30 April 2014


Ann Maguire, aged sixty one, was an outstanding teacher - spending the entire forty years of her career in one secondary school - Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. She has been referred to as "the mother" of that school for she was much more than someone who just turned up every day and taught her timetabled lessons. She was a confidante, a counsellor, a prop for younger staff, a listening ear for troubled pupils, an enthusiastic participant in extra curricular events, a team player of the highest order. Such precious things are customarily ignored by OFSTED inspectors as they are invisible and immeasurable.

Ann  was due to retire this summer but sadly, tragically she will now never enjoy that golden time for on Monday, during a Year Eleven Spanish lesson, a troubled fifteen year old boy returned to her classroom with a kitchen knife and stabbed her in the back several times before moving to her neck. Many of the boy's classmates witnessed this nightmarish event and though efforts were made to save Ann's life, she died in front of them in a pool of blood.

The murderer is variously described as being "dark", "weird", "depressive", "a loner" who had chosen a picture of The Grim Reaper to head his Facebook page. His parents split up when he was young and he lived with his mother and older brother. I understand that his mother went off on a foreign holiday at the weekend.

As someone who began teaching at the age of eighteen and spent twenty two years in one Sheffield secondary school, I have contemplated Ann's killing more deeply than I might think about other awful murders you hear about. For example, though hindsight is certainly a marvellous thing, I wonder if this killing might have been avoided. Had the murderer's killing potential been signalled long before and what had been done to address his dark and embittered behaviour?

Emerging from a long career in teaching, memory selectively filters away the majority of happenings, the majority of days and you are left with a couple of handfuls of memories - the flotsam and jetsam of many years of chalkface work. Amongst those bits and pieces I find this...

It must have been around 1990 some time in October. I knew that a new student was going to join my Year 10 English class and that he had been "transferred" from nearby Hinde House School. That's pretty much all I knew - apart from his name - Dean. I came back to my classroom in the middle of morning breaktime and met Dean for the first time. He was sitting at the back of the room on his own with his back to me - under the window. He appeared to be focussing on something and when I got over there I saw what he was doing. He was chiselling away at the mortar between the concrete blocks that formed the rear wall. In his hand there was a knife - a table knife which looked suspiciously like the knives provided in the school canteen. He stopped what he was doing and I jollied Dean along, introducing myself as the little radar on top of my head emitted a clear "Danger!" signal.

In the days that followed, Dean revealed himself to be a very difficult pupil - intelligent but very lazy, possessing innate cunning. He was skilled at winding up other pupils and orchestrating resistance so that the previously pleasant learning atmosphere in that particular class became soured. Naturally, I wanted to know more about Dean - to learn about his background and why he had transferred from Hinde House. But nobody seemed to know anything and there was still no file for him in the school office. By the way, my school seemed to have a nasty habit of hiding key information in order to facilitate "clean slate" opportunities so that even frontline teachers were denied the truth about certain new pupils.

Back then I had a friend who worked at Hinde House. I only saw her occasionally but one evening - about a month after Dean had first appeared at our school - I bumped into her in a pub in Broomhill and took the opportunity to ask her about Dean. What Maggie revealed was stunning. Dean had been expelled from Hinde House for threatening a Science teacher with a knife. It was the culmination of three and a half years of challenging behaviour. And what had he been holding when I first met him? Yes, a knife.

Farewell to Ann Maguire. Pillar of Corpus Christi School. A real teacher - so different from the careerists who flit from post to post, leaping between the latest bandwagons. Someone who listened and laughed. Someone who genuinely cared. Someone who demonstrated the meaning of devotion each day of her working life.
'Dedicated': Another message to the teacher read: 'RIP Mrs Maguire you were such an inspirational woman'

29 April 2014


Walking from Brimington by Inkersall Green, I happened  upon West Wood where the bluebells were hazy beneath the trees - like waves that had just ebbed in from a lilac blue ocean. They defied photography and this springtime multitude - a mauve assembly of Antwerp blue and sapphire and robin's egg blue and all those other blues I cannot name - were just drifting in the woods...


