28 February 2007


At my school, I have been a tutor for a group of thirty pupils for the last five years. They are soon to leave school. Ruth is the Head of Year. She had the bright but not wholly original idea of producing a year book for this cohort. She asked me to write a poem for it so I wrote two. Here they are - whipped out on Monday night after the pub quiz. I wonder if Wordsworth did the same:-


You arrive at the sausage factory
At the age of eleven
They put you in form groups
And call you year seven
It’s all just a long
Conveyor belt ride
So open your mind
Let the learning inside.

You leave the sausage factory
At the end of Year Eleven
When the last bell rings
You feel you’re in heaven.
It was all just a dream
You made in your head
Were you alive
Or just playing dead?

Mind Mapping

On the day I left school
I mapped my mind
All the main features
Were underlined
I thought of how
The years had passed by
Wishing I hadn’t
Been so shy.
The future in bubbles
Was shown on the right
My hopes and my dreams
In felt tip on white.
Connections were made
With arrows and lines
Crossing the paper
Several times.
And where would I go to
Now school was done?
To seek my fortune
And have some fun.
Find me a lover
And love me a friend
Make sure there are no
Regrets in the end.

25 February 2007


No not Chef from "South Park"! Over here in Merry Olde England we seem to have become obsessed with TV chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worrall-Thompson, Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson etc. etc.. All over the country there are people tucking into three minute microwave meals while their culinary heroes painstakingly debone monkfish or toss green salads in exotic homemade dressings. TV moguls are always looking out for new kitchen talent and since Yorkshire Puddings were voted the UK's favourite regional food, I have been inundated with lucrative offers to take up a new career as a TV chef.

Though teaching recalcitrant pubescent urban secondary school kids is a delightfully fulfilling vocational mission, I have decided to succumb to the filthy lucre. Screen tests have already taken place and I have been signed up for a twelve show series to be screened in the Autumn - the mooted title is "Yorkshire Pudding's Bellybusters". I plan to be the counterbalance to all this fashionable healthy eating tomfoolery and the recipes I will demonstrate include toad in the hole, bread and butter pudding, sausage and mash, full English breakfast, tripe and onions, homemade doner kebabs and other English favourites such as Chicken tikka massalla and pork chow mein.

I have signed up a Seattle-based publicity team headed by the ballbusting Alkelda Gleeful to project my image in paper-based media. Here's the initial flyer. Mmmm... wouldn't you just love some Yorkshire pudding in your mouth? Open wide!

22 February 2007


At last I have the recognition I have craved for so long - yes I the humble Yorkshire Pudding am now officially England's favourite foodstuff! Ladies - sorry no men - you can eat me any time after I have risen to perfection in the oven! For enlightenment click on the hyperlinked pudding below:-

Next I'm hoping for some kind of official recognition - a knighthood would do nicely - "Arise Sir Yorkshire Pudding!" says the Queen, ladling lovely beef gravy over my golden and crispy person...!

19 February 2007


No not a religious conversion! For me that would be impossible. What I'm talking about is my move this evening to "New Blogger". I had resisted as long as I could but in the end it was simply getting harder and harder to access old Blogger. Once you have clicked there's no going back so I hope to hell this thing works and I'm just going to see if I can add pictures any more easily. Let's go dudes - a couple of random pictures from my extensive digital library - the one that is clogging up my hard drive:-

Our wonderful kids last August when Ian was twenty two and back in 1990 when they were little... It seems like yesterday...

