sheffield with my harem. I am a peace-loving bull. Nothing much riles me - even human walkers who stroll past along Houndkirk Road but I must say we are  not too fond of those goddam mountain bikers in their bright lycra suits and helmets. What do they look like?

I have heard that some bulls are mean sons of bitches with rings in their noses - snorting and mashing the earth angrily with one of their their front hooves but I am a chilled out bull. Most days I rise at dawn and begin grazing. It's one of the penalties of life for all cattle. We have to spend hours each day foraging and grazing. It is very tedious but I am resigned to it.

Here are two of my favourite girls. There's Melody - she's the redhead and Susan at the front - she's the blonde. In the late spring we are required to make beautiful music together. It's a very tiring time of year for any bull but that's life! A bull's gotta do what a bull's gotta do.
Here's the latest addition to my harem. It's Monica and as you can see she's a bit stand-offish. She came all the way from Lancashire. I can hardly understand a word she moos. Her vowel sounds are all wrong but she's got a lovely udder - not quite visible in this photo.
And that's Sheffield in the background - down in the valley where the little rivers meet - The Don, The Rivelin, The Porter, The Loxley and The Sheaf. I'd like to go there one day - make an appearance - and not in a butcher's shop window. That's the stuff of nightmares my friend and I ain't talking no bull! Ah well, if you will excuse me I must get back to my grazing before night falls. See ya!"

17 September 2018

Rooney

A month ago, we had some new vinyl flooring fitted in our upstairs bathroom. Whenever we have tradesmen in our house I am most respectful to them. I asked the fellow laying the vinyl if he would like a cup of tea. 

Then I said, "I'm sorry, I don't know your name?"

And he replied, "I'm Mickey Rooney!"

This wasn't a wind up. His name really was Mickey Rooney and he was proud to bear such a famous name. I asked him if he had got fed up of making films for Hollywood studios and he laughed. I guess he had heard all the quips before.

It reminded me that when I was a teacher I taught a snotty-nosed kid called George Harrison. He came from the nearby council estate and had a reading age of 7.5 years. He was a bit thick was George. Then there was John Kennedy - a ginger-haired bully boy built like a brick outhouse whose watchword was "defiance". I think he ended up in the army. I wonder how he got his head around army discipline.

I also taught Peter Sutcliffe before The Yorkshire Ripper, captured in 1981, was revealed to have the very same name. Then there was Lizzie whose real name was Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Howard - but not the same one who married King Henry VIII in 1540. She had very neat handwriting.

Have you met any ordinary people with famous names?

16 September 2018

Gratitude

J.M.W. Turner's painting of Orford Ness (1827)
"Listen carefully. Hear that sound? It's applause." - Alphie Soup in Australia

Thank you to everybody who has bothered to click on my YouTube  version of "Orford Ness". It is most heartening to think that so many people have now listened to it. Seen altogether the comments have been approving and indeed encouraging. Perhaps in the future you will be subjected to more songs by Stephen Sondheim yours truly.

In  real life, Orford Ness is invariably associated with military matters - most notably the testing of secret weapons including nuclear warheads. That is why the landscape of the ness is still littered with military debris and the crumbling ruins of buildings including bunkers and laboratories. In my song, I deliberately ignored all of that and sought instead to evoke a simpler world that pre-dates the military invasion.
Beach stone painted by Glynn Thomas
I considered an end verse in which the narrator's "Nancy" had now been buried in St Bartholomew's churchyard at Orford or perhaps the fishing boat that the men travelled in might itself have been called "Nancy" now broken and rotting on the shore. But that verse never materialised. You have to draw the line somewhere and keeping things simple is arguably best.

Tragically, Orford Ness's lighthouse which appeared in the background photos is destined to tumble into the sea with each passing winter. The forces of coastal erosion and deposition mean that the lighthouse - built in 1792 - now stands on the very edge of the salty brine. This reality adds an extra touch of melancholy to the Orford Ness story.

It was something of a personal revelation when I realised I could record the song without musical accompaniment. No guitar. Nothing. Just the song on its own as songs have mostly been sung around campfires, in showers or on storm-tossed herring boats in the North Sea.

Thank you for listening. May her light always shine on our history.
________________________________________________________