I left you in the bluebell time
Afore that summer's foliage
Carpeted those paths we walked 
In shadow.
I clasped you by a gnarled beech tree
And felt your urgent  heart
Against my chest -
And the lovely bluebells
Hung like mist
And life seemed like a story
Of  hope and yes, of love...
But I left you in the bluebell time
For Cannock Chase
And khaki games of war
No bluebell kisses
And no words to say
Those awful things we saw.

27 April 2014


Stephen Sutton is a remarkable young man. Born in 1994 in the English Midlands, he should still have years of life ahead. But he hasn't. He knows that death is just around the corner for him because life's croupier dealt him a rotten hand in the form of colorectal cancer. All medical interventions possible have been tried but death's shadow will not leave him. He is most certainly going to die young.

Rather than succumbing to feelings of self-pity, Stephen has bounced in the opposite direction, living his life in overdrive. He has ticked off a good number of experiences from his "things to do before I die" bucket list -including skydiving, writing a book, drumming at a big concert, crowd surfing in an inflatable boat, busking etc.. But perhaps his biggest target of all was to raise a million pounds for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Incredibly, that huge target has easily been surpassed and he is now well on the way to raising three million pounds! 

Stingy old sod that I am, even I have donated to Stephen's appeal and you may wish to do the same by going to his Just Giving page. You may also like to view "Stephen's Story":-

26 April 2014


Come with me
And you'll be
In a world of
Pure imagination
Take a look
And you'll see
Into your imagination

We'll begin
With a spin
Traveling in
The world of my creation
What we'll see
Will defy
Beau and Peep grazing on the extensive lawns of Pudding Towers. Behind a mighty horse chestnut tree rises from the earth - grown from a conker that our son Ian picked up twenty seven years ago.
The two borders, split by a brick paved path have had a nasty habit of merging with the lawn ever since I created them but a few weeks ago I had the idea of acquiring some ceramic Victorian edging stones. They are over a hundred years old and hopefully they will maintain separation. 
Nearby, I have utilised two logs from a holly tree I chopped down to edge another little piece of  garden. It is under one of our apple trees and a bit too shady for grass so I shall plant some creeping evergreen border plant here before too long.
At the  top of the garden we used to have a much larger vegetable plot but I have kind of halved it and put weather-treated planks around it. Our seed potatoes are already in and soon I will put in peas and beans. Courgettes will be planted in the two tyres you can see on the left. I found them by a derelict house in Attercliffe. I laid the path on the right myself. It was one of the first projects I undertook after leaving Willy Wonka's "world of education".
A view of Pudding Towers from the west. One of the main reasons we have
 stuck here all these years is the garden
The bond between a mother and a child is a precious thing and Peep hardly ever
leaves his mother's side. We have found that they are pretty good at scaring off unwanted
visitors like slugs, snails, rats and canvassers from Nick Clegg's desperate LibDem headquarters.
Another view of the vegetable plot. I made the gate and erected the fence myself. Usefully, a little green lane runs past the back of our estate - down to Murray Road and the wider world beyond. The pile just beyond the vegetable plot is evidence of my uncontrollable pyromania and the little Victoria plum tree on the right was desired by Lady Pudding. Last summer it bore dozens of juicy plums.

The End


St Leonard's Church. Thrybergh
Before satnav, before road atlases, before tarmac and before signposts - travel around England must have been very difficult. To alleviate some of this navigational difficulty, our forebears were in the habit of erecting stone columns at key points - at crossroads or on hills where they could be spotted by travellers. Some of these stone columns served other purposes too. They defined parishes or the ownership of land. They warded off evil spirits.

When Christianity arrived in England, our existing ancient stone edifices or guide stoops were cunningly re-christened as "crosses" but mostly they had nothing to do with Christianity. More "crosses" were erected through Saxon times and the middle ages - right through to the nineteenth century for as the years passed there was increasing trade between communities, more private land possession and more movement across the landscape.

On my countryside rambles, I have photographed many of these ancient stones. I know that lots of them have been destroyed or removed by thoughtless men or new road developers - insensitive to the breath of history. Thankfully, others endure giving a tantalizing glimpse of the way things were, arousing imagination.