18 February 2007


Seeing the Ponte Vecchio in Florence made me consider what would be my list of the world's top bridges? Bridges are well-photographed. They can create a frisson of excitement when you cross them. The heart might race a little. Bridges are rather symbolic. They are about linking two places, finding solutions and they are quite ingenious - declaring man's ability to overcome natural obstacles.
My list considers history and appearance as well as engineering ingenuity. I give you my choices in reverse order

10. Cornish-Windsor Bridge, New Hampshire/Vermont, USA. A beautiful covered wooden structure which speaks of America's pioneering spirit and its westward ambitions.
9. The Iron Bridge, Ironbridge, Shropshire UK. This was the world's first iron bridge and though it imitated some wooden and stone constructional methods, it paved the way for many new approaches to bridge building.
8. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia. Based upon the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, this cantilevered construction has long been a symbol of antipodean belief in a better tomorrow.
7. The Humber Bridge, River Humber, England. It was once the world's longest suspension bridge. I watched it grow from ideas in the Hull Daily Mail. It remains, graceful and impressive and underused. I mean who wants to go to Lincolnshire?
6. The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. I love that red rusty colour and how to the west of it the Pacific can be so angry yet to the east San Francisco Bay may be like a misty millpond
5. The Ponte Vecchio, Florence. Spanning the turbulent Arno River and still popular with jewellery merchants, this unusual medieval bridge remains both strong and beautiful to behold.
4. Brooklyn Bridge, New York. In its day it was an engineering masterpiece and it continues to play an important role as a key artery in the city's transport web.
3. Tower Bridge, London. With its huge crenellated towers, spanning the great River Thames it continues to declare London's historical significance as the focal point of a vast trading empire.
2. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, Hyogo, Japan. At 6529 metres it is currently the world's longest suspension bridge. That length married with its graceful strength earns this fantastic modern day bridge its second place.
1. Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy - spanning the Grand Canal - an instantly recognisable symbol of both Renaissance Italy and the Venetian Republic's practical, commercial and artistic pride.

Now that my list is done, I'm thinking of other bridges - such as the Pont d'Avignon in France or that amazing Danish bridge - the Storabaelt and I'm also thinking that my list is rather ethnocentric - there are probably other bridges in Asia, South America or Africa that deserved recognition. Which bridges have I missed out? Which would you include in your bridge list if you made one?




Number 10, Number 6 and Number 1 - The Rialto Bridge

14 February 2007


Back from Tuscany. After lunch yesterday, I nipped in to the Tourist Information office near my hotel in Florence. I was just looking for a free map having mislaid mine in the Gents at the Uffizi. "Where you from?" says one of the girls. One thing leads to another and instead of the Museum of Modert Art in the Pitti Palace, I am instead on the train to Empoli.
I had asked her - "Why is there so little recognition of Leonardo in Florence?" She agreed and told me I should go to Vinci, pulling out a regional map and a pleasantly designed brochure for the little town of Vinci - about twenty five miles west of Florence and eight miles north of Empoli. Of course - Vinci - Leonardo da Vinci - the place where he was from. It was three o'clock when I arrived in Empoli and then had to figure out where to catch a local bus to Vinci. By four I was there.
It was late afternoon - far away, across the Tuscan plain, hillocks rose in a heavenly heat haze where dark poplars like protective fingers surrounded ancient farmsteads. Distant mountains were dusted with snow and the sky was crispy blue in the honey-coloured late winter sunshine. Because of time I had a choice. Either The Museo Leonardiano or a long walk along a green road to the hamlet of Anchiano just north of Vinci. I chose the latter and became the only tourist in sight.


The Tuscany of dreams. View from the Anchiano road.

This was a route that Leonardo and his family must have walked a thousand times in the mid fifteenth century. It took me through olive groves carpetted with sweet green winter grasses, allowing tantalising snatched glimpses of that western sun-blessed panorama and those eastern hills with their vineyards and terracotta farms and settlements.
Hot and breathless, I arrived on the edge of Anchiano. The air was still and warm. A flock of starlings headed for the woods. And there it was - Casa Natale di Leonardo - a rather humble building yet strong with small windows. The stone was like the sunshine - honey-coloured, reminding me of little farms that nestle in the English Cotswolds.


Da Vinci? Leonardo da Anchiano's birthplace.

