30 September 2014


"The Starry Night" by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)
It was a pub friend's funeral today. Mick was only sixty seven and the last time I saw him he was as right as rain. But there was something happening secretly, quietly in his lungs and when this thing announced itself he was whisked into hospital and then soon after that  his vital organs began to surrender. He hung on for a few days but then he died. The doctors could only help with his pain.

He was married for forty five years and leaves a distraught wife, two grown up daughters and four grandchildren. He was a bus driver and for his sins a Sheffield United supporter.

Funerals can be awkward affairs for resolute atheists like me. We are invited to go along with religious verbal rituals such as "The Lord's Prayer" and Psalm 23 and by the way I know for an ironic fact that Mick himself was an atheist too. But I rather liked this nice piece below. We were invited to read it along with the Reverend Jane Sharpe who conducted the service:-

Into the freedom of wind and sunshine
We let you go
Into the dance of the stars and the planets
We let you go
Into the wind's breath and the hands of the starmaker
We let you go.
We love you,we miss you, we want you to be happy.
Go safely, go dancing, go running home.

I wonder who the "starmaker" is. Perhaps Simon Cowell or Walt Disney though I must admit I thought the stars were a by-product of some mammoth, almost unimaginable conflagration when the universe was swirling in a soup of time and energy and had no form. Farewell Mick.

28 September 2014


Garden Spider Araneus diadematus seen this afternoon by our wheelie bin - sitting in the middle of her web waiting for lunch to arrive. Also known as the cross spider or diadem spider because of the characteristic symbol on its abdomen. These spiders are very active in the early autumn in the British Isles before the first frosts arrive to end their short lives.

27 September 2014


Before time moves on too far, I want to share some more photographs with you. I took them this past week. On Monday, I strolled around the centre of Birmingham - England's oft-neglected and overlooked second city:-
Chamberlain Square, Birmingham
In Victoria Square, Birmingham
Victoria Square, Birmingham
The Hall of Memory, Birmingham
Then on Thursday, I thought I would test out my left knee with a three mile walk in The Hope Valley - along the River Derwent and up to Offerton Hall. I am happy to report that the knee endured this test magnificently and it was lovely to walk without a trace of the housemaid's knee pains that I have been living with the past month. Fingers crossed I am through it now though I know I mustn't overdo it and henceforth will be even more careful about kneeling down to do jobs around the house or in the garden:-
Stepping stones across the River Derwent
A view of Offerton Hall from its gates
Another view of Offerton Hall
Autumn leaves beneath the surface seen from Leadmill Bridge

26 September 2014


"Pride" is a very British film. I saw it yesterday morning in "The Showroom", sitting beside my friend Mike and his wife Jill. All three of us enjoyed it immensely. It is in the mould of some other successful British films of recent years that focus upon working class life - such as "Brassed Off", "Sunshine on Leith"  and "Made in Dagenham".

Of course nowadays we associate the term "pride" with the ongoing struggle for gay rights but it is also a word that has older associations with trade union battles for example. Pride is something that people need in their lives - pride and dignity - the ability to hold your head up high and to feel proud of who you are.

In the film there is an unlikely gelling between two communities that at first appear to inhabit different planets. There's the gay and lesbian community of Camden Town in North London and there's a desperate South Wales coal mining community who are in the throes of the bitter 1984-85 miners' strike.

The colourful Londoners raise money for the Welsh pit village but at first their charity is viewed with prejudice and antagonism. As the plot progresses there is a coming together and both sides find themselves enriched, educated and enthused by the other.

It's based on a true story and when the London Pride march was held in the summer of 1985 - after the miners had been starved back to work - the parade was headed up by coal miners with their union banners. The two communities' struggles had many similarities. Both saw the establishment and Margaret Thatcher in particular as their mutual enemies.

There were some notable performances in "Pride" from Bill Nighy and Dominic West for example but also from the lesser known Jessica Gunning as the obstinate coal miner's wife Siân James (now a Labour MP) and Ben Schnetzer as gay activist Mark Ashton.