Yesterday, I wandered into the churchyard of St Leonard's in Thrybergh near Rotherham. The church - currently enjoying some much needed restoration - can trace its origins back to 900AD and possibly earlier than that - long, long before Thrybergh was turned into a godforsaken pit village with cheap rows of cottages and coaldust everywhere.

As I left the churchyard, I noticed a very old cross in the lee of the boundary wall. It was "fenced off" with some red and white tape - presumably indicating restorative work in progress. There were various carvings on it - including Celtic or Saxon patterning on the edges and what seemed to be a man holding a book on the front. I knew it wasn't a gravestone.

Back home, research revealed that that cross used to stand on East Hill, Thrybergh and was removed to the graveyard in 1947. Indeed, there seem to be two phases of carving upon it - the edges probably carved in Saxon times and the front section - including the man with the book - carved in the twelfth century. Furthermore, there were once local legends about this stone - surrounding an early crusader and nobleman  from the district - called Leonard. That story was captured in a narrative poem in 1817, published in an early Victorian anthology called "Wild Warblings":-

The Poem

Where dawn first harbinger of day,
Sheds her pale light of sober gray,
And sol's resplendent majesty,
Shines forth o'er mountain tow'r, and tree;
Then up the lark with ardour springs,
And shakes the dewdrop from his wings,
And all the woodland choirs unite,
In grateful songs to hail the light,
Till rocks, and woods, and hills around,
Re-echo with the rural sound,
But stop my music to whither run?
Tis time the story was begun.
This admonitation did prevail,
So what next follows is the tale.

On rising eminence there stands,
A stone long plae'd by unknown hands,
Of rude design and form antique,
Sculptured o'er with hieroglyphie,
Which cannot now with ease be traced,
Being by some rude Goths defaced.
Tradition says there was a knight,
Sir Leonard call'd of valorous might,
That would in foreign climes go roam,
And leave his rib to sigh at home,
Full many a weary step had he,
Full many a sleepless night had she,
He many a cross adventure met, 
She nothing did but sob and fret,
This irksome life for years she led,
Til she believed her lord was dead,
But he was groaning all the while,
[ Poor hapless wretch] in durance vile.

The sorrowing Dame now dries her tears,
For lo! a suitor gay appears,
With winning aspect graceful air,
Quite degagee, and debonair,
Who laid close siege to her in form,
To win her heart though not by storm,
But sap'd the mine by craving pity,
And sighing forth his love-lorn ditty,
Which soon the fortress strong subdued,
And full surrender quick ensued.
The ring was bought, the day was set,
And friends and priest at alter met,
To solomnize the nuptial rite,
And tie this loving couple tight.
When Priest was joining both their hands,
In hymens soft and silky bands,
Sir Leonards voice smote every ear,
With thund'ring sound:" Oh priest forbear,
"The sacred rite!- to end all strife,
"The lady is MY LAWFUL WIFE.

Aghast all stood, and sore amazed,
And on each other gaped and gazed,
In wild dismay, until the knight,
March'd off with madam from their sight.
The wondering party were perplexed,
And greatly puzzled and much vexed,
At being dup'd, as none could tell,
Whether from Heaven or dreadful hell,
He sprang to light;-to them he seemed,
Not mortal, being dead long deemed.
To end the story now in hand,
He came into his native land,
By fairy's spell or wizard's wand,
Tradition says; and does declare,
Like witch on broomstick through the air,
And safe upon the spot he alighted,
Where stands the stone before recited.

James Ross 1817
St. Leonards Cross
How magnificent that this old cross has survived the centuries but how frustrating that it cannot speak nor reveal memories of  all that it witnessed as years melted into years and  far more than a thousand summers passed by. Empires rose and fell, wars were lost or won, kings and queens succeeded each other, the corners of the world were explored...and still the stone endures.

23 April 2014


Every so often, bloggers seem to disappear. I don't mean that they walk off into the hills or leave their clothes in neat piles on remote beaches. No. They just disappear from the blogosphere.