The trustees have retained the absolute simplicity of the place. Although there was an attendant on duty, who jumped from his afternoon slumber when I appeared, there was nothing for sale and little to see inside - a stone sink where the great man perhaps washed and a fireplace where he perhaps warmed his bones in the briefly wintry Montalbano Hills. There were shelves containing battered visitors' books going back to the sixties and I scrawled my own name in the current visitors' book with these discordant words "Leonardo was NOT a Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtle!"
On Sunday, I scaled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and manged to crack my head on the stone lintel above the entrance to the staircase at the very top. My bonce has been sore ever since. There were no crash helmets and no "Mind Your Head" signs.
In Florence there was lot of cigarette smoking going on, a lot of gabbling on mobile phones, a lot of motor scooters in rows and a lot of Japanese taking photos of each other in the most unlikely places: Here I am Yashimoto outside the Bank of Tuscany and here I am outside the Gucci shop and here I am in front of an old woman begging in the gutter and here we are near the public conveniences under the Central Market Hall.
I had mixed feelings about Florence. I scaled the incredible Duomo, visited the Uffizi and walked all over the central area. Sadly, the facade of the famous Santa Novella church was shrouded in scaffolding. On the Ponte Vecchio - one of the world's ten most famous bridges - I noticed something rather sweet but almost as environmentally questionable as my cheap flight - padlocks with lovers' names on them, locked for ever - at least till the authorities remove them. Rather a nice thought this Valentine's Day.


Love locked in Florence but for how long?

10 February 2007


All my bags are packed I'm ready to go.... well I will be at 5.45 tomorrow morning. I'm flying from Robin Hood Airport (Donacaster/Sheffield) to Pisa in Italy for the princely sum of £42 - around $90. It's another three day trip. It's amazing what you can cram in to such a short time. I had been planning to see a Serie A football game between Fiorentina and Udinese but this will now be played behind locked doors following growing trouble with Italian football fans that culminated last weekend in the death of a senior police officer in Sicily. The Italian government have made a very strong stance on this issue - even threatening to halt all football matches till the end of the season.


Ah well, I'm sure I will find plenty else to do such as visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. I wanted to book my Uffizi ticket over the internet but as I have discovered before, Italian websites sometimes appear a little backwards and don't make it easy to do online bookings. The alternative may be getting up early next Tuesday morning and queueing up with other tourists. The gallery is closed on Mondays for some dumb reason.
The plane back next Wednesday morning is at 6.30 am so I guess I will have to rise at 4am and arrange a taxi for the one mile journey from my hotel near the station in Pisa to the Galileo Gallilei Airport on the edge of town. I have an aversion to taxis and avoid jumping in them whenever there's an alternative. I hate the idea of tipping taxi drivers. I have been to hundreds of school parents' evenings and have never received one solitary monetary tip - often for months of hard work with difficult teenagers. Yet a taxi driver's body language says "tip?" every time. I mean - what do these guys do that's so bloody good? Sitting on their back sides, driving you short distances while the meter churns. A well-trained chimp could do that job.
So, dear readers, I'll be seeing you and if I don't visit an internet cafe in Pisa or Florence, I'll report on my short break when I return. Take care!

7 February 2007


I am proud to be a Yorkshireman. Last weekend at the Hull City game some of our fans chanted towards the West Brom end - "Yorkshire! Yorkshire!" It's a chant I have heard many times before and one to which I have often happily added my own voice. It's as if to say - we are from Yorkshire and we are proud of it and wherever you come from cannot compare with our marvellous county.
Both sets of grandparents were Yorkshire born and bred, my parents were both Yorkshire born - Mum in the old West Riding, Dad in the North Riding and they spawned me in the heart of the East Riding. Our daughter sometimes bemoans the fact that she has no exotic links like some of her friends but I remind her that she is herself of "mixed race" because I broke the mould by deigning to marry a Lincolnshire lass!


Beverley Minster from The Westwood.