One or two phases of the film were laboured - especially in the middle section - but mostly I was well-entertained. There was laughter and there were tears and at the end the cinema audience burst into spontaneous applause. Though it is entertainment, "Pride" has some important things to say about how we should live our lives - supporting one another, maintaining a sense of humour, being fair-minded and kind. The quest for freedom is a continuing struggle for everybody.

25 September 2014


Specially for gipsy blogger Adrian of "Adrian's Images", I am posting these two pictures of a dragonfly that landed on our tiled terrace in Gran Canaria. May I quickly apologise for the poor standard of these pictures which will probably cause tech-savvy Dr Adrian a considerable amount of unbridled mirth. As one of the blogosphere's leading authorities on the dragonfly, I would suggest that this one is  a good example of CROCOTHEMIS ERYTHRAEA better known as the Common Scarlet-Darter. Later it landed next to my glass of chilled "San Miguel" and in a squeaky dragon fly voice granted me one wish and so  I wished that the western world's assault upon The Islamic State would not involve very many unreported collateral deaths - innocent  women and children and men who do not subscribe to the jihadist nonsense that has burst from the seeping sores that Bush and Blair created in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The species is widespread in Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and west Asia, extending as far east as Yunnan in China. I am referring to the dragonfly and not the jihadist nutcases.

24 September 2014


On the left - Ben Turner as Amir
On our recent holiday, not only did I read Bill Bryson's "One Summer - America - 1927" but also Jean Rhys's "Wide Sargasso Sea" and half of "The Kite Runner" by Afghani- American writer - Khaled Hosseini.

It's a popular book. Published in 2003, "The Kite Runner" has enjoyed phenomenal sales around the world and was even turned into a Hollywood film back in 2007. I cannot say that I was knocked out by it. I had certain misgivings but at its heart there is a readable, engaging tale that transports readers to troubled Afghanistan - a very rare destination for western fiction.

Hassan is the "kite runner". He chases fallen kites and retrieves them for his master's son - Amir. Neither of them know at this time that they are half brothers. Amir has to live with the legacy of his cowardice while brave Hassan finally dies at the hands of the vindictive Talibs. Though now settled in San Francisco, after twenty years  Amir is drawn back to his homeland - partly to atone for his guilt and his weakness. He had seen Hassan subjected to  violent male rape but did nothing. His father, Baba, would certainly have acted. These matters hang over Amir's life like a dark cloud.

Anyway, on Monday night a play version of "The Kite Runner" was presented at Birmingham Rep. Frances invited me over to see it and we were both mesmerised by the production - apart from the moment when a mobile phone rang in the front row disturbing the lead actors' dramatic concentration.

The demanding role of Amir was taken by British Iranian actor Ben Turner who once starred in the BBC Saturday night TV hospital soap opera - "Casualty". He was very good and the production as a whole enjoyed the assistance of some very clever dramatic devices to turn Hosseini's fictional vision into theatrical believability.

Later we had a drink and a natter in "The Brown Lion" - only to discover that this hundred year old pub is to close its doors forever in a fortnight. As George Harrison once said before he himself passed - "All things must pass".

21 September 2014


When we were in Gran Canaria, our son Ian bought an inflatable beach ball in "Lidl". It cost the grand sum of one euro. There was nothing special about this beach ball. It had colourful sections and a plastic valve for inflation.

However, it also came with instructions in  five different languages - Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and German. Out of idle curiosity, I perused these instructions wondering what on earth they might contain. After all a simple plastic bladder with a valve is hardly rocket science is it? Such plastic balls have been produced for many decades of seaside fun.

"Congratulations!" say the manufacturers before advising - "Get to know the product before you start to use it!" "When passing the product on to a third party always make sure that the documentation is included!"