It is almost a year since Mrs Daphne Franks of Leeds, Yorkshire last blogged and before that the frequency of her posts was already reducing. I used to love her blog - "My Dad's a Communist". That woman had a way with words and she brought you into her world, made you think that she was speaking only to you.

From a distance, I observed her issues with diabetes and her passion for theatrical work - including her own practised role as a simulated patient in medical training establishments. I met her family through the blog and visited her home. I witnessed her ebullient mother's declining health and before that shared her grief as her much loved father - the "communist" and chemist - left life's stage. Sitting at the computer with a cup of tea and "My Dad's A Communist" on the screen was one of life's little pleasures. I was always guaranteed a good read.

Maybe Daphne simply got fed up with blogging. Maybe she felt she had said everything that she wanted to say. Maybe she found new avenues for her wit and her humanity. Maybe she could no longer find the time. Perhaps all blogs will end that way - petering out like candlelight.

Daphne was a swimmer. She loved to swim in cold sea water and swam the length of Lake Windermere in the Lake District. I hope that she didn't swim off across the North Sea or try to tackle the Atlantic. That would have been disastrous but it could also explain her silence. If you never got to read Daphne's blog and you have the time - please go here - and trawl back through "My Dad's a Communist". You will not be disappointed.

In the meantime, I have decided to remove her blog from my sidebar blog links. To tell you the truth, I am fed up of clicking there and finding that nothing has changed. As with children's toys in the attic or books you last read twenty years ago, sometimes you reach a point where you know you've got to be ruthless. What's the point of spring cleaning if nothing gets chucked away?

So if you're reading this Daphne, I hope you're fine. Thanks for the hours of interest your blog gave me and thanks for reading mine and if you decide to recommence your blogging activity, please let me know and you'll be right back in my sidebar. Nothing lasts forever. So long old friend.


A WITNESS: Huddled 'gainst the cold. The wind will often howl up here - penetrating your bones. Tis one of my most favoured places. Sheltering in the lee of these old stones. I trace my fingers over the layers, over the rock and feel the essence of those who went before. My father and his father and my brother Enfred whose eyes were as blue as the afternoon sky. We lay here breathless one summers afternoon after we had chased and speared a young boar and then we lugged him back to the valley, still hot with blood, swinging heavily and our mother sang our praises - engorged with maternal pride as my heart pounded in its bony cage. Oh that night we feasted and our women danced in the firelight under silvery stars that filled the sky like spilt  milk. I watched their animated shadows on the trees as we clapped our hands in unison.

They say that in the ancient times our forefathers made sacrifices here to Lugus as sunshine surrendered to the shadows of nightfall. Listen carefully and behind the moaning of the wind you may still hear the chanting of our kinsfolk and the writhing death cries of  a young deer beneath the knife.Like everyone, I came from The Green Earth and here as I venerate these stones, I feel the warm embrace of my belonging. Twas in the days before Merlin and Arthur when the world was young.

The Ox Stones are three miles out of Sheffield, near to Ringinglow. You cannot see them from the road. Down below - in the valley, the city of Sheffield rises. Half a million people like ants in an antheap. But once it would have been a swampy valley where rivers met. In those days, The Ox Stones would have been little different. Ancient British people would have been captivated by such inexplicable outcrops - attaching a range of myths and superstitions to them. Special places. There would have been pre-Christian rituals and meetings. Why build temples or henges when Nature itself had provided unique stone edifices like The Ox Stones?

21 April 2014


Who invented the nylon cord strimmer? Was it Nathaniel P. Strimmer, the American gardening entrepreneur? If so, he needs shooting.

In my life I have been the not-so-proud owner of four or five strimmers. You know the sort. Underneath there's a "self-feeding" cartridge containing nylon cord. And the idea is that if your cord snaps, as it is wont to do every three minutes, the strimmer will magically feed out another length so that you can continue merrily strimming.

I need a strimmer in order to tackle the grassy edgings of our lawns and paths - getting in all those awkward places where my Bosch lawnmower won't go. Only, I seem to spend more time dismantling the bottom of my strimmer and then manually feeding through more of the extra-breakable strimmer cord. Take this morning. I must have turned that bloody strimmer upside down at least twenty times till in the end I just gave up and came back inside to write this ranting blogpost.