Yorkshire is a big county with numerous discernible accents/dialects. In Sheffield they mock the Barnsley accent and in East Yorkshire they mock the urban drawl of Hull. Up in North Yorkshire there's still a range of accents from the Dales to the coast and up to Teeside and then there's the Bradford accent and the Leeds way of speaking. In my village when I was a boy the farmers spoke in a manner which sometimes harked back to the Danes and Vikings. One word I have always remembered is "yitten" which roughly translated means scared.
So with all this variety, it sometimes seems odd to come across pieces of writing that claim to have been written in THE Yorkshire dialect because there's really no such thing. Such a piece of writing I have pasted below. In it, the speaker or writer advises how to make a good cup of tea in the days before teabags were invented:-
Nah then, tha wants t'empty t'owd watter aht o' kettle and fill 'er up wi' fresh watter afoor tha puts it on t' ob. Get taypot reet nicely warmed and dry insahd, and then get thi tay in. Nah, as soon as t'kettle comes reet on t' boil an' not a second afoor or aftah, get watter pooared in t' pot.

Dooan't furget! Allus tek t' pot to t' kettle and not t' kettle to t'pot. Lerrit mash a fair wahl an' then girrit a stir afoor tha pooars it aht. Nah, thez summas puts milk in fust an' summas put tay in fust . To oor way o' thinkin', t'impooartant thing is to mek certain tha's med plenty fooar secon'elpin's!
I expect that some of my American visitors will be baffled by such a version of English. For me the way I speak is part of my identity and in spite of a university education, travels around the world and a long career in teaching, I am glad that I have hung on to my vowels and the dialect words and Yorkshire undulations that will still tell the sensitive listener almost exactly where I am from. "You're not from Beverley are you?"

3 February 2007


To be a loyal Hull City supporter you need to be addicted to misery. Once in a while there are beautiful sunny moments, made all the more beautiful because of the sickness, gloom and sheer misery that is our staple diet. How my heart was lifted on New Year's Day when we went to Hillsborough and silenced the Sheffield Wednesday crowd with a magnificent team display. As their supporters filtered out with minutes remaining, we sang, to the tune of "Bread of Heaven", - "We can see you sneaking out! We can see you! We can see you! We can see you sneaking out!" It was a joyous way to begin the new year - Hull City's first ever double over the mighty Owls in my adopted home city.
So to today, lovely and bright - a great day to be alive. My brother Paul from Ireland departed at eleven for East Midlands Airport - to catch his flight home to Shannon. Then I jumped in the car and whizzed over to our mum's residential home to chat with her for half an hour before heading into Hull for today's match.
Hull City v West Bromwich Albion from Birmingham. They are a good team with lots of Premiership experience - including former England man Kevin Phillips. They had height, speed and presence. Our lads battled. You can't say they didn't try but they really created nothing in front of goal - not even something you could call a half-chance. We fell to a sucker punch on the hour, the defence unlocked by the alert goalmouth trickery of Diomansy Kamara.


The West Brom mascot

We were never going to get back. We were done for. The bright blue day suddenly became gloomy grey. I was sitting in the West Stand. Block W10 Row U Seat 266. Not recommended! The geography of the seating plan was such that supporters and stewards imagined that it wasn't a row at all but an aisle! I was up and down, up and down for people who weren't even sitting in our row. And some of them were so ignorant. They edged along and stood there, wondering why the great Yorkshire Pudding wasn't moving as I waited for "excuse me" or some other polite gesture. I'm a bit old fashioned that way. "Can I get by?" - "Ah yes you can but excuse me would be better - okay mate?"
The match drew to its miserable ending. The WBA fans were singing their hearts out while me and eighteen thousand other City fans reconnected with that familiar sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs. We are back in the relegation zone with games against Preston , Derby and Birmingham in the fixture pipeline. Oh woe is me! Anyone got a big jar of paracetamol or a good strong rope?

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