We are told about "Intended Use" - "This article is designed as a toy for private use. It must not be used in water!" Oh no! How unthinkable to use a beach ball in a swimming pool or while frolicking in the sea! The idea is quite absurd.
Then we get "Safety Notices" and "Prevention of Damage to Property" with six serious bullet points including - "Avoid contact with sharp, hot, pointed or dangerous objects!" Well I never! I wonder if that includes knives and lighted cigars?

Moving on to "Inflating the beach ball - CAUTION!"  - "Inflate the article using a commercially available foot pump or double action reciprocating pump with the appropriate adapters." Why of course - naturally - who would even dare to think that they could inflate a beach ball simply by blowing into it? Far too risky in my book!

The "Evacuating the Air" section is followed by "Repair" and "Disposal" - "Dispose of this item through an authorised disposal company...Ensure that you comply with all regulations currently in force". You can't help feeling extremely grateful for this advice as I would have simply chucked the ruined beach ball in a dustbin!

A beach ball is a "Pelota de Playa" in Spanish or a "Strandball" in German. Delta Sport who produced our Ian's beach ball also give helpful e-mail addresses and phone numbers to deal with servicing matters. How utterly kind of them! After all an inflatable beach ball is obviously not as simple to own and use as it might at first appear.

20 September 2014


This summer I failed to enter the Trelawnyd Flower Show photo competition for funny fruit and vegetables. However, the other day Shirley retrieved this funny tomato from our little greenhouse. He has an unusual appendage as you can see. I plonked him on top of the copper model of The Empire State Building that a junkshop owner gave us in Sultan, Washington State this June. Then being the creative fellow I am I stuck three pins in the yellow tomato man who I have now christened Bob.

Here's Bob sniffing flowers on our front room window sill:-
And here's Bob wondering what to do this afternoon. He is most pleased that I turned him into a yellow tomato man called Bob and not a model of male genitalia for medical students to investigate with scalpels. He looks a little like King Kong sitting atop the Empire State Building while roaring at the traffic far below. Scary huh?

19 September 2014


On May 23rd 1976 when I was at university in Scotland, I was sitting in a campus  television room with about twenty male Scottish students watching a Bicentennial Trophy game between Brazil and England - beamed live from Los Angeles. It was a keenly fought match but no goals were scored until the very end when Roberto Dinamite cracked in a wonderful winning goal for the Brazilians.

Roberto Dinamite (Brazil)
It was at that point that the Scottish students - almost without thinking - revealed their deep-seated antipathy towards the English. They cheered and punched the air and one or two of them even leapt out of their seats. They had perhaps forgotten that a proud Yorkshireman ( and therefore Englishman) was sitting in their midst.

I got up, walked to the front, and standing in front of the television screen yelled "You're a bunch of Scottish bastards!" before exiting left. 

Though I lived in Scotland for four and a half years and enjoyed the company of numerous Scots - male and female, I never forgot that moment in the television room. If English students had been watching Scotland play Brazil in a parallel university south of the border they would undoubtedly have been rooting  for "the auld enemy" - Scotland.

Yesterday the Scots held their long-awaited referendum and this morning the result is very clear. 55% have said "No" to independence so the so-called United Kingdom will continue and the SNP political  fishmongers - Salmond and Sturgeon can retreat to their respective crofts to watch endless replays of "The White Heather Show" while chowing down on raw haggis and neaps.

In many ways this vote is a huge relief simply because the disentanglement of Scotland from the union would have been costly and disruptive to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish. We would have been paying a heavy price for their Braveheart fantasy. The tail would have been very much wagging the dog.

I thought that Cameron, Milliband and Gordon Brown arrived at the party far too late. They should have been making out the case for "No" much earlier and not just in economic terms. There is surely more to national unity than fiscal matters. What about shared history and identity? What about sport and entertainment, language and humour and what about the fact that many thousands of people of Scottish heritage live in England and vice versa? It's not all about the money.

Leading the "Better Together" campaign we saw the uninspirational London-born lawyer Alistair Darling caught in the headlights and out of his depth. Why was he chosen to lead the "No" campaign? It could have proved to be an extremely costly mistake.