Once, long ago, when we first moved into this house, our new garden had become a veritable jungle. This had sprouted during the springtime of 1989 - in the months after our bid for the house had been accepted - and it now resembled the deepest forests of Borneo. I hired a petrol-driven strimmer and set off into that jungle telling Shirley and the kids that I might be gone for some time - "It's a jungle out there!" I wore goggles and ear protectors and rather than having nylon cord that beast of a strimmer had a lethal chain underneath that desiccated unwanted greenery and toes like Attila and his Huns ransacking the Balkans. 

Now that was a real strimmer. The nylon corded ones I have owned have all been wimpy - like Old Etonians at a Yorkshire beer festival. Perhaps Nathaniel P. Strimmer designed the nylon corded strimmer to drive users towards the brink of insanity. I speak from personal experience for I have stood on that brink with strimmer in the air, waving it like a shillelagh while emitting blood-curdling battle cries. 

Maybe I should just have the entire garden concreted - then I'll never have to use a strimmer again. Or perhaps there's somebody out there working on a new, effective strimmer design. I live in hope.

19 April 2014


Above you can see our lovely daughter Frances. I snapped that photograph earlier today as I walked with her above Edale on the edge of the Kinder Plateau. Below there's an impressive gritstone pedestal which looks down upon Grindsbrook Clough. It was next to the path we took to walk back to the village of Edale.
This wasn't entirely a leisurely country walk, more of a training walk for Frances who will be undertaking a much longer walk in early June - to raise money for Alzheimer's Research UK. Her longer walk will see her taking in Yorkshire's "Three Peaks" - Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-Y-Ghent - twenty six miles in total. It is quite a big ask for someone who spends the majority of her working time sitting at a computer screen or talking on the telephone. So today - as she was home - we went out into the Peak District to test her new boots and tackle six arduous miles.

Would you like to sponsor her? Every little helps. Go to her page on the Just Giving website and follow the instructions. Click here.

17 April 2014


The Frank Whittle Memorial roundabout in Lutterworth
On our leisurely drive back from London, we paused in a delightful Leicestershire village called Dunton Bassett. Inside the ancient village church, we chatted with two elderly women who had lived their entire lives in Dunton Bassett. They pointed at the medieval stone font and said that they had both been christened there and one of the women said that both of her parents and her grandparents and her three children had also been christened in that same font. I find something very attractive and natural about that kind of belonging to a place. It is a dying phenomenon in the modern world where lives and families are often spread like seeds on the wind.
Dunton Bassett parish church
After Dunton Bassett, we stopped at Narborough where I was hoping to buy an old cast iron pub table from a company called Trent Pottery. In the event the tables turned out to be modern imitations so we left and carried on to Leicester. Round the outer ring road and then onwards to a town we had never visited before - Melton Mowbray - famous for Stilton cheese and pork pies.

We bought a handmade pork pie from Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe and had a delightful traditional afternoon tea in Mis B's Tea Shop on the High Street - Victorian tea pot and a strainer for the tea leaves. Through the window we could see the impressive tower of St Mary's Church - especially praised by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner.
The Regal Cinema - Melton Mowbray
"The Generous Briton" pub in Melton Mowbray
Fourteenth century alabaster tomb in St Mary's Church - Melton Mowbray
Caption on shoppe - Melton Mowbray
The town's free guide sheet claimed that the expression "To paint the town red" originated in Melton Mowbray:-

...a tale dating from 1837. It is said that year is when the Marquis of Waterford and a group of friends ran riot in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, painting the town's toll-bar and several buildings red.

That event is well documented, and is certainly in the style of the Marquis, who was a notorious hooligan. To his friends he was Henry de la Poer Beresford; to the public he was known as 'the Mad Marquis'. In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he is described as 'reprobate and landowner'. His misdeeds include fighting, stealing, being 'invited to leave' Oxford University, breaking windows, upsetting (literally) apple-carts, fighting duels and, last but not least, painting the heels of a parson's horse with aniseed and hunting him with bloodhounds. 

After two hours, it was time to leave Melton Mowbray and head back Up North, through Broughton Astley, Nether Broughton and the curiously named Ab Kettleby. Earlier we had stopped briefly at Frisby on the Wreake. Such evocative names! Onwards to Nottingham and thence to the M1 which leads to the land of milk and honey - Yorkshire, my Yorkshire. Ahhh!
View across a rape field to Frisby on the Wreake

16 April 2014


After the football match, we went to Soho. Not to a a sleazy striptease club or what is nowadays euphemistically called a "gentleman's club". No. We simply went for pre-dinner drinks in a lovely old-fashioned pub called "The John Snow". Apparently, he was an eminent London doctor in past times. Incredibly, the beer prices in this quaint establishment were cheaper than in my local in Sheffield. In London they usually ask you to hand over a large chunk of your life savings.

When I sauntered up to the bar to buy the second round, I noticed a young woman standing at the opposite bar. She was transfixed by her mobile phone - as many people seem to be these days. I had my camera at hand having just taken some interior picture of the pub and unbeknownst to her I snapped her a couple of times. As you will realise, I am in the habit of taking lots of pictures but rarely do I look at one of my pictures and think, "Yeah, that's special!" But that is how I feel about "Girl on a phone". 

Her Mona Lisa face is illuminated by her glowing phone screen. A group of friends are socialising behind her. The pub is an Aladdin's cave of shiny things and polished wood and outside, as the evening arrives, a shopfront star hangs above the street. All of these elements come together to make what is in my estimation a really successful composition and I am proud that it's one of mine, presented to you here in both colour and Victorian black and white. Please click to enlarge:-

15 April 2014


Hull City 5 Sheffield United 3 (FA Cup Semi-Final)
We beat them fair and square. We beat them good and proper. Our goals were all beautiful - like living works of art. And the artists were Tom Huddlestone, Yannick Sagbo, Matty Fryatt, David Meyler and Stephen Quinn. At half-time I didn't feel too wholesome, too gigantic, rather queasy. Oh no - at half-time I felt like a Monster Raving Loony Party candidate waiting for the results to be announced after a by-election. Doggy doo-doo time.
Statue of Bobby Moore at Wembley
But at half-time in the dressing room, unbeknownst to me, our Captain Fantastic central defender Mr Curtis Davies was giving the other lads a right dressing down. Many expletives were expleted. Far more than the pathetic Oscar Pistorius yelled at his imagined burglar millady. Like a real leader, Curtis told the others they had played like fairies in the first half - making underdogs Sheffield United look good. It was time to get some fire in their bellies. Time to fight for the cause and for the massed Tigers fans weeping on the terraces of our national football stadium.
Ian and Shirley at Wembley
And in the second half they came roaring back like a cyclone in Queensland, like a tornado in Canton GA and those beautiful goals rained in. I thought of Spitfires, of the Guns of Navarone of a herd of gnus thundering to an African river, of Passchendaele. The Sheffield United defence lay ragged and bleeding, moaning for assistance but we murdered them. They say that football is a game of two halves and never was this saying more true. "WE ARE ULL, WE ARE ULL, WE ARE ULL!" And we sang it to the Wembley rafters on that beautiful Sunday afternoon - bathed in spring sunshine.
Yes my friends, I was there with Shirley and Ian and Chris. We witnessed every moment. Forgive us our trespasses for thine is the kingdom. And at the end of the match, when the battle was won and the smoke was clearing, the Wembley authorities played our club's anthem over the speakers:-

Wise men say only fools rush in
But I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you

Hull City have existed since 1904 but this is the very first time we have made it to an FA Cup Final. And who stands in our way? Nobody but The Mighty Arsenal - that footballing beast from North London. Those nancy boys with their cultured, grumpy, elegant economist of a French manager, those fall over and cry mummy players with their shiny Porsches and their yellow Lamborghinis. Oo - don't tackle me I'm posh! Do they really think they can defeat the Tiger Army? We are the Tamil Tigers, Siberian Tigers, tigers stalking prey in the night forest. We will go into that May game with the belief  that we have a chance, a real chance to go the distance. We shall not be the also-rans. We are Ull! Steve Bruce's Barmy Army! Up The Tigers!