In some ways I wouldn't have minded if Scotland had gone independent. It would have been interesting to see them struggling - no longer being handsomely underwritten by England. There were so many crucial questions left hanging in the air and Salmond and Sturgeon simply couldn't answer them. But I have got some basic questions of my own about Scotland.

How come our daughter Frances has a university tuition fees debt of £32,000 to pay back to the government when Scottish students pay nothing? How come, at the age of sixty, I  am not entitled to free bus travel but Scottish sixty year olds can claim free bus passes? How come members of my family have to pay doctors' prescription fees when poorly Scots pay nothing? These inequities make me feel some resentment towards Scotland. They are getting a damned good deal as far as I can see and even though the referendum vote has gone against the nationalists, they are likely to get yet more sweeteners from Westminster.

If there was a referendum in Yorkshire - "Should Yorkshire be an independent country?" then I have no doubt that the "Yes" vote would be overwhelming and I would then happily volunteer to be a border guard - keeping out jealous asylum seekers from Derbyshire and Lancashire. We'd also have to search trains passing through our socialist republic. Maybe I'd rip pearls from the necks of Scottish ladies and remove banknotes from their gentlemen's sporrans. These funds would help to pay for our border guards' smart khaki uniforms and machine guns from Catalonia or Chechnya... "White Rose of Yorkshire! When will we see your like again?"

18 September 2014


Once upon a time and long ago, a young English sea captain disembarked at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria in order to commission repairs to his mainsail and rigging and to replenish vital barrels of rum. During his sojourn, he mounted a donkey and trotted into the mountains where it is reputed that he had intimate relations with several local maidens who were smitten by his dashing good looks and sense of fun. Today there are hundreds of young Gran Canarians who refer to the sea captain as "Our Father".

Long after this young skipper had departed, tales about him were shared in inland cave dwellings during dark winter nights till his memory took on mythical status and he became something of a god-like figure. They built this statue to him and it is now the focus of a belief system known as Adrianism:-
My PhotoThis may sound surprising to those who visit his blog - "Adrian's Images" because the sea captain in question was none other than the author of that blog and the world renown photographer Cap'n Adrian (see right).

However, little did the Gran Canarians realise that secretly Cap'n Adrian was taking a short holiday on the island while I was there - no doubt observing his many offspring. He was under the assumed name of Randolph Sidebottom and I was able to snap him as he walked along the beach. I have included this picture specially for those swooning antipodean lady bloggers who also subscribe to the cult of Adrianism:-

17 September 2014


Isn't it nice to lie on a holiday lounger reading a good book? Sunshine. Occasional dips in the pool and then between dozes you turn the pages. And because you're away from home and work and your usual everyday life, you can devote so much more mental and emotional energy to the reading process - giving the writer the attention his or her efforts truly deserve.

Over in Gran Canaria I read the Bill Bryson book illustrated left - "One Summer - America - 1927". 

I have read just about everything Bill Bryson has ever written. His style is comfortable and he is as inquisitive as a boy scout in a summer meadow armed with a magnifying glass and a guide to insects. And he can be drily funny and self-deprecating and unlike some writers I have known,  he is genuinely in love with words. He plays with them and knows where they came from.

"One Summer" is like a window into a special year in American history. You could say that it was the year in which America truly came of age. Perhaps that is why the crowds were so vast as Charles Lindbergh toured the country following his famous solo flight to Paris. And there were also huge crowds to see the incredible Babe Ruth in action and the boxing contest between slugger Jack Dempsey and erudite sportsman Gene Tunney. The Mississippi flooded thousands of acres. The film industry gave the world its first true "talkie" - "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson and dwarfish Al Capone stomped around the streets of Chicago like a giant as the ludicrous Prohibition experiment truly kicked in.