12 April 2014


A recent academic study has focussed upon the first names we saddle our children with.  The names of 14,449 first year students attending the University of Oxford between 2008 and 2013 were compared with the frequency of given names in the population as a whole. The study concluded that people with rather traditional first names like Eleanor. Peter, Simon, Anna, Richard, Elizabeth and John are three times more likely to be accepted into Oxford University as people with what we might think of as more trendy, transient names like Stacey, Connor, Reece, Kayleigh, Jade, Bradley and Paige.

This doesn't surprise me. As a secondary school teacher, I was instinctively convinced that youngsters with solid old-fashioned or biblical names were more likely to succeed than the kids who arrived bearing fashionable names. There were many variations on the name Kayleigh - Kaylee, Keeley, Kealy, Kelly, K-Lee etc.. And it always seemed puzzling to me why families who demonstrably put little store in literacy were very defensive about their creative and often idiosyncratic spelling of their offspring's first names. Why, for example would anyone insist on spelling Mathew with a single "t" in the middle? Or Barny without the final "e"? Quite bizarre.  And I recall a boy with the surname Allen whose first name was Alen and a girl called Neika whose name symbolised the love that her parents - Neil and Karen  - felt for each other. Equally bizarre.

I am not entirely sure of the psychology behind choosing baby names but I think that some people want the safety and security of "respectable" names that won't rock the boat, others seem  determined to embrace current naming habits while yet others deliberately seek the unusual. Whatever the psychology I am convinced that those choices say a lot about us - how we see life and the kind of aspirations we have for our  children. What do you think?

11 April 2014


Let us forgive our American cousins for mis-spelling the title of the film I watched on Thursday morning. "Labor (sic) Day" was directed by Jason Reitman and based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. As you can see from the adjacent poster, the stars of this film were Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin with an important supporting role played by fifteen year old Gattlin Griffith.

I am pleased that I didn't bother to read any reviews beforehand because they might have prejudiced my enjoyment of the film. As the title suggests, it is based around events that occurred one Labor Day weekend - in a New England community. Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) is a depressive divorcee who lives alone in a tumbledown house with her sensitive and supportive son Henry. Money is tight and supermarket visits are frugal excursions. It is on their pre-Labor Day visit that Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) appears from behind the superhero comics to confront Adele's son. Prison convict Frank is on the run having escaped from custody at the local hospital where he had had his appendix removed.

He needs somewhere to lie low for a day or two and Adele's house is the random hideaway he has chosen. But Frank is not a brutal kidnapper. He fixes things around the house, plays baseball with Henry and memorably shows his hosts how to make a wholesome peach pie with a bucket full of ripe peaches brought round by a neighbour. Adele is awakened from her trough of depression and falls in love with Frank.

They plan to flee to Canada with Henry but events conspire against them and before they can leave the cops have arrived and Frank is taken back into custody. He was imprisoned for the alleged murder of his wife but flashbacks throughout "Labor Day" suggest that he was not guilty.

My attention was held throughout the film. The atmosphere of it was languid - in small town America at the end of a hot summer. Winslet is a very accomplished actress with a wide range of roles behind her and her portrayal of a lost and disenchanted housewife clinging to the lifebelt of love offered by by her uninvited guest was both sensitive and convincing. And I don't care what dismissive reviewers might have had to say about "Labor Day" for I thought this romantic thriller was, as folk from Barnsley might say, "reeght good" or as folk from Surrey might say, "a spiffing film"!

9 April 2014


Cattle grazing on the banks of the River Derwent at Barmby
My father Philip came from a poor family in Norton, North Yorkshire but as an eleven year old boy he managed to get a scholarship to Malton Grammar School. From there, he moved on to St John's College in York where he trained to be  a teacher. This was back in the nineteen thirties. His first fulltime teaching post was in Hessle to the west of Hull but then the second world war came along and he joined the Royal Air Force as a meteorological officer. He was posted to India in 1940.

My mother Doreen came from a poor coal mining family in Rawmarsh near Rotherham. She was mostly raised by her maternal grandparents on Quarry Street, not far from the pit where my great grandfather worked. She was a vivacious child - good at singing and dancing and she dreamed of a better life. At sixteen she would catch two buses and then a tram to get to Broomhill in Sheffield where she had secured an office job but soon the second world war came along and at the age of twenty she had signed up for the WAAF - Women's Auxiliary Airforce. She was posted to India in 1941.

Why were they both in India? Simply because British military forecasters and politicians anticipated a concerted attempt by the Japanese to invade the Indian subcontinent. It was the jewel of the British Empire (sorry any Australians and Kiwis reading this!) and had to be protected. In the event, the Japanese never reached India so my parents enjoyed a lovely war and were married in Delhi in December 1945 before returning home to begin their married life together.

Back in war-ravaged England, Dad secured a teaching post in Uxbridge, Middlesex but can't have been in that post very long before moving to Laxton in Nottinghamshire. That post didn't last long either and with Mum heavily pregnant with my brother Paul they moved, in 1947, to a small Yorkshire village called Barmby on the Marsh where Dad had secured the position of headteacher in the little village school. Along with the job came a Victorian schoolhouse with big draughty rooms and a view over flat, often windswept farming land towards York.

Yesterday, having driven over to Hull to pick up our tickets for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, I made a detour to Barmby on the Marsh. It is three miles from the main road through the villages of Knedlington and Asselby which also help to populate Barmby's little school. Barmby is at the very end of that road close to the point where the River Derwent (from Malton) meets the Yorkshire Ouse (from York). On the other side of the Ouse the massive Drax Power station rises from fields. It was opened in 1974.

Mum and Dad lived in Barmby on the Marsh for four years. After Baby Paul, Baby Robin came along in 1951. They always spoke about Barmby with great affection. They were young and the war was over and there were years of life ahead. Dreams to fulfil, service to give and a family to raise.

Naturally, as I walked around the area, I thought of them and how it would have been there in the austere years of the late nineteen forties when rationing was still in place. I thought of them in the now disused St Helen's church and by the "King's Head" pub and by the rivers that dictate the character of  Barmby and its sister settlements. And I thought of Dad teaching the children of agricultural workers in the little school and of Mum making friends with local women. Many of the villagers would hardly ever leave the place even though a branch railway track ran across this landscape right up to the late nineteen fifties. It seems so long ago.

In 1952 they left Barmby for the village of Leven - a bigger school and a better salary and the following year they had a third son - the person who has created this nostalgic post.
Barmby School and the schoolhouse
Stone carving over the church porch - St Helen's
Church, Barmby on the Marsh (now disused)
Drax Power Station from Barmby Barrage
On Barmby Marsh - once a watery and forbidding
landscape - now rich farming land.

8 April 2014


Andy "Jock" Davidson - Hull City legend.
He died on Sunday at the age of 81. With a record 579 first team appearances, Jock was a one club man and was the club captain during one of City's purple patches - the mid nineteen sixties. That's when I saw him play many times - a fearless and uncompromising fullback - you wouldn't want to be tackled by him. He first came down to Hull from Scotland in his late teens. It was 1947 and he stayed for the rest of his life. Former star striker Chris Chilton once said of Jock, “As a captain and a motivator, and as a guy who led by example, Andy Davidson was second to none. It was total commitment.” His son Neil said,"If you cut Dad open it would be black and amber. There would be a bit of green and white for Celtic but Hull City was his life. It was win at all costs for him throughout his life and he fought right until the end."

He suffered from Alzheimers in his final years. Bravely heading thousands of heavy old school leather footballs on soggy winter pitches may have contributed to his demise. Jock might have played yet more matches for The Tigers had it not been for three broken legs and a year of National Service with the Royal Air Force.

What a shame Jock won't be around to see Hull City's FA Cup semi-final match against Sheffield United this coming Sunday.I invite other bloggers to leave their personal tributes to Jock Davidson in the comments section May he rest in peace.
A day later - I notice that no one else has commented on Jock Davidson's demise. I can only imagine that this respectful silence is punctuated by the tinkling sound of your most mournful teardrops.

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