It is a well-researched tome of over six hundred pages and it covers a time of peace and prosperity between the wars and before The Wall Street Crash of 1929. It's hard to think that in 1927 international air travel was very much in its infancy. Flying any aeroplane was an extremely dangerous pursuit. There was even a hare-brained scheme to build a series of "seadromes" so that Transatlantic flights would involve several hops - like frogs in a pond. And it was in 1927 that some visionaries began to see the possibilities of television in a distant future even though this was a time when radio played second fiddle to reading. Bryson says,"The 1920s was a great time for reading altogether - very possibly the peak decade for reading in American life. Soon it would be overtaken by the passive distractions of radio, but for the moment reading remained most people’s principal method for filling idle time.” 

The book is populated by flappers and gangsters, murderers and inventors and there's Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover and Clara Bow and the curious President Calvin T. Coolidge and Mount Rushmore is being carved in the wilds of South Dakota while the country's population is just nudging 120 million - compared with today's 317 million.

As I have admitted before in this febrile blog I am an unashamed Americophile so of course I was going to enjoy "One Summer". In a very readable way, it convinced me that 1927 was indeed a very interesting and significant year in the formation of today's America. Bryson's writing makes what might have been dull history truly come alive.

15 September 2014


On the beach that curls round the dunes at Maspalomas you will see people walking. Dozens of them in all shapes and sizes. There are lots and lots of hotel rooms in the area and it seems that this is a southern Gran Canaria holiday tradition - simply strolling on the mile long strand. Infrequently, you will observe naked German naturists with folds of flesh or shockingly bony frames - as if they have just stepped out of information leaflets about anorexia nervosa. Walking along like the rest of us. They are not underwear models. That's for sure.

Away from the beach - in the volcanic rock mountains where occasional cacti flourish amidst lava geology, narrow roads wind themselves about the rugged landscape. There are small communities up here and houses built into rock faces so that you imagine the cooling caves within - sanctuaries from searing summer sunshine. It's like driving on Mars. So little sign of water or greenery - just those determined cacti and once in a while a concrete dam retaining a precious aquatic pool.
Small reservoir in the mountains
There were ancient people here two thousand years ago. It is said that they came from Africa. They made their homes in caves or shelters built from seaside rocks. They hunted birds and prised shellfish from the shoreline. This was long before Spanish mariners arrived to claim the island for the King of Spain. However, on a rugged wall in child-size sprayed letters I read "The Canaries are not Spain!" and elsewhere in Spanish there are graffiti pleas for independence and "liberty" - whatever that might be.
The Columbus House doorway in Las Palmas - carved from local volcanic rock. Christopher
Columbus rested here before continuing his famed voyage of 1492 to "discover" America.
One day we visit Las Palmas - the capital - with a population of over 300,000. We only stay an hour because of the parking police and there's only time to get a flavour of the historic centre before returning to our holiday complex via the dual carriageway that runs down the island's eastern flank.

Otherwise it's a lazy, uneventful holiday - basking in thirty degree sunshine, reading books, cooling ourselves in the pool, eating simple lunches on our little terrace, talking and being a family again before taking the Saturday evening flight back to Birmingham. Sometimes you need holidays like that.
The old lighthouse at Maspalomas

5 September 2014


We have never been to Spain's Canary Islands before but tomorrow afternoon, all being well, we will be on our way there from Birmingham Airport. Specifically we are headed for Gran Canaria - to the very south of the island where the sand dunes shown above are located. They are, we believe,  a stone's throw from our two bedroom apartment.

I have so far used the third person plural "we" deliberately because I shall be visiting Gran Canaria not only with my lovely wife but also our "children" - Ian being thirty years old and Frances twenty five. At first it was just going to be me and Shirley but Frances said she had a spare week's holiday in September and no plans for how to use it so we asked her if she'd like to come along. Then I suggested we also ask Ian whose life in London - with rent, transport and everything means there's very little left over for such niceties as holidays. Of course he said yes. So having imagined that family holidays were over forever, we now find we have got another one on our hands and we are very much looking forward to it as the first signs of autumn are appearing in Merry Olde England.

When we get back to Birmingham we are planning to stay in Frances's new flat in The Jewellery Quarter. I helped to move her in yesterday, returning to Big Yellow Storage for the belongings we had placed there last Sunday. What a brilliant service Big Yellow Storage provide! Clean, professional and transparent and the little unit we reserved was just the job in the labyrinthine corridors of yellow doored units - it was like being in a modern day version of "Alice in Wonderland".

Now if you'll excuse me. Instead of sitting here tapping away I should be up and about, buying euros, packing suitcases, removing the dead rat from the middle of our lawn,  ironing clothes and tidying the garden. I am not sure when or if I will have chance to blog in Gran Canaria so there may be a little gap in this never ending avalanche of words and pictures.

HOUSEMAID'S KNEE UPDATE Thanks for all the cards, gifts and messages of goodwill I have received from bloggers and physicians around the world. I am truly touched but as there have been so many I cannot send out individual messages of gratitude. To Adrian - thanks for the baby osprey - so cute and fluffy but I have had to pass it to the RSPB so that it can be returned to its nest and to Meike thanks for the family sized tub of sauerkraut - very thoughtful. To Bob Brague in Georgia thanks for "Ku Klux Klan - Members Guide" - I shall read it on the beach. The knee is feeling a whole lot better now but I still have a slight involuntary limp and I am nervous about putting weight on it when I go up or down stairs but two weeks in to my physical torment the agony has certainly receded and I hope that before too long I will again be able to plod for miles. I have been missing those long walks and it has been impossible to burn off calories in my usual way so I am feeling rather bloated. Looking forward to plenty of swimming on holiday.

2 September 2014


When I heard that there was to be an exhibition of National Union of Mineworkers banners at Barnsley Civic Theatre, I was keen to go - even with my housemaid's knee. I feel a great affinity with the coal miners of South Yorkshire - partly because my mother came from a coal mining family and both her father and grandfather worked underground in the first three decades of the twentieth century. 

Furthermore, during the miners' strike of 1984-85 my allegiance was with them and not with Thatcher and the police force she utilised to achieve her spiteful decimation of our country's coal industry. It was in my heart - like a coal fire. I sent them money and tins of food and wore a "Coal Not Dole" badge on my lapel. I even wrote a song called "On Orgreave Field" about the famous Battle of Orgreave which saw the miners defeated by the massed ranks of the British police - many flown up to Yorkshire specially from London and the south east. They waved their pay slips at the penniless miners.

The memory of that industrial struggle remains vivid and raw in the South Yorkshire coalfield. Thirty years later it has not been forgotten and the banners at Barnsley Civic Theatre are testament to that struggle, that industrial heritage and the countless men who lost their lives for those black diamonds.

1 September 2014


How shall we reduce carbon emissions in the European Union? Shall we limit the travel plans of Members of the European Parliament and all the administrative minions who support them? Shall we require them to live in smaller houses that require less energy? Shall we instruct them to use public transport? Shall we outlaw the production and distribution of unwanted marketing material? Shall we examine and act upon the excesses of the free market whereby food stuffs are flown around the world and bottled water is transported hundreds of miles by trucks along already crowded roads? Will we ban the manufacture of Formula 1 racing cars? Shall we require EU officials to shut down computers when they are not using them? No my friends. None of the above. 

Instead we will prevent ordinary people from buying powerful vacuum cleaners that are designed to suck up dust more effectively than less powerful vacuum cleaners. Yes vacuum cleaners like the Hoover Smart Pets SM1901 Bagless Upright Vacuum Cleaner which has a power output of 1900 watts. Such profligate machines will be banned. Europeans will be restricted to buying electric cleaners with a maximum power of 1600 watts and in the future we will bring this down to 900 watts. Maybe in the future we will ban vacuum cleaners entirely, urging our citizens to use sweeping brushes instead. And shall we ask the people if they agree with this absurd and highly questionable ruling? No way José! No way!

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